Article Index

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.

  • 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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