Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Franciscan Christmas Blessing

I think this is a wonderful Christmas blessing

May God bless you with discomfort...
at easy answers, hard hearts,
half-truths, and superficial relationships.
May God bless you so that you may live
from deep within your heart
where God's Spirit dwells.

May God bless you with anger...
at injustice, oppression,
and exploitation of people.
May God bless you so that you may
work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears...
to shed for those who suffer from pain,
rejection, starvation and war.
May God bless you so that you
may reach out your hand
to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with
enough foolishness
to believe that you can make a difference
in this world, in your neighborhood,
so that you will courageously try
what you don't think you can do, but,
in Jesus Christ you'll have all the strength necessary.

May God bless you to fearlessly
speak out about injustice,
unjust laws, corrupt politicians,
unjust and cruel treatment of prisoners,
and senseless wars,
genocides, starvations, and poverty that is so pervasive.

May God bless you that you remember
we are all called
to continue God's redemptive work
of love and healing
in God's place, in and through God's name,
in God's Spirit, continually creating
and breathing new life and grace
into everything and everyone we touch.

Source: "Troubadour: A Missionary Magazine," published by the Franciscan Missionary Society, Liverpool, UK: Spring 2005.  Posted on the Canadian Foodgrains Bank website.  Visit that site for other good Advent and Christmas worship resources.  

Monday, 22 December 2014

The Greatest Gift

I remember waiting for Father Christmas to arrive when I was little, listening so hard I could hear the sleigh bells. How vivid are your Christmas memories? The sense of expectation and excitement lessened as I lost the wonder of innocent simplicity and belief in Santa. I remember my sister telling me there was no such person and I refused to believe her, knowing I would have to ‘grow-up’!

But regret for lost memories made me think.

I am a child of God. The real Christmas story is no made-up fable.  Jesus came; born into the world to take the weight of my sin upon Himself on the Cross and so restore my relationship with God our Father. How amazing is that!

The wonder and excitement of childhood Christmas’s can only be a pale imitation of the real joy of walking with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The thrill of those lumpy parcels under the Christmas tree can’t be compared to the Gift that my Father has given me in Jesus, my Companion, Best Friend, Saviour and Lord.

Instead of sadly looking back at lost childhood Christmas’s, I can look forward with confidence, knowing that whatever the future holds, I am loved unconditionally by One who longs for us to trust Him and give our lives into His safekeeping.

God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. Anyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life. John 3 v 16

The greatest Gift of all is waiting for each of us this Christmas – Jesus. Will you join me here at St Martin’s in discovering Him, in the year ahead?

Happy CHRISTmas,
Love Jane W

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Going Hungry This Christmas

Christmas for many is a time of excess, for example did you know that most people gain around 5lbs over Christmas, having consumed 6,000 calories on Christmas Day alone? But whilst many will be gorging themselves on food and drink, there will be many in our community who will be going hungry this Christmas.

The Archbishop of Canterbury revealed this week how he was left more shocked by the plight of Britain’s hunger-striken poor than by suffering in African refugee camps, not because the suffering is worse, but because it was so unexpected. Britain is one of the world’s wealthiest countries in the world, yet 4.7 million people are facing food poverty. Here in Walsall there are at least five food banks, and according to The Trussell Trust three new food banks are opening every week across the country.

Redundancy, illness, low income, benefit delay, domestic violence, debt, family breakdown, financial pressures caused by rising food and fuel prices are just some of the many reasons why people are having to rely on food banks. People are going to food banks not out of choice, but out of need. Of the 913,138 people who were given emergency food and support between 2013-14, 333,205 were children. Tragically the need is only going to increase, as the financial challenges facing the country deepen.

At Christmas we recall how Jesus was born in poor and humble circumstances, and how Mary and Joseph were dependent upon the support that others gave them. We have a moral duty to support the hunger striken-poor.

There are a number of practical things you can do. You can donate food to one of the food banks here in Walsall – for details about your nearest food bank visit www.blackcountryfoodbank.org.uk or phone 01384 671250, or alternatively bring donations of food to the church for The Glebe Centre, which supports the homeless in Walsall. You can also support the work of The Big Feed, held at Midland Road Baptist Church in Walsall, which feeds up to 100 people every Sunday. They require donations of food, people to help cook meals at home (which are then frozen & collected during the week), or volunteering to go down to Midland Road Church to talk to the guests (contact Mandi on 01922 643946 for more information).

Despite the huge number of people facing food poverty, we can do something about it, and in serving others, we serve Christ.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me… whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:35-36, 40               

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

The Christmas Truce December 24 1914 & the coming of Jesus

During 2014, there have been a series of events to commemorate the centenary of the First World War.

One of the most moving and powerful memorials was the Blood Swept Lands and Sea of Red installation at the Tower of London, where 888,246 poppies filled the moat, representing every single British and Colonial military fatality during the war.

On the 12th December Prince William unveiled another memorial to the First World War, this time a permanent one at the National Memorial Arboretum, to commemorate one of the most extraordinary events of the First World War, an event which took place on Christmas Eve 1914.  The war had been raging for 5 months, and had already claimed 1 million lives, but on Christmas Eve 1914 something extraordinary happened. 

Soldiers wrote letters home, describing what happening during that Christmas truce. 
On the 31st December 1914, the Evening Mail in Newcastle printed this letter. 

'On Christmas Day one of the Germans came out of the trenches and held his hands up.  Our fellows immediately got out of theirs, and we met in the middle, and for the rest of the day we fraternised, exchanging food, cigarettes and souvenirs.  The Germans gave us some of their sausages, and we gave them some of our stuff.  The Scotsmen started the bagpipes and we had a rate old jollification, which included football in which the Germans took part.  The Germans expressed themselves as being tired of the war and wished it was over.  They greatly admired our equipment and wanted to exchange jack knives and other articles.  Next day we got an order that all communication and friendly intercourse with the enemy must cease but we did not fire all that day, and the Germans did not fire at us.’
Where the truce took place, it lasted on average two or three days, with some parts of the front seeing the truce extended to New Year’s Day.  There is even some evidence to suggest that a truce of sorts existed until March.

Not everyone experienced the truce.  It wasn’t universal, fighting continued along parts of the Western Front, but for those who did witness it, it must have been an extraordinary and unforgettable experience.  The Christmas truce was a breakthrough of peace.  For a short while there was a glimmer of hope that the fighting could end.

The birth of Jesus is also a story about how peace managed to breakthrough into the world. 
Jesus was of course no ordinary baby, he is Immanuel, God with Us.  The prophet Isaiah foretelling of the birth of Jesus said that “he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Is. 9:6).  And when the angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds they sang peace on earth.” (Lk 2:14) 

The message of Christmas is that true peace can only be found in Jesus, the Prince of Peace.  The peace that Jesus brings is not just for a moment, not even for a day, it is for a lifetime. 

The baby born on that silent night, in Bethlehem so long ago, went on to model a life of love and forgiveness, through his actions and his teachings, and through his death and resurrection he reconciled us to God. 

Through Jesus we can experience:
  • Peace with God (spiritual)"Now that we have been put right with God through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" ’ (Romans 5:1) 
  • The peace of God (emotional) "Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God's peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7 NLT).
  • Peace with each other (relational) "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God" (Matthew 5:9 KJV).

This peace Jesus offers us comes with the knowledge and understanding that
  • we’re loved unconditionally
  • we’re forgiven
  • that Jesus is with us, no matter what difficulties or challenges we may face in life
  • that our eternal future is secure, when we give our lives to Jesus

The peace brought by the 1914 Christmas truce did not last, but the peace that God sent to us in Jesus endures.

The same Jesus whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, and who walked on earth two thousand years ago wants to walk with us into every situation, bringing peace, love and hope for the future.

All we need to do to receive this peace, is to open our lives to Jesus, to say to Jesus, “I want you to be Lord of my life”.  In the Bible it says, "It makes no difference who you are or where you're from - if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open"  (Acts 10:35 MSG)

‘Now may the Lord of peace himself give you his peace at all times and in every situation.’ (2 Thess 3:16) Amen.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Nehemiah 8 - God Wants FAT Christians


  • Are you a FAT Christian?
  • God wants FAT Christians


  • Final sermon on Nehemiah in this series, although still 6 more chapters left in book
  • Nehemiah 8 – key point in the whole story
  • If you thought Nehemiah was just a story about rebuilding some walls, you are wrong.  Nehemiah is about
    • Vision
    • Faithfulness
    • Prayer
    • Courage in the face of opposition
    • Leadership
    • Unity
    • Spiritual renewal
  • Nehemiah not just concerned about repairing some walls, the vision all along was to see the spiritual renewal of not just Jerusalem, but the whole of Judea. 
  • Although God had enabled them to build the wall, the work wasn’t complete until the people had rebuilt their lives spiritually.


  • In the first sermon in this series, we compared the challenge facing Nehemiah with the challenge facing the church today.
    • Aging congregations
    • Declining church attendance
    • Fewer clergy
    • Change in family life
    • Sunday – day for shopping, visiting relatives, sporting activities
    • Christianity loosing it’s place in life of nation


  • If there is to be a church in a generation’s time how do we meet these challenges?  It’s important we have
    • Good welcome
    • Radical inclusivity – Gospel is for everyone
    • Lively worship
    • Relevant teaching
    • Authentic relationships, where love is genuine & forgiveness shown
    • Faithful
    • Available
    • Teachable
  • What is the point about being concerned that the world isn’t more Christian, if we are  untroubled that we aren’t more Christlike?
  • Are you a FAT Christian?
  • What will help the church grow, are people who are passionate about their faith & committed to being followers of Jesus.


  • How often is the word Christian used in the Bible?
    • 3 times Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28, 1 Peter 4:16
  • How often is the word Disciple used? - 250 times
  • We need disciples not church goers
  • A disciple is a pupil, leaner, apprentice. 
  • A disciple is a FAT Christian, someone who is Faithful, Available & Teachable
  • David Watson: “Christians in the West have largely neglected what it means to be a disciple of Christ. The vast majority of western Christians are church-members, pew fillers, hymn singers, sermon tasters, Bible readers, even born again believers or Spirit filled charismatics, but not true disciples of Jesus… If we were willing to learn the meaning of discipleship and actually to become disciples, the church in the West would be transformed, and the resultant impact on society would be staggering.  This is no idle claim.  It happened in the first century.”
  • In Nehemiah 8 we see how people were Faithful, Available & Teachable. 
  • This event took place only a few days after the building project was completed, and on the first day of the 7th month – the Jewish New Year.  Significance of a fresh start, new beginning.
  • The people were enthusiastic.  The demand to hear the Scriptures read came from the people, rather than the leaders.  ‘They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses.’ 
  • All the people came together as one & Ezra read from the book of the Law from day break to noon. 
  • They craved for God’s word, as hungry people long for food.  And they were attentive to it.   They expected God to speak directly through the Scriptures.  There was a vitality and urgency about their listening.
  • How does this compare to us?  Are we hungry for God’s word? Do we listen attentively to it?
  • Bible reading survey of church last year showed that 8% admitted to never reading the Bible. 60% only read the Bible several times a month. 12% several times a week & 20% daily.
  • Not only must we listen to God’s word, we need to apply it to our lives.
  • Chick Yuill when we read Scripture we need to ask 4 questions:
    • What’s God doing here?
    • What does it tell me about Jesus?
    • What does it say to me as a disciple?
    • What difference will this make to me tomorrow?
  • We need to be Faithful, Available & Teachable.
  • Like the people in Nehemiah when they heard the word of the Law read to them.  They responded to it, in worship, in praise, and in penitence.  ‘They bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.’
  • We will only impact the world, if we take seriously our faith.  If we take the call to discipleship seriously.  If we’re not passionate about our faith, then why should others be?

  • This means serving God on our frontlines.
  • If all our mission & strategies are focused solely on what we do in the church – services, meetings, home groups, etc., then we will make very little impact on the world.  (Show slide of dots in corner)
  • Graham Cray – “There is no way to re-evangelise this nation apart from the impact of the daily lives of ordinary, everyday Christians.” 
  • If ASA is 80 adults, and each person meets on average 30 people a week (very conservative) – that would be 1600 a week. 
  • What difference would it make if we were all committed to living our Christian lives as disciples of Jesus on our frontlines? 
  • 168 hours per week - sleep for 48 – leaves 120
  • Unless employed by church maximum amount people can give to gathered church activities (worship, fellowship & outreach) is 10 hours per week
  • This leaves 110 hours – life at home, life at work, life with friends, life of leisure. 
  • How can we make the biggest impact for God? In the 10 hours of church based activities, or the 110 hours amongst our family, friends, at work, & leisure?   

  • What do you think matters most to God? The church based activities we do, or what we do with the 110 hours per week.
    • Bishop of Ripon, speaking to man who introduced himself as church warden. After conversation Bishop was told this man was town planner for the largest urban area in the diocese.  What job was more important? 
    • Where are they likely to have biggest impact, as Sunday school teacher 1 hour per week, or teaching in school?
  • God doesn’t want church goers, he wants FAT Christians.  People who are Faithful, Available and Teachable.  People serious about being followers of Jesus & making a difference for him on our frontlines.
  • If we are really committed to being disciples of Jesus, it will not only transform the church, but transform our world.