One of the things I love about living and working just 10 minutes away from Brighton beach is that I get to see the sea in all of its moods. There are days when I wander along the shoreline, dazzled by the sparkle of the sun’s rays on the mirror-smooth waters, and I’m overwhelmed by a sense of peace and well-being. On other days, when the waves are chewing up the pebbles and throwing them into the air and everything is greyness and noise, and I am confronted by the seemingly unstoppable force that is raw nature, it can be harder to find that sense of peace.
We often talk about ‘the storms of life’ – those difficult times when everything seems beyond our control and we feel in danger of sinking. It might be your health or the health of loved ones. It might be financial or job-related pressures, or it may be broken relationships which weigh heavily on our hearts. Anxieties and fears can bombard us from all directions in our success-driven culture.
These storms come in seasons, but whether or not you’re in one at the moment, there is a fundamental truth that will allow us to be overwhelmed by peace instead of overwhelmed by powerlessness in these times.
In her update of the great hymn ‘It Is Well’, Kristene DiMarco sings these words:
“Let go my soul and trust in Him
The waves and wind still know His name.”
You may be familiar with the story in Mark 4:35-41, where Jesus and His disciples are caught out on the lake in a terrible storm. It’s frightening enough watching the waves crash on Brighton beach from a safe distance, but actually being out on the water in such a storm is unimaginable. The danger would have been very real. Jesus, amazingly, is asleep, and the disciples wake Him up in a panic. I’m not sure what they were expecting Him to do, but it certainly wasn’t what He actually did, given their surprise.
Jesus ‘got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm’ (v39). The disciples are beside themselves, asking “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!” (v41)
Because the truth is, Jesus was in control the whole time. He wasn’t sleeping out of negligence. He was modelling something for us. He was showing us that even in those times in life when we feel overwhelmed and our natural response is to panic, we can actually find rest. We can rest because God is in control. It seems so counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Psalm 62:5-6 says “Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him. Truly He is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken.” Jesus was demonstrating that soul-level-trust in God that allows us to find rest even when the storm is raging.
And then of course, He did what we can’t do. He stood up and commanded the storm to stop, and it obeyed. No wonder the disciples were so terrified. To see that overwhelming force of nature, so far beyond our own control, and see it quieted with just a word from this man. How much more powerful, how much more terrifying, how much more beyond our own control must this man be?
Of course, ultimately they would realise that this was not just any ordinary man. This was Jesus, fully man yet fully God, eternal and glorious, and come to defeat sin and death so that we could be restored to a relationship with God.
And so whatever season you’re in, remember that simple truth. Jesus is in your boat. He is with you. He is for you. There is rest to be found even in the stormiest of places, because Jesus is in control. And guess what? The waves and wind still know His name.
You can listen to Kristene DiMarco’s ‘It Is Well’ on the fantastic ‘You Make Me Brave’ album by Bethel Music, recorded at their annual women’s conference in 2014.
I am very excited about going on study leave from 1st January until 2nd March. The purpose of this time will be to look at mercy/compassion projects and learn from them. Some of the things I will be doing include:
Looking at alternative gatherings – the church meeting ‘out’ on Sundays rather than in the building.
Looking at extended family on mission with a mercy focus.
Seeking to develop our partnerships across the city – what’s going on and how we can join the dots.
Investigating a new ‘God project’ here at Holland Road that impacts the community.
Visiting CAP Bradford to look at release groups (similar to the 12 step programme).
Everybody loves a wedding, don’t they? Seeing the groom waiting at the front of the church, watching as the bride walks down the aisle to meet him in all her finery, and the final moment when she is unveiled and everyone can see her at her most radiant. Her veil hides her beauty so that no-one can see her until the moment that it is removed. She, too, behind her veil, only sees things through a mist, but when it is lifted she can finally see clearly.
But what is a veil? It conceals things that are not to be seen, usually for a set period of time. It is not a complete blackout; it hints at what it is covering up, but does not reveal details. It can give rise to speculation as to the truth of what is there. As the morning mist veils the promise of a glorious day of sunshine so veils hide the promise of something wonderful to be revealed.
The word of God is full of references to things veiled. In the Old Testament, the Temple, the place of worship for God’s people, had an area hidden behind a curtain called the Holy of Holies. Only the priests could enter this place where the Spirit of God dwelt – and only once a year, after certain rites and sacrifices – specifically to atone for the sins of the people. This veil signified the division between man and God caused by sin and was a permanent reminder to the Jewish nation. What was behind the curtain was beautiful and holy, the heart of worship to an Almighty God.
Few people at that time had the awesome experience of seeing God face-to-face. Isaiah saw the Lord very much as John did in his revelation and was totally overcome by the sight. Daniel, too, was overwhelmed by the glory of the unveiled God. This, however, was rare. As a rule, people could only approach the living God through the priests and with sacrifices.
All this changed when Jesus came. Yet he too was veiled. “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see”, as the carol puts it, His power and majesty clothed in humanity. As He lived and and walked on the Earth, He revealed himself in all His glory only once, on the mount of transfiguration. It was as if His body could for a moment no longer conceal who He really was and His disciples were totally amazed. If you hold your hand in front of a powerful light source, your hand will glow with the hidden power and you will even see your bones. Something more powerful has revealed what was hidden.
Finally, at the crucifixion, the veil of separation in the Temple was torn apart, revealing that God was reconciled to man by the ultimate sacrifice of His Son. We can now have free access to the Almighty God. What a privilege is ours!
All the hints and references in the Old Testament to a coming king have been now partly fulfilled. It is said that in the Old Testament, the New lies hidden, while in the New, the Old is revealed. As we read the book of Revelation, we realise that there are still more things waiting to be unveiled. Be patient and wait for God’s perfect timing. Remember, He is coming again as King of kings and Lord of lords. Amen!
Every year, in the winter months, people die on the streets of our city because of a lack of shelter. Once again, this year we are partnering with thirteen other churches across Brighton & Hove to provide a Night Shelter and make a difference this winter.
So, for nine Sunday evenings, starting on Sunday 21st January, Holland Road will be hosting the Night Shelter in the church hall. The Night Shelter will provide food and accommodation for several men and women who would otherwise be sleeping rough.
As well as seeking to meet their immediate needs (i.e. shelter and food) we ensure that our friendly team are also there to listen to and chat with the guests, pray with them if they want to, and be able to direct them onto other professional services; to help get them started in the search for permanent accommodation or access professional support in the areas of tackling addictions or mental health problems.
Last year, over 20 of the 50 guests on the programme were found accommodation, some found work and one started university. Three of last year’s guests will actually be helping at this year’s night shelter!
The shelter isn’t a drop-in where anyone can turn up, rather we take referrals from professional agencies across the city who meet and assess each of the guests before sending them onto us.
Every Sunday evening the shelter runs three shifts; evening, night and morning. The evening team help set the shelter up, welcome the guests, cook and serve dinner. The night team oversee the safety and security of the guests whilst they sleep, and the morning team cook and serve breakfast, clear up and help the guests get ready for the day.
The shelter is supported entirely by the generous and sacrificial giving, both of time and money, of the churches across the city. I am hugely grateful to God, who has given us so much, for those who by giving towards this are remembering the words of Jesus when He said:
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)
There are three elements to a successful marriage. The first is love – not just an emotional feeling or a physical attraction, but a deep commitment to put the other person first.
The apostle Paul defined love beautifully in 1 Corthinians 13. Read it and you will know how God defines love. Men are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church; what woman wouldn’t respond to such a selfless expression of love?
Maturity is the second ingredient in a successful marriage. Too many couples are getting a divorce at the first sign of trouble. Maturity means to act responsibly and not take the easy way out.
Third , faith must be an ingredient for a marriage to be successful. Marriage is difficult enough these days with all of life’s pressures, but without Christ at the centre of a marriage and a home, it becomes even more difficult. It takes three to make a great marriage: you, your spouse, and Christ. I have seldom seen a marriage fail when the husband and wife pray and worship God together.
“So what are you actually doing with yourself at the moment?”
Always a well-meant question, and yet it somehow never fails to hit that most exposed spot: my self-worth. I find myself responding with a flood of uninteresting details about exactly everything I’ve been doing, hoping that at some point the person listening will think, “Ding! Busyness target mass reached. Katie Fry is a worthwhile person.”
Because I find myself in an unexpected place. Instead of coming out of university into a regular, full-time job like most of my friends did (an expectation ingrained in us by our education system), I spent two years as church intern, before joining the staff part time last August and then getting married. Through prayer and pushing on doors, I’ve realised that for a season, God doesn’t want me to go out and find another ‘regular’ job to fill the rest of the time. And so here I am: post-uni, pre-children, and yet a part-time church worker and part-time housewife!
But why is this such a difficult thing? After all, I love both roles and actually feel hugely blessed to be in this season. And if I believe it’s where God has led me, why the anxiety?
It’s because, instead of listening to God’s voice, and letting Him tell us who we are, we listen to the wrong voices. We listen to the world. We listen to our own ‘inner voices’ and let them determine our identity.
And what they tell us is that we are what we do.
Think about it. The first question asked when meeting someone new is “What do you do?” And the answer is “I am a…” We are what we do. From that, our society determines our worth, our value and our identity.
But what happens in those seasons where what we do doesn’t necessarily fit with what the world considers to be worthwhile and significant? When we’re a stay-at-home mum? Or we’re retired? Or doing voluntary or part-time work? Or being a part-time housewife at the age of 24, like me?
This is when we realise that listening to those wrong voices doesn’t get us anywhere. We can’t build an identity on what we do, because it’s just too shaky a foundation. We all go through different seasons – sometimes through choice, sometimes through circumstances outside of our control – and what happens to our identity then? Stuck in a mire of comparison, frustration, self-doubt and an increasing sense of worthlessness, we find ourselves in a full-blown identity crisis.
But what does God have to say about who I am?
What about if we take a moment to listen to that other voice I mentioned? The one that brought the stars into being and calmed the seas.
The first two chapters of the book of Ephesians in the Bible are a great place to start. They tell us that we are each individual masterpieces , hand-crafted by a master creator as an overflow of His love, for the purpose of being His beloved children (2:10). Ephesians 1:4-5 tells us that God chose us before the creation of the world to be His adopted children, holy and blameless in His sight. He knows us intimately and has purposes and plans for each of us. And in chapter 2, where we see how sin – the bad or selfish choices we make – caused our relationship with God to break down, we see that God’s love for us never falters. He paid the cost necessary to restore that relationship, through the death of His Son Jesus. And then, as we put our trust in Jesus, we are welcomed back into the family of God – our sin forgotten, our identity as God’s children fully restored. Free to live out His wonderful plans for us here on earth, and free to spend eternity with our loving Father. The significance of eternity as a child of God is just staggering.
In Christ, I am a child of God.
That doesn’t change according to which season I’m in, or how busy I am. It’s a solid, firm foundation to hold onto even when things seem uncertain. And I don’t have to do anything! I just have to be.
So I’m praying that one day, when someone asks me that question – “what are you doing?” – I’ll be able to answer, “I’m learning to be.”
A ComRes panel survey carried out in 2012 found that the majority of Christians feel there is a disassociation between the religious traditions of festivals and the way they are perceived today. Other findings show that:
90 per cent of Christians think that children today know less about the crucifixion and resurrection than those of 30 years ago.
95 per cent of Christians believe that Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion.
77 per cent of practising Christians believe Easter is a more important festival than Christmas.
63 per cent of Christians think that Easter egg hunts, egg painting and similar activities are a good way of getting children to engage with the Easter story.
Some chocolatey Easter facts
Easter chocolate sales make up 10 per cent of Britain’s annual spending on chocolate.
The Ivory Coast in West Africa is the world’s leading producer of cocoa – supplying 43 per cent.
Make Chocolate Fair estimates that there are 2 million children working on cocoa plantations in Ghana and the Ivory Coast; 500,000 of them in exploitative conditions.
Fairtrade Chocolate sales now make up almost 12 per cent of UK chocolate confectionary sales and are worth £542m.
Eggs were traditionally used in pre-Christian festivals as a symbol of new life, purity or fertility. Later customs concerning eggs were linked with Easter because the egg provided a fresh and powerful symbol of the resurrection and the transformation of death into life.
The Real Easter Egg, an Easter egg that explains the Christian meaning of Easter is on sale again for Easter 2014. In the 4 years since production started 400,000 Real Easter eggs have been sold.
Decorating and colouring Hen, Duck or Goose eggs for Easter was the custom in England during the Middle Ages. The household accounts of Edward I, for the year 1290, recorded an expenditure of eighteen pennies for four hundred and fifty eggs to be gold-leafed and coloured for Easter gifts.
Papier-mache Easter eggs started being produced in England in the 18th century. The first chocolate eggs appeared in the 19th century, with the earliest ones being completely solid.
The first chocolate Easter egg was produced in 1873 by Fry’s.
The most popular chocolate egg worldwide is Cadbury’s Creme Egg. They first went on sale in 1971. The Cadbury factory at Bourneville can make 1.5 million Creme Eggs every day, and 200 million are sold in the UK every year.
At the end of last year, I posted an article looking at the story of the wedding at Cana in John 2:1-12, and how it shows us that God is a generous God. He cares about the details of our lives, loves to celebrate what is good, and gives us more than we need, more than we expect, and more than we deserve.
But I think this story also has another message for us.
The book of John records seven of Jesus’ miracles, as well as His seven ‘I AM’ sayings – and they all point towards who Jesus was, His true identity. The writer himself says, “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31).
So how does the miracle of the wedding at Cana specifically work to ‘reveal His glory’, as it says in verse 11?
In those days, it was the job of the bridegroom and his family to provide the wine for the wedding. To run out would lead to great humiliation and dishonour for them… and of course, this is exactly what happened.
But when this is brought to Jesus’ attention, He says ‘My hour has not yet come.’ What a strange thing to say! We often interpret this as referring to His public ministry having not yet started – but that would be odd, because He then goes on to perform the miracle anyway! That interpretation leads us to a rather bizarre scenario where the Son of God is nagged into performing a miracle by His mother, and I just don’t think that was the case.
In fact, every other time Jesus talks about His ‘hour’, He means the time of His death. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prays “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you” (John 17:1). His ‘hour’ – His death – had finally come. But why is He mentioning His death here, at a wedding?
It’s because the miracle He performs here points directly to His death – to who He is and what He came to do.
At the wedding, the groom fails to provide what was needed – despite the fact that he probably had the best of intentions. In the same way, we have all failed: failed to live the right way, failed to love others, failed to love God. As Romans 3:23 says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Just like at the wedding, there is a shortfall.
But just as Jesus makes up the shortfall at the wedding by providing the wine, so He also makes up the shortfall in our lives by shedding His blood on the cross. Through this we have forgiveness of sins, and are welcomed into a loving relationship with God – welcomed to the party, as it were!
He even performed the miracle using the Jewish ceremonial jars that symbolised purification and forgiveness of sins – which is precisely what His death would bring us.
So this miracle tells us who Jesus is. He is our Saviour, and our Messiah.
Furthermore, this miracle points to another wedding, where Jesus Himself is the bridegroom and we are the bride. And that will be the ultimate celebration! And where the earthly bridegroom failed in his duty, Jesus, our bridegroom, will not. He will provide all the wine we need and more.
So how does this story tell us who Jesus is? It tells us that He is our Saviour, our Messiah, and our Bridegroom; and that no matter how well my wedding or anyone else’s wedding went, nothing will compare to the wedding feast we have to look forward to in eternity!
I’m Jonny and I have the privilege of overseeing Alpha at Holland Road.
Alpha is an opportunity for anyone to explore the Christian faith in an open, non-threatening setting over eight thought-provoking weekly sessions. It is low-key, friendly and fun, and is supported by all the main Christian denominations. It’s a great way to explore the meaning of life and also ask those questions you have always wanted to ask! What’s more, Alpha is completely free.
We meet on Monday evenings to share dinner and a talk, followed by open group discussions. It has been fantastic to see over 30 people joining us regularly on Alpha this time round. Together we looked at questions such as, ‘Who is Jesus?’, ‘Why did he die?’ and ‘What is faith and how do I have it?’.
I absolutely love Alpha, particularly meeting some really interesting people and talking about some really intriguing and important questions with them. We encourage people to engage seriously and critically with the evidence for biblical Christianity and make their own minds up about it.
Over the past couple of months it has been thrilling to see a number of people come to a place where they are convinced by the evidence and commit to placing their faith in Jesus. It’s equally a joy to keep talking to people who are still wrestling with the evidence and have further queries. I’m particularly grateful for people who ask honest and tough questions as it keeps me and my team in a place of faith that’s based on rigorous, careful thinking.
We run Alpha twice a year and it’s starting again in February 2014. You can find out more on our website, including how to register. If you’re unsure, you’re welcome to come along for one week and see what you make of it without any obligation to come back.