Saturday, 27 May 2017

Christians as Construction Sites

 Christian as Construction Sites
One of the aspects of the gospel is the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, as we respond to Jesus and what he has done for us through his sacrifice.  As I prepared to write this piece, this was what occupied my mind. Later, I thought that I would write about prayer, as we share in the “Thy Kingdom Come” initiative of ten days of prayer (see below).  However, I feel drawn back once more to the subject of transforming grace, so I hope these reflections will be a blessing to you.

Recently, I listened to a sermon which contained an emphasis on accepting Jesus as a personal Saviour then need to turn our lives around.  While I appreciated the intension of the speaker, it did seem that he was suggesting that such a turn-around could be accomplished simply through self-effort.  My experience has been that I found that impossible.  I first responded to the gospel as a child, indicating my desire to follow Jesus by signing a copy of John’s gospel.  Later, I chose to walk in ways that were ungodly, until I realised my life was out of control and heading for disaster.  But my own efforts to change my life were ineffective.

Through the faithful service of a good Christian, I discovered that Jesus said that whoever came to him, he would never turn away (John 6:37).  So, I asked Jesus to accept me as I was.  Looking back, I can see that some change began to take place but it was slow and little.  Then, one Easter, as I listened to an evangelist speaking about the crucifixion, the love of God took hold of me and I surrendered myself to God.  Changes in my life soon became more obvious, but still I struggled with sin. It seemed to require more effort to change than I possessed, and I did so want to be more like Jesus.

Then, one day as I sat and prayed on the promenade at St. Leonards-on Sea, I felt God was asking me to look at the waves breaking on the shore.  There are several stone breakwaters along the shore, at right-angles to the sea.  I noticed that as each wave came in, at first the water would wash completely over the breakwater.  But as it progressed up the beach the water was separated on either side.  What I believed then, and still believe, is that God was showing me that the secret of sanctification is that as we seek to come ever closer to Jesus, so things in our lives that ought not to be there will lose their power.  It is the progress of ever wanting to be close to our Saviour that enables the change to take place.

Over 50 years later, while much in my life has changed for the better, there is still an ongoing work to be done.  I am a construction site.  God has not finished with me yet!  I heard of a man who was commissioned to produce a large statue of a horse.  People watched him at work.  One spectator, amazed at the sculptor’s skill with the chisel, asked what was the secret as the shape of the horse emerged from the block of stone.  He replied, “I just keep removing anything that doesn’t look like a horse”

One of my favourite songs was written by Marilyn Baker.  It reflects how God does the transforming work in our lives by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.  You can listen to her singing this song at www.youtube.com/watch?v=64OBMT2mrKU.

The Greek word, Metamorphoo, appears four times in the New Testament.  Two of these refer to the occasion when Jesus and three of his disciples went up a mountain.  The disciples witnessed what we call the transfiguration.  As they watched, the face of Jesus radiated light like the sun and his clothes became intensely white.  John, one of the three wrote of Jesus, “We beheld his glory…”. Peter, another of the three wrote, “We were eye-witnesses of his majesty…”.

The Greek word that describes what happened, leads to the English word, metamorphosis.  This means an essential change in form or substance, such as a caterpillar changing into a butterfly.  The amazing this is that that Greek word used to describe the transfiguration of Jesus, is also used to describe that change God brings about in our lives.

Writing to the Christians at Corinth, Paul reminds them of the transformation Moses experienced when he saw the glory of the Lord.  (See Exodus 34:29-35)  After his encounter with God Moses face radiated brightness or glory and he had to cover his face with a veil.  Paul goes on to write, “Whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate [or reflecting] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed (Greek: metamorphoo) into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:16-18)

Paul is explaining that when we genuinely spend time in the presence of the Lord and his word, we are being transformed into his likeness.

The third occasion where the word metamorphoo is used is in Romans 12:2 where Paul exhorts the Christians in Rome, Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed [metamorphoo] by the renewing of your mind.”  The message is simple: if the focus of our lives is on the ungodly aspects of the world we will find ourselves being pressed into its mould (as JB Philips puts it), but if our minds are set on the things that are of God, we will experience the continuing transforming grace that only God can bring.

While it is reasonable to say, “Be patient; God has not finished with me yet”, those closest to us should be able to discern something of the nature of God being formed in us – in what we are, how we speak, and all that characterises our lives.  You can’t mistake a construction site when you come across it!  While some may believe themselves called to live a life of asceticism, most of us live out our Christianity in the context of a world that often has values that are not godly.  I’m not sure which is the more challenging.  But in the world, I pray that people will be able to see Jesus in us.  In his earthly ministry, many sinners found themselves attracted to him because of his distinctiveness. May we be so filled with the Holy Spirit, that our lives attract and draw others to know Jesus.

Thy Kingdom Come
This is a wave of prayer globally originally initiated by the Church of England but now supported across all the main denominations. The purpose of the ten days of prayer is to pray for others that we know to come to know Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Friend.  If you have not already done so, I would encourage you to sign up to share in this season of prayer.  You can do this and find out more at www.thykingdomcome.global.  You will also find some prayer suggestions on the Facebook page for Rural Mission Solutions at www.facebook.com/Rural-Mission-Solutions.

From the Diary
I would value your prayers on some personal matters please.  Doreen has two hospital appointments this coming Monday and Tuesday.  The first is a CT scan because she has shown signs of cognitive impairment.  The second, is the annual follow up after her breast cancer operation last year. I have a hospital appointment on Friday to explore what might have been causing my voice to become husky.  At times, it makes it very difficult to speak and sing.

Apart from hospital appointments this is a relatively quiet week, which will enable me to do more writing and to attend to administrative tasks that are piling up.  In the following week there are more engagements, but more about that another time.

Thank you for your fellowship.

Barry


Saturday, 20 May 2017

Better Business Meetings

You know what they say about business meetings: “They take minutes but waste hours”! You know what they say about a camel: “It was a horse designed by committee”!  Did you know that at some time in the past, often Africans named their children to honour visiting missionaries and their work.  One poor child was called “Committee”.  But enough already!  I have met more people stumbled in their faith because of badly managed Church Meetings and I would like to try to do something about that.

Here then are a few lessons that I have learned over the years.

Before you jump into the business meeting (PCC, Church meeting, Kirk Session, etc) take a few moments for some social interaction.  You might find it helps to start with refreshments.  You could have an open sharing time – perhaps asking someone to briefly share their holiday experience.  Ease into the meeting.  Five minutes spent in this way could save you a lot of time and tears later.

I’m a firm believer in the value of setting a context of worship.  This could be a short reading (perhaps a suitable Psalm – but not one about smiting enemies!), perhaps a hymn could be sung, and certainly a prayer should be said.  The prayer should major on worship and thanksgiving, before commending the meeting to God.  This will also provide an opportunity for someone other than the person in the Chair to give a lead.  It’s a way of expressing that everyone is valued.

Plan the agenda sensibly.  Usually, minutes need to be approved and apologies given.  Try to keep this really brief.  Never put a controversial or contentious item near the top of the agenda.  Enjoy some time of happy agreement if possible.

Know your colleagues and help them contribute to the discussions and decisions in a sensible way.  Watch out for those who become passionate in argument, those who seem to have difficulty stopping speaking, and who hog the time, and those who just sit silent (or even worse sullen and silent).  Try to make it an enjoyable experience for everyone.

Remind yourself that while there might be some enthusiasts in the meeting, raring to go on a new project, there will also be some who need time to think before they commit.  Silence is not always a sign of agreement.  If you are in the Chair try to encourage those more quiet to share their thoughts, but don’t pounce on them.  That would be the last thing they want.

A wonderful way of enabling everyone to fully share in decision making, and ensure that decisions are made in a healthy way, was explained to me when I was doing a management degree course.  It is an ideal way to deal with those awkward topics that can cause upset, or to which people come with loaded agendas.  Such preformed opinions are not always personal.  Sometimes Christians will take up a strong and stubborn position simply because of their concern for someone else. So, here’s the scheme I was taught and have put into practise when dealing with sticky topics.

First the ground rules.  No one is allowed to express their opinion until the process is complete.  Even then they only do it through a vote.  So, no one says, “In my opinion…” or similar.  Some might find this hard, so assure them that they will be able to express their opinion later.

Sometimes I have found that an innocent practice session helps, if you have the time.  This could be based on a light-hearted proposal, such as proposing to double the minister’s stipend!  The practice and the actual difficult topic will be handled in the same way.

First, the Chairperson announces that we are going to focus on what might be an unhelpful outcome if the proposal is passed.  Each person present is asked to take a moment to think about what might be an unhelpful comment.  Then, in turn, each person is asked to contribute one negative point.  They should do this in an objective and dispassionate way.  Remember, the idea is not that anyone is arguing to support their opinion.  Those in favour of the proposal must be prepared to help identify possible negative outcomes.  Once everyone has had an opportunity, repeat the process by growing to each person in turn until you are satisfied that all the negative points have been mentioned.  It really helps if these can be written down either on a flipchart or large piece of paper.  This should then be displayed.

The process is then repeated, but this time, exploring what would be good or positive if the proposal is passed. Again, comments should be captured and the results displayed.  Remember that those who might be against what is being proposed must help identify all the possible good outcomes.

When the two exercises have been completed and everyone can see displayed the possible positive and negative outcomes, a moment of quiet prayer should be held before a vote is taken.

There is no guarantee that this will result in harmony and agreement but it is a better way to decision making than heated argument.  Some prayer after the vote might be wise.

Marginal decisions are not good decisions.  There will be too many people disaffected.  If agreement cannot be reached, it might be better to defer the item to another day or drop it altogether.

Go for quality and gracious conversation.  No one should leave the meeting, offended and hurt.  Be careful of the “God has shown me what we should do” approach, even if he has done.  Everyone should be valued in the decision-making process or you might as well not hold church business meetings.  Wouldn’t it be great if these meetings which, far too often, are the most unattractive aspect of church life, became times of spiritual enrichment and blessing?  Better business meetings; not bitter business meetings.

From the Diary
Give thanks for the webinar held earlier today.  Pray for those who attended who will be considering how to implement some of the ideas.

Give thanks for the excellent trustees meeting.  Several interesting decisions were made, and a new trustee welcomed.

Give thanks for some new promised financial support.  We are still a long way short of what is needed, but God is good.

Please pray as we hold discussions with some denominational bodies about how we might invest resources into their children’s work to reach young people in villages more effectively.

Give thanks for the Salvation Army’s Safeguarding Course on which I taught this week.  Those present at Malvern, Worcs. Were very responsive.

Please pray as I face a busy week, with significant activities each day from Monday to Friday, and sometimes several on the same day.  Please pray that each day I will be spiritually refreshed, walk close to the Lord, and be a blessing to others.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely in Christ,


Barry

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Who Does it?

What do Elisha, Joshua, Mark and Timothy have in common?  The answer is that at various times in their lives, they undertook a secondary role – possibly even that of a servant to some other significant Bible character (Elijah, Moses, and Paul).  It looks like a kind of apprenticeship.  Even though the concept of internship (unpaid work experience) has become common in the secular world, the lack of free willing service, or volunteering in a Christian context hinders God’s work and the mission of our churches in the UK.

In my own case, when I first felt a call to evangelism I became involved in a mission organisation.  I was given menial tasks, though these had to be done by someone.  As time progressed I was given increasing responsibility.  I ran the reprographics for the organisation, learning new skills and gradually improving equipment.  I was given responsibility for communicating each month with a network of prayer groups that met around the country.  That grew into a significant ministry.  On outreaches, I might read scripture, or pray, or give a testimony, but no more than that for at least a whole year or two.  Taking responsibility for the book keeping eventually led to becoming General Secretary, and ultimately CEO of that organisation, in addition to exercising a preaching ministry.

It was a tough and often frustrating time for the first few years, as I also undertook some theological training.  But it was not a bad education.  Now, as an older man, I would love nothing more than to find someone whom I could mentor and train up to take on the work when I am no longer able, or who might grow into another ministry.  But where are the volunteers?

Of course, in some churches and organisations, such progression in ministry is hindered by the proprietorial attitude of older Christians who consider they have a life time tenure in the role they undertake.  No one gets a look in because someone insists “It’s my job to….”

As a result of both these situations, responsibilities increase on the shoulders of fewer people. 

Ther is a little story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.

There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.
Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.
Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody's job.
Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it.
It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

The words of Isaiah 6:8, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ inspired the hymn that starts, “I the Lord of sea and sky” I have heard this sung with much enthusiasm in many churches and gatherings.  But most who sing seem to only enjoy the moment, and fail to sign up for action.

The Isaiah passage is similar to the tragic words in Ezekiel 22:30, “I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so that I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.”  I cannot read or hear that verse without thinking of the story of the little Dutch boy who came across a small leak in a dyke through which the sea was beginning to pour, threatening to flood Holland.  He managed to stem the flow with his finger until help came.  While this is a mythical story, its lesson is plain.  The lack of someone to “stand in the gap” in Ezekiel’s day is fact with tragic consequences.

God is not looking for experts; he is looking for those who are willing.   Some time ago, a young man, went to the leaders of a church with a large Sunday School and asked whether there was anything he could do.  His offer was rejected, but he was determined not to be idle when there was a work to be done.  In those days, seats in the Congregational church he attended had to be ‘rented’.  He rented five places and went out onto the streets where he found poor children without any association with a church.  This work expanded and he opened a mission Sunday School for the poorest in the neighbourhood.  Within a year, the average attendance was 650. His work among children led him to other ministries.

He inspired others to undertake godly, Holy Spirit empowered, ministry to children. He challenged teachers to holiness and to be inspiring characters.  The movement he inspired recorded over 10,000 brought to salvation in a single year.  As his ministry developed he established a partnership in ministry with a gospel singer.  This led to an incredibly fruitful ministry that led many thousands to Christ, not only in his home country of the USA, but also in the UK and elsewhere in the world.  His zeal for God still influences people and churches over 100 years later.  It goes to show what God can do with one volunteer who refuses to be suppressed. His name was Dwight L Moody. 

How can we hold back?  Starting with small things, and proving faithful is the way to go.  Of course, you might already be well occupied.  If you are, can you spare some time to find a few others who are not yet busy in God’s work, and inspire and encourage them into service?

God will never ask of us anything that is beyond our ability, though he may very well stretch that.  So, if your hands are not already full, please offer your services.  It is a good idea to first have an idea of what your gifts and abilities are.  If one door fails to open, try another.  If you are part of a church where ever increasing responsibilities rest on a few, ask what you can do to help.  If you cannot find enough to do, please feel free to contact me, and I will see whether there is something you could do to help advance the kingdom of God in the rural areas.

From the Diary
In the past week, I have seen my doctor regarding a problem that has made speaking and singing difficult.  This resulted in a chest xray within 24 hours.  I have a follow-up appointment booked and may be referred to the ENT dept at the hospital.  I do not feel unwell, just frustrated.

Please give thanks for the multitude of blessings from the Lord in so many ways, but especially when our ministry blesses others.  Your prayers are asked for the following upcoming events.

Monday 15th – Trustees for Sunrise Ministries meet in London.
Tuesday 16th – Regular work on the chaplaincy team at HMP Gartree
Wednesday 17th – Teaching on the Salvation Army Safeguarding programme, this time at Malvern, Worcs.
Saturday 20th – 9.00 to9.45 am.  Webinar on ideas and suggestions for mission activities through the summer.

Please pray as Gordon Banks and I put the final touches to the presentation on Saturday.  Please also pray for growth in the online audience for this webinar, so that the blessing will be multiplied.  If you have not already reserved your place, you will find information about how the webinars work on our website (Click Here).  Advance registration is essential.  If you are ready to book your place, click this link now.



Saturday, 6 May 2017

It takes More than Vision

When prayerfully pondering what I should speak about this coming Sunday at Melton Mowbray, I found my thought turning to the record of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem under the leadership of Nehemiah.  This is a favourite part of scripture.  I have preached and taught from it often.  One thing that leaps out from reading the early chapters of this book, is that it is impossible to separate the personality of Nehemiah from what was achieved.  For that reason, it provides an excellent study for understanding the nature of good Christian leadership.

The story begins with Nehemiah receiving visiting relatives from whom he asks news about Jerusalem.  By now, Jerusalem had been conquered by the Babylonian some 140 years previously.  While Nehemiah was physically 750 miles (1200km) from what used to be the spiritual centre of his home country, it remained close to his heart. Nehemiah enquires about those that had survived the exile imposed by the Babylonians and were living back in Jerusalem.  He learns that things are in a bad way, the people are in great trouble and disgrace and the city walls are broken down and the gates burned (Nehemiah 1:3)

Nehemiah seems to be shocked by the news.  He sits down and weeps.  This is followed by a several days of mourning, fasting, praying and repenting. By the end of the first chapter, it seems that Nehemiah had a plan.  We might say that he had a vision for turning the situation around.  Within just a few months later, this seemingly unlikely person had turned the vision into reality, taking only 52 days to complete the work of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and setting up new gates.

When I started my ministry in rural mission, the concept of vision was given great weight. The words of Proverbs 29:18 were often quoted: “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (though the precise meaning of the Hebrew was not exactly how it was used).  But vision is vital in Christian ministry.  Nehemiah could imagine what the physical and psychological state of Jerusalem was, but his vision was for restoration.  For those of us who committed our lives to the task of rural evangelism in the 1960s, we found ourselves working with those who could genuinely remember better days, when churches were spiritually alive and conversions common.  But already, churches were being closed and sold as congregations shrank. That marked decline continued through the twentieth century at an alarming pace.

A vision of restoration has remained a motivating factor in my life and ministry.  From time to time I have seen the tide of decline pushed back, but there is much more yet to be done.  Almost all reading this will worship in churches that have seen better days.  Have you a vision for the rot to be stopped?  But the restoration at Jerusalem took more than vision.  For what was dreamed to become reality called for more, and I can list them using the preachers’ favoured letter “P”.

Penitence
In chapter one, as Nehemiah reflects on all that has led the people of God into such a sorry state he confesses the sin that was at the heart of it.  Even though Nehemiah was not alive during the apostacy and final overthrow of the nation, he identifies himself with that failure.  “I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you…..” (Neh 1:6).  For our vision to become a reality, perhaps we also need to repent of the failure that has led to our present condition.  Nehemiah wept.

Prayer
The journey not only starts in prayer, but as difficulties and opposition is confronted, prayer permeates the story.  The words of 2 Chronicles 7:14 come to mind. “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”.   Prayer is much more than uttering words; it is an exercise of heart that requires passion.  The local revival experiences in which I shared in Devon were born out of times of agonizing prayer by godly men and women, for God to do again, what had been experienced in the past.  Paul describes Epaphras as “Always wrestling in prayer” for his church (Colossians 4:12).  Do we pray?  Do we pray enough?  Do we pray earnestly?

Physical Commitment
Nehemiah did not pray and then sit back and expect God to drop the solution to the problem from heave.  No!  He petitioned the king to allow him to go and DO something about it.  Our churches have many people who would love it if God answered their prayers and longing and suddenly sent people into our churches in droves.  But it will not happen like that.  Probably, the walls would never have been built if Nehemiah had stayed in Susa in his cosy job.  In these days, I find myself moved by the Spirit to ask again, and again, “Jesus wants to know how you are getting on with the task he set you?” Is the parable of the feast relevant for you? See Luke 14: 16-24.  A feast has been prepared by God.  What have we been doing to fill the places?  Do we need some physical action?

Planning
The book of Nehemiah is full of excellent examples of the importance of planning and strategic action.  All too often I hear resistant Christians describing such things as “worldly” and inappropriate to the Christian context.  But God calls on us to understand the times in which we are living, to be wise in what we do and how we do it.  Instead of shutting ourselves in with our inherited way of being church and engaging in mission, we need creative thinking that will catch the imagination of the men, women and children of our age.  Look at the way we do things and see how anachronistic so much of it is.  Language, style and method are not prescribed in scripture.  Do you know where it says, “We must sit in rows on pews and listen to one-way ministry”?  God has put within us the ability to be creative, to experiment and change.  Let’s learn how to be relevant and effective with what God has entrusted to us to bring blessing to others.

Persistence
Nehemiah had to cope with opposition from the moment he returned to Judea.  That got steadily and increasingly intense.  In addition, there were issues of tiredness, fear, discouragement, and gross injustice to which he had to respond.  CT Studd, a great missionary and mission motivator from the past, used to speak about chocolate soldiers that melted at the first sight of difficulty.  My friends, God has not called us to an easy life. Throughout the centuries since God stepped into our world in the person of the Son, Christians have had to lay down their lives for the sake of the gospel.  Even today, in some parts of the world, the cost is great. For far too many in the UK, the cost of being a Christian is £5 per week in an offertory plate.  God is asking for more, and it will take grit if we are to see our nation re-evangelised.  In the news today, it was announced that Eliud Kipchoge has run a marathon in seconds over two hours.  That is fast; but it is more about endurance.  That is like running a four-minute mile, twenty-six times back to back!

Penitence, prayer, physical involvement, planning, and persistence!  It takes more than vision – but perhaps it has to start with one.  Robert Kennedy, indeed all three of the Kennedy brothers, paraphrased a line from George Bernard Shaw.  It goes something like…

“There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why?
I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

“Without a vision (and more)…….”
From the Diary
Sunday 7th – Welby Lane Mission, Melton Mowbray, Leics.
Monday 8th – Outreach Planning Meeting, Market Harborough
Tuesday 9th – HMP Gartree (please pray for the Chaplaincy team)
Thursday 11th – Prayer Walk in the village of Husbands Bosworth, Leics.
Monday 15th – Rural Mission Solutions Trustees Meeting, London
Wednesday 17th – Teaching on Salvation Army Safeguarding programme at Malvern
Saturday 20th – Sharing leading a webinar full of ideas for mission activities through the summer months, ideal for rural and small churches.  Please bring blessing to your church and community by attending this seminar you can enjoy from your home.  All you need is an internet connection with sound enabled. Advance Reservation is essential.  To find out more and to book your place, click here and visit our website.

Thank you for your prayers and all the ways in which you share with us in the work to which God has called us.

Yours sincerely in Christ,

Barry
(6th May 2017)



Monday, 1 May 2017

EASTER AS A LEARNING EXPERIENCE

A fairly new minister, attending the same meeting as me, spoke about the fact that passing the diving test does not make a person an expert driver.  The learning must go on.  He offered this as a view of what it means to be a Christian minister.  No matter how long you have been in ministry, you should still remain a learner.

Intriguingly, the next day I followed a car being driven along a local road, and observed how carefully it was being driven.  While the driver was happy to go at the national speed limit, he was also careful to drive within the speed limit for the three villages we passed through.  I also observed that he took up the correct road position when approaching bends, and wondered if he had taken advanced driving lessons.  It made me reflect on my own driving style.  I pondered on the thought that to be a good driver you need to keep learning from the experience of your own driving and observing others.

I must have consciously celebrated a Christian Easter for more than 60 years, so finding something new to learn might seem impossible.  But Easter is not only about the story; it is also about the impact that the wonder of the sacrifice and the resurrection have on our emotions and spiritual lives. In my ministry this year, I have focused on the way in which the Easter event produced different kinds of turnaround experiences for four people in scripture.

For Cleopas and his companion life had been very confusing.  The prophet, mighty in deed and word, whom they hoped was the Messiah, had been brutally killed.  Although some women were reporting that he was alive again, in those days the testimony of women was considered unreliable.  They were in the depths of despair.  As they walked the seven miles a stranger helped them see all that the scriptures showed about the Messiah and his resurrection.  With their hearts burning within them, they invited the previously unbidden companion to spend the night with them.  As a result of welcoming him, they discovered the ‘stranger’ was the risen Christ.

Such was the impact of this discovery that they could not wat until morning, but left all and hastened back to Jerusalem to share the news with others. The way was probably difficult, dark and dangerous.  They may have been tired.  But their Easter experience led to a real turnaround.  Easter changed their priorities.

The apostle, Paul, writes about his Easter experience in 1Corinthisnas 15.  He met with the risen Christ as he was about to enter Damascus.  Saul of Tarsus was not a bad man.  He was ultra-sincere, but sincerely wrong.  It was not just his name that was changed; Paul was truly a turned-around man.  The passion he had poured into persecuting those of the Way, was now spent in proclaiming the identity of Jesus as Messiah and Saviour.  At the heart of his ministry was the fact of the resurrection.

For seven days Thomas found himself at odds with the other disciples of Jesus.  They had met the risen Christ and knew the testimony of the women to be true.  He was alive!  But Thomas had not been able to share that same experience and was left with his doubts.  I wonder, why the Jesus who had so soon revealed himself to Mary and the two walking to Emmaus, chose to leave Thomas struggling with doubt while surrounded with confidence.   On the eighth day, finally he too met the risen Saviour.  Now he had no need to tough the wounds in those hands (I love Frank Topping’s description of the nail-prints as ‘chasms of love’)I, or thrust his hand into the wound in his master’s side.  Doubt gave way to that amazing statement of faith: “My Lord and my God”.

In Luke 22, we read about the conversation between Peter and Jesus in the guest chamber on the evening in which Jesus was betrayed.  How vehemently Peter proclaims his loyalty.  But only a few hours later, in the courtyard outside the place where Jesus was on trial for his life, three times he denied ever knowing him.  As the cock crowed, and the door opened, Jesus turned and looked at Peter, and Peter remembered.  Rising from his place by the fire, Peter went outside and wept bitterly.  He was not the man he thought he was and hoped others would see him too.

Meeting once more, the one he had failed and denied would not have been easy.  I sense some uneasiness in Peter’s decision to go back to fishing.  I suspect that breakfast may have been eaten in silence.  But when the silence was broken as Peter walked with Jesus, how painful were those questions that drilled into Peter’s heart.  They emphasised his failure, but were accompanied with words of reassurance.  There was still a place for him.  As Jesus had urged him in that mealtime they had share before Jesus was arrested, “When you are converted, strengthen your brethren”.

Endeavouring to understand and empathise with all that Peter went through emotionally over those few short days, has led me to believe that the Peter we see on the Day of Pentecost had been changed, not only by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but by his Easter turnaround experience.

So, four turnaround experiences, from moping to mission, from persecutor to apostle, from doubt to extraordinary faith, and from cowardice to courage.  Easter impacts our lives in different ways, all of which should lead to a real turnaround.  For me, Easter 1963 turned me from a nominal believer into a young man with a passion for sharing the good news and encouraging others to trust the Saviour.

But the learning should go on. So, this year I am asking, what is there in who I am, in what I do, in how I speak and in my thoughts, and in my relationship with God and others that needs an Easter turnaround.

I have one further thought.  In each of the examples above, people were found, or found themselves in a non-ideal situation.  Cleopas was confused and unhappy.  Thomas found himself at odds with his friends.  Paul was obsessed with destroying heresy. Peter was probably struggling with shame.  I had a faith that was ineffective.  Each remained in that state until Jesus breaks through in his own time.  It was the presence of the risen Lord – and that alone – that made the change.  Easter is about triumph, but at the personal level that cannot be manipulated or brought about by our own efforts.  We may not be where we would prefer to be in experience.  Maybe, all we can do is pray, “Come, risen Lord, I open my heart, mind and life to the power that raised you from the dead. Do your turnaround work in me.”

From the Diary
 April has been a busy month.  There has been Sunday ministry at Newton URC (near Rugby), Weby Lane Mission (Melton Mowbray), Northampton Congregational Church, Welford Congregational Church (Northants), and HMP Gartree. Various other meetings including school assemblies have been conducted.  I was a guest at the Village Hope Conference in Malvern and spent numerous hours in writing and in mission administration.

On Tuesday 2nd June, I shall take a service interring ashes following a thanksgiving service conducted recently.  I will also be working at HMP Gartree.  On Friday 5th I share in a meeting exploring how to make church premises more inviting.  On Sunday 7th, I am booked to lead the evening service at Welby Lane Mission, Melton Mowbray.  In between these engagements I will be busy preparing for an outreach planning meeting (8th May), a Sunrise Ministries Trustees Meeting (15th May),  a Safeguarding Training Day (17th May), and our next webinar on Summer Mission Ideas (20th May), and much more.

At present my work at prison is frustrated by delay in getting my security clearance renewed.  This impacts not only my ministry in the prison, but also affects all my colleagues, as it limits my activities.  Please pray for a speeding up of the process.

Thank you for your prayers.  Please pray that the Lord will keep us close to himself, keep us learning, and make us a blessing to others.

Barry






Saturday, 15 April 2017

An Easter Newsletter


Despite writing a great deal, I admit to failing to keep in touch with friends who pray for me and support the ministries in which I am involved.  Easter and Christmas are the new occasions when there is an opportunity to catch up.  So this post is an attempt to do that - to say a big thank you for the friendship and fellowship I am privileged to enjoy.

Personally, the past twelve months have brought many challenges, not least associated with my wife’s health as she underwent an operation for cancer, and suffered some bad falls because of her peripheral neuropathy condition.  However, we have continued in the ministry to which God has called us.

Webinar Ministry
Numbers of people attending our periodic online seminars have grown and the feedback from these is very encouraging.  I am grateful for the support and participation of one of our trustees, Captain Gordon Banks (CA).  We now offer an interesting range of 45 minute seminars offered free and aimed at anyone concerned for the mission of God in the rural areas of the UK.

Consultations
When I retired from pastoral ministry at Yelvertoft last Summer it was with the intention of holding a series of one-day consultations on rural mission.  One such event, held this year, was hosted by the Diocese of Chelmsford, though open to all.  Twenty-seven leaders of rural churches attended on this occasion, including key people in the diocese. These are jointly arranged between Rural Mission Solutions and the Rural Evangelism Network.

Praise & Prayer News
This is our main link with our band of praying friends.  Most weeks I manage to find time to write this and send it out as an e-letter.  Each issue contains a biblical reflection as well as a summary of recent activity and principal engagements for the coming week or so.  While we cannot be entirely sure how many are read each week, we certainly know that the majority are read.  It is encouraging how often people respond stating that it was just what they needed at the time.  Several national Christian leaders are among the recipients and scores of church leaders.  Often the reflections find their way into other sermons, and the blessing is passed on.

Website & Social Media
Our online presence is important as this is a major way through which people contact us.  It is my hope to find someone who might assist with this. In addition to the Rural Mission Solutions and Rural Evangelism Network websites, we maintain a set of Facebook pages and Twitter accounts.  These are valuable in keeping our information going out, both to encourage prayer and to make people aware of our resources for rural mission.  The RMS website has a section for our webinars with a video recording of the seminars (also available on our YouTube Channel) and various supporting papers that can be downloaded.

Teaching Safeguarding
A smaller part of our ministry – but very important – is our ongoing work in safeguarding.  The two publications I helped to write, Time for Action and Responding Well continue to be used.  Every church should have a copy of Time for Action, which is about pastoral support for people who have experienced sexual abuse.  It also has sections on the causes of abuse and other helpful information.  The publishers increased the price of this book to £9.95 but I would be happy to send it post free to anyone who is responsible for a rural church.
I continue to provide regular teaching for the Salvation Army specifically on how abuse can happen in a church or Christian organisation, and how to prevent it.  I have also done some work in the past twelve months for the Baptist Union of Great Britain and a section of the Congregational Federation.  As part of the work for the CF I have a presentation on risks through the Internet and how to manage these.

Networking
The task of re-evangelising the rural communities of Britain is far too much for any one organisation.  It can also prove daunting to rural church leaders.  We therefore remain committed to networking with others.  This includes keeping in touch with the leaders of other rural mission organisations, and working through the Churches Rural Group. Country Way is an excellent magazine in this regard, and I am hoping to do more writing for this publication (now also available online).  I am especially keen to encourage local networking that is light in management but excellent in value.  I have now set up and run three of these. The aim is getting rural church leaders (ordained and lay), sharing their experiences and plans for mutual encouragement and prayer.  We have added a section about this to the website at www.ruralmissionsolutions.org.uk/rural-mission-support-groups

Tailoring Mission and so much more!
With ten million people living in rural Britain’s smaller communities, including two million children, the task of re-evangelising these will only be achieved through local churches.  So, the heart of our ministry remains helping churches to develop strategies that are appropriate both to them and the communities in which they are set.  We are currently setting out the principles and practise in a Workbook to add to our other resources.  I remain available to lead away days and can provide training either through face to face meetings or online.   This is one of the greatest challenges and needs in our churches across the UK.  If your church has not already engaged with us, please contact us for more details.

Our partnership with you
All our ministries are only possible through the prayers and giving of those who share our vision for the re-evangelisation of the people of rural UK.  Because rural churches are almost always small and have limited resources, all we do is offered free of charge.  We keep overheads to a minimum and operate with a surprisingly small budget.  While we are grateful for donations from churches we serve, we remain dependent upon regular supporters.  Some have stayed with us a long time and some of our early supporters have gone to glory.

If you or your church are not currently helping us in this way, but would be willing to do so, please email or write to me for details.  Most especially, we need your prayers and those of your church.

Thank you.

 Barry

Friday, 31 March 2017

Observing the traffic Lights

While driving into Leicester recently I saw something that amazed me.  As the A6 enters the urban area it reaches a point in Oadby where three side roads intersect at different points of the A6.  Traffic is managed through this section with a series of traffic lights at three points along the main road.  As I approached the first set of lights it changed from green to amber.  Traffic slowed down.  The lights turned red and we all stopped, apart from a while car at the front which was driven slowly past the red light.  The lights at the junctions further up the road were still green at that stage, so it is possible that the driver carelessly failed to realise that it should have stopped.

The car continued at an unhurried pace towards the next set of lights which had already turned to red.  To my amazement, it continued steadily ahead towards the next red light and passed through those as well. Fortunately, traffic from the side roads have a short wait before they get a green light, so the white car made its unhurried way without a collision.  To drive through three separate sets of red lights over a significant distance is extraordinary.  It was clearly not ‘jumping the lights’ it seemed that the driver was just not recognising them.  I wondered if the driver was drunk.  What might make him or her so careless?

As the lights turned to green and I made my own way along the road, I found myself reflecting on how I have responded to signals that God has set in my way.  The Bible illustrates how various people have responded to a green or a red light.  For example, Balaam the prophet was intent on ‘driving through red lights’.  In Numbers 22:19 we find Balaam apparently checking to see if God had changed his mind, though God had clearly set a red light in front of him.  Was he tempted by the bribe he was offered.  As he travelled on, even the donkey could see the red lights, which Balaam failed to see (Numbers 22:21-31).

In Genesis 4:7 God warns Cain of the need to put the brakes on his emotions or sin would get the better of him.  He chose to drive through the red light and killed his brother.

The story of Jonah is about a man who ignored a green light and chose instead to drive through a red light.  He learned his lesson the hard way and got back on the right road.

In 1Kings 13 we read the account of a prophet who was persuaded to drive through a red light and suffered terrible consequences.

The Acts of the Apostles also gives examples of God’s guidance.  Philip obediently left Samaria and went back to Jerusalem where he led an Ethiopian official to an experience of salvation.  Paul and Barnabas obeyed the call to take the gospel into what we now call Turkey.  On the second missionary journey, Paul and Silas are confronted by several red lights that stop them from proceeding in the wrong directions, before getting the green light to proceed into Europe (see Acts 16:6-10).

Clearly, when God puts a red light in our way, that is every bit as important as when he puts a green light in our way.  I must admit that, literally, I have sometimes stopped at a green light and gone through a red light unintentionally, when driving my car.  Many years ago, I had a spiritual experience just like that.

While working within a mission organisation I became convinced that God was calling me to become the pastor of a church in Kent.  I travelled to meet with the minister of the church and told him my story.  He was delighted.  Unknown to me, he had just informed the church that he was retiring.  My ministry was known to this church and he was confident that the church members would be keen for me to take on this ministry.  I was excited.  It seemed so clearly to be a green light. 

On returning to the mission headquarters I informed the director of the mission that I would be leaving to take up this pastorate.  He was very unhappy and asked me to take 24 hours to pray more about it.  I agreed, confident of my guidance.  Behind my back, the director telephoned the minister of the church, and with tears pleaded with him not to take me from the mission.  Later the following day, I phoned the minister to confirm my availability, only to discover that another name had been put forward and their system required that he was considered ahead of me.  He was duly called and served the church well.

I then spent several months of unhappiness?  I had allowed myself to be persuaded to ignore a green light. I told God how sorry I was, and determined to try to be more sensitive to his guidance in future and act obediently.  God is good, and the road since travelled has brought many blessing into my life.  But it was a salutary lesson.

I will never know what made the driver of that white car systematically drive through red lights, but I hope that you have developed a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and take care to recognise and respect the traffic light God puts along your way.  Welcome the red lights as much as the green.  They are there for your benefit and that of others.

From the Diary
Sundays through March have been fully booked.  I have been blessed by the churches I have served and am grateful for the testimonies of blessing.  I have also been taking school assemblies each Monday, and continue with this to the end of term.  Other recent events relate to my work teaching on safeguarding issues.  I constructed and delivered two talks for the East Midlands Area of the Congregational Federation.  One of these was focused on the safe use of the Internet by children.  I also provided a day’s teaching for the Salvation Army at the Cliff College Conference Centre.  Praise God for safe travelling and God’s gracious blessing on all the activities of recent weeks.

·       Friday 31st March – 10.30 CF Area Committee Meeting in Narborough, Leics.  (several important tasks to be addressed).  In the afternoon, I will travel to Nottingham where I am engaging with students on the educational/training programmes run by the Congregational Federation.  Mt role is as a member of the Pastoral Care Board.  Some of those present will be on a vocational pathway and I am there to give support and guidance when needed.

·       Saturday 1st April – Sunday 2nd April – Nottingham for the students’ weekend.
·       Sunday 2nd 6.00pm – Newton URC (near Rugby)
·       Monday 3rd April – lunchtime school assembly; evening planning meeting for Harborough Holiday at Home outreach.
·       Tuesday 4th April – HMP Gartree
·       Friday/Saturday 7th/8th April – attending the Village Hope Conference.  VH is a partner organisation in rural evangelism.
·       Palm Sunday 9th April – Welby Lane Mission, Melton Mowbray.

Personal News – Doreen has just had a first operation to remove a cataract from her right eye, and is progressing well.  She is also starting a physio course to help her balance and walking.  I have recently completed an eight-year experimental trial aimed at preventing oesophageal cancer. I appear to be very fit and delighted to be taking less medication.

Thank you for your fellowship and prayers.


Barry