Author Archives: Sandy

Waiting on the move

Dear friends,

The other day Pauline was stuck in a queue outside the local chemist’s. Getting more than a little bored, she texted Matthew to tell him that there were five people in front of her; then ten minutes later she texted again to say that there was now only one, so that she was moving as well as waiting. In his wisdom Matthew messaged right back with some theology about waiting for God to move, as well as something about moving on while continuing to wait… Pauline was naturally hugely impressed and grateful for this inspired input while she stood in a rather chilly wind with her collar turned up and her mask firmly on her face… Back in the warmth of the study we listened to Joth Hunt, our regional minister talking about waiting (you can hear his message during today’s online service) and we felt that Pauline’s experience confirmed our impression that as a church we are most definitely waiting on the move.

It has been a long time since we gathered together in person, so we are naturally glad that our Sunday services will soon resume. But for some of us the waiting will continue, as we might be in a vulnerable group, so should not be going out into the company of others more than necessary; or perhaps we might feel that we simply don’t want to take the risk of coming into contact with the virus. Some of us have young children, and as there are no children’s groups meeting yet, it might be easier to stay home and carry on watching Virtual Sunday School. These are good and valid concerns, especially if they help to keep us and others safe, and we would encourage everybody who prefers to wait a little longer before returning to church (or who should do so) to carry on doing just that. Our online service will continue, as will our after-church Zoom coffee catch-up, so no-one will miss out by staying home.

But even as we continue waiting, we are also moving on. On a practical level, we are planning to open the church for Sunday services from September 6th, though with many restrictions in place. There is a video on our website which tells you what that will entail, and we have included it in this morning’s service. Please watch it very carefully, and think about how the new way of doing things will affect you, before you decide to book in and join us. But there is more to moving on than just physical movement, because along with every other church in the country, we must listen to what God is saying before we can act. In our own context, we have concerns which reach beyond our Sunday services, and waiting for God’s voice is difficult, especially with regard to groups where we have worked for years to build up trust and relationship. So please keep Noah’s Ark, Messy Church and Messy Zone in your prayers, and ask God to make plain His plans for those groups, and for the families and children who love them. Ask Him to bless and keep safe our precious Zone children, whose faith is burgeoning, but needs to be nurtured in community with each other. Foodshare is thriving, but please keep praying for the new team which now runs it, and let’s all give thanks for Sarah, whose work has blessed hundreds of people in our community. In other words, even if we still feel we are physically waiting, in fact all of us are moving on, because through our faithful and intentional prayers we will know His will, and find His direction.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

Losing control

Dear friends,

A few days after A level results were published, a young girl was interviewed on BBC Breakfast. She had missed out on the grades she needed for her university course, and told the reporter:  “My future has been set back completely. I would have happily sat the exams but it was up to the government,” adding that she was angry her results had been affected by something out of her control. There is no doubt that thousands of young people knew exactly how she felt that morning, and the ensuing crisis over how the grades were awarded probably only added to their feelings of helplessness, as their futures were apparently decided by a computer algorithm over which none of them had any control. The fall-out from the government’s subsequent U-turn in favour of teacher assessment is still with us, and doubtless the controversy will rumble on throughout the coming months.

The feeling that we are out of control of events which are seriously impacting our lives can be extremely frightening as well as inducing anger and frustration. This particular season has seen thousands of people losing their jobs in industries which were thriving, but which are now at the mercy of economic forces outside their control. Our bodies can let us down, leading to medical diagnoses which suddenly propel us into treatment we would rather not endure. Family breakdown, the sudden change of life after an accident, unexpected bereavement and a myriad of other circumstances all leave us reeling and suddenly aware that the plans we had for the future were not securely in our hands as we had once believed

Thankfully God has not left us to founder in the wreckage of our expectations and unfulfilled hopes. There are secure promises in the Bible which tell us that the future is safe in His hands and that there is no need to fear. Sometimes these verses are quoted so often that they lose their resonance (Jeremiah 29:11 is one example!), but they are eternal truths to which we can cling when things are spiralling out of our control. Proverbs 19:21 says that ‘many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails’, and these words tell us that even when our own plans seem good to us, God has a greater one which cannot be put aside.

We have found this particular promise to be true on several occasions in our own lives, and although sometimes it can be difficult to bow to God’s will when we would prefer to go our own way, it is also enormously reassuring to know that God has a purpose for us when all our plans go awry. That was certainly true when sudden illness threatened Matthew’s earlier career with the police, but the ensuing change to our plans set us on a road which took us to a different destination. In the particular context of exam results, we have seen young people reluctantly take up offers at universities which were not their first choice, only to thrive once they arrived there. And in the struggles which seem futile, or which appear to give only negative outcomes and weaken our faith, we can still cling to the promise that no circumstance is outside God’s concern. As we have said in the past to our young people, our lives and futures do not depend on the grades we receive, or the opinion of others; rather, they are in God’s hands and He is always in control.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

The Heat is On!

Dear Friends,

By the time you read this the weather will probably be cool and cloudy, because British weather is notoriously changeable, but at the time of writing the thunder clouds were rolling in on a day of searing heat. At home we could not find an inch of cool space, in spite of the drawn curtains and closed windows which we hoped would keep out some of the sun’s rays. Everyone we spoke to was complaining of their clothes sticking to them, of sleepless nights and the terrible lethargy which stopped us all from doing anything productive. The weather presenters described the nights as ‘tropical’, but we weren’t geared up for it in non-tropical Windsor, and everywhere you heard the same lament…’It’s too hot!’

We talk about ‘the heat is on’, when we are in an extreme situation, or that ‘things are hotting up’ when a crisis is brewing. Heat is energy, and we could feel it in the air when the storms were threatening, oppressing us like a weight as the atmosphere grew close and unpleasant. It’s no wonder that heat can become a metaphor for times when we feel that things around us are becoming too much for us to cope with, when we feel burnt out and in need of refreshment.

Many of the Biblical writers spoke of God’s care for His people as a refuge when times were hot, stormy and tough. In Isaiah 4:6 we read that God’s glory ‘will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding-place from the storm and rain’; and Psalm 121 tells us that ‘The Lord watches over you – the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night’, so we know that for thousands of years God’s love for His people has promised them sanctuary from all that threatens to burn them up or sweep them away.

Jesus demonstrated this in a supremely practical way when he was on the Sea of Galilee, perhaps after a day of intense heat, when ‘a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!’ (Matthew 8:24-27).

This story is a great example of how the Lord of Creation can still the storm with just a few words, so how wonderful to realise that this is the same Lord who has promised never to leave us or forsake us. It’s interesting, however, that Jesus does not tell the storm to clear off before they get in the boat! He waits until it is in full swing, asleep and apparently unconcerned because those with Him are in no danger while He is with them. But at their call He wakes up and calms the waters. They were obviously shaken and upset by the experience, but Jesus did not try to shield them from the storm raging around them. Instead He protected them from its effects, and in doing so told them great things about Himself and their relationship with Him. For some of us today the heat may be on and the storm may be brewing, but we can be absolutely certain that we are safe in the company of Jesus, who will watch over us and protect us from the after-effects of the crisis, keeping us sheltered and shaded from the heat of the day so that we will not be burned up or swept away.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young

Dear friends,

During our recent Noah’s Ark Zoom session we experienced a takeover bid by one of the participants. He took the opportunity to activate the edit mode on the video we were watching and virtually painted what might have been a piece of high quality contemporary art all over our shared screens. Alternatively it might just have been a scribble, as he is four years old and had commandeered his dad’s phone in order to share in what we were doing. Dad was obviously letting him express his artistry freely, while the rest of us were laughing too much to sing the song about animals going two by two into the ark which we were supposed to be leading. As most of the leaders didn’t have a clue how to do what the little one achieved so easily, it proved to be a humbling experience, and it showed us all very clearly that being very young is a great advantage when it comes to technology!

This led later to some serious thinking on our part, as the Southern Counties Baptist Association had just advertised its next online gathering for ministers and leaders, and one of the subjects for discussion is the need to ‘pivot’ towards younger adults. We can all appreciate that it is essential to identify and train our younger people, most especially if there are very few of them and they are still on the periphery of church life without any opportunity to feel valued as an essential part of our life together. Our experience at our toddler group might have made us laugh, but it also challenged us that we must identify and value the skills of our younger people and start using them, if we are to remain current and grow.

We wonder if God is challenging us all at this time to consider carefully what responsibility we have in this area. Mentoring younger Christians is a sacred task, whether they are four or forty, most especially when they turn to us for help and guidance in spiritual matters. But it is also hugely important to allow them to thrive in more everyday tasks, as these are the things which will help all of us to make our way in today’s rapidly changing society. It’s not just four-year olds who have things to teach us about social media and technology and there is no doubt that the passion young people feel for social justice and equality puts our own in the shade. We have personally benefitted enormously from spending time at Soul Survivor every summer for the last few years, not just from the speakers and new worship songs that have blessed us, but through the conversations and prayer times we have had with the young people who were supposed to be being led by us.

Years ago, when we were both youth leaders at Slough Baptist Church, the words written by the apostle Paul for his protégé Timothy were written on the wall of the youth group room: ‘Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity’. Now more than ever we need to look at the example set for us by our younger members, graciously accept that they know more than we do in so many areas, and that God is calling us to encourage them and set them on the path which will bless them, and us, in the years ahead. We firmly believe that God is leading His whole Church in this direction, and we must follow where He leads.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

I will remember the deeds of the Lord

At the deacons meeting this week, we were reminded that the Israelites would often recall their history, so that they never forgot that God had brought them out of slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land. In recounting their story, they also had to face the reality that their ancestors had frequently forgotten God’s goodness to them, so that they risked losing their relationship with Him, their great provider and sustainer. This had happened within a short time of their release from Egypt, when the visible reminder of God’s presence had been in their midst as a cloud of fire and smoke, so that even in those days of miraculous provision the people still forgot that He was with them and grumbled when they couldn’t have what they thought they needed.

It is easy for us to do the same when it is so difficult to be together in person, sharing our stories of how God has blessed us, and there is a real danger that we will begin to forget about God’s goodness and His everlasting purposes. As we leave the enforced strictures of the last few months behind, the danger is that, like the Israelites, we become anxious to have what we believe we need, and so try to rush ahead without God‘s guiding hand upon us. This is particularly true with regard to opening our church building again, which is something we all want, but the accompanying lengthy documents with pages of guidance on what we must do beforehand, means that is neither right nor fair to proceed without due care. We cannot ride rough shod over the government’s advice, and we have responsibilities which we cannot shirk, even if they are very onerous. But that does not mean we should complain or forget who is really in charge,  because the God who brought the Israelites out of slavery is the same God who rescues us today, and He will take us at exactly the right pace for us.

When the Israelites became increasingly aware of their inclination to forget what God had done for them, the answer lay in making remembering the past their shared responsibility. Psalm 78 begins with these words:

My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth…things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us.

We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.

The truth is simple and it sets us free: Our God is Lord of all and when we cannot see how best to progress, we can recall what He has already done, and remind all those in our church family that His deeds are praiseworthy, and His power endless. Through Jesus we have the assurance that our sins are forgiven and that our relationship with God the Father is eternally assured. He has built His church and promises that the gates of Hell itself will not prevail against it, so we need not fear that our fellowship will end because our services together are delayed by restrictions which seem burdensome and even sometimes unnecessary. Remember what God has done for us, remind each other when we grow weary and seem likely to fail, and let Him do the rest.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

All the believers were together…

Dear Friends,
For the past three weeks we have been able to spend time in each other’s gardens, as long as we adhere to the government’s guidelines (social distancing, no more than six people etc), so at the first opportunity we took to the M25 in order to visit our daughter, son-in-law and little granddaughter. It was terribly hard to keep them all at 2 metres distance, but it was wonderful to breathe the same air and to talk to them face to face. The same applied to our visit to our son and daughter-in-law, as although we had all met up regularly online, there was no substitute for being together physically, even at arm’s length! We are sure that you have done likewise if at all possible, and you might even be able to form ‘bubbles’ with some of your family or friends, so that you can actually hold your precious loved ones in your arms again.

Baptist church life should be the same. Early Baptists believed that faith must be experienced by individual choice, as a result of the free gift of the grace of God, so congregations of like-minded believers came together to worship God through prayer and preaching, believers baptism and sharing communion. They were inspired by the New Testament pattern of church, and because they were often on the margins of society they built links with other like-minded congregations. Associations were therefore part of their life from an early date, so gathering together is a very Baptistic way of being church. If we are missing that way of church life now, it’s because we are made in God’s image, and He is in the business of bringing people together in community.

But as we have seen in previous bulletins, that doesn’t mean that He will do so in exactly the same way as before, once this crisis is over. In our very first Keeping Connected bulletin, we said ‘God… is in the business of making all things new. He takes the things which we treasure, but which are naturally flawed and sometimes broken, and makes them into something new and durable, so perhaps He is doing so today…’. Those words are still true, as we continue to grapple with what the practical logistics of gathering together will entail.  Of course, it’s great that we can do so much online, and it’s likely that there will be no going back – new technologies will be part of church life from now on, and we will benefit greatly from them. So please get involved in our Zoom groups, join with us in praying together on Wednesday lunchtimes and Saturday mornings, and above all please watch and take part in our Sunday morning service so that we can still enjoy worshipping God together. These things keep us connected – and it’s vital that they do.

But when we can gather together again, no matter how far off that may be, it’s vitally important that we still feel the need to do so, sharing physical space as the body of Christ. We will never again take for granted being in the same room as those we love most, hugging them and not having to keep distance between us! So please don’t get too comfortable with ‘sofa church’ in your pyjamas – the time will come when we can once again walk through our doors on Smiths Lane, in whatever new ways God chooses to use.

With our love and prayers,

Matthew and Pauline

God is giving us new opportunities

‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.’
(C.S. Lewis: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe)

Dear Friends,
On Monday we both attended an online seminar held by the Southern Counties Baptist Association (SCBA), which was intended to help us all reflect on what God is saying to our churches through the Covid-19 crisis. The fifty or so participants found it very helpful to think, pray and talk together on this theme. Along with the rest of our deacons (or trustees) we are prayerfully considering what God is saying to us at DGBC, and will be planning to what extent we can open the building in the coming weeks, as the government eases the restrictions on lockdown. As you know, the sanctuary is currently being used by Foodshare, through which God is mightily blessing the most needy members of our community, and we are very grateful that He has used our building in this way. Foodshare hopes soon to return to a collection rather than delivery model of distributing food, which will involve changes to the way they use the building, and they have relevant plans in place.

However, before we make any other practical changes, we will need to be sure that we can keep people safe. You will have heard that the government is gradually allowing churches to open in some ways if they feel able to be ‘Covid secure’. For example, in the hope that this will be true for us at some point, we are installing hand sanitiser dispensers throughout the building. We will be carrying out risk assessments, so we will have to be wise and discerning in what we can and cannot do. Please understand that if we do not feel we can implement the government’s advice, we will have to make tough decisions about which groups and services we can continue to offer, and how often we will be ‘open for business’.* This will unfold over many months, so please do not be impatient for things to get back to normal – the reality is that there will probably be no going back to the way things were before.

We are not alone, as every other participant in Monday’s meeting was dealing with the same decisions and problems, but there was one theme which came out of all the discussions: namely, that God is giving us new opportunities for Him to do more than we can ask or imagine. We have already found that most of us can access home groups, our regular Sunday service and even Messy Church through online technology – who would have guessed we would be doing that at the beginning of this year? This has meant that we have visitors from around the country joining us on Sunday mornings, so our ministry has grown. We have also kept a constant presence in the lives of our Messy Church and Noah’s Ark families through social media. Who knows how God will continue to enlarge upon these resources so that many more lives are impacted? We don’t know what’s ahead, but we do know that He has plans to give us hope and a future, and that He will finish the work He has started. So let us not be afraid, or anxious to return to the safety of what we have known before, because, to quote CS Lewis, God, the King of kings, the great lion, ‘is on the move and He is not safe…but He is good.’

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

Your Kingdom Come

Dear friends,
For ten days before Pentecost, many of us engaged with the Thy Kingdom Come annual campaign, which encourages us to pray for five friends every day, in the prayerful hope that they will come to know God’s love and salvation for themselves. We found it helpful to listen to the podcasts and watch the videos which were provided for us every day, not least because they helped to focus our minds on the task of praying very specifically for the people we felt God was calling us to bring before Him, and to ask that His Kingdom would come into their lives.
We were struck by the words of one participant in the videos, Teresa Carvalho, Home Mission Officer of the Catholic Bishops Conference. She said, ‘when we pray ‘Thy Kingdom Come’, it’s a chance for us to come out of our own little bubbles, of looking at my world, my kingdom, my will, what I want to do, and to say to God, you know what, I think I can trust you more than I can trust myself, so let me pray ‘Thy Kingdom Come’.’  Roy Crowne from Hope International then went on to say, ‘It all flows out of Jesus … so when I pray ‘Your Kingdom Come’ for an individual, for a situation, I’mpraying Your Kingly rule, all of the great things that you bring, I want you to bring that into this situation.
’What does Jesus’ Kingly rule look like? He tells us Himself, in the words of Isaiah the prophet:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news
to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
(Luke 4:18-19)
So when we pray ‘Your Kingdom Come’, we are asking that God will proclaim
His good news of salvation and freedom to the people we are praying for; that they may be released from whatever holds them in chains, and that they will clearly see and experience the love and plans that God has for them. When we pray that they will know His favour, we are crying out to God for the whole of their lives, present and future, temporal as well as eternal, so that from this day forward they will live in trust and security, safe in the knowledge that He will never let them go.
The campaign may be over for another year, but the praying still goes on. And what we pray for others, we need to pray for ourselves, no matter how long we have been Christians, as the reality of Kingdom living can so often become  overwhelmed by the difficulties of everyday life. God does not promise us an  easy ride, but he does assure us that His never-ending Kingdom of freedom, good news and favour starts right here, right now, whatever situation we find ourselves in today, so that He is never far from us, and is easily found when we seek Him. Our prayer for all of us this week, this month, this year and  beyond is ‘Thy Kingdom Come’, so that we may experience and trust His compassionate rule in every aspect of our lives.
With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

Ruthlessly eliminating hurry

Dear Friends,

Recently we have been blessed by a book with an interesting title: The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to stay emotionally healthy and spiritually alive in the chaos of the modern world. Published last October, it was written because the author longed for a quieter, more Christ-like way to live. The premise is intriguing, and captured our imagination: Who are you becoming? That was the question nagging pastor and author John Mark Comer. By outward metrics, everything appeared successful. But inwardly, things weren’t pretty. So he turned to a trusted mentor for guidance and heard these words: ‘Ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life. Hurry is the great enemy of the spiritual life.’ It wasn’t the response he expected, but it continues to be the answer he needs.’

Comer talks about the spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude, sabbath, simplicity and slowing, which are all designed to bring us into the presence of God throughout the whole of our day, every day. The book unpacks all these themes, but the experience of silence and solitude may well be the one which we feel we’ve had enough of by now. We need people and company – after all, the Bible says that it’s not good for us to be alone, so we are aware that too much of it is not always a good thing. And yet…

‘In our ears we sense his voice cut through the cacophony of all the other voices, which slowly fade to the deafening roar of silence. In that silence we hear God speak his love over us. Speak our identities and calling into being. We get his perspective on life and our humble, good places in it. And we come to a place of freedom… In silence and solitude our souls finally come home.’

We have such a strong tendency to see our purpose in terms of busyness, so that in our own minds we believe ourselves useful only if we are caught up in a whirlwind of activity. Pentecost can seem to buy into that, as the disciples were overflowing with the Spirit and Peter did a lot of preaching so that many people were converted. Added to this, Jesus said ‘go and make disciples of all nations’ not ‘stay where you are and slow down’! But we forget that first century culture meant you couldn’t hurry (walking, not running… and sea travel took time) and Pentecost was followed by a period of just living and growing and worshipping together – not a mission to the ends of the earth straight away. That was going to take time, lots of time. Instead the people were being moulded into the sacrificial way of Jesus – and that is a slow process.

So don’t despair if you have no choice but to be at home, in stillness. You are not useless, and you are not failing in the Great Commission. This is an opportunity to reconnect with God and hear him in ways you haven’t before, or at least not for a long time. We are forced to slow down, to be still and silent, often in solitude but the message is still getting through – perhaps to more people than ever through modern technological marvels. The church’s birthday might be celebrated in more isolated ways than we are used to, but in the silence we can still have a party with God.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

God is working His purpose out…

Dear Friends,
We love taking holidays in Scotland, as the highland scenery is spectacularly beautiful. On a few occasions we have visited Eilean Donan Castle, on the north west coast, not far from the bridge over to Skye. On a clear day, there are very few places which can match it for beauty and location, as it sits peacefully surrounded by mountains, with its walls reflected in the still water of the loch. We have seen it at its very best, with blue skies and warm sunshine, and even the ice-cream was exceptional. Below is a link to its website, so you can see it for yourselves.
On our last visit to that region we booked a few nights in a hotel near the castle, with the intention of taking lots of photos, and also of crossing the bridge for a day on Skye. Unfortunately, Scotland had other ideas. As we drove north the glorious heatwave gradually petered out, until the fabulous landscape had completely disappeared behind a curtain of rain and mist. The castle was no more than a vague shadow with a few battlements occasionally making a fleeting appearance, and Skye was similarly lost to view. To say we were disappointed was an understatement. We knew the beautiful scenery was there in front of us, so close we could almost see it, but apparently lost to us in the clouds. We gave up the attempt, crossed the bridge again and went back to our hotel to sulk.
We have a large print of the castle and its landscape on our living room wall, which shows it bathed in sunshine, with gentle clouds and ripples on the surface of the loch. Looking at it the other day, we were reminded of our last experience of that landscape and the way we felt. There had been a deep sense of frustration and loss, as we had wanted so much to recapture the peace and freedom of our previous visits. We had travelled a long way and waited a long time to be there again, and we felt let down by the weather, the atmosphere and the whole situation.
And yet, how could we complain? Scotland’s wildly impressive landscape is shaped by its weather, and its timeless atmosphere is created by rain and mists just as much as by sunshine and blue skies. We had now seen the places we loved in a different, unwanted light, and our enjoyment of them had certainly been curtailed, but if we wanted to know them truly in all their variety, we had to see them at their darkest and most elusive, as well as at their most welcoming.
We wonder if that is a message for all of us right now. We might not clearly see how God is going to use this crisis, but we do know that His beauty, love, justice, welcome and power are still there, sometimes hidden by the mist which surrounds His purposes, but always solid and real. There will be times when all we see are the present difficulties and frustrations, and our experience of God will seem empty and futile, but these difficult days are still valid and life-shaping, bringing insights we might never have known if each season brought only the fulfilment of our dreams and plans. We all look forward to brighter days, but in the meantime let us hold fast to the truth that our God does not change with the weather, and is working His purposes out, as He always has.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

https://www.eileandonancastle.com/

We’ll meet again…

On May 8th 1945, more than one million people celebrated in the streets throughout the UK to mark the end of the European part of the war. In London, crowds massed in Trafalgar Square and up the Mall to Buckingham Palace, where King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by the Prime Minister Winston Churchill, appeared on the balcony of the palace before the cheering crowds.
Princess Elizabeth (the future Queen Elizabeth II) and her sister Princess Margaret were allowed to wander incognito among the crowds and take part in the celebrations. Nobody had heard of social distancing, and social togetherness was most definitely the order of the day. The people of the UK had been singing along with Vera Lynn for six long years, and at last they really could meet again.
Very few of us now remember that day with great clarity, as the years have taken their toll. The planned 75th anniversary celebrations have certainly been muted by our current situation, though many of us sat on our lawns and ate cake in the sunshine on Friday afternoon in an act of solidarity and celebration. And yet, it seems more appropriate than ever to commemorate a day when the things that really mattered were getting together, giving grateful thanks that the worst was almost over (the victory in Japan had yet to be secured), and appreciating the freedom that had been won at such great cost. In a moving poem by Matt Kelly
(read on The One Show by Christopher Ecclestone on Tuesday evening), tribute was paid to the ‘soldiers in blue’, the NHS, who now battle on our behalf against a different enemy, and there is no doubt that the heroism which we remembered on Friday is alive and still fighting every day in our hospitals. Add to this the army of key workers and volunteers who are keeping the country going – some of whom go out from our own Church building every Thursday as Windsor Foodshare helps feed those most in need in our community – and we can see that self-sacrifice and the desire to bring good out of chaos has come to the forefront in these days.
We have a Saviour who is the ultimate role model for this self-sacrifice.‘ He had equal status with God but didn’ t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death – and the worst kind of death at that – a crucifixion.
Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honoured
him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth – even those long ago dead and buried –
will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honour ofGod the Father.’ Phil 2: 5-11 (The Message)
How wonderful to know that all our best desires to help others, and to release them from bondage, comes from our Creator God. We love because he first loved us and gave himself up for us, so that we could be freed from everything that gets between us and God. Because of the self -sacrifice of Jesus we can know victory over sin and death, and be assured of a future with him. That is worth celebrating, whatever our circumstances, as we wait to meet again.
With our love and prayers,
Matthew & Pauline

Tomorrow will be a good day

On April 30 Captain Tom Moore celebrated his 100th birthday at home with his family. It was also commemorated by (amongst other things) the BBC, an RAF fly-past with a Spitfire and a Hurricane, a Number One hit record, an England cricket cap, approximately 140,000 birthday cards, including one from the Queen, the good wishes of the entire country, and an honorary promotion to Colonel of the Army Foundation College in Harrogate. We suppose we could say that it was a good day for Captain Tom – and for the NHS, for which he had raised over £30,000,000. But one tribute which seemed particularly powerful was paid to him by the Prime Minister, himself very lately recovered from the virus which has taken so many lives. He said that every day the Prime Minister’s Points of Light award is given to outstanding individual volunteers, and that Captain Tom was ‘a point of light in all our lives.’

Points of light are most clearly seen when the darkness is at its most overwhelming, so Captain Tom’s simple walk of thanks, given in gratitude for the services he had himself received from the NHS, was far more powerful in our current circumstances than it might have been at any other time. There is no doubt that for many of us these are very dark days, perhaps the most difficult we have experienced for many years, and certainly the strangest. After six weeks of lockdown, when we have been separated from those we love, deprived of physical touch and battling with loneliness, we may well have come to a point where we feel we have had enough. Some of us cannot even access the marvels of technology, so that the four walls of our houses might seem to shrink and smother us, even though we are grateful for the safety they provide.

So at this time we must recognize the sufferings of those of us who are locked in depression, anxiety and addiction, or ravaged by domestic abuse, bereavement and the sheer terror of not knowing if a loved one will survive. Our friend Peter Morden has written an article on his own experiences of depression after bereavement, and we include the link below – we recommend it whether or not you are struggling. As the church of the Saviour who made Himself vulnerable to all that the world could throw at Him, we cannot tell others to ‘pull themselves together’, or to ‘keep praising and smiling’. Jesus wept because He loved us, so how can we do otherwise? And Yet … as Christians we know for a certainty, that whatever happens, the love and light of our Lord Jesus will never fail us, even when we cannot feel or experience it. Faith as an act of the will, practised through gritted teeth and tears, is still faith. With the true spirit of his generation, Captain Tom has said that ‘tomorrow will be a good day, ’and for us this is not just positive thinking – it is truth. May the light that shines in the darkness be at its brightest for you, and may God keep us all in the hollow of His hand until we meet again.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

Discipleship & Darkness
Peter Morden

A Timeless Word for the times

Dear Friends,

On at least a couple of occasions this week, our current circumstances have shed new light onto our daily Bible readings as the scriptures resonated with strength and relevance.

One of our readings took us to Colossians 2, where Paul writes: – ‘…I want you to know how much I am struggling for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me face to face.’(Col 2:1) Sound familiar? Paul’s circumstances were different from ours in that he was facing the might of the Roman legal system and had been put under house arrest, but the consequences were in many ways similar. Unable to visit the people who he loved and ministered to, he had to find new ways of maintaining the relationship – pen and ink in his case, rather than a phone call or social media, and a courier, spending weeks travelling hundreds of miles over land and sea, rather than a telephone line or WiFi connection conveying our messages in microseconds!

The encouragement is that, in some ways, our situation is not new at all.God’s timeless Word, written hundreds of years ago, has something to say to us today as, like Paul, we struggle to help the friends, neighbours and family who we simply cannot see face to face at this time. A significant part of his struggle for them took the form of prayer – which we can also do for our friends, neighbours and family. Another part of his efforts for them was to take the time to maintain his relationship with them – keeping human contact and relationship is so important when we are apart, whether it is by letter, phone or the latest social media. And we can also learn from his motive in writing, as he goes on to say: – ‘I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself…’ (Col 2:2)

Later in the week, our readings took us into the Psalms, where we find these words of encouragement and hope in Psalm 57:1-2: – ‘Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for my soul takes refuge in you; in the shadow of your wings will I take refuge, until the storm of destruction has passed by.’ The Psalmist also experienced the most difficult of times. In faith, he turned to God for refuge, even while whatever ‘storm’ he was facing was at its height. He looked forward to the time when the ‘storm of destruction’ was over, by holding firmly to God. At a time of despair, he found hope for the future by trusting in God.

We would be interested to know what scriptures you are reading in a new light at this time your new understanding of them may well help others!Meanwhile, our prayer is that, as we maintain contact with each other in whatever ways we can, we will all be encouraged; we will be united in love; and we will hold on to hope for the future.

With our love and prayers
Matthew and Pauline

A reminder that our prayers and reflections for this week will appear on this page on Sunday morning, with additional resources available in our weekly ‘Keeping Connected’ bulletin which will be available on the home page.

You may also view the video recording on our Facebook page on Sunday morning.

Jesus, Light of the World

We pray for every leader, every family, every individual feeling their way in the darkness at this time. May we know that Jesus is still the Light of the World. And may we find the ways in which we are called to be the light of the world, too.Psalm25 v4

The priority of God’s Kingdom

Dear Friends,
Last month, Pauline and I attended the Southern Counties Baptist Association Ministers’ and Leaders’ annual conference in Cheltenham, where the keynote speaker was Glen Marshall, Principal of the Northern Baptist College in Manchester.

Often, when God wants to confirm something that is settled in his mind, he will speak to us two or three times on the same subject. So my ears pricked up when, in his final session, Glen Marshall said that when we commit ourselves to God’s mission in the world, the ‘great priority’ is to ‘seek first the Kingdom of God’ (Matthew 6:33). After all, it was Jesus’ priority during three years of ministry and during 40 days of preparation after his resurrection.

As we are exploring what it means to seek God’s kingdom first in our current sermon series, it seemed a timely confirmation that this is what God wants us to be looking at right now. Not only that, but several colleagues attending the conference said that their churches are also currently studying this subject.

So, let’s be encouraged that we are not alone in being prompted to focus on kingdom-seeking at the moment! A few of Glen Marshall’s observations are therefore worth repeating here, as we continue our reflections.

Firstly, he pointed out that in Matthew’s gospel we’re called to seek and pray for the kingdom, but never to deliver it. Our commitment is to faithfulness. Success or failure is in God’s hands. That confirms something that we realised as we discussed our church values last year. Glen argued that this liberates us for Christian service by liberating us from ultimate responsibility.

He went on to point out that God can use whoever he wants to pursue the kingdom – the Church is not the only agent of the kingdom. So we need to discern which individuals and agencies God is calling us to work alongside in our local community for the sake of his kingdom. For example, we are able to show God’s love through the Carers’ group and through Windsor Foodshare, partly because local authority agencies refer those in need to us.

And finally, the real challenge! People should be able to get a taste of the kingdom from our church. We’re not perfect, so they’ll probably get a few unhelpful additives as well… but overall, does our presence in Dedworth give Dedworth a taste of God’s kingdom? Because that should be our priority.

With my love and prayers
Matthew Scott

The battle for God’s Kingdom

Dear Friends,
As we aim to prioritise the values of God’s kingdom, I am reminded that on several occasions in recent years we have been reminded of Jesus’ challenge in Matthew 6:33 to ‘…seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness…’

Jesus knows just how difficult a challenge this is – earlier in Matthew 6 he says that our giving, our prayers and our fasting should be seen only by God because he knows that our motive is often to draw attention to ourselves rather than God. He tells us to store up ‘treasures in heaven’, describing the impossibility of serving both God and wealth, because he knows that the temporary benefits of material things make us self-sufficient rather than dependent on God. He goes on to tell us not to worry about how to provide for our needs, precisely because we are prone to worry! Yet, in a world damaged by the sin of selfishness and greed, many people are very understandably anxious about where their next meal will come from, or how they will stay warm.

Jesus’ solution to these common issues – to ‘…seek first [God’s] kingdom…’ is both simple and radical. But sometimes the ‘simplest’ things in life are the hardest to do. The gentle tune of the old song ‘seek ye first the kingdom of God’ masks the fact that as this is about the battle to gain ground for the Kingdom of God, this task is more like trench warfare than a stroll in the park! The modern translation strive first for the kingdom of God…’ highlights the challenges we face in restoring God to his rightful place. It is a battle to keep our motives pure. The attraction of wealth or self-sufficiency is alluring; the worries of day to day life are overwhelming; even the burdens of church responsibilities can easily suppress God’s calling on our lives, although of course ideally they should be very closely aligned!

Jesus’ call to ‘…strive first for the kingdom of God…’ is a call to join him in the battle to introduce God’s kingdom on earth. So our latest sermon series will look at what God’s kingdom looks like, and what it means to strive for it. Thankfully we don’t strive in our own strength – the Holy Spirit equips us for this battle. And Jesus promises that when we put God’s kingdom first, then we will not lose out – all the things we need in life will be given to us as well.

With my love and prayers
Matthew Scott

2020 vision

Last Sunday morning, we learnt from the wise men following the star that led them to Jesus, and challenged ourselves to be ‘stars’ that point people to him.

Entering another New Year presents us with an opportunity to reflect on the events of 2019 in order to allow God to shape our thinking and actions as we aim to point people to Jesus in 2020.

Pauline occasionally reminds me that knowing our history can prevent us from repeating past mistakes and help us learn from past successes. That principle is no less relevant in personal and church life than it is in national and international relationships!

So, what have we done in 2019 that we need to build on in 2020?

If I had to single out one significant development, it would be our values statement, which reflects something of who we are and who we want to be as a church community. The idea that we want to prioritise God’s Kingdom ways by expressing our faith through acts and attitudes of love, and to do so with integrity, is summarised in our text for 2020, ‘The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.’ (Galatians 5:6)

As we do so, I believe God will lead us further into his vision for our future together. We do not yet have every piece of that vision in place, but 2019 also showed us that God unfolds his vision for us as we worship and serve him through the year. As we realised last week, we did not start 2019 knowing that the single most significant area of growth in our ministry would be Messy Zone. But as we responded to what God was already doing in Messy Church, it became clear that Messy Zone was something that we could offer as a new way to point families in our community to Jesus.

So, as we continue to focus on God’s Kingdom priorities in 2020, may he give us 20:20 vision to see the ways in which he wants us to show love as an expression of our faith in Jesus this year. And may we act with integrity by being true to his calling, by becoming increasingly responsive to God’s leading through the Holy Spirit as he works in us and through us day by day.

With my love and prayers for a happy and peaceful New Year

Matthew Scott

Advent – a two-way relationship

Our Advent messages this year focus on the idea that Jesus coming into this world is a past, present and future event. We are used to reflecting on the fact that Jesus came to us 2,000 years ago in the person of a tiny baby, born to be the Saviour of the world. And Advent is equally an opportunity, which we sometimes neglect, to look forward to the time when he will come again and gather all of creation to himself (Ephesians 1:10) and restore things to the way they ought to be.

But we live in between those times, so I wonder whether Advent is for the ‘here and now’, as well as being an opportunity to remember the events leading up to Jesus’ incarnation and to anticipate his second coming? In what way does Jesus ‘come to us’ now?

The obvious answer is that he sends his Holy Spirit to help us live for God today. Jesus told his disciples on several occasions that after he had left them, he would send the Holy Spirit to help them – and us – to continue his work. And if we, the Church, are continuing Jesus’ work then, as the body of Christ, we have a daily opportunity to bring Jesus into the lives of everyone we encounter, and into each other’s lives.

However, although Jesus takes the initiative in coming to us, he does not impose himself on us. He invites us to accept his offer to be ‘Immanuel – God with us’. We therefore need to respond. James encourages us to ‘Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.’ (James 4:8), and the great passage in Hebrews 10 makes it clear that we are able to draw near to God because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

So the initiative is now with us. If advent means ‘waiting’, perhaps in these ‘in-between times’ God waits for our response to his first coming, just as much as we wait for his second coming? This Advent season, why not take the opportunity to draw close to God again, so that you may experience the joy of him drawing close to you in a new way?

With my love and prayers
Matthew Scott

Re-membering again

Dear friends,
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 in the present tense enjoy wholeness; 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. At this time of year they also point us towards our Remembrance Day services, marking the sacrifice of fallen servicemen. But there is another, arguably even more significant act of re-membering to be found in our Bibles. It’s found in the encounter between Jesus and the thief on the cross who pleaded with him ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’ (Luke 23:42). Jesus’ answer, ‘today, you will be with me in Paradise’, points to the significance of the cross as the place where Jesus re-members the living; where broken lives are put back together through God’s forgiveness, mercy and grace, and through which ultimately God’s image in us is fully restored as we take our place in his kingdom. Just as we remember Jesus when we share bread and wine, so he re-membered us when he went to the cross in order to take us from our spiritually dead state and restore us to the way God intended us to be – living and active members of his family reflecting God’s image.

One way that we seek God’s grace to heal our brokenness is to offer services of remembrance in which we bring God our feelings and circumstances in the face of loss. 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) Another opportunity is offered at our ‘Lost and Found’ service at 5pm on Sunday 1st December, when we will take time to give thanks for loved ones who we have lost in other circumstances (however long ago or however recently).

My prayer is that in remembering 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 my love and prayers
Matthew Scott