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Ordinary people: Amazing treasure

I love visiting museums and especially the British Museum. I don’t like the thought of missing a great exhibition so I now get emails from the British Museum telling me what is coming up. Even when there’s nothing new that catches my eye I still love going. I try to drop in whenever I’m in London. There’s always something that I’ve missed and old favourites to revisit. There are pieces of real beauty like gold ornaments thousands of years old that could have been made yesterday but many of the archaeological finds that are the greatest treasures are from ordinary people. They say nothing about kings and rulers, they tell us about the lives of the ordinary people.

I particularly love it when I can touch a piece of history at one of the museum’s ‘Hands on Desks‘. One such highlight was a piece of ancient British pottery. It was plain and heavy by today’s standards. It was just a fragment of a jug. But holding it sent shivers down my spine. This little pot was a direct link to an ordinary farming family, getting on with their lives in this country over 1,000 years ago. It spoke of a way of life not entirely different from mine. I felt connected with those long gone people by a common bond of humanity. God had given the same breath of life to them and their potter as he gives to me. That pot was at least as precious as all the gold and jewellery in that museum – I just needed to get past the human obsession with wealth to see its true worth.

That pot was a link to the lives of ordinary people – but no less precious for that. Like that pot, I’m not rich or famous. I’m not a celebrity (thank God!), I won’t be recorded in history books. But I know that I’m loved and valued by my creator God. Despite all appearances to the contrary, I know that I am precious to God: Not because I work hard and shine like gold; no I’m precious simply because God wants it that way. It’s like Paul says, “We are like clay jars in which this treasure is stored. The real power comes from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4.7).

If you are anything like me it’s a real comfort to know that I’m loved and precious simply because of who God is:. I can’t earn it, it just is. I can though let God’s generosity inspire me. It’s like good old James whom we remember today. He and his brother John were just fishermen – very plain pots! They weren’t wealthy or powerful but Jesus saw their worth and called them to be among his first followers.

James came from very humble beginnings to be one of Jesus’ special 12. Famously, James and John were pushed forward by their mother to be the most important of Jesus’ followers when she said asked Jesus to, “‘Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom’” (Matthew 20.21). Their mother had completely misunderstood the sort of king Jesus was. Her sons were already special and precious. There was nothing more that Jesus could give them that they were not going to inherit anyway. I can’t be too hard on her though, because no one seems to have grasped the sort of treasure Jesus was offering; not until he showed the world through his death.

Like the 12, and the very lowly early Christians, we too have an immense treasure in very earthly vessels. Every time I walk around, this very ordinary human body is a vessel for something very precious: Not my life, but the life of the Spirit in me. Every time you or any one of Jesus’ followers walks around it’s true for you too. Whether pretty or plain, healthy or sick, these earthen jars contain just as much divine treasure. Also like most jars our purpose isn’t to hold on to our precious contents. No, my purpose is clear, to pour out all the good things that I’m given so that others may share the blessing. Paul put it like this, “All of this has been done for you, so that more and more people will know how kind God is and will praise and honour him” (2 Corinthians 4.15).

Going back to my experience with that plain bit of pot in the British Museum – I mustn’t forget the importance and preciousness of ordinary things: Ordinary things like me and the people of God I see around me. The early Christians like James, John and Paul were no different. They were special not because they were wealthy or powerful: They were special because they allowed themselves to be like Jesus and for ‘their’ treasure to be poured out for the people they met. I am all too aware that I’m nothing special but even so it’s now my turn to recognise the wonderful treasure poured into me. Now it is my turn to be poured out so that the Spirit’s treasure may shine and glitter, and God’s love be shown.

“I used to be Church of England but now I’m not so sure about God”

I have been thinking about three people that I met this week.

The first is an elderly man who served in our air force during the Suez Crisis. We had a great chat and at the end he said something like, “I used to be Church of England but now I’m not so sure about God”. He went on to explain that the things he had seen had shaken his belief in a loving God. In particular sleeping next to a nuclear bomb, ready at a moments notice to kill tens maybe hundreds of thousands of people. Living with the knowledge of that horrible reality day after day, and knowing that he would be responsible for delivering all that death and destruction: well I can understand why that would lead to some serious questions of God. Hopefully, he can find his way back to the Church and have people with him to help him find God in the realities of this world.

The second was a much younger woman. She had gone to church as a child but had just drifted away as she grew up. She had some nice memories of Sunday School. She had a gentle affection towards the church that she remembered but it played no real part in her day-to-day life. There was a sense that the God that she met in Sunday School was probably still out there but that was largely forgotten. It was as though the Kingdom of God was a lovely childhood holiday destination, a great memory but somewhere that you can’t really go back to when you grow up.

The third was a young man who knew absolutely nothing about God or his son Jesus. He was a generally caring and decent man but God was just not a concept that he had ever considered seriously. God was the invention of crazy people who either cornered you in the bar or tried to blow you up! The most positive image of a Christian that he had was of an ineffectual man in a dress trying to tell him that having a good time was wrong.

I think of each of those three people – Each of them loved by the God they have either forgotten or never knew – I think of them and realise that me and my church have been failing to truly live up to our calling to be a light to the people around us. I get too caught up with church affairs; with administration, and dealing with in fighting between brothers and sisters in Christ. I look at myself and it is a real kick to remember that I’m called to be a shining light and example of Godly love to the people around me, and so are all Christians. I’m thick at times – so thick that God often needs to give me a good kick upn the backside to get me to listen to him. Thanks God, for caring enough to kick me out of my complacency.  I am called to find way to let Christ shine through me for each of those three people and everyone that I meet. That’s my calling and there’s so much more to do!

I look at myself and my brothers and sisters and see Christ’s light shining, but the light is no where near bright enough. Together we need to find ways to be light to each of those people. I need to find ways for the good news to be heard and understood by each of those people and the huge numbers of people that they represent.

This is a challenge that thankfully I see lots of people grappling with. We are reaching out, we are searching for ways to speak and live the good news so that it can be heard and understood. There is so much more to do but I believe that here where I live we have made a good start. I now pray and pray for the Spirit to give more and more: More guidance and more wisdom and more patience and above all a huge helping of love.

I see more and more people joining hands with me to pray and to act in the Spirit. We’ve made a great start now let’s finish the race!

A prayer I picked up from the Iona Community:

Reshape us, good Lord,
until in generosity, in faith, and in
expectation that the best is yet to come,
we are truly Christ-like.

Make us passionate followers of Jesus,
rather than passive supporters.

Make our churches places of radical discipleship
and signposts to heaven,
then, in us, through us, and – if need be –
despite us, let your kingdom come.
Amen.

A week of hope and optimism!

I’ve had a strange week. In the schools it has been a week of saying goodbye and of moving on. Some are moving to high school, some to new classes, to college or leaving school all together. A time of change. Some are excited at the new opportunities, some are frightened by the uncertainties ahead. Some I will see again in September, but some I may never meet again. At one event I listened to all the things that the primary school leavers had done and I wanted to start school all over again! So, I think that the overall the sense I have from this week is of hope and optimism.

The same is true for these churches clustered along the Waveney valley. All is not perfect but things are good. The Spirit is flowing along our valley. A Spirit of life and hope. A Spirit that is leading us out of our buildings to share the love we’ve been given with those around us. The number of community events that now happen in or around our churches is growing and growing. I see the school children and the elderly smiling and happy in church. I see new faces coming to worship and new people coming to explore. To taste and see whether what we have is good and for them. The Spirit is flowing.

The Spirit is flowing and so all is not calm and serene. After all Jesus never promised an easy life. But when hatred comes then we seem to be standing by one another more than ever. We are praying and encouraging each other more. We are recognising God as our loving Father who has stood by us and will stand by us wherever the future may take us.

So again, I am feeling positive and hopeful. So much so that there is the real danger of becoming complacent: of taking God’s presence for granted. I read the story of John the Baptist’s murder in Mark 6 and I know that following God’s call doesn’t always lead to a happy life. A contented and fulfilled life perhaps but not always ‘happy’ in the way that many people around us would understand ‘happy’.

As with John the Baptist I know I’m not called to be popular but to be faithful; faithful to God’s calling. To faithfully show signs of God’s kingdom here on earth through my words and actions. To support all that is good but also to speak out against all that is not. To show no partiality to the strong or to the under-dog. This is a high calling and is beyond my strength. I try and fail so easily. I can’t do it, at least not on my own. I have though found that I do a lot better when I take the time to listen to God and receive his strength.

Through Jesus you and I have been given the task of making his kingdom seen here on earth: To receive a taste of God’s perfect world and to share that here and now. I know that I am to follow Jesus and lead people to be more loving. To show that God’s way of living is the best for everyone. To show the way of forgiveness and healing. The way for individuals, for our churches, for our families, for our schools, for our nation, for our world.

Along with all Christians I am called to show by my life that God’s people love and work for peace. It sounds hard but it really isn’t. All I have to do is let God start to work in me. Then he can change me into a more loving and peaceful person. Forgiving is hard but the Spirit can make it possible. With forgiveness I’ve found that I am healed of so much that holds me back and by sharing that forgiveness I share that healing with those around me. This is not my work or your work: this is God’s work in us. I am God’s child and he is making me more like him, if I let him.

Well, I’ve never wanted to be a bishop!

Brown as a nut, I’ve just come back from 2 days at the Norfolk Show. I’m still buzzing from all the excitement and fun. There was a serious side too. Talking to people, introducing them to a Christianity that many will never have encountered before. A confident, vibrant church that was giving out rather than asking for money. All of this made me think of the vibrancy of Jesus’ ministry and that of the early church described in Acts and the letters. Like today the early church had its problems but it was not short on enthusiasm.

Now that I’m away from the show I know that the infectious enthusiasm offered there needs to come back with me to my parishes. To be fair there is already a healthy slice of confidence in the work of the Spirit here in these Norfolk congregations. But you can never have too much encouragement! That said, I realise that it is easier for me to bounce with my faith. I’m a minister, so it is sort of expected. Also, I’ve come from outside. No one remembers me as a boy getting into trouble or being a swat at school. Quite a few of the people here don’t have that luxury. Many are living not far from where they grew up, among school friends and family. That gives them a way in to this community that I can only envy but it also makes it so much harder for people to accept the Gospel from them.

As Jesus said, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house’ (Mark 6.4). I know that only too well. Shortly after I was ordained, when I was finishing my training and looking for my first parish, my bishop offered me a town centre parish. A bit of a shock for several reasons:

1. I had said that I was being called to rural ministry;
2. It was a large and quite important parish, particularly for a newly trained minister; but most of all
3. It was in the old part of the town in which I grew up.

I had aunts and uncles, cousins, second cousins and all the rest everywhere. Right through the old part of town I was “Our Jeans lad.” I learned First Aid at the St. John’s Ambulance group in that church -taught by the local undertaker, who was still there. I could almost hear the conversation: “You’ll never guess. Our new parish priest is our Jean’s son Nigel. You know… Jimmy’s grandson… You remember, he went to school with our Charlie – The one that went to university, like his uncles. Well, he’s back.”

I’m not saying that it would have been impossible to minister there but it would have been far from ideal. It would have been hard anyway but I was just coming out of a difficult time. I had been trained by someone who had given up on his ministry, so much of my confidence had gone too (perhaps a story for another day).

In the end I had to say, “No”. People were furious but it was definitely the right decision for me to make. That said, if I had been called to that parish and to minister near to where I grew up; Well then I’m sure the Spirit would have found a way. Maybe not straight away but over the years He would have found a way.

I wasn’t called there, I’m sure that the Spirit wasn’t with that move and so I’ve never regretted my decision. It was wrong for me because I wouldn’t have been able to be an effective minister. It would have been wrong for the people there, because it would have gotten in the way of their growing in faith. I could never have been the prophet that they needed. They would never have been able to hear the special words of the Spirit for them, only the words of the kid who had done well and come back.

I’ve tried to follow the Spirit’s prompting ever since: Wherever that might lead. It’s meant that I’ve upset some important people but it has kept the Spirit’s voice fresh and vibrant. I feel alive with my God and excited by the ministry he gives: and the rest, well, I’ve never wanted to be a bishop!

Musings on a Royal Wedding

Last week I was watching a royal wedding. I was spell bound by it all. The spectacle, the drama and the excitement were infectious. It was so amazing that it didn’t really matter that it wasn’t my queen getting married. The whole occasion was very different from a British royal wedding but none the less for that.

This whole occasion was for me made even more wonderful by the fact that, apart from my wife, I was the only human being watching it all! I wasn’t watching a human wedding, I was watching the mating flight of a queen bee. The male bees (drones) were piling out of my hives to chase the new queen. Some of the worker bees carried on working but many buzzed around in circles, excitedly waiting to see the bride. It made me think of the people who gather to watch the bride arrive at a normal church wedding: Waiting for a glimpse of the bride and catch a little of the excitement. And the queen? Well, although she was the star of the show; well you have to be quick to see her at all. Perhaps, if you’re very lucky you’ll make her out at the head of a cloud of drones as they shoot off into the sky.

I think about that amazing natural wonder. A wonder happening right through late spring and early summer right across this country. I wonder how many people even know that it is happening, never mind have ever seen it? Not many but it all goes on anyway unconcerned by the lack of any human audience.

I think about that amazing natural wonder and praise God the creator of it all. I then remember all that is far from perfect in the natural world and the human world. Then I thank Jesus for coming to start the process that will free all of this good creation from all that fouls it. I thank Jesus for coming so that I can be an active part of God’s work of saving all that’s good in creation, including all that’s good in humanity, from all that is corrupting it.

I long for a world where all the beauty and wonder that I saw in that royal wedding is what this creation is all about. I long for a world where pain, and hatred and cruelty, and corruption and even death are gone for ever. I long for a world free suffering and evil. That is why I follow Jesus because he has started that clean up, a clean-up that is unstoppable now. I follow Jesus because he gives me the love and the patience to work with him to make this world a better place. He brings hope and joy and opens my eyes to the wonder of all that God has made. He opens my eyes to see as God sees, at least a little bit. I’m now more sensitive than ever to the joys of this world. I also feel something of God’s hurt when people and the natural world are hurt.

I now have hope for the future. Hope for myself and hope for all things. It’s that good news that gets me up on a morning knowing. This hope wasn’t always there but I can’t really say how it came to me. I spent many years arguing against faith and the existence of God. I won lots of arguments but in the end God won me. How it all happened remains a mystery but it’s a bit like the words of Jesus to Simon/Peter:

Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. (Matthew 16.17)

Faith, like the ways of bees, is a wonderful mystery to me. But faith brings hope and energy to work with my maker for a better me and a better world. Faith like this is good news, and that same good news is free for everyone!

Why are you afraid? Why indeed?

Have you ever felt like life was just too much? Too many things all crowding in at once. Everything needing doing not just now but yesterday?

Yes? Well join the club.

I find that once I get this feeling of being swamped by work and life and all its cares, then it just gets worse and worse. I find that once the panic starts, it makes it so much harder to deal with anything at all. If I’m not very careful then even the smallest tasks are too much to even contemplate – panic is everything, panic is all!

It reminds me of a story that a friend told me. He was at college training to be a farrier. Apparently it was an intense course that really pushed those who were training to their very limits. Unfortunately, it pushed one of those on the course too far, it pushed him well over the edge. The first anyone know about it was when one of the tutors came in to the office and found him. He hadn’t harmed himself. He had convinced himself that he was a hamster. He had emptied all of the filing cabinets, fed every bit of paper in the office into the shredder, and made himself a ‘nest’ under the desk. That is where he was found, curled up in a ball deep in shredded paper. It would be a funny image if it were not so tragic!

I don’t know what happened to that poor student – my friend never saw him again. Sadly, that event isn’t unique. Thankfully, we now recognise when soldiers can’t take it. We no longer shoot them for cowardice. Rather we seek to treat their PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Stress and worry can push anyone over the edge, and way down the other side, even Christians! We are certainly not immune.

That is when it is good to read passages of the Bible like the story of Jesus asleep in the storm (Mark 4.35-41). There the exhausted disciples set out to sea after a long day with Jesus. Jesus goes to sleep and leaves those who really know boats to get him safely to the other side. But on the way there is a huge storm and they are terrified that they will all drown. Whether their panic is made worse by their exhaustion isn’t mentioned, but panic they certainly do! This is where the first lesson comes in. In their panic they don’t throw themselves into the sea to just get it all over with. They don’t give up and sit down and die. They do the one thing that could really save them, they turn to Jesus. I then picture what happens next: Jesus calmly gets up from his sleep and tells the wind and waves to be still. All that the disciples had feared now looked small and insignificant next to the very special person they had in the boat.

That is the first lesson. When the waves are coming over me I need to find enough composure in my panic to reach out and shake Jesus awake. It sounds simple and obvious but believe me when panic and confusion descend then remembering your own name can be a struggle. So I call out. For me if it is going to come, the panic comes at about 3am. It comes once I’ve relaxed and my guard is down. I wake up being swamped by all the cares of ministry and family and bills and life in general. Then I need to stop and turn to Jesus. I do that and look to him saying, ‘This is your ministry, I am just your servant, I hand all this back to you’. Then Jesus laughs at my stupidity in trying to carry all this in the first place. I remember my place, smile back and settle back down to sleep. All those fears that were threatening to swamp me don’t seem so frightening any more. All is calm and sleep is possible once again.

Then I hear again Jesus words, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’. Why indeed? Then I drift back off to sleep with the repeated refrain from Psalm 42 gently comforting me, “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.” (NIVUK).

Why are you afraid? Why indeed? … zzzzzz

I want to leave it here. But that would be far too dangerous. Sometimes life does break someone, Christian or not. Sometimes, calling to Jesus doesn’t make all calm and still. This is not a lack of faith nor is it that Jesus has abandoned me. That is when my weakness as a human being has to be faced. Then I can still call to Jesus and know he is there: This time he is holding me tight in his love, whether I feel that presence or not.

So again, why are you afraid? Why indeed?

Seeds – Faith just grows

Hi, I’m not preaching again tomorrow so I have dug out another offering from WordLive.org from some time ago. I have been thinking about sharing faith. That it seems so daunting but in reality is so simple. Sharing faith is unavoidable when the Spirit is working to affect my life. When I allow him to God does indeed make me more loving and caring. When I allow him the Spirit can naturally scatter seeds of faith out from me without me even knowing it. So here is a WordLive offering on Mark 4.26-29:

Prepare
At the end of the great commission Jesus tells his disciples: ‘And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20, NIV). Thank him that he is with us each day.

Comment
Mark 4:26-29 (The Parable of the Growing Seed)

26He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Explore
This parable returns to the theme of seeds (meaning the word of God) and Jesus is describing what the kingdom of God is like. As a child I remember trying to grow some sweet peas. I planted the seeds, watered them each day (well, when I remembered!) and waited. I had no idea what happened and how the seed grew into a plant, but with time the seeds grew into shoots and then eventually I had some lovely flowers. In a similar way when we share the gospel with others we are never sure how the seed is sown or how it grows. I could not cause the sweet peas to grow, all I could do was to help take care of them and be patient. It is God who causes the seeds to grow. We do not know how (v 27b), we do not know his timing, but he causes them to grow and makes them ready for harvest (v 29). Be encouraged! Our responsibility is not for the growing of the seeds, but with God’s help, with the gifts he gives us, he will use us to sow and to harvest the seeds of the kingdom.

Respond
What seeds are you sowing? Pray that God will give you opportunities and boldness to share his good news.

A Beautiful Confidence

I am away today and so I’m sharing the WordLive offering for Friday. I have recently read this Old Testament story and great prayer in my own study time and it has certainly done me no harm to consider these lessons in prayer again. I cannot ever imagine having a dilema as terrifying as that faced by Hezekiah but I pray that I will be given the confidence in the will of God shown here – Enjoy!

The WordLive Bible study is copied below but you can also read this on the WordLive website here: https://www.wordlive.org/Session/Classic/2015-06-05 or listen to most of it being read to you here: http://www.wordlive.org/uploads/wordlight/resources/WORDLIVE%205.6.15.mp3

Prepare

When was the last time your specific prayers were answered? Can’t remember? Think about this as you read today’s passage.

Bible passage: 2 Kings 19:1–19

2 Kings 19
Jerusalem’s Deliverance Foretold
1 When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the LORD. 2 He sent Eliakim the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary and the leading priests, all wearing sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz. 3 They told him, “This is what Hezekiah says: This day is a day of distress and rebuke and disgrace, as when children come to the point of birth and there is no strength to deliver them. 4 It may be that the LORD your God will hear all the words of the field commander, whom his master, the king of Assyria, has sent to ridicule the living God, and that he will rebuke him for the words the LORD your God has heard. Therefore pray for the remnant that still survives.”
5 When King Hezekiah’s officials came to Isaiah, 6 Isaiah said to them, “Tell your master, ‘This is what the LORD says: Do not be afraid of what you have heard—those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. 7 Listen! I am going to put such a spirit in him that when he hears a certain report, he will return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword.’ ”

8 When the field commander heard that the king of Assyria had left Lachish, he withdrew and found the king fighting against Libnah.

9 Now Sennacherib received a report that Tirhakah, the Cushite king of Egypt , was marching out to fight against him. So he again sent messengers to Hezekiah with this word: 10 “Say to Hezekiah king of Judah: Do not let the god you depend on deceive you when he says, ‘Jerusalem will not be handed over to the king of Assyria.’ 11 Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them completely. And will you be delivered? 12 Did the gods of the nations that were destroyed by my forefathers deliver them: the gods of Gozan, Haran, Rezeph and the people of Eden who were in Tel Assar? 13 Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, or of Hena or Ivvah?”

Hezekiah’s Prayer
14 Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD. 15 And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD : “O LORD, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 16 Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God.
17 “It is true, O LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. 18 They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by men’s hands. 19 Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God.”

New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Explore the Bible
Desperate and afraid
It seems that Hezekiah’s faith was tested (v 1). Desperate and afraid, as a last resort he consults Isaiah the prophet, hoping that God might intervene (vs 2–4). Hezekiah should have gone there first! Isaiah has the demeanour of one who knows exactly how this fight will end (vs 5–7). His calm words of prophecy still the panic-stricken Hezekiah.
Meanwhile, Sennacherib has a few problems of his own. Hoping for a quick and battle-free conquest, the news that another front is about to erupt (v 9) begins to make him desperate too. His personal threat to Hezekiah reminding him what happened to all the kings who stood in his way (v 13) is calculated to have Hezekiah throw open the gates.

New-found courage
This could have been the last straw for Hezekiah, already terrified and weary. But with new-found courage, he heads to the Temple and lays the whole blasphemous threat out before God (v 14).

Can you see the difference this action makes? I can imagine Hezekiah praying all the way through this event, probably without much hope; but his prayer this day is laden with conviction and authority. Hezekiah has recovered his trust in God, and that trust breeds expectant hope (v 19)!

Respond
It makes a massive difference if we approach God expectant and confident when faced with troubles. Think about challenges you face today and pray them through like Hezekiah did at the Temple.
David Tolputt

Deeper Bible study
The clever speech of Sennacherib’s officials (2 Kings 18:28–35) goes too far in ridiculing and blaspheming Judah’s living God (v 22) and so the battle lines are clearly drawn. The result is the Assyrian king’s untimely death (vs 36, 37). In the meantime Hezekiah has every reason to worry. Does his worry show a lack of trust? No, because of what he does with it, spreading it out before the Lord (v 14) seeking his reply through the prophet (v 2). Unlike most previous kings, Hezekiah is choosing to rely on the Lord and he gets a response (v 20). God always delights in hearing his people pray.
At its simplest, prayer is the cry of children to their father. As maturing disciples there is much we can learn about how to pray. Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer to teach us (Matthew 6:9–13). Hezekiah’s prayer is another instructive example. First, the way he addresses God (v 15) – we do not presume to enter lightly into God’s holy presence. Next the request (vs 16–19a) – we should be specific but leave it to God to give us what is for our good. We need not be afraid about the outcome. Our trust is in his goodness, not in getting what we ask for. Finally, the result (v 19b) – ‘so that’ is an additional clarifying step. We are not trying to persuade a reluctant judge, but making sure in our own heart we are asking for the right reasons. God hears us whether or not we have all the arguments right, but examination of our motives in his presence is part of our relationship. Thankfully, ‘the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans’ (Romans 8:26).

Just as Hezekiah didn’t know in advance how God would answer his prayer and fulfil the prophecy, neither do we – but until he does we can rest in his love.

Rev Dr Jennifer Turner

Pray like Hezekiah

Hezekiah’s prayer (vs 14–19) is one of the great prayers of the Bible. It’s striking not just for its words, but for the physical actions that accompany them.
Hezekiah leaves his palace and goes to the temple, the place he associates with meeting God. Symbolically he places the Assyrian ultimatum in God’s presence, and only then does he speak to God.

Here are two ways we might pray as Hezekiah did. If you have a regular place for prayer, use it. If you don’t, now might be a time to think about where would be best. A simple symbolic gesture is to light a candle when you start to pray and blow it out when you finish as a way of marking the time as devoted to God.

1) If you face a particular worry or problem, spend some time writing it down, plus what the outcomes might be and how you’re feeling. This may start to clarify your thinking, and it should stop your thoughts from racing when you pray.

Then, hold the paper out to God, offering him all that’s written there without the need to repeat it to him aloud or in your mind. Ask him, as the God who in all things works for the good of those who love him (see Romans 8:28), to bring what is best in this situation.

When you’ve said all you need to say, wait in silence, and if you feel God is speaking back into your thoughts, write them down too.

2) Another way to use this is as a way of connecting God into our whole life. Simply write down all the areas of your life – family, job, church, home, finances and so on. Then, offer the paper to God, asking that his will be done in each area, again listening for his words to you.

Simon Reed

It can be fun and it’s worship too!

I’ve been writing an article on things that families (or anyone) can do to appreciate the natural world more. My idea is that if people value this world more they are more likely to care about it and do things to look after it. This isn’t just a practical matter for me. I believe that caring for this planet is a central part of my showing my faith in a Creator God. It is also one way of living out our church’s 5th Mark of Mission, “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.” For all 5 Marks of Mission see http://www.anglicancommunion.org/identity/marks-of-mission.aspx.

We are utterly dependent upon the ‘natural’ world for our food, air and water, but it is so easy to take it for granted. As a Christian I am also to see the earth as a gift from God, a world made ‘good’ in every way (see Genesis chapter 1). This world may no longer be good in every way but it is still precious to God. So much so that Jesus’ rescue mission is for the whole of creation not just for people. If you are unsure about this have a look at Romans 8:19-24:

Everything that God made is waiting with excitement for the time when he will show the world who his children are. The whole world wants very much for that to happen. 20 Everything God made was allowed to become like something that cannot fulfill its purpose. That was not its choice, but God made it happen with this hope in view: 21 That the creation would be made free from ruin—that everything God made would have the same freedom and glory that belong to God’s children.

22 We know that everything God made has been waiting until now in pain like a woman ready to give birth to a child. 23 Not only the world, but we also have been waiting with pain inside us. We have the Spirit as the first part of God’s promise. So we are waiting for God to finish making us his own children. I mean we are waiting for our bodies to be made free. 24 We were saved to have this hope. If we can see what we are waiting for, that is not really hope. People don’t hope for something they already have. (Easy-to-Read Version © 2006 by World Bible Translation Center)

So I encourage all of you to use this summer to appreciate God’s creation more, it can be fun and it’s worship too. For example, there are thousands of amazing colours all around us in parks and gardens. To prove it collect lots of the little cardboard paint colours. Cut these up and put them in a bag. Without looking, put your hand into the bag and pick a colour card. Then you have to find something, or a small part of something, that exactly matches the colour on the card. You will be amazed at the different colours there are. This is a great game for family walks and picnics. A good little leaflet with loads of ideas like this is available from here: http://www.heritagewoodsonline.co.uk/Environmental%20games%20and%20activities%20booklet.pdf. For wet days there are online nature games: http://www.dltk-kids.com/crafts/earth/games.html and craft activities: http://www.dltk-kids.com/crafts/earth/index.html too.

This summer, whether doing an activity like those above, sitting in your garden or just watching the birds, my challenge to you is to appreciate not only the nature but also the Creator.

Happy Birthday!

What do you do on your birthday? I like spending time with those closest to me (family, close friends and God), with good food, wine or beer. I’m celebrating today. Today is my birthday – it’s the birthday of everyone who is part of the Church, part of Christ.

Today I celebrate our birthday as a Church. I celebrate the day when the Holy Spirit was given to Christ’s followers. But the Spirit came in power 2,000 years ago and we are still too like those disciples hiding in a locked room. We keep our faith in Jesus to ourselves, locked up inside us for fear, for fear of ridicule or of simply being thought of as a bit odd. But we’re English and for us religion is a private matter. Religion has caused too many divisions and wars in our country for us to want to make it anything other than a private matter. Put like this, even asking the question, “How do we bring ourselves to leave our locked room?” or “How do we manage to share our faith?” feels threatening, it makes most of us uncomfortable. It’s as though the Church has received an amazing birthday present but has decided to put it back in the box!

That is why our churches are so empty and the mosques are full. We don’t feel confident in our faith. We have received the Holy Spirit but some how we still don’t feel that we can really live for Christ. The Church doesn’t want to offend anyone – so we say nothing. We say nothing offensive. We say nothing of any great note. Nothing exciting. Nothing life changing. Nothing challenging. People say, “Good old Church of England”, they perhaps feel a warm sense of national nostalgia but that is all.

When the Holy Spirit first touched and filled me with power, it was like all the lights went on at once. The world was suddenly a different place. It was a little like that first Pentecost. Christianity may have been many things to me then but it certainly wasn’t warm and cosy! I suddenly realised that I was indeed worshipping the God who created heaven and earth. I felt alive with that divine power. I was filled with the one who gives life or death – The source of love, joy, peace, kindness, self-control and so much more – The one who made sense of my pretty mixed up life.

In that moment I realised that Christianity is not a faith of half measures. Christ demands everything and in a miracle gives even more back.

I know that people often need time and space to explore what God is doing in them – Time to come to their own conclusions about who Jesus is. That is people coming to faith, not me, nor anyone who professes to be a Christian. We have no such luxury. We have signed up to Christ’s army and need to be ready for duty. We are called to march and learn all that we need on the way.

I’ll stop saying ‘we’ and speak for myself.

I know that I don’t have the luxury of pretending that Jesus isn’t lord of my life. Jesus is lord, so I need to follow where he commands or stop calling him lord. I must trust everything to him and obey. Or at least I try to. The amazing thing is that even when I fail, I’m not court-martialled as I deserve. When I fall my lord becomes my loving brother, he helps me up and cares for me. Each time I fall I learn again that nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

The problem is that I am too often ready to fall when the Spirit has given me the strength to stand. I trust the loving safety net when I should be bold. I’m learning now to strive more for Jesus and use that safety net as it was meant to be – as a last resort.

I am learning that if I am not committed to Christ, how can I expect to invite anyone else to commitment. I have learned too that in trusting the Spirit in me I find meaning and contentment – I find healing and strength – I find love and joy too. In short I am finding the more I give, the more I receive. The more I receive the more I can live a godly life. The more I live a godly life the more I find myself sharing and giving. Then the more I give…

There are plenty of other creeds and faiths shouting to be heard. This Pentecost I need to open my birthday present, not leave it in it’s box. I need to remember the power of God, stand up, be counted and let the love and power of the Spirit flow.

Happy Birthday!

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