Communion Service with Sunday Club. Please come and join us for coffee in the hall after the service.
We would never have thought, three months ago, that whole swathes of our society would be shuttered up in their houses, isolating themselves from everybody else.
As I write, schools are about to shut down, and supermarkets do not have enough toilet roll or pasta to go round. The church will not gather on Sunday and most of our usual conversations and interactions are having to stop, or at least change.
This plague of Coronavirus, and the fear of it, has collapsed our society into a crisis. We did not realise how fragile we were, but now our fragility is exposed.
How do we respond then? It is good to begin with honestly recognising our fragility and weakness as human beings and as a society. The Bible, in Isaiah 40:6, says,
“All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”
We are like grass, which grows and withers, flourishes and falls. We spend a great deal of time ignoring and distracting ourselves from the fact that one day, all of us is going to die, but this pandemic has reminded us of this very sharply.
We like to think we are able to solve all of our problems by technology or political endeavour, working hard, or living our dreams, but our inability to cope with this as a society reveals the truth that we cannot.
On an individual level, we are used to being able to pop to the shop to buy what we need, but now that is not necessarily possible because panicked people are buying all of the necessary resources.
In a matter of days, we have discovered that we are weak, frail and very fragile, and always at risk of losing our income, resources, relationships, health and even our lives. However, this is what the Bible has always said about us; we are created by a creator, and are finite, and because we have rejected that creator, we are destined to die. We are like grass.
We must begin by accepting this about ourselves, but if we stop there we will just despair. There is a second step to take.
Turn to God. He is not like grass; he is the creator. He cannot die because he is the everlasting God; he is able to do anything he chooses because he is all-powerful. He is entirely strong, mighty, unchanging and unaffected by any crisis. However, this very same God made himself weak, frail, fragile, dependent and able to die. When Jesus was born, lived and died, he was God made weak like us. He died on the cross so that our rejection of God could be forgiven. He rose again from the dead to free us from the fear and curse of death, and give us eternal life. John 3:16 says,
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
This crisis has revealed the fragility of our society and our human nature, but putting our trust in Jesus gives us hope, assurance of life after we die and confidence that we are loved by God and secure in him.
From the Rector
There was no magazine in April or May, and there have been no church services, no rotas, no midweek meetings, no clubs of any description running in the church hall or anywhere. I guess for the first week or so the lockdown may have seemed quite exciting but the novelty has certainly worn off by now.
Many of us have had to grow used to gathering on Sunday mornings to watch our services online, and Jez and I have had to learn very quickly how to make videos. Phone calls, writing notes and Zoom meetings have taken the place of face to face conversations. All of it feels second best and barely adequate, and yet some good things have come out of the lockdown.
Right from the beginning, in partnership with Denton Community Challenge and the Havens Community Hub, we were able to set up a community helpline to provide a basic service to anyone who needed a prescription collected or some shopping done. An astonishing number of people volunteered to help so that to date we have been more than able to cover the requests. Many, many thanks to all those who have helped.
Again from the beginning, lots of us have been gathering to pray separately but together on Wednesday evenings using an email of prayer points and suggestions sent out each week. I know that this has been an encouraging discipline for many and something that we have struggled to do as a church family for years. I feel too that our care for one another has improved. People are looking out for one another in our church family and trying to keep in touch more deliberately than we did before the lockdown.
Finally, time to slow down and reflect is often overrated but after all the fuss about moving the May Bank Holiday to Friday 8 May, I did find that for once there was time to enjoy the V-E Day celebrations and memories.
One thing that particularly struck me was the reading (in full) of the personal message from Field Marshall B.L. Montgomery C-in-C which was originally read to all the troops of his 21 Army Group in May 1945. It began:
On this day of victory in Europe I feel I would like to speak to all who have served and fought with me during the last few years. What I have to say is very simple, and quite short.
I would ask you all to remember those of our comrades who fell in the struggle. They gave their lives that others might have freedom, and no man can do more than that.
Those words naturally reminded me of another war and victory which came to a head 2000 years ago when the Lord Jesus willingly laid down his life on a cross, that others might have freedom from death, sin and judgment.
As Roger Carswell says in his excellent V-E Day tract, “War on a big scale begins with war in the heart of each of us. Worldwide outbursts of evil are an explosion of the small-scale scandal of sin in each of us.
“But on the cross, all that wickedness was laid on Jesus. He was forsaken by God so that we might be forgiven. Heaven is not a reward for doing good, but a gift which Jesus purchased and offers to all.”
How we need to hear and to keep reminding each other of those words! With best wishes in Christ,
This is an encouraging leaflet that points us to Jesus in the midst of this Coronavirus crisis.
2016 was the year of sudden and unexpected celebrity deaths: David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince, George Michael, to name but a few. But please would you permit me to speak about one name that will not make the celebrity list or evening news?
On the first Saturday in January Mike Ovey died suddenly and without warning. He was just 58, married with 3 children in their late teens and twenties, but most significantly for me, he was the Principal of Oak Hill Theological College in north London, the college where I trained for ministry.
He taught me systematic theology (or Christian doctrine of which frankly I knew nothing) and apologetics, and it is an understatement to say his death has been an terrible shock both to me and to the wider evangelical world.
Tributes have been led by the Archbishop of Canterbury and our own Bishop of Chichester. But one of the best has been posted on The Gospel Coalition website and reveals the scale of the loss and the measure of the man:
“For the past two decades Mike valiantly upheld three pillars on which British evangelicalism rests.
First, to hear Mike was to guarantee a lecture on the Creator-creature distinction. Students laughed and teased him because everything somehow, in some way, tied back to this distinction and he laughed with them, but underneath the laugh was a conviction: Unless church leaders understood the significance of the Creator-creature distinction, they would embrace liberalism’s man-centered starting point. And this, Mike would tell you, is the beginning of the end of Christianity.
Secondly, before Mike became principal at Oak Hill he was a humble tutor in doctrine and insisted on lecturing in doctrine throughout his term as principal despite countless other pressing demands on his desk.
Why? Because unlike so many well-intentioned evangelicals (including me!), he knew that doctrine was the very artery of the church; and if severed the church would bleed to death. He stopped this bleeding on many occasions. He refused to compromise a biblical view of gender when church leaders believed it didn’t matter; and he defended penal substitutionary atonement when many churches became allergic to the idea divine wrath and judgment.
Lastly, he fearlessly took on the agenda of a secular culture with the gospel, and exemplified what a public theology might look like.”
In the 8 years or so since I left Oak Hill, I have found that he invariably had something clear, wise, faithful and articulate to say on almost any issue in the news. In this year, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we have lost a 21st century reformer —“a reformer with a towering intellect and an unflinching conviction for the truth.” Mike Ovey1958-2017.
With best wishes and a Happy New Year,
As I write this, we are experiencing the hottest September day for 50 years and yet autumn is unmistakably on its way and with it the season of harvest and remembrance.
This summer as part of our family holiday, I visited the Tyne Cot Cemetery at Passchendaele in Belgium (the largest Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in the world), as well as some of the D-Day landing beaches in Normandy.
Tyne Cot contains a staggering 12,000 graves, as well as recording the names of an additional 35,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers missing in action as a result of the Battle of Passchendaele (1917). The measure of the impact of Tyne Cot is shown in these words of King George V when he opened it in May 1922:
“We can truly say that the whole circuit of the Earth is girdled with the graves of our dead. In the course of my pilgrimage, I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon Earth through the years to come, than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war.”
A better reflection of the appalling tragedy of war you could not find, but just a generation later, there was sadly more to come. At the Canadian Juno Beach Museum in Normandy, however, I came across some other very striking words.
At the outbreak of WWII, the Canadian Prime Minister was William Mackenzie King. This is what he broadcast to the nation to explain Canada’s entry into the war:
“The Nazi doctrine of force is the very antithesis of what one finds in the Christian gospel. If it prevails there will be, as I see it, an end to our Christian civilization. It will prevail, unless men are prepared to sacrifice their lives in opposing it.
That is why the present war is for the Allied forces a crusade. The time has come when to save our Christian civilization, we must be prepared to lay down our lives for its preservation.
The young men who are enlisting in our forces today, to serve on land, on the sea and in the air, are first and foremost defenders of the faith. Like others who have gone forth to battle in the past, they are placing their lives at the service of King and country.”
It is an astonishing speech. As someone else has written, by today’s standards, the words would be considered politically incorrect. But if you have read any accounts at all of what the Nazis and their sympathisers inflicted upon the Jews and other minorities of Central Europe, I’m afraid it is hard to disagree with the Canadian Prime Minister.
George V was right. War is desolation and Christians are to be passionate advocates of peace. But occasionally the other King (Mackenzie) is right: to do nothing is worse. Fortunately for us, the Lord Jesus did not do what was politically correct, nor did he do nothing. As Hebrews 13: 12-13 puts it:
And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate (that is at the rubbish heap, the place of shame) to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.
With best wishes
Over the last few weeks we have lived through a sequence of extraordinary events. One month ago, we were celebrating another very enjoyable Denton Community Challenge – thank you very much to everyone who helped or attended – and England having beaten Wales looked like they were finally on their way at the European Football Championships in France.
One month on, we have voted to leave the EU, changed the Prime Minister and government of this country, and been dumped out of the Euros by Iceland. And in these last days, we have been horrified by the brutal massacre at Nice, the attempted coup and aftermath in Turkey, and continuing violence across the USA.
In the midst of all this, and almost unnoticed, the Church of England has been slowly coming apart. During July, the General Synod (the church’s formal governing body) spent three days engaged in ‘Shared Conversations’ about the church and human sexuality, the final event in a two-year process of conversations.
The background here is that in February 2013, Parliament voted to redefine marriage to allow the marriage of same-sex couples. The Church of England is now under great pressure from within to change its historic, Biblical understanding of marriage to accommodate and celebrate same-sex relationships.
It is clear that many on the traditional, orthodox side of the debate were dismayed at the way these ‘Shared Conversations’ were managed and progressed.
Christian Concern have pointed out that as soon as the talks finished, a statement was issued by the lesbian gay bisexual transgender and intersex (LGBTI) mission coalition celebrating the ‘conversations’ and calling on the House of Bishops to “bring forward bold proposals to move towards LGBTI equality,” which, says Christian Concern, is a clear effort to bypass the Synodical process that would involve robust and potentially embarrassing debate and ‘disunity.
Here is a quotation taken directly from the LGBTI mission coalition website: The question is now not whether the situation should change, but how far and how fast changes can be realised. Their agenda therefore seems pretty clear.
Faced with such trials on every side, we must remember that the church is not mine, yours, or theirs. Speaking to the apostle Peter, the Lord Jesus said: I will build mychurch, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it (Matthew 16:18). The church belongs to Jesus and therefore the outcome is secure.
I’m reminded of the story of the American shoe company who sent a salesman to a foreign country. He’d only been there 5 minutes when he cabled to ask for money to come home. The reason, he said, was that no one here ever wears shoes.
The company brought him home and sent out another salesman. Very quickly, he cabled to say: Send all the shoes you can make. The market here is unlimited. No one has any shoes.
Our God is a faithful God who keeps his promises. He calls us to wholehearted obedience and discipleship. And in the midst of great difficulties and uncertainties, there will be great opportunities. Jesus has promised it.
With best wishes,
I wonder if you have ever watched Room 101? That’s the show where comedians and celebrity types try to persuade the host Frank Skinner to consign their pet hates to Room 101, in other words to get rid of the thing forever.
I happened to watch a particularly hilarious edition the other evening when various items or candidates for oblivion were discussed: men who wear too much after shave; plastic flowers; the shot put; and food that doesn’t taste like we remember it tasting.
I have to confess that as we enter the season running up to Easter, one of the things that I personally would like to consign to Room 101 is giving things up for Lent. It was always being urged on me as a child, but I don’t think it ever did me any spiritual good at all. And while schools don’t seem to teach much that is genuinely Christian, giving something up for Lent is still often suggested as a ‘Christian’ thing to do.
My first problem is that if someone asks me why they should give something up for Lent, I can’t give them any explanation at all from the Bible. That’s not a great starting point! The closest Jesus gets is Mark 8: 34 where he says: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
But he’s clearly not talking about giving up cream cakes or chocolate, he’s talking about whole-of-life, whole-hearted, radical self-denying Christian discipleship – not for a few weeks during Lent but every single day of our lives.
My second problem is that if giving things up is more or less the only ‘Christian’ thing people see or hear us doing.
I fear we’re giving them a very impoverished picture: a Christianity of restrictions and rules that seeks to take away. But the Gospel of grace should always be the opposite: joyful, life-affirming and life-enhancing.
The worst problem though was wonderfully illustrated at a recent Sussex Gospel Partnership meeting which a few of us attended. The teaching was provided by American Pastor Kevin DeYoung. He was asking: Why is there a ‘hole in our holiness?’ Why are Christians today so often unconcerned with personal holiness? Why do we talk about it and teach it so little in our churches?
One of the reasons is that we can have a very narrow definition of holiness. We equate it with either avoiding a few taboo things (like, for example, marital unfaithfulness) or we equate it with doing a few things – like that one, token act of self-denial during Lent. We do that or don’t do that – and we can think it makes us holy.
But holiness is far, far more. JC Ryle, Bishop of Liverpool and great 19th century evangelical said we should be holy because that is one of the reasons Jesus came to die for us. Christians should therefore have a passion for holiness: not sinless perfection, which is impossible but a genuine and sincere and life-long obedience to God.
If giving up chocolate etc. is going to help you pursue radical holiness that is pleasing to God the Father, then go for it! But I rather fear it’s a deceptive short cut. And short cuts in the Christian life never seem to work.
With every good wish for a joyful, unrestrictive, life affirming Lent and Easter,