This article should appear in next week's advertiser. Let me know what you think of it.
What were your highlights of 2011? For me, it was
the fabulous children's events up at St Matthew's. We had an amazing holiday
club with 75 kids noisily enjoying themselves… fabulous fun at Messy Church…
joyful celebrations at Blue Coat Sunday… deeply touching nativity plays… our
kids are funny, inspiring and full of life.
Yet as adults there is something poignant in the
happiness of children. As we get older we discover how much pain relationships
can bring. People let us down… people we care about suffer… people die and
leave us grieving… We fear for our children because one day they too will be
cast out of the garden of innocence. We wish we could protect them from the
bittersweet fruit of this knowledge.
Jesus said some odd things about happiness. You
can find them in the Sermon on the Mount. They're often written as
"Blessed are the poor in spirit" etc, but in the original language He
just meant "happy". So – "Happy are those who mourn"?
"Happy are those who hunger and thirst for justice"? "Happy are
you when people give you a hard time?" So you're happy when you're not
happy? What is He saying?
It doesn't make sense without God. Those who mourn
can be happy because God can bring comfort: He brought life out of death in the
resurrection of Jesus. He can fill us when we are empty and accept us when
others reject. This is happiness stronger than sorrow, stronger than death.
When everything else goes, God's love is still there for us.
It's all about relationships. In Jesus, God heals
our relationship with Him, so that the love can flow once more. Perhaps
"Blessed" is better after all: we can be happy, not because we find
happiness in this or that, but because God blesses us.
Happiness… We're all searching for it. Sometimes
it seems ever further away in today's society. Material things, success,
celebrity culture – they are not enough to satisfy our souls. May you find the
happiness you are searching for in 2012. Keep looking and don't give up! It's
out there. But I suspect you're more likely to find it when you look in the
place God put it – in Jesus His Son.
Happy New Year from everyone at St Matthew's!
Sunday, 8 January 2012
Message for 2012
Dear member of St Matthew's
Jesus never told us to Go and make converts of every nation – good as it is to be a convert. He didn't say Go and make churchgoers, nor Go and make Christians – though it's good to be a Christian and a churchgoer too. No, Jesus said, Go and make disciples.
But what is a disciple? They weren't unique to Jesus. In the Bible, John the Baptist also had disciples, for example. So did other distinguished Jewish teachers, or rabbis. And so did the philosophers of the Greek-speaking civilisation of Jesus' day. These disciples all sought, not merely to hear what their teachers had to say, but to learn how they lived. Above all they wanted to be like their teachers because their teachers' wisdom should be earthed in the way they lived from day to day. For this reason disciples would follow their teachers everywhere – according to some sources, even to the loo and under the marriage bed! They did this so they could copy the ones they followed and grow to be more like them.
So a disciple is someone who tries to spend as much time as possible with their master, in order to learn from their master how to grow to be more like their master. What a great ambition for a Christian – to grow to be more like our Master, Jesus! Did you know that is God's plan for you? According to Romans 8:29, God has "predestined us to be conformed to the likeness of His Son."
That is why I want 2012 to be a Year of Discipleship for St Matthew's. We have quite a few new people in church. What are we doing to help them grow to be more like Jesus? Have we got more to offer them than forever recycling them back to Alpha? Are there people who've been around a bit longer and who perhaps have lowered their expectations and stopped growing? Unless the church is making disciples then it is not doing what Jesus told us to do.
Here are a few things currently in the pipeline for our discipleship agenda:
· we're running with the theme of discipleship in our January teaching programme.
· there's a gifts course over two evenings on 25 Jan and 1 Feb. This will help you discover what gifts God has given you and what He is calling you to do in His service – a key part of being a disciple.
· our Lent course, Moving On, runs on Wednesdays from 29 Feb to 4 April and is designed to help us with first steps in discipleship.
· in October we have weekend away together booked. This will be a great time of fun and friendship and also help us with our spiritual growth as disciples.
· Join a home group or cell group – this is where we can support and encourage each other in the nitty gritty of living out a Jesus lifestyle.
Discipleship isn't just about hard work and duty. Let's enjoy getting to know Jesus better, let's learn together through our mistakes and weaknesses, just as Peter and the other disciples did in the Bible. Let's be new, different people at the end of 2012 compared to what we are now at its beginning. There's an adventure in store for us!
With my love and prayers for the coming year,
St Matthew's seems to have quite a buzz about it at the moment. Here's why I am in good heart as we stand at the start of 2012, wondering what may lie ahead:
· Things are really taking off with our families and children! Liz Burley our new worker launched Messy Church just over a year ago, loads of people are coming and there's always a great atmosphere. Children's Church is growing on Sunday mornings and we had an amazing holiday club last summer (another to follow this year).
· We now have a youth worker, Lee, for the first time for years. Lee has launched Youth Church on Sunday mornings and has got involved with Blue Coat school. He has linked up with the Faithworks team who are working with young people across Walsall. The new night café is attracting 30 or so young people with no church roots to the St Matthew's Centre every Friday night and is still growing.
· The young people of Church Hill Praise continue to inspire me with their fire and passion! They fill me with hope for the future.
· We've had a great Alpha Course with over 40 participants, thanks in no small measure to our curate Liz, who organised it. She has been breath of fresh air.
· St Matthew's Centre is booming under the leadership of manager Adrian Perks. There seem to be more and more community users in there all the time (and even two or three other churches who hire our premises)
· Our Asian congregation are in good heart too – their local radio broadcasts are great!
· I particularly feel this when I see our members supporting , helping and caring for each other because then I know that the Gospel is being lived out among us.
So I think, by the grace of God, we are an inspiring community to belong to. The question that bothers me is, what holds others back from joining in? It has surprised me to discover that many people feel they need permission to come to church. Several times lately I have been asked, "am I allowed to come to church?" Sometimes it's because the building seems so imposing, sometimes because people don't know what goes on in there and are worried they won't fit in, sometimes because they weren't baptised, sometimes because a vicar has been unhelpful or even rude to them in the past… But whatever the reason, it's not good enough. Because the heart of the Gospel is that Jesus welcomes everyone – especially sinners. He said, "Whoever comes to me, I will never send away" (John 6:37). So you are all allowed, by express permission of the King of kings!