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Dear Brothers and Sisters
When I was just a little boy, I asked my mother, “What will I be? Will I be handsome? Will I be rich?” Here’s what she said to me, “Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see. Que sera, sera. What will be, will be.”
No doubt you might recognise the gender-adjusted lyrics of the award-winning song, Que Sera, Sera, made famous by the energetic and iconic Doris Day, who died a week or so ago at the age of 97. She was one of my mother’s favourite singers, and I remember being made to dance the Cha-cha-cha around the room to the beat of Tea for Two – maybe some of you remember the melody. If you feel like dancing now, go ahead… no one’s watching!
I’m still wondering what I’ll be if and when I grow up. Often, I’m asked a similar question about our church. What do I think its future will be? What’s in store for us collectively and individually?
Jesus was asked on more than one occasion about the future. We can all remember some things that he said. He explained that the human condition would continue with more wars and rumours of war, more diseases and famines, and more religious deception. And that Christians like us would continue to preach the gospel despite it all. Nothing will stop the end coming, but, asked his disciples, when will that be? Infuriatingly for those who’d like more specifics, Jesus’ reply was, “about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father”. Matthew 24:36 NIVUK God only knows, and so stop worrying about it. Just before his ascension to the Father, the eleven “disciples gathered round him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority”. Acts 1:6-7 Jesus did not change his tune. Leave that to the Father. Have faith in God. After all, “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see”. Hebrews 11:1 Of course, we’re only human and we like to know all the details, especially about prophecy and the end times. We’d like God to connect all the dots for us and to be clearer on such things. Let’s make sure, however, that our identity is more in Christ than it is in any word of prophecy however plausible its explanation may sound. The Bible is about the revelation of Jesus. It is about how God reveals himself in Jesus. It is about who Jesus is.
In Acts 1:8 Jesus drew the disciples’ attention to an aspect of their future that was more important that speculating about when the world would end. Listen to his words, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”. Their future – and, incidentally, ours too would be about how the Holy Spirit would work powerfully in them to be witnesses of Jesus Christ. We may not like the answer as to how our immediate future is to play out. Perhaps it doesn’t sound exciting enough to us. We’d rather watch for signs than be a sign. I wonder what the disciples thought. They had to wait for the Holy Spirit to come on an appointed day before their future came to them. We don’t have to wait. The fullness of the Holy Spirit is available to us right now. Through the Spirit’s power we can witness every day to Jesus both in word and in deed. Our life is a living sermon about who Jesus is. Don’t let our love for Jesus be a secret. Proclaim it in all that we do. Even shout it from the highest hill!
As for our small and precious denomination, I am hopeful for its future. Our message about the grace of Jesus is second to none because his grace is second to none. My hope is not in the things that we do or in the programmes we may adopt, but in Jesus alone, that he would use us to continue his work. The New Testament churches had the same hope. But what if a phase of a church comes to an end or if a congregation closes? Was it all in vain? Of course not! The Apostle Paul knew how fragile churches could be. Many of the churches to which he wrote were what we’d call house churches today. Small groups, maybe 15, 20, 35 or slightly more. And they struggled. They expected Christ to return soon, and they had to focus more on the witnessing to the Gospel. The writer of Hebrews reminded the churches not to forget to attend church regularly as they anticipated Christ’s return, Hebrews 10:25 and the same message rings true for us today: let’s attend church every week, as much as we can, and don’t neglect it. One of Paul’s congregations, the one in Thessalonica, was an example to us in many ways. From it the “Lord’s message rang out”, 1 Thessalonians 1:8 and Paul wrote to them, “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring”. 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 Their continuity was always in the hope of the gospel, in faith and in love – the same is true for all of our churches. Without hope, faith and love there is no meaningful future. All of Paul’s churches would eventually die out, and perhaps some did even in his lifetime. But their labour in Christ was not in vain. They may not have known when Christ would return, but they became Christ’s witnesses in a world that cared little about Jesus and his message.
The Ascension informs us about the Christian’s past, present and future. Let’s think about Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:4-10, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”. Did we follow this? We’re alive spiritually now, we’re saved by grace for good works in Christ because we are his handiwork. What’s more, so great is God’s love for you and for me that we’ve been raised up and we’ve ascended with Jesus! That he might provide for us a future of the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Jesus!
Thankfully, our future is in God’s hands.
Let’s do the work of Jesus, and rest in his peace.
Warmest regards from Shirley and me,
GCI European Superintendent
Takalani Musekwa visits Stratford
by Sue McGowan
On Sunday 12th May our small group in Stratford, East London was blessed to welcome Takalani Musekwa, the GCI Regional Director for Southern Africa. He has previously served in South Africa, with his wife Margaret, as elder, lead pastor of a local church and Regional Pastor and is also now on the National Ministry Team in South Africa.
He updated us on the churches in his care. In Namibia (where a number of churches have joined with GCI) and Mozambique, many new churches are being planted. Our fellowship is growing but the challenge is to train pastors for these new churches. The harvest is ripe but the labourers are few.
Takalani also mentioned the recent cyclone and the damage done in Mozambique. Another challenge is to get food to those in need. Please pray for the work in Africa and the challenges that are being faced.
Editor’s note: Takalani has thanked the UK and Irish Churches for the $5,000 sent to help the Southern African congregations affected by the recent cyclones.
Scottish Retreat 2019
by Peter Mill
The sixth Scottish Retreat was held on the Bank Holiday weekend of 3rd – 5th May and those attending said it was the best year ever (what’s new?!).
The theme this year was based on Philippians 1:3-6 “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Over the weekend, we explored topics from that passage including thanks, prayer, joy, partnership in the gospel and confidence.
As always, the staff at Carronvale House went over and above, spirits were high, the worship was jubilant and all were filled with an abundance of physical and spiritual food. Before we knew it, we were saying our goodbyes once again as we ate a tasty lunch on Sunday.
Sadly, Carronvale House is unable to find a date that suits us for next year, so please pray for help in finding a suitable venue for the 2020 Scottish Retreat. The show must go on!
Bible prophecy: the end is a new beginning
by Michael Morrison
If there is no future, then it would be foolish to have faith in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:19). Prophecy is an essential and encouraging part of the Christian faith. Prophecy announces tremendously good news for us. We will find it most encouraging if we focus on the core message, not debatable details.
The purpose of prophecy
Prophecy is not an end in itself – it serves a more important truth. God is reconciling humanity to himself, forgiving our sins and restoring us to friendship with him. Prophecy proclaims this reality.
Prophecy exists not just to predict events, but to point us toward God. It tells us who God is, what he is like, what he is doing, and what he wants us to do. Prophecy urges people to receive reconciliation to God through faith in Jesus Christ.
Many specific prophecies were fulfilled in Old Testament times, and we still await the fulfillment of others. But the sharp focus of all prophecy is redemption – the forgiveness of sins and eternal life that comes through Jesus Christ. Prophecy assures us that God is in control of history (Daniel 4:17); it strengthens our faith in Christ (John 14:29) and gives us hope for the future (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
Moses and the prophets wrote about Christ, including the fact that he would be killed and resurrected (Luke 24:27, 46). They also foretold events after Jesus’ resurrection, such as the preaching of the gospel (verse 47).
Prophecy points us to salvation in Jesus Christ. If we don’t get salvation, prophecy will do us no good. It is only through Christ that we can be part of the kingdom that will last forever (Daniel 7:13-14, 27).
The Bible proclaims the return of Christ, the last judgment and eternal punishment and rewards. With these predictions, prophecy warns humanity of the need for salvation as well as announces the guarantee of that salvation. Prophecy tells us that God calls us to account (Jude 14-15), that he wants us saved (2 Peter 3:9) and that he has saved us (1 John 2:1-2). It assures us that all evil will be defeated and that all injustice and suffering will end (1 Corinthians 15:25; Revelation 21:4).
Prophecy encourages believers that our labors are not in vain. We will be rescued from persecutions, vindicated and rewarded. Prophecy reminds us of God’s love and faithfulness, and helps us be faithful to him (2 Peter 3:10-15; 1 John 3:2-3). By reminding us that all physical treasures are temporary, prophecy encourages us to treasure the as-yet-unseen things of God and our eternal relationship with him.
Zechariah points to prophecy as a call to repentance (Zechariah 1:3-4). God warns of punishment, but looks for repentance. As shown in the story of Jonah, God is willing to reverse his predictions, if only the people will turn to him. The goal of prophecy is to turn us to God, who has a wonderful future for us; the goal is not to satisfy our desire to know something that other people don’t know.
A need for caution
How can we understand Bible prophecy? Only with great caution. Well-meaning prophecy buffs have brought disrepute on the gospel with erroneous predictions and misguided dogmatism. Because of such misuse of prophecy, some people ridicule the Bible and scoff at Christ himself. The list of failed predictions should be a sober warning that personal conviction is no guarantee of truth. Since failed predictions can weaken faith, we must be cautious.
We should not need exciting predictions to make us serious about spiritual growth and Christian living. A knowledge of dates and other details (even if they turn out to be correct) is no guarantee of salvation. Our focus should be on Christ, not on assessing the credentials of potential Beast powers.
An obsession on prophecy means that we are not giving enough emphasis to the gospel. People need to repent and trust Christ whether or not his return is near, whether or not there will be a millennium, whether or not Britain or America is identified in Bible prophecy.
Why is prophecy so difficult to interpret? Perhaps the biggest reason is that it is often given in figurative language. The original readers may have known what the symbols meant, but since we live in a different culture and time, we cannot always be sure.
Psalm 18 is an example of figurative language. Its poetry describes the way that God delivered David from his enemies (verse 1). David uses several images for this: escape from a grave (verses 4-6), earthquake (verse 7), heavenly signs (verses 8-14), even a rescue at sea (verses 15-18). These things did not literally happen, but biblical poetry uses such imaginative figures of speech. This is true of prophecy, too.
Isaiah 40:3-4 tells us that mountains will be brought low and a road made straight – but this should not be taken literally. Luke 3:4-6 indicates that this prophecy was fulfilled by John the Baptist. The prophecy was not about mountains and roads at all.
Joel 2:28-29 predicted that God’s Spirit would be poured out on “all flesh,” but Peter said it was fulfilled with several dozen on Pentecost (Acts 2:16-17). The dreams and visions that Joel predicted may not have been literal, but Peter did not press the prophesied details that far – and neither should we. When we are dealing with figurative language, the fulfillment is not intended to match the prophecy literally.
These factors affect the way people interpret biblical prophecy. One reader may prefer a literal meaning, another may prefer a figurative meaning, and it may be impossible to prove which is correct. This forces us to focus on the big picture, not the details. We are looking through frosted glass, not a magnifying glass.
In several major areas of prophecy, there is no Christian consensus. Ideas about the rapture, the tribulation, the millennium, the intermediate state and hell are widely debated. (See www.gci.org for articles on some of these subjects.) These details are not essential. Although they are part of God’s plan, and important to him, it is not essential that we get all the right answers – especially if we think less of people who have different answers. Our attitude is more important than having all the right answers.
Perhaps we can compare prophecy to a journey. We do not need to know exactly where our destination is, what path we will take, or how fast we will go. What we need most of all is to trust in our trailblazer, Jesus Christ. He is the only one who knows the way, and we won’t make it without him. Just stick with him – he will take care of the details.
With these cautions in mind, let’s look at some basic Christian beliefs about the future.
The return of Christ
The benchmark event for our beliefs about the future is the second coming of Christ. There is consensus on the fact that Jesus will return.
Jesus told his disciples he would “come again” (John 14:3). He also warned his disciples not to waste their time trying to figure out when that will be (Matthew 24:36). He criticized people who thought that time was short (Matthew 25:1-13) and those who thought there would be a long delay (Matthew 24:45-51). No matter what, our responsibility is the same: to be ready.
Angels told the disciples that just as surely as Jesus had gone into heaven he would also return (Acts 1:11). He will be “revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels” (2 Thessalonians 1:7). Paul called it “the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). Peter said that Jesus would be “revealed” (1 Peter 1:7, 13). John also said he would appear (1 John 2:28), and Hebrews 9:28 says that “he will appear a second time… to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” There will be “a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). There will be no question about it.
Two other events will occur when Christ returns: the resurrection and the judgment. Paul writes that the dead in Christ will rise when the Lord comes, and believers still alive then will also rise to meet the Lord as he comes to earth (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). “At the last trumpet,” Paul writes, “the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:52). We will be transformed – made glorious, imperishable, immortal and spiritual (verses 42-44).
Matthew 24:31 seems to describe this event from another perspective: Christ “will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” In the parable of the weeds, Jesus said that he will send out his angels at the end of the age, “and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil” (Matthew 13:40-41).
“The Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:27). Judgment is also part of the master’s return in the parable of the faithful servant (Matthew 24:45-51) and the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30).
Paul says that when the Lord comes, “he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God” (1 Corinthians 4:5). God already knows each person, and in that sense, judgment occurs long before Christ’s return. But then judgment will be made public for everyone.
The fact that we will live again, and that we will be rewarded, is tremendous encouragement. After discussing the resurrection, Paul exclaims:
Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:57-58)
The last days
To arouse interest, some prophecy teachers ask, “Are we living in the last days?” The correct answer is “yes” – and it has been correct for 2,000 years. Peter quoted a prophecy about the last days and said it applied to his own day (Acts 2:16-17). So did the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 1:2). The last days are a lot longer than some people think.
Wars and troubles have plagued humanity for thousands of years. Will it get worse? Probably. Then it might get better, and then worse again. Or it will get better for some people while growing worse for others. The misery index goes up and down throughout history, and this will probably continue.
But through the ages, it seems that some Christians want it to get worse. They almost hope for a Great Tribulation, described as the worst time of trouble the world will ever see (Matthew 24:21). They have a fascination with the Antichrist, the Beast, the man of sin, and other enemies of God. They often believe that any given terrible event indicates that Christ will soon return.
It is true that Jesus predicted a time of terrible tribulation (Matthew 24:21), but most of what he predicted in Matthew 24 was fulfilled in the siege of Jerusalem, A.D. 70. Jesus was warning his disciples about events that they would live to see, and that people in Judea would need to flee to the mountains (verse 16).
Jesus predicted constant tribulation until his return. “In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus said (John 16:33). Many of his disciples gave their lives for their belief in Jesus. Trials are part of the Christian life; God does not protect us from all our problems (Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 4:12). Even in the apostolic age, antichrists were at work (1 John 2:18, 22; 2 John 7).
Is a Great Tribulation predicted for the future? Many Christians believe so, and perhaps they are right. But millions of Christians throughout the world face persecution today. Many are killed. For each of them, the tribulation cannot get any worse than it already is. Terrible times have afflicted Christians for two thousand years. Perhaps the Great Tribulation is a lot longer than many people think.
Our Christian responsibilities are the same whether the Tribulation is near or far – or whether it has already begun. Speculation about the future does not help us become more like Christ, and when it is used to pressure people into repentance, it is sadly misused. Speculation about the Tribulation is not a good use of our time.
Revelation 20 speaks of a 1,000-year reign of Christ and the saints. Some Christians interpret this literally as a 1,000-year kingdom that Christ will set up when he returns. Other Christians view the 1,000-year period figuratively, symbolizing the rule of Christ in the church before his return.
The number 1,000 may be used figuratively (Deuteronomy 7:9; Psalm 50:10), and there is no way to prove that it must be taken literally in Revelation. Revelation is written in a highly figurative style. No other scriptures speak of a temporary kingdom to be set up when Christ returns. Indeed, verses such as Daniel 2:44 suggest that the kingdom will be eternal, without any crisis 1,000 years later.
If there is a millennial kingdom after Christ returns, then the wicked will be resurrected and judged 1,000 years after the righteous are (Revelation 20:5). But Jesus’ parables do not suggest any such interval (Matthew 25:31-46; John 5:28-29). The millennium was not part of Jesus’ gospel. Paul wrote that the righteous and the wicked will be resurrected on the same day (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).
Many more details could be discussed on this topic, but it is not necessary here. Scriptures can be gathered in support of each view. But no matter what a person thinks about the millennium, this much is clear: The time period described in Revelation 20 will eventually end, and will be followed by an eternal and glorious new heavens and new earth, which are greater, better and longer than the millennium. So, when we think about the wonderful world tomorrow, we should focus on the eternal, perfect kingdom, not a temporary phase. We have an eternity to look forward to!
An eternity of joy
What will eternity be like? We know only in part (1 Corinthians 13:9; 1 John 3:2), because all our words and ideas are based on the world today. Jesus described our eternal reward in several ways: It will be like finding a treasure, or inheriting many possessions, or ruling a kingdom, or attending a wedding banquet. It is like all these things, but so much better that it could also be said that it is nothing like them. Our eternity with God will be better than our words can describe.
David put it this way: “You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11). The best part of eternity will be living with God, being loved by him, seeing him as he really is, knowing him more fully (1 John 3:2). This is the purpose for which God made us, and this will satisfy us and give us joy forevermore.
And in 10,000 years, with zillions yet to come, we will look back on our lives today, smiling at the troubles we had, marveling at how quickly God did his work when we were mortal. It was only the beginning, and there will be no end.
by Maggie Mitchell
The Northampton Church was privileged to host about 120 people for their 10th Special Event. Frans Danenberg, National Ministry Leader for the Netherlands and Flanders, and his wife, Lamberta, travelled from Holland to be with us, and Frans gave the sermon on the subject of Wisdom. The Kingsfold Singers, led by Shirley McLean, and The Birmingham Mission Singers, led by Arthur Richards performed two pieces of special music as part of the service. Richard Fowler and Geoff Sole provided a children’s church during the sermon.
During the evening there was an Anglo/Dutch theme to table games – all created and provided by Brian Templeman. Northamptonshire table skittles is a game popular in local pubs, and Sjoelen, or Dutch Shuffleboard, is a traditional game from the Netherlands. The now– traditional fish and chip supper was available, and an ice-cream van turned up to provide dessert.
We would like to thank everyone who joined us – making the day special. We look forward to next year, when we hope we can be with you all again.
Watford Youth Weekend
by Claire Elizabeth
Fun, friendship and connecting with God. This was the third Youth Weekend of recent times. It was hosted, this time, by the Watford congregation on 4th-5th May.
We kicked off this fabulous weekend with a youth service. Izaak Hanley, who works for a Christian Outdoor Activity Centre, gave a message on faith and the confidence we can have in seeking a relationship with God. The main message was led by Richard Fowler and Jason Cornish, providing us with great humour and inspiring words on how to create order out of chaos, applying God’s principles to have a successful life, and how amazing it is that we have a dear Father who loves us enough to never give up on us, no matter how far we wander or stray from him.
After the service, we were privileged to hear from some very talented youth who were brave enough to stand up and give speeches at the Life Club, much to everyone’s enjoyment (thanks to Geoff Sole for organising this). Domino’s pizzas added to the buzz of good conversation. The day was finished off with a film, a delicious home cooked meal by Jean Sole and Ann and Sarah Abraham, and the cementing of deep friendships. The house was alive with a warm, loving family atmosphere.
Some of us managed a few hours sleep in various allocated houses, before waking early the next day for a countryside walk and more laughter in Wendover Woods, led by Rowland Gadsden. The positive vibes could be felt by all... even those pushing their feet to keep walking! Next, we all enjoyed a scrumptious picnic of sandwiches, crisps, chocolate, cake and fruit juice prepared by Aileen MacEwan before the real challenge began...
The high ropes on the Go Ape course were the real challenge – a chance to test our inner strength and push past our fears and limits. It was quite an experience having to put all your trust in cables and ropes to stop you falling. There were tears and laughter and, most of all, the confidence that came from stepping out of our comfort zones with each obstacle faced. Those that were struggling were supported by others and encouraged so they could continue. All the encouragement shown added to the warm family feeling. The joy of overcoming each challenge faced came with an enormous sense of achievement for all who took part. We can’t wait for the next time God brings us together for another valuable, inspirational and character-building time.
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