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In Christ alone, my hope is found

When was the last time you used the word hope?

We use the word so often when it is something that we want to happen.

“I hope it’s a good game”

“I hope the weather is nice”

“I hope that you have safe trip”

I could keep going but I won’t.

The dictionary definition is a feeling of expectation or desire for a particular thing. So… I guess… we are using it correctly but…

Is that how the word is used in Christianity?

The song we are looking at this week talks about hope, but it talks about hope being found. How can a feeling of expectation or desire be something that is found? The answer comes in the first line of the hymn

“In Christ alone, my hope is found”

Hope within Christianity is a belief in what is to come. Our full reunion with God, because of Christ. Jesus is the reason that all people can have hope. The whole of this song, which is the basis for our dedication service on Friday, is a list of declarations of what can be found in Christ. So many of the themes of the first verse we have already explored throughout the last term.

In Christ alone, my hope is found, he is my light my strength my song, this cornerstone this solid ground. Firm through the fiercest drought and storm. What heights of love, what depths of peace, when fears are stilled, when striving cease. My comforter, my all in all, here in the love of Christ I stand.

There isn’t a huge a huge amount more to be said. In this world we pin our hopes in so many things. Our parents, our teachers, sports players, celebrities, the government. But all of those things change, make mistakes, fail. We get disappointed, because we placed a hope and it let us down.

There is one hope that never changes, will never change, and can be our solid rock. Christ. By putting our hope in Christ we can show hope to the world and to others.

Challenge: what do you put your hope in? How can you share the hope of Christ with others?

Prayer: thank you father for sending your son that we may have hope. May we only place our hope in you. Amen

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Light of the world

It’s getting to that time of year when lights are very important. For the majority of the last week I have left home in the dark and returned home in the dark, the streetlights have helped me to navigate my way to and from school. Cars and bikes have had headlights so I have known they have been coming. It hasn’t quite been pitch black yet but I don’t think it will be too long.

Darkness isn’t a thing in itself. It is an absence of light.

The street lights have helped with with the physical darkness of the world, but many people would say that we live in a dark world. So often we hear news stories of horrible things that are happening, and horrible things that people are doing to each other. This where are hymn for this week comes in

“Light of the world, you stepped down into darkness, opened my eyes let me see”

Yes the world is a dark place but that was never the intention, when it was created it was good, but we humans managed to bring darkness in. God could have allowed the darkness to continue, but instead he became a human and came to the earth. He didn’t come to shine a light in a bit of the darkness, he was the light. He said it himself, he said “I am the light of the world”. The reading for this week is from Phillipians 2 and it talks about making himself nothing, becoming a servant, becoming human.

What does it mean to say that Jesus is the light? When he came to earth there was an absence of God, which was the darkness. People were focussing on the rules rather than the action. Jesus showed love because he was love, and he brought light to that place of darkness.

The light that Jesus was bringing wasn’t one of those energy saving bulbs that gradually gets brighter, it was a spotlight. Showing people God. People respond to light in different ways, they might cower away from it, covering their eyes, they might get shocked at what the light is showing up, or they might just relish in the light.

As Christians we are called to be light in the world. We may not be the light, but we can be a reflection of it. The best way to be a reflection is to make sure you’re in the line of what you want to be reflecting. If you look in a mirror from an angle then it’s not going to be a great reflection. Therefore to be that light we need to recognise and stand in the light in the first place.

The chorus of this hymn is “Here I am to worship, Here I am to bow down, Here I am to say that you’re my God”. Through our worship of God, through our recognition of what He has done for us, we can start to reflect Him, and be a light in the world. What might that look like? A smile, a friendly face, a hug, a listening ear. Yes Jesus performed miracles, yes Jesus told stories, but Jesus also spoke to those who no one else would, and had tea with those rejected.

We live in a dark world, darkness is the absence of light, therefore let us bring light in.

Challenge: what darkness do you see in your everyday life? How can you bring in some light to that situation?

Prayer: father God we thank you that you came to earth to bring light, help us to reflect that light in the world. Amen

Amazing Grace

Is there a sentence that when spoken just makes you smile? Maybe “it’s Friday” or “only 3 weeks until half term”. We probably all have sentences that bring that joy to us, and put a smile on our face. (I would like to take this opportunity to point out that I do love school, but that is helped by the fact that I get breaks from it as well!)

For John Newton that statement was “Amazing Grace” which he described as a “sweet sound”. Why is it a sweet sound? He explains in the first verse of the hymn… he was lost then found, blind then able to see. But what has that go to do with grace?

Grace is one of those Christian words that is used a lot, but it isn’t always understood. The reading today from John1:14-18 says “out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given” but once again, it is using the word grace. So I did some research, it’s one of those words that even if you know what it means, that doesn’t mean it is easy to define. So let’s give these a go…

Firstly there is an acrostic

God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense

Secondly, just two words, unmerited favour

The third one was actually developed for a Christian community who have learning difficulties and it is “ receiving a gift we don’t deserve”

These are all good ways of remembering what grace is but it doesn’t actually explain much about what it means in a Christian context. The first chapter of John goes on to say “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ”.

From the start of time God has kept rescuing his people. In the beginning God created a beautiful world, with beautiful plants and animals, he then chose to create people in His likeness. He didn’t have to, but he chose to. Then the people went against God, he could have just given up there and then but he didn’t. There was a consequence, but he didn’t give up. We’re not going to go through all of the examples of humans messing up because that would essentially involve me writing out the entire Bible. But in that sentence from John 1 it talks about the law and Moses. The Israelites had been imprisoned and enslaved by the Egyptians, through Moses they were free, and then God gave them the law, the 10 commandments, guidance for how they should live their life, none of it is rocket science, just common sense, but the guidance was there.

People continued to be people. Finally, God, does the only thing he can, he comes to earth in the person of Jesus, to live amongst His people, to be an example, to teach them, and then to pay the ultimate price… to be crucified. This is the bit we don’t deserve, the bit that is unmerited, the bit that is done at Christ’s expense. Because Jesus had done nothing wrong, He defeated death, and rose again. This means that we no longer need Moses to be our representative to go to speak to the Father without His shoes on, but we, ourselves, can go to him. We can be in relationship with him, we can have eternal life.

No one deserves it, it is a lavish gift that didn’t need to be given. God could have given up on us so many times, but he chose to keep going. He knows that we are going to make mistakes, but that doesn’t matter, because Jesus’ death has taken that place.

This is why John Newton wrote “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me”. John Newton was involved in the slave trade, when he had a revelation about Jesus, when he realised what the Christian message was and what it meant for him. He didn’t continue with the life he was living but he changed his life completely, and wanted to tell everyone else about it as well.

Grace doesn’t mean we can just keep making mistakes. It is, however, the ultimate of undeserved gifts, of a path to God the father, through the Son, helped along by the Spirit. The question is: “are you willing to take the path?”

Challenge: God gave us a gift we don’t deserve, what gifts could you give to others for no reason but to show Gods love?

Prayer: father God, we thank you that you created us, that you love us, that you keep rescuing us. We thank you that you sent your so Jesus to live with us, and to die for us. We thank you that you raised Him to life, and that we can now be in relationship with you. May we constantly be reminded of the sweet sound of your amazing grace, and that it will save us, free us, and help us to see. Amen

Christ alone… cornerstone

Yesterday I was at a conference at my church. There was a point where there were a few of us who started bringing our hands down, then raising our hands up. Sounds a bit odd… but we were essentially doing the actions to the song “the wise man built his house upon the rock”. This song is all based around the parable of the wise and foolish builders. The wise man built his house upon the rock, the foolish man built his house upon the sand. When the rains came down and the floods came up, the house on the sand came tumbling down and the house on the rock stood firm.

The illustration of buildings is used a lot in Christian teaching. This isn’t because all Christians are called to be architects or builders – in the practical and physical sense. Instead it is because we are constantly building our lives, and together we are building the Church.

The song we are looking at this week was new to the school last year but has become a firm favourite. Cornerstone. The chorus goes “Christ alone, cornerstone, weak made strong, in the saviours love. Through the storm, he is lord, Lord of all.

Another building metaphor. A metaphor, which has it’s origins in the Old Testament. The cornerstone is, perhaps not shockingly, the stone/brick which holds two walls together – in a corner! But more importantly it is the first stone that is laid. It is the one laid with most care, that all other bricks are based upon. If it is laid slightly on an angle, the entire building will always be on an angle.

Within Christianity we are taught the Jesus is that cornerstone. Not just Jesus the man, and the example that he set. But the basis of Christianity is what Jesus did at the end of his ministry. The first line of the song says “my hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus blood and righteousness”. Jesus blood, which was shed at his crucifixion.

Our Bible reading is from 1 Peter 2:4-10 where it talks about the believers being living stones. All of them being part of the Church, with Christ as the cornerstone.

In the majority of buildings we wouldn’t know which stone was the first stone, even though the rest of the building is built in relation to it. Similarly in the world people no longer see the physical person of Jesus anymore but they might see what has been built from it. The Church. Those who are weak are made strong, those who stand firm in a storm. When I started to think about this passage I was going to talk about my faith and how it has stayed there throughout numerous storms, because Christ is the cornerstone of my life. But actually, I don’t think that’s the point of this song. The reason why my faith hasn’t completely disappeared at times of difficulty is because my faith isn’t about me, it’s about what my faith makes me a part of, which is much bigger. I am part of a church family, but more importantly I am part of The Church which is all believers past and present.

A church which is built on a foundation of love and sacrifice. A Church which has hope when things seem hopeless because they believe that Jesus died on the cross in their place, and because he rose again, they can be free to be in relationship with God. A Church which, because they have that hope are able to bring hope to others. When people feel they are in a storm the Church offers love and hope through things such as Foodbank, hospices, support centres, and sometimes just being an ear to listen.

The Church is a powerful thing, with an awesome basis, but what do people see? The pretty little bits that people have added, or the solid building of people with Jesus’ blood and righteousness as the starting point?

What is at the cornerstone of your life?

Challenge: if people looked at you and your life what would they say is the centre/the basis of your life? Is that what you want people to see? How could you change it?

Prayer: father God we thank you that you came to earth inJesus giving us an example of love, and dying on the cross so that we may have new life in you. Thank you that this is our cornerstone. May we as your Church be a reflection of you. Amen

Bless the Lord, oh my soul

A couple of years ago I was babysitting for my friends 3 year old… we got on really well and always had a laugh… but on this occasion she had just started nursery and she was exhausted. For the entire time I was there she cried, and cried and cried. Originally she was hiding behind a curtain but I was able to get her to come and sit on the sofa with me, where she clung on to me tightly and continued to cry. As soon as her mum came home, a simple hug from her and everything was fine again.

Still, as an adult, when things are really tough I call my mum, or I jump on a train up to Birmingham to spend some time with her. I know that she isn’t going to make everything magically better, but just knowing that she is there and is listening, and still loves me is enough. Why? Because she has always been there for me, she has celebrated when I’ve done well, she has hugged when I have been upset, she has told me off when I needed it, and helped me to make things better, she has supported crazy ideas I’ve had, she has comforted when I’ve been sick. Always, no matter what, she has been there.

This week we continue to go through the hymns we sing as part of our worship at the school. I have always loved the songs written by Matt Redman, he seems to approach the song writing process realistically. He recognises that the Christian life is most definitely not all plain sailing, and yet, even in those dark times we still praise.

The song this week is called Bless the Lord, oh my soul… but it is also known as 10000 reasons. The line I chose as the thought for the week is from the chorus ‘sing like never before oh my soul, I’ll worship your Holy name’. The song is based on Psalm 103 which lists some of the reasons why we should praise God including… forgiving, healing, redeeming. There is the suggestion that it is indeed our soul, or as the psalmist says, our inmost being, that praises God, as that is the part that recognises who God is, and what God has done, and cannot help but praise Him for it.

The first verse says ‘the sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning. It’s time to sing your song again. Whatever may pass and whatever comes before me let me be singing when the evening comes.” As I said, there is no suggestion that life is going to be easy, but even when things are tough we should still recognise and praise God.

There will always be times when we don’t ‘like’ our parents or our teachers, we may just grunt at them, but even in those times we still recognise all that they have done for us. Similarly there are going to be days when we don’t understand things that are going on in our lives, or in the world, yet we still praise God because we have reason to. We believe that He created us and knows us, we believe he protects us, we believe he answers our prayers, we believe there will be some thing positive even if we can’t see it now. It may not be exuberant worship with hands waving, and dancing. There may be a lot of tears. But we still go to our Father in heaven because of our experience, and because we have reason. Well, 10000 reasons according to the song!

Challenge: what experience have you or others had of God to praise Him? Will these enable you to praise when things aren’t going well?

Prayer: father God we thank you for all that you have done for us and we pray that each day when we face the day, no matter what it holds we will be able to praise you. Amen

Be thou my vision

The thing I love about school life is the amount of fresh starts. We are at the ultimate of fresh starts now as we start the new school year, but each term we can start afresh and even each lesson. Quite often we say we’d like a fresh start we are possibly asking other people to forget things we may have done which we shouldn’t have, to clean the slate… however… there is no point in that fresh start if we don’t change the way we are doing things and change our attitude as well.

The first hymn that we are going to be looking at as part of our season of worship is Be thou my vision I told the pupils in full school worship on Friday that this was the hymn that me and my husband had at the end of our wedding ceremony, and it continues to be a favourite of mine. We often have it at the end of services that we have at school. Why? Because essentially it talks about our life being guided by God. It is a prayer asking that God be at the centre of our entire lives.

Be my vision; be all to me; be my best thought at day night, be my wisdom, always with me, my shield, my sword, my strong tower… the list goes on and on… but if I’m honest I’m just sitting here singing it feather writing the blog!

It is sometimes easy to think that God is limited to a building or a service and that we don’t have to think about him at any other time, and yet God is everywhere all the time and is a part of every aspect of our life, should we choose to let Him.

When I was looking at the scripture that this song is based on I was inundated with verses because this song is full of scriptural references but I actually chose Jeremiah 9:23-24 which may seem a bit odd on first reading, but I chose it because the passage is talking about the fact that we shouldn’t boast in what we’ve done but recognise God’s part in it and give him the glory for it. It’s been a great start back to term for me, and it would be easy to say that that’s because of my new awesome stationary and my amazing skills, but actually I should be thanking God for giving me the strength, the vision for the year ahead, and providing support around me.

Rend collective have produced a new version of this song entitled You are my vision which I like because it is a declaration – saying that God is at the centre of their lives. However, I think the original is good as a reminder that it is a prayer to be prayed to askGod to be the centre in all aspects.

Challenge: what is your vision for the year? Is God at the centre of that vision? How might it change if He were?

Prayer: Be thou my vision oh Lord of my heart, be all else but naught to me save that thou art. Be thou my best thought in the day or the night, both waking and sleeping presence my light. Amen

Why we worship

Welcome to a new academic year, I hope you had a great rest over the summer holidays with loads and loads of fun. This term we are going to be looking at a particular type of worship that we participate regularly in at Archbishop’s and that is sung worship. Each week we are going to look at a different hymn that is on our worship sheet, and look at the meaning behind the words that we are singing. But we are going to start off with a bit of an introduction as to why we worship in the first place.

A few years ago my husband and I were spending Christmas in Birmingham, with my parents. On Christmas Day we didn’t go to the church that I had always gone to and which my mum still goes to, instead we went to a church I’ve never been to. Why? Because at my mums church there weren’t going to be any hymns, and we couldn’t quite cope with a service on Christmas Day when we weren’t singing Hark the Herald or O come all ye faithful. For me and my mum singing was a necessary part of our Christmas celebrations.

Singing is by no means the only form of worship but it is one that most of us recognise as worship and will be our focus for this term. But why do we worship? Why do we sing?

Our thought for the week comes from Louie Guiglio who says “worship is giving God his breath back”. I love this quote. Essentially worship is acknowledging what God has given us and thanking Him for it. The book of Genesis tells us that God chose to create a good and beautiful world, he chose to create humans, he chose to breathe life in to us and for me that is something to be thankful for. The word worship means to give someone their worth, and that is what we are doing by joining together. God is worth us taking our time to stop and to focus on Him and to thank Him for all that he has done.

Songs have always been a route for people to express things others that they couldn’t necessarily say in person. How many of you remember the exact words that were spoken in an assembly or a speech from an MP? How many of you are able to sing at least a chorus from a song, any song? Musical worship is able to express what we couldn’t necessarily say for ourselves, the people who write it are writing truths about the God they worship, and are enabling those of us to sing those praises and declare those truths for ourselves.

For many people singing is a fundamental part of their worship. They may not agree on the type of worship they enjoy, but they agree that sung worship is necessary. It helps us to learn about God, it gives words when we can’t find any sufficient, and it brings together a collection of people. Singing is good for health and well being anyway, sung worship helps with our spiritual well being as well. So let’s sing

Challenge What is your favourite worship song? What spiritual truths are declared through that song? Is it based on the Bible?

Prayer Thank you God that you created the world we live, you created us and you breathed life in to us. Help us to give you your worth in our worship. Amen