Pete's Blog

The importance of investing in our spiritual roots- part 1 (posted 25.11.20)

I was reading a book by Peter Scazzero called the “Emotionally Healthy leader” (see cover above) at a recent retreat. The strap-line refers not only to leaders, but all Christians. Making sure our roots remain strong, healthy and growing enables us to grow spiritually. In difficult times like this strong, healthy and growing roots mean a strong stable and healthy tree that can weather the storms of life (and the pandemic).

All of us are being shaken by this pandemic. All of us are facing different challenges. Some of us are being shaken to our core, shaken to our roots. I see and hear some people saying things they might not normally say and acting out of character. Those with good self-awareness realise this, some don’t.

Want to know how to keep all your leaves on and remain being fruitful for the Lord despite the wind, rain and gales (or coronavirus)? Make sure your roots remain strong, healthy and growing. How do we do that? We do that by being aware of our root system, feeding and watering it so it remains healthy. We do that by trusting in the Lord. Last Sunday we looked at investing in the various spiritual disciples as the means of doing this. Roger Foster’s book “Celebration of Discipline” is the seminal book on this and here are his suggested spiritual disciplines.

 

 

Jeremiah 17:7-8 says this: “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” (NIV)

 

The lesson we can learn is that God’s desire is for us all to be strong healthy trees, without fear in times of drought (or pandemic) and always bearing fruit. As our loving Father in heaven God is with us, God is for us! Let’s trust him, pray, ask the Holy Spirit to fill us and choose to invest in our spiritual root system so that God’s desire is worked out in our lives!

 



Would Abraham Lincoln turn in his grave? (posted 05.06.20)

Steph and I have just watched the film “Lincoln,” a comprehensive portrayal of the President during the debate over passing the 13th amendment to abolish slavery and end the American civil war. It portray one man’s fight (amongst many) for the rights of others, and the rights of the disadvantaged in society.

As we know, passing the 13th amendment did not end the fight for equality. Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968 after his “I have a dream” speech. Watching the news from the “United” States of America in recent days I have asked myself the question how far has America moved forward? Would Abraham Lincoln turn in his grave?

On 25th May George Floyd, 46, was arrested by police outside a shop in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Footage of the arrest on 25 May shows a white police officer, kneeling on Mr Floyd's neck while he was pinned to the floor and subsequently died. After initial protests and riots in Minnesota, protests spread to 75 American cities. Some of these have involved looting and physical violence.

George Floyd’s arresting police officer has now been arrested himself, facing charges of second-degree murder while the other three officers, previously uncharged, face counts of aiding and abetting murder.

We know that racism is as old as the word itself and there are plenty of examples in Scripture. Black lives matters, indeed all lives matter. As the American pledge of allegiance recognises America is deemed to be “one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Yet some lives matter more than others.

There are times where righteous anger is appropriate, although responding to violence with violence, or revenge, is never Jesus’ way. As a church, as the body of Christ, we are called to speak out against oppression and injustice, to campaign for just causes, but also to speak out about the power of love and forgiveness.

This was seen most clearly in another recent case where a Dallas police officer shot a young black American man in his own home. In the court case the deceased’s younger brother, with tears, gave forgiveness to the officer who had killed his brother. You can watch the moving youtube clip by clicking on the link below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Ylc7jpE_MU

That young man modelled a godly approach to issue of racism and violence.  His response to the sinner is redemptive, as Jesus’ response to sinners is redemptive; read about his conversation with the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11.

We must never fail to speak out against prejudice and injustice; but righteous anger must also be tempered with compassion, love and forgiveness.

(Here’s a link to a recent BBC news article that may be of interest).

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-52912238



Pentecost Reflections (posted 04.06.20)

 

We celebrated Pentecost last week looking at John 20:19-23. One thing of interest was a sense that the Holy Spirit can come across as quite “extrovert” in the classic Acts 2:1-4 “tongues of fire” passage, whereas the Holy Spirit can come across as quite “introvert” in other passage like the “still small voice “ passage from 1 Kings 19:11-13.

There are many ways we can describe ourselves as human beings too, like the Myers Briggs test which has 16 ways of being “normal” and I remember also doing tests like Firo B. The distinction between extroverts and introverts is a good basic definition; the difference between those of us who mostly gain our energy from being with other people, or on our own.

However we must remember that the Holy Spirit is neither extrovert or introvert. There is only one Holy Spirit, although the Spirit does indeed work in different ways at different times. Sometimes the Spirit is a powerful wind, or fire, sometimes very noisy and obtrusive. Sometimes the Spirit is a gentle whisper or inclination, a still small voice. But there isn’t a Holy Spirit for introverts and a Holy Spirit for extroverts. Nor is there a Holy Spirit we are “comfortable” with. God is who God is, “I am who I am,” the Spirit moves as the Spirit decides to move, although we can block him if we want.

The question all Christians need to ask is are we really open to the fullness of God in our lives? Are we really open to the Holy Spirit, or only what we want/like, or what we are comfortable with?



The Problem of Pain (posted 13.05.20)

For the last couple of months our country has been struggling to adjust and adapt to a new way of living. In this we have all focussed mainly on practicalities, but a few people have questioned why we are going through this. Conversations I have had had with neighbours etc have seen comments like: “It’s mother nature’s revenge...it’s evolution...it’s just random life...it’s a deliberate plan (conspiracy theory)”

Not many have questioned whether God is involved in any way shape or form. Removing God from the equation is like saying that our lives are victims of chance and circumstance; removing God removes real hope. Amongst Christians, I have similarly not heard much questioning of where God is in this, most of us seem to recognise there are no easy answers and are simply keeping our heads down, trusting God and waiting for C-19 to go away.

How much can we question? How much should we question? On the one hand Job learns not to question God, that the bigger questions are too big for him to know, or even deserve an answer (Job 42:3-4). On the other hand we are called to seek the Lord in all that we do and the Spirit that lives within us is the “Spirit of Truth.” So what is the “truth” behind what is going on now in our world? Are we simply to shrug our shoulders like Pilate and say “what is truth?”

One thing’s for sure. In the spiritual life we only understand what God has revealed to us. He has revealed quite a lot, through “general revelation” like creation and through “special revelation” like scripture and his son Jesus. We know that scripture reveals the coming of the Kingdom in its fullness, but also that there will be all kinds of calamities in the “end times” before that happens. So how are we to interpret these times? I’m not going to give any definitive answers because there are none. However it is good to reflect on these questions so that we can have intelligent conversations with those who are not following Jesus.  

“How can a loving God allow so much suffering from Coronavirus?” is a good question. The problem of pain has been tackled many times in the life of the Christian church and probably the “seminal” work on this is C.S. Lewis’s “The Problem of Pain.” More recently John Lennox has written an excellent short booklet “Where is God in a Coronavirus World?” which covers the same areas. So if God is all loving why has he allowed C-19? We have two main possibilities.

It is not God’s plan or God’s will, but a result of living in a fallen world.

Our start point is that we live in a fallen world, where creation does not work the way God intended and humanity certainly doesn’t operate the way God intended.  Right at the start of Genesis as Adam & Eve are thrown out of the garden God notes that one consequence of their disobedience is that the “ground (creation) will be cursed” (Genesis 3:17).

Romans then talks about how creation remains “groaning” as it waits for the kingdom of God to come in its fullness. Romans 8:21 promises that one day “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay.” Coronavirus is part of this “bondage to decay” that infects our world. Lennox calls Coronavirus a “natural evil.”

We are called to fight against evil, whether it is natural or overtly demonic. There is a genuine debate over whether a “natural” virus can be described as “evil,” but we do know that it’s effects; illness, suffering, death, mourning and grieving, are not part of God’s design for this planet, or part of God’s kingdom where there is no sickness, death or mourning (Rev 21:3).  As such we should be praying against this disease and the misery it causes.

It is God’s plan to shake the nations and get humanity to question what it puts it’s faith and trust in.

Christianity may be the largest growing faith in the world, but there are large parts of the world that follow other gods, or have turned their back on all gods. Many are questioning whether this is God’s wake up call; God’s way of getting us to question what we put our faith and trust in.

Whether C-19 is God’s will or not, he has certainly allowed this plague to infect our planet and it certainly gets humanity asking what we put our faith and trust in. Will our jobs save us? Our money? Our position or power? We may be able to minimise the risk of getting C-19, but we are powerless to 100% protect ourselves from getting it.

These events point us back to the reason God created humanity in the first place, to be in relationship with Him and each other. Relationships are the most important thing in life, not things. As an increasing number of people are googling “prayer” and “God” at the moment, we should be praying that they find Him.

Conclusion

So we may ask the question where is God in all of this? Which of the above is the best understanding? My conclusion is that there is no easy answer and only God knows; “who has known the mind of the Lord?” (Romans 11:34).  

Coronavirus is so called because it visibly resembles a crown (“corona” in latin). Crowns are symbols of power and authority, which this certainly appears to have over our world at this time. It contrasts with the crown of thorns Jesus wore, a crown that appears to have no power and no authority.

But let’s remember where the real power and authority lie. Jesus was raised from the dead, he beat the power of sin, death and evil. What we do know is that whatever God’s plans and purposes are, they cannot be thwarted by Coronavirus, or anything else. We also know that God knows what suffering is, Jesus suffered for us, and He is with us. As John Lennox says:

“A Christian is not a person who has solved the problem of suffering, but one who has come to love and trust the God who suffered for them.” AMEN!



Powerless or Powerful? (posted 21.04.20)
When we recently celebrated Easter we were reminded of the awesome power God displayed in raising his Son from the dead. In the ministry of Jesus we see also the awesome power of God displayed in the all kinds of signs and wonders inc. healing. However as God’s children, we look at the world around us, especially the spread of Coronavirus and we may feel powerless. We know God is powerful, but we don’t feel powerful to make a difference in such global issues .


We have had a month to get used to social distancing/lockdown, a month to get used to the “new world order,” a month to come to terms with the shock of what is happening to our world. We started with a “baton down the hatches” mentality a month ago; lock-down is precisely that, a defensive strategy to avoid the disease and stay safe. That is right and must continue; but spiritually we also need to be on the offensive.


With the continuing global spread of Coronavirus, we are looking at an increasing number of UK deaths; reaching 18,000 in the UK (inc. care homes and deaths in the community). We should not be tolerating the untold misery and suffering this is causing; physically, financially, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. Jesus calls us to seek his Kingdom and his righteousness first, before anything else (Mat 6:33 ) and God's kingdom is one where there is no sickness, death or mourning (Rev 21:3). 


We know that in the fallen world we live in sickness and disease is prevalent, and that creation is groaning as it waits for the kingdom of God to come in its fullness. Romans 8:21 says that one day “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay...” Coronavirus in part of this “bondage to decay” that infects our world against God’s plan of restoration, recreation and redemption.


Coronavirus is happening, it is real, it is here so what are we doing about it? We need to continue to love others, encourage others, support others. But we also need to fight this plague spiritually. We not powerless, we are powerful. In Ephesians 1:18-20 Paul prays that the church in Ephesus, and us, will know the:  “incomparably great power for those who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead...” There is no power greater than this. We have that same power living within us though the Holy Spirit. We need to start fighting Covid-19 spiritually with the weapons that God has given us; namely prayer and intercession, using the sword of the Spirit i.e. God’s word.


God’s word tells us in James 5:13-16 that the prayers of a righteous person are powerful. We may not feel righteous but we are! We have what theologians call “imputed righteousness.” That means that we have the righteousness of Christ, though our faith in Christ. And if we have the righteousness of Christ, our prayers can be powerful.


Paul encourages Timothy that God has not given us a Spirit of fear or timidity, but of power.  As mentioned above, Paul encouraged the church in Ephesus, and us, to know God’s “incomparably great power for those who believe.” Indeed in Luke 9:1Jesus gives his authority and power to the disciples to go preach the kingdom, drive out demons and yes you’ve guessed it, “heal all diseases.”


So let’s attack Coronavirus and its effects by praying around the following:
-That God will pour out his spirit on our world and cleanse it from this disease.
-That God will heal those who are infected, sick and dying from Covid-19.
-That as our world is shaken and we question what we out our faith and trust in, that there will be a turning back to the one true God.
-That the kingdom of light, the kingdom of God, will roll back the powers of darkness, the works of the enemy, he has devoured too many already.
-By declaring the truths of scripture against the power of sickness, disease and death. These were beaten by the resurrection of Jesus that first Easter day.


These may be big prayers and declarations, but we have a big God. Jesus is Lord of creation, Jesus has authority over creation and he has authority over Covid-19. We are now the body of Christ and he gives us his authority to pray through the Holy Spirit for the advancement of the kingdom and for healing, for both individuals and for creation. So let’s get praying!



Reaching Out to Others (posted 13.04.20)
For most of us, we are spending more time at home than normally. How do we stay connected? We are all using the internet more, the phone more, Zoom more! I have worked hard, with others, to make sure that as a community of God’s people we stay well connected, so that we can continue to love one another, support, encourage and pray for one another. But how are we connecting with those who do not believe? Family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, most of whom we are not physically meeting any more?


On Easter Sunday one of the mini-sermons was on Mathew 28:16-20, remembering our Great Commission, to go and make disciples of all peoples; this still applies, even in lockdown. As Jesus says in Mat 5:14-16:
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”


So what does that look like now? One of the great things we have seen in recent weeks is a massive increase in local connection, especially via social media, and those who are young, and/or fit and well volunteering to get food/do odd jobs for those social isolating, or shielding. As Christians there are still lots of things that we can do that help us connect and continue to be a good witness, to be salt and light in dark times e.g. it has been great to see people like Eilidh doing her daily “stay strong sing along” to cheer up her street!


So some suggestions how we may follow the command of Jesus in Mathew 28 in these weird times and circumstances:
-Getting in touch with folk for a catch up on the phone or by Zoom, Skype of Facetime.
-Set up a street Whatsapp group to cheer people up and post encouraging words.
-making an effort to chat to neighbours over the garden hedge or fence (if you have one).
-leaving a chocolate on neighbours doorsteps with an encouraging card.
-Specifically list those you know are elderly and living alone, or vulnerable for other reasons, and contact them to see how they are doing. Possibly help put them  touch with people who can help if help is needed.
-Purchase some prayer cards on line and drop round to neighbours, or use the image below to write a short prayer on the back for your street (contact me if you want the original image).
-If you are young and/or fit and well you may want to offer to volunteer at a local foodbank, homeless charity or other local volunteering service.
If you have any encouraging stories of how you are connecting with your neighbours, sharing the love of Jesus in practical ways, or specifically pointing people to the hope they have in Jesus, please let me know and we can share on Sundays.

 



Coronavirus - May it “Passover” us: posted (07/04/20)


As we enter Holy week looking forward to Easter Sunday, we also remember that Thursday is the first day of Passover. A few weeks back we explored what a Passover meal looks like for Jewish families and we recalled the central part of Passover; remembrance of what God did for his people in Egypt. You’ll recall that the people of God were slaves in Egypt and Pharaoh would not let the Israelites go into the desert to worship/make sacrifices. Pharaoh’s heart was hard, a series of disastrous plagues were not enough to soften his heart or change his mind.


Finally a plague was promised that would take the life of firstborn Egyptians and their animals; but God encouraged his people that they would be protected. He commanded his people in Exodus 12:7 to sacrifice a lamb and paint some of its blood on the side and top of the door frames so that God would pass over them. The Passover story has lots of resonance for Easter, but today I want to focus on the central element from Exodus 12:12-13:


“...I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn-both men and animals and I will bring judgement on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on your houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will Passover you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.”


This is not the place to speculate why God has allowed Coronavirus to plague our current world, but it is clear that this shaking of our norms and our securities gets all of us asking in what (or whom)we put our faith and trust. As the plagues came to Egypt, God’s people put their faith and trust in God. As God’s people in the here and now we are also called to put our faith and trust in God and to pray.


There are so many things to pray for around Coronavirus and so many different ways to pray e.g. we need to pray both defensively and offensively. For today, I encourage us to pray defensively. As Coronavirus spreads in our country and the number of deaths double every three days none of us are immune from catching Coronavirus, as our Prime Minister has found out. We all live in this fallen world and Christians are not automatically protected from illness, suffering and death; which is why we need to pray! To pray for God’s protection on us and our loved ones, for God’s protection on our nation, for healing for those have been infected, haling for our nation.


We can pray like the Jewish people in Egypt, that this virus passes over our houses where we are all in lockdown and some are social isolating. The Jewish people were commanded to paint the blood of the sacrificial lamb on their doorframes; for us wine is used in communion to represent the blood of Jesus as our sacrificial lamb. We may want to consider marking our houses with wine in this way, as a symbolic prophetic act, a sign that we belong to Him. We can pray that Coronavirus “passes over” our houses. And what of our non-Christian friends, families and neighbours? We can pray that God will show mercy, compassion and protection on them. Here are some prayers as examples you may wish to use.


Prayer for God’s people
“Father God we thank you that you have called us, chosen us, loved us, given your own life for us through your Son. Father God thank you that you have called your people to be light and salt in the world, making disciples of all peoples and nations. As the Coronavirus grips our own nation we pray that this would  pass over us, our families and the places where we live.  May this “Passover” us so that we can continue to worship you, praise you and serve you. Please protect us because the harvest is plenty but the workers are few. Please protect us that that we can love others, serve others and encourage others in these challenging times. AMEN”

 

Prayer for others
“Father God we pray in these times that many people will question what’s really important in life and what they put their faith and trust in. We pray that many will realise that only in you can we find true love, true freedom, true security. We pray for those who do not put their faith in trust in you; Father have mercy and compassion on them. Protect our nation and heal our land. We pray that you will reveal more of yourself to them in this crisis so that they may turn to you and find true love, true freedom and true security. AMEN”



Psalm 23: Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death....(posted 31st March)

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pN4tPkX0MG0   Worship Song by Stuart Townend to reflect on with this blog.

 

I'm reading through the Psalms at the moment. They are particularly relevant for this time, lots of laments at struggles/challenges yet looking to God for strength and salvation at many levels.

Some lines in Psalm 23 stood out to me today:

 

"The Lord is my shepherd" - regardless of what wolfs are at the gates of the sheep enclosure, regardless of what diseases plague the sheep, the shepherd remains looking after them and Jesus look after us.

 

"though I walk through the valley of the shadow death" - need no elaboration at this time!

 

"I will fear no evil" - We are people of faith, not fear. Our eternal destiny is secure, God's plans and purposes cannot be thwarted, Jesus has beaten the power of sin, death and evil on the cross.

 

"for you are with me" Jesus is called "Emmanuel," God with us. He was with us physically, but he remains with us spiritually through the presence of his Holy Spirit. He really is with us in this!

 

"you anoint my head with oil...my cup overflows..." Even though David feels he is the valley of the shadow of death, he recognises that God has blessed him in his life and that God still desires to bless him. Where the Kingdom comes we see "the year of the Lord's favour" and we are called to pray for the peace, prosperity and God's "favour" for the places God has called us to.

 

"he makes me lie down in green pastures, he restores my soul."- we may not all be able to get out to green pastures at the moment, but Coronavirus is a temporary thing (we just don't know how long). The time will come again where we can physically, as well as spiritually, lie down in green pastures beside quiet waters.

 

Wherever we are today, whether we can go out for walks or not, God is our shepherd, he wants to restore our souls. Let's look to him for this when we need it.

 




Faith v fear: Further Reflections (28/03/20)

 

As we all get used to this strange new world it will affect all of us differently. Some of us may be strong in faith, some of us may not and I touched on this in a blog a week or so ago. But it’s clear that many are fearful for themselves, their loved ones and friends. Conversations I am having are often around concern for elderly parents, concern for the families of NHS workers who are busy serving our country and not self-isolating like the rest of us.

 

We all like to think we are in control of our lives, relying on our income, our savings, our pensions. Our culture is one where we are taught to be independent, self-determining and self-reliant. We all like to think that we have a “right” to live at least 70 years, and probably 80. However as Christians, we know that ultimately we are not in control of our lives or our future, that every day given by God is a gift not to be wasted. Only God is in control of our lives; good job that we know His love, his promises and the hope that brings. But this does not make us immune from worry and anxiety.

 

So what does it look like to be people of faith and not fear at this time? It’s as much about reminding ourselves who we are despite our circumstances. Having faith and trust in Jesus, we have been adopted into God’s family - we are God’s children, dearly loved and cherished. We may be in the world, but we are not of it. We are citizens of heaven, where our name is written in the book of life and where there is a mansion with a room with our name on it. Through our faith in Jesus our eternal future is secure. We can forget where we live; if we follow the teachings of Jesus in all that we do we live in an old, strong, stone built house built on the firm foundations; foundations strong enough to take any storm or virus. At the moment we may feel like we live in cheap modern house built on sand- but that is not where we live if we follow Jesus.

 

At my recent retreat with friends from London Bible College we felt God speak over us that we would be people who lived on the mountain-tops, not in the valleys. We all want mountain top experiences in life, we don’t want to walk though the valley of the shadow of death. However God was not speaking to us of living on the mountaintops so that we could feel good about ourselves, but so that we could gain right perspective, that we could see things as He sees them.

 

When we remind ourselves of, and experience God’s love, it is easier for us to cope with life’s challenges. As 1 John 4:18 says “There is no fear in love. Perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” When we remember our identity, when we see life’s challenges from God’s perspective we can deal with life’s challenges so much better. It’s then easier to be people of faith not fear.

 

In the next few weeks on my blog I’ll be exploring more what is going on spiritually and how we engage with those who do put their faith and trust in Jesus. I’ll be exploring how we cope with pain and loss should it come to our door.

We need to hold fast to God at this time. Hold on to His love for us, hold on to His word that feeds us, hold on to His Spirit that empowers us. As Paul says to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline.”

* That kind of faith prays for others not just ourselves.

* That kind of faith attacks this pestilence through the weapons of prayer wielding the sword of the Spirit, not seeking to spiritually withdraw.

* That kind of faith does not accept social isolation, but lives with spatial isolation whilst seeking to connect with others in different ways.

* That kind of faith does not say “God save me from this!” but “God what are you asking of me in this?”

 

That might not be where you are right now, and that’s OK. Remember that Jesus said that even the faith of a mustard seed can move mountains. Remember the words of Romans 8:38 that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. With right perspective, we can approach the next few difficult months knowing that God, Emmanuel, is with us.

 




 

 CORONOVIRUS: NOTHING NEW (26/03/20)
We hear in the press that this is the biggest threat and challenge we have faced since the second world war. This may be true, but we forget that the church and God's people have faced such challenges before.

At school we will all have learnt about the "black death," the bubonic plague that swept across Europe in 1347-1351. At the time, Martin Luther, one of the "fathers" of the Reformation and the birth of the Protestant church (that includes us Baptists) had this to say:




 

CORONOVIRUS: SOME REFLECTIONS (17/03/20)

As we all know we live in uncertain times. How far will this go? How many people will be affected? How many people will die? Will I die?

Coronavirus raises difficult questions for all of us. Most of us (me included) have been struggling to even keep up with the change of events, the exponential growth of cases world-wide and now the growth of case in the UK.  So far there have been no cases on Northumberland, but  I wonder how long that will remain the case. As we struggle to come to terms with this ever changing picture we must ask ourselves what is going on? How should we respond?  I have some reflections that I hope are helpful for us as we grapple with this awful virus.

WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?

This is not the place for a long theological discussion, but suffice it to say we live in a fallen world that does not operate as God designed/intended. In a fallen world things go wrong, there is sickness, disease and death. As Christians we are not protected from this - we may not be “of the world” but we are “in the world.”

FEAR /FAITH

Our country is understandably experiencing worry and anxiety, and some are living with extremes of fear and panic, as seen in the empty shelves of toilet rolls and painkillers. As people of faith, does our faith protect us from feeling fearful? It’s a normal human reaction to be worried and anxious about things and faith does prevent that; but faith does mean there’s a bigger picture, a different perspective. There is bigger spiritual reality than what we see in front of us. God’s plans and purposes from the past, present and future remain unchanged. Coronavirus does not knock God off course, does not change the plans he has and is working out. The great “I am,” the Alpha and Omega, is bigger than Coronavirus.

If we put our faith and trust in God, we put our faith and trust in the only  person who is faithful and trustworthy. God remains sovereign. Does that mean that we will all be protected? No. But it does mean that God remains the one who is in charge. When we say Jesus is Lord we submit our lives to God, they are no longer our own property. Job learns this lesson in the Old Testament; he wisely ignores his wife’s encouragement to curse God and despite some understandable winging and moaning, chooses to submit to God.

Worry is understandable but doesn’t actually achieve anything. As Jesus says in Mat 6:25-34:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear..... Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?......Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

So we follow Coronavirus one day at a time. If we put our faith and trust in God it becomes easier to cope with the uncertainty, the worry, the fear. As Jesus says in John 14:27:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

WHERE IS THE HOPE?

Our media is full of doom and gloom , and very little hope. But as Christians we are a people of hope. How can we be hopeful in the light of this spreading disease?

Short term: God is with us, will never leave or forsake us regardless of our circumstances. Also prayer changes things (see below)!

Longer term: whilst there will be earthquakes, wars and all kinds of stuff in the end times, our future hope is of a new heaven and earth. Rev 21:3-4 makes clear that one day:

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

HOW DO WE RESPOND?

As we seek to love our neighbour as ourselves we are called to support those who are struggling emotionally or mentally with this. We are called to care for those who are sick, isolated, vulnerable. We can do that practically by staying in touch with folks who are self-isolating, maybe offering to do their shopping or ringing to chat and see how they are. Most obviously we can support people spiritually by praying for them.

WHAT SHOULD WE PRAY?

We may struggle to know where to start to pray (this makes Brexit look easy) but here are some suggestions!

-Father God we seek first your kingdom, a kingdom of healing and wholeness.

-Father God we seek healing for our world and this growing curse. May the power of light banish darkness, may the power of your Spirit roll back the powers of darkness.

-Father God we seek healing for (name) in Jesus name.

-Father God, we pray for medical staff on the front-line of care, that they may be sustained physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually in coming weeks.

-Father God bring your peace where there is fear and anxiety.

-Father God we pray for those who are vulnerable and isolated in our communities, that they will know your presence, your love, your peace and your hope.

-Father God we pray that Coronavirus will make people question what they put their faith and trust in and turn to you.

THE WAY FORWARD?

We don’t know where Coronavirus will take us. However, we do know where we are going, where our final destinations is, our future is safe and secure. But the road may be rocky and bumpy. Jesus says in Mathew 7:24:

“...everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”

My final prayer for all of us is based on Numbers 6:24-26. May the Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.

BE BOLD AND COURAGEOUS! (13/02/20)
At the Fresh Streams conference last month the theme was courage. Courage to persevere and overcome obstacles in our lives; courage to keep believing that the church has a future and that God is at work. Courage is a good theme in days where faith seems increasingly peripheral or irrelevant in our culture. Back in 1983 66% of Brits classed themselves as Christians, that figure had nearly halved in 2010 to 38%. Regular church-going Christians in the UK have now shrunk to 4.7% of the population.


For some the challenges and struggles in life are so great that they give up on faith, give up on church. For some the struggles in connecting with our culture are so great that they give up on mission and evangelism, because the trend seems irreversible. Sometimes it can all feel too hard.


My thoughts are not that this is totally wrong thinking, not that we simply have to buck up and persevere. But whether it’s hard or not, we are still called to grow as disciples of Jesus, we are still called to make new disciples.
Part of the issue is the direction we are facing. Do we focus too much on ourselves and our issues? In doing so do we turn away from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth? Hebrews 12:2“let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.”If we look at our faith in the light of our problems it simply becomes our crutch, what God can do for us. However if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the awesome power of God and seek the presence of the Holy Spirit, we start to see our problems from God’s perspective. The problems are still there, but they look very different.


Take the issue of Christianity in the UK today. Gavin Calver (Evangelical Alliance) spoke at Fresh Streams and reminded us that over the world Christianity is growing exponentially, it is the fastest growing faith. God is at work and Christianity is very much alive. This puts our faith in a different perspective! We need to remember this fact and not just focus on our own little patch of England.
Whether it’s hard or not we are called to follow Jesus in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, so we do it in his strength not our own. When times get tough the question is not “should I give up” but how do I walk in the power of the presence of the Holy Spirit?” A good place to start is asking God to help us:
-Mathew 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
-Jeremiah 29:13 “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD”


The conference encouraged us to be “bold and courageous” with many stories and testimonies of the amazing things that God is doing up and down the country. Being bold and courageous is hard. But God is with us, and if he is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31). My prayer for us at this time is Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesus in Ephesians 1:17-20:
“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms..” AMEN!

MARTHA AND MARY (LUKE 10:38-42) 09/10/19

Last week we had the privilege of hosting the Fresh Streams regional day of prayer and fasting. As part of this we explored together the story of Martha and Mary, which raises questions such as “are you a Martha or a Mary?” Some of us are more naturally outgoing, task orientated, like to get things done. Some of us are more reserved, reflective, like to weigh things fully before investing time and energy into things.

This passage is a preacher’s favourite, but sometimes we can get an unbalanced view. We know that Martha was too busy and that Mary dropped everything to focus on Jesus; that Jesus said that she’d made the best choice. Often we are told that this is model for Christians to be predominantly reflective/contemplative and not to join in the busyness of “the world.”

I think a better approach is recognising that each of us is meant to be both a Martha and Mary. Not that we have split personalities (no Nestorian horse for the theologians amongst you) but that we are designed to be both. The real question is are we being Martha when God calls us to be Martha and Mary when he calls us to be Mary. More simply, there are times we are to be busy, work hard and conscientiously and other times we are to rest, reflect, and contemplate on God and scripture. We are called to work at stewarding  the earth, but we are also called to Sabbath rest.

God needs Martha’s. Without them the kingdom will never grow. God needs Mary’s, without them we will never hear what God is saying and run around doing the wrong thing rather than the right thing. The question is what are you called to be at any one time?

We all need balance in terms of work and rest. Do we work from a place of rest, or rest when we collapse at the end of the week from work? Our culture is increasingly output orientated and driven by the next thing, fad or fashion; where we are called to look after the ancient ways and walk in them. Do I have a good balance between work and rest? Do you?


EASTER; HERE WE GO AGAIN! 15/04/19

I was struck this week at how we often run through the year at a non-stop pace celebrating key events and key dates in our own lives and key Christian dates like Easter and Christmas. We can all be busy in different ways preparing for different things at Easter and Christmas; church events, community events, family events. Time away, people visiting.  Children at home for holidays. It’s easy for any of us to rush around and go on “automatic pilot.”

It’s easy to do this without pausing to fully reflect on the significance of these events. When I was younger in the faith I recognised how easy it was to lose the real meaning and amongst the busyness and I intentionally took time out on my own with God on Easter day/Christmas day to read scripture, pray and reflect on the profound events and profound truths of the life of Jesus. This is something I have lost somewhat and need to regain! In the words of Matt Redman “And I’ll remember you, I will turn back and do the things I used to do.”

As a church we have spent the last six months going through a preaching series on Discipleship and then on Spiritual Disciplines. As we approach this Easter, it’s a reminder to all of us of the importance and value of taking time out to focus on the core truths and maybe try some of those spiritual disciplines for ourselves e.g. Study, Prayer, Meditation/Contemplation, Solitude, Confession and worship.

As we approach Easter weekend I pray that God reveals more of the depth and wonder of the Easter story to us, so that we see and hear something new, that we grow a little bit in our faith this Easter.

Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Hallelujah!

PRUDHOE TOWN FAIR 03/06/18

Today I went to the Prudhoe Town Fair, a traditional summer Street Party, very British with bunting, tea/coffee/cakes and drizzle! We also had a Royal Wedding recently which is also very British, Prince Harry and Angela Merkel, or was it Meghan Markle?

Bishop Michael Curry talekd about “Love is the Way” and helped the couple with their wedding vows - “never leave or forsake till death do us part.” Harry and Meghan have good intentions, but often reality is different. Charles and Di divorced, our parents may have divorced, we may have divorced and if we’ve never been married we’ve all had relationships that have broken down and broken up. People let us down.

Bishop Michael Curry said “Love is the Way”-  yet our love is not perfect. The royal family get it wrong at times; we all get it wrong at times, none of us are perfect. I don’t know about you but I could do with someone in my life who loves me, will never let me down, will never leave me, is always there for me, is always rooting for me, someone who helps me be the best I can be. I could do with a perfect friend or a perfect parent.

But only God is perfect and only his love is perfect. He is the perfect parent, the perfect Father. God loves us, God wants to be part of our lives, God wants us to know him, God wants to forgive our sin, God wants us to fulfill our potential.  And God says to those who follow him: “I will never leave you, I will never abandon you.”

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are not like us, they live in big fancy houses whilst we live in flats, terraces, semis or detached if we are lucky. God is also not like us, he lives in heaven whilst we live in houses. How do we get to know a God who is not like us? 2000 years ago God made it easy for us by sending Jesus to show us who God is, to help us find God, to help us meet God. As God’s son Jesus’ love is perfect and he is the perfect friend. He promises all who believe and follow him: “ I’ll will be with you always, even until the end of the world!”

Love is the way - and Jesus comes to show us God’s love in the way he lived, died and came back to life. Love is the way – and Jesus shows us God’s love by sacrificing his own life for us.

At the Royal wedding Prince Harry and Meghan Merkle held hands saying “I’ll never leave or forsake till death do us part.” Jesus holds his hand out to you today saying “I’ll never leave or forsake you till death do us part.” The only question is will you take his hand?

FIRST BLOG! (11/05/18)

Well here we are, my first ever blog on our new web-site. My last spurt of blogging was whilst working with Moortown Baptist Church, although my blogs have now been deleted from their website. Which either means they were considered heretical, or they just reckoned I'd moved on so time for them to go! I was thinking of being cheeky and copying some of the blogs across to get started (can you plagiarise yourself??) but as this option isn't available they will now all be "fresh."

For those of you who don't know what blogs are, they are means of making available short thoughts/reflections/articles that may be of interest for folk to read. The phenomena is an interesting one and often used as means of self promotion. As I'm here to promote Jesus and his Kingdom, not myself; I'll only be blogging when seriously inspired by something and/or God puts something on my heart.

So feel free to check this part of the web-site every now and again to see if there's anything of interest and feel free to give me feedback!