Hannah Peace’s baptism from June 5th in St John’s. Note the first 20 seconds is a still image, then it switches to video.
Twenty years ago this month Bloomsbury published ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, the first novel in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. There was an initial print-run of only 500, all in hardback. Harry Potter is a scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled orphan. He bears on his forehead the mark of a terrible scar, inflicted by the evil arch-enemy Lord Voldemort. Harry Potter’s destiny is to defeat Voldemort and prevent him from subjugating the world.
On that same weekend 20 years ago this month, I was ordained in Salisbury Cathedral. I can’t remember much about it, except that I spent half the service with only one shoe on (those of us being ordained had one foot washed by the bishop in the service). I knew I was going to be a curate in Wimborne, but I had no idea that I was going to marry Becky, become Minister of Holy Cross Church in Hove, or Rector of Yeovil, or have two sons (and Harry is currently devouring the Harry Potter books one after the other).
There is of course another who bears scars for us, and who is the true great conqueror of evil. Through my twenty years of ministry, and indeed before that, he is the one who has held me, led me, kept me, and blessed me. His own scars have bought my forgiveness, my relationship with God the Father, and my eternal security. Because of Jesus, I know I am loved by my Creator. When the days are hard, when things go wrong, when I mess things up, he is always still there at the end of the day, and I know he will never fail me. ‘He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?’ (Romans 8:32).
We are all called by God. First of all we are called to follow Jesus. And then we are called to serve in whatever ‘vocation’ he directs us to. My calling is to Gospel Ministry, and it is my task to preach God’s word and proclaim the Lord Jesus as King and Saviour.
I suppose over twenty years of ordained ministry I have ‘done’ many things. Baptized, married, visited, and buried many people. Preached many sermons, chaired many meetings. Ruth Hülser will be visiting us this month from Tanzania, and she has certainly ‘done’ many things for God. We all serve God in different ways, and we can all think of the things we have ‘done’ for him. Yet we all remain ‘jars of clay’ – fragile, flawed, and unworthy. ‘But we have God’s treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us’ (2 Corinthians 4:7).
With my best wishes – James.
I have recently finished reading a biography of Hudson Taylor (1832-1905), who founded the China Inland Mission. At the end of the book, I read this: ‘When he had sailed for China in 1853 there were only three hundred Chinese Christians in the whole of the Chinese Empire; by the end of his life there were 100,000 communicants in connection with the Protestant Churches, and no fewer than 25,000 Chinese had been baptized by the Mission God used him to found.’ It is not, however, a story of steady progress and triumphant success, but of pain and suffering, setbacks, illnesses, bereavements and tragedies. He wrote: ‘There is a wonderful power when the love of God in the heart raises us to this point that we are ready to suffer, and with Paul we desire to know Him in the power of His resurrection (which implies the death of self), and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death. It is ever true that what costs little is worth little.’
We learn the same from our own mission partners today. Ruth Hulser is coming to visit us next month; her work is hard and relentless as she serves Christ in the face of many and great difficulties from illness, lack of resources, uncertain supplies of food, water, electricity. Hilary and Marc have left family support, western comforts, and ‘normal’ careers to serve Christ with their children, in a remote place among a small people-group and a very different culture and climate. Muyunda and Cynthia minister where the Lord calls them, having little, caring for many, serving God’s church.
But we are missionaries too. Increasingly our Christian understanding makes us very different from the culture of the world around us, which we in turn are called by God to reach with the knowledge of his saving love. It can be increasingly costly to be known as a follower of Jesus today, especially for our children and young people, I think. But what costs little is worth little. Jesus was crucified before he was raised, and we often grow to know him best in the midst of the suffering that precedes glory.
Hudson Taylor was famous for wearing native Chinese clothing, which was rare for missionaries at the time. But like him, we need to assimilate ourselves as best we can to our surrounding culture, without compromising on the attitudes, lifestyles and beliefs that Jesus calls us to hold and live by. The demands of mission call us towards the world, while the demands of holiness call us away from it, and the tension is like being stretched to a cross. But that is what God calls us to, for the cross is how he wins the world. ‘For Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’ (2 Corinthians 12:10).
With my best wishes – James.
The St Johns Annual General Meeting took place on Wednesday 26th April, 7.30, in the Schoolrooms. Some of the key documents are available below, and you can listen to James’ Rector’s Report below. The Rector’s Report includes short interviews with some members of the congregation.
There are some relevant documents available below:
Accounts and agenda:
On Sunday 2nd April, St John’s hosted one of the Community Conversations that the Diocese of Bath and Wells were hosting around the diocese for parishes. The essence of these conversations is that we are all part of the fellowship of Christians in Somerset and beyond. As followers of Jesus we are called to listen to his words, follow in his steps and allow him to transform our lives….and then go and tell others about him. The first part of the recording is Bishop Peter talk and the second part is Bishop Ruth.
There is a 21-year old in Norway who claims that she is a cat, and that a genetic defect has caused her to be born into a human body. She claims to have superior hearing and sight, especially in the dark, and she likes to sleep on window ledges.
Today’s society is so anxious about individual rights that it is almost impossible to challenge how somebody else wishes to define themselves. Take the label ‘Christian’ for example. Can you imagine a conversation in which somebody says to you, ‘I’m glad you’re a Christian, because I’m one too;’ and you reply: ‘No, you’re not!’?
Well, I hope we wouldn’t be as blunt or rude as that in a real conversation. Nonetheless it is fair to expect some evidence to support somebody’s claim to be a Christian.
But that does not mean all real Christians will seem pure and holy and good all the time. We are sinners too! We get many things wrong, hurt each other, and disregard God in all kinds of ways. But a real Christian recognizes that they are doing so, wishes it were not so, and tries to put away their disobedience and submit more fully to the Lordship of Jesus. That is the meaning of repentance; it is turning away from wrong. You cannot claim to be a Christian if you are determined to carry on doing what Jesus and his apostles say is wrong.
So a real Christian does not try to shrug off their sin or justify it. They do not try to claim that what the Bible calls sin is no longer sin today. A real Christian recognizes God’s absolute claim on their lives, and recognizes how far short they constantly fall of his standards, and is always saying sorry and making a new commitment to live rightly with the help of God’s Spirit.
This is how Christianity makes sense of Good Friday. At the cross, Jesus did not redefine sin so that it no longer matters. He did not alter God’s attitude to sin as something worthy of death and judgement. He did not make sin something we can now commit without worrying about it. The cross is too big, too significant, too momentous and weighty an event for its message to be: ‘Come to God and live as you like’.
The message of the cross is this: Your sin matters this much to God, that he should come in the person of Jesus and die to save you from it. Accept this salvation that comes through the blood of Jesus, and turn away from all your sin, because your loving Saviour is also your holy Lord. What a gospel!
May I wish all readers a very happy and holy Easter time.
Kirsty Birkett is a lecturer at Oak Hill Theological College, and spoke to us on the subject of “Has Science Killed God?”. The first half is the talk from Kirsty, and in the second half, Kirsty answers some questions from the audience. This talk was part of our mini mission and was given on the 18th March 2017.
‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s’, said Jesus in Matthew 22:21. But what does it mean to give to God what is God’s?
Well, what is God’s? Of course, everything is God’s. He made everything, and so it is all his.
And what do you have that is not God’s? Nothing. Everything you are and everything you have is his gift to you.
So first we need to recognize God as the giver of all things. From the simplest pleasure of a snowdrop to the deep spiritual blessings of eternal life, God is the giver of it all. And so the first thing we should give is gratitude. Cultivate a grateful heart, by counting your blessings, taking nothing for granted, and deliberately saying thank you to the Great Giver. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son …
But we ourselves are God’s too. We are his people and the sheep of his pasture. So we are to give to him also our very selves, mind, body, soul, as a gift of love, giving ourselves to his service in worship, love and evangelism. You are not your own but his, so live in the freedom that comes from being a slave to God. Utterly his, devoted to him, caring less about yourself and more about him and his kingdom with each day that passes.
And, in the context of Matthew 21, this saying is also about how we use our money. For that too is not ours but God’s. He has entrusted it to us for good purposes, not so that we should idolize it, or assess our ‘worth’ by it, or be selfish with it, but so that we might enjoy sharing it, using it, and giving it, for his glory. Give to God what is God’s.
We have been looking at our church finances and again we testify to God’s amazing faithfulness last year in providing for us in difficult times. This year, 2017, looks in prospect quite a lot tougher. Please give generously to God’s work through St. John’s / St. Andrew’s, and I can promise that the Church Councils wrestle and pray about how to apportion rightly the money you give. Please give regularly not haphazardly. Please give generously not selfishly. Please give cheerfully not grudgingly. Please give by standing order if possible, and please sign a Gift Aid form, which enables us to claim back the tax you’ve already paid.
But don’t just give money. Give to God everything that is God’s. And that means first of all, give him the absolute allegiance of your heart in every aspect of your life.
With my best wishes – James
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:17)
From this verse has come a famous, simple, and important Christian motto: ‘Soli Deo Gloria’ meaning ‘Glory to God alone’.
Some Christian theologians today add this little phrase at the start of their books, meaning that they have tried to work not for their own honour, but for God’s glory alone. Famously, both J.S. Bach and G.F. Handel also wrote these three Latin words (or the initials, S.D.G.) at the end of their musical manuscripts.
And these words have also been seen as a motto of the great European Reformation; we mark the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation this year. Many at that time came to realize that the medieval Roman Church gave far too much glory to Mary, to Saints, to Popes, and to Priests.
Bach used the phrase not only on his specifically Christian music, but on so-called secular works too. He was a Christian believer who knew that God was involved in all of life, and that we are to live all the time, at home, in the shops, at work, online, at leisure, as well as at church, to the glory of God alone. Do you need to pin the phrase up over your computer, in your wallet, on the dashboard of your car, at your desk, on your mobile, by your TV? Will you fill your 2017 diary ‘to God’s glory alone’?
We have a new Archdeacon of Wells, Anne Gell, who will start in this post in a few months’ time. St. James and St. Peter’s are advertising for a new vicar. Please pray for them, and for Tom and me, and our Yeovil Deanery clergy, and for all Christians, that we will serve and speak not for our glory but for God’s alone.
Back to the Apostle Paul and that verse from 1 Timothy. Here the phrase is giving glory to God specifically for his work of salvation. In the preceding verses, Paul calls himself the worst of sinners, and expresses his amazement at God’s mercy and immense patience with him, granting forgiveness, faith and eternal life. These are not things we can earn or deserve or achieve (for then we would get the glory). These are gifts of God to us, which come through Jesus. No glory is due to us. All glory is due to God alone. Let us live to give him glory.
With best wishes – James.
In 1961 The New Testament was published in a new translation (The New English Bible), and my father was sent a copy to review. Jesus’ mother Mary sings a Christmas song (Luke 2:46-56) which in this translation begins: ‘Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord, rejoice, rejoice, my spirit, in God my saviour.’ Inspired by those words, my father wrote a poem, which (some years later) was put to a tune called Woodlands, and has since been published in 200 hymnbooks round the world, and translated into Chinese, Japanese, Latvian, and other languages. You can imagine that Mary’s song has been precious in our family as a result, and we sang this and other of my father’s hymns at his 90th birthday celebrations in November, with lots of his friends.
It is very clear that Jesus’ mother felt something about God that moved her profoundly. She felt it deep inside herself, in her soul, in her spirit. Mary was moved by his greatness. Take time this Christmas to think about the deep things of God and to let your soul be moved by all that he is. Perhaps you didn’t even know that you had a soul … but if you take time to let your mind take in what it can of the greatness of God, you will certainly find that you have. His greatness is seen in his creation and preservation of the world, and (specially in Mary’s mind) in sending his Son to be born of a virgin and enter this world of flesh and sin and struggle. Know God’s greatness, and be moved by it in the depths of your soul and spirit.
Second, it is clear that Mary’s inner being could not contain what she felt about God; it burst out of her like a shaken champagne. She doesn’t just think it in, she tells it out. She says it and sings it: ‘rejoice, rejoice!’ What will burst out of your soul this Christmas? Let what your soul knows of the greatness of God leap out, in your conversation, in your actions, in your singing of carols. Tell it out to others and bring them to church, and tell it out to God in praise.
And third, it is clear that Mary knows God personally as her own saviour. He was the saviour of Mary’s ancestors when he brought them from slavery in Egypt into the freedom of their own land of Israel. But in Mary’s womb is God’s saving action for the whole world – a foetus who will be a baby who will be a man who will be a sacrifice for the sins of all who will accept him as their own saviour. He saves his people from sin, hell and judgement, and he saves them for himself, for heaven, and for love. Do you know God as your own personal saviour? If you trust in Jesus Christ, you most certainly may. And then your soul too will have a truly Happy Christmas.
With my best wishes – James.