Thursday, 28 January 2010

The Crazy Mackays

When we planted RFC it was easy to build friendship into the core values of the church because we were doing it with great people, the Crazy Mackays being amongst them. I didn't know Craig & Karena well then but I did know they loved Jesus and were happy to join us in the adventure.

That was over 10 years ago. Since then our friendship has grown as has the treasury of memories and shared moments. We've camped in the rain, bathed our kids, laughed & cried, worshipped & prayed. Our lives have become inter-twined and found it ever easier to 'bear with one another in love'! Like many things in life, you don't know how good is until you realize it's going to change.

And now we are journeying with them in the final days of Karena's life. Watching from a distance as the children grab a few minutes with their mum is very moving. We are mindful of Craig & Karena's many other good friends who want to say their goodbye personally to Karena but graciously give them space. It must be very hard for these other dear friends, but the Crazys are very aware of the love & support & prayers from them.

In a few days time, I'm guessing, Karena will breath her last and meet Jesus face to face. I bet she gives a big 'whooop' when she sees Him! For many of us though, a big hole will open up in our lives ... Liz & I and our children will need to press into Jesus to make sense of the pain in our hearts.

I guess our friendship with the Crazy Mackays will change (Karena brought so much), but our enjoyment and commitment to them will continue ... which will probably involve more impromptu crazy dancing, noisy meal times & wet camping trips. We will all get through this.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Sunday nights at South Street

In 12 days time (Feb 7th) we will be starting our evening meetings at South Street Arts Centre. I am really excited by this new faith venture and expect God to use it to build His Kingdom here in Reading.

When I chatted all this through with my friend Jonathan Bell he advised me to build a core of people who will commit to weekly being part of this for the first six months.

So, would you please consider commiting the next six months of Sunday evenings to attending our South Street meetings. I think we need 50 or so friendly RFC faces to make it feel like us.

Its a big ask, and may mean serving in the morning and then coming out again in the evening, but that's how things get built in God's Kingdom; through faith, hard work & sacrifice.

Come and be part of what God is going to do through us meeting in an Arts Centre! (And it's going to be great fun!)

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Youth @ Butlins 2010

At the newfrontiers 'together at Butlins' weekend, I served in the Youth meetings. It was a great team effort involving many like minded youth leaders from churches across south-east England. One of our bands at RFC led the times of worship, and they did a really good job:

Thursday, 21 January 2010

This Sunday @ RFC

This weekend RFC will be gathering in two places!

75 of us are going to Butlins for the weekend to join with 3000 others from newfrontiers churches who relate to Steve Tibbert and Mark Landreth Smith. Our band will be leading the worship for the youth meetings, which is where I will be serving as well.

The rest of RFC will be in Reading and shall be meeting as usual at Reading Girls School. Kat Starling will be leading worship and my good friend Howie Kellet will preaching. Howie first preached at RFC approx 6 years ago when he was planting a church in Manchester. Howie is great fun, last August I joined him in a impromptu swim in Lake Michigan, I'm sure he will fill you in on the details!

If the situation with Karena changes, I will come back to Reading to be with Craig. So wherever you are on Sunday morning, invite the Holy Spirit to stir your heart and pray for our wider church family.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Further thoughts on Haiti

On Sunday I spoke about Haiti and how we as Christains need to be able to think clearly as to why God allows this to happen and what our response should be. I have sinced asked two friends in RFC to let me know their thoughts. Frank has been involved in relief work in two natural disasters:

A Point of View – Haiti Earthquake - by Frank Bingham
“Where were you when I created the earth? Tell me since you know so much!” (Job 38:4 The Message)

I awoke, the dry throat accompanied by a racing heartbeat. The whole room moved violently to one side and then changed direction to come rushing back again. Oh how I wished I did not know how pitiful were the steel and concrete that held the building together, how many shortcuts the builder would have taken and how no one who built it cared if it would stand or fall in a moment like this. The large wardrobe next to the bed in our fourth floor bedroom tipped towards me and for a moment I understood that it would fall and crush us as we lay there. All those terrible images of the buildings that had pancaked from six, seven, ten floors to none in one terrible instant sprung to mind and forced themselves rapidly into mind’s view. Then it was over as suddenly as it started, the wardrobe fell back, the building was still intact, I am not trapped or dead, does this mean God still loves me?

This was my experience in Istabul in 2002 whilst working in the relief effort post the quake that centred on Bolvadin

In light of the recent earthquake in Haiti in which unimaginable suffering and pain has been visited upon the inhabitants of an already impoverished and suffering nation, many people in Haiti and the world over are left asking themselves:

Why did it happen
Why did God allow it to happen
What can we do

To claim to be able to answer the first and second questions would be presumptuous in the extreme. We do not know the mind of God and so we can only offer a point of view backed up by what we read in the infallible word of God, the bible and by our real life experiences of God revealing a little of his nature to us as we go through our lives.

Why did it happen
“And have you ever ordered morning ‘Get up!’ told dawn ‘Get to work’ so that you could seize earth like a blanket and shake out the wicked like cockroaches” (Job 38:12-13 The Message)

We live in a time when quick answers are demanded to every question that perplexes us, instant gratification, instant reassurance that all is still well is what most people are after. As long the answer to the question satisfies the human side of us and doesn’t cause us too much discomfort, we can relax.

So from the human point of view, we can cite many scientific and technical reasons to explain why and how the earthquake occurred in that specific location and yet none of them will explain how to predict the timing or location of the next one. Indeed, a simple human explanation of why it happened is that the earth crust at that point was ready to burst and did so. None of these scientific and technical explanations will satisfy the spiritual side of our nature though.

To a person wandering homeless, injured, exhausted, terrified and abandoned in a place that was their home but now looks like aftermath of a very large and widespread explosion, there is no immediate answer to their question that will satisfy them. To say to them it happened because people are bad won’t help, to say it happened because God was bringing judgement to them because they were wicked won’t help. Many will try to justify why it happened in terms of these arguments. They will quote the bible over and over carefully selecting texts (from the comfort of their intact home, their intact city, their intact family, their intact life as they know it in a remote location) to back up their reason for why it happened. Don’t listen to them, they are not interested in helping only laying blame and he who casts the first stone should be blameless themselves, none of us are! A simple spiritual answer as to why it happened is that God allowed it. God created the heaven and the earth and everything in it for His purposes.

Why did God allow it
“ ‘Do you presume to tell me I’m doing wrong? Are you calling me a sinner so that you can be a saint?’ “ (Job 40:8 The Message)

Why would God allow such a terrible thing to happen. He has supreme control over all things so has within His power the ability to stop such an event from occurring in the first place. Does He dislike the people of Haiti, is He determined to punish them, has He decided their time of facing up to Him has come? To begin to answer this question along these lines is to end up in a place of utter despair and loneliness.

Job was a very dedicated, faithful, God fearing educated man who obeyed God’s commands in detail for years on end, bringing his family up to do the same. God chose to use Job as an example of faith and sinfulness. Job was not consulted, he was not warned. He went about his life trusting that a God He could not see had Job’s best interests at heart. Few human beings have ever been as dedicated, as willing, as faithful and as genuine in their trust of God as Job was. Over a short period this God who Job trusted so completely, allowed the devil to take away everything that Job held dear, that he had slaved to achieve to build up, that he had nurtured. His children, his wealth, his friends, his health, they all disappeared in a total onslaught that left him raging to God about how unfair it was and this was when he became proud. He told God that he (Job) was definitely not being treated fairly and that God was not right to reward such a faithful servant in this way. God then puts him in his place and reminds him who is in charge. Job repents, apologises and God then restores to Job even more than he had before.

God is in charge and will use the earth and all of use to suite His divine purposes. We do not know the mind of God but have to trust that He above all others is good, that He alone truly does have our best interests at heart. For those who do not know Jesus as their Lord and saviour, this will be of no comfort at all. For those who do know Jesus, it will be of limited comfort right now. Despite this it is the truth.
In short, God allowed it for reasons only He understands.

What can we do
“If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t have love, I’ve gotten nowhere.” (1 Corinthians 13:3 The Message)

In response to the earthquake in Haiti, we have free choice about what we do. Many will drop everything, rush off to Haiti to help, many will give money, many will ask why the problems is theirs to concern themselves with and do nothing.

To those who wish to do something, be the flavour of Christ. Be gentle as a dove but wise as a serpent in any efforts you make to “help” in Haiti.

Pray first that the local church (who will also be suffering as is everyone else) will stand firm in their faith and elect wise, strong leaders to deal with the avalanche of well meaning help that will come their way from believers all over the world. Pray they are not overwhelmed, pray for God to send specific believers experienced in disaster relief people from outside to serve them in setting up immediate food and shelter aid, counselling, burials and clothing. Pray for wise use of the vast finds that will pour in , disrupt their economy and threaten to destroy them while proving essential money to buy what is needed (goods, services, labour) to begin immediate aid programs. Pray for organisations like Tear Fund to be directed to where they are most needed and will be of greatest benefit in God’s plan for now in Haiti. Pray against people coming to Haiti right now who are determined only to spread God’s word at this time. This is not the time to tell people how much Jesus loves them, show them instead by simple action starting with prayer. Pray for contacts with local churches so that effective prayer for specific needs can happen.

Serve - The flavour of Christ is often effectively communicated via humble service to those in need. Do not assume that by offering to go and help your offer will be received with open hands and great joy. Those you wish to serve under such circumstances as now occur in Haiti have long ago learned what day to day suffering is and now are suffering even more. Adopt and attitude that you are going to learn from these people, especially the ones who know Jesus and are praising Him still. Serve by volunteering to help a UK agency that is active or planning to be active in Haiti but choose a church based disaster agency such Tearfund if at all possible. They have done this before and are more likely to move sensitively and with the local Haitian church and populace’s best interests at heart.

Give – For those who wish to donate money to a program in Haiti, pray for the best way to do this and go with your sense of what God would like you to do with your money. Giving to a central government dedicated Haiti relief fund is one way, giving to a church based relief agency is another. It is usually ineffective to give to individuals who might be going over to Haiti, they will have less success in getting the money used in the most effective way. Registered agencies or churches that have links with local Haiti churches and who are committed to a code of standards in dispensing aid and disaster relief are a good choice.

An artist's appeal

Please see request from Elli Bottrall, one of the artists in our church:

My name’s Elli Bottrall and I’m writing to see if you’re interested in participating in my final year art project. Over the last term I have been exploring the theme of ‘Human Dignity’ and the historical and social issues/questions arising from it as part of my art practice.

Personal stories/accounts are some of the most powerful ways to impact others, and for my final exhibition I’m hoping to engage viewers by collecting a range of perspectives and responses from a whole cross section of people.

Here’s the proposition:
If you had the opportunity to write a completely anonymous letter which would be read by someone you didn’t know (member of the public), what things would you most want to share with them about life and your experience of it? You don’t need to over-think it, but if you’re stuck the following questions might be helpful to get you going:
· Has there been a situation or person that has had a big impact on you, good or bad?
· What has been one the most significant challenges you have had to face? How did you deal with it?
· What would you say is a unique aspect of your personality/quirky habit you do that not many people know about?
· Is there a local or global issue you especially want to bring to the attention of your reader? Why?
· Are there any questions you want to pose to your prospective reader?

I realise I am asking a lot from you and you’re not at all obliged to take part but hopefully it will be just as interesting and illuminating for you to write as it will be for others to read! The benefit of this is that because it is anonymous you can be as honest as you want to be. Be creative or keep it simple - the main thing is just be yourself!

And finally, the practical details: please keep your response to 2 pages (1 sided) of A4 or under. (Handwritten letters are especially welcome though it’s not obligatory) and if you can write down your age and occupation on the separate piece of paper and send it with your anonymous letter to the church office, no later than Sunday the 31st of Jan, I’d greatly appreciate it.

I look forward to receiving your response.Thanks in advance, Elli

Friday, 15 January 2010

A time for everything

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-5)

On Sunday evening we are gathering at South Street Arts Centre which is the venue for our new meeting / congregation. In faith we are striking out into the town centre, believing God will use it for His glory. I am so expectant of great things from this faith venture.

At the same time, my dear friends are confronting the final enemy (1Cor15v26). "Karena is facing death square on and is confident in the goodness of God, and that her place in glory is secure through Christ's death for her" (read Craigs latest blog here). As I sat with him yesterday in the hospice, the reality of mourning deeply for her was again sharply in focus. There is very little that is good about physical death.

In the wisdom of God, we are in a time of 'overlapping times'. Exciting new faith ventures alongside the prospect of the death of a beloved wife, mother & friend. Personally, I am retreating into time alone with God in order to be able to love and serve His people during this season (and process my emotions). I thank God for calling me to help pastor Reading Family Church and also to be a true friend to the Crazy Mackays.

I know very little Greek, but one phrase has stuck with me 'allos parakletos'. This means 'of the same type of councillor/advocate'. Jesus used this phrase when talking about the Holy Spirit (John 14v16). In this time of 'overlapping times' we have the Holy Spirit who draws alongside us to comfort and equip us for seasons of life.

'Spirit of Jesus, fill me afresh, renew my emotions, give me the love & wisdom for this season. Keep my eyes fixed on Jesus and remind me of the things He said. Holy Spirit, overshadow my dear friends the Mackays and annoit us at RFC to proclaim Jesus to our town. Amen'

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Sunday night @ South Street

We've talked about this, given our money, signed contracts and now we get to plug in our instruments, set up chairs, put on hi-vis jackets and welcome RFC'ers to our new Sunday evening home!

This Sunday is our first ever gathering at our new evening venue South Street Arts Centre . I am really looking forward to getting inside and experiencing a foretaste of what it will be like.

There's plenty of parking there and we can use our office parking as an overflow if required. The evening starts at 6:30pm so arrive early and be part of 'RFC history in the making'.

I fully expect God to continue to do great things as we gather & scatter throughout 2010 ... I'll fill in some of the details then. In essence, we are 'In Reading, For Reading' and we will continue to persue faith, hope & love.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Your signature required

If you remember from our sermon series 'the Chronicles of Reading' I encouraged all of us to be engaged in politics as some level. Today we need to follow the encouragment of Dave Stroud and get involved:

Threat to Churches' Employment Freedom

Dear Friends, You may be aware of the Equality Bill, which is currently under consideration in Parliament and is to be voted on in the House of Lords this coming Thursday (14 January). Whilst there is much in the Bill that is good; promoting justice and opposing discrimination, key elements of it could prove detrimental to churches and religious organisations.

In its current form, the Bill would prevent faith-based organisations discriminating against job applicants whose sexual lifestyle choices are contrary to religious teaching. As such, it would be unlawful for churches to refuse to employ staff whose sexuality or sexual conduct stands in opposition to the church's doctrine.

The few exceptions are in the case of jobs 'wholly or mainly' concerned with promoting or explaining doctrine. A number of key positions within our churches, for example youth workers, student workers, administrators and even many church elders, would not be covered by this exception.

Could I urge you to give this some attention, and to alert your churches to the details of this Bill. A petition has been opened calling the government to remove the compromising paragraphs in the Bill, and can be found here.

Would you consider encouraging your church members to sign the petition and to write to a member of the House of Lords, expressing their concerns. Details for how to write to a member of the House of Lords can be found below.

Please pray for members of the House of Lords, and the Christians who have the opportunity to partake in this debate. Pray that God would grant them wisdom as they seek to influence the government on this crucial issue.

With love in Christ, Dave Stroud (On behalf of the newfrontiers UK team)

Further details about the Bill are available from Care and The Lawyers Christian Fellowship. If you have a personal link with a member of the House of Lords, do write to them directly to express concern about the Bill. A list of Peers and their contact addresses can be found here Alternatively, you could contact one of the following members of the House of Lords:

Lord Carrington
Baroness Neuberger
Lord Sacks
Lord Wilson
Lord Pannick
Lord Ballyedmond
Baroness Falkner
Lord Brookman
Lord Ahmed
Lord Brennan
Baroness Williams
Lord Harris
Lord Rotherwick
Lord Steinberg

Write to them at: House of Lords,London, SW1A 0PW

Sunday, 10 January 2010

RFC heroes

Today was one of those Sundays when we shine as a community endeavouring to serve one another. As 170 gathered to worship Jesus amidst snow chaos, many of us were unaware of how much went into making the meeting happen:

Andy Twine and the SUPA Team (Set-Up Pack Away) were one of the first at the school and ensured everything got set up & looked 'normal'.

James Whitney's Host Team did a great job with the challenge of reduced parking spaces and welcoming those who couldn't get to their normal church. Andrew & Jenny Boctor served up a lot of fresh coffee & toast which was much appreciated by all (expect my son who had his first Twinings herbal tea but with milk ... aarrgh!)

Kat LaFontaine & Sarah Horne led the Kids Teams really well despite volunteers not able to make it ... my children had a great time with them.

Josh John & the band managed to practice on a snowy Friday night, which was in evidence as they sensitively responded the Holy Spirit's work amongst us.

Pete Horne (PA team) and Chris Poston (AV team) had one of their 'mare' mornings but for the most part it was hidden from our ears/view! Yet again they fought technology on our behalf.

A great team effort ... but the real hero of the morning was Jesus. In the worship He met with us, and in the preach His finished work was applied to us. It's so good to be part of Jesus' church.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Meeting this Sunday

We are planning to meet this Sunday at 10am at Reading Girls' School. They have cleared much of the snow in the carpark and their heating will be turned up full!

I suspect that family Green will walk in as our car is still buried in 10inches of snow - as it most of our road! Besides, I quite fancy worshipping Jesus in my Wellington Boots ;o)

It goes without saying to take care over the weekend and do look out for any elderly or vulnerable people around you. Now is a great time to get to know our neighbours whilst our normal 'defense barriers' are suspended!

Hope to see you on Sunday and hear your snow stories (but only if you can make it safely).

PS Liz has taken some great photos...

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Fun in the snow

10" ... at last a proper snow fall.

Our home as seen through the trees

My family have been busy ...

We all sat inside our igloo and drank hot chocolate - note Liz's improvised superstructure. Zoe still wants to sleep out in it!

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Keep Calm and Carry On

After a brief snow ball fight with the children, I set off to work on foot. I joined many others walking along the tracks in the road, occasionally retreating to the pavements to avoid a car.

There is something very 'Blitz-esque' about walking through 8inches of snow to get to work. My stiff upper lip was complemented by a sizable dew drop on my nose.

To be very honest, I was disappointed not to have hill walking sticks, clearly a must-have for Earley commuters. However, my trusty wellingtons only let me down once - a very graceful bum slide, limited spectators, zero audible guffaws.

I now feel very manly that I battled & overcome, arriving at the sanctuary of my study in the church offices, whilst mere mortals wallow in the safety of their homes.

Keep Calm and Carry On. Who cares if I miss all the fun whilst sitting here alone...

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

A few dates for the next month

Back in the office today and thought it helpful to let you know the things I'm buzzing with ...

Sunday 17 Jan - Our Vision Night this year will be at 6:30pm in South Streets Arts Centre (our new evening meeting venue). Do come along as we shall be briefly reviewing 09 and talking about how 2010 will be building upon last years fantastic growth.

Fri 22 to Sun 24 - Together at Butlins. There are still places available and it would be good to have as many of us there are possible. You can book in here.

Tuesday 26 Jan - the Marriage course starts which is open to any couple (both within RFC & our friends, married & those living together). You will be sitting together and not expected to chat to other couples! Please book in via Lucy Thomas.

Sunday 7 February - Our much anticipated evening meetings start at the Arts Centre. Do prayerfully consider committing to this meeting to ensure it has enough initial momentum to make it an RFC meeting (It's us living out values that define RFC).

Friday, 1 January 2010

Do you know this woman?

As is our tradition we have spent New Years Day with family Thomas and family Mackay. Karena is on good form ;o)