I was recently speaking to a few fellow church leaders
about days off. One said she hardly ever got a day off as there was just so
much to do. Another colleague quickly responded – ‘So, you’re placing yourself
above God are you?’

That got everyone’s attention!

He had a very good point. The Bible tells us that God
worked for 6 days and rested on the seventh – so giving us a pattern for a
healthy rhythm of life. If God rested one day in seven, isn’t it a bit arrogant
not to do so? It’s certainly unhealthy in all sorts of ways. That conversation
was a wakeup call to all of us involved: It’s all too easy to be doing so much
that we forget that the Sabbath principle isn’t just good advice it’s a command
of God – for our own good.

By Sabbath principle I mean the evident truth that we all
need rest from our everyday work. For Christians it means remembering what
Jesus said; ‘People weren’t made for the Sabbath, the Sabbath was made for
people.’ (Mark 2:27)

The idea is rest for the body and for the soul. It’s about
coming away from the pace of everyday life and seeking God. It is about doing
good as Jesus reminded us. It’s about reflection and it’s about listening to
God.

The longer I’m a Christian the more I realise that
everything depends on developing ways of listening to God in the midst of a
busy and demanding world.

There’s a story about a man was having difficulty
communicating with his wife and concluded that she was becoming hard of
hearing.

So he decided to conduct a test..... without her knowing
about it. One evening he sat in a chair on the far side of the room. Her back
was to him and she couldn’t see him.

Very quietly he whispered, "Can you hear me?"

There was no response.

Moving a little closer, he asked again, "Can you hear
me now?"

Still no reply; quietly he edged closer and whispered the
same words, but still no answer.

Finally, he moved right in behind her chair and said,
"Can you hear me now?"

To his surprise and chagrin, she responded with irritation
in her voice,

"For the
fourth time, yes!" (Pause)

The hearing problem is not with God. .....It’s with us!

The Sabbath principle is really all about listening to God
and it’s something we should apply more often than 1 day in 7. In a busy world
I myself find the need to establish a rhythm of work, rest, listening and
reflection each day. The reality is that there are days when this doesn’t
happen as I’d like it to. But I’m working at it!

Most of you will know that my Sabbatical begins on 12th
May for 3 months. The heart of this is about doing something other than my
normal job; it’s about a journey of discovery, reflection and rest. I think
above all it’s about taking time to really listen to God, about my own life,
about the life of my family and my churches. Specifically I’ll be looking at
patterns of discipleship in the early church and what patterns may work in the
very different world of the 21st century? How can we follow Jesus
with everything we’ve got in such a busy and sometimes confusing world?

I am very fortunate to be able to take this extended
period of time to do these things and I hope to return at the end of the summer
with renewed strength and vision for our churches as we enter the next stage of
journey together.

But, here’s a challenge for you all while I’m away…

Can you find a way of applying the Sabbath principle to
your life a little more? Can you find more time to come away from the everyday?
Time to rest from it? To seek God and reflect on your life?

One thing I know for sure is that if we don’t, then life
will tend to pass us by. Jesus said he came to bring us life to the full… how
can we hope to experience it if we don’t listen to Him?

With love in Christ and blessings to you all for the
summer

Nick

 

A poem by Adrian Plass (Clearing
Away the Rubbish, 1988, Minstrel Books) an imaginary phone conversation
with Jesus……

Phone Call

Lord Jesus – don’t come round tonight,

I’m busy at the hall,

And the chances of a chat with you

Are really rather small.

So many people need me,

And I can’t deny them all,

So! It looks as if I won’t be in,

If you decide to call.

Yes, Tuesday would be
better,

But I think the man next door

Is looking very troubled,

And I’ve helped him out before.

Well – a friend in need is something

I can never quite ignore,

No – don’t come round tomorrow night,

You understand, I’m sure.

Wednesday night? That’s study group,

Thursday I’m away,

On Friday I’ve got tickets

For the local Christian play.

Saturday’s the mission,

And that’ll take all day,

Better if we leave it now

Till Sunday night; okay?

Oh, Jesus? Do you love me?

Will you ever set me free?

I’ve built myself a prison,

I’ve thrown away the key.

I’m weeping in the darkness,

Yes, I’m longing now to see

The plans you have for both of us.

Please come and visit me.

Does
this poem ring true for you sometimes? It does for me and has at various times
throughout my life as a Christian.

Life
gets so busy, work, family, hobbies, even when ‘doing things for God’ that we
can so easily lose touch with Him.

Leave
Him out of the picture and we charge headlong in a direction which is
completely of our own choosing and we find like Adrian Plass that we’ve ‘built
ourselves a prison and thrown away the key.’

It’s
good to try to build a balanced life of work, family, friends, interests, but
if we lose touch with the Source of all Life then what’s it all for? Are we
really investing our time and energy into things of eternal value, or on short
term ‘fixes’ which clutter our lives and leave no room for Him.

As
Easter approaches, Lent is a great time to reflect on where we are with God and
how we can put Him more firmly at the centre of our lives.

Does
prayer get pushed out? Do we have any time in our lives for reflection at all?
Be Still, Sunday Services, Home Groups, Deeper Life online course/community are
just a few of the ways we as a church try to make space for God at different
times of the week.

With
Easter Sunday, the day of the resurrection, the day of new life and hope for
all of us, only a short time away – how about asking yourself a few questions?

How much
of this poem do I identify with?

Is my
life just one event after another, a runaway train, hanging on for dear life?

Is it
time to slow down, to deliberately make time for God a higher priority?

So, will
you join me in making space for Jesus, the only One who claims to bring us life
to the full and Living Water that will never run dry?

With
love in Christ,

Nick

What does Jesus
Resurrection mean for us?

As you read
this it will be very close to Easter day, maybe just after, but the
resurrection is something which should make a difference to us whatever day it
is. Let’s look back to the early days after Jesus rose from the dead, an event
which turned a frightened group of His followers into a force which would
change the world……

The first
Christians believed that Jesus’ resurrection had implications for the entire
universe. Their tradition had taught
them that the world was broken and desperately in need of repair and that at
some point in the future, God was going to put it all back together. For them, this future restoration had nothing
to do with leaving this world; it was
all about the renewing and the reclaiming of this world. This isn’t to deny of
course that when our life on earth is over, we will go to be with God, just to
say that that won’t be the end of the story (read Revelation 21 to find out
more!)

As the
author and speaker Rob Bell puts it: “They
saw in Jesus’ resurrection the beginning of this universe-wide movement to put it all back together.”

The first
Christians believed that the world would not be improved through military
power. This gospel they were living had
nothing to do with using political force to make people live a certain way. For them, this gospel was about serving the
world, being God’s agents for transformation and for hope in the world.

Now this is
both deeply personal and also world changing.

Rob Bell
again: ‘Jesus is saving me, he’s saving
me from my sins, from my mistakes, from
my pride, from my indifference to the suffering of the world around me. From my cynicism and despair, the brokenness I
see in the world around me is true of my own soul.’

We all fall
short and that’s the beautiful part.

Imperfect,
vulnerable people like you and me, are invited to be the hands and feet of a
Jesus who loves us exactly as we are and yet, loves us way too much to let us
stay that way. It’s OK if we sometimes mess up, God will forgive and restore us
and it’s OK if we’ve got scars – even the risen Jesus still bore the scars of
his crucifixion……

But Jesus
invites us into new life, into a new world, God’s new world. A world which is
rich with possibilities because death and evil have been overcome – all because
of Easter.

And so, we
are saved from sin, from despair, from hopelessness and as Christians we are
set free to serve God in the world, to
work with him as he calls all human beings into relationship with him through
Jesus; free to work with him as he seeks to challenge suffering and all that is
unjust; free to be the people he works through to put this world back together again, to
bring signs of this new world of hope into existence, right here and right now.

All this is
the call on the church and all this stems from and only from the resurrection
of Jesus.

Alleluia
Christ is risen

He is risen
indeed, Alleluia!

With love in
Christ

Nick

Dear Friends

A few months
ago Bishop Jonathan agreed that this coming summer I should take a 3 month
sabbatical. This will begin on 12th May. It’s recommended that clergy take one every 10
years; I’ve been ordained for 12, so it’s overdue!

Here’s a
quote from the Church of England Guidelines for sabbaticals which is quite
helpful:

The word sabbatical is
derived from the same root as Sabbath. A fundamental purpose of a sabbatical is to set aside time for mental
renewal, spiritual re-creation and physical rest, so as to return refreshed in
one’s ministry. To avoid possible misunderstanding,
it is clear that a sabbatical is not intended to be • simply an extended holiday. • doing the
same job in a different location. •
solely used for academic study.

After 12
years I do feel in need of rest, reflection and renewal and my aim is to come
back fully ready to lead the churches into the next stage of their life and
growth. I will be living in the Vicarage for most of the three months, Carole
and the boys will continue to be involved at St. David’s, Holmbridge and pretty
much carry on with life as normal.

I will be
doing a number of things; going on retreat, engaging in some study and doing
some research visiting churches and Christian organisations throughout the
country.

Through
study and research I will be looking at one of the biggest questions the church
faces in the western world today:

How do we make and
nurture followers of Jesus in a society where people are busier and have less
free time than in the past?

Finding an
effective response or responses to this is crucial for the future health and
growth of the church in this country. It is an under researched area and I hope
to contribute something which will be of practical value not only to
Netherthong and Holmbridge churches but to the wider church as well. I have
been asked to write a paper/booklet on my findings.

I am
thankful that so many of you contribute so much to the life of our churches and
that many things will continue while I’m away. Our Team Rector, Sean is very
supportive and will ensure that Sunday services, funerals, baptisms and any
weddings will be covered by the rest of the Team clergy for those 3 months.

I look
forward to returning towards the end of August rested, and having learned a great
deal, ready to work with you all to develop and grow our churches further in
the years to come.

With love in
Christ,

Nick