Saturday, 4 July 2015

Morning Prayer - 4 July 2015

Psalm 96
Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord and bless his name; tell out his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations and his wonders among all peoples. For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; he is more to be feared than all gods. For all the gods of the nations are but idols; it is the Lord who made the heavens. Honour and majesty are before him; power and splendour are in his sanctuary. Ascribe to the Lord, you families of the peoples; ascribe to the Lord honour and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the honour due to his name; bring offerings and come into his courts. 

O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; let the whole earth tremble before him. Tell it out among the nations that the Lord is king. He has made the world so firm that it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity. 

Let the heavens rejoice and let the earth be glad; let the sea thunder and all that is in it;
Let the fields be joyful and all that is in them; let all the trees of the wood shout for joy before the Lord.
For he comes, he comes to judge the earth; with righteousness he will judge the world and the peoples with his truth.

Psalm 97
The Lord is king: let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of the isles be glad. Clouds and darkness are round about him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. Fire goes before him and burns up his enemies on every side. His lightnings lit up the world; the earth saw it and trembled. The mountains melted like wax at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. The heavens declared his righteousness and all the peoples have seen his glory. 

Confounded be all who worship carved images and delight in mere idols. Bow down before him, all you gods. Zion heard and was glad, and the daughters of Judah rejoiced, because of your judgements, O Lord. For you, Lord, are most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods. The Lord loves those who hate evil; he preserves the lives of his faithful and delivers them from the hand of the wicked. Light has sprung up for the righteous and joy for the true of heart. 

Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name.

Psalm 100
O be joyful in the Lord, all the earth; serve the Lord with gladness and come before his presence with a song. Know that the Lord is God; 
it is he that has made us and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and bless his name. For the Lord is gracious; his steadfast love is everlasting, and his faithfulness endures from generation to generation. 

Nehemiah 9.24-end
So the descendants went in and possessed the land, and you subdued before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, and gave them into their hands, with their kings and the peoples of the land, to do with them as they pleased. And they captured fortress cities and a rich land, and took possession of houses filled with all sorts of goods, hewn cisterns, vineyards, olive orchards, and fruit trees in abundance; so they ate, and were filled and became fat, and delighted in your great goodness.

‘Nevertheless they were disobedient and rebelled against you and cast your law behind their backs and killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you, and they committed great blasphemies. Therefore you gave them into the hands of their enemies, who made them suffer. Then in the time of their suffering they cried out to you and you heard them from heaven, and according to your great mercies you gave them saviours who saved them from the hands of their enemies. But after they had rest, they again did evil before you, and you abandoned them to the hands of their enemies, so that they had dominion over them; yet when they turned and cried to you, you heard from heaven, and many times you rescued them according to your mercies. And you warned them in order to turn them back to your law. Yet they acted presumptuously and did not obey your commandments, but sinned against your ordinances, by the observance of which a person shall live. They turned a stubborn shoulder and stiffened their neck and would not obey. For many years you were patient with them, and warned them by your spirit through your prophets; yet they would not listen. Therefore you handed them over to the peoples of the lands. Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.

‘Now therefore, our God—the great and mighty and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love—do not treat lightly all the hardship that has come upon us, upon our kings, our officials, our priests, our prophets, our ancestors, and all your people, since the time of the kings of Assyria until today. You have been just in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly; our kings, our officials, our priests, and our ancestors have not kept your law or heeded the commandments and the warnings that you gave them. Even in their own kingdom, and in the great goodness you bestowed on them, and in the large and rich land that you set before them, they did not serve you and did not turn from their wicked works. Here we are, slaves to this day—slaves in the land that you gave to our ancestors to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts. Its rich yield goes to the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins; they have power also over our bodies and over our livestock at their pleasure, and we are in great distress.’
Because of all this we make a firm agreement in writing, and on that sealed document are inscribed the names of our officials, our Levites, and our priests.

Romans 16.17-end
I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offences, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them. For such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded. For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I want you to be wise in what is good, and guileless in what is evil. The God of peace will shortly crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Timothy, my co-worker, greets you; so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my relatives.

I Tertius, the writer of this letter, greet you in the Lord.

Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you. 

Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever! Amen

The Collect
Gracious Father,
by the obedience of Jesus you brought salvation to our wayward world:
draw us into harmony with your will, that we may find all things restored in him,
our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Friday, 3 July 2015

O Lord HEAR my prayer ...

... And give me what I ask for!

I wonder if this is this how you pray - because that's what it feels like from the place I often find myself occupying. As I talk to people I am often told of the prayers of people and, if I am hearing correctly then generally:

We come to God with our shopping lists of needs and our litany of woes.

We come in the hope that our imprecatory prayers will cause fire from heaven to fall on those who offend or oppose us.

We come to God praying that He will build His Church (so that we don't have to and so we can continue as we are in the places we inhabit as places of worship??)

Sometimes we come broken and confused, sinful (and sinned against) and it it in this place that I find a place of renewal and restoration for it is a place of solace and renewing. This is the place where we find direction and correction, leading and bleeding - and this is right for too often we are bound up in our needs rather than bound up in God's will.

Like children with homework we truly intend to do it well and to act diligently and yet, when it is before us, like children, attractions draw us away and we produce the minimum needed to tick the box.

Like those who came before we, I am sure, find ourselves (as in psalm 78 verse 35) like those who whenever Test and trial came would repent and earnestly search for Him.

But we too, like them, and the child with the homework, remember what is that we are called to do  and, more importantly, be and yet this soon slips and the attractions, the desire to do those things which are not helpful (we call this 'sin' in the Church - not a popular word) swamp us and we drown in the waters of our own folly.

in Psalm 78 we find the words:
They remembered that God was their rock and the Most High God their redeemer.
Their heart was not steadfast towards him, neither were they faithful to his covenant.

Recognise this?
I know I do!


God was so merciful that He forgave their misdeeds and did not destroy them; many a time He turned back His wrath and did not suffer His whole displeasure to be roused. For he remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes by and does not return.

Because God, our God, is indeed merciful.

Thank God for His written word and for Jesus, the Christ, His living Word and let us pray that He will fill us with His Holy Spirit and heal us now and cause us to walk in the right paths from this place forward.

Please remember today:

those who have loved one beset by ill health

those who you know who are running out of steam

those who you know who face trials and tests (of their own making and because of theirs)

those people around the world who work for peace: For  our armed forces, aid and charity organisations and for peacekeepers

Today as we focus upon unexpected loss in a sunny holiday setting - upon the death of a 54 year old custody office who was 'just doing her job' - on a nation that is so in debt that old age pensioners have to decide whether to eat or buy necessary medicines:

What will our prayer be?

Honouring those who died in Tunisia

This morning the town of Tamworth came to a standstill as people crowded into St Editha's church and the town centre to pay their respects to those from our town, and nation, those who died on a sunny beach just a week ago.

We prayed for all those who had been injured and for those who were distressed and troubled by the events that cost, and changed, so many lives - praying especially for:

Allison Heathcote                         Cheryl Mellor      Tony and Christine Callaghan

Tom Richards Mathew James and Saera Wilsson

Ross Thompson and Rebecca Smith

And we remembered, and commended to God:

Christopher and Sharon Bell

Patrick Evans, Adrian Evans and Joel Richards

John and Janet Stocker

John Stollery

William and Lisa Graham

Carly Lovett

John Welch and Eileen Swannack

David Thompson

Bruce Wilkinson

Lisa Burbidge

Claire Windass

Jim and Ann McQuire

Trudy Jones

Stuart Cullen

Stephen Mellor

Denis and Elaine Thwaites

Philip Heathcote

Chris Dyer

Angie and Ray Fisher

Sue Davey and Scott Chalkley

May they rest in peace: and rise again in glory

To hear the short service: CLICK HERE

Morning Prayer - 3 July 2015

Thomas the Apostle

Psalm 92
It is a good thing to give thanks to the Lord and to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to tell of your love early in the morning and of your faithfulness in the night-time, Upon the ten-stringed instrument, upon the harp, and to the melody of the lyre. For you, Lord, have made me glad by your acts, and I sing aloud at the works of your hands.

O Lord, how glorious are your works! Your thoughts are very deep.
The senseless do not know, nor do fools understand, that though the wicked sprout like grass and all the workers of iniquity flourish, it is only to be destroyed for ever; but you, O Lord, shall be exalted for evermore. For lo, your enemies, O Lord, lo, your enemies shall perish, and all the workers of iniquity shall be scattered. But my horn you have exalted
like the horns of wild oxen; I am anointed with fresh oil. My eyes will look down on my foes; my ears shall hear the ruin of the evildoers who rise up against me.

The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, and shall spread abroad like a cedar of Lebanon. Such as are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be vigorous and in full leaf; that they may show that the Lord is true; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

Psalm 146
Praise the Lord, O my soul: while I live will I praise the Lord; as long as I have any being, I will sing praises to my God. 

Put not your trust in princes, nor in any human power, for there is no help in them. When their breath goes forth, they return to the earth; on that day all their thoughts perish.

Happy are those who have the God of Jacob for their help, whose hope is in the Lord their God; who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them; who keeps his promise for ever; who gives justice to those that suffer wrong and bread to those who hunger.

The Lord looses those that are bound; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind;
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous;
The Lord watches over the stranger in the land; he upholds the orphan and widow; but the way of the wicked he turns upside down.
The Lord shall reign for ever, your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.

2 Samuel 15.17-21
The king left, followed by all the people; and they stopped at the last house. All his officials passed by him; and all the Cherethites, and all the Pelethites, and all the six hundred Gittites who had followed him from Gath, passed on before the king.

Then the king said to Ittai the Gittite, ‘Why are you also coming with us? Go back, and stay with the king; for you are a foreigner, and also an exile from your home. You came only yesterday, and shall I today make you wander about with us, while I go wherever I can? Go back, and take your kinsfolk with you; and may the Lord show steadfast love and faithfulness to you.’ But Ittai answered the king, ‘As the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether for death or for life, there also your servant will be.’

John 11.1-16
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ But when Jesus heard it, he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?’ Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.’ After saying this, he told them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.’ Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’

The Collect
Almighty and eternal God, who, for the firmer foundation of our faith, allowed your holy apostle Thomas to doubt the resurrection of your Son 'til word and sight convinced him:
grant to us, who have not seen, that we also may believe and so confess Christ as our Lord and our God; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Morning Prayer - 2 July 2015

Psalm 90
Lord, you have been our refuge from one generation to another. Before the mountains were brought forth, or the earth and the world were formed, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You turn us back to dust and say: ‘Turn back, O children of earth.’ For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday, which passes like a watch in the night. You sweep them away like a dream; they fade away suddenly like the grass. In the morning it is green and flourishes; in the evening it is dried up and withered. For we consume away in your displeasure; we are afraid at your wrathful indignation. You have set our misdeeds before you and our secret sins in the light of your countenance. When you are angry, all our days are gone; our years come to an end like a sigh. The days of our life are three score years and ten, or if our strength endures, even four score; yet the sum of them is but labour and sorrow, for they soon pass away and we are gone. Who regards the power of your wrath and your indignation like those who fear you?

So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.  Turn again, O Lord; how long will you delay? 
Have compassion on your servants. Satisfy us with your loving-kindness in the morning; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Give us gladness for the days you have afflicted us, and for the years in which we have seen adversity.  Show your servants your works, and let your glory be over their children. May the gracious favour of the Lord our God be upon us; prosper our handiwork; O prosper the work of our hands.

Psalm 92
It is a good thing to give thanks to the Lord and to sing praises to your name, O Most High; To tell of your love early in the morning and of your faithfulness in the night-time, upon the ten-stringed instrument, upon the harp, and to the melody of the lyre. For you, Lord, have made me glad by your acts, and I sing aloud at the works of your hands.

O Lord, how glorious are your works! Your thoughts are very deep.
The senseless do not know, nor do fools understand, that though the wicked sprout like grass and all the workers of iniquity flourish, it is only to be destroyed for ever; but you, O Lord, shall be exalted for evermore. For lo, your enemies, O Lord, lo, your enemies shall perish, and all the workers of iniquity shall be scattered. But my horn you have exalted like the horns of wild oxen; I am anointed with fresh oil. My eyes will look down on my foes; my ears shall hear the ruin of the evildoers who rise up against me.

The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, and shall spread abroad like a cedar of Lebanon. Such as are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be vigorous and in full leaf; That they may show that the Lord is true; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

Nehemiah 7.73b-8.end
So the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, some of the people, the temple servants, and all Israel settled in their towns.
When the seventh month came—the people of Israel being settled in their towns—

all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. 

The scribe Ezra stood on a wooden platform that had been made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hash-baddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. 

And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen’, lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 

Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places. So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, ‘This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, ‘Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’ So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, ‘Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.’ And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.

On the second day the heads of ancestral houses of all the people, with the priests and the Levites, came together to the scribe Ezra in order to study the words of the law. And they found it written in the law, which the Lord had commanded by Moses, that the people of Israel should live in booths during the festival of the seventh month, and that they should publish and proclaim in all their towns and in Jerusalem as follows, ‘Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees to make booths, as it is written.’ So the people went out and brought them, and made booths for themselves, each on the roofs of their houses, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in them; for from the days of Jeshua son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing. And day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read from the book of the law of God. They kept the festival for seven days; and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly, according to the ordinance.

Romans 15.22-end
This is the reason that I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, with no further place for me in these regions, I desire, as I have for many years, to come to you when I go to Spain. For I do hope to see you on my journey and to be sent on by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a little while. At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the saints; for Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to share their resources with the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. They were pleased to do this, and indeed they owe it to them; for if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material things. So, when I have completed this, and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will set out by way of you to Spain; and I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in earnest prayer to God on my behalf, that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my ministry to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. The God of peace be with all of you. Amen. 

The Collect
Gracious Father,
by the obedience of Jesus you brought salvation to our wayward world:
draw us into harmony with your will, that we may find all things restored in him,

our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Church Growth strategies: 'Be Relevant!'

As always I'll begin with my Hauerwas' comment that:

'Church growth strategies are the death rattle of a church that has lost its way.' 

I have to issue a warning that we are now moving into some of the more dangerous issues in this blog. Dangerous because some people will undoubtedly take umbrage at some of the views aired and points pointed to. Some will say that what I am saying is 'who they are' rather than something they do to grow church - and I'm sure that some are right and others might be less so; but this is merely a mirror and an means by which I and some others are engaging so read it and then engage brain, pray and dialogue. 

It is not meant to be offensive but I know some who will perhaps be offended: Not the goal but possibly the reality (I ask forgiveness and understanding in advance).

One of the most frustrating of the 'strategies' that I encounter is concerned with the issue of 'Rights'. It's frustrating because many people are unwilling to say that it's a strategy and it's frustrating because concern with rights is who we are as Christians. After all, it's what Jesus did when He walked the earth - He just didn't bill it as such, He just got on an addressed the issues. And so should we!

I an more than a little tired of those who want to convince me about Church (universal) and its history of oppressing women and the many minority, and action, groups that we have before us these days. This is not because I'm not concerned with those issues by the way! No, no, no - not at all. BUT I see Jesus setting those who were non persona (non people - meaning those without a voice and the ability to be heard and afforded dignity and respect) free and giving them rights and privileges and all that good stuff we drone on about today. I see Jesus as concerned, and by His Holy Spirit, engaged and with many in the various campaigning and rights groups.

Look at the New testament situation: Women, slaves, children - Jesus spoke into their lives through the Gospel and through His one atoning act of reconciliation to God by the cross and the recognition that He, Jesus, is the Messiah; The Christ. I don't think anything has changed!

The problem is that we want the Church to be popular. 

No, let's back the bus up just a little and rephrase that: 

We want US, and Church, to be popular!

So, because the second comment is more likely the most accurate we engage in the practice of telling people what Jesus would be concerned with now and how He would be preaching something different from the stuff He told those primitives 2,000 years ago! Of course we don't know what He would have said now, because He hasn't said it (and if someone tells me that the Holy Spirit told them I'd have to test it against the received word (the scriptures) tradition and reason to ensure that what I had heard was orthodox (right thinking) - and this is where much that arises also falls.

Seeking to be pastoral we set about rewriting the Bible to stop it being offensive or unpopular. This is a shame because it's supposed to be offensive! It was counter-cultural then and I think that it's countercultural now. 

Then it was different in terms of practices, attitudes and beliefs because the world was different. 

Now it's different because whilst the Biblical position might be static, the world is changing to look like it did when the scriptures started getting written and so the Word of God and the world of man find themselves chaffing! So rather than stand with what we have believed as truth for 2,000+ years, we look to become relevant by changing our message to affirm and permit stuff that Jesus didn't then and, I feel sure, probably wouldn't now. (I have to say probably because of course I don't know because all I have to go on is what He, and the writers of the Bible did say, anything else is like me finishing the end of an unfinished symphony - it's my adjunctive contribution).

The thing is that I like rights but believe that with the conferment of rights comes the demand that we act responsibly and rightly and yet this is not what I am encountering in some in the Church, and when some of theses are leaders then what we have is a 'house divided against itself' and as we know from Mk3//Matt12: 'It will not stand!

One of those moments when you want to shout: 'Let those who have ears (and brains) listen!'

The road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions and this is where we are leading others unless we are careful. We bless that which Jesus never blessed and we defend our causes in futile arguments regarding slavery (Jesus lived when slaves were slaves and yet through Him they received the dignity of personhood. We until recent times had people who supported slavery or apartheid and a number of other things and even used their Bible to defend their position - but they were wrong and so too are those who would use it wrongly today in their quest for popularity and relevance!

The Church should be an inclusive place - but not a permissive place.

The Church should be a place where all are welcomed into. But the motto should be:

Come as you are - expect to leave changed!

Some of my colleagues crave the oxygen of acceptance.

They actively seek to be popular and so they are heard telling jokes that would make a miner blush (if we had any left - two pits to go and the breed are all but gone)!

They use what I consider to be foul and inappropriate language both in, and outside, the church building and yet, when challenged, consider themselves to be relevant and me to be a bit of a dinosaur (I think I might be and if so I'm a 'Duknowhesavedus').

A colleague in my diocese, is a heated discussion (sometimes the bestest sort of discussion) told me that to hold the views I held would, 'Empty the churches.' The continued to tell me that by their inclusive and accepting views they would fill the church they were in. Oddly, some ten years on where they are has declined whilst the church up the road has benefitted from their neighbours 'accommodating attitudes' and grown steadily (including engaging in some sheep stealing'* from that place).

The problem is that being relevant shouldn't be about popularity or growth or anything but being able, as we find in 1 Peter 3.13-17 (NLT)

'Now, who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good? 

14 But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. 15 Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. 
And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. 
16 But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ.17 Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!

We must always be prepared to give an answer for the hope that we have in Jesus, the Christ. We need to ensure that we are relevant and open, honest and showing respect. But at the end of the day we must also remember that all we have is Jesus, the Christ, crucified, risen and ascended: He is our hope and our integrity.

So the bottom line (almost) is a plea: seek to be relevant and to meet those around with love and integrity.

'Peace is such a precious jewel that I would give anything for it but truth.'
Matthew Henry

* Sorry, I meant 'transfer growth!' must be a dodgy keyboard or something!

PS. The problem is that some will hear me saying that the many causes are wrong or that we are merely posing in front of causes and the like. I'm not (I have a number of causes and they are who I am) - but I am asking for authenticity, integrity and the Gospel (as it is, not as we would like Jesus to return and rewrite is as now). 

The many issues before us are real and we need to stand for the oppressed, marginalised, disenfranchised and all those who need a neighbour: But never at the expense of the Gospel!

Hope this challenges and even inspires just a little - I know it has done that for me :-)

Morning Prayer - 1 July 2015

Henry, John, and Henry Venn the younger, Priests, Evangelical Divines, 1797, 1813 and 1873

Psalm 119.105-128
Your word is a lantern to my feet and a light upon my path.

I have sworn and will fulfil it, to keep your righteous judgements. I am troubled above measure; give me life, O Lord, according to your word. Accept the freewill offering of my mouth, O Lord, and teach me your judgements. My soul is ever in my hand, yet I do not forget your law. The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I have not strayed from your commandments. Your testimonies have I claimed as my heritage for ever; for they are the very joy of my heart. I have applied my heart to fulfil your statutes: always, even to the end. I hate those who are double-minded, but your law do I love. You are my hiding place and my shield and my hope is in your word.

Away from me, you wicked! I will keep the commandments of my God.
Sustain me according to your promise, that I may live, and let me not be disappointed in my hope.
Hold me up and I shall be saved, and my delight shall be ever in your statutes. You set at nought those who depart from your statutes, for their deceiving is in vain. You consider all the wicked as dross; therefore I love your testimonies. My flesh trembles for fear of you and I am afraid of your judgements. I have done what is just and right; O give me not over to my oppressors. Stand surety for your servant’s good; let not the proud oppress me. My eyes fail with watching for your salvation and for your righteous promise. O deal with your servant according to your faithful love and teach me your statutes. I am your servant; O grant me understanding, that I may know your testimonies. It is time for you to act, O Lord, for they frustrate your law.

Therefore I love your commandments above gold, even much fine gold.
Therefore I direct my steps by all your precepts, and all false ways I utterly abhor.

Nehemiah 6.1-7.4
Now when it was reported to Sanballat and Tobiah and to Geshem the Arab and to the rest of our enemies that I had built the wall and that there was no gap left in it (though up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, ‘Come and let us meet together in one of the villages in the plain of Ono.’ But they intended to do me harm. So I sent messengers to them, saying, ‘I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it to come down to you?’ They sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner. In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand. In it was written, ‘It is reported among the nations—and Geshem also says it—that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall; and according to this report you wish to become their king. You have also set up prophets to proclaim in Jerusalem concerning you, “There is a king in Judah!” And now it will be reported to the king according to these words. So come, therefore, and let us confer together.’ Then I sent to him, saying, ‘No such things as you say have been done; you are inventing them out of your own mind’ —for they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.’ But now, O God, strengthen my hands.

One day when I went into the house of Shemaiah son of Delaiah son of Mehetabel, who was confined to his house, he said, ‘Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you; indeed, tonight they are coming to kill you.’ But I said, ‘Should a man like me run away? Would a man like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in!’ Then I perceived and saw that God had not sent him at all, but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. He was hired for this purpose, to intimidate me and make me sin by acting in this way, and so they could give me a bad name, in order to taunt me. Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, according to these things that they did, and also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who wanted to make me afraid.
So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem; for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God. Moreover, in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters to Tobiah, and Tobiah’s letters came to them. For many in Judah were bound by oath to him, because he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah son of Arah: and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam son of Berechiah. Also they spoke of his good deeds in my presence, and reported my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to intimidate me.

Now when the wall had been built and I had set up the doors, and the gatekeepers, the singers, and the Levites had been appointed, I gave my brother Hanani charge over Jerusalem, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel—for he was a faithful man and feared God more than many. And I said to them, ‘The gates of Jerusalem are not to be opened until the sun is hot; while the gatekeepers are still standing guard, let them shut and bar the doors. Appoint guards from among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, some at their watch-posts, and others before their own houses.’ The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few and no houses had been built.

Romans 15.14-21
I myself feel confident about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another. Nevertheless, on some points I have written to you rather boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and as far around as Illyricum I have fully proclaimed the good news of Christ. Thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written,
‘Those who have never been told of him shall see, and those who have never heard of him shall understand.’

The Collect
Gracious Father,
by the obedience of Jesus you brought salvation to our wayward world:
draw us into harmony with your will, that we may find all things restored in him,
our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen<

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

A thorny issue: Paying your way!

Being totally honest is something I always regard as good and yet something that is rarely applauded! One of the issues where I often find this is regarding the expectations and the realities of a church (meaning a gathering of people who come to worship God in all that He is) 'paying its way!'

There are those who send me letters 'encouraging' to get the congregation to give more in the light of diminishing income and tough financial climates. This is often accompanied by offers of help, should I need it, to inform and encourage better giving.

When further letters of 'encouragement' came I found myself drawing this:

This upset some people because, as they rightly complained that, 'The diocese has to pay its bills and make ends meet!'

And this is, of course, true. Once the money runs out the lights go off and the churches become cold and doors are shut. This is a reality of life: Charity might begin at home but it doesn't extend to utilities and suppliers of stuff who need to be paid to pay their staff and buy in the stuff they sell and the like. It's simple grown up world stuff innit?

One notch down the diocesan food chain we find the churches and they need to pay too. So I wrote this and stuck it on the wall:

And some people were appalled that I could do such a thing because,they assumed, 'everything was free!'.
The idea was to get people to realise that it cost money to keep a little church like ours afloat and with around 20% of the congregation having an income, this is a challenge for us each and every year.

Then came down from high a memorable little motto from the grown ups in the diocese that upset some who come to church. It went like this:

'If you can't pay - you can't have!'

And people beat their breasts at the thought of no longer having a church in their own patches - after all they'd always had it! But some were resolute and maintained their position with a sad look on their faces.

Then came the complaints that we didn't charge people to use the building space. 'You're undercutting us!' complained one church and the moaned at me, 'How can we pay our way if you're charging less than us? What are we supposed to do?'

Others called me foolish and yet the same people were the first to tell us how lucky we were when those who weren't paying offered us new seating and tables and helped put in central heating and the like. 'Cast you bread upon the waters ...' says the KJV - and we did and God proved Himself to be no man's debtor - and those outside complained at that!

I got into an argument because I thought that having taken money to do a wedding or funeral in a building that any subsequent offering or giving was something to be grateful for and applauded rather than become something to be complained about because it was too little.

Then I got into another argument because I made the point that when we started a church plant or a 'fresh expression' it would be good if we worked out how long we would be fully funded and then decide how the responsibility for 'paying our way' could become ours fully. Wow! This was a real red rag (as was suggesting perhaps that it was acceptable to church to ask people to pay for messy church'). People asked whether we asked those who came to other services to pay - and of course we do, what are our tithes, gifts and offerings if they are the people paying money to ensure that the church (local) pays it's way?

Bringing all of our tithes and offerings into the storehouse ensure the bills are paid and means that those with needs in the fellowship (and let's not fight over what that means for now because I have more weird ideas here too)  go without.

So perhaps we should charge for admission?

Hmmm - discuss :-)