Journeying onwards….

Dear Friends,
Physical journeys often become a significant part of our spiritual journeys. At Sarah’s baptism last week, we heard her testimony about the time, last year, when she was carrying out medical work in Malawi which included treating people who had been bitten by rabid dogs. They knew that one 10-year-old boy had been bitten, but they didn’t know where to find him. It was only after Sarah had prayed – almost as a last resort – that he was found and his life was saved. And it was in
answering Sarah’s prayer that God drew her back to himself and she found her way to DGBC last September and into our baptistery last week! Her physical journey to Malawi changed the direction of her spiritual journey and became a significant part of her story.

We find the same sort of thing countless times in the Bible. On the Emmaus Road, the disciples’ encounter with the risen Jesus sent them back where they had come from so that they were ready for what God was about to do next. On the road to Damascus, Saul encountered Jesus and he was shown his true purpose in life as the apostle Paul – making disciples, instead of destroying them! Around the same time, the apostle Peter was travelling from place to place proclaiming the Gospel to Jewish people. When he was staying in a place called Joppa, he had a very timely vision from God that taught him that the Gospel was given for the whole world, not just for Jews. As soon as he emerged from that vision, he received visitors asking him to go and talk to a Roman centurion named Cornelius – someone who, just a short while earlier, he wouldn’t have dreamt of sharing the Gospel with.

On each occasion, God met in a special way with people on a journey to accomplish his purposes in and through their lives.

Summer is often a time of journeying as we travel on holiday and encounter different people, different cultures and different ideas – or simply as we rest from the busyness of daily life. None of these people were actively expecting to encounter God on their journeys. Maybe you don’t expect to either. But at the same time, don’t be surprised if you do! And be ready and willing to respond by making your physical journey part of your spiritual journey, with a story to tell of how God has been at work.

With my love and prayers,
Matthew Scott

 

 

 

Pentecostal branding – ‘Disciple of Jesus’

Dear Friends,
‘How do you identify yourself?’ That was one of the questions asked by David Coffey, as he addressed the conference that some of our deacons attended with me last week. ‘If you were a stick of rock, what word/s would run through your middle?’

He spoke as someone who has held several impressive-sounding titles, including General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain and President of the Baptist World Alliance, as well as several posts as a local Baptist minister. The question is equally relevant to any role or position of responsibility that we may hold, whether it is as a parent or carer, a Chief Executive or a student… ‘How do you identify yourself?’

His point was a powerful one. As Christian believers, we should not find our identity in the role or roles that we undertake or are called into. To do so leads to serving the wrong master – in his case, the Baptist Union, or the Baptist World Alliance, or a local church. ‘Whatever other title you hold,’ he said, ‘keep hold of the title ‘disciple of Jesus’. Those should be the words that ran through your middle if you were a stick of rock, because only then are you able to serve the right master.’

He quoted Jesus’ statement in Mark 12:30, about the greatest commandment being to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’, and challenged us to reflect on the fact that if we identify ourselves first and foremost as disciples of Jesus, everything else falls into its rightful place.

If we love the Lord with all our heart, we will love him with right desires.

If we love the Lord with all our soul, we will love him with the right direction.

If we love the Lord with all our mind, we will love him with right thoughts.

And if we love the Lord with all our strength, we will love him with right actions.

As we celebrate Pentecost, we remember the day when the Holy Spirit filled the early church to enable them to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. The same Holy Spirit fills God’s people today – and the branding or identity that follows is simply this: – ‘disciple of Jesus’.

So, ‘How do you identify yourself? If you were a stick of rock, what word/s would run through your middle?’

With my love and prayers
Matthew Scott

Here I am… send me…’

Dear Friends,
On many occasions, Pauline and I have had the joy and encouragement of working alongside friends who have had a real sense that God was calling them to do something new for him. It has been inspirational to see how often these experiences have taken them (and sometimes us!) out of their comfort zones, as they sensed God challenging them to start work that in many cases they would not have chosen to do themselves.

On each occasion, common qualities of character shown by our friends have been an availability to serve God’s agenda and purposes and a willingness to do things his way and not theirs. The Bible has many examples of such attitudes.

Perhaps availability is rarely expressed more clearly than Isaiah’s response to God’s call, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ ‘…Here am I; send me!’ (Isaiah 6:8). And in 2 Chronicles 20, King Jehoshaphat faces the incredibly scary challenge of being told simply to ‘stand firm’ in the middle of the battlefield and allow God to fight the battle for him, because ‘the battle is not yours, but God’s’ (2 Chronicles 20:15).

Jesus himself embodies these attitudes in his availability to be sent to rescue a needy world from the consequences of our sin as, for our sakes, he ‘…became poor, so that [we] through his poverty might become rich.’ (2 Corinthians 8:9) And, as we have once again remembered over Easter, he demonstrated a willingness to do things God’s way and not his as in the face of the most extreme pressure he prayed ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ (Luke 22:42)

Isaiah, Jehoshaphat and many others, but most significantly, Jesus, show us that the way to see God at work is to make ourselves available to him, and to be prepared to stand firm as he does things his way. So, in what way is God calling you to make yourself available today? And in what area of your life is he asking you to let go of your agenda and allow him to do things his way because ‘the battle is not yours, but God’s’?

With my love and prayers
Matthew Scott

Finding God in the mess….

Dear Friends,

Our ‘Messy Church’ service is so named because its founder recognised that people often seek God in the midst of a messy life – whether that is the mess of broken relationships or heart-breaking loss; failed ventures or challenging health issues; low self-esteem or arrogant pride; wilful sin or unfortunate circumstances. It is to some extent incidental that Messy Church explores who God is through the mess of various craft activities. Nevertheless, it was entirely appropriate that one of those activities – the child-like colouring in of the word ‘LOVE’ – led one of our Messy Church congregation just before Christmas to observe ‘Look! Love is shining

Love is Shining Through The Mess

through the mess!’ For us, it came to represent and describe the story of Christmas, of how Jesus entered this world not in the splendour of a palace, but in the squalour of a stable, to bring God’s love to us.

Now, as we approach Easter, we are faced once more with the reality of God’s love shining through the mess – through the messy anguish of Gethsemane, as Jesus wrestled with the harsh reality of his calling; through the messy injustice of multiple trials as those in authority contrived to sentence him to death; and through the messy violence of cruel beatings and an agonising execution, as Jesus went to the cross for us.

As he did so, Jesus showed what he meant when he said ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ (John 15:13) – so God’s sacrificial love shone through the mess on that first Good Friday. And the power of God’s love shone through the mess when, on the first Easter Day, Jesus rose to show that death was defeated. That is the message of Easter, and it is the redemptive heart of the Christian faith that enables us to know God’s forgiveness and new life.

Soon after Easter, we will start a sermon series that looks at how various Bible characters found God’s love in the mess of their lives, and how they made a new start with his help. If you have your own stories that you are happy to share, of how God rescued you from any mess that you have faced, it would be good to include some personal testimonies alongside those messages, to reinforce the Christian hope that God’s love shines through the mess.

Happy Easter!

With my love and prayers
Matthew Scott

‘One new humanity’

Dear Friends,
The theme of the recent regional conference for ministers and leaders that Pauline and I attended in Cheltenham last month was ‘one new humanity’ – a phrase taken from Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus (Ephesians 2:15), where he writes about Jewish and Gentile believers becoming united in their shared faith in Jesus.

The keynote speakers, Dr Kang-San Tan, who is General Director of BMS World Mission, and his wife Laun Tan, shared their experience of churches around the world. They observed – indeed, warned – that all too often, churches become in some way monocultural. Even though they may include people from many ethnic backgrounds, they still manage to be from the same socio-economic class, or attract people of similar ages and generally be filled with people who are all very comfortable with each other. In other words, they begin to resemble clubs of people just like themselves – comfortable places where you are not challenged too much by the differing opinions and experiences of your neighbour because they are very likely to agree with everything you already think. We were challenged to see this sort of gathering as being very different from God’s desire to create a new humanity, where Jew and Gentile came together, ate together, debated together and became something new – a diverse culture, united but not uniform.

The problem with being monocultural in this way is that it leads to a ‘consumer church’ attitude, in which we look for what our church can offer us, instead of a servant-hearted attitude in which we look for what God can give our church through our unique gifting and calling. As Pauline reminded us last Sunday, no calling is too unimportant to be taken seriously, and no service we can offer is too minor to give God pleasure, or too unimportant for the life of his church.

From his worldwide experience with BMS and his reading of the early church’s experience in the New Testament, Kang-San Tan observes that Christianity expands by crossing cultural boundaries, but shrinks when it becomes monocultural. I wonder what cultural boundaries God is calling us to cross at this time? Those between young and old? Rich and poor? Male and female? British and overseas? Brexiteer and remainer? The list goes on… so I pray that we will develop a culture that shows God’s love by our acceptance of and love for each other, whoever we are.

With my love and prayers
Matthew Scott

God’s unexpected ways

Dear Friends,
Reading Mark chapter 5 recently, I was deeply struck by three words that stood out in verse 19. A demon-possessed man had just been healed by Jesus (and his many demons had been allowed to enter a herd of pigs, which had then spectacularly thrown themselves off a cliff into the sea).

Understandably, the man who had been healed wanted to follow Jesus as he departed for his next destination. That sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? You or I would want to do exactly that! But then we read Jesus’ response, and it sounds like a complete rejection: – ‘But Jesus refused…’

So, why would Jesus refuse the man’s request to go with him? Reading on, we’re told that he then said ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you…’ and that the man did just that, to the amazement of everyone who heard his testimony. In doing so, he discovered Jesus’ call and purpose for his life.

Because he knows what’s best far better than we do, God does not always live up to our expectations. Instead, he exceeds them. Isaiah 55:8-9 puts it like this: –

‘…my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.’

So, next time we find ourselves disappointed by Jesus’ apparent refusal for us to do what we think is good, it’s worth listening to what he says next. His rejection of our apparently perfectly reasonable request might actually turn out to be his call to our most significant ministry in life.

With my love and prayers
Matthew Scott

New Year – New beginnings

Dear Friends,

In reflecting on the New Year, the author of The Alpha Course, Nicky Gumbel, writes: – ‘I belong to a squash club, which is also a gym. Each year on 1 January they bring in extra gym equipment. The place is packed out. By about 7 January, they move out all the extra equipment, as most people have given up their New Year’s resolution, and the club returns to normal!

Get fit… Lose weight… Reduce drinking… Stop smoking… Get out of debt… There is nothing wrong with making these common New Year’s resolutions. Of course, all of us make resolutions that we fail to keep.

The good news is that each year is an opportunity for a fresh start. But then so is each week. Every Sunday is the first day of the week – a new beginning. Actually, every day is an opportunity for a new beginning.’

The Bible is full of stories of people’s new beginnings from the most challenging of circumstances, because it is the account of how God redeems us from the situations – large and small – that we find ourselves in (and get ourselves into!) Just think of the new beginnings that God brought about for Abraham, Moses, Nehemiah, David, Mary & Joseph, Peter, Paul and countless other characters from biblical history. Now think of the new beginnings that God has brought about in your life, and give thanks for his faithfulness. But, as the ‘works in progress’ that we inevitably are, we know that there is both the potential and the need for more new beginnings ahead of us. Some of them may take the form of New Year resolutions.

‘I want to read the Bible more’ – Why not use a resource that helps you read it in one year? (It’s not too late to start!)

‘I want to learn to pray more effectively’ – How about keeping a journal of your prayer requests, and perhaps more importantly, of what God says to you?

‘I want to be more available for other people’ – Perhaps you could start by spending time with them over a cup of coffee?

‘I want to rediscover who God made me to be’ – Sometimes we need to give up some of the things that we couldn’t say ‘no’ to, in order to recapture a good rhythm of work and rest.

Whatever your desire or need for a new beginning is at the start of 2019, remember that every day throughout the year is an opportunity for God to continue his redemptive work in your life. This year, may you find that he continues to bring about the new beginnings that you most need so that, by his grace, you can live for Him.

With my love and prayers
Matthew Scott

Advent – announcing that the invisible will be revealed

Dear Friends,
When our daughter and son-in-law announced to us back in March that they were expecting a baby, there was no visible sign of the joy to come – apart, that is, from a rather blurry scan photo which looked more like a teddy bear floating in space than a tiny human being!

Over the following months the evidence gradually became clearer as Rachel sent us weekly photos of her growing bump, until finally, at 10pm on October 6th, the little bundle of joy that is our granddaughter Ava, entered into this world. If Pauline and I have seemed a little distracted since then, we hope you will understand and forgive us!

Our experience of the invisible becoming visible reminds me that the same principle lies at the heart of Advent and Christmas. Our invisible God chose to make himself visible to us in the form of a tiny child – Jesus – who would grow up to teach us how to live and love; who would demonstrate the depth of true sacrificial love by dying on a cross so that our broken relationship with God could be restored; and who would prove that he had power over death, by rising back to life again. For 2,000 years, that has been the core of the Christian faith. The apostle John puts it like this, at the start of his Gospel: – ‘No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in the closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.’ (John 1:18)

Today, we can see still see God through the body of Jesus – but now his body is not that of a tiny child, or a young man; his body is his Church, scattered throughout the world and tasked with showing God’s love wherever we are. So, this advent season, may you see God in a new way as you reflect again on the Christmas story; and may you be ready to show God’s love in a new way as you respond to his continuing call to make him visible to our broken world.

With our love and prayers
Matthew & Pauline Scott

Remembering – a bittersweet experience

Dear Friends,
Remembering forms a significant part of our lives each November. It ranges from our light-hearted ‘remember, remember the 5th of November…’ celebrations of bonfire night, to the deeply serious remembrance services of next weekend as we join with the other churches in Dedworth at the memorial in Dedworth Road (opposite Winton House) at 10.45am, to mark the Centenary of Armistice Day in 1918 and remember those who have given their lives for others.

Remembering is a powerful part of being human. We use birthdays and anniversaries to celebrate the good things we have enjoyed, while funerals and thanksgiving services are important ways of acknowledging the place that loved ones have had in our lives. But it can be a bittersweet experience, a two-edged sword, bringing us the pain and vulnerability of recalling losses, hurts and failures as well as the joy of celebrating blessings, growth and success.

Special days and seasons in the Church calendar remind us of the depth of God’s love for us, and of the pain and vulnerability that he shared with us so that we could share his joy. At Christmas we remember that he came to this world as a human baby 2,000 years ago; on Good Friday and in Communion services we recall Jesus’ sacrificial love as he practised what he preached in laying down his life for his friends (us!) so that our sins could be forgiven; and on Easter Day and every Sunday we remember that in defeating the power of death he paved the way for us to share in his new life.

So this coming Remembrance Day, pray for those who are nursing the wounds of the untimely loss of family, friends and colleagues. Pray that God will defeat the power of their experience of death and that he would use the good memories of their loved ones to heal their wounds. And pray that He will comfort them.

And if the loss of loved ones has been (or remained) a significant part of your experience this year, why not join us at 5pm on Sunday 2nd December as we hold a special service to help you find God’s comfort, peace and strength as you remember the past, struggle with the present and seek hope for the future.

With my love and prayers
Matthew Scott

What do you value?

Dear Friends,
At the conference that Pauline and I attended last week, we were challenged to consider what our values are – in other words, what do we place most value on in life and ministry?

For some people, the answer might be something like ‘friendship’ or ‘family’. For others it might be health and strength – the ability to play sport, or to get out and enjoy God’s creation. For still others it might be peace – the opportunity to think and reflect, or to enjoy freedom from conflict.

All of those – and many more – are good things, and help to shape who we are, to form our identity and to help us understand who we are called to be, either individually or as a church.

Jesus told several stories, or parables, to illustrate that in his view the Kingdom of Heaven (or the Kingdom of God) is what he values above all, and that it should therefore be what we value most highly too. In Matthew 13, he likens it to ‘…treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field…’ and to ‘…a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.’ (Matt 13:44-46) In other words, God’s kingdom, which Jesus came to establish, is worth more than everything we own, everyone we love, and everything we enjoy. It is our highest value.

The Bishop of Reading alluded to this in his address at last Monday evening’s induction service for Nigel Richards, the new vicar at All Saints Church. He reminded us all that, although we may appoint people to serve us; and although we rightly have plans to grow our churches and do wonderful things in our community, ultimately God is still in charge. It’s his kingdom, and we’re his Church – whichever church (small ‘c’) we belong to. That means that our highest value is to seek God’s kingdom. It’s an attitude which Jesus promises will be rewarded: – ‘…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’ (Matt 6:33)

As the writer and Baptist minister Roger Sutton puts it, we need to develop and nurture an outward-looking kingdom mentality rather than an inward-looking empire mentality. When God’s kingdom becomes our highest value, all other aspects of who God calls us to be and what he calls us to do will fall into place.

With my love and prayers
Matthew Scott

Moving on… growing up!

Dear Friends,
At this time of year, many people make transitions from one phase of life to the next. Children move up a year at school; many of them embark on new GCSE and A-level courses, or start at a new school. Older students start to make the break from home as they head off to university, or leave school and get their first full-time job. In order to minimise disruption to their children’s education, parents often time the start of new jobs and house moves to coincide with these transitions in their children’s lives, with the result that churches often see an influx of new worshippers around this time of year (and the departure of others).

Life is full of transitions, and the Christian life is no different. Early church leaders focussed their ministry on those transitions by helping people to come to faith, to grow in their faith, and to discover and use their gifts for the good of others.

Think of Peter at Pentecost urging the crowds in Jerusalem to ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…’ (Acts 2:38)

Or think of the writer to the Hebrews rebuking their readers for their lack of spiritual maturity in an effort to encourage them to grow in their faith:- ‘You [still] need milk, not solid food…’ (Hebrews 5:12)

And think of Paul mentoring the young Timothy to become an effective leader:- ‘Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.’ (1 Timothy 4:14)

At our away day earlier this summer, we identified some very similar transition points that we need to focus on in order to help people to come to faith and to grow in faith. As we continue to work out what that means in practise, it’s worth asking ourselves two questions:- ‘What am I doing to help other people grow in their faith?’ and ‘Am I growing in my own faith?’ To quote Mike Pilavachi, speaking to thousands of young people at the start of the Soul Survivor festival to which we took  a youth group from Slough and Dedworth last week: – ‘My desire is that you go home closer to Jesus than when you arrived.’

That is my desire for you; and I hope it is our shared desire for each other, every time we meet.

With my love and prayers
Matthew Scott

Becoming like children… growing more like Christ

Dear Friends,
Pauline and I spent part of our day off last week looking after a friend’s two-year-old son while they were involved in running a children’s holiday club.

Spending time with him caused me to reflect again on what Jesus might have meant when, in answer to the question, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’, Jesus placed a child amongst them and replied ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.’ (Matt 18:1-5)

Small children know that they need help from others to do the things they want to do.

–      ‘Can I have lunch now?’ – ‘No, it’s only 10 o’clock!’ (Well, it’s worth asking, isn’t it?)

–      ‘Look! What’s that?’ – ‘It’s a lorry / pigeon / tree…’ / whatever the appropriate answer is. It’s amazing just how much information a young mind is keen to soak up.

–      And of course, the main role of adult carers is to keep the children in their charge safe and well, as they learn the boundaries of what’s good for them… and what’s not!

Like small children needing the help of their parents or carers, we need to recognise our need for God’s help if we are to grow as Christians. We need to be willing to ask, even if the answer might sometimes be ‘no’; we need to be ready to learn throughout life; and we need to accept that as it’s God’s kingdom that we’re invited to be part of, we need to let him be King.

Amongst the signs of doing that well are the way we value our children and young people as part of our church communities, and the way that we develop an attitude of interdependence upon each other, both within congregations and between congregations.

We have an opportunity to develop both of those attitudes this week as, in partnership with All Saints Church and Kerith Church in Dedworth, we run a Holiday Club for children from the local community. Please pray that these children will learn that they are loved by God, and pray that relationships between the churches will deepen as we work together to build God’s kingdom here.

Meanwhile, I’m quite sure that our babysitting duties were excellent practice for our impending new role as grandparents!

With my love and prayers
Matthew Scott

‘Stewardship Prayer’ – Fridge magnet wisdom!

Dear Friends,
At our deacons’ Away Day this week, one of our deacons shared the following prayer which she had seen on a friend’s fridge: –

My church is composed of people like me.
I help make it what it is.
It will be friendly, if I am.
Its pews will be filled, if I help fill them.
It will do great work, if I work.
It will make generous gifts to many causes,
if I am a generous giver.
It will bring other people into
its worship and fellowship,
if I invite and bring them.
It will be a church of loyalty and love,
of fearlessness and faith,
and a church with a noble spirit,
if I, who make it what it is,
am filled with these same things.
Therefore, with the help of God,
I shall dedicate myself
to the task of being all the things
that I want my church to be.
Amen

It’s remarkable what wisdom can be found attached by magnets to other people’s fridges!

With my love and prayers
Matthew Scott

Who’s mission is it anyway?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With my love and prayers
Matthew Scott

Partners in community (2)

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

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

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

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

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

With my love and prayers
Matthew Scott

Partners in community….

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

With my love and prayers
Matthew Scott

Partners in time…

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

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

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

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

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

With my love and prayers
Matthew Scott

Waiting expectantly

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

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

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

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

With our love and prayers
Matthew & Pauline Scott

One people …. one movement

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

With our love and prayers
Matthew & Pauline Scott

‘I still and quiet my soul…’

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

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

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

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

With our love and prayers
Matthew & Pauline Scott