Many of you will have hear the sad news that Paul McDonald died last week. Paul died after a long battle with cancer. Paul's family have asked whether I could do a blog to let people know that Paul's funeral will be at Easthampstead Park Crematorium on Thursday 30th December at 2.15pm.
Please be praying for Paul's family. Many of you will know his sister Hana (Price), his dad Alan and his mum Trish who are all part of Kerith. Please also be praying for Paul's wife Paula and his sister Bekah.
This is going to be the final blog of the year - wishing all of you a fabulous Christmas and New Year. I'm looking forward to catching up with you all in 2011, and seeing what God has in store for us all in the New Year.
Further to my blog a couple of days ago on Flori singing in "Albania's Got Talent", I was sent a translation of the judges comments, which makes fantastic reading. The translation was done by Robert Cook, who leads one of the churches we work with in Albania, and who with his wife Mira has been to Kerith on a number of occasions.
Let's pray for God to raise up many more like Flori!
----------- "The basic comments in the semi finals were that 'when Flori sings there is something divine about it...He has a God given gift...what a wonderful way for the evangelical alliance to celebrate its official recognition as a national religion (this happened 2 weeks ago)...God has given you this gift not only to please him, but also to please people....
In the final.....this is what happened.....after he sang a famous Albanian ballad giving it all he had!! The lad done good...he was voted into the super final (last 3) by sms voting and then came second in the final vote (again by sms). He gave public praise to 'my Lord, Jesus Christ, without whom I wouldnt be here' without doubt he got the best reception from the live audience. "
This year's Christmas Eve meeting (4pm-5pm) is going to have a real family feel.
The Inn Keeper and his wife (Ben Pocock and Lydia Harris-Lane) will be telling the nativity story, with the help of all the children. If you have children there then please encourage them to join in with Ben and Lydia. Along the way there will be carols, games, a drama and a short preach from Lydia.
The reception area will be decorated as Santa's workshop, with some fun for children arriving early to engage with.
All of the children will be given colour pencils and a picture to colour in. There will be a competition for the best picture, which will run until 9th January, when the prize giving will be held in K2.
We will have the college car park so please park there unless you have a Kerith car park pass.
Catrina and I are having both of our familes over for the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and they'll all be coming to the meeting. What better way to prepare for the big day! Hope to see you there.
I thought you might enjoy this clip of a guy called Flori singing in the semi-finals of Albania's Got Talent. Flori is a member of one of the churches we work with out in Albania, in a place called Korce, which is in the South of Albania. The clip is all in Albanian, other than the song, but you can get the general idea of what is going on. Andy Jackson and I met Flori when we were out in Albania earlier this year.
The final of Albania's Got Talent was last Friday, and Flori came second. How cool is that.
Let's pray for more Christians, whether here or in other nations, to invade culture as Flori is doing.
We're planning for Christmas Day this year to be a celebration of all things Christmas, and an opportunity to thank God for sending His son Jesus. To that end we'll be singing a mix of carols and more modern songs, I'll be preaching on the relevance of Christ coming, we'll be taking up an offering for Cruse and Daisy's Dream, and getting children onto the platform to show us their toys. It will be a great hour in the middle of all the busyness of the day to focus on it's true significance - as well as a chance to see one another and celebrate together.
We can't get the college car park on Christmas Day, so parking will be at Avis for all of us without Kerith car park passes.
I'm looking out of the window at it snowing pretty heavily (which it's forecast to continue doing until 9 o'clock tonight) wondering quite what is going to happen with the guest meetings tomorrow, and having to admit that I really have no idea!
What I do know is this. A gang of us will be up at The Kerith Centre from 7am clearing all the paths, making drinks and generally ensuring there is a warm welcome for everyone who makes it. And we will have meetings at 9, 11 and 7, regardless of how many of us actually get there. If you're able to get up there early then please come and join us in the fun of getting the place ready. We've got 6 snow shovels, lots of salt and there's a load of fun to be had!
Based on last years experience the vast majority of us managed to make it through the snow, so please come if you possibly can whilst staying safe - it will be a blast! And still encourage your guests to come too. God often works in the midst of adversity, I'm believing for God to do great things tomorrow.
If anything changes I'll communicate it via another blog, but for now that's the plan!
Finally let's be making sure to look out for the elderly and vulnerable at this time. Go and knock on the door of that elderly person in your street and check they're OK for food and heating. Or give that person who you know make be struggling a ring to see if there is anything you can do to help. And if you're in trouble don't be afraid to ask someone for help - God put us in community for times like this.
So hope to see you tomorrow, and have fun whatever you're doing today.
Simon (who is just about to go sledging in Lily Hill Park!)
If, like me, when you finally get to actually sit down and watch some TV you flick through all of the 50 or so channels and can't find anything you want to watch, then you might be interested in a programme the BBC are showing next week. It's basically a dramatisation of the Nativity story, and has been getting excellent reviews from people who have seen it. You can read more about it here.
It's on BBC1 from 7:00-7:30pm Monday to Thursday next week (20-23 December). One reviewer I read wrote this:
"It is not just moving, it is funny (very), believable (totally), sexy (yes!), tense and profoundly full of the grace of God. And the awe of God too - the writer Tony Jordan has worked a miracle. Half way through each episode the camera pans back way out into the cosmos, and you hear deep groans, as if something tremendously significant is happening in both heaven and earth. And it ends with a declaration that because of this birth, the salvation of humankind is on its way. Then you hear the voice of the adult Jesus reciting the Beatitudes."
Sounds worth watching, and recommending to friends and family.
I was reading this morning in Luke 15:8-10, where Jesus says:
“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coinsand loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
This is in the middle of three stories about God's passion for lost people, the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son. This Sunday with our carol service we have a great opportunity for people far from God to hear about how God came into our messed up world to with a message of good news which would bring great joy. Please be inviting people to come, we're doing the same meeting at 9, 11 and 7 - you never know, it might be your friend who all heaven is rejoicing over by the end of the meeting. Be bold!
I have heard rumours of snow this weekend. Rest assured that we'll meet whatever happens, even if it's just me and the rest of our family who manage to walk in!
For a number of years now we've taken up an offering during our Christmas Day meeting for a local charity. This year the offering will be split equally between two charities.
Daisy’s Dream supports children and their families, both before and after bereavement, throughout Berkshire and the surrounding areas.
Cruse is a national charity seeking to provide high quality care for people following a bereavement.
Both of these charities were suggested by people within our church community, who are personally either involved in, or have benefited from, the work they do. There are leaflets on The Kerith Centre reception desk giving more details on each charity.
I never cease to be amazed by the ongoing generosity of our church. Paul encourages us to "excel in the grace of giving" (2 Cor 8:7), and I see that time and again in the life of our church. Whether it's regular giving to the church, giving to Serenje, giving toys for children in our community or giving to individuals in need, you are certainly a people who excel in this expression of grace!
This weekend we've got our Christmas Carol Concerts - I can't wait. Please can I encourage you to be inviting as many people as you can - my prayer is that across the three meetings we'll have 2,000 people attending. That would mean us just over doubling our average Sunday attendance, so if each of us brings a guest then we'll pretty much be there. Things you may need to know:
All three meetings will be the same. That means if you'd normally consider the evening meeting to be a bit too "way out there" for you or your guests, have no fear as it will be just the same as the morning meetings. Why not think about inviting guests for both the morning and the evening meetings.
Adrian Holloway will be speaking at all three meetings. I personally think that he's one of the UK's most anointed evangelists, and a very clear communicator of the gospel. His talk is going to be split into three short messages. He will do an appeal at the end of the third message where he will ask people to lift their hands if they'd like to respond to what he's said.
We are going to have a choir (although no robes!). They will doing some performance items, as well as supporting the us singing some of the carols!
We will have the college car park for the evening as well as the morning meetings. Please park there, unless you have a pass for the Kerith car park.
We will have 100 copies of J. John's book "The Life" to give away at each meeting. This is a very readable account of the life of Jesus. We will also be encouraging people to sign up for the evening and daytime Alpha courses, which start at the end of January.
The new LinK magazine will also be available for us to give out to guests.
We will be serving mince pies at the end of each meeting.
If we do fill any of the meetings, and you're a regular, please consider giving up your seat for a visitor. You can always watch the meeting on the screens in reception.
It's going to be brilliant!
I hope that's enough information. If there's anything else you'd like to know then please just ask!
Please can I encourage you to be reading the Christmas story over the next few weeks. I've been using the Christmas reading plan from YouVersion, although it might be a bit late for you to start using that.
However, all is not lost if you haven't yet started! Either come up with your own plan (there's a radical idea), or why not take a look at the BibleGateway Christmas Story plan. If you sign up you'll get an email with suggested readings from the Old and New Testament every day from the 13th December through until the 1st January.
Whatever you do make sure that you don't let the busyness of Christmas crowd you out from reading God's wonderful word.
Tonight (Friday) is our annual Battle of the Bands competition. It's really a LIFE event for under 18's, but us oldies can sit up in the balcony to observe it all. Our very own Ethos are playing, along with a number of local bands.
It starts at 7pm and costs £2 to get in. All profits for the evening go towards project125 - raising money for the girls dormitory in Serenje. Hope to see you there (and if you're of a sensitive disposition don't forget your earplugs!).
This Saturday Catrina and I are hosting a 'Matthew Party' (named after the disciple Matthew who was constantly inviting people to parties). We've invited all the neighbours from the road we live in, along with some other friends, over for drinks and food any time between 2 and 8pm. We've got no idea who is going to turn up, or when, but I'm really looking forward to seeing how God will use it and what conversations we'll end up having. We'll also take the opportunity to invite all of our neighbours to the various Christmas events.
I know that quite a few Lifegroups are organising parties too. If you haven't got one organised for your neighbours, why not consider inviting them round on Sunday 19th and tying it in with inviting them to one of the guest meetings on that day. You just never know what God will do!
This Sunday evening we're having our "Not So Silent Night" Carol Service. Please can I encourage everyone to come to this, even if you're normally a 'morning' person, as nothing creates atmosphere like a good crowd. Please also be inviting guests. Things you need to know are:
Liam Parker will be preaching on God speaking through the whole of the Christmas story. Liam is growing into a great communicator of the gospel, please be praying for him as he speaks.
We'll be singing carols, but with a bit more of a 'rocky' arrangement than we might be used to!
There will be a drama.
Parking will be at the college for everyone other than visitors, the elderly and the disabled.
There will be chocolate for everyone after the meeting - you'll have to wait until the 19th for mince pies!
Whilst you're there be looking for opportunities to 'walk across the room' and talk to people you've never spoken to before.
On Sunday 12th December Catrina (my wonderful wife) is going to be speaking at both morning meetings on how we can grow in our relationship with Jesus over Christmas. My experience is that very often all the busyness of Christmas gets in the way of my relationship with God, which is sort of ironic when He's supposed to be the reason we do it all in the first place!
Catrina has some great insights into the ways that different people relate to God, and how understanding that can help us to find Him in the middle of all the busyness. Come and find out how to put Christ at the centre of your Christmas.
Can I also encourage you to be reading through the Christmas stories over the next few weeks. I had a great time yesterday meditating on chapter 1 of Matthew - it's amazing what revelation you can get from reading a long list of names!
The Children's Services department of Bracknell Forest Council are looking to give Christmas gifts to children they are working with, and have asked us whether we would be able to help. There are 100 children in total. Of these 20 are under 3 years old, 40 of the children are aged between 3 and 11, and 40 are between 11 and 17. They have asked for good quality new or used toys (unwrapped!!) for babies and children up to age 11, and personal care items for children aged between 11 and 17.
Please can you think about getting involved. Whether it means giving away some toys you no longer need, buying a new toy, or buying some hair gel or body spray for a teenager, then you will be making a difference in the lives of some children who have probably had a pretty tough year.
Donated items to be brought into The Kerith Centre Reception on Sunday 5th and 12th December, and can also can be brought into The Kerith Centre during the week. Children's Services will come and collect the donations on Monday 13th December, so we won't be able to take donations after Sunday 12th December.
We are seeing a growing number of requests like this, as local government and local charities struggle to fund things they have been able to do in the past. This is a great moment for the church (all churches) to step in and demonstrate the love of Christ in practical ways. A huge thank you to everyone who is going to donate toys, and to all of you who are involved in volunteering or regular giving in Kerith - what you are doing is making a huge difference in our local community.
You may also be interested to know that November was the busiest month yet for the Foodbank - well done to Pat & Geoff and the team who do such a fantastic job, although I wish the need didn't exist in the first place.
This coming Sunday we're going to be looking at relationships and reconciliation. In the morning a couple are going to be telling some of their story and then renewing their wedding vows, and in the evening we're going to hear some other stories of hope when it comes to relationships. We're also going to be having a drama from the youth drama group in all three meetings.
The longer that I'm a Christian the more I understand that our faith all comes down to relationships. Jesus died on the cross so that we could have a relationship with God. The great commandment ("love God, love people") is all about relationships. So much of the hurt and pain in the world is down to broken relationships, and the most inspiring stories in human history almost always revolve around relationships.
It's going to be another great Sunday. Don't miss it, and don't miss the chance to invite others to come with you.
Hope you're enjoying the snow (or slush as it is now!),
We originally printed 2,000 of the Christmas invite leaflets, which were all taken on the first weekend we made them available. We then printed another 1,500, all of which went this weekend. I'm so encouraged that so many people have taken them. If you took them and haven't given them out yet please can I encourage you to give them out prior to our first carol service on the evening of the 12th December.
If you are going to have any left over then please can you bring them back next Sunday (5th December) and we'll make sure they get delivered to some of the streets which haven't yet been covered before the 12th.
Please be thinking about who to invite to the Christmas events. I'm going to be doing blogs describing each event in more detail over the next two weeks, so hopefully you'll be able to pick the best event for your friend, neighbour, workmate or relative. If in doubt invite them to the 19th!
First that Michael Ross-Watson is speaking in all three meetings on Sunday. He's going to bring a different message in each meeting. At the 9 he's going to share his story of salvation, at the 11 he's going to talk about God healing him, and at the 7 he's speaking on Joshua and faith. We will record and podcast all three, but why not also consider coming and hearing Michael more than once - you won't regret it! We will also be having an appeal and praying for the sick at the end of all three meetings.
Secondly we've got our first "Discover Kerith" lunch this Sunday after the 11am meeting. This is an opportunity for anyone new to the church who wants to find out more about us and how they can connect with us to come along, meet some people and have their questions answered. Food will be served under the balcony after the 11am meeting, I'll do a short talk and then there will be an opportunity to chat and meet people. There are already over 30 people coming but plenty of space for more, so if you want to come just turn up on Sunday morning. Children are really welcome too.
Hope to catch you this Sunday - it's going to be a great one.
The chapter for this week is here. There was a lot of material to cover on Sunday, hopefully having it in written form will make it easier for people to digest, think about and comment on. I do appreciate all the people who have been giving me feedback on the various chapters. They're really helping to shape what's going into the book so please keep them coming, either via comments on the blog / Facebook or by emailing here.
If you want to give your finances the once over before Christmas why not think about doing the CAP money course, which starts this Wednesday (24th November) at 8pm in the K2 Hall. Catrina and I did it a few years ago and it transformed our financial planning.
Since we started doing three meetings on a Sunday, people coming to the 9am have suffered (in the loosest sense of the word!) in that it's the only meeting where you can't get a tea or a coffee before it starts! But no longer. From now on we will have tea and coffee available before the 9am - which if you're anything like me is when it is most required in the day! Thank you to everyone who has volunteered to make this possible.
One day we'll even have lattes as well as filter coffee :-)
Following on from Monday's programme on Radio Berkshire there is now an excellent article all about the Foodbank on the BBC Berkshire website. If you're free on a Monday or Thursday I know that Pat and the team are always on the look for more helpers, or if you're free at other times then there is always work to be done in the warehouse. Just contact Pat Hallett via the Kerith reception. Alternatively why not look at the list of food the Foodbank gives out and buy some extra next time you go shopping.
Hopefully you've already got it in your diaries that Michael Ross-Watson will be speaking at all three meetings on Sunday 28th November. I wanted to let you know that you've got another opportunity to hear him before then, on Thursday 18th November when he is speaking at There's More to Life, our group for the retired. They meet at 1pm for lunch (bring your own sandwiches), Michael will start speaking at 2. The leaders of TMTL have asked me to extend an invite to anyone who wants to go, retired or not!
Michael is one of the most remarkable people I have ever met, and we are so privileged that he and his wonderful wife Esther have chosen to make Kerith home when they're in the UK. I'm not going to say any more than that about either of them, just make sure you catch them on either the 18th or the 28th, or both!
Our Foodbank is going to be featured on the Andrew Peach Show on Radio Berkshire on Monday morning from 7am to 10am. Maggie Philbin will be interviewing members of the team every half hour from my office!
This is a great opportunity to talk about all that is happening in Foodbank, and a wonderful recognition of all the hard work which our amazing team are putting in. Please pray that it will go well, and listen in if you possibly can.
Secondly Ken and Ann Bothamley's Balkans blog. Ken has been out in Albania with Lee Layton-Matthews and Tom Klitgaard, and has written some great reports on what they've been getting up to. I think you'll be encouraged by the fruit our links in Albania are bearing.
Finally Zoe Hayes Serenje blog. Zoe interfaces between Kerith and Tearfund and helps organise all the trips out there (although much of the work she does goes on behind the scenes, she has been vital to the success of the project). Zoe periodically updates the blog with information she gets from Tearfund and other sources.
I personally sign up to get sent an email when each blog gets updated - there's a box on each of the blogs where you can sign up. That saves me having to visit them on a regular basis - leaving me more time to check on Newcastle United's progress here!
I thought our three preachers on Sunday - Ben Pocock, Lydia Harris-Lane and Liam Parker - did really well. It makes me so proud to see people from our community flourishing, in whatever context they are in, and I certainly felt very proud on Sunday.
At the end of Lydia's preach I encouraged everyone to write the words "Don't Look Back" on a piece of paper and stick them somewhere that you'll see them every day. We need to be people who live life looking forward to all that God has for us, rather than back at past failures, sins, hurts or anything else that will cause us to get stuck. Why not take a moment to listen to what Lydia had to say here (she only had 13 minutes after all the baptisms were over, so it won't take long!), and then find your piece of card and stick it up somewhere.
Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:13-14)
This Sunday we will be having a minutes silence at the 11am meeting, to remember all those who have given their lives for the peace and freedom we enjoy today. To give all the people dropping children off time to get into the meeting we will hold the minutes silence at about ten past eleven. If you normally come to the 9am meeting and want to take part then please feel free to stay until the minutes silence at the 11am meeting and then leave.
Can I also encourage people to buy a poppy and support the work of the British Legion. There are poppies for sale at The Kerith Centre reception if you haven't managed to buy one elsewhere.
Congratulations to Janine Jackson who last night won the "My Hero" award at the annual "Pride of Bracknell" event.
Janine was nominated by her husband Andy (who himself is a hero in many ways) for the way in which, despite losing her leg to cancer, she has continued to make outstanding contributions to our church community (producing "Word on the Street" and "The Vigil" amongst many other things), the wider community (including teaching at Brackenhale) as well as being a brilliant mum and wife. I'm personally very proud to be able to count Janine as one of my friends, and to have seen the many ways God has worked in and through her over the last few years. She is truly an inspiration.
Look out for photos and articles on this in the Bracknell News.
Prayer is so key to all that we long for God to do amongst us, both individually and as a community, so I want to give my strongest possible encouragement to come to the prayer meetings next week, Wednesday and Thursday at 8pm in K2,
First of all we have much to give thanks for - the Serenje Gift Days (I can't wait to let you all know the total on Sunday), fruit in so many of our ministries (as one example the foodbank has received twice as much food as last year in donations from schools and churches, and gave out food to 64 clients yesterday), growing numbers on Sundays and so much more. Before we do anything else let's come together and thank God for His amazing goodness to us.
On both nights I'm going to spend time sharing some of the vision I was going to share at the cancelled All Leaders Meeting. This will include news on upcoming speakers and conferences, vision for Christmas and thoughts on the need for K3! Jon Hulme will also be leading us in praying for our international involvement and for other areas of church life.
Should be a great two evenings - please don't miss it!
This Sunday we've got baptisms - very exciting! If you, or someone you know, would like to get baptised then it's not too late. Just contact reception or send an email here and we'll arrange for someone to meet up with you and talk through what is involved. We will have clothes and towels available on the day for anyone who makes a last minute decision, but it's always better to wear your own stuff!
I know that for me taking the decision to make a public declaration of my love for Jesus by being baptised was one of the most significant steps in my development as a young believer. Somehow that very step of obedience and identification with Christ is something which God just loves to bless - don't miss out on all that God has for you, or your friend.
As part of our development of up and coming preachers we've got three different people preaching on Sunday. Ben Pocock is preaching at the 9, Lydia Harris-Lane at the 11 and Liam Parker at the 7. I'm really looking forward to hearing all three of them, as they're each developing their own unique style and anointing.
Back in the office today after a week away. Tuesday is always full of meetings - fun but I'm ready to go home now!
Anyway, before I go I need to ask for some help. As part of the next magazine the team would like to do a piece where people send in questions which I would try and answer. Questions can be on anything, from why we do what we do in church life to why our dog is called Nemo (well maybe they need to be a bit more interesting than that!). Please feel free to leave questions as either a comment on the blog / facebook or sending an email here. A free ride in the 2CV for the person who sends in the most interesting question!
We need questions by the start of next week. Thanks so much.
We've already started work on issue four of our LinK magazine, and would love to release all you creative types out there to design the front cover. The theme of the magazine is going to be growth and momentum, but don't let that limit you if you've got some other great idea!
It could be a painting, a photograph, a montage, a mosaic, generated on an iPad or anything else which will produce a stunning front cover.
The deadline is Monday November 15th and you need to email your artwork to email@example.com.UK or leave it for Beccy Oliver at Reception. You can also email Beccy with any questions. We will then have a panel of judges to choose the winning design.
There are some technical details below (I have no idea what most of them mean!), but most importantly go for it and let those creative juices flow!
For Photoshop: Page size is 260mm x190mm but we need 3mm bleed all round so file size must be 266mm high x 196mm wide @300 pixels per inch, 8 bit.
Final image should be CMYK and saved as an EPS, TIF or high quality JPG.
If the artwork is being produced traditionally then we can scan it - but no bigger than A3 please.
All designs should be considerate to the positioning of the link branding top right and the kerith branding bottom left.
On Sunday we looked at the radical things Jesus had to say about money. The link to the corresponding chapter of "The Peach and the Coconut" is here. As always please either email in your thoughts, or add them as comments to the blog or Facebook.
I'm up in Lincoln on Monday and Tuesday this week, meeting with a group of church leaders, and then have the rest of the week off. It's been pretty full on the last few weeks with Willow, Zambia and life in general so I'm really looking forward to having a bit of a break.
Huge apologies to everyone who came out to the All Leaders Meeting last night. For some reason both our car parks and the road outside The Kerith Centre were full of cars from people at the college, leaving no space for any of our people. Rather than have parking chaos I made the call to cancel the meeting.
I'm so sorry to everyone who came out. I wanted to share a load of vision around growth and expansion, plus we had some really nice cheese and wine for everyone! I don't take lightly all the hours our volunteers put in, and it leaves me deeply frustrated when things like this happen.
We are going to look at building a barrier across The Kerith Centre car park entrance to prevent this happening again. We will also be talking to the college about how they can encourage their students to park elsewhere.
Sorry again. Hope to catch you all at the weekend.
It's our last full day in Serenje. It's been an amazing trip - the project out here is going so well, and making a genuine difference in the lives of hundreds of people.
In year three of the project we want to increase the number of orphans and vulnerable children being supported to go to school from 880 to 1,700, and the number of family farmers being given seed and training in farming go from 700 to over 1,000. In order to do that we need to raise £100,000 to fund year three. We will be having gift days for this over the next two Sundays (17th & 24th October).
Please can I ask you to pray about what you are going to give, either as a one off gift or via standing order over the next 12 months. Catrina and I will be doing both, perhaps you can do the same.
We heard yesterday about children dropping out of school because they can't afford to take their year 9 exams, which cost £5. Whether you can give £5 or £5,000 it can contribute to transforming the lives of people in this community.
I so appreciate everyone who gives, and can't wait to see you all again on Sunday.
I'm writing this on Thursday from a wireless hotspot in Lusaka before travelling up to Serenje, ready for it to be published on Monday. I'm sure Lee did a great job of preaching on conflict resolution on Sunday, here is the chapter that goes with it for you all to comment on. I'm still working on it so it might not be quite finished (depends how much internet connection I can get between now and Monday), but there's enough there for you to get your teeth into and comment on, either on the blog or Facebook or at this email address.
Have fun reading it, put it into practice where necessary and let me know if you have any personal stories which illustrate this chapter.
This Sunday Lee is preaching on the next chapter of "The Peach and the Coconut", all about Godly conflict resolution. This is particularly important in the light of the question many people have been asking me as to what to do when you find some "coconut" behaviour in the church which needs to be challenged. We need to learn how to do that in a Godly way, as well as learning how to resolve personal relationship issues when they inevitably arise. Fortunately the Bible is very clear on the steps we need to take, and Lee will be taking time to outline these.
One of my favourite "tweeters" is Rick Warren. Every day he puts out five or six pieces of short, Biblical wisdom which I often find really helpful. One I read recently spoke straight into what we shouldn't do when trying to resolve conflict. Rick wrote this :
"When offended by others tell God, not gossipers. Take it to the Throne, not the phone! God reduces hurt. Gossip reinforces it."
That's a great place to start when resolving conflict.
Simon (writing this before setting off to Zambia).
This evening (Wednesday) a team of us set off for Serenje, a rural community in Zambia where we support an HIV/AIDS project. We are out there for ten days, getting back on the evening of Saturday 16th October. Please pray for us as we meet the pastors, Ian who is the new project manager and the rest of the community out there. Sola Osinoiki, Colin Boyle, Alan Lander and I will be running a three day pastor's conference; Catrina and Val Cottee will be running a women's conference. Rob Plant will be filming it all and producing videos to show when we get back. We will also be visiting schools and the various communities out there, as well as seeing what is happening with the girls dormitory and the hospital. I may be able to do limited blogging out there, but will definitely be doing lots of tweets and facebook updates.
On the 17th and 24th October we will be having gift days for Serenje. These will be to fund year three of the project. We want to raise £100,000 which will enable even more children to make it back into education, provide more families with seed so that they can grown their own food and train more volunteers to care for those living with HIV/AIDS. Please be praying about what you give.
Here is the link to this weeks chapter of "The Peach and the Coconut". Most people seem to be making comments via this email address, although feel to leave comments on the blog or Facebook if you'd prefer to. I'm getting a growing number of comments which I'm finding really helpful - thanks to everyone who is contributing, and who has been sending in stories.
This Sunday we've got ten different preachers, three in each of the morning meetings and four in the evening - very exciting. Then the following week Lee is preaching on "Conflict Resolution" as the next part of "The Peach and the Coconut". This is a vital subject as we look at how to challenge areas of coconut behaviour within our own community.
Today our Foodbank is one year old. It only seems a few weeks ago that we held the launch event. In that first year we've helped over 800 adults, 300 children, served over 10,000 meals and given away over 8 tonnes of food (for those like me who struggle to know what that looks like in real terms it's the equivalent of around 22,500 cans of beans).
It really has been a community effort. Food, money and volunteer time has been donated by schools, churches, charities, companies and individuals. Clients have come to us from 34 voluntary and statutory bodies, and the store where we keep all the food has been provided for free by Bracknell Forest Homes.
This lunchtime we had a 'birthday lunch' for the Foodbank in K2. This was hosted by Pat Hallett who heads it all up, her husband Geoff who is the logistics manager and Catriona Mitchell who was the driving force behind us opening the Foodbank and now oversees it. Everyone involved in the Foodbank was invited, we had about 60 people there including the borough mayor. At the lunch we heard about what has been achieved, but also about the expansion which we are planning in the coming year to cope with the expected increase in need for the Foodbank. It was great to get to talk to so many different people about the ways we are involved in the community, and made me very proud of our people and what God does through us.
Those of you in the morning meetings last Sunday would have heard us make three appeals for volunteers.
The first was for 8 new car parkers so that we could switch from using the AVIS car park to parking in the college on a Sunday. The second was for 8 new drinks servers so that we could serve tea and coffee before the start of the 9am meeting. The final one was for some more hosts for the international delegates coming to the Willow GLS.
Well, wonderful people, I want to let you know that enough volunteers stepped up for all three. We will be able to use the college car park from Sunday 3rd October (Sue wanted to have enough time to prepare all the teams to make sure we do it well so we'll be still be in Avis this Sunday), we will be serving drinks before the 9am and none of the overseas Willow delegates are going to have to sleep on the streets!
Thank you so much, not only to the new volunteers, but to everyone who faithfully serves week in week out both on a Sunday and midweek. Jesus said that He didn't come to be served but to serve, part of our call is to have the same attitude. You are very much appreciated.
I've had a couple of links sent to me this morning relating to "The Peach and the Coconut".
The first is from Ron Bailey, Jo Jones' dad, who is a Bible teacher. He sent me a link to a blog he wrote recently about how God's plan for a persons life is often different to the plan we would have for them, which fits in really well with what we talked about on Sunday. I loved this quote: "God, I discovered, was not nearly so tidy as I was and certainly wasn’t nearly such a clear thinking evangelical as I was". I'd encourage you to have a read of it.
The link to this weeks chapter is here, and you can listen to the preach here. As I said on Sunday I've called this chapter three as we've preached it third in the series, although it's quite possible that when we get to actually produce the book it will appear as a later chapter. I'm hoping this week that lifegroups will take the time to review this chapter - I've really appreciated all the feedback I've had so far.
I'm looking for stories which will illustrate each chapter. I've already got some good ones, but would love to get some to illustrate this chapter in particular. They can be used anonymously if need be, so if you have a story please can you email it here, along with all those comments on this weeks chapter.
Yesterday was my birthday. I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who wished me a happy birthday - it was certainly the busiest day I've ever had on my Facebook wall. I even got a message from Andrew White in Baghdad! I had a really good day, some great presents and a meal of sausages and mash with the family in the evening - what more could a man ask for?
But it was also a much more exciting birthday yesterday - the 20th birthday of Sparklers, our mums and toddlers ministry. When Caroline Hanbury and her gang of dedicated volunteers began it 20 years ago I don't think they had any idea what they were starting. Over that time there have been three different leaders (Caroline, my wife Catrina and now Dany Smith), an army of volunteers and many changes and new initiatives, but the goal has always stayed the same, to provide the best mums and toddlers group in the town and in that context to present the message of Jesus as clearly and as persuasively as possible.
As we talk about creating peach communities Sparklers would be a great example, in many ways a pioneer of the culture we are now building across the church. Always willing to welcome and accept anyone who came, but never ashamed or afraid to be clear about the core, about Jesus and what He means to us. The fruit of this peach has been many lives transformed by the power of God's love.
Ben Oliver did an excellent job yesterday talking on the centrality of Christ to our community - if you missed or want to listen to it again you can find it to it here.
Here's the link to the chapter two of The Peach and the Coconut which goes with this talk. I'll be honest that this chapter is much less finished than the introduction and chapter one I posted last week (thanks by the way for all the comments and stories on those). I therefore need people to do some hard work on making this chapter the finished article. In particular the end of the chapter is weak where I talk about what it costs to follow Jesus, and much of the rest of it could be improved and sharpened. Why not have a go at rewriting a section and submitting your improved version. As last week either add comments to the blog or send them to this email address.
Hope to catch you at the prayer meetings this week,
At the latest count we're going to have 23 international visitors at the Willow Creek GLS we're hosting on the 1st and 2nd October. They're coming from Albania, Lithuania, Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic and the USA. One of them will be staying at the Grange, but we'd love to be able to host them rest of them with people from our community.
They'll be arriving on Wednesday 29th or Thursday 30th September and going home on either Sunday 3rd or Monday 4th October. They'll need a bed, breakfast every day, transport to and from The Kerith Centre on the Friday and Saturday and possibly one or two other meals. There will be 3 couples, 10 men and 6 women.
If you could have someone to stay with you that would be fantastic. If you can help please could you send an email to reception so that they can start to allocate guests to homes. It's such a privilege to have these people with us, and such an opportunity for us to touch other nations, so please get involved if you can.
I thought you might enjoy this video of one of this years Willow GLS speakers - Dan Pink. He's pulled together research on what motivates people, and has found that for most people in most situations money doesn't motivate them to do better work, and in many situations makes them do worse work. You can see a preview of his research here, and then look forward to seeing the talk in its entirety at the Summit.
In one of those "it's the end of the day and my minds wandering all over the place" moments I found a program on the net called Wordle. Basically you feed it a load of words and it creates a cloud of them all, giving greater prominence to words which appear more frequently. I fed all the text from "The Peach and the Coconut" (including all the chapters you haven't seen yet) through it and got the result below. I like Jesus, people, church, community and God getting a big mention. I was slightly surprised peach and coconut weren't more prominent, and need to stop using the word 'just' quite so much!
Thought I'd update you on a couple of exciting things happening in the world of worship.
First of all at the prayer meetings next week (Wednesday 15th and Thursday 16th, 8pm in K2) we're going to turn the whole evening over to worship, and seeing what flows out of that. I know a number of people have been asking whether we could have an opportunity for less structured worship than we have on Sundays - hopefully these will hit the spot for you. Each evening we'll worship, pray, have communion and just enjoy resting and dwelling in God's presence. If you're one of those people who has worship as your spiritual pathway you might even want to come both evenings.
Secondly ever since I've been in the church we've had one big pool of musicians and singers from which the team on a Sunday are pulled together. Well that's all changing with the formation of three separate bands, each of which will play one week in four. The hope is that this will create a tighter bond between the people in each band (the big group of singers and musicians has really got too big for those sorts of relationships to flourish), reduce the strain on individual band members (they'll now only be serving one week in four, although with the three meetings that's still a big commitment), let them focus more on preparing for a specific Sunday (which will give them more time to tailor what they're doing to the preach that Sunday and do performance items) and generally gear us up for future growth.
The astute amongst you will have noticed that we've got three bands and a four week rota. Fear not! The plan is on the fourth week in the morning meetings to do a cut down 'acoustic' set. People seemed to really appreciate it when we did an acoustic set (out of necessity) when it snowed after Christmas so we thought we'd make it a regular feature and see where it takes us. Then in the evening of the fourth week our up and coming youth band, Revolution, will get to lead - not to be missed. Quieter in the morning - not quite so quiet in the evening! The way the rota work the first acoustic / Revolution Sunday will be on Sunday 19th September.
We're so well served by our musicians and singers, as well as the technical teams on sound, computers and lighting who support them. Please be praying for them with all these changes, which will inevitably cause some pain, and let what they do help you to worship God in spirit and in truth - that will encourage them more than anything else.
Last Sunday we started a new preaching series - "The Peach and the Coconut" (if you missed it you can listen to it here). I believe this is going to be perhaps the most important series we've done since I started leading the church, as we're going to look in detail at the sort of community we want Kerith to be and produce a blueprint for the next 10 or 20 years.
The intention is that at the end of the series we'll take the content and put it together as a book. What I'm going to do each week is to publish on the net the chapter of the book which goes with that weeks sermon and let everyone comment on it. I really do want to encourage everyone to read the chapters and say what they think. I'm looking for comment on everything from spelling mistakes to style to theological content. My hope is that at the end of the process we'll have a book which we all feel is 'ours', rather just something I've produced.
I'm also looking for life stories which illustrate each chapter. If you have a story which you feel illustrates what is being discussed I'd love you to send them in and for us to include those too - they can be anonymous if you'd prefer that.
I'm not quite sure the best way to facilitate this process. To start with I'm going to publish each chapter to Google Docs where you can read it and print it out if you want to. I'd then suggest emailing comments or stories to the office on this email address, or writing them down and putting them in the post trays, or you could leave them as comments on this blog. I'll then take a look at them and incorporate them into the text. This may change if we find a better way of doing it! For anyone without internet access we can make paper copies available - please ask at reception.
Today was the first day of this year's Kerith Academy (what we used to call the year team). This year there are seven young people coming for a year to be trained in children's work, youth work and the creative arts. Five of them are from our church, one is from Banbury and one from Poland (I'll post a photo of them all later in the week - we forgot to take one today!).
They will spend two days a week working in their chosen ministry area, one day a week getting theological and leadership training, will be involved on Sundays, will hopefully have a day to stop and then will be looking for work the other two days to support themselves. Ben Pocock, who joined the staff last week, is overseeing the Academy with Lee Layton-Matthews helping with its development.
This style of ministry development, with people receiving a mixture of practical and theological training, is something we'd really like to develop further. Next year my prayer is that we might have 20 people on the programme with a mixture of all ages and people from Kerith, elsewhere in the UK and overseas. Perhaps you would like to be one of the 20!
We'd also like to take the theological and leadership training we deliver this year, and from next September set it up as a two year rolling programme presented one evening a week which anyone from Kerith would be able to attend. People would be able to start the course at the beginning of any term. One of the results of the Reveal Survey we completed earlier this year was that people wanted more in depth Bible teaching, hopefully this would be one way we could meet that need.
Please be praying for our new Academy students. We'll be introducing them on Sunday so look forward to seeing them all there.
The funeral for Ed will be on Monday 6th September. There will be a committal service at Easthampstead Park Crematorium for family and close friends at 9.45am, followed by a service of thanksgiving for Ed's life at The Kerith Centre starting at 10.30am. As always if just coming to the thanksgiving please park in the town centre car parks so that we can leave the parking at the Kerith for the elderly, disabled and people coming from the crematorium.
I've spoken to so many people over the last few days who have been sharing their memories of Ed. From people who travelled with him to Uganda and Zambia to people who performed with him in various plays and dramas. Several people who said he was one of the first people to speak to them when they first came to Kerith, and that he had remembered them and would always look out for them and say hello. People who knew him closely and others who just knew him from a distance. All have spoken of his warmth, his love for Jesus, his willingness to help anybody and his authenticity.
I know many of us will have work and other commitments on Monday, if you have then don't in any way feel guilty about that, but if you can please come and join us in thanking God for a very special friend.
I got the very sad news last night (Thursday night) that Ed Garton had passed away. He died of an undiagnosed hereditary heart condition which caused him to have a heart attack.
I'm still feeling shocked by the news of Ed's death. He was one of the characters around Kerith, with an incredible servant heart. Whether it was performing in The Vigil at Easter, doing building administration, welcoming or car parking on a Sunday or just being a part of our community he always lived life with his heart on his sleeve and with an incredible passion for Christ. He had a powerful personal story of how God saved him from a life of alcohol, and was always grateful for what Christ had done for him. In many ways he was a rough diamond, but one who shone brightly for Jesus.
I went to see Ed's family this afternoon. They too are shocked and grieving at the loss of Ed, especially as Ed's mum Brenda only passed away a couple of weeks ago. However, they also reflected on what God had done in recent months in the relationship between Brenda and Ed. Few of us could forget Brenda being baptised at The Kerith Centre a couple of months ago, despite her advanced cancer, and the family spoke with pride about how Ed personally planned, spoke at and sang at her funeral service. Please be praying for Ed's dad, Daniel, and his sisters and the rest of the family as they come to terms with their loss. Also for the many people in our community who counted Ed as a friend.
The family said that in many ways Kerith had become Ed's family. They would very much like him to have a 'Kerith style' committal service and thanksgiving in Bracknell, which we will now start to plan. We will let everyone know the details as soon as we've got times and dates, hopefully early next week.
Let's remember that Ed has gone to a (much, much) better place - death has indeed lost it's sting. Hope to catch you on Sunday.
The Global Leadership Summit has finished, and we're sat having coffee doing a debrief. I did write a review of day one but it got swallowed up somewhere between sending it from my iPhone and it getting to the blog - very frustrating!
It's been a superb conference, and a real privilege to be here. As always there have been a huge variety of speakers - church leaders, business leaders and social commentators, each one bringing their unique take on how we can get better as leaders. Highlights for me were Christine Caine for her raw passion, Daniel Pink for helping to articulate much of what I instinctively do as a leader and a guy called Jeff Manion who you'll have never heard of but who preached an incredible message called 'the land between'. You can see some highlights of the conference here.
I can't wait for you all to have the opportunity to see the speakers we've just seen in October. Please be there if you possibly can, either as a volunteer, or by getting in at the special rate of £30 if you're part of the Kerith community - just register at reception.
Saulius and Sanna from Lithuania, and Edward and Fridah from Kenya have had a fantastic time too. Saulius will be hosting the first Lithuanian GLS in October which is very exciting.
We fly back tomorrow - can't wait to be back in England and see the children again (I hear they've had a fabulous time at Rocknations). We're then off for two weeks holiday, all ready to kick off again in September.
Believe it or not but this is Bill Hybels speaking to us at a meeting the night before the Summit for the numerous international guests. I've already met leaders from a number of churches in other nations who've been to Bracknell to see how we do the Summit, and a pastor we met last year in Zambia - it's a small world!
Yesterday was one of the saddest days I can remember. Yet God seemed to do the same thing he's been doing ever since we first heard of Angharad's death, whether it's been at a prayer meeting, on a Sunday or at more impromptu gatherings. Taking us from a place of sadness and confusion at the start to a place of hope and purpose by the end. That's what God has been doing ever since the Holy Spirit hovered over the deep in Genesis and brought order out of chaos.
There's so much more I could say about yesterday, especially about Bill & Anne's courage throughout the day. Let's keep praying for them. But I want to finish by thanking God for being with us so powerfully in this past season, and for loving us so much that He sent his son to die in our place so that we don't mourn as those who have no hope.
Pat and Geoff Hallett are being interviewed tomorrow (Friday) morning on Radio Berkshire between 9.30am and 10.00am. They'll be talking about the Foodbank and all the amazing things which are going on with that ministry. You can listen with an old fashioned radio on 95.4 FM or 104.1 FM, on a DAB radio or online here. You can also listen to it after the event here. Surely that must be enough options :-)
Pat & Geoff do a fabulous job of heading up the Foodbank, and I'm sure they'll do an equally impressive job of representing the ministry and the rest of Kerith tomorrow morning.
A number of people have said how helpful they found this weeks Sunday morning sermons, where we looked at what the Bible teaches about what happens to a believer when they die. However, several people also said that they struggled to get down all of the Bible references and asked whether I could include them in a blog - so here goes! Just to be clear that none of this will make any sense without the sermon itself, which if you're interested you can listen to here.
What happens to us when we die - Luke 23:43, 2 Cor 5:8, Phil 1:23 The Bible doesn't teach purgatory - Rom 8:1, Luke 23:43 The Bible doesn't teach "soul sleep" - Luke 16:19-31, Rev 6:9-11, Luke 23:43 The second coming of Christ - 1 Thes 4:13-18 Resurrection bodies - 1 Cor 15:42-29, John 20:19-27, John 21:11-15 Judgement of non believers - Rev 20:11-15 Judgement of believers - 1 Cor 3:11-15 New heaven and new earth - Rev 21:1-5
I also suggested people getting a Study Bible (I use the NIV, but there are lots of other good ones available - lots of my friends rave about the ESV Study Bible), Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology and commentaries on specific books of the Bible (for those new to commentaries I'd particularly recommend those by Tom Wright - I'm working through his commentary on Romans at the moment).
I'd also definitely recommend listening to Canon Andrew White from Sunday evening too. I felt he served us so well in what he said. I can still smell the Smith Wigglesworth anointing oil on my hands (for those not there Andrew met up with Smith Wigglesworth's Great Grandson recently and he gave him the last known bottle of the oil Smith Wigglesworth used for anointing people).
Last Friday I went back to primary school. Not my old school, which would have been an enormous trek to Mickley Primary School in Northumberland, but to Crowthorne Church of England Primary School.
I went there for their year six leavers assembly, to give out prizes to children who had done well throughout the year but also to receive a cheque from the school. The school have spent this year raising money for Serenje. The children have spent the year not only learning about life in Serenje, but coming up with a whole load of imaginative ways of raising money. They've done everything from sponsored events to setting up small businesses to talent shows to a night at the proms.
They made me sit down when they announced the total, which was a good idea as I was totally overwhelmed when they announced that £4,779.28 had been raised by the children. That is a truly astounding total for a small primary school, and will make an incredible difference in the lives of children in Serenje. It will be used to buy things like books, pencils, rubbers and classroom equipment, as well as seed and garden tools so that crops can be grown to provide the children with a meal before they start school.
Our vision for Serenje was always that we would not only link our church with other churches out there, but that we would enable the community of Bracknell Forest to link with the community of Serenje. It's so exciting to see Crowthorne Primary being part of that vision come to reality.
I'd like to say a huge thank you to not only the pupils of the school, but also the teachers and parents who have worked incredibly hard to support the children in their fund raising efforts. In particular I'd like to recognise Mrs Gellatly, the Headteacher, who has been such a champion of the project, and our very own Ruth Jackson, the Deputy Head, who has been the link between the school and Kerith. Hopefully they and all the teachers and TAs will now get a well earned rest!
Just a reminder that the Thanksgiving Service for Angharad is going to be on Monday 2nd August at 2.15pm. We'd love as many people as possible to come to give thanks for Angharad's life - if possible please park in the town centre car parks so that we can leave The Kerith Centre car park for family, the elderly and disabled - more details here.
At the end of the service we're going to sing a fabulous song called "The One Who Saves" from the new Hillsong Album "Beautiful Exchange". We learnt it last Sunday, and will sing it again this Sunday, but you can also hear it (with subtitles) on Youtube here. If you haven't heard the album yet I thoroughly recommend it - I bought it a couple of weeks ago and haven't listened to anything else since.
Bill and Anne, Annie's Mum and Dad, have asked that if people want to give donations for the money to go to the Girls' Dormitory project in Serenje. This is a project to build a dormitory for 100 girls attending secondary school in the rural community of Serenje, where we already support a large HIV/AIDS project. At the moment very few girls complete secondary education as they have to live in a slum area where many of them get pregnant and become HIV positive. The dormitory will provide a safe place for them to live while they complete their secondary education and is going to cost around £125,000 to build. I can't think of a project which would better represent all that Angharad lived for, or which could provide a better legacy to remember her by. There will be a table with more information and baskets for donations at the thanksgiving, but if you can't make it and would like to give please send donations, payable to Kerith Community Church and marked for the Serenje Girls' Dormitory, to this address.
I hope you can make it next Monday, but if not please be praying for us and particularly for Bill and Anne as we say goodbye to Angharad and remember her life.
Karen Mehta emailed me yesterday to say that God had woken her up with a real conviction of our need to pray for our young people. To that end she's going to lead a prayer meeting in K2 on Friday night (23rd July) from 7pm for an hour. If you can make that time I'd really encourage you to go, but even if you can't make it please can I ask you to be find time to pray for our youngsters over the next few weeks. Things that would be good to pray for are:
The youth team fly off to Albania tomorrow (Friday) afternoon. Ethos (our youth band) will be playing concerts and Lee will be speaking in two different theatres on Saturday and Monday night, Lee will be preaching in Elbasan on Sunday and then the whole team will be leading a youth camp for 120 young people from Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia from Wednesday to Saturday. I'm so proud of our young people who will be leading all these events, as well as Lee, Liam and Ken and Ann Bothamley who will be trying to keep them all under control! You can get updates on their exploits on Ken and Ann's blog.
The Konnections youth and under 11's respite care days we will be running over the summer. In total we will be offering 400 places for special needs children to have a day of fun, either in K2 or offsite using our shiny new minibus (which was bought with an external grant). The play area down the side of K2, on the land which we are renting from the cricket club, is now ready and will be getting extensive use over the summer. Take a look at it on Sunday if you get a chance - it looks great.
Our young people are going to Rocknations in Bradford from August 4th to the 8th. Many of those going have never been to an event like this before - let's be asking God for changed lives amongst all those who are going. Let's also pray for safety as they travel there and back and in everything else that goes on.
Finally please be praying for the Thanksgiving Service for Angharad on Monday 2nd August. Let's pray that God will powerfully be with us in all that goes on there, that people will know God's comfort and that God will speak into people's hearts and lives.
Our good friend Canon Andrew White will be with us this Sunday evening, 25th July, at 7pm. For those of you who haven't heard of Andrew before he leads a church in Iraq, is affectionately known as the Vicar of Baghdad, and has been a key player over the years in the Middle East peace process. He's also one of the most remarkable men I've ever had the privilege of spending time with and always brings the presence of God with him.
When I spoke to him on Monday afternoon he said (with no prompting from me about our recent loss) that he was planning on speaking on Psalm 23 verse 4 - "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil". I suspect he may be about to bring a very timely word to us as a community.
Please can I encourage you to be there if you possibly can.
It's been a very emotional few days. Thursday's prayer meeting, the Friday night LIFE event with over 400 young people there and then Sunday's three meetings - all against the backdrop of Annie no longer being with us.
It was so good to have Bill and Anne with us both Sunday morning and evening. Church should always be a place we run to rather than avoid in moments like this. Let's continue to lift up Bill and Anne in prayer in what must be an unimaginably difficult time for them and their family.
We will start this week planning the thanksgiving service for Annie, which will be at 2.15pm in The Kerith Centre on Monday 2nd August. Everybody is invited as we draw together to remember and celebrate Annie's life. There will be laughter and happy memories amongst the many, many tears - Annie would have had it no other way. Parking as always at The Kerith Centre will be limited so please plan to leave enough time to park in the town centre car parks.
A number of people have said how helpful they found Sunday's message. If you missed Sunday, or want to listen to it again, you can find it here. Please find time to get alone with God this week. I suggest meditating on either 1 Corinthians 15 or 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
Finally let's continue to pray for Rory Allen. I spoke to his dad John on Sunday night and he said that Rory had the operation on his broken legs which went well, and that they had now removed all of his sedation and were waiting for him to come round. That could take anything from hours to days - let's pray that he comes round quickly and that there are no lasting effects from the accident.
I've just spoken with Bill and Anne (Annie's Mum and Dad) who have been up to North Wales to identify Annie's body. They're now on their way back and hope to be with us in church on Sunday, which will be wonderful. Please continue to pray for them and the family, and please greet them warmly if you do see them on Sunday. Let's also continue to pray for Rory Allen, and all of the other people affected by this tragedy.
We've now got the dates for Annie's funeral, which I wanted to get out as early as possible as I know many of you will want to be there. For family and invited friends there will be a committal service at Easthampstead Park Crematorium on Monday 2nd August at 1.30pm. This will be followed by a service of thanksgiving for Annie's life at The Kerith Centre starting at 2.15pm. We'll give out more details nearer the time, but we would love as many people as possible to come to the thanksgiving and celebrate the life of this wonderful young lady. I'm told that black will be out and Cath Kidston will be the order of the day!
I've been so encouraged and moved by all the messages and comments on Facebook, email and blogs. In particular I was very moved by blog entries written by two of Annie's friends in our community, Ellie Jackson and Laura Webber-Gant. Just make sure you've got some tissues before you read them, or if you're a bloke at least make sure you're in a room on your own!
Last night close to 200 of us met to pray. It was an amazing time as our sense of grief collided with faith that God can bring many good things out of Annie's death. Jesus said "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds" (John 12:24). We're believing for many seeds to come from the death of this precious, precious seed, just as the death of Jesus produced incredible seed in the lives of billions of people with changed eternities. Let's keep believing for that in these coming days.
Personally I'm still coming to terms with Annie not being with us any more. Last night I was washing up before the prayer meeting and it just hit me again as I cried into the washing up bowl. Praise God that in times like this we can grieve in community with the comfort of God and one another.
As we all come to terms with the death of Annie can I please ask you also to pray for Rory Allen. Rory was in the car with Annie and was airlifted to hospital after the crash.
Many of you will remember Rory's parents John and Louise. John was on staff as our youth worker for a time before they moved up to Sheffield to be part of a church there - they were very special friends to many of us. I spoke to John earlier on today. Rory is now in the Intensive Care Unit of the hospital and is in a critical but stable condition. He is currently under sedation and the doctors are awaiting the results of a brain scan before they can operate on his right femur which is shattered and his left tibula and fibula which are both broken. He is breathing by himself and his vital signs are good, although he is currently on a ventilator to provide additional oxygen. John was very happy for me to share this with you on the blog.
Just as we are praying for comfort in our own community let's be praying for Rory as well. Pray for the doctors to do what they can do, and for God to do what only He can do. Pray also for John and Louise as they sit with Rory, talk to him and pray for him.
Thank you to everyone who has been praying today and sending in messages and texts of encouragement - it means so much. God is in all of this, even if we from our vantage point struggle some of the time to see quite what He is doing. His ways are indeed higher than our ways.
I guess we're all still trying to come to terms with last night's tragic events. I've found encouragement this morning looking again at Paul's words to the church in Thessalonica. I've copied out 1 Thes 4:13-18 below
Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.
I'm going to preach into this on Sunday, but in the meantime can I encourage you to meditate on Paul's words and what God is saying to you through them in this situation.
At tonight's prayer meeting we'll worship, share communion and pray into all that has happened. I'd encourage everyone to come if you possibly can. I know that lots of our youngsters are planning on being there - what better place to be as we come to terms with all of this.
The Friday night LIFE youth event is going to go ahead. Having read Annie's blog on the impact LIFE had on her it's hard to see what else we could do. Pray for Liam as he speaks into Annie's death and ministers to the hundreds of young people who will be there.
As I've already said on Sunday I'll be talking about how we understand and come to terms with Annie's death. Yvonne Scott has cancelled her holiday so that she can be with children, and will be sharing the news with them and in a way they can understand. However, please can I encourage parents to talk and pray with your children before Sunday so that the come prepared. We spent some of last night doing that with our three - it is so key that we as parents take the lead in helping our children and young people through this.
I spoke to Bill, Annie's Dad, this morning. He's travelling back from France today and then he and Anne, Annie's Mum, will drive up to North Wales tomorrow. Please pray for them both, and the rest of the family, as they come to terms with the loss of their beautiful daughter.
I got the devastating new tonight that Angharad Clague had been killed in a car crash. It's so hard to believe that she isn't with us any more - just writing this seems totally unreal.
Annie has been on the year team since last September working with our children. In that time we saw an incredible transformation in her life as God powerfully got hold of her - just take a look at this entry from her blog for a sense of how passionate for Him she'd become. I'm so proud to be able to say that I knew her and that she was a part of our community - I'm going to miss her immensely and I know many of you will too.
In moments like these we need to cling on to the promise of the gospel that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Rom 8:28). We know that Annie has gone to a better place, what Jesus described to the thief on the cross as paradise, and that because of that we don't "mourn as those who have no hope" but instead have great hope because of what Jesus achieved through his death and resurrection. Let's pray for Bill and Anne, Annie's parents, and for Annie's brothers that as they grieve they will know God's comfort and strength. Let's pray for our children, young people, and many others in our community who loved Annie so much - that they too will know God's comfort as they mourn the loss of a dear friend. And let's pray for good to come from this tragedy - that God will take this and use it for His glory.
I'm not going to talk about Reveal at tomorrow nights prayer meeting. Instead we're going to worship, share communion and pray about what has happened. Please can I encourage you to be there too, even if you didn't know Annie well, as we work our way through this as the family of God.
At the prayer meetings this week (Wednesday and Thursday - 8.00pm in K2) I'm going to be taking some time to talk about the results of the Willow Creek Reveal survey which many of us took part in earlier this year. The information it gives is fascinating, and will serve as a springboard into prayer for the rest of the evening.
Please come along if you possibly can. I've just had a wonderful email from someone I prayed with on Sunday about a difficult situation at work which God has completely turned around. Prayer changes things, so come and be part of the change.
This morning I'm taking Leah into Crowthorne and Sandy Lane Primary Schools to talk with the heads and some of the children about Serenje. It's so exciting to be a part of linking communities across continents - something we've prayed for in the past.
After a fairly crazy season with visiting speakers, baptisms, the Real conference and a host of other things going on we're going to take it a bit easier this weekend.
After the 11am meeting we're going to head over to Oakwood for a picnic. Please come if you possibly can. It's a great venue, a good chance to meet new people and catch up with friends, a chance for the children to have fun and an opportunity to test your nerve on the high ropes. The forecast is looking good (there's plenty of shade if it's too sunny) so please plan to be there, whether you're brand new to our community or have been around for years. More details and directions on our website.
Then in the evening we'll be watching the World Cup final at The Kerith Centre. Sadly no England (other than the referee - let's pray for no disasters there!) but pick your favourite from Holland and Spain, cheer them on and make some new friends. Doors open at 6.30pm and the game kicks off at 7.30.
I'll be there at both events, hope to catch you there too.
I spent half an hour this morning meditating on Psalm 1 (one of our sessions at the Brighton Conference I'm attending was cancelled so I had a bit more time than I expected) and as I meditated I wrote down my thoughts. Hopefully for some of you who haven't spent much time meditating on the Bible before it might be useful to see some of where my thoughts went, not that I'm any expert on doing this stuff but if it helps you then great. If not then feel free to ignore my random ramblings!
All the way through doing this I was talking to God about what I was thinking and praying for people who came to mind too.
I didn't get to the end of the psalm after half an hour, but that's OK.
Blessed – happy, content, satisfied, at peace, growing, flourishing, prospering, doing life well, growing in relationship with God,
is the man – God working in and interested in individuals. Interested in the whole man. Not one specific area of life (health, mind spirit, relationships etc) but in every area of life – God is holistic and is interested in blessing the whole of us – no secular and sacred divide.
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked – where do I do this? By taking bad advice? Not all advice from unbelievers is bad, any more than all advice from Christians is good. But I need to make sure the advice I am getting is rooted in scripture and the choices I'm making are out of a desire to please God and seek his kingdom.
or stand in the way of sinners – I don't think “in the way” means getting in the way of sinners as in being a barrier to them, but being influenced by them. Jesus calls us to be in the world and be around sinners, but not to be of the world, not just conforming to what they would want us to say and do. Where is this happening to me?
or sit in the seat of mockers – I'm reminded of a lady Ben and I met in Singapore airport waiting to come home who spent a 15 minute conversation with Ben deriding the UK as a nation (and she was English). Mockers are people who drag you down, who are filled with negativity, who always have their cup half full, who take you down in their lift.
There is a progression here – walking to standing to sitting. Being around the wrong people can make me increasingly lethargic and lifeless and rob me of being a blessed person. Christians can do this to me as much as non believers. God put me around people who take me up in my lift and help me to discern and avoid being influenced by those who would take me down.
So what is the answer? What is the alternative? The psalmist says that it is to root myself in God.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord - God I thank you so much for the Bible. Thank you that it's freely available to us. Thank you for all the different ways it is now available – not only in print but on audio, iPhones and Blackberries – (and thank you for a good excuse to own an iPhone). Thank you for all the different translations which bring different aspects alive. Help me please to delight in it. Not that reading it should be a chore but something I delight to do, like enjoying a nice glass of red win, spending time with Catrina and the children or sitting down to read a good book. Something I look forward to and that I have a hunger for. Terry Virgo preached yesterday on the difference between our union with God (which is unshakeable through Jesus death on the cross and is never in doubt) and our communion with God (which is a relationship we need constantly to be working on). I don't spend time with God in order to strengthen my union with him (to earn his favour or his love) but in order to grow in my communion with him (to know him more and deepen my relationship with him).
And on his law he meditates day and night – God let this be a living thing which I take into every area of my life. Let spiritual disciplines (or 'relational food' as I now think of them) be as natural as having a conversation with Catrina or phoning or texting her. And help me to prioritise carving out time with you out of the 'firstfruits' of my time, not giving you then scraps that are left over after everything else has gone, but the best bits.
And what is the result of this?
He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.
God that's the man I want to be. To constantly be being refreshed with living water, not yesterdays water or last weeks water. To be getting fresh input, fresh strengthening, fresh understanding and fresh ideas every day. Not be relying even on the sermon from last Sunday, the conference I went to last month or that encounter I had with God last year but a fresh drink for today. I'm reminded of the Israelites in the desert who had fresh manna every day, and if they tried to keep it until the next day it was no good (other than on the sabbath). We need fresh input every day, not try and take such a great gulp on a Sunday that we can survive until the following Sunday – that's a receipe for death.
And God's promise is that whatever we do will prosper. People seem to try and spiritualise out the 'whatever' bit of that sentence, but I believe that when God says 'whatever' he means 'whatever'. But here is the key. Psalm 37:4 says it like this - “delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart”. The key is that as we delight ourselves in God he gives us a new heart (Ezekiel 36) and changes the desire of our hearts, so that our desires become his desires. Jesus said it a different way talking about material possesions “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
God help me not to live with a poverty or failure mentality. Help me to live with an expansive view of life, believing that you are going to prosper every area of my life, but that prospering will flow out of my delighting in you and your word and you shaping my longings and desires.