A Star of Hope

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After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.

Matthew 2:9-10

 

One of the brightest stars I’ve ever seen was shining directly above the bedroom of a ten-year-old girl who lived in an ordinary cul-de-sac on the south coast of England.

Five days earlier she’d been walking to school with a friend and never arrived. I was one of the reporters dispatched to the seaside town to cover the story for a national newspaper. As the hours passed it looked increasingly likely the girls had been abducted.

I spent my days hanging around the police station, covering press conferences and waiting for updates. The best case scenario was that they’d run away. The worst case I didn’t want to consider. Sadly, I was well-versed in covering stories of missing children who didn’t return safely. As a rookie reporter I’d spent several days in Reading Crown Court listening to harrowing evidence given by a notorious paedophile about the final hours of a little boy. I knew that the world was not ‘safe’ and that people were literally capable of anything.

By this stage in my career, though, I liked to think that I was a seasoned hack. I was tough, I could cope. But I was also very tired; despondent and dispirited. So maybe it wasn’t such a surprise to find myself sitting in my hotel room one evening, sobbing after covering a press conference with the family.

I certainly wasn’t a Christian at the time and hadn’t ‘been to church’ for years although I did believe in God. But the country was praying for the return of these little girls and I found myself joining them. I prayed a lot over the next few days.

Then rumours started to circulate that they’d been found and I’ll never forget the elation amongst the media pack when we were told the girls were safe. That night we gathered outside that little girl’s house, hoping for a quote from a family member or a glimpse of the child herself. And suddenly there she was in her pyjamas waving at us from her bedroom window. I knew that stories don’t always have happy endings and wondered too what had happened to her in the short time she was being held against her will. But I looked up into the clear sky above that family home and, like the travellers who were seeking Christ, I saw the brightest star and was filled with joy, and hope.

And looking back now 15 years later I can see that this sparked something in my soul that started me on my own personal journey towards a God of love and a new beginning.

 

sarahLothianSarah Lothian

Sarah is a freelance journalist with more than 20 years of experience in print media and television.

 

 

 

 Daily Share

Are you tired today? Maybe a little bit despondent? Sarah talks of feeling like this and yet being filled with joy and hope on seeing a star in the sky. Who are the people in your life that bring you joy and hope? Today, let them know how much they mean to you. Drop them a text or give them a call and in turn you will bring some joy and hope into their lives too.

 

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Hope in all Circumstances

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When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
 are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
 who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.

Matthew 2: 3-8

 

Today’s reflection is a video from Andy & Emma Dipper, who are linked with CSW – Christian Solidarity Worldwide, and Release International. Watch the video by clicking on the image above.

 

Daily Share

Andy & Emma talked about how those being persecuted gather to pray for others around the world. It’s very easy to get bogged down in our own ‘stuff’, so today we encourage you to think of people across the world who might be living in worse conditions than you or dealing with worse problems than you. 

Can you spare a prayer today for some of them? CSW have a daily prayer list on their website suggesting people and places to pray for, so why not have a look at that for some suggestions.

Prayer is a funny thing, many people find themselves offering a prayer or a thought even when they don’t have a defined faith. So whatever ‘prayer’ means to you today, even if it is just sparing a thought for others, try and spend a few minutes today doing that.

A Journey of Hope

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After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

Matthew 2: 1-2

 

The Magi, or the wise men as we often call them, travelled for miles to visit the baby Jesus all because they saw a star. These were men who studied the stars and when they saw a new star they knew that something truly special was happening. So special, that they felt compelled to make a long, perilous journey all without knowing exactly what they were going to find at the end of it.

We are all on a journey in our lives but how many of us have seen a sign so special that we have dropped all we are doing and gone after it with everything we have? When was the last time we saw a sign in the heavens? You might think that something like that could never happen to you. But what if there is a sign for us but we are not looking for it, or seeing it in the right way? We must remember that the wise men were astronomers: they were star experts! When a new star appears for an astronomer, they notice and they do something about it whereas other may not even notice its appearance! That sign fit them. But what if they had missed it?

I wasn’t looking for a long time. I have always been interested in the Bible, I volunteered to work in Canterbury Cathedral and I even thought I would go on to be a lecturer in theology – all without realising that perhaps God was trying to tell me something! All it took for me was to go to a church service for the first time and like that star appearing to the wise men – BOOM! – I believed and I had to do something about it!

It’s different for everybody. God is with us all in our lives, in our experiences. What is right for one person isn’t necessarily right for another. We might think that since we have not experienced something as dramatic as the wise men, why should we look for God? But God doesn’t just speak to certain people. It is important that the wise men were from a far off land – they were not Jews. The Jews believed that the Messiah was only coming for them – but some of the first people at the crib of Jesus were foreigners, people that the Jews would have excluded. Jesus is for everyone: in quiet ways, in loud ways, in good times and in bad. Nobody is unworthy, everyone is welcome. A simple word from a friend, a scene in a film, or hearing a verse from scripture could be the blazing star for you.

We are all on a journey and we can have hope like the wise men did that at the end, under our own individual stars, there is a Lord who will meet us face to face one day. Our Lord loves us and wants to show us what true life is like and whilst he will be there at the end of the journey, the miracle of our Lord is that he is with us every step of the way, if only we look for him. 

dannyPDanny Pegg 

Danny is a ‘vocational discerner’ in the Diocese of Chichester who will be finding out if he is to be recommended to train to be a priest in January. He volunteers with Soul by the Sea, a charity that produce scripture-based drama performances and writes plays himself. He is also quite chuffed that he has been promoted from ‘Shepherd Number 2’ to ‘Narrator’ in his church’s upcoming Nativity Carol Service. 

 

Daily Share

Just as the Magi went to a new place and found God in the manger, today’s share challenges you to go on a mini-journey. Why don’t you try going to a place you have never been before, and seeing if you can find God there? God might be a word, a picture or a feeling. You might like to ask God to show you the way on your journey and look for the answer there. Just be ready to receive that answer – it might come in a way you had never expected!

Share your mini-journey on Facebook or Twitter, you never know, it may well be a sign for someone else!

Come set aside the thoughts of the day…

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When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Luke 2: 17-20

 

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Today’s reflection is a song from Stuart Barbour, entitled ‘Forever and Always’. You can listen to the song by clicking on the picture above. Stu is a singer songwriter and also the Worship Pastor at The Point Church.

Daily Share

The passage today and Stu’s song both talk of glorifying and praising God. Christians believe that part of this is being thankful for the blessings that God has given to us. So today we want to challenge you, whatever you believe, to make a list of 5 things that you are thankful for, whatever they are, big or small; your house or the lovely cake you just ate!

The first line of the song is ‘Come set aside the thoughts of the day…‘ So take some time to do this, put aside all that is going on in your day and spend a few minutes thinking before you make your list. When you are done, then share your list with someone, or if you are brave enough, onto our Facebook page!

A seed of hope

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”  So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
Luke 2: 15-16
 
shepherdsOne of the things that hope does to us is give us the strength and the energy to respond.  The shepherds had the most amazing, terrifying, overwhelming experience, thousands of angels appearing to them, in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, and delivering the news of Jesus’ birth to them, in person, and to no one else!  It must have been mind blowing.  They were in total shock.  Nothing like this had ever happened before.  
 
The whole experience gave them hope: hope that they were not forgotten; hope that God is real and was coming to rescue them; hope that a better future was coming.  But they did not just sit there and wait for things to unfold, they got up and “hurried off” down to Bethlehem.  They didn’t know exactly where Jesus would be, they had no idea what they would find when they got there.  How could they even really be sure this was all real?  But the encounter with the angels gave them such hope and expectation that they simply had to get down there and see for themselves.  They left their sheep, they took a risk, they stepped out in faith. They responded.
 
I remember when I first heard about my current job.  I remember the phone call, ‘Hi Will, a few of us have been thinking about starting a new church here in Mid Sussex, how about coming down to be the vicar?’  That phone call planted a seed of hope in me.  I was quite low at the time.  I had been looking for a job for ages.  Suddenly I had new energy.  I started to dream about what might be, to plan how to start this new project, to think about who to talk to.  I prayed.  I made phone calls.  I arranged meetings.  Within a few months everything was in place: the team was assembled, the funding was promised, the Bishop was on board, the house was bought, the children had school places, we were ready to go!
 
Jesus gives us hope!  No matter how bad things look, now matter how many setbacks we face, the Prince of Peace promises to make everything right in the end for all who respond to Him.  We have a hope that will not disappoint us.  But we have to respond.  If you just sit on the hillside and ignore the angels, nothing is going to change.
 
 
will2Will Kemp
Will loves Caroline, the most beautiful, wise, kind, caring woman in the world, and their three amazing sons, Jonny, Lukas and Joshua.  Will also loves Watford FC, BBC Sport, playing cricket, golf, squash, snooker etc, Michael Jackson, Corduroy (what ever happened to them?), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Bourne, Bond, and real ale.  He is Vicar of The Point, Anglican Network Church for Mid Sussex.

Daily Share

Hope gives you the energy to respond!  Is there something you have been meaning to respond to but have been putting off?  A difficult phone call? A bill to pay? A job that needs doing? A new project that needs starting? An invitation waiting for an answer? Do it today! Chose to see the situation with fresh hope, then respond.

Hoping for an invite…

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Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
 and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests’.

Luke 2:11-14

I don’t know what your experience of nativity plays is. A recent poll suggests many schools are now as likely to have soap characters as they are angels and shepherds. I have a picture of me aged about 4 with tea towel on head and cuddly sheep, doing my bit as 5th shepherd from the left. Today’s reading of the message of the angels to the shepherds may well conjure those nativity play images. The original story is far less cute.  Shepherds at that time were outcasts for both social and religious reasons and considered untrustworthy. They were not the obvious choice to pick as witnesses to Jesus birth. But then an animal feeding trough, which is what a manger is, is an odd place to be born. The Messiah was of royal descent, expected at the palace not lying with the animal feed. But had Jesus been born in a palace I guess the shepherds would not have gone, they wouldn’t be allowed in anyway. But a king born in an animal shed? That’s the sort of place even a shepherd might be welcome. The sign the angels speak of was not simply telling the shepherds how to recognise the baby, but that the Messiah was one of them and that they were welcome. If today those shepherds have become cute kids in nativity plays, we still have plenty of people who are outcasts, the homeless, asylum seekers, immigrants and people on benefits spring to mind. No doubt there are others. God still goes to where such people are to embrace and include the excluded. God is still seeking to break down the boundaries that divide people and bring peace between them and this is a message of hope for our painfully divided world.

And what about me, the 5th shepherd from the left without a speaking part? What about you, whether you got to play Joseph or Mary or ‘just’ a stable animal? As someone on conference platforms and with published books I guess I now have one of the speaking roles. But somewhere inside I’m still the 5th shepherd hoping for a party invite. For those who never get the party invites, Jesus invites you to the ultimate party. For those who are always on the guest list Jesus also invites you, but you’ll have to party with the folks who usually don’t get it. All of us are invited, whatever status you have or part you have to play Jesus welcomes you.

Steve Hollinghurst4  cropSteve Hollinghurst

Steve is a freelance researcher, consultant and speaker on contemporary culture, evangelism and new forms of church and also a part-time tutor for the Anglican mission community Church Army. He lives in St Albans where his wife is vicar of the city centre Anglican church. 

You can also find him here:     Blog       Twitter 

Daily Share  

An invitation, that is what Steve talks about today, an invitation to the ultimate party. So who can you invite to share a little bit of your life today? Share a smile with a stranger on the street, invite a friend round for coffee, or buy a present for a neighbour? Invite someone to share a bit of your life today….

Who can YOU be?

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And there were Shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the Angel said to them “do not be afraid, I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people”.

Luke 2:8-10

 

When we are living our lives and everything seems to be ticking over, our work and family lives are just carrying on their day to day routine, we can often forget about God’s presence and then when he tries to get our attention it can be very scary. The Shepherds were just going about their daily routine when the Angel appeared to give them a message. God could give us a message through a friend who is suggesting we try something new, maybe a new job opportunity has arisen or we have a realisation that a relationship is no longer good for us. God has given us free will to make our own choices in life but he will always try to show us the best way forward because he loves us so much that he wants us to have Joy in our lives. The Angels were talking about the Good news of the birth of Christ. Through his life on earth Jesus Christ freed humanity from the things of this world that can bring us down because he showed that every person is loved by God and God wants them to be the best they can be and have joy in their lives.

My life changed dramatically when I lost my sight as a child, the future of being a nurse and caring for others which I had planned was now not going to be possible. But every day of my life, I know that Christ is walking next to me (as well as my guide dog) and because of that I don’t fear going out and being a part of this world. When I was 17 God sent me a message and that was that whatever my physical disability he wanted to use me to bring spiritual healing, joy and hope to those around me and he called me to be a priest. It took some 15 years for me to be able to grow in confidence but now at the age of 34 I am part way through my training. God has totally changed my life as he has taken my disability and used it to help me grow as a person and connect with those around me who are also going through difficult times.

I pray that you will today have courage and not be afraid of hearing Gods message for you. Don’t listen to the words of society that may not be able to see past your circumstances but listen to God through those around you who are there to encourage you and may you feel God’s love today and the rest of your life.

 

melissaMelissa Carter

Melissa is 34 years old, and has been registered blind since the age of 16. She works as a legal secretary,  is currently training to be a priest and has represented Great Britain at the Disabled World Archery Championships.

She has felt God’s presence in her life since the age of eight and he has supported her through the difficulty of becoming partially sighted. She says: ‘It is very scary trying to see yourself through God’s eyes, I used to be very shy and did not have much confidence which is why it took me 15 years between hearing God’s call for me to be a priest to me starting my training because I had to slowly catch up to see myself in the way that God does. He is happy to give us the time to grow but will always be there to support and encourage us along the way.’

 

Daily Share

Today please think about what your future could be and what you are afraid of, which may be stopping you from fulfilling your potential. Do you need to get training, more confidence, move area or change your friendships? Think about it, pray about it and find a friend to talk to about your hopes for your future as through support of others God will help you to grow into who he knows you can be.