Yes, we are now officially a church!
Oh. You thought we already were?
Well, I guess that’s the thorny question of ‘when is church not a church?’ Or, more officially, when is a church building recognised as a church building?
Because, let’s face it, the church is not actually a building. It’s the people.
Under the provisions of the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855, a place of meeting for religious worship may, if the congregation wish, be so certified to the Registrar General. The certification is arranged by applying to the Superintendent Registrar in the district where the building is situated. Many of you may remember Dave talking about this a few weeks ago and members signing the official form which told the Superintendent Registrar that we did, indeed, so wish to be certified.
The official letter has now been received saying that the building is registered as a place of worship and has also been registered as a place where the solemnisation of weddings can be held.
So, in the eyes of the law, we are legally a church and people can legally get married in the building.
Some people may find all the legal jargon confusing. It’s perhaps good, therefore, to fix our eyes more on how God describes His people than on the actual buildings we use:
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)
“Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.” (Hebrews 3:6)
Did you guess the identity of the hands?
After the games and quizzes about hands, Garry preached on ‘the hand of God’- which is powerful and protective. God upholds us with His righteous right hand (Is 41:10) and our times are in His hands (Ps 31:15), so we can live with confidence and trust.
Perhaps, though, at times the hand of God can be hard to recognise… which means we have to spend time getting to know God if we are to recognise His hand in the same way that those who did best at the quiz obviously were observant and knew the people well.
On Sunday, we had our ‘family service’, usually held on the first Sunday of the month. The format of this meeting is even more relaxed than usual and we usually have a series of games and quizzes as well as worship and the Word.
The theme this month was ‘the hand of God’, and for one of the quizzes, we had to look at photographs of hands and guess whose they were. It’s not as easy to recognise a person when all you can see if a photo of their hands!
So… how are you doing with the guessing? It was interesting to see how quickly some people guessed (Gary guessed Stephen’s straightaway, with the comment ‘well, I see his hands playing guitar in front of me every week, so that was easy’) and how long it took with others! There were all kinds of clues: rings, nails, jewellery… But it was surprising how hard it was to recognise a person from their hands alone.
The Bible teaches that God knows every part of us and that He created us; He knit us together in our mother’s womb (Ps 139:13) and we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Ps 139:14) It teaches us that even the hairs on our head are numbered by God (Luke 12:7). It is good to celebrate the individual uniqueness of each person in our congregation!
Answers coming soon!
“Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (James 4:8)
Life is full of distractions and busyness, all of which conspire to stop us coming near to God. It’s so much easier to fill our days with activity than it is to take the time out to stop and listen to God.: But, as Jeremy Camp says in the song ‘Slow Down Time’, ‘I need to stop so I can hear You speak’.
The sermon on Sunday morning encouraged us all to take time to draw near to God and to learn new ways we can do this so that we can ultimately become more like our amazing God. Time is the one thing we all have that we can give to God and we need to prioritise so that He receives our due attention. Thanks to all that Jesus has done for us, we can draw near to God with confidence and assurance, even as we learn to come in submission and humility.
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:19-22)
What ways do YOU use to draw close to God? How do you counter the onslaught of busyness to carve out time to be still and know that He is God? I’d love to hear your suggestions and ideas.
‘At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’ (Matthew 19:1-3)
Children can help us to see God in a new way: their enthusiasm, zest for life, wide-eyed innocence and sheer exuberance are all reminders that life is there to be lived, not just endured.
Somehow, as we grow older and face more responsibilities, we can lose that simple pleasure in just being alive. Toy Story 3 (you surely didn’t think you’d heard the last of that from me, did you?!) reawakens the child in each one of us and helps us to think about what it means to become like little children.
Over the past fifteen years, we have watched Andy grow up… and for those of us with children ourselves, there is an added poignancy about this film, where Andy is all set to go off to college, flying the nest, leaving the toys wondering uncertainly what their fate will be: attic or rubbish bags? How do we cope with that transition from childhood to adulthood? It’s bitter-sweet for parents, knowing that you have spent years preparing for this moment and yet wishing you could go back to those halcyon days of childhood (memory is always selective: somehow you forget the not-so-halcyon days!)
Perhaps the most moving part of the film comes, though, when Andy himself recognises what he is leaving behind. He finally decides to give away his toys to another child who will cherish them and enter the world of imagination with them that he is now leaving and for one last time, he plays with the beloved toys, introducing them to Bonnie, their new friend. But he always intended to take Woody with him to college. Bonnie, who has already met Woody through the clever plotline, has no intention of being separated from this toy and Andy has to swallow hard and understand that Woody too will be better off in a house where he can be cherished and played with. There is a lump in his throat as he drives off, leaving all his toys behind, waving him goodbye, and I confess there was more than a lump in mine as I watched this.
Seasons come and go and we leave childhood behind. As Paul says, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” (1 Cor 13:11) But there is a part of childhood we must never lose: that ability to admit we don’t know everything, that joie de vivre, that world of imagination, hope and joy, if we are to take Jesus’s words seriously. Paul goes on to say, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Cor 13:12)
Films such as Toy Story 3 are not just good entertainment or box-office hits. They resonate deeply within us and are so loved because they remind us that there is more to life than the humdrum and the banal. There is more to life than working to pay all the bills. There is more to life than we can see with our natural eyes, and this is something children instinctively seem to know.
“Life is so much more
Than what your eyes are seeing
You will find your way
If you keep believing”
(‘What Faith Can Do’, Kutless)
So our task is to embrace the unseen, hold on to what is good and trust in a God who loves us. Woody trusts that Andy loves his toys even when it seems that he considers them rubbish. Andy, in turn, tells Bonnie that the best thing about Woody is his faithfulness. May we learn to trust God at all times and may He find us faithful to Him.