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Thy Kingdom Come

I have been sharing Thy Kingdom Come posts on the church Facebook page but didn’t think to post it here! So I’m starting with today – Better late than never…

 

Monday, 29th May – #Pledge2Pray #Offer

The Rt. Rev. Griselda Delgado del Carpio
Bishop of Cuba

‘God loves a cheerful giver.’
Let us offer our whole selves and work for the purposes of God.

(Two Videos Below)

A short video from Bishop Griselda: https://vimeo.com/218623586

A short Thy Kingdom Come video: https://vimeo.com/217821068

Summer’s End

I am enjoying the warm and the wet of August. I am also soaking up the subtle changes in the air. The first whiffs of autumn that creep in, only half noticed. The weather is warm still, and there are still flowers in the garden. But the autumn fruits are ripe; the apple trees are laden with sweet fruit and the blackberries are enticing. August makes the passing of summer a pleasant thing. The turning year brings hope and each season has its joys. Without change there could be no growth, no fruit, no variety, no life. So change must be good no matter how much I might like to linger over a particular time or place.

I smell the spiritual changes in the air too. I see new people taking the first tentative steps of faith, and those established in the faith growing if love. I hear new ideas and wonder what will be next. Change in a church can be good and natural too. I find that in these rural churches health growth does not tend to come from dismissing the past and trying to start anew. No, healthy growth seems to come best when supported and nourished by the deep roots of faith established by those who have gone before. Growth in the country church seems to be more organic than for our more urban cousins. Growth may be less dramatic, but has the steady rightness of the flowers of summer growing into the rich fruits of autumn.

I look at my autumn churches and smile. I see growth, and I see ripening fruits. I know there is spiritual health and vitality in the English countryside, with exciting times to come. Just wait and see!

A poem from Vivienne Tuffnell:

Summer’s End

I have seen the stars fall
Piercing the clouds
With brief bright flames
White-hot and evanescent.
I have watched the moon rise
Pared to a mouse-nibbled cheese
By sunlit, lazy days
Of parched grass and airless nights.
I have felt the dew form
Heavier than rain, breaking
Drowned cobwebs with
Swollen crystal drops.
I have breathed the night wind
Laden with day-lost scents
Waiting only for the chill
Of dark descending.
I have heard the dip and splash
And beak-full calls
Of kingfisher, sweet surprise,
Where none were known to be.
And I have smelled Autumn air,
Fungal and fruitful fragrant
Amid leaf litter and windfalls

Imaginary Cages

Have you ever been somewhere where you feel completely out of place; the odd one out. It doesn’t happen to me too often in this country, but it does happen. I find it when I chat or say, ‘Hi’ to the young people on the rec. opposite my house. There is now very little hostility, but there was. I was seen as a threat, someone clearly about to tell them off for loitering or to blame them for some act of vandalism or littering. Also, they are on the rec. to get a little space from their parents who are my age or younger.

I have felt it in a bar where everyone else was black and I was the only white man there. I’ve even felt it in a pub at the other end of Norfolk. I don’t know whether any of those isolated places still exist but they did twenty odd years ago. I remember going into that village pub, and everything went quite, so quite you could hear a pin drop. No one spoke, and then every face turned round. They turned to look at the stranger, the foreigner who had invaded ‘their’ village and worse still had entered ‘their’ private pub. I went to the bar, still feeling all the eyes on my back. I tried to chat to a man on a stool next to me but he just nodded (a real victory!) before turning back to his own conversation. It was clear that I was different and not welcome. It was only my stubbornness, belligerence even, that made me order a very average beer. I drank it alone, in a ice cold circle of rejection, before I felt that honour was satisfied and I left. I later found those people to be more hospitable than they seemed that day, but that is another story.

As I said, it is rare for me to feel like an outsider in this country, particularly in Norfolk. Perhaps, it is because I’m a white, respectable man. It does though give me a tiny glimpse into the world of the foreigner. It makes me wonder about the black person, or the Asian person in this very white part of England. It also makes me wonder how someone would feel if they walked into a church for the first time. I’ve done that and had conversations stop and people turn round to see the stranger. Thankfully, I know what to do, I also know that people in church are likely to be warm and welcoming. I know to smile and say hello and chat about the service or the building. I know that just before a service I might be given a book without a word, assuming that I know what to do; assuming that I know about the warm unspoken welcome in the heart of the person giving me the book.

But, but what if I didn’t know about church? What if I was one of the majority in this country who have never willingly stepped into a church. Family weddings don’t count, then there is safety in numbers and you’re not likely to see the congregation, much less be outnumbered by them. Still, this person has wandered into church. Perhaps, it’s curiosity, or boredom on a wet Sunday on holiday. Perhaps, it’s in response to a vague inner prompting. Probably, a mix of lots of reasons. But in my imagination, there I am, entering a world that’s new to me. I have no idea what’s going to happen. Will these church-goers be hostile? Will they judge me for not being like them? What do I do with this book in my hands? Where do I sit? They don’t expect me to sing do they?! Maybe, I feel uncomfortable and alone. Perhaps I can escape now.

I think of that famous passage from Romans 10.14-15, “How can people have faith in the Lord and ask him to save them, if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear, unless someone tells them? And how can anyone tell them without being sent by the Lord? The Scriptures say it is a beautiful sight to see even the feet of someone coming to preach the good news.

How can they hear, unless someone tells them?” Yes, that’s true, but more important today is, “How can they hear, if they are not welcomed enough to stay?” or “How can people have faith, if they are never find out that faith is for them?”

I have found the churches here very welcoming. I’ve been impressed by the way people have gone out of their way to make a visitor feel at home. But let’s not get complacent. Let’s not take this welcome for granted. Also, let’s not overwhelm with our desperate need for, “new blood”. Still, I can honestly say that these 7 churches in this corner of Norfolk have a good foundation of welcome to build upon. Though I think we forget the immensity of the task that we have. Jesus’ task for us to share the wonderful news of God’s love with the people of this country.

This morning I read the sad story of a bear that paced up and down the twenty feet of its cage. When, five years later it was rescued, the bear continued to pace up and down those twenty feet, as if the cage was still there. It was. For him.

That is how so many people are when it comes to the freedom of faith. They have been pacing up and down in a life without their Creator for so long that they can’t see the freedom of the Spirit, right there for them to walk into. I don’t know how we undo the damage of being caged, physically or mentally but God does. It is Jesus’ job to set people free from mental cages.

My hope is that I, along with all church-people can welcome, and encourage – That we live a life of faith that is still very much in this world. My hope that as Jesus’ friends, we can wander in and out of imaginary cages, every time hoping that the Spirit will have opened a few eyes. Hoping that people will start to get the idea that any barriers between them and their loving God are not real.

My job, and the job of Christians everywhere, is to allow all people to join us in a world that’s more than twenty feet long.

Sheep & Wolves

Sheep and Wolves
  
  “Those of you who would happy be,
  Come along and follow me.
  If you want your highest bliss
  Do as I do, dress like this.
  Check your brain in at the door,
  You won’t need that any more.
  Hand your worldly goods to us;
  We know best, so why the fuss?
  Peace of mind it don’t come cheap,
  Now get in line with all the sheep!”

  Shepherd’s pie I hear them say;
  Tell those sheep to run away!
  Beware the wolves who dress like me,
  So alike it’s hard to see
  Who’d be your guardian and your God,
  Rule with kindness, not the rod.
  Think of this when wolves are here:
  The good shepherd inspires no fear.

Vivienne Tuffnell from ‘Hallowed Hollow’: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hallowed-Hollow-Vivienne-Tuffnell/dp/1544615779

Will you sit with me

There are times when words cannot help; when a person cannot take in those sounds of comfort that I want to offer. I have said this before, but sometimes all that can be done is hold a hand and let the storm of pain batter you. I know this, and thankfully God knows this too. A poem that may give you a feel for what I mean:

 

Will you hold my hand?

Will you hold my hand
As I sit in the darkness?
Will you sit with me,
Make darkness less lonely?
Will you give my hand
A gentle squeeze,
Warm my cold flesh
With warmer skin?

Please do not tell me
About a light I cannot see.
I will not believe you
And the dark will be denser
For the lies I think
You tell me then.
My eyes are wide open
And I am not blind.

Will you hear my words
As we sit the long night out
Without disputing my right
To voice my thoughts?
Will you let me speak
My soul’s story aloud
Without interrupting
With unneeded reassurance?

Just take my hand
Sit with me in silence
Let the darkness be dark
And wait with me.

Vivienne Tuffnell from ‘Hallowed Hollow’: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hallowed-Hollow-Vivienne-Tuffnell/dp/1544615779

Nehemiah for Today: 3 – Let’s Get On With It!

Yesterday the door bell went. At the door was a women I knew slightly by sight but no more. She was concerned. She didn’t know what to do and so she had turned up at my door. She wasn’t concerned about herself, or even about a friend or someone in her family. She was concerned about a man that she hardly knew. She was concerned because this man was homeless and sleeping rough in our little town. She wanted to help him but didn’t know what to do.

She asked about local organisations that could help. I told her about Foodbank and the little bit of help that is available locally but for more I told her that he would have to look to the city. Though even there, I know that the local authority and homeless charities are overwhelmed by the need. I know that the number of people living on the streets of Norwich has increased massively over the last couple of years.

She was helpless and I was helpless too. At least I was helpless to sweep in and sort all of his concerns for him (if he even wanted me to do that). I did though find out that local shopkeepers have been letting him have their good edible food that had gone out of date. I found out about another business who is letting him use their toilet facilities to wash each day. He is looking for work and I know that some are paying him to do gardening jobs.

I realised that some problems are too big for just me to sort, no matter how much I would like to! I also realised that I am not alone in wanting to help; to help this man but also to help more generally. I am part of a community and this man’s plight is not just my problem or his problem; this is a problem for all our my community in church and across my town.

This is what Nehemiah realised (see Nehemiah 5 at the end of this post). He realised that to get his nation back on its feet he needed to get everyone doing their part. He and his friends had done a lot already. With community help they had rebuild the walls, they were also buying back people from slavery and lending money to those with nothing. But her realised that there was another problem that was undoing all that he was trying to do. It was the well-off members of the Jewish community. They were lending to the poor too, but at huge rates of interest. The rich were lending, not to help, but to get even richer. So Nehemiah tackles them too, head on. He gets them to do their part too. He gets the whole community rich and poor behind this scheme to rebuild his nation. Then things start to really come together.

Nehemiah had started by listening hard to find out what the problem really was. He listened and then prayed. He prayed hard for four months, finding God’s solution to the problem. He recognised his own part in the problems and the part he could have in putting things right. He prayed and put his plans in place. He then used his influence as a senior government figure to get the resources that he needed to be able to make a difference. All of the time he worked as God’s servant. He sought to do what he knew God wanted of him and his people. That was where we stopped with Nehemiah 2 from last week.

Now moving to Nehemiah 5, we find the walls rebuilt but there are still problems in Jerusalem.

Again Nehemiah listened carefully to find out what the problem really was, and he found it; high interest loans given to the poor by the rich. He had obviously been praying and focusing on God because, despite being one of those rich Jews, he remembered that God had forbidden his people from lending with interest, particularly among themselves. He has remembered where Moses had instructed God’s people that, When you lend money, food, or anything else to another Israelite, you are not allowed to charge interest. …. if you charge other Israelites interest, the Lord your God will not let you be successful in the land you are about to take.” Deuteronomy 23.19-20

Nehemiah realised that there were still serious problems for his people. So he listened. He prayed. He listened to God through the Bible. Then he planned again. He planned by digging until he found the root cause of the problems. He was already acting charitably but he realised that his charity was only a sticking plaster and not a cure. He could have been overwhelmed by the problems but through prayer and God’s wisdom he was able to break the problems down and find something powerful that he could do. He was a rich nobleman, and spokesman of the King. So he, more than anyone else was in the right position to tackle the problem of the nobles lending with excessive interest.

This throws the problem of that homeless man back onto me. How can I (and my community) address his problem, and the similar problem of so many others? Is homelessness the main problem or just a symptom of deeper problems? Is there a link with the rise in drug use? Is there a link with the large number of struggling families? Is there a link with the number of children in the high school who are dreading having to be at home during the long summer holidays? But there is no point in saying all this, if all I do is moan. I know that moaning won’t do any good.

So, following Nehemiah, it’s back to prayer for me. Back to listening for the answers to questions like:

  1. What is God saying?

  2. How is the love of Jesus to be shown here?

  3. Where is the Spirit already at work?

I know that there is a real task of listening ahead. But whatever comes out in the end, I know that the help that comes will be beyond me. I will need the Father’s wisdom, Jesus’ love and the power of the Spirit every step of the way. I will also need lots of friends, from throughout my community. I know that charity alone is not going to be enough. I know that with the Spirit’s guidance the overwhelming mass of issues will settle. That one or two clear actions will be identified. I know that real good can be done, but only with God firmly in the driving seat.

I pray too that I may be fearless and creative, like Nehemiah. Above all I hope that I remember that I am not alone. God is already at work here in this town. I am not alone in wanting to help; to help this man but also to help more generally. I am part of a community and this man’s plight is not just my problem or his problem; this is a problem for all our my community in church and across my town. This is God’s problem too!

 

—–

Nehemiah 5.1-13

Some of the men and their wives complained about the Jews in power 2 and said, “We have large families, and it takes a lot of grain merely to keep them alive.”

3 Others said, “During the famine we even had to mortgage our fields, vineyards, and homes to them in order to buy grain.”

4 Then others said, “We had to borrow money from those in power to pay the government tax on our fields and vineyards. 5 We are Jews just as they are, and our children are as good as theirs. But we still have to sell our children as slaves, and some of our daughters have already been raped. We are completely helpless; our fields and vineyards have even been taken from us.”

6 When I heard their complaints and their charges, I became very angry. 7 So I thought it over and said to the leaders and officials, “How can you charge your own people interest?”

Then I called a public meeting and accused the leaders 8 by saying, “We have tried to buy back all of our people who were sold into exile. But here you are, selling more of them for us to buy back!” The officials and leaders did not say a word, because they knew this was true.

9 I continued, “What you have done is wrong! We must honor our God by the way we live, so the Gentiles can’t find fault with us. 10 My relatives, my friends, and I are also lending money and grain, but we must no longer demand payment in return. 11 Now give back the fields, vineyards, olive orchards, and houses you have taken and also the interest you have been paid.”

12 The leaders answered, “We will do whatever you say and return their property, without asking to be repaid.”

So I made the leaders promise in front of the priests to give back the property. 13 Then I emptied my pockets and said, “If you don’t keep your promise, that’s what God will do to you. He will empty out everything you own, even taking away your houses.”

The people answered, “We will keep our promise.” Then they praised the Lord and did as they had promised.

Nehemiah for Today: 2 – Plan and Act

Reading Nehemiah chapter two reminds me that I can’t neglect the plight of those around me. I’m reminded that my life is connected with the lives of all of the people around me. If those running the convenience shop don’t do well then we all suffer – where am I going to get that milk I’d forgotten? If the young people are neglected then there are more problems in the park and on the street. But more than that, I believe that the life of each person around me is valuable. Valuable not just because of what they can contribute, but valuable (full stop). That is what the Bible says to me. I see that in the first chapters of the Bible, where God creates all things and sees that they are ‘good’. I see it in the way that he sent Jesus for everyone, whether they were good or not. That’s why he spent so much time with the outcasts from society, the “tax collectors and sinners”.

So I know that the people around me are valuable. The young and the old. The men and the women, those with good jobs and those with none. Those who are respectable and those even the pigeons don’t respect.

As I learned last week from Nehemiah chapter one. Nehemiah turned to God first. Then he acted. Nehemiah realised that he could ask his friend the king for help. He used the connections that he had for the good of his people. That made me think. What about here and now? I then realised that I know quite a few people in my town and villages. I know people from the shops, schools and from the other churches. I know people with businesses. I know many of the local councillors. I know so many people who also want the best for this little bit of England and the best for their country.

I realise though that I am not yet ready to act. I will know when the time is right but it is not yet. I am still living in Nehemiah chapter one (see last week). I’m still listening, questioning and praying. But things are coming together. I sense that the creation of the Church Army Centre for Mission later this year will be part of this process. I don’t know what God has in mind or what he wants people to do. But I do know that he loves the people that I see around me and that he has a plan. I just want to make sure that I am ready to work with him to make it happen.

Before Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem he laid solid foundations. He got the king onside. He made sure that he had what he needed to rebuild his city. He then brought the people of Jerusalem together in a common vision. He didn’t though expect the king or anyone else to sort things out for him or the people of Jerusalem. He secured their help, then with his people, he got stuck in to the hard work (that’s in chapter three and onwards).

So I stop and wonder. My hands itch to get stuck in, but I hear, “Not yet”, loud and clear. I look at my villages and my town and wonder what God’s plans will look like for the people that I see. I wonder…?

Nehemiah for Today: 1 – Listen and Pray

I’ve been looking at the news again. I’ve also been looking around. There is so much that is good but there is definitely so much that is wrong, like the report that I heard last week that the residents in one in four care homes are being put at risk due to lack of trained staff on duty. I won’t go on, I don’t want to spread the gloom.

What I am going to do is invite you to join me on a journey with the Bible; with the rarely read Old Testament book of Nehemiah (First chapter copied below). Nehemiah’s story from thousands of years ago could have been written just for today. Nehemiah is a Jew in exile. His people have been defeated by the Babylonians and his home, Jerusalem, has been destroyed. He is now banished from home and living in Persia. That said, life isn’t bad for Nehemiah. He, along with other talented Jews, have been given important government jobs, and Nehemiah is cup-bearer to the king himself. Effectively he was a top civil servant. You’re probably wondering what on earth that has to do with today, but stay with me.

Like most of us, Nehemiah is comfortable and pretty well-off, while many of his countrymen (and women) are in trouble.

Over the next few weeks I will be looking at the first three chapters of Nehemiah’s story. This week it is chapter one that I’ve turned to. Nehemiah is in comfort but he hears that all is not so well for other Jews. He hears the rumours and he acts. He acts decisively, firstly by listening.

Yes, Nehemiah starts by listening. He took the time to really find out first hand what was happening. When he did, he found out about the suffering and disgrace of his people. When he heard this news he didn’t brush it all aside and move on. When Nehemiah heard this terrible news he let it into his heart and he wept. That has left me with questions.

How much to I care about the problems of my country?

Do I weep when I see someone homeless, or when I see drug deals happening?

I need to let the issues of the day into my heart and feel them as my God feels them.

Nehemiah continued to act decisively. Nehemiah knew that the problems he was facing were way beyond his power. So he prayed. He prayed deeply. He started by facing the problem head on. He then repents. He repents for his part in all the events that have led to the exile. He repents for himself and his family. He repents for his people and himself as part of his society. Repentance means ‘turning’. Nehemiah isn’t moaning, Nehemiah is turning round. He decides to live and act differently. This is Nehemiah choosing to live a better life. He is also seeking to be an example to his people to do the same. He is seeking to lead by example. This is what he knows is needed so he spends time in prayer, so that he can do it right!

Nehemiah wept and prayed for days before doing anything else. I was going to say, ‘before he acted’, but that is wrong, he had been doing things all along. He had ‘acted’ when he spent time to listen, and then he had ‘acted’ by searching out the people who really know what it was like to live in his home city, Jerusalem. Nehemiah had ‘acted’ when he spent days in prayer and in letting himself grieve for the suffering of his people. These acts, were essential for him to have the foundation before, ‘acting’ in a more obvious, outward way. When Nehemiah acts, it is with huge bravery and total commitment, but that is for the second chapter of Nehemiah and next Sunday.

So I’ve been reading Nehemiah’s story. I’ve been reading it because through it I’ve found God’s Spirit guiding me about what I should do. I see so many social problems and so many spiritual problems. Nehemiah saw them as the same thing, so perhaps I should do the same too. I need to repent of my part in the problems of this country. I am comfortable, I have all that I need and almost all that I could want. I have systems and people around me to look after me too. But so many people do not. I see young people with broken homes who can’t settle, whatever they do. They quickly find themselves with no qualifications, no job, and then no home. I know some of the problems in my society but I need to spend a little more time finding out first hand what is happening.

I also look at my church, me included, and I need to repent. I need to repent for not being all I could be as a Christian. I need to repent for my part in the decisions of the Church of England that have seen churches go from full to struggling, all in one lifetime. I need to repent for the well-meaning decisions that went wrong, even if I personally did not make those decisions. I enjoy the benefits of the Church of England as mine, so I must also accept it failures as my own too. Fair is fair, after all.

I then, like Nehemiah, need to start claiming God’s promises of blessing, strength and healing. Then in prayer I can learn to see what God is calling me to. Then talking to God, I can learn what he wants his people to do. Then and only then am I ready to act. Like Nehemiah, once the course of action is clear I can pray, “Our Lord, I am praying for your servants—those you rescued by your great strength and mighty power. Please answer my prayer and the prayer of your other servants who gladly honour your name. When I serve the king his wine today, make him pleased with me and have him do what I ask.” (Nehemiah 1.10-11)

I will then be ready to pray for God to bless my actions and those of the people around me.

More next week…

Nehemiah 1:

I am Nehemiah son of Hacaliah, and in this book I tell what I have done.

During the month of Chislev in the twentieth year that Artaxerxes ruled Persia, I was in his fortress city of Susa, 2 when my brother Hanani came with some men from Judah. So I asked them about the Jews who had escaped from being captives in Babylonia. I also asked them about the city of Jerusalem.

3 They told me, “Those captives who have come back are having all kinds of troubles. They are terribly disgraced, Jerusalem’s walls are broken down, and its gates have been burned.”

4 When I heard this, I sat down and cried. Then for several days, I mourned; I went without eating to show my sorrow, and I prayed:

5 Lord God of heaven, you are great and fearsome. And you faithfully keep your promises to everyone who loves you and obeys your commands. 6 I am your servant, so please have mercy on me and answer the prayer that I make day and night for these people of Israel who serve you. I, my family, and the rest of your people have sinned 7 by choosing to disobey you and the laws and teachings you gave to your servant Moses.

8 Please remember the promise you made to Moses. You told him that if we were unfaithful, you would scatter us among foreign nations. 9 But you also said that no matter how far away we were, we could turn to you and start obeying your laws. Then you would bring us back to the place where you have chosen to be worshiped.

10 Our Lord, I am praying for your servants—those you rescued by your great strength and mighty power. 11 Please answer my prayer and the prayer of your other servants who gladly honor your name. When I serve the king his wine today, make him pleased with me and have him do what I ask.

 

 

Welcome

When I came to this place I was welcomed here. I mean really welcomed. So much so that I, and my family, soon felt very much at home. Harleston and the surrounding villages do seem to be welcoming places. That made me think about Jesus’ words in Matthew 10.40-end and especially verse 40: “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me. And anyone who welcomes me also welcomes the one who sent me.”

Wow, what a privilege. By welcoming me as Jesus follower, the people here were welcoming Jesus, and God the Father too. There welcome became a blessing. Then I thought some more about the idea of welcoming. I thought and realised that the love and generosity that allows people to welcome others, comes from the generosity of God. The God who welcomes all of us to him, no matter who we are. He welcomed me when I hated even the thought of God. He welcomes the good and the bad, the rich and the poor, the successful and the failure, the respectable and the outcast. No matter who we are Jesus has offered an invitation to us. I first accepted that invitation and first experienced God’s welcome many years ago. But I can honestly say that that welcome is as fresh now as it was decades ago.

‘Welcome’, is central to the message of Jesus, that is why I am so pleased when I see welcoming churches. I am coming to realise that if the people and the buildings are welcoming, then those who come in cannot help but feel that the kingdom of God is close to them.

Thinking of that welcome to all reminded me of a song that now won’t leave my head. The song is ‘Vagabonds’ by Stuart Townend. I’ve reproduced the words below with the online link from Stuart’s website. But don’t just read them, follow the Youtube link at the end, listen and watch too.

Let the welcome go out!

 

Youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s27D7M8biuI

Vagabonds

Come, all you vagabonds,
Come all you ‘don’t belongs’
Winners and losers,
Come, people like me.
Come all you travellers
Tired from the journey,
Come wait a while, stay a while,
Welcomed you’ll be.

Come all you questioners
Looking for answers,
And searching for reasons
And sense in it all;
Come all you fallen,
And come all you broken,
Find strength for your body
And food for your soul.

Come to the feast,
There is room at the table.
Come let us meet in this place.
With the King of all kindness
Who welcomes us in,
With the wonder of love,
And the power of grace.
The wonder of the love,
And the power of grace.

Come those who worry
‘Bout houses and money,
And all those who don’t have
A care in the world;
From every station
And orientation,
The helpless, the hopeless,
The young and the old.

Come all believers
And dreamers and schemers,
And come all you restless
Just searching for home;
Movers and shakers
And givers and takers,
The happy, the sad
And the lost and alone.

Come self-sufficient
With wearied ambition,
And come those who feel
At the end of the road.
Fiery debaters
And religion haters,
Accusers, abusers,
The hurt and ignored.

Stuart Townend, Mark Edwards & Phil Baggaley Copyright © 2011 Thankyou Music (Adm. by CapitolCMGPublishing.com excl. UK & Europe, adm. by Integrity Music, part of the David C Cook family, songs@integritymusic.com)

I’ve been reading the news again; always a dangerous thing to do!

I’ve been reading the news again; always a dangerous thing to do!

I read about Camden Council urging people to evacuate 5 blocks of flats in London, due to urgent fire concerns. I read of chaos at the heart of government and disarray in our Brexit negotiations. I read about drugs being freely available on our streets, even here in Harleston. I read those things and I just wanted to weep for the world, for the people, the old, and the young, and everyone in between. I looked again at the tiny footnotes of the news, and I read of a huge increase in homelessness among young people. I’ve seen it myself in Norwich. I know of a real increase in the use of Foodbanks.

I read all that news, then these words about Jesus came back to me, “When he saw the crowds, he felt sorry for them. They were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9.36 CEV) I smiled a sad smile and thought, “Some things never change.” Trapped by those thoughts, I felt hope draining away.

Then I remembered that that was not where the story ended. Jesus didn’t just feel sorry for the people of his day. He saw the need and acted. So what about now? This is huge but where to start? Perhaps where God started, God saw the need, got involved, and began by calling his people to arms. Not arms for a physical war, but to arms for a war against all that has corrupted this good world. That is where John the Baptist comes in. John was the one sent by God to prepare the way, to get people ready for Jesus and God’s plan that changed everything. The plan that killed the power of death. A plan that too many people seem to have forgotten or are just not interested in.

So how do I prepare the way for God’s work now? How do I as a minister help my fellow Christians to prepare the way for the Lord to work here and now? I could give simple answers but that didn’t seem right or worthy of the question. So I stopped and prayed. As I waited, this phrase came back to me, “the child grew and became strong in spirit.” (Luke 1.80 NIV) This the description of John the Baptist growing up.

I thought about those words, “the child grew and became strong in spirit” and thought I’ve grown enough thank you! I’m as tall as I am going to be, and a little wider than I would like, so no more growing would be good. But my faith could grow. My love could grow. I have some growing in the Spirit yet before I am anything like Christlike; like Jesus my role model. So before I dash out, I need perhaps to spend some time with God, letting him work on me so I can indeed grow up. Then perhaps I can become truly “strong in spirit”, or even better, “strong in the Spirit.”

So, I’ve acted and, over the next few weeks, I’ve cleared a couple of days just to stop and pray; to be with God. I know that God is working and I really want to be part of it. That is why I’m letting Jesus get me ready. I need to see the need more clearly. I also need to be more in tune with God.

Just the thought of spending a little time, quiet with God, has lifted me. I can now move on from the depressing news. I can start to the hope again. I read of despair among young people, I also read that the churches are doing so much to help. I read of 1 in 6 young people in England would now describe themselves as Christians. I read of the work of Christians (and others) helping the homeless and those with no food.

Lifted by the Spirit, I remembered my last PCC (church council) meeting. It was in one of my smaller village churches, but all sorts was happening and growing: We realised that we now had a small but growing young families church, we had reached out into the local pub, and we were actively reviewing our worship with mission in mind. There are interviews for our new Church Army Centre for Mission in just over a week’s time. The different ,flavours, of church in this area are praying together and working together (e.g. in the schools).

There is hope, God has a plan of action for this place, the plan is starting to be revealed. Now is the time for me to grow and become strong in the Spirit. This is the time to open my eyes to what God is doing and is about to do. This is a time for all Jesus’ people to take heart, and be ready.

I started out just reading the news and seeing the need. But now I also see the hope. I see hope in the schools here, I see hope in the town and villages, I see hope in businesses, I see hope in the churches, I even see hope in me. I think of the Norfolk Show and the great outreach that I’ll be part of next week, and I get excited.

All of that is true. There is real hope and I get impatient, I want it all and I want it now! Perhaps a sign that I’m still a spiritual toddler who needs to grow up. So I read about John the Baptist again. I read and I noticed something new. I noticed that the promise came even before John was born. At his birth people asked, “‘What then is this child going to be?’” (Luke 1.66 NIV) Then they needed to wait.

I remember being in a swimming competition as a child. I knew that I could win but I was so excited and eager that I kept jumping the gun. So much is happening here. I can feel the spiritual excitement building. But I too need to wait. I need to be ready but not jump the gun. I need to have the patience to wait for God’s time, not mine.

Then I remembered that Jesus didn’t just feel sorry for the people of his day. He saw the need and acted. Perhaps God has already started. Perhaps He has seen our need, got involved, and began by calling His people to arms. Not arms for a physical war, but to arms for a war against all that has corrupted this good world. Perhaps God is preparing me and you; calling us to get ready for Jesus and God’s plan that changed everything.

I need to grow up a little more.

So Lord grant me patience, and make it quick!

Finsbury Park mosque attack: Statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury

I have been considering what to say after the attack outside Finsbury Park mosque in London. After reflection I do not wish to add to the excellent statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby:

The freedom to worship without fear is a right we cherish as a nation and was won at great human cost over many years. The appalling attack on Muslims in Finsbury Park is an attack on us all and on the culture and values of our country. At a time when we are all grieving the loss of so many precious people in London and Manchester, this brutal attack can only compound the trauma. Violence only begets more violence – it serves only the interests of those who would terrorise others. This wanton and cruel act can produce no good and cannot be justified or excused. In exactly the same way as previous recent attacks it is a crime against God and against humanity.