Fareham Community Church

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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 

Jesus with skin on

A phrase came to my mind this morning, “Jesus with skin on”.  This isn’t a biblical phrase.  But it’s related to the description of Jesus in John 1 (“he became flesh and made his dwelling among us”) and to Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 12 that now we are ”the body of Christ”,  a walking talking representation of Jesus for our generation. 

We have begun a series in Ephesians which is full of wonderful truth about God, his plans and purposes, and who we are in Christ.  And I’m praying that, as we study it together this term, these truths will get more and more firmly established in us, and will form a solid rock on which we can stand in these uncertain times.  

Hearing and understanding biblical truth is vital, but it’s not sufficient in itself.  We don’t stand because of head knowledge or good theology – that’s just part of the story.  We need heart knowledge too – that truly knowing that we know that God loves us, He is for us, He has a plan for us and will provide for us.  And we don’t get that from a book, we get that through a personal relationship, firstly with God and then with one another.  That’s where “Jesus with skin on” comes in.  

Jesus came to reveal God’s love and grace to those around him, one person at a time.  Miracles happened as people came to him in their hour of need and he demonstrated the Father’s love in both word and actions. 

And now, that role has been taken up by the Holy Spirit, who lives and works through all of us who call Jesus our Lord.  As flawed individuals, we can never really be “Jesus with skin on” BUT our words and actions can reveal God’s love, hope and comfort to the people around us as we seek to follow the Spirit’s lead. 

On Monday, I was struggling – all the new COVID regulations and trying to work out what to do for the best in the church; missing family…it was a difficult day.  I didn’t doubt that God loved me, that he would, as always, get me through, but I needed to encounter that love again – to meet Jesus with skin on.  On Tuesday, I didn’t feel like going to life group but did anyway, and as we talked and prayed together, I heard and felt the love of Christ again through the words and actions of my friends.  

Hebrews 4:12 says ”the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates…”   This isn’t negative, it’s quite the reverse!  When another believer shares the right thing at the right time, it penetrates in a way that little else can, and the truth sets us free and enables us to stand.  That’s what my friends did for me on Tuesday night and I’m so grateful to have them around! 

Let’s seek to be like Jesus with flesh on for one another and for those individuals around us – families, neighbours, parents at the school gate, co-workers – who so need to know the God who loves them, through people who not only believe it and stand on it but live it out day by day.  

May God truly bless you this week, 

Caroline 

20/09/2020 

Praying for those in authority

As I write this on Wednesday morning, I have Today’s analysis of Boris Johnson’s press conference ringing in my ears.  What do the new restrictions mean for us, our families, the country?  Will we, the sixty-seven million English citizens, abide by them, or not?  And will these measures really be sufficient to curb the spread of the virus, or should we be more like Scotland?  The current situation presents so many challenges!  Never have I felt my freedom so limited; never have I struggled so much with the conflicting desires to follow government regulations and to do what I consider best for our family and those around us.  It’s a bewildering and painful time for everyone, isn’t it? 

I also read yesterday a disturbing report from James regarding the school building project in Sierra Leone, which has been undertaken by Practical Tools Initiative, with support from FCC.  The land allocated for the project was forcibly taken by a government minister for her own personal use and she has sent people in during the night to demolish the pillars which were erected as part of the building’s early phase.  James has recently been to Sierra Leone and held meetings with ministers and delivered letters to those in authority to try to reverse these unjust actions but whether this will make a difference is far from certain. 

Government, in these days, is dominating our lives in so many ways.  Therefore, it is more important than ever that we pray for those in authority.  They are flawed human beings, as are we all, and they need the wisdom, the justice, and the compassion, of God if they are to make good decisions on our behalf.  And we also need to pray for those among us, who, like James, are seeking to stand up for justice when there is none – let’s particularly join together over the next few weeks in praying for a just outcome in the school situation. 

Lastly, let’s pray for one another, with the more restrictive measures coming into force again, that we will continue to be able to find ways to connect with those we love and to have the mental and emotional resilience we need to not only survive but to contribute all we can to supporting one another through this incredibly challenging time. 

Remembering that God is still on his throne and working his purposes out, our eyes are on Him and our prayers are with you all. 
 
Caroline 

27/09/2020 

New PTI Newspaper highlights ‘extreme’ child poverty in Sierra Leone


FCC member, James Fallah-Williams has recently returned from visiting his PTI projects in Sierra Leone and writes below to say thank for the support he has received.

A major focus of Jame’s trip was to distribute copies of the brand new PTI Newspaper, ‘The Inch‘, which shines a spotlight on the suffering of so many children, disabled people and women living in Sierra Leone today. The first edition also includes the PTI annual report for 2019-2020; an amazing account of how the charity alleviated suffering in Sierra Leone last year. View The Inch here

James writes:

“I just want to thank you all for the prayers and support for the work in Sierra Leone. It has been two weeks since I came back from a nine-day visit. It was a very eventful visit as I was there to catch-up with our field work after the lockdown, and to distribute a ‘protest’ newspaper.

“Your prayers allowed me to carry out the activities seamlessly, distributing the newspaper to foreign embassies, media houses (and doing a pre-recorded TV interview, which was published a day after I left!), government ministries, and to the general public.

“The key issue was the challenges we encountered with the school project, and the relentless struggles destitute children, women and disabled people are facing day-in-day-out in the country. I am really pleased that we were able to challenge these things publicly. This is the first time this has been done in the country. “

Thank you,

James

Reflect on God’s diversity

I hope you have been encouraged as much as I have by the many different contributors to our online services over the summer.  It’s been good in so many ways.

Firstly, I have enjoyed seeing lots of the FCC family onscreen!  These last five months I have missed you! Life groups have been just that – a source of life.  But these last few weeks we have been reminded that we are all part of something bigger.  As Caroline noted last week, Hebrews 10:25 says “Do not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encourage one another….”  We may not have been able to meet in person, but seeing others continue in their faith encourages us to keep walking and enriches our fellowship together.

Secondly, it has been wonderful to see the treasures deposited in you as you have shared them with us in a variety of ways, providing practical insights, provocation and challenge to us all.  That’s the outworking of verse 24 of that same passage: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds…” I have certainly found your insights causing me to reflect again on the Psalms and to see how my life is mirrored in them.

Thirdly, it has been great to see the creativity and diversity there is amongst us.  I believe these are key building blocks of God’s character and creation and he delights to see them at work in us, his people.  I’ve loved the different way each group has interpreted the brief and the variety of styles and contributions in the services.  I hope, it’s been as life-giving to you as it has to me.  I know that some of you have found yourselves well outside your comfort zone, and yet you have still contributed what you have.  My prayer is that having done it once, you will be encouraged to step out again!  We need the variety of each other’s experience to shape us to become more like Christ.

Finally, it has been so good to see the diversity of spiritual gifts at work in the services.  Some have brought pastoral exhortations, others have taught, some have reflected the heart of the mercy extender and others the passion of the evangelist.  For me, this has been a clear example of “When you come together, each of you has a hymn, a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation…” which is vital for the body to “build itself up in love” (1 Corinthians 14:26 and Ephesians 4:16).  Let’s continue to function in our different gifts – not comparing or competing with one another – but instead using whatever God has given us for the good of the whole.

In this strange time for the world, may God continue to reveal to us the treasure we carry, enable us to value the riches of grace in one another, and give us the confidence to share what we have with others, both inside and outside the church. 

Richard

06/09/2020

Crafty Makery – light in the darkness

I’ve just had the privilege of attending the cutting of the ribbon by the Mayor for Shane and Lesley’s newly located Crafty Makery.  They now have a fantastic two storey unit in a prime spot in the shopping centre and have already been busy making contacts with many passers-by.  It’s a wonderful next chapter in their story!

When I first met Shane, it was in the Crafty Makery, opposite our building in West Street.  I popped in on the off chance and ended up having a long chat with him, which left me so inspired that I encouraged him to come and meet Mark Nash in Imbizo.  There was a real synergy between his vision for building a restorative community through craft sessions and our thoughts on what Café Imbizo could be.  Not only that, but he had also once been part of FCC and was a Christian with an incredible heart for people in need.

Sadly, Shane was not able to sustain the business in West Street, and so we gave him a “refuge” in Café Imbizo for a while.  Very soon, he became an integral part of our Imbizo community, and he gained the trust and friendship of both volunteers and customers.  Over the past year, as well as helping us in the café, he and Lesley have been building relationships with the council and other agencies and developing Crafty Makery as a CIC, which has culminated in the ribbon-cutting today.

I’ve popped in several times since they relocated and I’ve found Steve, Andy, Zara, Stuart and Gill, and some of our customers from the café all coming in and out.  It’s a joy to see so many there.  Shane was telling me today about a man who came in with his daughter.  The man opened up about his recent divorce, while his daughter sat and chatted with Bill, one of Imbizo’s regular older customers.  The next day his daughter came back, and the first thing she asked was “Is Bill coming in today?” Another story was of a lad with type 1 diabetes who has been in the shop regularly to do some 3D printing – his blood sugars had been all over the place during lockdown but, with his new focus, they are stabilising. 

In her speech, the mayor commented on how Shane was impacting the community, and how much the Crafty Makery can contribute to the town.  I think its impact is already clear to see – light in the darkness!

I’m reminded of what Richard said last week about the hydrangea in our garden.  The plant was pruned heavily and then bore greater fruit.  Isn’t that what has happened here?  Shane’s first attempt was cut back but now, with a whole community of people alongside him, his vision has begun to bear much fruit.  Long may it continue!  Let’s pray and continue to support him in any way we can.

2 Thessalonians 1: 11-12 says:

We constantly pray for you that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith…so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I’ve been challenged about these verses which speak of our desires and our deeds prompted by faith.  What dreams do you have?  What is in your heart when you think of being light in a dark world?  That’s where God starts – He put those desires there in the first place – and He delights to fulfil them by his power and grace.  I pray we will have many stories like Shane’s in the days to come.

Bless you, Caroline

16/08/2020

The joy of meeting

Well, the picnic was a washout and yet people enjoyed chatting together under umbrellas, and the communion was far from the norm yet it was great to gather with others around the Lord’s table.  We have so valued meeting as leaders to pray and reflect on what God is saying to FCC at this time, and our life group has been able to say its hello’s and goodbye’s in person (as people have joined and left the group) and to sense the tangible presence of God as we have met in Room 7.  None of this is surprising – we are meant to value meeting together! 

When we became Christ-followers, we were adopted into God’s family and welcomed into a new home for life.  It isn’t like joining a gym where there are lots of different individual membership packages to suit availability or preference.  It’s a place of belonging where everyone is important and necessary for the good of the whole.

In Hebrews 10 verse 25, it says “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching”.  The writer recognises it’s easy to fall out of the habit of gathering, to drift away, but he stresses how important meeting together is, not only to support each other but also to spur one another on to love and good works. 

I know meeting together in person is difficult for many right now – that’s why I’m so grateful for technology!  It’s not the how, where, or when we meet that matters – it’s that we prioritise it and keep on doing it as often as we can.  And the Holy Spirit is happy to help us as we seek to do that.  Last week, for instance, as I was working in and around our building, I just “happened” to run into a couple of people I had, that morning, felt prompted to contact and we had a few special minutes together.  We have also found ourselves “bumping into” people during our walks along the beach or in the town and enjoyed catching up and seeing what we could pray for. 

It’s simply being aware of God’s promptings, intentional about taking his cues, and interruptible when God sets up those chance encounters.  Let’s make the most of the opportunities he gives us, however brief, because we don’t know how long this marathon is going to be, and all of us need some help along the way.  I’m so grateful I don’t have to make this journey alone and that God has put a great bunch of people around me.  Thank you for the care, encouragement, provocation and support you bring.  I hope I can do the same in return, whenever, wherever, however, we meet.
Caroline

30/08/2020

God’s wonderful provision

After what Caroline wrote last week, to encourage us all to be asking those questions “what dreams do we have; what is in our heart when we think of being light in a dark world?”, here are some more stories that have inspired me this week.

When we popped into Crafty Makery the other day, we found Shane overwhelmed again by God’s provision.  First, he told us about the mentoring project they want to develop for those, especially young people, who are finding themselves unemployed at this time, giving help with CV writing, numeracy and literacy.  This means they need computers.  A man came in and, hearing about this, returned the next day with three refurbished ones.  Just like that!  So, now what they need is some people who can give some time to help with the mentoring.  There’s a great opportunity for some Kingdom of God serving and sowing!

But that’s not all, a widower who was clearing out his wife’s craft room came in and asked if Shane would be interested in having some of her kit.  “Yes please,” he said and went off to get a carload – except it turned out to be three carloads of mostly unopened craft materials.  An amazing and very timely gift!  More of God’s blessing as Shane pursues being light in the darkness.

The third story is from James and Practical Tools Initiative (PTI).  Earlier this year, PTI did a project drilling boreholes to provide clean water to a village of people disabled during Sierra Leone’s civil war.  On Tuesday, PTI received two drilling rigs, donated by a Welsh company.  Having their own rigs will halve the cost of future water projects and mean they can do more of them!  PTI has always been faithful with the provision they receive and now God is calling them to be faithful with more, as they seek to bring a practical expression of God’s Kingdom order to Sierra Leone.

It reminded me of Matthew 5 where Jesus says: “You are the light of the world”, and John 9 where he says “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world“.  I can skim over these familiar words but, this time, I paused.  It struck home afresh that now we, as citizens of God’s Kingdom, are sent to the world as the light of the world, and where light is, darkness is dispelled! Shane and James are responding to what God has put in their heart – to be light in the world – and are seeing God’s goodness pursue them, giving them stories to build their faith and encourage ours. 

We are the light of the world, especially in difficult and dark times.  Christ in us brings light to others through us as we respond to the dreams and compassion in our hearts.  So, I urge you to think again about those questions I began with and seek ways to spread the love and hope of the Kingdom of God where you are. 

Perhaps you have some recent stories of God blessing you, as you have sought to be light in the darkness.  They may not seem as dramatic as those of Shane and James, but they are significant to God.  If so, we’d love you to share them with us so we can encourage one another, spurring each other on to the good works God has prepared in advance for us to do!

Richard

23/08/2020

Encouragement in the garden

Since the end of March, many of our “worlds” have been reduced.  Key workers have, at times, had their worlds reduced to working, eating and sleeping.  Shielders, have had their worlds reduced to their home, video calls and over the fence conversations with neighbours.  In some way, all of us have experienced our worlds reducing and it has been something of a relief to have those restrictions lifted recently – even if only for a season! I certainly have loved meeting with some of you in the flesh! And it is good to take the opportunity we have to meet together to encourage one another as the writer of Hebrews says “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together,……but encouraging one another…..”.  

Two weeks ago, I wrote about Caroline’s celery experiment and how it caused me to wonder if the Holy Spirit was wanting to grow something new for us as FCC – still Church but different.  Since then, I found God speaking to me again through two gardening related things.

The first was through this beautiful hydrangea.  Last year it looked pretty good, but this year we have nearly twice the number of blooms on it.  The reason? – we pruned it.  We not only took off the old deadheads in the spring, but we also cut each stem back further to above two leaf buds. The result has been this astonishing display of flowers! 

The second was through some seeds we bought too late to sow this year.  Soon, we will sow them at the back of a border where they will be hidden and forgotten, behind late summer flowers, until next spring when they will bring early colour to our garden.

Pause for a moment and reflect – “What might God say to you through these things?”  –  then read on….

For myself, I sensed God’s encouragement.  Whenever we or our world feels reduced, it is always for increase … “He prunes every fruitful branch so that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2).  But God also reduces us, to re-shape us so we become more like Jesus.  I’m asking God to show me what He is doing through this “reducing” both for me and FCC so I can cooperate with His plans for our good. 

I also sensed the Holy Spirit encouraging me to sow God’s word into my life now – frequently and regularly.  Some of what I read and pray about may not seem immediately relevant.  I may even forget about it or it becomes “lost” in the business of life.  But God was saying that as we sow His word in us, He will be preparing us for the next season of our lives so we are ready and equipped when it comes and whatever it may hold.

I don’t know what God might say to you out of those two snippets but be encouraged He is working out His good purpose for us. Remain faithful in reading (or listening) to the Bible and pray expecting the Holy Spirit to shape and equip you both for now and the future.  And let’s encourage one another with what He is saying to us, whenever we can and whenever we meet so that together we become mature in Christ.

Richard

PS: The celery is growing bigger😊!