Sunday, 20 August 2017

"Who's afraid of the..."

He was young and inexperienced.  Those who knew him best had no confidence in him, and mocked him.  To everyone else it looked an impossibility.  What he was up against was an enormous challenge.  It was a threatening situation, and no one else was willing to face it.  But the main thing he had going for him was that he trusted in God.

Many of those who regularly read what I write come from small churches facing difficulties and challenges.  There is little to encourage us humanly.  It is easy to be gripped by a fear of failing, so often we have low expectations and endeavour far too little.  We dream of what it might be like if only our congregation was twice the size it is and the average age two decades younger.  We are all too aware of what we lack when we consider the challenges that face us and the task before us.

You may have heard it said that if you think that you or your church are too small to be significant, then you probably have never spent a night in a room with a mosquito!

Did you realise who I was writing about in the opening paragraph? It was David, while still a young man.  Day after day, Goliath had shouted out his challenge, taunting the army of Israel.  Day after day, the strongest and best in Israel’s army shrank back from the challenge.  Perhaps this was personal fear of coming against such a huge man with such an arsenal of weapons.  Perhaps it was fear of failure.  Perhaps it was the awfulness of the consequences of failure.  Whatever it was it immobilised them.

Actually, apart from his confidence in God’s enabling him, David had several things going for him.  For a start, he was young and agile.  As long as he kept out of range he could probably avoid being hit by a spear.  He certainly was never going to put himself in range of Goliath’s sword.  Beside his spear, Goliath only had a short-range weapon, while David had a deadly medium range weapon which he could use with precision.  If it was an uneven contest, it was tilted in David’s favour.  Shepherds had plenty of time to hone their skill with a sling.  A typical stone might be the size and weight of a cricket ball, and would leave the sling at around 100 miles per hour.

David also had experience of past victories.  David testifies to past victories that encourage him to take on this latest challenge.  He had proved God to be faithful in past difficult times.

David was concerned for the honour of God’s name, and it was this that motivated him to volunteer.  David also had confidence in the power of God’s name, and it was in that name that he approached Goliath.  Frankly, Goliath never stood a chance!

Some years ago, I had the privilege of being one of two people representing churches in Europe in a conference on evangelism run by the World Council on Mission mainly for churches in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. During the week, each representative informed the others of their activities and outcomes.  We heard amazing things where Christians and churches experienced political opposition and oppression or where they were a minority faith surrounding by majority faith which sometimes were aggressive.  Despite all that opposed them they were bold in their witness of Jesus and were seeing conversions regularly.  My colleague from Holland and I were ashamed to share our story, where the only significant problem was to a post-Christian culture, but where apathy meant that so little was done by the churches to engage in evangelism.

Are we like the army of Israel; frozen in fear?  In these days when our faith is often ridiculed and few take us seriously, are we concerned for the honour of God’s name and therefore motivated to engage in Christian witness and missional activity.  Is it embarrassment or fear of failure that cause us to do so little?  Or could it possibly be that we have no confidence in God?

There is not one church that does not have the opportunity to do more for God.  In my experience, God piles these up faster than we could grasp them.  But surely, we could grasp at least one a week!  A man called David Wiiley wrote, “Too often, we miss out on opportunities in this life because we were too busy waiting for them to fall into our lap that we missed them tapping on our shoulder.”

Why not take some time each day this week to read afresh 1Samuel 17: 1-51, then, with the story fresh in your mind say, “And David’s God is my God”, then set yourself a missional task.

From the Diary
Last Sunday (13th), Doreen and I went to Newark in Nottinghamshire where I took the morning meeting for London Road Congregational Church.  Several testified to God’s blessing that morning.

Monday to Friday (14th – 18th), I helped to lead “Holiday at Home” for the churches in Market Harborough.  This involved four half days of activities and more for older people in the community, many of whom would not normally have a decent holiday.  Those who came were effusive in their expressions of appreciation.  It is not an overtly evangelistic programme but another member of the team and I led a God spot each day and made clear why the programme had been arranged, and we shared the gospel on each occasion.

Saturday 19th, I shared in a team meeting offering mission support for 32 churches in the East Midlands.  It was good to be able to share encouraging news and build plans for the future.

Sunday 20th, Welby Lane Evangelical Church, Melton Mowbray.

Monday 21st, I will share in a meeting in Market Harborough exploring how to make church more inviting.  Afterwards I plan to go to Leicester for a workshop on crowd-funding.

Tuesday 22nd, HMP Gartree.  Please pray for the men I will meet with, and that my security clearance will be updated soon.

Thursday 24th, I will be chairing a meeting for a small rural church with a historic building with a thatched roof in urgent need of repair.

25th to 27th – A free weekend!

Please keep praying.  Each day I am likely to be involved in writing or responding to phone calls to support rural evangelism.  Please pray for our financial needs in Rural Mission Solutions as recent changes to our bank have disrupted our already limited income.  Rural Mission is certainly a forgotten mission field, and we urgently need to grow our prayer base and supporter network.

Finally, if you find these Prayer & Praise News helpful in any way, please drop me a line at barry@ruralmissions.org.uk or post to The Centre for Rural Mission, 4 Clarence Street, Market Harborough, LE16 7NE.  Recently, some postings have led to people asking if they can use what I write in the context of their own ministry.  The answer is, “Of course”, but it is encouraging to know that it is valued by the readers.

Thanks for reading this.  Remember, David’s God is your God too.

Barry
19th August 2017



Monday, 7 August 2017

Not what I expected!

Recently, 250,000 people attended the IAAF World Athletics Championships hoping to see Usain Bolt break the record for the 100m or at least finish ahead of the pack.  But it was not what they expected.  Bolt came in third.  The race was won by a man who had twice been banned because of using drugs to enhance his performance.  Many in that crowd gave expression to their feelings by booing Justin Gattin.  It was not what they expected.

If you read fiction or watch drama programmes, do you find yourself automatically making presumptions about the final outcome?  Doreen and I certainly do that, and derive pleasure when we have guessed correctly.

When God offers us his love and mercy, and invites us to become followers of Jesus, it is easy to presume how the journey of faith will develop.  The same often happens in various chapters of our lives, as we pass through new or challenging experiences.  Too often we second-guess God, only to discover we got it wrong.  Sometimes we anticipate difficulties, only to find that God has smoothed the way. At other times, we expect an easy journey, only to find a time of trial.  As the writer of Ecclesiastes states, “The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favour to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.”
Pondering on surprising outcomes, I found myself thinking about two Old Testament characters, whose stories have a surprising twist.

The first of these is Jacob, who fleeing from the understandable wrath of his brother Esau, whom he had cheated out of an important blessing, encountered God through a dream (See Genesis 28).  I guess that was not what he expected.  God makes a gracious promise to Jacob, to which he responds with a promise to honour God in the future.  Arriving at his intended destination, he meets and falls in love with beautiful Rachel.  His uncle Laban is willing to reward Jacob for his labour as a shepherd, but when Jacob asks for the hand of Rachel, he discovers that his uncle sets the price at seven years unpaid service.  But when the seven years are up, and the morning after the wedding feast, Jacob awakens to discover that he has slept not with beautiful Rachel, but her somewhat less attractive older sister.

Laban makes him work another seven years for Rachel.  Then for the next six years as his uncle changes his wages detrimentally ten times.  It seems that everything that Jacob strives for is met with disappointment and challenge.  I wonder, did he question where was the promise of God being fulfilled?  It was probably not what he was expecting.

The irony of devious Jacob suffering at the hand of a devious uncle is not lost to the reader.  And at the end, Jacob returns and finds, not an angry vindictive Esau, but a welcoming brother.  That was not what he expected.

Through all the disappointments and trials, two things happened.  Jacob was being made to be the man God wanted.  He also became the father of eleven sons and a daughter. A twelfth son was added later.  One of those sons was Joseph (Jacob’s favourite).  As a young man of 17 God gave him two dreams, indicating one day, his parents and older brothers would bow down to him.  But it was 22 years before God’s promise was fulfilled.  Over those years he was rejected by his brothers out of jealousy, thrown into a pit, sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape, cast into prison for around thirteen years, and let down by a fellow prisoner.  I suspect that was not what he expected!

But by the time his brothers came, seeking to buy corn, Joseph had been released from prison and been elevated to the second most important person in Egypt.  Consequently, his brothers failed to recognise him.  Finally, after some crafty manipulation Joseph managed to get his whole family to Egypt, causing him to weep uncontrollably as God’s gracious promise was fulfilled in God’s time and in God’s way.

They could never have expected that God’s purpose revealed to Joseph at 17 would turn out for their blessing when he was 39.  It was not what they expected.  Later, after Jacob had died, his brothers feared for their safety.  Joseph put their minds at rest by pointing out that although their actions had evil intent, God meant it for good (Genesis 50:20).

Many of us treasure the statement in Romans 8:28, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”.  I would like to hope that those reading this, not only know Jesus as Saviour, but have also made him Lord.  When we surrender to his will and invite him to work out his purposes in our lives, it will not always be what we expect.  We might meet unexpected blessing or unexpected trials, but as Jacob and Joseph found out God’s way is best.  A David wrote in his song, “As for God, his way is perfect:  the Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him.” (2 Samuel 22:31)

From the Diary
This past Sunday I was asked if I could cover the service at the prison for an Anglican Chaplain who was off sick.  It happened that I was free, and valued the opportunity for a second service after the previous week which had been marked with much blessing.

Last Saturday, Gordon Banks and I conducted the online seminar.  Much of the week had been spent in preparation.  All but one person declared this to be helpful, with most describing it as “very helpful”.  Similarly, all but one indicated they would be happy to recommend the webinars to others, most would do so enthusiastically.  We work hard to make these webinars useful to rural Christians and rural churches.  But probably 90% of those who receive these Praise & Prayer News have yet to discover their value.

To help us understand why this might be, we are asking you to complete a simple and short survey.  You can do so anonymously if you wish.  Please do help us make the webinar programme more effective.  The survey looks at various aspects and will only take a few moments of your time. 


Tuesday 8th August – HMP Gartree
Wednesday 9th to Friday 11th – Doreen will be on a short break with relatives in Kent while I travel on to East Sussex for some important meetings and a short break too.
Sunday 13th – Newark Congregational Church, Nottinghamshire
Monday 14th to Friday 18th – “Holiday at Home” outreach, Market Harborough
Saturday 19th – East Midlands Mission Support Group Meeting
Sunday 20th – Welby Lane Mission, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire

Thank you.


Barry

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Life Sometimes Hurts

We were singing John Wimber’s short hymn, “O let the Son of God enfold you with is Spirit and his love” and were partly through the second verse which has the lines, “O give him all your tears and sadness, give him all your years of pain”, when I suddenly felt there was someone with a special need in the meeting.  It was a Sunday evening and I was leading a meeting in a church hall.  There were no more than 24, and possibly less, in attendance and all of them I knew quite well. What I felt was that there was someone there who was deeply hurt, so much so that their soul felt as if it was one large bruise, too tender to touch.

I couldn’t think who it might be. It didn’t seem to fit anyone, as far as I was aware.  Was it my imagination, or could it have been a revelation from God.  If it was, then that sort of thing was not a common experience for me.  As we stopped singing, I plucked up courage, and spoke.  “I’m not sure if God has revealed something to me, but I think there might be someone here tonight who has suffered a deep hurt, like a very painful bruise.  Now you feel so bruised that you dare not even allow God to touch you in case it brings more pain.  If you recognise what I am saying, please know that the Holy Spirit moves very gently.  Let him touch you and heal the pain as we sing the song once again.”  We sang the song again and the service moved on.

I half hoped someone would speak to me after the meeting, and put me at ease.  But no one did and I went home feeling a little stupid.  The next morning, I found an envelope had been pushed through our letterbox.  On opening it I found a beautiful poem, written as a testimony by Anna.  I had called her family the previous day.  They were relaxing and Anna was sitting on a settee with her feet up.  But there was nothing to alert me to what she had just gone through.  I was to learn that she had just come home from hospital following an operation to terminate an ectopic pregnancy.  A little life had been developing in one of her fallopian tubes instead of the womb.  A surgical procedure had been urgently required, bringing an end to the pain, but also to the life within her.  But one pain had been replaced with another pain, for which there was no easy cure.

While I was ignorant of all Anna had gone through, and the hurt she felt that Sunday evening, God knew, and longed to touch her soul, if only she would let him.  Here is Anna’s poem, written on arriving home that evening.

Empty arms are painful,
Empty arms they hurt,
Empty arms – they tear
At the strings of my heart

I long to hold my baby
I long to call his name
I long to whisper, “I love you”
And caress that delicate frame.

His creation was so special
He was to be our third
The love that was his making –
Beauty – unseen – unheard.

A longed for little brother
A longed for little son
Excitement becomes a nightmare
As death threatens the little one.

Foetus – the medics called him
Pregnancy products his name
Ectopic was my condition
Surgery the cure for the pain.

I got caught up in all their mechanics
The stitches, the scar and the pills.
But the hurt – it just continued
Grief the cause of my ills.

My babe got lost in the jargon –
The jargon of hospital care.
He wasn’t a baby, he wasn’t a child,
Just an “it” no longer there.

Reality was dulled by this tactic;
It even worked for a while.
“Try for another to replace it”
Well-meaning advice with a smile.

It wasn’t another baby I needed
As a remedy – feelings to numb;
I had to work through the turmoil
The sadness of losing my son.

I was angry with God for a short time
“I don’t understand” was my cry.
“I want my baby – I WANT MY BABY”.
“I love you” came His reply.

God was longing to heal me.
This I knew deep down from the start
But I was scared to let him touch me
Scared of more pain in my heart.

He said, “Remember, I lost my baby –
Gave up my precious Son,
Watched him suffer and die in the worst way
For you, my beloved one.

I cry with you as you’re weeping;
I feel with you as you hurt;
Let me love you, walk with you, care for you,
Embrace you and bring you comfort.”

The Holy Spirit works gently
I heard somebody say
Like warm ointment He flowed in to heal me,
And soothed all the pain away.

Anna Wilson 
(Included here with permission.  Please do not reproduce in any form without permission)

Over the years since that day, I have shared Anna’s beautiful poem on occasions.  Often it has been used alongside one of my favourite solos, “All I ever do is love you” by Marilyn Baker.  I have always felt a special anointing when singing that song, and God has used it so many times to touch hearts.  I   had planned at the start of last week to incorporate John Winber’s hymn and Anna’s poem into the service at Gartree Prison yesterday.  When that decision was made I was not to know that little Charlie Gard would be allowed to die at the end of the week.  Nor was I aware until after the service, that several of the prisoners had wept over the loss of their own baby.  After the service, some prisoners testified to weeping as sang John Wimber’s song.  Another prisoner told me how his mother had experienced a traumatic ectopic pregnancy, and that he had been conceived not long after that.  Sadly, faith in Christ had been replaced by anger towards God for his mother.  Two prisoners have asked for copies of the poem to send back to their families.

Whatever your opinion regarding the battle fought by Charlie’s parents, as they resisted the advice of the specialist at the hospital, I know his passing will have caused them deep sadness.  Emotions might include anger at this time.  But I know too that God loves them and that he is what they need.  Occasionally, pastoral issues have challenged me enormously.  One such occasion was on the second successive cot death for two friends of mine.  Another occasion was hearing a colleague, who was a hospital chaplain, speak about the frightening number of services he conducted in a year following still births or other infant mortality situations.  I’m not sure that I could have done his job.  Sharing the pain of parents on the loss of a child is far from easy.

Jesus wept at the graveside of a friend.  I feel sure that the heart of God the Father was torn as he watched his Son endure the cross.  Whatever painful experience we might pass through in our lives, God knows what we might seek to hide from others, or even deny to ourselves.  He knows, he loves, and he cares.  If you are not familiar with the hymn it is 502 in Mission Praise, if you use that book.  I would also be happy to send the words if anyone has difficulty in tracking it down.

From the Diary
Saturday 5th August – The Webinar (see below).  Please make sure that you have booked in.
Sunday 6th – Weldon Congregational Church, Rutland
9th to 11th – I will be working in East Sussex on a difficult project.
Sunday 13th – Newark Congregational Church, Nottinghamshire
14 – 18 “Holiday at Home” outreach to older people in Market Harborough.
Saturday 19th – East Midlands Mission Support Group Meeting
Sunday 20th – Welby Lane Mission, Melton Mowbray.

The trustees of Rural Mission Solutions determined to close a bank account and have opened an account elsewhere.  Unfortunately, this has not gone smoothly, and we operate with a limited income for that ministry.  Please pray that existing supporters will not be lost through this process.

Please pray for Christian friends at Dunks Green, near Tonbridge.  I am a trustee of the Chapel there, and we are seeking permission from the Charity Commission to transfer it to a new charity that the members have set up.  Please pray that this will not be hindered any more than it has been already.

I am a trustee under a Will which includes a large and run-down property in East Sussex.  My fellow trustee and I would like to re-accommodate the elderly lady who lives in this house and provide her with a regular income. But she is very attached and has resisted this. She now needs a fairly high level of care.  While we do not wish to cause her stress, we feel that we have no alternative to our plan.  Please pray.

Please pray for a church in Hastings, where I was surprised to find I was still a trustee some 29 years after leaving this church!  I have been trying to point this church in the best direction for resolving governance issues they have.

Finally, lease pray for new additional appropriate people to come and share in our ministry to the rural churches of the UK.  A ‘Joshua’ is needed, not to mention a Timothy and John Mark!

Thank you for standing with us.


Barry

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Time for Your Check-Up?

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.” (2 Corinthians 13:5)

In many ways, this seems a strange verse of scripture, and I suspect that there is more than one way in which it could be understood.  A recent visit to a niece and her family revealed that her daughter had fallen out of bed.  It had made her a little anxious about how secure she was in bed.  This reminded me that the verse quoted above was a favourite text of the Rev. Edward Relf.  Mr Relf’s father had been the minister many years before me at Herstmonceux.  His three youngest children were also my friends at one time.  I remember his quoting this verse several times and telling a story about a child who had fallen out of bed.  She told her father, who had gone to her aid, that it was her own fault for not going further into bed, and remaining too near the edge.

His exhortation to us (then teenage Christians) was to ensure our salvation by getting as close to Jesus as possible.  It was well meant advice, and it was good advice (though some might question the theology), but I’m not sure that this was what Paul meant.  So, what might he have meant?

No doubt you will have heard the saying, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”.  Interestingly, in the original text, the word translated her “Examine”, is commonly used in scripture to mean test and implies trial by fire.  But Paul also uses another word, translated here for “test”.  This might be used to speak about a trial of metal to prove its reliability.  Both words have similar meanings. Clearly, he is encouraging a rigorous self-examination or self-scrutiny of their faith.  But we still need to ask the question, “Why?”

It seems to me that the context of this verse gives the clue.  Paul is proposing a third visit to this church and intends to put some things in order.  The previous chapter refers to discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance, immorality and debauchery.  Clearly, there is much to put right.  But some in the church are questioning Paul’s authority.  They want proof of his ministry.  It is in that context that Paul says, “Examine yourselves, whether you are in the faith”, for they were the proof.  Their faith in Christ was the fruit of his ministry.  If their faith was real, then so was his ministry.

However, the principle of periodically examining our faith is a good one. For example, we could ask ourselves how much our faith has grown over the past 12 months, or whether we cope better with trials and temptations, or feel closer to God, or are confident that we are living in God’s will for our lives.  Sadly, some Christians do not seem to change much over time.  God expects our faith to deepen, our lives to be godlier, and our dynamic relationship to his word to develop.  For that reason alone, a periodic check-up has value.  You could undertake your own today.

Ministry Check-Up
As part of a study course I was undertaking some years ago I was required to set up a small team that would help me reflect on my ministry. I had never done so before during my 25 years’ experience in pastoral leadership.  The team had to include both male and female, young and old.  They critiqued every aspect of my ministry in the church.  They did so honestly and lovingly.  But they knew that their role was both to encourage me in what I did well and point out where things could be better.  At times it was painful, but it was both for my good and the good of the church.  I thank God for that wonderful team.

In secular employment, it is now common for there to be an annual performance appraisal.  Done correctly, this is not an occasion to harshly criticise.  It is an opportunity to encourage and improve.  The person undergoing the appraisal should be able to express her or his concerns as well.  Since there will be few occupations as important as Christian ministry, should we not be encouraging annual appraisals for clergy and people in various ministries.  Since the early 1990s The Church of England has reviewed its appraisal processes.  If you are interested in reading initial report from the Working Party click here.  There are excellent recommendations in this.  A recent article in the Church Times raises some interesting points under the heading Redeeming the Priest’s Appraisal. No doubt, some other denominations will have similar processes.

Congregational and Baptist churches are non-hierarchical, so an appraisal by Bishop or other senior clergypersons is an alien concept.  But the idea that church leaders are somehow exempt from appraisals would be very unhealthy.  Peer reviews might be possible, but in a congregationally ordered church I see no reason why putting together a small team from within the church members should be something to be avoided.  No doubt, they should be carefully chosen, should understand their role, and be competent.  Training is available.  I suggest that letting the matter default to the diaconate is not the best idea.  The content of the appraisal should be confidential, though a written summary would be helpful, and would provide a helpful point of reference for the future.

I have found pastoral ministry a rewarding experience when I have truly been in tune with my congregations.  However, one less happy situation developed because of a conflict of expectations.  This was largely my fault.  When invited to the position I had an impression of what was expected but did not take time to double check this.  What the members of the church had expected was different, though defined by the same name. For the next 15 months, it was occasionally uncomfortable until the cause of the problem was discovered.  This was not a happy outcome.  Part of the relevance of an annual or biannual appraisal or review would be the opportunity to ensure that both the minister and congregation are living with the same expectations concerning the role of the minister, as well as performance.

The alternative to this kind of periodic check-up is the risk of growing disappointment and possibly discontent within the congregation. Typically, this leads to the kind of relationship where there is a happy “honeymoon” period but afterwards things go downhill.

This kind of review is not restricted to those with pastoral leadership responsibilities; it should apply to anyone entrusted with a role that has more than a short tenure.

If you are a minister of a church, or a member of a church with a minister, I encourage establishing a review.  I would be happy to provide some guidance as to who should take part and how it should be conducted, if necessary.  If you are a minister of a church in a hierarchical situation where your performance is appraised by someone senior to you, you might consider creating a congregational reflection to sit alongside this.  Of course, you can ignore this advice if you are confident that you have reached perfection already!

From the Diary
Please give thanks with me for God’s blessing on various aspects of ministry over the past few weeks.  It has been very fruitful and I have been blessed by the testimonies received.

I would be grateful for your prayers for my wife, Doreen, who has recently been diagnosed with a condition that is likely to lead to a decline in her abilities.  Your prayers for me will be appreciated as she may become more dependent upon me, as carer.  At present, she is still able to function fairly well.

Sunday 23rd July, I will be taking the service at Market Harborough Congregational Church, which is now our home church. 

Sunday 30th I will be taking the Sunday morning service at HMP Gartree.  We are still waiting for my security clearance to be updated.  This has been complicated by the failure of a computer system.  In the meanwhile, it means that another member of the chaplaincy team has to be present with me at some services and activities when previously I would have been on my own.  Please pray that the update comes through very soon.

Please pray for Gordon Banks and me as we prepare the webinar for 5th August.  This will focus on ideas and suggestions for missional activities through the autumn.  This is a period of the year when there are a number of significant opportunities and we want to encourage churches to grasp the opportunities.  Please encourage people in your church to sign up for this helpful online seminar they can attend at home.  See below for further details.

In addition to other regular ministry through August, I help to lead Holiday at Home, in Market Harborough. This is a programme through which the local churches seek to be a blessing to older people in the community as we try to show God’s love and share something of the gospel.

Please pray as we make a number of changes in the rural organisations which I serve.  This is potentially exciting.  Please pray for God to raise up younger women and men who have a heart for rural ministry and who love Jesus and want others to love him too.  We feel that this is a critical time for several aspects of our outreach ministry, and ask you to focus prayer.  Pray also for the financial challenges that this brings.


Fresh challenges are always exciting, though sometimes also daunting.  We are excited while we wait to see how God is going to answer prayer.

Barry

Saturday, 8 July 2017

No Argument!

An unsuccessful search for a hymn in Mission Praise has reminded me of an incident in my life when I was a teenage Christian.

Fred Bartlett was a Clerical Assistant and Union representative in the small Civil Service office where I had found employment after leaving school and as I trained as an evangelist.  He shared the General Office with three other people and, among his other duties, dealt with the steady flow of public enquiries.  Fred declared himself to be a Catholic, though I think this was more nominal than practising.  Among the remaining 18 members of staff there was one practising Catholic, one practising Methodist, one lapsed Methodist, the Worshipful Master of the Freemason Lodge, the Worthy Primo of the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes, and a few nominal Anglicans.  We were a strange mix in such a small office spread over four floors.

My own role was as a Temporary Clerical Assistant in charge of some 85,000 property files relating to four Local Authorities.  The room in the basement was hot and airless, so I periodically found opportunity to go upstairs to the General Office.  On one such occasion, as I entered the room, Fred started to dance around the room, clapping his hands and la-la-ing a lively hymn tune that I just about recognised.  As he danced around the office room he broke off singing occasionally to say, “I saw you Barry Boy”.  An enquiry as to what he was talking about revealed that he had seen an open-air meeting where this hymn had been sung with enthusiasm, and where he was convinced I had taken part.  He now sought to humiliate me in front of others.

I offered up a quick prayer, informed Fred that whoever he had seen it wasn’t me.  I then had a sudden thought and asked Fred if he would like me to teach him the words.  I must have put him off guard because he immediately said he would.  Fred had given me an exceptional opportunity, so as all listened I proclaimed:

I need no other argument;
I need no other plea;
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that he died for me.

The hymn of which this is the chorus, in case you do not recognise the words, begins My faith has found a resting place, not in device nor creed.  I trust the ever-living one.  His wounds for me shall plead.

What an opportunity to testify had been given to me!  Fred sat down at his desk apparently embarrassed by his actions.  The other three remained silent.  I completed the task for which I had come up from the filing room, and quietly slipped away.  Later that day, Fred found an excuse to visit me.  On one wall in my room I had pinned up various hymn words that blessed or challenged me, and a few card text plaques, with biblical passages on them.  Fred pointed at the plaques and asked in a rather sarcastic tone why I put them on the wall.

I explained that in other parts of the offices there were other posters, some of which I would not want on display in my room, and that I preferred what I had chosen to display.  “How much does all this cost?”, he asked in a challenging tone.  When I explained that they had cost only a few pence, he asked if he could buy one of them from me.  I had no idea why he wanted to do so, or what he might do with the plaque to which he was pointing.  “You don’t need to buy it; I’m happy to give it to you”, I said.  I took it down and handed it over.  Fred left the room with it.

It was on my next visit to the General Office that I saw the plaque, boldly on display on the wall behind Fred’s desk.  The text on it proclaimed Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. (Acts 16:31).  Some months later, Fred was promoted and moved to another floor in the offices.  He took the plaque with him where it remained on display.  A few months after that I left to enter full-time Christian work.

My reason for looking for this hymn is that it is very appropriate to the passage on which I plan to speak.  In Hebrews 10:19-25 the author of this New Testament letter summarises all he has been teaching in the previous chapters as he points out the sufficiency of what God has done for us.  Because Christ’s blood has been shed, a way made for us to have access to God opened for us, and a High Priest who intercedes for us, we can draw near to a holy God with confidence.  We need no other argument!

Of course, the word argument is used here, not in the sense of having a row, but as a set of reasons given to support an idea.  The same hymn includes the lines, “Enough for me that Jesus saves, this ends my fear and doubt.  A sinful soul, I come to him. He’ll never cast me out.”  As I pondered on the theme of the sufficiency of what God has done for us and our salvation, another hymn came to mind, which is also not in Mission Praise.  This hymn, written by Charles Wesley, goes well to the tune Weymouth (repeat the penultimate line of each verse).  Please take a few moments to read these words, and ponder for yourself on all that God has done for you so generously.  Perhaps, after you have read them through carefully, perhaps a few times, you could take a moment to express your gratitude to God in prayer.

Arise, my soul, arise! Shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding Sacrifice In my behalf appears.
Before the throne my Surety stands;
My name is written on His hands.

He ever lives above for me to intercede,
His all-redeeming love, his precious blood to plead.
His blood was shed for all our race,
and sprinkles now the throne of grace.

Five bleeding wounds He bears, received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers; they strongly speak for me.
Forgive him, O forgive, they cry,
nor let that ransomed sinner die!

The Father hears Him pray, his dear anointed One;
He cannot turn away the presence of His Son.
His Spirit answers to the blood,
and tells me I am born of God.

To God I’m reconciled, his pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child, I can no longer fear.
With confidence I now draw nigh,
and Father, Abba, Father, cry.

From the Diary
Recent activities include participating in the Churches Group for Evangelization.  There was much to be encouraged by and some excellent new resources.  I plan to refer to some of these on the Rural Mission Solutions Facebook page.  I also served as Pastoral Care Board representative at a weekend for students training with the Congregational Federation.  It was an inspiring few days.  Last Sunday I took the service for Clarendon park Congregational Church, Leicester, where I had provided pastoral care for two years during a vacancy.

Sunday 9th July – Bunyan Christian fellowship, Elstow, Beds.
Monday 10th – School leaving-assembly.  Please pray for those I have taught who go on to secondary schools.
Tuesday 11th – Regular work at HMP Gartree.
Sunday 16th July – Welford Congregational Church

Our next free webinar is on Saturday 5th August 9.00 to 9.45 when Gordon Banks and I will be presenting ideas for missional activity during the autumn months.  Book the date now.  It is even possible to reserve your free place by clicking here.  I received many encouraging comments following the last webinar on “Mission Through Prayer”. The video recording will be appearing on www.ruralmissionsolutions.org.uk.

Thank you for your fellowship.


Barry

Saturday, 24 June 2017

The Power of Prayer

It is said that when Charles Haddon Spurgeon preached at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, a company of some 12 men met for prayer in a room below the pulpit.  Certainly, there was a prayer room in the basement of that church which Spurgeon referred to as the powerhouse of the church.  Inspired by this story, I will often give myself to prayer discreetly when others are faithfully preaching God’s word.

At times, prayer comes easily.  On other occasions, I sense a spiritual battle, and will therefore intensify my prayers. On some such occasions, I have sensed the breakthrough and release as the battle has been one, and the ministry has been fruitful.  Certainly, I can testify to the fact that the most fruitful evangelistic mission during the 25 years in which I was part of a team working with small churches, mostly in rural areas, have been because there was earnest prayer.  The fruitless occasions were when the church we were working with made little effort in prayer.

But this was much more than prayers being said.  These were occasions of spiritual wrestling, when the promises of God were claimed confidently and passionately, and when prayers were made against the spiritual forces that wanted nothing to come of our labours.  One of the most interesting insights into prayer in the New Testament can be found in Colossians 4: 12, where we read, “Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. “.  The Greek word translated here in the NIV means to contend or fight for.  The English word “agony” is derived from the Greek word, and people used to talk about someone agonizing in prayer.  This clearly implies prayer that requires effort – but not necessarily shouting!

By the time you read this it is probably that our webinar on Mission Through Prayer will have taken place.  It is running from 9.00 to 9.45 on Saturday 24th June.  If it is not too late, you can find the link to join the webinar on the website at www.ruralmissionsolutions.org.uk.  In this webinar, I plan to share the stories of three exceptional situations where earnest prayer led to wonderful blessings as people came to faith in Christ.

I have a good number of favourite Bible verses on the subject of prayer and its effectiveness.  In Acts 12 we read of an impossible situation with Peter in prison.  He is chained between two guards and behind two guarded locked doors.  Yet, he is miraculously set free because the church was praying ceaselessly for him.  In the letter written by James (probably a brother of Jesus), he refers to an experience of Elijah.  He points out that basically, he was no different from you or me.  Several translations describe the prayer as earnest.  We know that despite the lack of evidence, Elijah kept praying and looking expectedly for the answer until it finally came.  It’s yet another valuable insight into prayer that works.  Before the Day of Pentecost, the mother and brothers of Jesus met with other disciples and “devoted themselves to prayer” (See Acts 1:4).

If we want to see God at work in our churches then we must take prayer seriously, making time for it as a priority, and labouring at it until the answer comes.  There is no alternative.
No one can be sure who was the first to quote that there are no atheists in foxholes (a battlefield term).  I believe that many more people pray than we might imagine.  I also think that many would love to know more about prayer.  Partly for that reason, we ran an eight-day outreach encouraging people to pray in three villages.  I have no means of determining how many people started to pray that week, or who have continued to pray, but I believe that this is potentially a powerful way of helping people come to know God.  It can be an evangelistic tool.  For this reason, I will be explaining during the webinar on 24th June, the strategy we used.  If the opportunity to attend the webinar has gone and you missed it, look up the Free Online Seminars section of www.ruralmissionsolutions.org.uk where you will find a video recording of the webinar.  It should appear there by 28th June.

I hope that I might have encouraged or even inspired you to put more effort into prayer and make it a priority.  I certainly need to hear that message myself.  Please pray for those who attend the webinar, and for others who will see it on the website or on YouTube.

Current Items for Praise & Prayer
Give thanks with me that the problem with my neck is much improved.

Last Sunday morning, 18th, I was called in to give support to another prison chaplain as we were expecting a visiting team with a ministry in song.  When I arrived at the prison I discovered that the singing group had cancelled because their lead singer had a vocal problem.  My colleague and I had only minutes to put together an alternative programme based on their Bible readings.  It was an exceptionally good service and well attended.  Give thanks that it caused a buzz in the prison and pray that the message we shared will have ongoing impact among the prison population.

The theme of the past week seems to have been ‘partnership’.  Please pray for the colleagues with whom I share ministry.

Pray for a fruitful outcome from Saturday’s webinar on Mission Through Prayer.

Sunday 25th June – Northampton Congregational Church in the morning and a civic service in Market Harborough in the afternoon.
Monday 26th – School Assembly, Lubenham, Leics.
Tuesday 27th – Regular ministry at Prison, Leics
Thursday 29th – participating in the Churches Group for Evangelization (London)
Friday to Sunday 30th – 2nd – providing vocational guidance and support on a students’ training weekend in Nottingham, in my capacity as a member of a Pastoral Care Board.
Sunday 2nd July – Clarendon Park Congregational Church, Leicester

Thank you for your prayers on my behalf.  I need them.

Barry