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You are still standing!

What a different week – from freezing to almost mild in seven days! The weather has been like a metaphor for our lives since last March!  Many have been coping with continuous change since then and it can be tiring.  Others have lived with 11 months of severe constraint and restraint – living lives that are smaller than they were before Covid.  Whilst others have lived and continue living with increased levels of stress in their work either because of the changed working conditions, increased responsibilities, or difficult family situations. Challenging situations in which we can easily wonder where God’s presence is.

Yet as I have talked to so many of you over the months you have one thing in common – You are all still standing! Trusting in the unchanging love that our Father God has for us. He doesn’t just call His children (1 John 3:1) – He makes us His children (Ephesians 1:5) and then gives us the Holy Spirit so we can know we are His children (Galatians 4:6). It takes faith to live in this truth.

In Isaiah 49 God promises to bring his people out of a place of captivity and darkness and to comfort them so that they will shout for joy. In the same passage Isaiah asks the rhetorical question “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! …. See I have engraved you on the palm of my hands“. Whatever our lockdown situation and however we may feel, God has not forgotten us – He has a picture of each of us on the palm of His hands and He will release us into a place of joy.

Pippa Coghlan sent me this poem a few days ago which sums up that place between truth and feelings where we stand and exercise faith.

It’s cold and grey, but He calls my name
It’s a winter day, but He’s still my flame……

We’re in lockdown still, but He’s here with me
There’s no holidays, but at least I’m free.

My dog is muddy, but she loves to run
God calls my name, shows me life is fun.

I can grump and groan, but He still loves me…
And He gives me flowers, and skies and sea.

Thank you Father, You are still with me
Help me feel your love, let me know I’m free

Because You’re the best, You’re the one who cares
You’re my Heavenly Father and you hear my prayers.     

I have heard similar thoughts from many of you.  Thinking about the FCC family earlier in the week, I sensed a resounding “Well done!” from heaven to you all.  You have and continue to “keep the faith”.  Despite our scatteredness you have and continue to support one another. Despite being locked down you have and continue to reach out to those around you, as incarnations of the Father’s love. And heaven says, “Well done”!

Facing ongoing constant change, no matter how we feel, may we all live by faith, trusting and experiencing the truth of God’s promise in Isaiah 41 “I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” May God be near you and bless you as you continue to faithfully walk with Him.

Richard

We need to Stand

As I was wondering what to write this week and how to link it to Ephesians, Caroline, writing our Christmas letter, was saying that after all the challenges that this year had brought, we were still standing!   Which is part of our testimony to God’s goodness in 2020. 

Earlier I had a chat with Martin D (not Jnr 😊!), who is a pharmacist.  He told me about a lady who, while he was giving her a flu jab, opened up about her fears over some breast cancer treatment she was going to have a few weeks later.  Martin suddenly found himself saying, “You need to stand”.  Surprised by what he said, she asked him to explain.  Martin asked if she was a Christian, to which she replied, “Very much so”.  He then spoke about Ephesians 6:13, Put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand – and that she didn’t need to be in fear.  Some weeks later the lady returned.  She told Martin that she had gone home and read Ephesians 6 and it had made all the difference to her!!!

What a great testimony to the truth of some of the things we have been talking about over the past few weeks. And what a testimony to God’s goodness that the Holy Spirit, within Martin, gave him words to speak that would point the lady to Jesus and lead to her being strengthened and sustained. And what a clear example of how the Holy Spirit’s gifts to us can lead to mission and ministry in the middle of everyday lives.

Ephesians may be full of biblical and theological truth, but also describes the practical reality of living in and by the Spirit, and simply put – it works! 

I know that many of us have similar stories to tell.  Stories of sudden thoughts to call someone, that result in an answer to prayer. Stories of timely encounters, that result in meeting someone’s need. Or other stories, like Martin’s, of words which come out unexpectedly, and make a real difference to someone’s life.  We need to be sharing these stories with one other.  Individually, we may not have a story each week, but together, there will be plenty.  Wouldn’t it be great to be sharing these as they happen?  So, over to us all!

Living out the truth of Ephesians – being doers of the word not just hearers – is part of the normal Christian life that demonstrates God’s goodness and brings hope and life to a world that needs it. During Advent may we all take the opportunities God gives us to encourage all those we meet.

Richard

06/12/2020

Our True Rescuer

On Sunday, Richard will round off our study of Ephesians.  We do hope that as we have been looking at this book over the last couple of months even those who are familiar with it will have learned something new.  And we pray it has encouraged you to keep pressing on and growing in your faith.  The Spirit has certainly challenged me as I have been preparing my talks – now it’s up to me to do something about it!  May God continue to produce fruit in all our lives as we read his Word and put it into practice.

Sunday is also the start of Advent and we will be lighting the candle of hope, something we all need in these difficult times.  Isaiah 9:2 seems more relevant than ever this year: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”  We’ve seen some light this week with at least three vaccines looking so promising, with political certainty being re-established in the States and with the possibility of being allowed to be together as family and friends over Christmas.  Richard remarked today that the Dow Jones index had shot up with the renewed optimism around.

But the real light is none of these.  It’s Christ!  He is our true rescuer.  May this advent season cause us to look up again to Him so that we find light in the darkness every day, for ourselves and to share with others.  We have good news to bring this season and I pray for all of us, that we will take the opportunities God gives us to share the real reason for our hope this Christmas.

With this rather lofty goal in mind, we have produced an Advent Calendar for FCC!  We have a window to open every day, sometimes to service, sometimes to meditation, a poem, a song, sometimes to something downright silly.  It’s been a lot of work and we’re grateful to all those who have taken up the challenge of putting it together.  We hope you will enjoy it and that maybe it will be a daily reminder, not only of the light Christ brings at Christmas but also of the joy of being family together as FCC. 

Bless you this week and throughout this wonderful Christmas season,

Caroline

29/11/2020

Knowing God’s Perspective

So just over halfway through lockdown number 2.  I wonder how you are doing.  In lockdown number 1, we were entering into the unknown and gave ourselves to enduring, even making the best of, the strange circumstances we found ourselves in.  This time, many of us are weary, the days and weeks blur, and our thoughts keep returning to whether we will be able to see our families and friends somehow over Christmas.  But what is God’s perspective?  Over the last months, in the newsletter, we have reflected on some encouraging, inspiring, and challenging thoughts, and, the truth is, they still stand.  God is still for us, and has purpose for us, in these difficult days.

Remember John Ansell’s picture of how the seeds in the cones of sequoia trees are exposed when they encounter heat, enabling them to be sown and germinated.  So, God is using the pressure of the hard times we are in to open us up that the seeds He has placed in us might grow.

I wrote about the celery stump we had planted for fun and the new celery plant that grew from its centre.  Well, this is what it looks like now – 18 inches high and still going strong!  Reflecting further, like Caroline in her recent Thought for the Day, we have been asking what new things God might want us to do.  Is what we have been doing as FCC up ’til now suitable for what God has in mind for the future?  What are the new things he is bringing from the old, and where does he want to start afresh, for the sake of the harvest?

There has been a sound across the churches, that God is on the move, yet here we are in another lockdown.  What’s that about?  Think back to the questions Caroline raised from Ephesians, just before lockdown 2 began:  Are we growing in our knowing? Are we making a home fit for the king? Are we enjoying and overflowing with God’s love? Are we becoming more like Christ each day?  As I have been seeking to answer them honestly before God, it’s been uncomfortable.  But those words were underlined again as I listened to Phil Moore (pastor of Everyday Church, London) who shared that he believed this lockdown number 2 is not about activity but about learning to wait on God and to spend time with Him so that we might rediscover our first love, out of which all that God is wanting to do will flow.  So, change is on God’s heart for us as individuals.  

And change is on God’s heart for us as a church.  But this is not a time for planning, it’s a time for preparation – clearing and preparing the ground for God to do a new thing.  Who can make plans right now?  It’s impossible!  But we can respond to God drawing us to Himself and we can encourage one another with the revelation that He brings. Whatever our gatherings look like in the future, whatever activity begins again in the church, God is calling us to start now in the secret place – to lay aside our own agendas and search for his.  I’m excited to see the new things he will sow, and the new life he will grow out of the stump!

Richard

22/11/2020

As we remember…

This week there have been many opportunities for remembrance, including the poignant two minutes’ silences on Sunday and Wednesday.  These few precious minutes give us a window through which to look back to those we have loved and lost through the world wars and more recent conflicts. 

Both my mum and dad were in the RAF during WW2.  My dad was in bomber command and on his 13th raid over Europe in 1942, he was shot down, and spent the rest of the war in German prison camps.  When he returned home, emaciated and exhausted, there was no PTSD counselling, just a few weeks off to see his family, and a new posting to Andover, where he met my mum, who was an accounts clerk there.  They married three years later and for the most part, lived happily ever after. 

Dad could often be persuaded over a meal with the family to talk about some of the funnier sides of life as a POW, like the way they tried to sleep with minimum struts under their thin mattresses, as the rest were used as props for escape tunnels!  But just occasionally, his mind would stray to the darker memories and I would see tears well up in his eyes.  Such pain, but he didn’t dwell there.  He’d take a deep breath, pull himself together and carry on.

My dad didn’t consider himself a Christian, mainly I think because of all the suffering he’d seen, but he was a man of extraordinary character.  He knew how to grieve over loss but count his blessings, he knew how to face difficulties head-on and overcome them, and he was also a great husband, father and granddad – always generous and kind to the family he could not have imagined having in those dark POW days. 

It’s my dad I focus on in those two-minute silences.  What about you?  We all have our own thoughts, our own stories, but the act of remembrance brings us together somehow to honour for a moment those long passed who have made such an important contribution to our lives.

Friday 13th November is National Kindness Day – instituted ten years ago to celebrate and promote good deeds and to unite us together to make the world a better place.  I’m not sure about this one – like so many other so-called National Days, I don’t think it will achieve its lofty aims.  But self-sacrifice and kindness to others are key for us all, especially in times of struggle like these days or those we have been remembering this week.

Such sacrifice and kindness are nowhere better modelled than in Jesus, and kindness is a fruit of the Spirit.  Maybe we could each take a moment to reflect on this, not only remembering those who have sacrificed for us and recalling those random acts of kindness that have come at just the right time, but also asking God for more of this gift in our own lives and what we can do for others who He brings to mind.  In days when meeting together is prohibited, maybe this is a way we can continue to build one another up and to build a community that shares the love and kindness of Christ with those around us.

Bless you all this week,

Caroline

15/11/2020

Be a light to others…

Heading into 28 days of lockdown and thinking about how to encourage us all, I received this:

“As we enter this season of darkness, both in a physical sense with the clocks going back and also in an emotional and perhaps spiritual sense as we move into a second period of lockdown, I am reminded even more powerfully that Jesus is the light of the world.

I was lighting the candles in our pumpkin lanterns this weekend and I realised that the gas lighter I was using had nearly run out of gas and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to light all the candles. But then I realised that I only needed to light one candle, and from this one candle I would be able to light all the others.  This in turn reminded me that it only takes one person to shine the light of Jesus and this can then ‘light up’ others or re-ignite those whose lights have grown dim.  So, I would encourage you that if you feel your light is shining brightly, share it with others who are perhaps struggling at this time or, if you feel your light has grown dim or gone out, draw near to those whose light is shining and allow them to re-ignite you. It is only when we share the light of Christ that we overcome the darkness.”

Thank-you Emma H for this timely encouragement – the Father, in His love, has set us in family and made us one body knowing that we need each other and need to do what Emma has encouraged us to do and together the darkness will be overcome!

Later the same day, Jenny B shared these words that God gave her in a difficult time 32 years ago. As she pointed out Jesus’ words are timeless and the encouragement to come to Jesus is always there.

“Jesus speaks.
I’m here, I’ve not left.
I’m here with ears ready to hear your call.
I’m here with arms that hung on a cross, outstretched now ready to hold you close.
I’m here my presence to comfort and cheer you.
I’m here with eyes that watch over you.
I’m here with a heart that loves you.
I’m here to be “all” to you.
I’m here, I will not leave you.”  

The assurance that Jesus is with us, “with a heart that loves you” – no matter our emotions and thoughts, took me back to Caroline’s talk last Sunday.  She was encouraging us to give time over the 28 lockdown days for “growing in our knowing of Christ and His love”.  Yes, praying the Ephesians 3 prayer for each other and ourselves, but also asking and allowing the Holy Spirit to renew our first love, even in the midst of good activity. 

Three encouragements which could transform us if together we took them to heart.  Who’s up for the journey?


Richard

08/11/2020

God is present…

While reflecting back across the past 7 months, I have realised how God has quietly been helping and providing what I needed to keep going.

For instance, in early September I wrote about the “6-month block” that I had faced and that just as it was becoming almost too difficult, I “came across” a post about this being normal in crisis or warfare situations.  The post said that by just keeping going this block resolves by around the 8th month – and it seems to have!

Then there were the times when I found praying to be like speaking to closed brass doors, and someone would share a story of a remarkable answer to prayer that would encourage me to go back to God.  When I have persevered with seeking God’s face, the brass doors have “opened” and I have known His presence again.  I recently saw a gardening program that talked about not providing lots of good compost around some plants – especially trees.  By not providing compost, the roots seek out both water and nutrients and as they do, the plant becomes stable because its foundations grow.  It finds new sources of sustenance within its new context and putting down deeper roots that enable it to grow.  This is a season that is pushing us to seek God more than ever.

And then again there have been the times when it has felt like I have simply been going “through the motions”.  Dryly reading scripture, passively watching a service, or being disengaged in zoomed fellowship meetings.  In Psalm 57:8 the psalmist speaks to his soul “Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn”.  Often the Holy Spirit has reminded me of this attitude.  When I have chosen to open my mouth and sing worship songs or pray in tongues in a persistent way, I have found that something in my soul does wake up and often later in the day I catch myself joining in with the song in my spirit as I have been watered by the Spirit again.

Ephesians was written to churches that were facing spiritual opposition often expressed in physical ways.  The early church had an understanding that they were living in the “last days” that period between Jesus’ ascension and His return.  In this context, Paul tells the Ephesians about their warfare.  It is all about standing in Christ, standing their ground, and standing firm. 

I believe we are all being challenged to do this at the moment. When we worship, we stand in Christ reminding ourselves what God has done for us and who we are in Him.  In persevering, we stand our ground as we are pushed deeper into God and recognise our dependence on Him.  We stand firm by putting one foot in front of another as we continue to live as those who are in Christ.  And we do this together as much as we can.  As John Ansell vividly showed us a few weeks ago when our roots spread out, they become intertwined with the roots of others.  This further strengthens our ability to stand together in the face of whatever opposition or difficulty comes our way be it physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual.  We are able to meet in small groups, so let’s do so as we are able.

God is providing what we need to stand in this season. Can I encourage you to make the decision to awaken your soul to worship! Can I encourage you to persevere in prayer? Can I encourage you to keep putting one foot in front of the other until you breakthrough?  Can I encourage you to meet in whatever groups you can, so that the life each one has flows between us helping us all to stand? And God will continue to provide what we need to keep going with hope and in peace.

Richard

01/11/2020

Trees are special…

When I was a boy, I was given a Book called Wonders of the World. It was full of black and white photo prints. One, in particular, caught my attention, it was of a car being driven through a ‘tunnel’ cut through the trunk of a massive tree, somewhere in North America. Now that must be some tree, a sight to behold, I thought, “love to see that!!” 

Fast forward to Yosemite National Park, in North America some 55 years later. Joan and I were privileged to see a similar one in the same area, it took our breath away. 

 The Sequoia is big, it matures: 
> at 340 feet high = Portsmouth Millennium Tower is 560 feet
>at 30 feet in diameter = approximately 5 times the height of Chris Lubbe
> at 1200 tons = 30 times 40-ton full shipping containers

Trees figure a lot in the Bible from Genesis, “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” …. to Revelation, “Tree of Life”.  

People are likened to trees in terms of strength, majesty, beauty… etc! Worth a study? 

The Lord taught me some lessons from this tree which I would like to share with you. 

The Seed 


The cone is 1.5″-2″ long and the seed has a wing (see picture) and is about this size . 

Isn’t it amazing when you see the size of the tree? God’s handiwork!! 

Unless the seed germinates it remains a seed. To germinate it requires the right conditions. For years scientists tried to cultivate the seed with no success. Then it was discovered that the seed needs a wildfire to open the cones. The bark (up to 3ft thick) protects the trunk, and ash provides the nutriments for the seed to germinate and grow. 

Sometimes we sow small seeds of encouragement, they make a Big Difference – the gospel in word and action. 

Compare the Sequoia seed with the mature tree. We just need to be faithful…God gives the increase!! 

Sometimes in times of adversity, (wildfires in our lives), God uses them, to do a new thing in us, or enable a change of direction!! 

The Roots 
The soil where these trees grow is relatively shallow, up to 12 feet deep. Unlike most trees the sequoia does not have a large taproot instead, it sends out radial roots up to 200 feet away from its centre. On its own, it would be vulnerable to strong winds. These trees thrive best in groups because of their ‘Knees’?! which make their bases wider and more importantly, their roots, which intertwine over and under the roots of adjacent trees. This matting of roots enables the trees to support one another. 

In the same way, God intends that we as church mutually support one another as a family and in Life Groups. Also, to look outwards.  What about our knees?! 

The Purpose 
The Sequoia tree is just one of many things created by God that is amazing and definitely has the WOW factor and created for the display of HIS splendour. 

They shall be called “Oaks of righteousness” a planting of the LORD for the display of His splendour.  Isaiah 61 v 3b. 

John Ansell 

25/10/2020 

No masks here…

I hope you encountered God in some way during last week’s live-streamed communion and that those online somehow felt part of it even though they weren’t joining in the gathering in the building.  I know some who have said that they watched afterwards but still felt connected with us all as they took communion while watching. 

We often talk about we, as members of the church, being “one body in Christ” and, sometimes, God stirs us to remember that we belong to a church made up of multiple generations of believers.  As I have heard us talk this week about the sense of God’s presence and our being united together across space and time, it has brought the truth of this into focus for me in a new way.   We live in this temporal world, but, in Christ, we are also alive in the eternal heavenly realm.  We really are united in Christ with Jesus’ followers alive now and those who have gone before and those still to come! 

During communion, Andi Clay talked about wearing masks and how she sensed God say to her that He doesn’t wear a mask – we can hear Him clearly and be aware of His very breath – and we don’t need to wear a mask with Him either.  It was an encouragement for us to come, as we are, to our Father, who sees us as we are anyway and has made it possible for us to approach Him with confidence.  

Later, Caroline Robinson shared a picture with Martin that not only does God not wear a mask, He doesn’t abide by the two-metre rule either!  She sensed God was saying He wants to stick very close to us in this storm, to be standing right next to us each day.  Jesus wants and eagerly desires us to draw near to Him. 

Many of us have enjoyed getting together in different groupings – up to sixes in homes, in larger life group worship at the King’s Centre, or in the two face-to-face meetings we have had in the building (more of those are being planned).  In all these settings, we’ve experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit and had the encouragement of others with whom we are united in Christ.  

Over the next few weeks, let’s be creative and see how we can still get together safely so that we continue to grow in unity and know God’s presence with us as we meet.  How about sharing communion whenever we do, taking time to acknowledge God and all that He has done for us?   And let’s continue to pray for the wider family of God – in Fareham, in the Forge network and with FCC’s friends and co-workers across the world, remembering that we are one in Christ.  But, above all, let’s draw near to Jesus, without our masks, as He has encouraged us to do, that He may fill us afresh with the Holy Spirit and enable us to demonstrate the unity we have with Him and each other as we let His love motivate us to do the good works He has for us to do. 

Bless you all, 

Richard 

11/10/2020 

The six-month wall

Last week I read an article written by an aid worker, from Médecins Sans Frontières, about the “six-month wall”.   Reflecting on fifteen years’ experience working in epidemic situations lasting more than a year, she talked about the wall that she and nearly all her colleagues hit after six months.  The experience varied from person to person: for some, weariness, for others a loss of resilience and hope, and, for others anger expressed in frustration or shortness with colleagues.  She didn’t explain why this should happen, she simply observed it did; and that those who kept on going were able to get through the wall and gain renewed energy for their work.  

It was encouraging to read what she shared, because I had hit a wall over Covid and the limitations it has set on home, work, and church life.  I was irritable (ask Caroline if you don’t believe it!) and, to be honest, I’d lost my sense of purpose and vision (and we know that makes the heart sick).  Her story helped me gain a new perspective of hope.  What I was feeling was simply part of the process – I wasn’t the only one and there is a way through.  Her testimony called me up to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  That’s what encouragement does! 

Paul, writing to a young Thessalonian church, says “Jesus died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.  Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as you have been doing.”.  The writer to the Hebrews tells us to “encourage one another daily”.  As we actively respond to these biblical exhortations by sharing our stories of how God has met with us, answered prayers or simply given us some insight into how we can live well in these times, we will help each other to grow and keep moving forward in Him.  

Your story may simply be about how you have got through something, like the lady in the article.  Share it with others, friends, neighbours or your life group.  And may I encourage you to think about sharing it with the wider church too by sending it  to the office or to me at richardw@farehamcommunitychurch.com so we can include it in the newsletter – we can always edit what you send us if you are worried about the words!  Or, if you are feeling brave, you could video yourself telling the story so we can include it in our Sunday meeting as a testimony.  Your story will help us all to keep taking one step after another towards God and His purposes for us.  

You may already have hit your wall, or maybe you are helping someone else journey through theirs.  Wherever you are, be encouraged that this will end, and God desires to draw each of us closer to Him in the midst.  As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 13:11 “Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.”  May this be true for you over the next few weeks! 

Richard 

04/10/2020