Following his retirement as Minister of Sheppey Evangelical Church, in August, we are pleased to welcome Joe Gregory as our new President.
Welcoming Address from 2022 Conference - by Joe Gregory
Welcome to the 200th Conference of the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion. Greetings to Bishop Magnus and all the brothers and sisters who may be watching or listening in Sierra Leone. 200 Conferences! Wow, that sounds like such a historic number. Think about it- each one of you, by being here today, are part of history!
That got me thinking about the nature of time and our role within that as individuals. By the way, have you noticed that as you get older time seems to speed up. I have a friend who went to Brian Cox’s talk on physics, and he showed me a picture of a black hole and said that if you went to the centre of a black hole, time would slow down.
That’s exactly where I wanted to be a couple of weeks ago as I realised that Conference was coming up and I hadn’t prepared this address. But Graham’s pictures of the Universe reminded me of the majesty and creativity of the Lord, which drew me to one of my favourite passages, taken from Colossians 1:15-23, which will hopefully encourage us to play our part in God’s history.
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.
What a beautiful passage, summing up the majesty and the Good News of Jesus in just a few verses.
Penguins and the Zoo
There was a van driver who was transporting a shipment of four penguins to the zoo. These were special penguins, the last 4 remaining penguins left on earth because of global warming. They were priceless because of their rarity. Unfortunately, his van broke down. He eventually waved down a truck and offered the driver £1000 to take the penguins to the zoo.
The next day the van driver got his vehicle fixed and drove into town and couldn’t believe his eyes! Just ahead of him he saw the truck driver crossing the road with the 4 penguins waddling in single file behind him. He jumped out of his lorry, ran up to the guy and said, “What’s going on? I gave you £1000 to take these penguins to the zoo!” To which the man responded, “I did take them to the zoo. But I had some money left over, so now we’re going to the cinema.”
That man didn’t fully understand what he was supposed to be doing. Sometimes this is where we Christians get into trouble. We don’t exactly know what we are supposed to be doing. We don’t know how to take our place in history. And this can be frustrating. What is our calling? As Christians we may say to ourselves, “I know that Jesus loves me, and I love him. I know that I am saved and that I should love others. What am I as a Christian disciple supposed to be doing at this stage in my life?”
The passage in Colossians is perhaps the greatest description of Christ in the whole Bible. It is a wonderful piece of prose portraying His greatness. It was written by the Apostle Paul to the Christians at Colossae. They were being pressured to believe that they needed to go beyond what they had been taught and to go to “deeper things,” secret things that were revealed only to the spiritual elite. But Paul is saying there are no deeper things.
Christ is the greatest, Christ is the deepest, Christ is fully sufficient. The truth about Christ is all you need. That is all there is when it comes to spiritual reality. Christ is fully unique and incomparable.
Our passage begins, The Son is the image of the invisible God. That is, Christ is the exact and visible representation of God. God is invisible, but in Christ we see who God is, what God is like, and what God does. Who is God? He is the Creator and Redeemer. What is God like? He is a reconciling God, offering mercy and love. And what does God do? He sends his only Son to rescue people and restore them to a relationship with the Father.
People are made in God’s image too, but we have spoiled or tarnished that image through our selfishness and sin. Christ is the only adequate likeness of what God is really like. And we see in Him what God intended for humans—to be renewed in knowledge in the image of [our] Creator (Col 3:10). So, he is “the image of the invisible God.”
He is the firstborn over all creation (Col. 1:15). The title “Firstborn” doesn’t mean he was the first one to be born when God started creating things. Christ has always existed, as God has always existed. He wasn’t born at creation. He was in fact the agent of creation.
In the Old Testament “firstborn” indicates one’s status. The firstborn was considered superior to all the others. They were first in status. For instance David was described like this in Psalm 89:27
And I will appoint him to be my firstborn,
the most exalted of the kings of the earth.
The Greek word for firstborn used by Paul is pro-tot-ok-os. It portrays Christ’s pre-existence, His eternity. He is the Unbeginning One and the Unending One. So, Christ is before all created things, in time, and in supremacy. He outranks all other persons and things. He is the firstborn.
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. (1:16).
There are three key prepositions here. Literally it says all things were created in him, through him, and for him. We usually think of God the Father as the prime mover in Creation, but this text is saying Christ is the sphere in which Creation happens. He is the agent through which Creation happens. And He is the goal or the purpose of Creation. He is the reason for Creation. Why did God create? For Himself. All things were created “for Christ.” We’ll come back to that, but it’s a key to understanding why we are here.
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.(1:17). One commentator says Jesus is the divine glue that keeps the universe going. He is the spiritual gravity that holds all Creation together. He didn’t create it and then walk away. He didn’t wind up the clock and then set it on the shelf and leave it. He is constantly involved maintaining and sustaining the whole creation. It’s an active process. He keeps the cosmos from becoming a chaos.
The universe is not self-sufficient, nor are individuals, no matter how much they deceive themselves into thinking they are. Even people who deny and oppose Christ will one day be ultimately dependent on him. Christ “holds all things together.” He keeps the universe going.
Just think about what it means to read in the Word of God that everything was made “for him.” It’s crucial. This tiny phrase reveals our purpose in life. We were made for him.
What is your Purpose?
What are you doing in the world? Why are you here? What is the purpose of your life? What is your reason for being? How can you play your part in God’s history.
One of the first truly Protestant groups were the Moravians. It is reported that it was through meeting Moravian leaders such as August Spingenberg and Peter Bohler that John and Charles Wesley came to a full understanding of the gospel and experienced true conversion. An evangelical awakening took place, it swept through the nation, with Lady Selina playing an incredibly important part.
The Countess funded the building of 64 chapels and a training college for ministers, by the time of her death in 1791. She also had a heart for the abolition of slavery, and her legacy lives on in Freetown and Sierra Leone.
I noticed on the Connexion website that there’s a bridge in Cambridge being renamed next week- a lovely looking bridge over a river. It’s going to be called the Equiano bridge. Olaudah Equiano was unusual in that he was a slave who managed to purchase his freedom. He relocated to London.
The Countess of Huntingdon helped to fund Equiano in his writing and helped promote his book which described the horrors of slavery. This changed the way people thought about slavery. Equiano also went on to do extensive work in Sierra Leone, the colony for freed slaves.
Elizabeth and I are looking forward to coming to visit you in your churches during the next couple of years. It will be great to worship together in your congregations around the Connexion. When we visit, we will hopefully have in tow a wonderful poster, produced by the gifted Brenda Riddle. There are 100 spaces to fill up this year and 100 next year- each one representing one of the 200 Annual Conferences of the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion.
You can play a small part in history for the princely amount of £5. For the sum of £5 you can have your name engraved on one of the bricks- in biro!! At the end of two years, we should have raised £1000 pounds for the Sierra Leone Mission.
The Moravians played their part in God’s history when they met with John and Charles Wesley. The first question in the Moravian Catechism is: “Why were we created?” And the answer is, “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” In other words, we live for Him.
Scripture speaks of this same idea:
1 Corinthians 8:6- yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
2 Corinthians 5:15 He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
2 Thessalonians 1:12 We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him.
God intends for us to live in such a way that we honour him. We live for him, not for ourselves. If God is the ultimate Being in the universe, and if his eternal purposes are going to be fulfilled, then it makes sense for me to align my life with God. There’s one sure and certain thing in this universe, and that is, that God’s eternal plan is going to come true!
So, it just makes sense that if I want to have a life of significance, to play my part in God’s history, it needs to line up with where God is going. I need to live in such a way that I am cooperating with God and seeking to honour him. That’s what it means to “glorify God.”
The ultimate purpose of our lives is to live for God. God made us for a relationship with himself. We were made for God. There is no one and nothing greater than God.
Revelation 4:11, You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. You are worthy.
God is worthy of our praise. When you see a great work of art, you don’t just praise the piece. You praise the artist who made it. God is the artist. He is great and worthy of our praise.
Secondly, we should honour God because that’s what God made us for. God says in Isaiah, “I have made them for my glory.’” Isaiah 43:7 (NLT)
We were made for God’s glory. God’s express purpose for making us is for His glory. That’s our reason for being. God created us as the pinnacle of creation, to bring praise and glory and honour to Himself. God created us to make Him look good. Have you ever thought about that? We’re here to make God look good. We’re to reflect his greatness and glory back to Him. When we live in a way that honours Him, God looks good. When we rebel and live selfishly, we reflect poorly on God.
Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t like to work with tools. I am absolutely terrible at DIY. Sometimes in a pinch I have used a spanner as a hammer. Or I’ve used a screwdriver as a crowbar… Sometimes you can get by doing that, but that isn’t what those tools were made for. They function best when we use them for their intended purpose.
And it’s the same with us. Our intended purpose is to honour God with our lives. That’s what we were made for. That’s who we are. And life works best when we do what we were made to do—that is, glorify God.
We were made by Christ and for Christ. This gives us purpose.
It is commonly said that more people fail through lack of purpose than lack of talent. You can have tons of talent, but if you don’t know your purpose you will run around in circles. You don’t know where you’re going. Knowing your purpose helps you to keep moving ahead in your spiritual life until you reach your ultimate destination.
The great thing is that having a clear vision and sense of destination gives you motivation to keep going in the challenging times too. When I know why I am here, I can put up with all sorts of difficulties and hardships.
With the Holy Spirit’s help, I can push through because I know I have an ultimate purpose. That purpose is to glorify God with my life. Knowing that helps me to continue to play my part in God’s history.
We were made “for Christ,” and that’s our goal.
The good news in our reading today is that you are created, through Christ and for Christ. You matter. Your life has meaning and purpose. You count. You are precious to God. In response to that knowledge, we should want to honour God in our day-to-day activities, it should drive us.
Years ago a lot of people wore bracelets that said WWJD, what would Jesus do? I don’t have any bracelets, but I would suggest a similar question as we go through the coming months: WWHG, what would honour God? Ask yourself that as you face each new situation. What would honour God?
My challenge to each of us is to be conscious of how you might live for God in your normal activities moving forward:
- In your conversation, what would honour God?
- At home, what would honour God?
- In your neighbourhood, what would honour God?
- At work, what would honour God?
- What would honour God inside your own head?
- There are hundreds of ways to adjust our thoughts and actions in response to God, in order to live for Christ. We were made by Christ and for Christ. Let’s live to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
Now it may be that you’ve come here today feeling discouraged. If you’re in a small church, serving faithfully for many years, you see how numbers of worshippers have fallen, and there are lots of larger churches around you. It may be that you’re from one of the bigger churches in the Connexion but you’re feeling exhausted and unhappy.
Let me share a verse from Zephaniah 3:17: He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.
My message, Paul’s message, is persevere. Try not to compare your circumstances with other institutions or other times- your time and place in history is now. Our daughter Catherine once gave me a great motivational sticker to put in my study to encourage me as I worked. It said: Comparison is the Thief of Joy.
Persevere- do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. Who do we put our hope in? Christ- the same yesterday, today, and forever.
The same when the Countess established the Connexion in the 1700’s, the same when the Queen came to the throne 70 years ago, the same now, right now!
Continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. Christ wants to present us as holy, without blemish in His sight. What a beautiful, incredible promise that is! Incredible! All we have to do is persevere, glorify God in everything we do, persevere through sharing the Good News through our words and our behaviour, what we say and what we do. Then we will take our place and play our part in God’s history.