IMPORTANT DAYS

Important Message

 

Hi everyone.

Not many of us may care so much that it’s a new football season but for those of us who meet at the House of Football it’s becoming a little more all-consuming all over again. It can be like this with church life too – our interest and connection ebbing and flowing as time passes by – some of us loving it – being engrossed in it – others less so, less connected. Well, in church terms it definitely feels like the beginning of a new season. My sense is that these are important days for us as a church family and there is so much going on and so much needing prayer right now that I have felt that I needed to get in touch with you all – by video, by facebook, by email, by letter… whichever was the best way for you to connect with you about it all…

A few Sundays ago I handed out a flyer with a vision of what the church would be like in 2019 – five years from now – I hope that you have had a chance to read it. It’s not a fixed thing – it’s not a prophecy – it’s not a manifesto – it’s just what I can imagine and what I can hope for… It tells a story of how we have grown – in number and in strength and in maturity. It tells a story of how we have joined together around a shared mission and how everyone has played a part to bring it about… a story of new families, new men and new young people and children. A story of new people of all ages who have found a way back to the father that created them. It’s a story of salvation and forgiveness and healing. It’s a story of rescue. It’s what I live for.

If I am honest it’s been a challenging summer for us. Summer is great for a break but it can also fragment our community life for a while as numbers fluctuate on Sundays and mid-week meetings and activities take a breather. With Barrie and Ruth leaving Rose Cottage after an amazing four and half year stint we have had to regroup and take stock. With me making the decision to cut the number of early morning services back to one a month I know that there have been feelings of sadness about it all. With changes to the building needing to become firmed up anxieties can grow about the changes that are going to take place. With people being taken ill and needing hospital care, with anniversaries of loved ones having to be faced, and with the ongoing challenge of doing life and mission in Twerton we have felt stretched and vulnerable. Behind the scenes many of us are facing major decisions, important life choices and difficult personal challenges.

All this has left its mark on us and we have had to hold on. Which we are doing… just…

What is God saying to us in all this? What is he wanting to remind us of?

We know that God knows it all. And that he is utterly interested in it all. There isn’t a moment of our day, a hair on our head that he isn’t concerned with. He loves more than the sparrows – this we know. And we know that he has called us here – not to die in the desert but to find life – life in all its rich fullness. We know that he aches for our community, for the locality and we know that Bath will not be healed until Twerton is healed, Bath will not be free until Twerton is free. We know this. He has not forgotten us. He is ahead of us. He is providing for us. He is fighting for us and he who began a good work in us is faithful to complete it…

And it is with this hope that I want to invite you to join me in praying for the churc, for the community, for each other once again. Of course we already pray for each other but let’s recommit ourselves to this task. Let’s recommit ourselves to interceding and for digging deep into God’s storehouses of grace and seeking God for his blessing on us and our community. My goodness we need it.

Can you pray for Rose Cottage?

I am so excited about the future of Rose Cottage as we make it a St Michael’s Hub – all freshly painted upstairs and down – ready for hospitality and welcome, for prayer and ministry, for serving and listening, for discipleship and worship. Pray for the new kitchen manager being appointed this week – and for the team they will need to draw around them. Pray for the staff team relocating the office to the upstairs which is going to be so great for us – connecting us to everyone and everything. Pray for the other ideas we have – for family days, for youth groups, for the art group, for ‘house groups’ using the centre.

One exciting thing we are doing is to turn one of the rooms upstairs into a prayer space – open for everyone to use – to connect and to reach out – right in the heart of the High Street. Of course you are all welcome to come and use it!

Pray for Mark and he oversees the work and for the new Mission Committee that we are drawing together in October to shape and bless the church in its mission and disciple-making. Pray a blessing over the Rec House and all that happens there.

It’s been a great Summer at the Rec and with Andrew Lawrence appointed for 6 months as a Community Musician it looks like the place with continue to buzz. Pray for the resources to come to expand and extend his work.

And pray for the young people. Luke and the team have built up incredible life-changing relationships with them and it has been so amazing to see the work mature and develop with the creation of the two new chaplaincy posts – Laura and Gwen. Luke’s passion to see these families and young people find life in Christ is so infectious and it really is amazing that the school has contributed to funding part of a post for the next two years. Do pray for the new team as they get their feet under the ground and begin to make connections. Do pray for Luke, Mark, Louise and myself as Governors at St Michael’s Junior school – looking to build on the success of last year’s SAT’s results and deepen the Christian ethos of the place.

Of course it’s also a new term at the infant school too so pray for – George as deputy and for Kate and Nathan as governors and for Ann and the team at First Steps.

Any day now the city will be swelled with thousands of new Students returning to the city or arriving here for the first time. We may not have had many Students join us in the past but with so many of them living locally I am sure that God is going to bring a number to us this year. There is an organisation called Fusion that we are connected to that helps student’s get rooted into local churches. There are over 50 on the list who we are inviting to a come and taste our community and hospitality on the last day of Fresher’s week on Sunday 28th September when we are having a church lunch after the service. Pray for the new students moving into the area and that God will protect and enliven any young Christians as they take their first steps away from home.

In a few weeks’ time the PCC are meeting and this month we will be hearing back from the Architect who we have commissioned to produce some outlying plans to take forward. Considerable time has gone into thinking everything through and together we will need to begin to discern the right steps forward. This will include all of us and will require us to discern from God a vision for his future for the church here. Prayer will be fundamental to this.

For a number of years we have had the idea of being a ‘house of prayer’ and have encouraged one another to convene ‘houses of prayer’ in each other’s homes and at the church each week. If you are free on Tuesday’s at 7-8pm then join us in the church each week to pray and seek God together. If not, consider forming your own ‘house of prayer’ for an hour each week to join with others in circling all these concerns in prayer.

In all these things, especially after the disruption of the summer months, I am particularly mindful of the importance for us to meet together – on Sundays as a larger gathering and midweek in smaller home groups or formation groups. I believe this is vital for us as a church family and I would like to encourage everyone to recommit to these times together. We not only miss out on being blessed ourselves when we are miss out on these but we are unable to be a blessing to others who need us. Part of our purpose for gathering together is to pray for and minister to one another. I long for us to grown in confidence in doing this for each other each week as I know just how much stuff we all carry. Can I encourage you to make the most of any opportunity to receive or to offer prayer when it comes. I am convinced God will act the more we ask.

Lastly – a couple of other more random points…

The first is having a new bell ringer group. Over the last few years Sharon Bradley has been pulling together a group of novice bell ringers who have been ‘learning the ropes’ for ringing at weddings. Recently they offered to ring on Sundays and am delighted that a new group will be ringing every fortnight at 10am to call Twerton to church… Just to say, when you see them in the tower the best way in is through the porch door instead!

And lastly I am grateful that the Diocese have offered me the opportunity of having a three month Sabbatical. Vicars are usually only offered a sabbatical once in their ministry so it is an important time for me. Their purpose is to give a minster the chance to take a step back, to rest, to reflect and to recharge their batteries – spiritual, physical and emotional – ready for the next phase of ministry. It is a good time to take one when there is a Curate in post and I am delighted that Kate has been so encouraging to me about it all as she will be taking up much of the weight of my absence. But, of course, I am by no means indispensable and I am excited not only of the idea of seeing how I will grow through this time away but also how the church will grow without me being around. I am going to be taking mine in November and coming back in February which means that you will be celebrating Christmas without Tory or I. Kate, the church wardens, the PCC and the staff team have all begun preparing for my time away and I value your prayers for me, and Tory, as we take the time to go deeper into the life of Jesus and rest in him for a while.

In all this I am more and more aware that everything we do as a church is a community thing. Christianity is often presented as it’s about God and me – about us individually. It is but it is about far more than that. What really matters is how we live as a community. This is what will be what matters most over the next five years.

Let us recommit to picking up the towel, sharing meals centred on Jesus’ own last supper and loving one another as Christ has loved us.

These three remain. Faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

A NEW SEASON

blackberryThe summer is almost over… not quite… but we can feel it ebbing away. Autumn is on its way and the nights are getting colder and conversations are beginning about the heating.

We are used to this rhythm of change each year and yet we still in some ways find it hard. Coming to terms with the fact that nothing stays the same for ever is one of life’s hardest tasks. September (my birth month) always brings new beginnings. Every child and young person moves up a year at school or college and everything from new pencil cases to new uniforms to new friends are acquired. It can be an exciting time of change.

Here in our community, just like nature, we are entering into a new season of life together and while daunting there is much to anticipate. Luke has been able to fund, recruit and appoint a new team to join him in the work of LIFE365 deepening our connection with families through the children and young people of the area. We are excited about the new chaplaincy posts that have been created and pray for Laura and Gwen. Mark has helped us evaluate and plan for the next stage of life at Rose Cottage and we are looking to appoint a new Kitchen Manager from October. Over the last few weeks work has begun on redecorating the upstairs of Rose Cottage in readiness for us to relocate the staff offices there and for the centre to become a stronger hub for us as a church. Connections and relationships through the Rec House are blossoming and Andrew Lawrence (Mark’s brother) has run an amazing project this summer helping young people write, perform and record their own songs.

As we look further forward we know that we need to complete the redevelopment and renewal of the building that we have been gifted. Much has been happening behind the scenes on this regard and we are going to be entering a new season of fundraising and development as we finalise our plans together and take our next steps.

In all these areas of life we can see that we are entering a new season of life as a church. Exciting. Daunting. New. Like the feeling you get at the beginning of a new term.

All new things bring loss with them too. A new child takes away those evenings when it was ‘just the two of us’. A new house means new problems to solve, new decorating to take on and new neighbours in exchange for old. A new job means leaving your old familiar workplace and embracing a new team, a new task, a new community.

It will be the same for us in our changing situation. It is inevitable. We won’t be able to avoid it. Entering a new season will inevitably mean some old things will be left behind. Over many months I have been reflecting and praying about our Sunday services (I’m always doing this actually) and I believe it is the right time to draw us back together to one main service each week and only having one early morning service a month. I know that this is hard, that it is a loss, but am convinced that we need each other more than ever at this time of change.

What matters in all this is us having a shared goal, a shared vision. ‘Being united with one heart and mind’ – just as the early church were. Jesus has always been the glue that holds us together as a church rather than social background or age or class but in these days ahead our unity will be challenged even more as we walk together into a new season. We will have to work hard at being united around him. We will be tempted to give up on each other.

As well as Jesus, it will be a shared sensed of mission and purpose that will hold us together through this time. I am unashamed about reminding us all that the reason we exist as a church community – the reason St Michael’s exists – is to participate in God’s mission to the people who live here. As a church we are caught up in God’s story (HIS-story), not ours, and we have been commissioned by Jesus to make disciples, embodying, proclaiming and demonstrating his message of good news.

Our context is Twerton and our goal is to see more and more men, women and children in Twerton find Life in Christ. This is our mission, our purpose, our reason for existence.

We are mindful that we are an Anglican Church and this gives us a history, a liturgy, and a tradition to start from, it gives us a specific role in the community and offers us numerous opportunities. It also brings with it various obligations, expectations and responsibilities, and it also brings with it a number of challenges.

All this is good. It is who we are. Who God has called us to be.

I believe God is leading us into a new future – linked to the past, but different from it. Our future is to be a church of new Christians, to be a growing church, and a younger church. Our future is to be a church that is rooted in the locality with a mission to the locality. Our future is to be a church of small groups, a church of deep relationships and strong connections. Our future is to be a church that is outward looking, reaching out to 100’s of people every week whether through LIFE365, the REC HOUSE, ROSE COTTAGE or through our own natural relationships with our neighbours.

I believe our future is to be a church that trains and equips people – interns/students/new Christians/future leaders. I believe it is to be a church that expresses itself in vibrant, charismatic and engaged worship with a deep spirituality. Our future is to be a church that models reconciliation and forgiveness, a maturing church that is committed to supporting one another in our discipleship, and which communicates strong and relevant teaching. Our future is to be a diverse church of wounded sinners – open to all but seeking transformation of all. A community of both invitation and challenge.

In all this I believe it is important to know that it is God’s desire for this to happen through us. Not despite us, but through us. God wants to grow his church here in Twerton through us, small and vulnerable though we are. His desire is to grow his family through his family. He wants to use us, the poor in spirit, the weak, the vulnerable, the broken. He wants to grow his family through us, his family here. Brothers and sisters, we are entering a new season together, a new term. Of course we are feeling the mix of emotions that come with any new season – trepidation, excitement, nervousness – all mixed together.

Let us hold firm together, walk together, re-unite ourselves around our shared Master and around our shared vision. Let us recommit ourselves to build, to work, to pray, to give, for this vision to come about. Let us enter this new season with hope and confidence. For God is with us. We may face challenges on every side, but the one who has overcome the world is with us and will never leave us or forsake us. And in him we are more than conquerors.

A postcard to the Bishop

Every member of the clergy in Bath and Wells has been invited to send our new Bishop a postcard telling him what we think he ought to put his attention to.  Imagine that.  Receiving 400 postcards of advice from clergy right across a diocese…!  Exhausting just reading them, let alone discerning what they might be telling you…  May God help him in it all!

Anyhow… this is what I sent to him

Dear Bishop Peter

Thank you for this opportunity to write to you.

I am sure that by now you have been received many ideas and specific suggestions for what might need attention. Mine are more big picture – the main thing is to make the main thing the main thing.  Our church needs structural and cultural change. The structure must serve the culture not the other way around and the culture we must increasingly develop is once centred on being, making and maturing disciples. This is the forgotten purpose of the Anglican Church (indeed every church). The fruit of this discipleship will be the ‘common good’ we often talk about but this is not our goal.  Our true goal is living life in Christ and inviting others to join us in his life.  This Life is our source and our goal. Living life in Christ. Everyone a disciple, everyone a disciple-maker, every-church a discipleship community, everywhere a discipleship invitation.

Please be assured of our prayers for you and all of your leadership team in the coming months. 

What would you have sent him?

Living out of grace and peace

logo2000Christmas is one thing, New Year is quite another.

Which one do you prefer?

This year, with Gus home for Tory’s birthday on a surprise visit, I loved putting up the tree and watching the kids hang their memories and treasures on the tip of the branches. We went to bed late that night but happy. That was the 16th December – still over a week to go – and there was much to do, much to get ready for, much to organise.

And on the day itself, for us as a family, with Tory’s mum down to stay, finding it hard to ‘say no to a crisp’ and commenting amusingly on ‘call the midwife’, we took our time and let things emerge. Of course, now Angus and Hebe are older, the pace has changed and the conversation has deepened.

The weather’s been variable and it’s on days like this that it’s both good and bad to have a dog. They get you out – no matter what the rain is like – and it’s not unusual to find the walks strangely refreshing.

For me, I find praying, listening and sitting still hard at Christmas. At other times too, but especially at Christmas. Too many things to do, conversations to have, miles to travel. In my ideal version of Christmas I find God again and again, I rest in him, I read about his son, I still myself. In reality I find myself distracted by countless things – mostly screens.

Christmas is one thing but as the week passes and we approach New Year a whole new set of issues arise. Already tired from the getting ready for Christmas, I find myself staying up a bit later than I ought and I find it hard to refresh myself. And then, ‘Crash!’, in comes New Year – not just another late night but a whole set of concerns and thoughts and resolutions.

Jesus Christ may not be at the centre of our cultural life but we find it hard to completely shake off the religious and spiritual behaviours that seem hardwired into our DNA. At Christmas time countless thousands find themselves contradicting their normal belief and behaviour, singing ‘Glory’ to the son of David and, ‘Hosanna in the highest heaven’. At New Year the talk is all about resolutions, making a new start, turning the page. Every paper, every radio station, every magazine has something to say on the subject. We are all longing for more, for better, for thinner.

The Christian word for resolution is repentance – thinking again, rethinking everything, turning around – and although that is not such a popular word, that is what we all engage in.

At New Year everyone has a go at reviewing their lives. We can’t help it. We rethink our eating, our bodies, our time management, our goals, our ambitions, our money, our relationships, our work. And of course, all this thinking is hard for any of us whose life is hard, or bleak, or difficult, anyone whose life is unlikely to ‘just improve’. Christmas covers over our concerns but New Year brings back into the light all over again and sometimes this can be as overwhelming as coming out of the cinema one afternoon. It is no wonder that doctors report that depression is highest in January, because January is the month of honesty and review, and when things aren’t all that good depression can be a natural response.

For some, I guess, New Year is a moment of freshness, newness and optimism. This year, they hope, things will get better. This year I live the way I want to. This year I will lose a few pounds, make a few pounds, lift a few pounds. This year I will get the balance right.

How is New Year for you? Have you been caught up in the narrative of reflection and renewal once again? And if so, how has that left you feeling?

As Christians, as beloved children of God, as followers of Jesus, as Spirit filled sons and daughters, as disciples, we live our lives in a good story, a story that gives us much hope, much joy and much peace. And it goes like this.

I am loved
I am chosen
I am forgiven
I am filled
I am equipped
I am safe

God has loved us, chosen us, forgiven us, filled us, equipped us, and saved us. As we approach a new year we must let this story fill our minds and hearts. We must let this worldview direct our thinking and dominate our feelings and emotions.

In response to every worry, every dream, every doubt, every fear, every task, every conflict around the corner, every plan, every complexity, every hope, every turn, God says to our hearts the same things, again and again.

You are loved I love you
You are chosen I choose you
You are forgiven I forgive you
You are filled I will fill you
You are equipped I will equip you
You are safe I will protect you

Why do we find these things so hard to hear?
Why do we find it hard to rest into this story?

The world around us tells us another story. It tells us, again and again, that we will not be loved unless we succeed, be beautiful, achieve, win, or impress. It tells us that only the best are chosen, only the slim, only the good, only the perfect. It tells us that only the good are forgiven, only the deserving. It tells us that there isn’t enough to go around so we’d better take stuff when it comes past, grab it, drink it, eat it, spend it, indulge it. It tells us that we need to work harder, train harder, push more, rest less. It tells us that we are vulnerable, in danger, that a crisis is just around the corner.

Jesus’s existence, his birth, his life, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, his spirit sending and his return all tell us that there is another place to live from – a place of acceptance, of calling, of forgiveness, of plenty, of blessing and of security. The New Testament calls living in this place, “living in Christ”. In Christ we have everything we need for living joyful, peaceful, anxiety free, content, loving, beautiful and fruitful lives. Everything. Everything.

If you don’t believe this you will know. You will be searching for the answer somewhere else. Searching for love, for significance, for forgiveness, for satisfaction, for strength and for refuge, somewhere else, someone else, something else. It may be your work, your role, your family, your money, a relationship, a place in church life. It could be anything. For we are desperate until we find these things.

The good news we have to offer, the good news we have the chance of experiencing, is that this life is available to us in Christ.

Repentance isn’t just feeling bad about the old way of doing something, it is about feeling attracted to a completely new way of living. That’s why Jesus always linked repentance and belief. “Repent and believe the good news,” he said. Because to live in Christ means believing that Christ really is the source of all grace and all truth. Living in him means completely trusting him with everything. Seeing him as the source of all good things and the end to which all good things point.

This is what we have on offer to us every day! Life in Christ.
Again and again and again and again.
Every new year Christ comes and offers us this life once again.
His love is endless, his forgiveness complete, his desire is limitless.

Of course trusting Jesus means rethinking everything. Everything.
It means letting him be the way, the truth and the life. It means letting him direct our behaviour, our language, our emotions, our way of thinking, our approach to food, to sex, to money, to power, to relationships. It means really letting him shape us, mould us, hold us, define us. It means letting his will be done on earth, in us, as perfectly as his will is expressed in heaven.

This New Year, Jesus comes and stands in front of us and offers us himself – completely. He offers us his life, his hope, his peace, his love. He offers us his strength, his courage, his determination. He offers us his power in weakness, his contentment in poverty, his joyfulness in the midst of pain. He offers us his life. Right here. Right now. No matter the circumstances, the present reality of your life, Jesus comes and says I can offer you life, my life, right here, right now. You don’t need to go anywhere, say anything, do anything, pretend anything, look good, act good, sound good. You don’t need to do anything other than believe. Rethink your life again this year! Yes, rethink it, resolve to live differently – but not out of fear, but out of grace, out of love – my love for you. Repent and believe the good news which is available for you, and your family, and your heart, right here, right now. Rest. Stop. Trust.

Listen to Paul’s words to his precious family in Ephesus. Written from a prison cell Paul is not confined by the walls that surround him. Instead he is caught up in what it means to be alive in Christ.

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. (chosen) 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen (strength) you with power through his Spirit in your inner being (filling and equipping your heart and mind), 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith (trust). And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ (loved), 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us (filled and equipped),21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

We need to live our lives out of this love, out of this place of acceptance and forgiveness and calling and security and purpose. We need to live our lives out of the life of Christ.

And as we do this individually we will do this collectively, communally, corporately. We will be the body of Christ, the bride of Christ. Together we will be a sign and agent and a foretaste of the kingdom of God that is coming.

Jesus is not dead. He is alive.
And he offers alive-life to us today, right here, right now.

He calls us back out of fear and into a place of love
Out of work into a place of grace

How shall we respond?
Let us believe. Let us trust. Let us relax again into this love. Let us remind our souls that we are indeed loved, chosen, forgiven, filled, equipped, and safe. Let us agree with these truths.

And then let us co-operate with these truths.

We are saved by grace, not by works, through faith – trust. But faith without works is dead. Faith that doesn’t express itself in some kind of action lacks meaning, lacks reality. After we believe, we need to co-operate with the life of Christ in us, with the Spirit of God that lives with us. We need to let him rule over our thoughts, our actions, our words and our beliefs. We need to let him renew our minds. We need to let him determine the shape of our lives.

This means submitting to him, relaxing into him, letting him own us. Becoming his slave, not out of fear, but out of choice, out of love. Letting him govern us. This is repentance. Not resolution, but repentance. This is letting him have everything.

These two things are needed for us to have his life.
Repentance and belief.

Why not let’s give that a go, not just today, but every day this year.

Seven Sacred Spaces

sacredspacesOver the next few months our church is going to be exploring our community life together by reapplying lessons learned in the Monastery.  The idea was inspired by a time of prayer we had together as a church at the end of the year and by a retreat day where i found myself reflecting on the monastery as a way of thinking about the various ways we express ourselves as a church.

Here are some initial thoughts:

The Cell is a personal, private space. It reminds us that our personal relationship with Christ is vital. In our cell we participate in personal disciplines of solitude, secrecy, silence, prayer and rest

The Chapel is a communal, social space. It reminds us that our life in Christ is always as part of a wider body. In the chapel we pray together, listen, learn and reflect together, worship and sing together.

The Cloister is a place of transition. It is the space in between others where we journey with others, meet, chat, walk, befriend. It is a social space where we are connected to others.

The Garden is a place of work, of production, of labour. It is a place where we solve problems, work in teams, steward our resources, sow and reap. It is a place of growth.

The Refectory is a place of sharing, of hospitality, of eating and celebrating. It is a communal space where we are human together, equal.

The Chapter is a place of decision making and discussion. It is where the community come together to find a common mind and to listen to each other. It is a place of unity, planning and organisation

The Library is a place of study, of reflection, of learning and exploration. It is where the community go to deepen their understanding of things.

Six reasons why SEND A COW works

I’m back in the UK. I’ve had a trip of a life time and I’m so grateful for all that I have received! Thank you especially to David and Wondwossen for making it all happen for me!  I can’t thank you enough.

It’s going to take a while for the thoughts to filter down and to begin to make shape but I here are todays six reason why the SEND A COW approach works and changes lives:

  • Dramatic Impact – even in a short timescale
  • Focussed on Mind-set change – giving people hope, purpose, direction and a new way of thinking
  • Quality People - such amazing staff, full of passion and commitment
  • Highly Accountable – every penny counts and makes a difference. Complete financial integrity
  • Empowering Community approach – helping individuals as a group maximises growth and change
  • Transformational Training - passing on skills that make a tangilble difference that can be shared with others

To all at SEND A COW – here in the UK and in every country in AFRICA – may God continue to bless you in all you do!  It’s amazing to see the results of your hard work changing families lives for ever.

Everything matters

Image

A lot has happened in the last few days. Joy, sadness, feasting, laughter, crying, questions, hope, longing, dreaming, stillness, tiredness, sleep, sharing, stories, walking, playing, singing, celebrating, smiling, photos, listening, waiting, hellos, goodbyes. I can’t recall feeling as rich as I do right now. I am so grateful.

Mountains are significant places in the story of God’s people and I feel that, like Moses, I have had my own mountain-top experience. And I don’t think I am alone in this. I was not the first among our team to talk about being in Katoba as being on ‘top of the world’. Something amazing and deep and rich has been happening to us.

Our bodies are tired. Our minds full to the brim of stories of hope and transformation and stretched to breaking point as we try to make sense of it all. Our stomachs are full of rich food, pulled from the earth and so lovingly served by the humblest of the world. The campfire, the darkness, the stars, the rain, the earth, the friendship, the smiles. These things are etched in my memory and I feel emotional just mentioning them.

But perhaps one of the best gifts I have received from it all has been the way that this tour has reconnected me with the faith, the bible, the Christian narrative.

In the middle of our scriptures we hear God speaking through a prophet called Isaiah. Not told in one voice, or at one time, or in one tone, the words of God through Isaiah have been resonating so loudly, so beautifully, so perfectly in me and my heart is alive.

The outline of this story was sown into my heart by Tom Sine when I was aged 18 (some years ago!) as he wove together the mountain peaks of Isaiah’s vision into one compelling narrative and it goes like this.

One day, says God, all things will be restored, all illness will be banished, all injustices will be righted, all wounds will be healed, all tears will be wiped away. On this day bad things will be sorted out, once and for all. Evil will be conquered and death defeated. And on this day, people from all nations of the earth will come together, leaving behind their broken pasts, their wounded histories, their stories of loss and grief and hurt, as they begin to climb the ‘Holy Mountain’. Streams of people, from all corners of the earth, children of the same heavenly Father, will leave behind the wilderness, the desert and the parched land of their pasts and walk into the beauty and joy of their eternal inheritance.

And on this day everything will be new. The way things have been, the bad way, the broken way, will be reversed, put right, and restored to its original purpose.

Isaiah puts it like this:

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

It is an amazing picture of hope beyond our imaginings – impossible, other worldly, beyond comprehension – but so compelling that Isaiah can’t help but announce it, shout it, preach it, again and again;

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine — the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth.

The Lord has spoken.

In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

And here;

The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendour of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendour of our God.

Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way, say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and those the Lord has rescued will return.

They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

And then finally here;

“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more. “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child; the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed. They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands. They will not labour in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.

At the top of the world this week, in Katoba, among the poorest of the poor, at the top of the mountain, high up in the cloud, these images, these beautiful and hope-filled pictures have come alive to me once again. They tell a story of our future, the future of our world, the future of the world God loves so much and aches over with such compassion. A world made new, a nature restored, a people born again.

These images make sense here, out in the wild, in the open, in the countryside of Ethiopia. This story needs no translation. It fits. The earth, the sky, the animals, the mountain, the water – these things that make up life in Kotoba – these are the ingredients of the story. And I am so grateful for being able to see it now.

But no matter where we live, all of us ache for renewal, for a world made new, for justice, for life rather than death. Here in Ethiopia, on every corner, on every street, we see the world out of kilter, out of sorts, out of line. There really is such brokenness, such pain, such poverty, such slavery, such injustice, such ugliness, such abuse, such disorder, such inequality just in front of us. Admittedly the longer I stay here the more I get used to seeing it, but it’s all so visible here, from the young girls offering themselves on the corner of the street, to the blind girl begging, to the mother carrying a child on her back, to the family fetching water with the donkeys, to the mother hoping that her daughters might have a better opportunity than she did, to the father worried about his wayward son. It’s all here. Story after story, person after person, life after life.

And I am a part of it too. I can’t escape. I am not outside it looking in. I am inside it all, just as much a part of it as anyone else. I am responsible for my own responses, my own decisions, my own choices, my own actions, my own life. My influence matters. My actions count. My words make a difference. The way I use my money and gifts is not neutral. Everything matters.

Like you, I believe that life matters, that a child’s health matters, that economics matters, that issues of gender equality matter, that how we share the resources of this beautiful planet matters. Life is not just a series of random events lacking ultimate meaning – we live, we die, nothing more, nothing less. No, I believe that our deepest longings, our strongest and most powerful emotions, point us to a deeper truth about life and its purpose. My empathy for a deserted mother, my joy in playing with a child, my recognition of beauty and my anger at injustice, all point to a deep truth about life – that it all matters.

Matter is not just matter. It’s way more significant than that. Matter matters.

Ever since the beginning of time humanity has understood the deep inner morality and meaning of life and ached over the brokenness of it all and we have looked inside ourselves and noticed that that the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart, as someone once said. We are all guilty. We have all missed the mark. We have all damaged the image of God we carry in our being.

And this matters too. It matters to the child, to the mother, to the farmer, to the elder. It matters to the animals, to the earth, to the water. It all matters. Every drop of pollution matters. Every broken promise. Every sin. Every miss-directed choice, whether it was through ignorance, through weakness or my own deliberate fault. It all matters.

This is what Isaiah’s announcement presents us with too. Injustice matters to God. Economic decisions, sexual decisions, worship decisions – they all matter, they all demand a response from this God of compassion, faithfulness, integrity, and truth. And that’s why Isaiah reminds us just how much YHWH hates the festivals, the symbols, the rituals that his people participate in while at the same time oppressing the poor or ignoring the voice of the widow. YHWH has grown tired of his people’s darkness, his people’s blindness. It’s time to switch the light on.

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

The Creator of this world, wants his world back and his kingdom, his will, established on earth, as it is in heaven.

Isn’t this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter, when you see the naked to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry from help, and he will say, “Here am I”.

It all matters. Every life, including ours. And because of this God acts, out of love and out of justice, fired up by passions too deep for words, and anger to strong to bear, coming finally and perfectly to judge the world so that it might finally be put to rights and have every wrong righted. And so this day will be a day of perfect truth and perfect reconciliation. His zeal will accomplish this.

When Jesus says, “I not come to condemn the world, but to save it” he doesn’t mean that judgement is unnecessary or has been superseded by love. He is telling us, rather, that the the purpose of his mission is not simply to act against sinners but to act for them and to rescue them from the judgement that is necessarily coming. The justice that Jesus brings, as God’s anointed one, foretold by Isaiah, is a justice that is so perfect that its consequence is not condemnation but liberation and vindication. God acts justly in faithfulness to his covenant.

The cost of this redemption, however, is not paid by the sinner, the unjust, the ignorant or the weak. Remarkably and undeservingly the price is paid by a suffering servant who carries the debt in our stead like a sheep being taken to slaughter.

This is one part of the story I am so excitedly connecting with again as I get ready to leave Ethiopia. Reflecting on all that I have witnessed, the good and the bad, I have come to see once again the beauty of this pure and exacting love of God revealed in Jesus. The story tells us that everything and everyone matters to God so much that not only will every act receive appropriate judgement, thus dignifying every victim on the receiving end of someone else’s sin or rewarding every act of generosity and love, but also at the same time that no-one is beyond the scope of his forgiveness, redemption, rescue and reconciliation.

This is the power of the cross. Jesus’ undeserved death acts as the place of ultimate judgement for our failures and sin while his resurrection assures us of God’s vindication. All we do is attach ourselves, by faith, to his radical generosity.

Every spiritual blessing is ours in Christ. His debt paying sacrifice and his victorious vindication. All is ours!

The story of Jesus is such good news for the poor in the world because it takes seriously the scale of the wrongs they are suffering while also offering undeserved reconciliation and salvation for sinners. We no longer need to justify ourselves. We are justified by faith and it’s all free.

Such love. Such justice. Such good news.

If anyone of you is still reading this and it makes no sense I apologise. But know that inside me, even if I haven’t been able to put it into words in the best way, a fire is burning again about this story that I have known since I was a child. And it has been this trip that has re-ignited it all for me. I am so grateful for this for it is such a brilliant thing.

I’m on my way home now. Ethiopia is left behind and my family and life in the UK lies ahead. I will continue to reflect and think about it all in the coming days and you are very welcome to join me.