Article Index

 

Saturday 30 May

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

Make your house a child’s long-term home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Direct link:   youtu.be/FmT0nf415TM

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

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Friday 29 May

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

Stay safe

Peter

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Thursday 28 May

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

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

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

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

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

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Wednesday 27 May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every blessing

Peter

Tuesday 26 May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Monday 25 May

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

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

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

Stay safe.

Every blessing

Peter

Saturday 23 May

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

Breaking Open

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every Blessing,

Robert

Friday 22 May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope you're all keeping well and safe

Every blessing

Peter

 

Thursday 21 May

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every Blessing and keep safe,

Robert.

Wednesday 20 May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep smiling, and stay safe!

Peter            

Tuesday 19 May

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

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

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

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

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Monday 18 May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe

Peter

Saturday 16 May

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

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

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

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Friday 15 May

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

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

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

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

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

Every blessing

Peter

Thursday 14 May

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

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

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

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

Every Blessing and keep safe,

Robert

Wednesday 13 May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every blessing

Peter

Tuesday 12 May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every Blessing, Robert.

Monday 11 May

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

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

For those who have known too much unexpected death.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you get rid of unfair practices,

   quit blaming victims,

   quit gossiping about other people’s sins,

If you are generous with the hungry

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

Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,

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

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

As fear grips our country,

Let us choose love, justice, grace and truth.

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

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

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

May this be a prayer for all of us.

Every blessing to you all

Peter

 

Saturday 9 May

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

‘Dear Robert

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘With every blessing, Gavin Calver’

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

Friday 8 May (VE Day)

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

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

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

Stay well and stay safe.

Every blessing

Peter

Thursday 7 May

The latest magazine from Open Doors says:

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

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

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

Every blessing and stay safe,

Robert

Wednesday 6 May

God Has Good Plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every blessing

Peter

Tuesday 5 May

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

https://youtu.be/PUtll3mNj5U

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

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

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

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

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

Every Blessing and keep safe.    Robert.

Monday 4 May

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

https://youtu.be/PUtll3mNj5U

Saturday 2 May

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

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

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

Friday 1 May

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

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

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

Finally, a prayer for today.

A prayer

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

God be with us.

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

God be with us

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

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

God be with us.

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

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

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

Amen

  • Proverbs 9:10

    “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

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