How absolutely amazing!

The theme of “Spring Harvest 2022” mirrored our “Vision 2022” in just about every way!

But whereas our Vision is entitled “Risk, resist and rebuild” theirs is called “Restore, renew, rebuild”. It’s the same thing! And the morning Bible teaching was even based around Nehemiah chapters 1 to 4!

How absolutely amazing!

Now this little prefix “re-“ is very significant. It is a little Latin word meaning “again” – with the sense of going back to how things were. To “restore” means to go back, or return to the former place or position – to make things as they were – but not necessarily exactly the same – it can be even better – just like when a piece of furniture is restored. To “renew” means to return something to how it was when it was brand new, just made, just born, just created – with the sense of a return to how things were meant to be – how we were meant to be – how we were created to be. To “rebuild” means to build something again after it has been damaged or destroyed – like the cathedral in Cologne – destroyed by allied airpower but rebuilt to its former glory, to look as it did before – but it does not necessarily have to be identical to how it was before.

Notice that all these words speak of God taking us back to how we were always meant to be. But that doesn’t mean being the SAME as we were when things were first made. We are called to worship God as we were always meant to worship – but God puts a “new song” in our heart – we go forward. God has new plans for us to prosper us – but it might be doing new things. The New Testament is also called the New Covenant. Scholars point out that the word “new” is actually “renew” – Jesus came to RENEW the covenant (or agreement) between man and God, but it was in a new (totally new) way – for example, atonement was no longer through the blood of animals, but through the blood of Christ.

So, when it comes to “rebuilding” the walls of the church, this is to indeed restore the church in this nation to how it was always meant to be – going back to the way it was set up by the Apostles in the very earliest days. But it’s not necessarily going to look exactly as it did then…for we live in a new age. At Spring Harvest there was a lot of talking of a vision of a new church coming out of the Pandemic – a church where the doors are thrown open to be more community based – buildings which are used as schools, youth clubs, social venues, counselling centres; and people who are outward looking – “how can we serve our communities?”. Nehemiah was called to rebuild not just the walls, but the GATES of Jerusalem. I have the vision of the “gates” of the church being thrown open – of the church (that’s you and me and also the buildings) being less about “come to us and worship” and more about “we’re coming out to you with the love of God – let us help you and tell you about Jesus”.

So, in this second phase of looking at our Vision 2022 we begin to look more about us, as individuals, being restored and renewed so that we are ready and equipped by God to get on with the job of rebuilding the church.


And where do we start? By looking to be restored – asking the question; “Have you signed up for the race?”

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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12: 1-2)

Get hold of the picture here. Paul (or whoever it was who wrote this epistle…I think it was Paul) has just spoken of God’s heroes of the faith. Now he says that we have to be aware that they are kind-of looking down from the grandstand of Heaven on us. They have fought the good fight and attained their place in Glory. They have run the race of their lives and have obtained the prize of eternal life. They are now willing us on…shouting “come on! You can do it!”

It’s now our turn. Life is a race – with a beginning and with an end. A start line at birth, and a finishing line at our natural death – with Paradise as the reward, the prize, as we cross that line.

It’s not a gentle “stroll in the park”, it’s a race – not a sprint – but a long-distance marathon or cross-country with all its ups-and-downs and rocks and dirt and mud and weeds…its going to need “perseverance”. Now that’s a word that conjures up times that are going to be tough! The Greek word used is “hupomones” which means persevering when things get tough, enduring patiently despite difficult circumstances – with hope that all is going to be OK as long as we hold on despite the problems.

Now, I don’t know how many of you know, but since coming to Ashford I have been competing in the 5K Parkrun on a Saturday. Wow! It’s been tough! I’m definitely NOT a natural runner. I’ve puffed and I’ve panted, and I’ve sweated, and I’ve hurt with aches and pains and exhaustion. But the satisfaction of completing the course each week has made each start (when after about 400 metres I have always thought “I can’t do this! I’ve got to give up!”) worthwhile. Well, after suffering excruciating pain at the end of my last outing I have now been diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my right knee and my running days are now at an end. I’m sad about this…but I’ve learnt a lot…

Now…what are we going to learn from these words of Paul?


Each of us has the same start and the same finishing line, but like a cross-country race my route will not be exactly the same as your route. I HATED cross-country racing at school! We all started from the school fields and had to run up to the “Darland Banks” on the North Downs. Here the route taken was different for each of us – paths went in different directions and steep banks, rabbit holes and thorny bushes had to be avoided before we re-joined the main road and down to the finishing line.

It was tough and hard and totally exhausting. Many of us tried to find short-cuts…but there were always staff strategically placed to ensure that we didn’t try to find the easy way out. Some stopped for cigarettes (students, that is…not staff!). One friend (who went on to become the Road Manager of a famous Punk Rock band) even used to cut off to the local café! But the only way to finish was to run the race marked out for us…and perseverance was the “name of the game”. 

Let us decide that we are going to run the race and not give up or seek the easy way and the short-cuts of life. Let us recognise that our race is going to be different from the race of those around us. Let us ask Jesus to give us the strength to persevere. And let us remember the “crowd of witnesses” that are cheering us on.


Now, I’ve never run in a marathon…but I HAVE run in a 10 KM race! I competed in the Vitality London 10000 race on the 28th May 2018. Thousands of us took part – including Mo Farah. You might not be surprised to hear that I did not beat him. In fact, I was proud of finishing half way down the field. But what was so encouraging to me was that I received the same medal for my position as did Mo Farah who came in first. It was not the fastest who won the medal – it was all those who completed the race.

But in order to complete the race, I had to be part of the race. As the saying goes “you have to be in it to win it”. It is also recognised that, for many, the hardest part of the race is the signing up for it in the first place. So, here’s the challenge: do you want to be in the “race”? Then you’ve got to sign up for it. This means committing yourself, today, to living your life 100% for God and then doing whatever it takes to run the race marked out for you.


Let’s remind ourselves of a crucial phrase in Hebrews 12 and verse 1:

let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles

Anything that holds us back or weighs us down in our “race for life for Jesus” is going to be a hindrance and might even mean that we fail to complete the race.

We’ve gone from a 5K, to a Cross-Country, to a 10K, and now let’s have a look at the London Marathon. I think I would “hit the wall” after no more than a few miles! And so it is with amazement that I look at those pictures of runners in crazy costumes – deep-sea diving suits, “Barney the dinosaur” costumes and the like. How on earth do they manage in the heat of the London summer and the length of the course???

Sin does so easily entangle us, trip us up and hold us back. That’s obvious…we all know what “sin” is…right?

But what about the “anything that holds us back”? This is seen to be separate from sin. Maybe this is the “clutter” of life – busy-ness, worry, study, sport, TV, work, relationships. None of these are wrong – but we have to constantly be looking at the things we do and the people that we do them with in order to ask the question as to whether they are holding us back from running the race that God has marked out for us.


Let’s go all the way back from the longest race (the Marathon) to the shortest…the pre-school dash for the line. What gets the 5-year-old at the sports day to run the track and get to the finish? It’s going to be mum standing at the finishing line cheering her little darling home.

In the same way, no matter how hard it is, Jesus is standing at that finishing line of life, cheering us home to eternal life with Him in Paradise.

Let’s run for restoration. Let’s get back into the race after two years of exhausting and life-changing pandemic. Let’s do it for Jesus. And as we do it we shall find that we shall be more equipped to be part of rebuilding the church.