Unfortunately, and due to the ongoing situation with regard to Coronavirus/Covid-19, all church meetings are suspended and the Source Cafe will be closed until further notice. The Church leaders are continually monitoring the situation, and will keep you informed as we consider the possibility of opening up again.

Please feel free to contact any of us on the 'contact us' link (click here) for more information or if you have a particular need.

Please look at the News page (click here) for updates and daily prayers, reflections and encouragement and listen into our podcasts here.

Riverside Church is a busy church with something going on every day.  We meet for worship on Sundays at 10:45am in our church building on Southgate, the main shopping street of Sleaford, a market town in Lincolnshire.  You are very welcome to drop in for worship, where we trust you will be made welcome.

We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, or are homeless; to those who may have come to this country recently and only speak a little English*; to those who are crying, to new-borns, to those of you who are skinny as a rake and to those who could afford to lose a few pounds.

We welcome you if you can sing like Pavarotti or who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re ‘just browsing’, just woken up or just got out of prison. We don’t care if you are more Christian than the Archbishop of Canterbury or haven’t been in church since little Jack’s christening.

We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome keep-fit mums, football dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like ‘organised religion’, we’ve been there too!

If you blew all your money on the horses, you’re welcome here. We offer a welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell or come simply because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.

We welcome those of you who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or if you simply got lost in Sleaford’s one way system and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts and you!

(*kas tikai runā nedaudz angliski / kurie kalba tik šiek tiek anglų / którzy tylko mówią trochę po angielsku / которые говорят только немного по-английски / care vorbesc doar puțin limba engleză)

 

As a Christian fellowship our aim is to show God’s love in action by the activities carried out in our building, and through our interaction with our neighbours, both as a church and as individuals.

Riverside Church is committed to working with the churches in the town wherever possible. We are a part of Churches Together in Sleaford and District (CTSD). Volunteers from the other churches often join us in several of our mission projects.

We run a community cafe at the front of our building.  This venture is known as 'The Source' and in addition to the cafe we have several well-equipped meeting rooms available to let (subject to our lettings policy). Further details can be found here. 

General

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We use this page to highlight either 'news' items or other temporary information that does not fit naturally on the existing pages of the Riverside Church web site.  If you'd like to know what is going on today or this week, don't forget to checkout our calendar of events on the right, or contact us directly.

Unfortunately, and due to the ongoing situation with regard to Coronavirus/Covid-19, all church meetings are suspended and the Source Cafe will be closed until further notice. The Church leaders are continually monitoring the situation, and will keep you informed as we consider the possibility of opening up again.

Week beginning 9 August 2020

Some thoughts from the Equipped for Grace website:

The Character of a Disciple: 3 Lessons from Philippians

A few days ago I sat and wrote down some goals for August, and I started to think about personal growth. By a worldly standard, I may not be what one would consider “successful”. I wasn’t an honour student in university, I don’t make a ton of money, I don’t have clout on social media, and many of the projects I started are still incomplete. But I know that when God looks at us, He views success and growth much differently. He looks at our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7) and values us simply because we are made in His image for His purpose (Psalms 57:2).

While reading through the book of Philippians, three passages stood out to me. Here are three lessons about the character of a disciple.

Philippians 2:14-16

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world, by holding firm to the word of life.”

These verses tell us to do everything without grumbling or arguing so that we will be blameless and pure. How many times have you already complained today? When was the last time you had an argument with someone? Even on the best of days, we can find something to complain about. Instead of being thankful for the cool temperatures that come during a rainfall, we sigh at how dark and dreary it makes us feel. Instead of hearing someone’s perspective and putting ourselves in their shoes, we’re quick to come down on them with judgment, arguing that their perspective is wrong. But to be faultless children of God we must shine like stars and remember the example that Jesus set for us.

Philippians 4:6-7

“Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Worry is one of the biggest challenges for Christians today. During the pandemic I saw anxieties rise in brothers and sisters, almost as though we had forgotten that God was still in control. Our minds are powerful things, and it’s easy to let them carry us away as we look with uncertainty at the future. But this isn’t the way disciples are called to live. Whenever we are afraid about anything, God wants us to pray to Him and hand our worries over. He wants us to remember all the things we are grateful for and ask Him for anything we need. He wants us to acknowledge Him and all that He is able to do. By surrendering our fears to God, we receive His peace which goes beyond what any human being can understand. It may not make sense to be fearless during a pandemic, and as humans we will experience these strong emotions, but we must give those fears to God and not let our anxiety control our behaviours and decisions.

Philippians 4:8-9 

“Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable–if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy– dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard from me, and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” 

If any disciple wants to know how to be more like Jesus, this verse sums it up well. It is written that we should focus on things that are true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable. Why? Because these are some of the wonderful qualities of our Lord. These things are worthy of praise because Jesus is the only one worthy of praise. He has taught us so much through His disciple, the apostle Paul, and as he writes to the church in Philippi, we can discover what Jesus expects from us.

So, as we keep walking forward in our faith, let us remember these three lessons from Philippians. May God continue to work in us so that we can reach His goal, “forgetting what is behind, and reaching forward to what is ahead.” (Phil 3:13)

Every blessing

Peter

Week beginning 2 August 2020

Eleven of us met on Sunday afternoon at the Boston Road Recreation Ground to catch up with each other, have fellowship and pray together. It was a beautiful day and it was great to meet up albeit at a 2metre distance. I shared this song from Keith Getty and Stuart Townend (©2005 Thankyou music/Capitol CMG Publishing/Integritymusic.com):

FROM THE BREAKING OF THE DAWN
To the setting of the sun,
I will stand on every promise of Your word.
Words of power, strong to save,
That will never pass away;
I will stand on every promise of Your word.
For Your covenant is sure,
And on this I am secure:
I can stand on every promise of Your word.

When I stumble and I sin,
Condemnation pressing in,
I will stand on every promise of Your word.
You are faithful to forgive,
That in freedom I might live,
So I stand on every promise of Your word.
Guilt to innocence restored;
You remember sins no more,
So I’ll stand on every promise of Your word.

When I’m faced with anguished choice
I will listen for Your voice,
And I’ll stand on every promise of Your word.
Through this dark and troubled land
You will guide me with Your hand
As I stand on every promise of Your word.
And You’ve promised to complete
Every work begun in me,
So I’ll stand on every promise of Your word.

Hope that lifts me from despair,
Love that casts out every fear
As I stand on every promise of Your word.
Not forsaken, not alone,
For the Comforter has come,
And I stand on every promise of Your word.
Grace sufficient, grace for me,
Grace for all who will believe;
We will stand on every promise of Your word.

At this time when there is still a good deal of fear and anxiety in peoples’ lives, it is good to know that God is with us in it all. With love and prayer, every blessing,

Robert.

Friday 31 July (Put up on Thursday)

“I AM” (John 8:21-30)

Once more Jesus said to them, ‘I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.’

This made the Jews ask, ‘Will he kill himself? Is that why he says, “Where I go, you cannot come”?’

But he continued, ‘You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.’

‘Who are you?’ they asked.

‘Just what I have been telling you from the beginning,’ Jesus replied. ‘I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.’

They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. So Jesus said, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.’ Even as he spoke, many believed in him.

‘Jesus’ use of the words “I am” has an even deeper significance. In John 8, Jesus stated, “you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am” (8:24), and then again, “when you have lifted up the Son of Man, you will realise that I am” (8:28). These sentences only make sense if Jesus is using “I am” as a title. At the end of the chapter, he claimed that “before Abraham was, I am” (8:58). At that, the Jews were about to stone him (8:59), which was the usual punishment for blasphemy (see Leviticus 24:16), indicating how serious an offence Jesus had committed in their eyes. So how are his words blasphemy? The personal name for God in the Old Testament, YHWH, is translated “I am who I am”, or “I am” (see Exodus 3:14). Jesus applies this divine name to himself in order to explain his origin (8:58), his suffering (8:28; 13:19), and his saving significance (8:24; see also 6:20). The Jews rightly recognised that Jesus was making a claim to share in the being and identity of the one true God of Israel! The Christian faith affirms that Jesus’ teaching about himself was true: he is the great “I am”, he shares the being and identity of YHWH, and so he is able to give life and hope to the whole world’ (Open Your Bible – An all in one Bible Guide).

Peter and I have decided that from August 1st we will be placing a weekly reflection on the website, probably on Monday morning of each week.

Every Blessing & stay safe,

Robert.

Thursday 30 July

I am the true vine (15:1-5).

‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.’

‘The vine, or vineyard, was a common image for the whole nation of Israel in the Old Testament (eg Psalm 80:8; Jeremiah 2:21). They were supposed to produce fruit of righteousness for God, the vine-keeper. But instead, they produced little fruit – and what fruit they did produce was bad. Jesus teaches his disciples that he is the true vine (John 15:1): he is all Israel were ever supposed to be. His 66 disciples are branches on the vine (15:5), which means that as long as they remain connected to him they will receive the pruning discipline of the Father (15:2-3), and bear good fruit from the resources of Jesus’ life that will flow into them (15:5). Remaining in Jesus is all his disciples need in order to be pleasing and productive for the Father’ (Open Your Bible – An all in one Bible Guide).

Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, were the first people to set foot on the moon in July 1969. Buzz Aldrin wrote: ‘Our powered descent was right on schedule. With only seconds of fuel left, we touched down at 3.30pm. Now was the time for communion.

‘I unstowed the elements in their flight packets. I put them and the Scripture reading on the little table in front of the abort guidance-system computer. Then I called Houston. “Houston, this is Eagle. This is LM Pilot speaking. I would like to request a few moments’ silence. I would like to invite each person listening in, wherever and whoever he may be, to contemplate for a few moments the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his own individual way.”

‘For me, this meant taking communion. In the blackout I opened the little plastic packages which contained bread and wine. I poured wine into the chalice my parish had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the cup. It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were consecrate elements.

‘Just before I partook the elements, I read the words which I had chosen to indicate our trust that as a man probes into space, we are in fact acting in Christ. I sensed especially strongly my unity with the church back home, and with the church everywhere. I read, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.”’

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Wednesday 29 July

I am the way, the truth, and the life (14:6).

Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.’

‘“Way”, “truth” and “life” are all images that spring directly from the Old Testament’s teaching about obedience to God’s Torah. If the Israelites were careful to walk in the way of God’s commands, then they would enjoy blessing and life as God intended (Deuteronomy 5:32-33). Since God’s law is the way to life, it was celebrated by the Israelites as truth (eg Psalm 25:5; 119:43). Jesus tells his disciples that they can follow him to God’s new creation, where they will live in perfect fellowship with the Father (John 14:2-3). The way to get there – the way of truth that leads to life – is no longer God’s Torah but Jesus himself (14:6). Jesus defines what it means to live in the kingdom of God, both now and forever. Jesus’ words still speak powerfully today of his uniqueness: there is no other way to true life than through him’(Open Your Bible – An all in one Bible Guide).

As the Way, Jesus is our path to the Father. As the Truth, He is the reality of God’s promises. As the Life, He joins His life to ours, both now and eternally. Jesus said: ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ Jesus does not give us freedom to do what we want, but to follow God. As we seek to serve God, Jesus’ perfect truth frees us to be all that God meant us to be.

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Tuesday 28 July

I am the resurrection and the life (11:25-26).

Jesus said to her (Martha), ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’

‘Israel knew that only God held the power of life (eg 2 Kings 5:7). Death, as the ultimate result of sin, disrupts God’s good creation and threatens to remove even God’s own people from their awareness of him (see Psalm 6:5; 88:10-11). In one of the greatest visions of the Old Testament, God promises to speak to the dead and dry bones of his people and raise them up to new life and fellowship with him (Ezekiel 37:1-14). Israel’s resurrection hope was not just new spiritual life, but new physical life too, in God’s renewed world. In John 11:25, Jesus tells the grieving Martha that he is “the resurrection and the life”: he is the powerful Word of God who has come to breathe new life into the world. He raised Martha’s brother Lazarus to show the truth of his words (John 11:41-44). Jesus’ teaching pointed forward to his own death and resurrection, by which he defeated sin and death. He brings new spiritual life now, but will completely fulfil his promise in the future when he will return to bring “resurrection and life” to all his followers’ (Open Your Bible – An all in one Bible Guide).

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the centre of our Christian faith. Because Jesus rose from the dead as He promised, we know that what He said is true; He is God. Because He rose, we have certainty that our sins are forgiven. Because He rose, He lives and represents us to God the Father. Because He rose and defeated death, we know we will also be raised as we trust and follow Him. He is the resurrection and the life now and in the future.

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Monday 27 July

I am the good shepherd (10:11-18).

 ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No-one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.’

‘If Israel were seen as sheep in the Old Testament, then God was their shepherd (Psalm 23:1). However, God shared his care of the flock with Israel’s leaders (eg Joshua  in Numbers 27:17; also 2 Samuel 7:7), and in particular the king (especially David, 1 Chronicles 11:2). Apart from David and a few other good leaders, these “shepherds” did not take care of Israel, but led her into idolatry and wickedness, and allowed her to become prey for other nations, all the while making themselves comfortable with warm clothing and rich food (see Ezekiel 34:1-6). So God promised through Ezekiel to take the flock back under his control and rescue his sheep (34:11-16). He would appoint a new David to care for his renewed flock (34:23-24). Jesus announces that he is this new good shepherd – he is the true ruler over God’s people (John 10:11-16). Unlike the wicked leaders of Israel, Jesus is prepared even to go to his death in order to rescue his sheep from destruction (10:11). Jesus teaches his disciples that his suffering and death are God’s means of gathering his people together. Far from being a failure, Jesus is the good shepherd who brings health and care to his wandering sheep (note also Luke 15:3-7; 1 Peter 2:25)’ (Open Your Bible – An all in one Bible Guide).

Some time ago now, I went walking in the Lancashire countryside near Rawtenstall. On crossing a farmyard, I met a shepherd coming down off the moor with a lamb over his shoulders. The mother was unknown, perhaps fallen on the moor, and the lamb was going to be reared in the farmhouse kitchen.

Every person is unique and special to God; every person is of incredible value and worth to Him and, rather like that shepherd showed for one little lamb that had lost its way, so God goes to incredible lengths to rescue and guide the people He loves.

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Saturday 25 July

I am the door of the sheep (10:7-9).

Therefore Jesus said again, ‘Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture’. 

‘Gates or doors in sheepfolds are important for the safety and security of the sheep; they prevent the sheep from wandering away and predators from attacking the flock. A flock of sheep was a common image for God’s people in the Old Testament (eg Psalm 100:3). The gate, for them, was God’s Torah, entering through which they would experience salvation and blessing (note Deuteronomy 6:9). Jesus declares that he is the new Torah – he is the new gate of the flock of God’s people, entering through which they will discover life in abundance (John 10:9-10). There is no other legitimate way into God’s fold (10:1). Jesus will watch over the coming and going of the sheep (10:9), which echoes the constant watchful care of God himself in Psalm 121:8’ (Open Your Bible – An all in one Bible Guide).

May we be enabled by God’s Holy Spirit to point people to the Gate, Jesus, today; the Person who gives life abundantly and cares for them and us with an everlasting love.

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Friday 24 July

Continuing our look at the ‘I Am’ sayings of Jesus:

 I am the light of the world (8:12).

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’

‘Throughout Scripture, light is an image of God’s activity of creation (see Genesis 1:3) and salvation (see Exodus 13:21; Psalm 27:1). The world has become a dark place because of sin, so God set his people in the middle of the world to reflect his own light, revealing the way to him (see Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; 60:1-3). Israel often failed to be the light of the world because they also were affected by the darkness of sin. Jesus declared that he is what Israel were always supposed to be (8:12). However, Jesus is not just a reflection of God’s light; he is the source of light itself and so is able to give it to others, as he demonstrates by healing a blind man (9:1-7). As John comments at the beginning of the Gospel, Jesus is the true light, who was at work in both creation and salvation (1:3-5,9). Just as Israel were to reflect God’s light, so Christians are to reflect Jesus’ (see Matthew 5:14; 2 Corinthians 4:6; 1 John 1:7)’ (Open Your Bible – An all in one Bible Guide).

May we reflect Jesus’ light as we go about our lives today, asking the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us so that others may see his light and want to follow him. It is a dark world out there, let us spread his light and make a difference, because he is with us.

Every blessing,

Robert.

Thursday 23 July

Over the next week or so we are going to be looking at the ‘I Am’ sayings of Jesus

‘Early in John’s Gospel, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at a well (4:7). In conversation with her, Jesus tells her that the age-old controversy between Samaritans and Jews about where to worship God (4:20) is no longer necessary – all people everywhere can worship God “in spirit and in truth” (4:23-24). The Samaritan woman replies that she expects the Messiah will clear up all the confusion (4:25). Jesus’ response is simple, “I am – the one who is speaking to you!” (4:26). In Greek, his statement begins ego eimi, “I am”. On one hand, Jesus is simply saying, “It’s me!” But these specific words recur throughout John’s Gospel at key moments, hinting at their significance for Jesus in his teaching about himself. In particular, John’s Gospel contains seven “I am” statements through which Jesus explains who he is to his followers’ (Open Your Bible – An all in one Bible Guide).

 I am the bread of life (6:35-40).

Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.’

‘The previous day, Jesus had fed the crowd with five loaves and two fish (6:1-13), and now they had returned to him wanting more miraculous food (6:26,34). They thought that Jesus was the promised prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:18; John 6:14), so they asked him for a sign to prove himself (6:30), just as Moses had provided “bread from heaven” for the Israelites for forty years during their exodus journey from slavery in Egypt to the promised land (6:31; Exodus 16:4,35). Jesus corrected them: it was not Moses who had given the Israelites bread, but God (6:32). Now God was providing a much better bread for them – Jesus himself – which would feed them on a much more profound exodus: the journey from sin and death to eternal life (6:35). Jesus is not just a prophet like Moses who can ask God to send provision; Jesus himself is that provision! God sent bread from heaven during the first exodus because that was what was needed then. But Jesus has been sent “from heaven”, because he is the essential provision for the new exodus: no one can come into the eternal life promised by God except by him (6:50-51). Jesus’ teaching about himself as the bread of life is echoed in the Lord’s Supper (6:52-57; Luke 22:19), and in the prayer he taught his disciples (Matthew 6:11)’ (Open Your Bible – An all in one Bible Guide).

Jesus is the one who satisfies our need for salvation from our wrongs and our need for a new life in God. He is the one we need when times are good and when times are difficult.

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Wednesday 22 July

This is a really helpful reflection on the Parable of the Sower from Bob Stoner, formerly from Sleaford, currently a Methodist Pioneer Deacon in Todmorden, but moving soon to a new post in Glasgow:

What paths did you expect not to be on?

There’s a story about some paths: some with good soil, some not. Monty DonCharlie Dimmock and the Rich Brothers would have thoroughly enjoyed themselves. We’d like to say which path we are on – but sometimes we are not on the path we would have chosen.

Where to start? Do we look at the good soil, having a feeling that this is the best? I think we should start with the bit we might have missed. It’s right at the start of Matthew 13 and the Parable of the Sower.

Where are we?

He’s just had a hard time speaking to crowds of people and said, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” The response, especially from this close to him must have been interesting to say the least. We can often jump from one chapter to the next without thinking that some time may have elapsed between the incidents. In fact, it could have been days or weeks or a metaphorical incident. 

Here we read that on that day Jesus sat beside the lake. We have had that opportunity to just sit, watch the waves lap the shore line down at Baitings Reservoir.

There, no one joined us – Jesus just can’t get away from the crowds.

When peace is needed

In the Greek it speaks of ‘many crowds‘, where we get the term hoi polloi from.  I wonder whether they were socially distanced, calm or eager to get closer, demanding possibly that Jesus do something for them, right there. 

Jesus gets into a boat and sits down. From this moment of peace he can see the noisy crowds – quite a difference. Peace so he can reflect upon the situation, of the noise from their perspective.

What can we see?

From this vantage point he can see these people, not in judgement, but to really look into their faces, examine why they may be here. Have we ever looked at passers-by, possibly in a train station, asking yourself what burdens these people may be carrying?  They find their way through the crowds, but often have to stop – it’s not the path they would have chosen or preferred. In a rush, not a chance to stop and lay down that ‘baggage’ – physical and/or mental.

He speaks to them about someone sowing seeds. What kind of seeds? What are you thinking?

Today the farmers have soil analysis to know of the yield of the expected crop, they would use GPS tracking in their tractors to ensure that, of course obstacles are avoided, but also to ensure that the seed density is maximised where it is needed. Here, the sower casts the seeds liberally it would seem, not really caring where they go. Surely they’d be more careful. They’d ensure that the seeds go only onto the good soil. 

What do these paths signify?

The seeds fall onto the road. It may well be a road or a well-heeled path. The ground compacted, sealed in some way, not allowing the rain to permeate deep into the ground. Many of us walk this path. It is the well trodden path of expectation. But often we feel pain and it is hard work. The phrase ‘the evil one’ in the text, is actually when translated means painful or toilsome – no, not the Devil. This path is one where the kingdom should exist. We often strive to find that kindness, that radical gesture to which can help others, but societal issues block us, prevent us. It may not be an individual problem but one that is resolved by society shifting, moving as it may now be doing in small ways. Our hearts need to change, be transformed. Think of slavery in the past – expectation was changed for the better. But the change needed is continual. It’s perhaps the new normal? Perhaps Change is constant?

The types of paths – which one are we on?

Now it’s rocks!

Some of the seeds fall onto rocky ground. Here the seeds immediately sprout and then fall away. They find that the ground is good but with little resilience. Now again please don’t start to identify yourself here. This isn’t about us. Where it speaks of root, there is the word joy. I know mind blowing to think that all this time we keep thinking of growing stuff when it is about growing us closer to Jesus.

Here people who walk this particular path need someone who will walk alongside them. This isn’t the path they would have chosen, but now they could have people listening (Matthew 13:20) to them, hearing their story as they journey, and have the time to find favour, deeper more sustainable growth. We have spoken in recent weeks of traditional and online churches and also of those people who don’t attend a service but are still very much of faith.

Possibly we have seen and come to understand that God has made us wonderfully different. Some prefer the traditional format whereas others like the ‘freedom’ of the online services. Each to their own I suppose, and perhaps there are people who appreciate both forms. Then again, due to a myriad of circumstances we have people who haven’t attended church for some time, or don’t really engage with the formal ambience of chapel or the structure of the service but still have a lively valid real faith.

How do we support these folk? They are loved and welcome, but do they fall onto rocky ground?

Ah my sort of garden…thorns!

Some of the seeds fall amongst thorny ground. I recognise this type of ground, plagued by thorns and weeds in past gardens.

We know of one person who was contacted by a neighbour recently and it was asked whether they had any weedkiller. No they replied, ah well perhaps you can use some of our’s to get rid of your weeds on your drive…

A helpful hint… perhaps. Or perhaps it speaks volumes of what burdens they may be facing. It may well be that’s not the path they would have chosen to walk along.

As Jesus looked into the crowd that day, what might he have discerned?  We may see anxiety caused by individual injustices, or the improper use of privilege from riches of this age. Again we are back to society permitting such travesties. The Church has not been reticent in coming forward to stopping such injustice. The Joint Public Issues Team, a group from the Baptist, Methodist, United Reformed Church and the Church of Scotland, are forthright in providing us with appropriate information on systematic issues which affect our society. It may not be affecting us, but it does affect many in our community.

Will the thorns, the weeds of our own life, deny us that opportunity to see, to help others?

I’ll return to weeds later.

The text then speaks of the crop being unfruitful – so it’s fruit??! If you were expecting a crop of golden delicious apples or even exotic pomegranates then ….just checking…no it’s grain. The reference to fruit comes from the thin stalk above the stamen in the flowering bud.  

Are we accountable by our yield?

Lastly, the bit we were all waiting for, the good soil. Often we might be able to identify with this. It speaks of the crop being 100-fold, 60-fold or 30-fold: although in Luke’s account of this story, he does not. What’s really odd is that it does not say that this is a league table, where we are to strive to be our best. Our yield is what we can seek to provide for others. It is not age dependent, or how mobile we are, we do what we can.

So what does that all mean to me?

All the paths have names, names of people who walk along them. People who are carrying great loads or burdens. We ourselves may have or are walking along such paths. These paths may carry influence, or be busy, or rutted or even free-spirited. 

The well-trodden road may be one where we can allow time for others, so we can stop and listen. We may ourselves find that the path is ploughed into something new, and us also transformed. We may also be allow others to change us.

The path with rocks, may be one where we do not know the names of those who we meet. They come and go, faceless, not able to identity or resonate with them. Can we give people that privilege to get alongside them.

The path with thorns may be one where we find ourselves overwhelmed with anxiety – I have been there. But in resting with Jesus, rooted in Jesus there we can find joy.

Note that the sower sowed liberally – for all are worthy, all are valued and wonderfully made by God. The sower was God. We are called to listen, care, support and love the person in front of us.

Our role is to not seek out those weeds, as we see them, but love them. 

Sometimes we may find ourselves on paths that we would not have chosen. At such times, look up, take steps forwards, fulfil our calling to love one another.

Yes the weeds will encroach at times, show them love. It is up to them whether they accept that offer, God does the rest.

We may not see an instant change, just as those in the crowds were seeking, but we walk alongside Jesus. Our path seemingly fleetingly came to Todmorden, but now Glasgow beckons. 

Is this your path? It is ours.

Whatever path we find ourselves upon let us give ourselves and others time, so that we may listen to God, to them, to journey with them, so we may pray for them and even with them – so they too may find joy.

Tuesday 21 July

Resting in the Empowerment of God from Selina Stone, Tutor and Lecturer in Political Theology at St Mellitus College

Moses said to the LORD, ‘Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.’ The LORD said to him, ‘Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD?  Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.’ Exodus 4:10–12

A chaplain I know once asked how many burning bushes Moses may have missed before he noticed the one we read about in the Scriptures. She wanted to make a point about the persistence of God, who calls us despite our fear and doubts. A bush is burning but not consumed, the voice of ‘I AM’ is heard, and a series of signs are given, all of which convince Moses that the Lord is calling him.


Persuading him that he is the right person to go to Pharaoh, however, is a whole different story. Moses is aware of Pharaoh’s power: he has seen the weight of his might and Moses is under no illusions about where he himself stands in the scheme of things. Fear is a normal reaction.


Moses’ reflections on whether or not going to Pharaoh is a good idea may well have been based on what he would have seen from the political engagements in the palace. It is likely that he would have been aware that those who gain an audience with Pharaoh must be fluent, confident, and able to speak well… and so he counted himself out.


Fortunately, God does not limit himself to the power analyses and strategies which we devise in our own human wisdom. This means we have to overcome the temptation to lean on our own understanding when God calls us to something new. Yet we should also trust that he will do immeasurably more than we imagine… so we could be in for some surprises along the way.


It seems Moses will have to make some adjustments now that he is no longer walking alone in Midian but instead with the God who ‘gave human beings their mouths’ and their ability to see, speak, and hear. This God, the God of his ancestors, is worthy of all his trust.


It can be unnerving yet wonderfully surprising to walk with the God of Moses. At times, we might feel out of our depth with what God has called us into. We may wonder whether he has got it wrong. But he knows you by name, he knows where you have been, and he will guide you on by the power of his gentle hand… even if he has to light a few bushes along the way.

 Every Blessing, Robert.

Monday 20 July

This was a sermon preached yesterday at Windsor Methodist Church by a local URC minister; I found it very helpful.

Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43
THE WHEAT AND TARES IN A COVID CONTEXT

It is not very hard to see what Jesus was driving at when he told the story of the wheat and the tares. The useful and valued wheat plants standing for true followers are sufficiently similar in growth and even appearance to the tares. It is a story about judging – or rather, not judging. It is very human to judge those who don’t think and act the same as us, Jesus is right to caution us against prejudgment of others.
There is nothing quite like an emerging pandemic to test the difference between our own stated values and our actual values. We assumed that when the pandemic arrived our collective effort (as those who claim to follow the Jesus way) would have produced systems to look after the least able. We needed to assure ourselves that our country was one in which everybody throughout every section of the population would be able to access hospitals and respirators. And, mostly, we have done. Yet aren’t the poorest nations in the world denied aid? Our own nation spends 0.7% on overseas aid – yet those living unnoticed in refugee camps will be denied help from nations like ours now the COVID virus is arriving. Not a great reflection on ourselves.
It is blindingly obvious that we are living in momentously changing times. But what do these changing times mean for our whole way of thinking, which includes our faith, our customs and our attitudes to one another? Let’s think for a moment about just one of the more dramatic changes. One of the biggest shifts for many communities around the world is deciding what to do when confronted with those who come seeking refuge. Looking at my own community, as the sense of equilibrium is threatened, our response so often comes across as unwarranted judgment.
If today’s gospel reading of the parable of the wheat and the tares is still valid for the modern Christian, it does rather prevent us from prejudging prospective immigrants.  Of all Jesus’ parables, this seems curiously appropriate for a modern age. Jesus chose a farming analogy to make his point. The Greek word translated in Matthew is about “zinzania” – the weed that fools you. The commentators suggest he was talking about is better known as darnel. Note that it is not the darnel itself which is poisonous. Darnel by itself is perfectly edible. The problem is that darnel is host to a fungus called the Ergot Smut fungus, which causes the ill-effects. Bread contaminated with this fungus is poisonous. Initially the sprouting darnel – the “zinzania” – looks superficially like wheat. Later on it does become more obvious – because the grain from the darnel is smaller and darker and the plant itself is shorter, yet in practice as any farmer would tell you, weeding a wheat field once growth is underway is damaging for the subsequent harvest. Back in Jesus’ time the standard solution was to reap above the height of the darnel –whereas these days, the wheat and weeds go through a thrasher that first removes the chaff from the wheat and run it over a sieve to allow the smaller darnel to fall through and be cast off with the chaff. The deadly fungus goes away with the darnel.
Jesus’ main point was of course that, like the tares and the wheat, with people of claimed faith, we cannot make an early judgment as to which are the real deal and which ones are the ones with the poison.
There is always the temptation to assume that one’s own group are the ones with the real right to life whereas the others are the poison or in faith terms the hypocrites. For Protestants there is an assumption that the Protestant faith is the right one and infinitely better than for example, the faith of the Muslim, the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Jehovah’s Witness, the Catholic or the Mormon.
Yet serious reflection makes us remember that any religious label will be no real guide to what the follower has understood and is starting to live.
Remember the parable teaches that it is not we who should be the judges of who the weeds represent in his story; indeed he suggests leaving the judgment of this to the harvest of final outcomes.
It seems reasonable to suggest that if more followed Jesus’ advice, there would be more by way of religious tolerance – fewer examples of religious genocide and far fewer examples of unpleasant attitudes towards those of other faith shown in places like Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Cyprus, Nigeria, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Indonesia, and the U.S. And in fact if we really want to get down to it, to a neighbourhood very near you.
If more people accepted their religion as one path to understanding, but at the same time recognized that there are other religions which offer other insights of spiritual truth, perhaps there might be more acceptance of other systems of morality, and other religious practices. Remember that, despite their presumed shortcomings, most religions have followers, whose beliefs motivate them to lead better lives, caring for the poor and respecting human rights.
While we may lack understanding of, or empathy for those of other faiths, we should not assume that we are the true wheat and it is the others who are tares. After all if the true growing plants can be confused with the harmful weeds for most of their growth then are we perhaps the tares?
I have often heard it said that Islam is a systemically bad religion –because it leads to ill-treatment of women and the existence if suicide bombers. Yet if you read what many Muslims are saying, they are claiming that it is the Christians who are dangerous. It is certainly true that soldiers who are Christian have killed many innocent civilians in places like Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan. We also have the evidence from numerous surveys telling us that those identifying as Christian are not markedly different in their behaviour from those who do not call themselves Christian. Almost the same marriage breakdown rates, similar crime statistics and so on. At the very least this should give us cause to pause before claiming that we alone have our lives as they should be
You will also hear Church folk criticising those they consider to be heretic – the conservative Christian view of Jehovah’s witnesses and Mormons for example. The words the so-called heretics use are, after all, little different from the words we use – but those words are the easy part. The real test comes in what we do in response to the words we say.
That is important.
We regularly get glimpses of the starving children in Africa in short segments of the TV news. If we are eating a nice dinner while we are watching – and doing nothing in response to what we are seeing – should we really be certain that it is only other hypocrites who need the judging? Should we therefore remain certain that it is the Buddhists, the Hindus and the Muslims who are in need of enlightenment?
Well. Who is right? Jesus is very clear in this allegory of the wheat and the tares. No-one, he seems to be saying is sufficiently wise to sort out the good from the bad in another person’s heart. Frankly we do not know what is in another’s heart. Some may get a raw deal in life. You may be born with a brain defect….a chemical imbalance which gives you anxiety or depression. What you become is a product of many starting points and many influences. Whether or not the outcome is the best possible is not for others to judge. That may well be a question for final judgment yes – but it is not our final judgement.
 I am reminded of the opening words of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether the station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show”.
I am sure for many, Christianity seems to be simply measured by which group you are connected with. Are you an Anglican – or a Methodist – or a Roman Catholic – a Muslim or a Hindu – but if we know that, is that sufficient? Well - according to Jesus – no. And there are some very good reasons why his parable is justified. For a start statistics show clearly that most people stay more or less with the faith they are born into. If you happen to be born in Saudi Arabia to Muslim parents, you would almost certainly be brought up Muslim; whereas in the US Bible belt it would be almost as certainly be a conservative Christian. It would seem manifestly unjust if you were to take the blame for where you were born.
In any case, if it were Christianity you were born into while you may well accept the label of Christian yet this is no guarantee you would be following the entire spirit of Christianity. You may for example greatly admire a Christian – perhaps it was the one who introduced you to the Gospel; your mother, or perhaps your Sunday School teacher – and of course there is a place for wise teaching. But sooner or later you have to decide how to order your own life. The fact that your mother – or Sunday School Teacher or Bible class leader or Minister or wise friend happens to be a good Christian won’t necessarily help you when it comes to your own situational choices in later life.
Yet sometimes we have blindness about ourselves. Perhaps we should finish with the following from a work called The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho:
“If someone isn’t what others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.”
If we insist on judging it could be that first we ought to start with ourselves.

 

Saturday 18 July

Here is the third reading for this coming Sunday, designated as Rural Mission Sunday. The Arthur Rank Centre at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire has published some reflections on the Old Testament, New Testament and Gospel readings they have allocated for the day.

The New Testament is from Acts 16:12-15, Paul and Lydia:

From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. From there we travelled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.

On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshipper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptised, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.

Paul’s encounter with Lydia speaks of ‘heaven in the ordinary’ in several different ways as we observe the change that’s taken place in him, transformed by God from Saul the zealous Pharisee to Paul the Christian leader. We see him prepared to share with a Gentile woman in a way that would have been unthinkable in his previous life, meeting her in a place of business and domestic activity.

Lydia and the other women may well have first met each other as they did their laundry in the river, a humdrum activity that opened the way for shared conversation and prayer. The women come together to worship, building common ground despite their different backgrounds, common ground becoming holy ground.

For Paul to search for, and then join these women in their worship is astounding. That Paul accepts Lydia’s invitation to her house is another extraordinary glimpse perhaps of the ordinary becoming holy ground.

  • Have you been surprised to find who you are supporting or receiving support from?
  • What have you learnt over the past months about seeing God in unexpected people?
  • When we can gather again, who will you invite to celebrate with you?

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Friday 17 July

Brian McLaren, a member of the Centre for Action and Contemplation Living School faculty, reminds us why it matters that we pay attention to our health, not only physically but spiritually and ethically as well.

In these challenging, difficult times, we are discovering a wisdom that we needed all along, and that wisdom is that we are all connected. We are not separate. We used to think that we caught diseases as individuals: “I’m sick; you’re not.” But now we realize, no, we catch diseases as individuals who are part of families, and families who are part of cities, and cities that are part of states and nations. We realize now that our whole species can become infected, and that our whole globe can be changed because of our interconnectedness. . . .

Maybe this is also an opportunity for us to become enlightened about some other viruses that have been spreading and causing even greater damage, without being acknowledged: social and spiritual viruses that spread among us from individual to individual, from generation to generation, and are not named. We don’t organize against them, and so they continue to spread and cause all kinds of sickness [and death]. Social and spiritual viruses like racism, white supremacy, human supremacy, Christian supremacy, any kind of hostility that is spread, based on prejudice and fear.

What would happen if we said, as passionate as we are about being tested for coronavirus, we all wanted to test ourselves for these social and spiritual viruses that could be lurking inside of us? And then, when I come into your presence, I, in some way, inflict this virus on you. I make you suffer. What an awesome opportunity for us to say and begin to pray that we would be healed and cleansed, not just of a physical virus, but of these other invisible viruses that are such a huge and devastating part of human history. . . .

In this pandemic, many of us are nostalgic for the old normal. We want to get back to our favourite coffee shop, our favourite restaurant, our church service. And of course, there’s nothing wrong with so many of those desires for the old normal. But I’d like to make a proposal. If we are wise in this time, we will not go back unthinkingly to the old normal. There were problems with that old normal many of us weren’t aware of.

The old normal, when you look at it from today’s perspective, was not so great, not something to be nostalgic about, without also being deeply critical of it. As we experience discomfort in this time, let’s begin to dream of a new normal, a new normal that addresses the weaknesses and problems that were going unaddressed in the old normal. If we’re wise, we won’t go back; we’ll go forward.

Stay safe

Peter

Thursday 16 July

As I wrote on Tuesday, this coming Sunday has been designated as Rural Mission Sunday and the Arthur Rank Centre at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire has published some reflections on the Old Testament, New Testament and Gospel readings they have allocated for the day.

The Gospel reading is Matthew 13:31-35, the Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Wheat:

He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.’

He told them still another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about thirty kilograms of flour until it worked all through the dough.’

Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:

‘I will open my mouth in parables,

I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.’

In Jesus’ day people were much more connected to the land than we are. For them, a bad harvest could mean disaster. By drawing on the ordinary scenes of daily life to talk to God, Jesus is taking common ground and making it holy ground (see Tuesday).

The parable of the mustard seed is a reminder that the work of bringing in the Kingdom of Heaven happens at God’s initiative. No farmer would plant just one seed, but this is a reminder that God works in small and often hidden ways. We see this picture again in the parable of the woman using yeast to bake bread; something so small transforms flour into a light loaf.

Both activities require patience: we have to wait for the seed to grow and for the yeast to raise the dough. We cannot control either process; we must wait on God. Many of us have felt disconcerted by just how out of control life has felt recently. We have had to learn to depend on God, to find and stay on holy ground in new ways and unlikely places.

  • What do you need to be patient about?
  • What do you do when you feel life is out of control?
  • Take a walk and look for the small things that will grow?

(If you cannot go out, take a virtual walk on the Lee Abbey Devon estate on their website: https://leeabbeydevon.org.uk/resources/immersive-meditations/ )

God bless you as you grow in His Kingdom,

Robert.

Wednesday 15 July

I introduced you on Monday to the Happy Givers; this is a powerful piece from them on justice:

“To “do justice” means to render to each what each is due. Justice involves harmony, flourishing, and fairness, and it is based on the image of God in every person—the Imago Dei—that grants all people inalienable dignity and infinite worth.” Eugene Cho

 The book of the prophet Amos was written while the kingdom of Israel had become a prosperous nation under King Jeroboam II. They were experiencing peace as a nation, great social prestige and had achieved military might. But the poor suffered like dogs, the foreigners experienced oppression and the widows and orphans died unattended.

Does that ring any bells?

Well, watch out!

Here comes the prophet.

Like alcohol to a wound, the seer spoke the words of God, to the people of God, for the sake of God.

I can't stand your religious meetings.
I'm fed up with your conferences and conventions.

I want nothing to do with your religion projects,  your pretentious slogans and goals.

I'm sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making.

I've had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.  When was the last time you sang to me?

Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.

I want fairness—rivers of it.

That's what I want. That's all I want.

Can you hear God's intensity and passion?

I do. And I need more of that kind of passion (and commitment) to real justice.

Lots more.

You see, most of us can "handle" injustice.

We see it on the news, cringe a little, maybe #thoughtsandprayers and then we let it pass. We’re really good at pretending like we care about something that is unfair (and social media has given us a platform to be masters of it). We see racism, we tweet about it. We see war, we blog about it. We see hunger, we share the WorldVision.com website without actually signing up for a sponsorship.

And I know that social media is a good first step to awareness and action, but don’t let it deceive you into feeling righteous.

That’s why God highlights the real problem for us... justice.
Because justice demands that we do something.
And that’s precisely what He wants; flowing like an ever-flowing stream.

Now, there are two aspects of justice in the Bible that are distinctly defined.

The first is called Punitive Justice. It works likes this; an eye for an eye; i.e. what you took from me, I can take from you. It’s fair and just enough, and at a core level we all filter life through it. Also, most world governments, employee handbooks and courses on parenting are rule by it.

You kill, you get killed.
You rob, you pay back with cash, time or work.
You are unfaithful to your marriage vows, you lose half of what you own.

This punishment driven justice creates a sense of fear, of analyzing consequences and making decisions based on what will happen to the individual if found guilty. My momma used to called it, The Fear of the Lord.

But there’s another aspect of justice that is at the heart of more than half of the verses where is says the words, “righteousness” or “justice”.

It’s precisely what God is talking about in Amos 5.

IT’S CALLED RESTORATIVE JUSTICE.

And this is the kind of fairness that sees all, both the abuser and the abused, as worthy of mercy.

Multiple times a year, I get to witness this in all its splendour. Our church family had connected with a ministry called Proverbs 22:6. Their sole purpose is to bring fathers (who are in prison) together with their children (who are the most likely to go to prison next). In 2016 we had two events inside of Central Prison in downtown Raleigh. The first event we did was called, “Forgive Me Dear.” We chaperone 15 kids into a maximum security facility so they could spend a day with their fathers. Some of the kids had never even met their fathers before. Some had only seen them through a glass and spoken to them through dirty prison phones. And most had never-ever been hugged by their dad.

Volunteers from our church had spent months before the day preparing the fathers on how to connect with their little ones. They were teaching them how to ask for forgiveness, how to hold her children's hands and how to look into their eyes while they spoke to them. There was even some basic training in foot washing.

This is restorative justice, were both the oppressor and the oppressed (the father who committed the crime and the innocent children who had nothing to do with it) get to walk in the redemption of Christ. This is the stream that God is thirsty for.

When the Bible talks about justice I used to imagine a white old man with a white long beard in a white big throne, angry and ready to destroy. A Zeus-type figure who’s mighty flashes would consume all who broke the law.

The magnificent news for me and you, for those kids and those dads, is that the Righteous Father is exactly like his Humble Son. And if we have seen the Son, then we have seen the Father.

He’s the Son who stopped the execution of the adulterous lady in John 8. And he did it because that's what he saw the “white old man on the throne” doing. He did it because the Godhead is more interested in restoring humanity than punishing humans. He did it because the Holy Spirit empowered him to preach good news to the poor. To heal the broken hearted. To set at liberty those who are captive. To open the eyes of the blind. And to declare the year of the Lord’s favor.

This is his mission statement.

Confirmed and approved.

Vision casting done!

Jesus, borrowing the words of the prophet Isaiah, clearly articulated his assignment in Luke 4. This was the reason the Holy Dove descend on him. It was not to impress us with flashy miracles or uppity sermons. The Holy Ghost came upon the Holy Son to empower him with this holy purpose.

I would like to invite you to make this your own.

Say it out loud, over yourself, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

I agree with Jesus.

And I agree with you.

Amen.

God bless you all

Peter

Tuesday 14 July

This coming Sunday has been designated as Rural Mission Sunday and the Arthur Rank Centre at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire has published some reflections on the Old Testament, New Testament and Gospel readings they have allocated for the day.

The Old Testament reading is Exodus 3:1-6: Moses and the Burning Bush.

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, ‘I will go over and see this strange sight – why the bush does not burn up.’

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’

And Moses said, ‘Here I am.’

 ‘Do not come any closer,’ God said. ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.’ Then he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

It was an ordinary working day for Moses. Being a shepherd was hard work: the Sinai desert is a dry wilderness and a shepherd needed to know where there might be some grass or water for the sheep. Shepherds might spend days alone with their flocks.

Moses has come to Mount Horeb, which became known as ‘the mountain of the Lord’. As he walks, he notices a bush on fire, not in itself an unusual thing in a desert. However, Moses notices that the bush is not being burnt up; this is very strange and so he turns aside to look further. The voice of God calls him by name and instructs him to take off his sandals, ‘for this is holy ground’.

God calls Himself the God of ‘your father and of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’. We don’t know if Moses had worshipped God before this point. God is showing the connection through the patriarchs to God’s people now, whom He has heard and wants to save.

Suddenly Moses’ ordinary day is turned on its head. His eyes are opened to the fact that God is all around him if he can only stop and look. This episode is transformational: as Moses steps into holy ground, he is called and commissioned to be God’s instrument of deliverance for the people of God.

  • How do you experience God in the ordinariness of your day?
  • How have you experienced God in the past few months?
  • What may have helped you to glimpse holy ground?

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Monday 13 July

Recently I bought a t-shirt from a Christian charity in the US called The Happy Givers who manage and assist a home reconstruction program in Puerto Rico, a children's home in Peru, as well as partnering with organizations supporting migrants ... plus creative relief work when there are natural disasters. The owners are young Christians, and they post a blog on their website. This one challenges those of us who are a bit older to think seriously about why the younger generation is leaving the church in droves:

“If we hand our sons and daughters a faith exposed as misogynistic, racist, unconcerned about creation and the poor, they aren’t wrong to leave it.” -Jonathan Martin

Dear (Spiritual) Parents,

This letter is for you. Yes, for all you God-fearing pastors, mentors and 1990’s youth leaders. And for all you Bible-believing mums and dads who taught us about the value of hard-work and going to church well-dressed.

I’ll start with gratitude, because your journey is part of the foundation on which we stand.

And yet where we stand looks so different to what you built. The tide is drastically changing, and somehow we need to understand each other (because we need each other to heal).

So it's with humility that I’ll write for us, in the hope that this will help you understand why we think, vote, tweet, dress, differently than you.

And note that we are fully aware that we could be wrong about all of this.

BUT MAYBE WE’RE NOT.

You see, we are not afraid of words like socialism, homosexuals or Hollywood. We are cool with tattoos, doing a bit of yoga, drinking a bit of wine and hanging out with Muslims and/or communists and/or people who would be “left behind.”

More than that, we believe in the message of the cross more than we believe in having a cross in every corner. We believe in God’s love for all humanity more than we believe in only Israel and America as God’s elect. We believe kindness and compassion are more powerful than fear and judgment. And we won’t vote conservative just because they say they are anti-abortion.

To be properly pro-life for us means EVERY life.

The immigrant.

The refugee.

The man on death row.

Both the mother and the little one.

So we will preach more pro-humanity than anti-abortion. We will sing more pro-love than anti-sin. We will deny patriarchy, deny racism in all its forms, and deny any kind of hate to those who our different to us.

This is NOT rebellion against you.

You were good at getting us into the Bible, that we started to read it for ourselves and started paying attention to Jesus.

AND WE’RE CONVINCED THAT JESUS IS WHAT GOD HAS TO SAY.

This is what we actually want to be conservative about… conserve (and preserve) the words and style of Christ himself.

His gospel of peace.

His good news for the poor.

His healing of the broken-hearted.

Because of that, we care more about the Kingdom of God than about Western Christianity. We care more about being in mission than getting a mortgage. And we care more about the future of our planet than whatever is good for the stock market.

Yes, there might be a measure of pride and assumptions in what I write. And I know these generalizations sound unfair, they obviously don’t represent every spiritual parent everywhere, but please keep reading.

Because we’re intentional about spending time with people from other cultures / religions / races, we’re intentional about standing with them too. The old systems that keep our friends in bondage are not cool with us anymore. So we march and protest and share #hashtags that might rub you the wrong way.

And FYI, we're done with abusive pastors and chauvinistic leadership.

Now, in order to keep growing what you planted, we must try a different way of farming. To continue building what you started, we need to demolish the idols of old.

We’re aware that there are elements of pain and bitterness that drive this conversation, but we know that all things work together for good! So we’re trusting God that the pain from the past will become healing for the future (and awakening from the ungodly system that initiated the pain and bitterness).

Also, if we stop going to church, that does not mean that we are going to hell. We might just need a break from what we're used to so we can create what we hope for.

Yes, we know that there is a lot of good in the body of Christ, but we’re dreaming of the actual good old days. The days of Matthew and Mark and Luke and John… and the possibility of the books of Acts all over again.

The whole turn the other cheek and love your enemies bit has really captivated our hearts! And it’s affected how we look at war and Islam and North Korea.

In a way… we know that you’re the same.

It’s just that the out-working of it looks different.

Very different.

And that hurts sometimes, because there’s an obvious disconnect in social media and dinner tables between our generations.

So we’ll end with an honest request: Please don’t quit on us!

We need your mothering and fathering. We want your challenge and invitation. Because we know that your experiences are valid. Yes, we see things differently, but without your empowering we might end up repeating the same mistakes and patterns you want us to prevent.

Forgive us for our presumptions and misunderstanding. May the prayer of Jesus in John 17 guide us today.

I hope we can make it work.

Will we?

PEACE.

“He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” – Malachi 4:6

Every blessing

Peter

Saturday 11 July

Some of us received this letter from Keswick Ministries:

‘I’m writing to tell you about Virtually Keswick Convention, a free online event between 27th and 31st July, and to let you know of some ways churches are thinking of using it to complement their existing ministry, to give you some ideas.

‘You may well have heard that the Convention, which we normally hold each summer in Keswick, was cancelled this year due to Covid 19. The online event has the new theme of Hope, and gives Christians a chance to be part of something bigger, across denominations, cultures and countries under the banner "All One in Christ Jesus," with hearing God’s Word at the heart of it.

‘Our Bible Reader, Christopher Ash, will speak of that Hope in Jesus from the Psalms each morning at 10am. There will be a daily seminar from 11am exploring hope from a different angle. One will look at hope amidst grief and trauma, another at hope and crying out honestly to God. In the evenings, at 8pm, a celebration will highlight a different aspect of the hope found in Jesus Christ with speakers Mike Cain, Andy Prime, Amy Orr-Ewing, Graham Daniels and Jeremy McQuoid. There’s also a great programme for children and youth, a daily devotion for adults with learning disabilities and additional events – an Awesome Cutlery concert and Keswick Unconventional Night Shift.

‘The full programme is available on our new Virtually Keswick Convention website: (https://vkc.keswickministries.org/). During the online Convention, sessions will be livestreamed on the website and via YouTube – and all events will be available for catch up, after broadcast, from the vkc website and our YouTube channel. Participants can also post comments on our website, or our Facebook and Twitter accounts #KesConv20.

‘Depending on regulations, of course, some churches are thinking of gathering groups of children or young people together to watch the daily Keswick streams. Others are thinking of encouraging people to watch the Bible readings and then meet together afterwards on Zoom or in smaller groups outside or on a walk to discuss them. You may have other ideas. We’d be very glad to hear what you’re thinking of doing.

‘We hope that you will be able to join in and that this will be a source of encouragement to you and your congregation.

In Christ,

James Robson, Ministry Director, Keswick Ministries.

Every Blessing,

Robert

Friday 10 July

(If you are reading this on Thursday don't worry, I have a busy day tomorrow)

The following has appeared in Country Way, the magazine for the Arthur Rank Centre which helps rural churches with their mission:

Looking forward, looking back

Looking back… • What one word best sums up you experience of living through COVID-19?

  • What was the best decision you made?
  • What was the greatest lesson you learnt?
  • What was the most loving service you performed?
  • What is your biggest piece of unfinished business?
  • What else do you need to do / say to be complete with your experience of COVID-19?

Looking forward • What is God calling you to do / be next?

  • What would you be most happy with completing during the rest of 2020 in response to COVID-19? • What would you most like to see change?
  • What about your ministry are you committed to changing and improving? (We encourage individuals to interpret this term in whatever way is most appropriate to them; it’s not just ordained people and ‘leaders’ who have ministries!)
  • Where have you flourished during COVID-19 and how will you continue to make that part of your life?
  • What Bible passages have become important to you during COVID-19? Could you learn them by heart?
  • What one word sums up your ongoing approach to learning and growing as a result of COVID-19?

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Thursday 9 July

The following is a Word of Encouragement from Issachar Ministries:

AN UNANSWERABLE QUESTION:
WHEN WILL THINGS BE 'NORMAL' AGAIN?

There are a host of suggestions, but nothing definitive. Much depends on your current standpoint.
Back in the 1970s, God breathed His Spirit over many churches and fresh life occurred, with many leaving their old, dead churches to join  those with whom they could celebrate real Christian life in all its fullness.  New groups were formed, many were just small house fellowships, which later merged into national, even international (new) denominations. However, many remained just local groups. These risked the danger of becoming cliques, so independent, that they became cut-off from the wider body of Christ and a little narrow or extreme in belief and practice.
These are different days. The world is a different place, full of wonderful technology, but still unable to share resources to meet all the needs; rich, rich people in the highly materialistic West, yet, poor, such poor folk in the Third World; a multiplicity of religion, spiritual and non-spiritual; sexual freedom, perversion and moral decay throughout societies; broken families, corrupt administrations; war and want in so many areas.  It is a sad situation, but no less than has been prophesied in God’s Word, (2 Tim. 3:1-9)
More than ever, there is a need for believers to stick together, for mutual companionship and support, to learn together, to worship together, to study to know God’s word and ways together, (2 Tim 3:14-17).  Conversely, why is it that so many folks are leaving traditional churches? Is it disenchantment, other interests, boredom, loss of faith, or, more seriously, wrong doctrine and teaching? Whatever the reason, contemporary Church bears little resemblance to the simplicity and enthusiasm experienced in the fresh New Testament churches of the first century.
After the Resurrection, Jesus met with the disciples several times before his ascension. Their emotions had been shattered by the events surrounding the cross and his crucifixion. Now, they gradually understood that they were to be the forerunners amongst his followers in a new era. He appointed them as his witnesses and heralds of the good news, the Gospel, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation”, (Mark 16:15).
Similar words recorded at the very end of Matthew’s gospel also added the promise of his personal companionship, “always, to the very end of the age”, (Mat 28:20). 
Jesus continued to encourage and nurture them right up to the day of his ascension, (Acts 1:1-5).
Whilst these apostles waited for the empowerment of the promised Holy Spirit, they continued to spend time together, no doubt praying and discussing how they were to enact their master’s instructions.   Indeed, “they were all together in one place" on the day of Pentecost, (Acts 2:1), when the Holy Spirit came upon each of them in such a significant way, such that they, nor those around them who observed the manifestation, could be left in any doubt that here was the commencement of the movement, the gathering together of followers known initially as “The Way”, then later on, grew into the early Christian church.
As Peter, with the other Apostles, preached the gospel, Acts 2:41 tells us, “Those who accepted his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day”.  By any standard, that is phenomenal growth, and it did not stop there.  The very last verse in this second chapter says, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved”, (Acts 2:47).
If we continue to chart the growth of this early group of believers in the book of Acts, and on through the various epistles, we shall see many clues as to the manner in which they operated, as their groups came together to worship and to praise and to learn the vital lessons of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, i.e., a Christian. We shall note the remarkably simple structure of their group meetings. The original Greek word that describes these ‘gatherings’ is ecclesia.  

Looking back in order to move forward
Several important principles are mentioned in this brief look at the early church. Today, some have been laid aside, even forgotten, in the pursuit of contemporary evangelism methods and the desire to keep or increase church attendees. If there is to be a genuine spiritual revival, it will begin when individuals find and deepen their personal relationship with the Father, the Son and The Holy Spirit, thus begin again to experience ecclesia in a similar manner to those first century believers, meeting together for worship, studying the Living Word for mutual support and encouragement: real fellowship!
What a wonderful new “normal” that could be!

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Wednesday 8 July

I received this thought for the week from Selina Stone, Tutor and Lecturer in Political Theology at St Mellitus College

Resisting the Powers that Oppress

The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, ‘When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.’  The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. Exodus 1:15–17

We can often recall the names of people who have taken a stand against evil and injustice, and recount the details of their history-making exploits. However, they never arrive there alone. This is no truer than in the story of Moses, the leader whose calling by God to speak truth to power has inspired Christian movements for liberation throughout history.
 
Moses is born at a time of infanticide. Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, seeks to control the Hebrew immigrant population by killing all male babies and effectively ending their family lines. Under this bloodthirsty regime, the midwives receive a murderous command: kill the baby boys. Instead of obeying, however, they resist the reign of evil that would be enacted through their hands. Their resistance protects the lives of many Hebrew sons – one of whom grows up to become Moses, the liberator of his people.
 
These Hebrew women are not the people we might think of when we consider what it means to change the world. We are led to believe that it is only by holding positions of power in institutions or commanding huge budgets and having wide influence that we can really make a difference. But these women were able to have an impact right where they were, in acts of resistance which shaped an entire generation. The time did come for the historic acts which we read about in the subsequent chapters, but it all begins in a tent, with one woman giving birth, and her midwives refusing to comply with the demands of an evil regime.
 
We live in a world filled with narratives, agendas, and objectives that undermine the good intentions of God for his creation. The task of resistance lies with all of us, whether we are the ones to stand in the place of power, the ones who have a role to play in someone else’s organisation, or in the simple relationships of family and friends.
 
At our particular time in history, there are groups of people who, like those babies, are vulnerable and threatened with violence and oppression. In our own contexts there are people whose futures are at stake because of the choices and agendas of those more powerful than them. May we, in our small choices and larger decisions, act with the courage of these midwives, to resist and protect those unable to defend themselves.

Every blessing,

Robert.

Tuesday 7 July

Following on from yesterday, here is the rest of Psalm 146: 7-10:

‘He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.

The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

The Lord reigns for ever, your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Praise the Lord.’

This part of the Psalm seems to have echoes of the prophecy of Isaiah 61, which Jesus quoted in the synagogue in Nazareth in Luke 4.  ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’  This shows us the people and situations God is particularly concerned for and also shows us something of God’s heart.

There are many organisations and charities which are seeking to meet the needs of the most vulnerable during this pandemic. For example: Crisis, with their focus on the homeless; Open Doors, with their focus on persecuted people around the world; Tearfund and Christian Aid and many others. We can play our part by praying and by giving and by looking out for those around us.

Every Blessing,

Robert

Monday 6 July

'Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord, my soul.

I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.

When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.

Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them – he remains faithful for ever.' Psalm 146:1-6

This Psalm begins with praise to God, ‘Praise the Lord, my soul. I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.’ Praising God helps to lift our thoughts away from problems , worries and fears and helps us to focus our hearts and minds upon the sovereign Lord.

The Psalm reminds us that He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them; knowing that to be true helps us to put everything into perspective, whatever the situation. Verse 3 says: ‘Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.’ Our world leaders, however powerful, are, like all of us, mortal men and women, created beings who have limited understanding and power and who, ultimately, cannot save.

Verse 5 continues: ‘Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.’ There is only One who truly knows and understands all things, our mighty God. 1 Timothy 2:1 urges us to pray for our leaders; they certainly need our prayers at this time.

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Saturday 4 July

Earlier this week, I received the following from CWR (Crusade for World Revival):

‘We are all looking for certainty and trying to find answers to questions this week. As restrictions are lifted and new guidelines are announced we are living in limbo. We’re not in complete lockdown anymore, but we’re also not free to live our usual lives.

‘There’s a verse in Hebrews that describes the hope we have in God’s love for us as secure and certain as an anchor:

‘We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain’ Hebrews 6:19

‘God’s promises to keep us securely linked to Him. But, just like an anchor is attached to a boat, there are times when we feel like we’re floating aimlessly, unsure of where we are headed. Perhaps there’s a storm throwing your life into chaos, or you feel like you are drifting away from God.

‘At a time when we are all looking for a sure footing and a definite direction, we are renewing our hope in God, and our promise is to help you stay connected to Him as you care for yourself and others.’

Looking to the future, I will be sending out a questionnaire today to help the leadership at Riverside make decisions about the reopening of the church building. It is important that we keep everyone safe in this time of transition.

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Friday 3 July

These are some thoughtful reflections on the Lord's Prayer from the Equipped for Grace website. Margaret and I are away for a week, so I'll be back here on 13 July.

Every blessing

Peter

Pray Like Jesus

Prayer is crucial to a believer’s life. We cannot begin to walk in a manner worthy of God’s calling for us without aligning our will to His in prayer. When disciples of Christ pray, we can approach the throne of grace with boldness to receive mercy and forgiveness for our sins, and receive God’s grace to help us persevere (Hebrews 4:16).

Jesus’ disciples often asked Him questions, and He would respond in various ways. Sometimes He would ask a question in return, offer a parable, or answer directly. When His disciples asked to learn how to pray, Jesus gave them an example to follow: “The Lord’s Prayer” in Matthew 6.

Consider How You Pray

Matthew 6 is a truly insightful chapter. Jesus teaches His followers how to give, pray, fast, deal with our possessions, and cure anxiety. He cares so much that we understand what pleases God that he both models and instructs us on how to pray so we can enter the throne room and speak to our Lord. But before He demonstrates how to pray, He cautions us:

“Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. When you pray, don’t babble like the Gentiles, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him.” 

As Jesus said Himself, our prayers should not be a way for us to boast about how “holy” we are or to vainly repeat mere words. Prayer gives us direct access to the Lord, so we can speak to Him as He listens.

Acknowledge the Lord

In verse 9, Jesus begins His prayer by opening with “Our Father in heaven,” addressing the Lord. Here, He demonstrates to us that we must begin our prayers by recognizing who God is. This centres us on what is most important: that God is above us, He is our source for strength, and we live our lives for Him.

Praise Him

Next, Jesus praises God for His holiness: “hallowed be Your name”. He shows us to honour the Lord, and recognize His awesome nature and omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. Take this time of prayer to soak in God’s gloriousness, thanking Him for all the ways He has blessed you.

Align Your Will to God’s Will

“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” (v.10). This part of prayer is so important. It’s easy to get into the habit of asking God to accomplish our will for our lives. We may want specific things for ourselves, and beg God to make them a reality without considering if they align with His will. This verse reminds us of God’s ultimate goal for us: “To make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe and obey all the things Christ Jesus commanded us” (Matthew 28:19-20). Any Christ-follower wondering why they’re here on this earth? This is God’s plan for our lives. When we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, all our needs will be provided (Matthew 6:33). Don’t be afraid to pray BIG and BOLD prayers!

Ask for What You Need

Jesus Himself told us, “Ask and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). God hears our cries for healing, justice, strength and comfort. He knows and understands what we go through. He loves us and listens when we pray. The more we pay attention to what we pray for and how God provides for us, the more we will recognize the power of prayer. It does not guarantee that we will get everything we want, or that we will be healthy, rich and popular. It does, however, guarantee that whenever our prayers align with God’s, He will answer us well.

Forgive Others and Ask for Him to Forgive You

Forgiveness can feel impossible when we have been hurt or betrayed by someone we trusted and loved, yet God requires us to forgive them. Forgiveness frees us to move forward with our lives, and allows us to experience God’s forgiveness for our own sins and transgressions. In verse 15, Jesus tells us that if we refuse to forgive others, God will not forgive us. We must pray for God to forgive the sins we willingly committed, the sins we unknowingly committed, and the sins resulting from our unwillingness to do the right thing. But first we must ask Him to give us the strength to love our enemies and forgive those who have hurt us (Matthew 5:44).

Pray for Protection and Deliverance from Temptation

God does not tempt us or cause us to sin. In James 1:13-14, it says that no one should say “I am being tempted by God,” because God is not tempted by evil, and does not tempt anyone. Our temptations come from our own evil desires. When we give into these temptations, we sin. Although we cannot escape trials and temptations, as they are part of our earthly lives, we can ask God for strength and protection to fight our evil desires and do good instead.

As we consider this breakdown of Jesus’ model prayer, let us be more intentional about our prayer time. It might help to begin a prayer journal, where you can write down your prayers according to Jesus’ example, and follow up in a few days, weeks, or months with how God answered those prayers. We can also write down all the things we are grateful for, and go back to this list during the times we praise God.

The joy of prayer is that it comes from our hearts. As we reflect on God’s goodness and righteousness, we are moved by our love for Him to spend more and more time in prayer.

 

Thursday 2 July

Psalm 139 is a great psalm of David and is worth reading all the way through. David is completely honest with God as he acknowledges that God knows him through and through. The Psalm ends with these words:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

4 things: God knows our hearts so David can say: Search me, O God, and know my heart.

God knows when we have anxious thoughts so David can say: test me and know my anxious thoughts.

God knows when there are things that get in the way of our relationship with Him so David can say: See if there is any offensive way in me.

God wants to lead us in the way of truth so David can say: lead me in the way everlasting.

Jesus said, ‘‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through Me. Our relationship with God always needs to be based on faith and commitment to Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

The following was shared by Penny at the Tuesday Group Zoom meeting this week which I thought was worth sharing more widely:

Used by Wes Sutton of the Acorn Christian Healing Foundation Webinar on 'Do not be anxious', 25th June

" If we know we are loved we are at home in His [God's] presence

  If we're at home in His presence we are comfortable in His will

  If we are comfortable in His will we will experience His grace

  If we experience His grace we will know His power at work in us"

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Wednesday 1 July

This dropped into my inbox yesterday morning and it gave me pause for thought about the importance of always reading the Bible in context, and recognising that things can change over time.

Every blessing

Peter



Tuesday 30 June

Joe Warton of LICC has posted this word of the week:

 The Spirit who Changes Hearts

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:
‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’
Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

1 Corinthians 1:18–24

‘Lock yourself in a room with me for 15 minutes and by the end of it, you’ll be a Christian.’ No joke, that’s what I told my colleague, Marcus, when I was a fresh-out-of-school lab technician. I’d been a Christian for a whole year, and was so convinced by the arguments for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, I was certain I could reason this 35-year-old man into the kingdom. Had he afforded me the locked-room time I’d requested, he probably would have been crying out to God… for the key.

Like me, Paul loved to reason with people. But unlike my 18-year-old self, he did not overestimate the power of the brain to cause lost lambs to leap into the arms of the Good Shepherd. ‘Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.’

The gospel, amazing as it is, true as it is, sounded like complete nonsense in Paul’s day. It sounded like Jesus was scratching a non-existent itch. ‘We want someone powerful, someone clever, and you’re telling us to pin our hopes on a crucified carpenter-cum-rabbi. Next!’

Perhaps you recognise something like this in our times. Gen Z look for authenticity, millennials look for affordable houses, and boomers look at their pensions hoping they’ll be enough to go on a cruise, but we preach Christ crucified. It can feel like nobody we know will turn to Jesus.

The truth is, just like in Paul’s day, the gospel sounds like nonsense in ours. Yet it remains good, and true. In pointing our friends, neighbours, and colleagues to Christ, we are not trying to convince them to purchase a product they neither need nor want. We are pointing them to the one of ultimate relevance; the one who answers their biggest questions, and fulfils their deepest longings.

But for them to embrace Christ involves a 180˚ turn with a triple pike. It would require such a radical change of worldview and lifestyle that it would be like being born again! This is where we need to be encouraged that the Holy Spirit is alive, well, and at work. While our words and deeds play a vital role, it’s ultimately God’s Spirit who makes ‘his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ’ (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Monday 29 June

This lovely prayer was written by Nadia Bolz-Weber, an American Lutheran Pastor; I'm sure you could add your own special thanks to it as you meditate on it.

Give Us This Day Our Daily Gratitude
That I have been given one more day, I give thanks.
That the birds still sing each morning, impossibly early outside my window, I give thanks.
For the sun rising once again in the East, I give thanks.
That for this day I have bread, I give thanks.
For drinkable water, for breathable air, and Dairy Queen dipped cones I give thanks.
For one more day of mobility I give thanks.
For novelists who create worlds and characters and stories for our minds and not for our TVs, I give thanks.
For the puppy I got at the beginning of quarantine who is currently destroying my life, I give thanks.
For cell phone reception, and I-guess-its-better-than-nothing ZOOM calls and reliable internet service, I give thanks.
That I am loved, I give thanks
That I am forgiven, I give thanks.
That I am alive, I give thanks.
That you, O God are known by many names, I give thanks.
That you, O God are present when I feel only your absence I give thanks.
That you are God and I am not, I give the most thanks. Forgive me when I forget that one.
And for every other gift I am too self-obsessed to see, but that totally comes from you -Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Amen.

Every blessing

Peter

Saturday 27 June

Rev Dr Lynda Taylor of the Lee Abbey Council has penned this reflection this week:

Reflecting ... God is Faithful

‘Recent research into trauma and tragedy in Christian congregations reveals valuable insights into how we collectively respond to - and recover from - disaster and all that follows. The project researchers have commented as follows:

‘“The global Covid-19 pandemic is a trauma to communities, the nation, the world. It’s not a shock event, like a fire or a terrorist attack, but slowly there has built, and is still worsening, a crisis that shatters people’s assumptions that the world around them is generally safe and reliable and that all that we have worked for in businesses, churches and communities will be fruitful. The loss of those assumptions, the breaking of connections between people, and the overwhelming of people’s ordinary resources – all of these are characteristic of trauma.”

‘The authors suggest that community responses to disaster typically show a heroic phase, full of energy and self-sacrifice, followed by a disillusionment phase, involving mutual blame and suspicion. Only as the disillusionment phase loses its force can a recovery phase begin and realistic, hopeful re-making take place.

‘We make sense of things by being able to integrate our lived experience into an overarching story.

‘As Christian communities we find comfort in and take inspiration from Christian story and practice. During Lent, Holy Week and Easter our church buildings were closed and we could not gather for worship, but we found new and creative ways to experience the ‘way of the cross’ and the ‘hope of resurrection’, and to share these with those who pass by.

‘The biblical narrative of the Exodus has surprising resonances with our current experience. Following a series of plagues(!) in Egypt, the people of God set out into unknown territory. Their journey was long and hard. At times they looked back wistfully to a more stable and predictable existence. The road proved much longer and more perilous than they expected (or were led to believe), and they experienced deep loss and grief along the way. But it was also a time when people learned to live together well, helped by new guidelines; they also shared their creative gifts and they grew spiritually. Occasionally they were misled by leaders with dubious motives, and sometimes they were tempted to put their faith in false gods.

‘But, throughout it all, God’s presence, provision and protection never failed them. God was with his people 24/7; He went before them – a pillar of cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13.21).

‘The Covid-19 recovery phase may have begun and restrictions may be easing for us, but our journey is far from over. Just as it was for the people of Israel in Exodus and for the disciples following Jesus’ Ascension, the road goes ever onwards… towards a seemingly uncertain destination – at least in this life. What is certain is that we never travel that journey alone (Matthew 28: 20).

‘May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you, wherever He may send you.
May He guide through the wilderness, protect you through the storm.
May He bring you home rejoicing at the wonders He has shown you.
May He bring you home rejoicing once again into our doors.
[Celtic Daily Prayer - Northumbria Community, 2005]’

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Friday 26 June

I don't know whether you've noticed but the Church - and Riverside in particular - has an aging congregation.  The average age of almost all Christian denominations is now between 55 and 65. Without growth amongst the under-50s many churches will die within one or two generations.

Rachel Held Evans was an influential Christian leader and writer until her tragic death at the age of 37 last year from an allergic reaction to an antibiotic. A year or two before she died, she penned some thoughts on Millennials don't come to church:

Despite having one foot in Generation X, I tend to identify most strongly with the attitudes and the ethos of the millennial generation, and because of this, I’m often asked to speak to my fellow evangelical leaders about why millennials are leaving the church.

Armed with the latest surveys, along with personal testimonies from friends and readers, I explain how young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

I point to research that shows young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness.

I talk about how the evangelical obsession with sex can make Christian living seem like little more than sticking to a list of rules, and how millennials long for faith communities in which they are safe asking tough questions and wrestling with doubt.

Invariably, after I’ve finished my presentation and opened the floor to questions, a pastor raises his hand and says, “So what you’re saying is we need hipper worship bands. …”

And I proceed to bang my head against the podium.

Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders, and evangelical leaders in particular, is that the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates  edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving.

But here’s the thing: Having been advertised to our whole lives, we millennials have highly sensitive BS meters, and we’re not easily impressed with consumerism or performances.

In fact, I would argue that church-as-performance is just one more thing driving us away from the church, and evangelicalism in particular.

Many of us, myself included, are finding ourselves increasingly drawn to high church traditions Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Episcopal Church, etc.  precisely because the ancient forms of liturgy seem so unpretentious, so unconcerned with being “cool,” and we find that refreshingly authentic.

What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.

We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against.

We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers.

We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation.

We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities.

We want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers.

You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.

Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus.

Now these trends are obviously true not only for millennials but also for many folks from other generations. Whenever I write about this topic, I hear from forty-somethings and grandmothers, Generation Xers and retirees, who send me messages in all caps that read “ME TOO!” So I don’t want to portray the divide as wider than it is.

But I would encourage church leaders eager to win millennials back to sit down and really talk with them about what they’re looking for and what they would like to contribute to a faith community.

Their answers might surprise you.

Every blessing

Peter

 

 

Thursday 25 June

FAITH IN ACTION from Pamela Bird, a prayer partner for Issachar Ministries

My special, secret place is a nearby Monastery. I sit quietly and write my prayers and listen to what I believe Father God is telling me. When I say listen, I do not actually hear anything, but I sit with my pen and my notebook and write. The pandemic has put a stop to my visits and has also stopped my volunteering role at the NHS, on account of my age; how frustrating! I did not think "how am I going to occupy myself whilst staying indoors?" It just sort of happened.

The day before the threatened Lockdown day, I was in the post office and a book of Easter cards caught my attention, so I bought the box. By the time I had driven home, I had an idea and had composed a letter to send to twenty two of my relatives, telling them how to accept Jesus and explain about how he was going to return back to Earth and take the believers up to Heaven. I worked until late, in a hurry to post them all the next day, and I have been busy ever since.  

First I telephoned friends, when their names popped into my head, to ask how they were and could I send them some articles? I sent them all a 'thinking of you' card with a suitable article or two, mostly from Prophecy Today, and some I sent my letter, too. I quickly realised that I needed to keep a record of who I was writing to and what I sent to them, so I called it 'Lockdown Ministries'. It was like a roller coaster, with names coming to mind and the different weekly PT articles from which to choose. 

Then in May, I had been booked to to speak at two Mother's Union groups which, of course, were cancelled, but one group had chosen my talk from 2017 called, "Taking it for granted", so I thought that I could not let this opportunity pass. I telephoned the leaders and offered to send each member a copy of the talk, along with a text bookmark, which I create on the computer. I added an update to reflect the times we were living through and included a little prayer on how to accept Jesus, (just in case they hadn't) and off went forty two letters!

Then I thought, well, maybe, other people might be uplifted by the talk, so that went to a few more friends, along with an appropriate article from PT. It has been an extraordinary three months, and I am still writing to friends, sending cards and articles. It is a bit like dropping a pebble into a pond and watching the ripples or blowing a dandelion clock and watching the seeds blow far away.

One of my favourite scriptures is about Jabez. He is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10, "Jabez called out to the God of Israel, Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain. And God granted his request". If you skip over all the genealogy chapters, you can miss him. Pray his prayer and you will be amazed how your borders will expand, even in lockdown! You see, we do not have to have a plan, God has the blueprint and all we have to do is take the first, shaky steps. Isaiah 35:3 can encourage us, "Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way". The only thing needed on your CV is 'willing servant'. 
 
When we offer our little, God will increase it. Offer whatever you are good at, baking cakes, being a listening ear, knitting, painting, shopping for someone or potting plants for friends. I do not have a degree, I am just me, and be encouraged that God can use ‘just you’. In my Monastery writings, God tells me I am his precious daughter and he loves me. In John 1:12 we read, “То all who received him (Jesus), to those who believed in his Name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

God is delighted when we partner with him on Kingdom tasks and he says to you “You are my beautiful daughter”, “You are my special son”. There is no retirement in the Kingdom of God and there are tasks for everyone. Life’s tapestry is made up of a myriad of people wanting to make a difference. So go on, push the boat out, set sail, destination unknown, but be sure to take Jesus with you as your pilot. (“Do you want a pilot?”, CSSM chorus book).

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Wednesday 24 June

 Bob Stoner was a key member of StreetSource before he went to train as a Deacon in the Methodist Church. After serving a community in Todmorden in West Yorkshire, he is now preparing to move to serve the church in Glasgow. He offered these reflections on moving to a new normal following discussions with Christians from several churches in Todmorden. I found it very thought-provoking as we begin to think what we do next now that we can consider opening Riverside very soon:

Returning to Normality

A question frequently asked these days, by the media, some politicians and those who frequented church: what does returning to normality mean?

Some may respond with “return to what?” I think that’s a really valid question, one which should not be dismissed too glibly.

In a recent online church service such a question was asked and the responses were really informative. Those attending came from the local Baptist, Methodist & independent churches  as well as those who do not regularly attend any denomination. It’s great for all are welcome! So here, returning to normality isn’t clearly evident.

Traditional Worship has its limitations, but “it will still be more of an experience than just online participation!” was one response. This suggests that when “normal service is returned” we are ok; but what of these 3 months of online services? What have they given, and which some have resonated with?

“Can we have a traditional, online church AND one for those who don’t attend church?” 
It could be all so different!
“Some people may not wish to leave their home and also aren’t able to access the online material, but they are still loved by God. How could the church support them?”

This idea was welcomed but I think the keyword here is “support“. How could the ‘church’ support those who do not attend their services? Or is it a transactional process where if they don’t ‘play ball’ with what the church offers we won’t help them? I hope not. Again, returning to normality is directly questioned here.

Bible Verses

There are particular verses which emphasise that coming together in worship is expected. 
Matthew 18:20Acts 14:27, and Hebrews 10:25 all advocate meeting together. What was the context of those verses when they were written perhaps? And what is our context?

Perhaps we are seeking a smorgasbord of opportunities, meeting people where they are, today, amidst this busy unprecedented world.

These are people who may have busy lives, who may want to visit relatives on a Sunday morning because that’s the only time they can. They may wish to sing hymns/songs from this century and not be told what to do, when to sit or stand. Or they may not be ones who appreciate the tranquility, the solemnity of some churches. They could just wish seek to engage with fellow Gospel travellers in practical ways. 

Mixed Solutions

This idea of a mixed solution, where many options are available might help with people in the 21st Century. “Having online meetings may attract people who would prefer not go to a church service that is held in a building, so could we have ‘church’ in a pub or café or outside?” Outside may be really very good in these Covid days, albeit not so pleasant in the winter! 

Which direction do we travel?

The idea of a cafe or pub church sounded quite attractive. May be not even on a Sunday but on a weekday evening perhaps? It could provide a “good sense of community and being at ease“. Those “midweek opportunities would be useful for us shift workers who are often working at weekends” was another response. 

Yes we would not be in direct control of that building, but perhaps we need to be strangers in the land for a while?

 

Extra Workload?

The additional workload from ministers, worship leaders, the people of the church may detract from their other work. Or alternatively, it could be seen as a way of balancing the current demands with those who wish to attend. 

Whom do we serve: 
our ministers, 
the congregation or 
providing a space to encounter God?

This ties in with the tension between Guest and Host.

Perhaps we are seeking a smorgasbord of opportunities, meeting people where they are, today, amidst this busy unprecedented world. There’s more than one model of church that we know.

Let’s love and live dangerously

Returning to normality may be a wish for some, but not one we heard at the service. I’ll close this with the last response from today’s service – and it’s not from the minister.

My prayer is for a church of diversity, creativity and inclusiveness, whatever form that takes. Let us not go back to what is familiar and secure. Let us love and live dangerously.

There are a lot of questions here. Perhaps you’d like to respond, continue to dialogue on the points which resonate with you? That would be great! Let’s build a community which seeks the next steps.

 

Every blessing

Peter 

 

Tuesday 23 June

The Spirit of Fruitiness a Word for the Week from the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-25

It was quarterly review time for Max, a personal banking manager. He sat opposite his area manager, cup of tea in hand, as shoppers pootled along the High Street below.

‘So’, the area manager began, ‘How do you feel things have been going since we last met?’ ‘Pretty good’, answered Max. ‘I’ve definitely been feeling calmer at work; you know, less stressed… I guess more at peace with myself.’

‘I’ve noticed that too’, she responded. ‘You do seem calmer; less irritable. I’ve not really heard you complain about anything. Can I ask why you think this is?’

That conversation happened just a few months ago, and Max was able to share how he’d recently become a Christian, and what a difference God was making in his life. When God’s Holy Spirit makes himself at home within us, our lives change. Paul calls this ‘the fruit of the Spirit’.

Fruit is a great metaphor. The fruit of the Spirit isn’t something we stick onto the outside of our lives, like baubles on a Christmas tree. Rather, it flows out from us, as we soak up the nutrients of God’s word and his holy presence. We cannot force out this spiritual fruit by tapping into our inner resources or by trying harder. This really is about God changing us, as we ‘keep in step with the Spirit’.

Healthy fruit is a sign of a healthy tree, and it shares its harvest with the surrounding ecosystem: birds, insects, Homo sapiens, and even our mortal enemies, wasps… Paul has already shown us how sin dehumanises and robs us of life, but the Spirit makes us more like Christ, the most fully alive human of all. And when we are like him, it’s good for everyone. Fruit brings blessing. It’s a manifestation of the life of God’s kingdom, bringing the sweetness of his presence to the people and places where it’s tasted. In that way, it furthers God’s mission. The fruit in our lives is a signpost to the life-giving God.

So today, do not hide your fruit under a bowl! Instead, put it out on the table, that people may taste your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Joe Warton from the LICC Team

Keep safe and every blessing,

Robert.

Monday 22 June

Shane Claiborne is a founder of The Simple Way, a community in inner city Philadelphia that has help build connections between radical faith communities around the world. Here are some of his thoughts on creation:

"Sometimes our theology is so concentrated on heaven that it invalidates any concern for the earth. Some images in scripture have even been misconstrued to perpetuate a disregard for creation, such as the image that in the last days the earth will be consumed by fire. But nearly every other time the "consumed by fire" image is evoked in scripture, it is a fire that purifies rather than burns up, a fire that frees up life rather than destroys it. No doubt, the way we live is shaped by how we imagine the end of the world - whether we think that God's final plan is for everything to go up in flames, or for everything to be brought back to life.

Creation care is not just about theology. It is about having the creativity to embody our theology imaginatively - flushing toilets with dirty sink water, riding a bike to work as an act of prophetic dissenting, or helping an institution to become carbon neutral. At its core, creation care is about loving our global neighbour, because the poor suffer the most from the degradation of the earth and the struggle for clean water. Many kids in the concrete jungle of the ghettoes and slums are so disconnected from creation that they feel disconnected from the Creator.

A community of folks moved into Camden, New Jersey, because the neighbourhood has suffered so deeply from environmental degradation that it was rated one of the worst places to live in America. More than half the kids have chronic asthma. But part of what we do as we plant urban gardens is to reconnect to the beauty of the earth. Kids get to see grass pierce concrete. Their eyes light up as they pull a carrot out of the ground, and digging for potatoes can feel like digging for lost treasure. At the heart of it all is a God who so loved the world and who called everything in it good. Our story began in a garden but it ends in a city - a beautiful restored city the scriptures describe as the New Jerusalem, coming on earth as it is in heaven. Christianity is not just about going up to heaven when we die; it's about bringing God's Kingdom down, all the way to the dirt in or gardens."

Stay safe

Peter

Saturday 20 June

Bible Society have sent the following invitation to the National Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast. This is an annual get-together of Christian Leaders and Members of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords for prayer normally over breakfast. When I lived in South London, I was invited to go and it is a very impressive occasion and an opportunity to talk with Members. Normally it is limited to the number they can get into the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre or Westminster Hall, but this time it looks as though we are all invited!

‘There’s no doubt that as a nation we’re facing tremendously challenging times – perhaps the most critical in our history since the Second World War. As Christians, praying with and for our nation and political leaders is vital. 

‘First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.’ 
1 Timothy 2.1–2 (ESV)

‘This year, because of the coronavirus pandemic, the National Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast on Tuesday 30 June will be held online. For the first time ever, everyone is welcome to attend. You can join MPs and Peers as well as Ambassadors and church leaders as they pray and speak on the theme of ‘Hope and peace in a time of fear and suffering’.

This is obviously an on-line meeting, but if you are unable to get on-line on 30th June between 8.30 – 9.00am. I invite you to use that time to pray quietly for our nation and Parliament

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Friday 19 June

Dr Krish Kandiah is the founding director of Home for Good, a charity dedicated to finding a home for every child who needs one. He is Honorary Vice President and Chair of the Theological Panel of Tearfund, former Principal of the London School of Theology, and a regular Spring Harvest speaker. His reflections on Black Lives Matter deserve serious consideration:

We have been in lockdown for 83 days when my son interrupts all our afternoon routines with the suggestion that we take part in today’s Black Lives Matter protest in Oxford. I am shocked. This is the son who has wanted to become an epidemiologist since he was a teenager. He’s been following the political and scientific developments of Covid-19 in fine detail and making sure we have all been fastidious in social distancing, not easy for a family of eight. He’s the last one I would have expected to encourage us to join a demonstration under the current restrictions.

I am nervous. I have seen how coronavirus spreads and destroys lives. I have also witnessed the violence erupt on the streets with protestors, police men and women and even horses getting injured in London. But my six children are already tearing up cardboard boxes and creating placards for us: “Black Lives Matter” and “We Demand Justice”. That’s when my oldest daughter announces she is coming too. She should have been sitting A-Level exams this week but instead she has been sewing face masks and posting them to friends and relatives.

After 83 days I am surprised the car even starts, but we arrive in Oxford within the hour. Still nervous, I also now feel like a criminal in a heist movie, masking up as I walk towards the agreed meeting point. At 5pm we arrive at the controversial statue of colonist Cecil John Rhodes who overlooks one of the UK’s busiest high streets from his perch high on the front of one Oxford University’s most prestigious colleges. This city with its world-renowned institutions and global influence should not be endorsing his white supremacist attitudes. Like the toppling of the slave trader Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol earlier in the week, it is time for him to go. We need better heroes. I catch sight of four mounted police officers on horseback: they smile as we walk by.

A helicopter hovers ominously overhead. The cyclists and buses now can’t get down the street as the crowd is swelling. Despite most of Oxford’s student population being long gone it is a very diverse and young turn out. On the evidence of banners and overheard snippets of conversation, they are well-informed. Everyone is calm and polite, keeping space between each other as best they can. I get a text from home. My other children are watching on a live feed. If they can do school and birthday parties and P.E. virtually, why shouldn’t they protest this way too?

The organisers start up their PA system. The activists are skilled speakers and for the next hour there is no pause for breath, not even a stutter or a mispronunciation. They have chants ready that are instant earworms: “De-colonise. De-De-De-Colonise”. They speak with passion and insight, gauging and engaging the crowd well enough to intersperse their speeches with call and response: “No Justice” they say. “No Peace” we shout back. My introvert children standing beside me don’t even hesitate. Back home my youngest children are joining in equally enthusiastically.

Racial identity, inequality and injustice is a common topic of discussion around our dinner table. We are a mixed-race family with birth, adopted and fostered children: between us we can claim a variety of heritages including Indian, Jamaican, Irish, French and Sri Lankan. The 30 other once-fostered children that we have looked after over the years join us from their treasured photo frames on the bookshelf and add to the diversity. The murder of George Floyd has incensed all of us. Hearing him beg for his life, explain that he couldn’t breath and then call out to his dead mother, while onlookers begged for his life, has rightly shocked the world.

On this occasion it doesn’t feel enough just to be angry over a bowl of spaghetti at dinnertime. We have to do more than simply adapt our home to embrace the vulnerable and marginalised. We need to shout louder. We need to make a public statement. We want the US authorities to hear that our family takes personally and seriously the issue of racial injustice. We want the UK government to listen to our plea to confront institutional racism. We want the world to acknowledge that black lives matter. 

We protest by shouting. Then we protest in silence. For 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the exact length of time the white police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck, we sit on the ground with arm raised in a show of solidarity with his death.

It is an incredibly long time. For 8 minutes and 46 seconds I think of others doing the same around the world. I am relieved to see that even the few protesters who have come to cause trouble are taking the knee. I wonder if the man in front of us wearing the denim jacket sporting the words “Vandalism: beautiful as a rock in a cop’s face” printed neatly in white letters on his back is considering the words he can see staring him in the face on another placard: “Silence is Violence”. I begin to hope this display of public feeling will make a difference beyond this street this day. Then I remember George Floyd’s family in the wake of his funeral. For 8 minutes and 46 seconds I think of the man gasping for breath and pray that something good can come out of something so tragic.

The Black Lives Matter protests around the world have to change things. Not just the removal of statues or the withdrawing of programmes from iPlayer or Netflix, or the influencing of an election result across the Atlantic, but the global conversation towards racial equality. Football players are taking the knee. Tea companies are joining the fight. I want my family to be part of this. I believe it is an opportunity for us to demonstrate the radical grace of God that offers love, mercy and compassion to all. I believe one day that gathered around the throne of God will people from every tribe and tongue and so making sure we speak up for Black lives should matter to us because they matter to God.  I have taken my children to the protest, not because I want them to witness history but because I want them to be involved in changing it.

 Every blessing

Peter

Thursday 18 June

I regularly receive reflections from a friend, Rev. Barry Osborne, who is CEO of Rural Mission Solutions based in Northamptonshire. The following is a reflection on the Black Lives Matter campaign:

All Lives Matter

‘For several days now, the news has been dominated by the Black Lives Matter campaign.  It seems that pent up hurt and anger has boiled over in reaction to the appalling death of George Floyd.  I am left wondering whatever made the police officer think that it was an appropriate way to hold a prisoner down, was it a racist act, how had he failed to realise it was being caught on camera, or that it would be all over the world in minutes.  There were other officers around and the man could have been restrained without resorting to kneeling on his neck.

‘It might be possible that the officer could claim it was not racially motivated but that is how it has been understood and presented.  Other stories of inappropriate and disproportionate action by the police towards black and Asian people have emerged, not only in the USA but also here in the UK.  I find each story offensive and I become angry too.  But discriminative behaviour is seen in other ways such as antisemitism, and the attitudes of many men towards women.  So I want to shout out ALL LIVES MATTER.

‘With so much news about BLM recently you may have missed the appalling information about sexual abuse against children, which also appears to be on the increase.  Shocking among the statistics is the proportion of sexually abusive acts committed by one child on another.  In a typical UK primary school, one child in six will have experienced sexual abuse.  And I haven’t yet written anything about domestic violence and the tragic consequences of that. ALL LIVES MATTER. 

‘In the New Testament there is plenty of evidence of discriminatory behaviour.  It is what lies behind the parable of the Good Samaritan, and the visit of Peter to the home of Cornelius, just to provide two examples of many.  Even among the first disciples, some wished to make themselves superior to others.  Jesus put a stop to that.  In the early churches discrimination and prejudice is tackled in several of the New Testament letters.  James particularly addresses this in his letter.  Paul tackled it in his first letter to the Corinthian Christians and elsewhere.  

‘In a recent Online Bible Study we have been exploring what Paul calls a mystery.  The Greek word suggests something that has been hidden.  Paul explains that this mystery, now revealed, is that God makes all people one in Christ.  “His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (Ephesians 2: 15,16)

‘Paul goes on to explain that this means absolute equality and, what is really challenging, is that through the oneness lived out by all Christians, both Jews and Gentiles, God’s plan and purposes for the world was to be revealed.  The terms, Jews and Gentiles, of course, covers all humankind.

‘If we have understood this correctly it should challenge all forms of discrimination and prejudice, including theological and denominational differences.  In a world so full of discrimination and prejudice, we - who are followers of Christ - must demonstrate that unity is not a longed for dream, but a present reality to be grasped and lived out.

‘ALL LIVES MATTER.  The roots of discrimination against black people run deep in our society.  We have done much, both in history and more recently, for which we all need to be ashamed.  I find it hard to imagine what political actions are needed in the UK to bring an end to this.  There is work to be done in our schools, in our places of work, and in the communities in which we live.  But appropriate actions will need to develop out of appropriate attitudes.

‘Let us all search our hearts to discover those areas of bias, prejudice, and discrimination.  We need to set aside our own unhealthy value systems that exclude others, and start to act on God’s agenda of equality, because ALL LIVES MATTER to him.’

Every Blessing,

Robert

Wednesday 17 June

(If you read this on Tuesday evening, I've a busy day tomorrow so I'm getting ahead of myself!)

I thought, for a change, I’d leave you today with a few questions to ponder. The last time we met together in Riverside Church was 22 March, so next week we’ll be entering our fourth month without services, and next Sunday will be our thirteenth online podcast. If there’s one thing which the lockdown has taught us – or reminded us – it’s that church is not actually about buildings, but about people. We, not a building on Southgate, are the church. Some people are longing to get back to the old routine; others are saying that church can never be the same again; what do you think?

  • What have you missed most about church during the lockdown?
  • What have you not missed at all?
  • How nervous are you about us meeting again in the usual way? Will you be back to church as soon as we’re open again, or are you still concerned about a recurrence of the virus?
  • Do you want to go back to what we’ve always done, or are there things we need to do differently?
  • What should post-Covid-19 church look like?

 Please think about these questions. We’ve no idea at the moment when church services can begin again. If you have thoughts about these questions after you’ve reflected, do consider emailing Robert and me with your reflections. We’d love to hear from you.

 Every blessing – and do stay safe.

Peter

Tuesday 16 June

Jack Marris has received this from Jonathan Lamb, one of the speakers at Sleaford Keswick.

Greetings! I do hope all goes well with you.

I am writing this short note, sent to churches and events where I have had the privilege of speaking in the past year or so, with news about the 'virtual launch' of the book ‘Essentially One: striving for the unity God loves’, which is being released this month by IVP.  I am also sending a note to some of the Conventions, such as Sleaford, which I have enjoyed visiting.

I know you will understand a Christian author’s reluctance in any way to appear to be engaged in self-promotion!  But if you felt able to help IVP with a ‘virtual launch’, we have prepared a short video, which we hope it might be possible for individuals, churches or agencies to place on their website or facebook page, or even to screen if they are having an on-line service (some churches are doing so on July 5th as part of the virtual launch). If this would be of interest to you, here is a link to view or to download the video: 

https://youtu.be/pNysuNb8BlE 

The book seeks to call God’s people to ‘make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit’. It introduces the vision and purpose of unity in the scriptures, and then tackles some of the practical challenges which local churches face in areas such as handling differences, managing conflict and division, strengthening partnerships, building a united fellowship and much else (https://ivpbooks.com/essentially-one).

Thank you very much for considering this.  

With warmest greetings,

Jonathan Lamb
Minister-at-large, Keswick Ministries

I hope all is well with you and that you are keeping safe even though more shops are open. Sleaford town was certainly much busier yesterday.

Every Blessing, Robert.

Monday 15 June

In the light of events over the last fortnight, racial reconciliation is high on the agenda of our country, so should also be on the agenda of the Church. This is part of a longer thoughtful reflection from the "Equipped for Grace" website:

A Call for Repentance

Just a few moments scrolling through social media and you will see varying narratives about our country’s ongoing issues. Political debates, memes, famous quotes, personal opinions, and facts circulate the Web as people share their views and concerns.  

At times, it can be easy for believers to get caught up with the news, or swept away by powerful statements made by our political leaders. However, we must be discerning, and set our focus on what is right and pleasing in God’s sight. 

Christians have a very important role to play during this time. When our brothers and sisters are calling for justice for their loved ones, seeking change from the government, and praying for hearts and minds to change in order to end racism, followers of Christ should demonstrate unity through the love of the Gospel. For many of us, this will require putting away the thoughts, words and behaviours that do not reflect the heart of Christ.

The Role of Discipleship in Racial Reconciliation

It is important that the Church understand why repentance is necessary. Do our attitudes reflect the attitude of Christ? Where have we gotten distracted and missed the point of the Gospel? How does discipleship work in the lens of racial reconciliation? 

To understand the call for the Church to seek racial reconciliation, we must first understand the command and purpose for Jesus’ disciples:

It is in the Great Commission that every believer in Christ is instructed to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19).

Being a witness to God’s salvation is for “all mankind” (Luke 3:6).

God Himself said He would pour out His Spirit on “all people” (Acts 2:17). 

These verses reveal to us that God cares about all people regardless of race. He sent out the Jews that became Christians to be a “light for the Gentiles” so they would “bring salvation to the ends of the earth” (Acts 13:47). In its essence, the Gospel propels racial reconciliation: it unites believers from every part of the world and makes them one as they join the Kingdom of God.

Therefore, when we see an ethnic group facing injustice, discipleship invites them in and establishes unity with Christ and His followers. Discipleship says, “I’m listening, and I hear your cries for justice. I know the One who makes all things right. Come with me, let’s read the Bible, and discover the Lord who cares for you.” 

Discipleship breaks down barriers, abolishes prejudices, corrects the paths of wandering hearts, pushes aside pride, and replaces these obstacles with the brotherly love, compassion, mercy and grace demonstrated by Christ. 

Every blessing

Peter

Saturday 13 June

At the beginning of June, a number of us were due to go to Lee Abbey for 5 days. That, of course, was not possible because of the pandemic. The following article comes from the Executive Chair of the Lee Abbey Movement, Rev. Sam Cappleman.

‘The period between Pentecost and Advent is known as Ordinary Time in the Anglican church, and others too, and follows the two threefold periods of time in the church’s calendar centred firstly on Christ’s birth and incarnation, and then secondly on His death and resurrection. These are reflected in the church’s year which starts with the times of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, subsequently followed a few weeks later by Lent, Easter and Pentecost. A time of expectation, manifestation and light followed by a time of ashes, power and glory. But this year, at an everyday human level, the present time feels nothing like ordinary for many of us. Yet Ordinary Time for a people of faith is far from ordinary any year, whatever is happening in the world around us, because we live out our faith through the extra-ordinary mystery of the incarnation, the shadow and ashes of the cross, and the certainty of the glory of the resurrection. And as we do, we reveal something of God in our world, a God for whom past, present and future all co-exist and in whom the ordinary and the extra-ordinary meet in Jesus Christ.

‘As Friends (of Jesus) we know the truly remarkable things that can happen when God, through His Son Jesus Christ, is revealed. Sometimes this is through prayer, which we know so well as Friends. Sometimes it’s through our actions. And sometimes it’s through quietly and simply announcing the peace, good news and salvation that Jesus offers. Being heralds of hope when so much in the world can appear hopeless, unsure and uncertain. Bringing light and life at a time which for many seems more like an endless night of darkness and ashes, rather than a new era of power and glory.

‘The poetry of Isaiah 52, similar to other words later in Isaiah echoed by Jesus in the Synagogue, speaks of those who bring good news, and the joy that follows as salvation is revealed and all God’s people, to the end of the earth, are comforted.

‘How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the LORD to Zion. Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God (Isaiah 52:7-10).

‘Our God does indeed reign. Wherever we are, as Friends, as a people of God, revealing the connection between the extra-ordinary with the ordinary is part of who we are. Through the cycle of the extra-ordinary and the ordinary we live out our Christian lives in the reality of the expectation, manifestation, light, ashes, power and glory of Christ.’

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Friday 12 June

Some thoughts which popped up on my Bible app this morning:

In Luke 10, Jesus tells the story of a Samaritan man who helps a wounded Jew. At this point in time, years of tension had led to a centuries-long conflict between Jews and Samaritans. 

But instead of letting the Jew die on the side of the road, the Samaritan stopped what he was doing, noticed the man’s pain, and went out of his way to help. The Samaritan showed compassion and empathy…when nobody else would. 

Then, Jesus ends this parable by telling His followers, “You, go and do likewise.” 

In a world filled with conflict and hardship, how do we actively live out Jesus’ words in a way that is helpful? 

Here are 3 ways we can follow the Samaritan’s example and love our neighbours: 

Place Yourself in Someone’s Pain

Sharing someone’s pain allows us to taste what God did for us when He came as a human to endure the cross. When we choose to experience what someone else is going through, we can then show that person true compassion. 

Sacrifice Your Plans and Position

The Samaritan invested his time, his money, and his resources into saving the hurting man, just as Jesus surrendered Himself so that we could have abundant life. Sacrificial love costs us something—but the return is healing and forgiveness. 

Take Specific Action

The Samaritan showed the Jewish man that he cared by taking care of him. It was that decision that led to restoration. In the same way, we must be willing to repeatedly act in ways that demonstrate empathy, humility, and grace. Compassion, in order to be effective, has to lead to action. 

So, who in your life is hurting? How can you step out of your comfort zone and into their pain? Your decision to do that might just lead to healing and restoration. 

A prayer:

Father, our world is bent and broken. But this didn’t stop you from showing your great love for us by sending Jesus to empathise with us in our weakness. Help me to do likewise. Help me to view everyone I interact with the way you see them. Allow me to be a part of your solution to the brokenness in this world. Show me how to partner with you in creating sustainable change. I recognise that in order to do that, I need to be willing to share in the pain of others. Give me the courage to do that, and then, help me to take action. Let empathy and restoration start with me. Amen.

Every blessing

Peter

Thursday 11 June

I have just heard this morning that one of my ministerial colleagues in the East Midlands Synod has lost her husband to Covid-19. Our thoughts and prayers are with her and their family and all those who are suffering loss and hardship at this time.

Psalm 34:4; ‘I sought the Lord, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears.’

A reflection from Open Doors: ‘There isn’t a person on this earth who isn’t afraid of something. There is one big enough to handle our fears, and one who is constantly available. Sometimes God can completely set us free from what grips us; at other times He comforts us and gives us the ability to keep fear in check. And ultimately, one day, all our fears will be set right.

‘What fears grip you, choke you, or threaten to consume you? Take a notebook, and list your biggest fears. Write away, and offload all of these things to God.

‘Lord, I choose to trust You today. I want to hand my fears and worries to You right now. Amen.’

Every Blessing and keep safe,

Robert.

Wednesday 10 June

Equipped for Grace is a group of Christians who are learning how to respond to all situations with grace, one scripture at a time. This is an extract from a much longer open letter which they wrote this week in response to racism and injustice:

This past week has been tough for many. Injustice and racism has risen to the forefront of the media, sparking feelings of outrage, heartbreak, and denial. Many are hurting, confused, and fearful. Our world is broken and yearning for love and unity. 

While the sight of injustice may swell righteous anger within us and fill our eyes with tears, we must be wise in how we respond. If we are to respond in love for God’s glory, we need to first turn to and humble ourselves before the One who will make all things right. 

(1) OPEN YOUR BIBLE AND PRAY

In prayer, we can be honest with God; whether it be anger, sadness, or confusion. In John 10:14-25, Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me, and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” Truly, “the Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.” (Nahum 1:7). 

First, we pray that God will remind us of who we are to Him, and how we are to respond. The Bible teaches that while “the heart of man plans his way…the Lord establishes his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9). Sometimes, our emotions are so strong that we put a plan into action before first seeking guidance. But in doing so, we walk out of step with our protector, our healer, and our deliverer.

Second, we pray that God would break our heart for what breaks His. One of our favourite hymns sings: “Show me how to love like you have loved me. Break my heart for what breaks yours. Everything I am for your kingdom’s cause”. We pray that our hearts would be aligned with the injustice that breaks God’s heart so that we will be reminded of the importance of action. We pray that we will be reminded that God made every person in His image with tremendous love, and gave His life so we could live (see Genesis 1:27, Romans 5:6).

(2) BE PREPARED TO RESPOND IN LOVE

Witnessing injustice can cause us to be angry, yet even in this anger, we must be careful not to be hateful. In 1 Peter 2, we are given a powerful reminder of our call to respond to suffering by following in the footsteps of Jesus:

“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his straying sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:21-25).

As ambassadors for Christ, when we speak and act, Jesus has shown us that we are to show the love, patience, and mercy of Christ. Whether we are speaking with the broken-hearted or a person of authority, Jesus is written on our hearts and must permeate each word we speak. 

As a starting point, we look to scripture to understand the standard Christ calls us to:

  • Renew our mind in God. “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2).
  • Walk worthy of our calling. “I…urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).
  • Speak with kindness and love. “Let love be without hypocrisy”, “bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse”, “Do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath”, “Do not be wise in your own estimation”; “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (Romans 12). 

(3) REMIND YOURSELF OF THE CHRISTIAN’S CALL TO JUSTICE

Our God is just and righteous. In Psalm 89:14, the Bible says: “righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you”. Continuously throughout the Bible, God reminds His people of our call to do justice in His name:

  • Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
  • Proverbs 31:8-9: “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
  • Psalm 72:12: “For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper.”
  • Isaiah 1:17: “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” 

When we see people oppressed, poor, helpless, or silenced, God tells us we are to speak for them and defend them according to the Word. We are to be advocates for what is just, righteous, loving and faithful. This starts in our prayers, and needs to manifest into our hands and feet to serve those in need. 

The first message Jesus gave to the religious leaders of his time was that he had come to fulfil God’s call for justice:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4:16-21)

He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him. He began by saying to them, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled.”

As his disciples, we have a responsibility to be his advocates for justice. However, we must remember that Christ calls us to follow his example when seeking justice. We are to pursue this calling by seeking unity, kindness, forgiveness, peace and goodness as Jesus did (see e.g. 1 Peter 2, Ephesians 4:26, Romans 12:9).

So, how is God calling you to respond? Will it be drawing near to the broken-hearted in prayer and hospitality? Being a positive influence in your circle? Writing a letter or article? Donating from your financial blessings to an organization that works on the ground for change? Whatever it is, we pray that it will all be for the glory of God as we seek to love others with the extraordinary love and grace that God gives us each day. God can do great things through us for justice, but we must remember our first love, Jesus (Revelation 2:1-7) and how he has shown us to pursue it. 

I hope that's both an encouragement and a challenge to us.

Every blessing

Peter

Tuesday 9 June

‘The Spirit of Sonship’ from Joe Warton and his Word of the Week from the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity

Galatians 4:4–7

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

‘That damp, grey November morning, Darren and Steve were thawing out in the factory gatehouse where they worked as security guards. Steve was complaining how much he’d had to shell out for his stepson’s new football boots. ‘Ninety quid!?’ exclaimed Darren. ‘He’s only nine! He’ll be too big for them in six months.’ Steve, clearly startled, defended the purchase. ‘But his best mate’s got the same pair, and he really wants them.’ Considering Steve was always banging on about how broke he was, Darren couldn’t believe it. But he was pretty sure what was driving Steve’s behaviour: Steve desperately wanted his stepson to accept him, so he made financially reckless decisions in an attempt to secure the relationship.

‘Insecurity is as powerful as it is old. In Galatians, Paul was writing to Christian communities who, despite tasting the sweet freedom of the true gospel, were ‘turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all’ (1:6-7). False teachers were throwing them ‘into confusion’ (1:7) by insisting that if these Gentile Christians really wanted to be considered God’s people, they needed to strictly follow the whole Jewish law (Torah).

‘Incredibly, these Galatian Christians were chomping at the bit to follow this false gospel. But why? These stringent laws, including circumcision and dietary restrictions, wouldn’t have been particularly attractive elements of Judaism to Gentile believers.

‘The answer is perhaps explained by their pre-Christian beliefs, which may have led them to think that any minor infractions could incur the wrath of their gods, and thus left them willing to do anything to avoid this. Though they had crossed the border from pagan religion into God’s kingdom, they did so weighed down by a backpack of insecurity.

‘Whatever the reason, Paul is having none of it! God has no interest in manipulating our insecurities to make us more pliable. Nothing could be further from the truth. God longs for all his children to live lives of love and faithfulness within the secure embrace of his love and approval. He sent his Son to make that a reality, and his Spirit to assure us of that reality. It’s only by the Spirit we can call the God of the universe ‘Abba, Father’ with confidence.

‘Throughout this week, make this your prayer: Father, by your Spirit, help me know I’m yours.

Every Blessing,

Robert

Monday 8 June

This morning, I'll be taking Jan Folland's funeral. Please continue to pray for Mike and family. Her funeral will be live-streamed from Lincoln Crematorium at 10.30 am today.

You will need to log-on to the wesleymedia website and type in the details : https://www.wesleymedia.co.uk/webcast-view

 Login / Order ID: 33936 Password: vygepshf

Every blessing

Peter

Saturday 6 June

I received the following from the Bible Society which reminds us to pray for the people of countries where medical and social services are minimal or non-existent in the present crisis. It is written by Esther King, Digital Communications Officer for the Bible Society:

‘Social distancing measures may be easing, but we know that the coronavirus crisis is far from over. I want to share some updates we’ve received from sister Bible Societies about the opportunities God has given them during the pandemic as well as the challenges they face. In spite of these challenges, our message isn’t one of despair but of hope.

‘When lockdown restrictions were imposed in Jordan, many people – particularly refugees – found themselves in desperate need. But amazingly, a team from Bible Society in Jordan was given special permission to deliver essential supplies and Bibles to the most needy. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, they’ve reached up to 2,500 families, displaying God’s love and care for them. 

Read the article

‘Meanwhile in Niger and Mozambique, where there are no economic reserves or government furlough schemes, we’re hearing that the Bible Society offices are in danger of closing and they are in urgent need of help to continue their mission. 

‘We’re praying for our colleagues in Africa as well as thanking God for the way he can turn challenging situations into powerful opportunities to display his love. If you would like to, you can add your prayers here.'

Every Blessing and keep safe,

Robert.

Friday 5 June

In these difficult times, we may not always be feeling very peaceful: I found this an encouraging reflection from Charles Stanley, a Baptist minister from Atlanta, Georgia:

If you’re a student of the Bible, I’m sure you’ve noticed that God’s perspective is often given in the form of comparison and contrast. For example, He often contrasted the rich and the poor, the wise and foolish, darkness and light, and with respect to our topic, the peace that comes from God as opposed to the peace found in this world. Jesus said, “My peace I give to you; not as the world gives …” (John 14:27).

Clearly, the Master was stating that the peace He gave His followers was different from the peace they could find in the world. When Jesus referred to “the world,” He was speaking of the society and culture in which we humans live.

Have you ever been on a troubled sea? I’ve experienced storms at sea on several occasions and frankly, I’ve no desire to repeat the experience! On the surface, the winds can sweep across the sea at 40, 60, 100 miles an hour, with blowing rain, lightning, thunder, and an overpowering darkness. Waves can rise to 20, 30, even 50 feet high. A ship in such a storm can be tossed about like a toy boat. It’s easy for an oceangoing craft to be lost in such storms. But underneath the surface, just 100 feet down, there’s no storm. All is perfectly quiet. No sound. No tumult. Not even a ripple of turmoil. 

This remarkable fact makes me think of God’s peace. It gives me an inkling of what our Lord must’ve been talking about when He promised His disciples His peace. He told them because they were His followers, they’d have trouble in this world. In fact, He claimed that some of them would be persecuted because they were His disciples. But in spite of this, He promised He’d never leave those who followed Him, and His constant presence would be the means whereby they could experience His peace. 

When fears, anxieties, and troubles arise in your life, look for the following signs of God’s peace as it …

  • Transcends circumstances. Often, peace is more readily seen and felt in the midst of trial and trouble. But regardless of what you’re experiencing, know this: God is your peace. Put your faith in Him.
  • Surpasses understanding. The peace of God is not something we can always figure out. But it’s operative and available to us—far beyond our ability to understand it. 
  • Extends to all His followers.God’s peace is extended to every person who accepts Jesus as their Saviour, turns from their sin, and pursues a life in obedience to the guidance of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit.
  • Is an abiding state of being. In the difficult circumstances of life, the Holy Spirit is present to help. Peace—deep, genuine, God-given peace—can be the “norm” in which you live day to day.

As you move forward in the journey of life, trust and believe that God’s desire for you is to feel an abiding peace at all times—a peace that includes joy and a feeling of purpose in every area of your life.

Stay safe

Peter

Thursday 4 June

The following has come into my in-box from Issachar Ministries, a bible based group of people who seek to understand the times we are living in and relating them to scripture. It comes from one of their members, Keith Berry. I hope it encourages you to keep going.

BEING POSITIVE IN A PANDEMIC?

“You’re such a positive person, Keith!”, I remember these words, from a conversation many years ago, for several reasons. The person who said them hardly knew me; I thought immediately, I am not! Ultimately, it led me to reflect on what God had done in my life to bring about fundamental change. Yet, is it possible to be positive even in a pandemic?
 
Of course, we must be careful to define what we do not mean by this: this is not the positivity of pop-psychology or man-centred counselling, finding the answer within. This is not the prosperity gospel of false teachers or the revivalism of false prophets, using the Bible to give false hope. This is not emotionalism, mysticism, Gnosticism, or any other ‘ism’!
 
Rather, I want us briefly to be reminded of the joyful Christianity which runs like a golden thread through the life and letters of the Apostle Paul, especially in his letter to the Philippians. During this strange and difficult time of lockdown, this has been the focus for my meditations. In some ways, it is an obvious place to go. Paul, himself, is locked down here…”in chains”. Yet, joy is the keynote throughout, as he writes to his friends at Philippi. “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4), he commands, from the Lord, but he practices what he preaches, for, as apostle, he is an example to all believers (Phil 3:17).

In chapter 1 of Philippians, we have three windows into Paul’s joy that we can learn from today. You can call it positivity if you like. Whatever we call it we know where it comes from…Christ and the Gospel.
 
1. PAUL WAS POSITIVE AS HE SAW THE GOSPEL ADVANCE THROUGH PERSECUTION
 
“Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel…” (Phil 1:12).
 
Paul, incarcerated in a Roman prison, had more reasons than we will ever have, to be frustrated, discontented, depressed, and so on. Yet, he is Christ-focused and Gospel-centred and therefore always rejoicing. He sees how the most unlikely people are now hearing the gospel, most obviously his guards in Caesar’s palace (Phil 1:13). Other believers are being emboldened by Pauls’ example in persecution to stand up and speak out (Phil 1:14).
 
Is there not a pattern here we are seeing worked out even in these tough times? For example, how could we have ever organised it for Boris Johnson to stare death in the face and be ministered to by leading medics who are born again people? This is Philippians 1 verse 12 in action today.
 
2. PAUL WAS POSITIVE AS HE KNEW THE FULLNESS OF HIS OWN SALVATION WAS GETTING EVER NEARER
     
“Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance”
 (Phil 1:18-19).
 
Many commentators view soteria as referring to ‘deliverance’ in a circumstantial sense, Paul rejoicing that he is going to get out of prison soon. This does not seem to me to fit Paul’s general outlook on life. Indeed, there is no guarantee of such a deliverance for Paul, just as we are not guaranteed to be spared sickness, suffering or death while Covid-19 rages.
 
This word can also be translated ‘salvation.’ Surely this is much better, fitting well the immediate context? This is our hope and the source of all our joy, not in circumstances, but in Christ and his salvation, the ‘good work’ he has begun in us and will bring to ‘completion’ soon (Phil 1:6). He sums up his outlook on living and dying in Philippians 1 verse 21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”. If this modern plague should take us, it is only because the Lord is taking us to be with himself, ‘which is better by far’, (Phil 1:23).
 
3. PAUL COMMITTED HIMSELF POSITIVELY TO THE PROGRESS OF THE CHURCH
        
“Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith”
 (Phil 1:25).
 
As we have seen, Paul would have preferred to go to be with his Lord…of course! This leaves him, however, with torn emotions (Phil 1:23), as he also thought about the Philippians. Eventually, he is prepared to give up the experience of immediate glory for the sake of helping to meet the needs of this local church. What love for the saints…what a positive commitment? Joy in the Lord is not just an emotional experience. It is the by-product of serving the Lord and his people. J-esus first; O-thers second; Y-ourself last. Do you want to be a truly positive, joy-filled Christian? This is how.
 
Without Paul’s lockdown, we would not have his letters to the churches filled with great doctrines of grace and rich Christian experience. They teach us to reach out to the world, reach into the church and ultimately reach up to the glorified, enthroned Christ. Am I a positive person, in a pandemic, or at any time? This will only be in so far as Christ is at the centre. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, Rejoice”, (Phil 4:4).

With Every Blessing,

Robert

Wednesday 3 June

I'm sure, like me, you've been deeply disturbed by the brutal death of George Floyd in America last week. Bishop Michael Curry (the man who preached at Harry and Megan's wedding) responded to the situation with the following, which I found very moving. The context may be America, but none of us is immune from tribalism, and we need to challenge ourselves constantly about our own prejudices: 

"In the midst of COVID-19 and the pressure cooker of a society in turmoil, a Minnesota man named George Floyd was brutally killed. His basic human dignity was stripped by someone charged to protect our common humanity. 

Perhaps the deeper pain is the fact that this was not an isolated incident. It happened to Breonna Taylor on March 13 in Kentucky. It happened to Ahmaud Arbery on February 23 in Georgia. Racial terror in this form occurred when I was a teenager growing up black in Buffalo, New York. It extends back to the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955 and well before that. It’s not just our present or our history. It is part of the fabric of American life. 

But we need not be paralyzed by our past or our present. We are not slaves to fate but people of faith. Our long-term commitment to racial justice and reconciliation is embedded in our identity as baptized followers of Jesus. We will still be doing it when the news cameras are long gone.

That work of racial reconciliation and justice – what we know as Becoming Beloved Community – is happening across our Episcopal Church. It is happening in Minnesota and in the Dioceses of Kentucky, Georgia and Atlanta, across America and around the world. That mission matters now more than ever, and it is work that belongs to all of us.

It must go on when racist violence and police brutality are no longer front-page news. It must go on when the work is not fashionable, and the way seems hard, and we feel utterly alone. It is the difficult labour of picking up the cross of Jesus like Simon of Cyrene, and carrying it until no one – no matter their colour, no matter their class, no matter their caste – until no child of God is degraded and disrespected by anybody. That is God's dream, this is our work, and we shall not cease until God's dream is realized. 

Is this hopelessly naïve? No, the vision of God’s dream is no idealistic utopia. It is our only real hope. And, St. Paul says, “hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5). Real love is the dogged commitment to live my life in the most unselfish, even sacrificial ways; to love God, love my neighbour, love the earth and truly love myself. Perhaps most difficult in times like this, it is even love for my enemy. That is why we cannot condone violence. Violence against any person – conducted by some police officers or by some protesters – is violence against a child of God created in God’s image. No, as followers of Christ, we do not condone violence.

Neither do we condone our nation’s collective, complicit silence in the face of injustice and violent death. The anger of so many on our streets is born out  of the accumulated frustration that so few seem to care when another black, brown or native life is snuffed out. 

But there is another way. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, a broken man lay on the side of the road. The religious leaders who passed were largely indifferent. Only the Samaritan saw the wounded stranger and acted. He provided medical care and housing. He made provision for this stranger’s well-being. He helped and healed a fellow child of God.

Love, as Jesus teaches, is action like this as well as attitude. It seeks the good, the well-being, and the welfare of others as well as one’s self. That way of real love is the only way there is. 

Opening and changing hearts does not happen overnight. The Christian race is not a sprint; it is a marathon. Our prayers and our work for justice, healing and truth-telling must be unceasing. Let us recommit ourselves to following in the footsteps of Jesus, the way that leads to healing, justice and love."

Every blessing

Peter

Tuesday 2 June

Joe Warton from the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity sent me this reflection yesterday and it follows on from Peter’s post on Pentecost yesterday.

The Spirit of Note

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
Genesis 1:1-2

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
Hebrews 9:14

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
Romans 8:26-27

‘I hadn’t really noticed many Ford C-Max cars before. Then I got one. And now they’re everywhere. It’s amazing what you detect when you’re primed to notice.

‘It would be an understatement to say not much happens without the Holy Spirit’s involvement. Like the other persons of the Trinity, he too has a rather exhaustive job description: ordering the cosmos; empowering the people of God; unifying the church; convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgement; delivering the spoils of Christ’s victory to sinners; confirming our identity as God’s children; making us holy; keeping us on track. And the whole time, he’s interceding on our behalf. And you thought you were busy!
 
‘The Spirit was central to the birth, life, mission, death, and resurrection of Christ. In the New Testament, there are no less than 261 passages in which the Spirit is mentioned. He’s not some bit-part player in the story of Scripture, but central at every point. It’s important to notice that.

‘Today, in our hearts, in our churches, in our families, and on our frontlines, he is 100% interested. 100% involved. Sometimes we just need someone to remind us of his presence to give us that ‘oh yeah’ moment. Because when we notice him, hope awakens, vision widens, and joy blossoms. We see the hand of God working wonders around us. We remember there is so much more; that life’s not just down to us.

‘If you’re already conscious of the Spirit’s ongoing work in your life, awesome! Keep noticing. But if not, may this reflection act like a spiritual MRI, revealing something of the hidden miracles taking place in your life every day. That might mean being aware of your status as a son or daughter of God when you feel the need to prove yourself. Or becoming more alive to the mission of God, knowing that the Spirit who hovered over the waters, and who rested upon the Lord Jesus, is calling you out into God’s world. You might notice how God is shifting something in the heart of a neighbour, a child, or that person you chat to at the shop. It might be noticing that ‘unnatural’ patience you showed with that customer, and in the delight you experience in your work.

‘What will you notice this week?’

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Monday 1 June

A reflection on Pentecost from Andy Rau, former manager of the Bible Gateway website:

“Why is Pentecost important?” It’s important because it infused the small community of Jesus-followers with the core mission that would define the Christian church ever after: to share the message of Jesus Christ with the entire world.

Consider that in the weeks following Christ’s death and resurrection, many of his followers were undoubtedly still processing the incredible events they had witnessed, and were probably wondering what God wanted them to do now that Jesus had carried out his mission. On Pentecost, God made it clear what Christ-followers should do with the news of Jesus Christ: share it with others. And not just with the Jewish communities in which they lived; the multi-linguistic nature of this miracle made it plain that the Gospel message was not confined to one community, nation, ethnicity, or language.

Pentecost is when the Christian church received, and was empowered to carry out, its grand assignment of evangelism. For this reason, Pentecost is sometimes referred to as the “birthday of the Christian church.”

The mission given to Christians on Pentecost still stands, thousands of years later. We are to share the saving message of Jesus Christ with the world—and as we do so, we should rely on the presence of the Holy Spirit, who empowered the early church to share the gospel, and continues to do so today. The great preacher Charles Spurgeon, reflecting on Pentecost, challenged Christians to appreciate the gift of this remarkable event:

“[The Holy Spirit’s] power was gloriously manifested in and after Pentecost. He remains at this hour the present Immanuel–God with us, dwelling in and with his people, quickening, guiding, and ruling in their midst. Is his presence recognized as it ought to be? We cannot control his working; he is most sovereign in all his operations, but are we sufficiently anxious to obtain his help, or sufficiently watchful lest we provoke him to withdraw his aid? Without him we can do nothing, but by his almighty energy the most extraordinary results can be produced…. The Holy [Spirit] is no temporary gift, he abides with the saints. We have but to seek him aright, and he will be found of us.” — Charles Spurgeon

Every blessing

Peter 


 

Saturday 30 May

I received the following from Lincolnshire County Council about fostering which I said I would put on the website. It seems all the more poignant at the moment with some families struggling with lock-down. They are also looking for short-term respite foster carers.

Make your house a child’s long-term home

In Lincolnshire there is a real and urgent need for people to come forward specifically to look after children and young people who need a long-term foster family.

Long-term fostering, also known as permanent fostering, is when a child or young person is cared for until they reach adulthood and beyond. It requires a high level of commitment as carers will need to provide a stable home life for a child until they reach independence.

Many of the children who are currently waiting for a long-term foster family in Lincolnshire are part of a sibling group who need to be placed together with their brothers and sisters. It is recognised that being placed with their siblings can help a child settle into a new family and have a positive sense of who they are.

There are many benefits to long-term fostering both for the child or young person and for their carers. Long-term foster carers give a child or young person the stability of living in one family home for the rest of their childhood. A long-term family gives them a sense of belonging, and with consistent routine, love and understanding, they can begin to flourish and be better prepared for adulthood.

Being a long-term foster carer can be a challenging role, but it is also hugely rewarding! 

If you think you could give a child or sibling group a loving long-term home apply to foster today at www.lincolnshire.gov.uk/fostering or call 01522 554114.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

There will be a Service on-line tomorrow organised by Churches Together in Sleaford and District. It lasts for about 45 minutes and includes music, readings, talks and prayers on Pentecost Sunday. Below are the places on the web to find it from dawn tomorrow.

There are two ways to access the video. The first is shorter but less memorable.

Direct link:   youtu.be/FmT0nf415TM

Via Paul Cockburn's YouTube channel:   www.youtube.com/user/mathmethman

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Friday 29 May

Some you will remember Bob Stoner, who was a great support on Street Source for some years before he went to train as a Methodist Deacon. This is today's reflection from him.

Stay safe

Peter

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Thursday 28 May

Today’s verse of the day on my Bible app is Psalm 55: 22: ‘Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken.’

A dictionary definition of the word ‘to cast’ is ‘to throw something forcefully in a specific direction.’ Our verse calls us to cast something specific; namely: our cares, worries, doubts and fears; to throw these forcefully in a specific direction, in this case, God Himself who invites us to do it because He is big enough to take it.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says: ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.’

God shares His comfort with us in these times, so that we can share it in whatever way we can with others.

A prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to cast our cares upon You, that You would sustain us through this time; comfort us that You would help us be a comfort to others, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Wednesday 27 May

As the government begins to ease the lockdown, we'll no doubt be wondering what life is going to be in the future. This article was written by Rev Rosie Harper, who's a Church of England vicar. Her context is obviously the C of E but I think what she has to say is relevant, whatever Christian church we belong to:

"In France, apparently, one of the biggest worries about lockdown was how single Parisienne women would cope: all alone in a small flat and no partner. No dates, no secret affairs, no sex. All the assumptions were that these women would go into melt down. The framework of their lives and their relationships had been undone – it would not end well.

Turns out many young single women in France have loved the shutdown. All the hectic man- (or woman-) pleasing internal drivers had been challenged. They enjoyed freedom from the pressure to have sex, they swapped sophistication for simplicity, they got in touch with how to be self contained and not dependent their partner. To everyone’s surprise it is OK – more than OK, it is very good.

It is possible that as we emerge from isolation some of this self discovery will remain and the young single French woman will have a better life.

This tale is an example of what Richard Rohr describes in The Wisdom Pattern as the process we are always experiencing in life, but which is technicolour at the moment: Order, Disorder, Reorder.

Order is the pattern we thought we knew. The familiar. Some of us loved it, some of us found it had dark and controlling elements that needed change, but it was what we knew. It was life as we had learnt to live it.

Then came the big Disorder. Present joys became past memories. Of course we fear it. Not just for the physical danger, but because it feels like anarchy. It teeters on the edge of chaos, of total melt down. We fear getting sucked into a vortex of unknowing.

Let’s be honest here; both in society and within the Church at large we were already struggling. Struggling with the age of Quantum Physics where what we thought was linear and certain was, it transpires, nothing of the sort.

Mystery, not knowing, holding multiple truths – all this was stretching our religious imagination. Around the edges interesting thinkers were rediscovering ineffable, unknowable layers of faith, whilst at the centre some pretty desperate measures were being taken to sure up the literal against the flow away from certainty .

Now of course everything is virtual. Even the bread and wine. We shouldn’t be surprised. Pentecost tells us the virtual world is vibrant and powerful. Jesus is very much with us but we can’t see or touch him.

This period of Disorder might be all sorts of things. It’s too soon to tell. What we can see is that the biggest mistake the church made in its response to Covid-19 was rooted in fear of chaos.

As a society we have a contract with one another. We elect leaders who make decisions which some like and some dislike, but mostly we obey even the rules we think are mistaken. So our Government tells us what to do, and although we are not all confident that the best decisions are being made we abide by the rules.

In the Church of England it seems our leaders thought the church worked this way too.

Mimicking the Government they issued rules and regulations, forgetting that their relationship with their flock is different. They do not rule over us, but rather are shepherds whose calling is to offer hope and inner depth and strength through our faith in God.

A bewildered nation expected words of lament, of comfort, of inspiration. Alas, although they were there, they got drowned out by the micro-management of Church buildings. We actually only needed to be told to apply the same rules as everyone else!

So it fell to the local to inhabit the Disorder and it has done so in many wonderful ways. The edges between church and community got lovely and smudgy and people lived their faith by loving and helping one another. Some may think virtual services are a bit naff and amateurish but they are rather gloriously filled with heart and courage.

Well, one day we will realise that the era of Covid-19 has passed. A Reordering has happened. Most people will want to go back to how it was before but of course that cannot be.

I can tell you how I would like the new order to look. How I would love the church to be where every human being is loved and valued equally. Where anyone who was in any way different from the majority need never fear rejection or judgement from other Christians. I would love to see the choking tendrils of power, politics, entitlement, the class system to be unwrapped from around the heart of the Church of England. Where those who had been abused received loving care and just restoration. I would love to see us less obsessed by ourselves and more obsessed by our neighbour. As you might imagine I could go on…….

What I think will happen is that we will make every good effort to carry on as before – and slowly the truth will emerge. The financial model, already strained to breaking point will prove unsustainable. Quite possibly the church in every parish model is bust. The trust of the people in a National Church, already horribly compromised by its internal moral failure to treat LGBTI+ people, women or abuse survivors honourably is gone forever and its place on the national and political stage will be seriously challenged.

There will need to be a journey, probably accelerated by this crisis, which will involve letting go of a model of the Church of England which was probably always a fantasy anyway.

I would like to think that a leaner, healthier, more equal community will emerge – a church that is much closer to the poorest, most marginalised in our society. More present in housing estates across the country and less bound up in Bishop’s palaces and London clubs.

I don’t think this is impossible, indeed God could well be in this new destination. I fear, however, that for many, it will hurt like hell to get there."

Every blessing

Peter

Tuesday 26 May

‘Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops’. James 5:16–18

Nell Goddard of LICC writes: ‘If you could have any superpower, what would it be? Some days, I long for invisibility. Other days, for the ability to teleport. Someone once told me that they wished they could dodge raindrops. Personally, I feel that to be a bit of a waste of a superpower, but who am I to judge?

‘Superpowers are all about doing things which are beyond our usual abilities, and ordinarily out of our control. Consider the family in Pixar’s The Incredibles – super strength, body elasticity, invisibility and force fields, and super speed. Very superpower-y, and very useful in a crisis.

‘But alas, superpowers are only for fiction and those bitten by radioactive spiders. In our ordinary world we have only our very human abilities to assist us in a crisis.

‘In this passage, however, James suggests otherwise. Prayer, he says, is a powerful thing. It may look simple and unimpressive, but it has great resources at its disposal. It has, in fact, the power of God behind it.

‘Do we have to be superhuman to access this power? No, says James. Elijah was a righteous man, yes, but he was also ‘a human being, even as we are’. He was just like us, he was right with God, and his prayers stopped the rain! Quite the superpower if you ask me.

‘There was no special formula, no particular routine to it, no special suits – and certainly no capes – made by Edna Mode… Elijah just prayed. And the Lord listened to and answered his prayer.

‘James is clear: there is no situation in which prayer is not the proper response. Family crisis, lost keys, pandemic, broken down car, terminal illness. We must begin with prayer. I find that convicting yet deeply reassuring.

‘Today, may we find conviction, rest, and encouragement in these words, and the God who hears and answers prayer.’

In the time between Jesus’ ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we read in Acts 1 that the disciples, ‘joined together constantly in prayer’; praying about the future. As the lock-down begins to ease, please pray for the future mission and way forward for the Church.

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Monday 25 May

There seems to be only one story on most people's minds - and certainly in all the newspapers and social media sites today - and that's Dominic Cummings's trip to Durham for childcare for his son. I'm not going to be drawn into the politics of this, but I don't think we can ignore the issue, so I've been reflecting on what our response as Christians should be. Several Church leaders have been on social media and the television this morning extremely critical of Mr Cummings' behaviour and also of the Prime Minister's defence of him during yesterday's briefing. What would Jesus have to say? 

I think the answer is quite clear: when he was asked by the Temple authorities about paying taxes, he gave a straightforward answer: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's." Paul also reminds us of the importance of obeying the powers that be, the only exception being when they ask us to do something contrary to God's will. I've spoken to many of you either by phone or email over the last nine weeks, and, like me, you're missing family and friends. At one point, my daughter's husband was very ill, and she was trying to juggle her work as a school chaplain with home schooling and caring for the family, and she would have given anything for us to be able to go down and give her a helping hand; we'd love to have done, but we chose to follow the government's instruction to stay at home. Many of you will know others in a similar situation who would have valued help but who struggled on, doing what they were instructed to do.

We are incredibly fortunate in this area that we have not been overwhelmed by this Coronavirus, but that's because we have obeyed the authorities, and, in a democracy like ours, it's essential that those who set the rules also abide by the rules. On this Bank Holiday Monday, it would now be very easy for folk all over the country to feel justified in breaking the lockdown rules. May we as Christians continue to behave responsibly, respect the law, and continue to pray for our leaders that they, too, will act in ways which command our respect.

Stay safe.

Every blessing

Peter

Saturday 23 May

Brian Draper is a regular contributor to Radio 4 Today Programme’s ‘Thought for the Day’. The following has come from him via the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity.

Breaking Open

I was reminded, recently, of a Hasidic tale which evokes Deuteronomy 11:18 (see also Deuteronomy 6:6), and seems especially apt for now:

‘The pupil comes to the rabbi and asks, “Why does Torah tell us to ‘place these words upon our hearts’? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?”

‘The rabbi answers, “It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay, until, one day, the heart breaks, and the words fall in.”’

It’s often the case that our own break-throughs seem to happen when we, ourselves, break open, isn’t it?

Certainly, some of the more spiritually mature people I’ve known seem also to be those who’ve gone through a disintegration of sorts. In the process, they’ve become more soulfully connected to life, somehow. Their words may sometimes be fewer, but any they do care to speak arise from deeper down within those opened hearts.

This has been, without doubt, a time of breaking open; if not for us personally, then almost certainly for some of those we know and love.

And we’re all affected, in different ways. We’ve all experienced disorientation. We’ve all lost direct contact with people we love. Many still have no physical contact with others. There’s a place for keeping calm and carrying on, but there’s time enough to honour sorrow, too.

It doesn’t have to be an individual heart that’s hurting, either. Families, of course, and friendship groups have suffered; churches will know grief within their communities; organisations have lost work and people; villages, towns and cities, even nations – each are having their own experience deepened.

I think of the words of the Aaronic blessing that have flowed so beautifully through the world, in song, this season. So often, it’s when ‘all is well’ that we perceive God’s blessing in our lives. But how resonant, those words, from within a place where all is not?

Perhaps we can treasure those words that may have rested gently on our hearts, awaiting the time they fall a little further into place. May we thus be open, within this historic opening. And may, indeed:

‘the LORD bless you
and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face towards you
and give you peace.’

Every Blessing,

Robert

Friday 22 May

An interesting reflection which I received this week: it's written by David Coaker, a URC Minister and Brian's brother.

"When will this end? I’ve had enough of this. I want to be able to talk to someone without having to guess how far 2 metres is, or worry about what observers are thinking. I want to go and visit my family. Go away for a few days. Have a meal in a restaurant. Not have to queue to get into a supermarket. Just do a million and one things I’d taken for granted. Aaaargh!

But, I can’t. I shouldn’t. And being inconvenienced now is a lot better than risking my own, my family’s, and other people’s health because I’m fed up with being kept mainly between these four walls. It is also inappropriate as there are many who wish they were in my position. Within our society there are many struggling to keep afloat or wearing themselves out caring for others. And when we look to other places in the world that were fragile even before this, it truly highlights the privileged position many of us find ourselves in.

But knowing that doesn’t stop me being fed up. And whatever feelings we have, bottling them up doesn’t help. Our families might not appreciate us letting loose, as they have their own challenges, but God is willing and able to listen to what is on our hearts.

Too often we only think we can bring before God what we are thankful for, and our concerns for others. And too often what we do bring is a shopping list of our own desires and wants. But you only have to look to the Psalms to hear anguished cries to God, and we have Paul’s words to the church in Rome:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8:26–27 (NRSV)

So as we continue to stay home and stay safe, let us remember that God is still there. This isn’t great, but it could be much worse. And that however we are feeling, God is there beside, around and beyond us. God is already listening, knows how you are feeling, and the Spirit is willing to stir, move and embrace you."

With every blessing,
Rev’d David R. Coaker, Editor of Progressive Voices

I hope you're all keeping well and safe

Every blessing

Peter

 

Thursday 21 May

Today is Ascension Day and here is the reading from Luke 24: 44-53:

He (Jesus) said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’

Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, ‘This is what is written: the Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what My Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’

When He had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, He lifted up his hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

Luke’s first account of the Ascension gives us three aspects of the disciples’ behaviour at this time of departure:

  1. They heard; they heard Jesus many times, but now their minds were opened by Jesus and they began to hear and understand what He was saying. What might He be saying to you today?
  2. They saw: they saw Jesus raise His hands and bless them. This would have meant a lot to them as they realised that Jesus wanted the best for them despite their doubts and fears. Jesus blesses us and wants the best for us too. The disciples saw Jesus taken up to heaven. We don’t quite know how that happened but He went and we can imagine Jesus there with God the Father, just where He should be.
  3. They went: they went back to Jerusalem, where Jesus had told them to go and start telling others about the good news of forgiveness and new life. They were told to wait there until they were ‘clothed with power from on high.’ They were obedient and waited and were filled with the Holy Spirit so that they could boldly proclaim the kingdom of God. Let’s wait on God and receive from Him in this time between Ascension and Pentecost.

Every Blessing and keep safe,

Robert.

Wednesday 20 May

Monday's piece was a bit heavier than usual, so I thought I'd simply leave you with a funny story today to lighten the mood!

A pastor concluded that his church was getting into serious  financial troubles. While checking the church storeroom, he discovered  several cartons of new Bibles that had never been opened and distributed. So at his Sunday sermon, he asked for three volunteers from the  congregation who would be willing to sell the bibles door-to-door for £10 each to raise the desperately needed money for the church.

Jack, Paul and Louie all raised their hands to volunteer for the task. The minister knew that Jack and Paul earned their living as  salesmen and were likely capable of selling some bibles. But he had serious doubts about Louie who was a local farmer, who had always kept to himself  because he was embarrassed by his speech impediment. Poor Louis stuttered badly.  But, not wanting to discourage Louis, the minister  decided to let him try anyway.

He sent the three of them away with the back seat of  their cars stacked with bibles. He asked them to meet with him and report the results of their door-to-door selling efforts the following Sunday.

Eager to find out how successful they were, the minister immediately asked Jack, "Well, Jack, how did you make out selling our bibles last week?"

Proudly handing the reverend an envelope, Jack replied, "Using my sales prowess, I was able to sell 20 bibles, and here's the  £200 I collected on behalf of the church." "Fine job, Jack!" The minister said, vigorously shaking his hand. "You are indeed a fine salesman and the Church is indebted to you."

Turning to Paul, "And Paul, how many bibles did you  sell for the church last week?" Paul, smiling and sticking out his chest, confidently replied  "I am a professional salesman. I sold 28 bibles on  behalf of the church, and here's £280 I collected."  The minister responded, "That's absolutely splendid, Paul. You are truly a professional salesman and the church is also indebted to you."

Apprehensively, the minister turned to Louie and said, "And Louie, did you manage to sell any bibles last week?"

Louie silently offered the minister a large envelope. The minister opened it and counted the contents. "What is  this?" the minister exclaimed. "Louie, there's £3200 in here! Are you suggesting  that you sold 320 bibles for the church, door to door, in just one week?"

Louie just nodded. "That's impossible!" both Jack and Paul said in unison. "We are professional salesmen, yet you claim to have sold 10 times as many bibles as we could." "Yes, this does seem unlikely," the minister agreed.

"I think  you'd better explain how you managed to accomplish this, Louie."  Louie shrugged . "I-I-I re-re-really do-do-don't kn-kn-know f-f-f-for sh-sh-sh-sure," he stammered.  Impatiently, Peter interrupted. "For crying out loud, Louie,  just tell us what you said to them when they answered the door!"

"A-a-a-all I-I-I s-s-said wa-wa-was," Louis replied , "W-w-w-w-would y-y-y-you l-l-l-l-l-like t-t-to b-b-b-buy th-th-th-this b-b-b-b-bible f-f-for t-t-ten p-p-p-pounds---o-o-o-or---wo-wo-would  yo-you j-j-j-just l-like m-m-me t-t-to st-st-stand h-h-here and r-r-r-r-r-read  it  t-to y-y-you??"

Keep smiling, and stay safe!

Peter            

Tuesday 19 May

The following came into my inbox last evening from the Lee Abbey Communities:

A reflection on Philippians Chapter 1 by Magnus Proctor (Lee Abbey’s Company Secretary)

The Apostle Paul is writing to his beloved church at Philippi, some 10 years after its formation (Acts 16). He is under house arrest in Rome, chained 24 hours a day to a Praetorian Guard, one of Emperor Nero’s elite bodyguards. He doesn’t know whether he will live or die.

What can we learn from Paul’s period of isolation in Philippians 1?
V.1 Paul, a bond slave of Christ Jesus
Paul may be chained to the Emperor’s guard but more importantly he is bound, like a bond slave, to his Lord Jesus. He will bow down to no other, serve no other. Coronovirus will not govern us – we have no fear because our faith and trust is in the eternal, all knowing, all powerful God of the universe.
 
V.1 God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi
Paul reminds the Philippians that they are in two places at once. They are physically in the Roman city of Philippi, Northern Greece, but also they are spiritually found in Christ. We are safe. Nothing can harm or alarm us. Our lives and our futures are bound to him.
 
V.4 In all my prayers for all of you I pray with joy
When Paul thought of his absent loved ones, he prayed for them. And when he prayed for them it brought him joy. Joy is a constant theme throughout this letter. Paul was able to say of his beloved church – I have you in my heart (v.7). He had the same affection for them as Christ. 
 
V.12 What has happened to me has served to advance the gospel
But Lord, Paul might complain, "I am an evangelist, surely you have made a mistake. What good am I under house arrest in Rome?" God never makes mistakes. Paul was thrilled because he was able to witness to the palace guards and many were saved. It was also said that he witnessed to Emperor Nero. His isolation was part of God’s plan.
We too in The Lee Abbey Movement, might complain that we have lost our purpose. There are no guests in Devon and few students in London. Has God made a mistake? Or like Paul, with full assurance, can we say that what has happened at Lee Abbey is serving to advance the Gospel. Do we see God’s purpose at work in the present crisis? 
 
V.21 For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain
Paul was under the daily threat of execution yet to him there was no fear. His life’s purpose was Christ himself. (I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ who lives in me. Galatians 2:20). Life was worth living because of Christ, it was worth dying to be with him.
 
V.27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ
Paul reminds us to remain faithful to Christ. We will get impatient, tetchy and irritable, maybe say or think things we shouldn’t. But, have faith, stand strong and rejoice!

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Monday 18 May

I try not to put anything too "heavy" on here, but this piece of interesting reflection landed in my in-box yesterday, and, although it's fairly long, I thought it was well worth a read. It does get me thinking a little  outside the box! I'd love to know what you think of it:

I have been wondering about theology in relation to the coronavirus pandemic.

There will be those who will jump in (yet again – they’ve done it before) and say that this is God’s judgement on the world for abandoning him (and it would be him!) and his rules and regulations.

There will be – and indeed, as I have seen on social media, are – those who will use this to claim that God cannot exist, as he has not stepped in to avert the disaster.

Both of these, it seems to me, are wrong-headed approaches to what is happening. For one thing, both are far too simplistic, avoiding so many of the issues.

But what then is the right approach? This is where I am tempted to start thinking the unthinkable.

I have for a long time thought that judgement is not something external. About this I have in the past written:

Judgement wells up from within. Faced with the utter purity of the love of God, with the blinding white-light brilliance of the love of God, I fall on my face at God’s feet, know that I judge myself and find myself wanting. But I also know myself picked up, put back on my feet, stood upright and told to get on with it.

This is not a wrathful God but a God whose very luminosity and love causes judgement to rise up from within me, to accuse myself, to be unable to look God in the eye until God compels me to, because God has picked me up and put me back on my feet, and sent me on my way. For me this accords well with the striking assertion of Jonathan Sacks that ‘The religious question is not: ‘Why did this happen?’ but ‘What shall we do?’’

Perhaps the answer is to be found somewhere within the recognition that the God who is the ground of my being is necessarily the ground of everyone else’s being too. Part of what it means for God to be the ground of my being is that God is also the source of my consciousness of being, and of everyone’s consciousness of being. The Psalmist may say ‘Arise O God to judge the world.’ But that judgement is not an external judgement. It is a judgement arising from the response of all those women and men who are in touch with their consciousness of being, with their consciousness of God, whose feet are stayed on the rock that is the ground of their being. It is an outcry rising up from within God’s human creatures against injustice and inhumanity, against our lack of love both as individuals and in community.

As a friend of mine, helping me think through what I am trying to articulate here, says:

“I think, in simplest terms, it is exactly right to say that the wrath of God is nothing more (but nothing less) than the love of God resisted, which could only happen by virtue of the energy of that divine love which is continually, effusively bequeathed to creation but which is misunderstood, misappropriated and misapplied. Robert Capon in The Youngest Day: Seasons of Grace on Shelter Island, argues that judgment (at least as far as God is concerned) is discernment rather than condemnation. Condemnation is God's discernment refused, with the inevitable, inescapable self-destroying impact of that refusal.

And humanity, I think, has been consistently refusing to listen to, yet alone heed, God’s discernment.

So can we then say, in this situation, that the coronavirus is something that rises up from the very depths of creation itself as an outcry against our refusal of God and God’s discernment, and as analogous with what rises up within me? That this is one of creation’s cries against our abuse and exploitation of God’s good creation and creatures? A disturbing article in the Guardian notes that a number of researchers today think that it is actually humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases such as Covid-19. “We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.” says David Quammen, American science and nature writer, and author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. “We are creating habitats where viruses are transmitted more easily, and then we are surprised that we have new ones.” adds Kate Jones of University College London, while Richard Ostfeld of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies makes no bones about it: “Nature poses threats, it is true, but it’s human activities that do the real damage.””

The place I keep coming back to is that God is the source and ground and purpose of all Being, and therefore all creation shares in that Being. So the universe itself is, in a sense, the body of God (as ecofeminist theologians and others are daring us to think) and each of us shares in the Being of God. As theologian Mary Beth Ingham puts it:

The incarnation is God’s presence in our world - not an event of the past. The incarnation is still going on in our lives. And our vocation is to join God’s dynamic, incarnate energy in the world and to be that presence wherever we find ourselves.

This outcry of creation itself calls on us not to put the blame on God by claiming that this is God’s judgement, but to acknowledge that in all the horrors of a seemingly uncontrollable virus, of social distancing, creation itself is saying to us: do something about this. This is the requirement of amendment, of change. We must change in the way we relate to the earth, as stewards rather than as exploiters; we must change in the way we do our economics, as sharers rather than hoarders; we must change in the way in which we relate to one another – locally and globally – as sisters and brothers, neighbours, all made in the image and likeness of God, and all of equal value, worth and respect. I heard Lord Peter Hennesey, historian of contemporary history, saying on the radio this week that “Future historians will divide post war Britain as BC and AC – ‘Before Corona’ and ‘After Corona’". I think he is right, though he may not have had my theological slant on this in mind when he said it! And  if there is any mileage in the approach I have outlined here, then I find it one of the ironies of the present pandemic that the virus can be as easily spread by gestures of compassion and greeting as by any other more health related means of transmission.

But what of the wrath of God of which the Bible frequently speaks, and in which the doom mongers of judgement revel? Does an understanding that all language about God is metaphorical let me off the hook when I apply it to this biblical category? Not at all. Nor does the idea that this is merely a human projection, though we do often try to express the personal nature of God through our experience of persons. And in people there is certainly anger, wrath. But perhaps in God it is the shadow side of that overwhelming imperative, that Imago Dei, which is love. There is a complex nexus of projection and reflection in our use of love in respect of God. Perhaps we have to say that the possibility of the wrath of God is real, but that love overwhelms the wrath, and that we, observing the love, find ourselves lacking, find our lives and our deeds flawed, compromised, sinful; and this in itself is sufficient to cause grief, sorrow, amendment. God does not need to be wrathful for this to happen. It is a natural consequence of God’s love. Or, in the language of Capon, it is a failure to respond positively to God’s loving discernment.

I’m aware that I’ve addressed wrath and judgement in this much more than the God-deniers. And yet I hope that the idea of the cry of the earth and the demand for change speaks loudly of a God who is with us (Emmanuel theology), of a God who is in everything and everyone and every situation, but who is also a God who looks to us to work with one another and with God in redeeming and reconciling the world. ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself … and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.’ (2 Corinthians 5.19) 

Stay safe

Peter

Saturday 16 May

Thy Kingdom Come has become an annual event in the national church’s calendar and this year is no exception despite the lock-down. The idea is for us to pray for 5 people we know who do not know Jesus yet. HOPE have shared the following:

‘Join the global Thy Kingdom Come wave of prayer between Ascension and Pentecost from 21-31 May. There are five ways your church can be involved in this year’s Thy Kingdom Come. Find out more here. There is a new Digital Family Prayer Adventure Map & App, an augmented reality app with daily videos and games from the Bible, as well as a 24-7 virtual prayer room, the Upper Room. You can find all the resources on the Thy Kingdom Come website.’

I have also heard this week that Churches Together in Sleaford are putting together a service on-line for Pentecost Sunday which will include short talks from the church leaders and songs and hymns from church worship groups. I will let you know the link when it is known.

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Friday 15 May

A timely reflection from Keela Dee, a young Christian blogger from Texas:

"I pray that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see... what is the overwhelming greatness of God’s power that is working among us believers. This power is conferred by the energy of God’s powerful strength. God’s power was at work in Christ when God raised him from the dead and sat him at God’s right side in the heavens..." -Ephesians 1:18-20 (CEB)

Sometimes the only thing that will get me through a period of anxiety is knowing that the Holy Spirit is within me. I am never alone. I don’t have to get through this by myself. I don’t have to be strong enough. When I confessed my faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit came into my heart. The exact same Spirit that lives in Jesus lives in me, right here, right now! 

Jesus did so many amazing things during his life on earth, but in John 14:12, he says “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” Did you catch that? Jesus says that we can do even greater things than He did! That is kind of hard to believe, but very exciting. With the Spirit, we have the power and potential to be strong and courageous in the name of Christ Jesus! We as Christians just need to believe in the Truth, run to God, and understand the power we have in Him. Why should we be afraid when we have the Spirit of the living God inside us, fighting for us at all times?

"If you make your mind resolute and spread your palms to him, if you throw out the sin in your hands and don’t let injustice dwell in your tents, then you will lift up your face without blemish; you will be secure and not fear. You will forget trouble; you will remember it as water that flows past. A life span will rise brighter than noon; darkness will be like morning. You will be secure, for there is hope; you will look around and rest safely. You will lie down without anyone to scare you; many will beg for your favor. The eyes of the wicked will grow faint; flight has vanished from them; their hope is a dying gasp." -Job 11:13-20

Every blessing

Peter

Thursday 14 May

Hebrews 12:24 says: ‘You have come to God . . . to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.’ Jesus is our mediator whose blood was shed on the cross; it is a better word, a more powerful word, a more transformative word than any other. This word is the source of our hope no matter how hard our circumstances are (Open Doors).

Lord Jesus, thank You that the final word over my circumstances is Your Word and that Your Word is a better word, of authority and hope for the future. Amen.

Open Doors, the organisation that supports persecuted Christians, has some resources to help us understand how people cope all the time under restrictions and lock-down. You can find them at www.opendoorsuk.org and go to the Church at Home page.

A few years ago, a survey was taken of the general public about attitudes to Jesus and Christians. The Talking Jesus research showed the UK church that non-Christians know us, they like us and some of them, right now, are open to having conversations with us about Jesus. It would seem that in this time of lock-down that more people are looking to Jesus and the church for answers. A course has been devised to help us talk to others about Jesus. It’s called the Talking Jesus Course and is available free at the moment from www.hopetogether.org.uk/talkingJesus. The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu says, ‘The most helpful way people hear the Good News of God in Jesus Christ is by a follower of Jesus Christ sharing their encounter with Jesus Christ. This inspiring course will help Christians to be witnesses to Jesus Christ wherever God has placed them.’  Have a look and let me know what you think.

Every Blessing and keep safe,

Robert

Wednesday 13 May

This is a short reflection I found today from the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale, Florida:

“Count it all joy… when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James 1:2-3

Christians often use passages like the above to delegitimize the real suffering people endure — “Don’t let it get you down. You are being refined. Have faith!”

These words feel empty, patronizing, and inadequate to soothe our spirits or heal our wounds. The missteps of others aside, however, we revisit what the author of this passage is inviting us to consider. We are not admonished to have to “feel” joy in the face of difficulties. It is natural to feel bad when bad things are happening.

Instead, we are invited to perceive the truth of our experience more broadly. Yes, we are facing hardships, and they are having a negative effect on our lives. But we are also making it through.

Each day that we continue to show up for our lives in the face of painful circumstances, we are also experiencing the miracle of our own resilience. We see what we are made of—not only when we've finally made it through, but also right there in the midst of the struggle. We can count on ourselves, come what may.

Divine Comfort, in tough times, may our honest pain be tempered by the joy of experiencing our innate steadfastness. Amen.

Every blessing

Peter

Tuesday 12 May

I received the following from Bob Abbott last week. Bob helps with the organisation of Sleaford Keswick and I know that a number of you enjoy the worship and unfolding of God’s Word on winter Friday nights.

‘Just to let you know that due to the Coronavirus this year’s Keswick Convention has been cancelled. However, ‘Virtually Keswick Convention’ – is an exciting, new five-day online event this Summer.  The Keswick Convention Committee invite you to join them for an exciting 5-day online event - on the theme of ‘Hope’ over the period 27th – 31st July. 

‘Check out this launch video by James Dobson, Keswick Ministry Director and keep an eye on further updates there and on the Keswick Convention website:

https://www.facebook.com/153708181458114/posts/1569839113178340/?sfnsn=scwspwa&extid=wJHVWvEqSZjcwxlv

‘Virtually Keswick Convention will feature teaching, sung worship and seminars for adults, youth and children. The engaging sessions will be available free online for everyone.  Join them for what promises to be an encouraging time together virtually.  The theme is hope – chosen because at this time of great uncertainty, in the midst of a global pandemic, there is hope in Jesus Christ.

‘James Robson, Ministry Director for Keswick Ministries, said: “What an encouragement to be part of something bigger – we’re not alone or isolated – but together. All one in Christ Jesus. There will be something for adults, children and youth. It promises to be a great time to meet with God through His Word, together. The Bible Reader will be Christopher Ash, Writer-in-Residence at Tyndale House in Cambridge, who will speak on ‘Hope in Jesus’ from the Psalms.  More details of the programme will be published here – on the Keswick Ministries website in coming weeks.  Save the date and tell your family friends, and church about Virtually Keswick Convention – we are looking forward to seeing you.’

It sounds worth joining in with that and I will try and remind you nearer the time.

Every Blessing, Robert.

Monday 11 May

This prayer came into my inbox yesterday. It's written by William Barber, a Bishop in the United Church of Christ in the United States. You'll obvious recognise that it's written from an American perspective, nut there is much in it which is also relevant to our situation in the UK.

"Most holy, gracious, great, all loving and ever-present God, hear our prayers: 

For those who have known too much unexpected death.

For the children who in a matter of days experienced more than any one should in years.

Hear our prayers for those whose world has been graphically and in some ways grotesquely changed by the death and infection of a germ and the failure of government that caters to those addicted to greed.

May we who know justice and compassion. May we repent for those who have let the viruses of racism, lust for power and lies make a difficult situation worse.

May those who have gone along with the lies just to please narcissism break free and tell the truth. 

May we who can simply change our schedules to meet the challenge of COVID-19 remember those whose entire lives are totally turned upside down and disrupted. 

May we who have no risk factors remember those most vulnerable because of the wounds and fissures of racism and entrenched poverty. 

May we who have the luxury of working from home remember those who own no home of their own and must choose between preserving their health or making their rent. 

May we who can stay in and care for our children when their schools closed remember those who have no options at all. 

May we who are not essential workers remember those doctors, nurses, janitors, deliverers and others whose names have changed from service workers to essential workers.

May we repent for and challenge the powers that refuse to give essential workers the essential things they need to be protected from this lethal virus.

 May we who are losing our margin in the tumult of this economic market remember those who have no margin at all.

As business owners, governors and a president force low wage workers to make a decision between staying home to live or going to work and risking death, loose the power of the Holy Spirit to bring to remembrance that which you said:

If you get rid of unfair practices,

   quit blaming victims,

   quit gossiping about other people’s sins,

If you are generous with the hungry

   and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,

Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,

   your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.(Isaiah 58)

Remind us in this moment you are calling on us to choose the society you desire, which cares for the least of these.

As fear grips our country,

Let us choose love, justice, grace and truth.

In the midst of misery, by your Spirit inspire us to yet believe in miracles.

During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other, let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of Our God to our neighbours.

Strengthen us, O God. Use us, O God. Save us, O God. For we know that you are a very present help in the time of trouble. Amen."

May this be a prayer for all of us.

Every blessing to you all

Peter

 

Saturday 9 May

I received the following from the new CEO of the Evangelical Alliance this week and it is encouraging to hear that people are responding to God in prayer and on-line worship. Our own podcasts are attracting a larger congregation than we get on a normal Sunday.

‘Dear Robert

‘I was incredibly encouraged this week to see that research by our close friends and member organisation Tearfund about more Brits turning to prayer and religious services amid the coronavirus crisis has been featured in The Guardian. You can read the article by clicking here, and for a comment piece by our public policy researcher, click here.

The UK Blessing, which saw more than 65 churches and movements come together online, standing together as one, to sing a blessing over our country, also brought me tremendous joy. This is gospel and unity in action; and on the outside chance you haven’t seen it, I’d urge you to check it out, and if you have, why not watch it again.

‘The good news of Jesus Christ is spreading, and this is good to see. Churches and Christian charities are increasingly being seen as sources of support and an invaluable contribution – being recognised for their ability and commitment to help those in need, even by people who wouldn’t normally be on our team. This is wonderful.

‘Let's continue to be brave and kind in this time, as we make Jesus known. We’ve improved our evangelism hub, Great Commission, to support you in this, and throughout May and June the team will equip and encourage you through live conversations, articles and resources.

‘So, as well as visiting the hub, do join our Story Bearer sessions, live chats about sharing your faith, on Facebook Live on Wednesdays. Also join us next week Thursday at 10am for the third instalment of the coronavirus conversations, where we'll hear from award-winning leader Rev Celia Apeagyei-Collins. You can catch up on previous episodes before then.

‘As we continue to work out how to come out of lockdown, let’s ensure we keep holding up the church in prayer. Visit our online prayer centre for this week's inspiration.

‘With every blessing, Gavin Calver’

Hallelujah. Blessings to you all and keep safe and prayerful.                       Robert.

Friday 8 May (VE Day)

I was born just six weeks after VE Day. My father had served as a mechanic in the RAF and my mother had been an ambulance driver during the War. One of the consequences of the War was the development of a number of international organisations designed to ensure that a conflict like that never happened again; NATO, the United Nations, the World Bank, the European Union have all contributed to 75 years without a world conflict, though, sadly, the world has never been without a war somewhere during my generation. Today we remember all who died in the 1939-45 conflict: in the UK, that was 384,000 soldiers and 70,000 civilians, but, across the world, the figure was a staggering 20,000,000 military personnel and over 45,000,000 civilians, many of whom died in concentration camps; over 1/3 of the civilians were Russian. One of the most poignant pictures I remember seeing a year or two ago during an earlier wartime anniversary was President Macron of France and Chancellor Merkel of Germany standing together arm in arm, leaders of two former enemy countries now side by side in harmony and peace.

One of the titles given to Jesus is the Prince of Peace; and one of the first things he said to his disciples when he met them in the home after his resurrection was, "Peace be with you."

May our prayer today be simply for peace: peace in our hearts through his Spirit; peace in our homes; peace in our country as we struggle through these difficult lockdown days; and peace in our wonderful world.

Stay well and stay safe.

Every blessing

Peter

Thursday 7 May

The latest magazine from Open Doors says:

‘You are probably experiencing isolation in a new way this year. Coronavirus has had a widespread impact on all of our lives. Churches have closed. Families can’t gather together for special occasions – or even everyday occasions. Whether or not your life was usually very busy, it’s likely that your experience of Christian community has changed dramatically in 2020.

‘The measures brought in to combat the spread of coronavirus are not persecution, of course. They do not especially target Christians. But perhaps they help us to understand a bit more what life is like every day for secret believers around the world. Online communication is doubly a lifeline for them – it is a means for people to hear the good news of Jesus in places where sharing the gospel is prohibited, and new believers can be disciple and trained online too.’

Testimonies of how people have found Jesus online like Islèm (not her real name) can be found on the Open Doors website www.opendoorsuk.org. They make amazing reading and give you opportunities to pray.

Every blessing and stay safe,

Robert

Wednesday 6 May

God Has Good Plans

We’re living in an unprecedented time as we navigate the life-threatening and economy-shaking struggles we’re facing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past, we’ve seen catastrophic diseases, disasters, and wars impact various countries, but this is different. At this time, the whole world has something in common: we’re trying to survive a deadly virus. So, as followers of Jesus, how do we make sense of this? What do we do with our questions to God and our questions of God? How do we find good news in a continual stream of bad news? And how do we grasp how this fits into the all-familiar passage of Jeremiah 29:11? 

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. (NLT)

This verse gives hope and is our spiritual security blanket in hard times. It’s printed on t-shirts, etched on coffee mugs, and stamped on greeting cards. While God is a hope giver, we have to understand the context of this cherished verse. 

Jeremiah prophesied to the Israelites in the southern kingdom of Judah before they were taken captive in 586 BC by King Nebuchadnezzer of Babylon. In Jeremiah 27, he prophesied that they would serve this king, his son, and his grandson, and that everything would be under their control (Jeremiah 27:6-7 NLT). 

In the next chapter, a false prophet named Hananiah told the people that God would free them and restore everything to them in two years. Jeremiah challenged Hananiah because of his lies. He also said Hananiah would die and in two months, he was dead.

In chapter 29, Jeremiah encourages the people to live their lives while they’re in exile—to work, marry, plant, eat, and multiply! He tells them they’ll be in Babylon for 70 years and then, they’ll be brought home again. 

God’s plans of a hope and a future for His chosen people probably didn’t match what their idea was. They wanted to go home, yet God said it would be 70 years. They wanted their own king, yet God said they would serve the Babylonian king. They wanted to flourish in their homeland, but God said to do that under a government that was holding them captive. Possibly the hardest part was that the older generation would never go back home. They would die in a foreign land serving a foreign king. 

We can’t insist on our idea of a bright and hopeful future. We tend to be short-sighted and earthly-minded. But God’s ways are so much higher than what our minds can grasp. His plan is better! And it will include forever with Him in heaven, not just a short portion of our lives on earth. 

If our hope is laced with doubt, fear and anxiety, we can change that today. We need to eliminate our“hope-so” attitude and replace it with a “know-so” mindset. Our hope should never be tethered to the conveniences and pleasures the world offers or the ease of a situation. Instead, we fasten our minds to the promises and truths in the Word of God and fix our sights on the day when our bright, glorious, and eternal future is made a reality. Instead of wishing away our days in the predicament we’re in, let’s have confidence that God will deposit hope into us no matter what we’re facing. 

Even in lockdown, we have "a hope and a future" in Jesus.

Every blessing

Peter

Tuesday 5 May

Peter put up a You Tube clip of the Blessing which is amazing. We received it last weekend from good friends of ours down in Sussex. However, for some reason it has been taken down. I put this one up to see if it works:

https://youtu.be/PUtll3mNj5U

We were also encouraged by singing along with an old hymn by Augustus Toplady also available on You Tube:

A sovereign protector I have,
Unseen, yet forever at hand,
Unchangeably faithful to save,
Almighty to rule and command.
He smiles, and my comforts abound;
His grace as the dew shall descend;
And walls of salvation surround
The soul He delights to defend.

Inspirer and hearer of prayer,
Thou shepherd and guardian of Thine,
My all to Thy covenant care
I sleeping and waking resign.
If Thou art my shield and my sun,
The night is no darkness to me;
And fast as my moments roll on,
They bring me but nearer to Thee.

Kind author, and ground of my hope,
Thee, Thee, for my God I avow;
My glad Ebenezer set up,
And own Thou hast helped me till now.
I muse on the years that are past,
Wherein my defence Thou hast proved;
Nor wilt Thou relinquish at last
A sinner so signally loved!

‘Ebenezer’ means ‘hitherto hath the LORD helped us’. It has always meant a lot to me as it was the very appropriate name for my grandparent’s home in Dover. The reference in the Bible is: 1 Samuel 7:12.

Every Blessing and keep safe.    Robert.

Monday 4 May

During this last week, worship leaders and singers from churches across denominations and across the country have gathered by social media to record a wonderful blessing for our nation. It's inspiring and uplifting, and is a reminder that, even though our buildings are closed, the church is alive and well. Click on this link to receive a blessing from God. I think we might be singing this when we get back to Riverside!

https://youtu.be/PUtll3mNj5U

Saturday 2 May

My brother sent me a message via WhatsApp yesterday which said ‘We have been social distancing now for 40 days and 40 nights. So far, the dove hasn’t come back with anything.’ Like all of us, my brother has had to adapt to the Covid-19 situation. He would normally be lecturing to students in China; now he is lecturing via a Chinese equivalent to Zoom to some 300 students all over China from his home. And it shows no sign of changing.

The theme of the Lectio 365 App today is ‘Keep it up’, that even for the long haul God is with us and we can be persistent in our praying over this time. Jesus takes that theme in His parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18: 1-8). In our culture of wanting things now, it goes against the grain to wait and wait some more, and pray and pray again, but that is what Jesus calls us to do.

A prayer: ‘Mighty God, I pray now for those who have lost their livelihoods; those whose family members are locked away in ICUs all over the world. For those who face unsolvable problems and intractable situations. Give them hope in Your goodness; give them stubbornness, resilience and grace to persevere in prayer. And I ask, in Your time and in Your way, that You would answer. Amen.’

Friday 1 May

It's hard to believe that we're into our seventh week of putting reflections on to the website! I hope you're all still keeping your spirits up and finding ways of filling up all this extra time that we seem to have. I suspect there are a lot of pristine gardens around!

Our daughter, Becky, is Chaplain at the Blue Coat School in Birmingham, and this week, with the help of their Music Director, Jeremy, she wrote this song about the lockdown. The Church of England launched a program called "Faith at Home" and this song is part of the resources which they're offering, and encouraging other schools to make their own video. The school have provided a backing track for the song so other schools can do it quite easily. If you want to be cheered up, please listen by clicking on this link: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GAVCHH6ZO2s&feature=youtu.be

Finally, a prayer for today.

A prayer

In these days when ‘all shall be well’ feels at odds with grievous reality,

God be with us.

In these days when enormity becomes a distraction, and small things claim our focus,

God be with us

In these days when our inner solitude is too loud, and outside is unnervingly quiet,

God be with us. In these days when our fear contracts us, and stretches our hope,

God be with us.

In these days when routines are snatched from us, and we drift from our groove, help us to know how shallow was the groove of habit, and how the drift is toward centre.

In these days when we extend our distance from others, help us to know how tensile are the invisible ties that bind In these days when inequalities unleash their deadly effects, help us to know that God loves justice, and it will prevail.

In these days when activity is frenetic, uncomfortable or unavailable help us to know that the God who dwells in us does the work.

Amen


 Thursday 30 April

The following came into my inbox yesterday from Issachar Ministries and is an article by Tim Lowe, a Baptist Minister in Cambridge.

The disciples in lockdown (John 20:19)


I believe it is God’s purpose at this time to strengthen the remnant of believers in this nation so He can use His church to reap a harvest of souls for the kingdom in the years to come.

The death of Jesus was devastating for the disciples. They had invested so much in following Jesus, and now it all seemed to have come to nothing. In fact, Jesus had been preparing them for this very moment, as well as for their future ministry (e.g. John 13:31-16:33). Yet still, in the moment of crisis, the disciples were overcome with fear and went into lockdown: "the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Judean leadership" (John 20:19).

Their situation was somewhat different to ours, but there are parallels. Consider this. Like many mature Christians today, the disciples knew their Scriptures well, which was normal in that culture. Surely they knew Scriptures such as Isaiah 41:14, "'Do not be afraid, you worm Jacob, little Israel, do not fear, for I myself will help you,' declares the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel." There are many such Scriptures in the Bible to encourage us. Yet in the eye of the storm they were fearful. That’s often how it is for us as well! Yet between Passover and Pentecost something radically changed that made these fearful disciples into bold preachers of God’s word.

How do we respond in a crisis? The great heroes of the faith in the Bible from Moses to David to the prophets all knew how to turn to God for help. The Psalmist declared, "I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy of praise, so shall I be saved from my enemies" (Psalm 18:3). Turning to God in a crisis means seeking Him in prayer and finding spiritual sustenance in the Scriptures. There is little evidence the disciples in their lockdown did either. Why is it, when we most need to turn to God for help, like in the present corona-crisis, we don’t? The disciples could, for example, have brought to mind the teaching of Jesus just a few days previously: "'Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me'" (John 14:1). Jesus had taught them He was going away and they would see Him again. He had taught them He would send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. With hindsight we can easily understand the disciples could not fully appreciate these things. But at least, we might think, they could have been praying and encouraging one another. In our lockdown it is not the time to be fearful but to seek God even when we cannot fully understand His purposes. But this does not mean it is easy to overcome the emotion of fear. What was it that changed the disciples? It was the resurrection of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit that made all the difference. The Scriptures testify to the reality of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, not only as an historical event, but also as a spiritual reality for all followers of Jesus.

The historical events of the resurrection are explained, for example, in John 20:1-23. After the resurrection, on the evening of the same day, Jesus appeared to His disciples: "with the doors locked for fear of the Judean leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you!'" It was the resurrection of Jesus from the dead that began to transform the disciples from fearful men into those God could use to bring renewal into the first century world. Then, "Jesus breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit'" (John 20:22). The power of the Holy Spirit makes the power of Jesus’ resurrection real for each one of us. Paul prayed for the Ephesians that "the eyes of your hearts may be enlightened in order that you may know ... the incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead" (Ephesians 1:18-20). The same power at work in the tomb when Jesus rose from the dead is at work in believers today.

The transformation of the disciples began in lockdown as they encountered Christ in a new way. There are health reasons for our present lockdown, but we should be earnestly praying to God that He, in His mercy, would use this time of restriction to strengthen the remnant of believers in the UK, and that we would not be found to be sleeping. Pray that renewal would begin among the disciples of Jesus in these days.

Wednesday 29 April

Some encouragement that dropped into my inbox this morning:

Does life feel out of control?

400 years. That’s how long the Israelites waited for God to deliver them from slavery. But after they left Egypt, God didn’t take them directly to their promised land. Instead, they camped out at the base of a mountain while God instructed Moses. During that time, God’s glory rested on the mountain. But after 40 days, the Israelites grew frustrated by the delay…so they rejected God and pursued whatever pleased them

If you’ve ever felt frustrated by an uncertain season that lasts longer than you anticipated, you’re not alone. Waiting can lead to disappointment and frustration. In those moments, we can become so focused on our circumstances that we forget God is still in control. If God’s in control, we might ask, then where is He? Why hasn’t anything changed? 

Here are three truths to remember:

1.     Waiting reveals what you worship

When the Israelites’ plans were delayed, they pursued instant gratification because that’s what they actually valued. When you find yourself dissatisfied with your situation, what do you turn to? What you focus on reveals what you value, and what you value determines what you worship. 

2.     Waiting is never wasted

God wasn’t withholding His promise from the Israelites—He was preparing them for it. God’s timeline is different than ours, but your waiting might actually be preparing you for the plans and purposes God has for you. 

3.     Waiting helps us focus on God’s faithfulness

God’s faithfulness hasn’t changed. The God who patiently protected and provided for the Israelites also conquered death so that you could experience eternal life. If you find yourself growing weary from waiting, look up and look back. Look for evidence of God’s presence, and look back on what He’s done for you. This will help you hold onto hope. Hoping in God is never wasted because the One who conquered death is still in control, and He’s always at work in your waiting.

Tuesday 28 April

Gordon Crowther, the new Warden at Lee Abbey, Devon, arrived from South Africa just before the lock-down and the first thing he had to do was to send the guests home who had just arrived for a conference. What a start! This week, I received the following from him.

‘As a Community we continue, even more earnestly, with our rhythm of prayer with key moments at 8.30am and 2pm each day. We hear the Bible read and expounded, we offer our thanks and ask for forgiveness for our transgressions and omissions. We pray for each of the Lee Abbey Communities, as well as camp leaders, Friends and then key workers and leaders engaged in responding to this crisis in our various countries and communities. Recently we have taken encouragement from 1 Peter 5:1-11 and especially the promise in verse 10: 'And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast'.
 
‘Like so many, as a Community, we have navigated grief and the full spectrum of the emotions associated with it. However, we have also set ourselves to listen to God as well as each other – perhaps more deeply and carefully. We want to hear how God is calling us to respond as people of the Living Jesus Christ in this time and in the new time that we will all enter post-COVID-19. We feel sure that God will continue to call us at Lee Abbey Devon to be God’s welcome, to build community and to serve and renew the church, but perhaps in some new ways.’

That has challenged me to set aside some time to pray the same, maybe you can join me. Pray that we may know what God is saying to us at this time and what He wants from us post-COVID-19. If 8.30am. and/or 2pm. are good times for you then you can join in with the Community at Lee Abbey Devon.

Monday 27 April

This dropped into my inbox from an American contact of mine this week. I wonder what you feel about it, and how you pray during this coronavirus crisis and lockdown.

Prayer [in a crisis]

Earlier today a very good friend, who has always professed to be atheist, text me with the following message. [I know this is] an extremely private question, so I don’t mind if you’d rather not answer, but what do you say about this [pandemic situation] when you pray?

I thought, as I’m sure many people are asking themselves similar questions, whether atheist or not, that I’d share with you my response in the hope it may be helpful to some. Firstly, it’s not a private question at all, it’s a personal question, in that my answer may not be everyone’s answer. However, I don’t believe faith should ever be private. That’s how faith is misunderstood and can mutate into all kind of introspective and untested ideas. So I don’t mind you asking at all. Faith is communal not private. So, here’s some thoughts on that question about prayer in a crisis over which we have little control. 

First, I need to set my parameters.

1) I do not believe in an interventionist God who swoops in like a superhero, nor that God would only help those who pray.

2) I don’t pray to God in order to inform God of the situation. If God is God, then God is already more in the know then I am!

3) Neither do a believe in a God who has caused this suffering in order to bring about some higher purpose.

But enough of the negative, what I do believe is ...

God is Love

God is in all things, surrounds all things, is beyond all things, created all things, loves all things.

God is not a thing!

But God is as we see in Jesus.

So, on to what I pray.

The Reformed Church has historically followed a four fold pattern of prayer which you may find helpful. The traditional names can be a bit misleading, so bear with me while I explain. Adoration Confession Thanksgiving Supplication

Adoration this is not simply saying ‘God you’re wonderful’ as if we have to first pay tribute to a superior being. Adoration is a centring, a recognition that the universe is bigger than us, that our needs and concerns are held in balance with the rest of creation, and that the entirety of all that is, was, and will be, is far beyond our comprehension and can only be held by ‘God’. (God is a loaded or misdirecting word for some, you may find it helpful to substitute the word God with The Universe). Confession is not a self shaming exercise, being required to list our ‘sins’ before a judgemental super being, who requires our grovelling servitude.

Confession is the next part of the centring, recognising we all have faults and limitations. Maybe ‘acknowledging’ would be a better word than confession? We acknowledge we make and have made mistakes, we acknowledge that we cannot fix everything, we acknowledge we are deluding ourselves when we act as if we can, or do not take responsibility for our actions.

Thanksgiving may now come naturally. Having worked through both Adoration and Confession they have hopefully brought us to a place where we feel freed of our burdens and inadequacies and able to better focus on our many blessings. Just spending time thinking of all the things we are grateful for or fortunate to enjoy is a really positive experience. Again, it can refocus our thoughts to a place much more capable of positive action, even in a seemingly hopeless crisis.

Finally, Supplication, which in my experience is most often misunderstood as Petition. Petition are prayers bringing a list of problems and grievances to God with the expectation that God, once properly informed, will sort it all out. There is a place for prayers of petition, but it is closer to the ‘get it off your chest’ lament category than a facet of healthy prayer. The subtle difference between the two is asking for the strength, help, skill, guidance, etc for ourselves and others to cope with or tackle our problems, not simply asking God to sort them for us. Prayers of supplication, rather than absolve us of our responsibilities, allow us to focus on them and seek wisdom and courage in tackling them, that a time of reflection can bring.

So, that’s a very long introduction to answering your question in practical terms. But here it is ...

In the current crisis, after preparing for prayer with Adoration and Confession to centre myself, and release my personal burdens, and being in a positive and grateful state of mind through Thanksgiving, I might pray ...

•       May I have the strength to deal with the day at hand, and not worry about tomorrow.

•       May I be alert and compassionate to the suffering of others and patient with those I find selfish or    ignorant.

•       May I trust that there is good in all people and that God is with us in all troubles.

•       May I seek our wellbeing, and not just my own.

•       May I be generous in time, understanding, and spirit. Quick to listen and slow to judge.

•       May those working ‘on the front line’ be aware of the love and support they each have, and may I find ways of sharing that love and support with them.

•       May the vulnerable feel supported and never alone, and the anxious comforted.

•       May Gods will be done (which is goodness for all people/creation)

Well, that’s quite a lot! When you’ve digested it, I’d love to hear your response.

Their response, I love it. I'm going to work through it. It touches on a few things I want to get better with.

How would you reply to an atheist's question?

 

Saturday 25 April

'Contagion, a 2011 disaster movie about a viral pandemic, has soared in downloads and rentals. The 1995 film Outbreak has seen a similar surge in views. Even tales of zombie armageddon like 28 Days Later and World War Z are more popular than ever.

'You might imagine we would be desperate for escapism now, but instead many of us are choosing to watch our worst fears play out on screen. As one BuzzFeed headline despaired: ‘The Only Thing I Want To Do Is Binge-Watch Apocalypse Movies.’

'Charles Bramesco describes this as a ‘sanctioned version of exposure therapy’. By recasting our current situation in a fictional scenario, we can watch a version play out where some characters triumph, a solution is discovered, and ‘an inconceivable menace can be experienced and survived’. In other words: disaster films lend us an illusion of control.

'The pandemic has introduced great uncertainty to areas which we normally try to manage: our health, our financial security, our future plans. It’s shattered the idea that we are rulers of our own destinies. Watching disaster films, refreshing news coverage, cycling between social media, or rechecking the infection curve can provide temporary reassurance – a feeling that we are one step ahead. But for Christians there is an extraordinary assurance that we aren’t in ultimate control.

'In Psalm 121, the psalmist journeys along a dangerous path, wondering where to look for help. He remembers God’s promise to ‘watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore’. God represents himself here as a watchman who cares for the city during the night; one who never tires. For us, too, God’s careful watch promises to cover our whole lives – and deaths – until the end of the age and beyond.

'There are many places we can look for an illusion of control, particularly in a digital age of 24-hour news and streaming services. Perhaps, like me, you need some practical measures to ‘turn your eyes upon Jesus’ instead. This week, why not open your Bible before checking your phone each morning, fast from social media, memorise Psalm 121, take breaks from the news, or use your daily exercise to pray as you walk?

'As we fix our eyes on Jesus, we can rest secure in the knowledge that God himself fixes his eyes on us. There is no safer place in the whole universe than under the gaze of the Lord Almighty.'

from Katherine Ladd, London Institute of Contemporary Christianity.

Friday 24 April

I came across this very new and encouraging song this week from Gas Street Church in Birmingham; you can watch Tim Hughes sing it at (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAzKrZEy_Rg) or click here: By the Grace of God — Live at Gas Street Church

By The Grace Of God

I rest my soul on Jesus

When the mountains shake.

I put my trust in Jesus

The moment I awake.

When my soul is lost as sea

He will be my rock.

My vision be in Christ alone;

This grace is all we’ve got.

His love is like the mighty ocean;

His love for me will never stop.

Oh His arms are strong enough to carry me

Through it all by the grace of God.

So high upon His shoulders

Safely brought this far;

Helper of my helpless soul,

The King of broken hearts.

His love is like the mighty ocean…

You are the passion of my life, Lord Jesus.

You are the song within my soul.

My strength my hope my all in all is You,

Jesus, You.

When breath grows still and night draws near,

I will not be afraid.

I know the plans He has for me

Don’t finish at my grave.

His love is like the mighty ocean…

Thursday 23 April

If you have been using Lecto 365 as part of your daily devotions then you will know that this week Pete Grieg has been reflecting on verses from 2 Chronicles 7: 12-15:

The Lord appeared to (Solomon) at night and said: ‘I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for Myself as a temple for sacrifices. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among My people, if My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.’

The most powerful words in these verses are: ‘when’, ‘if’ and ‘then’. ‘When’ (not if) trouble comes, ‘if’ (not when) we pray, ‘then’ God will act. Terrible hardships are inevitable in life and God’s people are not immune. God gives Solomon three keys to three promises. The keys are humility, prayer and repentance. The promises are the hearing of our prayers, the hallowing of our lives and the healing of our land.

Humility: 1 Peter 5:5: ‘Clothe yourselves with humility.’ This is not something that happens automatically; we have to get up every morning and put on a humble attitude in just the same way as we put on our clothes.

Prayer and repentance: At this time of global crisis, there is little doubt that God is calling His people to ‘pray and seek My face.’ The invitation is to ‘turn away from (My) wicked ways.’ The Hebrew word for turning means return, turn back or answer. There is a sense of homecoming, returning like the prodigal to the happiness of holiness. God is looking for a holy people, a church set apart for Himself. As we seek His face we are accepted by the Father, forgiven by Jesus’ death on the cross and filled again by the Spirit of holiness. C.S. Lewis wrote: ‘How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing, it is irresistible.’

In humility, prayer and repentance, may we come to God, that He may hear our cries, forgive our sins and heal our land.

Wednesday 22 April

The Beatitudes for a lockdown community

When Jesus saw people locked down in their houses, and unable to walk through the streets and he spoke to them, saying.

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who are tired and struggling, aching for the chance to see family and friends for real. Blessed are those for whom lockdown is little different than life before. Blessed are those who take the time to call or zoom, an otherwise forgotten neighbour. Blessed are those who are working all hours so that others can be safe. Blessed are those who desperately need space and time for their own well-being. Blessed are those for whom staying in means being at risk. Blessed are the poor in spirit. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you

Blessed are those who mourn for people who have died. And blessed are those who mourn because they could not say goodbye, could not hold hands, could not join with family and friends to pay their respects. Blessed are those who take the place of family at the moment of passing. Blessed are those who mourn for the routine and ways of living that gave their life meaning. Blessed are those who mourn for their jobs, or businesses, their employees and livelihoods. Blessed are those who mourn. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those whose actions are only now being recognised and valued - the minimum wage workers who make our lives possible. Blessed are those whose work has always been essential and blessed are those who now see this. Blessed are those who are risking their own health to care for those that we are cannot care for. Blessed are those who leave a can of beans and a toilet roll on the shop shelf for someone else. Blessed are those who wheel down the wheelie bin of the isolated household next door. Blessed are the babies born into the midst of this. Blessed are those who help someone they have never before met. Blessed are the meek. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  Blessed are those who in the midst of all that is around can see the injustice and inequity that it highlights. Blessed are those who recognise this light shining on their own lives and commit to living more simply. Blessed are those who are simply hungry. Blessed are the foodbanks, advice services, the charity workers and helpers Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are those who try to social distance but also have compassion for the family with the autistic child, or spouse with dementia. Blessed are those whose patience is being tested. Blessed are those who are trying to work at home and home educate at the same time. Blessed are those who have got zoom working and those that haven’t. Blessed are the merciful. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are those who see God in the rainbows and the clapping. In the helpers and the helped. In the opportunity to reconnect and, In a new understanding of family, community and society. Blessed are those who see this, not as the beginning or the end. Blessed are those who can - in whatever way - be still and know God. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Amen

Paul Bridges 

Tuesday 21 April

The following is submitted by Rev Stuart Turner

How the Virus Stole Easter
By Kristi Bothur  with a nod to Dr. Seuss 

Twas late in ‘19 when the virus began
Bringing chaos and fear to all people, each land.

People were sick, hospitals full,
Doctors overwhelmed, no one in school.

As winter gave way to the promise of spring,
The virus raged on, touching peasant and king.

People hid in their homes from the enemy unseen.
They YouTubed and Zoomed, social-distanced, and cleaned.

April approached and churches were closed.
“There won’t be an Easter,” the world supposed.

“There won’t be church services, and egg hunts are out.
No reason for new dresses when we can’t go about.”

Holy Week started, as bleak as the rest.
The world was focused on masks and on tests.

“Easter can’t happen this year,” it proclaimed.
“Online and at home, it just won’t be the same.”

Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the days came and went.
The virus pressed on; it just would not relent.

The world woke Sunday and nothing had changed.
The virus still menaced, the people, estranged.

“Pooh pooh to the saints,” the world was grumbling.
“They’re finding out now that no Easter is coming.

“They’re just waking up! We know just what they’ll do!
Their mouths will hang open a minute or two,
And then all the saints will all cry boo-hoo.

“That noise,” said the world, “will be something to hear.”
So it paused and the world put a hand to its ear.

And it did hear a sound coming through all the skies.
It started down low, then it started to rise.

But the sound wasn’t depressed.
Why, this sound was triumphant!
It couldn’t be so!
But it grew with abundance!

The world stared around, popping its eyes.
Then it shook! What it saw was a shocking surprise!

Every saint in every nation, the tall and the small,
Was celebrating Jesus in spite of it all!

It hadn’t stopped Easter from coming! It came!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the world with its life quite stuck in quarantine
Stood puzzling and puzzling.
“Just how can it be?”

“It came without bonnets, it came without bunnies,
It came without egg hunts, cantatas, or money.”

Then the world thought of something it hadn’t before.
“Maybe Easter,” it thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Easter, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

And what happened then?
Well....the story’s not done.
What will YOU do?
Will you share with that one
Or two or more people needing hope in this night?
Will you share the source of your life in this fight?

The churches are empty - but so is the tomb,
And Jesus is victor over death, doom, and gloom.

So this year at Easter, let this be our prayer,
As the virus still rages all around, everywhere.

May the world see hope when it looks at God’s people.
May the world see the church is not a building or steeple.
May the world find Faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection,
May the world find Joy in a time of dejection.
May 2020 be known as the year of survival,
But not only that -
Let it start a revival.

Monday 20 April

If you joined us yesterday for our Sunday podcast, you'll have heard me talk about Thomas. The URC Sunday worship also included a sermon on Thomas; it's quite long, but I thought it was an interesting and different perspective on the subject.

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said ‘Peace be with you’. (John 20v.19 NRSV)
 
It has been a long, bewildering, exhausting day. Amidst all the devastation caused to their hopes and dreams by the events of Good Friday, the disciples begin this day discovering that the body of Jesus their teacher, their friend, has been removed, - by whom they don’t know. Disturbed and blinkered by grief, they have forgotten what Jesus has spent three years trying to show them. And, as a result, his death on the cross is a loss to them. The world around them is dark.
 
So they do what human beings tend to do in such circumstances - they lock themselves away - they pull the covers up and bury their heads under the bedclothes. Hidden behind doors of wood and walls of stone they seek that feeling of safety amidst a hostile world hiding not just from the Jewish authorities but from overwhelming feelings of loss as they attempt to make sense of it all. When all the world around them is dark. they are still unsure they can live in the light of the resurrection.
 
John, however, has the answer. We need to have faith.
 
But as this gospel story shows us faith can be complicated by fear and doubt.
 
Behind locked doors all the disciples except Thomas (and Judas) gather. They have heard from Peter and John about the empty tomb and they have heard from Mary Magdalene who has not only seen the risen Jesus but spoken with him also. Yet still they are unsure. Still they are afraid. When all the world around them is dark. they are still unsure they can live in the light of the resurrection.
 
Then Jesus appears and they rejoice. Jesus says to them ‘As the Father sent me so I send you.  Receive the Holy Spirit’. We sometimes tell the Easter story as if the joy of new life and resurrection dawns on the disciples all at once. apart from Thomas that is, who is, of course, absent.
 
In the story of Thomas, doubt is given as the opposite of faith. So, John reports Jesus coming back the same time the following week seemingly to put Thomas right. And, despite what Jesus tells Thomas ‘do not doubt but believe’ and ‘blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe’, Thomas comes to faith precisely because he has the courage to voice his doubt!
 
John, of course, has a purpose in focusing on doubt. He writes in the last verses of the chapter that his recording of these events is simply a snapshot of many events which have not been recorded. He records these events so that successive generations may believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and so have the life that comes from faith. This is his reason for the story about Thomas: to doubt is to be human.
 
For Christians doubt might be the opposite of faith but it is not its enemy. As with Thomas, doubt is not a stumbling block it is a stepping-stone on the road to faith as we go in search of what is true in order that we may find it. In these days of panic buying as someone said to me recently faith is not a packet to be lifted from the spiritual shelf. Coming to faith is a process. Coming to faith will take as long as it needs to take. Thomas simply had yet known the transforming power and presence, joy and confidence,
direction and purpose, guidance and inspiration of the risen Christ. But I wonder if there is something more going on here. Because there is not only doubt but fear as well. For me the enemy of faith is not doubt but fear.

We know a lot about fear at the moment – fear of catching the virus - fear of not getting a supermarket delivery - fear of losing my job as businesses shut down albeit temporarily - fear of being on my own - fear of not knowing how long this new way living will last or if things will ever going back to ‘normal’ what normal may be for you.  
Fear is real. It’s not just in the mind; it brings physical symptoms, trembling, physical sickness.  Fear is not just an individual trait. Fear can grip groups of people or whole communities. What we would term mass hysteria can make a group of people behave irrationally as we have seen as people fight over toilet rolls and pasta. It is the disciples fear that has enclosed them behind locked doors made of wood and walls of cold stone. they have no idea of their next move. But Jesus moves through the locked doors and walls and stands among them and says peace be with you. He gives them direction, direction in the task they have to do to bring new life and hope to a confused and hurting world.
 
Many of us are behind closed doors at this time but these are not doors of wood and walls of stone which keep us inward looking. What many of us are learning afresh during this season is that the Jesus who asks Thomas to look and see is the same Jesus who asks you to look and see the gift of God that is alive and present in those who call themselves the people of the resurrection. The challenge of God is that you should take this transforming presence so seriously that not only you believe in it, but that a whole world of hurting and confused people recognise new life and hope, new direction and guidance.
 
This was the appeal of the Church in our Acts reading. When Peter delivers his powerful sermon on the day of Pentecost he does so almost immediately after the Holy Spirit has burst through the closed doors of the upper room. Peter tells his congregation in Jerusalem that the ministry of the resurrected Jesus continues through his followers all in the power of the Holy Spirit for the resurrection of Jesus and the giving of the Holy Spirit are inextricably intertwined
 
The result is a church which lay in its ability to hold together the proclamation of a stunning new message, a church which nurtured its people by explaining what that message means a church that expressed itself in service and care to those living inside and outside its community.
 
I’ve been humbled by the acts of kindness shown to me over the past few weeks - virtual flowers - e-cards - phone calls and Facetime - offers of shopping for essentials - as well as conversations with those ministers and congregation who are getting to grips with technology needed to keep in touch with their communities all practical ways in which the Spirit is helping us to break out to share the light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
 
As we journey on through these disturbing and dark times let God’s Spirit release us from the fears and doubts that keep us behind our closed doors to continue to share the message of the Resurrection that through Jesus . God promises us new life and new life casts our fear. Scarred and wounded we may be but we will be no longer afraid. Jesus is saying to us Peace be with you! My peace I give to you! As one Facebook post says: Churches are not being closed. buildings are being closed. you are the Church!
You are to remain open! Let the light of the resurrection shine through us now and always. Amen.

 (c) 2020 URC

 

Saturday 18 April

Last week the Evangelical Alliance staff team set aside some time to phone more than 4,000 of its church and organisation members, to find out how things were going in these unprecedented and challenging times.

‘These conversations revealed a number of things, chief among them being:

  • Since the restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 were introduced, many churches and charities have swiftly adapted and they continue their ministry and witness online and in practical and safe ways for those who are not shored up digitally.
  • This temporary way of operating has highlighted areas of growth and how time and resources might be invested in future, and churches particularly are excited about the opportunities to strengthen and broaden their ministry.
  • Some charities are squeezed financially and are prayerfully considering how they might weather this storm and come out the other end with their organisation and staff team intact.
  • Some church leaders are feeling the strain as they manage change, the needs of their congregants and loss of life, primarily from their homes, where they don’t have the energy that flows from the physical presence of their church community.’

Please prayer for the UK church using the above pointers, asking that God, the one behind all perfect and good gifts, will give us all we need to remain resilient and resourced during this time, as we continue to serve each other, society and communities around the world.

Friday 17 April

If my mother had been alive, it would have been her 108th birthday today. She died in 1997, having been a Christian for at least 45 years. Like me, she experienced quite a range of Christian denominations, having come to faith in a Pentecostal church then spending many years in the Plymouth Brethren before joining the true church (!) and being confirmed in a wonderful evangelical Anglican church at the age of 80. I remember sitting at her bedside the evening before she died when she was very weak after a number of small strokes, and one of the last, and saddest things she asked me as she lay there was, "Am I really saved?" "Of course you are," I reassured her; she went to be with Jesus early the next morning. But it was upsetting to see that, after 45 years of following Jesus, she still didn't seem to have that assurance that Christ gives us. 

In these difficult and confusing days, and with the lockdown now set to continue for yet another three weeks (and probably longer for the elderly and vulnerable), it's so easy to feel worried, and God can sometimes feel far away. But there are so many reassuring words in the Bible: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you WILL be saved" - not "might be" or "I hope so" but "you WILL". "Lo I am with you always," said Jesus as he ascended to his Father.

I'll leave you today with one of my mother's favourite choruses to lift you up:

No, never alone, no never alone,
He promised never to leave me,
He’ll claim me for His own;
No, never alone, no never alone.
He promised never to leave me,
Never to leave me alone.                        

 

Thursday 16 April

Peter mentioned the YouVersion Bible app yesterday and the encouraging news that many people around the world are looking for answers from the Bible and from Christianity at this time of upheaval and difficulty. Today’s ‘verse of the day’ is from Galatians 5:1: ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.’

Every year I like to go down to London, to the Royal Albert Hall, to sing in the Great Big Chorus ‘Scratch’ Messiah. I have booked for this year (November) and I hope we won’t be in this situation of lockdown then. It is a tremendous occasion with over 3,000 singers trying to raise the roof of the Albert Hall with a full orchestra and four up-and-coming soloists performing. There are many wonderful choruses in Handel’s Messiah, but a high point is, of course, the Hallelujah chorus when all stand for that rousing tune. However, for me, it is the soprano solo that comes after that is the high point: ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.’

These words are from Job 19:25-26. In the midst of Job’s suffering, of no fault of his own, at this point of despair in his life, he speaks of his Redeemer. God will not let him down. ‘I know that my Redeemer lives’ is a great source of comfort to us in times of distress as it points us to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Redeemer. In fact the soprano solo in the ‘Messiah’ finishes with the words: ‘For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first-fruits of them that sleep.’ May knowing our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, is risen from the dead bring us comfort today and set us free to live for Him. May we know the freedom to share His love and grace with others we might meet on our daily walk or on line today.

Wednesday 15 April

One of my favourite apps on my phone is the YouVersion Bible app. It's free and it gives you access to 61 different English translations of the Bible, a wealth of study plans, a verse for the day and daily prayers. I don't think there's a day goes by when I don't refer to it. It really is worth downloading. It's available for all mobile phones but not, unfortunately, computers. They also send out encouraging emails from time to time, and I thought you might like to read today's reflection:

"You’re staying inside as much as possible, practising social distancing, and checking in on family, friends, and neighbours. Meanwhile… 

Something historic is happening.

While we’re all facing challenges in the middle of a global pandemic, what you may not realize is that we’re also experiencing a season of great spiritual awakening. All over the world, people are searching for answers and hope. And what millions are finding is an invitation into a relationship with God

During the past six weeks we’ve witnessed God moving in amazing ways as we saw the largest engagement increase ever, with more people searching the Bible for hope and peace, sharing Bible verses and Verse Images with others, and engaging in God’s Word with their families through the Bible App for Kids. And we’ve seen more than 1.6 million prayers added in just the last month. Our volunteer community is more involved than ever too, offering their time and talents to serve the global YouVersion Community. 

“YouVersion has given me access to the Bible, increasing my relationship with God and allowing me to connect with His Word every single day. It’s such a blessing to have and I’m so thankful to be reminded of good messages in troubling times.” - Imani S

But it’s only the beginning.

We know that God wants to do so much more as He continues to draw people closer from all over the world. So many people will point back to this chapter in history as a defining moment in their relationship with God. This work matters now, and it matters in eternity.

And you can be a part of it.

We wholeheartedly believe that a daily rhythm of seeking intimacy with God has the power to transform lives. Our hope is that each person in our community is on a vital journey to become who God made them to be, abiding in Him, and drawing closer every day. We recognize that there are many needs in our communities today, and we’re continuing to pray together for our world and for people who are struggling financially

We are honoured to be helping guide people from every country on Earth to seek our amazing, loving God every single day."

Tuesday 14 April

‘Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that He had said these things to her.

‘On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After He said this, He showed them His hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

‘Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.” And with that He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”’ (John 20: 18-22).

The reflection from Lectio 365 seems so relevant in today’s situation:

‘It’s not surprising that the disciples were afraid and had locked themselves away. The threat of discovery by the very authorities who’d orchestrated Jesus’ execution must have felt very real.

‘When Jesus arrives, He doesn’t call them outside or knock on the door. Instead, He appears inside the room; He meets them in their fear and greets them in peace.

‘It’s strange reflecting on this passage while I am in lock down. I am staying in my home, behind locked doors not to hide like the disciples, but to protect myself and others from the spread of Covid 19. Fear itself can sometimes feel like a locked room that is hard to mentally or emotionally escape from. What fears are containing me at present? Jesus, I ask You to break into the place of my fear and bring Your peace.’

Twice Jesus greets the disciples with the words, ‘Peace be with you,’ and calm descends on the disciples. It’s the word ‘Shalom’, which means far more than just peace. It can mean salvation and the risen Jesus shows the disciples His hands and His feet, a sign of the reconciliation He has made through the cross. And then He breathes over them the Holy Spirit. Jesus, I pray that  I would know Your peace in my life today and may I receive the power of Your Holy Spirit to live my life for You.

 

Monday 13 April

Welcome to Easter Week: Christ is risen, He is risen indeed! Hallelujah! Yesterday was the strangest Easter Sunday, wasn't it? I think it was probably the only Easter Sunday in my long life when I haven't been celebrating Jesus's resurrection in church with fellow-Christians. Nevertheless, it was really good, knowing that, wherever we were, even in isolation, we were united together across the town and across the world with brothers and sisters celebrating in their own quiet ways, or tuning in to one or more of the many podcasts and streamed services around the globe. I know some people have criticised Christian denominations for closing their church buildings, but we don't need a building to pray; we don't need a building to worship; with technology, we don't even need a building to meet together. After all, the early church didn't have buildings for years! They met in homes, so probably in quite small groups to begin with. When Jesus ascended to his Father, some of his final recorded words were, "I am with you always." So, whether you're with your extended family, or just with your partner, or with some housemates, or on your own, Jesus's words are for you: He is with you and, because of what he suffered on the cross, he understands your isolation better than anyone. After all, as he hung on the cross, he cried out, "My God, why have you abandoned me?" He know isolation in a way that we don't have to, because God has not abandoned us: "I am with you, even to the end of the ages." Thank you, God!

Saturday 11 April

I always find the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday a strange and difficult day, but particularly this year. We seem to be living in a perpetual Easter Saturday, between life and death, between death and life. I found the following helpful from Danny Webster, Head of public policy at Evangelical Alliance.

‘In the darkness between Jesus’ death on the cross and His rising from the grave there was Saturday. It was a day of mourning. The disciples who had put down their fishing nets to follow Him were left bereft. 

‘The night before Jesus’ death He prayed in the garden and asked His Father to take this cup from Him. But only if that was His will. Jesus didn’t want to go through with this; He wondered if there was another way, a way out, an easier option, a way that could avoid the darkness. He had been betrayed. The authorities had decided that this man who claimed to be from God should be silenced.

‘And on Holy Saturday we remember that silence. The Bible tells us nothing about what happened on that day. Perhaps the religious leaders, keen to protect their purity on the Sabbath, hurried Him off the cross and into the pristine tomb donated for His body. Did they want this finished so they could enjoy their festival? 

‘Some of Jesus’ disciples would have cried, some would have fallen silent, others were in shock or angry or just walked away. The one who they believed was the Son of God was now gone. The distance between them seemed impenetrable. Jesus was torn from the Father He had known from the start, the distance that He felt being without His Father as He bore the weight of all our sin and shame. That distance can be how it feels when we cry out in prayer and we hear nothing back but the echo of our voice. 

‘When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, calling on God to take this cup from Him, He was not pretending to be more spiritual than He was. He wanted to avoid having to die. How often we want to avoid things. We pray to God for something and it can seem like He rejects our pleas. We cling on to what we want. We hold onto the life we know. 

‘But we can know that the King who died on Friday, was silent on Saturday, rose to glorious life on Sunday. The resurrection changes everything, but we can neither skip over the death of Friday nor the darkness of Saturday. Pain is real, grief is among us, and we cannot rush lament.

‘Our non-anxious presences isn’t a glib or flippant sense that there is nothing to see here – we’ll all be fine soon enough. It is a robust sense that even with the hardness and challenges of the presence, even amid the deaths and pain we are experiencing, we know that God is King and He casts out all fear. 

‘As a church we can confidently be assured of the goodness of God and the protection of His everlasting arms. And we can know why this is true despite what we are seeing around us. Our compassion should be in overdrive, as we follow God’s command not to fear. Our hope should be firmly in Jesus as we proclaim Him as the Risen King, as we declare to death that it has lost its sting.’

A poem from Graeme McMeekin from Tearfund:

‘Between Friday and Sunday, is Saturday,

Between death and resurrection, is mourning,

Between uncertainty and certainty, is faith,

Between pain and celebration, is hope,

Between loneliness and community, is love.’

A Prayer: Lord, for those in the midst of uncertainty, pain and loneliness, grant them faith, hope and love. Amen.

Good Friday 10 April

This is the last of Joyce Meyer's Holy Week reflections:

Second Chances

The miraculous lesson of Easter is this: Through Jesus Christ’s death on the Cross and Resurrection, we have been granted a second chance. We have permission to leave our old lives behind and focus on the new day, with all its potential for joy and choices that honour God. 

Our God is the God of “do-overs,” second chances, fresh starts and new beginnings. And He doesn’t have any limit on how many you can have. But sometimes, we lose sight of what God can do because of something in the past. We’re stuck, unable to move forward with the wonderful plans He so desperately wants to reveal to us.

Because Jesus lives, we can have a new attitude toward ourselves. We can live amazed by His great love for us—that even when we’re at our worst, He still chose to die for us so we could be made right with Him (see Romans 5:17). Let that sink in for a moment. Jesus died for our sins and is alive today to help us grow closer to Him and be changed by His Word and His Spirit. 

Do you need a second chance? Ask God for one...or a third chance, fourth or fifth—whatever you need. God is full of mercy and is longsuffering. His loving kindness never fails or comes to an end (see Psalm 100:5).

God is a God of new beginnings and fresh starts! 

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions...(Ephesians 2:4-5 NIV). 

Luke 18:27 (NIV) says, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” Think of an area in your life right now where you need a second chance—a “do-over.” Then take some time to write down some of your favourite scriptures that remind you of God’s mercy and love for you. Ask God to speak to your heart and build your faith as you study. Then, grab a journal and write down the ways you see God working in your life.

PRAYER:

God, I know it doesn’t do me any good to hang on to my mistakes when You lovingly stand before me with a fresh chance, so I let go of all the wrongs I’ve done. Take my sins and make me clean. I give it all to You, excited to see the beauty that You will bring from them. In Jesus’s Name, amen.

It’s time to experience Christ’s love and embrace a brand-new beginning in Him. 

Maundy Thursday 9 April

Today's reflection is the third of Joyce Meyer's Holy Week reflections:

You Can Trust God

The days between the death of Jesus and His resurrection must have been some of the most uncertain days for His disciples. Matthew 17:22-23 says that the disciples were filled with grief just hearing Jesus talk about his crucifixion. 

There are times in our own lives when we feel uncertain or fearful, and that’s actually when we need to trust God and His timing the most. But it’s hard for us to remember that His timing is perfect and it rarely matches ours. 

God sees and understands what we do not. We have a choice. We can “rely on our own insight and understanding”—endlessly thinking about our problems, trying to figure everything out ourselves—or we can believe God has a plan and will work it out.

Without trusting God, we will always be striving to "make things happen" in our own strength. We must remember God not only has a plan for our lives, but He also knows the perfect timing for each aspect of it. 

God is working—often in ways we cannot see—to bring His plans to pass in our lives in the best possible ways. Once we’ve asked God to help us, our part is to let Him speak to our heart through prayer and reading His Word. Then we can make decisions based on what He’s leading us to do, not just what we want, think or feel. 

No matter what you do—no matter what you see or don’t see—always remember that God is with you. In all your ways, submit to Him, and He’ll make your paths straight (see Proverbs 3:6).  

Prayer: 

Father, I know that Your timing is perfect, even when I don’t understand everything that’s going on or how things will work out. Help me to patiently wait on You and learn to enjoy each and every moment of my life, knowing that You are in complete control. In Jesus’s Name, amen.

Wednesday 8 April

I hope we can all find a moment today to pray for the Prime Minister, still in intensive care, and for all those who are desperately ill; whatever our politics, we don't wish this virus on anyone, and we do pray for his speedy recovery.

Today's reflection is the second of Joyce Meyer's Holy Week reflections:

Jesus forgave all of our sins when He died on the cross. Even as He was hanging there, 

He was forgiving. And because He loved us so much, Jesus  willingly gave Himself, so we could experience forgiveness and have a personal relationship with God if we believe (see Romans 5:8 and John 3:16).

Forgiving others can be difficult, especially when we’ve been seriously hurt by those who are close to us. But with God’s help, we can choose to obey His Word and forgive rather than follow our feelings. Jesus was tormented—mocked, beaten and betrayed—yet through it all He was still able to forgive because of His love for us.  

Jesus’s own disciple Judas betrayed Him, and His disciple and close friend Peter denied Him. He also endured other forms of rejection and pain and was no stranger to suffering. Yet in Luke 6:27-28 (ESV), He said, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

When someone hurts us, we can follow Jesus’s example of forgiveness as His Spirit enables us to love and forgive the way He does. If we trust God and choose to forgive, He will take care of the rest. Even when it’s hard, everything God asks us to do is ultimately for our good. 

When Peter asked Him how often he needed to forgive those who had wronged him, thinking seven times would be enough, Jesus answered, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times”(Matthew 18:22 ESV). This means it’s something we should do as many times as people need it.

The truth is, when we forgive, we’re actually doing ourselves a favor. When we decide to forgive and pray for God to bless our enemies and love them like Jesus loves them, God is faithful and He will change our heart as we keep doing what’s right according to His Word. 

Prayer: 

Thank You, Father, for Your mercy and forgiveness. Help me, in turn, to forgive those who have hurt me and to release any bitterness and resentment that I might be holding on to. In Jesus’s Name, amen.

 

Tuesday 7 April

I received an email from the Evangelical Alliance today, that I'd like to share with you:

Subject: Are you ready for The Comeback?
"Our gift of hope to the UK church

These are unprecedented times. Many of us may feel worried for ourselves and vulnerable members of our communities, but at this moment in our world’s history we wanted to bring a message of hope to you and your church. As God’s people, we know that whatever darkness we might be feeling now, Easter is just around the corner. It’s a time to remember Jesus, the light of the world, making a way out of darkness for us. While you may not be leading an Easter gathering this year, we still want to give you an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus with those inside and outside your church community. This is why we’ve created, The Comeback.

>>> Click Here <<<

Pass it on to parishioners, post it on your church website, share it on social media, email it to your congregation. However you choose to use it, this video is our gift to you. We are with you and for you in this season, and our prayer is that we would still be making Jesus known together. 
Blessings,
Eve Paterson
Great Commission lead"

 

Monday 6 April

Good morning, everyone. Thanks to those who joined us for yesterday's podcast. It was good to know that some of us were able to worship together, even if only through the wonders of digital communication. Here is a reflection by Joyce Meyer, as we enter into Holy Week:

As we look forward to the Easter holiday, it’s beneficial for us to focus on what took place over the days leading up to the Resurrection. In Luke chapter 22, Jesus was having what is commonly called the Last Supper with His disciples. The Bible says that one of His disciples whom He loved was leaning on His chest, describing a closeness between the two (see John 13:23 AMP).

We can have the same closeness with Jesus. In fact, John 15:4 says that we should “abide” in Him. To abide in Christ means we “live, dwell and remain” with Him—we spend time with Him in His Word and in prayer, living in His presence—because every day we need fresh strength from Him. 

It’s important for us to realize that we can do nothing apart from Him. We may try to be self-sufficient, but we need to let God supply the grace and ability to do what we need to do. 

Too many times, we see what’s wrong with ourselves and try to fix it through our own strength. Or we try to change our spouse, our family, our friends, or our circumstances. But having a personal relationship with Christ means we can completely depend on Him—taking all the weight off ourselves and putting it all on Him. 

It can be as simple as saying, “God, I need You. I am nothing without You, and I can do nothing without You.” These are powerful confessions because nothing is impossible for God. 

Saturday 4 April

The article below came into my in-box a couple of days ago:

On Being Overwhelmed | Connecting with Culture

'It was Harold Wilson who allegedly said that ‘a week is a long time in politics’. In these recent momentous days, it looks as if that should be reduced to five minutes.

'In the space of a very short time, life has been turned upside-down. Work, school, family life, daily routines, leisure activities, as well as that number one pastime – shopping – have changed for all of us, almost overnight.

'It’s easy to see why our nation – nay, our world – is uneasy. You may feel it yourself, identify it in friends and colleagues, or see it reflected in your social media feeds. We’re experiencing what theologian David Ford has called ‘multiple overwhelmings’. Whether personally, professionally, or politically, it’s one thing to have a single event that knocks us off our feet. But what if the knocks continue to come thick and fast? Is it any wonder we’re confused, anxious, distrustful, and fearful?

'In all this, though, shafts of light manage to break through – the neighbours forming WhatsApp groups to support people in their street, the already-exhausted NHS workers coming in for the next shift, the rainbows in windows of houses saying more than the occupants of those homes perhaps know about the commitment of God to his creation.

'They’re all traces of grace, showing something of a refusal to be shaped by the prevailing culture, which Christians of all people should understand. Because while some ‘overwhelmings’ wound and crush us, others are life-giving and transformative. As David Ford says, the wisest way to cope is ‘not to expect to be in control of everything’, but ‘to live amidst the overwhelmings’ in a way that lets one of them shape the others.

'During this period of Lent, Christians remember that Christ himself embodied ‘multiple overwhelmings’ – baptised in the Jordan, driven into the wilderness, tempted by the devil. Then, at the climax of his life, betrayed, deserted, tortured, crucified. But, as Ford writes, ‘then came the resurrection, the most disorienting and transformative overwhelming of all’.

'Given that death-and-resurrection pattern, what would it look like at this time to be overwhelmed with an assurance of God’s love? Overwhelmed with gratitude? Overwhelmed by generosity? Overwhelmed by a commitment to pray? Overwhelmed by a desire to see others thrive, even if it comes at our expense?

'Given the resources available to us in the gospel, what might we be overwhelmed by today?'

Antony Billington (Theology Advisor, London Institute of Contemporary Christianity)

Friday 3 April

One of the questions people are already asking is, what will church look like when we come out of this Coronavirus crisis? One of the things we're all having to learn is that church doesn't depend on a building, because WE ARE CHURCH, and we're doing church today outside the walls of Riverside. Here's a poem by a fine contemporary Christian poet which challenges us to ask whether we're spending our time worrying about what we do inside the building whilst forgetting what's going on beyond the walls.

Home Improvements (by Geoffrey Rust)

You can’t trust anyone these days.

Take this Jesus.

Seemed OK,

We asked him in,

just being neighbourly, the way you do.

 

Over dinner he was pleasant enough

apart from an annoying habit

of turning the small talk into conversation.

Even seemed keen to hear about

our plans for home improvements.

 

This was the big mistake.

When it came down to it

he wasn’t really interested

in the kitchen units

or the bathroom tiles

or the artificial ceiling in the lounge,

but kept peering into cupboards uninvited

(as if we had dry rot)

and prizing up the edges of the carpet

(as if we had woodworm)

 

and finally disappeared into the cellar

(heaven knows what he found down there)

emerging with a hammer

and a pickaxe

and a pocketful of drawings

and smiling in a most alarming way said,

I’ve just had a much better idea 

and started smashing down the walls.

Thursday 2 April

The following is part of today's daily reflection from Lectio 365:

'Today I am reflecting on how the Lord led the Israelites out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land. The Lord sets the direction and actively leads His people on this journey.

'Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. After three days the officers went throughout the camp, giving orders to the people: "When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits between you and the ark; do not go near it". Joshua told the people, "Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you"  (Joshua 3:1-5).

'The ark of the covenant was God's "dwelling place", and it preceded the Israelites into the Promised Land. Wherever the Lord asks His people to go, He goes first. It helps me to remember, whenever I feel alone and lost in my own wilderness, that God is not only with me, He walks ahead of me. He won't ask me to go anywhere He hasn't already gone.

'Where are You asking me to go Lord? I ask You to show me the next step in my journey, and to begin leading me there. Pause and pray'

 

This comes from Lectio 365 from the 24/7 prayer network and is downloadable to your phone, tablet and computer for free. It includes a Psalm, Bible reading, reflection and prayers. You can either read it for yourself or listen to the recording. Personally, I find the music that goes with the reflection rather distracting, so have taken to reading it.

 

Wednesday 1 April

"Hello, hello, hello: what have we here?

 

I hope you can laugh with me at this: I'm absolutely sure that Jesus had a great sense of humour...and it's something we all need to get us through these difficult times.

Here's a lovely Celtic blessing from the poet John O'Donohue:

May you awaken to the mystery of being here and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence. May you have joy and peace in the temple of your senses. May you receive great encouragement when new frontiers beckon. May you respond to the call of your gift and find the courage to follow its path. May the flame of anger free you from falsity. May warmth of heart keep your presence aflame and may anxiety never linger about you. May your outer dignity mirror an inner dignity of soul. May you take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek no attention. May you be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul. May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.   John O'Donohue

Tuesday 31 March


Not surprisingly, I heard over last weekend that our trip to Lee Abbey in June has been cancelled. It's sad but not unexpected. I, as a former member of the Community and a Friend of Lee Abbey, share in their 'Rule of Life'. Today's portion is based on Philippians 4: 11-12:

'I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.'' 

Paul wasn't speaking lightly when he shared these words with the Philippian Christians. He was probably in prison or under house arrest in Rome at the time and yet he had learned to be content in all circumstances. The Lee Abbey portion continues:

'Many people believe success and contentment are found through possessions, position in life, a large bank balance or satisfying personal desire. Lasting contentment is to be found in Jesus as we enjoy the assurance of His loving presence. We can know contentment despite our outward circumstances. Contentment is a gift from God: it becomes our experience when we learn to accept everything that comes our way as an opportunity for God to reveal more of His redeeming love.'

At this time let us pray that hearts will be softened to the Gospel of God's redeeming love. Please keep interceding for those who are on the front line of the battle against Covid - 19 who are struggling with their fears and also for the poor in many countries who are the most vulnerable.

John Newton wrote this hymn:

Great Shepherd of Thy people, hear; Thy presence now display; as Thou hast given a place for prayer, so give us hearts to pray.

May we in faith receive Thy word, in faith present our prayers; and in the presence of our Lord unburden all our cares.

The feeling heart, the seeing eye, the humble mind bestow; and shine upon us from on high, that we in grace may grow.

Monday 30 March

Did you find it as strange as I did not having a church service to go to yesterday morning? It was good to have Robert's first podcast, and many thanks to Jeff and Allan for making this possible. Perhaps it's good to be reminded that being church doesn't depend on having a building to go to every Sunday; we're all learning to be church in more remote ways through emails, phone calls and social media. The following email reflection dropped into my inbox this week from a fellow-Christian in Sheffield; I hope it chimes with you...and you might like to reflect on the question at the end! 

Waking up, turn on Radio 4, wall to wall coronavirus news, reminding me that I am now a vulnerable person since passing the Rubicon age of 70. Pah, nonsense! What about my mother, soon to be 103? But she is in lockdown in her care home and I won’t be able to sit with her for quite some time. No more Pointless at 5.15, to watch with her. Instead I sit at home and see Boris Johnson at that time. (just as pointless, I muse).   After breakfast (and more radio 4) I paint a garden fence. I am going to have the most cared-for garden since Adam delved and Eve span. Such a beautiful spring day here in Sheffield and I glimpse the Derbyshire hills from the top of the house but being discouraged to go walking in tourist areas, I settle for more gardening.  I am about to go out in the car ( it’s OK: I am using the exception of caring for a vulnerable person i.e. mum.) The virus would surely be the end of her. The most I can do is post a letter through the box at the care home, ring a staff member who brings her to the window and we wave to each other.   On the way back through the deserted streets of the city (today 106 confirmed cases out of a population of 582,506), past the closed shops and unusually quiet pavements, I am reminded of what it was like when I was a boy in the 1950s on Good Friday. Nothing then was open save the corner shop selling the papers. Off I went to sing Matins in the church choir, the church pretty full. The Benedicite. O All ye Works of the Lord , Bless Ye the Lord…….   Did this same Lord create the coronavirus which to date has killed over 20,000 people, I wonder? It’s the kind of question my smart grandson, aged nearly 5, might ask me when we Facetime later….. Please Teddy, no awkward questions today to grandad – but you might want that debate!

 

Saturday 28 March

I found this from the magazine, just produced today, from one of my former churches. 'Wishing you many positive experiences, and even fun times, in this pause from normal living – new bonds with neighbours perhaps, innovative ways to communicate and enjoy everything from solitary line-dancing to virtual choral singing in your kitchen. This is a wonderful opportunity to read all those books, get back to those favourite pastimes that seem to get shouldered out by the pressures of modern life, and perhaps even learn new skills, like my little friend here: (Picture of little dog reading a newspaper which I cannot produce here unfortunately)'.

There will be Podcast on the Riverside Church website tomorrow from 10am for you to listen to - www.riversidesleaford.org.uk It lasts about 14 minutes and can be found on a new 'podcast' page. There are a couple of songs, a reading, an explanation and prayer. (click here: Podcasts)

There are some very useful websites which are allowing us to download material. They include the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity - www.licc.org.uk  HOPE - www.hopetogether.org.uk Christianity Explored - www.christianityexplored.org Bible Society - www.biblesociety.org.uk  The Bible Society have produced some good material for Easter which can be downloaded for free, including children's material. Please have a read.

If you want local council information in your inbox then try www.n-kesteven.gov.uk/stayconnected

Friday 27 March

One of the most depressing books in the Bible is Lamentations. The book is partly a lament mourning the desertion of Jerusalem by God, its destruction, and partly a funeral dirge in which the bereaved bewails and addresses the dead. The tone is bleak: God does not speak, the degree of suffering is presented as undeserved, and expectations of future redemption are minimal. It's the last book you'd want to read when we're in the middle of a global pandemic! But right at the heart of the book, when everything looks as bleak as it can possibly be, the writer pens these words; "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul, 'therefore I will hope in him.' The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord." Isn't that so encouraging? I'm reminded of a verse I heard many years ago: "Two men looked out through prison bars, one saw mud, the other stars." We've only had one week of isolation, but we could have many more before social distancing is relaxed, and we may well feel depressed and stir crazy; but there is hope: we will come through this; so, in the meantime, "God is here, He is near us, in our hearts in our lives, in our midst. He is here, he is near us, Calling us to trust in Him."

Thursday 26 March

Paul writes to the Ephesians (Ch 3: 14-21):

'For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.'
 
These verses have always meant a lot to me through good times and difficult. In these uncharted waters that we are going through in this nation and in the world, these verses remind us again that our rock and foundation is Jesus, in Jesus alone.
 
Wednesday 25 March

I hope you're all bearing up in these extraordinary times. We're all having to learn new ways to occupy ourselves and bring a different sort of structure to our lives. Between ourselves, the leaders are hoping to keep in touch with as many of you as we can by phone and through email. Let's all take time to phone or email friends: it's better to have several people calling you than no one! The Riverside email group is a way of getting news and prayer requests round a good number of the church. A special shout out to mums and dads who are now home-schooling their children. I expect the first few days may be quite fun, but I reckon you'll soon get to appreciate teachers more than ever! There's lots of support on the BBC, and don't forget Worship for everyone Facebook page at 4:00 this afternoon for some fun family worship.

It must be very stressful being the leader of a country at the moment. Finally, here's a prayer for our leaders in different areas of our lives. You might like to use it during your prayer time today. Every blessing to you all.

Heavenly Father, All authority is Yours, but you have given authority to leaders to lead and guide us. Today, we ask that You would give all our leaders wisdom, discernment, strength, and resolve. Keep them healthy, safe, and rested so that they can continue to guide us through this troubling time. Give our government leaders wisdom about what needs to be done to stop the virus and stabilize our economy. Give our spiritual leaders Your discernment on how to meet people’s needs as they continue to glorify Your name and encourage the Church. Give our medical leaders insight into how to stop the virus. Strengthen their resolve and honor their hard work in creating a treatment for COVID-19. Give our civic leaders inspiration, courage, joy, and strength to meet the needs of their communities. And help us, as leaders in our communities, to display courage, hope, generosity, and kindness. Would the way we honor others inspire those around us. In Jesus’ name, Amen

Tuesday 24 March

Many thanks to Peter for starting this daily sharing and reflection. Kerry and I send you greetings and our love in Jesus at this difficult time. It's a strange feeling for everyone, and yet it has been amazing how many, many people have been ready to help one another; a phone call, a note through the door or an email.

Some churches have been able to stream their services on-line and Word Alive, a large conference in the West Country, which has been cancelled, are putting past services on their website starting on Sunday 29th March - www.wordaliveevent.org There are many other on-line provisions for Christians at this time, some of which Peter and others have shared. We are hoping that we will be able to produce a podcast on the website for Sunday mornings.

In Matthew 6:33-34 (NIV), Jesus says, 'Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.' The problem that we all experience at such times as these is that we focus on the 'what if's'; what might happen next, how will we cope. Jesus encourages us to look firstly to Him and then live each day as it comes. He promised to be with us as He was with the disciples in the boat on the lake in the storm.

Paul blessed the Thessalonians (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 NIV): 'May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.'

Monday 23 March

An article was forwarded to Margaret today by a very good friend of hers. It's written by someone who, through chronic illness, has had to be isolated for long periods of time and who reflects on how she has coped with it. It's quite long, so, over the coming days, we'll include some extracts from it and I hope that, in our current situation, you may find something of help and comfort. If you want to read the whole piece, it's at  www.bimblings.co.uk/2020/03/15/inside-a-guide/

JOY

When life is full of horrible things, it can be easy to stop seeing the good that endures. 

Joy doesn’t need to exist instead of sadness, pain or anxiety, it can exist alongside it.

Tuning your mind and your eye to spot the joy and beauty around you in every moment takes practice, but it’s worth it. It helps your brain and your body feel safer, calmer, and more optimistic. It is good to remind yourself that even if you carry a lot of pain or fear, right now, right in this moment, you are OK.

Taking photographs of the things you notice and/or writing them down can help.

My tea tastes good. A blackbird is singing. The early morning light is making soft shadows on my desk.

Make it a challenge to collect as many moments like this as you can. Make it like a game. Post them on social media, or share them privately, back and forth, with somebody that you love. When the days feel bleak, look back and remind yourself and each other: there was good here too. There will always be good things around you. You will always have the freedom to enjoy them, even if it’s only for a moment.

A caveat, however: don’t use beauty and gratitude like junk food, shoveling it in till you feel numb, or as a wall to block out the rest of the world. This isn’t about papering over reality or escaping from anything — that only does more harm than good. A good way to do it is to honour what’s happening or how you’re feeling first, then add a positive.

I’m feeling really scared today, but I just noticed the way the sky shifted from purple to blue and it made my heart lift.

Make space for both.

If you do nothing else at all, open your windows. Put an extra jumper on if need be, but let the fresh air in.

 

Sunday 22 March

I tried recording a short talk for this morning, but, unfortunately, my technology doesn't enable me to upload it! I'm looking for advice so that we might be able to find ways of doing it in the future. Had we been in church, we'd be looking at the Parable of the Talents. Here's the NIV text:

(The Kingdom of God) will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.
The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

A few thoughts for you to reflect on this morning:                                                                                                                                                                  

1) We've always used this parable to talk about how we use our gifts and talents in God's service. The NIV makes it clear that this parable was actually about the use of money. How does that affect your reading of the parable?   2) Is there a message here to us about how we as Christians use our money? Is there a message to those who stockpile during this crisis?   3) This parable was once presented by a theologian to a Jewish audience to see how they might respond. Two things emerged: first, they couldn't understand how the master here could be God, as it describes him as a hard master who harvested where he hadn't sown, which seems very unloving and ungodlike; and second, they thought the third servant deserved commendation, because the other two were obsessed with making more and more money, whereas this servant refused to be caught up in the capitalist desire to acquire more and more! What do you think about that? 

Saturday 21 March

As I mentioned on Thursday, Becky and Nick are streaming a short family worship today at 4:00pm. If you click on the link below, it'll take you to their Facebook page where you can listen in.

https://www.facebook.com/worshipforeveryone/photos/gm.2463041647339207/2385262298241221/?type=3

Worship for everyone Facebook page

Churches Together in England are calling for a day of prayer tomorrow, and they suggest that, as well as finding a few moments during the day to pray, we might put a candle in our windows at 7:00pm as a symbol of our solidarity and the light shining in the darkness. Here's a short prayer you could join in with:

Loving Heavenly Father, You know what we are each going through. Some of us are isolated and feeling lonely; some of us are frightened because our health is not good; some of us panic when we think we might be short of food. Many of us are generally anxious. Thank you that you understand and don't condemn. Help us, today, to sense your everlasting arms, encircling and enfolding us. Help us to feel held and safe. What we pray for ourselves, we pray for people everywhere, in whatever circumstances they find themselves. We pray this in the name of Jesus, Amen.

 

Friday 20 March

If you copy the whole of the link below and paste it into your internet search, it will take you to the Facebook page for a Primary School in Norfolk; I guarantee it will cheer you up today! 

https://nam05.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2F1113312978814547%2Fposts%2F2040457576100078%2F%3Fvh%3De%26d%3Dn&amp;data=02%7C01%7C%7Cdedb056f059145baed7a08d7ccc2605c%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C637203007514872663&amp;sdata=t7bqz1w1%2FrNN6%2FqpZHREg8KIoT0%2BCJzk4%2FMRQvlZKfI%3D&amp;reserved=0

or click hereBrooke Primary - Video

Thursday 19 March

We're very conscious that many people will feel isolated and may be very worried during this difficult period, and not being able to meet regularly with your church family only adds to this sense of isolation. We'd really encourage you to keep in touch with one another either by regular phone calls, or, if you have smart phones, to use Facetime to speak to each other.

On Sunday, there is a National Day of Prayer. May we encourage you to find just a few moments during the day to pray for our country, for all those on the frontline who put themselves at risk every day to care for those who are suffering from this frightening virus, and for all those who are sick , in isolation or are afraid.

If you're missing worship, there are lots of online resources that you could access. Here are just a few:

If you can access podcasts or apps, you could try:   

There's a great family worship service every Wednesday and Saturday at 4:00pm on the Worship for Everyone Facebook page, also available at Worship for Everyone on YouTube. It's run by Nick and Becky Drake and their family; Nick and Becky write many of the all-age songs we use in church.

We'll try to put something each day on this page as a reflection or a prayer to help you through these difficult days. So, for today:

Dear God, I feel alone. Please bring the warmth of relationships into my life, even if it's only by email or phone.  Please cover my thoughts with hope.  Please send your love into my heart.  I know you are alive in all I experience.  May the birdsong sing to my soul, may the trees remind me of life, may the bread I eat nourish my soul with its goodness as I connect with the world around me. I give thanks for all those who love me, for all those who care.  Help me to receive your love in my heart, to embrace your life flowing in mine. I know I live and breathe as part of your family and dwell safely in you. I know you understand me. I am not alone. Amen                                                          

 

 

  • Ephesians 2:10

    “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

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