Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Life giving water - wells and cafes

It’s summer time! As I write this we’ve been experiencing a heat wave, making us all throw open the windows, and dive for ice creams and cold drinks! 
In biblical times you couldn’t turn on a tap to get water – most people had to go out to the local well to collect water for the day in stone jars – as still happens in many African countries today. Because of this, each village’s well became a natural meeting point – a place where people would come and be refreshed from the water there, but also socialise and chat with others from their village. It was a place that travellers would naturally come to on their way to different places, and so it was a place where news and ideas could be passed on by them, and news received, to be taken on to other villages.
We often read about characters from the Old Testament going to wells, meeting people there – usually the people God wanted them to meet. Some even found their future wives or husbands there! Jesus too met people at wells, notably the Samaritan woman from John Chapter 4, whose story of finding ‘life-giving’ water through her encounter with Jesus is part of the inspiration for our Church Vision of ‘Offering living water’. 
I’ve recently been reading a book by Mark Batterson called ‘The Circle Maker’. It’s the story of a  Church in the USA, which, through many years of faithful prayer, built a thriving ministry in a busy part of the city. Mark argues that the modern equivalent of the well of Biblical times is the coffee shop! It’s a place where people will naturally gather to be refreshed, and to socialise – to meet with others and hear and pass on news and ideas. So as well as finding space to meet on Sunday, their Church built a coffee bar which became a cornerstone of the Church’s ministry in that city.

This is the hope for our coffee lounge in the new ‘Gateway’, that it will become a place where local people can gather, be refreshed and socialise. A place where we may meet the people that God wants us to meet. A place where good news can be passed on.  It’s only a part of the Gateway proposal, which we are hoping will be ready for Trustees to approve in September for the whole Church to see at the Autumn meeting. But our hope is that, like the Church in America, the coffee bar could be a big help to us in connecting with our local community and in ‘Offering Living Water’ to local people, as our vision says. 
From St Luke’s House July 2017
As I write this, we are expecting the imminent arrival, God willing, of our second grandchild. We’ll be praying for a safe delivery, and hoping to ‘hot-foot’ it down to London when we get the good news that the baby has been born.  My grandparents died before I was born – I never had the chance to know them, and so I thank God so much that I am able to know my grandchildren and hopefully be a part of their lives.
Have you ever been waiting in anticipation of some good news? With all that is currently taking place in the world we are in need of good news, whether that’s in our families if we have one, in our country or from further afield.
As we were clearing out the Church office the other week, I came across an old edition of the Bible which said ‘Good News for Modern Man’ on the cover. It was one of the first editions of the ‘Good News’ translation of the Bible when that came out in 1966 giving an easy to read translation for ordinary people to read for themselves – if you’re old enough you might remember them. We believe that the Bible really is good news for humankind (to use a more modern politically correct phrase!) and these small easy to read editions helped people to hear that good news for themselves. It is good news that the Father sent Jesus into our world so that we could know God again. It’s good news that Jesus took on himself the punishment for all our wrongdoings, so that we can be free of their consequences. It’s good news that Jesus overcame death and made it possible for us to have eternal life too. It’s good news too that he sends his Holy Spirit to guide us and help us to live life God’s way. It’s good news that we can call God Father and that he loves and accepts each one of us, not because we deserve it, but because he just does. 

Too often we take the good news of the Bible too much for granted, and we forget how fortunate we are that in all of these most important things Jesus has done all that is needed for us, even if we didn’t deserve it. We tend to let the little things get us down and lose sight of the big picture from God’s perspective. God really is on our side – he really does care for each and every one of us, and nothing can stop that. It really is good news!  

Sunday, 28 May 2017

From St Luke’s House Magazine article October 2016

Bonjour tout-le-monde!

I have just returned from a wonderful wedding in France! It was a privilege to be a part of this special day for our friends, and it was fascinating to see the different customs the French have. For instance, each car, as it arrived at the town hall, had to blow its horn long and loud, and then after the ceremony, drive a roundabout route to the reception in convoy, again blowing its horn!

The wedding reception was less formal than here, with no speeches, but with much singing. We sang a ‘Bon Appetit’ song, plus we serenaded the cheese course as it arrived! Tables of guests took it in turn to sing a French song, and then, as honoured visitors from the UK, Mandy and I were asked to sing a medley of Beatles songs, accompanied by a musician but without any words in front of us! The French obviously believe that all we English know the Beatles songs off by heart! But actually I found, once the music started, the words of the songs did just seem to come and I think we got away with it!

Isn’t this often the way with songs and hymns and carols, that we can remember their words for years and years when we have long forgotten other things? Somehow our brains seem to be ‘wired’ in a way that helps us to remember words set to music. John and Charles Wesley knew this, and made use of it to good effect in their writing of the hymns that we know and love so well. They used them to explain things about God in a way which would take root in our minds and be a foundation stone of our Christian belief for the rest of our lives.

Some hymns have a special meaning for us at different times in our lives, perhaps when they remind us of truths about God which we needed to hold on to, or when their message seems to fit our situation perfectly. On 16th October we will be holding another of our popular ‘Songs of Praise’ services at 11:30, so if you have a hymn or a song which has a special meaning for you, please send me a note about it and why it is important to you, and I’ll try to include it in that service.
Please do come along to the service and get a ticket for the meal afterwards - bring a friend if you can! It will be a great time to enjoy and to be reminded that God is with us through all the circumstances of our lives.

From St Luke’s House Magazine article September 2016

Recently I travelled to Canterbury for our son Jonathan’s graduation. It was a grand affair which took place in the Cathedral. All the students were dressed up in robes and mortar boards, and the University staff were in their finest for the occasion. I think the person reading out the names of all the graduates must have practiced hard at their pronunciation, as some of them seemed decidedly tricky!

An honorary degree was also awarded at the ceremony to an alumnus, Iva Daadler, who gave an interesting talk following the result of the EU referendum. He described the generation which the graduates represent as one which, instead of choosing left or right wing politics, will make the choice of being ‘open’ or ‘closed’.

I’ve been reading the book of Acts where the apostles found that Holy Spirit was given by God not only to the Jewish nations, but to the Gentiles too – people from other nations apart from the Jews – people like us. That must have been quite a change of understanding for the Jews to move from thinking of themselves alone as God’s chosen people to accepting that salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit were being offered to people of all nations.

I’m glad that I don’t have to make the decisions about who should or shouldn’t be allowed residence in our country. But I guess we can all choose how we treat people of other nations who we meet. We can choose to be ‘open’ or ‘closed’ to new people. I think Jesus wants us to be open to people of other cultures and backgrounds. To learn from them and to tell them about our views and beliefs too. Differences of culture or ethnicity are not a barrier to Jesus. As Paul say in Galatians 3 In Christ ‘there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’. The good news is good news for everyone, regardless of background, and so we needn’t be afraid of trying to show and to tell that good news to people of other nations whom we meet.

Rev Chris Stebbing

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Summer Anniversary

Throughout the country, community groups, local residents and Churches are all being encouraged to have a special celebration this summer on or around 11th June. Why? Because it will be the 90th birthday of our Queen! Ninety years is something worth celebrating, and it’s a chance to recognise and give thanks for the faithful service of Queen Elizabeth and to enjoy coming together to do so.
As such, we are planning a street party on the Church grounds and Blackbrook Drive on 11th June. With scenes reminiscent of the coronation, we hope there will be fun, laughter, bunting, good music, great food, and friendly company on that day. I do hope that you will be able to come – more details will follow nearer the time, but book the date in your diary now!
At St. Luke’s we have even more cause to celebrate, as that date will also be the 50th anniversary of the founding of our Church building. Of course, the history of St Luke’s goes back longer than that to the famous ‘old hut’, but 50 years of service to the people of Lodge Moor through our current premises is another thing to celebrate. We’ll be having a display of photographs and memories from the last 50 years, and a special anniversary edition of the Church magazine. Full details of the anniversary program will be in the special magazine.
Queen Elizabeth is not just our monarch – she is also the head of the Church of England. When I was ordained I had to swear an oath of allegiance to her, which I was very happy to do. The Queen has a strong Christian faith, and in recent years she has spoken about it more and more openly in her Christmas speeches to the nation. In fact, a book has been written about the faith of our Queen and we hope to have copies available to give away to folk who come to the street party on the day.
I do hope that you will be able to come to the party, and if you would be able to help out in any way, perhaps with setting up tables and chairs or helping clear away at the end, then do let our Church office know. Please pray for good weather, and that it will be a great fun time that all who come will enjoy.

If I don’t see you in person, may God bless you and fill you with the joy of the resurrection this Easter time. 

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Gateway for St Luke's

‘These are the kind of problems we like to have’ is almost becoming my ‘stock phrase’ these days! Whether it’s running out of chairs at Remembrance Sunday, or needing more volunteers for the coffee rota because so many people are coming to services, or having to hold outreach events in Church because the Hall just isn’t big enough, these are all signs of a healthy, growing Church. The prophesy which Capt Tim Smith, our Church Army Mission partner, had for us a year ago, that ‘You who have been faithful with a few things will be trusted with many things’ seems to be coming true. We give glory to God for all that he is doing both in and through us, his Church. We’re now at the point where we need to think and pray about whether God wants this growth to continue, and if so, how we can work with God in his mission to accommodate it.

At the Autumn Church meeting I outlined how our Architect believes it is feasible to extend our premises. Now we are asking people to pray and listen to God about our future mission and how that can best be carried forward. We need to meet the current needs of our groups, many of which are bursting at the seams, and also think how we can facilitate further growth, both in mid-week groups and Sunday worship. Please do pray about this – there are pointers for prayer in this magazine – and let your Trustees know what you think God is showing us.

At a recent meeting of all the different groups that make use of our premises, one group leader who doesn’t come to Church but who lives nearby said something which made me think. She said a number of people had remarked to her that, in recent times, the things which our Church is doing have made Lodge Moor start to feel like a village. What did she mean? In a village, there is often a sense of shared identity – a sense of community – where people socialise with and relate to others from their own local area, which can be lacking in the suburbs of a city where people travel to the city centre for recreation and friendship. If people are finding the events that we put on, and the invitations we offer are creating that sense of community here in Lodge Moor then that is a really good thing and we hope they model the open-ness and invitation of Jesus to all.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

How did I become a Christian?

As a child, I was dragged along to Church by my parents, but when a teenager, studying sciences, I couldn’t reconcile the things I heard in Church with my understanding of the world, and I turned completely away from God. After school I enjoyed the single life as an apprentice with Vickers Shipbuilding in Barrow, who then sent me to University to study engineering.
Whilst at Uni I had several friends who were Christians and I always thought that their belief in God was something that was nice for them, but which I couldn’t accept. Over a few weeks a series of miraculous events took place which caused me to rethink my view.
My friend Pauline attended the Baptist Church. She was going to be baptised by ‘full immersion’, going right underwater, in a service one Sunday and she asked me to go. It seemed a daft ceremony to go through to me, but because of our friendship, I turned up. I sat at the back in this strange old building, feeling uncomfortable, thinking what a fool Pauline was for doing this, wanting to leave as soon as possible. But somehow, during that service, the most incredible feeling of peace came and overwhelmed me. It was a wonderful feeling, as if all the cares and worries I had ever had were  lifted and taken off me, and I felt great! This lasted for some days, but I didn’t do anything about it, and soon life returned to normal. 
On a second occasion, a girl who I had been previously going out with invited me to a Christian talk. We had broken up because (she told me) she wanted to spend more time on her studies, and I didn’t really want to go to the talk, but she persuaded me. When we met up outside the venue, I discovered she had a new boyfriend in tow! So much for the studies! Although never a violent man, during the Christian talk which I can remember nothing of, jealousy and anger were coursing through my veins and I determined that I would beat this new boyfriend up once outside. But again, somehow, this same feeling of tremendous peace came over me as I sat there. All the jealousy and anger was washed away - I felt great and no fighting ensued.  I couldn’t explain what I had experienced, but I enjoyed the amazing feelings of wellbeing and contentedness for a few days again. 
A week or so later I was at a student party – good music, good company and quite a few drinks – it was fun! Then I was invited to go on to another party taking place just a few streets away. ‘This is the life’ I thought ‘a popular guy – going from one party to another – what could be better than this?’. En route to the second party I passed Pauline’s house, and so called in to say hello and just casually drop the fact I was on my way from one party to another. But as we were talking I thought, ‘This is great, but tomorrow everything will be just back to normal again – surely there must be more to life than this’. I expressed these thought to Pauline and she replied – ‘There is – there’s God’. Friends had said similar things to me many times before, and I had just dismissed it, but on this occasion I thought ‘Yeah – may be’, and again the same wonderful feeling of peace and wellbeing came over me. 
The next day back in my student room I thought ‘Look – I can’t explain these feelings – it’s nothing that I’m doing, it’s coming from outside of me. They always happen in some kind of religious context – I think God is trying to tell me that he’s there. This is three times it’s happened now – I can either choose to deny it and turn away from it, or I can accept that there must be something or someone there – that God really does exist’. And so, after a time of decision making, I chose to accept that God exists and I asked him to come into my life.  
That’s not the end of the story – it’s really just the start – the start of the greatest adventure of my life. I count myself fortunate that God made himself clear to me – he got beyond reasoning and argument and just showed me he was there – all I had to do was to choose whether I wanted to respond to him or not. Life with God isn’t always easy, but it is fulfilling and rewarding, and knowing you belong to God gives incredible reassurance. I hope that you may find these things too.