Saturday 28th April was a very special day for us. The student ministry here in Southampton (which we have led since 2005 and been involved with for 20 years) turned 50 years old (see also history). Five years ago (at 45 years) we realised that this milestone was coming up and set our hearts on seeing this occasion celebrated! Over 160 people were involved in the day as we remembered God’s faithfulness over the years and were inspired to look to God for all that He has in store for us in the years to come. It was fun to catch up with lots of different people from across the generations and especially with those who have been involved with the ministry during our time.
We were also part of a second weekend of celebration as our church in Southampton (Above Bar Church) celebrated the contributions of many of its volunteers. All of the churches Sent Mission Partners, who are working all over the world were present and celebrated also. Having been Sent Mission Partners for the past 10 years we felt very touched to be celebrated for the ministry that God has blessed us with.
Celebration is included in what we call spiritual disciplines but I don’t think we are particularly good at it either in our culture or Christian subculture. For me these past two weekends however stand out as great examples of celebration because that in effect was what they were. A celebration of what God has done in our midst, a celebration of one another and a celebration of the gifts God has given us.
As I reflect on these weekends and this theme of celebration I was drawn to a few key passages in the Bible which I would like to share with you:
1) We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1-3): The first passage comes after the great ‘hall of faith’ as described for us in Hebrews 11. Chapter 12 refers to these great people as a “great cloud of witnesses” in order to encourages us to throw off in and run with perseverance.
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
The 50 year anniversary was also such an occasion where a great cloud of witnesses, young and old came together to celebrate all that God had done. There were people there who had not seen one another for 40 years! There were many people there who had lived for and served Jesus for decades. What an encouragement and an inspiration to be part of such a great throng of people for the generations to come. What an encouragement to run our races with perseverance and to fix our eyes on Jesus.
2) There is joy in seeing others walking in the truth (3 John 3-4): John’s second and third letters are deeply personal and in both John expresses his deep joy that his dear children were still walking in the truth.
3 It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. 4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
The 50th celebration weekend was also an exceptional experience in this respect too. The coming together of many from over the years was such a joy and testimony. Various people shared and we were careful to ensure that such stories represented a variety of experiences – we wanted them to be real. The overall message however was clear; in the face of many different opportunities and despite a variety of challenges these people had stood firm in their faith and continued to walk with Jesus through all of the highs and lows of life. My desire when I have lived out the years that God blesses me with is that I would have been known as a man who loves God and who has lived out an authentic faith amongst those around me. My prayer for all the people that God has brought into our lives is that this would be true for them also.
3) There will be a great multitude (Revelation 7:9): The final picture is from Revelation and is of a great multitude standing before God and praising Him. In this glimpse of Heaven we see people present from all over the world: from every nation, tribe, people and language.
9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.
At the 50th we had a little snapshot of this heavenly scene. For starters it was inter-generational as we had people there who were in their 20s and 30s all the way up to people in their the 70s and 80s. People were there from and/or served in all sorts of different places; indeed some had travelled from far and wide to be there! What a joy it is to be part of the body of Christ in all its diversity; people who would otherwise have no reason to know one another but brought together because of our common desire to love and serve Jesus Christ.
We could look at other pictures also but this blog is already long enough. What I hope I have communicated is something of the joy of celebrating together of all that God has done. Its been great to take some time out from the daily routine to celebrate and be celebrated! Let’s pray that in 10, 20 and 30 years time we will all be celebrating a whole host of new people whom God has given us the privilege to help and disciple.
What a privilege to serve Him and co-labour with Him in all that He is doing.
To God be the glory,
Resources from the 50th Anniversary
Interviews and talks: https://southampton.navigators.co.uk/audio
Southampton Ministry history: https://southampton.navigators.co.uk/history/
Celebratory video: https://youtu.be/350PHI3KBnY