The Greatest Gift

Whether you love it or loathe it, Christmas is certainly hard to ignore.  There are parties and plays to attend, shopping and decorating to organise as well as all that food to eat and presents to receive. 

But amongst all the wrappings and trimmings the whisper of hope, joy and peace can be hard to hear, let along understand. 

In this short and readable book, Paul Williams "peels off the sellotape" and "rips open the paper" from the Christmas message.  You'll discover the greatest gift at the heart of Christmas and how is can transform your celebrations this year. 

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Celebrating Advent as a Family

Paul Jones, a member of Christ Church Walkley, and an elder, explains how he and his family use an advent candle to prepare well for Christmas.

Advent is a great time of year. We are all looking forward to Christmas and all that it brings; decorating the house, time off, time with family, presents, pigs in blankets, carols, a nativity and maybe a decent movie.

With all that is going on then sometimes it is hard to focus on what we celebrate at Christmas. I wonder if we actually timed ourselves and recorded how much time we spend doing “Christmas stuff” how much of it would actually be Jesus related? Even writing that, I’m convicted myself.

Over the past few years, one of the things we have looked to do as a family is to use an Advent Candle to help us prepare for Christmas and get our focus onto Jesus. The one that we use lists 25 names that Jesus is given throughout the Bible, one for each day in December. We have found it a really simple way to talk about the importance of Jesus, Christmas and the Bible with the boys.

In previous years we have paired the names on the candle with verses in the Bible. So every day at tea time we light the candle and then read the verse. It has been a great way to teach the boys, and ourselves, that the story of Jesus doesn’t start in Bethlehem but runs throughout scripture.

This year we have taken a slightly different appraoch, as the boys are that little bit older we have this year decided to incorporate a little bit more “in-depth” teaching about each name. Explaining what it means and why it’s important that Jesus is...The Messiah (That was today’s). Then we’ve include this as part of our prayer before tea. Our tea time prayer is generally thanking God for our food and we also pray through the church family using the prayer diary. It has been really good to include praying for, and thanking God for all the Bible tells us that Jesus is.

We do find it harder to look forward to the second Advent, and the return of Christ, but hopefully we remember to include this in our conversations over tea!

Our hope and prayer as parents is that these times round the table would really help us and the boys to grasp the joy of the incarnation – and it’s a great way to count down to Christmas too!!

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Northern Women's Convention

Louise Miles, a member of Christ Church Walkley went to Bradford in October for the Northern Women's Convention and tells us about it here...

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I’m not sure what I was hoping to get out of the Northern Women’s Convention this year, it was quite a last minute choice to attend and maybe not really having had much time to think about it meant that I came to the convention with a more open mind than otherwise. I signed up for two sessions; one about Reading the Bible with Children and one called The Joy Set Before Us. If Im completely honest I was really interested on the morning seminar about Feminism and Christianity but I felt like I should attend the Reading the Bible with Children seminar as I’m not very good at that and I thought it was the most useful one for me. I chose the seminar about Joy because it sounded really positive and I’ve been struggling recently with getting bogged down in the negative things of life. 

As soon as we arrived it was encouraging to see Christian women from all over the place gathering together and really lovely to see some very welcome familiar faces, for a place I’ve never been before it felt strangely like coming home. Mags and I had Theo and Delilah in tow so we unloaded them and set about finding out where our seminars were. 

It was really great to attend the main gathering at first and be introduced to the speaker, a really interesting lady called Agnes Brough, who was so very different from what I was expecting when I saw her! She works mostly with youth and you could really tell from her style that that’s what she did. She was down to earth and matter of fact, very wise but very clear and between her Scottish accent and her delivery, she really reminded me of Susan Calman (this is intended as a compliment!) It was really fascinating to hear her talk about the experiences of her church The Tron in Scotland and the difficulties they have had finding a building after they were evicted from the building that they had occupied as a result of being unwilling to sanction gay clergy. It was really encouraging to see how God had a plan for their church and was with them all the way despite it seeming to be a great defeat which really challenged the way I think about our situation as a church family.

Agnes took us through the book of Malachi with the question “is it worth it?” challenging us to think about the cost of being Christians today, what that means for this in a variety of different situations. She talked us through the “complaints” that the people of Israel were levelling at their God in Malachi and how it is so relevant today. As if petulant children they demand of God “but how have you loved us?” And God is rightly angered. I was very challenged by this as I am fully aware for the many times my own attitude complains to God, whether it’s the giving up of time, money, comfort etc I am very quick myself to feel hard done by and forget the many good gifts I have been given.

The first seminar went really quickly and it was really encouraged to be surrounded by women who are all really committed to teaching the Bible to their children. One of the things I really came away with was one of the women said that it was important to “teach your children big truths that they can grow into”. I’m so often discouraged by the fact that there is so much I need to teach the boys that I don’t try or else I worry about how to teach them things that won’t merely be head knowledge but that will change their hearts. Listening to older and wiser Christian women talk about their own journeys was really interesting and encouraged me to keep going in the knowledge that it is ultimately Gods work.

The final seminar I went to was all about heaven and what we have to look forward to, the joy set before us towards which we race by Gods grace. When I was at uni I spent a lot of time thinking about heaven (whilst reading the theologically somewhat dubious Left Behind Series) but I haven’t really spent much time doing that since and it was really encouraging to spend some really quality time thinking about heaven. Agnes asked us how we would answer this question from a 7 year old “in heaven will I live with my mummy and daddy?” She explained that she answers this question with yes, not what I was expecting! She explained that at the moment on earth Christians are scattered about and when we meet in churches or at conferences we get a little taste of heaven as we are meeting then in “scattered gatherings” but in heaven we will be in “gathered gatherings” in our larger perfect family. I found this a really interesting idea which I’d like to learn and think more about. 

I’m always encouraged by large gatherings of my Christian family and I found myself thinking about how much I had enjoyed Renew South Yorkshire too, it’s so good to see the people you have missed and hear the word taught faithfully and to stand in big groups singing Gods praises is something I always find moving so among many things I have taken away from the NWC is that I am looking forward to the day when we are all singing Gods praises at that great “gathered gathering” in heaven when there will be no need for the words to be projected onto a screen as we will know them all by heart!

Click here to find out more about the Northern Women's Convention - if you want to listen to any of the talks or seminars, they are available here.

Christ Alone

The fourth of our mini-series on the five ‘alones’ of the Reformation brings us to Christ Alone. The
world around us has changed significantly since the Reformation; the church, culture and the
political landscapes are all very different. Yet, the question of if how we can know God is still asked by lots of people at some point in their lives. One of the things that surprised me most when I started pastoring and caring for people coming to the end of their lives was how many wanted to try and make things right with God one way or another. This was people for many different faiths and of none, often asking the same kind of fundamental question. Our Anglican heritage, following on from the truths recovered in the Reformation, gives clear answers to their questions and concerns:

THE Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took Man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very Man; who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to  us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men.
— Article II, Of the Word or Son of God, which was made very man
WE Are Accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings: Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.
— Article XI, Of The Justification Of Man

Notice at the end of Article II that Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion, death and burial served a purpose. It was to be a sacrifice, to bear the cost of our sins and rejection of God, so we can be reconciled to him again. Article XI adds something more, it talks about us being accounted righteous before God, only on the basis of Jesus’ merit. We can be right with God because through Jesus alone the
punishment for our sins and wrongs is paid for and then his righteousness is counted to us as ours. Jesus doesn’t just bring us back to a neutral position before God, dealing with our sins and then leaving us to our own righteousness. He clothes us in his righteousness, so when God looks at us he sees Jesus’ righteousness, not our own. In our culture there are myriad of ways we are told that we can come to and know God, we are surrounded by a multitude of religions offering ways to God, but the bible, reformers, and Articles of Religion teach that there is only one way to know God – through Jesus alone.

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Scripture Alone

In this short series of posts we have been showing how our Anglican doctrinal heritage gives us a wonderful expression of the Christian faith as it was re-discovered during the reformation. 

If 'Faith Alone' was the issue at the heart of the reformation, 'Scripture Alone' was the foundational issue. Where did Luther and others get their re-discovery of the gospel from? A fresh study of Scripture. On what basis did they dare to challenge the powerful church authorities of their day, overturning the traditions that had built up in recent centuries? On the basis of what God had said in the Scriptures, which, they insisted, is the only final authority for Christian belief and practice. 

The 39 articles of the Church of England (essentially the 'doctrinal basis' for Anglicanism) explain this very clearly, even though the language now feels a little archaic. Consider this from part of article 6 for example:

VI. OF THE SUFFICIENCY OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES FOR SALVATION

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. 

Just how this restrained the power of the Church is expressed very well in article 20:

XX. OF THE AUTHORITY OF THE CHURCH

The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: And yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation.

Please note though, in line with what all the reformers believed, this isn't saying that teachers and leaders in the church have no authority whatsoever. It does meant that their authority is subject to the bible.  Likewise, the articles were not proposing that all of tradition be rejected out of hand. Often, much of what our brothers and sisters in the past have handed down to us is extremely helpful. For example, article 8 says this about some of the ancient creeds:

VIII. OF THE THREE CREEDS

The Three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasius’s Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles’ Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture.

Today we sometimes misinterpret 'Scripture Alone' to mean 'me and my bible on our own.' The Reformers would not have seen it that way. We benefit from the help of our Christian family in understanding the bible, both today and throughout history. But the Scriptures must rule supreme, and have the final say.

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By Grace Alone

As we come to think about being saved by grace alone you’ll realise how closely tied it is to last week’s post on being saved by faith alone; the two are indivisibly tied together. That we are saved by grace alone has some significant implications for how sure we can be of our salvation and how we think of ourselves. Firstly, a quote from Martin Luther summarising a little bit of what the Reformers thought about grace alone, and then a second quote from Article X from the Book of Common Prayer.

If the Pope would concede that God alone by His grace through Christ justifies sinners, we would carry him in our arms, we would kiss his feet.
— Martin Luther, A Commentary of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians
The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith, and calling upon God: Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will
— Article X, Book of Common Prayer

The quote from Martin Luther reveals how significant our justification (God’s declaration that we are righteous) was for the reformers. Here he implies that it is one of the most significant things the separated them from the Roman Catholic church. The Article expands things a little more, notice they key ideas, that we can’t turn to God in faith by our own strength, nor can we do good works in our own power, it is God in his grace who must act and continues to act in our lives. The slightly strange phrase “without the grace of God by Christ preventing us” simply means without the God grace acting first, so that our will would be turned to him. The idea is that God must act in grace towards us before we can turn to him. This is the centre of the idea of justification by grace alone, that we are justified because God acts in grace before we have done, or desired to do, anything good in ourselves.

Why does this matter so much? 

There are two key areas where I think this really matters, our assurance of salvation and, how we think of ourselves. Paul in Ephesians 2:8-9 brings out both ideas:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
— (Eph 2:8–10, ESV)

It’s God’s unconditional grace, rooted in his love for his world, that has saved us. Paul explicitly says that it’s not of our works. The things we do, or don’t do, don’t contribute to our salvation, it’s something we have been freely given. Therefore, we don’t need to be seeking to judge our own lives or works to see whether they are good enough for God – because that’s not what God saves us based on. If we’re struggling with assurance that we’re one of God’s children we need to look back to God’s love for the world, so much that he gave up his Son, and remind ourselves that or salvation comes freely as a gift of grace, not based on what we’ve done. 

Secondly, notice that salvation by grace alone means that no-one has any grounds for boasting. Boasting points to yourself, it says “Look how good I am,” if our actions had some part in our salvation then we might find grounds for boasting in who we are or what we’ve done. But, as our salvation is based on God’s grace alone the only person we can point to and boast in is him. Salvation by grace alone is a great leveller, it puts us all as those who had nothing to offer God, but were saved by his grace anyway.

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By Faith Alone

As a church we describe ourselves as both Reformed and Anglican. As we celebrate the reformation over the next few weeks we’re going to run a series of blog posts seeing how these two aspects of our doctrine relate to one another and why it matters for us today.

Let me begin with two quotes, the first from Martin Luther, the second from the 39 Articles of Religion:

Faith alone, when based upon the sure promises of God, must save us; as our text clearly explains [John 6:44-55] …And in the light of it all, they must become fools who have taught us other ways to become Godly.
— Martin Luther, On Faith, And Coming To Christ. 
We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings: Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the homily of Justification.
— Article XI, The Book of Common Prayer

Salvation by faith alone underpins both the truths rediscovered in the Reformation and our Anglican doctrine. The emphasis is on the ‘aloneness’ of faith for justification, rather than it somehow being combined with what we do or deserve.

Practically, whilst there being nothing we can do to influence our salvation can be a difficult pill to swallow – we always like to feel we’ve contributed or earned what we get – as article XI says it’s actually a real comfort. If we are justified by faith alone then nothing we do can make God consider us righteous, but also nothing we do makes God consider us unrighteous either.

Salvation by faith also is full of comfort because it is based on Jesus’ righteousness rather than our own attempts at being righteous. And whereas our righteousness is always found wanting, Jesus’ righteousness is perfect, and by faith alone it is counted by God as our righteousness.

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Starting work at Christ Church Walkley

A little bit of my story

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The journey of coming to work for Christ Church Walkley (CCW) began quite a while ago, when life was quite different. CCW wasn’t even at the planning stage, Jen and I had no children, I was studying Physics at uni and Jen had just started work as a doctor. I honestly can’t remember whether I approached Tim (the minister of Christ Church Central, CCC) or he approached me to discuss doing an apprenticeship at CCC. But, as we sat on Devonshire Green I vividly remember him saying that if I did become an apprentice then it needed to be with the genuine possibility of heading towards full-time Christian ministry. 

The idea had been on my mind on and off for a couple of years, but that moment felt like a fork in the road for Jen and I. Seek out a job in the world of physics, or start down an unknown and unpredictable road towards vocational ministry. We chose to head down the path of an apprentice, and God has been good to us as we’ve walked that road; Christ Church Walkley was born a year later, an opportunity and the funds to study at Oak Hill from Sheffield arose and our family has grown to 4. For much of this time we’ve had little idea what coming next, but we’ve learned to trust God.

About a year ago I finished training at Oak Hill and CCW began the process of seeing whether we could find a way of me working in a ministry capacity full-time. By the generosity of the church family, and a trust, we’ve pretty much got there so I started this September.

So what am I actually doing?

Ephesians 4:11-12 gives the broad principle behind what I hope to do as a shepherd-teacher:

"And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherd-teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ."

In the first instance the particular equipping that I’ll be focussing on is developing pastoral care within CCW so that the church family is more able to care for those inside and outside the church. Pastoral Care is an area I’ve increasingly become interested and experienced in, mostly through walking together with broken people in a broken world where we all need God’s word to do its work in our lives.

This applies to both Christian and non-Christians – we all need to be pastored with God’s word. At a recent conference evangelism and pastoral care were linked like this:

"Evangelism is just pastoring non-Christians. Pastoral care is just evangelising Christians." (Glen Scrivener)

So, my hope is that I’ll be able to equip the church to pastor one another so we grow in maturity, and to pastor our friends so they come to know Jesus.

For the first few months this means I’m starting to put time into developing some of the good things that are already in place. Including training and looking after small group leaders, and others, who have an interest and gifts in this area. I’m doing a course on Biblical Counselling over in Liverpool to learn from the wisdom and experiences of others with a view to seeing how we could use this evangelistically. This is alongside the regular things of prayer, preaching and teaching, and general overseeing that comes with being an elder!

Get in touch with Kenny Larsen here.

S6 Foodbank Visit

Jen Rawling recently visited the S6 Foodbank and tells us about it here:

As a church, we love the community that we live in. As part of this love for those around us, we recently decided to start supporting the S6 Food Bank. It is part of the Trussell Trust, and exists with the purpose of 'helping people in crisis'. It is able to provide food packages to people from the local area who, for a variety of reasons, are struggling to feed themselves and their family. We were invited along to find out more about how it works, and came away incredibly impressed.

The Food Bank is open on Tuesdays and Fridays from 11am-1pm, so I turned up one Friday at the end of August with Chris and Caroline, ready to see how it works. We were quickly welcomed by the volunteers there, and made to feel like part of a team. Before opening, the volunteers were divided into two teams: those to sit at tables, and those to collect the food packages. It wasn't long before a steady stream of people in need of food started to arrive. As they came through the door, with their referral slips in hand, they were directed to a table. At that point, they were offered a hot drink before the volunteers at the table went through a 'shopping list' to see what food and toiletries they needed that week. When the list was complete, it was held in the air for the food packaging team to collect.

The food packers then disappeared with the list to the store room, and filled shopping bags with the requested items. Meanwhile, the table volunteers were able to have a chat with those who had arrived in need of food: about the weather, their weeks, their background, the various community events that were being organised... until the food packers returned with their week's food.

The sense of community that this format gave was inspiring. Everyone who came through the door was shown love through the way they were spoken to as well as the through the practical support that they were given. This is an incredibly simple and effective way of supporting those in crisis on our door steps. Sadly, the Food Bank is often short of, or runs out of, particular items. This is where we come in! There is a collection box in the office on Howard Road for you to bring non-perishable food items or toiletries. If you want to know what our local Food Bank needs each week, there is a free app you can download from Google Play / the Apple Store. The box will be available at any point that you are in the office, with the monthly prayer meeting offering a regular focus point for donations. 

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'Be killing sin, or it will be killing you'

Each and every single Sunday when we hear God’s word together it is a moment of immense spiritual importance. That said, as I get ready to preach there are some parts of the bible that seem to stand out as of particular relevance to our church life at that time. 

The sermon on Romans 8v12-17 from a couple of Sundays ago was like that. This was partly because of the way v13 urges us to engage in a lifelong, sustained and continuous battle with our sin:

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
— Romans 8:13

Here are just three of the many reasons this verse, and the sermon on this passage, are of such importance:

1. It’s not familiar

The call of this verse is repeated elsewhere in the bible (for e.g. Colossians 3v5) but it’s not one we hear all that often these days. We are so used to either ignoring or winking at our sin, and even using God’s grace as an excuse for doing so. But the life lived by God’s grace is a life of putting sin to death.

2. It’s both realistic and hopeful

v13 assumes the presence of sin in the life of Christians - there’s no fanciful notion that we will ever be free in this present life from the need to engage in this struggle. At the same time Paul speaks in such a way as to raise our expectations of being able to achieve real progress in the battle. We are not held captive by sin anymore. We can, by God’s grace, experience change. 

3. It’s a must

This is what a Spirit-led life looks like. This is what those who are headed to glory do on their way there. And a life of unchecked sin is headed down a very different path. This is a struggle we must be engaged in. 

If you weren’t in to hear this particular sermon I’d encourage you to make the time to listen. In fact, I’d encourage each of us to listen to it again with the bible passage open in front of us. 

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Vicky Howard in Ethiopia

It was just over a year ago that I stood at the front of church and was commissioned to go as a missionary to serve God in Ethiopia. I vividly remember how nervous and uncertain I felt as I looked out over all of the smiling faces of people in the congregation. Was I mad to leave my home, job, family, friends, and safety to go and work in a developing country that was surrounded by war torn countries and was itself going through political instability?! But I felt certain of God’s call for me to go and serve Him and felt so encouraged by my church family to go and fulfil Jesus’ call to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:10). So, with one giant leap of faith I got onto the plane to Ethiopia. 

I went to Ethiopia to volunteer as a teacher at Bingham Academy in Addis Ababa. Bingham Academy is an International Christian School whose aim is “to provide quality Christian education within a multicultural community, developing students of integrity who can change the world for God’s glory.” The school was originally set up 70 years ago to provide education for the children of missionaries in order to help them continue their work in Ethiopia. Before the school was established, missionaries had to leave their children back in the UK/USA/Canada for 5 years or more at a time. Can you imagine?! The school has now grown immensely and provides education not only for missionaries’ children, but for the children of diplomats, aid workers, and Ethiopians also. It was amazing when I asked each student that I taught what their parents did. In my A Level class alone, my students’ parents’ jobs included being a vet for poor farmers, doing Bible translation for remote tribes, running a set of schools for orphans in rural areas, being head spokesperson for the African Union, and being a famous preacher who was leading a revival in the south of Ethiopia. It was such a privilege to be able to support the work of each of these parents through educating their children. The school also had its own mission field as many families and staff were not Christians so we had the wonderful opportunity or sharing the gospel every day at the school also. 

Living in a developing country certainly had many challenges. Just simple tasks like shopping, food preparation and washing clothes took a lot more time and effort. I never got used to having to bleach my fruit and vegetables for 20 minutes, before washing them in drinking water that I had to collect from the school water fountain across the yard! It certainly made me realise what a convenience culture we have here and how much just having “choice” is a sign of affluence. I still feel overwhelmed now when I walk into a supermarket in the UK! And don’t even get me started on the unreliability of the phone and internet! Sometimes we had to go without internet for days, even weeks, and regularly had power cuts and no running water. These are all things that we take so for granted in this country and should be more grateful to God for. 

It is also very challenging to be surrounded by so much poverty all the time. As soon as I stepped out of the school gates, I was met with shoe shine boys, beggars, children in rags, and disabled people dragging themselves along the floor. It really did break your heart to see the conditions that many people lived in and the immense struggle that just living day to day can be. Addis is very overcrowded and there is not enough work available but still thousands of people flock from the famine-ridden countryside to the capital in pursuit of a better life, and are sadly often left disappointed. There was one horrific incident whilst I was there where the main landfill site collapsed, burying alive hundreds of people who lived and scavenged on it. The stories that came from Bingham’s parents providing aid at the site were devastating. Sometimes the only way that I could cope was to become numb to the poverty and suffering that I saw and it was sad how quickly it just became normal to see. But God’s heart is for the poor and I saw so much wonderful work being done to provide aid for the people of Ethiopia. I was often humbled by the amazing faith and joy that the Ethiopians had; they found happiness in the smallest things and worshipped God with such passion. My favourite days were Wednesdays when I helped run an outreach project after school, Yetesfa Birhan, for poor girls from the local area. Just seeing their smiles as we fed and played with them, and being able to tell them that God loved them was so special. 

Ultimately, my time in Ethiopia has helped to strengthen my faith. There were certainly times this year when my faith was tested. I did not always trust that God would answer our prayers or I just tried to do things in my own strength. But time and time again, God provided for us and protected us and answered so many prayers. When I looked back at the prayer requests I sent to church in the UK, I realised that every single one was answered! I also witnessed and worked with other Christians with such incredible faith in God’s power and purposes who really encouraged me, and I saw God at work across Ethiopia. God has done amazing things for me this year and for Bingham. I am so glad that I took this leap of faith and stepped out of my comfort zone to serve God abroad. I would strongly encourage others to do so as well and to see how our God is the God of all nations.

The Spirit and Christ

One of the things we will inevitably keep coming back to as we make our way through Romans chapter 8 is the work of the Holy Spirit. Sadly, this is a subject that can be a cause of confusion amongst Christians. 

One of the reasons for that is because we separate the Spirit’s work in our lives from Christ’s work for us. We sometimes focus on issues of particular gifts the Spirit gives, or certain experiences we ascribe to the Holy Spirit. But the big picture of the Spirit’s work is that he is all about Christ; making Christ known, conforming us to be like Christ, putting into effect the salvation Christ has won. 

This is something we’ve seen even just in the first 11 verses of Romans 8, for example:

Jesus achieves what the law could not achieve (v3) in his death on the cross but this becomes ours through ‘the Spirit of life’ (v2). 

Christ died so that we might live a new life of obedience to God, but this new life can only be lived by walking according to the Spirit (v4)

The Spirit is the Spirit of Christ and it is impossible to belong to Christ unless the Spirit dwells in us (v9). 

Jesus rose again for our salvation but his resurrection will actually becomes something we share in and experience ourselves because of the Spirit who dwells in us (v11).

In other words, Romans 8 shows us that what Christ has achieved objectively for us in his life, death and resurrection, is applied and made real to us personally by the Spirit. 

This blog post is related to the recent sermon on Romans 8v5-11 which you can listen to again to by clicking here

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Why bother exploring Christianity?

Candi recently attended our 'Uncover' course & very kindly wrote a blog post to tell us about her experience...

"If you’re anything like me, you may well be wondering what you can expect from an evening course on Christianity…  Do you need to be a full-on Christian or is it OK if you aren’t sure what you believe?  Will they expect a lot of background knowledge of the Bible or can you learn as you go?  Is there an expectation of regular Church attendance once you’ve been on the course?  I can’t pretend I wasn’t a bit nervous before my first session, especially as I’d missed week one because of a work trip!

It turns out that the simple answer to all of those questions (along with any others you may have) is that there’s no expectation at all… There were only three of us taking the course when I attended, and Pete didn’t seem at all bothered by the fact none of us was what you’d describe as a ‘solid’ Christian.  Each of us had our own reasons for attending, for example wanting to understand the beliefs of close friends/family or simply a deep interest in the subject of Christianity.  

For me it was both of these.  A close friend of mine is a member of Christ Church Walkley, and talks often and openly about her faith.  In return I bug her with random Christianity questions on a fairly regular basis and at some very random times of day!  She mentioned that this course was about to start, and it seemed like a nice opportunity to learn more.  The other thing was, despite attending Church every Sunday for most of my childhood I don’t know exactly what I believe and to what extent.  I know that I have some belief in God, but in the words of one of our group I’ve never been ‘zapped’ with that sudden and absolute certainty of faith that some people experience.  I also don’t feel like I ever really explored what the bible has to say.  I can quote various Biblical stories, but I’ve never really thought in any detail about what they actually mean and what message they’re trying to get across.  The Uncover course seemed like a nice chance to revisit these stories with a more critical mind.

So what does it actually involve?  The basic format was to show up and read through a short passage from Luke’s gospel, before working through a set of structured discussion points.  Pete did a really great job of making sure we completed the week’s task but also allowing room for us to go off on a tangent when one of us had questions.  I got the impression the three of us taking the course were all quite similar in that we could easily be put off if even one small detail didn’t make sense, so being able to bring up questions when we had them really helped. 

Pete’s knowledge and understanding not just of the Biblical stuff, but of its historical context as well, made a real difference to my enjoyment and understanding of the passages we covered.  Who else would be able to explain that a grown man running was likely to be a subject of ridicule, or why a curtain ripping in a temple was such a big deal?  Certainly for me his breadth of knowledge really helped bring the passages to life much more than simply reading them.

In terms of practicality there was also very little time commitment (I think we were scheduled for an hour and a half per week for six weeks), which was reassuring at the start – no fear of letting people down if it turned out not to be for me!  (Having said that, all three of us have already signed up for whatever comes next, so you may find yourself hooked once you start).  There was also no ‘homework’ as such, so you could read around the subject more if you wanted, but with no pressure to do so.  

Hopefully that gives you some idea of what to expect if you sign up for this or a similar course…  If it’s something you’re considering, I’d say just give it a go – at worst you have a good chat and something sweet to eat (did I mention that the regular Church folk sent homemade cakes and biscuits to each session?!) and at best you’ll discover the urge to keep on finding out more!" 

To find out more or to sign up to our new Explore Course, click here.

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