Christianity Explored

Following on from the performance of I AM MARK on March 5th, we are going to be running a number of small groups studying Christianity Explored. This course takes you through Mark’s gospel together and has videos that use Mark’s gospel to teach the Christian faith. They are safe and friendly groups, that give you the opportunity to ask whatever questions you like about what you read in Mark or about the Christian faith itself. They are also a good place to meet and get to know others better.

The main group for St. George’s will be meeting on Wednesdays at 2pm, starting on 9th March. However, if you cannot make that time you are welcome to join a group at one of the other churches.

You are free to attend the first or second session of the course, with no commitment to attend the rest. The course lasts for 7 weeks. We plan to have 5 weeks before Easter a break for a couple of weeks and 2 weeks after Easter. 

Please click the button below to register an interest in the course and to say which group you would like to attend.

I am MARK

St. Luke’s, Saturday 5th March, 7pm

I AM MARK is Stefan Smart’s solo word-for-word dramatisation of Mark’s Gospel. Its uniquely dramatic qualities make it both thoroughly entertaining and extremely thought-provoking.  
Stefan has performed this piece to great acclaim in churches, cathedrals, conferences and schools across the UK and abroad, and has recently played before sell-out audiences at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This year a film version of the show came out for US Global TV network, CMaxTV. Stefan’s heart is to reproduce what it must have been like to for a first century audience to listen to this story at first hand. In doing so he makes the Bible come alive again for 21st century people everywhere.

Stefan follows the performance with a short Q & A with the audience, offering them a unique opportunity to respond personally to what they’ve seen and to ask questions about the faith.

Youth Initiative

In recent months we have been exploring how to provide opportunities for the youth associated with both St. George’s and St. Luke’s churches to grow in friendship with each other and to explore their own faith in God, through their own bible study and in planning and leading occasional evening services.

Starting on 13th March the plan, during term time, will be to gather weekly on Sundays in the early evening. There will be three parts to the evening, facilitated by myself and a small team of volunteers (if you want to be a volunteer let me know)

  • 5-6:30pm Bible Study with worship and prayer
  • 6:30- 6:45pm Light supper
  • 6:45-7:45pm Group games and activities 

The idea is to meet in the lounge area in St. Luke’s church to begin with. We would hope to trial this for a few terms and review whether the location, pattern and timings work for as many of our youth as possible.

Each term (roughly 6-8 weeks apart) we will be holding a youth-led service for all ages to attend. The youth will plan these during part of the bible study portion of the evening.

Any youth at Secondary school aged 11 or over is very welcome to be part of these Sunday evenings. Volunteers for any part of the evening would be really helpful.

Please contact me on 01843 316656 or curate@stlukesramsgate.org for more information or to register interest.

Claire Coleman.

Sound System at St. George’s

We are grateful to the help of Peter Cornell, an old friend of Paul Worledge for his help in setting up the sound system at St. George’s. We now have an effective lectern microphone and one radio lapel microphone, which Peter has let us have on permanent loan. Both of these seemed to work very well at our service last Sunday.

Unfortunately, the loop system does not seem to be working, but Peter has offered to look at seeing if we can fix that on a future date.

Experimental Orders of Service

During February and March we will be using some new orders of service booklets. We are going to vary it a bit.

The beige colour booklet is very similar to the service we have been using in recent years. The blue colour booklet is the traditional Book of Common Prayer service in traditional language and the green colour booklet is a Eucharist, but with some alternative prayers to what we normally use and is overall a shorter service.

All three booklets follow what is authorised by the Church of England. At the end of March we will carry out a survey to gather your views on the different styles of service in order to decide what kind of service we should have going forward.

Asbestos Removal from Crypt

The crypt has now been made safe from asbestos. All the asbestos has been either removed or sealed away safely and the crypt thoroughly cleaned of dust. It is now safe for people to work in, which should allow us to do further work such as potentially installing a new boiler to improve our heating.

A big thank you to Medway Insulations for their professional work on this venture.

Choices, Choices (Genesis 13:1-18)

Abraham and Lot faced important choices when arguments broke out. Yet, what motivated Abraham to make the choices he did?

Read more below or watch the video recording of this sermon at St. Luke’s.

Introduction- faith is a journey

From the moment God called Abram, and Abram chose to listen, follow and obey, he was on a journey not just a physical one moving from Ur to Haran, Shechem and on into Canaan but a spiritual one too. He had been called by God who he didn’t know before – hadn’t worshiped before – his physical journey was echoing a spiritual one – he was getting to know God. 

Abraham, this man of faith that is remembered in the New Testament began where we all do not knowing God and then he went on an epic journey! He had received promises from God. He was following God’s instructions and he was growing in his faith journey. Alongside his physical journey At each place they settled Abram built an altar to the Lord. An altar was a place of sacrifice of worship. Abram spent time in an attitude of humility and prayer giving the God who called him praise and honour. As Abram got to know God he would get to know that God was a god he could trust that he would fulfill his promises but like any relationship that took time being together on that journey physically and spiritually.

Around Ten years ago I went on an adventurous journey. I went to New Zealand with the mission organization OM on a three month discipleship and evangelism programme. There were seven of us in our twenties that had signed up for this programme. At the start of the programme we didn’t know each other at all. We travelled from place to place across both islands, hiked mountains, swam in frozen lakes, camped in remote spots, and when you travel together, cook together, do your laundry together you do get to know each other real well. But it wasn’t just getting to know the other participants – through daily bible studies and worship, evangelism training I got to grow deeper in faith and in love with Jesus, to be stretched out of my comfort zone of what was familiar and trust and know Jesus more, digging deeper into God’s word. God opened up my eyes to the vastness of his world to the beauty of it, to his work in it and that he was always faithful. Going on that adventure journey developed my understanding of God further. 

What can Abrams journey teach us about our own journeys with God? Abram chose this journey. On this journey Abram was learning more and more about God. About how he could choose to truly trust God and believe the promises he’d been given.

Choose God

In our passage from Genesis 13 we see choices that Abram made – he chose to call on the name of the Lord, he chose to be generous and let his nephew choose the best land, and he chose to continue trusting in God to fulfill his promises. His choices were influenced by his knowledge of and relationship with God. How are our choices influenced by God? How can they be? Do we allow them to be? What can the journey and choices of Abram teach us?

Abrams journey with God begins in the previous chapter (ch. 12) – Abram encounters God for the first time (v1). He makes a choice to follow God (v4), he encounters God again at Shechem and builds an altar there and worships God (v7) , Abram continues the journey, where he builds another altar between Bethel and Ai  and worships God again – calling on the name of the Lord (v8), before traveling to Negev – then (v10) a famine hits that region so they travel on to Egypt.

This is where Abram makes a choice to lie to Pharaoh about the identity of his wife – he’s like no that’s not my wife! That’s my sister!  The reason he did that was because he was fearful of his own life. Because his wife was so beautiful He thought if they knew he was married to Sarah they would kill him so that then they could marry her. So he lied – and he actually did okay from the lie – v16, he acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkey, male and female servants and camels. You might think, well that can’t have been a bad choice really…. But then we get to v17  But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. So the Egyptians kick them out of the Egypt sending them on their way.

Abram had received a promise that God would make him into a great nation (12:2). That, would involve Abram being alive to have children, he’s promised again in 12:7 that his offspring will be given the land. Instead  of trusting that in order for that to be fulfilled  God would keep him safe, he chose to lie and deceive. 

It’s after this event that we have our passage for today. Where Abram once again chooses to call on the name of the Lord. And I think it’s necessary to know what happened in Egypt in order for us to fully grasp what it might mean for Abram to be calling on the name of the Lord here.

After the events in Egypt we trace his journey from Egypt back to the Negev and then back to the altar he had built between Bethel and Ai. There is a parallel here between Abram retracing his physical steps to go back to where he had encounters with God. And retracing his spiritual steps – He again calls on the name of the Lord. By Calling on the name of the Lord, there’s a sense that he’s seeking forgiveness, he feels a need to recalibrate, to acknowledge he’d made a mistake and not trusted God to keep him safe.  He’s choosing to reconnect with God to reboot. Its almost like there’s a desparate need in him to call on God’s name, its a priority, he wants to put things right with God. He chooses God again. 

Is that true for any of us here today – do we feel a real need within us to reconnect with God – to get back on track and retrace our steps. Do we choose God?

I also wonder that this desire of Abram to call on God’s name – to worship him, is not only due to a need to recalibrate but also to acknowledge God’s power – he’d seen it at work in Egypt. He understands better who God is and wants to go back to calling on the name of the Lord and trusting in him.

Do we choose to get to know God better by calling on his name? Being here today I am making an assumption that you have made a choice to worship God, to acknowledge like Ab we don’t always get it right,  but are  seeking out God, to know him better and worship him.

Choose to be transformed

It is a choice to worship God, acknowledge him, call on his name

And that choice then leads to a transformation. When you spend time with someone you can often become more like them. 

In the New Testament there is this sense that through choosing to know God through Jesus a transformation occurs – in Romans 12:1-2 1Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God-this is your true and proper worship. 2Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Worship leads to transformation. And in Ephesians we read ‘when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.’

By spending time with God, getting to know God better, I believe Abram is changing and transforming.

I believe this is what we are seeing in the way Abram deals with the situation that arises in our reading. Abram is faced with a dilemma. Arguments have broken out amongst his herders and those of his nephews. It is not Abram alone that is wealthy, Lot his nephew has also gained his own flocks and herd and servants. They have become too many to be together in one place. The commentaries explain that it is highly likely that it was not sustainable to stay where they were together, there wasn’t enough pasture for all the cattle and livestock to feed – it was inevitable that they would divide. But how would Abram deal with this situation?

As the elder in the relationship he had every right to choose the best land for himself, and yet he forfeits that right, allowing Lot to choose – and unsurprisingly Lot chooses the most fertile land. 

There is a sense here that Abram has been renewing his mind, changing his moral compass, choosing to be in line with God who called him – to live a life trusting Him. God has generously promised Abram that he will make him a great nation. As he spends time with God he transforms in his choices, and chooses to be selfless and generous rather than greedy and looking out for his own benefit and gain. 

Ab is choosing in this encounter with his nephew to be generous, just as God is generous and he does not conform to greedy self centered ways. His worship has led to his choices being transformed. He’s called on the name of the Lord, spent time with Him and in doing so is changed from what would have been expected. He is becoming more godly in his behaviours. 

Do we choose to spend time getting to know God, to know what he is like (through prayer, worship and reading God’s word) both with other Christians but also on our own? Are our choices changing as we know God better? Do we make choices because of God’s generosity? That reflects his generosity and love? 

Abrams blessed again

Abram’s choice motivated by his relationship with God appeared to lead to the loss of well watered ground – he let Lot choose, and Lot chose what seemed to be the best land. As I was preparing this message I wondered whether Abram felt a moments pang of disappointment – that he was left with land that didn’t look as good as the land Lot had chosen. It made me think How do we respond in times of disappointment?

Abram could have dwelt on ‘missing out’ on the land on the plains – been disappointed – we don’t know. But when they part ways Abram  encounters God again. He might of been disappointed but if he was that didn’t last for long – His choice of generosity and selflessness led to another encounter with God where his promises are further expanded – promises that his offspring  will be so numerous that like dust it cannot be counted, that as far as the eye could see the land would be his and his offsprings forever and was instructed to lay claim to the land by walking the length and breadth of it. 

God was blessing Abram with the whole land and wants Abram to enjoy all the blessings that the whole land has to offer. Which again led to Abram obeyong, worshiping God – building an altar to him again and journeying around the land he had been promised.

In the New Testament we are promised and told that because of God’s love for his world Jesus was sent into the world that whoever believes in Jesus would not die but have eternal life – that is the ultimate blessing, the ultimate promised land. 

Do we take pleasure in and enjoy all that we have been given in our lives? Do we take seriously the promise of eternal life. Enjoying our life now, living a life knowing God and obey his call and seeing the blessings we have now and those to come?

Conclusion

Abram chose to follow God – his faith grew. He went on both a physical and spiritual journey with God.

We are at different points in our journey with God. Are we going to choose to follow God, coming to him when we don’t get it right? Are we going to choose to make time to worship and know God better? Are we going to choose to live a life of transformation that reflects his love and generosity? Are we going to choose to keep walking with him even past possible disappointments, to the blessings he will bring? 

My prayer is that Like Abram as we know God better we turn to him when we might get it wrong, we choose to get to know him better and grow our trust in his promises, we see transformation in our motives, attitudes and choices, and we keep walking with God, even in disappointments, so that we would see the final blessings of a life with God for all eternity.

Promises, Promises (Genesis 11:27-12:9)

Abraham is one of the Bible’s best known characters, but why is this man who lived 4,000 years ago so important? Find out how the promises God made to him are so important for understanding the whole Bible and why Abraham himself is a great example to us.

Below is a version of the sermon preached at St. George’s on 17th January. You can also watch a video version of the sermon preached at St. Luke’s on that day.

Why does Abraham matter?

Abraham was born in the city of Ur around 2,000BC. We live about 2,000 years after Jesus, Abraham lived around 2,000 years before Jesus.

We might imagine that his world was rather backward, but actually it was one with well established cities and cultures that extended across the middle east. After all the great pyramids of Egypt were built hundreds of years before his time and many of the cities mentioned in our reading had been around for hundreds of years – far longer than the United States has existed in our time!

The city of his birth was Ur. It was a key trading city and around 2,000BC was at the height of its power with an empire covering much of Southern Mesopatamia. The city would have had a population of about quarter of a million – about twice the size of Thanet’s population today. It’s culture was dominated by worship of the moon and even today you can visit the remains of a Ziggurat built there at this time, which was about 30m high and had a temple to the moon God, ‘Sin’ at its top.

Abraham grew up in this cosmopolitan place, but for some reason his family left Ur – possibly fleeing from a foreign invasion or possibly because of the call of God. They planned to go to Canaan, but ended up in Haran, a similar size city with another temple to Sin, the moon god, but far to the North West of Ur. Here the family settled, in what would have felt a bit like a home from home.

That is a bit of what we can glean about Abraham’s background. But why does he matter? Why is he probably the only person from that time period you have ever heard of? What was special about this man from Ur? Why does he matter for us living 4,000 years later!

To answer that question, we need to look at both the Big Picture of how Abraham fits into the story of the Bible and the Small Picture of his own life and how he is an example for us to follow. But lets start with the big picture.

Big Picture: New People of Promise – God’s Plan for History

If you have watched an action film, then you may have noticed that there is a set pattern to how the films begin.

They usually start off with an exciting action sequence that whets your appetite for the action that is to follow, sets some of the key themes and feel of the movie, but most importantly draws you into the film before you get too bored.

However, after the opening action sequence, there is usually a less exciting scene that sets up the plot or the story. This scene is really important to help you understand what is going on in the rest of the film.

So, in a James Bond film, there is usually an exciting and dramatic opening action sequence and then we have James Bond meeting with ‘M’ to talk about the mission that he needs to carry out. It’s not exciting, but it is crucial to understand what is going on.

Well, the Bible is a bit like that. The first 11 chapters of Genesis are spectacular action packed setting up some of the big themes of the whole Bible, there’s God’s creation, the dramatic fall of man from the Garden of Eden, the first murder and a flood that nearly wipes everything out. This is all big dramatic stuff.

Then we have this section about Abram. But this section is really important if we want to grasp what is going on in the rest of the Bible. It sets up the story ready for us to follow.

Let me briefly show you how.

A story of promise fulfilled

Firstly, note that God promises Abram that he is going to make him into a great nation. This is a crucial idea and much of the rest of the story of the Old Testament is how this nation that is descended from Abram is going to become great.

People:

Firstly, to be a great nation you need to have lots of people.  This gets off to a slow start. Abram’s wife is barren he cannot have children! But, much of the focus of the rest of Abram’s story is about how God provides him with one son!

By the end of Genesis, the family has grown. There are now 72, but this is still a long way from being nation sized!

However, at the start of Exodus we are told that now this family has become people sized. But they are in the wrong place.

Place / Land:

Secondly, a nation needs a place to be or a land to live on.

In this passage God makes clear to Abraham that the land of Canaan would belong to his descendants. But at this point it is already full of other people. How will this be?

  • Abram makes a start to a claim by pitching his tent in the hills and building altars.
  • By the end of Genesis they have burial plots in the land, but the people are living in Egypt.
  • But, God leads them out of Egypt and through the wilderness under Moses and eventually in to the promised land led by Joshua.
  • But then they are hardly a great nation, they are constantly oppressed by surrounding peoples, until eventually a monarchy under David is established and they truly become a great nation.

Purpose:

  • But, as well as people and place God gives this great nation, a purpose. They are to be a blessing for all nations.
  • In the Old Testament this is meant to happen, because they are unique in having received God’s Law. By showing the rest of the world how God wants them to live, they are to be an example that brings blessing to the world. A light to the nations as Isaiah puts it.
  • Yet, the people keep turning away from God and ignoring his commands. They are no better than anyone else.
  • Until Jesus comes, a descendant of Abraham and David, Jesus is the greater king of God’s people, who through his death and resurrection brings hope and life for all nations and creates a new  people from all nations, not just the literal descendants of Abraham. A people who bring blessing to the world as they live for Christ in the world.

So, these words to Abraham, are words that help us to understand the plot of the whole Bible, to see God’s great plan. A plan that worked through a n historic nation, but ultimately led to Jesus and the Kingdom of God.

But, there are two more things to say about the big picture.

A story of blessing not curse

Firstly, it is a story of blessing not curse.

In a way Genesis 1-11 has been dominated by judgement and curse:

Adam is kicked out of the garden of Eden and barred from the tree of life.

Cain is sent into exile for murdering his brother.

The world is destroyed by a flood because of the wickedness of man.

Those building the tower of Babel are scattered and divided, because of their pride.

Now, as God comes to Abraham he says his intention is to reverse the situation. Now, God wants to bring blessing not curse, life not death.

The Bible is full of God’s judgement, which is a necessary consequence of human sin, but this passage shows us that God’s plan and purpose is to bring blessing on the world not curse.

A story of divine action not human achievement

Then this big picture shows us how the Bible history is different to the way normal human history is told. Notice in these verses, Abraham is not really asked to do anything other than start a journey with God, but God says five times, “I will….” emphasising that it is all about divine action not human achievement.

God promises Abraham that he will make his name great. Well in the previous chapter, the people of the earth came together to build a tower in order to make their name great:

“Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselve….” (Genesis 11:4)

God’s response to their proud ambition is to scatter them over the face of the earth. A great name does not come from achieving great things, but in trusting in God’s promises.

As you go through the Bible, again and again it tells us what God does for the sake of his people:

Joseph recognises that he was able to rescue Egypt and the world from famine, because of God’s providence.

Israel escape Egypt not because of any brilliance or strength on their own part, but because God acts to send plagues.

Jericho falls, because it is God that brings the walls crashing down.

David slays Goliath, not because he was a sharp shooter with a sling, but because he trust God to win the battle for him.

This is the gospel, for our salvation is based not on what we do, but on what God has done for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

So, these verses are a crucial point in the Big Picture of the Bible story. They give us the outline of the promises that will be fulfilled as the history of Israel unfolds and show us that this story’s ultimate aim is blessing not curse brought about by divine action not human achievement.

But there is also a small picture aspect for us. This is not just about the people of promise that God would create, but about a person of promise: Abraham and how he can be an example to us.

Small Picture: New Person of Promise

Let me briefly show you three things about Abram’s life.

A life resurrected – Gen. 11:27-32

Firstly, it was a life, resurrected. At the end of chapter 11 is a quick outline of Abram’s family. It is not a pretty picture.

There is incest, with his brother Nahor marrying his other brother’s daughter. In fact we later learn that Sarai is Abram’s half-sister!

There is also an emphasis on death. His brother Haran has died and tragically before his father, Terah. And all we are told about Terah is that he too died in the city of Haran.

Then we are also told, that Abram’s wife, Sarai is barren. She is unable to have children. Abram’s family line seems to be coming to a dead end.

Yet, too this dead end, God promises abundant life.

Paul puts it like this in Romans:

“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead–since he was about a hundred years old–and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.” (Romans 14:18-19)

  • Abram is an example to us, that no matter how much our life may feel like it has hit a dead end. No matter how much we have been hit by grief or are mired in messy family relationships, God can still call us to a new hope, a promise of abundant life. If only we like Abram can believe.

A life abandoned – Gen. 12:4-5

So, Abram is promise a life resurrected, but he is called to set out with God and that means abandoning things from his old life.

Abram had to leave the comfortable city life of Haran, his father, his old culture and people like him and head off to a new life in Canaan.

And he did, because he knew that the blessing God had to offer was worth far more than what he was called to abandon.

For us as well, Abram is our example. To follow God today may mean abandoning things that are important to us. Jesus says:

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:35)

  • As we begin a new year, perhaps now is a good time to ask: “What do I need to abandon in order to take hold of God’s call on my life?”

A life embraced  – Gen. 12:6-9

Abram has to abandon some important parts of his life, but he also embraces what God has promises. We see this in the verses about his journey through Canaan, which in itself is a celebration of what God is promising him.

He builds an altar in the midst of the Canaanites at Shechem, which was probably a religious sanctuary as a demonstration of his commitment not to the gods of the land, but to the true God of the universe.

This is a man who is embracing what God has called him to. As it says in Hebrews:

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:8-10)

  • So another question to ask as we consider Abram’s example is this: How are you embracing God’s call today? How are you showing to the world around that it is that which is driving your life?

Conclusion:

This passage about God’s promises to Abram is crucial if we are to understand the big picture of the Bible story.

But, it also shows us a man like us, who although he lived 4,000 years ago is still a great example to us of the faith response we are called to as we respond to God’s call.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2022

We saw his star in the East

Week of Prayer of Christian Unity (18th – 25th January)

Materials for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2022 have been prepared by the churches of the Middle East.

The story of the Magi visiting the Holy Family in Bethlehem is one very familiar to us. The Magi have sometimes been seen as a symbol of the world’s diversity – different religions and cultures – that comes to pay homage to the Christ-child. The story might therefore represent the unity of all created that God desires.

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in 2022 has been prepared by the churches of the Middle East, the history of which was, and still is, characterised by conflict and strife, tainted with blood and darkened by injustice and oppression. The Christians of the Middle East offer these resources conscious that the world shares many of the travails and much of the difficulties that it experiences, and yearns for a light to lead the way to the Saviour who is the light that overcomes darkness.

Serving the Gospel today requires a commitment to the human being, especially the poorest, the weakest and those marginalised. It requires from the churches transparency and accountability in dealing with the world, and with each other. This means churches need to cooperate to provide relief to the afflicted, to welcome the displaced, to relieve the burdened, and to build a just and honest society. This is a call for churches to work together so that young people can build a good future according to God’s heart, a future in which all human beings can experience life, peace, justice, and love.

Daily Prayer Meetings at 9am:

Weekdays 9am at Hardres Street Church.

Saturday 22nd, Prayer Breakfast at Salvation Army, High Street

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