Friday, July 31, 2009

Overseas Updates

I'm hearing great things from the teams in Serenje and Albania. Rather than me keeping you updated on what is going on here why not sign up for email updates of the Serenje blog and Ken and Ann Bothamley's Balkan blog.

Simon.

Stop - Rediscovering the Rhythm of Life

God designed life to be lived with a particular rhythm.

There was a rhythm to the day. Night and Day. Sleeping and waking. Working and resting.

A rhythm to the week. Six days to work and one day to rest - an important enough rhythm to be enshrined in the ten commandments.

A rhythm to the year. Seven feast spread throughout the year, which were to be enjoyed and observed by all of God's people.

And a rhythm to the years. A year for the land to rest every seventh year and a year of jubilee every fiftieth year.

Yet our modern 24-7 world seems to have destroyed the rhythm of life. We can be on task from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep with our BlackBerry or iPhone in constant attendance. Even something as simple as the light bulb means that there is no longer any need to stop work and rest once it gets dark. The idea of a day to cease work and rest, to reconnect with family and reconnect with God, seems totally unrealistic. And even on holiday we're still 'on task', checking email, texting friends and updating facebook.

I think we need to rediscover the rhythm of life. As Bill Hybels says in his excellent book Axioms, to identify when in our day, our week, our month and our year we "cross the line" and say I'm now done with work and am going to stop and to rest. That if we work six days and rest one we'll achieve more than if we work seven days and rest none.

I'm not clear what this means for you. What it means for a busy mum or an overstretched self employed person or a busy executive to begin to build that rhythm back into their lives. But I know that it's worth fighting for. I'm trying to work it out in my own life, and for our family, so why not join me on this journey of rediscovering the rhythm.

Simon.

This is based on my message from last Sunday - hear it in full here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Thought For The Day

My Bible readings today took me to 2 Sam14:14. I could spend a lifetime meditating on the implications, the wonder and the grace wrapped up in this one verse! Wonderful.

"Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him."

Have a great day.

Simon

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Homeward Bound

Tomorrow Zak and I have an early start to catch the WizzAir (I still can't believe that's real) flight back to Luton Airport. It's been a really good trip visiting the two churches we are linked with here. I'm never very confident on trips like this as to whether I've really got anything helpful to say, but the more the week has gone on the more I've been able to share from my own experience of being in Bracknell, and the more I've been able to speak from the Bible and prophetically into some of the situations they face. It's also been really good having Zak with me.

I've also learnt so much from the leaders here. Poland is a very challenging place to grow a church, with a huge Catholic influence and the evangelical churches viewed with great suspicion, but despite that the two churches have between them baptised 26 people so far this year. They also both have buildings with incredible potential, but which also represent huge challenges. For instance the church in Swidnica owns an old castle (but no moat or drawbridge!) with buildings on four sides and a square in the middle. It's in a fantastic location close to the beautiful City centre, but the roof needs replacing which will cost about £250,000, before they can do the next phase of redevelopment. Please pray for them, and if you are stirred to give let me know. You can check out their website at www.kz.swidnica.pl

We've also got Ben Davies going to Lithuania and a team of 8 flying out to Zambia tomorrow, Sola Osinoiki speaking in a conference in Mexico over the weekend and the Youth team with Lee, Liam, Ethos (and Ken Bothamley sneaking in a youth) flying out to help lead a Youth Conference in Albania.

If you're still in the country I hope to catch you on Sunday! I'm really looking forward to talking about Sabbath so be there if you can :-)

Simon.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Auschwitz

How do you begin to describe visiting a place where over one million people were murdered? One million (in fact most estimates are closer to 1.5 million) men, women and children who were gassed, shot, hung, or forced to work until they died of exhaustion, disease or the regular beatings they received. Where as people arrived on trains from all over Europe the 70% considered too weak to work were led straight to the 'showers' where they were gassed, their hair and gold fillings removed to be sold and then their bodies cremated without their names even being taken. What evil can ever drive one human being to do that to another human being.

I held it together through looking at the pictures and reading the statistics, even on seeing a room with 7 tonnes of human hair which was waiting to be sold when the Russians liberated Auschwitz. But then we came to a room full of suitcases. Many of the Jews sent to Auschwitz were told they were being sent to new homes in Eastern Europe. They were even given fake property deeds for the houses they thought they'd bought. So they had packed suitcases with their most prized posessions, and written their names on the outside. We went into a room with thousands of these suitcases piled up. Then as I started to read the names on the suitcases it hit me. That the enormous numbers are made up of individual people. People with families, friends, jobs, hopes and fears, just like me and just like you. Some of the suitcases were tiny and must have belonged to children. I thought of my daughter Alice dragging her Mickey Mouse suitcase off on holiday, and I cried, imagining her suitcase with the thousands piled there.

Moments like this change me. Like sitting in a mud hut in Zambia with a mother dying of AIDS. I realise how privileged I am to experience moments like this. And that with the knowledge that brings comes a responsibility to live a life and lead a community where we strive to make a difference. Despite all my weaknesses, failings and fears with God's help to live a life where I truly seek to love God and love people.

Simon.

Monday, July 20, 2009

In the Thick of It

Further to what I wrote last week about parachurch organisations, Tearfund released some very interesting analysis at the weekend about the impact of the church on local communities all around the world. You can read more about it at www.tearfund.org/thickofit

It really ties in with an article in The Times I blogged about a while ago, written by the atheist Matthew Paris which was subtitled
"Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa's biggest problem - the crushing passivity of the people's mindset". Or a recently published book titled "God is Back", written by an atheist and a catholic, which shows both humorously and analytically that despite the best efforts of Dawkins and the rest God is very much alive and kicking, and that in every human heart there is a God shaped
hole.

Not that God needs any of this. He's more than capable of defending himself and building his church, but it's good to read all this none the less.

Simon.

Poland Bound

I'm sat on a WizzAir flight (no that's not a joke) waiting to go to Poland to visit the two churches we work with out there. Have to go now as I'm just about to be told off for still having my phone on!

Simon.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

I Wish I'd Written This

Every now and again I read something on someone else's blog and think "I wish I'd written that". I just had one of those moments! The blogger in question is a guy called Mark Batterson, and it seems that like me he got into reading the Bible in a year again at the start of this year. So rather than rewrite what he wrote, and sin by trying to claim it for myself, I thought I'd just post a link to it.

I'd especially encourage you to read the last two paragraphs. I quite regularly have people from a number of different churches (including ours) giving me the "I'm not being fed" line. I've never had the courage to say to someone face to face what Mark says in his article, but if I'm honest I've wanted to say what he says on so many occasions as I belive it's the truth. Perhaps I'll be braver from now on :-)

Hope you have a great weekend and to catch you at some point on Sunday.

Simon.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Feeding of the Five Thousand - Part 5

My second point from the Feeding of the Five thousand was:

Jesus called his disciples (the church) to be part of the solution.

I believe that wherever we see a need, the call on the church is to be part of the solution. It's so easy to start to talk our way out of that call. To rationalise and come up with a whole host of reasons why we shouldn't respond to the need. That we're too busy, haven't got enough resources, it's their own fault or it's somebody else's problem. But just take a moment to consider the story of the Good Samaritan, or the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, and see how Jesus saw the call to meet the need.

Bill Hybels makes his famous statement that "The local church is the hope of the world", which I believe with a passion. That the local church in Zambia is the hope of Zambia. The local church in Poland (where I'm off to next week) is the hope of Poland. And the local church in the UK is the hope of the UK. Not political parties, not charities, not education, not pressure groups but the local church.

So where does that leave the parachurch, Christians setting up organisations other than the local church to meet needs and further the cause of Christ. I've read articles in the past deeply critical of the parachurch, arguing that they only exist because of the failure of the local church to do its job. I'm sure there are cases where that is true, but I believe there are many places where parachurch plays a vital role, not replacing the local church but equipping it to do its job better. Let me just take two organisations we work with.

First of all Christians Against Poverty. There is no doubt we as a church could set up our own debt counselling service. Finding people in debt, getting details of their debts and then contacting all their creditors to renegotiate the debt repayment. Arranging insolvency hearings for people who are in too much debt and then managing repayment schedules until people are debt free. But that would leave our team spending much of their time on the phone contacting creditors, becoming insolvency experts, managing repayments and a whole host of other tasks, leaving little time to spend building relationship with the clients. How much more sensible to have one national organisation with all that expertise, leaving our team to actually work on seeing lives changed.

Or take Tearfund. We could have tried to work out on our own how to engage with the issue of HIV/AIDS in Zambia. We could have tried to find a group of churches out there to partner with, worked with them to produce a strategy for what we were going to do together, launched and then monitored all aspects of the project including financial accountability and trained and equipped teams of our people to go out there and work alongside the churches. But I'm convinced it would have taken longer, cost more and been far less effective than partnering with an organisation with decades of experience doing exactly this sort of project.

So in my mind parachurch does have a huge part to play. But that part must always be to equip and strengthen the local church to be more effective at what it has been called to do. That's why I love CAP, who only work through the local church, and this year have an incredibly aggressive strategy to open 60 new local church based debt counselling centres in the next year. And why I love Tearfund's Connected Church strategy of being a link between local churches in the UK and local churches in the developing world.

So we'll build the local church with all the energy God gives us, but realise that often the most effective way of meeting the need will be to partner with other people who are already experts at what we're trying to get in to.

Simon.

Picnics and Other Stuff

As I write this it's pouring down with rain outside, but I'm hopeful that the weather will improve by Sunday afternoon for our annual picnic at Oakwood Youth Challenge! It's always a great chance to meet up with old friends and make some new ones. There will be face painting for the young children and the chance to do some of the challenges at Oakwood for everyone else. Arrival is any time after 1pm, and you're welcome to invite friends and relatives to come along too.

Lee Layton-Matthews is preaching in the morning meetings. I'm going to be at Newbold College for a service to celebrate the ministry and retirement of my good friend Brain Meardon, who has so magnificently led the Warfield Churches for many years. Then in the evening we're hosting Creation Ministries showing their film examining the events which influenced Charles Darwin in coming up with his theory of evolution. This is another chance for us to engage with some of the issues we raised when we looked at creation vs evolution in the elephant in the church series.

Hope to catch you at some point over the weekend.

Simon.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Generations

It was great on Sunday to be able to celebrate all the different generations in our community. The morning and evening were very different, but hopefully both reflected the church of both young and old working together which God is building.

If you didn't manage to pick up the new Ethos CD on Sunday evening you can now also buy it from iTunes - just search for "Ethos Calling Out" and you should get there. Or if you prefer to have versions you can put on any mp3 player you can buy it from Amazon. Or buy the CD on Sunday - the choice is yours. It really is worth getting hold of, and that's not just because Zak is playing on it!

Hope to catch you all at the Kerith Picnic on Sunday. A great place to get to meet people and scare yourself silly on the high ropes :-)

Simon.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

God Moments

It's an incredible privilege for me to have a week like this when I can worship with thousands of other people, listen to teaching which inspires me and points me back to Jesus, and reflect on my own journey with God. Having worked for years in a 'normal' job, it's a privilege I aim never to take lightly or for granted. And I hope me being here won't just benefit me but the whole of our community as I hopefully pastor, preach and lead better.

For most of us the realities of life make it very hard (though not impossible) to get times like this. But what we can do is know that God is with us in every moment of every day. That whatever you're doing and wherever you are the Holy Spirit is powerfully with you and God can speak to you and through you.

How to do that?

Thank God continually. Find every opportunity to thank God for things. Food, family, friends, nature, your senses, Jesus, money, church, whatever.

Make life a continuous conversation with God. Talk to God about everything. We need those times when we close the door and pray in secret, but also learn to talk to God in the car (just don't shut your eyes), when things go wrong at work, when you're having a coffee, before a tricky conversation, when somebody annoys you, when something on the TV disturbs or challenges you, when you feel happy and when you feel sad.

And read the Bible. Not in a heavy way that makes you feel guilty if you haven't done it. But as an adventure, expecting God to surprise you with the stuff he will speak into you as you plug into his living word. With the plan I started in January I'm now on my second time through the New Testament and over half way through the Old Testament. It's been a blast! Listen to an audio bible, use daily reading notes, use it as an excuse to buy an iPhone for the youversion bible, I don't care how but just get it into you somehow. And did I say don't become a legalist!

Hope that helps you have a slightly different perspective on today.

Simon.


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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Celebrating Generations

I'm in Brighton this week for the Newfrontiers leaders conference (very good so far) but from afar have been working with Colin on Sunday mornings Celebrating Generations guest meeting. I got lots of good feedback after Father's Day, with some people even saying they felt it was our best guest meeting yet. Well having been party to some of what we are going to be doing on Sunday I think it is going to be every bit as good (and I promise not to wear my pants over my trousers!).

So please be thinking about who to invite. Whether it's parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, neighbours or friends. They're all going to be in for a treat, and more importantly hear some of God's heart for the generations.

As we did for last weeks baptisms the 5 and overs will be in for the first bit of the meeting and then be taken to their groups to register about 25 minutes into the meeting.

Hope you're having a good week and to catch you on Sunday.

Simon.


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