Goodbye Grace Church

Today has been our last Sunday at Grace Church – after more than 11 years it’s time for Jo and I to say our last goodbye (and thanks for inviting us to the goodbye party too!) I haven’t blogged during this time of leadership transition at the church, but I’ll start again now as we leave and I begin my Sabbatical. Thanks for reading!

Looking back

In 2005 God called us to move to Chichester to plant Grace Church, which we started in 2006. This has been where our family has grown up. In case anyone is unaware, we’re moving to Woking now where I will be lead elder at The Coign Church; there are exciting times ahead.

Looking back I’m so glad that we responded positively to God’s call; God has done so much! It’s been our joy to see three congregations established: Chichester, Bognor Regis and Midhurst. More will follow I’m sure! It’s been our joy to see God at work in so many ways, and now he is calling on us on. I’m sure it will be our joy to see him at work in Woking too.

We want to say thank you to each person at Grace Church for the part they have played along the way. Thank you for friendship, commitment, encouragement and support. As we leave we feel very encouraged and very well sent! God has done so much, and there’s still so much more to come.

Moving on

The main reason for moving on is simply that God has called us to; it’s obedience. But there are benefits for a church when a leader moves on too, for example:

  • All leaders have their faults: we all have blind spots and weaknesses, as well as our strengths; change can be a blessing!
  • It creates room for other gifts to emerge: when a leader moves on it creates space for other people to emerge
  • It multiplies leadership: Grace Church has a great eldership team now, David supported by many other leaders too. David has come into his own as a lead elder. The church is going to do fine without us
  • It keeps the church fresh: New ideas and initiatives will find space and be released to flourish

And if God calls us to move on and we don’t do it, it could result in some problems:

  • Stagnation: a loss of the fresh cutting edge
  • Loss of anointing: a lack of God’s power and blessing on the task

Ultimately, when leaders stay beyond their God given time, what has been built can be damaged! So there are benefits to leadership changes in church life, and we’ll see those in Grace Church as we go.

Some final words

In my talk today I pointed three final words: Love, Obedience & Truth.

Love:

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this will all people know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” – John 13v34-35

Love for Jesus can overcome all barrier, so love one another, accept one another, bear with one another and forgive one another!

What enables us to do that? The certainty that we are loved ourselves: “We love because he first loved us” – 1 John 4v19

Obedience:

Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments” – John 14v15

The first command we obey is the command to love one another, rooted in a love for God; all the rest of our obedience flows from that. If you love Jesus, obey him. Our obedience is a demonstration of our love. We need to obey what Jesus calls us to do; we need to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

When we walk in obedience we walk in confidence; when we walk in disobedience, nothing feels right. There is no joy for a Christian living in disobedience to God. In his presence is fulness of joy; if you don’t have joy, whose presence are you spending your time in???

Truth: 

Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8v31-32.

True freedom comes by knowing the truth. Truth is not all relative! Truth is not unknowable! Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and life” – John 14v6. Jesus is the truth, and Jesus is knowable. You can find answers for life that are absolutely true, in Jesus.

The best way to avoid being deceived by lies is to know the truth, so learn the truth, read the truth, listen to the truth, meditate on the truth, obey the truth. The Bible is God’s word, and God’s word is truth, and it all points to Jesus and Jesus is truth!

 

A world to reach

We have a world to reach with the good news of Jesus. People need to see the love of God in us and feel the love of God through us. People need to see us living lives of sacrificial obedience to God, even when it’s costly. People need to see that the truth we have is impacting our world and our lives for good.

Screen Shot 2017-04-30 at 15.21.18Most people will only experience the presence of God through us; you and I are the closest to Jesus they will ever get unless they also come to faith in Jesus for themselves! And for that to happen it is vital that we are living lives of love, obedience and truth.

So that’s three final words to remember: Love … Obedience … Truth.

And as far as my ministry at Grace Church goes …

… that’s your LOT!

 

Saying ‘goodbye’ to a good friend

A sad day

15079034_1026862530772733_3224708844393030373_nYesterday at Grace Church we said goodbye to a dear friend and church member, Richard Owen. Richard and Wendy have been part of our church since before it began; they helped to plant it. Richard will be greatly missed.

If you want to know what sort of man Richard was, you could do a lot worse than to look at the things written about him on Facebook since he was taken home. For example:

  • It was a pleasure to know Richard, such a kind & generous heart
  • Richard was one of the first people to welcome me to Grace Church, and he knew my name. He was such a lovely man
  • We will miss this man of great faith, humility, compassion, love and joy. He is an inspiration
  • Richard will be greatly missed – such an example to us all of a real warrior for God showing great perseverance and faith
  • Richard was such an inspiration to me as a young adult. He brought faith and fun together in a natural way
  • Richard is an inspiration and benchmark on how to live in the Lord

Inspiration

15171334_1026862740772712_7280242106463818483_nOne word seems to come up a lot: Inspiration. There was something about Richard that inspired people to live well and follow Jesus wholeheartedly.

Something about Richard inspired people to look to God and to stand firm in their faith. The final post that he made on Facebook, on June 24th following the EU referendum, said this:

“God is building His Church. He always has and He always will. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom that has always transcended borders. Nothing can thwart His eternal will and purpose. The outcome of the referendum makes not one iota of difference to Him who is forever praised. To His redeemed He has promised that He will work ALL things for good to those who love Him and are the called according to His purposes. We have nothing to fear. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, what is unseen is eternal.”

Richard had his gaze set beyond this world and onto his heavenly home; the home to which he has now gone.

Thanksgiving

At the thanksgiving service we focused on these words from the Bible, 2 Peter 1v5-8:

“Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

That passage sums up some character qualities which we saw in Richard’s life, and which were the source of much of the inspiration he gave.

The first quality it mentions is faithRichard was a man of faith. He had his own personal faith in Christ, but he was also prepared to take steps of faith: travelling to India, setting up charities, giving himself to an adventure like church planting. These were faith steps.

It says, “Make every effort to add to your faith goodness”: Richard embodied goodness in many ways: he was good to people; he was always willing to do good to others and to put himself out. He spent hours showing pastoral care and love to people who needed it. He was willing to help when help was needed. Many of us benefited from his goodness.

Next it says, “add … to goodness, knowledge”: Richard spent hours studying and reading books about his Christian faith. Even in his final days he was deep into books by the great authors of the Christian faith. He was devoted to growing in the knowledge of God right up to the end, when he saw him face to face and no more books were necessary.

15110901_221087181649703_7917039115661628657_oTo knowledge we are told to add, “self control”: I’ve no doubt that Richard got cross or upset sometimes, but in the 11 years I knew him I never saw it. I never saw him lose it, or fly off the handle, or gossip or back bite or complain or get angry or bitter. That’s a serious level of self control – and it’s not as if he never faced any disappointments!

Ask him how he was and he would say, “I’m good”. Even when he was dying of cancer and I thought that maybe now he might be forgiven for a few grumbles, he would just say,

“I can’t complain; God is good!”

Then it says, “add … to self-control, perseverance”: I saw Richard persevere when his house in Hove refused to sell for two years. Believing God had told them to move, he persevered. I saw him persevere when Wendy battled breast cancer. I saw him persevere though the challenges of church life. And we all saw him persevere through his illness, only reluctantly stepping back from his many serving roles when Wendy insisted!

“To perseverance” we are told to add, “godliness”: As someone said on Facebook, “Richard was an inspiration and benchmark on how to live in the Lord”. And someone else said, “He brought faith and fun together in a natural way”. I’m not sure there are any better definitions of godliness than those two.

To godliness we are told to add “mutual affection”, or as other translations say it, “brotherly affection”: Many of us benefitted from Richard’s affectionate nature; the love he showed to his brothers and sisters in Christ.We see it y in the way he served in so many areas: setting up events, leading small groups, his travels to India, his commitment to leadership and his acts of service and generosity. Richard exuded brotherly affection.

15095030_1281942981827381_953735968216780002_nAnd finally, to “brotherly affection” we are told to add “love”: The type of love it refers to here can be summed in one phrase: self sacrifice. This is a love based not on feelings but on a decision; a love that chooses to prefer others and put them first. And Richard showed that so well: in marriage, in parenting, in friendships and in church life too.

A high calling

What an incredible list and what a high calling, and Richard embodied it well. The passage finishes with this: “If you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And Richard was anything but ineffective and unproductive! What a faithful servant! What a life! No wonder he was such an inspiration to so many!

The source of it all

So what was it that made Richard such an inspiration? What motivated him? What shaped him? Was he just a naturally good person?

Without being rude or disrespectful, the answer is no! If Richard had been willing to acknowledge that he had these qualities at all, he would have been clear that the source of them was not found in his own natural character or goodness. These qualities were not inborn; they came from his relationship with Jesus Christ.

They came from being born again!

Despite all his natural good qualities, and they were many, as a young man Richard came to realise that he was a sinner and that he needed forgiveness and mercy from God … and in Jesus he found the source of an eternal forgiveness and mercy.

The Bible puts it like this in John 3v16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him might not perish but have everlasting life”

Richard knew this to be true. He believed that Jesus was the son of God. That he came from heaven to earth, born as a baby. He believed that Jesus lived a sinless life, and that he died on the cross in our place, to pay the price for our sin. He believed that Jesus was punished in our place on the cross. Crucified, dead and buried, and then three days later Jesus rose to life again. That was the basis of his faith.

No fool

398822_2708099735376_825295775_nNow Richard was no fool. He was a policeman for 28 years. He was used to looking at evidence. He didn’t let people put one over on him easily. He had some gruesome stories of dead bodies too that he used to roll out from time to time to make people like me squirm. Richard was no fool.

Yet Richard believe that this one man, Jesus, had done something that no one else in all history had ever done: he had risen from the dead. And the implications of that fact, carefully considered and researched by Police Inspector Owen, changed his whole life.

Richard knew that through Jesus we can each find forgiveness and mercy and be made right with God again. And on believing that message  Richard put his faith in Jesus and followed him. And I know that Richard would want each of us to do the same.

Jesus changes everything

When you put your faith in Jesus it changes everything. Jesus is the source of the good that we saw in Richard:  faith, goodness, knowledge,  self control,  perseverance,  godliness, brotherly affection, love … all these things find their source in Jesus.

When we put our faith in him, he not only makes us right with God, he not only forgives our sin and promises us eternal life, he also starts to change our lives and make us into the people we were created to be.

Real evidence

Perhaps the real evidence of the truth behind Richard’s faith in Jesus, the evidence that we should all pause to consider, is the righteous life that Richard lived as a result of his faith. This was not the result of human effort; it was the result of God at work in Richard’s life.

So we thank God for Richard

We thank God for his example. We thank God for his life. And most of all we thank God for the eternal life that he now enjoys through his faith in Christ, a life that is available to each of us by faith too.

Faith was the first quality on that list for a reason; it all starts with faith … and maybe now is a moment for us to put your faith in Jesus too, perhaps for the first time or perhaps to reaffirm our own faith again.

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