‘It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…’ (Acts 15:28)

Dear friends,

As we write this message, the nation is going to the polls to elect a new government. As in any democracy, the result depends on the decisions made by those who choose to exercise their right to vote. If we choose not to vote, we have no right to complain if we don’t like the result!

There are similarities and differences with the decision-making process typical of Baptist churches. As a non-hierarchical organisation in which the responsibility for making key decisions – ranging from choosing chairs to calling a minister – lies with church members, some people mistakenly think that we too are a democracy. In fact, that is only partly true. The Baptist Union’s Declaration of Principle states that ‘…our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ… is the sole and absolute authority in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and… each Church has liberty, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to interpret and administer His laws.’ In other words, the responsibility of the Church Members’ Meeting is to prayerfully seek God’s guidance in our decision-making. We are a theocracy, rather than a democracy! Perhaps the best biblical example of this approach occurred at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, where Jewish Christians considered whether Gentiles coming to faith in Jesus needed to adhere to Jewish practices. They arrived at a conclusion based on what ‘…seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…’ (verse 28).

If you are committed to supporting the life and ministry of DGBC and would like to know more about becoming a church member as a practical expression of your faith in Jesus, we would love to hear from you. Please get in touch, and ask for a copy of the Baptist Basics leaflet on Church Membership (or look it up here: – https://www.baptist.org.uk/Articles/464303/Baptist_Basics_4.aspx), and feel free to attend our Church Members’ meeting at 7.30pm on Wednesday 17th July as an observer.

Meanwhile, as our new government settles in to office, we pray for them in the words of the BU’s post-election day prayer: –

God of all nations, we lift up to you our newly elected leaders and government officials. Grant them wisdom, integrity, and a spirit of service as they undertake their duties. May they be guided by a commitment to the common good, justice, and the welfare of all citizens.

May they govern with compassion, humility, and a deep sense of responsibility towards the most vulnerable and marginalised in our society.

In Jesus’ name, Amen

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

‘…he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.’ (Psalm 23:2-3)

Dear friends,

Our break last week was a much-needed opportunity for a physical and mental  ‘re-set’ as we spent time staying with our son and daughter-in-law at the Northumbria Community, where they live and work.

Amongst other things, we took the opportunity to fulfil one of Pauline’s ‘bucket-list’ ambitions of taking a cruise to visit the Farne Islands to see the puffin colonies there. As we set out, the skipper of the boat warned us in a slightly understated way that ‘the sea’s got a bit of a swell on today’. Thankfully, we didn’t get (too) seasick, and were rewarded when we arrived with close-up encounters with hundreds of puffins and other sea birds on the island cliff-tops.

The choppy waters of the North Sea are not what normally comes to mind when we think of King David’s familiar words in Psalm 23:2, and so whilst they helped us to fulfil an ambition, they were not exactly ‘restorative’ in nature.

On our journey home, however, we spent a day in the Peak District, which included a walk alongside a gentle stream punctuated by several quiet fishponds. We have learnt over the years that this sort of easy walk is one of the ways in which God restores our souls, as we enjoy the surrounding wildlife, take some moderate exercise, and reflect together on life. We imagine these to be the sorts of waters that David had in mind when he wrote Psalm 23 in which the words that we translate as ‘still waters’ literally mean ‘waters of rest’ in the original Hebrew.

Whether or not you have any sort of break planned for the summer, it is important to identify and visit the settings in which you find that God restores your soul. It may not be a babbling brook – it might be a particular viewpoint, or just a favourite chair. Either way, visit these places often. Allow God to restore your soul as he leads you beside ‘waters of rest’ – metaphorical or otherwise – and so to return you to the world better equipped to serve him in the rest of your life.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

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

Dear friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

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

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

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

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

Listening for God’s word in the wild

Dear friends,

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

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

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

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

 

‘Age No Concern!’

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With our love and prayers
Matthew and Pauline

‘Light and life to all he brings’

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear friends,

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

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

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

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

With our love and prayers this Christmas,
Matthew and Pauline

‘…encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.’

Dear friends,

Last Saturday, we had the privilege of supporting Isaac and Sarah on their wedding day, and we’re sure that those of us who watched the service, either in person or online, would agree that it was a wonderfully joyful occasion! We also spent some time at the Baptist church in which they were married, getting to know some of the leadership team there, and enjoying worshipping with them on Sunday morning. It is a large church with a vibrant youth work, and we happened to visit on a day when they had an all-age service, followed by lunch, so the worship area was humming with life the whole time we were there.

We confess that we felt a little in awe of the very gifted team leading the service, and their youthful energy made us rather envious. In fact, we felt (as not-so-young members of a small church) rather insignificant in comparison with the many talents displayed through their hospitality, technical know-how, music and pastoral care. As a result, we had expected to say our goodbyes and leave straight after the service, but instead God surprised us with conversations which were both humbling and uplifting.

We shared stories and very soon made connections; we were prayed for, and in our turn we prayed for them, accepting that the challenges we each faced were not so far removed from each other, regardless of the size of the church or the average age of its members. We were all in the business of taking the gospel to our communities, feeding the hungry, caring for the vulnerable, rejoicing and mourning, insecure and seeking God’s guidance, and we left them feeling affirmed and strengthened and aware that they felt the same. We realised again that God places us where He wants us, and that sometimes He allows us to be instrumental in the lives of others in ways we had never anticipated, but which bless us just as much as our words and actions bless them.

We were hugely encouraged by these conversations, which grew out of being part of God’s wider church, and pray that all of us will be drawn into God-given connections which demonstrate just how necessary we are to each other in the work He needs us to do.

With our love and prayers

Matthew and Pauline

The gift of God…

Dear friends,

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

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

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

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

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

With our love and prayers
Matthew and Pauline

Living in community – building friendship… building faith

Dear friends,

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

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

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

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

We look forward to seeing you and your friends there.

With our love and prayers
Matthew and Pauline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking at God’s pace – the speed of love

Dear friends,

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

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

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

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

With our love and prayers
Matthew and Pauline

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

Dear friends,

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

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

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

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

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

With our love and prayers
Matthew and Pauline

A Coronation Wedding Feast

Dear friends,

By the time you read this message, many of you will have watched this country’s first coronation for seventy years, and will have joined with family or neighbours to celebrate and witness the momentous occasion with all its pomp and ceremony. Meanwhile we will have missed it all, as this weekend we are away at a family wedding in Wales! It’s been a tough call for the historians amongst us, but to be fair, our niece reserved the date for her special day first!

So we had a choice – coronation or wedding? Obviously the winner was the one in which we have the greatest personal investment in terms of relationship. We can follow the other on catchup TV in due course…

But there will come a time when we don’t have to miss either. The Bible includes word-pictures describing God’s people in royal terms. The apostle Peter writes: – ‘…you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession…’ (1 Peter 2:9). Later he adds: – ‘…when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.’ (1 Peter 5:4) Meanwhile, Paul describes a ‘crown of righteousness’ (2 Timothy 4:8), and James tells of ‘…the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.’ (James 1:12) In other words, when we follow Jesus, we receive a promise that we will inherit a place in his royal family.

The Bible also uses the language of marriage to describe our relationship with Jesus, with Paul telling his Corinthian friends, ‘I promised you to one husband, to Christ…’ (2 Corinthians 11:2) and John, writing in the book of Revelation, describing the Church as ‘…the bride, the wife of the Lamb [Jesus].’ (Revelation 21:9) Earlier in Revelation, John anticipates the arrival of the Church for her marriage to Jesus: – ‘…the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.’ (Revelation 19:7)

This weekend’s coronation was, in the eyes of some, a sort of ‘wedding’ between the King and Queen, and the country they serve. its pomp and ceremony will be as nothing compared with the ‘coronation wedding’ celebrations when Jesus is crowned King of kings and we will receive the crowns that mark us as being his bride. We won’t miss either the coronation or the wedding… we’ll celebrate both in one big extravaganza! Meanwhile, we continue to live for Jesus as our King, serving the purposes of his heavenly kingdom as we show his love by serving the needs of our earthly kingdom.

With our love and prayers

Matthew and Pauline

Looking backwards… looking forwards

Dear friends,

Here and there, the Bible contains some tensions and – dare we say it – some
apparent contradictions. One such example is found in the familiar words of
Isaiah 43:18-19: – ‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing
a new thing!’

Yet, despite telling his readers to forget the past, Isaiah has already ignored his
own advice, as the two verses immediately preceding this popular word of
encouragement remind his readers of what God has done for them in the past: –
‘This is what the Lord says – he who made a way through the sea, a path through
the mighty waters…’ (v.16)

Drivers amongst you will know the importance of using your rear-view mirrors,
not only when you are reversing but also to help you anticipate the actions of
those driving behind you. Your main focus is on the road ahead, but you are also
paying attention to what is behind you. Historians will tell us that if we approach
the future without paying attention to the lessons of the past, we are doomed to
repeat our mistakes.

The arrival of a New Year is a God-given opportunity both to look back on the past
year and to look forward to the year ahead. Those of us using the Lectio365
devotional have been doing just that this week, as we have had the chance to
thank God for all that has been good and for those who have encouraged us
during the year. We have also been able to give to God all that has challenged us,
and to reflect on the lessons that we have learnt for the future (without dwelling
unhealthily on the events that taught us those lessons – which is where Isaiah’s
advice not to dwell on the past comes in).

Seeing where God has been at work in our lives in the past, as we look in our
spiritual rear-view mirrors, enables us to look forward to the New Year with faith
that God can and will continue to build on his work in the year ahead. As the
apostle Paul puts it, in the verse that we have chosen as the church’s text for
2023, ‘…all of us… are being transformed into [Christ’s] image from one degree of
glory to another…’ (2 Corinthians 3:18). So let’s now keep our main focus on the
road ahead, as we look forward in eager anticipation of what God will do in 2023.

With our love and prayers for God’s blessing in the year ahead

Matthew and Pauline

‘I will make a way…’ where there is no way

Dear friends,

Last week, our journey to visit our daughter and granddaughters took 2½ hours instead of the usual 50 minutes. A lorry fire on the M25 overnight had closed the motorway, with the result that all the motorway traffic towards East Surrey was diverted through leafy Surrey villages that simply weren’t designed for that volume of traffic. It made us realise what the journey time might normally be if someone hadn’t created a way of bypassing all the towns and villages around London, where previously there was no such way.

That in turn reminded us that throughout history, God has been ‘making a way where there seemed to be no way’, to help people find his plans and purposes for them. Think of the book of Genesis, where God provided Joseph with a way out of prison and into the role of Prime Minister of Egypt. Think of the Exodus story, where the fleeing Israelites, trapped at the seashore by Pharaoh’s pursuing army, were provided with a way to escape through the sea towards the Promised Land. Isaiah reminds his readers of that story in Isaiah 43:16, where he writes: – ‘Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters…’ He goes on to add, in verse 19: – ‘I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.’

God continues to ‘make a way’ for us where there seems to be no way in our wildernesses and deserts; and it’s good to acknowledge when he does so. Isaiah 43:19 formed the basis of our church text for 2022, so when we meet for worship on January 1st 2023 we plan to give you an opportunity to look back over 2022 and to share some of the ways in which God has done something new in your life, or in our life together as a church. So, please reflect on the last year and be ready to share and give thanks for some of the ways in which God has made a ‘new way’ for us.

Meanwhile, Christmas will be an opportunity to remember and give thanks for the fact that Jesus himself came into this world to make a way for us to return to God, where previously there was no way. May God bless you richly as you celebrate this profound truth.

With our love and prayers

Matthew and Pauline

Take my life, and let it be… consecrated, Lord, to Thee.

Dear Friends,

One of the subjects that God drew to our attention while we were on retreat recently was something that Baptist Christians rarely talk about – that of consecration, or being ‘set apart’ for God to use. It cropped up in our daily reading one morning, when we read some words that Joshua spoke to the Israelites, just before they were led into the Promised Land: –

‘Joshua told the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you.’’ (Joshua 3:5)

The commentary accompanying our notes pointed out that ‘the Israelites were about to experience some very significant things that God had promised them for many years. This was no ordinary moment, and so God told them to consecrate themselves… to set [themselves] apart, [making] them sacred and [giving themselves] to God.’ (Lectio365, 21/10/2022)

The principle was illustrated for us in two very contrasting ways later that same day. Firstly, while visiting Exeter Cathedral, we noticed a small shelf in one of the side chapels with a sign indicating that this was where the ‘consecrated bread and wine’ reserved for Holy Communion was kept. And secondly, when we went out for lunch we realised that, in a way, the table that we reserved was set apart, or dedicated, or ‘consecrated’ solely for our use for that meal.

And, of course, as we celebrate our wedding anniversary with our family today, we are reminded that the vows we made before God 40 years ago were a form of consecration – setting ourselves apart for a lifelong relationship with each other. (By the way – thank you so much for your generosity in giving us an unexpected early celebration last Sunday… we look forward to opening your gift this morning!)

All of these examples demonstrate that consecration gives something – or someone – a real sense of purpose, and the same sorts of principles apply when we invite God to take our lives and consecrate us for him to use in his mission to the world. Our reflection on our retreat that morning went on to ask us whether our lives are fully consecrated to God – a challenge on which we are still reflecting. How about you? For what purpose has God reserved you? What areas of your life are not yet reserved for God? To what purpose (or renewed sense of purpose) might you need to consecrate yourself? And what amazing things does God plan to do among us as a result?

With our love and prayers

Matthew and Pauline

The Community of the King of Kings

Dear friends,

The events surrounding the Queen’s death and funeral last month have left their imprint on our memories, as we have watched dawn to dusk TV courage and, in some ways, participated in what for most of us was the first time we had experienced a change of monarch.

Whether you are an ardent royalist or a fervent republican, it is good to give God thanks for the way that the Queen’s faith in Jesus Christ shaped her life and influenced our society for good – and we pray for King Charles III as he succeeds her.

Perhaps one of the most striking things to witness as people queued for hours on end to file past her coffin or waited patiently on roadsides or on the Long Walk for her funeral procession to pass, was the number of times people mentioned that they felt a sense of community in the occasion. New friendships were being built amongst the crowds, and practical support was being given, received and deeply appreciated. As some put it, “Everyone’s very friendly, and we’re all here for the same thing, which is to honour the Queen. We’ve met people and we shared stories.” In fact, as Pauline pointed out in a recent sermon, that’s not a bad description of the nature of community.

That experience serves as a useful reminder that a significant part of the role of the Church is to model community. Pauline went on to change the quote slightly to read “We’re here for the same thing… to honour the King of kings… we’ve met people… and we’ve shared stories,” and observed that that sounds a bit like… church! Indeed, Jesus himself highlighted the importance of community amongst his followers with the words, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35, NLT)

So, as this newsletter shares news and stories about what is going on in our church community this week, may our love for each other – within our congregation, between the churches in Windsor, and also for our neighbours – speak to our community as a whole of the love that Jesus, the King of kings, has for everyone.

With our love and prayers

Matthew and Pauline

(Jesus) went up on the mountain to pray

Dear friends,
One of the things that Pauline and I enjoy doing during our holidays and days off (when we’re not visiting our beautiful granddaughters) is to explore some of the open spaces and beautiful scenery that can be found all over this country.
These places remind us that when Jesus wanted to spend time alone with His Father to gain much-needed rest and spiritual strength, He often took to the hills. Similarly, when He wanted to give His disciples a break from their busy schedule or to focus on giving them some more in-depth teaching, He took them off to solitary places such as mountainsides.
That wasn’t always easy! Sometimes the crowds followed them, and a weary group of disciples found themselves continuing their ministry rather than being rested. Indeed, Jesus Himself found that the place of solitude was also the place where He faced temptation before He started His ministry.
But at other times the hills and mountains really did become places of rest, where they could seek their Father and draw strength from Him, and where Jesus and His disciples could spend time alone together as a team to gain strength from God for their ministry.
Which leaves us with a challenge… do we, even in the busy-ness of a place like Windsor, manage to find a ‘mountainside’ that we can retreat to – sometimes on our own; sometimes with a small group of our closest friends – to seek God’s rest and empowering for the future? Fortunately, it need not be a literal mountain. It might be a favourite walk along the riverside, or it may just be a friend’s home, where you are away from your own home and work for an hour or two. Or, as part of a group, it might involve seeking support and encouragement from each other and from God in one of our home groups.
However busy our lives might be, may we each find a ‘mountainside’ where we can get to know God better, and where we can learn from Him. It won’t always be easy – sometimes the ‘crowds’ will follow us there. But at other times we will find the rest and strength that we need, and that’s when we will know that it’s worth the effort of setting aside the time to go there.
With our love and prayers
Matthew and Pauline