Christianity, Devotional, Evangelism, Faith, Hope

Inside the Bruderhof…

I first met Bernard Hibbs when he and his wife came to UCB to be interviewed for a programme on UCB 1.  Sometime later, myself and the Chairman of UCB’s Board, Alan Scotland, went to visit Bernard and the Bruderhof community in East Sussex.  We toured the site, ate with the community, attended a meeting and heard about their deep expression of faith.   It was a fascinating day.

This week, there will be a documentary on BBC 1 (Inside the Bruderhof) and in anticipation of that, I asked Bernard to write a guest blog, to share more about what the community believes and what everyday life is like.   I hope you will enjoy reading more, about this simple but remarkable way of life.

David L’Herroux


Bernard writes…

I have always been fascinated by the verses in Acts 2 and Acts 4 that describe the first church. ‘All the believers were together and had everything in common’ and ‘All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.’

Why would these first disciples suddenly depart so abruptly from the norm of looking after yourself and your family first, and voluntarily engage in sacrificial sharing with the needy?

It doesn’t take a lot of time looking through Jesus’ teachings to realise that the answer is actually quite clear.  He told his disciples to leave their nets and follow him; he told them to not worry about food or clothes; he said that they would not be able to serve God and mammon; he praised the widow who gave everything; he told a rich ruler to give everything he had to the poor and to follow him; he said that to love our neighbour was an excellent way to love God.

The members of that first church weren’t engaging in an experiment in socialism or trying out some new-fangled method of resource management. They were acting in obedience to Christ.

How did the Bruderhof begin?

 Roughly 1900 years later, Eberhard and Emmy Arnold and a handful of others added themselves to the list of people who have similarly tried to obey by giving up everything and radically sharing in Christian community. They called it “the Bruderhof”.  They started in a village just east of Frankfurt, Germany, pooling their possessions and committing to each other.  Young people, uprooted by the turmoil of post-WW1 Europe, joined the fledgling community in droves.  Here was a life of freedom, of discipleship, of love and of peace.

The Bruderhof grew rapidly but was ultimately suppressed by the Nazis. Members fled to England, where they encountered people passionately committed to pacifism. Many of these joined, seeing in the community an answer to the root causes of war. Forced to leave England after the Second World War was declared, the Bruderhof moved to Paraguay and eked out an existence in the jungle.  In the 1950’s we established ourselves in North America; we now have communities around the world.

The Bruderhof still exists, a mere 99 years later. It is the focus of a BBC1 documentary which will air on 25 July at 10:35pm.  The documentary (which features more footage of me than I might wish!) explores what life is like inside the Bruderhof. The cameras also followed one young person who grew up in our community as she decided where to go from here.

The Bruderhof today…

 The Darvell Bruderhof in East Sussex, where I live, is like a small village.  300 people live together, sharing everything – our money, possessions, our struggles and our joys.  Not only are our elderly or disabled brothers and sisters looked after, they can still contribute to the community.  Children grow up unburdened by the pressures of social media or consumerist society, and learn that caring for others is more important than acquiring things for themselves.

Nobody gets paid anything, so status is pretty much not an issue.  People are valued for who they are, not for how much they earn.  We have a simple mode of dress so that we can try to uphold Jesus’ teachings about not worrying about what we’re going to wear. It frees us up to think about things that are more important than clothes.  Living together provides endless opportunities for good times, whether it’s an early morning of fishing or birding; a weekend afternoon of cycling, hiking, or playing soccer; or an evening campfire with a card game followed by folk songs.

When some people hear about the Bruderhof, they are worried that we are somehow “closed off” from the world. Christians might start to wonder how this fits in with the Great Commission but in reality, we are very conscious that our communal life only makes sense if it can be a witness to the world. We’re not just doing this for ourselves. And thus we have visitors here every day, our kids play on local sports teams: cloistered we are not.

We take the Great Commission seriously – we send out missionaries around the world and run a publishing house called Plough.   It is a false dichotomy to say that to be salt and light, you have to ignore the teachings of Christ about the dangers of money.  Not only is it possible to do both: you can’t do one without the other.

It’s not a perfect way of life – we are all imperfect people who make mistakes.  But when we are prepared to admit that, life actually works pretty well.

The hardest part of living at the Bruderhof is trying to explain it.  Generally, we find that people only really understand when they come and see. So watch the documentary, then sign up for a visit at https://www.bruderhof.com/en/inside-the-bruderhof. We would love to host you, and (since part of our vocation is to have joy with each other) I think I can promise good food and fellowship.

Bernard Hibbs

Bernard will be interviewed by Paul Hammond on UCB 1 at 10.40am on July 24. Listen on DAB/online or with UCB Player.

Inside the Bruderhof airs on BBC 1 on July 25 at 10.35pm (and will be available on BBC iPlayer)

 

 

Christianity

‘Hope’. What does it REALLY mean?

This week on UCB 1 and UCB 2, it is our Appeal and we have been talking on air about ‘the plan for hope’. Last week, I met with our presenter team and I asked them to think about their definition of hope.

If I were to ask you, what would you say? What is your definition of ‘hope’?

Well, for me, I have to go back to the Word of God and what Scripture says. Looking at God’s Word, I believe that the right definition of ‘hope’ is ‘a joyful expectation of something good’.

If you picture for a minute, the story of blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10). He was sitting in the dust, in complete darkness and all of a sudden he could hear all this noise. I imagine he said, ‘hey guys, what’s going on? What’s happening’. The people nearby told him that Jesus was passing by and suddenly Bartimaeus was filled with hope. He has this joyful expectation that something good was going to happen for him and he was so eager to get it, he started to shout his head off, in order to attract Jesus’ attention.

In another story, a sick woman was so desperate for her breakthrough, she left the house and pushed through crowds just to touch the hem of Jesus’ garments. She should not have even left the house but she wanted her breakthrough so badly and she was ready to do what she had to do to get it.

These people were not just ‘wishing’. A wish is really just a lucky draw, it might happen, it might not happen. But ‘hope’ (by the Scripture’s definition) led these people to have a joyful expectation. The anticipation of what might happen became almost visual, tangible. They knew, that they knew, that they KNEW, that they only needed to call out or touch him. They knew that if they had a touch from the king, their situation would be changed.

Even later in the New Testament, when Paul is shipwrecked and facing prison, he was shouting ‘we are going to be ok. We are in the middle of the wreckage, but I am joyfully anticipating that we ARE going to make it.’

In my own life, I know this to be true too. Even after the death of our son Jamie, though our world was falling apart and everything was in chaos, there was still this sense of peace, this hope, that though we could not see it yet, God would bring something good out of our sorrow.

Please do not get me wrong. We do not rejoice in such terrible suffering, but we can know that somehow God will bring good out of it. Real hope is not a ‘wish’, it is a deep down expectation and anticipation that good will come from whatever situations we may face.

Worldly hope is just a wish. Godly, Biblical hope is what carries you through. I believe that when we look to God’s Word for our definition of hope, suddenly so many stories in the Bible make sense. We are also able to view our situations and circumstances differently. We are able to see them not through a worldly system of ‘wishing’ that they will improve, but with a Godly anticipation and expectation that sooner or later, good will come.

If you are in need of hope today, can I encourage you to not just ‘wish’ but instead ask God to fill you with expectancy of what he can do. When you have that real, God-inspired hope, your perspective will change.

Christianity

The Cross stands above it all

On Monday evening, while on holiday with my family in France, my heart sank as I saw the images of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, go up in flames. This beautiful 850 year old cathedral was being destroyed on television screens right in front of our eyes, as firefighters tried to quickly save whatever was left.

The following morning, we were greeted with a new sight. The cathedral was still smouldering in places but there were pictures on social media of the interior of the building.  There, among the charred ruins was a cross, standing proudly above all the wreckage the blaze had left.   This cross, this cross of Jesus, was shining brightly in the darkness, intact and reminded us that Jesus not only died on the cross, but he rose again.

What a powerful symbol of hope, in the middle of such devastation.

As I thought about it, it reminded me that in a world ravaged by the blaze of sin, in a world devastated by suffering, uncertainty and injustice, the cross still stands firm and intact.  But it is not the cross of Jesus that can save us. That is just a symbol.   It is the Jesus of the cross who has the power to bring hope in the middle of hopelessness, to bring healing where there is suffering and pain.

Over 2000 years ago, Jesus went to the cross willingly, to die for all of humanity and the message of the cross is just as relevant today, as it was then.

On Good Friday, we mark this important and life-changing event.  For some, this day will be a quiet and reflective day and for others, as they remember all that Jesus has done for them, it will be a day of thankful rejoicing.   If you do not yet know the hope and healing that a relationship with Jesus can bring, I would love to point you back to the Bible, to God’s Word, to John 3:16, which explains what happened that day.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  (John 3:16)

As we spend this weekend remembering the death and the resurrection of Jesus, may you be reminded that no matter what we face, in Jesus, there is always hope.

** Photo credit:  (Image by Philippe Wojazer @Reuters

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Christianity

UCB Word For Today – celebrating 25 years

I first heard about the UCB Word for Today in the late 1990s. We were receiving copies of the devotional at church and I immediately loved it. Reading it  affected me a great deal, and I would regularly cut out readings and fax them to friends.  I would even pray about it and ask who God wanted me to send the cuttings to. I could see how God was using it to impact many people’s lives and I would often be asked, ‘how can I get a copy?’ 

 

A few years later, I was invited to UCB to share my testimony on UCB radio and it was there that I also met UCB’s Founder, Ian Mackie.  I did not know what was to come!

 

Sometime later, my wife Jackie and I were invited again to UCB, but this time to meet with the UCB Board of Trustees.  That was the first time I met the author of The Word For Today, Bob Gass.  At the time, Bob was visiting and spending some time sharing his heart with the Board.  I really enjoyed meeting him, as he struck me immediately as a man who was soaked in the Word of God.  I remember thinking he was such a likeable guy, he really listened to what everyone in the room was saying and in all conversations, he always drove us back to the Scripture.  It was in the meeting, that (in a complete surprise to me), I was actually invited to join the UCB Board.  That was the beginning of my journey with UCB and also my friendship with Bob Gass.

 

This year, we celebrate 25 years of the UCB Word For Today and in the 12 years I have been at UCB, I could tell you countless stories of the impact the devotional has had.  Bob has a unique style and a rare gift of taking the Word of God and applying it to everyday life.  He writes it in such a way, with the support of a great team – that it appeals to those who don’t know God (so that it acts as an ‘appetiser) and it also helps more mature believers go deeper in their faith (so that it acts as a ‘vitamin especially in challenging times).   

 

Over the years, as I have got to know Bob and his wife Debby, I have been struck by their obedience to God’s calling.  In the early days, Bob was an itinerant preacher and also had a TV show in the US, but he did not think of himself as a writer.  However, on his wedding day in 1991, he and Debby were given a prophecy and were told that Bob’s writing would reach more people than his preaching ever would.  As Bob himself says, he was getting married that day and had his mind on other things. But Debby wrote the prophecy down and they did not forget it.  Sometime later, The Word for Today became a written reality and from a small print run of 3,500 copies here in the UK, it now has a global reach through print and digital platform of over 7.6 million per quarter at the end of 2018.  In the UK alone, we send it (in print copy alone) to over 400,000 people every quarter. 

 

Bob’s heart has always been that the readers would get deeper into the Word of God.  It has never been about ‘him’ or his ministry, but about seeing lives changed for good.  Our ministry partnership over the years has gone from strength to strength, and Bob continues to be a great encouragement to all we do here at UCB.  Bob and I have spent hours in my office and on the phone, sharing (and debating!) our thoughts on areas of God’s Word, thinking about new ways to reach people with the truth of Scripture.  What a privilege for UCB to partner with such an amazing resource.     

 

This year, as we celebrate the 25 anniversary of The Word for Today, we are excited about the future and the ways that God will continue to speak into lives, through this devotional.  We continue to receive story after story from people whose lives have been ‘changed for good by the power of God’s Word’.  We are so thankful for our wonderful partnership with Bob and the team. 

p.s If you don’t yet receive The Word for Today, we can send you a copy (free of charge) each quarter.  You can sign up at www.ucb.co.uk/signup

 

 

Christianity

You are in the Potter’s hands

I once read a story about some grandparents who were looking for a gift for their granddaughter.  There are many different versions of the story told on the Internet, but this is one of my favourite versions…

Searching for a gift for their granddaughter, some grandparents walked into a gift shop and spotted on a shelf, a beautiful, artistic vase.  

“Look at this lovely piece of work,” the grandmother said to her husband.
The grandfather picked it up and said, “You’re right! This is one of the most beautiful vases I have ever seen.”

At that point, to their surprise,  the vase started to speak and it said to the couple, “Thank you for the compliment. But I wasn’t always beautiful.”

And the grandfather says, “What do you mean, you weren’t always beautiful?”

“Well,” said the vase, “once I was just an ugly, soggy lump of clay. But one day a man with dirty, wet hands threw me onto a wheel. Then he started turning me around and around until I got so dizzy I couldn’t see straight. ‘Stop! Stop!’ I cried. But the man with the wet hands said, ‘Not yet.’

“Then he started to poke me and punch me until I hurt all over. ‘Stop! Stop!’ I cried. But the man said, ‘Not yet.’

Each time I thought he was finished, he would crumble and roll me up and begin to poke and punch me again.

“Finally he did stop. But then he did something much worse; he put me into a furnace. It got hotter and hotter until I couldn’t stand it. ‘Stop! Stop! I cried.

But the man said, ‘Not yet.’

“Finally when I thought I was going to burn up, the man took me out of the furnace. Then some lady began to paint me and the fumes got so bad they made me feel sick. ‘

‘Stop! Stop!’ I cried.

‘Not yet,’ said the lady.

Finally she did stop.

“But then she gave me back to the man and he put me back into that awful furnace. This time it was hotter than before.

‘Stop! Stop!’ I cried. But the man said, ‘Not yet.’

Finally he took me out of the furnace and let me cool.

When I was completely cool, a lady put me on this shelf next to this mirror and when I looked at the mirror I could not believe what I saw.

I was no longer ugly, soggy and dirty.

I was beautiful, firm and clean.

It was then I realised that without all of that pain I would still be the ugly, soggy lump of wet clay.

When I read this story, I was so moved and it reminded me very much of the story of the potter which is found in Jeremiah 18.  In this  chapter, the Lord reminds Jeremiah that the people are in his hands and despite their unfaithfulness, he will not forget them.

There is so much we can learn from the picture of God as a potter, shaping our lives according to his amazing plan.  Recently I shared these thoughts with some of our UCB team leaders and I want to share them with you too.

God has a plan

Firstly, in all circumstances of life, remember that God had the picture of what your life would look like, in his mind before you set off. Before the clay was even pulled out of the ground, God had a design in mind for not only your life but also for the people you will be working with, in his plan and purpose.

God watches over us

No matter what we go through, our Heavenly Father keeps his eye upon us every step of the way and in each stage of the process. There will be times in all of our lives where we do not feel him near and we may even wonder if God has forgotten us, but that is not true. He is always faithful to his plans and promises and that includes his plans for your life.

There is a process

To become who God wants us to be, there is a process that must take place. Just as with the process of making a beautiful vase, first of all, the clay has to be prepared and has to be pressed down, to get the air out even before it gets on the wheel.

Secondly, when the clay is first placed on the wheel, it is an undefined blob. It looks nothing like the vision the potter has, for what it will become. Being ‘on the wheel’ is a painful process as we are spinned through all the busyness and patterns and cycles of life. But each spin is necessary, for shaping us, defining us, moulding us into the shape the potter has in mind.

After the clay is spun, it’s placed in the furnace, not to hurt or crack it, but to make sure it is fit for purpose! I am sure we can all testify to life being like a furnace sometimes – grief, loss, betrayal, rejection – all part of the furnace of life. But it is a key part of the Potter’s purpose.

But when we are finally taken out of the furnace and left on a shelf to cool, we might think that God had finished with us. But this is not the time to get complacent! In fact, this is a crucial time where it’s important to remain focused and not give in to temptations. This is ‘God’s waiting room’ where we wait to see what he will make of us!

When the potter is ready, when we have been tested, found to be secure and fit for purpose, this is when God is able to paint a beautiful design with our lives. But as much as we would love to think that testing and trials are over, this is not the case!

In fact, in the next step, the glazing process, the fire might be even hotter! It does not sound like a very good process, does it? And yet, when our lives are in the Potter’s hands, it is the safest place in the world to be. He stamps us with his seal of ownership, he says ‘you are mine’ and ‘though you walk through the fire, I will be with you’.

As believers, we belong to the Potter.

And whatever we go through, whatever part of the process we are in, we can be assured of one thing, he has a plan for us, our lives, our world.

To me, that is the greatest comfort of all.

 

Christianity

Experiencing the favour of God

At the end of each year, I always take time to think and pray about the year that has just passed and ask God for a word for the year ahead.

In November, in preparation for 2019, I was studying the story of the widow and the jars of oil (found in 2 Kings 4) and I found so much in the story that encouraged me. I would like to share some of these thoughts, but I want to first give you an overview of UCB’s ministry from 2018.

It is fair to say that 2018 was an unprecedented year and although we do not publicise everything that happens,  it followed a very difficult financial year in 2017.  As we moved into 2018, I felt God was saying that if we were willing to make a choice and trust him, God would lead us into unexpected favour.   After a year of great uncertainty, in 2018, we began to see the outpouring of unexpected favour and blessing.  I see ‘unprecedented favour’ as something we could not have achieved by ourselves, but something that must surely have only come from God.  We saw this favour in several areas, but there were 3 specific areas that we want to give thanks and praise for.

In 2018, we unexpectedly  had a phone call from our DAB providers, letting us know it would be possible to increase the reach of UCB 2 up to 4 million more people.  This was something that had never been discussed before and in human terms, certainly did not seem possible, and yet we were being offered the opportunity to reach so many more people.  I saw this very much as a ‘tick from God’.  It was not something we could have done ourselves…it was the favour of God.

Secondly we saw God move in a very complex legal situation we have been involved in, for over 10 years.  Again, although we had sought to deal with the situation with integrity and honesty, fixing it was beyond our control.  And yet, somehow, God moved and the whole situation was resolved.

And then in 2018, we also began to see a change in our finances. 2017 was a very tough financial year but in 2018, our heart was to see this dramatically change.

Here is what happened! In 30 years of UCB’s history, there has only been 1 year where the organisation has been totally debt free and our heart was that this would happen again. We not only had a positive financial year, but we were able to pay off a long-standing debt.

God turned up in a miraculous way to lead us into 2019, in a way we could absolutely never have imagined.

So, as UCB moves ahead into 2019, what does the year ahead look for us?

Well, as I studied the story of the widow and the miracle of the jars in oil, I felt God highlight some specific areas, which I believe are to be UCB’s focus for 2019.  Perhaps you can draw something from this, for your own life too?

2 Kings 4 tells us that a widow went to the prophet Elisha, as she had lost everything and now the creditors were threatening to take her sons away.  She was nearly destitute and so she turned in anguish to the prophet, looking for help.  Elisha first asked her what she had at home.  Was there something she could sell?  But the widow had nothing.  As I read this, I was struck by the widow’s perspective.  She was focused completely on what she had lost and what she was about to lose.  Oh how the enemy wants us to focus on the negative, so that we cannot see or recognise the breakthrough that God wants us to experience.

This for me, is one of the reasons why Christian media is so important.  We live in a world where national media often focuses on the negative, on the depressing news that is around us.  But Christian media, such as ourselves, Premier and the many others who are engaged in this work around the world, exists to provide a powerful and positive influence in people’s lives.

My prayer for us as an organisation (and for you too) is that in 2019,  we will learn to focus fully on what we HAVE and not on what we have not.

Also in this story, is the idea of capacity.  Elisha instructs the widow to ask her neighbours and to gather up as many empty vessels as they could find.  God wants to give us more than what we believe is possible, but all too often our capacity for receiving  is diminished.  We do not have enough empty vessels!  But I believe our capacity will determine the flow and it is important to think big.  No, we don’t want to think unwisely or ask God for blessing so that we can use it selfishly, but we DO want to be ready to have all that he is willing and able to give.

So, let’s think bigger…let’s not be unwise but at the same time, let’s think BIG about what God could do.

You have within you, the fullness of the godhead, the same power that raised Christ from the dead, lives in US. So, as we get 2019 off to a fresh start, let us be expectant, focus on what we have (not on what we don’t) and be ready and expectant for God to do something bigger than we could have ever imagined!

From myself and the UCB team….have a blessed 2019!

 

Christianity

Don’t lose the wonder of Christmas…

My granddaughter is 2 and a half years old and recently she has discovered the wonder of Christmas. We talk to her on Facetime and she shows us the Christmas tree and then on another day, she shows us her Christmas jumper or Christmas presents she has received.

Through her excitement, our family is re-discovering the wonder of Christmas too.

Wonder is literally, ‘the feeling of amazement, of being aware of something remarkable happening around you’.  But perhaps, in all the noise and excitement of the Christmas season, you have lost some of the wonder of what Christmas is really all about? 

At this time of year, there will be two camps of people – those who will be celebrating and who will be excited at all that is to come and those who may be feeling sad, unhappy and not really enjoying the journey.

But the good news is, no matter what our circumstances or feelings, we CAN still enjoy the wonder of this season (just like my granddaughter) if we choose to focus on the really important, wondrous things that God has given us.

The 7 wonders of Christmas

 1. We have been given the wonder of SALVATION.  Can you imagine?  The creator of the universe left all glory, to become flesh, to become one of us.  He chose to be constrained into a physical body, with one goal and purpose – to fulfil God’s plan for mankind.  We hear the story so often, that it can be easy to take it for granted. But let’s focus on the beautiful wonder of salvation this Christmastime

2.    Mary encountered the favour of God and through her obedience, we too now have ultimate access to the wonder of FAVOUR.  No longer is favour a restricted gift for just a few, it is now available to all.  You know, other religions often teach that people have to do something in order to get the favour and blessing of God.  But as believers in Jesus, all we have to do is accept it.  It is a free gift that is available to all who believe.

3.   Let’s also not forget the wonder of God’s blessings. Let’s be grateful for every thing we have and not take our blessings for granted. He blesses us with so many gifts – forgiveness of sins, healing and so much more.  Although your circumstances might look difficult, let’s remember to look at the blessings God has given us and not look at what we don’t have or what we might have lost.

4.  We also have the wonder of God’s leading and direction.  Can you imagine what Joseph went through?  He was told that his fiancée was pregnant and in that time and culture, that was almost unthinkable. Despite the confusion and fear he must have felt, he was also able to recognise the voice of God.  Sometimes in the noise around us, we can lose the ‘wonder of the whisper’.  Joseph heard the whisper of God in a dream, which gave him direction and clarity.  And we too can have the wonder of direction from God, if we pause and choose to listen.

5.    We also have the wonder of Joy.  Oh yes, joy can be tarnished by the circumstances we are in, but if we look at the situation and not at the inward gift of joy, we could miss the wonder of it all.  Perhaps this Christmas, there is an empty chair at your table or you have experienced loss of some kind.  I know how this feels!  Many years ago, our family’s first Christmas after we lost our son Jamie, I was very aware of the empty chair. But yet through it all, by focusing on what we had (and not on what we had lost), we were able to hang on to joy (even though it was tarnished by what we had lost).

6.    We were never promised a life without trouble or tribulation, but as believers, we were promised that we could have the wonder of peace.  We all experience storms in our lives but storms come and storms go.  Let’s recognise the wonder of the Prince of Peace, let’s be thankful for his enduring presence, in the middle of the most difficult of circumstances.  Don’t let the enemy steal from you, the wonder of God’s peace!

7.     Finally, none of these wonders would be even possible, if it wasn’t for the wonder of redemption. Jesus saw each of us as so priceless that he was prepared to be born, in order to die for the entire world. We couldn’t pay the debt we owed ourselves and so God bought us and redeemed us, so that he could show us his perfect plan.  What a wonder – the perfect gift of redemption.

As Christmas approaches, some of you will be feeling sad and sorrowful but can I encourage you today, to focus on the true wonders of Christmas.  These are all the things I have listed above and you could probably list some of your own too!

Whatever you are going through, whatever season you are in, don’t let the enemy steal from you, the true wonders of Christmas.