Who’s mission is it anyway?

Dear Friends,
As Pauline and I attended the Baptist Assembly in Peterborough last weekend, on several occasions we heard a phrase that has become very familiar to us over the last fifteen years. Speaker after speaker pointed out, in one way or another, that Christian mission is about discerning what God is doing and joining him in it.

Revd Mark Ord, director of BMS World Mission explained that at the start of the 20th century, theologians and churches typically talked about ‘the Church’s mission’. Nobody talked about ‘God’s mission’.

By 1950, we weren’t so sure. Two world wars had undermined the Church’s confidence in its mission, and theologians started talking about ‘Missio Dei’ – Latin for ‘the mission of God’.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and that has become the emphasis of most key Christian thinkers and leaders.

Mark argued, however, that modern-day secularism and consumerism often hinders us from recognising when God is at work. As a result, we still talk about mission as if it’s something that the Church does and asks God to join in with, rather than being about what God does in his world, which he invites us to join him in.

As we prepare for our church Awayday on June 16th, it’s worth remembering the example of Jesus. He had a mission, which he expressed in Luke 4 as ‘bringing good news to the poor… proclaiming release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, letting the oppressed go free, proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour.’

But even Jesus said that he only did what his Father told him to do. Even Jesus’ mission was directed by his Father. Surely that is an example that we should follow.

Today we celebrate Pentecost – the day that God’s Holy Spirit came upon the Church to empower us for God’s work in a broken world. It marks the day, not when God’s Church was given a mission, but when – to borrow Mark Ord’s closing reflection on the subject – God’s mission was given the Church!

With my love and prayers
Matthew Scott

Partners in community (2)

Dear Friends,
About 2,600 years ago, God encouraged a group of people living in exile to ‘…seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’ You will find the story in Jeremiah chapter 29. It is a principle of sacrificial generosity that is arguably more important than ever in today’s individualistic society.

In challenging times, when our resources of time or money are stretched, it can be so easy to say, what can I do that will bless me / my family / our church?

The Easter story shows us that that is not the way of the Gospel. If we are to be true followers of Jesus, our mission cannot be about what benefits or blesses us. It must be about joining God in doing what benefits or blesses the place where we live, and the people amongst whom we live. After all, that is the example of Jesus, who lived ‘in exile’ amongst us and who, in going to the cross, sought only to bless us by bringing us peace with God. Nevertheless, in rising from the grave and enabling us to have a new start in life as part of his family, he too ‘prospered’ as a result of his sacrifice.

As we continue to reflect on who God is calling us to be, and what he is calling us to do, let’s be guided and motivated by a genuinely sacrificial generosity that says simply ‘what can I / we do to bless those around me / us?’ What happens after that is up to God!

May the risen Christ bless you this Easter with the riches of his new life for you, for those you love, and for the workplaces and communities that you are part of.

With my love and prayers
Matthew Scott

Partners in community….

Dear Friends,

As we started our reflections on the subject of ‘Gospel Partnerships’ last month, we recognised that our relationships with each other, with other congregations and above all with God all point to the importance of inter-dependence – dependence upon each other – to finding our place in God’s family and our role in church and community life.

That principle was powerfully illustrated during the recent cold spell of weather. Whilst Windsor may have got away relatively lightly with the impact of the ‘beast from the east’, others were not so fortunate. As I write, a week on from the worst of the weather, I’m watching a report from a community in Cumbria that was cut off for several days. People were trapped in their houses by snow drifts covering their doors; they had to ration food, and power was lost for a while – there was even mention of some having to burn their furniture to stay warm.

In the midst of that crisis, the community pulled together to help each other. Farmers cleared the minor roads that councils could not prioritise; many phone calls were made to ensure that neighbours were safe; others made contact with the local authorities and even managed to organise a helicopter drop of food and supplies.

Often it’s in times of crisis that the strength of any family or community shines through in their concern for one another. As we approach Easter once more, I am reminded that God sent his son Jesus into this world because we had become cut off from him by choosing to do things our way instead of his. As human beings, made in his image, we are part of his creation; his children. We were made to be in community with him. So, in our time of crisis, he could not ignore our need. Jesus gave his life on the cross so that we need no longer be cut off from God, and he rose from death to demonstrate that he had dealt with our problem once and for all. He did it to show that we can have a new start in community with God and with each other, instead of, as it were, being ‘snowed in’ on our own.

Whatever challenges you may face at the moment, may you know the power of the risen Jesus giving you hope for a new start; and may you know the encouragement and help of others as a sign of the community that we’re called to be.

With my love and prayers
Matthew Scott

Partners in time…

Dear Friends,
We have just started a sermon series based on the book of Ephesians aimed at helping us to build on our sabbatical reflections on the subject of ‘Gospel Partnerships’.

Last week, Pauline pointed out that the basis of any partnership for the sake of the Gospel is God himself. He is the blueprint for working together because he works in relationship with himself – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If we are not in step – or in time – with him (I’m reminded of my parade ground drill practices as a young police officer), then our efforts will be an unsightly shambles! That is why it is so important that one of the main conclusions from our Church Day last month was a developing consensus that we need to draw our strength from the Holy Spirit – from God himself – if we are to walk In step with him.

It’s only as we each walk in step with God individually that we stand a chance of walking in step with each other. We’ve reflected on this principle in the past. In an age where independence is so highly valued, the counter-cultural idea of interdependence – dependence upon each other – is such an important principle for us to grasp. If we are made in the image of an interdependent God, then surely that means we were made to be interdependent, not totally independent (nor totally dependent!) That is why it is so important to find our place in God’s family and to play our part in church life by using the gifts, talents and insights that God gives us. It is also why it is important as an individual congregation that we work in partnership with other churches and organisations to bring God’s love to a needy world.

Today’s service recognises that our Gospel Partnerships do not just take place within our congregation, or between congregations in our town. We play a small but significant part in sharing the good news of Jesus around the world. Today is an opportunity to remember our mission link partners serving with BMS in other nations. The financial and prayer support that we and other churches give enables people like our friend Annie Brown in Nepal to share God’s love in places that we could not otherwise reach.

And as we walk in step – or in time – with God and with his Church both locally and around the world, we find that we also take our place walking in step with Christian believers over time, as we continue to share the timeless good news that ‘God loves the world so much that he gave his one and only son, so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16). Let’s keep in time together with that wonderful news!

With my love and prayers
Matthew Scott

Waiting expectantly

We were very blessed to be in Rome in October and dropped in on an open-air gathering outside a rather big church. The minister seemed pretty popular as people had come from all over the world to see him, bringing balloons, banners and loads of enthusiasm to what appeared to be a pretty big party. We were rather bemused to see that when the speaker finally appeared, he was standing not on a platform but on the balcony of his apartment, whereupon everyone got very excited and cheered him while he happily waved back at them. Unfortunately, he spoke in Italian, which we couldn’t understand, and we’re sure lots of other people couldn’t either, but he went down a storm and a great time was had by all!

Of course, the speaker was Pope Francis, addressing the crowds in St Peter’s Square. The people were good humoured and respectful, but his words (which were available online in English later in the day) pointed attention to Jesus, not to himself, so it was a great privilege to be at a church which is so different from ours, and to feel part of the gathering of the nations there, in spite of the divisions and differing theologies which have so often forced us apart.

We will doubtless pick up this theme of unity between believers in the weeks ahead, but today, on this first Sunday in Advent, we want to think about the atmosphere at that event. We watched the people gathering, some in the usual dress of tourists in a major city, others in the full regalia of Christian organisations from South America to central Europe and from China to Australia. The voices we heard were similarly disparate, but everyone there was waiting expectantly for the same person, to see him in the flesh, to hear his message and to receive his blessing.

How much more marvellous is the anticipation we feel in these days of Advent, when once again we herald the arrival of the Lord of Lords and Prince of Peace. We remember again that Jesus is Emmanuel, God With Us, the Saviour of the World, who was born in humility and poverty so that we might know his riches and grace and be fully reconciled to God through his gift of love. Pope Francis urged us that morning to give to God the things that are God’s, and so let us give Jesus the honour and glory that are rightfully his in this joyful season, as we once again wait eagerly and expectantly for his coming and celebrate the miracle of his birth.

With our love and prayers
Matthew & Pauline Scott

One people …. one movement

Dear Friends,

From the quiet retreat of Northumbria in early September, we moved to the hustle and bustle of London in early October, where we joined 1,000 other Christian leaders from all over the UK and other parts of the world at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster. The event was a two-day conference entitled ‘Movement Day’ (yes… we know…), where we learnt about some of the exciting things that God is doing through churches and groups of very different traditions working well in partnership together for the sake of the Gospel.

Speakers came from Anglican, Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Quaker-style and Eastern Orthodox traditions, amongst others; and from business as well as church circles. All had a passion for the unity of God’s Church for the sake of the Gospel, and all had a story to tell about how God is at work in towns and cities around the world, drawing Christians together in prayer, worship and action as a sign of God’s transforming love for the world. The attached link describes just some of the stories that we heard: – http://movementday.uk/the-conversation/

A common theme that ran through these stories was the unpalatable truth that Christian unity is not a simple ‘quick fix’ that occurs overnight. Some required acts of sacrificial love and forgiveness before anything could happen. Almost every story involves Christians praying and working together over the course of five, ten, twenty years or more before the real impact of their movement for unity was seen. The prospect of having to wait so long for God to work might understandably fill us with a real sense of frustration and hopelessness.

But what if we look at things another way? What if we ask ourselves, ‘where and how have Christians been working and praying faithfully together in our community over the last five, ten or twenty years, for which the time of harvesting the fruit of their labours is just approaching?’ Henry and Richard Blackaby, in their book ‘Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God’, highlight the importance of identifying where God is already at work around us, and then joining in with him. If we adopt that approach, we will find fulfilment through playing our part in what God is doing now, as well as in preparing for the future.

Jesus knows about praying over the long term. Two thousand years ago, he prayed for every Christian of every denomination, ‘I pray… for those who will believe in me…, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.’ John 17:20-21. If God is answering that prayer now through unity movements in towns and cities around the world, we want to be part of it… don’t you?

With our love and prayers
Matthew & Pauline Scott

‘I still and quiet my soul…’

…that was the title of the retreat that we attended recently at the Northumbria Community. Based on a phrase in Psalm 131:2, it describes the aim of the retreat where we were joined by a fascinating mixture of characters, ranging from an Anglican priest about to start a new role, to a wandering nomad travelling the world!

Life during that week was centred around the meal table where community was built up as we talked together; and around regular, short services or ‘offices’ held at 9am, 12 noon, 5.30pm and 9.30pm. Being a non-guided retreat, the rest of the time was our own to use as we saw fit, for reading, reflection, or simply resting in our (very comfortable!) room or enjoying the surrounding Northumbrian countryside.

As we read and rested, both of us were reminded of the priority that God places on rest. In his book ‘The Day is Yours’, Ian Stackhouse (senior minister at Millmead Baptist Church in Guildford) describes rest, and not humanity, as the climax of the creation account. And in a world where so often our identity is tied up in what we do, I was particularly challenged by John Ortberg’s conclusion, in his book ‘Soul Keeping’, that doing nothing is a valid and essential part of Sabbath rest.   ‘Doing nothing is doing a lot’, he concludes. As we strolled slowly through the fields one afternoon, we understood a little of what he was saying. We noticed some of the local wildlife out of the corner of our eye, which we simply would have missed had we been busy or in a hurry. It was as if God was saying, ‘don’t forget to spend time walking slowly enough to notice what I’m doing out of the corner of your eye!’ Because it’s only by seeing what God is doing that we can join him in it.

Of course, Sabbath rest is not a privilege reserved solely for ordained ministers; nor is it something to be enjoyed just once every seven years! All of us need times of rest on a daily, weekly and seasonal basis. As Vince Havner wrote, ‘if you don’t come apart for a while, you’ll come apart in a while’ – it’s why Jesus set aside times of rest, and encouraged his disciples to do the same. So… when was the last time you did nothing? And when was the last time that you didn’t feel guilty doing it? Doing nothing is one of the most important things we can do, because it’s in those times that God, as he restores our souls, becomes our focus of attention once more. After all, as Christians our identity is found, not in what we do, but in Christ… in who we are.

With our love and prayers
Matthew & Pauline Scott

Hidden Beauty

Dear Friends,

As you enjoyed (or endured) 35oC heat last month, Pauline and I were relaxing in the Scottish Highlands, appreciating the fact that temperatures about 20o cooler made it much easier for us to sleep comfortably… and that it created ideal conditions for walking and exploring some of the most stunning scenery that the British Isles has to offer.

Ideal, that is, except for the one or two occasions when the weather closed in from the Atlantic, the rain came down and the sea mist obscured the views… most frustratingly on the day when we visited the Isle of Skye en route to our eventual destination further north.

As we visited the beauty spots that we were aiming for, hoping in vain that the rain would stop, Pauline commented how frustrating it was not being able to see the views of the mountains and islands that we knew were there. And it occurred to us that the weather that day was a parable, or a picture-story, of our human nature.

Rain and mist might sometimes hide the beauty around us… but that beauty is actually still there – it just needs the rain to stop and the mist to clear in order for the true beauty of the landscape to be revealed.

As human beings made in God’s image, we too have built-in beauty waiting to be revealed. Our problem is that in a broken world, our beauty is sometimes hidden by the rain and murk of the selfish attitudes and actions that the Bible uncompromisingly describes as sin, and by the hurt caused by our circumstances or the selfishness of others.

However, the Bible also reveals that in Jesus we have a Saviour, a rescuer, who came to deal with our sin and pain. He is described as the Light of the World (John 8:12), because he came to shine his light into our lives, so that remarkably we in turn can be the light of the world (Matthew 5:14).

Thankfully for us, the Scottish rain stopped, the mist cleared and for the rest of our holiday we were able to enjoy the beauty that had been there all along. As Jesus shines his light on your life, may more and more of the hidden beauty of God’s image in you be revealed for others to enjoy!

With my love and prayers
Matthew Scott

What shape is God?

Dear Friends,

As we prayer-walked around Dedworth last week as part of our response to the ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ prayer initiative, I was struck – not for the first time – by the large number of interconnecting footpaths running through our community. I really don’t think I’ve ever lived anywhere with so many hidden pathways.

It occurred to me that this could be a picture of the hidden places that we all have in our lives. Sometimes these may be achievements or positive qualities which, out of modesty, we are reluctant to draw attention to. Often, though, these hidden places are the darker places within us that we would rather not acknowledge because we are ashamed of them – secrets that we keep in the shade, for fear of being hurt or judged.

As we walked along a footpath, shaded by the houses on either side, I realised that God came to shed his light on these darkest corners of our lives, so that we can see the way forward – and that he calls his Church to join him in that work. Returning to the church to share some of our insights from prayer-walking through the community, someone else wondered how many of our family, friends and neighbours realise that we all have what we often refer to as a ‘God-shaped hole’ in us.

Drawing those two reflections together, it suddenly occurred to me that our ‘God-shaped hole’ is not some mysterious, perfect gap waiting to be filled by God. Rather, it is the messy shape of our deepest wounds; our most painful hurts; our greatest losses; our most embarrassing failings; our greatest weaknesses and our deepest needs. The apostle Paul learnt this when he brought one of his ‘dark places’ to God in prayer, and God responded by saying ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ (2 Corinthians 12:9).

This Pentecost Sunday, may God’s Holy Spirit shed his light into our darker corners, bringing the rule of his Kingdom to places that had once seemed beyond hope. May God’s grace in filling our ‘God-shaped holes’ – whatever they may be – become part of our story which in turn offers hope to friends and neighbours, as they see that the darkest corners of their lives are places that God is perfectly shaped to fill.

With my love and prayers
Matthew Scott

Hallowed be Thy Name

Dear Friends,
Last Sunday morning, we started a short series of sermons on the Lord’s Prayer by reflecting on the opening line of the prayer. We realised that as human beings in whom God longs to restore his image, we are called to reflect the holy nature of his name because we belong to his family. Now, that’s a challenge if ever there was one! So we also highlighted the need to find times and places when we can ‘shut the door’ on the world around us in order to enjoy spending time alone with God.

Reflecting on what the word ‘hallowed’ means, David Runcorn, in his book ‘Dust and Glory’, notes that ‘the twelfth-century saint Bernard of Clairvaux taught that there are four movements in the life of faith.

We begin by loving ourselves for our own sake.

Then, when faith awakens, we love God, but still for our own sake, as one who blesses us and meets our needs.

Thirdly, we must come to the love of God for God’s own sake—as gift, for nothing, for the hallowing of the divine name alone.

Bernard then identifies one more movement. It is too easily missed, though perhaps with the best of intentions. In the loving of God for God’s own sake, we come to love ourselves truly for God’s sake. There is no contradiction here. God is the life of heaven and earth: it is all sustained in the love that is God’s own being. When his name is truly hallowed, all things find their true place, hallowed in their own name and calling. So we pray those ancient words once more: ‘Hallowed be your name’. And, did we imagine it? The echo of the prayer returns to us: ‘Hallowed be your name’.’

This is not easy to understand, but it is worth the effort of trying. These words connect strongly with our recent teaching that the Hebrew word ‘shalom’ is a prayer that all aspects of life should be as they ought to be; and also with Jesus’ teaching that he came so that we may have life ‘to the full’ (John 10:10). So, as you find times and places to ‘shut the door’ and be alone with God, may he continue to restore his hallowed likeness in you so that you may enjoy fullness of life, whatever your circumstances.

With my love and prayers
Matthew Scott

Be still; stand firm

Dear Friends,
Several times this term we have reflected on God’s call to us to ‘stand still’ or to ‘stand firm’, as found in the story of Jehoshaphat in 1 Chronicles 20. Is it a passive act of submission, as implied by the translation, ‘stand still’, or a proactive stance of defiance and determination, as implied by the alternative translation ‘stand firm’? Either way, what does it mean to ‘be still and know that I am God’? (Psalm 46:10).

This Easter, we can do no better than look to Jesus for our example.

Sometimes it means getting away from the battles of everyday life for a few minutes, hours or days, as Jesus often did during his ministry, so that we can listen to God and hear what he’s saying to us.

Sometimes it involves battling in prayer for something or someone, as Jesus did at Gethsemane, so that we can say with him, ‘your will be done’.

And sometimes it means carrying whatever cross or burden God gives us to bear, as Jesus did at Calvary, even if it means feeling that God has forsaken or deserted us, so that in the end we can say with him, ‘it is finished! I have done what you called me to do for you.’

Whatever it means for us, this Good Friday offers us an opportunity to stop and to stand still and firm in the midst of life’s battles. Whether you need to hear God’s directions, to pray ‘your will be done’ or to give something over to God having done all you can, the church will be open for personal prayer and reflection throughout the hours that mark Jesus’ crucifixion. There will be brief readings at the relevant times, covering the crucifixion events of 9am, 12 noon and 3pm; and there will be a short service at 10am for us to reflect together on the cross.

The events of Calvary offer us an opportunity to stop, to reflect on the depth of God’s love for us, and to ‘see the victory of the Lord on [our] behalf’ (2 Chronicles 20:17). Whatever other Bank Holiday commitments you may have, I encourage you to spend at least some time that day being quiet and finding out what it really means to stand still or firm while God does what he does best and brings the new life of Easter!

With my love and prayers
Matthew Scott

Lent Reflections

Dear Friends,

So, the big news this week is… that the Prime Minister has given up crisps for Lent! As a typical non-conformist Christian, I have often wondered what all the fuss is about Lent… why give up chocolate, social media or crisps for a few weeks, only to return to them afterwards? Actually, if I’m honest, I’ve never even given it that much thought.

Over recent months we have spent time reflecting on the changes that God wants to make in us and on the spiritual disciplines that help us to focus on our call to love God, to love people and to keep going in the Christian walk. Interestingly, fasting (going without something for a season) was not one of the disciplines that we considered. Continue reading

All change please … further reflections

Dear Friends,
As we return to our reflections on God’s constant challenge to us to change, I am reminded that one of the things we sensed was that God is calling us to commit ourselves wholeheartedly to worship him together, with more of an expectation that we will see him at work amongst us.

It is part of God’s work of restoring his image in us, which we looked at last week. We remain ‘works in progress’ until the day we die, but that does not mean that we should give up! Every time we become a little more patient, or show a little kindness or self-control – or any of the other attributes that reflect something of God’s character and love – we introduce a sign of God’s kingdom to the world around us, and we participate in God’s Gospel mission of bringing his hope and love to broken lives. Continue reading

The power of praise

Dear Friends,
My readings this week took me back to one of the passages that I referred to last Sunday morning, when we reflected on the thought that God comes to us so that we can put on… a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.’ (Isaiah 61:3) We found that the reaction of Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:22-38) and the wise men (Matthew 2:1-12) to encountering the new-born Christ-child teaches us that our first response to God’s love, whatever our circumstances, should be the response of praise. Continue reading