Rector’s Letter, December & January

Dear friends

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.

Rector’s Letter, November 2018

Dear friends

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

Rectors Letter, September 2018

Dear friends

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.

Rector’s Letter, July 2018

Dear friends

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.

Rector’s Letter, June 2018

Dear friends

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

Rector’s Letter – May 2018

Dear friends

Two years ago the Archbishops of Canterbury and York launched a prayer initiative for the Church of England, called ‘Thy Kingdom Come’. The website (thykingdomcome.global) says:

‘Thy Kingdom Come is a global prayer movement, which invites Christians around the world to pray between Ascension and Pentecost for more people to come to know Jesus Christ. What started out as an invitation from the Archbishops’ of Canterbury and York in 2016 to the Church of England has grown into an international and ecumenical call to prayer.’

The focus from the start was on Christians growing in confidence in sharing their faith, and on asking God to bring more people to know him through Jesus Christ. Below is a moving short piece by Archbishop Justin about his own conversion and the people who prayed for him and helped him come to know Christ.

This year the dates are 10th to 20th May. The resources encourage us all to write down the names of five people we know, whom we want to pray for. People who are not yet churchgoers, not yet Christians, not yet followers of Jesus. Could you pray for five people for ten days? Surely we all can. Here’s the sort of prayer you could pray:

‘Lord Jesus, thank you for your love for me, and for all the people who have helped me to know that love. Please help V,W,X,Y and Z to know your love too. Make yourself known to them, and help them to turn to you and trust you for now and always. And if you want me to talk to them about you, or if you want me to invite them to church, please help me to do that. Amen.’

On Sunday 20th May (Pentecost) our services and sermons will be particularly intended for guests and newcomers – so perhaps you could bring one or two of those friends or family members along – or bring anyone, including yourself!

When he first became a Christian, Archbishop Justin was given a bible with this verse written in the front: ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you’ (John 15:16). What a great encouragement to us, as we pray for others to be chosen, appointed, and fruitful for Jesus.

With my best wishes – James.

Rectors Letter, April 2018

Dear friends

Easter 2018 falls on April 1st. It’s April Fools’ Day. The same happened in 1923, 1934, 1945, and 1956. But it now won’t happen again till 2029.

Many sceptics believe that our Easter faith makes Christians the stupidest fools of the world. Of course dead people do not rise. Once dead, always dead, full stop. And I have to admit that sometimes I find it hard to believe that I really do believe it. Until I remember …

  • He really was dead and buried on Friday.
  • The tomb was empty on Sunday.
  • The risen Jesus was seen; they touched with him, talked with him, ate with him.
  • And many of those who witnessed it and spread the news later suffered and even died because they really believed it so strongly: they knew it to be true.
  • And I too have seen Jesus at work in my own life. I talk with him, I know him, I know his love, and I love him. Can’t you say that too?

Sceptics can call us fools if they want to, but the Bible calls them fools. Psalm 14:1: ‘The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’’

The New Testament is fully aware that the message of the cross looks like foolishness (what sort of God bleeds and dies a criminal’s death?). And that if the resurrection did not happen, our faith is foolish and futile (Jesus was not God, and he is dead and finished).

And yet the evidence is solid. Jesus died and rose. And so we believe, we still believe, even on April Fools’ Day, that Jesus is God, that he died in our place, for our forgiveness, that we may be friends with God. And that he rose to bring new life to us, and to open the door of the new creation, so that we might see the light that streams in from beyond the present world with the certainty of a glorious future for God’s people when our turn comes for resurrection too.

The word April comes from Latin: aperire, to open. Maybe the Romans coined this name for the fourth month because the flowers opened at this time of year. But yes, for Christians, Jesus opens the door of the new creation. Christ is made alive as the firstfruits; so shall it be in due course for those who belong to him (1 Corinthians 15:23). It is not the Christians who are April fools! Close your eyes and praise God for the vistas of glory that the Easter gospel opens before us.

With my best wishes – James

Letter from Helen – Life is Puzzling

There’s no Rector’s letter this month as James was ill! So this is from Helen Peace, or fabulous Pastoral Care Coordinator

Life is Puzzling ….picking up the pieces  

Following on from Christmas, I have been doing a few jigsaw puzzles.  It takes me ages to sort out 1000 pieces into edge pieces and middle pieces – all the right way up on the table ready to be assembled.  Isn’t the human eye amazing?  It can distinguish between so many different shades, tones and hues which helps me decide whether that blue piece is part of the sky or part of the sea – and which part!

The current Australia puzzle on my dining room table is 90% finished.  The edges are done, the middle is complete (Sydney Harbour Bridge, koalas, Ayers Rock and the Aussie flag) but the orangey bits at the four corners are a nightmare.  They are all the same shade of orange.  My latest strategy with these last 80 pieces or so, is to line them up in shape order and try each one in each place – it is taking ages and causing frustration and hardly the relaxing activity it was intended to be.

It has made me think that life is a bit of a puzzle.  Some bits fit together so easily and smoothly, with minimum effort and concentration.  Others, like the orange pieces, take time and practice, determination and perseverance.  We know, as Christians, that life can be a lot like a puzzle.  There are things we don’t understand and circumstances that cause us to feel that all is going wrong.  I know many people for whom life is a real struggle, with illness, depression, grief, traumas of the past, anxiety about the future, family breakdown, aging and other difficulties. It could be easy to resort to despair and disbelieve that God is sovereign and working for our good.

I’m not making light of these problems – far from it – they are real, and at times life can be seriously rubbish. I want to encourage you if you are struggling, that God holds all the pieces of the puzzle together and will work for good and bring restoration and hope, and ultimately, completion – as that is what He has promised to do.

I think back to the first sermon of the new year, where James spoke of God’s promises, which I wrote down on a card as a reminder, and am looking at now:

  1. God will forgive our sins (1 John 1:9)
  2. God gives us eternal life (John 10:27-28)
  3. God will help us in temptation (Hebrews 4:15-16)
  4. God will protect us (Romans 8:35-39)
  5. God will hear our prayers (Matthew 7:7-11)
  6. God will be with us always (Matthew 28:20)

We are all called to love and care for one another.  We have a Pastoral Team here at St John’s and St Andrew’s to support and encourage this work which is already taking place in our churches.  We have a prayer chain for those who need instant prayer in a crisis or ongoing situation that needs others to pray.  Do contact me if any of this would be helpful to you – we are a team who would love to meet and pray with you for all your concerns, whether large or small.

Helen Peace, Pastoral Care Co-ordinator

Rector’s Letter – December 2017

Dear friends

Christmas is about what God has given to us. We give gifts to each other as a reminder of the greatest gift ever given. That gift was pink and wriggling, gift-wrapped in cloth and delivered in a grubby wooden box. Jesus Christ is God’s indescribable gift to a sinful, wayward, hurting and desperate world. And Jesus is also his greatest gift to you personally.

The carol ‘In the bleak midwinter’, recognising this great gift of love from God to humankind, asks the question: ‘What can I give him, poor as I am?’ And that is a good thought. Knowing how much God has done for you, what will you do for him this Christmas?

On Eeyore’s birthday, Winnie-the-Pooh decides to give him a jar of honey, and Piglet decides to give him a big red balloon. But on the way to Eeyore’s field, Pooh eats all the honey and has to give just an empty jar. And Piglet falls over, bursts the balloon, and has to hand over to Eeyore just the sad limp soggy remains.

If Pooh had not been so greedy and if Piglet had not been so clumsy, their gifts would have been better. But the story is saved by Eeyore, who delights in his gifts, a useful pot, and something to put in it; and we picture him putting the burst balloon into the empty pot and taking it out again, over and over, with great joy, for the rest of the day.

God knows our sins and failings and misfortunes. He forgives us and loves us, and he will not despise our gifts when they are given in response to his love. Give him your obedience, give him your time, your talents, your money, your prayers, your service, your heart. Invite friends to a carol service. Go the extra mile with the Christmas chores at home. And do these things not to earn his love, but as a way of saying thank you for the immense love he has already lavished on you, by coming in the person of our Lord Jesus, to save you, forgive you, protect you and be with you forever.

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15).

And may I therefore wish you all a happy, happy Christmas. From James.

(P.S. I want to say a big thank you to Elaine Mitchell, the editor of FOCUS, for another year of service to us. And to all who have written for the magazine, including Kate and Charley for the Reformation series. And to those who printed, folded, and stapled.)

Rector’s Letter – November 2017

Dear friends

Some things in life are simple matters of right and wrong. Other questions are much harder to work out, and the right thing to do may depend on circumstances, conscience, or the good of others.

I have been reading 1 Corinthians recently, and chapters 5 and 6 give examples of plain right and wrong. A Christian in the church is having an affair with his step-mother. This is plain wrong, and the man is to be expelled from church life, at least until he puts his life right. Chapter 6 talks about church people who have sex with prostitutes; it’s plain wrong.

But chapter 7 asks the question: Should an unmarried Christian get married? and Paul has much to say, but he does not give a simple yes or no answer, because the right thing to do depends on many factors. Should a slave gain his or her freedom? Again, it depends. Is it better to be circumcised or uncircumcised? It doesn’t matter: ‘Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts.’ (1 Corinthians 7:19).

God gives us permission and freedom to order our lives in many areas. It’s a bit like the Garden of Eden: ‘You may eat of any tree in the garden’. But he also gives laws, which we have to obey straightforwardly: ‘but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil …’ (Genesis 2:17).

I think that some people prefer simple rules and like to be told, ‘Do this and not that.’ Others prefer freedom and like to be told, ‘Do as you please.’ But life is not so simple. There are laws from God which must be obeyed. But there are also many areas where God has decided to let us work it out and make decisions, prayerfully, wisely, sensibly, in such a way as to honour him and each other. 1 Corinthians 8 is about recognizing that Christians will differ in their views on some things (like eating or not eating meat that has been sacrificed at a pagan temple); and we shall often need to think about how other Christians will be affected by our actions. In many areas of life, God has given us freedom, but he asks us to use that freedom for his glory and the good of others.

Do you value God’s laws? And do you value also your own brain, conscience, decision-making ability? All is God-given. When making decisions, we always need to ask: Is it right? Is it wise? Is it loving? Will it enable me to honour God? Or is it an absolute matter of freedom? (Today I am wearing black socks).

With best wishes – James.

Pages: 1 2 3 5