Sunday, December 30, 2007

Have a fruitful 2008

Well hope you all had a great Christmas if I didn't see you at church this morning to ask in person. Exciting as The Xmas Factor in all its various flavours was (I'm not sure I'll ever forget the nativity factor drama for one) it was great to get back to doing 'normal' church again this morning.
For those not in the adult meeting I preached from Luke 13:1-9 on God's expectation that we shouldn't just be faithful but that we should be fruitful, and that sometimes that means us taking tough decisions to either chop out of our lives things that aren't producing fruit, or digging around them and giving them more time but then getting rid of them if they still aren't fruitful. My challenge for us is for 2008 to be a year where we individually and as a church prepare ourselves for fruitfulness, as we look to grow to 2,000. It was also great to have loads of first time visitors with us this morning with people from Zimbabwe, South Africa and Nigeria as well as the UK.
We've now all travelled down to Suffolk to spend New Year with our friends Jason and Tina who lead the NewFrontiers church in Stockport and used to be in Bracknell. We'd love to be at the Hope08 prayer meeting but decided we needed a break before 2008 kicks off - if you're going please make those from the other churches feel incredibly welcome.
Have a great New Year and hope to see you soon.
Ps don't forget to get your copy of The Purpose Driven Life ready for the start of the 40 days of purpose on the 13th - cheap from the bookshop!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A slightly higher profile radio interview than mine!

Having had my own very small slot on Radio Berkshire on Sunday I was really interested to hear a bit of the Simon Mayo show on Radio 5 where Ricky Gervais (of The Office fame) and The Archbishop of Canterbury overlapped and had a short but very interesting conversation on a wide range of subjects. I thought The Archbishop did OK - you can see what you think by watching the YouTube video of it here. His interview afterwards was also quite interesting - you can find an audio version of that on the BBC website.

Talking of videos I thought I'd highlight again some of the amazing work our media team are doing. There are photos of some of the events around the celebration of Ben's 43 years in Bracknell here and a fantastic video summary here. You can also watch the video of Clive Challis being interviewed here - this has already been downloaded and watched 68 times with some very good feedback. I'll only hint at the video Paul Harker and others have done for Christmas Eve and say that it's outstanding - be there. Kerith Nooma here we come! No seriously video is such an important tool in our media savvy society - I heard somebody describe it as the 21st Century's stained glass window which I thought was quite an interesting image - it is inevitably a big part of our future although always only a tool to get the message across.

Keep reading through Luke - if you're on track then it will be Luke 4 today.

Hope to catch you on Sunday, if not then Christmas Eve or Christmas day.

Have fun!


ps There is a possibility Canon Andrew White will be with us on the morning of the 6th January - still to be definitely confirmed but if we do have him that will be a morning not to miss - you heard it here first! Then 40 days of purpose starts the following Sunday - all exciting stuff.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Xmas Factor - The Unseen Side

For those of you who don't have the privilege of being around The Kerith Centre during the week you might not realise that our Christmas programme extends way beyond what happens on Sundays - excellent as that is. Some non Sunday events I can remember off the top of my head are The Festive Feast, There's More to Life Christmas Meal, Battle of the Bands, Konnections Social, Distribution of hampers given by Housegroups and Garth Hill College and toys from the Unique Women's Breakfast, Sparklers Christmas Parties as we as all the on going support into the community Catriona Mitchell, Andy Jackson and many others are providing. Please don't get upset if I forgot your event - just post a comment to remind us of it!

Well the last two days we've had two more outstanding events with the Brackenhale and Garth Hill College Secondary Schools Christmas Carol Concerts. I only made it into the Garth Hill one today but there were well over 1,100 people in the auditorium (oh for that every Sunday!) and the kids (probably not the right word) loved having the big stage with all the lights to perform on. The concerts are jointly lead by our Youth Team (headed by Lee Layton-Matthews) and the Youth Team from the Eternity Warfield Church. There is a fantastic freedom for them to declare the gospel in the front of all those teachers and pupils, and chatting with the head and other department heads afterwards they are incredibly grateful for all we do. It's also exciting to see our two churches working together - a great pointer to how with Hope08 we can look to achieve so much more together than we ever could apart. The head of Garth, Keith Grainger, invited Brian Meardon (Vicar of Warfield) and me to meet him in the New Year to talk about how Garth could partner with both Hope08 and possibly what we are doing in Zambia - more of that in the New Year but another example of the church being the head and not the tail.

I'm incredibly proud of our teams who have made all these "unseen" events happen - too numerous to mention but you know who you are :-) We are changing hearts and minds - keep asking God to break in through all that we do!

On the subject of Hope08 don't forget the New Years Eve prayer meeting. Details of that and other aspects of Hope08 are on the fledgling Hope Bracknell website - check it out and register for future updates!

Off to pick up Jacob and his friends from Bracknell Sports Centre before a rehearsal for Christmas Eve tonight - roll on Boxing Day!


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Fear of God

A quick post before I go off to work!

I spoke on Sunday morning that the fear of God which Mary sings about in her song in Luke 1. I said that it had more to do with us holding God in awe, revering him and receiving his word to us as being definitive as opposed to being advice to be considered, rather than fear as in the sense of us being terrified of God. I realised afterwards that I didn't give a scripture to back that up, but this morning was reading Hebrews 12 and 13 and found a passage that speaks straight into this - Heb 13:18-24.

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: "If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned." The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, "I am trembling with fear."
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (NIV)

This is important stuff as Proverbs 1:7 says " The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline." We want to be wise and not fools! So fear God in a right way but don't be terrified of him.

Why not stop right now and read Luke 2 if you haven't already - here is is again online from The Message.

Finally to say Alice's nativity last night was brilliant - congratulations to Caroline Hanbury and everyone else putting it on (and everyone else in the church involved in school productions this Christmas). It was based on a Russian story called Babooshka and was an excellent retelling of the Christmas story. I'm still not sure why Alice was an American tourist though!


Monday, December 17, 2007

The Xmas Factor - Another Great Weekend

We're now three weeks into our Christmas Programme - The Xmas Factor - and so far it seems to have gone really well.

This weekend saw "The Battle of the Bands" on Friday night. The turnout of bands (4 bands plus Ethos) was a bit disappointing but the feel of the night was excellent. I was upstairs for quite a bit of it and chatted to a number of parents who were very impressed by both the quality of the event and that we would do something like this as a church for their youngsters. Lee and all of our youth did a great job of organising it and the technical team took things to another level with the lights, live video mixing from multiple cameras and audio teams, plus all the car parkers, security etc who make it all possible. A big thank you to everyone involved and certainly something to repeat again later in the year with all the lessons we've learnt from doing it this first time.

Then on Sunday evening we had "Christmas Unwrapped" with J John. He is such a fabulous communicator - makes me feel like giving up! - and it was such a privilege to have him with us. I've already heard of four first time commitments which is fantastic - I'll post more when I get to hear the full stories in the office tomorrow. That's added to one person who responded to the appeal I made on Sunday morning - God is on the move. Let's be asking God to break in at the other events, plus in the conversations we have with people outside of the building.

I'll try and post up some photos of all that has gone already when I get a free moment - some time in 2009 the way things are going currently!

I mentioned on Sunday morning the idea of reading a chapter of Luke every day through Christmas starting today, as a way to make sure we don't lose our connection with God over what can be any incredibly busy time. I was reading it from The Message translation this morning (which I often find helpful as I can get over familiar with the NIV text) so thought I'd post a link to it here so you can read it from The Message if you don't have a copy. Why not stop right now and read chapter 1, and then add a comment if what you read speaks to you.

Finally to say I came through my Radio Berkshire interview, which you can listen to here if you're really interested! Just follow the listen again link and go about an hour into the Clare Catford show.

Off to Alice's school show tonight - she's an American tourist which I don't remember from my school nativities :-) Should be fun.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Way outside my comfort zone

I feel that I'm currently living most of my life outside my comfort zones. In the last 2 months I've done my first TV interview, first newspaper interview, first stint as Senior Pastor, first funeral, so many firsts that I'm losing count! Well Sunday morning is another one with my first radio interview. I don't know how it looks on the outside but on the inside

I'm going to be on BBC Radio Berkshire from 8-9 am on the Clare Catford Show. You can find more details and I think listen to an archive of the show up to a week later here.

Ben Davies and Janine Jackson are both past masters at doing this show but for me it's a first and feels quite scary. Please pray for me that it will go well and that I won't say anything I shouldn't!

After that back to The Kerith Centre for our Sunday morning meeting with the children in their parties from 9:50 and then J John on Sunday evening - should be very exciting. A number of people have asked me if there are still tickets available for Sunday night. Be assured that it isn't a ticketed event so just turn up, but do remember to park at the Avis car park.

I'm going over to Reading with Steve Scott who is not only an amazing guitarist but is also doing an incredible job doing more and more of our interactions with the press. It was Steve who got ITV here for the October handover events, Steve who has handled all the recent press releases with the local newspapers and Steve who organised for me to be on the radio on Sunday morning. He's to blame for many of my scary firsts! Another one of our incredible army of volunteers who brings his unique gifts to help us do what we do.

Hope to see you all on Sunday,


Monday, December 10, 2007

Graham Hardeman

Today we had the funeral of Graham Hardeman. I first met Graham and his wife Sue when about two and a half years ago we had a phone call at the church office to ask if we could help with a couple who needed their house refurnished from top to bottom after a house fire. Beds, wardrobes, tables, chairs, carpets, white goods, the lot. Ken Bothamley normally dealt with those sort of requests at the time but he was on holiday so the request came to me. I'd only been on staff a couple of months and felt completely baffled as to what to do. Anyway, a "please help" prayer and a bit of research found a furniture warehouse in Reading who could supply all the secondhand furniture we needed to refurnish the house for a few hundred pounds. All we needed to do was get over there and pick it all up! I had no time to do that but then Gareth Phillips who is in my housegroup said he would happily sort hiring the van and he and Keith White then drove over to Reading and brought all the stuff back over to Graham and Sue's house in Wildridings. It took them hours longer than we initially thought to do the job but they did it anyway with genuine joy and enthusiasm - stars.

I honestly thought that was the last we'd ever hear of Graham and Sue so was amazed when they turned up at church the following Sunday. They only really came to say thank you, but were so impressed by the welcome they received and the life in our meetings that they kept coming back. Not long later they both went on an Alpha course, became followers of Jesus Christ and were both baptised in one very memorable Sunday meeting. Keith White was a star in this whole process, regularly giving Graham and Sue lifts to and from church. They also joined two different housegroups, first of all joining up with Steve and Ann Hart who did an amazing job of helping them both practically and in their spiritual growth, and more recently with Matt and Gloria Wicks.

Well in the last few months Graham's health went down hill and he sadly died on the 20th November 2007. I was away in Zambia at the time but Andy Jackson did a magnificent job of being with Sue in hospital during Graham's final hours, and then Ken Bothamley gave amazing support to Sue in all the practical arrangements of planning the funeral. The funeral today was truly a team effort with a number of the church family there to set up the rooms, control the flow of cars in and out, prepare the food after the cremation and generally be there to support Sue and her son Lyndon.

It is just so great to see the church in action. When the church works well there is nothing else like it in all the earth - it's so great to be part of a family like this.

Finally to say how amazingly God has worked in Sue's life. She's a totally transformed person from the lady I first met two and a half years ago. If I ever looked for an example of God taking someones heart of stone and giving them a heart of flesh then Sue would be it - God has truly changed her from the inside out and you'd only have to spend a few minutes with her to see the power of God to change a life.


Saturday, December 1, 2007

Final day of the Willow PTP leaders gathering

Hi all. Well I'm sat here in Chicago's O'Hare airport with my starbucks latte (happiness is a latte!) having just done the next draft of my talk for the Xmas Factor on Sunday night (which I'm feeling very excited about) waiting for my flight home. I never enjoy travelling on my own - I'm always worried that I'll do something stupid like get on the wrong plane - but at least this trip has felt like its been well worth while.
We finished today with an all day question and answer session with Bill Hybels, very similar in style to the one he did a few weeks back when he was in Bracknell. Fortunately there was very little overlap between the questions asked at the two different sessions which was great. There were too many questions to list them all here but needless to say the answers were fantastic!! Ask to see my notes if you'd like some examples.
So what have I learnt this week? First of all just a reinforced belief that we are on the right track and that the dreams God has placed in our hearts need to be pursued with energy and passion, along with a deep assurance that God is with us. Then lots of specific things I feel God spoke to me about which we'll hopefully be putting into practice over the coming weeks and months.
Can't wait to see you all again on Sunday for Don Smith in the morning and the Xmas factor in the evening.