Author Archives: Sandy

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.

Dear friends,

A few days ago, Pauline was talking to someone who was going through a tough time. She asked them what support was available for them, and they replied that they never asked for help, as they didn’t feel comfortable doing so. They both agreed that if the situation was reversed, and they were the ones being asked to assist, they would immediately drop what they were doing and go to support their friend in need. It seems that asking for help yourself, when you are the one who is usually strong enough to do the helping, can be almost impossible, either because it seems like a sign of weakness, but more often because we simply don’t want to inconvenience the person we might have asked – in other words, we are willing to shoulder the burdens of others but feel our own burdens are just too heavy (or unimportant) for others to share.

Thinking about this conversation later, we were reminded of the lovely verses in the song ‘Brother, sister, let me serve you’:

Brother, sister, let me serve you;
let me be as Christ to you;
pray that I may have the grace to
let you be my servant too.

We are pilgrims on a journey,
and companions on the road;
we are here to help each other
walk the mile and bear the load.

The writer of the song is right: allowing others to serve us requires grace. It is far too easy to assume that we can and should do it all ourselves, but doing so means that we deny others the gracious gift of service, as well as preventing them from fulfilling the law of Christ in this regard (Galatians 6:2). The day after this conversation, we happened to mention to a young friend that we had a task we were finding difficult to fulfil when they piped up, ‘I can help with that! It would give me a purpose too!’ We had not asked them to help us because we had assumed it would be too much for them, so it was humbling to realise that they were eager for the opportunity this simple thing had given them, and that, through our own weakness, God was giving us a chance to strengthen them.

So let us not be wary of asking for help when we need it, because God will use it to bless the one who is allowed to serve us. We might even experience His grace ourselves, when we accept that we cannot do it all.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

‘All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well’

Dear friends,
Last month we told you about our visit to Lindisfarne, which was once the
home of the great Celtic saint Cuthbert. The Farne Islands are places of silence
and solitude (except for the presence of thousands of shrieking sea birds),
and there are wonderful stories of Cuthbert’s life there, not least that otters
would come and dry his wet feet with their fur! He was a man who craved
time alone with God, though his retreat was frequently interrupted by the
needs of others who would sail over to see him to benefit from his ministry.

Since our return, Pauline has been reconnecting with another medieval mind
by reading a novel based on the life of Dame Julian of Norwich, who was the
subject of one of her essays when we were at Spurgeon’s College. We know
very little about this remarkable woman who, in May 1373, at about the age
of 30, contracted a near fatal illness, during which she experienced visions of
Christ on the cross. These changed the course of her life and gave her an
understanding of God’s own longings for his people which she later wrote
about in her book Revelations of Divine Love. She described herself as ‘a
woman, ignorant, weak and frail’, ‘a simple, uneducated creature’, but when
she became a solitary ‘anchorite’ – living permanently in one small room built
into the wall of the Church of St Julian, just outside Norwich – she became
not only a great spiritual writer, but also gave spiritual direction through the
window of her ‘anchorhold’ or retreat. God’s presence reassured her that ‘all
shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well’, and
her insights have been blessing and challenging her readers ever since.
It strikes us that these great figures of their time, living surrounded by the sea
or behind brick walls, living apparently unproductive lives, were completely
unlike the sort of influencers we hear about today. They would probably have
been horrified by the notion of social media, and yet without any desire to
promote themselves, their influence is still felt centuries later. What an
encouragement to all of us who feel that our days of action are over – it seems
that simply being in the presence of God enlarges us and makes us fruitful,
able to share his love with all those who come our way, and to be blessed in
return.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

Listening for God’s word in the wild

Dear friends,

A couple of weeks ago we were on holiday in beautiful Northumberland, where we caught up with our son and daughter-in-law who are now working at a Christian retreat centre there. As usual, when we visit this wild and frequently deserted coastline, we headed over the causeway to Lindisfarne, as this island is one of our favourite places in the region. We visit it to try to capture the peace of this famous retreat, where generations of monks once attempted to escape from the world, and it wasn’t long before we were walking on the hill above the ruins of the priory, with only the sea birds for company. We were particularly blessed to see a small, but perfectly formed, starling murmuration swooping over the castle on the headland, something we always look out for in that sort of landscape – but rarely see!

The experience made us wonder again what Aidan and Cuthbert, seventh century Christian evangelists to pagan Northumbria, would have made of the vague attempts of modern visitors to try to experience in just one day what they spent a lifetime of prayer and physical endurance achieving – the lived experience of being alone with God. Lindisfarne is also known as Holy Island, which means that it was set apart for prayer and contemplation, and to many people it is still a ‘thin’ place, where we meet God more readily and in a different way from our normal everyday experience of Him. It is vital that there are times and places where we can sit, reflect and listen carefully to God’s voice, so we hope that those who, like us, were pilgrims just as much as tourists, were able to find some of the peace and heartfelt rest that Aidan and Cuthbert knew all those years ago, and to hear God’s voice in the silence.

The writer of the reflection given on Lectio365 last Thursday, made a similar comment when he asked how often we stop to rest and think before we embark on yet another Christian adventure. He prayed that the God of the wilderness would lead us to where we are lost and found again, as we listen for His word in the wild. The good news is that we don’t always have to travel to the remote places of the world to do it – just resting in His presence is enough, in whatever wild circumstances you find yourself.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

 

‘Age No Concern!’

Dear Friends,

Friday marked the feast of Candlemas in many Christian traditions, when the Church remembers Jesus’ presentation at the temple in Jerusalem. It fulfilled the demands of Jewish law that required a mother to bring the priest a lamb and a dove for a burnt offering 40 days after the birth of a son. It’s a custom that we are not very familiar with!

Luke’s account of Mary’s presentation of Jesus is interesting in two respects.

Firstly, instead of focusing on the act of purification conducted by the priest, Luke highlights the encounter between two ageing individuals, Simeon and Anna, and the infant Jesus.

Simeon was old enough for the sight of Jesus to be the very last thing on his bucket list. God had revealed to him that he would not die before he had seen God’s Messiah. As far as Simeon was concerned, this baby, Jesus, was the one he had been waiting for; he was now ready to die in peace – his life’s mission had been accomplished!

Anna was at least 84, with a prophetic ministry confined to the temple grounds. God had also given her special insights about who Jesus was. Like Simeon, she recognised that Jesus was the rescuer promised by God to Israel.

Two elderly people. At first sight, there seems to be nothing special about them. Luke simply describes Simeon as ‘a man in Jerusalem’. But as far as God was concerned, they were important enough for Luke to include them by name in his account, and for their story to take up more space than that of the shepherds earlier in the chapter.

The second interesting aspect of Luke’s account? The fact that he describes Mary and Joseph bringing an offering of ‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons’, rather than the normal offering of a lamb and a dove. It meant that Mary and Joseph were not at all wealthy.

In God’s eyes, Mary and Joseph’s poverty, and Simeon and Anna’s age were of no concern to him – they weren’t a barrier at all to their involvement in the story of Jesus’ birth. I wonder how often we dismiss either ourselves or others as being of no value for any reason? Instead, we are each so precious to Jesus that he was willing to give his life for us, and invites us to take our place in his rescue mission to the world.

With our love and prayers
Matthew and Pauline

‘Light and life to all he brings’

Dear Friends,

One of our best-loved Christmas carols reminds us that Jesus Christ came to bring light and life to us all. Light to prevent us from stumbling as we walk through life; and life to renew and restore us when our spirits are low.

Our life together as a church community involves joining God in his work of bringing light and life into people’s lives, especially during those seasons of the year, and seasons of life, when darkness has descended or life seems hard. Our church text card for 2024 highlights one of the main ways that we can partner God in bringing his light and life to others, in the words of Hebrews 13:1-2: – ‘Let mutual love continue… [and] show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.’

The foundation of this exhortation is the continuation of an existing mutual love – the love of Christian believers for one another which Jesus says is what tells people that we follow him (John 13:34-35). The outworking of this gentle command takes place in the heart and in the home, as we welcome others into our lives and serve them in whatever way we can. The consequence of obeying God in this way is not just a one-way street, but can be a two-way blessing, as those who are served turn out in some way or another to be ‘angels’, or ‘messengers from God’, sent to enrich our lives as much as we, hopefully, enrich theirs.

Our prayer is that the various ministries and outreach activities of this church will continue to be a significant way of showing God’s love as we welcome each other and our neighbours. So this year, please pray that the WellSpring will continue to offer a warm welcome to those most in need of a safe space; that Noah’s Ark and Messy Church will remain effective in their ministry to young families; that Windsor Foodshare will continue to have all that it requires to minimize food poverty in our town; that the messaging in our church building will speak to the outside groups using it of God’s love and welcome for them; and that our regular services and group meetings as a church will fuel the love between us that enables us to offer God’s welcome to all these friends. Oh – and be ready to welcome those whom God sends in answer to our ongoing prayer that he will send workers into his harvest field here!

With our love and prayers for God’s blessing in 2024,
Matthew and Pauline

Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!

Dear friends,

Here’s a question for you…do you wish it could be Christmas every day? Over the course of November, we have seen a trickle of TV festive adverts become a deluge, and each one seems to feature smiling children, beautifully decorated tidy houses and dining tables positively groaning with fabulous food. In other words, the message is clear… of course you wish it could be Christmas every day! Why wouldn’t you?

The only problem is that hardly anyone we’ve spoken to recently seems to agree. They’ve complained that the whole tinselly nonsense starts way too soon; that the Christmas cards have started arriving far too early; and frankly nobody’s in the mood anyway as the world is broken and full of hate. Noddy Holder has been singing ‘so here it is, Merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun’ for fifty years, and we still think he’s mistaken.

Oh dear… where did we go wrong? How could the beautiful story of God becoming a helpless infant and living amongst us, be so lost in this homage to commerce which causes so much anxiety? Have we really forgotten that the angels told the shepherds not to be afraid, because they brought good news which would bring joy to everyone and hold out the promise of peace on earth? When the wise men saw the star rising in the east, they didn’t sigh and complain about the state of the roads, but were instead overjoyed and hurried off to find the child who was born to be king. Where has our joy gone – and do we really mean it when we say we’ll be glad when Christmas is over?

We cannot be naive here… Christmas is never going to be stress free, regardless of our circumstances, but we can and must engage with the truth of the story if we are to recapture the ground we have lost. God the Son has lived amongst us, died for us and rose again to bring salvation to us. Through His church He wants to show His love for the world He longs to embrace and to give hope to all those in despair. Believing that, we cannot fail to sing, O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord, and living in this hope, to be glad it really can be Christmas every day.

With our love and prayers this Christmas,
Matthew and Pauline

The gift of God…

Dear friends,

Earlier this week, we had the pleasure of redeeming a gift voucher from our children, which entitled us to enjoy afternoon tea for two at a local establishment just outside Windsor Castle.

It reminded us that the Bible speaks of God’s gift to us in various ways. The Holy Spirit (Acts 8:20); Jesus Christ (Romans 5:15); righteousness (Romans 5:17); eternal life (Romans 6:23); and salvation (Ephesians 2:8), amongst other things, are all described as ‘the gift of God’. And we were also reminded that gifts not only need to be accepted (we’ve had our gift voucher for eleven months) – they need to be used (it would have expired if we hadn’t used it by the end of October!)

Elsewhere in the Bible, both David and John describe God’s gift of eternal life in terms of hospitality: – ‘You prepare a table before me… and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.’ (David, in the familiar words of Psalm 23:5-6); and ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ (John, in Revelation 19:9)

Our voucher entitled us to the free gift of a 90-minute afternoon tea just outside the residence of the King. We were, of course, delighted to use it!

The Good News of the Christian Gospel is that through Jesus, God offers us far more than a brief meal in the town centre. He offers us the free gift of an ‘eternal feast’ in the ‘house of the Lord’ – the residence of the King of kings. Surely it’s a ‘no-brainer’ to accept this amazing gift and to use it to inform the way that we live and love others? And surely it’s a gift that we will want to pass on to others, so that they too can enjoy the prospect of God’s hospitality and love forever!

With our love and prayers
Matthew and Pauline

Living in community – building friendship… building faith

Dear friends,

Our strapline, ‘building friendship… building faith’ sums up what we feel church is about. Building faith in Jesus by showing God’s love through our friendships with each other and with our neighbours. Church is a place where we build a sense of community which, at its heart, is a community of faith in Jesus – a place where we can find a safe haven, or a refuge, in relationship with God who loves us and cares for us.

It’s not just about our weekly service of worship – although of course, this is the heartbeat of our life together. It’s about how we engage with each other and with our neighbours through other services such as Messy Church, and throughout the week in our home groups, prayer meetings and church members’ meetings. It’s about how we serve our community through The WellSpring, Noah’s Ark, in hosting Windsor Foodshare and in enabling other community groups to use our building for their gatherings. All of these are expressions of God’s love and hospitality towards the world – signs of friendship that point them towards faith.

That’s why, on Saturday 16th September, from 2.00 – 5.00pm, we will be holding a family-friendly Open Day at the church, inviting our neighbours and members of the various groups that use our building to come and see what else goes on here, and to discover more about who we are and what we do together as we seek to follow Jesus.

You are invited too! So please come if you can – and bring a friend! Have fun discovering your inner child with a Messy Church craft; relaxing with one of The WellSpring’s activities; learning more about the work of Noah’s Ark or Windsor Foodshare; understanding the mysteries of baptism and communion through informative displays – or simply chatting and building friendships over tea and cake. All of these – and more – are ways that we can follow Jesus’ twin commands to ‘love God… and love others’ as we aim to work out our faith in practice in our part of God’s beautiful but needy world.

We look forward to seeing you and your friends there.

With our love and prayers
Matthew and Pauline

‘Fear not…for I am with you…even in the middle of the storm

Dear friends,
Matthew visited our good friend Stan recently, who shared one of the lessons that he felt God had taught him in life.

Stan described how, as an engineer serving in the merchant navy, his ship was buffeted by a violent storm outside Singapore to such an extent that the ship’s funnel was damaged and leaning over at a 45-degree angle, and all the lifeboats were swept away. Sounds scary! Thankfully, despite the damage, the ship made it safely into harbour, where the port authorities carried out the necessary repairs while Stan and his colleagues continued with their own duties.

As he has reflected on that experience over the years, Stan has realised that storms can be a metaphor for some of the challenges that we face in life, such as ill-health, loss and relational difficulties. But, he says, the harbour is also a valuable metaphor for the help we get in the middle of those storms. The Bible is full of examples of people facing the storms of life, and finding in God a safe harbour or refuge to protect them, even though the storm may still be raging. King David spoke of God as ‘my rock, in whom I take refuge’ (2 Samuel 22:3, and numerous Psalms). The disciples went to Jesus as a storm threatened to overwhelm their small boat, and found in him the authority to calm the wind and waves (Matthew 8:23-27). And the apostle Paul knew his fair share of storms, both literal and metaphorical. He often faced the storm of opposition to the Gospel message he proclaimed, and on one such occasion God reassured him with the words “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no-one will lay a hand on you to harm you…” (Acts 18:9-10).

When we encounter the storms of life, it is vital to seek safe refuge in God through prayer. As we spoke, Stan felt that some of us reading this message who are facing the inevitable storms of life may need to hear the words ‘Fear not… for I am with you… even in the middle of the storm.’

We pray that his encouragement will strengthen and protect you as you seek shelter with God in difficult times.

With our love and prayers
Matthew and Pauline (and Stan Bevan)

Walking at God’s pace – the speed of love

Dear friends,

It’s fascinating that so many Christian writers and theologians over the last couple of decades have reflected on and written about the need to slow down the pace of life in order to catch up with God. Book titles such as ‘Soul Keeping’ (Ortberg), ‘Slow Church’ (Smith & Pattison) and ‘The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry’ (Comer) are all symptomatic of a yearning to slow down, catch our breath and catch something of the wind of the Holy Spirit in our spiritual sails.

Pete Greig’s recent 21-day, 300-mile pilgrimage from Iona to Lindisfarne for Lectio365 reflects on the same subject. He writes: – ‘Isn’t it extraordinary that Jesus never hurried? With just three years to save the world, He still made time for fishing trips, picnics, and parties, which means that He was officially less busy than most pastors. ‘Let me make one observation,’ writes Kosuke Koyama in his book Three Mile an Hour God, ‘[God] walks “slowly” because he is love. If he is not love he would have gone much faster. Love has its speed. It is an inner speed. It is a spiritual speed. It is a different kind of speed from the technological speed to which we are accustomed… It is the speed we walk and therefore it is the speed the love of God walks.’’ (Lectio365, 22/06/23)

We all need to harness the self-discipline of slowing down in order to catch up with God. Many of us know that discipline as the ‘quiet time’ during which we read our Bibles and pray – yet all too often even these ‘slow’ times are rushed! However, it occurs to me that this discipline is a potential strength of our own church community. To the relatively high proportion of retired individuals amongst us, whose pace of life has been forcibly slowed down by the passing of time, I would say:- You are an invaluable resource to the church, because your pace of life is much more closely in step with God’s than that of those who are still working, parenting or enjoying the full vigour of youth. Your prayers, your wisdom and your insights are often the very things that the rest of us need in order to hear from God. So, far from becoming less useful with age, we are all given the opportunity to walk in step with God like never before.

And the result? If you’ll forgive mixing the metaphors of walking and running… ‘[God] gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.’ (Isaiah 40:29-31)

With our love and prayers
Matthew and Pauline

‘I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.’ – Jeremiah 31:13

Dear friends,

A few weeks ago at our niece’s wedding, we were sitting at our tables between courses, when there was a tremendous crash, and we realised that one of the waiters had apparently fallen over. Everyone stopped talking as he got to his feet… when he promptly burst into song! Before we knew it, he had us all on our feet singing with him, and it wasn’t long before we were all dancing around the tables in a long line of wedding guests. It was an absolute joy, and we finished up by belting out Don’t Stop Me Now!  as loudly as we could. It was brilliant!

Dancing is contagious, and it crosses barriers of race, gender, age and social class. It seems to come from God’s heart, as we can see in His promise given through the prophet Jeremiah. In context, God’s people had previously walked away from God with the result that their enemies had swept in and taken them off into exile, where they yearned for their lost homeland for seventy years. In that time, they realised what they had lost when they chose to ignore God, until at last God spoke to them once again, to reassure them that the dark days would soon be at an end:

 ‘Then young women will dance and be glad,
  young men and old as well.
I will turn their mourning into gladness;
I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.’ – Jeremiah 31:13

Dancing would be both a sign of joy, and a means of joy, and it would come to the people because God willed it. He was going to turn their mourning into gladness, comforting them and giving them joy, and they would dance, expressing the generosity of His character as they did so, and sharing in His pleasure.

This shared pleasure is a mark of the joy of the Lord, which is not affected by our circumstances. It is found in the deep places of our soul, and assures us that His love for us stands firm. It’s in the way we draw nearer to Him when we are at our most vulnerable, and find that he really does turn mourning into gladness, gently and without haste as the years go by.  How blessed are we, to know that God calls us to share His joy as we dance together with Him!

With our love and prayers
Matthew and Pauline

The only thing that counts…

Dear friends,

Next weekend, we will both have the pleasure of attending the annual Baptist Assembly in Bournemouth. It’s an opportunity to revisit the town where Matthew grew up, to meet up with family there for the first time in over two years, and (hopefully) to take a stroll along the seafront. Above all, though, it will be a chance to find out what God is doing in and through other Baptist churches up and down the country and to be encouraged that we are but a small part of a much bigger family.

Looking back at the last time the event was in Bournemouth, we were reminded of one of the sessions we attended on that occasion. The speaker was reflecting on Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15, and pointed out that the economics of the world would say that we should protect the 99 safe sheep to prevent any more from getting lost. However, he went on to argue that the economics of God’s kingdom says just the opposite – it exhorts us to go out and find the one sheep that is missing, because people matter to God and the real party celebration lies in bringing home the lost.

We each have the privilege of being part of the church family that is Dedworth Green Baptist Church. The church is part of the wider family of Baptist churches in Great Britain and across the world, which in turn is just part of God’s family, His Church. The apostle Paul writes that ‘The only thing that counts is faith (in Christ) expressing itself through love.’ (Galatians 5:7) What unites us as God’s family – regardless of individual or denominational differences – is therefore far stronger and more important than the trivia that can sometimes threaten our unity.

When we prioritise our unity by concentrating on the only thing that counts, we find that we have a church family to which we actually want to invite the ‘lost sheep’ around us in our homes, offices and neighbourhoods. Our family is still incomplete, and it’s one worth joining, because it has the perfect Father – so let’s remember to look out for the missing family members, rather than simply enjoying time with the 99!

With our love and prayers
Matthew and Pauline

(PS – you can also enjoy time with the ‘99’ by joining us at the main service from the Baptist Assembly, which will be shown live at DGBC at 10.30am next Sunday)

Re-membering again

Looking back this week through my archived messages, I (Matthew) came across two from recent years which seemed so appropriate to our current circumstances that they seemed worth recycling and merging into one timely reminder of God’s healing love in the face of loss.

From time to time, we reflect on a literal understanding of ‘re-membering’ as involving putting back together something that has been dis-membered. When we are ‘re-membered’, broken, damaged and dismembered aspects of our past lives are put together again; mind, body and soul enjoy wholeness once more; and helplessness in the face of an unknown future gives way to resurrection hope. Our thoughts are often linked with Jesus’ instructions to share bread and wine in remembrance of him, as we remember that the good news of the Gospel is about finding God’s forgiveness through the power of the cross, and a new start in life through the joy of the empty tomb.

At a very practical level, one way that we seek God’s grace to heal our brokenness in the face of loss is to offer services of remembrance in which we bring God our feelings and circumstances. Remembrance Sunday is one such opportunity, focusing on lives lost in the horrors of war, and pointing us to the constant need to ‘…if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.’ (Romans 12:18) So this Remembrance Sunday, pray for those who are nursing the wounds of the untimely loss of family, friends and colleagues. Pray that the God of all comfort will defeat the power of their experience of death, and that somehow he would use the good memories of their loved ones to nurse their wounds.

And if the loss of loved ones through any circumstance has been (or remained) a significant part of your experience during this difficult and prolonged season of pandemic, why not join us at 5pm on Sunday 5th December as we hold a special service to help each other find God’s comfort, peace and strength as we remember the past, struggle with the present and seek hope for the future.

Our prayer is that as we remember those we have loved and lost, we will reaffirm and give thanks for all that they mean to us; so that instead of being shaped by our loss we are shaped by the gains we still have from knowing them in the first place, which have helped us to be the people God calls us to be.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

‘Running on empty? …stop here for services!’

Dear friends,

Waiting for forty minutes in a queue for petrol the other day, I (Matthew) wondered how many of the cars around me were running on fumes, with their drivers praying that they would make it to the forecourt before their car broke down… and before the pumps ran dry!

Life’s circumstances are often a metaphor for our relationship with God. That’s why the Gospels are full of the parables of Jesus – stories with a meaning, wrapped up in a vivid example from day to day life. If Jesus were walking this earth now, I’m sure he would have made something of the current petrol crisis.

Instead, he simply tackled the issue of ‘running on empty’ mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually with these familiar words: – ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ (Matt 11:28-30) The way to refuel, particularly spiritually, is simply to come to Jesus and rest in his presence – to set aside times to stop and let him refuel us. It is a form of prayer – but not necessarily one that involves words. It simply involves taking time out from our busy lives and allowing God to renew us in whatever way he knows we need.

Jesus modelled it – he often withdrew to lonely places to pray. But even he got caught in delays on the way – on one occasion when he planned to take his disciples for a retreat, massive crowds followed them and they ended up feeding the 5,000. Even Jesus ran on empty at times – so much so that he slept through a life-threatening storm as his friends battled the wind and waves.

Not without reason are motorway services sometimes also called ‘rest areas’. Resting and refuelling are closely linked. Resting with God in prayer is the essential fuel we need in life… so, have we planned our daily, weekly, monthly and annual journey so that it allows for stops to rest and refuel before we get into the red zone? Because one thing’s for sure – although there may be diversions on the way, when we get there, there’s no queue, and no wait for enough lorry drivers to replenish God’s stocks of grace, of which there are unlimited supplies to draw upon to sustain us for the next part of our journey. As one church poster that Matthew used to pass on his commute through Guildford years ago so succinctly put it: – ‘Stop here for services’.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

‘They worked together…’ (Acts 18:3)

Dear friends,

Watching the Olympic Games over the last few days has rekindled memories of our involvement as a church in the events of London 2012, when we were asked to provide a safe place for the Team GB rowing team to meet their families away from the gaze of press and public after each day’s competition. It was a privilege to be involved in some small way and to meet some of the athletes who became household names during the course of those Games.

Looking back over our notes from that time, we were reminded that on several occasions during the fortnight, we heard the words “this is just what we needed,” alongside genuine and heartfelt appreciation of the service provided by volunteers in the kitchen. One small child was even heard to say, “But I don’t want to go home!” We took that as a compliment… and a challenge!

While reflecting on the service that we had offered Team GB that year, we noted that: –

Our hospitality has not been high profile. But “This is just what [they] needed.”

It has involved sacrificing our time. But “This is just what [they] needed.”

At times it has been hectic; at times dull and boring. But “This is just what [they] needed.”

We realised that in having the privilege of providing just what our rowers and their families needed by offering Christian hospitality, we showed God’s love. What happened next was up to God – but we could be sure that he is able to do far more than we can even imagine, according to his power at work in us (Eph 3:20).

Reflecting again on that experience as every church faces a new season, we are challenged by the question ‘what is needed today?’ One of the things that the last few weeks has taught us is that our circumstances remain fragile – it is still so easy for any one of us to be taken out of action at very short notice by the requirements of unexpected self-isolation. That means that whatever role we play in the life and ministry of ‘Team DGBC’, we all need to make sure that we have trained someone else up to cover for us… or that we have learned how to cover someone else’s role if required.  It’s a vital part of the commitment of being part of a team.

Jesus modelled the principle as he spent three years training up his motley crew of followers to continue his ministry once he had risen and ascended. That’s why he sent his Holy Spirit to equip them with the gifts and character needed to be his representatives in a broken world.

We’ve been reminded in the last fortnight that the Olympics is based on teamwork, as athletes, coaches, administrators and organisers work together to produce elite sporting moments. So, as we realise today that what is needed is teamwork – what gifts and abilities has the Holy Spirit given you to play your part in Team DGBC? And who might God be calling you to train up to take on your role when you are either not available, or move on to a different role?

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

‘…I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now)’ – St Paul

Dear friends,
When we were on holiday exploring south-west Scotland last month, we set out one day to explore a forest drive in the north of Galloway Forest Park. We had enjoyed a beautiful day meandering along a similar track just a few days earlier, so we were looking forward to it. We tried not to be put off by the dense fog that surrounded us as we drove up above the cloud level, and we emerged from the gloom to find the start of the forest drive. Unfortunately, what none of the websites had mentioned was that this drive was well and truly closed to the public this year, and our plan was scuppered!

Thankfully, we realised that there was a good ‘Plan B’ available. If we drove on for another half an hour, we would reach the coast… and for Matthew, a rather famous golf course at Turnberry – even if it is way out of his price range to play. As we descended, the cloud and fog gave way to lovely warm sunshine, and we found a footpath across the links out to the famous Turnberry lighthouse and adjacent beach ‘…make up your mind not to put any stumbling-block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.’ Romans 14:13.

While Pauline took in the sea views out to Ailsa Craig, Matthew enjoyed watching golfers take on the challenge of one of the world’s best courses, which he had only previously seen on TV… and we were both stunned by the plush marble interior of the facilities at the lighthouse (installed at the instruction of the current owner, who goes by the very Scottish name of Donald…)

Life doesn’t always go as planned, does it? We were reminded of that last week when we found that we had been in close contact with someone who subsequently tested positive for Covid. As a result, we joined the Prime Minister, Chancellor, Health Secretary and thousands of others in self-isolation on Monday’s rather ambitiously-named ‘Freedom Day’. Not much freedom where we were, effectively under self-administered house arrest! The consequences were inconvenient – two ‘in-person’ services missed, along with Foodshare and a couple of planned BBQs with friends and colleagues; and more importantly, the inconvenience of having to postpone Sandy’s baptism from today (hopefully it will now take place next week). Many things, however, were able to carry on almost as normal thanks to the benefits of modern communications.

Our holiday experience turned out for the best, even though it was not the day that we had planned. It doesn’t take too much research to find examples in the Bible when the plans of the characters involved in a story were thwarted, only for God to replace them with a much better ‘Plan B’. Think of the two disciples heading for Emmaus after Jesus’ death, only to be compelled to turn back after meeting the risen Jesus, so that they could bring their friends the good news that ‘…the Lord has risen!’ (Luke 24:34) Or the many times that Paul was prevented from making planned visits (Romans 1:13). What we might think of as ‘Plan B’ – second best or a last resort because our original plans have been thwarted – often turns out to be God’s best for us. So if in these days you face the frustration of your plans being undone, look for signs that the change of plan is leading you to something better – to God’s best for you.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

Everyone in Judah was there… all present and attentive to God

Dear friends,

This week Baptists Together (the umbrella body of which we are part) published the following letter to member churches on their website:

On 12 July, the UK Government confirmed the move to step 4 of their Covid-19 recovery roadmap for England from 19 July. This will remove outstanding legal restrictions including:

  • All remaining limits on social contact are removed. People may meet with whom and with as many as they wish, both indoors and outdoors.
  • Social distancing is no longer demanded in any setting.
  • All restrictions on the numbers at and activities within weddings, funerals and other life events are removed.
  • Face coverings are no longer mandatory in any setting.
  • There are no restrictions on singing.

Nevertheless, as infections continue to rise, the Government recommends continuing caution. Good ventilation, diligence in hygiene, wearing a face covering in enclosed and crowded spaces, and limiting contact with those we do not live with, are all noted as beneficial behaviours. In the light of this, we recommend that it is both sensible and appropriate for churches to continue to take some measures to limit the spread of Covid-19. Churches have a responsibility to protect their staff, congregations, communities, and other users of their buildings. However, it is now down to each church to determine for itself what these measures should be.

We are acutely aware that the process for making decisions going forward has the potential to be divisive. In some respects it was easier when rules were more restrictive but at least definite. How we make decisions may prove to be as important to churches as the decisions themselves. We appeal to everyone involved to be kind to each other, to listen well, to appreciate the pressure leaders are under, and to compromise accordingly. This is a very vulnerable time for churches and we ask you to recall the exhortation in Ephesians 4 to ‘be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace’.

We agree. There is no doubt that decision making was far more straight-forward when the law was clear, but now that we have been given autonomy to make the best decisions for our own setting, we all have a responsibility to do what is best and right for those around us, as well as for ourselves.  As we said last week, we need to hear each other’s voices in order to reach a consensus on what we should be doing – not because we are opinionated, but because God speaks to us when we are in community. This is why it is essential that we gather together on Tuesday evening to ask God what in on His heart, and to hear His voice through each other’s wisdom and discernment. This will not be a debate, or an opportunity to be the most insistent voice, but rather to come before God in humility and to say to Him, ‘We don’t know what to do; we’re looking to you.’ (2 Chronicles 20:12, The Message). The meeting is open to all (though only Church members have the responsibility to vote) and you can find out how to take part elsewhere in this newsletter. What a privilege, and how exciting to be in God’s presence while He shows us the way ahead!

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

All the believers were one in mind and heart.

Dear friends,

Last week we encouraged you to return to church as soon as you feel the time is right, so that we could start to rebuild our sense of community, just as the exiles returning to Jerusalem did in the days of Nehemiah. This would be a blessing to all of us, and it has been so good to see members of our congregation gradually returning on Sunday mornings.  This week’s news has certainly helped too.  Premier Christian News reported this week that ‘Mr Javid (the new Health Secretary) said “…there will be no restrictions on communal worship or singing…” There were noises of approval from MPs.’ However, there were still voices of caution in Parliament, saying that this decision, along with the easing of other restrictions such as compulsory wearing of face masks in public spaces, is reckless. We are conscious that these voices can’t be ignored, as the great irony is that what we have been most looking forward to also brings the greatest risk of increased infections.

This is why we need to discern what God is saying to us at this crucial time. To this end, we urge you to attend the Church Members Meeting on Tuesday July 20th, either in person or online (non-members are very welcome to come and be part of the discussion). As Baptists we believe that when we meet together we discern the will of God, so these meetings are not committees, but opportunities to hear God’s voice through the gifts He gives each one of us. Please don’t deprive us of the things He has placed on your heart, as we need your wisdom to move forward into whatever the ‘new normal’ might be. There is no doubt that we will have to do things differently now that the times are changing, but we have a great longing for the renewal of our communal life, so even if you have felt disengaged from church over the past year, please be assured that we value you highly and we need to hear your voice.

There are rewards in sight for our faithfulness to God’s mandate to live life together. On July 25th Sandy Reynolds, our church secretary, is going to be baptised in our newly cleaned baptistery!  She has a wonderful testimony of God’s goodness to her, and we can’t wait to take part in this service. So please be there and be blessed, even as we pray for God’s blessing on Sandy.

In the meantime, we are still able to worship God together and to enjoy each other’s company. Last Sunday, Sarah sent us this message which we are sure will encourage you:

Dear friends, I found myself watching church online again today, sadly my son Mike tested positive for Covid yesterday which means we’re all confined to the house for 10 days (thankfully he’s not feeling too unwell and the rest of us are testing negative) 

It made me realise that although in person church is very different to what we were used to, it is much more spiritually rewarding than sitting alone watching at home.  It’s only having to go back online this morning that made me see how much I’ve been getting out of being in church in person.  I’m hoping this will serve as encouragement to anyone who is feeling it might be too distressing to be in church when it’s not ‘normal’.  My experience is that it’s a lot less strange than watching online.

For anyone who is concerned about Covid safety I think church is about the safest place I go. 

With much love from the confines of home, Sarah

And with our love and prayers too,
Matthew and Pauline

They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.

Dear friends,

Last Sunday morning we looked at the period of exile from the Promised Land experienced by the Israelites of the Old Testament, and how they came back to Jerusalem only to find it in ruins. We remembered that the Israelites were told not to hark back to the old days, but instead to pray for the blessing of the place to which they had been forcibly removed, as by so doing they would themselves be blessed – not an easy task when all that was familiar was gone, as Daniel and his friends discovered. Nehemiah and the other returning exiles also had to find the strength to pick up their tools to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, amidst attempts at sabotage by others unsympathetic to the work, but with courage and a great deal of community enterprise they got the job done. We likened this time of pandemic to being in exile in a strange land, and thought about how we will need to rebuild our own church and community life now that restrictions are easing. We concluded that now was the time to strengthen our own sense of community as the people of God in this place, so that we could rebuild the walls and see what God had in store for us.

We hope that that message encouraged you, so that you will plan to return to church as soon as you feel comfortable doing so. We keep saying that we have made church services about as Covid secure as anything else you might now be able to do, but we recognise that for some of you it’s your own sense of confidence that needs rebuilding before you can think about rebuilding community. This is a problem that is affecting countless thousands of people in this country, and we are very grateful that we have a Saviour who has walked our paths and knows just how this feels. Jesus himself experienced a crisis of confidence in the garden of Gethsemane, and we are sure that one of the reasons he took himself off regularly to meet on his own with his Father was to replenish his own sense of purpose and identity.

So, we want you to know that when you are ready to do so, this place where God has placed us all is ready and most definitely waiting to receive you. You might not have entered the doors for over 15 months, but that doesn’t mean that those of us who have already ‘returned from exile’ don’t need you. Nehemiah was not the first to return to Jerusalem- in fact some had never left – but the walls had not been rebuilt by those he found there already. It required all of them to do the work and once they started to rediscover their identity as the people of God in that place, the work was done exceptionally well and in record time. God has a plan and purpose for our church in these new days, so when He calls you, please be ready and willing to come and help us fulfil them. Let’s get our children and families back in the building; take communion together even if we are using small disposable cups and wafers; share each other’s burdens and pray together again; and let’s see what God has in store that is new and full of promise, ready to bless the local community which has itself known exile and is so much in need of hope.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

Reflections on Reconciliation (Part 1)

During the month of June, we are delighted that our mutual friend and fellow church member, Stan Bevan, will be sharing some thoughts on the challenging topic of reconciliation. We commend his reflections to you, and hope you find them helpful.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

Dear Friends,

I had just finished reading the newspaper one day and realised there wasn’t a lot of ‘good news’ for that day!  The Government was destroying itself by arguing.  Worldwide there was fighting.  At home the streets seemed to be full of crime, the worst being young people killing each other in knife attacks.  How would it all end?

I started praying about it and strangely I recalled Sir Winston Churchill, although not a Christian, said in one of his famous speeches: – “It is better to ‘Jaw, Jaw’ than to ‘War, War’”

Talking can lead to a settlement of some sort, but war brings sadness and often a desire for revenge, which in its worst case ends up with further conflict, as Hitler did, leading to the second World War!

What is the answer to all this bitterness?

I was next reminded in my thinking of a sermon that really lead to a far better solution.

At my home Church in Portsmouth I sat with the young people in the gallery and became absorbed with a powerful sermon by our minister the Rev. T.J. Lewis.  His text was Genesis 33v4: – ‘And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him and they wept.’ (King James Version).  This was the concluding act in the story of Jacob and his brother Esau who had parted years before due to Jacob’s deceit in stealing Esau’s ‘birth right’ from their father, a sacred blessing from their aged and nearly blind father, meaning Jacob would receive wealth and position from their father which would normally have been Esau’s right.  (Read it for yourself from Genesis 27)

T.J.’s sermon was a passionate exposition on the word RECONCILATION.  As he delivered this sermon he paced up and down in our large pulpit and like many Welsh preachers wept along with his oratory.  To my surprise many of the congregation wept too.

The service concluded with communion, being the 3rd Sunday morning of the month.  As a youth group we were encouraged to observe.

T.J. wasn’t finished with his message, reading the familiar passage for communion in 1 Corinthians 11 he stressed v18 ‘…I hear that there are divisions among you, and I partly believe it!’  “Now,” said T.J., “is the time to put that right before God, before we partake of the elements.  So let us bow in prayer.”

A few seconds passed, then we heard footsteps from the gallery, down the stairs and along the aisle to the communion table.  A church member who was a senior science teacher in a local Secondary School (later to be called a Grammar School in the education reshuffle around that time) proceeded towards one of the deacons seated at the table and to our astonishment hugged him AND WEPT, as did the deacon, a well-known Junior School headmaster in the town!!  Now I saw my Dad (also a Welshman) was in tears, and many others.  Evidently these two men had had a violent argument at a Church Meeting and had not spoken to each other for years!  T.J. quietly said “This is Reconciliation; let us all now be reconciled with Jesus who died because of our sins.”  Many in that congregation fell on their knees and wept.

Many years later, on the evening of my baptism, I went to my middle brother, Alan, and said I was sorry I had hurt him so badly in an argument walking to our Gran’s for Sunday tea a couple of years previously.  “What are you talking about, you silly nipper.  Come here!!”  Yes, hugs and tears which sealed a loving relationship right up to his death, when I related the event at his funeral service.

What a different world it would be if all nations learnt the meaning of reconciliation – ‘FORGIVE and FORGET.’

God bless all who read this message – it can happen to you.

Stan Bevan

P.S.  In my next letter to you I’ll explain the significance of my reconciliation with my brother Alan.