Welcome …

August 16, 2009

… to the Vicar’s Blog. Why another blog, I hear you cry? Well, our main blog says what’s happening in our churches, and the ministry blog provides the sermons. But how does all this come about? What’s it like to be responsible for a church like St Michael’s and St Barnabas? Indeed, what does a vicar do?

IMG_5727I can’t say all will be revealed here, as lots of what I do is confidential. But I hope some of what I say will be useful, and maybe even encouraging! Comments and feedback, as always, more than welcome.

Every blessing,

Rev Tim

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I was going to write a blog…

June 11, 2019
spiritual armour

Put on the full armour of God (Eph 6:11)

I had hoped to give a day by day account of Thy Kingdom Come. I wanted – perhaps for my own ego – to share all the church was doing and the wonderful events that had taken place. I wanted people to see that the Lord is very much alive and active in Stoke and Devonport.

 

But TKC 2019 didn’t quite work out like that. Yes, I had some particular significant conversations with folk outside the church, and some special times of prayer. However what TKC 2019 showed me above all else is that we are engaged in a spiritual battle.

For some people right now it is tough being a Christian. Some are becoming discouraged, or feeling defeated. Some are drifting away not because of any lack of faith but because the pressures of life are simply so great.

And the evil one loves to pick individuals off. He loves to separate church members from fellowship and make them feel weak and isolated. That is why it is more important than ever that we all come together to worship, to pray and yes, to praise. Joining together in worship may be the last thing we want to do. It may be a sacrifice that seems too great to bear. But there is one antidote above all else that defeats the devils schemes  – it is coming together to put on the armour of God so we can stand firm on the day of evil (Ephesians 6:11-18).

When we were in Kenya, we came to a church which once was struggling. Commitment and attendance were low. The church came together and received a picture from the Lord of a sleeping elephant. They prayed together, they took action, and now they have a new vision of a dancing elephant, powerful, strong and awake.

If we can come together, we too can see new life and growth. So I am asking you as your top priority to join together on Thursday evening at St Michael’s for a time of prayer. If you can come for food at 6.30pm that would be great. But come anyway at 7.30pm as we pray about the whole theme of spiritual warfare. And bring others with you, as together we seek the Lord’s will, and claim the victory that is ours in Christ.

I very much hope to see you all there.

 


Thy Kingdom Come – Days 3 and 4

June 4, 2019

Try praying

It’s easy to think of kingdom work as bold, new initiatives which draw in loads of people, and lead to massive church growth. But Jesus likens the kingdom of God to a mustard seed. And the weekend felt very much like mustard seed planting.

At St Michael’s, as always, the congregation was about 50% different from last week. It was an All-Age Worship but no children came, although we had a number of young adults. Nonetheless there was a sense of the Lord present in our worship, and I am sure seeds were being planted. I am so grateful for the faithfulness of what others would label ‘a small inner-city congregation’, and I think so often the unseen kingdom work that goes in a church such as this can be undervalued. As we saw in our anniversary celebrations, the Lord keeps on working here, no matter how many or how few may be entered on the service register.

At St Aubyn’s  we are literally starting a Sunday afternoon congregation from scratch. We haven’t reached double figures yet, but again we see different people from week to week. We are told not to despise the day of small beginnings, and I am very much looking forward to see how this work will grow.

 

 


Thy Kingdom Come – Day 2

June 1, 2019

Try praying

There’s very little to add to what Lynda has written on the main site.

I am reminded of an old, old hymn “Count your blessings one by one, and you will be amazes at what the Lord has done.” From the outside we may be a small, struggling inner-city church but God does some remarkable things here and it is a privilege to serve in this place!

 


Thy Kingdom Come 2019 – Day One

May 30, 2019

Try praying

It’s been a good start to Thy Kingdom Come. We gathered at 10am for our service of Holy Communion at St Aubyn’s and it was a very special time of worship, where we sang some old but very powerful Ascension Day hymns. As always, I spent the time before the service standing outside – it’s amazing how many people do a double take driving past as they see a vicar in his robes.

I am still working out how to be a regular presence in St Aubyn’s parish, but one thing I try and do is have lunch down at Devonport Live. There is always a warm welcome there, and as often I ended up in conversation. A couple recognised me from a funeral I had taken, and to me that is a reminder how much we need to pray for the contacts we make through these kinds of services.

In the evening we had three small prayer groups across St Barnacles parish. It felt good to have small groups of people praying in different locations at the same time – is this something the Lord is calling us to do more often?

Because of a clash in bookings, I ended up praying outside St Michael’s church, but that was fine. I think one of the points of Thy Kingdom Come is to take prayer outside, and standing outside you can’t but help praying for the local community, for the passers by, for the neighbours to the church.

I was also struck by the six foot of paving between our front gate and the door, and how we need to go out and welcome people who are uncertain about making that step from street into building. I then began to pray for those who had make that step of faith, but for whatever reason have not been back for some time. My heart this year is very much for the drifters, for those who whatever reason no longer attend as they once did. Lord, bring them back!

I then prayer walked down to the traffic lights towards the bottom of Albert Road, as always trying to see the local area through God’s eyes. So much is there – the blocks of flats, the empty shops, the takeaway outlets and the beauty salons, the funeral parlour, the supermarket, the technical college etc. etc. If we do not pray for all these places and the people who live, work or study there, who will?

I walked back through Stoke village and on the way home, as so often happens, ended up having a pastoral conversation with someone I needed to catch up with. It’s been a long, but rewarding day, and I am very much looking forward to what the Lord is going to do tomorrow.

And just in case you’ve forgotten, 31st May is the tenth anniversary since our first service in the new church. Come along for the service at 7.30pm, followed by food. There is really nothing better you can do on a Friday evening!


Thy Kingdom Come 2019

May 23, 2019

Try praying

As far as I can tell, this will now be our fourth year of Thy Kingdom Come. Each year we have a plan and timetable, and yet each year God surprises us with what He does. It’s been fascinating to look back and see what He has done in previous years, and you might want to look at my blog entries for previous years:

2018

2017

2016

The one constant we have learnt time after time is the important of prayer. When we pray, things happen! Sadly so often it seems that only a keen minority of any given church are pray-ers. Many ministers report that their prayer meetings are least well attended events of the week or the month. Maybe some don’t feel confident praying with others. Maybe some are unsure what difference their prayers will make. Maybe some see praying as relatively unimportant.

Yet as our mission action plan shows, the life of the church is rooted in prayer. Our aim is nothing less than for every church member to have some pattern of regular, personal devotion with Jesus. I long to see a church full of confident faithful prayers who regularly spend time together seeking God’s will and with a passion to see God’s kingdom come in Stoke and Devonport.

So our simple theme for 2019 is “Try Praying”. We want to encourage folk who have never prayed before or who have questions to try praying for the first time or in a new way. We want to encourage those who pray to faithful, regularly pray for family and friends who do not yet know the Lord. We want to encourage those who do not normally come together to pray to put aside their fears and concerns and join in with our prayer.

A quote from Samuel Zwemer I recently rediscovered: The history of missions is the history of answered prayer. It is the key to the whole mission problem. All human means are secondary.  That is something we are learning in our current short sermon series from Acts. Paul, Peter and countless unnamed disciples of the early church achieved great things because they prayed regularly, together and with boldness. What is stopping us from being like them?

Let’s make TKC 2019 a time of great prayer, and I look forward to blogging about some surprising results!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

r to have some pattern of regular, personal devotion with Jesus.


A thought for Easter

April 18, 2019

Notre Dame

Rightly there has been an outpouring of grief over the fire at Notre Dame cathedral. We have rightly mourned the damage to the building, the destruction of precious artefacts and the desolation of an iconic symbol of French culture. I have never visited Paris, or lived there, but from what I read the sense of loss of immeasurable.

My one thought, however, is this: while so many people mourn for the loss of a building, where is there a similar outpouring of grief when a church community suffers a spiritual loss? We hear stories on a fairly regular basis of churches torn apart by disputes, or brought low by the sinful behaviour of a few members, or simply becoming cold and apathetic. Yet how often do we mourn over the state of the church on a local or indeed national level?

I was struck this morning at St Aubyn’s by a verse from 1 Corinthians 11:17: Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse (RSV) or as the NIV paraphrases it: your meetings do more harm than good. What a state of affairs that joyful fellowship in the Spirit instead becomes a negative, destructive experience! Yet this is what can happen and we need to be alert to the danger.

That is this Maundy Thursday we need to visit afresh Jesus’ words to His disciples in John 13:34-35: A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. This is our mission statement as a church (and forms the counterpoint to the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20). It is the quality of our relationships one with another that tells those around us whether or not Jesus really is at the centre of our fellowship. No matter what words are preached, or songs sung, if that love is not there, no-one will be that much wiser that Jesus is our Lord and Saviour.

Love doesn’t mean, of course, that we always get on with each other – there will at times be conflicts and disagreements (see my last post) – but when we are committed to loving, serving and forgiving one another come what may, Jesus will be honoured and glorified through and, more than not, in spite of us.

This may sound quite negative, but one thing that has so much encouraged me recently has been the growth in love at St Barnacles. I have seen so many people supporting, encouraging, comforting one another, often in hard, tough situations, and I have seen newcomers warmly included in that love. But we can never say that we have loved enough or shown enough of Jesus to the world around us.

So my simple prayer this Easter is for a fresh work of the Holy Spirit so that our love for Jesus and for each other grows and deepens, and others see the power of Jesus at work among us. And if you are reading this post as a visitor, please do join us, either at St Michael’s at 10.30am or at St Aubyn’s at 3pm. We would love to see you there!


Bricks and stones

April 1, 2019

StonesWhen we arrived at the vicarage seventeen years we found a number of bricks in the garden. They have proven useful for all kinds of things and they are easy to pick up and move around as the need arises. But what we also found were many, many different stones of all shapes and sizes, some with bits of cement on them, some hidden in the ground, some with rough edges. It’s been quite a puzzle to know what to do with all of them, and they don’t easily fit together.

Over the past few weeks at St Aubyn’s we have been looking at the story of Nehemiah rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, and this story has got me thinking about these bricks and stones in my garden. The New Testament doesn’t have anything to say about physical building projects but in many places it talks about the way the Lord is using us to build His kingdom. For example, in 1 Peter 2:4-5 we read:

As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

What does it mean to think of ourselves as living stones? When you are a newly minted vicar fresh in post you imagine you are helping to a build a church with nice, neat bricks, that easily fit together and join together to make a strong, stable structure. But the reality is that as human beings we are more like the stones in my garden. We have rough edges, we don’t neatly get along with each other, we may find it hard to find our place in the whole building.

That is why change and conflict are part of the normal church life. It has taken me years to realise this, but it is so important we understand this.

First of all, God wants to change us. He wants to knock off the rough edges, chip away at all the stuff that’s stuck to us over the years, he wants to make us more the people we are created to be. That can be a difficult and painful process. The Bible calls it discipline, and we don’t like it. We would prefer a comfortable faith, a faith that doesn’t cost us too much,  a faith that is more our shape than God’s.

But God wants to change us because He is our loving Heavenly Father. He allows us to pass through tough situations, not because He enjoys us suffer, but because He wants us to learn more and more of His faithfulness, good and mercy. He does speak to us and convict us through His word, not simply that we feel bad, but through repentance we discover more and more of His grace. He does lead us into new challenges, so that we rely more and more on His Holy Spirit not on ourselves.

Because our faith is one that needs to grow and mature. That may sound very simple, but sadly I am aware there are so many believers who do not want to grow in their faith, or reach towards the maturity their Heavenly Father would have them enjoy. The simple message “God loves you so much He wants you to change” is one they simply cannot hear. However unless we allow God to change us, we will be so much less effective in building His kingdom. For the evidence that God really is alive and working in power is found in the lives of those who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour and are open to the power of the Holy Spirit to transform them.

Secondly, there will be from time to time tensions amongst us. Have you ever seen a dry stone wall being built? There is a real skill in the builder choosing the right stone to fit against its neighbour. Sometimes a rough edge needs to be knocked off, or a different stone chosen in place.  In the same way, because we are imperfect human beings, we will find we will sometimes be in conflict with our other fellow believers. We don’t seek conflict out, or embrace it willingly. But we recognise that in order for us to grow in grace sometimes we will have misunderstandings, disagreements, arguments. After all, think of how many people in the Bible had their conflicts. Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, Paul and Barnabas, to name very, very few examples.

Now many people shy away from conflict and with good reason. Conflict can lead to all kinds of sinful behaviour which can ultimately destroy a church. But if we don’t actually address the cause of our conflict, if we simply try to be nice to another, the problem is, we are storing up issues which will only cause more trouble further on up the line. Simply avoiding the issue, or stopping going to church, is not a solution.

However if we can learn to be open and honest with one another, if we can truly learn to forgive and be forgiven, as Jesus teaches us in the Lord’s prayer, then the way we resolve our conflicts can be a powerful witness to the gospel. Ours is a gospel of reconciliation, as Paul pointed out to the troublesome and deeply divided church in Corinth (2 Cor 5:17-20):

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

So as we approach the end of Lent, let me ask two questions; how has this season of spiritual discipline allowed the Lord to change us? As we approach Holy Week and the events of Easter, what difference will Jesus’ sacrifice make to our relationships with one another? If we are living stones then we are called to grow. That growth may be painful, it may involve chipping off old habits, and knocking off rough corners, but it is essential if we truly are to build God’s kingdom in this place.