Saturday, 13 January 2018

Why are we building bungalows!

Many years ago, I heard someone say that the problem with most Christians in the UK is that we build bungalows on foundations that God put in for skyscrapers.  I think it’s a great comment, and one that deserves some serious thought.  Anyone visiting London would almost certainly notice The Shard.  It is an extraordinary building, some 1000 feet tall, well above adjoining buildings.  Unsurprisingly, its foundations go down some 172 feet deep.  Since there were underground train lines close by, extra care was taken with the foundations.

Imagine how ridiculous it would look if, after putting in those foundations, the builders erected a bungalow on them!  But that seems to be what many Christians do.  God has provided all that is needed for us to live far better and more effective Christian lives.  He must be very disappointed at times.

The first time I heard the bungalow analogy was probably in the early 1960s and it became a favourite quote of Graham and Kaye Stone, two Salvationist friends.  We were all in our teens, and worked together in a mission organisation.  As I consider what I have built since then, I also wonder where Graham and Kaye are today, and whether their dream of becoming Salvation Army officers ever came to pass.  They certainly had incredible potential, and I hope they made it.

The issue of foundations and what we build on it came home to me recently when preparing a Bible Study for some of the men at HMP Gartree, in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians..  Chapter 1 verses 3 to 14 Paul informed them that they were “blessed with every spiritual blessing”, and then lists something of what that means.  Each aspect in this amazing list could be the basis for a profound sermon.  Take a look: 
  •         Chosen before the creation of the world
  •        Loved by God
  •        Part of God’s plan
  •        Adopted into God’s family
  •        The object of God’s pleasure
  •        Beneficiaries of God’s glorious grace
  •        Redeemed through Christ’s blood
  •        Forgiven of our sin
  •        Recipients of grace that has been lavished upon us
  •        Those with whom God has shared his plans
  •        Included in Christ
  •        Heirs (guaranteed by the gift of the Holy Spirit)

Isn’t that amazing?  All of this is not what will be, but what is now!  But Paul continues immediately by telling the Ephesian Christians that because of all that is theirs as a result of their faith in Jesus Christ, he prays for them, that they will build on what God has already provided.  The key word in the remainder of chapter 1 is “know”.  Two different Greek words are used.  In verse 17 it expresses the sense of a growing understanding.  In verse 18 it is full comprehension.  In other words, on top of all that God has already done for them, there was more to be discovered.
But this ongoing experience of grace depends not solely on our efforts but because of the work of the Holy Spirit, who enlightens our understanding and excites our desire to know more completely God’s plan and purpose and how we fit into it like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle making up a beautiful picture.  We grasp the fact that his people on earth are the riches of his inheritance as he is ours, and discover an incomparable power available and working within us to change us, so that the world around might see God’s grand work like a great building breaking above the skyline.

So much is possible in our lives.  God’s power is unlimited.  The potential is there.  At the end of chapter 2 Paul writes, “[You are] built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.  In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

The Shard was planned and designed by Renzo Piano, but it was built by hundreds of people employed by or contracted by Mace, and later Turner and Townsend.  Someone was needed who could read and understand the plans who could turn the drawings into the tallest building in Europe.  In the same way, God wants us to read and understand his plans and, working with others, build something amazing that will make people say, “Who designed something so amazing?”


Barry Osborne – 13th January 2018
(Diary for the remainder of January added in e-letter)

Friday, 5 January 2018

Blessings

A couple of things recently caused me to reflect on the topic of blessing, on which I may have written before.  It seems to me an important topic but one that is not given much serious thought.  So, what do we mean by blessing, who may bless, what may we bless, and what does it achieve?

We use the expression as Christians in various ways.  We may use it in connection with starting a meal.  We may use it at the close of a meeting when we might be asked to “say the blessing together” or someone may dismiss the congregation with a blessing.  The word “grace” gets somewhat confused with both these aspects.

I knew a man who would respond to any criticism of himself or his actions, by saying in a jovial way “Bless you”.  I suspect it was his way of applying Romans 12:14.

There are subtle differences between the Hebrew Scriptures use of blessing and that of the New Testament, though there are also important similarities.  The Hebrew word translated bless is barak. It has the sense of enriching someone’s life.  It was the custom for heads of families to pray for a blessing upon their descendants.  In Numbers 6: 22-27 God sets out specific words of blessing that Aaron and his descendants were to use in their priestly role to bless the people of Israel and to mark them out as God’s people. 

But we cannot assume that merely saying words of blessing do not of themselves achieved anything.  It would seem more like a prayer seeking the favour of God.  We also sometimes confuse the concept of dedication with blessing, and we need to careful in that respect.  For example, dedicating an object for use in worship would make sense.  But blessing it seems rather nonsensical to me.

In the main, the OT use of the word barak will be found describing the conditions that bring about an enriching from God.  The Psalms provide many examples, such as in Psalm 1.

The New Testament uses two different Greek words for blessing.  These are Makarios and Eulogia.  The former has the sense of happiness, and this is how some versions of the Bible translate “blessed” in the beatitudes in Matthew 5.  This often reveals a paradox where two different experiences come at the same time. For example, God declares people as happy who are persecuted!  This is because the persecutor will not have the last word.

Eulogia, and its derivatives, are more often translated “praise”.  But we note that it is this Greek word that is used to translate the Hebrew word barak in the Septuagint (The Greek version of the OT).  So, it also carries the sense of enriching.  Paul uses this in Ephesians 1:3 where he writes that God has “blessed up with all spiritual blessings”.  Read on in the chapter to see how these blessings are described.

In almost every situation where food and blessing are mentioned in the Gospels, it is eulogia that is mentioned.  In this context, it expresses not a blessing on the food but praise to God for the provision of food.  An interesting exception occurs in Mark 8 where in the account of the loaves and fishes, Mark says that Jesus blessed the food before it was shared. So, when it comes to eating today, it should always be God who is blessed or praised not what we are about to eat!

It is Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians that ends with the prayer in a trinitarian blessing, commonly used today.  Paul’s letters always opened with words of peace and grace as a greeting.   Sometimes epistles also ended with a similar salutation, but these are more prayers than priestly bestowment, and reflect the culture of the time.  In our own contemporary culture, we use common greeting and farewells, some of which, like goodbye (God be with you), have a Christian derivation. 

In some Christian traditions, only an ordained priest can say “the blessing” and lay preachers or readers are under an obligation to use inclusive language (“us” rather than “you”).  My own understanding of ministry causes me to prefer using inclusive language.

All blessing comes from God and is God’s.  We can and should seek it for others and not just for ourselves.  God promised to bless Abraham and his descendants and through them to bless the whole world (Genesis 19:18)  One of the triggers for this reflection was recalling precious and moving words that were sung by staff and students at the Bible College of Wales after a colleague and I had spent a weekend ministering to them.  As we were about to leave they sang, “Bless them Lord, and make them a blessing……”, which was an adaptation of an old gospel hymn

So often, we become selfish as we seek God’s blessing in our lives.  But God blesses us so that we might be his instruments to bring his blessing to others.  He wants us to be channels of blessing.  So, the prayer, “God bless me and my wife, my son John and his wife, us four and no more for evermore!” is the opposite of what God wants.

My final thought is how we work out blessing others in our relationships with those who do not share our faith, either because they have a different faith or none.  Far too often they become treated as if they are enemies.  My ministry in prison chaplaincy causes me to work  in partnership with earnest people of other faiths, so I seek to be a blessing to them, not despite being a committed Christian but because of being a committed Christian.

In the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry his only condemnation of people of faith seem to have been reserved for those who were hypocrites, rather than for the many who worshipped idols.  What he did on one occasion, was to set himself in a location of extreme idolatry and simply ask, “Who do you say I am?” (See Matthew 16:13-17)

Asking God to bless when we pray is often far too casual.  Could we be more thoughtful and specific?  Perhaps, when we next say, “God bless you” we should also put a little more thought into it, and consider whether by our actions we might become the instruments of God’s blessing to those whom he loves as much as he loves us!

So, may God bless you in 2018…… and make you and your church a big blessing to others in his name.

Barry. 5th January 2018

From the Diary
One of the main tasks at present is setting out the agenda for the ten webinars we will be running through 2018.  Linked with this is writing the script for a series of short reaching videos on rural evangelism.  I hope to see these develop into a useful library that can be used by any church anywhere and at any time.

New regulations on data protection come into force in May this year.  To prepare for this, we must obtain explicit permission to hold personal information, including names and contact details.  Those who read this via the Praise & Prayer News can unsubscribe from this list at any time (see below).  But we will need to ask you and many more for that explicit permission.  There are many hours of work to be found to ensure we comply with the incoming tighter regulation.

This additional work must not be allowed to hinder the essential writing currently being undertaken.  Pray for wisdom in time management.

Last Sunday 31st December the ministry at HMP Gartree was well received.  I also had a useful time in the prison on Tuesday. On Thursday, I joined my friend and colleague, Brian Kennard, who led the weekly Bible Study.  I am taking on that responsibility for the next seven weeks.  This is the first time of leading Bible Study in a prison and I value your prayers as I plan.

This week will also include…
Sunday 7th January, I have the opportunity of attending my home church.
Monday 8th – School Assembly
Tuesday 9th – regular activity in HMP Gartree
Wednesday 10th -  Following a Men’s Breakfast, I will be attending a meeting of the Churches Rural Group.
Thursday 11th – Session One of the new Bible Study series at HMP Gartree and attending a meeting of Harborough Churches Together.
Sunday 14th – Elstow Christian Fellowship, Bedfordshire.

Please pray that I will be a blessing.

Barry

Friday, 29 December 2017

MOVING ON

My final Sunday of 2017 should see me taking the morning service at a prison where I do some work as a voluntary chaplain.  Planning the services for these occasions is always a challenge. Much of what we might say to people on the outside is irrelevant to men locked up on life sentences.  On this occasion, I have found myself drawn back to part of Philippians 3.  It certainly seems relevant for the last day of the year, and since it is a passage that always challenges me I thought I would share it with you too.

Three Attributes
The chapter begins with the suggestion that some may have undermined the faith and confidence of the Christians in this important city.  We could infer that some had been teaching that men cannot be proper Christians unless they had been circumcised.  Paul describes them as mutilators of the flesh.  His concern is that they were adding something not required.  The need was to keep it simple.  So, he provides three attributes that define a Christian (the true circumcision).

The first of these is that we worship or serve God by the Spirit.  This distinguishes the Christian faith from other world religions where laws and regulations govern faith.  Jesus once told a leading Pharisee (famous for their legalistic approach to faith) that he needed a spiritual birth.  Before the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus promised the coming of the Holy Spirit – a person like himself, who would be with his disciples and in them.  So, the first attribute listed is a life motivated by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

The second attribute is that we are excited about Jesus.  He is the big topic in our lives.  I occasionally work with churches where people have some difficulty articulating their faith.  In such situations, I often ask people to think of three things that makes Jesus special in their experience.  This has never failed to produce wonderful, down to earth responses, such as “He accepts me as I am”, “He is always there for me”, or “I can talk to him about anything and everything in my life”. The personal responses are usually shared in a small group of three people, and I have sometimes had difficulty stopping the exciting conversations that ensue, as people find themselves focused on what Jesus means to them.

The third attribute is that we have given up on self-effort to please God.  In the past, when people were not as tall as they are today, men could only join the police force if they were at least 5ft 8inches tall. No matter how hard they might try, a man 5ft 6 inches tall could never make himself acceptable.  All of us come short of God’s standard.

Three Aspirations
Paul writes about “knowing” things.  This is not knowing about but knowing experientially. He writes about knowing Jesus.  He first came to know Jesus many years before in Damascus when he was converted.  But years later he still has a passion to know him more or better than he does.  This is about living every day in this wonderful relationship, and each Christian has her or his personal experience.

He also writes about knowing the power that raised Jesus from the dead.  He wants this same power to be at work in every part of his being.  We too should long to know the surging power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  But the third aspiration is to know what it is to sacrifice even if it means suffering for the sake of Christ.  We should not merely observe what it cost Jesus in the battle against sinfulness in the world.  We should be moved to join the fight.

Three attitudes
Paul sees himself as incomplete work.  Even after all he has experienced and done through his ministry, there is more to be done in his life.  God has not finished his work in Paul.

For Paul to experience this ‘more’ that God want for him, Paul identifies two things: not being held back by the past, and the need to press forward.

Experience, whether good or bad can hold us back.  We need to recognise that God is bigger than our past failures, so that we can move on.  But past success and blessings can also impede progress.  Some revivals have been tragically short-lived.  Fires have gone out because ashes clog the grate.  Pride can also be an enemy where churches or individuals have been specially blessed.

We cannot drift forward; the natural tendency is to drift back. Progress will only be made where there is intentional commitment.  So, Paul writes about pressing forward like an athlete keen to win the prize, pushing themselves just that little bit more.

Personally, I am challenged by the need to get the good news of Jesus being shared in every rural community in the UK.  There have been encouragements in 2017, but this is tiny compared with what still needs to be done.  In rural ministry we often talk about strategies needing to be appropriate to the context.  But appropriate strategies would also be effective.  I would like to encourage you and your church to raise the game.  The purpose of each church is to help other people come to faith, grow in faith, and find their role in God’s mission.  If that is what is taking place, then praise God but try to do more.  If it is not happening, then perhaps the start of a new year would be a good time for strategic planning.  Please let me know if I can help.

I pray that you will have a happy and blessed New Year.

Barry Osborne – 29th December 2017

From the Diary
Please pray as Gordon Banks and I plan out the schedule of webinars for 2018.  Pray that the webinar audience will grow as more churches and their leaders benefit from this programme.  During January we will also start building the library of training videos on rural evangelism.

This week will find me working in HMP Gartree on three occasions.  Sunday 31st December to take the Sunday Service, Tuesday 2nd January working with the choir, and on Thursday 4th I join my Methodist Colleague, Brian Kennard, as he concludes a Bible Study series and I will follow this over the coming weeks.  Brian and his wife are past associate evangelists in rural evangelism.

I value your prayers as I try to find time to complete two books.  One is a practical book on Discovering God’s Unique Purpose for Your Church, and the other is on how sexual abuse can happen in churches.  The latter has been long requested by those with whom I teach in the Salvation Army, who feel others could benefit.

I am also working with a church that has a complicated Trust Deed.  Sorting this out is a priority in January and much wisdom is needed.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

The wrong way up to glory

Doreen and I, together with all in Rural Mission Solutions
send you our warmest Christian greetings.
We pary that you will be truly blessed this Christmas
and that, through you, others will also be greatly blessed.
Thank you for your prayers and meassges of encouragement through 2017.
 
The Wrong Way Up to Glory
I don’t know whether I have become more particular about certain theological aspects as I have got older, but now and again I hear something misquoted or misunderstood that sits uncomfortably with me.  Take, for example, what a very sincere young Christian man said on Songs of Praise recently. It was the choir event – and I struggled with some aspects of that (Who were we praising and why?).  The song that his choir was about to sing was based on 2 Corinthians chapter 3.

The young man, quite rightly, spoke about God’s transforming work, but explained in a triumphalistic way that this was about God “raising us to the next level”.  So inaccurate did that statement seem to me that I thought that it would be worth reflecting on what Paul was actually stating in this biblical passage.  Here is the specific verse:
 

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate [or reflect] the Lord’s glory,
are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory,
which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

 

There are several Greek words in this verse that are quite rare in the New Testament, and it is a passage well worth pondering, though space to do so here is limited.

Paul is making a comparison between the Law of Moses, given by God, and the life directed by and filled with the Holy Spirit, which demonstrates the work of God’s grace.  As he makes his argument, he draws on the experience of Moses at the time he received the Law, and contrasts this with the experience of every true Christian who has been made alive spiritually by the Holy Spirit.  Paul reminds the Christians at Corinth that when Moses encountered God on the mountain, something extraordinary took place.  When Moses came down with the stone tablets on which the aw was engraved, his face literally radiated a brilliance, which Paul describes as “glory”.  People were so affected by this brilliance that Moses had to put a veil over his face to shield the glory from their eyes.  The glory was still there but the people could no longer see it.

Paul relates this to God’s glory revealed within the Law, which many fail to fully comprehend because of their state of heart.  He goes on to state that through faith in Christ the veil is removed so that the glory of God shines out, affecting people just as it did Moses.  But we need to understand what is meant here by “glory”. Moses saw the glory of the Lord with the accompanying proclamations

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished…  See Exodus 33:18-34:35. The glory that was revealed is the character of God.

The word, ”glory in the New Testament can mean honour, but in the context 2 Corinthians chapter 3, this glory refers to the beauty of God’s character.  It is not, as the choir member seemed to imply, reward or promotion. What Paul is explaining here is that through faith we have come to experience a revelation of God in his Son, Jesus Christ.  This is a more wonderful revelation than that experienced by Moses, and our lives should show forth the beauty of God’s character as revealed in Jesus.

The Greek word that the NIV translates “contemplate” with a footnote “or reflect”, is far better translated “reflect”.  What radiated from the face of Moses was not something inherent in himself, but the consequence of what had been revealed to him.  Similarly, our lives should reflect the beauty of Jesus.  It should be seen in us, but it comes from God.  In this way others are able to see something of what has been revealed to us. It is his beauty; not ours.

The word translated “transformed” appears only four times in the New Testament, and two of these refer to the same occasion. 
Matthew 17:2 and Mark 9:2 record the occasion where Jesus, accompanied by three of his disciples went up a mountain to pray.  As he was praying, his disciples saw an outward change to his appearance.  Both state that his clothes seemed intensely white.  Matthew tells us that his face shone like the sun.  Since they would have been blinded is this meant as bright as the sun, we can only presume that his face radiated a brilliance, which relates to Moses; experience.  Later, John would write,“…we beheld his glory…” and Peter would write, “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty…”

Matthew and Mark use the Greek word, metamorphoo to describe what took place on that mountain.  This is the word from which we get metamorphosis.  It describes a fundamental change.  So, when Paul uses the same Greek word in 2 Corinthians 3, he is describing a radical transformation that should be taking place in our lives.  On the mountain, the human form of God the Son was transformed to reveal his majestic splendour.  In our lives, people should be seeing less of us and more of Jesus.

The fourth occasion where metamorphoo can be found in the New Testament is in
Romans 12:2 where Paul urges the Christians in Rome not to allow themselves to be conformed to the worlds values, but to be transformed by the renewing (I quite like renovating) of their minds. It is the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in us that produces the change.  But we are called to open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit.

In Modes’ case the glory seems to remain for some days, but apparently faded.  The challenge to us is to so allow the Holy Spirit into our lives that we permanently reflect the beauty of God in Jesus.  Any casual reading of the gospels will soon enable us to understand that this beauty is about humility, love and generous service to others.  This is the glory that is to be revealed.  It is not some kind of promotion to the next level up.  It is an increasing self-denial, a growing love, a greater willingness to be a servant in the spirit of Christ.

This is not a graduated way of gaining promotion, as was suggested on Songs of Praise. We could say that the right way to glory is down, rather than up in one sense!  The glory into which we should be being transformed is to be like Jesus.

Please take a moment now to listen to the words and song from “The Witness” at
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kp8pNnxFu1g (skip the ad if it comes at the start)
 Barry - 23 December 2017

Saturday, 2 December 2017

What's the Point of Worship?

A friend of mine recently expressed that he found worship unhelpful and personally meaningless.  I applaud his honesty.  Many Christians sometimes find themselves reflecting on their experience of corporate worship, and facing up to the fact that it sometimes seems meaningless.  If this is the case, then we are likely also to ask what is the point of going to church, since it seems mainly about worship.

There are several issues, and space here is limited, so I will not attempt to address them all, or even any of them in great depth.  In many traditional churches, we use the term worship to define our meeting together.  Sometimes we refer to the meeting as a ‘service’.  Personally, I find both terms unhelpful, and I have resorted to usually simply referring to them as meetings.  The Bible provides a pattern for the meetings of the early Christians, but both what we have inherited, and more contemporary versions, often seem distinct from the biblical record.

In a gathering of several churches that follow the traditional inherited model, I asked what they thought the main purpose was for most churches.  Their answer was “to worship God”.  I think this was a misunderstanding of the first item in the catechism.  What it states in answer to the question, “What is the chief end of man?” is “… to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”  The Catechism continues to explain that we can discover how to do this from the scriptures.  But “glorifying God” certainly does not mean a church-based activity, while “enjoying God forever” might give us a better insight into what worship is really about.

One core aspect of worship is the acknowledgement of our relationship to God. He is above all things, and we depend upon him for our very breath.  In the Hebrew scriptures (OT) we see worship expressed in cultic form both as far as false gods are concerned and what took place in the Tabernacle and Temple.  But we also see that God disdains worship that is merely external and formal but that lacks sincerity (see Isaiah 29:13, and Psalm 51:16,17).

This finds an echo in the conversation about worship that Jesus had with a Samaritan woman.  He told her, “… a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”  (John 4: 23, 24) While mind and heart may be involved in worship, it is essentially a spiritual exercise.  That can only happen where there is a spiritual relationship with God.

God certainly is not egotistical, loving to hear himself praised.  Nor does he suffer from low self-esteem.  So, worship is not about making God feel good.  It is an expression about how God makes us feel, as we benefit from his love, grace and mercy.  This is not the same as putting ourselves as the focus of worship.  It is aa response to whom we have discovered to be experientially.  If our worship delights God, it will be because we genuinely express our enjoyment of him.  In much the same way, when I tell my wife that I love her, it is so that she knows how much she means to me.  Of course, she might know that already, but expressing how I feel about her is not only right, but also good.

My first real experience of worship took place on two occasions linked to an Operation Mobilization Convention in 1963. Together with a few teenage Christian friends, and an Austrian Christian woman, we had driven from Hastings to Chigwell and met with several hundred other Christians passionate about making Jesus known.  On the Sunday morning we had crowded into a large tent for worship.  As we celebrated communion together, I was overwhelmed by the wonder of Jesus’ sacrificial love.  I felt moved to sing ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’.  I had got no further than the third word when some 500 voices joined mine as together we expressed how thankful we were for this ‘love so amazing, so divine’.  In that moment, it felt as if heaven and earth had met together.

That evening, as we were driving back home, we listened to Songs of Praise on the car radio.  This was a programme of gospel hymns, every Sunday evening.  Suddenly, as I listened to these wonderful hymn, I found I could not help praising God. ‘Hallelujahs ‘and ‘Praise the Lords’ pored out of me uncontrollably.  Since that day there have been many occasions when singing old hymns or new songs I have felt that spiritual engagement, and truly worshipped.  But there have been many times also when singing an old hymn or new songs has failed to elicit a response from my heart.  The form might be there, but the worship was missing.

Our meetings are often designed to meet certain expectations.  This is true whether we have what is sometimes called a hymn sandwich, or whether we open the meeting with 45 minutes of the latest Christian songs.  But if worship leaders have failed to understand the real nature of worship, and if the Spirit of God is not moving in the lives of the congregation, it is likely to be worship in name only, and some may wonder, what is the point?

In chapters 10 to 14 of his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul has much to say about our meetings.  He exhorts love to be shown and selfishness to be set aside.  He encourages all to exercise their gifts but also urges that the meetings are conducted in an orderly way.  In 1Corinthians 14:26 he describes a meeting in which various people participate in different ways, just one of which might be with a hymn.  But he also emphasises that there is a purpose for these meetings.  It is for the spiritual growth of the members of the congregation.  If there is no clear purpose to all that takes place when we meet, it will also leave some wondering, “What is the point?”

As I have always sought in my ministry to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, I want to leave you with two suggestions.  For those planning to conduct church meetings, make sure that there is a sense of purpose to it all, and that elements that are meant to be worship allow time and room for the Holy Spirit to evoke a response to truth that might make the worshippers feel something of heaven on earth.

My second suggestion is a little mischievous.  If the purpose of the service is not clear or if the worship does not truly engage with your soul and spirit, enquire of the worship leader(s), in an appropriate time, place and way, what they had hoped to achieve.  Be honest, but be loving.  Perhaps, if those who lead meetings were lovingly challenged, there would be fewer people going home disappointed, and more getting excited about God and our wonderful Saviour.

From the Diary
Thank you for your prayers.  It was good to be taking the Family Service for Goodwood Evangelical Church last Sunday.  I’d found it strange that the theme to which I felt led was more adult than children, and had wondered how I would adapt some parts.  When I arrived, I discovered that there were no children expected that day! School Assembly on Monday was on ‘Wisdom’ and I needed wisdom in several special meetings in the week.  Sadly, for reasons beyond my control, I was unable to hold a choir practice in prison.  Please pray that this coming Tuesday we will not suffer from the same problems.

As we move through Advent, we remember a second coming is promised.  May we all be found ready.

Barry
2nd December 2017

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Called to Wrestle

Wrestling
For many people in the UK ”wrestling” is not a concept they would automatically associate with their Christian experience.  For some, the only kind of wrestling in which they engage is wrestling to stay awake during a boring sermon, or wrestling to stay gracious through a hymn or song which is not blessing them.  In his letters to the churches, and in his pastoral letters, the apostle Paul occasionally surprises me by the verbs he employs, such as describing a man who “labours” in prayer (Colossians 4:12).

There is only one reference to wrestling in the New Testament.(NT Greek word: palÄ“).  It comes in Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus and chapter 6.  In that city today you can sit in the splendid historic amphitheatre where, no doubt, the citizens were familiar with wrestling tournaments.  Rules for Greco-Roman wrestling differ from the freestyle wrestling which is more common today.  The aim was to win against your opponent either by managing to pin his shoulders down for a prescribed time, or by accumulating more points than your opponent, gained by throws.  Either win is based upon the ability to throw your opponent off balance.

The word palÄ“ is translated in some Bible versions as “struggle”, but it has the sense of a contest, and I prefer the word “wrestle” as, for me, it describes the situation better.  Paul is stating that we are caught up in a situation, not against human enemies but a range of spiritual forces.  While on the surface it may seem as if, at times, we are in a battle with human forces, behind this there is something dark that is contrary to the holiness of God.  In the same passage, Paul speaks about the wiles or schemes of the devil. We have an enemy who craftily plots against us.

It is all too easy to become obsessive about spiritual warfare, but we do need to remain alert to the fact that we have an enemy who intelligently schemes to throw us off balance or to pin us down.  But if we draw on the strength of God, and use the armour he provides (faith, righteousness, our hope in salvation, truth, scripture, and our readiness to share the good news), we are well able to keep standing through the battle.

Personally, it is that sense in which the wrestler seeks to throw his opponent off balance, that has been speaking to me recently.  I originally thought that I would write something about the importance of keeping our focus in mission.  I even began writing about this.  It is all too easy to become distracted, so that the main thing ceases to be the main thing.  We find that other aspects of our Christian and church life take up our resources, so that we are no longer missional with a clear vision of what God is calling us to do.

In our most recent webinar, Gordon Banks and I suggested that perhaps the winter months after Christmas would be a good time to gather the members of our churches and reflect on who we are, how we got here, what we should be doing and where we are going.  Almost certainly the church where you fellowship and worship was established through evangelism.  Those who started the church had a concern that others should hear the good news of Jesus, and have passed on to succeeding generations that same task.  As indeed Jesus did. (How well are we doing with the one thing he asked us to do for him?)  I think it was Donald McGavran who said that the trouble with most Christians and churches is that we are busy doing things we should do but at the expense of the one thing we must do.

There have not been many occasions when I have consciously felt myself “under attack” spiritually.  One such occasion happened when, as a young man, I was in training as an evangelist and earning a living in a small government office.  I had taken ten days holiday from work in order to take part in a mission.  While I was away, some vital documents were found to be missing.  They were urgently needed for a tribunal hearing.  On the day I returned, I was summoned to the bosses office where I was falsely accused of failing in my duties by using the time for which I was employed to do Christian work.  I was only a temporary clerical assistant, and was warned to expect to be made redundant that afternoon when the Area Staff Officer visited.

Paralysed with fear, I made my way back to the General Office, where several colleagues worked.  On my way I felt God was telling me to look at the text at the top of the personal advertisements column in the Daily Telegraph.  I asked a friend if I could look it up in his paper.  When I read it I laughed out loud.  I read, “They will fight against you, but will not prevail against you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord”.  That afternoon when the Staff Officer came to my office, I was offered a permanent position in the Civil Service and an opportunity of significant advancement!

Sometimes, I have sensed that a church or an aspect of church life has been the object of spiritual hostility.  Such an occasion came when members of the church, where I was at that time the minister, found that an employee in the College they had founded was acting against them.  Business skills were not their strong point and they felt helpless at the mercy of this woman.  At the church prayer meeting that evening I took a reel of cotton and asked people to securely bind my hands with many threads.  I had never done anything like this before.  We then prayed for some time that God would bind the hands of all that opposed the work they had set up as a mission.  I then asked people to cut the threads, which they did.  We prayed that God would set our friends and their ministry free.  Very soon after this. our friends nightmare ended as the woman resigned and immediately left.

The power of prayer is awesome.

At present there are two situations that affect me in which, it feels as if spiritual forces are at work.  I am not at liberty to describe these situations.  Neither immediately relate to our ministry, but they are certainly distracting.  If I am not careful I could be thrown off balance.  One involves a stubborn woman fighting against steps that could make her life easier; the other a man who has assumed unconstitutional authority in a church, causing disruptions.  In both of these separate situations, attempts have been made at the human level to resolve the problems, but the problems persist.

I am not implying that there is something implicitly wrong with the people concerned.  But I wonder if there is some power at work behind these situations.  We should not be surprised to find ourselves in difficult situations occasionally.  Sometimes these are of our own making!  But sometimes they are the result of spiritual schemes intended to throw us off balance or pin us down.

As we stand, will you please stand with us, and pray as you feel led.

Thank you.

Barry
23rd November 2017

From the Diary
It was good to be able to take a few days break last week.  Doreen was able to spend time with her sister  in Kent, while I visited another member of the family in Sussex.

Sunday 26th - Family Service, Goodwood Evangelical Church, Leicester.  Please pray too for the minister and members of Harborough Congregational Church (where I am a member) as they will be on retreat (hopefully advancing!)

Monday 27th -  School Assembly. Give thanks for a good session earlier this week as we considered ‘reconciliation’. The theme for 27th is learning to be wise.

Tuesday 28th  - Please pray for a consultation about rural resource churches.  I am not able to attend but think this is significant.  It is almost entirely Anglican.  I will be working at HMP Gartree.

Thursday 30th - Please pray for a meeting I will be involved in which will call for both wisdom and grace.

Friday 1st December - I will be sharing in a meeting considering the future of a Methodist village church that has seriously declined in members.  Again, pray for wisdom.

Please also give thanks for two donations received recently for Rural Mission Solutions from churches where I have ministered in the past.  Please pray that as our accounts close on 31st December, all costs will be covered so we can start 2018 with an adequate balance in the funds.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Slitting Up?


Sorry if I alarmed you!
The splitting only refers to the content of this issue.  However, if it grabbed your attention, perhaps that was no bad thing.  There are four matters to which I wish to draw your attention.

Making Time to Chat
Some of these men were strangers when they sat down. But clearly, they were all enjoying a
good chat.  If you walk around Market Harborough most days, you will find a scene like this.  Some people choose to sit down on a bench simply because they long for company to cure their loneliness or to break the boredom

Last Sunday I made an excuse to eat a satsuma while leading the morning service.  As I peeled it I reminded people of a regular article that used to appear in Readers Digest about unforgettable people.  I asked them to think of one person who has been significant in their life (from school, work, neighbours, etc).  By the time I has finished speaking, I had one of the pieces of the satsuma in my mouth, and told them it was too delicious to keep to myself.

Soon people were enjoying sharing the fruit, but many others had missed out.  Fortunately, I had
another 14 satsumas tucked under the lectern.  So, I passed them out encouraging people to peel and share them.  When the bag was empty I encouraged people to cluster in two or threes and for one in the cluster to talk about the person they had thought of.  The conversations buzzed for two minutes.

No one found what had happened embarrassing and all who had shred a satsuma or spoken about someone they knew, said they enjoyed doing so. Knowing Jesus is a wonderful thing and,

while we might not feel we could answer every question someone might ask, we could chat about Jesus.  It might not be as scary as we fear.  We concluded the service with a prayer that God would give each member of the congregation an opportunity to say something to someone the following week.

Why not pray that too? In fact, you could pray for at least one short chat a day.  But please don't preach or start quoting the Bible.  Just tell someone what Jesus means to you in your everyday life.


Growing a YouTube Audience
This is topic number two.  During the past week, my friend and colleague, Capt Gordon Banks, and I repeated the webinar on Mission Ideas and Resources for Christmas and the Winter Months.  It is full of super manageable ideas, plus plenty of links to free or low-cost resources that could add much to your Christmas and winter programme.  Of course, it can be seen on our website.

We have also been quietly building a YouTube Channel, where you will find other helpful
videos. In addition to the Webinar videos, we plan to add a series of short videos to help rural Christians and churches to share in God's mission in rural UK.  Increasingly, when people wish to learn something, they look online.

If you click the picture on the left, it will take you to the
YouTube channel. Once you get to the YouTube channel, please click 'subscribe.'  There is nothing to pay, but in this way you will receive notification each time we add another video.  If you watch a video and find it helpful, remember to 'Like' it.

Topic number three
is a hymn that I suddenly found myself singing while walking down a road this week.  It is many years since I last sang this, and I have been pondering the words carefully.  The theme is thankfulness. both in times of blessing and suffering.  The author, Adelaide Anne Procter was a friend of Charles Dicken, Arthur Sullivan, and many other notable people.  She was Queen Victoria's favourite poet.  As a committed Christian, much of her life was spent helping many of the most vulnerable in society.  She died aged 38.  Dickens was convinced it was her selfless and tireless Christian work that broke her health.  At one time she suffered deep emotional pain.

The hymn is, "My God, I thank Thee".  There is insufficient room here to include all the verses,
but I
will put them on my Facebook Page.  One verse goes, "I thank Thee more, that all my joy, is touched with pain; that shadows fall on brightest hours, that thorns remain; so that earth's bliss may be my guide, and not my chain.". The last verse reads, "I thank Thee Lord, that here our souls, though amply blest, can never find, although they seek, a perfect rest.  Nor ever shall, until they lean, on Jesus' breast".  The hymn goes beautifully to the tune, Wentworth.

I feared that this profound hymn might have been lost when more contemporary hymnbooks were published.  But I am delighted to see that it is 471 in Mission Praise!  It should be sung slowly and thoughtfully.  I hope it blesses you.

Barry
10th October 2017


Sunday 12th - HMP Gartree, leading the Remembrance Service
Monday 13th - School Assembly, Lubenham, Leics.
Tuesday 14th - HMP Gartree, preparing for Christmas
Wednesday to Sunday 19th - in Kent and Sussex for a short break