Monday, 19 March 2018

Lobsters Teach a Lesson to Churches

Lobsters Teach a Lesson to Churches
From our earliest moments, we come into this world needing comfort.  From the moment of that first cuddle, we progress through life with its struggles and occasional pain, welcoming moments when a loving action or kind words bring comfort.

People of a certain age will remember the early afternoon radio programme, ‘Listen with Mother’.  Partway through the programme, it was usually Daphne Oxenford, who would read a story.  This would be preceded with the question, “Are you sitting comfortably?”  I recall those halcyon days with nostalgic pleasure.  I also remember, once as a young child and having been distressed by a bad dream, I was taken onto my father’s and into his arms as he prayed with me.  Panic was replaced with peace.

I wonder what the word, ‘comfort’ brings to mind for you.  Possibly, a favourite armchair or a warm bed.  In my second pastorate, someone gave our church a settee and armchairs.  We put them at the back of our worship area, and they became popular to a Christian farmer, who had already worked long hours before the morning service, and who often slipped in a little late (but as soon as he could) and collapsed into their comfort.  Those comfortable items of furniture had a ministry of their own!  What is the virtue of hard pews?

There is an interesting verse in the Acts of the Apostles which gives a picture of peace and comfort after a turbulent period of persecution.  It comes not long after the conversion of Saul.  In the NIV it reads, “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.” (Acts 9:31).  In the Authorised Version of the Bible, where I first came across this passage, the words. “encouraged by the Holy Spirit” are rendered, “the comfort of the Holy Ghost”.  The Greek word paraklesis can be translated in many ways, but the ministry of the Holy Spirit is not to wrap us in cotton wool and gently rock us to sleep.

Which brings me back to lobsters!  Once killed, lobsters rapidly decay.  For this reason, they should be cooked and eaten soon after being killed.  Now banned in many countries, lobsters are sometimes boiled alive.  I think it should be banned everywhere.  It has been said that if the lobsters are chilled and then go into cold water slowly warmed, they relax and fall asleep before the water becomes hot enough to kill them.  While this might be true, even writing it makes me feel very uncomfortable.  Death by comfort!

My point is, are some of our churches so comfortable that we fail to realise that we are actually dying?  We like the hymns or the new songs, we enjoy the sermons (though few seem to bring about much change), and we enjoy being with our friends who share our beliefs.  Is it all too nice?  I remember first hearing a fellow preacher say that while he delights in hearing an occasional “Amen” of “Hallelujah” as a response when preaching, he would sometimes prefer to hear someone say “Ouch!”.

How can we tell if we are being lulled into a sleep that will lead to death?  We could ask, when was the last time that the sermon made me feel uncomfortable because it made me realise shortcomings?  We could ask, when was someone last converted in my church?  We could ask, how are we being motivated to engage with God’s mission?  We could ask, are there visible signs that we are growing in faith and discipleship?  We could ask, is church just too comfortable, leaving us complacent?

If your church is too comfortable, then what can be done about it?  I suggest you start times of prayer for revival.  Make sure that those who preach know that you appreciate being challenged and stirred – at least some of the time.  Pray that God’s word to your church will be heard and acted on.  Pray for the preacher and the affect of the message while he or she proclaims it.  Encourage a time of reflection on the message, and perhaps an exhortation to action, before you move into the closing hymn and go home to lunch.

Editors of news programmes use something called, ‘the dead donkey’.  It is a final benign and possibly silly story to end the news programme, so we are not distressed by the bad news.  Final hymns and coffee can do much the same but could in fact provide the space to determine the change and/or action as the alternative to the shot of weekly soporific comfort.

Is it time to bring back the “Ouch”?  If my words have disturbed you, please do not let them fail to bring about change.  Generally speaking, a real revival is long overdue, but it could start in your church – or maybe mine!

Barry Osborne -19th March 2018

Saturday, 3 March 2018


I was recently asked to speak at a Lent Lunch.  The text on which I was asked to speak is Romans 15:13. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  As I pondered on the text and started to plan the outline for the talk, I was surprised that I had not thought deeply about is previously.

The outline was easy, and the talk went well.  I began by speaking about the nature of Christian hope.  I explained that this is not about wishful thinking, or the kind of optimism Mr Micawber exercised (“Something will turn up”).  It is about something not yet experienced but about which we can be confident.  I suggested that since hope is more commonly used for wishful thinking or uncertainty, we could do with a better English word to express what it means for Christians.  For me it is about eager anticipation.

The second point that the text suggested to me is, ‘the source of our hope’.  Paul prays that the God of hope would fill them with peace and joy and cause their hope to overflow.  It seems to me that he is stating that our hope as Christians comes from God.  But is God the source of our hope, or the object of our hope.  The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament, keen to encourage confidence talks about “two immutable (unchangeable) things” (Hebrews 6:18).  As Christians, our hope is based on the promises God has made to us.  His promises will never fail, and he supports this with his own unchanging nature.

Some people worry that their faith is not strong enough.  But the real issue is not the strength of our faith but where we place our faith.  If you are trying to skate on ice that is paper thin, you can believe as hard as you like but you will still get wet!  You would do far better to tentatively trust yourself to ice that is many inches thick.

Trusting promises is not something new to most of us.  We often visit shops where we exchange a small piece of paper for a basket load of shopping.  Of course, it would be ridiculous if we thought a piece of paper was of equal value to a basket of shopping.  It is not the value of the paper, or even the quality of the printing that that gives it value.  It is the words “I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of £20” and the signature of the Governor of the Bank of England.  We put our trust in the person making the promise, backed up by the resources of the Bank of England.

But what particularly grabbed my attention in this verse from Romans 15:13 were the words “fill” and “overflow. Paul prays that as the Christians in Rome placed their trust in the one who has given us precious promises of eternal life with him in glory, that they would find God filling them with joy and peace. Note that he adds the word “all” to that joy and peace.  No doubt we could all do with a little more joy and peace, but what is on offer is a total or absolute experience of it!  I don’t want to settle for less.

These blessings come from our trusting in God.  In a world that casts dark shadows across our lives from time to time, we can experience joy and peace instead of dread and anxiety, simply by trusting in an unchanging God and his unchanging promises. But note, there is one more thing to experience.
Paul’s prayer, or his aspiration for the Christians in Rome, was that their hope in God would be an overflowing experience.  The hope, peace and joy available from the God of hope, does not come by the glassful, nor even the bottle full, not even on draught.  It comes from everlasting source that is God himself.  The Greek word used here means to have something in abundance – above and beyond.  It means much more than is needed.

So intrigued was I with this concept that I looked to see where else overflowing was mentioned in the epistles in the New International Version of the Bible. Remans 5:15 speaks of grace that overflows. 2Corinthians 4:15 speaks of an experience of grace that cause overflowing thanksgiving.  2Corinthians 8:2 speaks of overflowing joy during severe trials.  There are two other references to overflowing thankfulness. 1Thessalonians 3:12 speaks of our love for one another and everyone else, increasing and overflowing.

I have personal experiences of overflowing.  You may be aware that I have an inherited problem of what is called an essential tremor.  My hands shake: sometimes slightly, sometimes more noticeably.  Under stress, or in cold weather, or having carried anything heavy it is very noticeable.  At such times, if I have a cup of coffee in my hands, it is as well not to stand too close!  I usually ask for cups not to be filled as this will reduce the risk of spillages.

Imagine a church where every Christian was so filled to overflowing with hope and consequential joy and peace, that it was constantly spilled, so that the overflow touched the lives of others around.  Are you filled and overflowing?  Who, then, is feeling the effect of your overflowing by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  God grant that we may be so filled and overflowing that increasing numbers experience the splashes!  Let’s be spilling the blessing and not spoiling the blessing.  Amen?
Barry Osborne - 03 March 2018

From the Diary
Despite the cold, snow and icy weather of the past few days I have been able to get out and bout and share God’s word in schools and various meeting.  We give thanks for the privilege of bring God’s word to others, and for the obvious blessing it has brought.

Please pray for safe travelling and God’s blessing on his precious word over the coming days this week.

We rejoice that someone has shown interest in developing some aspects of our vision for ministry to and with young people.  Please pray for Gordon Banks and me as we meet this Wednesday with Joy to explore this further.

Please pray for the Churches Group for Evangelization meeting in London on Thursday.  Unfortunately, I have had to send my apologies this week because of personal circumstances.  I will miss the fellowship with good friends who share my passion for evangelism, and I pray that it will prove very helpful.  They will bring me up to date afterwards with what God is doing across the churches.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Is faithfulness enough?

I have far too often heard Christians say, “God does not ask us to be successful; he only asks us to be faithful”.  I must admit that I groan inwardly when I hear this, because it demonstrates a serious lack of understanding regarding our service for God.  However, the topic deserves more consideration.

It is probable that the passage of scripture from which the idea arises is 1 Corinthians 4:2.
“Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” (NIVUK)

But the context for this verse is about the effectiveness of Paul’s, Peter’s, and Apollos’ ministries. To be ‘proved faithful’ is all about outcomes or results.  But almost always when I have heard this verse quoted, it has been as a comfort blanket or an excuse for failure.  If you employed a plumber to fix a leaking pipe in your house, and the only thing he did was look at it, rattle his tools, but leave you with a leaking pipe, would that be acceptable?  He could claim that he faithfully turned up, and that he carefully assessed what needed to be done, and the tools it would require.  But you had put your trust in him to fix the leak, and he had let you down.

It is precisely the same when it comes to the trust that God shows in us.  He entrusts to us the gospel message which is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe.  While we cannot be held responsible for how people might respond to that message, we are held accountable for sharing the message.  It is only as we share the message that we show ourselves to have been worthy of the trust God has placed in us.  The same principle is true for all aspects of ministry to which God has called us.

So, it could be true to say, “God has not called us to be fruitful; he has called us to be faithful”.  But even that requires more careful thought.  Certainly, there are instances within scripture where God requires a prophetic message to be declared, even though he knows they will not respond appropriately (See Jeremiah 7:27 and 1Corinthians 14: 21).  But we should never allow our expectations about how someone might respond to prevent us from doing what God has asked us to do or saying what he has asked us to say.  That would be unfaithfulness.  We would be like Jonah who fled to Tarshish rather than go to Nineveh, or Moses seeking to excuse himself from confronting Pharaoh or Ananias hesitant about going to the newly converted Saul.

To be faithful, then, requires whole-hearted obedience.  This is well illustrated in the Parable of the Minas which Jesus told (see Luke 19:11-27).  But we need to take this a little further.  If we whole-heartedly wish to obey, we would also want to do our very best to succeed. Before I began in Christian ministry I was a member of a school philosophical society in which I had to learn the skills required to debate effectively.  Then, as I trained for Christian ministry I studied homiletics (the science of which preaching is the art), so that my sermons were well constructed and clear.  In both situations I wanted to be as effective as possible, even though I recognised that eloquence was no guarantee of success. 

It is a few weeks since my last e-letter and blog.  During this time, I have been preoccupied with other responsibilities.  Throughout this time, what I have written above has been on my mind.  I wanted to make clear that being faithful requires diligence and should never be used as an excuse for ineffectiveness.  During this time, I spoke on Nehemiah chapter 1 at a village church in Northamptonshire.  We reflected on the fact that a man who apparently had no suitable qualifications, motivated others and together with them got the wall of Jerusalem rebuilt and the gates re-hung in just 52 days.  That was effective faithfulness!  As we related this account to the state of God’s kingdom in the rural areas, I asked four questions.
1.       Are we spiritually and emotionally moved as Nehemiah was?  It was not just the state of the walls of Jerusalem that moved Nehemiah, but the recognition that the cause of this was unfaithfulness.
2.      Do we have a vision of what could be?  Are we overwhelmed by what is, or inspired by what could be?
3.      Do we have a sensible plan to turn the vision into reality?  The work would not have been completed without resources and organisation.
4.      Does prayer permeate the process?  “It is not by might nor power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord” (Zechariah 4:6)

There were many dangers and difficulties throughout those 52 days.  Faithfulness – of which Nehemiah is a significant example - called for courage and stickability.

Barry - 20th February 2018

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Hope or Despair

Yesterday evening, on my way to a shop in the centre of the market town where I live, I was entertained by a chorus of bird song, blackbirds and thrushes among them, just as dusk was settling.  Despite the surrounding and increasing gloom their delightful songs filled the air.  As I left the shop I tried to draw the attention of a man waiting for his wife to the brilliant music filling the air.  He listened for a moment, shrugged his shoulders and returned to his former rather gloomy state.  I wondered if the birds knew something he did not!

My day started, as it often does, with my listening to a current affairs programme on the radio.  Item after item seemed to present a list of things we should be worried about.  Doctors who make mistakes, hospitals that are overflowing and underfunded, police who fail to provide appropriate evidence, financial uncertainties, disturbing tweets from the White House, the threat of cyber attack on our infrastructure, more stories of sexual abuse and, of course, the shadow of Brexit!  The words “concerning” and more correctly “worrying” occurred several times.

Was, I wondered, the media reflecting the gloom, or was it the consequence of the disturbing habit of producing someone ready to pour scorn and criticise anything good that is happening.  If I may employ the contrary line to a well known Christian song, “Where there is hope in life, let me bring despair!”

All of this puts me in mind of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi.  At the time of writing we are informed that he is imprisoned.  He refers to his chains, but whether these are actual or a metaphor for the restrictions he was under, we cannot be sure.  I note that when referring to the opposition he faced, Paul reveals that they too are suffering.  The circumstances are far from ideal, it would seem.  Yet the tone of this letter is upbeat.  He encourages his readers to rejoice and keep rejoicing.  He tells them not to worry about the circumstances, not to be anxious about anything.

I remember hearing a conference speaker refer to people who respond to the question “How are you?” by saying, “Alright under the circumstances!”  He went on to point out that Christians should recognise that we live their lives with Jesus Christ in God.  Consequently, since we are reigning with him we cannot be UNDER the circumstances.

Of course, there is a world of difference between living in denial and living by faith.  The former is psychologically dangerous.  The facts need to be faced.  The latter is liberating as it points beyond on reality to another reality where we have a loving heavenly Father, a wonderful Saviour and the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit.   Even the psalmist took himself to task saying, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.”  (Psalm 42:5). How much more should we who have come to know Jesus Christ, be people of hope in times of despair?

Peter, also writing to Christians who had suffered for the sake of Christ, writes about being ready to give a reason for the hope that they have.  Like the birdsong breaking through the falling gloom of evening, our lives and attitudes should shine through the depressing and worrying circumstances of the world in which we live.  This also brings with it the challenge of living above whatever unfortunate circumstances may be affecting us at this time.  We cannot deny the pain, but our confidence in the character and promises of God are able to lift us up, for he will never fail us.

I commend to you the words of Anna L Waring’s hymn, ‘In heavenly love abiding’.  You could almost preach a sermon on every line of this hymn.  It assures us of the depth and constancy of God’s love which never changes.  Even in the darkest storm there is no room for dismay.  In the final verse she writes, “My hope I cannot measure, my path to life is free.  My Saviour has my treasure, and he will walk with me”.

As I have written these words I have left playing in the background a recording of bird song, like that which I enjoyed yesterday evening.  I know that the song they sang as the day ended and the darkness fell, would have been repeated this morning as the first light of day broke over the horizon.  In Psalm 92 the psalmist talks about proclaiming God’s love in the morning and his faithfulness at night.  As he says, it is good to praise the Lord and make music to his name.

Maybe some of us also know what the birds have something to sing about!  Let’s sing it as loudly and as continuously as they manage to do from dawn to dusk.
Barry – 27 January 2018.

From the Diary
The past two weeks have kept me busy, but I still have not found sufficient time to complete the two important writings: one on developing appropriate strategies for mission and the other on a safeguarding topic.  Please keep praying about time management.  Often, urgent matters are brought to my attention through phone calls and email, sometimes every day!  I stress that I am always available to anyone who might need help or advice, so I need wisdom every day.

Among various ministry activities, it was delightful to take the morning meeting at Yelvertoft (my last pastorate) last Sunday, school assemblies have been well received, and the series of Bible studies in Ephesians I am writing and leading in prison have proved exciting.  God is at work in the prison in wonderful ways.

This Sunday (28th January) I shall take the morning meeting for Welford Congregational Church, Northants.  After this, Doreen and I will be travelling to Kent for the rest of the week.  Hopefully it will be a rest, but I will be teaching at the Salvation Army College in London on one day and undertaking some business in Hastings on another day.

One of our current concerns is to find someone who will undertake some of our activities to support and encourage children’s ministry in rural churches.  We have been exploring several possibilities, and the role is advertised on our website at www,  Please pray that we will find the right person or people to share in this important ministry.

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


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.


Friday, 29 December 2017


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.