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Freedom in identity
We all want to matter. We all yearn to belong, to be loved, to be accepted ... More ...
Words, words, words
Words, words, words. There's so many words out there and it's not always very easy ... More ...
Becoming a Christian in 2016
When I came to faith over 10 years ago, I did so because I fell head over heels in love ... More ...

Freedom in identity

janhoogendykWe all want to matter.  We all yearn to belong, to be loved, to be accepted.  We all want our existence acknowledged by someone, somehow, and when we don't get that acknowledgement, we tend to try and earn it.  When we do get it, we try to guard it at all cost, sometimes even with our fists …
 
Some people are very good at drawing recognition out of the people around them.  Others less so.  And then you get the kind of people who don’t seem to need acknowledgement at all.  Like my friend Jan back in South Africa.
 
Jan was the worship pastor at my local church.  I was one of the volunteer worship leaders and electric guitarists in the worship team.  We became good friends shortly after he joined the church and I had the greatest of respect for him as a musician, as a person, as a follower of Jesus.  He was so sincere, so talented, so completely free from the need of human acknowledgement that it showed without him even trying.  He was a real joy to be around: friendly to everyone, welcoming in every way.
 
We decided to do a combined show at a small, 250-seat theatre in our town once.  We spread the word, got publicity in the local paper, etc.  On the night 15 people showed up (including us and the band).  I was devastated, discouraged.  Jan performed his songs with as much gusto as if it was a sell-out crowd at Wembley Stadium.  If he was discouraged, he didn’t show it.
 
A couple of months later, on the afternoon before Christmas Eve, we were rehearsing for our Christmas Day service.  When we finished, Jan asked me if I had any plans.  I said no.  He told me to grab my guitar and follow him in my car.  We drove to a hospice for terminally ill and severely disabled people, and we sang carols for the staff and patients.  After that we went to his house, had a beer and watched cricket highlights.  His wife made burgers.  It was an amazing afternoon.
 
Jan knew he was accepted and loved by God Himself.  That’s why he didn’t need recognition from big crowds at his show.  That’s why he wanted to share love with those who would be alone and mostly forgotten at Christmas time.  That’s why he is still the same kind of person after winning the South African Pop Idol competition in 2010 and plays sell-out stadium shows and festivals all over South Africa.  Jan’s identity is firmly rooted in the knowledge of God’s love for him, not in human acknowledgement or recognition.
 
I want to be someone like that.  I want the people of this church, this community, to be like that.  I’m already seeing it happen:  people I admire for their courage, their faith, their unconditional love.  Imagine the impact we as a church can have when we lay our fears and insecurities down at the foot of the cross of Christ, and take up our true identity: child of God.  How much more generous will we be with whatever we have?  How many more people will we invite to an Alpha Course or a Sunday Service?  How much more courageous will we be about our faith at our place of work?  How much more love will we be willing to share with a world in desperate need of love?  How much more freedom will we experience by not being weighed down by fear, anxiety and discouragement when things don’t work out the way we planned?  How much more will we get done to make the Kingdom of Heaven a reality in this world without expectations of parades, accolades and awards getting in the way?  How much more freely will we be able to love without expecting anything in return, because God loves us?  How much more generous will our prayer-life be when we realise we have the ear of the King?
 
Now imagine how difficult it will be to attain that kind of freedom …  Actually, it’s not hard at all.  It’s only a prayer away.  And another one.  And another …  The truth of our identity becomes more apparent as we actively pursue Christ’s presence and let the Spirit do His will in and around us.  We can’t make this happen for ourselves.  We need God’s help and power.  Fortunately He freely offers it to anyone willing to take up His cross daily.  It’s as simple as turning the eyes of my heart towards Jesus every day instead of to myself.  Trevor Hudson once said: “To believe something involves a readiness to act as if what is believed were so.”  Do you believe you’re a child of God?
 
May we become a community of Christ followers who know Jesus intimately and follow Him courageously because we know and believe who we are in Him.


Nico Marais (24 March 2017)


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Words, words, words

wordshavepowerWords, words, words. There's so many words out there and it's not always very easy to know which to listen to, look at, take in. It's all so confusing.

Words can be made in to 'alternative facts' or 'fake news'. There are words which have new meanings. My Granny would have thought of a 'gay man' in a very different way to what we understand that to mean today. Even nowadays, words have different meanings to different people. When I describe a person as 'sick' (ill, not well) I mean something very different to other people when they use the word 'sick' (crazy, cool). It's all very confusing, but not perhaps for Humpty Dumpty who said, "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more or less." Alice (in Wonderland) replied, "The question is, whether you can make words mean so many different things."

The words we use can build up or they can be destructive. They can convey truth or they can mislead. We can use a lot of words or just a few. Every time we use words we should be careful and use them wisely, especially in our digital device age when words are so easy to communicate.

I believe in Jesus and try to follow him. He used words a lot; he even said he is The Word. His words are worth listening to. I invite you to go straight to the source - read (in the Bible) what Jesus said. Sometimes Christians or 'the church' don't quite get it right when they use words. Listen to what Jesus actually said. His words had and still have impact. Jesus embodied his words. I listen to Jesus because he backed up his words with actions and his words have integrity.

We need to pay attention to what we listen to, read and take in. Words can build up or they can destroy. Words can mislead or they can convey truth. If we know the person (and we know the person has integrity and backs up words with action and character) then we know we can trust what they are saying. Jesus is someone who we can trust and listen to. I invite you to listen to what he has to say.
 

Mark Anderson (10 March 2017)


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Becoming a Christian in 2016

windydayWhen I came to faith over 10 years ago, I did so because I fell head over heels in love with Jesus. I remember meeting him for the first time in 2006, on an April evening on the Isle of Wight, standing on the shores of the Solent, looking towards the mainland and the glittering lights of Portsmouth, knowing in my heart of hearts that my life would never be the same. It was a moment where time stops and the heart gets transported to the eternal place of ultimate assurance. I knew that in Jesus Christ I had found the very thing I didn't even know that I had lost. I knew Love for the first time, and everything in the entire universe was exactly as it should be. In Jesus I had found the fullness of God. The big scary concept of the transcendent, ultimate, almighty God suddenly became relatable. He became flesh, friend, tangible, real. I had spent most of my life afraid of God, perceiving him as a distant being who controlled the world with a wrathful vengeance, and yet here I found Jesus, who is love personified, relatable, and infinitely intimate. I became a Christian that night.
 
In 2007 I went on a weekend away with my youth group. 12 young people went to a crummy old youth hostel in Ivinghoe, and the theme of the weekend was the Holy Spirit. We spent hours reading the amazing things of the Spirit that the disciples experienced in Acts, and me and my friends Matt and Steve knew that there was something missing in our lives. The words we were reading were fundamentally juxtaposed to the lives we were leading. At Pentecost the disciples had tongues of fire descend upon them, and this changed their lives forever. Peter the coward became a hero of faith, and thousands were added to their number that day! Myself, Matt and Steve sneaked up to our bedroom without telling the youth worker and with naive faith asked the Holy Spirit to come and change us like he did the disciples. Within minutes the three of us were on the floor in fits of laughter as we experienced him with ridiculous grace. We laughed, quaked and cried, and I remember walking down the stairwell afterwards acting drunk, our youth worker utterly confused as to what had just happened; it wasn't part of the programme! That night I met the Holy Spirit, and I can say with confidence, this experience was so life changing that I believe I became a Christian that night.
 
Fast forward to the present! The past few months have been absolutely life changing for me. I recently had a conversation with my friend Tom where I described myself as feeling like I've just been converted, like I found a new faith. For someone who has professed Christ for the last 10 years, who has been in Church leadership for the past 6 years and who has partnered with God in the miraculous, the ridiculous and the extraordinary for most of that time, it's a huge statement to make. In 2014, on a cold Paris night, I prayed the most controversial prayer I have ever prayed, and probably the most revolutionary. After a night of struggle, I told God that "I'm not sure I believe in you anymore". Little did I know that I had just denied the religious god of my own projection any power in my life. The image of God for me had become distorted; I had lost the love that brought me to the coast of the Solent and the freedom of that Ivinghoe youth hostel had wandered into a place of absolute idolatry. I worshipped religion, not father, and that religion was wholly made in my image. Its tenets were my bigotry and its catechism was a litany of my own insecurities. God had brought me to a little flat overlooking the Rue Fabourg Saint-Honoré with its temples to consumerism to show me that I had become a consumer of religion, and not relationship.
 
I made my excuses and left that role, headed back to London and began a new job working outside of Church ministry. This was a precious season where God broke down my religion. I began to doubt my faith like never before, to doubt Jesus, to doubt the Holy Spirit, to doubt whether I believed in the Bible anymore. I had to reevaluate everything I thought I knew about God, myself and my relationship with him. This was the desert where springs of living water burst forth from. In my place of deepest doubt and wandering, I started approaching God again, messy, dirty, gritty, doubts and all. I asked him to come into the midst of my mess, and he set me on a trajectory that would utterly destroy my image of him. I slowly returned to a fruitful relationship with him, and by early 2016 I thought I was put back together, only to be once again completely wrecked by grace. I found myself on a patch of grass by the Grand Union Canal, in prayer, completely overwhelmed by Love, but this was different to any experience I had ever had. There was a new, deeper sense of Joy. I started singing a new song with nothing but the ducks to hear it, about my Father. I can't remember the exact words, but it went along the lines of:
 
You’re like a storm, and I'm like the coastline,
You’re like a tsunami and I'm standing on the beach,
You overwhelm me, but I'm at peace.
You’re like a storm in the sea, and I'm capsized into your grace,
You’re like the wind in the branches, and in the autumn leaves,
You’re like a fire and I'm the tinder, you burn me up.
You’re like the night sky, and I'm like a mountain peak, I disappear into your vastness.
You’re like the sun and I'm the snow, you melt me to a river, and I will flow.
You’re like a Father, and I'm like a son, you love me.

 
And at that moment, for the first time, I met the Father, and I can say that in fullness, I became a Christian that night. For a long time, I had perceived the Father as the person of the Trinity that was so holy that he was not relatable. You could experience Jesus in flesh, and the Holy Spirit dwelling within. But I had never imagined the incomparable joy of father God. He put a song on my lips and a new joy in my heart, and promised me intimacy. Later that year, I was at David's Tent, a festival in Sussex centred on 24 hour worship and prayer over three days, and I continued to receive revelation of the intimacy that my Father has for me. Then I broke my collarbone, and I have never felt closer to the fullness of God!
 
You see, religious Christianity teaches us that 'The Father' is a title, an honorific noun that describes God's function as creator and ultimate authority. But I've come to believe that this is never what Jesus intended. Father isn't a noun, it's a nominalised adjective, it denotes an active function, not an irrelevant history. He is father now, he is intimate, he is loving, he is in the midst of our mess, he is Love. Jesus only even uses the titular 'The Father' when He is in a theological discourse. I've realised more and more that when he is talking of the father in the context of relationship and discipleship he uses 'My Father', 'Your Father' and 'Our Father'. Our father isn't a theological concept; he is a mighty warrior God who is so deeply, overwhelmingly loving in his intimacy that you can't come into his presence without completely falling apart. In the way that Jesus carries the scars of grace on his palms, your father carries them on his heart. I spent years depriving myself of the fatherhood of God, and it's so good.
 
Our journeys are different, and God's plans for you are different from his plans for me, but just maybe, reading this blog post might be his calling on your lives to explore the indescribable intimacy of your father, who loves you intimately, infinitely. It isn't enough to relate to part of the Trinity. There is so much relationship that God has for us. When he welcomes us to the table of fellowship, we aren't on a two people dinner date, there's four at the table. Relationship with God isn't a date, it's a dinner party with lots of wine and lots of laughing. The joy of being in fellowship with the fullness of God is like nothing else. This may be your invitation to the best party of your life - take it!

Georges Kesrouani (24 February 2017)


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One life rescued brings hope to many

alphalogoaug13I was so intrigued by this comment that I heard recently in a small documentary which has been nominated for an academy award and I was eager to find out more for myself.
 
Although harrowing to watch, the comment refers to a voluntary organisation that rescues people from the fall out of bombs being dropped. Part of this film shows a week old baby being pulled from a huge pile of rubble. To me it felt like that baby was being born again … another chance at life. The ripples of joy, tearful joy, were obvious. The news spread that one life had been rescued.
 
This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone, a new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:17, New Living Translation)
 
As the Alpha Course is starting at HTR this week, I can’t help reflecting on the number of people who have taken the opportunity to ask important questions about the Christian faith, whether new to faith, rediscovering their faith, or just interested in learning more about God. Many have experienced God’s love so profoundly that it looks like they have been given a new life … they’ve been rescued. As a result these people have discovered that God has a plan for their life:
 
For I know the plans I have for you … plans to prosper you … (Jeremiah 29:11)
 
with the promise that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). All it took was that first step of finding out for themselves. Like in the documentary, good news spreads and brings encouragement and a new hope to those who hear it.
 
Paraphrased from The Jesus Storybook Bible - “I’m going to send my Messenger - The Promised One. The One you have been waiting for. The Rescuer.”
 
My prayer is that you will hear the testimony of “one rescued life”, whether that’s at Alpha or coming to a Service, and that it would bring a new hope to you, in Jesus’ name.
 

Sue Jackson (30 January 2017)


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Trust in Him at all times

Trust in him at all times!
Pour out your heart before him
For God is our refuge

(Psalm 62:8)
 
blog120117One of my favourite games as a kid was rigging up old curtains across the sofa to make a den.  It was my place where I hid away, played games and felt safe.
 
Where’s your refuge? This week, I spoke to a little girl at the school where I am chaplain. She told me about her hiding place under a table at home where she goes when there is shouting. It’s her refuge. She liked this verse from Psalm 36:
 
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

 
Imagine a little chick hiding under an eagle’s wings - utterly secure. That’s us.
 
Where’s your refuge? It’s important we pick a trustworthy refuge.  Another top childhood game of mine was “It” which I played for hours with my younger brother. One day we decided to make the window seat into “Home”. It’s a flawed plan to view an upstairs window seat as a safe place. As I chased my brother, he raced towards the window seat at full pelt and I vividly remember my horror as I watched him go straight through the window.  Amazingly he survived but we found a new “Home” for our game!
 
We have a much better refuge - one that we can “trust at all times”. Our loving God is so trustworthy that we can pour out our hearts to him and know that they won’t go flying through a first-floor window and hit the ground.
 
What does it look like for you to pour out your heart to God? Have you ever done it? It is a bit scary, rather demanding because it entails being real with him. One of my favourite moments this last Christmas was when Dave from our church told his story of coming back to God after decades away.  The short version is that everything changed when he prayed a heart-felt prayer to God.
 
That’s stuck in my mind. It’s too easy to go through the motions, not to deeply trust ourselves to God, to barricade our hearts. God invites us to pour out our hearts, our hopes and fears and dreams, our love for him and as we are known by him, he will be known by us.
 
I wonder what holds you back from pouring out your heart to God? Sometimes I don’t like what’s in my heart and I am not sure that God will. Here is reassurance:
 
“Those who take refuge in you will never be condemned” (Psalm 34:22)
 
Our hiding place is no less than Christ himself, Christ who was condemned so that I might not be.
 
So I can pour out my heart to the Almighty who loves me, who cares about the deepest secrets and hidden longings of my heart. He knows me so well that he alone can unearth the buried pains and set free soaring joy.
 
I will trust you Lord today for you are my refuge.
 

Kate Patterson (12 January 2017)


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Worship the newborn king

choirstmarI grew up in a very different church tradition to our own, and in a church that sadly didn’t have the sort of wonderful youth and children’s work we enjoy at HTR. So my earliest memories of church are of being an angelic (??) boy chorister, and of Christmas being a highlight of the year because of the wonderful range of music written for that season. Every Christmas part of me is sad that I can no longer sing the glorious descants of carols like Hark, the herald angels sing and O little town of Bethlehem, but I’m still pleased that I will be able to blast out the tune while others soar to greater heights at our Carol Service this coming Sunday evening!
 
Earlier this week I went to a concert by the choir of St John’s College, Cambridge and heard several very familiar pieces I had sung some fifty (gosh!) years ago. Some carols have very strange words and say little about the real meaning of Christmas, but one I still remembered from half a century ago grabbed my attention. The Three Kings by Peter Cornelius tells of the wise men travelling with their gifts to worship the new-born Jesus and encourages us, in turn, to worship by offering the gift of our hearts.
 
The risk for those of us who’ve celebrated so many Christmases is that we lose something of the sense of wonder at just what God did for us in sending Jesus. The only way of putting right our broken relationship with our Father was for Jesus to come and sort things out. God didn’t need to do this, but John’s Gospel tells us, in the very familiar words of 3:16, that He … loved the world SO MUCH that He gave His one and Only Son
 
This is grace ...

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9)

So as we celebrate another Christmas, my prayer is that God will help us, in a new way, to capture the wonder of this truth. And as we do, the only right response is worship, not only with our lips but by offering back all that we are and all that we have to Him.

I cannot tell why He, whom angels worship,
Should set His love upon the sons of men,
Or why, as Shepherd, He should seek the wanderers,
To bring them back, they know not how or when.
But this I know, that He was born of Mary,
When Bethlehem's manger was His only home,
And that He lived at Nazareth and laboured,
And so the Saviour, Saviour of the world, is come.


Keith Nurse (16 December 2016)


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god with us

godwithusI love Advent. How beautiful it is that God should love us so much that He sent His son Jesus to be God-with-us. We can know that through Jesus our Saviour and Redeemer, God has experienced all it is to be us, living in this broken and fallen world. He experienced our very depths of emotion, both joy and pain; He shares in it all.
 
Through the coming of Jesus, the Prince of Peace and King of Kings, we have seen the face of God.
 
The coming of the King
Jesus, Immanuel - God-with-us,
Frail; weak;
Born into a mess to be with us in ours.
A baby, yet a King
With a crown of thorns;
He who died for us
Reigns forever;
Was and is and is to come:
King of our hearts,
Shepherd of our souls;
Sustains, Protects,
Loves.


Kate Webb (5 December 2016)


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The way we see the world

thespacebetweenusThere is a film coming soon and one of the sentences shown in the trailer has caught my attention.
 
The film is “The Space between Us”, coming to UK cinemas on 10 February 2017 and, I believe, a much better choice than the one about those 50 Shades, which also hits the cinema on 10 February. The film is a Drama, Adventure, Romance about “The first human born on Mars who travels to Earth for the first time, experiencing the wonders of the planet through fresh eyes. He embarks on an adventure with a street smart girl to discover how he came to be.”
 
It is a teen adventure film as much as it sounds (you can watch the trailer here). Apart from the teen side, I quite like the idea of seeing the world for the first time, and even experiencing its wonders through fresh eyes. We usually take so much for granted (I know I do), and the wonder of God’s creation is one of them. Unfortunately one of many. However, as I said at the beginning, a sentence in the trailer has caught my attention, and it says: 

Find someone who changes the way you see the world.

This idea is incredible, and I do believe it is possible. As I have previously mentioned, it is so easy to take things for granted. It might be partly one of the defaults of human nature, but things do not need to be like this. We can find someone to help us on our journey in life, someone to help us look at things more than just merely seeing them.
 
I believe Jesus is one who does that in a very powerful way. He changes the way we live our lives, the way we see the world. Jesus says: I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. He is talking about an abundant life, which is available to me and to you. A life to be looked at through fresh eyes.
 
But more than that, I think we can be the one who changes someone’s view of the world. Even though the ultimate transformation is one that Jesus makes, we can be someone who changes the way somebody else sees the world.
 
Do we live our lives enjoying it to bits, in the fullness that Jesus is talking about? Furthermore, do we live it in a way that changes the way other people see life? Are we taking it for granted too?
 
When someone “finds” you, do you change the way they see the world?
 
Our vicar, Trevor Patterson once said: 

Never underestimate the impact you can have in someone's life.

I do agree with Trevor. I just think that this impact can be sometimes positive, and sometimes negative. And no matter what we do, an impact is always going to be made. The many encounters we have every single day put us in contact with tons and tons of people, and each of them is impacted by how we treat them, the words we say, the way we behave, even when we are casually living one more day, and not paying attention to the details. I am not trying to raise our level of fear, saying that we are being watched. I am just saying that every day, in every encounter with someone, we have the incredible opportunity to change someone’s perception of the world.
 
I hope you find someone who changes the way you see the world, if you haven’t found them yet. But more than that, I hope you will be found by someone, and you will change the way they see the world.

Joao Tavares (21 November 2016)


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Befriend - Believe - Belong - Be love

be4One day, if I ever lead a church, I would want this to be my church’s strapline:
 
Befriend - Believe - Belong - Be love
 
Let me explain why.
 
Befriend
 
I find it fascinating to think of the company Jesus kept.  The Pharisees did too.  So did the company He kept.  Long before they believed He was the Messiah, He took time to have lunch with them, go to their dinner parties, to walk with, teach and feed them.  He really was their friend.  I believe He wants us (His body) to be the friend of all people, regardless of circumstance, background or creed.  Nicky Gumbel said “People come to church for many reasons. They stay for one: Friendship.”
 
Believe
 
In Acts 2 we read about the Holy Spirit being poured out on the disciples and Peter preaching up a storm.  I love this bit in verse 41: “… about three thousand were added to their number that day.”  When people are befriended they’ll feel safe and comfortable enough to encounter Christ.  When they do, I can’t see how they can not be changed.  Think of the day you turned to Christ for the first time.  What changed?  What difference has that made in your life?
 
Belong
 
In Acts 2:42-47 we get a glimpse of the early days of the church.  I love verses 46 and 47.  They got together every day(!) and broke bread together and helped one another and did life together.  When Paul writes about the body of Christ (the Church) and the different gifts the Holy Spirit gives, he says that each member has a part to play for the common good.  Everyone belongs and has something to offer the church.  Where do you belong in the life of the church?  Are you taking part, or just observing?
 
Be love
 
Love is a doing word.  Being love means that we’re the example, the hands and feet, of Christ’s love for the world.  Loving people will cost you something.  It will take up your time.  It will eat into your finances.  It will take you to very, very uncomfortable places sometimes.  It will change the world.  We serve a God who has an unending supply of love which we can tap into as often as we need, for it is love that helps us Befriend.  It is love that makes us Believe.  It is love that makes us Belong.  And it is love that compels us to Be love.
 
Selah.

Nico Marais (4 November 2016)


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Look forward and remember

blog221016Are you looking forward to anything? For some, now that the mince pies and novelty chocolates are in the shops, the countdown to Christmas has begun. I'm sorry to say I'm not one of those people. It's my wife’s birthday before Christmas and then our wedding anniversary and only then will it be Christmas. It's only natural to look forward to things we expect to enjoy and we also find it easy to remember good times in the past. Remember when we ...

Shared times and planning together for the future can bring us closer to those we love. Occasions with family and friends such as weddings, days out, holidays and nights out can build a sense of connection and community amongst people who are becoming closer together because they are spending time together.

But what can bring us together can also drive us apart. Remember when he did that or she said this ... Unforgiveness and bitterness can be a poison that eventually causes us harm.

The same Jesus whose birth we remember at Christmas is the Jesus who helps us live life in all its fulness. He's the same Jesus whose life, death and resurrection to new life enables us to be forgiven for anything in our past.

So as we look forward to our future, whatever that may hold, remember it's Jesus who gives us the confidence that whatever is in our past won't hold us back from enjoying the future and living our life in all its fulness.

Mark Anderson (22 October 2016)


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