Article Index

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.

We are now worshipping together each Sunday at 10:45, but will continue to produce our weekly podcasts as well for the time being.

Week beginning 30 May 2021

After some 60 weeks of reflections on an amazing range of subjects and passages from the Bible, Robert and I have decided that the time has come for us to draw these items to an end.  We hope that you have found them at different times encouraging, thoughtful, provocative, challenging but, at all times, interesting, even if you didn't always agree with them! As we move towards some semblance of normality, I want to finish with a prayer from youversion.com:

Jesus,

Thank you for overcoming the world. Because of that, we can experience unity with you. And because we can be unified with you, we can experience unity with each other.

It’s by you all things are held together. As we seek to centre our lives around you, help us to see all the ways you are at work in the world.

Draw us closer to your heart so that we begin to see each other the way you see us. Would that encourage us to look out not only for our own interest but also for the interests of others.

We want your kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, so unite us in purpose so that nothing we say or do keeps people who may be searching for you from believing in you. May we experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent us and that you love them unconditionally.

Come, Lord Jesus, and do in our lives what only you can do.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

May God bless you all,

Peter

 

Week Beginning  23 May 2021 – Pentecost

Readings: Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104: 24-34, 35b; Romans 8: 22-27; John 15: 26- 27, 16:4b-15

Filled to Overflowing

On the day of the Jewish festival of Pentecost, Jesus’ disciples are filled, dramatically, by the Holy Spirit. A mighty wind and tongues of fire surround them, as they begin to speak in other languages, those understood by Jewish pilgrims from all around the world. Many ask what this might mean, but some mock the disciples, saying that they must be drunk.

Peter responds to the crowd, reminding them that this is the fulfilment of an 800 year old prophecy by the Prophet Joel. Israel’s hopes for a new bright new future have been fulfilled on a Jerusalem street at Pentecost, just 50 days after the dark days of Passover. All of creation is blessed by the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the church is born.

While the reading from Acts 2 associates the coming of the Holy Spirit with high energy and strong emotion, the passage from John’s Gospel is more personal. The Holy Spirit is to be a helper or advocate, coming from God and revealing the Father’s love. The advocate-Spirit is the reassuring presence of the Father-Son relationship that the disciples have seen in the soon-to-be-absent Jesus.

Jesus will send the Holy Spirit when he is no longer with them, to support, encourage and teach them. It will reveal the truth about God, giving him glory and continuing to speak Jesus’s words to them. As Jesus says, “All that the Father has is mine; that is why I said that the Spirit will take what I give him and tell it to you.” But as well as this, the Holy Spirit is an advocate, standing between people and God, as a representative, standing up for us against God’s judgement, as a lawyer might do in a law court. When the disciples are under pressure to speak up for Jesus, they have the authority of the Holy Spirit, which will give them the confidence they need to defend their faith in him. Jesus is going away, so that he can send someone else to be with his disciples. They are not to look backwards, but forwards in confidence, knowing that the Spirit, as advocate and comforter, will be with them.

When have you experienced the power and comfort of the Holy Spirit?

How might the Spirit be encouraging or prompting you, today?

Prayer: Lord, help us to look out for and listen for your Holy Spirit. Call us, inspire us, surprise us and challenge us. Give us confidence and calm assurance. Lead us to your power and love. Amen.

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Week beginning 16 May 2021

As we draw closer to unlocking, we're all aware of the value of friendships during the long period of the pandemic. The following blessing by John O'Donohue is a lovely way to bless our friends and reflect on all that they have meant to us.

Every blessing...and looking forward to seeing many of you next Sunday!

Peter

A Friendship Blessing

May you be blessed with good friends.
May you learn to be a good friend to yourself.
May you be able to journey to that place in your soul where
there is great love, warmth, feeling, and forgiveness.
May this change you.
May it transfigure that which is negative, distant, or cold in you.
May you be brought in to the real passion, kinship, and affinity of belonging.
May you treasure your friends.
May you be good to them and may you be there for them;
may they bring you all the blessing, challenges, truth,
and light that you need for your journey.
May you never be isolated.
May you always be in the gentle nest of belonging with your anam ċara*. 

 *The Anam Ċara

In the Celtic tradition, there is a beautiful understanding of love and friendship.  One of the fascinating ideas here is the idea of soul-love; the old Gaelic term for this is anam ċara.  Anam is the Gaelic word for soul and ċara is the word for friend.  So anam ċara in the Celtic world was the “soul friend.”  In the early Celtic church, a person who acted as a teacher, companion, or spiritual guide was called an anam ċara.  It originally referred to someone to whom you confessed, revealing the hidden intimacies of your life.  With the anam ċara you could share your innermost self, your mind, and your heart.  This friendship was an act of recognition and belonging.  When you had an anam ċara, your friendship cut across all convention, morality, and category.  You were joined in an ancient and eternal way with the “friend of your soul.”  The Celtic understanding did not set limitations of space or time on the soul.  There is no cage for the soul.  The soul is a divine light that flows into you and into your Other.  This art of belonging awakened and fostered a deep and special companionship.  In his Conferences, John Cassian says this bond between friends is indissoluble: “This, I say, is what is broken by no chances, what no interval of time or space can sever or destroy, and what even death itself cannot part.”

In everyone’s life, there is great need for an anam ċara, a soul friend.  In this love, you are understood as you are without mask or pretension.  The superficial and functional lies and half-truths of social acquaintance fall away, you can be as you really are.  Love allows understanding to dawn, and understanding is precious.  Where you are understood, you are at home.  Understanding nourishes belonging.  When you really feel understood, you feel free to release yourself into the trust and shelter of the other person’s soul.  This recognition is described in a beautiful line from Pablo Neruda: “You are like nobody since I love you.”  This art of love discloses the special and sacred identity of the other person.  Love is the only light that can truly read the secret signature of the other person’s individuality and soul. 

 

Week beginning 9 May 2021

The following is from the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity Word for this week.

Every Blessing,

Robert

Wisdom for Life
Proverbs

‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.’
PROVERBS 9:10

The good life put on hold.

These six words sum up a year in which many things we valued became impossible. Some we found we could easily do without, but others were vital things like friendship, community, and touch. Their gradual restoration provides an opportunity to reflect, re-evaluate, and reset.

How can we make sure, in doing so, that we grow in wisdom? The Bible is a good place to turn for help. It contains some books and passages that explore how wisdom relates to the good life. Nowadays, ‘wisdom’ is often used interchangeably either with knowledge or intellectual insight. I may ask a colleague for their wisdom on the benefits of new software. Or a school leaver may decide to study philosophy to gain wisdom from history’s greatest thinkers. But wisdom in the Bible is about practical wisdom. It is even used of those engaged in crafts (Exodus 31:3).

Honing the practical skill needed to live the good life is what the book of Proverbs is all about. Indeed, the book covers an amazing array of down-to-earth matters, including work, sex, relationships, debt, business, charity, and poverty. In doing so it presents wisdom, often personified as a woman, as the pragmatic art of good decision-making and living well.

Despite this apparently earthbound emphasis, wisdom is presented in Proverbs as an attribute of God. Hence the book’s repeated insistence that ‘the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom’. This fear is not about terror but about awe, which means living life humbly and openly before a God to whom all human beings are accountable. Living this way is, in fact, the antidote to terror and anxiety. For the person who fears the Lord ‘rests content, untouched by trouble’ (Proverbs 19:23).

Because of this and many other benefits to the fear of the Lord, Proverbs insists, the wise do better in life than the foolish. Yet most of us know wise people who suffer and foolish people who prosper – a problem addressed in Ecclesiastes and Job (see the next instalments in this series). In the meantime, Proverbs’ practical wisdom serves to highlight a wonderful truth: God is Lord of all the practicalities of ordinary everyday life. 

Peter S Heslam
Peter is director of Faith in Business, Cambridge.

What practical wisdom from Proverbs can help you this week on your frontline? 

Week beginning 2 May 2021

In recent weeks, I've been challenged very much about how important it is for Christians to take seriously the climate crisis. Two documentaries which I watched on Netflix - Cowspiracy and Seaspiracy which address how much animal agriculture and fishing have a massive impact on the climate, even greater than fossil fuels - have made me think very seriously about what I can do as an individual. The following article is an extract from a flyer from Sojourners, a transformational Christian community of activists in America. I think it follows on very appropriately from the conclusion to Robert's piece last week. We ignore this issue at our peril.

Every blessing to you all

Peter

Why should Christians care about the climate crisis? The climate crisis is jeopardising the health and well-being of our most vulnerable neighbours around the world. This is a matter of serious injustice—it’s not fair that the people who do the least to cause the problem bear the burden of the crisis first and worst. And because we believe in a God who calls us to steward the earth wisely and pursue justice and peace, caring for God’s creation and God’s people is a deeply Christian issue, not a party political one.

Sure, the climate is changing, but hasn’t it always been changing? Is it really a “crisis”? The climate does change in historic cycles. Scientific studies show that our earth has gone through full cycles of warming and cooling every 100,000 years. Without human influence, one typical warming cycle would take half of that time, about 50,000 years. Yet, the same rate of warming we are seeing today is happening at an unprecedented rate: In 100 to 200 years instead of 50,000. This alarming rate of warming, scientists tell us, is due to the excess amount of greenhouse gases—particularly CO2 and methane—that we add to the ozone layer of our atmosphere primarily through the burning of fossil fuels, but also through deforestation and corporate agricultural practices that trap heat in our atmosphere. Today, there is a 97 percent consensus among scientists that evidence points to human-induced climate change. Human-induced climate change has caused the global temperature to rise 1 degree Celsius since 1880; at the current rate of emissions we will reach a warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030—a change with catastrophic implications for human and animal life.

But God gave us the gift of fossil fuels. Why shouldn’t we use them as resources? The reckless use of fossil fuels, which trap heat into our atmosphere, destabilise weather patterns, and cause people and wildlife to suffer, is not wise stewardship of God’s resources. It is disobedience of God’s commandment to cultivate and keep all of creation. The book of Genesis describes God’s many acts of creation, and Genesis 2:15 says that “the Lord God put people into the Garden of Eden to ‘tend’ and to ‘watch over’ it.” In the original Hebrew, these two words are avad and shamar, which often appear in reference to God watching over and protecting the people. God gifted us an abundance of natural resources with the responsibility to steward them with utmost care for the flourishing of all life. Instead of fossil fuels, there are more responsible, less harmful methods of creating the energy we need to sustain life—such as solar, wind, and geothermal energy. Plus, these energies are becoming cost-effective; the solar industry is producing more jobs than coal, oil, and natural gas combined.

Okay, I’m on board. How can I respond faithfully to the climate crisis? As Christians, God calls us into a journey of sacrificial, transformative discipleship in order to become more like Christ. To respond faithfully and compassionately to the suffering caused by the climate crisis is to participate in this journey. We can take the first step by making thoughtful lifestyle choices that minimise our individual impact on the climate crisis—like buying and using less, reducing our energy use, eating less red meat, recycling, and composting. You can find your individual carbon footprint and discover ways to reduce it with this simple tool. This is personal discipleship. We can go deeper in our journey by taking action for the well-being of our climate-affected neighbours—praying for and petitioning our members of Parliament to prioritise climate, advocating for policies that address the climate crisis, supporting and voting for local legislators who share this concern, and even voting with our feet in the streets through direct action. This is public discipleship.

This is so overwhelming! How can we stay hopeful in this time of crisis? When we tune into the litany of climate disasters happening at such a massive scale and speed, it can be so easy to slip into despair and apathy. And yet biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann reminds us that the basis of Christian hope is the reality that God is a real character and effective agent in the world. Hope is created when we partner with the living God, bound to God’s vision of a transformed, renewed, and reconciled world where all creation can flourish. What better way to experience that reality than to stand alongside our brothers and sisters on the frontlines of the climate crisis and advocate for justice? In the process of participating in this ministry of reconciliation, we recognize we too are being transformed into the likeness of Christ. We recognise that commitment to climate discipleship in community will involve creativity, talent, and compassionate sacrifice from each member of this body. Climate discipleship will also require seasons of rest, art, resistance, and joy as we build this movement. That is hope against hope.

Week beginning 25 April 2021

The following is reproduced from the Arthur Rank Centre where ministry to Rural churches is supported.

Every Blessing, Robert.

Praise the Lord!

Bible Reading: Psalm 150

Praise the Lord

Praise God in his sanctuary;
 praise him in his mighty heavens.

Praise him for his acts of power;
  praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
  praise him with the harp and lyre,
Praise him with tambourine and dancing,
  praise him with the strings and pipe,
Praise him with the clash of cymbals,
  praise him with resounding cymbals.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.

Reflection

Going back some sixty years or so when I was at the Minster School in York, the choir used to sing an arrangement of Psalm 150 by Dr Francis Jackson, Organist and Master of Music after every service. They still sing it today. The words of that glorious psalm of praise and thanksgiving had a profound and long-lasting effect on me. It became one of my favourites of all the Psalms.

This current coronavirus pandemic is the biggest single event that has hit the world for decades. The numbers of cases that were admitted to hospital during the last year has been completely unprecedented. The immense numbers of relatives and friends that so sadly passed away was horrendous. The excessive number of cases of anxiety and exhaustion amongst NHS staff have never been known before. The effect on many people of lockdown is probably immeasurable.

This has become prevalent in rural areas, with loneliness and isolation really hitting home. So as we begin, very gradually, to come out of lockdown and see the restrictions on our lives eased in a measured and controlled way, we should be giving thanks with every ounce of strength that we have. We should praise the Lord for all that has happened in the way of COVID-19 testing, the wonderful way that the NHS has responded, the scientists and technicians that created the vaccines, all of which are designed to bring us back to some sort of normality again!

We should praise the Lord for his creation as well. The second verse of the Psalm fits well here, ‘Praise him for his acts of power […] for his surpassing greatness’. The Lord’s creation talks very much of power and greatness. That creation provides us both with our food and the opportunity for people to exercise in, discover and wallow in the beauty of rural areas.

I have always believed that as Christians it is our job to protect our natural environment, nurture it, look after it and protect it from being spoilt. There are those however, who would wish, through wilful stupidity to ruin it for everyone else. The amount of fly tipping and general rural littering that is happening at present has, according to Natural England, leapt by 83% in the last five years. If we do not do something about it soon, rural areas will begin to be spoilt for good. We can change things!

So, despite all the pain, suffering, grief and anxiety that lots of us have endured during this last year or so, let us praise the Lord for all his goodness and love. As this country very slowly begins to move out of lockdown and restrictions, we have far more things to be thankful for than not!   

Prayer

If my lips could sing as many songs as there are waves in the sea: if my tongue could sing as many hymns as there are ocean billows: if my mouth filled the whole firmament with praise: if my face shone like the sun and moon together: if my hands were to hover in the sky like powerful eagles, and my feet ran across mountains as swiftly as the deer; all that would not be enough to pay you fitting tribute, O Lord my God. Amen.

Jewish prayer

Response

A new, refreshed Countryside Code has been recently launched by Natural England and Natural Resources Wales. Take time to read it and promote it to others (gov.uk/government/publications/the-countryside-code).

We should protect God’s creation by being greener in our daily lives. Encourage your church to become an Eco Church (ecochurch.arocha.org.uk).

Think about what we can do for our countryside. Pray regularly, both privately and in corporate worship, for our rural areas and those who live and work in it.

If you are able to do so in a safe, COVID-secure manner, consider picking up any litter you see on verges and hedges when you’re out for a walk in the countryside. Dispose of it appropriately, either in public bins or when you get home. Be aware of safety and legal issues around discarded drug paraphernalia.

Praise the Lord!

Revd Richard Kirlew, Rural Officer for Dorset, Chair, Agricultural Chaplains Association

Week beginning 18 April 2021

Apologies for posting this a little early, but we're getting a few days away this week. This reflection is from an unusual source, and not one I might normally be expected to read: it's from the website of the Order of Servite Friars, a Catholic order whose motivation is the sanctification of their members and preaching the gospel. They have a particular devotion to Mary, with which you may disagree, but their daily reflections are really inspiring and uplifting. You can find more of their reflections at thegrotto.org .

Every blessing

Peter

Born again in Spirit

Who is Nicodemus? He was a Pharisee, a Jewish religious group known for their obedience to the law. He was also the leader of the Jewish religion. Thus his knowledge and piety could not be doubted.

Nicodemus came to Jesus because he was attracted to Jesus and respected Him. Jesus said that Nicodemus needed to be born again in order to have a share in the kingdom of God. This is interesting because Jesus explained it to Nicodemus, who had such a strong Jewish religious background. Jesus then explained that new people can enter into the Kingdom of God if they are born of water and the Spirit. This refers to Ezek. 36: 25-27. These verses make it clear that water is a sign of cleansing, whereas the Spirit is given to provide renewal. This confirms that sin has made all people unworthy of entering into the glory of God, unless they are renewed by the Spirit.

Nicodemus’ answers show that he did not understand at all what Jesus was talking about, even though he was a scholar of the Scriptures. It turns out that a person with strong religious knowledge and piety like Nicodemus did not necessarily understand and experience the new birth. In fact, people must be born again in order to enjoy and experience a heavenly life. How can people be born again? John 1: 12-13 explains that those who accept Jesus and believe in His name will become children of God. If we believe in Jesus we will be born again and therefore will receive eternal life.

The new birth can only take place in faith in Jesus Christ, the One who came down from heaven and returned to heaven. That is the new birth in the Spirit. Like the birth of a baby, the transition from old life to new life often requires going through things that are uncomfortable, make doubts, maybe cause you to wonder about it. The transition of new birth in the Spirit is not easy for everyone to accept. Just as a baby does not receive when he/she escapes the comfort of the womb by weeping, so too a person who is born again in the Spirit is accompanied by a mighty cry. If the cry is not coming from yourself, it is very likely that it is coming from other people, people around him, who may also be trying to obstruct the process of the new birth.

Fellowship with Jesus Christ is what makes our lives new. Without it we are still in the old man. That fellowship makes our lives comfortable again, our lives can bear fruit, we have guaranteed safety in them.

Do we have the courage to be born again in the Spirit? The promise of the hope of being born again in the Spirit is eternal life and salvation.

Amen.

Week beginning 11 April 2021

We join with millions in giving thanks to God for the life of the Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and the contribution he made to the life of our nation, and most of all for his long and loving partnership with our Queen. We pray for her, for Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward, and for all who mourn his loss. We give thanks for the ways he has influenced many people in this nation, not least with young people through the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme.

May God bless the Royal Family at this time, comforting them in their grief, and assure them of His loving purposes for them. Amen.

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Week beginning 4 April 2021 (Easter week)

Sam Wakeling, a father of two small children, was arrested whilst taking part in a prayer vigil outside London City Airport as part of an Extinction Rebellion protest in October 2019. This week he was convicted for failing to provide his name and address when asked by a police officer prior to being arrested, despite explaining to the court that he was silent because he was in prayer. Sam wasn’t able to read his whole statement in court, but it is so powerful it needs to be heard. So I’ve reproduced it here. This is probably the longest piece I’ve posted all year, but I think it’s the most important and I urge you all to read every word.

Every blessing

Peter

I’m charged with staying silent. And for that I am surely guilty. Like so many of us, I have stayed for too long as a bystander. A silent witness of unspeakable things. But the day in question, sitting in prayer at an airport, is the first time my silence has been called criminal.

Crime?

Breaking the law is not my intention, and we claim that this country protects in law the right to protest, and the right to practice one’s faith. My legal claim is very simple – that according to articles 9 and 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights I was participating in both legitimate protest and practice of well-recognised faith, and that the Police’s actions in preventing this were not proportionate or necessary, and therefore were not lawful. 

I was not the one breaking the law that day. 

The prosecution has not shown evidence of any threat I was posing to national security, public safety, health or morals, or the rights and freedoms of other people, nor was my presence any cause of disorder or crime.

In this upside down world is it not the government of this country who, by gratuitous negligence of failing to respond properly to the climate emergency, are guilty of each and every one of those things? 

So I appeal to the rule of law, as independent and providing protection for every person regardless of status? But when the Supreme Court, our highest court, rules as on the Heathrow expansion, that the Paris Agreement should be disregarded rather than holding our government to its own laws, it becomes all the clearer that my faith cannot lie simply in the courts to uphold justice.

I hope instead to speak of where I find and place my faith. Not in the crown but the cross.

I have today sworn to tell the truth, and since I am charged with failing to answer why I was sitting on the pavement outside London City Airport, I will give my reasons.

I think back to the day London City Airport opened, on October 26, 1987. 6000 miles away in Cape Town, I am aged three and walking with my mother alongside a busy road. My red sandals dusty from the hot concrete slab pavement. The metallic tang I could taste I would now know as diesel exhaust. We were on our way to the preschool of St Luke’s church Wynberg. I wasn’t aware of it then, but we were participating in an activity which the South African government then called illegal. The church was multiracial and as such it and its activities were against the law.

It should have been an early clue to me that what a government tries to stop, and even makes illegal, may not necessarily be wrong. And the harder a government tries to silence dissent, the harder we must all look at what they’re afraid of people saying.

A few months later, in January 1988, and on almost the opposite side of the world in Hawaii, a little-known observatory on Mauna Loa recorded atmospheric carbon dioxide above 350 parts per million for the first time. 

These three events – opening an airport, an illegal playgroup, and crossing the threshold for a stable atmosphere – would help lead me to that day in October 2019.

Emergency?

Today I stand here in a courtroom festooned with the hazard tape and warnings which make it inescapable that we are in an emergency, a global pandemic. The media talks of little else, governments have upended society, and used constant communication at the highest levels to convey the seriousness of the situation to the public.

How different from the climate and ecological crises. We are told the UK are world leaders, that innovation will save us, and that everything is somehow under control.

Instead of trying to wake us up, those with power seem intent on pressing snooze for as long as they can – moving now from blunt, old-fashioned denial, to instead pointing at distant targets and greenwash, something Prof Kevin Anderson calls“mitigation denial”. The result is to further brutalise and steal from people and lands across the majority world in a desperate attempt to prop up this sick and tired world order.

As the prophet Jeremiah said “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” Jer 8:10-11

Yet there are many who need no waking up. 

Millions who have lived with their house on fire for hundreds of years. People who have been on the sharp end of Global Britain. Black and brown people treated as less than human, their lands treated as resources and their labour taken without choice or charge.

For centuries wealthy white men have looked around the world for more of ‘nature’ to claim as their own and turn into what they can recognise as wealth. This climate crisis does not spring out of thin air, but out of patterns of exploitation, many of which trace back to the City of London. 

And the City of London, while financing the emissions doing violence to our climate, are also a main customer base for London City Airport. 

Airport

This airport serves the richest passengers of any major airport in the UK, perhaps the world, with the average incomes of their 5 million passengers in 2019 at around £89k – very literally an airport for the 1%.

Aviation kills, yet the vast majority of the world have little or nothing to do with it. Half of all the emissions from passenger air travel globally are caused by just 1% of the world’s population.

And it is growing. The UK likes to celebrate that since 1990 our territorial emissions have halved. Yet in that same time, and not counted in the territorial figures, emissions from aviation have more than doubled

London City Airport is determined to continue this growth, especially expanding their capacity for hosting private jets. Months after our actions they announced the airport was now carbon neutral(through buying offsets, and not counting the 95% of their emissions from flights). In 2020 they boasted that while building their new taxiway they saved 3000 tonnes of CO2. They didn’t mention that unfortunately this much is then emitted by the flights the airport normally hosts in just the three days you’d need for a long weekend to Amsterdam.

Apartheid

We now look to future projections of climate change and see terrifying prospects, with the earth on course to be heated beyond 1.5C by around 2030, with the food supply disruption, unbearable heatwaves and further social breakdown this would bring our children. 

I am afraid, and I do fear for my children – how could I not? They are 4 and 2, and ought to expect to live to see the 22nd century, whatever that might look like. But by no virtue of mine they are some of the safest in this world. They are not likely to find themselves trapped the wrong side of a border, starving while others feast, or denied simple treatments for disease. 

We in the UK, in one of the least vulnerable parts of the world for climate impacts, cannot stay blind to the reality that this future that we fear is already here for many of our brothers and sisters.

Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate says:

“Historically Africa is responsible for only 3% of global emissions and yet Africans are already suffering some of the most brutal impacts fuelled by the climate crisis. Rapidly intensifying hurricanes, devastating floods and withering droughts. Many Africans have lost their lives while countless more have lost their homes, farms and businesses. The droughts and floods have left nothing behind for the people. Nothing except for pain, agony, suffering, starvation, and death.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu compares this global separation with the apartheid into which I was born:

“Sadly, the leaders of some of the largest contributors to climate change show little interest in human rights and justice. The prospect of what some are terming climate apartheid, in which the rich pay to protect themselves from the worst impacts while the poor take the full hit is becoming depressingly real.”

Today we can see this play out in distribution of the vaccine for Covid 19, itself another symptom of ecological breakdown. The head of the WHO calls this a grotesque moral catastrophe, saying “Countries that are now vaccinating younger healthy people at low risk of disease are doing so at the cost of lives of health workers, older people and other at risk groups in poorer countries.”

He warns that this is self-defeating and will prolong the pandemic.

This is a stark comparison to the climate: if our richest countries try to do as little as possible while they feel less affected, the risks of disastrous global impacts will continue to increase.

In the last few years our society has worried a lot about disposables. Plastic straws, cups, masks. In 2018 London City Airport trumpeted that it was the first airport in the country to ban plastic straws. But we hear less concern about the human lives which are considered disposable, on which their business model depends.

In Copenhagen in 2009, Sudanese diplomat Lumumba Di Aping, called a 2C target “a suicide pact.” And noted “It is unfortunate that after 500 years-plus of interaction with the West, we [Africans] are still considered ‘disposables.’ “

Prayer

But having heard these things: the towering injustices and racist exploitation by the powerful, the urgent need to change course however intractable things seem. Why did this lead to me sitting in prayer?

I can simply say that it was where my body needed to be to feel honest. 

I’ve grown up in churches, and have recited the Lord’s Prayer countless times. But as the small group of us – including grandparents, and a nun – spoke it sitting on that concrete paving it was more real for me than any time behind stained glass. 

To pray “your kingdom come” was to look to an authority above the crown badged on the police standing over us. And “may Your will be done, on earth as in heaven” reminds us that this God we seek is profoundly invested in this earth we sit on. This faith I was practicing on that pavement is no call for spiritual escape, but for redemption and transformation of our world’s real injustices, through our real, bodily lives. 

This is holy week, when Christians remember Jesus visiting Jerusalem. He went to the temple, and he turned the place upside down. He could not stand the authorities running systems of economic and racial division and exploitation in the name of God. He turned the tables, scattered their money and quoted ancient prophets saying “my house will be a house of prayer for all nations, and you have made it a den of robbers”.

To follow this man, is to follow someone willing to disrupt in order to speak the truth, to demand justice alongside oppressed people.

Of course, this got him into yet more trouble, and we all know how the week ended, as the brutal violence of the empire tried to silence yet another troublemaker.

We also know the strange whispers of the week that follows. His dejected and despairing followers seeing things that couldn’t be true, telling each other of hope that couldn’t be justified. Of women meeting a gardener. Of someone cooking fishermen breakfast. Someone determined to show that he wasn’t a disembodied theory or a detached soul, but a real – if somehow changed – body. 

This faith means following a man who told a different story with his actions, who challenged corrupt, racist exploitative power, without becoming like them. He taught his followers to pray and dream that God’s Kingdom would come here on earth. For freedom for all God’s children, especially those who have been pushed down, marginalised, racialised and made less than. 

He taught of a Kingdom where the last would be made first, and many who are first now would come last. 

Vanessa Nakate said the world community had two choices – life or death. “Choose life for the people, choose life for the ecosystems, choose life for the planet. If we are united, if we work together, if we demand climate justice, we will be able to transform the world and make it a better place.”

In conclusion

I am here today because of silence. You can decide whether you believe this was criminal. 

I’ve spoken of my childhood brush with an ugly apartheid regime, and of this same deadly logic of white supremacy and capitalism, wrapped in denial and sleepy delusion that it can continue devouring forever. And I’ve spoken of a kingdom that whispers of healing, turns tables on injustice and brings life out of death.

My prayer on that ground was a protest, maybe like every prayer is – a dream that another world is possible. Maybe that’s foolish. Maybe this government calls it criminal. 

I don’t believe that makes it wrong. 

It makes it even more necessary.

Whether criminal or simple fool, I am here today, as I was at the airport that day, a broken man, searching for grace. I’m privileged with everything this crooked world can give, but still starving and thirsty for the freedom that none can have unless we all are free. 

Jesus called himself the truth, and said that truth could set you free. I hope I have said something that’s true today.

We find ourselves, each of us, alive here, facing the fierce urgency of now. It is never too late to do what is right. And never too soon to start.

You will pass judgement on my actions. I pray, as the motto over the door to this court says: “Lord direct us”.

That you, and I, and all God’s children may be free.

Sam was originally arrested for conspiracy to cause a public nuisance and breach of the peace; this later dropped by police and the Crown Prosecution Service.  He was given a 12 month conditional discharge and ordered to pay £796 in costs after the court decided that religious practice and personal belief could not be a reasonable excuse because the bylaw he was charged under was without qualification.

 

Week beginning 28 March 2021

The following is a Reflection for this week from the book Oceans of Grace by Tim Chester. May God bless you as we approach this Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Robert.

OUR PHOENIX RISES

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15 v 56-57)

The first Easter Sunday was a day of victory and the beginning of an eternity of victory. For us that victory is still partial. Jesus rose as the beginning of a new era, but the old era continues and will do so until Christ returns. So sin still can influence us, Satan can still accuse us; guilt can still assault us, and fear can still besiege us. But it is also true that Jesus has atoned for our sin, defeated our enemy, cleansed our guilt and assuaged our fears. So for now we live with this tension—feeling our mortality but knowing that immortality awaits, battling temptation but knowing that victory is assured. Some days we will feel the struggle keenly. But even on those days we can look up to see the resurrected Jesus, the promise of our coming victory. For one day Jesus will return, and his victory in our lives will be complete. Let the words of the 17th-century pastor Thomas Adams, as he writes of Easter Sunday, express your confidence in the victory of the resurrection and point you forward to the consummation of that victory when Christ returns.

Eternal Father, we praise you for this day, the Sabbath of the new world, our Passover from everlasting death to life, our true jubilee, the first day of our week, and the chief day in our calendar.

Today our Phoenix rises from his ashes, our Eagle renews his feathers, the First-begotten of the dead is born from the womb of the earth.

His death justified us; his resurrection justified his death.

His resurrection was the first stone of the foundation and the last stone of the roof.

Satan danced on Jesus’ grave with joy, thinking he had Jesus entombed for ever.

But Jesus rose again and trampled on the devil’s throne in triumph.

As you spoke to the fish, and it cast up Jonah, so you commanded the earth, and it delivered up Jesus.

Eternal Father, we praise you, for Christ leads us to heaven through the grave, just as Moses led the people to Canaan through the wilderness.

Christ’s resurrection is not only the object of our faith but the example of our hope.

The body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for us, preserves our bodies and souls into everlasting life.

We all carry mortality about us, and the strongest man is like Nebuchadnezzar’s image: though his head be of gold, yet his feet are of clay.

Did death kill Christ? Christ shall therefore kill death.

He who this day rose from the clods of earth we expect one day from the clouds of heaven: to raise our bodies, to perform his promises, to finish our faith, to perfect our glory and to draw us unto himself.

There shall be dry ground instead of this valley of tears, a land of the living instead of this Golgotha of the dead, a settled mansion instead of this impermanent tent.

Christ had his Easter Day by himself; there shall be one general Easter Day for us all, when the wicked shall rise to contempt and the faithful to an eternity of days.

Eternal Father, we praise you that on that day there shall be no terror to frighten us, no sorrow to afflict us, no sickness to disturb us, no death to dissolve us, no sin to endanger for evermore.

You once said, “Take and eat of every tree but one.” But man wrongly took the fruit, and ate and fell.

Now Jesus says, “Take and eat; this is my body, which is given for you.”

Let us not mistake again, but eat and live for ever.

Thomas Adams (1583–1652)

 Week beginning 21 March 2021

What follows is another reflection from Kurt Willems of Pangea Church, Seattle, linking this past year of the coronavirus with the Easter story.

Every blessing

Peter

"One year of limbo. You’ve likely experienced the tension of the in-between before. But usually this isn’t with the entire world. Even though the whole world is apparently in this state of being, the truth is that many of us have never felt so alone. We are all in this together — except, we’re not.

Distanced at no less than six feet from everyone else, solidarity has never felt so lonely.

I imagine this is what it must have felt like for Mary Magdalene between the first Good Friday and Easter. Rather than six feet between her and Jesus, she found herself longing for her Lord who was now metaphorically six-feet-under. She was alone. She was grieving. She couldn’t see a way out of the messy circumstances that had thrusted themselves at her. The ever-present Jesus she had come to know was ever-distant, and so were like her hopes and dreams. So, she wept.

A Pain-Filled Year

In the past year, we’ve experienced personal and collective pain, to varying degrees. The effects of the pandemic differ for each person depending on circumstances. Some folks have suffered with COVID-19. Others, not only suffered, but died. We all mourn to some degree, but the deepest griefs come from those who have lost a loved one to this disease. 

For others, socio-economic effects brought another layer of hardship. Black, Indigenous and people of color found themselves in a fight with the disease in disproportionate ways. Many people lost their jobs that were hardly paying the bills before the shutdowns began. For people who might have already been struggling, the battle for survival was taken to whole new heights. Then, we saw the videos. A knee on the neck of one of God’s beloved children led to protests, important conversation and sadly for some, a deeper resistance to seeing the racial inequity that has existed since the first European boats hit land. 

COVID-19 came and so did depression. Loneliness. Anxiety. A sense that we are living out a twisted version of Groundhog’s Day, where each day flows into the next as though our lives are stuck on repeat, is unrelenting. Before the pandemic, many of us felt stuck or caught in the “in-between” of circumstances like career moves or completing high school or college. Some already felt the symptoms of a perpetual “senioritis”—longing for graduation into the next big opportunity — and then, the world’s pause button was pressed. A year ago, grade schools across the country shut down, many of which have never gone back to in-person instruction.

The world simply stopped. We were stuck. We were only six feet apart, but ever so alone.

During the past year, many of us have asked: Where is Jesus when life hurts? Is he a far-off God? Where’s the human Jesus, the one who steps into the messes with us in a posture of compassionate humanity?

When Jesus Goes Missing

The moment when Jesus went missing in the gospel accounts is perplexing. This isn’t a surprise to the reader because of the way the author composed these stories. But to the people living within that space and time — people like Mary and her friends, the disciples, and the many others mourning the death of Jesus — despair was real. Jesus was gone for good. 

When Mary came to the place where Jesus had been buried, all her deepest desires were contradicted by what she believed to be true: Jesus was dead. In the ground. In that tomb lay all the hopes and dreams she had invested into this almost messiah. But now, those buried hopes had gone missing. His body was gone. She wanted to find Jesus in her most painful of circumstances. 

For those of us committed to the way of Jesus, we relate to Mary in this story. We know what it’s like to feel the wrath of a broken world kick us when we’re down. I know that in my most challenging moments, I want Jesus to fix things. When I’m anxious, I want Jesus to take it away. When a loved one is hurt, I want Jesus to heal. When our world is facing a pandemic, I want Jesus to pull off a global miracle that no one can deny (I mean, come on Lord. This would be good marketing for you.) Again, we ask: Where is Jesus?

That question, elusive as it is, makes sense for us to ask as followers of Christ. But, the honest truth is, that no matter how we answer that question theologically, we will never be fully satisfied with the answers. Pain still happened. It is still happening. So what can we do with it?

Stepping Through Pain with Jesus

Recently, my spiritual director shared some helpful reflections on suffering that have kept this past year in perspective. There are three postures that we often have when facing pain. 

First, we may say, 

Jesus, you fix it. 

We direct everything toward God. Then, we may say, 

Jesus, join me in my suffering. 

Finally, we might learn to join Jesus in His suffering, which connects us to the pain of others. We may say, 

Jesus, I want to experience your pain, which includes mine and the suffering of others. 

In this stage, we’ve moved from a focus on personal problems to joining Jesus in His own pain as He holds the pain of the world. Jesus steps into the mess and invites us to find counterintuitive hope and healing as we meet Him there. 

At our best, following Jesus out of the pandemic might look like this third level of pain. Imagine if the church, rather than being known for the many negative labels it’s had in recent years, was known as a suffering community — with Jesus for the sake of the world? Our suffering, the real struggles of this pandemic, could be a catalyst for reflecting the light and love of God to our culture. What we need is a deeper understanding of the compassionate humanity of Jesus, an empathy that feels the pain of others while offering hope on the other side of it.

In Solidarity with Jesus’ Compassionate Humanity

Eventually, Mary found herself in conversation with a gardener. This gardener asked her, “Why are you crying?” (John 20:13). At first she was nearly offended by the question, but her guard completely dropped when her heart was opened to the fact that it was the resurrected Jesus who was speaking with her. Jesus’ body wasn’t missing. He had been there the whole time. She just couldn’t recognize Him, even when He was closer than six feet away. 

An echoing hope reverberated from the empty tomb into the depths of Mary’s soul. That same Jesus who showed up compassionately to her in a garden of tombs is with us now, even when we struggle to recognize him. His compassionate humanity is on offer to us, not only for our sake, but for the sake of all who are holding pain. 

One year later, we are weary from standing six feet apart. One year later, we are mourning losses. One year later, Jesus is still here. One year later, Jesus invites us to name our pain and to allow it to connect at a profound level with him and all of our suffering neighbours. Together, one year later, we can step into this next year with profound love and the hope of Easter. Imagine if the church — as a whole — took this posture toward our collective pain. It would change everything. We are not alone. We are united by our pain, with Jesus, and invited to step into the pain of others empowered by Jesus’s compassionate humanity."

 

Week beginning 14 March 2021

Sharon Hodde Miller is a writer, speaker, Bible teacher and pastor's wife from Durham, North Carolina, USA. She writes about these verses from Philippians 4:10-20:

‘I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

‘Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

‘To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.’

Here we arrive at perhaps the most famous verse in all of Philippians. This verse is everywhere! Plastered across everything from bumper stickers to bracelets to t-shirts and framed art you can find these words:

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

This verse is incredibly popular. The trouble is, it is often taken out of context. Too often, these words are co-opted into a spiritual form of the American dream, upholding our ambitions for prosperity and personal success as if to say, “Through Christ, I can get that raise, buy that car, or afford the larger house!”

But this isn’t at all what Paul was saying. In order to understand it, this verse needs to be read within the broader chapter and letter, starting with the verses preceding it.

In verse 12, Paul offers a summary of all that he has endured throughout his life and ministry: “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound… I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (v. 12). Paul has seen it all. He has experienced poverty and prosperity, gain and loss. Through it all his joy has persevered, unaffected by his circumstances. How? Because of Christ: “I can do all these things through him who strengthens me.”

In short, Paul isn’t talking about personal prosperity through Christ. He is talking being content in Christ, whether or not prosperity comes. He can endure any hardship and still rejoice because it is Christ alone who strengthens him. 

Plain and simple, Philippians 4:13 is about being content, no matter our circumstances. 

Paul’s Habit of Joy
All of this gets to the heart of Philippians and this “joy” which Paul can’t stop talking about. His joy is not shiny or cliché. It’s not simple and easy and detached from what’s actually happening in the world. Paul wasn’t skipping around with a smile painted on his face. Instead, his joy was an act of willful defiance. This is exactly why Paul repeats the refrain again and again: “rejoice!” 

Paul isn’t gushing here. He isn’t tap-dancing over his pain. Instead, he is making a choice. He is practicing the habit of joy which has shaped him into the man he has become. For Paul, and for us, joy is a discipline. It’s something we commit to—whether we feel like it or not— and over time our souls are transformed. 

That’s why Philippians is such an important contribution to how we think about joy. It banishes all the clichés. Here is a man who is honest about his suffering and betrayal, which means we can be too. Grief does not lessen or dull the hope we have in Christ. The paradox of our faith is that we can hold sorrow and joy together in the same hands, even in the same moment. One doesn’t cancel out the other.

And let me tell you, the world needs this kind of joy. Fake joy isn’t cutting it, and neither is shallow joy. If we clamor after all the same things as the rest of the world—wealth, success, the perfect family, the perfect body—claiming them “in the name of Jesus,” we aren’t any different than anyone else. Our joy is based on all the same things.

But true Christian joy—the “foolish” illogical kind—is the kind of joy that endures no matter what comes. This is the kind we’re promised in Christ. This defiant joy is complicated and messy and it isn’t built in a day, but it is the gritty joy our gritty world is craving.

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Week beginning 7 March 2021

When we think about Jesus, I think it's very easy for us to dehumanise Jesus: to play down his humanity in favour of his deity. What follows is an extract from a new book, Echoing Hope: How the Humanity of Jesus Redeems our Pain by Kurt Willems of Pangea Church, Seattle., which addresses this directly. I found it really helpful.

Every blessing

Peter

"While overdeifying Jesus isn’t possible, since as a Christ follower I’d rather not rob God of any glory, it’s increasingly clear to me that many Christians underhumanize him. Christians often talk about as though this one image in the New Testament is meant to split physicality from spirituality. I’ve heard sermons and read books and blogs that talk about “the flesh,” referring to our bodies (and sinful desires) as what we will leave behind for brand-new spiritual bodies in heaven.

Sometimes we get the impression that our human bodies will not be redeemed in the end, that we’ll be ghostly. No. The body is good. Very good. Its impulses and lusts (“the flesh”) must be transformed for the good life Jesus offers. These impulses, of course, are often the inversion of healthy desires (lust is rooted in a desire for intimacy, for example). But the point is that the human body isn’t disposable; it’s redeemable. The imaginations of the writers of the New Testament were always informed by the idea that spirit and matter are deeply intertwined. When did we lose this?

Some Christians believe that our humanity will be shed in eternity. But if we are invited to become like Jesus, why would we desire to escape the humanity he willingly put on himself? Jesus was and is human. So are we.

We miss half of Jesus’s significance when we miss his humanity. I’m not talking only about cognitive beliefs about him (most people believe Jesus was a human). Instead, we experientially neglect his humanity. In a strange way, lots of us want to primarily associate Jesus with the God “up there” so that we can keep him at a safe distance from the muck and mess of our daily lives. He’s in the sky somewhere when we need him for a crisis or when we’re feeling connected to God because we’re having a good day. (I want more of Jesus than this.)

Honestly, I’ve had seasons when going to church to worship Jesus on Sunday gave me just enough to get through the struggles of the upcoming week. Church can become a means of spiritual survival to remind us of a God out there who helps us. The rest of the week we sprint from work, to day care, to carpool duty, to soccer practice, and eventually to bed, only to start the marathon all over again the next day. Jesus the human being shows us that a more truly human life is possible. In short, Jesus gets it.

Look, it would be easy to let a lot of this divinity versus humanity stuff stay in the abstract. Shoot, the early church had to host multiple ecumenical councils (gatherings of bishops and theologians) to settle what the Bible teaches: in Christ are two perfect natures. I’m not stepping into that argument. It was settled a long time ago.

So then, what’s the payoff, really, for you and me? At the end of the day, Jesus offers us example after example—through teaching and lifestyle—of what we humans should do when we encounter situations similar to those he did. He shows us a real picture of how to be human. We can become human, just like him. (Even if imperfectly until the final day of resurrection.)

Jesus wants us to see him. All of him. This means we have to look closely at his humanity. The Incarnation—God taking on human flesh and experience—is what makes Christianity so compelling.God in a body. That body means God is human. Jesus is what it looks like to perfectly live as an image bearer. We could learn a thing or two by watching how he does it."

Week beginning 28 February 2021

In a new book for Lent called ‘An Ocean of Grace’, Tim Chester has put together a series of reflections and prayers from a number of people from the past. This one is from Charles Spurgeon, the Baptist preacher.

With Every Blessing,

Robert.

“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.” (Ephesians 3 v 17-19)

In today’s prayer, Charles Spurgeon marshals all his considerable powers of oratory to express the love of Christ. Spurgeon tries to quantify Christ’s love by measuring the distance between what he came from and what he came to: “from the height of majesty in glory to the depths of shame on earth”. But Spurgeon, like Paul in Ephesians 3, readily admits that describing Christ’s love cannot be done. Yet, even though Christ’s love is something that “surpasses knowledge”, Paul still prays that his readers might “know this love”. We will never bottom out Christ’s boundless love. But we need to see more and more of his love. Every time we sin, we need to appreciate afresh this love that welcomes sinners. Every time we suffer, we need to appreciate afresh this love that mysteriously works all things for our good. Every time we face temptation, we need to appreciate afresh this love that captures our hearts.

‘Your love, O Christ, in its sweetness, its fullness, its greatness, its faithfulness surpasses all human comprehension.

Where shall language be found which shall describe your matchless love, your unparalleled love, towards the children of men?

Your love is so vast and boundless that, as the swallow skims the water without diving into its depths, so all descriptive words merely touch the surface of your love, while depths immeasurable lie beneath.

For your love took you from the height of majesty in glory to the depths of shame on earth.

Who, Lord Jesus, can tell of your majesty?

When you were enthroned in the highest heavens, you were very God of very God.

By you were the heavens made and all the hosts within them.

Your own almighty arm upheld the spheres.

The praises of cherubim and seraphim perpetually surrounded you.

The full chorus of the hallelujahs of the universe unceasingly flowed to the foot of your throne.

You reigned supreme above all your creatures,

God over all, blessed for ever.

Who can tell the height of your glory?

And who can tell how low you descended?

To become a man was something; to become a man of sorrows was far more; to bleed, and die, and suffer—these were much for you, who were the Son of God.

But to suffer such unparalleled agony—to endure a death of shame and desertion by your Father— this is a depth of condescending love.

The most inspired mind must utterly fail to fathom this love.

Here is love!

And truly it is love that surpasses knowledge.

Oh, let this love fill our hearts with adoring gratitude and lead us to practical manifestations of its power.’

Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892),

Week beginning 21 February 2021

If your thoughts as you prepare to begin Lent are of what you plan to give up and of how much you will suffer without chocolate or alcohol during the next six weeks, perhaps it is time to realign your approach to the season. Will your chosen Lenten observance help you to grow as you journey towards Easter? Philip Endean SJ wants to remind us that ‘this great season of grace’ is not a time for constriction: ‘Lent is only Christian if it is positive.’ Every blessing, Peter

"Before I was ordained, I worked for a year in a primary school in Mexico City. On Ash Wednesday morning, I arrived on the site at 7.30 am, as usual. Three things became quickly clear. Firstly, the headmistress had forgotten to engage a priest for the day. Secondly, absolutely nothing could happen within the culture of that school on Ash Wednesday before ashes had been duly distributed to all and sundry. Thirdly, in default of a proper padrecito, the foreign seminarian was going to have to step in.

Thus, through a distorting microphone in the school yard, I found myself improvising a catechetical dialogue: imagine Joyce Grenfell in bad Mexican Spanish. ‘Now, children. I’m going to make the sign of the cross on all your foreheads. We use a cross because someone died on it. Does anyone know who died on the cross?’ It was a deliberately easy question, expecting the answer ‘Jesus’. In fact, eight hundred children answered back with impressive volume and unanimity ‘Dios’ – God. I was taken aback by the theological robustness here, but I pressed on with my lesson plan regardless. ‘And what did Dios do after he died?’ Silence. Pedagogical failure. All I could do was tell them the ‘right answer’ piously, and hurry on to the real ritual business.

‘God died’: end of story. Behind those children’s response lay an inheritance of long suffering and oppression, something to be reverenced, not patronised. Nevertheless, there is also cause for concern here. The Acts of the Apostles tells us of disciples who had never heard of the Holy Spirit (19:1-2); here we have Christians with no knowledge of Easter. If anything like this explains why Mass on Ash Wednesday, despite the lack of ‘obligation’, is generally one of the most crowded celebrations in any Catholic church’s year, then the situation is quite worrying.

Jesus’s claims to be God, of one being with the Father who made heaven and earth, cannot rest simply on the fact that he lived nobly, for a worthy cause, and died as a result. That much is true of lots of other people too – from Socrates in antiquity to the firemen who gave their lives on the morning of 9/11. Our big stories about Jesus being one with God depend on the fact that he, and he alone, rose from the dead, and was seen by the very disciples who had failed him. We proclaim his death precisely because it was not the end. He also rose, and he will come again. Lent is the preparation for Easter: the celebration of new life, not of God’s death.

Lent thus cannot be a time for wallowing in the negative. The English word ‘Lent’ comes from the same root as ‘length’. Lent, the time of spring’s first stirrings, is a time for our being lengthened. We are to grow into the full stature of Christ, to move nearer the kingdom prepared for us before the world’s foundation. It may be very noble, and may meet some psychological need within ourselves, to think about Lent as our trying hard, as our effort. But when we think that way, the focus is probably on ourselves. What Lent is really about is opening ourselves to someone else, about stretching ourselves, so that we can receive the gift of new life coming from God alone.

Many churches in these days will sing the hymn that begins:

Forty days and forty nights Thou wast fasting in the wild; Forty days and forty nights Tempted, and yet undefiled.

Think of Jesus, hungry and tempted, and the next step seems just obvious:

Should not we Thy sorrow share And from worldly joys abstain, Fasting with unceasing prayer, Strong with Thee to suffer pain?

Well, maybe. But by the time we get to this stage in that hymn, I normally feel pretty uneasy. Those well-crafted lines make the whole business sound so heroic, so stiff upper lip, what the British Empire was built on. If we resist our temptations to chocolate or alcohol, we somehow gain merit, and rise above mere sensuality.

But this way of thinking does not have much to do with the gospel. When Matthew and Luke in their different ways name the temptations Jesus faces, it seems as though Jesus himself is growing into, being stretched towards, the full reality of his mission. He has to recognise that his way is not that of simple miracle-working, despite the triumphs with which his career in the gospel seems to open. He has to realise that his kingdom is a kingdom in the truest sense, a kingdom given from above, and therefore not of this world (John 18: 36-37). Jesus is not proving his moral fibre, but growing in his sense of his own identity.

This piece could almost be called ‘On Not Giving Up For Lent’. Almost, but not quite. What is important is that we avoid superstitious practices that are at best mere window-dressing, and at worst thoroughly destructive, reflecting the styles of religion from which Jesus came to free us. The real point is about the mindset we bring to Lent. I am trying to insist that Lent is ‘this great season of grace’, God’s gift to the Church – to use the words of the Missal when it was still in native English. Lent places us before the author and pioneer of our faith, Jesus Christ, and asks us how we might follow him more deeply. Lent is only Christian if it is positive.

In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius Loyola in various ways encourages us to pray, not out of our conventional selves, or with the skills we have already developed, but rather from the parts of ourselves that are being ‘shaken up by different spirits’ (Ex:x 6). We need to be in touch with what can transform us, what makes us confront new questions, what stretches our commitment and identity. It is that kind of focus that should characterise Lent. Where am I growing? Where are there questions in my life? Where am I being called to something deeper – something which, precisely as such, I cannot get my head round? What is my equivalent of the desert, of Jesus’s temptations? How can I enter into that place fully, freely, generously?

Now, such questions may well still give us the normal answers. Lay off the sugar or the cigarettes or the meat – not because the enjoyment I get from such things is bad in itself, but because the pleasure they give may be dulling my awareness of the tough issues that really matter. And though no-one can live at full spiritual stretch all the time, it is good for us to have a designated six weeks every year when we try more intensively to open ourselves to God’s stretching. We should not be too ambitious; if we are, we’ll almost certainly fail, get discouraged, and give up some time round the first Sunday. We need realistic targets: enough to stretch us, not so much as to crush us. We need to go slowly, to seek sustainable growth.

When such considerations inform our indulgence in standard Lenten penance, well and good. But we can also be creative, and develop practices that are less conventionally ‘penitential’. Some of us might need to give up some element of our religion. Some of us may need to sleep more. Some of us, particularly if we are given to the single or celibate life, may need to work more deeply at our relationships, and stop avoiding the all too challenging ways in which they alone can stretch us.

Lent is for lengthening, not for constriction. As we begin the forty days, we need to ask the Spirit where we are being called, here and now, to grow. We need to ask ourselves what we must do in order to further that divine purpose. We need to stop confining ourselves, and instead be open to the one who calls light out of darkness, brings life out of death. It is not really about our effort, still less about our looking miserable. Rather, with humble pride, we boast that all we can do is to plant and to water. The real growth, the true lengthening, comes from God (1 Corinthians 3:5-7).

Philip Endean SJ is Professor of Spirituality at Centre Sèvres, Paris. 

Week Beginning 14 February 2021

Here are another couple of thoughts from Revelation from the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity. Every Blessing, Robert.

Revelation: Faithfulness in Testing Times: Seeing and Hearing 2/3

On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet… I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me.
Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel… After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.’

REVELATION 1:10, 12; 7:4, 9; 21:2–3

Do you prefer to see things, or hear them? Do you like reading books, or playing audio books? Watching television, or listening to the radio? We have become a culture of the visual, with the explosion of images and videos on the internet and delivered by streaming services – yet radio listenership is also on the rise, and there are now more podcasts than you can shake a stick at.

The dynamic of ‘hearing and seeing’ is threaded all through the Book of Revelation – yet, strangely, most ordinary readings miss this. We are so fixed on the idea that John is describing visions (things he sees) that we miss the role of all his auditions (things he hears) – which turns out to be 43% of the English text! (Yes, I counted!)

But what John hears and what he sees are closely related – the one interprets the other, and together they paint the full picture of John’s understanding. In the opening chapter, he hears a voice ‘like a trumpet’, an Old Testament description of the voice of God speaking to his people (see Exodus 19:16) – but he sees ‘one like a son of man’, dressed like a priest, like the Ancient of Days, and like an angel. Jesus is thus the word of God, our High Priest, and the one who brings God’s message to us. In chapter 7, John hears that God’s people are a counted, Jewish army in serried ranks – whom he sees as uncountable and multi-ethnic, praising God having come through deep suffering. And in chapter 21, he sees a city coming from heaven to earth – but hears that this is the presence of God with his people. The future intimacy of God with his people is described in the medium of extravagant architectural metaphor.

All this reflects a consistent Johannine theme of ‘what we have seen and heard’ (1 John 1:3; Acts 4:20), but the terms have wider significance. To ‘see’ is to understand, and one day we will see God even as we are already seen by God (1 Corinthians 13:12). To ‘hear’ is to obey (Deuteronomy 6:4), and one day our small obediences will be perfected (Philippians 1:6).

This week, what new thing will you see about God – what new understanding is he leading you to? And what new thing will you hear – what new call to a fruitful life of joyful obedience?

Revelation: Faithfulness in Testing Times: Where Do You Think You're Going? 3/3

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates...
The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp… Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life… Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.

REVELATION 21:9-12, 23, 27; 22:1

‘Where do you think you’re going?’ In Alan Bennett’s famous spoof sermon, the metaphor of journeying becomes a clichéd image of direction in life. But the spoof only works because the metaphor is so powerful – we might ‘take the road less travelled’, ‘start the longest journey with the first step’, or choose to ‘walk together’ with a friend.

The metaphor is found all over the Bible. Jesus called the first disciples to ‘Come, follow me’ (Mark 1:17). The whole middle section of Luke’s gospel is styled as a long, meandering journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. Paul talks about ‘keeping in step’ with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25), drawing on Old Testament and Jewish images.

The Book of Revelation also uses this metaphor of journeying, but in a more oblique way. John does his theological painting by numbers: the two witnesses, an image of God’s faithful people, prophesy for 1,260 days (Revelation 11:3), which (with months of 30 days) is the same as the 42 months during which the outer court is trampled and the beast makes war on the saints (Revelation 11:2; 13:5-7). John is recalculating Daniel’s time, times, and half a time of ‘tribulation’ (Daniel 7:25: 3.5 years = 42 months) and identifying it with the Exodus journey through the wilderness – which took 42 years stopping at 42 different places (Numbers 33).

In other words, we who follow the Lamb are on a new Exodus journey, from slavery to freedom in a new Promised Land. We are returning from exile to our true home in Jesus, and suffering tribulation until sin and death are finally defeated (1 Corinthians 15:55). Our destination is the New Jerusalem, which is not so much a place we will live but a people we will be – a community that is safe (high walls), welcoming (open gates), holy (no unclean thing will enter), radiant with the glory of God, and through which flows the Spirit, the river of life. And unlike on other journeys, as we head towards this goal, we actually become more and more like the place we are heading to – changed from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).

So this week, as you go about life on your frontline, in which direction will you be travelling? Away from this destination, or one step closer to it? Becoming less, or more, like the people we will one day be.

Rev'd Dr Ian Paul
Ian is a biblical scholar and theologian.

Week beginning 7 February 2021

A thoughtful reflection on Easter:

Who Believed in Easter First: Mary or John?

Some rationalists might say, “If I could see a miracle, I’d believe in the supernatural.” Or some skeptics might say, “If I could have seen Jesus alive, I would have believed in his resurrection from the dead.” Yet, Jesus said multiple times, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign” (Matthew 12.39; 16.4), that is, in order to believe in the supernatural. And when doubting Thomas saw the risen Jesus, with the holes in his wrists and the hole in his side due to the crucifixion, and then he believed, we read in the Gospel of John, “Jesus said to him, ‘because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed'” (John 20.29). That refers to all of us who will soon celebrate Jesus’ literal resurrection from the dead.

I believe if Jesus had not risen from the dead and showed himself to his disciples, there never would have been any Christianity. That caused Jesus’ disciples to go into many parts of the world and preach about this no matter what the cost to themselves. Indeed, tradition says that most if not all of Jesus’ apostles, with the possible exception of the Apostle John, became martyrs for their faith in Jesus.

Since Easter is just a few weeks away, the title of this post is a timely question. The right answer is that it depends on who we ask. If we had asked Mary Magdalene, “Who was the first to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead?” she would have answered that she was. She would have been correct. However, she actually saw and conversed with the risen Jesus. Whereas, if we had asked another one of Jesus disciples, he would have answered that he was a little more like us in being the first to believe in the risen Jesus even though we didn’t see him alive when we believed. It’s all about evidence.

Here’s what happened, according to the New Testament gospels, several women on early Sunday morning had gone to the graveyard at Golgotha to further anoint Jesus’ body, in accordance with Jewish custom. His deceased body was entombed and laying on a shelf in that cave-tomb (Luke 24.1, 10). But the women discovered that Jesus’ body was not there. Then, two angels dressed in bright-shining, white clothing appeared to them inside the tomb. They told these ladies that Jesus had risen from the dead. And these angels reminded them that Jesus earlier had predicted to them that this is exactly what would happen (e.g., Matthew 16.21; 17.22-23; 20.18-19). Then they told the women to go tell his disciples, even mentioning specifically Peter, to tell them. So, the women fled and went to do so.

Then we read of Mary Magdalene, “And so she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved [probably the Apostle John, which is according to Christian tradition], and said to them, ‘They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him'” (John 20.2). What! The two angels had just told Mary and the other women that Jesus had risen from the dead. So, at this point we cannot accept that Mary Magdalene was a full believer in Jesus’ resurrection. But it was the same with the men. For Luke tells us that when the women told the male disciples about the missing body and what the angels had told them, “they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women withthem were telling these things to the apostles. And these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them” (Luke 24.10-11). So much for the gender thing!

The Gospel of John then tells us, “Peter therefore went forth, and the other disciple, and they were going to the tomb. And the two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter, and came to the tomb first; and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. Simon Peter therefore also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he beheld the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth, which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb entered then also, and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. So the disciples went away again to their own homes” (John 20.3-10). “The disciples” refers to Peter and (probably) John.

The word “homes” in John 20.10 appears in every modern, major, English version of the New Testament (“own home” in KJV) despite the fact that it is not in the Greek text (Nestle Aland 28th ed; United Bible Society 4th ed.). It should not be added. Instead, Peter and John (probably) likely returned to their home where they were staying. Christian tradition says the two brother apostles, James and John, owned a home in Jerusalem, besides their home in Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee, because they were commercial fishermen, as were brother Andrew and Simon Peter, and they traveled back and forth to sell their salted fish in the Jerusalem markets (Mark 1.16-21). That is may be why the Apostle John obviously knew some of the members of the Sanhedrin–the Jewish Council that condemned Jesus to death.

Why does John 20.8 say the Apostle John (assuming the beloved is him) “saw and believed” that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead? It was because of the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection which he had just seen–“the face-cloth, which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself.” John must have realized that no one would steal a dead body by first removing the grave cloths and folding the face-cloth and laying it on the shelf where the body had laid. Why not?

Israel was not a sovereign state. In fact, the land of Israel was the only territory within the confines of the Roman Empire that was not part of the Roman Empire. Thus, Israeli Jews were not Roman citizens. It was because the Romans viewed Jews as a rather odd bunch, what with the strange way that they dressed and their unusual dietary laws, all due to their religion. Moreover, many Roman citizens viewed Jews and subsequent Christians as atheists because they did not believe in, or worship, the Roman gods at their shrines. Romans viewed that as disruptive to pax Romana.

So, the Roman Empire, like many ancient societies, protected religious shrines and honored human burial grounds and the remains inside of them. Thus, it was a capital crime deserving of death to desecrate religious shrines or graveyards or steal human remains from the latter. Thus, if anyone had stolen Jesus’ body from the tomb, and been apprehended, that person likely would have been executed by the state.

So, a wise thief would not have taken all of that time to strip Jesus’ body and nicely roll up the face-cloth, thus further risking getting caught. And the theory of skeptics, that the gardener had removed Jesus body to another location within the graveyard, as Mary originally had thought, is most unlikely because the gardener certainly would not have removed the grave cloths, since they with the 100 pounds of spices mixed within them were for the purpose of preserving the body as long as possible from decay. The nearby Egyptians were famous for doing that with mummification.

Apparently, when Mary Magdalene had told Peter and John about the missing body, and they ran to the tomb, Mary then left the house and followed them back to the tomb. But she very likely had no need to run there. Thus, by the time she arrived at the tomb for the second time that morning, both Peter and John had left the tomb.

Thus, we read in the Gospel of John, in John 20.11-18 in the NASB, “But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stopped and looked into the tomb; and she beheld two angels in white sitting, one at the head, and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.’ When she had said this, she turned around, and beheld Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, ‘Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, ‘Rabboni!’ (which mean, Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, “I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.”‘ Mary Magdalene came announcing to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord,’ and that he had said these things to her.”

Because of this, in Christian tradition Mary Magdalene has been called, to the delight of Christian womenfolk, “the Apostle to the Apostles.” Indeed, but was it not easier for Mary Magdalene to believe in the risen Jesus than it is for us? After all, she got to actually see the risen Jesus close-up and have a rather sublime conversation with him.

I think the Apostle John would back us up on that assessment due to his experience. He did not get to see the risen Jesus until that evening, when the disciples were gathered together, probably in the Upper Room. That is where they had celebrated the Last Supper on Thursday evening, the night before Jesus was crucified. Yet John had believed that morning when he saw the evidence of the grave cloths and face-cloth, indicating that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead.

Thus, there is much solid evidence that Jesus of Nazareth literally arose from the dead. And I believe that to ignore such solid evidence of Jesus’ resurrection as rationalists and skeptics do–in which God revealed himself through the man Jesus–is to do so at one’s own peril.

Every blessing

Peter

Week beginning 31 January 2021

The is the first of three items from the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity and is quite topical, I think. Every Blessing, Robert.

Revelation: Faithfulness in Testing Times
The Word We Need - 1/3

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near…I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. (REVELATION 1: 1-3, 9)

As we struggle through this third lockdown, hearing both scientists and politicians warn us not to hope for a date when life returns to ‘normal’, we long to hear a word from God – or perhaps three. 

First, we long for a revelation – a pulling back of the curtain, so that we can see, amidst all the confusion and chaos of conflicting accounts of what is ‘really’ going on, some heavenly truth. We are not the first. ‘Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down…!’ cries Isaiah, faced with the promise of God’s faithfulness, and the reality of the people’s sin (Isaiah 64:1). The heavens were indeed rent at Jesus’ baptism – yet John’s readers, at the eastern end of the Roman Empire, are under pressure both from jealous Jews who resent this new Messianic movement, and pagan peers who demand they conform to cultural norms. They need a fresh revelation of who Jesus is, what he has done, and what it means to be faithful to him.

That is what God gives to John to pass on – a revelation (‘apocalypse’) of Jesus, God’s anointed, slain for us yet raised by God, who now shares his Father’s throne. This is no novel belief, but stands in the long line of prophecy – indeed, Revelation has been called ‘the climax of prophecy’. John shares what he sees and hears in words saturated with the Old Testament: redemption through Jesus is the fulfilment of all God had promised to his people.
 
But beyond a revelation, beyond a shared prophecy, we long for a word to us. What John writes is an apocalyptic, prophetic letter, written to particular people in a particular place at a particular time. It can become a particular word to us too, as we listen to what God is saying to us through what John said to his readers. 

John’s central assumption is that we have three things in Jesus: suffering (‘tribulation’ in the KJV); kingdom; and patient endurance (Revelation 1:9). Let’s rejoice in the healing grace of God’s rule in our lives, brought by Jesus and made real by the Spirit. Let’s also share in the groaning of this age, which does not yet see the redemption we enjoy. And, in the tension of these two, let’s commit ourselves to live lives of patient endurance as we look to the return of Jesus and hold out hope to the world.

Rev Dr Ian Paul
Ian is a biblical scholar and theologian.

Week beginning 24 January 2021

I'm sure that for all of us 2020 was one of the most difficult years we've ever known. There was much about it to make us sad and depressed. So, for once, I'm not posting a Christian reflection. Nothing in the post below is specifically religious, but all of it reflect things which we, as Christians can feel incredibly thankful for. I hope you agree.

Every blessing

Peter 

 

Week beginning 17 January 2021

The following came into my inbox from one of my former churches and uses the readings from this Sunday’s lectionary.

Readings:        1 Samuel 3:1-10

Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18

1 Corinthians 6: 12-20

John 1: 43-51

Come, See, Hear

Today’s readings encourage us to reflect on how God speaks to us and to other people. God’s voice is often unexpected and may leave us asking “why?” Why me, why now? But if we listen closely, if we allow God to call us, to encourage us, to use us, we, like the characters in today’s readings, can be transformed as we hear and obey God’s call for our lives.

Samuel hears the Lord calling to him in the night, but does not immediately understand what is going on. Three times he goes to Eli, three times Eli sends him back to bed. Finally, Eli realises what is happening, that it is the Lord calling to Samuel, and sends him to bed telling him to reply with the words “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

Sometimes God calls disciples directly, other times he uses other people to help and encourage a call. Both are seen in our passage from John’s Gospel. Jesus finds Philip and then Philip finds Nathanael, telling him “We have found the Messiah”.

But Nathanael questions Philip – “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” He tells him to “Come and see” – the Greek here meaning far more than just take a look – to see in this context meaning to understand. But Nathanael needs more than just Philip’s words. It is only when he meets Jesus, and hears Jesus’ words of encouragement and knowledge – “Here is an honest man, a true Israelite” – that he responds with enthusiasm, recognising Jesus as the Son of God.

How do we hear God’s voice calling to us? Do we, like Samuel, need others to interpret for us? Or are we like Nathanael, only believing when we can check out the facts and spend time with God. Or are we like Philip, bursting with enthusiasm, and wanting to tell everyone the Good News. If so, who is God calling us to share the Good News with? How can we welcome others into our churches and communities of faith?

We thank you, God, for those times when we have sensed your presence, heard your voice, seen new insights – particularly when we have needed those things. Thank you also for those who do not remember hearing your voice and still believe. Teach us how to make space, how to hear you and to recognise your presence with us. Amen

Every Blessing for this coming week,

Robert.

Week beginning 10 January 2021

If you have the YOU Bible app on your phone, there are a number of study plans which you can follow. One of them is written by Nicky Gumbel and is a journey through the whole Bible in a year. This is today's section:

Facing the Storms of Life

On 31 July 2003, the adventurer Bear Grylls led a team of five across the North Atlantic Ocean in an inflatable rigid dinghy. They set out from Halifax, Nova Scotia, heading for John o’ Groats, Scotland. On 5 August, a great storm arose. There were 100-foot waves. They lost satellite contact. They (and we) feared for their lives. Thankfully they survived to tell the tale (see Facing the Frozen Ocean by Bear Grylls).

Not all of us will have to face physical storms of this kind. But Jesus said that we would all face the storms of life (Matthew 7:25–27). Life is not easy. These storms are many and varied. Abraham, David and Jesus’ disciples all faced storms in their lives. What can we learn from their example?

Psalm 7:10-17

Take up the shield of faith

In the midst of the storms David says, ‘My shield is God Most High… I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High’ (vv.10a,17).

If we fall for temptation and start to enjoy and nurture it, David warns, ‘Whoever is pregnant with evil and conceive trouble give birth to disillusionment’ (v.14). In another image, he likens it to digging a hole, scooping it out, and then falling into the pit we have made (v.15).

The apostle Paul says that you are to take up a shield with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one (Ephesians 6:16). The shield is the ‘shield of faith’ or, as David puts it here, his shield is ‘God Most High’ (Psalm 7:10). This is the best protection you could ever have against the attacks of the enemy.

Lord, thank you that I, too, am able to say, ‘My shield is God Most High.’

 

Matthew 8:23-9:13

Trust in Jesus the Saviour

Sometimes the storms in our lives appear without warning. Jesus was in the boat with his disciples sleeping when ‘without warning, furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat’ (8:24).

Presumably the disciples were used to storms on the Sea of Galilee; it was renowned for sudden flash storms, stirring the water into twenty-foot waves. However, this storm must have been a particularly serious one because the disciples woke Jesus up and said, ‘We’re going to drown!’ (v.25).

During the storms of life, it is natural to panic (certainly, I tend to). Sometimes it appears that Jesus is ‘sleeping’ (v.24). He does not appear to be doing anything about our problems. Thankfully, we can all cry out, as they did, ‘Lord, save us!’ (v.25).

The natural response to the storms is doubt and fear. Jesus tells them that the response to storms should be trust (‘You of little faith’, v.26a) and that you should not be afraid(‘Why are you so afraid?’ v.26a). Jesus is quite capable of calming the storm and that is exactly what he did. Trust God and fear not.

Having shown his authority over the elements (‘Even the winds and the waves obey him!’ v.27), he goes on to demonstrate his authority over evil powers by freeing the two demon-possessed men (vv.28–34). Jesus was far more concerned about people than possessions, unlike those who pleaded with him to leave their region (v.34).

Jesus goes on to make the point that forgiveness is more important than healing. But healing is not unimportant. Jesus does both. He shows his power over sickness and disability by healing a paralysed man (9:1–2). ‘The crowd was awestruck, amazed and pleased that God had authorised Jesus to work among them this way’ (v.8, MSG).

In the midst of the storms there are moments of calm. Today’s passage ends with such a moment as Jesus calls Matthew to follow him. Jesus is invited to dinner at Matthew’s house.

The Pharisees are surprised to see Jesus eating with ‘a lot of disreputable characters’ (v.10, MSG) and say, ‘What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cosy with crooks and riffraff?’ (v.11, MSG).

‘Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what the scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.”’ (vv.12–13, MSG).

God’s ‘mercy’ is his kindness and forgiveness towards people who do not deserve it. Today, receive and enjoy his mercy yourself and be merciful to others.

Lord, thank you that in all the storms of life I can cry out, ‘Lord, save us.’ Help me to trust you and not to be afraid.

 

Genesis 21:1-23:20

Thank God for his provision

Abraham certainly faced storms in his life. The passage for today is full of struggles, but it starts with a wonderful moment of calm in the midst of these storms. ‘The Lord was gracious to Sarah... and… did for Sarah what he had promised’ (21:1). Like us sometimes, they had had to wait a long time, but eventually God’s promise was fulfilled. During the waiting period, the challenge is to keep on trusting God.

‘Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him’ (v.2). It was a moment of great joy. Sarah said, ‘God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me’ (v.6).

But very soon Abraham faced a storm in his own household. Ishmael mocked Isaac (v.9), and this led to deeper divisions in the family (v.10). Tragically Hagar and Ishmael left (v.14). These divisions were ultimately the consequences of Abraham’s previous sin in making Hagar his mistress, following his lack of faith in believing that Sarah would have a son.  

Sometimes the hardest situations in life to face can be those of our own making. Even so, God is still with Abraham (vv.12–13), and he watches over and blesses Hagar and Ishmael (vv.17–18). We see God’s grace at work in the midst of a sinful situation.

Abraham was about to face the biggest storm of his life: ‘God tested Abraham’ (22:1).

God sometimes allows us to be tested. Personally, I don’t think God ever intended for a moment that Abraham should actually sacrifice his son Isaac. The sacrifice of children was always an abomination to the Lord. But, he wanted to establish Abraham’s priorities.

The New Testament reminds us that this test came after God’s promises to Abraham about Isaac (Hebrews 11:17–19), and was therefore a test of both Abraham’s faith and his priorities.

The test was of his faith, because it challenged him to trust that God could fulfil his promises about Isaac, even if Abraham was willing to sacrifice him. Abraham had to trust that no matter what happened, Isaac would be restored to him (v.19).

Yet it was also a test of Abraham’s priorities. Your relationship with God is meant to be the number one priority of your life – above all other loves, the vision God has given you for your life and even above your closest human relationships. Abraham was willing to obey God whatever the cost. His great strength was that he loved God more than anything or anyone else.

Thankfully, God provided the sacrifice that was necessary (‘God himself will provide the lamb’, Genesis 22:8). This foreshadows the great sacrifice God was to make on our behalf. As you think about how Abraham must have felt at the thought of sacrificing his son, you get a glimpse of what it cost God to give his one and only Son for you and me (John 3:16).

Jesus is ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). If God provided the ultimate sacrifice to meet your greatest need, will he not also provide for all your other needs? Here Abraham calls God ‘Jehovah-Jireh’, or ‘The Lord Will Provide’ (Genesis 22:14). He is acknowledging that God providing is part of his character.

God is the great provider. So often, I have found this to be true in my own life and in our community. God is true to his promise. As the apostle Paul put it, ‘My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:19).

Our task is to obey God (to ‘seek first his kingdom and his righteousness’, Matthew 6:33a) and he promises that if we do that, he will provide for all our needs (‘All these things will be given to you as well’, v.33b).

God’s provision and blessing is almost unbelievably great (Genesis 22:16–18). It included this: ‘And in your Seed [Christ] shall all the nations of the earth be blessed’ (v.18, AMP).

“Lord, thank you that you are my shield, my Saviour and my provider. Help me to keep trusting in you and to not be afraid. Help me to keep you as the number one priority in my life.”

Every blessing

Peter

Week beginning 3 January 2021

The following is from Dave Hopwood, an author and speaker who is a regular participant and former community member at Lee Abbey.

God of blank pages

On New year's Eve a few years ago, I took up my Bible to glean a few thoughts for the coming year, and it fell open in an unusual place. A couple of pages with no chapters or verses. The pages that separate the Old and New Testaments. It struck me that all Bibles have this gap, and it's very easy to flick the page and move on.

But this papery intermission represents 400 years! 400 years! We read the last few verses of Malachi, the promise of a better day coming, and then... Nothing. Blank pages.

Pages that represent centuries of waiting, hoping, crying out, wondering. People being born, living and dying in that long pause. And it seemed to me appropriate for a New Year’s eve. As we hover on the crest of a New Year. Those of us who follow the invisible God, are invited, like Abraham, to step into the unknown. To live in the tension between what has been and what will be, what was and what might be. And to live in this tension is not easy, we are all creatures of habit, of the familiar, but like Abraham we inhabit the now and the not yet. Receiving and carrying a promise of hope in a restless, unpredictable world. The knowledge of Jesus on our side. With us, through each experience. 

This year has been full of waiting and hoping. And no doubt praying too. So many of us longing for a better day. Perhaps it has resembled a blank page in some ways. We have been reminded of our fragility, of our need. These have been days of worry and questioning. And I'm convinced that God is as present in these times, as He is in others. In these blank-page days. Psalm 46 verse 10 calls us to still ourselves, and calm our racing hearts and minds by tuning into God's presence. Actually, many verses in the psalms invite us to do this. To allow ourselves, even for a few seconds, to do 'nothing' with Him. To worship Him with our precious time and silence, and in doing so to let something of His nature rub off on us. As we stand on the doorstep of a new year, it's no bad thing to pause, and worship silently, and in doing so to let the God who emptied Himself for us, shape us and replenish us for all that lies ahead.

Lord, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty.
I don’t concern myself with matters too great or awesome for me.
But I have stilled and quieted myself,
just as a small child is quiet with its mother.
Yes, like a small child is my soul within me.
 O Israel, put your hope in the Lord – now and always.
Psalm 131
 
'Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act.' 
Psalm 37:7

Every Blessing for 2021,

Robert.


Week beginning 27 December 2020

Tanya Marlow, who wrote the following poem, has suffered with ME for many years. Her life is seriously constricted by this awful condition, and she is often confined to bed after even a small amount of activity. Nevertheless, she has an amazing ministry through her website and her writing. She wrote the following just before  Christmas: 

Christmas Lockdown

But it will be a quiet Christmas, a silent night, a lonely night
No relatives with us and a feeling that we’re not quite at home
Bare branches of a tree and flickering lights are our frugal celebration
An enemy occupies the land and we must all return to our family home

No relatives with us and a feeling that we’re not quite at home
Jesus is born among the shadows of sickness and death 
An enemy occupies the land and we must all return to our family home
After all this time of fasting and lament, I long for a feast

Jesus is born among the shadows of sickness and death 
Bare branches of a tree and flickering lights are our frugal celebration
After all this time of fasting and lament, I long for a feast
But it will be a quiet Christmas, a silent night, a lonely night

copyright Tanya Marlow, Dec 2020

A good wishes for a Happy, Healthy and Peaceful New Year.

Peter

Week beginning 20 December 2020

A couple more reflections on Advent from the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity.

Christmas Illuminations: Waiting in Hope

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.

MICAH 5:2 

Last week, my husband, son, and I felt so happy to be able to meet with our best friends after weeks of just being able to chat over Zoom dinners. Only allowed to meet outdoors, off we trotted to my local zoo’s light festival, complete with our Christmas hats and matching Rudolf masks. As I entered the zoo illuminated with the vibrant colours of the rainbow, I was reminded of how God sealed his promise with a rainbow in Genesis 9. In this sign of hope, God didn’t say we won’t experience storms, but he did promise that he’d be with us in them. 
 
During Advent, as Christians we immerse ourselves in a season of expectation, a time of waiting and preparation as we look back at the first coming of Jesus as a baby and look forward to his second coming. We don’t know when Christ will return but we do know waiting allows us the opportunity to ready ourselves.
 
The message of Micah, like that of the prophets before him, isn’t pleasant or popular. God knows his people’s sins of social injustice, exploitation, and oppression. Micah declares that judgement will be swift and severe, and the nation will need to experience destruction and captivity. But in the midst of this, Micah offers a word of hope. 
 
A divine deliverer is coming and, when he does, justice will prevail. Righteousness will be truly understood as a way of life where the most vulnerable and oppressed have God’s special attention. This Messiah will emerge from the small and obscure Bethlehem to be ‘ruler over Israel’.  
 
It can be uncomfortable waiting with hope. Yet as we approach Christmas in the midst of a global pandemic, we have a unique opportunity in this uncertain time to create a chance to pause, acknowledge the difficulties and anxieties of this year, and seek God’s direction. 
 
Many of us know the carol,
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie…
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

 
What might those hopes and fears mean to you this year? What are the hopes and fears for the people you meet every day, colleagues at work, friends at school or university… the most vulnerable in your communities? In what ways can you illuminate Christ’s light and help them realise that their hopes and fears are met in Jesus?

Lyn Weston
Director of Church of England Relations, LICC

Christmas Illuminations: The Light Has Come

‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).
MATTHEW 1:23

‘God with us – you’re kidding me! Where was he when I lost my job this year? Where was he when I was home alone for nine months? Where was he when my dad died without his family at his bedside? “Immanuel – God with us”? You can take that Christmas card and put it straight in the bin.’

I wonder whether Mary felt like binning the angel’s message when she and Joseph had to flee to Egypt? Whether she asked, ‘Where is God? Why is all this happening?’ The Christmas story gets dark quickly, but Matthew wants to show us that God has come to us in person to bring light into our darkness.

Like the myth of Santa (sorry!), many have added myths to the story of Jesus – that he has come to fulfil all our dreams and ambitions, that he has come to help me find a parking space in Sainsbury’s on Christmas Eve – but Matthew gives us a very practical, pastoral message about the presence of God in the darkest of times.

I discovered that God was with me in the dingy darkness of a Clacton nightclub when I was way down the wrong path, and he lit up my mind with a question: ‘Where is your life going?’

Claire found that God was with her in the lonely darkness of her bedroom as she wrestled again with how to make herself sick, and his presence shone a light of hope that life could be different.

Tony met Jesus in his locked prison cell, serving time for his 98th conviction, and suddenly a new purpose began to shine in his life.

Every part of Jesus’ life was marked by the disappointment of human experience – poverty, loss, temptation, betrayal, and death. And yet he touched those who others would avoid, he drew close when others turned away, and he ate with those who others rejected.

Immanuel’s presence illuminates a new way for us to view everything, including our dark times. We may end this year feeling that darkness has dominated, but the Christmas story radiates the greater truth: that his light has come into our darkness so that we can truly know and say, ‘Immanuel – God is with us’.

Steve Rouse
Church Team Director, LICC

With Every Blessing for Christmas and the New Year,

Robert.

Week beginning 13 December 2020

Giving Birth to Christ

A Lifetime Commitment

Looking at how Mary gave birth to Christ, we see that it’s not something that’s done in an instant. Faith, like biology, also relies on a process that has a number of distinct, organic moments. What are these moments? What is the process by which we give birth to faith in the world?

First, like Mary, we need to get pregnant by the Holy Spirit. We need to let the word take such root in us that it begins to become part of our actual flesh.

Then, like any woman who’s pregnant, we have to lovingly gestate, nurture, and protect what is growing inside us until it’s sufficiently strong so that it can live on its own, outside us. . . .

Eventually, of course, we must give birth. . . .

Birth, however, is only the beginnings of motherhood. Mary gave birth to a baby, but she had to spend years nurturing, coaxing, and cajoling that infant into adulthood. The infant in the crib at Bethlehem is not yet the Christ who preaches, heals, and dies for us. . . .

Finally, motherhood has still one more phase. As her child grows, matures, and takes on a personality and destiny of its own, the mother, at a point, must ponder (as Mary did). She must let herself be painfully stretched in understanding, in not knowing, in carrying tension, in letting go. She must set free to be itself something that was once so fiercely hers. The pains of childbirth are often gentle compared to this second wrenching.

All of this is what Mary went through to give Christ to the world: Pregnancy by the Holy Spirit; gestation of that into a child inside of her; excruciating pain in birthing that to the outside; nurturing that new life into adulthood; and pondering, painfully letting go so that this new life can be its own, not hers. . . .

Our task too is to give birth to Christ. Mary is the paradigm for doing that. From her we get the pattern: Let the word of God take root and make you pregnant; gestate that by giving it the nourishing sustenance of your own life; submit to the pain that is demanded for it to be born to the outside; then spend years coaxing it from infancy to adulthood; and finally, during and after all of this, do some pondering, accept the pain of not understanding and of letting go.

Christmas isn’t automatic, it can’t be taken for granted. It began with Mary, but each of us is asked to make our own contribution to giving flesh to faith in the world.

Ronald Rolheiser, “Mary as a Model of Faith,” reflection on Luke 11:27–28

Every blessing

Peter 

Week beginning 6 December 2020

Christmas Illuminations 1: The Light Dawns

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
ISAIAH 9:2

This Advent, everyone’s waiting.
But alongside the Christian tradition of waiting expectantly to celebrate the birth of the Saviour, the world waits to be saved from COVID-19. And, interestingly, both forms of waiting use the same language: of ‘light breaking through’.
Earlier this month, when the first promising signs from vaccine trials emerged, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England offered an extended metaphor of light in the distance:
‘This, to me, is like a train journey where you’re standing on the station – it’s wet, windy, it’s horrible – and two miles down the tracks, two lights appear and it’s the train. And it’s a long way off. We’re at that point at the moment.’
Jonathan Van-Tam’s full use of the metaphor extended the illustration, but his primary message was clear: even if we currently remain in darker times, we can now see the first signs of hope and light to come.
Similarly in Isaiah 9:2, we find the prophecy of the greatest light, which will transform the lives of those walking in darkness. This verse, rightly, features prominently in Christmas readings but, as with much of Isaiah, there are layers to this future promise. Some aspects of Isaiah’s words may find interim answers through human kings and rulers, but the full list of attributes described, the full brightness of Isaiah 9, is supremely fulfilled in Jesus.
If this new start is described as a light dawning, is a growing brightness implied here? It’s a ‘great light’ but, to begin with, there’s a more subtle hue. Dawn light isn’t the brightest, but it’s a hopeful light, bringing with it the guarantee of more to come. Just as some energy-saving light bulbs appear somewhat less bright when they are first switched on: they are bright bulbs, but we don’t see the full brilliance immediately. 
If the birth of Jesus represents the light dawning, his life, death, and resurrection add lumens. When Jesus returns, the brightness will be unmissable and unmistakable, and all forms of darkness will have passed away – including all crying, all mourning, and all viruses.
In the meantime we wait, but we don’t wait passively.
From our vantage point, today, we’ve seen enough to trust, even in dark times. 
Whilst we wait, whilst everyone is waiting, may we brighten the places where we find ourselves. May we reflect the light of Jesus in our everyday contexts such that others might see and believe.

Ken Benjamin
Director of Church Relationships, LICC

Christmas Illuminations 2: Peace in the Particular

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and for ever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.
ISAIAH 9:6-7

Jennifer and Manish are still dealing with the fallout from choosing which two households to bubble with over the festive season (an exercise as doable as fitting a PlayStation 5 into a stocking without ripping it). Meanwhile, Donna is tearing her hair out over the future of the café she opened three years ago. To keep propping it up with her own cash, or hang up her apron and call it a day? Then there’s Bob, tearing up over Zoom as he shares with his homegroup how he’s not been able to see his granddaughter for nine whole months.
 They long for the ‘Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’, about whom Isaiah spoke. They need this Prince of Peace not just in the big, in the abstract, in the generic, but in the small, in the concrete, in the particular.
As Isaiah looked back in time, he saw the promise God made to David in 2 Samuel 7, that a great king from David’s line would rule on his throne for ever. Isaiah then looked forward, with hope, to a time when the dream would become reality, when ‘justice and righteousness’ would be the default setting for all living under the reign of this ruler, this Messiah. 
At this time of year, we remember this Messiah has indeed come. We marvel at and sing about the vastness of who he is and all that he has accomplished for us and our world. We thank him that he sweated the big stuff. 
But we remember too that the weighty title he bears, and the peace he brings, is not just some grand victory ‘out there’. It’s peace brought about by Jesus, who became a small baby in a small family in a small home in a small town in a small nation on the fringe of a huge empire. It’s peace brought about by Jesus, who taught from a real fishing boat, healed real eyes and limbs, shared real bread and fish. It’s peace brought about by Jesus, who sat with particular people, in particular places, in particular situations.
For our Prince of Peace does not struggle to make time for our small in the midst of his big. Our great king delights to work out his big peace in and through our small. So, this Christmas, in your small family gatherings, in your real worries, on your particular frontline, may you know his great peace.

Joe Warton
Church Team: Research and Development, LICC

With every blessing,

Robert.

Week beginning 29 November 2020

I'm sure all of us have been aware of the Presidential election in the United States, and the claims by Trump supporters that Joe Biden was going to "destroy Christianity". The following article was published in The Christian Post in the U.S. just a week after the election: it's by Joe Biden himself, in which he stresses the importance of his faith to his life and his politics. It's quite long, and it is in the context of America...but I would be so happy to read words like this from a British Prime Minister: 

"In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” 

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,’” he said. “This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” 

These abiding principles – loving God and loving others – are at the very foundation of my faith. Throughout my career in public service, these values have kept me grounded in what matters most. As a husband, father, and grandfather, they are the cornerstone upon which our family is built. Through the pain of losing my wife, my daughter, and my son, they have sustained me with eternal hope. My faith has been a source of immeasurable solace in times of grief, and a daily inspiration to fight against the abuse of power in all its forms. 

My Catholic faith drilled into me a core truth – that every person on earth is equal in rights and dignity, because we are all beloved children of God. We are all created “imago Dei” – beautifully, uniquely, in the image of God, with inherent worth. It is the same creed that is at the core of our American experiment and written into our founding documents – that we are all created equal and endowed by our creator with inalienable rights. 

As a country, we have never been perfect nor free of prejudice. We’ve never fully lived up to those ideals, but we’ve never walked away from them. And, at our best, these are the values that have pushed us, time and again, as Dr. King said, to bend that great arc of the moral universe toward justice. As president, these are the principles that will shape all that I do, and my faith will continue to serve as my anchor, as it has my entire life.

 Right now, as a country, we are facing numerous crises, including threats to the very idea of imago Dei. It’s what I call the battle for the soul of the nation. We saw it in Charlottesville in 2017, the hatred and boiling rage of those people coming out of the fields carrying tiki torches and chanting the same anti-Semitic bile we heard in the 1930s. We’ve seen it far too often since – attacks on immigrants, communities of color, people of different faiths – violence stemming from those who would stoke hate and division in our country. It has become too easy in recent years to define our neighbors as “others” rather than children of God and fellow Americans. It has to stop. We have to strive harder to come together, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. That is the work we are all called to by God. 

This battle for the soul of our nation is why I’m running for president, and it’s why I’m asking for your vote. Who we are, what we stand for, and maybe most important, who we want to be as a nation are all at stake. Character is on the ballot. The character of our nation. The core values that define this nation are on the ballot. While I am running as a proud Democrat, I will serve as a president for all Americans. 

To start, on the first day of my presidency, I will tackle the COVID-19 pandemic head-on. We haven’t turned the corner, yet. In fact, infections are on the rise again – with daily infection rates topping 70,000 for the first time since July. More than 220,000 Americans have died from the virus, and tens of millions are out of work. Millions of individuals and families are still unemployed because of this virus, and they’re worried about how they’re going to put food on the table, pay their mortgage, or fill their prescriptions. They’re terrified of what will happen if they get infected, because they lost their health insurance. And far, far too many families are grappling with the daily pain of a newly empty chair at the kitchen table where a loved one should be sitting. It’s a pain I know all too well. I can’t imagine the pain of saying a final goodbye over a video chat, or not being able to gather and grieve with your community. Yet, eight months in, this administration has no plan and no intention of enacting a strategy to get ahead of this virus so we can safely get back to our lives. 

I will choose a different way. My administration will lead a decisive public health response that ramps up free testing so we can trace this virus and curb its spread; eliminates all cost barriers to treatment for COVID-19; increases the manufacturing and distribution of the personal protective equipment that our front line workers need to keep themselves safe, so our health care workers no longer have to ration masks; and ensures the rapid and equitable distribution of a safe and effective vaccine when one is ready. We will also lead an economic response that begins with emergency paid leave for all those affected by the outbreak and gives necessary help to workers, families, and small businesses that are hit hard by this crisis. 

To beat COVID-19, we must all work together to pull our country out of this crisis. We must all wear masks. It’s not a political statement – it’s a manifestation of God’s commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves, so we can save lives. And as my administration mobilizes this public health and economic response, I will work closely with Governors — Democrat and Republican — to make sure every state has the resources, support, and guidance they need to implement an effective response in their state, and to institute mask mandates nationwide. If we all work together, we can save lives and get our economy back on track more quickly for everyone – not just those at the top.

 We must also root out systemic racism, which is so antithetical to the idea of imago Dei, and which has long deprived too many of our sisters and brothers of color of the opportunities they deserve as equal children of God. These injustices have been part of our society for a long time, but this pandemic has laid them bare for all of us to face. We see so clearly how the burden of unemployment and exposure to this disease has fallen disproportionately on the backs of historically disadvantaged communities.

 That’s why we must deliver real, immediate economic relief to those who need it the most in these challenging times – including rental, food, and unemployment assistance; student loan relief; support for small businesses struggling to keep their doors open; necessary aid to state and local governments so they can keep paying their brave front line workers and first responders; and support for our schools so they are able to open safely with all the right precautions and resources in place to keep both students and our educators safe.

As pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” As president, that will be my mission – to lead a national effort to halt the wheels of injustice in our country that are bearing down on so many communities, especially communities of color. Racial equity is a core principle that is integrated throughout my agenda. We will work to remove barriers that prevent full participation in our economy and ensure all families can more easily create and build wealth to pass down to their children, including by making it easier for people to buy their first home. And, I am deeply committed to building an education system that invests in our children starting at birth and ensures that no child’s educational opportunity is determined by their zip code, parents’ income, race, or disability.

 We must also tackle the pervasive evil of poverty, which continues to burden too many families in the wealthiest nation on earth. Jesus tells us that “to whom much is given, much will be required.” As a country, we are blessed with the world’s highest GDP and incredible national resources – yet too many working families struggle to pay for basic necessities while the rewards of our economy are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a wealthy few.

My faith implores me to embrace a preferential option for the poor and, as president, I will do everything in my power to fight poverty and build a future that moves us closer to our highest ideals – not only that all women and men are created equal in the eyes of God, but that they are treated equally by their fellow man.

It means building an economy more reflective of the hope expressed in Isaiah 65 – a world where children are not born into misfortune, where workers fully share in the fruits of their labour, where the old live out their years. With more than one million of our veterans on food stamps and millions of children dependent on school lunches to avoid hunger, my administration will recognize that poverty and economic injustice hurts us all. They undermine the core values America was built upon.

In both the Old and New Testament, we are taught to welcome the stranger – a direct extension of the Greatest Commandment. I will ensure America re-establishes itself as a place of compassion, grace, and love for immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees, because this is part of who we are as a country.

 This is an area where the faith community has led, and as president, I will work closely with faith leaders and faith communities to reassert America’s commitment as a nation that welcomes refugees, rather than rejects them. We must again become a nation that defends the inherent dignity of every human, upholds the blessings of liberty, and provides a haven for those fleeing violence or persecution.

 I am committed to building an immigration system that treats everyone with dignity while pursuing policies that safeguard our security, uphold both our laws and our values, and grow and enhance our economy.

 Throughout my career, my work has been shaped by – and often done side-by-side with – faith leaders, organizations, and communities devoted to being our brother’s and sister’s keepers and working to ensure opportunity for all. People of faith have been at the forefront of many of our country’s most important achievements for justice, equality, and peace. I remain committed to partnering with congregations, faith-based organizations, and faith leaders to strengthen and expand the important work they do to meet essential community needs made worse by this pandemic. We are called, as Christians, to serve rather than be served, and a Biden-Harris administration will embody that foundational value. We will be servants of the people and continue the important work we’ve started to build a robust, diverse, and inclusive coalition that deeply values the contributions of people of faith. We don’t always have to agree on everything, but our country has to find a way to come together – to overcome the spirit of division and the hateful words that have defined too much of our public life for the last four years.

We all matter in the eyes of God, and it will take all of us to achieve the healing America so desperately needs. To follow God’s Greatest Commandment, and to love each other fully. Together, we can win the battle for the soul of our nation; navigate the multiple crises we face – ending this pandemic, driving our economic recovery, confronting systemic racism; address the scourge of poverty; pursue immigration and refugee policies that uphold the dignity of all; and do everything in our power to ensure that all God’s children have the hope and future they so rightfully deserve. As Christians, I know there is much more that unites us than divides us. And as Americans, I know that there is nothing our country cannot achieve when we stand together – united."

Every blessing

Peter 

Week beginning 22 November 2020

Whole Life Worship: Worship and Our Whole Lives

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

COLOSSIANS 3:15-17

I have a large extended family, still mostly living in my home village, who are in more normal times prone to big gatherings with vast amounts of food. There’s one area of friction, however. When we say grace together, half my family will add ‘in Jesus’ name’, while the rest clash with an immediate ‘Amen’, all glaring at one another! This is the result of a silly feud which the family matriarch – my late grandmother – started who-knows-when. Half follow her insistence that we always pray ‘in Jesus’ name’ and the other half refuse, possibly just to spite her.

She must have read this passage of Colossians, but her understanding may have been flawed (don’t tell my cousins!). Paul is writing to the church with instructions on how to live and worship together. Verse 16 is often picked out by worship leaders to show the importance of singing together. Paul certainly gives congregational singing his approval, and there is no doubt that it can help to teach us, and allow us to express our thankfulness to God.

Paul also goes on, however, to expand his vision of worship beyond ‘psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit’ into the wonderfully inclusive ‘whatever you do’. We are not just to sing and pray in Jesus’ name, but to do everything in this way. Is it about just speaking the phrase, like my Grandma? ‘I’m going for a walk, in Jesus name’? No, I believe that he means that we do all things in the style of Jesus and for the glory of Jesus.

This is especially important to grasp at this time, when singing together has been discouraged on health grounds. Music is a wonderful tool, but worship is not dependent on it. What would it look like if you treated your family and friends in the style and for the glory of Jesus today? How would working ‘in Jesus’ name’ change how you do your job? Are there ‘words or deeds’ which would be done differently in your life if you approach them as worship?

There’s a glorious truth in those last two words as well – ‘through him’. As we do our best, aiming to live ‘in Jesus name’, God the Father looks at our efforts through Jesus. And we can trust that, however flawed, a life lived ‘in Jesus’ name’ becomes a fragrant offering of whole-life worship before God.

Sam & Sara Hargreaves
Sara and Sam run engageworship.org, providing training and resources for local church worship

This comes from the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity

With Every Blessing,

Robert

 Week beginning 15 November 2020

Sometimes I come across a quotation that just makes me stop and think: this is one that dropped into my inbox yesterday. It's quite short, so I'm not going to write a lengthy piece today, but I just encourage you to reflect on it, because it did make me refocus on what following Jesus is really about:

"Christianity is a lifestyle - a way of being in the world that is simple, non-violent, shared, and loving. However, we made it in to an established "religion" (and all that goes with that) and avoided the lifestyle change itself. One could be warlike, greedy, racist, selfish, and vain, in most of Christian history, and still believe that Jesus is one's "personal Lord and Saviour"...The world has no time for such silliness anymore. The suffering on earth is too great."

Richard Rohr

Week beginning 8 November 2020

We received the following letter from the URC Moderator of East Midlands Synod last week. I reproduce it here for you. Every Blessing, Robert.

Dear Friends,

Pastoral Letter for the Churches of East Midlands Synod at the beginning of the second lockdown

The return to lockdown has come as a stark and painful reminder of the reality of the Covid-19 virus and the immense risk it poses. Even if we recognise the reasoning behind the call for lockdown we may be feeling a range of emotions – disappointment, frustration and fear – and all the more so because, having endured one lockdown and emerging from it, there is perhaps a deeper sense of anguish that life has become so restricted again. The Psalmist’s cry, How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? (Psalm 13: 2), may well speak for how many of us are feeling.

I have no simple remedy or magic wand but write this letter in the hope it will reassure you that I recognise and acknowledge the significant challenge lockdown poses for us all – as individuals and churches. I am conscious of the levels of tiredness and anxiety of ministers, elders and members: for those churches that have relatively recently begun to hold in-person services there is bound to be a sense of frustration and despair that we are now prohibited from doing so. I recognise that many of us are grieving for the consolation of corporate worship, in the familiar and treasured setting of our local churches. Not being able to sing has made some of us realise afresh just how significant our hymn-singing was. Subjecting the logistics of celebrating Holy Communion to a clinical exercise in church or the necessity of separation with individually prepared elements at home have reminded us of the essential nature of this sacramental means of grace as a congregational act. Preaching in-person to a congregation whose masked faces give us no clue of response or on-screen to a camera that doesn’t enable us to engage with a gathered congregation – or a screen of ‘tiles’ on Zoom, where part of the congregation is out of sight on the ‘next page’ - has made us pine for the joy and privilege of doing so where we are under the same roof. The anguish and exhaustion experienced by those who seek to reach those in our churches who do not – or will not – use virtual means of connection is significant: the preparation and distribution of liturgies and resources on paper or on CD has come as a challenge that many have embraced with energy and devotion. To say nothing of the acquisition of new skills of using digital means to conduct worship. I appreciate and acknowledge that for those congregations currently in vacancy there may be the feeling of ever greater isolation.

 All that I have said so far relates to the Church as a worshipping community. Corporate worship is the core activity of the Church that is currently prohibited from taking place in our buildings. It is significant that the embodiment of the Church’s identity as the caring community, however, is not prohibited by lockdown – namely, where our buildings are places of “urgent public support services”.

 It is tempting to resort to a special plea for our churches to be allowed to remain open for corporate worship. Some of our ecumenical partners are doing precisely that. The Synod Moderators, meeting this week, resolved not to make such a case and our General Assembly Moderators, The Revd Clare Downing and Mr Peter Pay, have issued a statement that Love of God and love of neighbour are inseparable in the Christian faith. Seeking to protect the most vulnerable from the spread of COVID 19 is an act of love through which we love God. I commend their reflection (which can be found on the United Reformed Church website: https://urc.org.uk/latest-news/3640-urc-general-secretary-comments-on-new-four-weeklockdown.html)

 I am grateful to the colleague who suggested that whilst we are all in the same storm we are not in the same boat. The impact of the lockdown and the risks posed by the virus affect us differently. But, within the family that is East Midlands Synod, we are each and all dependent on the One who stilled the storm (even though those sailing with him thought he was asleep and oblivious) (Mark 4: 35-41).

 I conclude with a prayer of lament – offered in the hope it articulates the despair we are feeling yet leads us to praise and trust:

God, beyond, above, unreachable, untouchable, unfathomable,

yet seen, among us, and known, in Jesus ... how could you watch and not stop this evil pandemic?

Why would you not end it in moments rather than watching it unfold with its hurt and harm,

bringing its ambush of death, fear and loss?

And for that death, fear and loss to dip, with the possibility of picking up normality,

to break out again with potential for more and worse than before!

Yet in the midst of this - even this - you are there ...

Grant peace, calm and comfort ...

give us patience and stamina ...

hasten the day when Covid is conquered and loss is lessened.

Make us grateful for what and whom we can reach and touch and do.

Keep safe those who have little to nothing

and prompt those who can do something for and with them.

For even in the midst of this we will dare to carry on trusting and praising.

(Geoffrey Clarke, October 2020)

Yours

Geoffrey S. Clarke, Moderator

Week beginning 1 November 2020

Many of you will remember the comedian, Bobby Ball, who died this last week. He became a Christian back in the 1970s, and his working partner, Mike Cannon, also became a Christian a few years later. In Bobby's autobiography he included a prayer which he wrote for himself, and I think it's one we could all say for ourselves:

"In this world of ever-changing faces, help me to stay on the straight line I was destined to be on.
Help me to try and put right my faults, but to realise that my strengths are gifts.
Help me to be patient with others who are as impatient as myself.
Help me to learn the value of each minute of each day that I have on this earth, that I can bring love and happiness into someone else's life and not just my own.
Teach me to be honest with myself because if I am not honest with myself first, then it is impossible to be honest with others.
Make me slow to speak but quick to listen because others have a point of view too.
Help me gain a little wisdom as each day goes by because the smallest grain of wisdom is worth all the riches on earth.
Grant me peace and serenity that I may enjoy the days that I have left on earth.
Help me to see the good in others before the bad.
And last of all, help me to be honest in all that I do, because in spite of all our insecurities and faults we are the children of God and he gave us life.
So I shall try each day to become a better human being and, when my time comes to leave this wonderful world, I can go to God in the knowledge that at least I tried.
Amen"

Every blessing

Peter 


Week Beginning 25 October 2020

Here are the third and fourth part from the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity on exile.

In Exile With Ezekiel: God’s Restoring Power 3/4

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

EZEKIEL 36:25-27

It would be all too easy to blame our lack of missional success as God’s people on the fact that we are a disenfranchised minority. Or perhaps, we might think, it’s down to the apathy and stubbornness of people in society.

Ezekiel knows the real reason often lies elsewhere, and it’s altogether more sobering.

It’s clear as we read the Old Testament prophets that the biggest obstacle to God’s people making good on their call to be a light to the nations was not primarily persecution or resistance but their own failure to follow God’s ways. The greatest threat to mission was the worship of other gods.

Called to live among the nations, Israel was to walk in the ways of the Lord and reflect his character to the world in their daily lives. That they had not done so means, as God tells Ezekiel, that ‘wherever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name’ (36:20). At stake is the reputation of God’s name, and his desire for it to be known in all the earth.

For Ezekiel, and for us, God’s promises of restoration come at the point of deepest loss. And at the heart of those promises is the renewal of the people themselves, which God will bring about as he pledges to cleanse them and give them a new heart and a new spirit.

Reinforced by his vision of dry bones raised to life, Ezekiel sees that this renewing work will come about through the Spirit, who will enable God’s covenant people to walk in his ways. In an action reminiscent of God forming Adam from the ground and then breathing into his nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 2:7), God restores his people to their original design – a new humanity, no less.

That hope expressed in Ezekiel speaks of a larger, deeper restoration which would come about through Jesus, whose death, resurrection, and gift of the Spirit continue to animate God’s people today.

So it is that God’s promise through Ezekiel opens up to include us, who carry forward the same mission to represent God to the nations. For us, too, it is the permanent, transformative presence of the Holy Spirit who empowers us to live out our calling as witnesses to who he is and to what he has done, as we point others to Ezekiel’s God and ours.

In Exile With Ezekiel: God’s Unwavering Plan 4/4

The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple towards the east […] Then he led me back to the bank of the river. When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river… Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.

EZEKIEL 47:1, 6-7, 12

As Christians, we affirm that ‘we believe in the resurrection of the body’. Even so, there’s an all-too-common tendency to imagine that heaven is somewhere ‘up there’ above the sky, which is where our disembodied souls will go when we die, leaving the world behind. But the biblical picture, as we see in Ezekiel’s final vision and elsewhere in Scripture, is that God remains committed to the earth and will one day renew it.

So it is that in words and images that echo the garden of Eden and which John will later pick up in Revelation, Ezekiel is allowed to glimpse the goal of God’s restoring work – and it is nothing less than a new creation.

Ezekiel sees a stream of water flowing from the temple. Though it starts as a trickle, it deepens and widens as it flows. As it flows, it generates life – in formerly dead seas swarming with fish, in trees which never stop bearing fruit, whose leaves bring healing. And all because of the one who now dwells in the temple.

In short, the God who breathes new life into his people will also transform creation itself.

This vision of God’s unwavering purpose is perhaps what exiles need most. In keeping with how the Bible describes our hope, it not only provides a way of seeing the future, but of living in the present. For, if this is the final destination of the biblical story, it is also the direction in which that story is moving.

It is the assurance of God’s transforming presence that allows us to envision a new reality in our relationship with God, with each other, and in the world. To be sure, we don’t bring in this new order. But nor do we wait passively for it to arrive, and its certainty allows us to lean into it now where we are able to do so. That hope frees us up to live expectantly and confidently, though realistically, in ways that seek to transform the here and now in line with what will be – not as an act of self-assertion, but as a response to God’s gracious promise.

The Christian hope of a new heaven and earth provides a source of motivation for how we live in the light of his presence now – doing all things for the glory of the God who will one day make all things new.
Antony Billington Theology Advisor, LICC

Every Blessing,

Robert

Week beginning 18 October 2020

Here are the first two in a series of items from the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity on the theme of Exile.

In Exile With Ezekiel: God’s Empowering Presence 1/4

In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the River Kebar, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God […] This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell face down, and I heard the voice of one speaking. He said to me, ‘Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.’ As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.

EZEKIEL 1:1, 28; 2:1–2

Until fairly recently, western Christians have enjoyed a sense of being at home in the world. Not completely, of course, but able to exercise significant power nonetheless.

That tide has turned.

We might not be facing outright hostility, and nor have we been completely removed from places of influence, but today’s culture seems more alien to Christianity than it used to be. Increasingly, Christians are having to learn what it means to ‘sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land’ (Psalm 137:4).

Although it’s easy to overstate the case, it’s as if we’re in exile. This description – which reverberates through the pages of Scripture – captures something significant about our identity and our mission. It involves recognising that we do not yet live in our ultimate home, even as we serve the Lord where we are here and now.

Recapturing the language of exile may help us understand some of the cultural changes taking place and allow us to see the life to which we are called – where the goal is not simply to survive in order to get through, but to be shaped into a people who bear God’s saving presence in and for a broken world.

What does being a Christian look like in such a context? What will prevent us from being absorbed into a culture that so powerfully shapes our identity? What will ensure our faith is more than just a bolt-on activity or accessory to an already-full life?

We need what Ezekiel received as he kicked his way along the banks of the River Kebar in Babylon – a vision of the glory of God. A vision which shows God is not restricted or contained, but real and present with his people. A vision which anticipates the one who would himself embody God’s presence, the one who ‘made his dwelling among us’, of whom Christians are able to say: ‘we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14).

If exile provides an opportunity to be faithful to Jesus in the time and place in which we live, Ezekiel’s vision of God’s kingly glory reminds us that God will not abandon us, but will make himself present to us, fill us with his Spirit, and give us a task to do.

In Exile With Ezekiel: God’s Loving Promise 2/4

‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: although I sent them far away among the nations and scattered them among the countries, yet for a little while I have been a sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone.’ […] They will return to [the land] and remove all its vile images and detestable idols. I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.

EZEKIEL 11:16-20

The trauma of displacement stamps itself on the visions and sayings of Ezekiel. He even acts out its humiliation and horrors in his own body, becoming a living demonstration of God’s message to those in exile.

That message is poignantly captured in the vision recorded in chapters 8–11 of his prophecy. Ezekiel sees judgment brought on those practising idolatry and perpetrating injustice in the temple and Jerusalem, before then witnessing the sad departure of God’s glory from his sanctuary and holy city.

On the face of it, not the most encouraging message!

But it was one the people needed to hear. Because, for all its sombreness, it insists that the Lord is in charge. God isn’t too weak to stop Babylon defeating the nation and destroying the temple. In fact, it’s the mysterious path he has chosen. It’s part of his larger plan to purify the people and restore his presence among them.

That’s why even this darkest of moments is accompanied with a promise of renewal on the other side of judgment. While God has left the temple, he has not abandoned his people in exile, and promises to be a ‘sanctuary’ for them there. What’s more, he’ll bring them back, give them new hearts, and restore them to a life of service.

Like other sufferers of traumatic events, Ezekiel’s hearers needed a way to reweave their experiences into a larger, more-encompassing, life-giving plot. Ezekiel’s message offered a way for them to understand their displacement within a story which brought together past, present, and future in the light of the Lord’s work – not only in their lives but for the sake of the world in which they were called to live.

God’s promises to us have a way of doing that.

For us, too, trauma can come in different shapes and sizes. For us, too, is the reminder that God’s purposes will never be derailed by the Babylons of this world, whatever form they take. For us, too, is an assurance that in our deepest need, we are secure in him. Even if his hand leads us into exile, he will be present with us there, and will one day bring about our full and final restoration.

Such is his commitment. Such is his love.

Antony Billington (Theology Advisor, LICC)

Every Blessing,

Robert

Week beginning 11 October 2020

I've just finished reading one of the most important books I've ever read: it's called Love Matters More  by Jared Byas, and I can thoroughly recommend it. This is a short extract to reflect on from a chapter called Speaking the truth in love:

"Love has a way of changing our minds about what is true. It doesn't change the facts, of course. It changes what the facts mean and leads us to wisdom. It changes how we see the world. And if we get enough people to see how to change the world, it changes the world. It is true in science and it is true in the church.

It can be a good and beautiful thing to change our minds about what is, in light of how we experience the world through the lens of love. But when fear or a need to control (which, let's be honest, is usually also fear) is the lens we use to filter our experience of the world, we start to prioritise defending our opinions above loving our neighbour, and the system gets short-circuited. As we've already seen, truth is a tool. It can be used to build up or to tear down, to heal or to harm. If our idea of truth doesn't include prioritising love, if it's just about facts, it isn't true in the broader sense. Or, at the very least, it isn't Christian.

For some reason, in my experience, when the phrase "speaking the truth in love" is used, rarely does the person hearing it feel loved. Instead, it's mostly often used as a way to convince someone that they are being loved even when it doesn't feel that way. It's not often used of someone heavily invested in colabouring with someone in their struggle, but as a way to lob hurtful opinions, walk away, and feel guilt free.

The fact that love matters more doesn't mean that we get to ignore our differences. It doesn't mean or differences don't matter. Or that we shouldn't all be working together to acknowledge, and solve, the problems that face our society. On the contrary, because love matters more, we need to be more committed than ever to solving those problems. But I would argue that keeping love as the ultimate aim keeps us from tactics that undermine our ultimate aim. Keeping love as the ultimate aim keeps us from confusing our way with the best way."

I find that very challenging.

Every blessing

Peter

Week Beginning 4 October 2020

Here is the fourth in the series from the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity entitled Transition.

Navigating Transition:
Reorientation
4/4

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

EPHESIANS 2:10

The transition journey has taken us through the initial signals of change, choosing to end well, and then feeling at sea, dis-orientated. As we approach the fourth stage of the transition journey, reorientation, it is understandable to want a comforting sense of arrival – of settling into a new normal. And this may be the case… for a while. But as a Christ-follower, called to an unpredictable life, and in the current context where change is the new normal, this may well be wishful thinking!

Through all the changes, our identity in Christ is unchanging. Paul writes that we are ‘God’s handiwork’, with connotations of artistic design, carefully shaped by the master craftsman. The transition journey can be part of his shaping if we allow God, through the sometimes-painful experience of change, to cut off all that was deadening, or prune where necessary. He does this in love, to prepare us for a new season of growth and good work.

For many of us, lockdown has provided an opportunity to examine our pre-Covid lifestyle. We may have recognised with Henry David Thoreau, ‘It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: what are you busy about?’

We were created for both purposeful activity and rest. Paul describes this purposeful activity as ‘good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do’. He is unlikely to be referring to some amazing new job opportunity: many of those in Ephesus, and especially slaves, would have had few career options. These ‘good works’ are more likely to refer to the areas he goes on to detail: expressing love and honour in our relationships, training our children, working as if we were serving the Lord whatever our role, withstanding the enemy’s attack, and praying in the Spirit with every type of prayer and intercession. All these are God’s incredible invitation to partner with him in his plans and purposes. He chooses to act through his people. As John Wesley said: ‘God does nothing on the earth save in answer to believing prayer.’

All of this is fuelled by the knowledge of the breadth, length, height, and depth of God’s love for us, demonstrated on the cross. It’s a love that leads and guides us forward. It’s a love which provides a firm foundation when all else is changing.

Bev Shepherd
Prayer Journeys Project Leader, LICC

Every Blessing,

Robert

Week beginning 27 September 2020

A reflection on prayer from the website Living Soulfully:


Prayer is a mysterious, miraculous and sometimes frustrating effort. Not only is the receiver unseen, but we never really know if the pleadings of our heart are heard, and if and how they are answered. I am a novitiate in the art of praying. Sometimes my prayers feel surface-deep—worse, rote. In Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, Claudius’s confession resonates: “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never heaven go.” I try to pray with conviction, but often my words are clumsy, inelegant, self-conscious. When life is going well, I can easily fall out of the practice of praying. I am guilty of believing in God, but not including God in my daily life.

It was easier for me to pray as an innocent child. “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep” was all that needed to be said before floating off into my dreams, peaceful and confident God and His court of angels were watching over me. Could this be why Paul lamented in 1 Corinthians, “When I was a child I spoke and thought and reasoned like a child. But when I grew up, I set aside childish ways.”

Sadly growing up ends easy trust. But that is what we are required to grasp again as adults. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never know and enter the kingdom of heaven.” In the Corona days I am listening to my children’s prayers. My youngest has no doubt that God will make things right. He is, of course, completely in spiritual sync—-God’s love is never in doubt so why should he fear?

The most honest prayer I know is, “Dear God, I believe, help my unbelief.” Trusting God regardless of life’s circumstances is plain hard. Vulnerability and speaking our raw truths is the first lesson on how to pray. During Corona, our prayers right now are exhaustive litanies of concerns for family, friends, church, work—-our suffering world. Just as important is a focus on thankfulness for God holding us, minute by minute, from falling into a pit of fear. Praying for personal courage and the physical and spiritual strength to not only survive, but thrive in the uncertainty falls on welcome ears. Remember, God knows what you need before you even ask Him. Prayer is not complete without a confession of our deep hopes; all the things we look forward to when we surface from this valley. God promises that this too shall pass and the joy will return in the morning.

There is a dramatic scene in the Gospel of Luke where the disciples, very anxious about the future, ask Jesus how to pray. This is a beautiful moment of love as Jesus frees them (and all of us) with the gift of The Lord’s Prayer. It becomes a simple blueprint for true security.

 

Our Father who art in heaven

Hallowed be thy name

Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done

On earth as it is in heaven

Give us this day our daily bread

Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil

For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory

Forever. 

In the face of Corona, let us respond in faith daily reciting Our Lord’s Prayer. It is blessing me with peace in the eeriness of Corona.. Reminiscent of the childhood game of Hot Potato, I envision passing off all my “hot” potato worries to God, confident in the deep of me that there is no true failure in God’s plan, ever. As Julian of Norwich, the 15th century Christian mystic confessed in faith, “All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” 

Madeleine L’Engle said: “think of yourself as a very small car turning into a gas station to be filled with faith.” The Lord’s Prayer will reassure, and keep you moving down the road. Something good is on the horizon. It is the promise. Be thankful and believe.

Every blessing

Peter

Week beginning 20 September 2020

We are in a time of transition; such times can be difficult, but God is with us in these times. A couple of weeks ago I put up the first of these items from Bev. Shepherd from the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity; here are two more in the series:

Navigating Transition:
Ending Well
2/4

Praise the LORD, my soul,
  and forget not all his benefits –
who forgives all your sins
  and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
  and crowns you with love and compassion.

PSALM 103:2-4

I was once advised, whilst packing for a journey, that deciding what to leave behind was as important as choosing what to take. It was good advice. All change involves a ‘leaving behind’, be it the roles we identified with, relationships we valued, skills or knowledge now redundant, once cherished belongings, or a predictable routine.

Working as a coach with those whose roles have become redundant, I’ve recognised other, less tangible, hindrances to moving on: anger at management decisions or government policies; rejection when not chosen for a new role; bitterness at the way life has changed; and regrets or guilt over things said or done.

As many of us can testify, faith often matures most through disruptions to normal ways of thinking or being in the world, perhaps due to loss. But the transition journey that results from these disruptions will only lead to maturity if it takes us via the cross. Jesus’ sacrificial death provides the means by which we can ‘leave behind’ all that might weigh us down. At the cross we learn to forgive those who have wronged us; we are set free from unhelpful attachments to the past; we receive healing for our wounds, and comfort for our loss.

As David Benner writes, ‘Letting go is an important spiritual practice, but it is counterintuitive because the default posture of most of us is to clutch, not to release.’ To receive the new thing that God wants to give us we must create the space to receive it, which requires emptying out the old. And letting go requires trust – trust that the emptiness will be filled; trust that a new sense of purpose and direction will emerge; trust that day will follow night; and trust that, after death, there is resurrection. We walk by faith and not by sight, declaring: ‘praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits.’

Our responsibility is to ‘end well’ – be that thanksgiving for what has been, expressed appreciation, or simply ensuring that everything is in order so others can find what they need. ‘Goodbye’ is a contraction of the phrase ‘God be with ye’. As we navigate the endings of our transition journey, may we leave with a blessing and know that God is with us – he has not been left behind!

---

Navigating Transition:
Disorientation
3/4

The LORD replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’ Then Moses said to him, ‘If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?’ 

EXODUS 33:14-16

Have you ever been at sea, with no land in sight? A seemingly endless expanse of water stretches before you and behind. It is easy to lose your bearings.

The third phase of transition, disorientation, is like that. It has the potential to be both difficult and fruitful. The familiar landmarks have gone, and the new ones are not clearly in focus. Our inner questions show our longing for certainty and control: ‘How long?’, ‘Where is it all leading?’, ‘How do I plan?’, or ’Why am I feeling like this?’ During the current pandemic, these questions are echoed in the media and reverberate in conversations with friends and colleagues.

God does not commit to answer our questions, but instead he promises us his presence. Aside from anything else, this promise marks us out as his people and orientates us in a time of disorientation. As Moses led the Israelites through the wilderness, God’s presence, visible as the pillar of cloud and fire, determined the route and the pace. 

As believers we are marked with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). As the cloud and fire guaranteed God’s presence with the people in the wilderness, so the Spirit is the powerful, personal presence of the living God with us. By his Spirit, God guides, comforts, strengthens, and equips us. That guidance is rarely a detailed map with a marked route – it is more often a lamp to our feet (Psalm 119:105), showing us the next step. Obedience to that step then leads to a further step or pause. 

Prayer, together with regular reading of the Scriptures, is vital if we are to discern the prompting of the Holy Spirit. God wants to guide us. Following him is not meant to be a guessing game! His intention is that we should hear his voice; our part is to make the time and space to listen. Prayer practices like the Examen can help us do this, where we prayerfully reflect on the past day or week. Looking in the rear-view mirror allows us to acknowledge God’s presence with us.

Gradually, as we are guided through this phase of disorientation, we notice our focus shifting from arrival at a destination to how we journey; from achievement to purpose; from status to identity. As Henri Nouwen notes, ‘Our lives are not problems to be solved but journeys to be taken with Jesus, our friend and finest guide’. And so, let our confidence be in the one who journeys with us.

Bev Shepherd
Prayer Journeys Project Leader, LICC

Every Blessing,

Robert

Week beginning 13 September 2020

Some thoughts on the Letter to Philemon, from Equipped for Grace:

No Longer a Slave

Although many of our Parliamentary laws were originally developed on the basis of Christian principles, a lot has changed in the legislature and society since then.  Misinterpretations and taking verses out of context has been a tool to teach false doctrines and drive the narrative that the Bible is errant and untrustworthy. It has been picked apart, misunderstood, and abused for power and discrimination. Yet, when we look at our history, some of our well-loved heroes, especially those of the Civil Rights Movement, have been Bible-believing, God-fearing men and women. It is remarkable how much the Bible has to say about God’s forgiveness, restoring peace, and healing from injustice. The book of Philemon is especially important as we ponder the social and cultural barriers of our time in 2020. It is one of Paul’s four letters that he wrote in prison addressed to his coworker in the faith, Philemon, and the church that met in his home.

Leading with Love

Paul was an apostle of Christ, held a position of authority as an elder in the church, and was a highly educated Roman citizen, but did not lead with his authority or accomplishments; he led with love. Paul appealed to Philemon as a friend and brother in Christ: “… although I have great boldness in Christ to command you to do what is right, I appeal to you, instead on the basis of love.” (v. 9) Paul asked Philemon to exercise his free will in respect and love for his runaway-slave Onesimus, and welcome him back despite his offenses. Paul wrote, “So if you consider me a partner, welcome him [Onesimus] as you would me. And if he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.” (v. 17-18) Instead of exercising his God-given authority to command Philemon to obey him, he chose to appeal to Philemon’s faithful disciple heart of compassion and mercy. 

Pause for Reflection: Has there been a time when someone of authority chose to submit themselves and gently appeal for you to do something? Was there a time when you did or said something offensive, and someone appealed for forgiveness on your behalf? How did you feel?

No Longer a Slave

It seems Onesimus had stolen something from his master Philemon and, out of fear of punishment, ran away. Although slavery was part of the social fabric of the time, Paul appealed to Philemon to view Onesimus beyond the social constructs, and through the eyes of Jesus as:  “no longer a slave, but more than a slave–as a dearly loved brother.” (v. 16) Paul was confident that his request would be obeyed by Philemon as he sent Onesimus back, “Since I am confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.” (v. 21)  I wonder how much more Philemon did to show forgiveness and give grace to Onesimus. I wonder how his actions were guided by God’s love and grace to treat Onesimus as part of God’s family.  Paul teaches us that the way we treat others should not be dictated by social constructs, but by God’s love. We can all learn that truly living for Christ means going the extra mile for someone. Paul wasn’t afraid of Philemon turning against him and refusing Onesimus. He didn’t have to beg, plead or bribe. He trusted the Holy Spirit’s work in Philemon to do the right thing. 

Do we have such faith in our brothers and sisters in the church?

Early Christian Attitudes toward Slavery

It’s true that throughout history, as recorded in the Bible, slavery was frequent in many nations. Yet when God’s son Jesus came to earth, he broke down every barrier to provide a way for all people to have a relationship with Him, take part in His mission, and share in eternal life. Paul reflects this attitude as he appeals to Philemon asking him to forgive Onesimus for his wrong and see him beyond his earthly position. Paul’s appeal reminds us that in Christ, we have a new identity. Paul also wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!”

As followers of Christ we must learn to see ourselves and others beyond our earthly status and labels. We must not shy away from marginalized people groups and look down on them, but remember that without Christ, we are all broken, hopeless and lost. 

An Opportunity for Today’s Church

Our social climate in the West is much different than the time Philemon was written (AD 60-61) but there are many places around the world where slavery and related issues still exist. Our work is far from over as the church of Christ. We have the opportunity to be like Paul:

  1. Seek the well-being of the prisoner, the poor, and the oppressed.
  2. Appeal to others through relationships of love to do the right thing.
  3. View others through the eyes of Christ–as someone whose sins He died for, and someone God longs to have an eternal relationship with.

If the law is to change, a lot of this work will be done in the courts through constitutional lawyers, and through politicians in the legislature. It is important that we keep our brothers and sisters in the courtroom and legislature in our prayers, and encourage them to keep pressing forward for the Kingdom. But, in many cases, legal change follows social change, and we the church have an important role to play in showing others that each human being deserves to be treated with love and dignity. 

May we always strive to be peacemakers, seeking the well-being of those in need or cast aside, as Paul did for Onesimus.

 Every blessing

Peter

Week beginning 6 September 2020

Navigating Transition:
The Unpredictable Life

‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’…

‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’  At once they left their nets and followed him.

MARK 1:15, 17-18


The level of change that most of us have faced in the last six months has been significant. Social distancing, face masks, and hand sanitising have become normal. Home working, online meetings, and education, together with the use of social media, have grown exponentially. Expressions like ‘furloughed’ and ‘press unmute’ are often on our lips. Outings to the garden centre or tip have caused a level of excitement unthinkable a year ago. Alongside these have been more distressing changes: bereavement, business collapse, job loss, postponed weddings or other celebrations, and isolation.

The psychological journey that accompanies change is known as transition. This journey has recognised stages: (1) signals of change, (2) ending well, (3) dis-orientation, and (4) re-orientation. Whilst transition may not occur as neatly as these stages suggest, it is the process by which we assimilate the practical, emotional, mental, and spiritual changes that are happening.

Christians are arguably best placed to cope with the level of disruption that has resulted from the pandemic. We are called to an unpredictable life. As with the first disciples, the call to ‘follow’ Jesus requires instant response, whether that call is to witness to a colleague, challenge a business directive, faithfully persevere in a difficult context, or to ‘leave our nets’. We do so because, as Jesus announced, God’s reign in this world is being established. The inner transition required is to ‘repent and believe’. Repent means to ‘turn back’ – turn back, perhaps, from the idols of convenience, comfort, and control. And believe – trust in the goodness, love, and reign of our God.

Change is the new normal. Whilst change may be sudden, we see examples of the longer, inner journey of transition throughout the Scriptures, be it forty years in the wilderness, a year of beauty treatments, forty days in the desert, or ten days in an upper room. Times in which God prepares his people for the new phase or role he is initiating.

Our autumn prayer journey, ‘Navigating Transition’, begins next week. Over 40 days we will explore the inner re-orientation and redefinition that is needed in order to incorporate any changes into our life. God always accompanies and guides us on this journey of transition and so we have incorporated specific prayer practices into this process. Do join us!

Bev Shepherd
Prayer Journeys Project Leader, LICC

Find the sign-up page at https://www.licc.org.uk/ourresources/prayer-journeys

Every Blessing,

Robert.


Week beginning 30 August 2020

Sarah Bessey is a Canadian Christian writer and speaker: after a month in which she saw increased numbers dying from coronavirus and the violence and protests over black deaths in America, she penned the following prayer as a Benediction for August. I hope we can all say Amen to it.

Ancient, almighty, good and kind One: here we are.

Good morning, God. Give me a minute to breathe in and breathe out a few times, here in the embrace of Your silence. What a month it has been. Many of us are here with more exhaustion, sorrow, anger, and resignation than could even begin to name. Who knew an apocalypse would be so exhausting? Would You meet with us in this space, in this place, in this particular moment?

May we be a people who make friends with our righteous anger and steward it well. May we never be afraid of paying attention to that anger, knowing that an invitation from You awaits us in this place. We sense and honour Your anger, God: anger on behalf of the vulnerable, the oppressed, the marginalized, the forgotten. We join with You in that grief.

Jesus, sustain our passion and direct us into life-giving transformation. Sustain us with love and hope, a good night’s sleep and a tomato sun-warm from the garden, with community and collective lament, wisdom from our elders and deliberate counter-intuitive unashamed gratitude.

We yearn for our passion to matter in this world, for our grief to be acknowledged. Really, we know now what it means to pray for your Kin-dom to come.

May we pay attention to our joy, God. Your mischief waits for us at that intersection, we believe - joy and anger - and we are ready to get into some hot water with you.

Would You guide us towards the practice of goodness? Keep us connected and engaged, wise as serpents and innocent as doves even as we co-create justice and peace in this tired beloved tragedy of a world. Would you help us to make room to practice and notice the things that bring us joy, keep us open, heal us, and give us rest. I pray for my friends who are in this space with me: may we each practice rest and joy like the resistance depends on our well-being in body and soul?

We will not despise the days of small things, God. We know You are hiding in plain sight in our right-now lives. Give us a sense of purpose when we phone bank, when we protest, when we vote, when we show up to city council meetings, when we clean washrooms and feed people and prayer-walk our neighbourhoods. Give us bravery for the work of hard conversations with people who have disappointed us. Give us strength to speak truth in love to power.

May we be the ones who do not settle for calling out but be the ones who dare to call others ‘in’ - in to mercy, in to goodness, in to justice, in to repentance, in to hope. Keep room in our hearts for us to be surprised.

Give us courage, Holy One. Courage to engage, courage to stay angry, courage to not turn away to numbness or distraction, courage to love, and the courage to show up for our own lives and for our own moment in history.

We pray for our enemies, Jesus. This is the hardest of hard things you have asked for us to do. But we do: we pray for them. Open their eyes, their hearts. Call the wicked into repentance. Make the story of Zaccheus real to us in some small way: so that we can see the wicked ones turn towards you and then make retribution and reparations for their sin. And when we lack faith for this - I lack faith for this right now, Jesus - help our unbelief.

Keep in your perfect love all of those we have lost this month in particular. Whether their names are known by thousands or they died alone and forgotten by the world, whether they perished from COVID-19 or old age or by police brutality, we know that you know every hair on their head, their true name, and hold them in peace now, in the expanse of love that flows and holds and sustains everything. Hold them for us, Jesus, especially when our arms and our hope feel empty.

Mother God, draw near to those who are grieving. Keep watch with them. We know you are tender with our grief and you mourn with us. God of sorrows, we yearn for the day when all tears are wiped away by your work-hardened thumb.

God, would give us eyes to see You at work in the world even in darkest of nights? Bless the work that we do, we offer our days to our highest ideals and deepest hopes.

As we turn now towards a new month, we do not know what each of these days will hold for us. But we are held by You and that is enough. Would you plant in us a stubborn hope, a never-backing-down, never-giving-up, against-all-good-sense-and-evidence-to-the-contrary hope? We need it. Unfurl that hope in our hearts and our hands, may we plant seeds of that sort of hope into this world. May we believe that we will see the goodness of God in the land of the living still.

We love You, Jesus. And we trust You. You are beautiful to us, your ways are life, abundant life.

And all God’s people said,

Amen.

Amen indeed, Every blessing to you all,

Peter 

 

Week beginning 23 August 2020

The following article is from the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity and is written by Chris Rousell, Student Worker at St Michael-le-Belfrey, York

Nathanael’s A-Level Algorithm

The furore and subsequent U-Turn over A-Level and GCSE results being allocated by algorithm have dominated headlines this week.

Instead of students’ results being decided by their exam performance, grades were to be determined by a projection. The calculation included – amongst other things – factors such as their school’s historic record. Whether intended or not, the outcome saw those from disadvantaged backgrounds more likely to have their marks downgraded than students from wealthier areas.

The driving force behind the understandable anger at this situation revealed something which gets to the very core of human desire. Students didn’t want their grades determined for them by an algorithm. They wanted to be seen and judged for who they are and what they have produced.

Jesus himself experiences a crude version of this algorithm. In John 1, having answered Jesus’ call to follow him, Philip finds Nathanael and tells him Jesus is the one about whom Moses and the prophets wrote. ‘He’s Joseph’s son – from Nazareth.’ Nathanael famously retorts ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ (John 1:46).

Knowing who Jesus is and all he achieved, we know to roll our eyes at Nathanael’s naivety. But were it not for a very public climb down, Nathanael’s eye roll-inducing thought pattern would have informed the outcomes of thousands of students across the country. ‘Do you seriously think that someone from Nazareth would achieve the high grades predicted for them?’

Philip’s response reflects the attitude we saw from the students who had been most affected: ‘come and see.’ ‘Nathanael, if you think nothing good can come from Nazareth, come and see the brilliance of the one who has been long promised.’

If you think a school’s previous performance would accurately determine the achievement of the current cohort, come and see.

Ultimately, the government relented and reverted to using teacher-assessed grades, but the anger that this set of results has caused points to something so very precious about being known by the living God.

When it comes to exams we desire to be judged on our own merit; in Jesus we are offered something far greater. For those whose hope is in Christ, there will be no anxious waiting come the day when the world receives its final grade. For a relationship with God isn’t based on our location, family history, peer group, or our own performance, but on the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

And it’s immensely personal. God doesn’t use an algorithm.

I pray all is well with you all. Every blessing for the coming week,

Robert.

Week beginning 16 August 2020

Lost and Found

Have you ever lost something that was valuable to you? Do you remember how you felt? If what you lost was special to you, you probably felt disappointment and frustration after searching and not finding it.

In Luke 15 there are three parables: The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and The Lost Son. In each of these stories, told by Jesus, we see three people lose something. We see their efforts to search for it. And, we see them rejoice when they find what they were looking for. These parables are so beautiful because they illustrate God’s relentless search for us, and His insurmountable joy when we are found.

Let us look at the parable of The Lost Sheep. Here, the Pharisees and scribes were complaining as they saw sinners and tax collectors welcomed by Jesus:

“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he [Jesus] told them this parable: “What man among you, who has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it? When he has found it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, and coming home, he calls his friends and neighbours together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’ I tell you, in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who don’t need repentance.”

Luke 15: 2-7

Jesus’ words get straight to the heart. The Pharisees and scribes were the religious people of the first century, yet time after time they were hypocritical, prideful and unmerciful. I think about the church today… How many of us have been like the Pharisees? How many of us have felt so righteous and good about ourselves that we turned up our noses when mercy and attention was given to those without a relationship with Jesus?

To us, it might seem reckless to leave a flock of 99 sheep to search for one, but that’s how much God cares about every single one of His children. It’s moving enough to imagine that great love of God, but the parable goes even deeper.

Jesus explains the point of his parable so the Pharisees could understand exactly why he used that story. In Luke 15:7 He says, “I tell you, in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who don’t need repentance.”

The lost sheep is the person lost in their sin, far away from God. The 99 are the righteous people who never wandered. The shepherd is Jesus, seeking to find the person lost in sin, and restore them to the flock. 

I don’t know about you, but I know that I sin. I come face to face with my failures and mistakes every day. I think it’s those times when we get comfortable, thinking we have it all together, that we are the most vulnerable. The enemy is always waiting for an opportunity to make us stumble. But, when we recognize that without Jesus we are completely lost, we find our true source of strength. It’s the humility in recognizing when we wander, that God comes to rescue us.

Jesus is always searching for us. He’s waiting for us to turn to Him, repent of our sins, and commit to walking life with Him. The next time you notice yourself straying off into the temptations of this world, turn back to Jesus. Heaven will rejoice when you do.

Every blessing

Peter

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                                                          

 

 

  • John 6:35

    “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.”

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