James announces the news the our Associate Minister, Tom Putt and family will be leaving us to take up a new role in Oxfordshire as vicar of Burford (with Fulbrook, Taynton, Asthall, Swinbrook and Widford). read on
It is amazing how our culture has done its best to take Christ out of Christmas. The greetings cards now say ‘Season’s Greetings’ and the decorations, jumpers, and shop windows all show penguins, puddings and presents instead of Christ. I try very hard never to use the abbreviation ‘Xmas’, because that really does take Christ out of Christmas!
But it’s not just our culture that has tried to do this. King Herod tried to take Christ out of the first Christmas. He was so desperate that he put to death every male baby in and around Bethlehem under the age of two, because he did not want Jesus Christ in his little world, where he reigned supreme.
On the other hand, Mary brought Christ into the first Christmas. God sent her an angel to explain what was going to happen, and even though it meant the disgrace of giving birth before she was married, she still had enough faith to say: ‘I am the Lord’s servant; may your word to me be fulfilled.’ And it was: she trusted God and gave birth to the Saviour.
Mary or Herod? Whose side will you take?
How could you bring Christ into your Christmas this year? Find a book for Advent from our Church bookstall. Read the first chapters of Luke’s gospel. Come to a church service you don’t usually come to. Pray for the gift of faith, for yourself and for others. Say a real prayer of thanks at your Christmas lunch. Put a bible verse in your Christmas cards. Mark out half a day in mid-December when you can prepare your heart for Jesus. Buy a CD of Christmas praise and sing along as you drive your car. Read about the birth of Jesus with your children, and help them to pray.
Who wants to be on Herod’s side? Don’t join him, but do have a very happy Christmas, with Christ at the heart of it all.
With my best wishes – James.
P.S. This is the last edition of FOCUS that Elaine Mitchell will produce for us. She has been editor for ten years and given us 100 editions. That is an amazing act of service, and Elaine, we all want to say ‘Thank you’ for all you have done, month by month, with such commitment and skill. Huge thanks and much love from us all at St. John’s and St. Andrew’s.
The word ‘LEADER’ is only used eight times in the New Testament, and each time it refers not to a Christian church leader, but to a Jewish synagogue leader. On the other hand, the plural word ‘LEADERS’ does occur several times, referring to the leaders in a local Christian church. Christian leadership should be plural.
By the grace of God I remain your Rector, and I continue to be so thankful for all of you who support and pray for me in my leadership and ministry. But in fact the leadership of our churches is plural: Tom and I work together, with churchwardens, staff, PCC, Fellowship Group leaders, children’s and youth work leaders, and other leaders here too.
The PCC and I are currently trying to encourage the Diocesan authorities to guarantee the future of the Associate Minister post; please pray for the future of our ordained ministry in the parish, and the chaplaincy at Yeovil College. I have also been asking the Diocese if we might be entrusted with a curate. No news yet.
The last chapter of Hebrews tells Christians to ‘Remember your leaders’ – remember the word of God which they speak, and remember how they live so you can copy it, and remember their faith so you can grow in it too. The writer later tells Christians to ‘Obey your leaders’ – so their work will be a joy not a burden. I am confident my fellow-leaders would agree that in our churches, most of the time, it is a great joy to serve here.
You who are members of our churches usually make for easy burdens. But Christian leadership brings other burdens with it, in a world that understands Christian faith less and less, and in a national church that is struggling with declining membership and division over matters of life and faith. The enemy is at work, and he likes to distract and discourage.
In 2 Timothy (our current preaching book for the 6:30 service), Paul the older minister instructs Timothy the younger one, with these commands: Do not be ashamed, join with me in suffering, keep the pattern of sound teaching, be strong, endure, be faithful, handle the word of truth correctly, flee from evil desires, be kind, teach, instruct, preach the Word, correct, rebuke, encourage, keep your head, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. And Paul gives Timothy another command too, to keep him going: ‘Remember Jesus Christ’ (2 Timothy 2:8).
So I hope you will do that. ‘Remember Jesus Christ’ and ‘Remember your leaders’ too.
Thank you for your prayers, and all best wishes – James
We are having a few issues with the audio sermon uploads which is why many of the recent sermons are missing. Most are available as videos on our YouTube channel.
Ed gives the second talk from our weekend away, speaking on Intimacy with God. This is from the Saturday morning session. read on
Our Parish Weekend Away is fast approaching: 7th to 9th September. Whether you are coming or not, please pray that we may have a fruitful time together with one another, and with the Lord. There will still be morning services in both our Yeovil churches on the 9th, thanks to Les and Derek and Edward and others, while many of us are away at Brunel Manor.
Our speaker for the weekend is Ed Shaw, and he has taken the theme of ‘Intimacy’ for his four talks. To be intimate with someone means to know them deeply, and to trust them, and to love them. Does that describe your relationship with God? He is our Heavenly Father, and Jesus is our Brother, and the Holy Spirit is our indwelling Counsellor and Comforter; God delights in intimate relationships with us, and we are made for an intimate relationship with him. What can you do to foster that intimacy and dwell in it? Think of Jesus’ image of the vine: ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit’ (John 15:5). The older translations use the word ‘abide’: what are the things (and who are the people) which help you to abide in the love of Jesus?
As we get closer to God, so we also grow closer to one another. The Church is a family, and while family life is not always easy, it is nonetheless joyful and enriching, and enables intimate relationships. From time to time newcomers say to me how friendly and welcoming our churches are, and that they see people enjoying each other’s company, caring for one another deeply. I love to hear that. But sometimes I have conversations with others who notice that people seem always to be chatting with their same friendship-groups after church; some even say we look a bit cliquey. As we grow with God, we should be able to maintain close friendships and develop new ones, mending rifts, enjoying the diversity of the body, enabling not just a few intimate relationships, but an intimacy of trust and love across the wider body. Who can you get to know, and trust, and love, more than you do at present?
May this Autumn bring us closer to God, and closer to each other.
With my best wishes – James.
Our Children’s Holiday Club this year (July 30th to August 3rd) is called ‘Guardians of Ancora’. It’s based on material from Scripture Union, who developed a computer game called ‘The Guardians of Ancora’ designed to teach children about Jesus. If you have a tablet or smartphone, apple, android, or kindle, you can play. Adults like it too (I speak from experience!).
In the game you have to move your person around different places and follow Jesus, in order to pick up and ‘collect’ stories about him, which are taken of course straight from the Gospels. It has adventures to follow, quizzes, stories to listen to, and videos to see. And you also have to collect sheep – it makes sense when you try it! A new story about Jesus appears every month. It’s soon to be available in German, Farsi, Turkish, Arabic, and Welsh. The designers say it is intended to help children explore their relationship with God and the Bible.
Isn’t that amazing? The Gospel of Jesus Christ began as good news, told by eye-witnesses, written down bit by bit on parchments by hand, and then the four Gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Since then the good news of Jesus has been copied by hand, taken around the world, printed, bound, televised, broadcast, and digitalized. And yet still today there are people groups around the world who do not know anything about it. Indeed many in our western society today know very little about him – hence this game. The church’s job in every age is to introduce – or re-introduce – people to Jesus Christ.
How amazing that the good news is able to be translated into other languages, distributed by all kinds of media, and received and believed by every kind of person, from a first century nomad to a twenty-first century computer gamer. Praise God for the gift of communication!
Jesus came as the Word of God, preaching the kingdom of God, and what he said and did – along with the apostolic explanations of it – were added to our Bibles to give us the word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit who still helps us to understand it and apply it to our lives today. Jesus particularly commends ‘those who hear God’s word and put it into practice’ (Luke 8:21).
Through these weeks of Summer, which are frantic for some, leisurely for others, slow and dragging for others, maybe you could find a way to hear the good news afresh, and pass it on to others. We’ll be seeking to do just that at our Holiday Club – please pray for it!
With my best wishes – James.
Football has all the makings of a fine religion. Many will become faithful followers as the World Cup begins this month. It can take our hearts to places beyond the humdrum of life, it can thrill and absorb us, with expectation, commitment, hope, pain, disappointment, passion, and the longings for ultimate victory.
England last won the World Cup one month and a day before I was born, and since then we’ve had to learn not to raise our hopes too high. Certainly this year not many are really expecting to see Gareth Southgate on the final touchline, or Kane or Rashford score the final’s winning goal.
The Bible’s book of Revelation pictures a kind of football stadium atmosphere, with an uncountable crowd from every nation, tribe, people and language (chapter 7, verse 9). They watch and sing and celebrate and cheer the greatest victory of all. No dashed hopes here!
The victor is not a team, but an individual, Jesus Christ, who alone is worthy to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise (5:12). Heart-stirring words. He has won, by blood, sweat and tears, through suffering and death, the great final victory.
Christians are neither his team-mates, as if we could help him win, nor mere supporters who enjoy his victory but never get their hands on the prize. The amazing truth of Christian faith is that he alone accomplishes the win, yet we genuinely share in his prize and glory.
He calls us ‘those who are victorious’ (21:7), and says ‘they will reign for ever and ever’ (22:5), with thrones and crowns, and all the spoils of victory.
Any football team will disappoint in the end; football itself turns out to be just a game. But Jesus wins, for us, against sin and suffering and Satan. ‘The Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings – and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers’ (17:14).
Praise God for such a certain hope! (And enjoy a bit of football if you wish!).
With my best wishes – James