How do I pray for Thy Kingdom Come?

May 18, 2017

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As I said in my last post, we need folk who will cover every activity of Thy Kingdom Come in Prayer. So how do we do this? Here are some practical suggestions:

First of all, begin with thanks. Whatever happens, God reigns over Stoke and Devonport. The Psalmist tells us (Psalm 24:1) that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. That includes our streets, our homes, our shops, our local businesses. God is in control because every square inch of every place belongs to Him. It is just that many people have not recognised this fact.

Thank God also for the amazing privilege of prayer. Jesus tells us in John 14:14: You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. This God who reigns over all is not distant, not impersonal. He is longing and waiting to hear our prayers. How do we know this? Because Jesus died for us and so opened up for us once for all a new and living in the presence of God. Yet how often do we fail to thank God for the wonderful gift of prayer!

And also thank God for the gift of His Holy Spirit. Jesus goes on in John 14 to make this promise in verse 23: If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. The God of heaven and earth comes and dwells in the hearts of all who love Him and seek to do His will. So we are not left to work out how to serve Him in our own strength, or to do our best with our own resources. We have the Holy Spirit living within us to guide, comfort and sustain us hour by hour, minute by minute.

So as you reflect on who God is – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – it becomes natural, then, to turn thanks into prayer.

Pray that in all our events men and women, young and old, will come to realise that God is control and that Jesus is Lord. When the risen Lord Jesus appeared to Thomas in the Upper Room (John 20:26-28), Thomas could only cry out My Lord and my God. Ask that the Lord would be gracious and reveal Himself to many at this time.

Pray that as we ask people if there is anything they would like us to bring to the Lord, hearts would be opened to the wonder of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The blind man whom Jesus healed said “Lord, I believe” and he worshipped Him (John 9:38). Pray that people would understand and rejoice in the power of prayer offered in Jesus’ name.

Pray also for the Holy Spirit to guide, comfort and sustain all who are involved in each day’s activities. Use the timetable for TKC as a practical guide. Think about those who are engaged in conversations, or who are setting up, or who are running an activity. We do not know what situations we will encounter. We will face spiritual opposition. The enemy may try to discourage or disappoint us. Pray that each and every person will be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power (Eph 6:10).

And as you pray, use the Lord’s prayer to close as we all seek God’s kingdom come and His will to be done in Stoke and Devonport as it is in heaven. Amen!!

 

 

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Why Thy Kingdom Come?

May 16, 2017

Thy kingdom come logo

I hope by now you will have seen the publicity on the main page about Thy Kingdom Come and if you are a church member, I also hope that you have signed up or are about to sign up for the events that are about to take place.

But why are we doing this event in the first place? Is it because the Archbishops have asked us to hold an event? Is it because we want to raise the profile of the church?

No, the simple answer is that we are surrounded by many, many people who need prayer. Living on our streets, going to our schools, working in our shops and in our care homes, there are folk with deep, deep spiritual needs. They may not be aware that prayer is what they need, but they are looking for some kind of guidance and help. However they will not necessarily come into our church buildings. We discovered last year that our most successful TKC events took place outside the church, and we must not expect that simply by opening the church we will draw people in (although by God’s grace some will come).

So behind all the events is one simple idea, based on the example of Jesus Himself. Jesus didn’t build a church and wait for folk to drop in. He went out and touched the lives of those He met. He also taught His disciples to follow Him, and as becomes clear in the gospels, following Jesus means doing the things Jesus Himself did.

That’s why during TKC we are going out in the name of Jesus. We may be rather nervous offering prayer to people we have never met, but if we are going out intent on obeying Jesus, then we can be sure that Jesus will have already prepared the encounter. We may be unsure of what to say, but Jesus is already at work by His Holy Spirit and will give us the words. I myself used to be very nervous about praying with new people in new situations, but only twice in eighteen years of ministry has anyone ever refused the opportunity to be prayed for.

And even if you yourself are not in position to come out and join us in prayer walking or at the prayer stations, there are still plenty of ways you can get involved. Can you spare some time at 9am or 3pm during the day to join us to pray at St Michael’s or St Barnabas? What about the coffee morning on Saturday 27th May or the evening prayer party on Thursday 1st June at St Michael’s, for example?

Even if you can’t get involved in any of these events, there is still a vital part you can play – because behind all the activities we need an army of folk who are simply praying for those who are going out, and covering every activity of this event in prayer. The most effective witness of the church, as I said on Sunday, is when everyone is united and has a shared vision. TKC isn’t about one small group at St Michael’s and St Barnabas doing mission on behalf of the church. It’s about the whole church of Christ declaring that Christ is Lord and sharing His love through compassionate, sensitive prayer, whether directly on the frontline or indirectly back at home.

So what part are you going to play in TKC?

There’s a story in the Bible, in Exodus 17: Joshua is down in the valley fighting the Amalekites. At this time Moses is leading God’s people, and you might have thought he was involved in the battle. But no, he is far away from the scene of the action. Why? Let’s read on to verses 10-13:

So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up – one on one side, one on the other – so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.

For TKC to be truly effective, we need some engaged directly in the spiritual battle, and others who are providing unseen but vital prayer support. So please, make sure you know what is going on, and cover every event in prayer, whether or not you are going to be involved. Because the needs of those around us are great, and all of us are called to follow Jesus, to the glory of His name.

 

 

 

 

 


Claiming Christ’s victory

April 27, 2017
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The sword of the Spirit (Eph 6:18)

What do you think of when you hear the words “spiritual warfare?”

I guess some of us are quite uncomfortable with the term. We don’t like to entertain the idea that there may be unseen forces ranged against us, and we don’t want to have a faith which contains any idea of a spiritual battle. Yet it doesn’t take too much imagination to see that there really are dark forces in the word; we can just look at the news headlines, for example, or even what sadly sometimes goes on in our own city. The apostle Paul reminds us our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12).

Yet, as in most areas of our Christian faith, we need to have a right balance. There are some believers who see dark forces behind every misfortune, every suffering, every wrong decision.  The danger here is that in seeing spiritual warfare in each and every turn we focus too much on the opposition rather on the person and presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.

So when it is right to identify spiritual warfare at work? My answer would be when we see a series of events that appear to hinder the purposes of God and the growth of His kingdom.

A specific example: we had tremendous Easter celebrations this year and the church was packed on Easter Sunday. The following week a whole load of people found at the last minute that circumstances prevented them from getting to church. This week two of our small groups have had to cancel due to unforeseen events. Surely the timing is not coincidental. The tactics of the evil one are always the same: to try and disrupt, discourage and disturb.

That’s why I found this verse, from Colossians 2:15, so helpful when we gathered for Evening Prayer yesterday. Talking of the finished work of Jesus Christ, Paul writes:

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Isn’t interesting that Paul talks about spiritual forces as powers and authorities? The forces of evil would like us to believe they have power (or the right to rule) and authority. They would like to us to believe they are in control. But on the cross Jesus defeated them once and for all. His very public death was a very public defeat of their ultimate power.

So at Evening Prayer we claimed this verse and simply prayed that the victory which Jesus won at the cross would become real for us. Can I ask you join in this prayer?

  • That nothing would prevent people from joining us for worship each Sunday and hearing the good news of Jesus Christ.
  • That as we prepare for Thy Kingdom Come we would be united in prayer and so disarm whatever powers and authorities pretend to hold sway in our area.
  • That as we make plans for the growth and mission of the church we would be guided only by the Holy Spirit to make His Kingdom come.

Because engaging in spiritual warfare is not an optional extra when it comes to the Christian faith. Let’s then focus on Christ’s victory so that we can see His kingdom come and His will done in Devonport and Stoke as in heaven.

 


Let us go outside the camp

April 9, 2017

No doubt by now you will have seen the photos of our Palm Sunday procession, and it always fascinates me to see how people react to a bunch of Christians walking up a street praying and singing. Some put up their hoods and walk past as quickly as possible; some put out their cigarettes and disappear back inside the pub; a few join in; while I am sure that at a distance not a few mutter unfavourable comments about these strange religious types.

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And I guess for some of us the idea of taking part in a procession seems perhaps rather odd or embarrassing. After all, if you are a shy British introvert like me, the last thing you want to do is to make a public spectacle of yourself. Witnessing in the open air takes you way outside your comfort zone, and you may well be wondering why on earth you are taking part.

But that is precisely the point of the Palm Sunday procession. As we enter Holy Week, we are remembering our Lord who exposed Himself not only to the praise of the crowds, but also the ridicule of the teachers, who just a few days later was openly humiliated by jeering crowds as He carried His cross to Calvary. Our procession is a sign that we are willing to identify with this Jesus and follow in His footsteps, a recognition that we are not called to a comfortable faith, but a willing, obedient faith, whatever the cost.

The writer to the Hebrews had it spot on when he wrote:

And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. (Heb 13:12-14)

After all, if we as a church were a merely human institution striving to raise our profile, then we would be doing something far more user-friendly to attract more members. But our goal is to build the kingdom of God, as we look forward to the city that is yet to come. That is why we take up our cross; that why we process, and why we keep on witnessing, no matter what others may think of us.

So next year will you join our Palm Sunday procession?

And in this Holy Week what will you do to identify with Jesus, who for our sake was humiliated, stripped and nailed to a cross?


How is Lent going for you?

April 8, 2017

As we begin Holy Week tomorrow, now seems a good time to sit down and review how Lent has been going.

For some, Lent seems to be 40 days of doing without, whether it be chocolate or Facebook, or anything else, and by this stage Easter can’t come soon enough! Indeed we may have a few relapses already, and it is only with grim determination that we are going to stay the course.

For others, Lent has been about starting some new spiritual discipline, but by now it’s become clear that taking up a new discipline has been more complicated than we thought. The general busyness of each time, or fatigue or illness, have taken their toll. We may well be wondering by now whether we really want to carry on with it.

I shared at the beginning of Lent that I had two goals for the season. One was to actually start the day by doing something productive, rather than wasting time on the Internet. The other was to try and find some space in each day. I have found the first goal relatively straightforward, and I can see how I really have benefited by concentrating on the task on hand. The second goal, however, has been more difficult to achieve and like many people I guess I can blame circumstances for that.

But I will persevere, because I believe Lent is meant to be far more than a time of denial where we count down the days before we go back to what we really enjoy doing.

After all, the basic standard that the Lord demands of our life is holiness. The people of Israel were told: Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy (Lev 19:2 and elsewhere) and this demand is repeated in the New Testament (1 Pet 1:15-16). Indeed we are told in Hebrews 12:14 that without holiness no-one will see the Lord. Why? Because it is the quality of our lives which will prove whether we really are the children of our heavenly Father.

Now holiness doesn’t come overnight. It takes time and effort and indeed is a lifetime’s work. Lent as a season of self-discipline is part of this process of becoming more like the Lord, and it needs to be seen in this broader perspective. So the purpose of each Lent is to produce fruit that will last, rather than serve as an interruption to our normal way of life.

All this can make the Christian life sound like hard work, and indeed sometimes it is. But as we strive to become more like the Lord, we need always to remember He gives us His Holy Spirit. The Lord doesn’t give us a standard to keep and expect us to reach it in our own strength. Rather, as we understand the challenge of becoming more the people He calls us to be, so we are meant to recognise and realise our utter dependence on the work of His Holy Spirit in our lives.

So before we begin Holy Week, it seems to me good that we use what remains of Lent remembering just why we are in need of God’s grace. So that when Easter comes, our greatest desire will not be go onto Facebook or raid the chocolate box (even though we may feel both are necessary) but to offer our lives in thankfulness for all that Jesus has done for us, who underwent the discipline of the cross so that we could become children of our loving Heavenly Father.


How to poison the body of Christ

March 23, 2017

bottle of poison

Often I am asked by outsiders, “Why can’t I see Jesus?” There are many ways you can answer that question. But the model answer ought to be that we can see Jesus in the local church. As I have said many times, the church is the body of Christ. Its calling is to be the visible presence of Jesus of the wider world.

For the church to fufil that calling, however, there needs to be open, trusting and loving relationships. Our love for each other shows that Jesus really is Lord in our lives. And it involves more than simply being nice with each other. It involves being honest with each other, recognising our differences and yet being committed to respecting the other person as someone for whom Christ died.

This is why gossip is so poisonous. Gossip often comes from the most unlikely of sources, from people who would be considered mature Christians and yet betray their maturity by the way they speak about other people. Such people, in my experience, would be horrified if they thought they were called gossips. They would justify their sharing of information as providing fuel for prayers, expressing concerns in confidence, wanting just to let you know “in case”.

But I want to name gossip for what it is – a dark and ugly sin that poisons the whole body of Christ. Any form of gossip goes against the Lord’s command to love your neighbour as yourself. It involves saying something about someone else you would not say to their face, and passing your judgement to a third party. Often that person sharing the information does not themselves question their source. So gossip feeds half-truths, and deception which spreads and spreads and spreads. It produces cliques of those in the know and those who feel excluded, vaguely aware without being able to get to the bottom of it all, that someone somewhere is talking about them. That is why a gossiping church cannot be a gospel church.

The Bible has plenty to say about gossip, particularly in the book of Proverbs.

A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret. (Prov 11:13). In other words, anything shared in confidence stays in confidence. If you feel to have to share something said, ask the other person’s permission first.

A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends. (Prov 16:28). This needs no comment – words thoughtlessly about spoken about another person destroy relationships again and again.

The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts. (Prov 18:8). Like most sin, gossip is something all of us enjoy from time to time. But just because you enjoy something, it doesn’t mean it’s right. And gossip is as much as what we post on social media as anything we share we face to face.

A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much. (Prov 20:19). One of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control. Someone who is desperate to share with you the latest titbit of news needs to avoided or challenged. It is rare for that person to have a genuine concern for whoever they are gossiping about.

Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down. (Prov 26:20). Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Yet time after time we see churches rent asunder by warring factions, and so often gossip is at the heart of the issue. We need to learn to listen, to really listen to one another. We need to learn to repent and recognise when our words have offended others. We need to invest our time in building other people up, rather than looking for opportunities to take them down.

Recently I have several times been told information about someone from a third hand source who themselves were not directly involved in the issue in question. I respect people who share genuine concerns with me, and I am always willing to hear these concerns in confidence. But if those concerns come to me only by a very indirect route, I immediately become concerned as to who else knows and who else doesn’t know what is going on. In any situation and in any organisation the shortest line of communication is best, and the longer the chain, the more likely it is that gossip has broken out. I would far rather hear news face-to-face than third or fourth hand.

So for the sake of the mission of the church, for the sake of those who are dying to see Jesus, let’s make every effort to avoid gossip. Some of the fruits of the sinful nature are dissension, factions and envy (Gal 5:20-21), and we must be clear – gossip plants their seeds. Let’s rather keep in step with the Spirit and make sure our words to one another reflect the good news we all long to make known.


My accidental Lent

March 5, 2017
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Taking things slowly…

Like quite a few people, I didn’t get round to thinking about Lent until it had already started this year. I could claim I had only just got back from Australia and I was mentally unprepared, but I certainly couldn’t pretend I didn’t know it was coming!

So gradually over the past few days I have decided to mark the season by making two small and not particularly profound changes in my daily routine.

The first is to make sure each day that I actually make myself stop and take a proper break. There is always more I could be doing, but I would be more productive if I actually let myself have some time out. So on Thursday I combined a meeting in Exeter with a walk along the River Exe in bright sunshine. On Friday I had a nap. Yesterday I finally cleared the debris of an old chicken house from the garden.

The second and related change is to use my time in front of the computer more wisely. I work best in the mornings. But the danger of being permanently connected to the Internet is that I can spend, say, half an hour before I achieve anything browsing or catching up on Facebook. I need the discipline of going into the study and focusing on the task in hand.

If there is a theological reflection to be made on these changes, it is this. We claim we will live by grace, yet I suspect that as believers we all too often define ourselves by our busyness. We live in a world which expects us to be busy, and to do more and more. Living by grace, however, means accepting I am not defined how much I do or how much I achieve. God does not love me more if I am busy, and indeed I suspect He would rather I slowed down so I allow myself the space to communicate with Him.

Yet grace does not mean that I can simply fritter away the time as I see fit. I am a steward of the time and gifts I have been given, and when I am busy, I need the discipline to make the main thing the main thing. Cute animal stories and tales of sporting success can wait, they really can. (Although I wonder how England are getting on against the West Indies at the moment … no, my first priority really is to finish this post.)

And as I said last Wednesday, the point of Lent is not to have a season of discipline only to cast it aside when we reach Easter. It’s to take up new habits which will hopefully enable us to spread the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection more effectively. I can’t say my new disciplines will be easy, because they never are. I am already finding I need the strength and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and that can only be a good thing.