Article Index

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 

  • Matthew 6:33

    “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

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