Be more Jesus
Reflection: Discipleship of the heart
Last week we considered the challenge to ‘Be more Jesus’. In other words, to be good disciples. Unfortunately, once we use words like ‘disciple’ and ‘discipleship’, some Christians switch off, perhaps because they think this must be about something difficult and complicated which only applies to special people. But being a disciple is in one important sense quite simple – it’s about being more like Jesus.
Having started the year with this theme, we’re going to continue with it for a few weeks, looking at different aspects of our lives and exploring how ‘being more Jesus’ affects them. This week it’s discipleship of the heart, and it’s about what motivates us to act. We’re going to draw a connection between three things: what we believe, which then shapes what our attitudes and values are, and which then flows out in our actions. For example:
I believe that the new vaccines will go a long way to halting the spread of the virus and will ultimately defeat it. Because I believe this, my attitude is one of readiness so that when the call comes I can act on the invitation and book and appointment to have the jab. Or a different and perhaps controversial example:
President Trump believes that life is all about him and his status in the world. His attitude is one of rejecting the truth and despising all those who do not promote his cause. His actions have often therefore been vindictive and destructive.
Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia (modern day Turkey) draws out these three themes. He believes that Christians live by the power of the Spirit of Christ. This shapes their attitudes and values; they are led by the Spirit. This prompts them to act in step with the Spirit for the good of others and the glory of God.
Belief: we live by the Spirit
Many of the Galatian churches were experiencing significant conflict caused by a mean-spirited group of traditionalists. Their belief was that the Good News of Jesus was to be expressed by holding fast to all the rules and regulations of their rather narrow understanding of faith. They demanded that all the male believers were to be circumcised and some went as far as insisting that people without a Jewish heritage would always be second-class Christians and must stay at the back of the queue when it comes to God’s blessings.
Paul emphasised the opposite. Belief for him is about entering into a shared experience of the risen Christ living in each believer. You can trace what that means in each chapter:
- Galatians 1 – The Gospel is not about a man-made system of religious rules, but about a God-given personal encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ who gave himself for our sins (1:3-4 & 11-12)
- Galatians 2 – This encounter with Jesus is available to all and enables us to live by faith knowing that Christ lives in us. (2:20)
- Galatians 3 – We become children of God through faith in Christ, and this makes us one regardless of our human heritage (3:26-29)
- Galatians 4 – The Holy Spirit is the one who enables this status of being one of God’s children (4:4-7)
- Galatians 5 – This gives us freedom to stand before God without fear of a burden of condemning rules, and in this freedom we are enabled to serve one another and resist the desires of the sinful nature, creating fertile ground in which the fruit of the Spirit can grow. (5:1, 13, 16 & 22)
Attitudes – we are led by the Spirit
Paul’s argument is a straightforward one. We believe that the Spirit of Christ dwells within us and gives us the ability to live for God. As he resides in us, he shapes our attitudes and values. Paul describes these as ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ in Galatians 5:22-23. Apart from the obviously positive attributes of each piece of the fruit – love, joy, peace etc, three other things catch my attention.
First, the ‘fruit’ is described as a singular attribute: ‘the fruit of the Spirit is…’, not ‘the fruits are…’. All of the nine characteristics mentioned are part of the same fruit, so for example, no Christian can choose to be joyful, but not patient, or to be good but not self-controlled.
Second, one part of the fruit flows from another; so, as we grow in love, we tend to be more joyful, and more at peace. This helps us to become more patient, and that gives us space to grow in kindness. Being kind tends to draw us into thinking and doing good things. To be consistently good requires faithfulness, gentleness with others, and the strength to curb our selfish excesses.
Third, as Paul rightly points out, there’s no law against the fruit of the Spirit. Being a disciple is not meant to be a complicated thing, it’s a living experience of goodness growing from within.
Actions – we are to keep walking in step with the Spirit (5:25)
As the Spirit grows his lifestyle within us it is as if we are being invited to a tug of war. On the one side are the desires of the sinful nature which are already destined to fail (5:24). On the other is the fruit of the Spirit. We can let ourselves be dragged into the sinful team, or we can pull along with the Spirit. Joining the Spirit’s team does not leave us in a complicated place full of destructive demands, but involves some simple actions such as those listed in 5:26-6:10.
These include ditching conceit and giving up envy, helping others to find a way back to God, sharing the burdens of others, avoiding odious comparisons with others, not becoming tired of doing good and so on. We can either run around like headless chickens, generally being destructive as we sow selfishness all around, or we can grow as love-filled vessels of the Spirit, believing in what Christ has done for us, letting his presence shape our attitudes, and acting in a consistent, in step way, to the glory of God.
In your imagination, play with that picture of keeping in step… perhaps you can recall walking hand-in-hand as a child alongside a trusted adult. Remember how you stretched your stride to try to match the adult’s. Remember how sometimes you skipped together hand in hand down a gentle slope, or how as you struggled to keep up on a hill, your older companion pulled you gently up the path.
Lord, help us to keep in step with your Spirit. To dance alongside in love and joy; to stride deliberately in the direction of kindness and goodness; to order the rhythm of each pace of our lives so that we faithfully reflect the true freedom you have given us.
This is going to be a challenging year for us as a church. Where should we start? There’s the church building – every fresh storm brings another wave of anxiety as the roof clings on by its fingertips. The vegetation in the graveyard won’t stop growing, and on top of it all, now there’s the Manse to consider as Ros begins to move out. Already there’s a damaged chimney stack to be removed and broken tiles to be repaired.
More important than the maintenance of buildings, there’s the question of ministry. Like many other church streams, we believe in every member ministry, but keeping ourselves motivated becomes harder when there is no recognised person, no Minister, to help us to focus on the direction God wants us to travel in. Then there’s our ultimate purpose – to glorify God, particularly shown by our bearing fruit in mission. There is plenty of scope for us to ‘hold out the word of life’ to the cluster of villages around (see Philippians 2:16) what with all the new houses going up and so on, and amid the pandemic it’s highly likely that many people are hungry for re-assurance and meaning in their lives.
We will make a reasonable stab at the maintenance issues. We’ve already proved that when necessary we can release the money to resource the needs, and when the restrictions will let us, we’ll pitch in to do the hands-on work that’s needed. As for ministry, we’ll all have to step up to the mark in supporting one another pastorally through whatever means we can, and prayerfully and imaginatively explore ways to be church into the future. Mission feels a bit harder – if we’re honest, for some of us the prospect of doing anything more than we do now feels overwhelming. Where do we start? Where’s the energy coming from? Where will we find the space to commit to mission when there are so many other things to do? We’re all getting older!
When Paul wrote his letter to the Philippian church his future looked very uncertain. He was in prison and execution was a real possibility. He knew that there was also an emerging threat from outside the church of state persecution. Bubbling up within the fellowship were some pretty divisive ideas which could destroy the church if left unchecked. The call to ‘shine like stars in the universe’ (2:15) must have seemed extremely hard. How could they (and we) face the challenges that are coming?
Be more Jesus! This is Paul’s word to the church. He draws on what is believed to be an early Christian hymn (2:6-11) as it centres on the person and work of Jesus. So, let’s try to do that now by asking some questions.
First, the question of maintenance… why do we have a church building, a graveyard, and a manse? Jesus didn’t have buildings to worry about! But he is described in terms of being the replacement temple, the place where people can come and meet with God. And to be that meeting place he emptied himself and became obedient even to death (2:6-8). So maybe we have somehow to let go of our buildings so that others can come closer to Jesus. To see the buildings as not just for us but for others. The graveyard of course holds a significant place in the heritage of the village. It’s not just ours, but everybody’s. As for the Manse, in the short term we will let it so that someone can have a home, but in the longer term it could become a tool by which we can enable someone to come to serve among us as a missionary pastor in the area.
Then there’s the question of ministry. What kind of ministry did Jesus exercise? The passage clearly speaks of his servanthood. Equality with God is his to keep, but he does not snatch it selfishly to himself. We’re to have the same attitude towards each other… notice the words Paul uses: united with Christ, comforted by his love, tenderness, compassion, humility, looking out for the interests of others.’ (2:1-5) If we do nothing else, let’s minister to one another with the same attitudes Jesus holds. Be more Jesus to our sisters and brothers, and those on the edges of church.
So, how did Jesus tackle the mission his Father gave him? Well, taking on human form obviously brought some limitations. He couldn’t be everywhere at once, but he did what he could, using his humanity to the full. So, he walked from village to village, stopping to talk to people on the way, and where appropriate, touching them with life-giving power. He concentrated on a bubble of people around him and by his lifestyle and speech introduced them to his own experience of the Kingdom of God. He accepted invitations to meals and parties. When he was tired, he went to sleep. He laughed, he cried, got hungry, got angry, mixed with the crowds, went to worship, and spent time alone talking with his Father. When the time was right, he turned to face death in humble obedience to his Father’s will and somehow through it all, God was making sure that ‘every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that he is Lord’. (2:10-11).
We can only do what we can, but we do have a responsibility to do what we can. This is going to be a challenging year, but here’s the call and the invitation, to ‘be more Jesus’.
Extracts from the Annual Reports for 2019
Every year we have an Annual Church Members’ Meeting when reports of the various activities of the church are received. Words on a page can’t convey adequately the strength of our fellowship together, but they do give some clues as to what matters to us. What follows are some highlights from the reports.
Each Tuesday morning up to ten of us meet for half an hour of guided prayer led by different individuals, using a Northumbrian style of worship. The invitation is given by social media, the website and other means to anyone who wishes to send prayer requests and although we have received very few requests from outside the group, we believe that it is a service that we should continue to offer to others.
Following prayer, we share refreshments and conversation together, and some take the opportunity to do craft work, play dominoes or tackle small jobs around the church buildings. Others who were not able to join us for prayer sometimes join us for this time. Every third Tuesday in the month we stay for a soup and pudding lunch. No charge is made for In Touch, but voluntary donations more than cover the cost. For the last two years this has enabled us to lay on a Christmas lunch and contribute to the general funds of the church.
Apart from Sunday morning worship, In Touch is probably the most consistent and regular time we meet as a church community and therefore it seems important to think about how we can develop it further as a bridge so that those on the fringe of the church or living close to our building can be encouraged to find support, request prayer and become more involved in the fellowship.
We meet for Scrabble on the 3rd Thursday of each month and it is enjoyed by those who come. Our numbers have fluctuated between 8 and 3 this year. We need to think whether these numbers are viable especially during winter months and we do need to be more proactive in inviting others to come along.
Church Secretary’s report
I would firstly like to say thank you to everyone who has supported me throughout the year.
The first service of the year was our Covenant service led by our minister Rosalyn Wilkes and Ros has led most of our regular Sunday gatherings. We’re also grateful for visiting preachers. A special thank you goes to Rosemary Knowles for arranging the flowers each week in the church. We would also like to thank Pauline Johnson and Brian Nicholls for playing the piano.
Church prayer breakfasts are held on the first Saturday of each month. We continue with our ‘bring and share’ lunch on the first Sunday of each month. Deacons meetings and Church Members meetings are held regularly. We were able to participate in the Swanwick Well Dressing event, and in the village Remembrance Day service.
We would like to say a big thank you to the church maintenance team for keeping on top of work and thanks to the generosity of members and grant giving bodies we’ve been able to replace rotten windows, repair the office, repaint the schoolroom and refurbish the Manse.
We had a great away day thanks to the generous hospitality of our friends at Milford Baptist Church and this has encouraged and given us strength to keep moving forward.
We have had both happy and sad occasions during December. We mourned the loss of a wonderful lady, Margaret Miles who will always be remembered for her strong faith as well as for her jam making and cakes and offering an open house, giving great support to the church and never seeking praise. On a happier note Olivia Marjorie Rose Hardstaff came into the world on Boxing day. She has already attended church with her Mum, Dad and brother, and we look forward to her dedication in the next few months.
The Church remains committed to supporting the East Midland Baptist Association, the Baptist Union and BMS World Mission. We have supported many other causes including Derby City Mission and Operation Agri at Harvest and we had a special Toy service where toys were donated to Derby City Mission. Derby City Mission make it possible for deprived families to give their children a Christmas present. We also supported the Shoe Box appeal together with Churches Together in Swanwick, the Leprosy Mission and Christian Aid.
We had a great evening in December when the Alfreton Male Voice Choir came to join us for a sing along concert with Christmas carols. It was attended well and people from the community and other churches joined us.
We look forward to what 2020 will bring.
LEPROSY MISSION REPORT
In 2019 individual contributions in aid of the Leprosy Mission raised £55.56. Further funds were also raised by our fellowship purchasing goods from the Leprosy Mission Catalogue organised by Alison Briddon.
BMS BIRTHDAY SCHEME
The total amount raised through the Birthday Scheme in 2019 was £146 (This includes £20 sent to BMS earlier in the year). On behalf of BMS, thanks to every member for contributing towards the provision of medical care, clean water to drink, etc. Val Cundey
Church Treasurer’s Report
2019 has seen a demanding year for our finances. The year ended with an overall SURPLUS of £5,413 instead of the £4,431 DEFICIT indicated in the revised budget. However, this SURPLUS has only occurred due to the donations and pledges arising from our Gift Day, a generous grant from the EMBA and gift aid claim submissions.
This meant that income was a lot more than anticipated, with offerings and donations totalling £46541 as against the revised 2019 budget projection of £27593.
Income tax refunds on gift aid at £9104 were higher than the 2019 forecast total of £8070, partly due to the claims being made from 2018 in addition to 2019 and from the gift aided Gift Day Donations. Rental income of £1490 came from the letting of the Manse for a sort period and from schoolroom hire.
Ministry costs were £23522, and we made donations to Home Mission and BMS in 2019 of nearly £2000.
Upkeep costs in 2019 for the Church premises totalled £12088, which was a lot higher than we estimated. This was due to extra fabric repairs and replacements in addition to the usual upkeep costs.
The Gift Day fund meant that we were able to repay in full the EMBA 10-year loan in 2019. However, we had a large solicitor’s bill to pay regarding the Manse. Although the SURPLUS indicated in the audited accounts for2019 appears to be a satisfactory result, if it hadn’t been for the generous amount amassed from the Gift Day, there would more than likely have been a large DEFICIT. Chris Fissenden.
Our thanks go to Chris for her excellent and careful work as Treasurer!
Another year has swept by. It’s the year when we finally regained the Manse following several years of waiting. It wasn’t an easy journey to that point, involving anguish and much energy and expense but perseverance won the day. Since then many people within the fellowship have been involved in cleaning & decorating as well as tidying the garden. Thank you to all of you who have been involved. This made it possible for me to move into the Manse and make the village my home.
The year, however, ended with the death of Margaret Miles, who had served the church in remarkable ways over many decades. Margaret had played such an integral role until recent years when she moved into a care home and was unable to join us on Sundays. We miss her but continue to celebrate her legacy. This year also saw the death of Ray Smith, with his funeral being held at the Chapel. But on a happier note we celebrated the birth of a daughter for Emily & Adam & a baby sister for Martyn. We look forward to celebrating with them as a family at her Dedication soon.
The Deacons have worked hard once again this year with all the extra work that the Manse seemed to generate. We say a big thank you to them for the way they serve the church so willingly.
Going forward into this year we have started to explore ways within Churches Together that we can act together in bringing Hope into people’s life during this year of HOPE. Some ideas have already been suggested and there seems to be a willingness to make care for the environment a focus for these initiatives.
We once again had a Christmas Dinner for the fellowship thanks to Elsie and her team of helpers.
With the other churches in the village we have had a busy year under the umbrella of Churches Together in Swanwick. The year started with the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. During the year there was the usual variety of events including SCT Messy Easter, Shoeboxes, Beer & Carols & Thy Kingdom Come.
We look ahead to 2020 with expectation, trusting that God is at work in our fellowship and within the community of Swanwick that we serve. Ros Wilkes.
Sometimes life doesn't run smoothly. We have our plans and expectations which have a habit of turning pear shaped. The end of January certainly turned out like that for me!
I took Mum for an appointment with her consultant only to be told that the patient had cancelled the appointment, which was news to the two of us. We now have an appointment for February and I shall be checking a few days before that she is still on the list to be seen.
My parents' heating system decided to misbehave.
My telephone at the Manse had a problem on the line which meant that no calls could be made or received. After several days an engineer came to renew the connection on the pole outside. Then my internet connection was lost so no emails or browsing on my computer or tablet.
Then there was the morning spent shivering while a smart meter was fitted.
It was not the best of weeks...
But... in the middle of all this I was thinking once again about HOPE. As you may know, we are supporting the HOPE2020 initiative as part of Churches Together. I know that some of you have also been thinking about it and have started to make suggestions regarding how we can bring HOPE to the village. And this excites me. The thought that we can help to make a difference in our own neighbourhood is exciting.
As part of the initiative we are joining in the commitment to pray on the 20th of each month at twenty past eight in tbe evening (20.20) for 20 minutes. At the launch of the initiative we were reminded of the passage in Scripture: Pray that God will give many opportunities to speak about Christ (Colossians 4:3)
Having prayed this, I shouldn't have been surprised that in the middle of a frustrating week, God did just that. One of the engineers who came to the Manse wanted to know if I was a Christian and a 'Reverend'. This was before he started work. He then went on to say that I was the second Reverend he'd been sent to and he thought maybe God was chasing him. He was the one steering the conversation through topics including repentance... apparently the list of things he would need to repent of would be very long! His parting words as he left were that if he gets sent to a third Reverend he will have to do something about it!
This one encounter made up for all the difficulties the week brought. It also reminded me of the fact that God wants to answer our prayers and wants to give us opportunities to share his love and good news with those we meet. So often he opens opportunities which we just don't recognise or are too scared to seize in case we get it wrong. We need to be oipen to the Holy Spirit prompting us and trust that he will give us words to say and actions to take and the power to step out with him. He's not calling us to preach from a soapbox on The Green but to be willing to respond to his prompting with simple, quiet words and small loving actions. He wants us to make a difference in the lives of people we encounter. He may surprise us with the opportunities he gives to us. He wants to do more than we can hope for or imagine.
HAPPY NEW YEAR?
Each year I take the New Year period as a time for reflection. I look back over the prevjous year with all of its events. I remember the times of joy as well as the challenging, sad or discouraging times. I consider the lessons I've learned and hope to see how I have changed during the year, hopefully for the positive rather than the negative! I also extend this to include us as a church.
Out of this time of reflection, I've been encouraged. During this last year we have struggled, but I think we are in good heart. We have pulled together, worked together and supported each other. The year ended with both celebration and sadness. We feel grief due to the death of Margaret who has been such a cornerstone of the church over many decades. But we are also feeling incredible joy at the birth of Olivia to Emily and Adam.
My reflection also looks forward into the year we are entering and in this case, a new decade. I bring my hopes and fears before God. On a personal note there are a number of imminent fears, but more hopes than fears. On a church note similarly there are fears regarding our small number, our finances and the demands of an older building. These fears keep me grounded in reality and help to focus my prayers. Being an optimist by nature, the fears are overridden by my hopes, my hopes that this will be the year when God breaks into people's lives and takes us by surprise once again.
It is one thing to look back on the past and another to look forward, but it is also important to live in the present, and to allow the highs and lows to speak into the present, having learned the lessons from them, but not being weighed down by them.
As part of my reflections I went for an amble around the lakes which form part of the lower estate at Hardwick Hall. i took my camera with me so progress was very slow, but this gave me plenty of time to ponder. There were two themes that became evident. One was to do with trees. I kept noticing the shapes that they formed with their branches, something you only notice in windter when there are no leaves hiding them. Each tree was different. Some of them had been pruned or had become misshapen by difficult conditions. Others had died completely. Some of them had nooks and crannies where animals could hide or build their nests. Some were leaning at odd angles. But I kept reminding myself that the sap would start rising in most of them, and the leaves, flowers and fruit would follow. I was reminded that each of us is unique and shaped by our experiences. We will grow in different ways but we will hopefully mature, flower and bear fruit.
The other theme was that of streams. In places streams fed into the lakes, and in other places streams flowed out from them. The lakes were not stagnant, but life-giving. It was breezy and there were ripples on the surface. My thoughts were drawn to the Holy Spirit who is described both as wind and as a stream or river. It was good to have a timely reminder of the difference the Holy Spirit makes and our need for him in our lives - both flowing in to empower us but also flowing out in our actions and character.
All this was brought together for me in the words of Psalm 1:
Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and nigth. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither - whatever they do prospers.
May this year be blessed by God for each one of us and together as a fellowshio.