Pastoral Letter June & July 2016

Dear Friends,

“… in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you”

We all know that we have plenty to be thankful for. From the very basic things, like food, and clothing, through bigger things like family and friends, even up to the privilege of living in a nation with good roads, free education and health services, and so forth. We should be thankful to the Lord for all this.

But of course, there is much more to be thankful for when we think spiritually. As the hymn writer John Kent wrote:

On such love, my soul, still ponder —
Love so great, so rich and free;

Say, while lost in holy wonder, —
‘Why, O Lord, such love to me?’


The love of Jesus Christ to His people is just extraordinary. We can never be thankful enough that the King of Kings should come from eternal glory into this world of sin and shame to save us from our rebellion against Him, even though by nature we were His enemies. Then we think that not only has He come, but that He has come for us. It is mind–blowing. We ask ‘Why Lord – Why such love to someone like me?’ and we are filled again with thankfulness.

This letter is written for release on the day when we come together as a church to celebrate Josh’s baptism. We are giving God thanks for His grace and mercy to Josh. Perhaps it is relatively easy to give thanks on a day like today. But the Apostle Paul gives us direction that we should give thanks ‘in everything’. Not just on the happy days, nor just in the good times, but every day, and in every situation. So, we should be giving thanks when we are sick, when we are poor, when we are are sorrowful, or when we are afraid. But how is this possible?

The answer lies in reversing the way we think about what we are thankful for. Instead of working up from the ‘smaller things’, start with the biggest things. Start with Christ’s love for you and His atoning death on your behalf. Think of the lifting of your burden of sin. Think of the securing of eternal life. Think of the indwelling and work of the Holy Spirit. Think of that true and inexplicable joy and peace which God alone can provide. Place the events of your earthly life in an eternal perspective. Sometimes it is very hard to give thanks, and all you want to do is moan. But persevere — thankfulness brings glory to God, and will lift your spirits and guard you against cynicism, coldness and jealousy of others.
As you seek to honour God in thankfulness, no matter how hard your situation, He will in turn bless you, and help you even in your thanksgiving. May God bless you all.

Pastoral Letter May 2016

Dear Friends,

Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life
– Romans 6:4

We are beginning to see more sun after what has been a long, wet, winter, and it feels almost as though spring has not really happened! More light and heat can bring joy to us, and positivity. This month we will record the 182nd anniversary of the chapel, and the 32nd anniversary of our church. We look forward to that. We look forward even more to a baptism at the end of the month, which is the first for very many years. We hope and pray that this will be a time that we can look back on in years to come as a marker of new life, and new hope, in our life and witness.

 

Even as we rejoice at these things, we are aware of many heavy burdens being borne in the fellowship, particularly as we have dearly beloved friends who are battling their way steadily, near to the end of their pilgrimage in this world. I felt that the well-known words of Romans 6 were particularly appropriate for us all. We feel torn in ourselves by thankfulness and rejoicing on the one hand, and a deep sadness on the other. Yet, this is the season that the Lord has ordained for our fellowship, that we might share together both joy, and sadness. We should not be ashamed, or embarrassed, of either emotion, or even a mixture of both at the same time!

The ordinance of believer’s baptism should be a great comfort to all of us at this time. It speaks so clearly to us of Christ’s burial and resurrection. It reminds us of the precious cleansing from sin which we receive upon our conversion. Most personally, it identifies each one of us with our Lord. We are buried ‘with Him’, and as He was raised, so we are raised to walk in ‘newness of life’. Of course there is even more, for we know:

This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, We shall also live with Him.
If we endure, We shall also reign with Him. — 2 Timothy 2:11-12

There are many other scriptures besides that link together Christ’s death and resurrection with our own experience. What a blessing it is to know the Lord Jesus as our Saviour. How precious it is to ‘hide ourselves’ in Him, to be able to look unto Him as the one who has gone before us, and has defeated death. As one modern hymn writer puts it so well ‘Death is dead, love has won, Christ has conquered’. For the Christian, death is only the doorway to eternal glory. So let us laugh together, and weep together, knowing this — that the life which Christ has won for us can never be taken away from us.

Pastoral Letter April 2016

Dear Friends,

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.

When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,

Nor shall the flame scorch you. – Isaiah 43:2

As a struggling teenager, I would head out to school with a heavy heart. There are so many things to worry about at school, especially if you hate Maths, are not very good at P.E., and also fearful of being bullied! Occasionally, my Mum would call out brightly, as I went, ‘go out, and slay some dragons!’

I certainly didn’t feel much like the ‘Patron Saint’ of England when heading off through South London. In case you’re wondering, I thought that the month containing St George’s Day would be a good one to share the photo I took of the famous sculpture in Bethlehem! But I digress.

Life is hard, isn’t it? There seem to be ‘dragons’ everywhere for many of us. Great concerns about health, studies, family, friends, work, money, our society, our safety … the list goes on and on. We are find ourselves under varying levels of stress. Some of us cope relatively well, others of us struggle greatly and are prone to depression and anxiety. Some of us will also discover that whilst once we coped well with the demands of life, now perhaps the same things we formerly breezed through exhaust us, fill us with dread, or perhaps utterly defeat us.

Here’s what I want to say to everyone: We have to fight life’s battles, we can’t opt out. But we have someone with us — and He IS a real dragon–slayer! He says to each one of us ‘I will be with you’. Isaiah’s imagery is apt. We feel like we’re drowning in deep water. We feel the heat of the fire and it seems certain that we are going to be burned! Left to ourselves, we would be drowned, burned, beaten, and ultimately, eternally lost. But we are not left to ourselves and we have a great and glorious Saviour, Jesus Christ. He is fully God and fully man. He once was fully dead. But we know that ‘He is risen’ and hence, fully alive. In Him is life, and He is life. He lives in and of Himself, and He lives in His people by the work of the Holy Spirit, and by the same blessed Dove His people live in Him. Brothers and sisters, He has not saved us in order to leave us ‘helpless until Heaven’. He says ‘I will be with you’, and He will be. Prove it.

Pastoral Letter March 2016

Jesus Christ … declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead   – Romans 1.3-4

Dear Friends,

Easter is very early this year, and before the month is out, it will have come and gone. Perhaps the Archbishop of Canterbury is on to something in his desire to get the date fixed every year! Of course, we celebrate Easter every Sunday — it is the Lord’s Day — but I feel that we should be thankful that there is yet, on our land, some awareness of the ‘Church Calendar’ and of Biblical events. So we seek to make the most of the opportunity, and to bring the events of those New Testament days into the hearts and minds of our family, friends and neighbours.

Do we realise quite how powerful the Resurrection is in terms of our witness? I trust we all grasp the centrality of the cross of Calvary, the substitutionary and atoning death of Christ in place of undeserving sinners, and I hope we could all explain the cross very simply if asked. But so often, folk don’t see the relevance of Jesus Christ, and His death, in the first place. There is no longer much of an awareness of sin, of personal wrongdoing, or of anything being owed, by us, to God.

At ‘The Garden Tomb’ in Jerusalem, the text above is displayed opposite the tomb. No absolute claim is made that this is the site of Calvary and the Tomb, but your guide will tell you ‘what DOES matter is that here, or very nearby, Jesus Christ really died and rose from the dead’. The Resurrection is the seal of God the Father upon the work and witness of His Son. When others question the Christian faith, you can leave them with one question, which they may answer at their leisure, but they must answer — Did Jesus rise from the dead, or not? If not, then we are wasting our time. But if so — then everything is different. To the honest enquirer, the evidence is overwhelming: Christ is Risen. He is declared to be the Son of God with power, through the work of the Holy Spirit, by the Resurrection. What is the point of all that I’m saying? It is this: We need to talk about Calvary, but we need to press, again and again, the reality of the Resurrection. It will build our faith, encourage us in every part of life, and be a mighty weapon as we seek to witness!

Pastoral Letter January/February 2016

Dear Friends,

Our New Year Text is the well-known conclusion to Psalm 19. It is an expression of heartfelt desire from King David, expressed so elegantly in our translation.

But do we share David’s desire? Indeed, do we ever consider what the Lord sees in our hearts or hears from our lips? There’s no doubt of course, that He is witness to every thought and word that we produce. This can be a terrifying thing. The Poet–King has just extolled the wonders of God’s law and His testimony, His commandments and His judgements, calling them ‘sweeter than honey’. Again, do we really believe that this is so, or are the character of God, and His Holy standards, matters of little consequence to us? Is it all just ‘water off a duck’s back’?

NY Text 2016

Perhaps, as we embark on another year, we need to humble ourselves. What do we hope to achieve this year? What might we hope to see? We will see nothing apart from God’s power to bring it to pass — and yet, it we’re honest, how little of God we have any patience or tolerance for! How easy it is to make anything our priority except spiritual things. How readily we will lay aside meeting with God’s people or studying His word, or even private prayer, when a distraction arises. I speak to myself as strongly as I speak to you all. Let’s examine ourselves, and ask, simply, do we truly worship, and desire to know, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? The great I AM? Do we even care if our words and thoughts please Him? Do we ever stop to think that He is our ‘strength’ and without Him we are utter weaklings? Do we pause to reflect that He is our ‘Redeemer’ and without Him we are eternally lost?

As the New Year is come, may we turn with renewed desire to our God in the person of Jesus Christ, and seek His face, with true appreciation and deeper love, longing to be ‘acceptable’ not because we have to be, but because we long to be.

Pastoral Letter December 2015

Dear Friends,

As in the past, this month’s ‘letter’ is from Pastor C.H. Spurgeon. A very happy Christmas to everyone! — Jonathan

IT IS SUPERSTITIOUS to worship angels; it is but proper to love them. The one incident in angelic history, to which our text refers, is enough to weld our hearts to them for ever. How free from envy the angels were! Christ did not come from heaven to save their compeers when they fell. When Satan, the mighty angel, dragged with him a third part of the stars of heaven, Christ did not stoop from his throne to die for them. Yet angels did not envy men. Though they remembered that he took not up angels, yet they did not murmur when he took up the seed of Abraham; and though the blessed Master had never condescended to take the angel’s form, they did not think it beneath them to express their joy when they found him arrayed in the body of an infant. 
How free, too, they were from pride! They were not ashamed to come and tell the news to humble shepherds. Mere men — men possessed with pride, think it a fine thing to preach before kings and princes; and think it great condescension now and then to have to minister to the humble crowd. Not so the angels. They stretched their willing wings, and gladly sped from their bright seats above, to tell the shepherds on the plain by night, the marvellous story of an Incarnate God. And mark how well they told the story, and surely you will love them!

Friends, does not this verse, this song of angels, stir your heart with happiness? When I read that, and found the angels singing it, I thought to myself, “Then if the angels ushered in the gospel’s great head with singing, ought I not to preach with singing? And ought not my hearers to live with singing? Ought not their hearts to be glad and their spirits to rejoice?” Well, thought I, there be some somber religionists who were born in a dark night in December that think a smile upon the face is wicked, and believe that for a Christian to be glad and rejoice is to be inconsistent. Ah! I wish these gentlemen had seen the angels when they sang about Christ; for angels sang about his birth, though it was no concern of theirs, certainly men ought to sing about it as long as they live, sing about it when they die, and sing about it when they live in heaven for ever. I do long to see in the midst of the church more of a singing Christianity. The last few years have been breeding in our midst a groaning and unbelieving Christianity. Now, I doubt not its sincerity, but I do doubt its healthy character. I say it may be true and real enough; God forbid I should say a word against the sincerity of those who practice it; but it is a sickly religion. Watts hit the mark when he said,

“Religion never was designed — To make our pleasures less.”