Pastor's letters



August 2014

Written by Mark Madavan   

Just before Christmas, whilst visiting friends, the conversation meandered its way to the topic of favourite TV programmes. Obviously ‘Songs of Praise’ occupied all of our top spots – in fact it was so obvious that no one mentioned it! What was mentioned, in a very enthusiastic and animated way, was a TV series that apparently Cathy and I “just had to watch”. Brilliant characters, compelling story lines, accurate sets, loads of awards – our hosts raved about the series, then suddenly leapt from their seats, grabbed the complete box set from their DVD collection and thrust it in our hands.

The series was called “The West Wing”. It is set in the White House’s West Wing, where the President of the United States is based. The series follows the unfolding political and personal stories of the country and staff team as they juggle the stresses and strains associated with that political office.

The box now in our possession contained 7 seasons of the series - 156 separate episodes, 117 hours [4 days 21 hours] of DVDs to watch!

After the second episode we were hooked. Any evening where we could sneak in a 45 minute episode we did so. When we spent a few days away on holiday, we took the DVDs and gorged on a batch of episodes. In the midst of all the things that fill the Madavan family life: church work, speaking engagements, writing deadlines, attending our girl’s concerts, Naomi’s GCSEs, Cathy working away from home, family, friends – within 7 months we had watched every episode.

My point is not to officially give my blessing on “The West Wing” - although it is a good series. Neither is my point to publically confess that Cathy and I spent time watching TV instead of studying scripture and praying for our neighbours! My point is more of a question - how did we manage to find time to watch all 156 episodes within 7 months?

The answer is actually rather simple - because we chose to watch them. We found time for what we wanted to do.

All of our lives are surrounded with a multitude of demands and distractions, all calling for our time and attention. Some things we make great efforts to include, whilst others repeatedly drift to “I’ll do it tomorrow”. Into the middle of this, Jesus says, “Seek first the Kingdom of God”

This is not a call to never watch DVD box sets - but a call to honour God first; to ensure Jesus’ call to love, forgive, pray, fast, give, serve… are not the things that keep getting bumped to “tomorrow”.

In Matthew 7:24-27 Jesus said, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wiseman who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Build wisely..
 

June 2014

Written by Tim Hancock   

Have you ever wanted to travel backwards or forwards in time? It has been the dream for so many yet has never been the reality for any – as far as we know. It’s been the theme of TV shows like ‘Quantum Leap’and ‘Doctor Who’, books like HG Wells (1895) ‘The Time Machine’, films like ‘TimeTravellers Wife’ and ‘Back to the Future’, andeven songs by Cher and Aqua. Interest was sparked again in 2010 when someone spotted an actor using a mobile phone in a Charlie Chaplin film, ‘The Circus’, released in 1928!

But now, I can claim to have perfected the art of going backwards and forwards in time! When it first happened I couldn’t quite believe it, but it is true. It happens when I move from the kitchen to the dining room at home and back again. It is not because of the décor or furniture in each room but because I have a radio on in each room. If you have a DAB radio you can try it yourself. DAB radio transmits a few seconds behind a non-­‐DAB radio, so when I walk from the kitchen to the dining room I can hear the same news again. When the time signal pips are broadcast it is 7am in my kitchen before it is 7am in my dining room! Weird! So what is the real time?

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could go back in time? I wonder what you wouldn’t have done or said if you could just hop back a few seconds? Or what you would have done or said if you could turn back a day or a month or a few years?

We can live with doubts and fears, regrets or failures far too much and they can end up squeezing life out of us. What we have or haven’t done in the past does matter, there are real consequences to our words and actions. However, we do need to remember that we have a God who enables us to live in the present free from the past and looking to the future.

I have no doubt that many who encountered Jesus and saw the possibility of what their lives could have been had moments when they wanted to turn back time and start again, but Jesus always started from where they were and offered them a brand new start. On Easter Sunday we heard the testimony of 5 young men who took a step of faith, 4 of them into the waters of baptism, to declare that from this day forward they were keeping their eyes on Jesus for their future. Five world-­‐changers who knew the freedom of forgiveness from the past and declared their determina4on to follow Jesus. (Listen again to their stories – www.lhfc.org.uk)

Faith in Jesus is a present and future faith – ‘I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.’ (2 Corinthians 6:2) It’s a faith that needs sharing, a truth that needs declaring to people who are captured by their past so that they can find love now and hope for the future.

Going back a few seconds to hear the news again is one thing, but moving into the future that God has planned for your life is what must excite each one of us. The Psalmist declared – ‘I trust in you, LORD; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hands;’ (Psalm 31:14-­‐15) That is a great story to tell; Jesus,right now, deals with the past and the future. That’s why it’s called good news!

I pray that you will know the forgiveness of Jesus for the past, that you will trust Him with your whole life as you walk into the future He has planned for you starting now and that you will invite someone else to do just the same.

.
 

February 2014

Written by Tim Hancock   

I love travelling and over the last few years have had the privilege to visit a number of places. I’ve always been enriched by the experience of meeting many different people in many different settings. From the brash bling of Hong Kong to the bizarre beauty of South Africa. I have met people on the edges of society and seen the amazing power of God at work to heal, restore, release and forgive. I’ve met people who have discovered hope and a future through the grace of Jesus being shown in action through His people in an incredible number of different ways.

But what I always enjoy is getting there, the journey. Planning it, scheduling it, booking it and experiencing the ride, however bumpy and however long. Just after Christmas, Kerry and I travelled over to Finland. We started out by car, then took a plane, then a bus, then a train and lastly another car to get to our final destination. We could have done it a different way, ‘train, plane, bus’ or even ‘car, ferry, car, ferry, car,’ (but that would have taken us a week - maybe someday soon). There are such a lot of ways to get to where you want to go. In April we will be going car, plane, plane, car!

As I re-read the gospels – the good news about Jesus – I am intrigued by the many different ways people got to meet Jesus. Not just on donkeys or camels or on foot, maybe even chariots, but how they encountered him and who invited them and who took the journey with them. There were the four friends who took their sick mate on his bed but didn’t have to carry him home, who made a hole in the roof to get him to encounter Jesus. There was the woman caught in adultery dragged to Jesus by the Pharisees for him to give his verdict and she left forgiven and challenged to ‘sin no more’, given the grace of a new start. There was the brother (Andrew) who found his brother (Simon Peter) and brought him to meet Jesus, and we know what happened to that life. And there was even the person who was already in their coffin being carried out for burial, when Jesus bumped into the funeral party and brought colour back to their lives.

There are so many ways and places to meet Jesus, and so many ways to help other people take the journey to meet him. We can be confident that when they meet Him they will find grace, forgiveness, freedom, healing, wholeness, in fact, they will find just what they are looking for.

The challenge for us all is to care enough about someone we know, who we long to meet Jesus, and decide how we are going to help them take the journey to meet him. How will they get there? Thankfully there is more than one way, in fact there are countless ways. An invitation for a meal around your table, an invitation to an event at church, coming with them on a course designed to help them explore who Jesus is, getting them involved in something you are doing.

Some journeys will take a long time, there will be frustrations, delays and bumpy rides, but when they meet Jesus and understand His grace, His love and forgiveness, they will be able to walk free.

Why not take someone you know on a journey in 2014, the journey of a lifetime, to meet Jesus. It’ll be the best journey they have ever been on and the best destination they’ll have ever been to.

~ Tim Hancock.
 

December 2013

Someone once told us to freeze bagels then toast them from frozen - always ready and never stale! Genius. Another is frozen mashed potatoes [if the very thought has sent you into culinary convulsions – take it up with Delia as she uses them!] For those more technically wired: Apple TV – wirelessly transfers stuff on your computer/iPad onto your TV and stereo – amazing. Then there is my computer’s impressive ability to simultaneous run two monitors at the same time – just plug them in and you can display two full screen documents or applications at once. All brilliant. All discoveries that have changed the way I live.

I appreciate that I have now split readers into two camps: those totally understanding my thinking and those filling with pity and concern over what is actually impacting my life!

Whichever camp you find yourself in, here’s my observation and point: little things can make a big difference in our lives.

Often we can find ourselves looking, longing, praying for major changes to happen in our lives – for God to break in and fix a relationship, a workplace, a family, a broken body, a broken heart, a crazy big financial challenge – for surely that is what God does? God is a great big powerful God, so it is natural to assume that His solutions must be great big and powerful.

The thing is, in my experience, God often chooses small things to make big changes. God chooses normal people, uses everyday decisions, uses the ordinary, to do extraordinary life changing things. Through an unexpected conversation, a person pausing to really listen, a nudge of encouragement to pursue a new opportunity, our lives can be significantly impacted – little things making a big difference. [By the way, I am not suggesting frozen mash and multiscreen functionally are small messages from God!]

If you check out the life of Jesus you do find some incredibly extraordinary things happening; loads of miracles, healings, mass catering on minimal budgets and the extraordinary world changing power of Jesus’ death and resurrection. God is definitely a powerful God who can do big things! However, we also read that God embraces and uses the ordinary – Jesus was not born into wealth and power but into an ordinary working class family, his birthplace was not a palace but an ordinary town. When Jesus grew up and began teaching he used parables about ordinary everyday things that people could relate to, he spent time with and spoke to those no one else had time for, he ate with them and in the midst of conversations revealed life changing truths of grace, love, forgiveness and acceptance that changed people’s lives.

God can definitely do the spectacular, but I think we sometimes forget that God is also master of the small, the ordinary Have you ever discovered something that has totally transformed the way you live? God is de!nitely a powerful God who can do big things! However, we also read that God embraces and uses the ordinary. and the everyday - as a result we can miss out on what God is saying and wanting to do in and around our lives. As we celebrate another Christmas and move into a New Year, here’s a challenge for us as individuals, Small Groups and as a church family. Be expectant of great things from our great God – but also keep a lookout for God using the ordinary: someone showing kindness, listening, serving, helping, loving. PLUS the flipside: as well as asking God to do the spectacular, ask God to use your ordinary for Him: your words, actions, listening, money, love.

May God use your ordinary to do something extraordinary this Christmas season and in 2014..
 

October 2013

Written by Tim Hancock   

I asked for a single to be told that it was cheaper to get a Day Ticket, so £5.70 later I took my ticket from the machine – whatever happened to bus conductors - and settled down for my ride. I plugged in my headphones so that I could listen to the news from around the world on the radio and spent the journey looking out of the window waiting for my stop to get off.

As I stared, I became more and more fascinated by what I saw. The bus journey was the same journey that I had driven many times before, but suddenly I began to see things I’d never seen before. Instead of having to concentrate on driving and the other maniacs on the road, all I needed to do was stop and stare. Whilst my ears were hearing the latest bad news from Syria, reflections on the anniversary of 9/11 and a report on England’s 0-0 draw with Ukraine, my eyes were seeing what was happening on my doorstep, it gave me a whole new perspective.

I saw houses I’d never noticed, shops I’d never seen, communities that looked like they needed some help, people who were rushing or waiting, laughing or crying, the reality of life in the faces of the people I too easily pass by. (The weirdest thing I saw? At the junction of Botley Road and Portsmouth Road next to the street name was a board that had ‘JESUS’ written on it. He gets everywhere!)

It’s good to get a fresh perspective on familiar things, to look at them from a different angle, to think about someone from a new point of view, to do something with a new purpose and vision. Take something ordinary, like a meal, and use it to invite someone who doesn’t know Jesus to come and share it with you. Walk round your community (instead of always driving through it) and see what is going on. Look in your neighbours eyes and see what you could do to make a difference. An invitation to a meal, an invitation to get involved, an invitation to listen.

Take time for a new perspective. A new perspective on what God is doing so that you can join Him in doing it. Perhaps even a fresh perspective on Jesus..
 

August 2013

Rain pelted down refusing to relent. The British summer was set to soak another outdoor event. My girls were playing in the jazz orchestra and we had bought tickets, however, ………. rainy hour poured into rainy hour and the only message trickling from the organisers was “the event is still on.” We looked at the rain, and were not convinced.

Around 5pm the rain lessened and good old British resilience, optimism, stubbornness, madness (you choose) prompted the organisers to declare “Jazz on the lawn is definitely on!”

Musicians sheltered instruments under a dripping marquee and every patch of lawn resisting bog-dom was claimed as gazebo encampments for guests to huddle. All were longing for the evening concert to start and to finish.

However, as the evening settled in, the wet weather loosened its grip. Gazebo conversations wandered from the British weather to what we usually did on weekends, our kids, what we did during the week – picnics were unpacked, food shared, the band played, the skies cleared and we experienced an enjoyable evening together.

Flip forward a year and ‘Jazz on the lawn’ concert was here again. This day awoke to glorious sunshine - shorts, sandals and suntan lotion this time! As day melted into evening, hundreds of guests flocked expectantly toward the concert venue. However, instead of gravitating toward communal gazebos, people sought out and claimed individual territories in the name of their picnic! The band played, the skies remained clear and 300+ people shared an enjoyable evening together. But it was a different ‘together’ to the year before.

In 1 Peter 4:9 we read, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” [‘Hospitality’ in Greek is ‘philoxenia’ - ‘love – strangers/others’] On both occasions the owners of the lawn who allowed hundreds of strangers to picnic behind their home showed hospitality [yes it was a large lawn!]. But ‘hospitality’ is more than this.

As we soaked up the sun and jazz that evening, many of the folk we shared a gazebo with the previous year came over and chatted. We were no longer simply familiar strangers who waved and smiled when we saw each other - something had changed.

By stepping into each other’s world (gazebo): sharing food, conversation, life together – hospitality - something changed. We were not all instant best buddies, they were not suddenly asking “What must I do to be saved?” - but I knew a little more about their story and they about my story, conversation naturally flowed. Hospitality does that.

This autumn, can I encourage the church family to intentionally “offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” – and let’s be open to what God may want to do.

.
 

July 2013

It must have been around my fifteenth trip when I decided that I should have been counting. Looking at the mildly dented heap before me, it was evident that many more trips still separated me from the finish.

It had been a few years since we last had our trees and bushes tamed. Several had since reached too high in their efforts to reach the sky, whilst others were more committed to reaching into our neighbours and the odd one or two simply embraced a free style approach when it came to growing and quite frankly were a mess! And so early one morning three men with chainsaws, an industrial shredder and a piece of paper declaring they were professionally qualified to hack began to hack.

During our garden’s ordeal every neighbour felt the need to advise the tree surgeons how best to tackle this task, however the chaps politely chose to honour the owners of the trees [and also paying the bill!] and to pursue their training, ensuring the trim would still allow the trees to thrive. We had actually only made two requests; keep the screening the trees offered between us and neighbours and keep any chunks of wood that we might dry and later use as firewood.

When completed, I will admit, our first request did not appear to be fully honoured. Assurances were given and trust required as we were informed that once the trees settled into their new reduced states a better, healthier and fuller tree screen would be the result. Our second request was more clearly addressed, so much so that the piling area overflowed into a nearby flower bed and it’s previously content residents were now feeling rather crushed.

As I was telling myself to trust the tree surgeon, counting my lumber lugging journeys and wondering why I hadn’t asked the chaps to stack the wood in a sensible place, another set of thoughts started rebounding around my mind. In John 15:2 Jesus says something I had never really given much thought to “He [God] cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

I looked around the garden again and studied the well pruned trees. I looked at the massive amount of wood needing to be moved and stacked. I pondered how the post-prune clear-up often took a considerable amount of time and effort. I thought of the time needed for the plants to fill out and flourish again. I wondered about me and God. About LHFC and God.

For me to grow more fruitful, for you to grow more fruitful, for our church to grow more fruitful, pruning will need to happen. Up until that moment I viewed this process as God delicately removing a twig or lovingly and sensitively secateuring a branch, I never viewed pruning as a triune set of chainsaws! And yet there I was, in a garden loved by its owners and seriously reduced by a nature respecting, qualified tree surgeon.

I’ll be honest, this thought didn’t thrill me – in fact it made me nervous. It is so much easier to embrace stretching for the skies with God, reaching into remote areas, experimenting with free-style growing – but Jesus wanted his followers to know “He [God] cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

God is passionate about seeing us fruitful in Him. If we want to fully be who He created us to be, then there will inevitably be times of pruning in our lives – times when both “non-fruit bearing” and “good, fruit bearing” branches will be removed, times when we are left feeling a little bit exposed or vulnerable and times when we simply need to invest into cleaning up what has been cut away.

As I made my many journeys to stack and sort the recently removed branches, I did a lot of thinking. If I seriously wanted to see godly growth and fruitfulness in my life, I need to trust and allow God to prune, perhaps seriously prune, wherever He decides in my life.

My thinking then stretched further, if we seriously want to see godly growth and fruitfulness in our church, together we need to trust and allow God to prune, perhaps seriously prune, where He decides in our lives.

As I finished, I surveyed the stack of wood beside me and the very trimmed and tidy garden around me and two massively encouraging thoughts rested in my mind. Firstly, serious pruning sessions are not regular occurrences [it is not something to fear] but secondly, imagine, be expectant, get excited about the fruitfulness to come!.
 

June 2013

Arguably it was the best purchase we ever made. Every time it is used it immediately produces a tangible difference to our lives - echoes of past peace resonated all around, comfort calls, draws and enfolds. It is like a mini-miracle. True, potential tensions tease at the start, but once settled, blessings flow.

What is this mystical object? An in-car dual screen DVD player. Don’t dismiss this too quickly – this is a seriously amazing gadget. At the start of a long car journey, plug the kids in and silence falls. It is like those magical moments when kids fall fast asleep in the car and parents are freed from accurately determining arrival times and needing to spy things with their little eye! Plug in - bliss. The initial potential tension I referenced relates to the kids agreeing which specific DVD to watch, however once decided; dual screens, separate head-phones and volume switches eclipse all other familiar journey whinges. Parents – worth every penny!

Lately however, there has been a challenger to this coveted “best purchase” position in my life. This contender has silently been waiting in the wings, not demanding “you’ll pay dearly if you forget me!” – but more subtly “remember me?” This object shares the ability to create a tangible difference – with echoes of past peace, comforts, callings, drawings - mini-miracles. Again, potential tensions tease at the start, but once settled, blessings flow.

This object is our fire-pit (it is like a giant wok) that sits in our back garden, where we can burn things: watch, wait and find warmth. The power is not immediate silence as with the DVD player, rather the complete opposite – conversation. On many occasions our small group, friends and family have sat around the fire-pit burning things and chatting. As hours pass and embers glow relationships deepen, dreams are shared, life is lived.

The tension that teases at the start – is getting started. Not lighting the fire, but inviting friends over for a burn in the first place.

The truth is we all long for deeper friendships, but all too often we never actually invite people to come and sit around the fire. Perhaps it is because our lives are too busy, or we think other people’s lives are too busy and we say “no” on their behalf and never invite them. Perhaps we are busy waiting for someone to invite us, for someone else to do something – and so we switch on the telly and wait, hoping tomorrow will be different, that tomorrow will hold the blessing. [For those thinking “I don’t own a fire-pit” – the fire-pit is not where the power rests, but in the meeting, greeting, eating…]

In Matthew 18:20 Jesus says “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” Personally, I don’t reckon Jesus was sharing a handy verse to be used whenever a poorly attended church event is encountered – rather a powerful truth to be encountered whenever Jesus followers gather together around a fire-pit, a meal, a board game, a dessert-a-thon, a walk, chatting, sharing…

Here’s the challenge.

Don’t wait to be invited, invite. Don’t intend to meet up, meet up. Don’t say “if I have time”, give time. Don’t wait for the “perfect” friend, make friends. Don’t just invite old friends, invite new friends.

Who can you invite? [Top tip: if they make good desserts allow that to be an extra incentive!].
 

May 2013

I wasn’t intimidated. Well, perhaps a bit.

Late afternoon, the day before we set off for Spring Harvest my phone rang. It was the national director of a charity – we had both been asked to speak on a certain subject at Spring Harvest [at different sites] and he was calling to see how I was planning to cover the topic.

As the event started the following day my talk was written and in my head, so we easily discussed some of the things I planned to say. Encouragingly he responded positively and when he asked if I would be willing to email my notes to him so he could include some of my thoughts I happily did so. He ended the conversation saying that he would send me some of his notes too.

The seminar title was ‘Supporting people through the onset of disability’. My plan was to share my story, to highlight some of the complexities that blindness brings to my life - practically, relationally, emotionally and spiritually. I would then move on to share some ‘hand holds’ that I find helpful, how God fits in and how I fit into God. I was also going to emphasise that other people face trickier challenges and may have much better solutions to share, and so I would leave time for those attending the seminar to contribute too.

Early that evening his notes came through – they included several long and detailed documents, a MA thesis and a 40 slide PowerPoint presentation containing facts, figures, statistical analysis of the growing problem, how the present NHS and Social Services models are insufficient, detailing the biblical mandate to help the poor and needy, two audio clips of theologians discussing how disability and God can co-exist, solution diagrams… my PowerPoint presentation containing 4 slides, one of which was the seminar title and my name!

I wasn’t intimidated. Well, perhaps a bit.

It was too late to change my plans, I arrived praying and trusting that God might somehow use my story despite the lack of multiple facts, figures and diagrams. Then just before the seminar began a lady from my previous church breezed up to me and asked how things were going; the family, church etc. She then apologised that she could not stay for my seminar but wished me well and then added… “out of all the disabilities out there, I reckon blindness is one of the easier to cope with” Then off she trotted.

People. Don’t you love’em!

Two minutes later I embarked on the seminar that used my story as the major backdrop. The audience was not many: 47 people, several in wheelchairs, a blind lady and others wanting to better support family and friends facing disability.

I started. I finished. I think it went well. And then it began.

Immediately after the seminar continuing to the final day of the conference, over 20 of the 47 people who attended the seminar separately sought me out, stopped me and spoke about the seminar. Some thanked me for my honesty, some were relieved that they were not the only one who struggled, some said they felt freed because “I don’t know” is a real, valid, ‘Christian’ answer and others felt more equipped and determined to keep going.

People. Don’t you love’em!

What we say often impacts more than we think.

In 1 Peter 3v15 we read “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

I think often we shy away from answering, not because we are ashamed of Jesus, but we don’t know what to say, or we are afraid we will get it wrong. Here’s a handy tip that seems to work well - start with what you are an expert in, your Jesus story. Share how and why you trust Jesus – don’t worry about being fancy and theological, just start the conversation by sharing your experience of Jesus and allow God to do the rest..
 
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