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

Who do we sound like?

As we continue through our sermon series based on Pete Greig’s book ‘How to hear God – a simple guide for normal people’, we’ve reached the point where we’re looking at how God sometimes speaks to us through other people – and indeed, how he speaks to others through us. We’ve seen that apparently ordinary conversations or communications can have a ‘prophetic edge’ to them as someone injects just the right sort of inspired Godly wisdom, insight, knowledge or plain old common sense into a situation at just the right time. That is so often the way that God speaks to us.
In noting that the most important way that God speaks to us is through Jesus, Pete Greig writes: – ‘If I desire to hear God, the first thing that I need to realise is that it begins and ends with hearing Jesus… Jesus is what God sounds like. ‘He’s literally the “living Word of God”. Hearing his voice is not so much a skill [I] must master, therefore, as a master [I] must meet. All the other ways that God communicates – through the Bible, prophecy, dreams, visions and so on – come through Jesus and point back to him too.’
That presents us with a challenge. If God wants to speak through us as well as through Jesus, who do we sound like? We can often be identified – at least in part – by our voice; for example, Pauline’s accent reveals her Welsh heritage; Matthew’s his southern English upbringing. Our voice says something about the communities in which we grew up. Often, someone might sound as well as look just like their mother or father, because we adopt our parents’ speech patterns as our own.
So if Jesus is what God sounds like, and God chooses also to speak through us, do we sound like Jesus? Not in terms of accent, but in terms of tone. Does the way we talk to others convey attitudes of kindness, patience, respect, humility and love? Can we imagine Jesus talking to our friends, family, colleagues and neighbours in the way that we are talking to them? If not, what needs to change? Because every conversation is an opportunity for another person to hear the voice of Jesus – the voice of God – through us, if only we will spend time meeting with our master, learning to imitate how he spoke to others.
With our love and prayers
Matthew and Pauline

Practise Hospitality. (Romans 12:13)

We could end there, and that would be a helpful exhortation that many of you would act upon – but we’ve got a page or two to fill…!
Someone once pointed out to us that, whilst many of us are enjoying our summer holidays with a much-needed break from work or even from some church responsibilities, others find this a lonely time of year as their Home Groups or other activities, which form a lifeline for them throughout the rest of the year, close down for the summer.
Part of the privilege of belonging to any church family is the opportunity to build friendships and share fellowship together as we practise hospitality. We see it working well every Sunday morning as we serve coffee after our services. We see it as we share a full meal with local families at our monthly Messy Church service; and more recently we’ve seen it as our Renew Wellbeing team extends a warm welcome to those attending The WellSpring every Tuesday morning. Good hospitality is part of what makes The WellSpring ‘a safe place, where it’s okay not to be okay’ – and it’s part of what makes a church a church!
So during this summer season, we would encourage us all to continue to build relationships with each other by practising hospitality, whether it’s in our homes, in the church building or at a local coffee shop. Even inviting someone for a walk in the park or along the river bank is a form of hospitality, because it’s a way of making ourselves available to them. This summer in particular, after all the social restrictions of the last two years, why not take the chance to reconnect with those who perhaps we’ve seen less of in that time?
Whatever your plans are, may you be refreshed by someone’s act of hospitality, and may you find opportunities to refresh others in the same way. And as we continue to give and receive hospitality, may we all be equipped to start a new season in the life of the church in God’s strength.
And finally – if your Home Group is not meeting during the coming weeks – why not drop in to The WellSpring at the church for a while on Tuesday mornings? That is one thing that will not be shutting down for the summer, and you can be sure of a warm welcome there!
With our love and prayers
Matthew and Pauline

It shall be a jubilee for you… and is to be holy for you

Dear friends,
The combination of the Jubilee weekend and Pentecost seems to us to be a
particularly special one, as it draws together the Biblical themes of redemption,
freedom, empowering and celebration. Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee gives us a
reason to recall her many years of faithful service and personal sacrifice, and
many of us will share the celebrations with friends and family. But jubilees are not
just for reigning monarchs and their people – God originally designed them as a
gift that restored lost freedoms to his people every fifty years.
We can read God’s instructions to Moses in Leviticus 25: – ‘Consecrate the fiftieth
year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be
a jubilee for you… and is to be holy for you… Even if someone is not redeemed in
any (other) way, they and their children are to be released in the Year of Jubilee.’ In
jubilee years, slaves were to be released, property returned to its original owners,
and everyone was to go back to their homes and families in peace and safety.
Interestingly, there are few other references to jubilee in the scriptures – all in
Leviticus and Deuteronomy – so perhaps the concept was never really embraced,
and God’s wonderful intention was lost.
That brings us to the other significant event we are celebrating today – the Day of
Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, ten days after his ascension, and
the beginning of a whole new era. The Holy Spirit came upon those who were
obediently waiting for him – people who remembered Jesus’ promise that: ‘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, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s
favour.’ No wonder Jesus’ friend Peter could proclaim with such authority to
thousands of listeners “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of
Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy
Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all
whom the Lord our God will call.”
The promise is still the same today. This is the Year of Jubilee, and through the
gift of his Spirit, we are freed to be the redeemed people of God – Hallelujah!
With our love and prayers
Matthew and Pauline

The only thing that counts…

Dear friends,

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

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

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

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

With our love and prayers
Matthew and Pauline

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

Easter – From the way things used to be…. to the way things ought to be

Dear friends,
Someone once asked Matthew what Jesus meant when he said that ‘no-one sews a (new) patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment… (or) pours new wine into old wineskins.’ (Mark 2:21-22).
We often lose the immediate meaning of Jesus’ illustrations that would have been blindingly obvious to his first-century listeners, so we are always grateful for the wisdom of those who write Bible commentaries or the footnotes in Study Bibles! They point out that Jesus used the people’s knowledge of repairing clothes and wine-making to point out that their old way of doing things was not flexible enough to accommodate his new way.
By the time you read this, Matthew will have led our deacons’ awayday. The plan is to take the opportunity given by the gradual return to a fuller church life, to reflect on whether we should be going back to ‘the way things used to be’, or whether, in some ways at least, we should look for a new way of doing things and discover ‘the way things ought to be.’
As we celebrate Easter, we remember that on Good Friday, Jesus took on himself all the consequences of our ‘old ways’ – the selfish nature that separates us from God – and found himself separated from his Father on our behalf. But we also remember the Good News of Easter Day, when he defeated death and rose again, to show that our ‘old ways’ can be replaced by a new way, and a new life with him. In other words, Easter is the moment in time through which Jesus gives us the opportunity to become part of God’s family and be transformed from ‘the way things used to be’ to ‘the way things ought to be’.
God still wants to do new things in all of our lives. So this Easter, it is worth reflecting on the opportunities that his new life presents us with today. Does my life reflect his new life, or have I slipped back into old, inflexible, comfortable ways of doing things? Am I flexible enough to accommodate the changes he wants to bring? We know what our answer often is – and what it should be… and the two aren’t always the same! How about you?
Thank God that a new start in life is always possible with him, because…
…Christ is risen!
…He is risen indeed!
With our love and prayers
Matthew & Pauline

They have turned the world upside down

Dear friends,
Events in the Ukraine over the last ten days have shown us just how easy it is for our world to be turned upside-down. At the time of writing, over a million Ukrainian women and children have been displaced from their homes, jobs and schools and are seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. Millions more are sheltering in basements, waiting and praying. Lawyers, teachers and binmen are taking up arms to defend their country. None of them know whether life will ever return to normal, or even whether they will see their loved ones again. Their world has been turned upside-down in an instant, and politicians, leaders and businesses around the world have been forced to take steps to prevent the crisis from deepening even further.
As we continue our current series in 2 Corinthians, we are frequently reminded that the Apostle Paul and his colleagues often faced such times of uncertainty. He recalls being in danger wherever he went – suffering hunger and thirst; being cold and naked; imprisoned, flogged, stoned and shipwrecked (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-27). Reflecting on these experiences, he described these troubles as being ‘…far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death.’ But as they experienced God at work in their upside-down world, they learned by faith to recognise that ‘…this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.’ (2 Cor 1:8-9)
Paul’s life and faith in the power of God who raised Jesus from the dead is an invaluable example to follow when we are faced with a world turned upside-down, whether that turmoil is seen in world events or in our own personal experiences of sudden bereavement or illness, injury or job loss.
As we move through Lent towards Easter, we will increasingly focus on the central truth of the Christian faith, which is that God raised Jesus from the dead so that we could find new life in him. It was such earth-shattering news that those first Christians who proclaimed the Good News were themselves accused of ‘…turning the world upside-down…’ (Acts 17:6) Perhaps that should be our response to current events? After all, if like Paul, we put all our energy into the task of turning this world upside-down by praying and working towards the way things ought to be and by showing God’s love… then surely we will be turning this upside-down world the right way up?
With our love and prayers
Matthew and Pauline

Attentive to the rhythms of grace

Eugene Peterson, in ‘The Message’ version of the Bible offers us a beautiful interpretation of the familiar words of Matthew 11:28-30, which he writes as “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
We have just returned from the Southern Counties Baptist Association Ministers’ and Leaders’ Conference, where the keynote speaker was the current president of the Baptist Union, Geoff Colmer. He spoke on the subject of being ‘attentive to the rhythms of grace’ – in other words, watching out for and noticing the unexpected gifts from God that we receive as we go through life. For him, examples varied from longed-for sighting of kingfishers to the kindness of nurses caring for him at a time when even his wife couldn’t visit him in hospital due to the pandemic. Our own minds were drawn to the amazing starling murmurations that we witnessed five times during our sabbatical in 2017, and which we received as a picture of the way that Christians and churches should work together to create something beautiful for God.
Geoff pointed out, though, that all too often we are so busy with life that we miss these signs of God’s love and grace, and that we need to be attentive to what God is doing. Quoting Peterson again, he suggested that being attentive means ‘giving your entire attention to what God is doing right now.’ That’s a real challenge for most of us.
It’s a challenge that is accompanied by the encouragement that God himself first gives his entire attention to us, in the beauty of creation; in the life, ministry and example of Jesus; and in the gift of his Holy Spirit to help us live for him and for each other.
Perhaps it’s appropriate this week, when we celebrate Valentine’s Day, that we reflect personally on the fact that God shows his love for us by giving us his entire attention… and that we respond to his love with ours, by giving him our entire attention so that we start to learn more about his unforced rhythms of grace.
With our love and prayers
Matthew and Pauline