When life changes…

July 8, 2017

We all need a routine and a rhythm to our life. That’s why we have diaries and calendars. It means we can reasonably predict what is going to happen, and are able to stay on top of things.

But from time to time our lives change and for a while our routines disappear. As many of you know, there’s been a fair bit of upheaval here at the vicarage over these past months – which is why this blog has been a bit neglected. Thank you to all who have prayed and offered to help  – it has been much appreciated.

So how does our faith help us in times of turmoil? Here are a few things that have helped us recently:

Keep up your daily walk with the Lord. In the good times, when everything is going well, we may find taking aside time each day to read the Bible and pray a bit of chore sometimes, or an unwelcome distraction. But keeping up the discipline in those times helps you to prepare for the bumps in the road when it’s harder to keep a straight course. You may have less time to pray, or be alone. But you find that, say, even just 5 minutes reading a passage of Scripture, really helps to keep you going. It is no coincidence that sometimes just a verse read fleetingly really speaks into your situation and helps to re-focus your thoughts beyond your immediate circumstances.

Find the joy in your situation. This has been Lynda’s motto over the past few weeks, and her insight has been of great benefit to us both. One of the fruits of the Spirit is joy, and we should expect to find something for which we can give the Lord thanks each day. We have discovered that on occasions this has been, for example, the timing when something unexpected or unwelcome happens. Yes, we may wish things turned out differently, but we can see that, had things happened at another time, they would have been a whole lot worse.

Praise the Lord for what you have done and leave in His hands what you haven’t been able to do. Each week I draw up a to-do list of things I think I need to do in the coming week. I have found that rarely I manage to achieve them all, and it can be very easy to have a sense of guilt. But then again there is always more that you could do. You simply have to accept that in times of upheaval your time and energy are limited. Allow the Lord to set your priorities and trust Him for the rest.

Some verses our daughter gave to us recently, from Psalm 27:13-14, have particularly spoken to us:

I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

We may not like waiting. We may want everything to change for the better overnight. But my experience is that the Lord can be trusted, and everything happens in His timing according to His good purposes and plan. Certainly I know He is the one who has given me strength recently and in Him I can take heart again and again.

 

 

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Reflecting on Thy Kingdom Come

June 5, 2017

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So Thy Kingdom Come has finished (although please don’t forget to collect outstanding prayer boxes!). What have we learnt from these past ten days? Here are some initial reflections:

  • There is a great spiritual hunger out there. While some days we only had one or two conversations, each conversation was significant, and we have seen the power of prayer.
  • There is also a lot of spiritual confusion. The name “Thy Kingdom Come” led some to assume we were Jehovah’s Witnesses. We cannot assume people can recognise the genuine article any more, or understand what Christians believe.
  • Every church member has grown through stepping out in faith. Some of us were nervous or uncertain as to what was going to happen, but with every God-encounter, our faith has been strengthened and renewed.
  • We have also grown closer to one another and discovered each other’s gifts and ministries in a new way.
  • Our eyes have also been opened once again to the depth of need in the area on every level. We have been reminded once again that The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few (Luke 10:2).
  • The ten days, however, only permitted us to go and plant a few seeds. If TKC is to have a long-term benefit, we need to pray and plan for follow-up in the weeks and months ahead. There are particular areas in our parish we need to revisit, and it would be good to make prayer-walking a regular feature of our churches’ lives.
  • The prayer meeting on the Thursday evening became an awesome encounter with God, probably because we didn’t follow our original plan! How would it be if similar numbers could meet regularly, say, once a month, over a meal and then move into a time of worship? That was how the early church operates – it seems a good model to follow.
  • The practical clear up at St Barnabas provided fellowship with other Christians and again was a great time of working together. Thank you to everyone for all their hard work!

Altogether, there has been so much to give thanks for, and so much more to consider. I am convinced that TKC is meant to be only the start. Our verse for the year comes from Philippians 1:6: … being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. So what Lord is your work? And what is the next stage you have in store for us? Let’s carry on in prayer together seeking answer to those questions, not only for our sake but for the many in Devonport and in Stoke yet to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.


How do I prayer walk?

May 25, 2017

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There’s an episode in 2 Kings chapter 6 which has always struck me. Elijah and his servant are trapped in the city of Dothan. The Aramean armies have come to arrest the prophet and no doubt kill him. Understandably Elijah’s servant is alarmed by the prospect of so many soldiers about to pay a house visit. But what Elijah says next is truly remarkable:

“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all round Elisha.
(2 Kings 6:16-17).

We are constantly surrounded by unseen spiritual forces, and indeed we are told in Ephesians 6 that our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the powers of this dark world. Sometimes in the face of so much opposition it can seem all too hard to reach out with the good news and be confident of the Lord’s victory. But in Jesus we are already on the winning side, and through prayer walking we are aiming to see the people and the places we serve from the Lord’s perspective.

We may not see hills full of horses and chariots of fire (although wouldn’t it be great if we did?), but we will see a place with new eyes. Some detail about a house or a sticker or car will catch our eye and lead us to pray in a particular way. Or we may sense that the Holy Spirit is leading us to pray for a specific location in a certain way. Or we may find that the Lord leads us to an encounter with a person who just “happens” to be walking towards us as we are praying.

Prayer walking is about going out in twos and threes, in obedience to the Lord’s command (Luke 10:1), seeking His vision for our local area. It involves sometimes walking in silence, trying to listen to what he is saying. It should certainly involve moments when we reflect on Scriptures that the Lord brings to mind. It is not so much about the words we use as the attitude of our heart as we constantly ask the Lord, “What does it mean for your kingdom to come and your will be done right here at this time?”

If you have never tried prayer walking, join with me. Meet at St Michael from 9am tomorrow. And as we go out, let’s claim the promise that those who are with the Lord are more than those against us, as we pray in the powerful name of Jesus.

 


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!!

 

 


Why Thy Kingdom Come?

May 16, 2017

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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?