What Christmas means to me

About Lucy

Lucy is a professional musician, freelancing in and around London. She has lived in Wanstead for 8 years, since graduating from the Royal Academy of Music, and has been a member of Grace Church Wanstead since July 2015.

What was your favourite Christmas present as a child?

As a child, presents were never really the main focus of our Christmas celebrations – although my sister and I certainly enjoyed them! The main thing for us was spending time together as a family. Whether that was helping cook the turkey, walking the dog, playing games, or just watching TV in the evening, that family time was key. We occasionally went to church, but for me at that time it was just another tradition – mainly attractive because of the carol singing, and of course the mince pies. I could have quoted from various sermons that “Jesus came to save me from my sins”, but what that actually MEANT, I had no idea!

As an adult, how have your feelings about Christmas changed over the years?

Having become a Christian while at university, Christmas now means so much more to me than it ever did before! Christmas is no longer just one isolated day at the end of each year, but part of something much, much bigger. I had assumed in the past that Jesus Christ only existed for the 33 years he lived on earth – and that was his whole story. I remember being absolutely astonished to learn that he was actually around long before that – the Bible says that he was there since before the creation of the world, as he himself is God! And more than that, he still lives today in heaven, and will one day return to judge the world! This was an enormous revelation to me, and gives Christmas a huge amount of significance. That Jesus, the Son of God, would humble himself to be born as a human being, in order to give us sinful people the possibility of a personal relationship with God, and eternal life after death with him in heaven – still seems unbelievable to me at times. Yet it shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us who enjoy a good carol service! (Something I do a lot of, in my work as a musician!) In addition to many Bible passages which explain this clearly, if we look closely at some of the words we sing in carols time after time, we see that “He came down to earth from heaven, who is God and Lord of all…and he leads his children on, to the place where he has gone”. Likewise, we sing of “Christ the everlasting Lord” and of “God and sinners reconciled”. God’s own reason for Christmas? “Mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die!”And the result for the rest of us? “Not in that poor lowly stable with the oxen standing by, we shall see him, but in heaven set at God’s right hand on high. When like stars his children crowned, all in white shall wait around.” (Carol excerpts taken from ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ and ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’.)

In a sentence, what does Christmas mean to you?

Christmas is about the past AND the future, not just one day…there is a lot more to Jesus than just the baby in the manger.

10 years of Grace (church)

God is saving and transforming lives in Wanstead.This September, Grace Church Wanstead has its 10th anniversary. Over those ten years, we have seen God at work as we have shared the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son, who came to save rebels like us by dying on the cross to take the punishment we deserve. He rose again to bring his followers new life in relationship with God.

We would love to help you find out more about Jesus and his great rescue plan.

Our special service on 25th September would be a great place to start.

Download our flyer to find out more.

Celebrating Grace Church’s

So, this September, Grace Church is 10 years old. To me, it paradoxically feels like it was only 5 minutes ago that we were praying and planning it into being, and at the same time, I can barely recall the time before it existed. I do have a very visual and energetic measuring rod though; my son was just a year old when it began and now he’s about to start secondary school – and those are years that feel as though they have whizzed by!

Psalm 90 verse 4 points out that this condition is magnified for God:

A thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.

By that calculation Grace Church is just over 14 minutes old; our lives on earth are a mere blink of the eye to God. As a child, that stretch of time between breaking up from school and Christmas day was about a billion years for us and the equivalent of Usain Bolt’s 100 metres to the Almighty.

More than 2 thousand years ago Jesus told us that He would be coming back with power and glory, to judge the living and the dead, and rule over a new and perfect creation.

We’re still waiting.

At what point do we realise we’ve been stood up; go home, make a cup of tea and watch a box set on Netflix?

The Bible tells us that God isn’t being tardy:

2 Peter 3:9-10 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

I am torn between praying for Jesus to come back soon, because I really want to see Him, and praying for Him to delay His return so I can tell a few more people about Him.

One thing we can be sure about – He will come back when the time is right; He will return and we had better be ready.

If He comes back in September He’ll find us celebrating our 10 year anniversary. Why don’t you join us?

When we’ve been here 10,000 years bright shining as the sun
We’ve no less days to sing his praise than when we first began.
                                                    John Newton – ‘Amazing Grace.’

Amazing Grace: Verda’s story

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Costa and Verda live in Leytonstone and started coming to Grace Church Wanstead 2 years ago. A few Sundays ago they stood in front of the church and gave their testimonies and here is Verda’s story.

Early years in Mauritius

Hello, my name is Verda and I was born in Mauritius. I have 2 older brothers and 2 younger sisters. I was raised with a mixed religious background and I was baptised into the Roman Catholic Church. My parents were separated and my mother left to work in Lebanon to support us. We were left with friends and family to look after us. Unfortunately, these people could not be trusted and we were often neglected and abused.

I used to visit the most beautiful churches in Mauritius as I wanted to know what God is like, and ask Him how He could let me live like this. I knew all the saints’ names but I still couldn’t find who God was.

My fears and anxieties grew and I would often cry myself to sleep. It was only when my eldest brother became a young man that I felt safe again under his care and protection.

War in Lebanon

I was sent to be with my mother in Lebanon, as I was now a young lady. By then, Lebanon was a war zone and was being bombed every day due to a religious war. I began to smoke heavily and my mother feared for my life so she sent me to live in London where my brothers and sisters had made their homes.

New life in London

When I first met Costas, my family already knew him well through his father’s car trade and through the restaurant Costas managed. We soon became good friends and shared our problems. We fell in love and had a quiet registry wedding.

A few years later, we were blessed with our first 2 children. They were baptised into the Church of England, as the Greek Church where Costas had gone from a young age told us that our mixed cultural marriage was not a good example to others. Although Costas was welcome, I didn’t fit in with their rules, traditions and ceremonies. We felt discriminated and condemned. Worst of all our actions had consequences on others, as we were now arguing in front of the children about religion which hurt and confused them.

By the time our last son Andreas was born, the Greek Church had a change of heart and agreed to baptise him after I was baptised. Shortly before the baptism, I received the call that would shatter me. Costas’ sister told me that she didn’t want to be a Godparent anymore, as I had been hiding behind God and using her religion to hide my superstitious background. I felt abandoned by God with no hope.

Finding God’s peace and forgiveness

I knew that day that I needed God and I went to my nearest church which was St. Saviours in Walthamstow. A lady called Penny could see I was very upset and comforted me. I told her I did not know who God was anymore. She told me that if I truly wanted to know who God is, I should come to the bible study on Monday morning and ask for a lady called Katherine.

When I arrived on that Monday morning, I was made to feel very welcome. Each of the ladies there gave a short testimony about their lives and I soon realised that I was not the only one with problems. We prayed and read passages from the Bible that were filled with hope and compassion.

I was now reading and taking in the living Word of God. I also started going to a second meeting during the week at David & Jane GIbbs’ house. Katherine was leading us through the Christianity Explored course every week and I realised that God was mighty to save.

I read the Bible at home, prayed many times a day and started to surrender my fears to God, through Jesus His only Son. I asked for forgiveness and I started to change from the inside out. God also helped me to quit smoking through his power.

This caught my husband’s attention and he asked me why I was changing for the better. I told him I now had complete faith and trust in God and I did not fear people anymore. I was walking with a newness of life and praying for wisdom in every difficult situation.

We were praying for perseverance in my life and I knew I had to forgive others if I was to be forgiven. The only way to God was by accepting the Prince of peace as my Lord and saviour. There was now for the first time in years peace in our lives, and when Costas agreed to attend a service at Grace Church Wanstead I knew my prayers were answered.

Read Costas’ story

Amazing Grace: Costa’s story

Costa and Verda live in Leytonstone and started coming to Grace Church Wanstead 2 years ago. A few Sundays ago they stood in front of the church and gave their testimonies and here is Costa’s story.

First recollection of church

Hello, my name is Costa. I was born in Hackney, London about 10 years after my family emigrated from Cyprus to England. We went to a Greek Orthodox Church and it was treated as a special occasion. The church had 1 Bible written in ancient Greek which would be read to us by a high priest with a long beard.

Our prayers would be written on small pieces of paper which would then be passed on to the mediators to pray for us. The sermons would instruct us to help widows and orphans if we wanted to be saved.

At home it was my mother who would encourage me to read the modern Greek Bible. My mother often explained how the old covenant was about the saviour of all man in a fallen world.

Distance from God

I was 13 years old when my sisters told me that we would be just like the orphans we were helping at the church. My mother had an incurable illness and she did not have long to live. It was painful to see my mother suffering. I was the youngest so her final prayer was saved for me. She prayed that I would be adopted into a large family with the guidance from the perfect role model and find an inheritance from God.

I felt broken and lost.

2 years after my mother passed away, my father introduced me to my step mother, who was a non believer with no children of her own. I was now growing up with no love.

My sisters had made their plans for their lives, my father constantly worked and my step mother encouraged me to do the same. I was soon an angry, rebellious young man with no guidance who was living his own life without God and it was not worth living. I feared death, was often depressed, couldn’t sleep and started to smoke. I had a string of failed relationships, the list is endless…

Coming back to church

The next time I would read a Bible again would be nearly 35 years later right here in Grace Church Wanstead.

When I arrived I saw a welcoming gathering of Christians who were not directing wealthy people to the front rows. They did not object to anyone’s colour, race or religious background. I saw plenty of Bibles and the children were not using mediators for their prayers. In fact, they were actively encouraged to read the Bible themselves, answer questions and take part in everything.

Why I am a Christian

I asked to join the Bible study group at David Gibbs’ house. I started to attend and all the teachers had a patient and gentle approach to my questions and if they didn’t know the answer they would always get back to me soon.

As I read and took in the meaning of the events of Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection – I took it personally. I felt a deep sense of shame for all the wrong things I had done for so many years toward God and people. I had to be forgiven and this meant forgiving others.

I found my perfect role model who left the right hand of God, humbled himself and became a man to know my weakness and temptations. Jesus willingly allowed himself to die a humiliating and awful murder even though he was the only one to walk on this earth without sin. His precious blood was now shed for me so I could avoid a second death, and be with him and his family, inheriting something much more precious than the houses, cars, money and gold I had lost in my life.

I pushed him away for years but he was patient with me. I realise today that when I wept as a child for my mother, he was right there weeping with me…

Even atheists worship a god.

The news this week has been horrible; the massacre in Orlando and the murder of Jo Cox.

Nothing I can write will express the empty feeling in my stomach when I think about the waste of lives and the loss of loved ones.

I am also deeply saddened by the backlash against God.

Somehow – because the murderer in Orlando was Muslim and apparently did it in the name of Allah – this means that it’s God’s fault; he sanctioned it, he is powerless, he wasn’t there to stop it, he chose not to, or he simply doesn’t exist.

I keep seeing a cartoon on Facebook with 2 people talking.The first is asking ‘Why didn’t God stop the shooting?’ The other person replies, ‘Because God doesn’t exist, engage with reality and fix your ********* gun laws’

Can we please remind ourselves that all murder, theft, rape, war, hate, bullying, abuse, greed, envy, immorality etc. is due to the worship of one god or another.

Some people just choose to worship the god of ‘self’.

I think you’ll find more crime committed in the name of that ‘god’ than any other.

We are in this situation because we are selfish; we live to glorify ourselves and not the God that created us.

The reason for the mess is described in the Bible, in the book of Genesis. Human beings had everything they needed but we wanted more. We wanted ALL the power. God, in his goodness handed the ‘power’ over to us.

He said – ‘Go on then; run this creation your own way, it’s not going to be easy. When you’ve had enough, I’ll be right here with my arms open to welcome you home.’

John 3:16  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. (NIV)

If somebody said they had committed a terrible act in my name, I would ask that you check with me that I actually told them to do it, before you blame me. If you’d like to know what God has actually said, please read it for yourself in the Bible.

Come along to Grace Church, we can point you in the right direction.