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

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Unforgettable Characters

It has been three weeks since the last Praise & Prayer News.  I think this might be the longest period of silence from me!  It has been caused in part by a particularly busy period, sometimes most intense at the weekends when I usually write.  It has also been caused by some uncertainty as to what I should write.  I do take time to pray before sitting down at the laptop, and usually ponder over a topic for several days, hoping that what I write will prove relevant to as many as possible.

As I have passed through this period of uncertainty, some thought seeds have developed and came to fruition this morning – Sunday 19th March 2017.  What I plan to write now will have some echoes of a previous item written about a year ago.  So, I hope you will not mind a little repetition.  That also reminds me that in the interim I repeated a talk (I hate the term sermons) I gave in several churches. One former colleague called it serving up cold meat with hot gravy!  But in each case the repetition seemed to bring a lot of blessing, so justifying it.

I grew up in a home with copies of the Readers Digest.  I loved this publication, read the funny quotes that were at the bottom of some pages, the page of jokes and various articles.  But my favourite section was called “The Most Unforgettable Character I Met”. Various authors shared their experience, and I lapped it up.  I guess it might have sown the thought about what makes someone unforgettable.

One of the activities during my recent ‘silence’ was leading a Prayer Meeting in the prison where I serve as a voluntary chaplain for a few hours each week. One of the men shared some thoughts based on the account in Acts 19 about the seven sons of a Jewish High Priest who tried to drive out an evil spirit “in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches”.  The surprising response was “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?”  Clearly, in the demonic realm Paul had become an unforgettable character.

This weekend brings two unforgettable characters into sharp focus.  Both had impact on my life as a child and teenager.  The first is Dame Vera Lynn with whom I often sang along as her recordings were frequently played over the radio at home.  Dame Vera is about to hit her 100th birthday.  The second character is Chuck Berry, whose death was announced this morning.  As one of the first generation to be called teenagers, I embraced his music with enthusiasm.

These various threads then combined with the invitation to speak at a church anniversary service this evening.  Anniversaries provide opportunity to look back on a journey taken.  I found myself reflecting on the unforgettable characters in my life.  For almost all reading this, the names will mean nothing, but I’d like to take a few minutes to tell you about them.

Miss Hatton lived six doors from our family home.  She had a knack of recruiting young children and taking us to and from Sunday School.  She invented a competitive gave relating to the registration of new cars, which we played through the week.  She also provided us with a chocolate ├ęclair when we reached her home on return. I started Sunday School with Mrs Roberts and Miss Osgood, who were apparently saddened when I reached an age when I could move out of the primary department.  This brought me into contact with Miss Betts (Superintendent), the two Miss Mathers, and Mrs Young who was my favourite.  I can’t remember anything they taught me but their characters made an indelible impression and played a vital part in my faith journey.

During this period our church was served by an energetic and enthusiastic Scottish minister, the Rev Angus McNaughton.  He gave fantastic flannelgraph illustrated talks on Sunday mornings, ran film shows on Tuesdays evenings, and made moving pastoral visits to our home where he knelt and prayed before giving me a ride on his motorbike around the streets where I lived.  Most especially, I remember his loving visits to me during a time I spent as a young child in hospital.

To these names I could add others such as Alan and Ame Tarling, and Brenda and Margaret Wayling.  All these are unforgettable for their love of Jesus and their Christlike service to children.

On hitting my teens, I graduated out of Sunday School and into the wider world.  As the former Christian influences in my life waned, my life style became increasingly ungodly.  But a new unforgettable character came into my life.  It was Robert Dingwall, the RE teacher in my secondary school.  He was great because he had ways of linking science with faith both through his love of archaeology and regular Fact and faith Film Shows after school.

About the time my lifestyle had degenerated the most another unforgettable man gave me a gospel tract to read.  We did not know one another, but his obedience to the prompting of the Holy Spirit in going out that dark and damp evening to give out tracts set me a powerful example.  I was the only person he gave a tract to, but so confident was he that the young man who took it was going to be saved and used by God, that they prayed through that night and sent prayer requests to people in far off places, until the day I knocked at his door to tell him his prayers had been answered.

At this stage in my life, new unforgettable characters, whose names will mean nothing to you, came into my life.  They included Gordon Hunt who tricked me into my first public confession that I was a Christian.  Still later, Eric and Grace Kilby and Syd Thayre, and especially Alfred Lavender left their mark on me.  They are unforgettable and I thank God for them. What made each of them (and there were others) unforgettable was that they were excited about Jesus and had a strong commitment to share in God’s mission. 

I don’t suppose any of them will have a biography written about them.  Almost all they said to me and taught me are long forgotten.  But these were living messages of the good news about Jesus – my unforgettable characters.  Each had their own separate lives, but in God’s plan he wove our lives together to produce the pattern he planned.  They are the ‘warp’ through which my life has been the ‘weft’.

Who are your unforgettable Christian characters whose lives have been significant in your journey?  If they are still alive, please tell them this.  Take a few moments to remember then and give thanks to God, who gave them to you at important times.  Then take a moment to ponder on your own life as your pathway crosses those of others.  What impact are you having?  What lessons are being taught and learned?  You may consider yourself to be unimportant, but if we get it right, God can make us someone’s unforgettable character for his purpose in the lives of others.

From the Diary
These have been very busy three weeks and I am so thankful for the blessing God has given me and Doreen and the fact that he has also given us opportunities to bring his word to others and to be of service in other ways.  I could write many pages about this but will not do so here.  But please give thanks with me.  Give thanks also for colleagues who have shared, especially for Gordon Banks, one of our trustees.

The diary is full to the end of the month and we value your prayers each day for sensitivity to the Holy Spirit as we seek to be led by God.  Doreen has a cataract operation on Friday.

May God’s peace overflow in your life.

Barry

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Why Three Stories?

I wonder whether you have ever had a eureka moment.  One came to me unexpectedly but it was so very exciting.  I would like to share it with you here.  I have used it a few times when taking church services, and was inclined to not spread it around too much.  But I think the time has come for me to share with you what I believe God shared with me.

But before I get into it, I want to encourage you to join me in the webinar (online seminar) Saturday 25th February 2017 from 9.00am to 9.45 GMT.  It is free and there is no need to get dressed up and to go out.  You can watch and listen to it at home, and I won’t even know if you are still in pyjamas!  Seriously, Gordon Banks and I will be talking about simple ideas for rural or other small churches that can be used to share the love of God and the story of Jesus through the Spring months.

Please sign up for this today, if you are not otherwise committed on that day and time.  You need to book your place in advance, and it costs you nothing.  Once you have reserved your place, I will send you an email with additional helpful information. CLICK THIS LINK TO RESERVE YOUR PLACE.

Thank you.  I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Now, back to my eureka experience.  I found myself wondering why Jesus told three super stories on the theme of lost and found, when one might have been sufficient.  You will find these in Luke 16. The stories were a response to criticism of Jesus because he was keeping company that zealous Pharisees and teachers of the law considered inappropriate.

Story one is about a man who had 100 sheep but found he had lost one.  So, he went and sought until he found it, brought it home and shared his joy with his neighbours.

Story two is about a woman who lost a coin.  It was worth a day’s wages, but it might have had some other value.  Clearly recovering it was important as she diligently swept the house until she found it.  She also shared her good news with her neighbours.

Story three is about a man with two sons.  The younger son is selfish and wants his share in the eventual inheritance to come to him immediately.  He cannot wait for his dad to die.  His share would have been one third of the value of the estate. So, with his share in his hand he set off to a far country where he wasted it on parties and prostitutes. When he was at his lowest, he finally came to his senses and realises how stupid he had been.  He returned home, a somewhat changed man, and his father ran to meet him, and welcomed him back.  He threw a party, much to the annoyance of his older brother.  There is so much more that we could write about this third story, but my question was, why three stories. Surely any one of them was a good enough illustration.

The stories are about people repenting.  Both Hebrew and Greek thinking had different ways of understanding sin.  I’m not going to trouble you with the original Greek text.  One understanding was what we often call original sin.  This is our inherited fallen nature.  As Paul writes to the Christians in Rome, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” Roman 3:23.  Our very nature comes short of the holiness of God.  The coin was lost but that was its estate, and it had no culpability.

Another understanding of sin is iniquity or waywardness.  Most of us will have got into sinful behaviour by fallowing the crowd, or drifting carelessly.  Sometimes I find myself breaking the speed limit, not deliberately but because I was careless.  Isaiah speaks about this in chapter 53, where we read, “All we like sheep have gone astray…”. When other sheep had been safely gathered in, one was still out on its own, vulnerable to be preyed upon by wild animals.

A third understanding of sin is transgression.  This is the deliberate breaking of the law.  It is the choice to sin.  It is about knowing where the line is drawn and deliberately stepping over it.  The son knew what kind of life his father would want him to live, but he deliberately chose the other lifestyle.

So, by using three different stories, Jesus illustrated the wonder of the gospel.  Whether our sinfulness is the consequence of carelessness, whether we might claim it is not our fault, or whether we have deliberately chosen to sine, we are loved and sought by a gracious God.  Does that thrill you?  It certainly should.

But it didn’t end there.   More recently I reflected on who was doing the searching.  For the lost sheep, it was a good shepherd who sought and found it.  Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd”.  For the prodigal son, it was the father who was looking for his son’s return and met him and welcomed him back.  For the coin, it was a woman who diligently swept the dust and dirt away. For me this sounds so much like the work of the Holy Spirit, who reveals to us our need of salvation, and does the regeneration and sanctifying aspects of our salvation.  Of course, God does not have gender but Hebrew scholars will be aware that in the Hebrew Scriptures the Holy Spirit is referred to with the feminine gender.

So, Jesus illustrates how all three persons of the Trinity share in saving the lost.  By now you should at least have given one hallelujah!  But, we are not finished.

In the parable of the lost coin, it is about the recovery or regaining of a treasure.  You are so precious to God, and he wants you safe.  In the parable of the lost sheep, it is about rescuing from peril and danger.  Continuing in sin leaves us in a state of peril.  In the parable about a lost son, it is about the recovery of a precious relationship.  So, in seeking and saving you and me, God reveals how he sees us as precious to him, saves us from the consequences of our sin, and draws us back into his loving arms, restoring the relationship that was lost.

For me, this has been a mind-blowing journey of discovery.  And I am not sure that it is fully ended.  As John Robinson said as he bade farewell to those who became known as the Pilgrim Fathers (and mothers, of course), “God has yet more light and truth to break forth from his holy word”.

I hope that these insights have been a blessing to you.  We have such a wonderful Saviour and story to share. Let Gordon and me help you find some ways to share it, by signing up for the webinar.  If you missed the earlier link, here it is again.
Items from the Diary
Thank you for your prayers during the past week.  I have had some precious experiences through the privilege of bringing God’s word to others.

Saturday 18th Feb. I shall be sharing in an Area Executive Meeting for the Congregational Federation.  There are some 30 churches, and we are encouraging them to plan at least one outreach this year.

Sunday 19th Feb. I shall be taking the morning service for Elstow Bunyan Christian Fellowship.  This was John Bunyan’s home village.

Tuesday 21st Feb is my regular time with some of the men in HMP Gartree.

Wednesday 22nd Feb I chair an online meeting of the Congregational Federation’s Inter-Church Board.  This is a responsibility I am in the process of laying down. Prayers are valued as its future is uncertain.

Thursday 23rd Feb  I shall be sharing in a Chaplaincy Team Meeting.

Friday 24th Feb I shall share with others in my new spiritual home (Market Harborough Congregational Church) as we seek to share with other users of the premises that there is a living and loving church meeting in this building, and to which they would be welcome.

Saturday 25th Feb is the webinar at 9.00am.  Through the week I shall be putting the finishing touches to this presentation.

Sunday 26th Feb in the morning I shall be taking a Family Service for Goodwood Evangelical Church, Leicester.  Later I will travel to Chelmsford, Essex to meet up with Gordon Banks, ready for…

Monday 27th Feb Rural Mission Consultation hosted by the Diocese of Chelmsford. See more.

It is so encouraging to know that we are supported through your prayers.

Barry

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Moving a Mover

In a previous Praise & Prayer News I wrote about a hymn that meant much to me. It sparked off a lot of communications, as people identified with what I had written.  As I wrote at the time, I draw much blessing from older hymns, but also enjoy many contemporary hymns and songs.

The fact is, that if our hearts are open to God, he will use all kinds of things to bring his blessing into our lives.  In the first church where I was a minister, a lady brought her granddaughter one Sunday evening when we were singing a lively Sankey-type hymn.  It had a clap-along chorus.  Granny had given little girl a tambourine, which she bashed out of time through all the verses as well as the choruses.  After two verses, I felt I could take no more, so I was about to publicly suggest that she was stopped from banging it at least through the verses, when I felt God say that he was happy to accept the little girl’s worship and I should be too!  From that moment, I found what had been annoying became pure joy!  Is there a lesson here for those of us who are picky about worship material?

In that church, we used the old Redemption Hymnal.  It has remained my favourite for many reasons.  It has plenty of older hymns (Watts and Wesleys abound), hymns from the Sankey era, and hymns from the Pentecostal Revival.  This last group demonstrates a deep spirituality, and it is one of these that I want to share with you here.  It was written by ECW Boulton, an early Elim Minister, who once stayed in the home of a dear friend (now in Glory), Alan Blythe.  Alan was very musical and innocently asked Pastor Boulton whether he was too!  He later said it was one of his most embarrassing moments.

The hymn I have chosen to share with you speaks to me as someone engaged in public ministry.   The inherent danger when one is standing "up-front" is the temptation to perform; to present our ministry in a way that we hope will impress the congregation.  Of course we want what we say and do to have an impact on the hearers and that will mean using an appropriate style, but we should always want people to see Jesus and not us.

Perhaps one way of avoiding falling into the trap of allowing too much of ourselves into our ministry is to remind ourselves of the words of Jesus in the allegory of the vine and branches.  Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” 
(John 15:5).  Some versions state “without me you can do nothing”.  Of course, relying wholly on ourselves, we can achieve results, but this will not be the fruit God looks for.  Some people like to relate the fruit bearing to the passage in Galatians about the fruit (singular) of the Spirit (See Galatians 5L22,23)  But I think it refers to every aspect of our lives and ministries for him.  Nothing that is of God and of eternal value can be achieved without his life in us.

So, here’s the hymn.  Please take time to read it and ponder on each verse.  It is the ideal hymn for those in public ministry, but we would all benefit from making this our daily prayer.

Move me, dear Lord, and others I shall move to do Thy will;
mould Thou this life into a vessel fair Thyself to fill;
no charm with which to draw do I possess,
in Thee I find the secret of success.

O touch these yielded lips and through them pour Thy living thought;
I would not give to hungry souls the words that man hath taught;
shall they who seek the bread a stone receive?
It is God's Word alone that can relieve.

How wonderful a channel thus to be, to those forlorn,
a messenger of peace and joy and hope, to them that mourn;
O grant that I Thy risen life may share,
the virtue of Thy name to others bear.

Under the anointing daily let me live, a priest and king;
relying not on fleshly energy Thy smile to win;
a simple soul in contact with my Lord,
in whom all fullness is forever stored.

O teach me, Lord, henceforth with Thee to walk in union deep;
whilst tending other souls not to neglect my own to keep;
a separated soul unto the One
whose grace and love for me so much have done

As far as I know, this is now ‘Public Domain’.  The fact that this hymn is not more well-known might be because Marjorie Helyer’s fantastic tune for this hymn is set in five flats!  Please let me know if anyone want’s the music.  It is not difficult to adjust the words into more contemporary English.  I hope it blesses you.
 

From the Diary
Thanks to all who prayed through the Court hearing on Wednesday.  It felt as if progress was made, though we still have some way to go as we seek to secure a good future for an elderly lady beneficiary under the Will of a former friend and colleague.  This has proved a difficult journey, calling for wisdom and grace.

Through this week, Capt Gordon Banks and I will be putting the finishing touches to thenext Webinar on Saturday 25th February, with Suggestions for mission activity for Spring into Summer.  Like all our online seminars it is free. All you need is an internet connection with sound.  While this is ideal for church leaders (ordained or lay), it is of value for all Christians in rural or small churches.  The webinar starts at 9.00 and lasts no more than 45 minutes.  You can watch and listen in you PJs, while eating your breakfast or drinking a coffee!  Advance booking is essential.  
Click here to reserve your place.
 

Other Activities: 
Sunday 12th – Morning Worship, HMP Gartree, Leics.
Tuesday 14th – HMP Gartree
Wednesday 15th – meeting with CEO Village Hope
Thursday 16th - Thanksgiving Service for Peter Couling, Northampton.  Peter was a member at Yelvertoft, a super inspiring Christian, who lived out the principles of the hymn quoted above.
Friday 17th - Interment Service for Peter Couling, Yelvertoft, Northants.
Saturday 18th – Area Executive East Midlands Congregational Federation
Sunday 19th – Elstow Bunyan Christian Fellowship.Beds.
 
Yours prayers for these activities and our ministry day by day will be very much appreciated.

Barry



Saturday, 4 February 2017

“All that glistens is not gold”

Recently, I received an enquiry from a ministry colleague who had discovered that someone in whom she had placed her trust was not all he seemed to be.  It had landed on my desk because the person concerned and his history is known to me.  The result was that several hours have since been spent on providing advice and ensuring that others who needed to be alerted were put in the know.

Since the man concerned is a professing Christian and presents himself as a trustworthy church leader, this is a very sad situation.  Nobody likes to speak badly about a fellow Christian, and I am also always careful that I do not put myself at risk of litigation. But sometimes the common good, and the work of the kingdom is best served by negative honest reports.

This is one of the hardest things that people in Christian leadership find they have to do.  Most responsible Christians would prefer not to speak negatively about someone else, and especially if that is another Christian.  Various verses from scripture stick in our mind, such as the one about not judging others in Matthew 7.  Also, James in his letter has much to say about the damage words can do (James 3:1-12).  James 4:11 cautions about speaking evil about another. In addition to what the Bible says about how we speak, there is the principle of love.  To speak negatively about someone does not seem to be loving.

You may be aware of the three gates principle of testing what you might say about another by asking yourself, is it true, is it kind, and is it necessary.  While not a quote from the Bible, it is a helpful piece of social advice.  But while all this is good, there remains a danger that hesitation to say something bad about someone else could be seriously wrong.

Take, for example, the situation that started this reflection.  What should be done where a person, known to cause havoc for churches and charities, and to act criminally, and having shown no evidence of repentance, presents himself as a trustworthy person seeking opportunity for Christian service?  To keep quiet might well put others at risk of harm.

On the other hand, and in a totally different context, I know that I spoke about another Christian, inappropriately.  In this situation, I had been a victim of slanderous accusations some years before.  Later, when asked why I was not demonstrating fellowship with this person, I said more than was necessary.  It is all too easy to fail.

But the Bible contains examples where individuals are criticised.  Jesus did not hold back from declaring some people to be hypocrites (Matthew 7:5).  Paul writes at length in his letter to the Galatian Christians about Peter acting hypocritically, stating that “he was to be blamed” (Galatians 2:11-14).  In some of his other letters, Paul praises some while pointing out the failures in others (Alexander the Coppersmith, for example).  In these examples, what was said or written was apparently true and apparently necessary to be said or written, even if it might not have passed the “kind gate”.

Some readers will remember David Dawn, an American Christian who came to the UK to train with us in rural mission.  David used to have a splendid looking pocket watch which he usually wore on a chain.  But it was only a fashion accessory as it did not work. He used to say that it was a failure as a watch but that it had great pretentions!  Over the years, I have met many professing Christians who set themselves forward as leaders, appearing very impressive, but whose lives lack integrity.

Is it possible that an understandable aversion towards speaking badly about someone might have led to subsequent hurt to individuals, to the life of churches and to the testimony of the gospel?  All that glistens is not gold, and when necessary we need to be prepared to expose that which is false.  If we changed one of those three gates form “Is it kind” to “Is it loving”, that might be helpful.  Speaking the truth in love, sometimes means speaking critically.  It also sometimes calls for special courage.

From the Diary
Over the last two weeks there have been various opportunities to bring God’s word, to counsel and advise.  This is a wonderful privilege and we give God the praise where people have been blessed and lives changed.

This Sunday and the coming week is comparatively free of ministry activities but I value your prayers for a Court hearing on Wednesday.  This relates to actions that a fellow trustee and I are seeking to fulfil the obligations imposed on us through a will.  To do so, we believe, requires us to act contrary to the wishes of someone who has benefited enormously for the past 37 years, but who now finds our proposed actions not to her liking.  We are seeking to act in her interests but her resistance has meant several court appearances and a spiralling cost which is currently being met from my colleagues and my personal limited incomes.  Please pray that this protracted situation will soon conclude in a way that will be for her good, and relieve us of a very difficult burden.

Thank you.

Barry


Saturday, 21 January 2017

Being salt and light is not an option

Many years ago, a well-known Anglican wrote a book about mission in rural areas in which his main point was based upon the words of Jesus to his disciples about being salt and light.  While there was much in the book that I was pleased to read, I was unhappy that he presented the two similes as possible alternatives.  Jesus did not say, “You can be light or salt”.  He said, “You are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5: 13-16).

The point that he was making was that rural contexts are such that the subtler influence of salt is probably preferable to the challenge of light.  Salt is absorbed into the context which it then changes.  It is what is sometimes referred to in a missional sense as ‘presence evangelism’.  On the other hand, light is a contrast to darkness and can sometimes be uncomfortable.  There are two aspects of his argument that I wish to challenge.  The first is the premise that salt is less disturbing.

To an observer, the introduction of salt when cooking might seem to be having a subtle affect, but that is not the case as far as the other elements are concerned.  Salt has a chemical and mechanical effect on the other ingredients.  The presence of a holy and righteous person (such as a Christian?) into a group of ungodly people, will always be disturbing, even if they say nothing.

The second aspect of his argument is the one about which I feel more strongly.  He presented it is two possible approaches to mission.  But we need to be clear that there is no sense in which there is any option.  Jesus said, “You ARE the salt… You ARE the light…”.  When we become Christians, being salt and light are not optional extras to which we can sign up if we wish. Whether we are effective salt and light is another matter, however.

In the days when Jesus spoke these words, salt was almost certainly used for preservation of food and for bringing out flavour in cooking (rather than adding flavour).  As a preservative, it inhibits the development of harmful microorganisms.  There is much in the world that is harmful to individuals and society.  Living with such values and saying nothing is unlikely to do much good.  God expects us to challenge injustice and sin.  Salt is added during cooking, primarily because it has a wonderful way of bringing out flavours.  Similarly, even among the worst of people there are some good qualities, and Christian influence can bring these out.

But too much salt added has a less than pleasant effect.  In this sense the analogy of salt when considering mission can be every bit as disturbing as light.  The challenge of what Jesus said was to ensure that we do not lose our salty properties.  In 21st Century UK we need to ask whether Christians are not impacting the world around because the salt is too often in the salt pot rather than spread around.

The presence of light brings benefits.  I once took a school assembly with a dirty mark on my forehead.  The children stared but politely said nothing.  Eventually I got a child to tell me what was wrong, and then suggested that a lack of light in the bathroom meant that I failed to see myself as I was.  Of course, this was a set up and that was explained to the children.  They took the point.  Light can help us see what is wrong, as well as journey through life safely.  If we are the light of the world, then we need to be shining appropriately inti the world for the benefit of others.

I inherited a torch from the previous owners of our house.  It has a rechargeable battery.  Charged up it emits a light that can be quite blinding if shone into someone’s face.  That would be an inappropriate use of the torch.  On the other hand, it has annoying habit of the battery running down just when it is needed it.  Some Christians are like that.  Charged up by attendance at a conference or a poor course on evangelism, they dazzle others they might wish to win for Jesus.  But then as the influence that charged them up begins to wane, the light grows dim.

Some Christians are like some power-saving lamps.  They take time to warm up and give a poor light at the start.  Others are like fluorescent tubes with faulty starters.  The flick on and off all the time instead of giving out a steady light.  Still others are more like the lights on Christmas trees, very attractive and drawing attention to themselves, but otherwise not much use!

So, the challenge is not to be too bright and dazzling, not so dim as to be no use, to shine consistently, and to ensure that the light shed is helpful to others and does not simply draw attention to ourselves.  And we need to remember what Jesus said about not hiding our light.

Salt can only loose its saltiness if it becomes contaminated or overly diluted.  Lights in Jesus’ day depended upon a steady flow of fuel and a clean wick.  In our day, light powered by electricity can become dim because of dust and dirt, or poor contact with the power source.  Effectiveness in both similes can only be determined by good outcomes it has on those around us.

Remember these are not alternatives and it is not optional.  Christian disciples ARE both salt and light.  The question we need to ask ourselves is how effective are we?  Often the benefit of salt and light is not recognised until they are absent.  I ask myself, if I were not present, or if my church did not exist, would it make much difference to those around?

Dear Lord, you called me to yourself so that I might be a light to help others.  You know that I do not always shine as brightly as I should. Sometimes the circumstances around me cause my light to grow dim just when it is needed to be bright.  Sometimes I neglect to seek to be constantly filled by you, and my own neglect causes my light to fail.  Fill me afresh, Holy Spirit.  Help me to shine as brightly as needed to give light to others without dazzling the.

Lord, you have declared that I am the salt of the earth. Help me to be effective, driving back corruptive influences, bringing healing, and influencing others to bring the best of taste into your world.

You know, Lord, that I cannot be in my own strength what I am meant to be. Please take me as I am, and make me all you would want me to be.  Amen

From the Diary
Give thanks for the blessing of the past week, for moments of inspiration, and the opportunities to open up God’s word to bless others.  Especially give thanks for an effective day of teaching at the Salvation Army’s William Booth College, on the Safeguarding Course

Sunday 22nd – Nottingham Congregational Church
Tuesday 24th – HMP Gartree
Thursday 26th – Country Way Magazine Editorial Team
Saturday 28th – East Midlands Area (Congregational Federation) Meeting
Sunday 29th – HMP Gartree

Please do not underestimate the value of your prayers day by day.  Please keep us in your prayers asking God to keep us walking close with him and faithful each day in living out the ministry with which he has entrusted us.  Your prayers and support are vital.

May God bless you and make you a blessing to many through the coming week.

Barry