Reaching higher rather than reacting from within

Bristol: Edward Colston statue being toppled by protestors.
Image credit: The Times

“Three things will last forever — faith, hope, and love — and the greatest of these is love.”
‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭13:13‬ ‭NLT‬‬

PRAYER

LORD God, at this time of tension and demonstration, we pray that we might all renounce racial inequality and injustice. May we learn from our history as it stands. Forgive us our historic sins.

We pray for growing awareness of who Jesus is and what He has done that we could never earn. May faith in Him rise.

May the hope of having confidence in Your rule and reign be our motivation. We call down Your blessing of love and forbearance and unity.

Lord, hear our prayer and heal our land. Amen.

A THOUGHT BEHIND THE PRAYER

TIMES of great pressure bring out the best and the worst in us…

Read more

Rioting, racism and toppling statues are embarrassing examples of the worst. But the present pandemic has also caused people to reach beyond themselves to find the real strength that sustains and endures.

Pau wrote these words in the context of a growing city church that had become rather over-engaged with spiritual gifts. These were spiritual qualities of the kind that can be demonstrated. Prophetic words of knowledge or the wisdom for acting on them, the gift of special faith, an unlearned inspired prayer language — these are all God-given and evident, highly useful and valuable at a specific time. But they are situational and for the moment, rather than the “will last forever” quality he flags up.

A record of attitudes we have learned to reform

At times of pressure we can respond within ourselves, in an emotionally driven way. The anger over police brutality is real enough and any Christian would have deep misgivings about the source of Edward Colston’s philanthropy. His statue is part of Bristol’s history, and records his using wealth for the benefit of the city of Bristol. It also stands as a record of attitudes we have learned to reform and reasons we now deplore the practices of Colston’s time..

The angry actions of crowds against this and other statues, like the Baden-Powell statue in Bournemouth looking out to Brownsea Island where the Scout movement started, looks not so much like a demonstration against racism as a desire to remove history — rather than learn from it. That looks less like protest, and more like people finding an avenue for taking out their frustrations.

Look to the eternal strengths of faith, hope and love

Paul says, look to the eternal strengths of faith, hope and love. Far from being abstract, each of these describes an indispensable aspect of our relationship with God.

Faith believes who God is, almighty and majestic — and the epitome of goodness. So to lament, and even protest about, injustice makes little sense without a perspective of what God’s kingdom order looks like, which will be based on how He is Himself. And then the effective protest might be to God in His goodness, recognising that He is the One who sees and acts, although we need to be willing to be directed as part of the answer to the prayer, e.g. through reforming politics.

Hope is close to trust in the relationship because it is the sense of a confident expectation based on God’s nature, how He has acted in the past and what He has said for all time. This may also focus into a ‘now’ word as He speaks to us today. Hope is more than an aspiration, it is a sense of assurance that God, who we know, will come through in the right way and the best timing.

Love transforms… into a joyful response to the immense and unconditional love of God

Love is what defines the essential character of the relationship. Love is what transforms a sense of solemn religious obedience and obligation to God — the poverty, chastity and obedience of medieval Christianity – into a joyful response to the immense and unconditional love of God. This comes through a heart change, not intellectual understanding, and it happens when we exercise faith to believe who Jesus is and what He has done for us, with hope’s confident expectation that He will count us in His gift of salvation. This invites the Holy Spirit to change our heart and rekindle it, repairing the connection with God’s care and love we call fellowship that Adam carelessly broke right at the beginning times1.

Responding to frustration by reaching higher, into God’s goodness, is responding to Him as He has created us to do, rather than the response of how we have become, selfish and independent – and angry. A noisy protest and token damage changes nothing, and highlights history rather than changing it.

Reaching into God is finding the power that brings real change, both for us and for our broken world.

  1. Genesis 3 []

Pentecost – commissioned to be royal messengers

Image credit: Pixabay

“But I promise you this — the Holy Spirit will come upon you and you will be seized with power. And you will be my messengers to Jerusalem, throughout Judea, the distant provinces — even to the remotest places on earth!”
‭‭Acts‬ ‭1:8‬ ‭The Passion Translation‬‬

In medieval times a royal herald was a court emissary, distinctive in uniform and bearing, who was accorded the highest respect. A herald spoke on behalf of the sovereign, with words from a scroll that were received with the gravity of their royal source. At a time of royal succession, they would announce the passing of the former order and the message of the new rule and dominion.

If Pentecost is the “birthday of the Church”, as it will be described in countless children’s talks today, then it is not the birth of a building or an institution, not a denomination or a Sunday tradition or a particular religious culture.

It is the commissioning of heralds to go out on behalf of the King of kings to places both relatively near and far off. Heralds are empowered by royal warrant with royal supply and protection, to make known the good news of this new reign.

The original Pentecost was the commissioning and empowering of many, drawn together from all over the known world, to go back out with the Good News of who Jesus is and what He has done to free us, a ransom that we could never have raised.

How do we receive that today? At a time when leaders of traditional denominations are lobbying government to allow their buildings to open again, are we missing the point?

We were not commissioned as a club with activities exclusive to members and experienced only by stepping out of the grimy world and into its special and well-appointed building.

The direction is the opposite one — we were gathered to the presence of Jesus, to be empowered by Him and sent out with His message, not into a building to hear it again. We’re not sent as failing sinners – not much of a message there – but as royal messengers whose distinctive uniform is not made of fabric, but is visible in a different way through the kind of people we are: those broken and put together in a new way, as new creations in Christ Jesus.

We have the best news ever. Recent constraints have taught us that we don’t have to rely on buildings, liturgical formalities or even the ‘holy’ Sunday mid-morning slot. Let us recapture our historic commission of being sent out of our familiar religious comfort zones (Jerusalem) and into the more challenging world (Judea, Samaria and beyond), letting the Holy Spirit lead us into new ways of connecting, and renewed creativity to simply tell the story we have been given.

It’s Good News and we have it to share!

How to pray

You don’t need a long face to approach God.    Image credit: Ian Greig

Introduction

What stops you from talking to God regularly? What stops you from talking to anyone regularly — or alternatively, gets you talking?

It’s about the relationship and how you feel about yourself and the other person.

If you lack confidence and feel you are just an ‘ordinary’ person and you meet someone with a title and position and a grand house to go with it, you might think, “Better not to say anything unless I am spoken to”.

If you have had some ups and downs in life… downs, definitely… and you don’t feel you would be on a holy God’s list of people He would like to hear from, you will feel — rightly or wrongly — that there is a barrier.

Actually, it’s a barrier God has taken away. And God does want to hear from you and talk to you.

The short answer is, because of Jesus. He has done for you what none of us could ever do — made the relationship right again. No barrier.

This completely changes prayer — from what might have felt like a dutiful recitation, to a conversation within a relationship.

And you can say your own prayers. As you would when talking to a friend, someone who understands you. It’s not a school composition. It’s you, talking to Your spiritual Father.

One of the most radical teachings Jesus gave to His disciples was about how you start: “When you pray, say, ‘Father…1

Jews were used to memorised, recited, formal prayers. Unfortunately we have fallen back on that idea… but Jesus encourages us to be real and to express ourselves, while giving us pointers — an outline, in fact — of what it is good to include.

Can we trust our own prayers? Will they be ‘correct’? It’s not a duty, defined by prayers in a book, and following a prescribed order, but a conversation that comes out of a relationship – and the Holy Spirit has a particular role in helping us to pray. He will bring the right words and He will vary that with different people. We are all individuals, all loved by God for who we are.

The foundational prayer, the starting point really, is the prayer to ask Jesus into your heart. From that point all, all becomes much more clear – and possible!

Becoming comfortable with prayer takes a bit of practice. But if we want to grow in our faith, it’s important that we’re able to have honest conversations with God who is above all, relational..

If you’re not sure what to pray about, we’re going to follow up with five examples of daily prayers which all relate to the master ‘prayer outline’ Jesus taught His disciples when they asked Him for some prayer coaching. These are suggested prayers you can use as they stand, or as a starting point for your own prayer following the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

  1. Luke 11:2 []

The resurrection of Jesus and the pandemic

The Queen, in her Easter message, said this:

“We know that coronavirus will not overcome us. As dark as death can be — particularly for those suffering with grief — light and life are greater. May the living flame of the Easter hope be a steady guide as we face the future.”

“The discovery of the risen Christ on the first Easter Day gave His followers new hope and fresh purpose, and we can all take heart from this.”

The resurrection of Jesus is about Him being with us in life – the meaning of the name Immanuel.

Jesus appeared, first to an outsider among the disciples, Mary of Magdala, not the one with the best CV, but the one who felt most forgiven and accepted.

Jesus came back to life, to give us life and life in abundance, in Him. Where all the news is about lock down, and terrible mortality rates, He is saying to us: “Look UP! I AM the Way, the reality and the life.”

What is God saying, in this pandemic?

Jesus proved, by being seen as a flesh-and-blood person following His resurrection (not a ghost), that there is life after death.

This pandemic is a prompting to all of us to turn to God! Is God calling you to take the step whereby you will come to know Him personally, receive His assurance that you are forgiven and have an eternal life with Him? Do you want to be be empowered to live, pray and know His peace, even in difficult times such as these?

Here’s a prayer you can pray

Teaching from the Bible on the above

Longer post on Why the resurrection of Jesus changes everything

“Remain united and resolute” – HM The Queen

Her Majesty, speaking on Sunday night, April 6, from Windsor Castle. Image credit: The Telegraph

“Together we are tackling this disease, and I want to reassure you that if we remain united and resolute, then we will overcome it.” This message from Her Majesty speaks to every context, and every ‘tribe’, within the UK and beyond.

People of declared Christian faith will hear in this message from The Queen, also a person of declared and unswerving Christian faith, that we need to remain united and resolute before God – spiritually and prayerfully.

  • Praise: For the might and majesty, dominion and power of God Almighty. He may have allowed this severe test under His sovereign power, but He is turning to good, what the enemy intended for harm. He is over this! There is no uncertainty in heaven!
  • Thanksgiving: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”…”We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
  • Worship: You are our God and we are Your people, the sheep of Your pasture, the flock under Your care. (from Psalm 95:7)
  • Intercession: O God our Father, heal our land! Physically, from epidemic sickness. Spiritually, from the sickness of unbelief and our rejection of You. We recall the promise of Scripture, in King Solomon’s words, that “if My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)
  • Blessing: In Your name, Lord Jesus, as those called by Your name, we bless our families, neighbours, friends, those who serve us and those who are there to care for us with expertise if we need it. May they know Your peace, Your protection, Your love for them – and hope in You, the confidence of knowing that ‘You have got this’. We bless our village or local community with a turning to God at this time, a re-kindling of forgotten faith, re-awakening of trust in Him, a new sense of the power of being united in prayer and purpose as those who on earth prayerfully agree together and with heaven (Matthew 18:19).

Your Country Needs You!


Positives from this virus is that so many of us have realised how we can help one another and how we all have an important role to play in maintaining the spirit of unity of neighbourliness.

Roger Knight, in Madley, who posts a regular Thought every Wednesday, writes:


I recall reading that prisoners of war in Japanese concentration camps could withstand almost anything physically, despite cruelty and malnutrition, but once their mood collapsed they withdrew and, turning faces to the wall, could die within three days.


We, however, have no need to feel imprisoned as our PM has grasped that going walking and cycling is excellent for maintaining the wellbeing of both minds and bodies, together with contact by phone and email and social media with other people.


God always wants unity — unity with Him, unity with others and unity within ourselves. Positives from this virus is that so many of us have realised how we can help one another and how we all have an important role to play in maintaining the spirit of unity of neighbourliness. We are all needed in some way by others, to keep up our spirits at a challenging time. Even the most housebound and older members of society can pass on experiences of the past when we pulled together — our country needs you and us all.


The hand of God was on the people to give them unity of mind to carry out what the king [or Prime Minister?] and his officials ordered, following the word of the Lord.    2 Chronicles 30:12.

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.   Psalm 131:1


Our Lord is at work

“I will cause anxiety, fear, and panic. I will cause the churches to lock their doors. I will cause Christians not to worship together on Sunday….

Writing on his Facebook page, Fr. Jerome Zeiler, priest at St Patrick’s, Columbus, Ohio, USA offers a perspective in dialogue, about the ways Satan sows fear and animosity, but Jesus shows people His way of love and trust, during this time of physical distancing:

SATAN


“I will cause anxiety, fear, and panic. I will cause the churches to lock their doors. I will cause Christians not to worship together on Sunday. I will cause the sacraments not to be given or received. I will cause fights to break out at the grocery stores and on social media and inside the home. I will cause greater animosity between nations. I will cause turmoil inside and out.”


JESUS


“I will restore the family. I will bring husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters closer together. I will greatly strengthen the communal life of religious brothers and sisters. I will greatly strengthen the spiritual lives of my priests. I will bring dinner back to the kitchen table and to the refectory. I will help my children slow down their lives and appreciate what really matters. I will teach my children to rely on me and not on what is of this world. I will deepen my children’s faith in me. I will renew their prayer life. I will deepen their love for me and for one another.”