What do you really want to know?
I wonder if anyone reading this (practising Christian or not) has never found themselves asking some of the big questions in life?
Why is there so much suffering?
Why do I have the sense that the world isn’t quite all it should be?
Is there more to life then 9 to 5? Is there more to life than I can see?
If God does exist, what is He like?
Are Science and religion really in conflict with each other?
Can I really know God?
…..and many other questions.
Asking questions is a good thing,
Exploring all that life and the universe has to offer, even things which are of themselves a mystery, is a very healthy thing to do.
Where can we go to ask such questions? Where can we discuss some of those things which perplex us? Is there a forum anywhere for this?
Well, we believe there should be; and both the Team of churches and St. David’s are exploring how we can help people as they journey through life with these ‘big asks’
To start off, the Team will be running a Course this autumn which explores issues like these and how the Christian faith can help us on our journey.
More details will be released in September, but our aim is run a course which is accessible to everyone, whether part of the church or not.
It will be a safe place, a place without fear of being judged by others, a place to be honest and to seek some answers together (of course some questions are too big for a nice neat answer and we need to be prepared for that too!)
This course will also form the basis of our confirmation course. Bishop Tony will be coming to the Valley on 9th December to confirm anyone, of any age, who wishes to take that step.
Unfortunately, confirmation for some has come to mean little more than ‘what I need to do before I receive communion.’
This is not what is at the heart of Confirmation (though can certainly be one of the outcomes).
To be confirmed is to confirm the promises which we made or which were made for us at our baptism. It is to say a ‘yes’ to Jesus: ‘I want to follow you, I want to learn more about you and I want to take my place among the active life of the church.’
It does not mean we have all the answers, we may have very few.
But it does mean we think that in Jesus we’ve the best chance of finding answers (in this life or the next). It does mean we’re making a commitment to follow Him and trusting that he’ll walk with us and never leave us.
Do you want an opportunity to explore some of life’s big questions?
Would you like to find out a bit more about Jesus?
Are you considering whether the time is right for you to explore confirmation?
If so, watch out for news of the upcoming course and have a chat with Nick, especially if confirmation is something you may be interested in.
In the meantime, have a great summer and may the sun shine on us all!
With love in Christ, Nick
Well, what a weekend that was! Exhausting to prepare and run but exhilarating to be part of.
Our recent Team conference held in Holmbridge has been overwhelmingly positively received. Over 100 delegates from across the valley were involved in a weekend of exploring principles and practical examples of what contributes to church growth.
Bob Jackson, the leading UK expert on church growth was our leader and many, myself included, feel that God has given us, through him, a real kick-start for the future health and mission of our churches. He was challenging and inspiring, down to earth yet full of hope and dreams for what the church can be.
I will be producing a summary of what Bob had to say in the next few weeks, but for now, here are just a few of the points he made:
He asked what our motivation is as Christians; is it for the church to be there to give us everything we want or is it to be part of a community which lives and works for Jesus’ praise and glory? One picture he used was of a magic roundabout church – just repeating what it does the same way, year in year out or of a gospel train church, which whilst celebrating the church’s calendar is actually on a journey, going somewhere new with God. In both these examples he suggested the former would be a declining church and the latter a growing church.
Bob spent some time looking at how different Britain is today than it was a few decades ago. People think in very different ways, many have no understanding of the Christian story and are further from the church than ever before. He also helped us to see that the image of the church is not always that great!
This clearly means we have no choice but to think in new and creative ways, including considering what we do at times other than Sunday mornings; do we need to develop worship of different types on other days? On evenings? How can we engage with people who think they’ve no need of God or who have many deep questions about life and the universe? Bob suggested these are among the things the church must not only think about but take positive action on.
Bob also explored such things as the importance of welcome and hospitality, how growing churches grow younger and that the quality of our provision for children is central. We saw the importance of accessibility of worship and of nurture courses and small groups which help people on the journey of faith. The quality of everything we do, he suggested must be the absolute best we can manage.
I could mention many more things, but you’ll have to wait a week or two for a full summary!
Undergirding all this was a message that prayer is essential. Do we individually and as a church family pray for growth, do we pray that the transforming power of God will touch people’s lives (including through us)?
Those from All Saints who attended the conference have come up with a number of suggestions and have already begun addressing these ideas at PCC and soon will be with the wider church family. Our aim this coming autumn will be to produce short, medium and long term plans for the future health and growth of our church and everyone associated with it.
The conference was a tremendous encouragement that there are exciting times ahead. May we have ears to hear what God is saying to us and trust Him enough to follow Him into the future.
With love in Christ
The Jubilee: A reason to celebrate
As I write this the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Celebrations are approaching fast. For most of us it’s a word that surfaces every now and again, 1977, 2002, 2012…… significant years in the reign of Elizabeth II. What fewer people may be aware of is that the idea of Jubilee originates in the Old Testament, being an event which was planned to happen on a small scale every 7 years and then on a much larger scale every 50 years: The 50th year being the Jubilee year
The primary reason for this Year of Jubilee was to prevent oppression and injustice in Israel. (Lev. 25:14.17) All hired workers were to be set free. This was unconditional liberty. All bond slaves were released even if the Jubilee Year came before the completion of their six years of service
In Biblical terms the year of Jubilee was also known as ‘the year of the Lord’s favour’ and for the prophets it looked forward to a time when God would put right all injustices.
At the beginning of His active ministry on earth Jesus quoted these words of the prophet Isaiah:
" The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound, to proclaim the year of the LORD'S favour.” (which means ‘Jubilee’).
With Christ we do not have to wait 50 years to find the ‘Lord’s favour.’ When He proclaimed the Kingdom of God was breaking in to the world through Him; he was saying that the idea of Jubilee is no longer a twice a century event, but that Jubilee was here to stay.
God was doing a new thing, reconciling the world to Himself, starting to put right the injustices that were rife in a world where many people lived without reference to Him.
Christ, the King had begun to rule, the year of Jubilee had begun, and this meant good news, good news for those far away from God, good news for the poor, good news for the broken hearted and the captives. Good news for everyone who longed for freedom from whatever controlled, dragged them down or bound them up.
Jesus Christ is no less King today. He is our Jubilee, bringing us God’s favour and the freedom to live life as God always intended; to live in true freedom and with hope for the future.
It’s great to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of our Queen, but it’s even greater to know and celebrate the truth that in King Jesus, God has come among us, bringing us all the blessings of the God who loves us, frees us and walks with us into that future full of hope.
With love in Christ, Nick
New Life! - The hope for all Christians
There are all sorts of signs of new life all around us just now. It began with snowdrops and as I write daffodils are coming into full bloom. There are the buds of blossom on trees and the days are getting longer.
As Christians, believing in a God of creation, we can doubly appreciate these signs of His handiwork. But of course, we find the greatest joy, the greatest hope in the ultimate sign of new life; the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
His bursting from the tomb that first Easter Sunday, his conquering of sin and death, his resurrection to eternal life is whole new beginning for the world and can be for each and every one of us.
A central Christian belief has always been that through the death and resurrection of Christ, we can all have a new start, our short comings are forgiven and we are reconciled to God. Because of Jesus there is always hope, there is always the possibility of new life and of fresh starts – We receive that new life by turning to him and then by learning to follow, trust and love Him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.
The early Christians saw this as a central part of what they called the ‘Gospel’; literally the good news about Jesus Christ. Those early followers fired up by this good news and with the life transforming power of the Holy Spirit inside them; turned the world upside down in a just a few generations.
They knew they had a wonderful story to tell, they knew they had good news for all the world and they just couldn’t keep it to themselves. In fact Jesus commanded them to tell others and to make disciples of all peoples.
This is the same good news which we have to share, the same message of love, forgiveness and reconciliation which God has entrusted to us.
In a fast changing world the challenge of course is; how do we do this? How do we tell others the good news about Jesus, when an increasing number of people know little if anything about him?
This question lies at the heart of our Team conference coming up in June:
‘To Live and Work For His praise and Glory’
This will take place from Friday 8th to Sunday 10th June in St. David’s Hall and we are hugely blessed to have Bob Jackson, the UK’s leading expert on church growth, leading us for the weekend. We also have experts in 5 fields ranging from Messy Church to Missionary Worship who will be leading workshops during the weekend.
This is an incredible God- given opportunity for the churches in this valley. It will a time of learning and of challenge, of encouragement and of fun too.
Our prayer and desire is that God will use this weekend to give us a clear vision for the future for our Team of Churches and our parishes too.
It would be a tragedy if we didn’t grasp this opportunity with both hands.
The conference is free and we are encouraging as many people from across the churches to come, as is possible. If you aren’t currently a part of a church in the team, maybe God has something to say to you over the course of the conference? Everyone is welcome to sign up, to come, to listen, explore and be a part of what we are sure will be a springboard to exciting times ahead.
God has new life he wants to bring to the churches in the Holme Valley, and even more than that he has good news of new life to share with all the people who live or work here.
Conference brochures are available in All Saints’ or you can register by emailing Sue Thomson at: firstname.lastname@example.org or calling her on 687359
May God grant to us all hope and new life for the future, this Easter and well beyond!
With love in Christ
The Joy of Simplicity
As I sat down at my computer to write for this, this morning, everything felt like really hard work. Looking around my study I soon figured out why – it was a mess, cluttered, books and papers all over the place. Taking the decision to set aside some time to organise things, to tidy up and sort out what I really needed and what I could do without – made all the difference. Simplifying my surroundings cleared my mind and renewed my energy. The cliché ‘less is more’ I’ve always suspected was true and today my suspicions were confirmed.
I also think this is true for many things in life. Balance seems to be key.
How many of us consider yourselves to be unbalanced? No, I don’t mean mentally unbalanced. I’m talking about feeling that our life is out of balance, that we’re spending too much time, and money, and energy on some things, and not enough on other things. I’m talking about feeling like we spend our days lurching uncontrollably from one critical need to the next, always reacting to what seems most urgent, instead of what’s most important. I’m talking about trying to allocate our very limited resources of time, and money, and energy amongst a seemingly endless succession of demands, and always coming up short – always feeling exhausted, always feeling guilty that we aren’t doing more. Ever feel like that?
Some may say that this is part and parcel of the struggles of modern life – maybe that’s true to some extent – but does it have to be that way? Do we have to live such cluttered, rushed, exhausting and complex lives or is there a better way?
Over the last few years I’ve come to see that there is a better way, there is a simpler way of approaching life even in today’s world. I’m not suggesting it’s easy, but it can be learned – This is the way of life modelled by Jesus himself, centred simply on God, around which everything else flows.
What we all want, simply put, is a life in balance. What we want is to be able to do the things that are really important, without always feeling rushed and overwhelmed. What we want is for every area of our lives to receive its proper amount of time and attention, no more and no less.
Realising this is the first step on the road to a simpler, less cluttered life.
At the very beginning, we understand that the goal is not to organize our lives so as to achieve some abstract state of “balance”. The goal is to bring every area of life into harmony with God’s will. The goal is to follow and obey Him with every area of our lives. If we do that, then the “balance” will take care of itself, because God will never ask us to do more than we are able. He will show us our main priorities
God asks us to love and honour our families, to serve Him in all sorts of ways; to love others as we love ourselves (both parts of this last statement are equally important! – others and self). We all have roles to play, work of various kinds to do. God wants us to worship him with our whole life – and the beginning of that is simply seeking Him first and asking him to show us how all these other things fit into that.
It’s far from a complete analogy but picture God as the sun and the various areas of our lives as the planets orbiting Him – the course of each planet guided by its relationship to the sun.
It’s always a good thing to take stock of our lives, to clear away the clutter and establish priorities, but to seek that place of true contentment we long for, to live a ‘balanced’ life is determined far more by the place we give to God in our lives.
How about this for a question to consider this Lent: Is He one factor among many or is he the centre, the linchpin and still point around which everything else can find their proper place?
With love and prayers in Christ
February 2012 The Mystery of Prayer
On Sunday mornings leading up to Lent and Easter we are looking at some of the practices or disciplines which a disciple of Jesus (that is a Christian) will find as central and helpful in following him.
In the middle of January we looked at the Lord’s Prayer – a big part of Jesus’ teaching on prayer. We saw how it can be a model or structure to help us pray and we saw the key things we’re encouraged to pray about (there is an audio of the sermon on this website)
At the same time, we acknowledged that prayer isn’t easy – and it’s something we’ll always be learning. There are many things we could ask and say about how we communicate with God – but one particular question has been asked of me several times recently:
‘Since God already knows all my needs, why should I pray? Does is make a difference?’
Again, there’s lots we could say, but there are a few points we can make to get us started.
Prayer can feel stale and lifeless at times. But God really is at work when we take the time to exercise the discipline of prayer. Jesus tells us to think of God as our Father, a perfect parent. He loves to spend time with us and just spending time with him will make a difference. Just as we might go over the events of our day with a spouse, our children or a friend, so we can share the details of our lives, or hopes and fears with our Heavenly Father.
There are many mysteries to prayer. We know that sometimes our prayers are answered very quickly. Other times God can seem to be frustratingly silent. Sometimes our prayers aren’t answered in the way we’d ideally like them to be, maybe God says, ‘no’ to something but ‘yes’ to something we’d never thought of. Maybe God’s timing is different to ours, particularly in today’s world where we expect everything to be instant (from coffee to communication, or fast; from food to shopping)
When we persist in prayer, when we keep on going, even when it’s tough – that’s when we are most likely to enjoy the benefits. When we persist our characters will be changed, when we spend time with God, so some of who He is will rub off on us.
Rather than a means of trying to get God to do what we want; prayer we will find is a two way process in which we gradually come to see things God’s way.
Prayer is a dialogue and it’s good to learn to listen to God, to wait on Him in silence and to look out for answers to prayer among the ordinary every day things of life.
Philip Yancey in his excellent book ‘Prayer: does is make a difference?’ writes this:
‘As I persist in prayer I recognise an answering partner who takes up the other side of the dialogue, a kind of internal alter ego representing God’s point of view. When I want revenge, this partner reminds me of forgiveness; when obsessed with my own selfish needs I am struck with the needs of others. Suddenly I realise I am not talking to myself.’
The best way to learn to pray is just to give it a go. The structure of the Lord’s Prayer I find very helpful (the acrostic ACTS – adoration, confession, Thanksgiving, supplication is another structure some find helpful) – but God doesn’t expect any fancy language – He just wants us to come – just as we are.
So as Jesus says – ‘go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is in heaven.’
With love in Christ
January 2012 - Growing Healthy Churches
I hope by now that everyone is aware that 2012 will be a highly significant year for our team of churches. In September 2011 the Team Council made the decision to embark on something new to breathe new life into our churches and give us vision and direction for the future.
It is our aim that above titled conference which will be held in Holmbridge Hall from Friday 8th to Sunday 10th June 2012 will be the Launchpad for a new and exciting chapter in the history of the Upper Holme Valley Churches.
The conference is all about leading churches into growth, both in terms of depth of faith and in numbers. Our prayer, desire and hope is to see all our churches grow qualitatively and quantitatively in the years to come. For this to happen we need clear thinking and direction. We need a shared passion to see this happen and we need an expectancy that in God’s power this can and will be the reality for us all.
Our conference leader, who will also be involved with us in an on-going advisory role will be Rev Bob Jackson, the former Archdeacon of Walsall and one of the UK’s leading experts on church growth. Many of the staff team have met him and heard him speak on a four day course they attended in November. We believe his wisdom and experience will be invaluable to us.
On those four days, the staff team engaged in thinking about God’s purposes for his church, the centrality of mission in and to the world, what a healthy and mission shaped church looks like, and we thought about practical ways we can be missionary churches.
These are the kinds of things Bob Jackson will be helping us think about as we seek to reach out with the good news about Jesus Christ to the people of this valley.
Another thing which is particularly encouraging is that Bob will not be just giving us general principles for church growth, nor will be telling us we must do particular things. He will be helping us apply principles to our own situation as a team of eight churches in this part of West Yorkshire. He will be helping us listen to God and work out where He may be leading us and then in practical terms how we can move forward.
In short, the conference will be a spring board to seeing God do new things in the churches in the Holme Valley.
Bob will be speaking at our Team Anniversary service to be held at Christ Church, New Mill on Sunday 29th January 2012. This is an excellent opportunity for us all to meet him and hear just a little of what he has to say.
The Team Ministers and Team Council hope and pray that many of you will make the effort to be at New Mill on 29th January and that you will also consider signing up for the June weekend conference at Holmbridge (Friday 8 to Sunday 10 June 2012) . Booking forms and more information will be available from that day onwards.
So says the Lord:
‘See, I am doing a new thing!
and streams in the wasteland.’ Isaiah 43: 19
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