Eyes Up

As I write, the nation waits nervously for the latest announcements on tackling the virus. There is a very real tension as the government tries to find the almost impossible balance between health and economics.  News websites anticipate every statement, radio shows interview those whose livelihoods will be affected, and I quietly, sadly accept that we will not be able to be with our family this half term as we were hoping.

These are challenging and serious times for all of us.

But I am finding that I have to be careful about how the constant exposure to the cycle of news and social media can impact on my own mental health.

I have realised over the past few months, that it’s much better to spend time thinking about the things that I can change (work, projects, family, hobbies, exercise etc), rather than dwelling on that which I have no control over.  This is standard psychological advice for maintaining a positive mental attitude – it’s important, and generally it works well.

On top of that, I try, at some point each day, to lift my mind beyond the here and now, and focus my thoughts on God. 

Some people call this prayer, and according to data from google, significantly more people than ever before are turning to prayer in the midst of this pandemic. 

I have had to work hard to keep a big-picture, heavenly perspective on all that’s going on. Among other bible passages, these verses from Psalm 121 are helpful and encouraging;-

I lift up my eyes to the mountains. where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. 

It’s possible to read this psalm in one way, seeing the problems around us as mountains which seem very overwhelming and hard to conquer. Another reading though reminds us that we can look to the majesty and grandeur of the mountains, remembering their creator, and tapping into his perspective as we face our challenges with his help.

Churches of all traditions are continuing to respond to these times by helping people connect with God through a creative mix of in-person and online services. Ministers are working hard to facilitate these gatherings, and many of them share my concern for the young people in our communities.  At Winchester Vineyard Church we recently held an event I could never have imagined until this year; a drive-thru style family service in the car park so our children could start to ‘come back to church’.

Whatever mountains we are facing today, there’s always another perspective to fix our eyes on, and help is always available. 

First Published 15 October 2020 – Christian Comment, Hampshire Chronicle

For more info on prayer, check out www.24-7prayer.com

For those who can’t access church online or in person, Daily Hope is a free phone line of hymns, prayers and reflections available 24 hours a day on 0800 804 8044.

Mountain Photo by Benjamin Voros on Unsplash

Family Worship Drive-Thru style in the Car Park

Practical Worship

During the covid crisis the church “…locked the doors and disappeared completely from national life”, according to Douglas Murray in a Spectator article back in June.

In my view, he couldn’t have been more wrong. 

While congregations may not have been able to gather in the same way, many churches have never been more open than during lockdown. 

Obviously, it wasn’t possible to worship together in one place, but churches quickly adapted to online services, with video calls to meet ‘face to face’.  One Sunday lunchtime early in the crisis, the Zoom platform completely crashed – most likely due to the vast number of Christians on their post-service coffee chats.

While worshipping from home has some obvious benefits, it has taken some getting used to! Collective singing is a key part of most Christian traditions, but singing along to your laptop on at home is a far cry from your voice blending in with a crowd of enthusiastic worshippers.  But whether gathered or scattered, our worship has always been so much more than simply praying or singing together.

As the doors closed for services in parishes across Hampshire and the UK, believers played a key role in supporting the most vulnerable in their neighbourhoods. Alongside many other charities, they distributed food to the hungry, prayed for the sick & stressed, and befriended the lonely.

Acts of compassion have been common practice for Christ-followers down the centuries. The bible teaches that helping those who are down on their luck is a central tenet of faith.  It even provocatively suggests that without acts of justice, our gathered worship is not only meaningless, but actually offensive to God;-

Amos 5:21-24

21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.  22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. 23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.  24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

So even while scattered, Christians have continued to worship by serving their communities. As a church leader, I could not have been prouder of the way our people have expressed their faith in humble and practical ways, reaching beyond themselves to help meet physical, emotional and spiritual needs.

Back in our meeting space at Winchester Vineyard Church, we have been delighted to partner with the city’s Basics Bank who needed extra room for food sorting during lockdown. Even as our congregation tentatively starts to gather for covid-secure services, we’ll be sharing our space so that this essential work of food distribution continues locally.

For us it’s much more than just a practical solution, it is an act of collective worship.   

First Published 17 Sep 2020 – Christian Comment, Hampshire Chronicle

Why don’t you join me on the edge?

Screenshot 2020-01-16 at 18.02.35I saw this message recently on instagram and while I usually swipe quickly past this kind of post, something about this one resonated with much that I’ve been thinking about at the start of this new year.

Our current series, Who are we becoming? is causing me to reflect on the last decade and who I want to become in the next one,  but I’m realising that reflection isn’t enough and action is required to challenge the Status Quo – be it in one particular aspect of my life, or across a whole range of issues.

Alan Scott once said “There is no vision without collision!”  

Vision – whether new or simply re-stated, is about articulating a better future, but moving towards that future requires taking some positive, and often challenging steps. And there will always be some kind of opposition.

For example, when I deliberately change my diet, my body initially opposes this new vision for better health.  When I try to make more time to spend quietly with God, there are always distractions close by.  Prioritising for deliberate rest often seems crazy in the midst of busyness.  And sometimes, preparing to attending a group I’ve committed to finds me in the group of tiredness.

It takes real courage to stand up to opposition – be it physical, emotional or spiritual, and to move beyond it to a place of real change.  It requires more than just reflection, but positive mental energy, supportive and encouraging friends, and the power of the Holy Spirit.  We are not our own in this! God’s encouragement to Joshua was to “be strong and courageous” as he led the people into a massive risky unknown future:-

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9 ESV)

Standing on this same promise and following God’s prompting, what risks are you planning to take in 2020?  An how risky are they really?

Are we talking about things we can just about stretch to, or things that are simply impossible without God’s intervention?

The truth is that if there’s not much challenge then there probably won’t be much progress either!

So whether God is inviting you to review your finances and increase your giving, or to commit to regularly attending a Life Group, or to risk offering to pray for someone who you wouldn’t normally ask, why not choose to trust him wholeheartedly, step out, take the risk and be brave. 

It’s easy to see the reasons to be cautious, but whenever I have faced down opposition for something I know God has asked me to do, he has never ever failed me.  I have always learned something & grown as a result.

I’ve set a number of goals for 2020 – personally and for the church, and honestly, they’ll never  happen unless and I’m prepared to step out, take the risk, possibly look foolish, and trust that God is 100% in it.

I’m determined not to be motivated by fear, but by trust and obedience. I want the next 10 years to be characterised by my close proximity to Jesus as we encounter some crazy but brilliant adventures together.  I can’t think of anything worse than settling down into my comfort zone and I’m so looking forward to seeing all that he wants to accomplish come into being.

Why don’t you join me on the edge,  it’s gonna be a wonderful ride!

 

Useful links:

Winchester Vineyard Life Groups

‘Who are we becoming?’ Sunday Talks

Winchester Vineyard giving page

BLOG: God does not NEED our money but He WANTS our hearts!

BLOG: WHO ARE WE BECOMING?

 

WHO ARE WE BECOMING?

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At the start of 2020, my wife Jo wrote this reflection for our Winchester Vineyard church family:-

As we move into a new year and a new decade, I’ve been thinking about what is working well in my life and some areas that need to change. I’m sure I’m not the only one! As Nigel said on Sunday, it’s natural to do this when many around us are making new years resolutions, posting decade selfies and taking up gym memberships!

So, as we start 2020 we are thinking about who we are becoming as individuals and a church family. There are two questions; who are we becoming and is this who we WANT to become? If so, great. If not, what can we do about that?

We all know that our actions have results – the things we did yesterday affect the way we are today. If I went to bed far too late yesterday, I am tired, grumpy with those around me and unable to concentrate well on my work today. And taking that further, If I keep on going to bed too late I’ll get the same results each day.

As Albert Einstein is thought to have said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Or more recently Jessie Potter said “If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always gotten.”

If I want things to change, I need to change my practice – to go to bed earlier so that I’ll be less tired, less grumpy and better able to work well. There’s no other way to get there. Common sense really.

In RESET month at church we are thinking about our routines, habits and patterns in our life with God. If we are trying to follow Jesus and become more like Him, how’s that going? Are we living lives marked by His love, peace and presence? What tweaks or changes do we need to make so that we’ll look more like him at the end of 2020 than we do now?

As I look at my life I can see I can be preoccupied with my “to do list” and the “next thing”. But when I look at Jesus I see He managed to do all He was called to do and still be connected to His Father and fully present in each situation. We don’t see Him rushing anywhere or stressed about the next thing. So what to do? I tried a “habit audit” – an idea I picked up from John Mark Comer. (You may have seen his “Unhurry for the Holidays” video in our pre-Christmas epress). He suggested taking time to write down all our regular routines in the week and at the weekend. Eg. get up, make coffee, check social media, read Bible, go to work … make a list of everything you do. Then ask yourself .. what are these habits doing to my heart? Are they drawing me closer to Jesus and making me more like Him, or are they stirring up envy, discontentment, and anxiety and killing my relationship with Him? Be honest. If you find a habit that’s not helping you on your journey to become more like Jesus, do a habit swap .. replace it with something that does bring you life and draw you closer to Him.

As a result of this, one thing that I’ve been changing is when and how I use my phone. It’s a great tool for being connected with the wider world but can steal my time and attention when I should be focussed elsewhere. It’s early days for me but I’m disconnecting more in the evenings and early mornings and trying to use the Examen routine instead. I’m really appreciating time to pause and “be” more present in the moment and aware of my thoughts and feelings and aware of God’s nearness.

As a church we are thinking about how we grow in Generosity, Community and Compassion.

Perhaps those are areas for you personally too, or there are other things that you know need to change. The challenge for this week is to think .. who am I becoming? What tweaks or changes to my daily routine could I make to help me become the person I want to be? There are lots of ideas on the RESET sheet that you may find helpful…. What will work best for you?

Biblical Literacy: Reflections

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When we made 2019 a ‘Year of Biblical Literacy’ at Winchester Vineyard Church, we were aiming to explore how different books and passages fitted within the overarching narrative, in order to better understand and apply God’s truth to our lives.

Through our Sunday talks we’ve covered large chunks of God’s story – and in-between our other preaching series we plan to double back & revisit some sections and themes over the next couple of years.  We’ve had some memorable lectures for those who wanted to dig in deeper, and we’re planning to continue those from time to time over the next year or two. (You can catch up with talks from 2019 on our website.)

We encouraged everyone to engage with the bible personally during 2019 – aiming to read a section each day using a plan or one of the suggested apps.  If I’m honest, I’ve found that quite a challenge, and while I am absolutely loving the reading journey, I’ll admit that it is taking me some time!  Approaching Christmas, I’m almost at the end of the OT and expect to finish mid-late 2020!

We have said that it’s important to focus on the ‘Biblical Literacy’ rather than the ‘Year’ and wherever you’ve got to, I would strongly encourage you to continue with a consistent reading plan.  If shooting for the whole bible feels too daunting, I suggest you just choose one book at a time and read one chapter a day – or follow one of the many plans from the YouVersion app.

The bible is for life and not just for 2019!

God’s word remains fundamental to living our lives as apprentices of Jesus. Using various metaphors, it describes itself as a sword that pierces, a mirror that reveals, a seed that reproduces, milk that nourishes and a lamp that shines.  We are bible people: ‘people of the word’, and our hope and prayer is that the legacy of YOBL will live long in the life of our church community.  Whatever our focus, we will always seek to wrestle with and better understand the bible’s wisdom, figuring out how we allow it to guide our worship, our community life and our Kingdom mission. 

I’ve been incredibly grateful for the opportunity to dig in to Biblical Literacy this year, and am really excited about how we apply these lessons in the next exciting season of church life. 

Thank you for joining us on the journey….

Useful Links:

YOBL info & resources

Read Scripture App

Winchester Vineyard Talks

God does not NEED our money but He WANTS our hearts!

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“Everyone who was willing and whose heart moved them came and brought an offering to the Lord.” (Ex 35:21)

Dear Winchester Vineyard Family,

Over the last couple of weeks we have been sharing some of the challenges currently facing us as a church.  Financially, there is a significant shortfall in our general income for 2019 as well as an urgent need to replace our flat roof, ideally before the Winter, to avoid further damage.

Through the summer as leaders we have been praying and listening to God about this situation.  As well as the obvious financial needs, we feel challenged to respond by strengthening our prayer life and by investing in relationships and community.  We fully intend to press into both of these areas over the next few months.

But specifically in response to the financial challenge, we are holding a special ‘Heart Offering’ on Sunday 29 September.  This is a one-off opportunity for the church family to give over and above regular tithes to help alleviate the current situation. We obviously don’t know how much will come in, but for your guidance, our plan is to firstly give away 10% to Mission, and then after that;

  • £30K will replace the deficit in 2019 budget
  • £60K will replace the roof
  • £75K will finish phase 2 & 3 of the building project (kitchen & sanctuary)

The trustees will decide how best to allocate the money early in October, when we have a clearer picture of what has been given.

How you can give:

  1. Give by cash or cheque on the day – use the envelopes available
  2. Give by bank transfer to our account – use the ref: HEARTOFFERING+your surname
  3.  Pledge to give before Christmas – fill in the pledge forms available

Please note:

  • If you are a tax payer, then adding Gift Aid significantly increases your gift.
  • If you are NOT already a registered giver with the church, please fill in a GA form.
  • If you are not around on Sun 29th, please send any gifts or pledge forms into the office this next week.

God does not NEED our money but he WANTS our hearts!

We know that God is a God of provision with access to all the resources we could ever need! We strongly believe that this journey as about more than just finances.  We want to press into everything God has for us as a church in the next season and partner with him to see his Kingdom come & lives transformed.  Please do pray about how you might be part of this adventure, and if you have any questions, feel free to be in touch.

With our love and blessing

Nigel & Jo Hemming

 

 

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Holes in the Roof

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In a recent Sunday talk I shared the story of how God has been speaking to us as we’ve tried to respond to some of the challenges we are currently facing as a church.  Leading into the summer, a significant shortfall in our general income, and the urgent need to replace our flat roof caused the leadership community to earnestly pray and seek God.  We sensed him challenging us that ‘the holes in the roof’ are more than just physical but spiritual too.  We sensed a need to come before God in prayer & fasting, to spend time being close to him, listening for his voice & bringing to him the various concerns which are troubling us around prayer, finance and relationships.

You can hear the full talk here

As I prepared for this week’s follow up talk, I was drawn back to this reading from “Our Daily Bread”.  The author quotes a beautiful passage by Thomas Watson (a Puritan preacher from the 1600s) and encourages believers to embrace times of affliction as an opportunity to grow in our faith.

We can learn from the challenges by deliberately pressing in closer to our Father and choosing to trust in the strength of his ‘everlasting arms’.  I pray that the words of this devotional encourage us as we reflect on what God is doing in this season and listen for his guiding voice;-

Does Your Roof Leak?
(reproduced from Our Daily Bread, 14 April 1999 by Henry G. Bosch)

In a book written in 1696, I found these statements:

“Sharp afflictions are to the soul as a soaking rain to the house. We know not there are such holes in the roof till the shower comes, and then we see it drop down here and there. Perhaps we did not know that there were such unmortified cuts in our soul till the storms of affliction came, then we found unbelief, impatience, and fear dropping down in many places.”

How true! Affliction tests us and proves what sort of Christians we are. If there are defects in our spiritual armour, they will show up under the strain and pressure of trouble.

When the floodgates of distress are opened, it is then we echo with understanding the words of the psalmist, who exclaimed, “Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck” (Ps. 69:1). Yet we need not fear, for it is our loving Father who allows the waters to come, not to drown us but to cleanse us and help us to see where our life needs repairing.

Have you been through a storm? Have you been disturbed, irritated, faithless, fearful, or rebellious? Consider that God may have put you through this difficulty to reveal your spiritual needs. By prayer, faith, and yielding to the Holy Spirit, repair the “leaky roof.”

God takes us into deep waters not to drown us but to cleanse us.

Wrestling with the Big Stuff

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Recently I preached a couple of sermons on the subject of ‘How to Suffer’ – looking at the ancient book of Job as part of our Year of Biblical Literacy.  

Job is probably one of the harder Old Testament books to figure out but it’s so worth the effort for the treasure contain within.  It suggests that there will always be an element of mystery, and that we may not get answers to all our questions in this life.  It encourages us to embrace lament, and bring our very real complaints directly to God who is more than big enough to cope with our raw & messy emotions. 

To be honest I’ve been a bit blown away by the response to these talks, which seem to have resonated with so many people.  Suffering is part of everyone’s experience at some point in their lives no matter how hard we try to avoid it, plan around it or medicate against it.  

The key question is not whether we’ll experience pain but how we’ll actually cope with it when it comes!

The bible invites us to embrace these times as important seasons through which our character can grow, rather than just times to ‘get through’ while our life is ‘on hold’. Job invites us, particularly when things are tough, into a deeper level of trust with a heavenly father who, while upholding the whole universe, loves & cares for each individual.  

As the Apostle James wrote:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4) 

If you are in the middle of one of these seasons, sometimes there simply isn’t much to say except ‘ I’m sorry’.  Tough as it is to hear,  experiencing hard times is normal, and many others have been there first including Job! 

Why not reflect on some of these questions and talk through your responses with a trusted friend or leader:-

  1. Think about a previous time when you faced difficulty / pain / suffering?
  2. How did you grow in that season of your life?
  3. What helped you get through?
  4. What are you struggling with now?
  5. How are you processing that pain in your life with God?
  6. What do you think you are learning in this difficult time?
  7. How might you able to use this experience to help someone else in the future?

You can catch up with my talks on Job here  (look for 7 & 14 July 2019)

More Bible Project resources on Job here

 

Coming up in August…. ‘Live Different’ 

Our next YOBL series is based on the book of Daniel.  

While its supernatural rescue stories are some of the best known in the bible, Daniel has plenty to say into our current situation.  The book explores what it means to ‘Live Different’ – to literally live a life of faith and spiritual practises which are vastly different from the surrounding culture.  

This series runs from the end of July through August and in preparation, please do read through the Book of Daniel if you haven’t already (there are only 12 chapters!).  

Lastly, you might also want to watch this Daniel Overview Video from the Bible Project which contains a helpful intro & overview to the whole book.

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More resources on the book of Daniel here.

Don’t Give Up!

17-Job-FNLI have a confession to make!

I’m a long way behind in my reading through the Old Testament.

As part of our Year of Biblical Literacy (YOBL), we’re trying to read through the whole bible together, but in the busyness of life, I’ve not been able to be very consistent.  So where many of us are now exploring the major prophets, I’m still working my way through the narrative stories of 2 Kings. 

But I’m loving it!

I’m absolutely loving the challenge of reading through the whole of the bible, with the help of videos and podcasts from The Bible Project, sermon series in church and discussions in Life Group.  Actually, this it the first time that I have ever tried to understand how the whole bible narrative strings together, and difficult as it it sometimes, it’s helping me get a much better handle on the nature and character of the God who I love and serve.

So I’m sticking with it, and even if you’re really behind like me, I would encourage you to do the same.  We said at the start of 2019 that it was important to focus more on the ‘BIBLICAL LITERACY’ and less on the ‘YEAR’, and we really meant it!

If you feel like you’ve lost heart, or given up, it is really not too late to carry on.  You don’t need to wait for 2020 to start again, just watchmen of the videos to remind yourself where you are, and jump back in.  There’s no deadline!  

The most important thing is to read a bit of the bible regularly, think about it, pray about it and learn from it.  It doesn’t matter how big or small – but don’t give up.

2 Tim 3:14-17

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Exploring the Book of Job:

On Sundays, having looked at some of the challenging themes that run through the Old Testament, we’re now dipping into certain books. We’ve already covered Proverbs & Song of Songs, and our next two series look in more depth at Job and Daniel. 

The two week Job series starts in July and in preparation, you might want to watch this Read Scripture video to remind yourself of the overall narrative:-

Overview of the Book of Job (11 mins)

More info & resources on Job here

More on The Year of Biblical Literacy here

 

Easter Reflections

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With the Easter season approaching, we in Winchester Vineyard Church are a quarter of the way through our Year of Biblical Literacy (YOBL).  

THE JOURNEY SO FAR

So far we have read through Creation, the Fall, the Flood, Abraham & his descendants, Israel’s miraculous rescue from slavery in Egypt and the details of their covenant with God at Mount Sinai.  Things didn’t go so well for God’s people, but after several twists and turns, and 40 years in the wilderness, the next generation finally crossed the River Jordan to entered the promised land under Joshua’s leadership and start to build their nation.

There’s still plenty of Israel’s story to explore, and in our Sunday talks, we’ll be circling back into the Old Testament in much more depth after Easter.

It’s not too late to join in with YOBL!

Through our recent Big Story of God sermon series we saw how despite the difficult times, God did not abandon his people, and their hopes began to be fulfilled through Jesus’ kingdom ministry and then through the early church.  As followers of Jesus today, we are still living in that story, empowered by the Spirit to bring his hope and life to individuals, institutions, communities and nations.

Check out our Scattered Servants Training this weekend.

EASTER CONNECTIONS

Our teaching focus in April will be on the events leading up to Easter and their significance in the overall narrative of the bible.  Taking time to reflect on Jesus death and celebrate his resurrection will not just deepen our personal faith, but will also enrich our community life together.  There a number of exciting ways to do this over the next few weeks:-

Our Soulfulness Evening with Brian Draper will help us take quality time out of the busyness to connect with ourselves, the world & God. 

Our Easter Labyrinth will be open for contemplation and reflection throughout Holy week. 

At the Jesus Life Story event we’ll immerse ourselves in the gospel story by simply reading through the book of Mark together out loud. 

And our Easter Sunday Celebration promises to be fun and lively as we head over to the water meadows for baptisms, egg hunt, picnic and games.

All of these events are open to anyone – please do consider who you might invite along. Postcards are available from this Sunday to give away.

We look forward to reflecting on Jesus’ death and celebrate his life together.