A Vast Majority: Part 2

 

In my previous blog I started some reflections based on Stuart Murrays book a Vast Minority. In this blog I ask some more questions inspired by that book. I find the questions so much easier than answers!

If our goal is a society that allows numerous minority groups to all live together without any one minority imposing their views on the rest, then…….

How do we speak out prophetically against injustice in society rather than just stand up for our own rights and preferences? My previous blog, I’m alright Jack also relates to this question.

In a diverse society made up of many subcultures what does it means to be counter-cultural? Where does the Christian community position itself among the many minority communities that in different ways are counter-cultural in relation to whatever is perceived to be the dominant culture?

I honestly do not know the answers to these questions, but know that these are the questions that we do need to find an answer to together as a Christian community.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

tonyt

Tony Thompson is the leader of Hope Church Luton.  He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

A Vast Majority

I recently read a book by Stuart Murray with the above title which I found helpful and challenging. It made me ask lots of questions which I don’t know if I have the answers to, but are important to ask.

The initial premise of the book is that Christians in the UK are a vast minority. We are a minority, yes, but we are not a small insignificant minority, we are a vast minority. He goes on to suggest that this hasn’t really changed in a long time, we have always been a vast minority but previously within a context of “nominal” or “cultural” Christianity. We are now surrounded not by nominal or cultural Christians but people of different faiths or of no faith. We therefore need to learn to function differently, rather than just long for things to be as they were in the past.

Accepting this it raises all sorts of questions and issues. One that I have been pondering is this.

The complaint that was directed at Christians from previous generations was that as a minority they imposed their view on everyone. I think there is some truth in the complaint. There is now also the complaint that in this generation some Muslims have a secret (or not so secret) agenda to impose their views on everyone else. Let us all agree that it is wrong for any minority to just impose their view on the majority. However, the very people making the complaint against previous generations of Christians and against Muslims today are doing the same themselves now!

It is claimed we are now a Western secular society, however secularists themselves are a minority in our country. The majority of people are people of faith, but no longer belonging to just one faith group. Yet secularists are seeking to impose their views on the rest of us.

The question is therefore what sort of society are we looking to create that allows numerous minority groups to all live together without any one minority imposing their views on the rest? I don’t know if secular society is ready to allow people of faith to enter that debate as equals. I think that people of faith need to challenge the imposition of minority secular views on the rest of.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

tonyt

Tony Thompson is the leader of Hope Church Luton.  He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

I’m Alright Jack

I’ve recently been stirred to think and ponder something that I don’t feel fully qualified to talk about but something that I feel could be a defining issue for the next few years. Something that I am increasingly feeling I need to have an opinion about, however controversial and difficult.

Our nation and most of the world are rightly concerned about terrorism, particularly terrorism in the name of Islam. As such various initiatives are being put forward by society as ways to combat it, many of which could be seen as curtailing the freedom of Muslims to practice their faith. Examples being proposed legislation which requires faith groups teaching children for more than 6 hours a week to be Ofsted inspected; schools having to raise concerns with authorities if they perceive children are being indoctrinated by religious groups.

As Christians we are rightly concerned about how these impact our freedom of expression of our faith. On the whole we are being reassured by the state that they are not directed at us but are directed at Muslim extremism but that Islam can’t be isolated out for special treatment in law.

This is what is causing me to ponder and think. What do I think about it?

I can’t get away from the famous quote attributed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer regarding life in Germany in the 1930s and 40s.

“First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”

 

I believe that as Christians we have to speak out strongly for our right to exercise our faith in the UK in particular but also across the world. There are examples in the UK where Christians are stopped from expressing their sincerely held Christian principles. We should speak out against this discrimination. The treatment of Christians in some countries around the world is outrageous and we should be outraged and speak out against it. Interestingly many Muslims I know are also outraged by the treatment of Christians in some countries that claim to be Islamic.

We should speak out against all forms of terrorism and seek to do all we can to stop it. However, shouldn’t we also insist on the same rights for others to exercise their faith as we expect for our own faith?

 

Written by Tony Thompson

tonyt

Tony Thompson is the leader of Hope Church Luton.  He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

Why Serve @ Newday 2016?

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Servers From Newday 2015 share their experiences…

 

Newday has run since 2004 and Hope Church has sent many young people over the years but just as many have gone from our church to serve. I personally have been to all the Newdays since it started over 10 years ago both as a delegate and twice as much as a server. So why do I go back to camp on a showground year after year? Simply it’s to serve the thousands of young people that come from across the UK (and other countries) who whether they know it or not are going to encounter something of the living God. There are some many things that are needed to run a big event like Newday including cleaning, catering, stewarding, security and café and entertainment running. Many adults give up the week in their summer or take time off work to be an army of Servers. Many of Hope Church have often served in the cafes, selling snacks, running games, DJing or painting nails even. The great thing that comes through is a sense of team and community but also having a heart to see the young people have a fun and safe week while also meeting with and chasing after God.

Luke Middleton

 

I decided to start serving purely out of selfish reasons I heard about Newday and how amazing it was so thought I would serve, get to go to seminars and meetings and I would get what I needed from it, boy did God change that in me. It was hard work, I was away from home missing my own children, very tired and too tired to bother with the evening meetings it didn’t take me long to realise it wasn’t about what I needed it was about serving the young people. As I continued to serve with the attitude of serving the young people and not myself I felt God pouring out his love and servant heart on me and he blessed me with friendships I would never have if I hadn’t served at Newday. The feeling of belonging to Gods family, being whisked away from normality and getting a little taste of heaven and with the atmosphere being so thick with the presence of God is just amazing. I help led a cafe called Pink and Gents and we are a venue where you can come and get your nails painted, do your hair, buy some sweets, play games and charge your phone amongst other things. We work hard hoovering and cleaning up making the venue look the business ready for the wonderful delegates to come and enjoy. They are so excited when they come in and its great to chat and listen to what God is doing in their lives. This is why I serve at Newday, because I am passionate about young people coming to know Jesus, passionate about young people prophesying, healing, and taking ground. If you have never served at Newday I encourage you too whatever age you are you can impact our youth with just a smile (and possibly a mop in hand). Seeing 6000 young people worshipping in the big top, well it’s my little piece of heaven in a field and I thank Jesus for the privilege of serving at Newday.

Abby Clarke

 

I have been to various Newdays as a delegate, and I always wondered what it would be like to serve. Initially I found it difficult to choose where I wanted to serve, but after asking friends and people from church I chose to serve in the Gents and Pink Bar.

I have found that serving in general is a great opportunity to get involved at Newday and meet people from different churches around the country. I have made many friends over the years I have served and even got to know people from Hope Church Luton a lot more than I thought I would.

Nathan Milton

 

If you are interested in serving at Newday 2016 then check out the information here

Open House Lounge Is Moving Forward!

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Open House Lounge is the community drop-in at Hope Church Centre, Luton. It was started four and a half years ago by small group of Hope Church members, when the church first acquired the old Polish club building in Villa road.

The initial vision for the project came at a church prayer meeting where a member saw a picture of a hearth or fireplace. In the fireplace was a roaring fire and as they looked there were blue cold skinny people who came in and stood by the fire. As they stood they became rosy and warmed and filled out.

When first visiting the soon to be church building before it was refurbished, the person who had the picture saw a fireplace like the one they had seen in the picture. They felt that the fire represented the love of God as demonstrated by his people and to provide a welcoming place for people to come in to, not just on a Sunday morning. The picture was shared with a few other church members and as they prayed together they felt that the project should be modelled on a home. It was to be a place where people were accepted, welcomed and listened to, a safe place where we would cater for all ages just as you would at home.

From when Open House Lounge started in 2011 where we have most weeks opened on Mondays and Wednesdays during the day, it has gradually grown from a handful to now serving 50 to 60 people a day. Many people have enjoyed time there over the years. We feel that is now in a  new stage of growth and to take it to the next stage requires more structure. We have an amazing team of volunteers who run the project and it will still need its present volunteers and some new ones but we also have some funding to employ 2 or 3 people to manage the project.

This will enable us to start a new session on Saturday mornings and to open through most of the school holidays. The job will be advertised on our website shortly and our new Saturday session will open in June serving a cooked breakfast. This is exciting news and also gives lots of potential for new groups to run around the hub of Open House lounge. We would love to hear from you if you would like to be involved in our Open House adventure as we go into the next part of serving the community in Luton.

 

Written by Theresa Middleton

Theresa is leader of Open House and the pastoral team at Hope Church
Theresa is leader of Open House and the pastoral team at Hope Church

When God Doesn’t Feel Like A Rock

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I mentioned previously that God is a rock, in this blog I want to acknowledge that he doesn’t always feel like one!

The important word being “feel”, feelings can be difficult to control and often take over. Outward crisis result in inward crisis and we feel overwhelmed. God may be a rock, but he doesn’t feel like one.

The scriptures are not silent on this and can help for us when we feel overwhelmed. In Psalm 42 and 43 the Psalmist talks about his experience of being overwhelmed. The Psalms are the hymn book of Israel; this song is made up of 3 verses with a chorus after each verse!

Look at the verses first, which describes feelings of being overwhelmed.

The Psalmist uses a picture of waves overwhelming us. He declares God is our rock, but he seems to have forgotten us. My bones cry out Where is your God?” why have you forgotten me?

He uses imagery of being parched. He describes extreme feelings of dryness. The cry is the same – where is your God?

The third verse, Psalm 43, describes feelings of being totally misjudged.

Such feelings are best expressed, better than kept in. Such feelings do not stop us praying!

However, the point is – we do experience such feelings. God is a rock, God is our stronghold but we feel rejected, we still feel overwhelmed.

The second part of each of the verses reflect on these feelings.

He feels overwhelmed but remembers corporate worship in the past 42v4, he brings to mind other feelings, of shouts of joy and praise, feelings of joy and praise in corporate worship.

He brings to mind personal experience of God’s grace 42v8.

He looks forward to worshiping in the future 43v3-4

So the verses of the song –

Describe feeling dry, overwhelmed and attacked.

They then reflect on the memory of previous experiences of joy and praise in worship, of the personal grace of God and then looking forward with assurance of getting to the place of praise again.

Most good songs have a chorus, a refrain. So does this song.

11 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Saviour and my God.

He speaks to himself, challenges himself to move beyond feelings. Overwhelmed. Dry. Ridiculed. By remembering truth, he seeks to take control.

“Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this: instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says, “Self, listen for moment, I will speak to you.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Feelings are so uncontrollable, so unreliable, yet so real.

The important thing is that truth is not dependant on our feelings. Moses, David, myself, and many others, can look back beyond their feelings and declare God is our rock. There will be times when you may not feel like that, the important thing is what you then do. Best is to do what the psalmist did.

  1. Acknowledge those feelings. Acknowledge them to yourself, to God, to others.
  2. Reflect on past experiences of blessing and look forward to future experiences of blessing.
  3. Speak to yourself, remind yourself what God has done for you, why you can be certain he is a rock even if you don’t feel it.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

– based on his sermon from 21st February 2016 – Click here to listen to it

tonyt

Tony Thompson is the leader of Hope Church Luton.  He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

Love Can Be Risky

The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 

Luke 10 v 35

 

Recently, I heard of a man who saw a younger person stranded on a motorway after a breakdown. He saw the danger and ran in to the motorway to catch the person and bring them to the hard shoulder and to safety. Unfortunately, a vehicle didn’t see him and struck him. He died. The person the man rescued survived without injury. Love is instinctive and risky.

Familiar parables have a high profile in church and sometimes in the world. The phrase “prodigal son” would be an example used widely in the media.

We are familiar with the general theme of the Good Samaritan. The least likely, least “religious” person comes to the aid of the man described as “half dead” on the road whilst the religious people walk on by as they have a prayer meeting to attend. They are too busy to get their hands dirty.

I was pondering this parable recently and noticed something afresh.

The Samaritan not only provided the two denarii but also put himself at financial risk. He says that he will “pick up the bill for any extra expense”.

Now let’s ponder. The Samaritan knows nothing of the character of the injured man. Supposing after he is left to rest he decides on a week at the inn. The inn becomes “the Holiday Inn”.

Supposing he is feeling better and raids the mini-bar in his room for spirits. He goes for rump steak on the menu. He then asks for a set of new clothes. He reassures the innkeeper that his guarantor will pay the final bill in full. The text doesn’t tell us that he took advantage but that isnt the focus. The focus is the lavish love of the Samaritan.

The Good Samaritan will see the bill. He gets the call and is committed to paying up. He puts himself at a degree of risk for a stranger.

A few years ago I was working in the US. A company director heard that a fellow director was very drunk and was in a hotel bedroom full of empty wine bottles. Knowing he was depressed, he responded to the call from the hotel staff (who found his business card) and organised an emergency trip to the Hospital where he was re-hydrated. His life was saved. When the man was sober, rather than being full of gratitude he noted a chance to sue the Director who saved him ! Using a privacy disclosure law in the US he threatened to take action. Bizzarely, it is cheaper to settle the money out of court rather than defend. I was horrified. One man takes responsibility, risks loving and is threatened with being sued for saving a life !

But real love is risky.

In the case of the Director, the motorway rescue and the Samaritan decisions had to be made instantly. The “love values” stored in the heart over the years resulted in instant action.

Reasoned advanced planning was not possible.

So too with Jesus Christ. He chose to remain on the cross when he could have called it off. Sacrificing himself to defeat sin and make a way possible for redemption. His instant response was to stay there seeing the multitude of human souls trapped on a spiritual  motorway.

Risky love is not usually seen by others but only by God. I guess that’s authenticity.

Let’s keep loving though it may be risky.

 

Jon

Jon Gledhill is a member of Hope Church Luton
Jon Gledhill is a member of Hope Church Luton

 

 

God Is Our Rock

carmel_splash_183780Most people believe in God, the issue is what is the God you believe in like. For example, Britain First recently visited Luton claiming to speak on behalf of God. They said of church leaders in Luton, “these so-called “Christians” are gormless, trendy, politically correct, tree-hugging, sandal wearing hippies who only care about “multiculturalism”, appeasing Islam and publicising themselves.”

Their actions did not in any way represent the God that I believe in!

We need ways to describe and understand God. The Bible is full of different names and metaphors, pictures for God. Some come from God himself, others by men describing the God they have experienced. Rock is the most common term used to describe people’s experience of God.

Moses and David, in the midst of their difficulties found God to be a rock. Moses at end of his life, looking back on his life. David when he had become King, following 20 years of civil war being hunted by Saul.

He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. Deuteronomy 32v4

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Psalm 18v2

The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God my Savior! Psalm 18 v46

The realisation of God being a rock came out of their experiences of turmoil, as the waves of life crashed around them, God was their rock.

Turmoil.

God as our rock is always relevant – there is always turmoil, waves in life. Life is challenging. As seen by the Britain First conflict – Luton is at the heart of many challenges.

Turmoil comes personally and globally. Global turmoil produces personal turmoil.

Global events become real when they come close, when we meet refugees, when terrorist attacks impact those we know and love. They bring home the fragility of life, its uncertainty. When the financial crisis causes us to lose our jobs, for our savings to be halved, we experience turmoil.

Personal turmoil. You know it can happen, but that doesn’t prepare you for it. Feelings rise up that you can’t do anything about.

It is then that we need to know God as our rock.

How is God a rock to us?

In Mark chapter 4 we have a story of Jesus stilling the storm, following which he says, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

God is our rock by stilling storms in our lives.

However, this is not the full extent of him being our rock. He is also our rock by being with us in the midst of our storms, not as wishful thinking, not as an imaginary friend we rely on when things get tough. But as a real support and comfort.

God is with us in our storms as the risen Lord Jesus. All global forces did their worse, the Roman Empire, religious authorities combined to put him to death; he faced the worse personal forces can do, including his friends deserting him. He overcame, defeated them all. Even the last enemy, death, being defeated. Jesus is with us, as he was with the disciples in the boat.

I didn’t make God up – he revealed himself to me and to all his creation. He revealed himself to Moses and David!

Jesus can say “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

We can have faith in God, our rock.

Such an important truth in the midst of storms and turmoil.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

– based on his sermon from 7th February 2016 – Click here to listen to it

tonyt

Tony Thompson is the leader of Hope Church Luton.  He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

Balance as a Church

IMAGE Whats On 3 legged stool

I have blogged previously about the importance of balance in our relationships as a Christian. Balance in our relationship with God; with fellow believers – building community; and with the hurting world around us. This follows the model of Jesus.

I now want to explore what this mean for us as a church.

  1. Easier said than done!

It is so much easier to focus on 2 rather than 3. How do we even know whether we are balanced?

Two people can look at the same church and conclude it is unbalanced, but disagree about what the imbalance is!

We need to hear from God and each other! Individuals can have different perspectives, depending on their personality, history and maybe even prejudice.

I am increasingly convinced of the importance of seeking to be balanced focused on God; building authentic, loving, caring community, together being Christ on earth; focusing on the world around us, seeking God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.

But how! Here are some thoughts on how we can seek to check our balance in an objective way.

  1. Prayer life of the church.

If you look at Paul’s prayers, as recorded in his letters, you find a significant emphasis on thanking God – 40% of his prayers. He thanks God for the churches, what is happening outside the church and even for God himself.

There are other prayers just praising God, others praying for the church and still others for God’s impact of the world.

Overall what hits me is that Paul’s prayers are “balanced” including

  • adoration and worship;
  • prayer for ourselves;
  • prayer for others.

A way to check on the balance of any church is to look at their prayer life. How balanced is it?

  1. Prophecy.

We believe that God speaks today. The gifts of the Spirit, including prophecy, did not cease with the coming of the NT but continue today.

Over time you would expect to have prophecies that give us insights into the character of God, insights into what God is doing within Hope Church and within individuals within Hope Church, and what God is doing outside the church – in Luton, nation, nations.

I come to this conclusion through reading the writings of the prophets included in my Bible, they had these 3 focuses.

Paul encourages us to eagerly desire the spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. We need to do so, we also need to eagerly desire the rounded, full gift of prophecy. We need to contemplate God, in all his richness and fullness. What characteristic does he want emphasised today?

The Bible is full of prophecies of what God is doing in the nations, to encourage prayer but also because he is God of the whole earth, not just Israel, not just the church. People believed in regional gods. We can get into same trap, thinking God is only interested in our church! Prophecy should challenge this.

Additionally, we obviously need to hear what God is saying to the church and individuals within it.

Prophecy is therefore another way of checking for balance.

  1. Other areas?

We need to preach about God – who he is; what he has done. Preach about his church, his glorious bride, what He wants us to be individually and corporately. Preach about the world – what he is doing, what he wants us to do.

We should expect small groups to have a balance, staffing and finances generally to have a balance.

  1. Some final thoughts on a focus on the hurting world around us!

It should be wider than just evangelism. If our focus is only on evangelism it can actually be a subtle way of just focusing on ourselves, we just want to grow our church! It doesn’t counter act the tendency to think that it is all about us.

Authentic focus on the hurting world around us is being interested in things outside our own church. Seeking to bring change to our town, our nation, the nations.

We are trying to do this as a church. Working with other churches around the world, praying for world events, seeking the good of our nation and town as well as being involved in helping people discover the truth about Jesus.

However, I finish where I started. It is one thing to have a desire to be balanced, it is another to achieve it. That is the journey we are on.

Tony Thompson

– based on his sermon from 31st January 2016

tonyt

Tony Thompson is the leader of Hope Church Luton.  He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

Magneties – Luton Churches Working Together for Students and 20s

 

There are various ways in which churches work together in Luton including Churches Together In Luton, MissionAll and Luton Unite Youth Leaders Network.

However over the years churches have come together in various forms in order to run events round students and young adults in Luton.

It is believed that the 18-30s age group attendance or participation in church has dropped significantly in the last 20 years or so and that generation is desperately in need for being reached out to. Find out more by watching this short documentary here.

 

Back in 2011 a Student Alpha course was run in collaboration with the Treehouse (University Chaplaincy) and a couple of churches. This was a great time of working together to see the course run over a term for students to learn about Christianity. On from that have also been other opportunities for churches to work with the local student population including a course run called “Going To Uni” to send off pre university leavers with some information to help them continue their Christian life while in a new place studying.

MagnetiesStudentBBQSeveral churches also came together on the grounds of St Marys to run a free BBQ welcoming new students to the university in October last year during the Fresher’s Fayre, as well as an evening to cover the campus in prayer for the new academic year.

Many of these activities have been geared towards students but over time conversations about working together for more than just students have become apparent. To look at how churches can work together with the 18-30s age group. This gathering has been titled ‘Magneties’ which stands for Magnifying God, Networking Students and 20s and Ties in with Local Churches, which we as Hope Church have been involved in helping to set up.

 

The plan moving forward is to arrange a monthly gathering for this age group hosted by different churches as well as the University Chaplain and Christian Union, to be able to encourage each other in their Christian walks but also reach out to their friends and peers.

The unique and exciting thing about it though is that it is the church in Luton working together. Not everywhere can boast an open working relationship with other local churches so we hope that this will be a positive pooling of resources and ideas moving forward.

Written by Luke Middleton

Luke is part of our staff team here at Hope Church where he is Communications Manager and Neighbourhood Community Worker.

Luke