By any means possible…

September 28, 2017

Facebook page

In the past the church has been quick to embrace new technology. This year we are celebrating 500 years of the Reformation, a major religious movement that gave rise to the Protestant (that is, the non Roman-Catholic) church. That this movement spread so quickly and captured so many hearts and minds is largely due to the fact that the Reformers used the recent invention of the printing press to spread their ideas.

When the BBC began broadcasting, one of the first programmes to be aired was the Daily Service. It started on 2 January 1928 and it is still running today. Christian radio is used as means of spreading the gospel across the world, and is particularly effective in countries which are otherwise closed to the good news of Jesus Christ.

New technology is important to reach the next generations for Christ and it seems to me we should use any means possible to communicate the gospel. That is why for a number of years we have been running this website, and most enquiries about St Michael’s and St Barnabas come through this site, or the Church of England platform, A Church Near You

For a long time we have also been asking for folk to help join in with this ministry of maintaining and developing our online presence. The days when the church could rely only on printed leaflets and adverts have long gone. There is a perception that running a website requires a high level of technical knowledge. But with a simple platform like WordPress, which Lynda and myself use, really all you have to do is type and post. Is this a ministry that you could help undertake?

Alongside the website we have also been running a Facebook page for several years. This page is proving invaluable in raising the profile of the church, and when people tell us they are going to an event or are sharing what it is going on, that is immensely encouraging. At the moment we are experimenting with “boosting” Facebook posts to ensure even more people know what is going on here. After the Herald posted an article last week about the “lost” church of St Michael’s that stood on the site for 162 years, we really want folk to know we are very much still in business! (I am, by the way, still waiting for a reply from the Herald).

What is the next step? Maintaining and developing an online presence effectively requires a team, and there’s probably only so much more that we can do. But we continue to try out new ideas. On Monday evening my daughter joined in with our young people’s group, even though she has now gone back to university. She was a virtual presence through Skype and although it was odd at first having a laptop as part of the group, overall our experiment worked. Maybe in the future we could have podcasts of sermons, or a Youtube channel.. who knows?

But in all these things the aim is not novelty for novelty’s sake. It’s about making sure that we are able to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ in ways that connect. And sometimes the old-fashioned method of simply picking up the telephone or writing a letter still works! But will you pray that we have the wisdom to know by what means to reach those who most need to hear the good news; and if you have any further suggestions as to how to extend our media ministry, we would love to hear from you.

 

 

 

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Looking again at the Lord’s Prayer

September 12, 2017

Lord's Prayer in Scottish

We are all used to saying the Lord’s Prayer. We say it every week in church. We say it at funerals. We say it at significant moments in our lives. We may sometimes hesitate as to whether we say the old or the modern version, but apart from that, the Lord’s Prayer is a very familiar part of our lives, and of countless believers around the world. It has been translated into hundreds, if not thousands of languages over the centuries. My favourite version is one in Scottish I saw in Israel a few years back (see above!).

But sometimes we can be so familiar with the Lord’s Prayer that we don’t really think about what we are saying. That’s why I set the young people at the Monday group a challenge – to rewrite the Lord’s Prayer in today’s language. It was a fascinating exercise and it taught us a number of things:

  1. There are words in the Lord’s Prayer which we say but don’t necessarily understand. What does it mean for the Lord’s name to be hallowed? Or for His kingdom to come? It certainly reminded me we need to teach and teach again on the Lord’s Prayer (maybe a future sermon series!?)
  2. There is so much meaning in each phrase it is really difficult to sum up all that Jesus is saying in other words. Plus, some of the concepts in the Lord’s Prayer really are quite unfamiliar to our Western world today, such as keeping the Lord’s name holy, or depending on Him for our daily bread.
  3. We also notice how much of the prayer is about “Our” and “Us”. So often we think of the Lord’s Prayer as something we say as individuals. But the prayer is Jesus’ gift to the church and designed to be said together by the whole family of God.

All in all, by the end of the evening, we ended up with a new appreciation of Jesus’ words and decided that the original was the best. However we have written up our own version, and we’ll be leaving it in the hall area over the next few days. Can you improve upon it? We look forward to your suggestions!

 


I’ve signed a letter

August 12, 2017

Most of the time I do not discuss church politics with St Barnacles. There are a couple of very good reasons for this. First of all, such discussions can take a lot of energy and effort from our primary task which is to lovingly communicate the message of the Bible, the good news of Jesus Christ, in word and in deed. And even more importantly, it has to be said that the way such discussions take place often do little to bring credit to the church, and often undermine the very message we are seeking to share.

(By the way, when I refer to the church in this article I am referring to the Church of England)

But recently I have signed the following letter.

Letter

What is this all about?

For the past twenty-five years or so the church has been looking at the whole issue of sexuality. On the way we have listened to the voices of those who have been hurt by prejudice, hatred and bigotry, and hopefully we have learnt important lessons about compassion and humility.

At the same time society’s attitude to sexuality, to marriage and to gender has undergone a profound shift. It is now very rare to find a celebrity who supports a traditional understanding of marriage, for instance. Institutions like the BBC and the National Trust now celebrate sexual diversity, and those who are not in favour of embracing such diversity are routinely labelled as intolerant and “-phobic”.

So how should the church respond? Should it in the name of love and compassion embrace the sexual revolution or should it continue to teach and live by a traditional and Biblical understanding of sex and marriage?

It’s instructive to look across the Atlantic to what has happened to the equivalent Anglican denomination in the United States, the Episcopal Church. This church long ago abandoned a Biblical view of marriage and it now shows every sign of jettisoning other key doctrines as well. Once you decide that the Biblical teaching in one area no longer applies, why should Scripture have authority anywhere?

So a few years ago a separate Anglican denomination, the Anglican Church of North America, came out of the Episcopal Church. Despite the many obstacles it has faced, this new denomination continues to grow, while the Episcopal Church continues to lose members. This is hardly to be wondered at, because once Christians decide that they can dispense with orthodox Biblical teaching, they rapidly lose the distinctive message of the gospel.

This year the Scottish Episcopal Church also voted in favour of same-sex marriages. Again, there are orthodox congregations who have taken the painful decision to leave their denomination. However they wish to remain distinctively Anglican, so a new missionary bishop has been consecrated for them by an organisation called Gafcon, even though officially such a move has been condemned.

Gafcon stands for the “Global Federation of Confession Anglicans”. It is made up of the majority of Anglicans worldwide, including most African and Asian Anglican Christians. It is rapidly becoming a more and more important movement in the worldwide church, and its confession of faith, the so-called Jerusalem Declaration has become a powerful factor in uniting Christians in the West who want to preserve and promote the faith entrusted once for all to the saints.

What of the future of the Church of England? There is at the moment an unedifying struggle going on between those who wish to revise the church’s teaching on sexuality – in the same way that has happened in the United States and in Scotland – and those wish to continue to uphold the authority of Scripture, which is the primary issue in the whole debate. Sadly there is no longer any middle ground in these discussions and although I would like to simply concentrate on bringing the good news of Jesus Christ to the streets of Stoke and Devonport, we are fast reaching a time when we need to make a stand.

This isn’t going to be easy. As I explained at the beginning, society has changed so much over the past twenty-five years. To a watching world it is incomprehensible that we would want to uphold a traditional understanding of marriage, let alone claim that the teachings of the Bible have any kind of authority.

In the meanwhile there are some very important things that we need to do.

First of all, it is important that we ourselves are living under the authority of Scripture in every area of our lives. Too often the church has been very hot about the issues of sexuality and marriage, but failed to live out the teachings of Jesus Christ in other important areas. A church which upholds marriage between a man and a woman, for example, but does not practise radical forgiveness dishonours the gospel as much as the church down the road who has a different understanding of marriage but seeks to show compassion in all that it does.

Secondly, we need to pray for the Lord to have mercy on His church. We all know the headline figures about the church, and its ongoing decline, and we probably all pray for revival and renewal. But how can the Lord renew and revive a disunited church? Is it too late to hope and pray that in humility and repentance the whole church will turn back to the Lord? Or we approaching a time when like our brothers and sisters in the United States and Scotland we will need to separate? These are key questions about which much prayer is needed.

Thirdly, we need to pray for our bishops and those who hold public positions in the church, that they will speak with clarity and boldness. To come out and uphold the teachings of Scripture will invite scrutiny and ridicule and there may come a time when legal action will be involved. But then again, for all of us, maybe we need to look afresh at what Jesus says about taking up our cross and following Him. Maybe our present crisis is a way of Him refining and purifying us, and asking just what we prepared to give up for the sake of loving and obeying Him.

Please, therefore, do read this letter carefully and pray for those who are making a stand in this way. If you want to add your voice, please do speak to me. But as I also said, let’s make sure we keep our focus on what the Lord is calling us to do here, and our mission here at St Barnacles.

 


Planning Ahead

July 26, 2017

When I arrived in the parish nearly 15 years ago, one of the most fundamental decisions I had to make was to consider what kind of ministry I was called to undertake. One thing about being a vicar is that there is no set job description, and it is important to prioritise from the off where you are going to invest your time and energy.

For me, the most essential part of my ministry always has been to teach and preach the Bible as the living Word of God. This isn’t to deny the very real and very practical issues that so many people in our parish face. But the danger can be that by seeking to meet all those needs all your time and energy gets focused on the immediate concerns that lie before you, and you never get round to preaching the good news. Your ministry becomes that of another voluntary agency seeking to do good, but probably with rather few resources and doing it far less well than others more qualified than yourself.

Yet what should be distinctive about the church is that it should seek to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, because ultimately the real need of every single person in our parish is for a living relationship with Jesus Christ. This does not mean we ignore the practical issues that confront us, but we make it clear that we do so in the name of Jesus Christ who died in our place for our sins. Because actually the greatest act of loving service we can offer anyone is to point them to the one who alone can bring hope and peace and forgiveness to whoever turns to Him – sometimes by words, sometimes by simple deeds of humble service.

Of course before the church can proclaim this good news, it has to know the good news for itself and see how it relates to everyday life in Devonport and Stoke. And this is where my role as a vicar comes in. My aim and my mission is to bring the words of the Bible to bear on every meeting, on every decision, on every pastoral encounter in the church. For it is only as the whole church is fed and nurtured by the living word of God that it can be confident in the message it proclaims.

That is why every so often I take time out to plan preaching programme for the next few months. I want to discern where the church is at, how it needs to be fed, and what the Lord wants to say to us. For me, putting this programme together is at the very heart of my ministry.

Recently I have put together the next preaching programme from 3 Sep to Easter Sunday, 1 April. What factors have guided my thoughts?

From September to Advent, we are moving from Mark 7 to Mark 13 and seeing how Jesus helps us answer some very important questions – everything from what it means to follow Him to why marriage is so important. For those who have recently completed Christianity Explored this will also be a further opportunity to engage with Mark’s gospel.

After Christmas until Lent, we are looking at a prophet we have never studied before, Jeremiah. The whole book of Jeremiah is very long and not particularly cheerful, but we are just taking a few passages to look at some of his warning and see how relevant they are to us today. For example, “Don’t be a Sunday Christian”, “Don’t worship idols”, “Don’t ignore God’s word”.

During Lent we are going to do something rather different. I have always been concerned that so often we rush through whole swathes of the gospel in the week leading up to Easter and never really spend the time we should looking at the arrest, trial and condemnation of Jesus. So we are going to linger in Mark 14 in particular and look again at the journey to the cross and our response.

I very much you are going to join us in our journey through Scripture. Why not use the summer to read ahead? And please would you pray that it is God’s word that is faithfully preached, and that many recognise their need of Christ? Thank you.

 

 

 

 


Vicaring about

July 23, 2017

 

013

No this isn’t an expression that really means something else. It’s a phrase I picked up from a vicar I was shadowing when I was at college (nearly 20 years ago!). It simply means going around being a presence, and seeing where the Lord leads you.

Yesterday it was the Stoke Traders and Residents Fair. It wasn’t the right event for open proclamation of the gospel, but it was wonderful just to be able to sit and talk with whoever came past. It made me realise how even after 15 years how many people do not know who I am. It also made me aware that for some people the church has made a real impact. One young lady talked warmly about the pancake party this year and hearing the Christmas carols, another about getting married at the church well over 40 years ago. And as is often the way with things, my time ended with a significant and long overdue pastoral conversation that might well lead to further contact.

But having all these conversations made me realise how much more effectively we need to engage with the local community. Stoke is facing some significant issues. The library is closing permanently in September and the Post Office at least temporarily on 19 August. For many people this will spell the loss of a real presence in the community. How are we as a church called to respond?

That’s a question I believe we all need to pray about as we plan our mission and outreach for the next few months.


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.

 

 


Reflecting on Thy Kingdom Come

June 5, 2017

Thy kingdom come logo

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.