Word vs Spirit – The Radical Middle

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As we are settling into our Year of Biblical Literacy, a number of people have fed back to me just how glad they are that we are focussing on the Big Story of the Bible in 2019.  It’s true that the Bible is being marginalised in our wider culture, but some people may also be wondering just how much emphasis a ‘charismatic’ church movement like Vineyard places on understanding the Bible, it’s overarching narrative and it’s teaching?

Over the centuries, different Christian groups have developed a wide range of approaches to the Bible. On one side would be those who place a deep emphasis, almost exclusively, on knowing, studying and preaching the Word of God. At the other end of the spectrum would be those who put almost all of their focus on the the activity of the Holy Spirit. All churches in history could be placed somewhere on this line.

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John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard movement (pictured above) taught that the most effective growth would occur in the ‘radical middle’, emphasising the importance of both the Word and the Spirit in maturing disciples of Jesus.

We place a really high value on the Bible and it’s truth, and that’s one of the reasons why we’re digging into it this way this year.  We also love and value the Holy Spirit and his work among us in our private times, in our public meetings, and equipping us to live out our faith in the world. 

Maybe you’ve known people who have held more extreme views on the Bible, and who have expressed them in an unhelpful or immature way.  Perhaps, as a reaction, you have swung away from reading and studying the Bible for yourself.  If that’s the case, I would encourage you to consider redressing the balance.  As in many areas of life, holding these values in tension can be tricky but is so important.

As apprentices of Jesus, we need the Holy Spirit to quicken the Bible to us and bring it to life as we read.  And when we encounter the Spirit through a physical experience or receive a prophetic word, we need the Bible as our vital reference book to make sure that what we are experiencing lines up with God’s truth.

Consider: Where would you put yourself on this line? And is there anything you need to do to redress the balance in your own journey with God?

Our next teaching series is called The Big Story of God, looking at the overarching narrative of the whole Bible in 6 stages.

For Further Exploration

More on John Wimber & the story of the Vineyard Movement

Video Clip: John Wimber on buying his first bible

Lecture: Origins of the Bible by Tim Mackie of the Bible Project

Timeline of the Bible

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Grasping the Big Picture

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We have designated 2019 as a ‘Year of Biblical Literacy’ at Winchester Vineyard Church.  We aim to grow in our understanding of the bible through consistent reading, discussion, Sunday talks and even a few in-depth lectures.  (more info)

One of the key reasons for doing this is to help us get to grips with the bible’s overarching narrative and get a better appreciation of its timeline.  

As a primary school teacher, I would always begin a history topic with a timeline, to help children learn how each particular period relates to the world chronology.  During the course of a year, for example we might study the Ancient Egyptians or Romans and then jump to Victorian Britain or WWII.  Each one is a fascinating with some brilliant stories, but each also occurs in its own context – culturally & chronologically.  It’s essential to start with the ‘Big Picture’ and then dig down into the specifics of each topic, and it really helps to understand where a period fits within the overall timeline. 

Getting to grips with the bible can present a similar challenge. Its 66 books span around 5000 years of history and were written by around 40 people in a variety of literary styles.  Each book stands on its own merit with plenty to explore, but it’s not always easy to know how it relates to the bigger picture.

Over this year we’ll be getting to grips with the Bible’s timeline as we work our way through it chronologically.  There are so many brilliant stories, but there are also some parts which are a little trickier to understand.  As we read through this book together, asking the Holy Spirit to speak to us, our hope is to gain a clearer understanding of the biblical timeline and its key themes.  Our next series “The Big Story of the Bible” (in February and March) will particularly help set out the parameters for the rest of the year. 

In your personal reading, be encouraged, not to focus on trying to keep up with a plan, but to read a section each day (however short or long) and ask God to speak to you through it.   Bless you heaps as we read God’s word together. 

For further information:-

The Bible Project Website

Overview Bible Website

The Sacred Calendar Website

Hold on to Hope

The recent political situations both sides of the Atlantic have exposed deep divisions in our societies – even among those in the faith community.  Many are questioning what hope we have and what, as Christians, our response should be.

Carrying Hope

The bible points to a future time of restoration when when “[God] will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness“ (Ps 96:13).  It paints a glorious picture of the kind of transformed society we can expect when, in the words of Tom Wright, “God is running the show!”

Until then, Jesus instruction was to pray for Heaven to come to Earth, and to live as if it were already a reality.  As his followers, we carry Hope into every situation and conversation that we have – trusting the Holy Spirit to work through us to further his Kingdom.

Choosing Love over Fear

The last few weeks have been particularly difficult for our US brothers and sisters as they have come to terms with the President’s immigration ban.  In a recent letter, Phil Strout (National Director, Vineyard USA) highlighted three ways congregations might respond to the current situation:

  1. Acting with empathy and compassion
  2. Choosing love over fear
  3. Loving all people

In the UK we are still coming to terms with the impact of the Brexit vote on our society. I know mature and faithful believers who, having prayerfully and thoughtfully considered the issues, landed on very different sides of this debate.  Some are still finding it hard to come to terms with the result and find the current news agenda difficult.

It is not my place to publicly take a political line on this issue, and as a church we have not expressed a particular view on the vote, but I do want to encourage all of us, however we may have voted, to choose three particular actions in the current climate;

Pray

As I reflect on the news agenda, I find I need to pray more.  The bible encourages all of us to pray for those in authority, so regardless of our own opinions or feelings we can pray for our nation, and pray for our government.  Although I may not agree with everything he thinks or does, I have made sure that my MP knows I am praying for him regularly and supporting him personally.

Be kind 

We are called to exercise love, humility and respect in our dealings with everyone, and especially with those who may hold a different opinion to us. Sometimes this may require extra grace, which we can readily receive from Jesus – the ultimate source of love and forgiveness (Eph 4:32).  Expressing strong opinions lovingly and sensitively is a mark of real maturity, and, as an aside, in my experience, it rarely works well on social media!

Put our trust in God

Lastly, we can make a deliberate choice to put our faith in God, despite what we may be currently feeling or experiencing. A close friend of mine once prayed ‘Lord, stamp my eyes with eternity’, and I often find myself praying the same thing – that I might view my current circumstances through the lens of God’s kingdom, heavenly perspective, and live according to that long term, ultimate reality.

In summary: Hold onto hope

The words of Hebrews 10:23-25 are encouraging at any time, but feel particularly apt right now, and I would encourage all of us to mediate on, and take them to heart.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

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Building for the Future: an UPDATE

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Dear Winchester Vineyard friends,

A massive thank you!

It has been about month since our giving day on 9 October and we wanted to say an enormous THANK YOU to everyone who responded to give with direct cash or by pledging money in lump sums or as a standing order over the next few years.

Thank you for investing in this important vision. With this money we will be able to significantly improve the welcome we can give to guests and regulars as well as the spaces available for children, youth and compassion ministry as the church grows.

What happens next?

With the money given or pledged we are hoping to be able to start work on Phase One of the project in the New Year. This will focus on creating a new front entrance for the church, improving the flow into and around the building, and making improvements to the first floor spaces. We are currently in the process of finalising exactly what works we are able to do, obtaining quotes for different parts and planning the best way forward. As you can imagine, there’s still a good deal of work to do behind the scenes and we will keep you updated regularly.

Following through

If you were someone who pledged to give money to the project, please do make sure you follow through on that pledge when the time is right. Whether you’re giving a one-off gift or setting up a standing order, you will need to fill in a ‘building for the future’ giving form (available from the information area next to the connect desk) to make sure the standing order goes to the correct account. Please put these forms along with any cash or cheques in an envelope clearly marked ‘building project’ into the offering baskets, or hand in at the welcome desk on Sundays or to the office during the week. If you are able to gift aid the money, please also make sure you fill in the gift aid declaration.

If you want to catch up with any aspect of the building project, you can find all the information, including the Sunday talks at this webpage www.winvin.org.uk/buildingforthefuture.

Finally, please continue to pray for the project; for those who are making decisions about design and building priorities, for God’s favour on the team and for the continued release of resources at this key moment in our history.  We know that all of this is no problem for our generous & resourceful Heavenly Father.

Thank you again for being part of an incredible church that brings hope and life to people and communities.

With every blessing,

Nigel & Jo Hemming, Senior Pastors

Would God vote IN or OUT?

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How would God vote?  It’s a tricky question!  Certainly not one I can claim to know the answer to!

Actually I haven’t met many people who are certain how they’re going to vote in the forthcoming EU referendum – or at any rate, who are prepared to admit to it!

Much of what the media is putting out hasn’t helped me either.  I find most of news coverage of the politicians bewildering, and much of the tone on Facebook posts also puts me off.  There’s no obvious bible answer, although I have read a few things that I’ve found incredibly helpful.

If, like me, you’re looking for help in thinking this through clearly and from a biblical perspective, here are links to some accessible resources you might want to follow up:-

1. PETE GREIG (24/7prayer) 

Pete summed things up brilliantly for me on a recent Facebook post:

“I wish that preachers and pastors like me would stop claiming to have divine revelation on God’s opinion….. the pastor’s job in any civilised democracy is to encourage a thoughtful, prayerful, political engagement by outlining the pertinent questions biblically without answering them in any publicly partisan way”

For me the key (biblical) questions in this referendum are these (and I am grateful to Dave Landrum for his advice on this):

1. Identity. Am I British, European or both?

2. Democracy. Will our governance be healthiest in Europe or out?

3. Economy. What will bring greatest prosperity to us and to our neighbours?

4. Morality. Since God blesses nations in order to make them a blessing to others, how can we become most merciful and generous?”

These are really helpful questions to think and pray over and you can read the whole post for yourself here:  https://www.facebook.com/pete.greig.1/posts/10207952699950099

2. CARE

Another great place to look for concise, helpful & balanced information is the CARE website.  Their resource page includes two christian MP’s putting the case for either side of the debate. http://www.care.org.uk/eureferendum

3. MARTIN LEWIS (Money Saving Expert) 

When it comes to it, almost everyone is admits that it’s impossible to know for sure what will happen if we leave or stay!  In this article and short video, journalist Martin Lewis – one of the most ‘trusted’ people in the UK clearly explains how this decision is mainly about managing risk.                                       http://blog.moneysavingexpert.com/2016/06/05/how-to-vote-in-the-eu-referendum/

4. J JOHN

I’ve read some views from Christians which are quite long winded and a bit ‘out there’, but this article from highly respected author & speaker J John is concise and clear. While not quite advocating a position, he certainly highlights the issues. http://www.canonjjohn.com/blog/2016/06/151/europe-leave-or-remain-

5. EVANGELICAL ALLIANCE 

This is another very helpful site to help christians engage with the debate: http://www.eauk.org/current-affairs/politics/eu/index.cfm?page_no=1#articles

None of the above makes a strong public argument either way although Martin Lewis seems to be favouring ‘in’ and J John seems to be hinting at ‘out’.  These two further articles are more in depth & stronger in their opinion, but from my perspective still well argued and helpful:-

6. GORDON BROWN – Lead not Leave

The former chancellor & Prime Minister makes a passionate case for staying in on leadership grounds in this video & article.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WLgwtfWYdTs

http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2016/06/leading-not-leaving-gordon-brown-makes-positive-case-europe

7. PETER HORROBIN

Finally, Peter, leader of Ellel Ministries and makes an interesting case for coming out on spiritual grounds.  http://blog.ellel.org/2016/03/24/in-or-out/

I hope these few links are helpful – they’re all simply articles that have come my way over the past few weeks which I have found accessible and clear.

I would encourage everyone to engage with this debate, and to be prayerful about how to vote, and finish with two quotes from Jim Memory, a Lecturer in European Mission:-

“However you decide to vote on 23 June, please don’t make your decision about the EU referendum on economic grounds alone: “will I be better off if we leave or remain?” To do so is to ‘buy into’ the spirit of our age which puts economic self-interest above all other considerations. That is a travesty of the gospel of grace and the primary ethics of the kingdom: love for God and love for our neighbour.

“Whether you vote to leave or remain in the EU on 23 June we will still be part of Europe.  Jesus said: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) For us in Britain, continental Europe is our Samaria.  In or out, let nothing deter us from sharing the hope of Jesus Christ with today’s Europeans.

And above all, in all the debates around sovereignty, let us demonstrate in word and deed that Jesus Christ and his kingdom is the story that we live by.”

(Jim’s full article is here: http://www.eauk.org/current-affairs/politics/eu/a-christian-mission-perspective-on-the-eu-referendum.cfm)

Easter Reality…

 

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It can be easy to miss the point of Easter…

Like Christmas, it’s a story that can be so familiar that we gloss over the details and miss the reality.

The death of Jesus on the cross was brutal & unjust, and yet, for so many, it just seems so far removed from their everyday reality…

How could God understand what I’m going through?

How could anyone?

For those who have just lost loved ones in a terrorist attack, it must be particularly tough…

That’s why I love this article by Shane Claiborne.  Shane leads a Christian Community called ‘The Simple Way’ in Philadelphia and in this piece he describes an amazing Good Friday service they held outside a gun shop.

Check it out:  http://www.redletterchristians.org/holy-week-in-an-unholy-world/

GOD UNDERSTANDS OUR PAIN…

AND IT ISN’T THE FINAL WORD…

DEATH IS DEFEATED & JESUS IS RISEN…

Let’s remember, and give thanks, and then celebrate…

Happy Easter!

 

 

Where it all began..

Recently I had the incredible opportunity to visit the country of Israel.  People go there for a range of cultural and spiritual reasons, but my main aim was to get a feel for the geography and history of a place I have been reading about all my life – the land where Jesus lived and indeed where much of the bible narrative takes place.

Though rich with descriptions of encounters with God, biblical culture can feel so far removed from our modern western mindset, that it can be a real challenge to understand the bible’s original context – let alone translating and learning from it.  Having studied it in some detail, the next step was to go and enhance my learning by physically be in the place where it actually happened – and what an experience it proved to be!

Our tour took in many of the well known sites both the Old & New Testament, and our guides made sure we fully understood the significance of each place.  We explored the rich spiritual heritage of the land, stood in the places where biblical history was made, and read the familiar stories with completely fresh eyes – often responding with worship, prayer or silent reflection.   Our guides also helped us understand the intricacies of everyday life in Israel today as we prayed for the peace of Jerusalem and the country at large.

There were many highlights – including an early morning worship cruise on the Lake Galilee, reflecting on the tragedy of suicide up Mount Masada, sharing communion at the Garden Tomb, visiting the Holocaust Museum, and praying at the Western Wall. I was grateful for all these and many more experiences which I know will stay with me for many years.  We were treated to an inspiring and humbling talk from Canon Andrew White – the former Vicar of Baghdad, who has led the way in reconciliation all around the region.

The most moving aspect for me, however, was simply the reality of being in the first recorded places where humans encountered God – where heaven came close to earth, and from where stories of the radical and the supernatural have lasted well over two millennia and travelled across the globe. As someone who has loved God all my life, it was a thrill to be in the places he first touched our planet.

The celts described thin places as “those rare locales where the distance between heaven and Earth collapses”.  There are many such locations recorded around the world, but surely Israel has to be the first – the one where it all began.  That fact alone requires that  no matter what else we believe, we must continue to pray for a lasting peace, and for God’s sovereign purposes for such a precious place and people to be fulfilled.