‘there are plenty of things going on over the summer …’

Dear Friends,

This weekend marks the end of the normal pattern of services and activities as we change gear and enjoy a different pattern with the start of a single all age service at 10am on each Sunday morning (From July 27th to August 31st).

Although the pattern changes there are plenty of things going on over the summer … Holiday Bible Club 31st July to 2nd August; Prime Time 19th -21st August and many people are involved in summer camps and festivals. Though many of us will go away for refreshment and recreation, many visitors will come to be part of St John’s.

The changed pattern of just one service on a Sunday morning also gives us opportunity and time for us to engage with one another in the 10 am all age services, over coffee afterwards and also at the ‘Picnics in the Park’ at Blue Coat School planned for 3rd and 31st August.

31st August will be a special day as we will have opportunity to say thank you to the Tattersall family and to pray for them as we bid farewell to Jon as he embarks on training for the ministry at St John’s Nottingham. Special features and thank yous are planned for both the picnic that day and also the refreshment time after the evening service.

In September we’ll be embarking on some new, as well as some familiar activities and events:

• At the beginning of September we will start a new season of Prayer and Praise called ‘Sanctuary’ on the first Wednesday of each month (3rd September);

• Later in September both the ALPHA and FREEDOM course will start.

It’s been quite a year so far for us as a community. It’s six months since Russ Parker’s report on the Health of St John’s was published and five months since Nigel stood down as our vicar. We’ve been through some uncharted territory so this summer season gives us opportunity to reflect and give thanks for God’s on-going goodness – even despite the difficulties we’ve faced – and also some time to seek afresh His purposes for us as we look to the future. We’ve ended on a great note though as four members of our church were baptised recently, with inspiring and powerful testimony of how Jesus met them and changed them.

Deck chairs on the beachI don’t know how you will spend your summer … but can I make some suggestions of some special things that you might do …

• Enjoy and get closer to God in the changed pattern and perhaps changed setting over the summer;

• Continue to pray for Nigel and Annie and their family and their future ministry;

• Continue to pray for St John’s and God purposes for us together;

• Pray about how God may be calling you to contribute to His purposes in and beyond our church community. There have been several presentations over recent weeks setting out the various ministries that are looking for more volunteers. Perhaps God may be calling you to offer in one such area. One particular need I would highlight is the need for more leaders and helpers in our children’s work on a Sunday morning. The need is quite acute and we are seeking and praying for those the Lord is calling and releasing into this vital area of ministry;

• One thing that strikes me is that together we share a sense of disappointment about the way things are and the way things have worked out. I’m writing a short note about this that will be published on the web page in a week or so. Perhaps this may be something that may be helpful to you to reflect on as you bring before God your own hopes and any disappointment you are carrying.

May you know God’s rich blessing and nearness this summer time and may He draw you into a greater knowledge of His love and His call on you. I shall be away myself in the last week in August and the first week in September so I will look forward to returning with renewed vitality and vision for all that God is calling us to.
With much love in Jesus,

Antony

How to keep your heart right in the midst of trouble?

Sandstone Heart in the wall - Top of Grange Road West KirbyIn a recent sermon I posed this question and made some suggestions about things we might do to keep our hearts healthy. I also promised to write a blog to put on the web page summarising what was said in the sermon but also to include an invitation for others to contribute their own suggestions so that we might engage in an on-going and hopefully a helpful dialogue. So here it is!

I thought that this might be good to do because there are all sorts of trouble which can affect us … trouble in family relationships, health troubles, uncertainties about the future, trouble at work – with colleagues, bosses or with excessive workloads, trouble at home, trouble at church … all sorts of troubles. So it’s likely that there are many people among us who know something about troubles and have discovered nuggets of godly truth which they may contribute to help us all.

The Bible says that keeping our hearts right is incredibly important for our overall wellbeing. Proverbs 4:23 says

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.

If our hearts are not right Jesus said all sorts of bad things can be produced – see Mark 7:20-23. The existence of trouble can put big pressure on us so what should we do to guard our hearts so that we produce good things when ‘squeezed’ or under stress?

Troubles can loom so large that they can dominate life, obscure our view or deceive us. So how do you keep your heart right in the midst of trouble? Here are four suggestions to start us off …

Expect trouble!
Jesus said in John 16:33,

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Be wary of comfort or coasting which can lull us into a false sense of security. Expect trouble but take heart that Jesus has overcome the world and is bigger than whatever trouble can befall us.

Watch out for unforgiveness, sin or unbelief in your life.
It may be hidden but nevertheless can affect you. Here are some ways that can help detect unresolved issues deep inside you;

1 Level 10 reaction to a Grade 1 problem. Does a relatively mild problem produce a disproportionate response in you – say for example an explosion of anger? This can be an indicator of a reservoir of unresolved hurt or issues that needs tackling.

2 Is there repetitive ‘bitter fruit’ in your relationship with others? In your life and experience is there a history of similar issues and problems with other people. Rather than continually blaming others, as a working assumption, act as though the problem is with you and not with other people and see what comes up.

If there are such issues ask God to search your heart and mind through and reveal what’s true so that you can deal with it before Him through Repentance and Forgiveness. You might find it helpful to get some help from a trusted Christian friend to do this. A really powerful prayer which will help shine God’s light into our hearts and minds comes from Psalm 139 …

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Our hearts are springloaded.
We need to recognise that our hearts are spring loaded to doing things our own way and thereby may lead us into big trouble or wrong perceptions. Jeremiah 17:9 says,

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”

A common problem in the face of relationship troubles is to assume that God is on your side and not the other persons and even to use God language to put the other person down!

There’s an encounter between Joshua and an angel recorded in Joshua 5:13-15 which is instructive.

Joshua asks the angel ‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’ ‘Neither’, the angel replies ‘but as commander of the Lord’s army I have now come.’

The message here is don’t trust your heart on its own. Find out what God’s perspective is and join in with that. (You can use the Psalm 139 prayer for that too).

Priorities.
In my understanding though, by far the most important thing we can do to keep our hearts right is to put a high priority on our private and intimate life with Jesus. It’s in that secret place that you connect with Him, learn the patterns of His grace and receive His particular instructions and affirmations. Have a look at what Jesus said about this in John 15 because apart from Him we cannot produce good fruit.

Well there you are … there’s a start. What would you add from your experience to help us keep our hearts right in the midst of trouble?

The Parable of the Lamp Post

It was early on a Saturday morning. Pat and I were just about to embark on our time with God sitting in bed with a cup of tea when my eye caught some unusual activity through the window. I watched as an elevated platform bearing a man drew up to eye level adjacent to our next door neighbour’s house. Once in position the workman fitted a lamp onto the new lamp post that had been put into position some time before. In a very few minutes the lamp head was installed, the workman conveyed back to terra firma and the process repeated on the next lamp post further down the road.Lamp post being erected

I reflected on how efficient the street lighting replacement program being undertaken in the area is. Over a period of 40 days several discrete operations are undertaken … excavating a hole, erecting a safety barrier, erecting a new lamp post, concreting it in, installing a new lamp fitting, connecting the electrics, painting the lamp post, removing the old lamp post, backfilling the hole and making good the surface and finally removing the safety barriers.
If all the separate tasks were done one after the other on just one lamp post I don’t suppose it would take much more than a day’s work. However, to make the overall operation efficient and to give economy of scale with lots of lamp posts involved, the work was spread out over a 40 day period. Undertaking 1 days’ work over a 40 day period means that to the regular observer nothing appeared to happen for much of the time.

I was in ‘quiet time’ mode so a spiritual thought immediately came. It struck me; how, when you are waiting on God for a promise to be fulfilled, that nothing much may seem to happen for long periods of time. You may be aware that the fulfilment of the promise is in progress and, you might just catch a glimpse of particular steps along the way, but for long periods of time nothing may seem to happen. Abrahams 25 year wait for a promised son sprang to mind.

Are you waiting for God to fulfil a promise – perhaps to change some circumstances which are troubling or hard to live with? May we maintain our trust in God even as we look for signs of progress.

Troubled Waters

One of my favourite walks is part of the coastal path in South Devon which leads down to Start Point Lighthouse. We did this one September day last year. It was a beautiful clear day; the sun was high in a clear blue sky and it felt good as we filled our lungs with the clean sea air.Seascape view from South Devon Coast path looking towards Start Point

Looking out over the calm sea the slight curvature of the earth was evident on the horizon. Closer to shore and just off Start Point however; the sea was rough and turbulent as the sea currents interacted with rocky outcrops and variations in the sea bed. This of course is the very reason that a light house is required as it warns shipping of danger. As I looked at this choppy water I noticed that it quickly gave way to the smooth and calm waters of Start Bay.

As I looked I was aware of God prompting my thinking. I had been reading that morning about the troubles David had when King Saul was pursuing him relentlessly. So I reflected how troubles may come in our lives as a result of the arrangement and peculiarities of people or circumstances. Just like the rough water off Start Point however, David’s troubles gave way in due course to smoother water – peace in the land. I felt at the time that God was saying – as the old song puts it ‘There may be trouble ahead’ – but that the trouble will give way in due course to peace. In a strange way I have found this an encouragement.

However, I also noticed a fishing boat right at the heart of the rough water – you can just see it in the picture. The turbulence had brought fish to feed or gather which the local fishermen were able to capitalise on.

I wondered about this … what fruit is there to be harvested in the midst of trouble? What might God bring to the surface of our lives as we face up to and live through trouble? Jesus told us ahead of time that we will face trouble, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). May we see things as Jesus sees them and see the fruit he brings even in the midst of trouble.

Shalom!

Little Foxes

There’s more going on nearby us than we often know!Fox cub on a path in a garden

3509013270_f3c4490183_o Fox cubLast week I came across a dead young fox in our garden. The next day there were two more young foxes that had met their end overnight. This got me to wondering as I set to and gave of each of these young foxes a decent burial. I know there is a straightforward natural explanation for this but as I pondered the Lord reminded me of Song of Songs 2:15

“Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom”

The sense is that in damaging the vines in bloom the little foxes cut off the fruitfulness that should naturally result. Some years ago I picked up a card in a church that I was visiting which highlighted the attitudes and issues in relationships within a church community that can impede fruitfulness. That card was headed Eighteen Little Foxes! Here are the points it made as it contrasts godly attitudes/actions with the negative little foxes …

1. Edify and encourage –v- Fault Finding
2. Freely Bless –v- Withholding Blessing
3. Generosity –v- Stinginess and Greed
4. Forbearing Grace –v- Critical Spirit
5. Thankful Spirit –v- Petty Ungratefulness
6. Servanthood –v- Position and Recognition
7. Secured in God’s call –v- Insecurity and Comparison
8. Significance –v- Inferiority (gifting, anointing, position etc.)
9. Secured in God’s Love –v- Fear of Rejection
10. Large faith –v- Unbelief
11. Fear of God –v- Fear of Man
12. God Pleaser –v- Man Pleaser
13. Humility –v- Pride and Arrogance
14. Graced Words and Thoughts –v- Stinging/Caustic Words
15. Forgiving Spirit –v- Living with Unhealed Wounds
16. Sincerity –v- Hypocrisy
17. Submissive Spirit –v- Rebellion
18. Loyalty –v- Betrayal (words and innuendoes that defames others for personal benefit).

The little foxes in our garden were dead but even so I am increasingly aware that there are little foxes around that seek to ruin or diminish the fruitfulness of God’s vineyard. John 15:16 tells us that Jesus has chosen us and appointed us to bear fruit; so it’s important that we are aware of what is going on around us and indeed within us that might cut across our personal fruitfulness.

God’s enemy loves to energise the negative within us in order to impede God’s positive purposes in us and through us. So for wholeness and wellbeing watch out for those little foxes so you can catch them and see them off!

God’s Book

We travelled to visit an old friend of my wife’s the other day.  This lady trained and practised as a midwife in her early career but subsequently joined a mission involved in taking the gospel to the people of Europe.  My wife, Pat worked in the same mission and that’s how she had first met Jean.

I had heard much about Jean and her friend Mary, but had never met them so I was really pleased to meet them on this trip.  Jean has been very poorly in recent years and her various health issues render her frail now.   Actually, if you passed her on the street that’s exactly how you would see her … a small, frail old lady.

It was thrilling to meet Jean though and hear how she first joined the mission and worked in Vienna among Yugoslavs.  This was in the days of the Iron Curtain when Vienna itself was a divided city.  Jean was a major influence on some young Christian converts, men who later became significant Christian leaders in Serbia during and after the Balkan war.  Jean was also involved in smuggling bibles and other resources behind the Iron Curtain and told some exciting stories of God’s providence and protection at various times when she was searched.  Though she sometimes had her cargo of bibles confiscated, she told of how the Russian border guards were impacted by this small lady’s bravery and commitment in bringing God’s word into communist countries.

I was privileged to hear some of Jean’s story but if you didn’t know it and only saw her as she is now you could come to a huge misjudgment about her.  However, God knows.  The Psalmist said, ‘All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.’   It strikes me afresh that having your days written in God’s book is both a comforting and a challenging thought.  For Jean it’s good as I am sure she will receive her reward when she meets the Lord face to face irrespective of whether you or I know the details of her life!

It leaves me wondering though; what’s written in God’s book about my days?

The Power of the Cross

A dear friend of mine has had a wonderful experience of the power of the Cross of Jesus in her life in recent weeks.

She and I have been talking for some time about the impact of some very strong and recurring negative thoughts that she has had – negative thoughts so strong that they are almost like voices in her head. One way that she had found to silence these ‘voices’ was to hurt herself … but doing that brought a whole range of other problems so it wasn’t a very satisfactory or lasting solution.

We talked about how coming to the Cross of Jesus enables the most amazing exchange to take place. We know it’s a place of spiritual transaction because Jesus receives our sin there and gives us forgiveness and acceptance in exchange. Though Jesus died on the cross many years ago the reality of this exchange continues to work powerfully day by day.

So my friend started to take negative thoughts to the Cross whenever they come and receives instead wonderfully positive words of affirmation and acceptance straight from the Scriptures. It’s been amazing because at the Cross Jesus takes our guilt, shame, hurts and rejection and gives us instead the benefits and blessings of His blameless life. My friend has found that coming to the Cross is a place of peace and that trying to find peace through pain, denial or anything else is unnecessary and much less than God’s best.

Isn’t Father God good! He provides for all we need and delights when we come to Him to have our needs met.

As a matter of interest we often use this kind of Cross Work at the Healing Prayer Centre.

It’s Torture

I was praying with a lady the other day who described her sense of guilt and shame as a form of torture.  It got me to thinking – torture is much more common than we think!

Jesus speaks about torturers in Matthew 18.  Surprisingly though, Jesus doesn’t talk of rescuing us from the torturers.  No, this is no rescue … he actually talks about Father God delivering us to the torturers!  How can that be?  How could a loving God hand us over to be tortured?

Jesus is talking about forgiving those who have hurt us.  In this passage he describes how though other people may owe us a debt, we ourselves owe a much bigger debt to Father God who has forgiven us.  Jesus explains that Father God expects us to forgive people who have hurt us in just the same way that He forgives us for our wrong doing.

From observation and experience I know that unforgiveness is a place of torture as we rehearse the wrongs done to us, build a case against the other person and hold them to account.  It’s damaging, and if left unresolved leads to bitterness which pollutes our lives.  It’s not so much that Father God takes us there, it’s more that He is warning us that unforgiveness takes us to a bad place.

I believe that unforgiveness is a major cause of dis-ease and that many people are being tortured by it. This is something that we all know about because we have all been hurt by others.  We also know just how hard it can be to forgive other people. Jesus’ message is uncompromising however … He tells us that we must forgive those who have hurt us.   Have a look for yourself in Matthew 18:21-35.

From time to time we may all need help in dealing with issues of unforgiveness and it’s important for health and freedom that we deal with such things effectively.  The prayer teams at the Healing Prayer Centre at the Crossway work confidentially and are well used to helping people ‘forgive others from the heart’.

If you would like some help to deal with hurts or where you need to forgive other people then why not make an appointment by emailing healingprayercentre@stjohns-church.co.uk or calling or texting 0755 305 3252.

Trouble in the Family

“I love the way the Bible is so brutally honest about people and circumstances.  For example, some of the Bible ‘Greats’ who accomplished much and are highly revered also have some of their less notable episodes included in the text.  Look at the lives of King David or Abraham for example.

“In a similar way, the Bible is also very honest about how some of the issues of family life; like unwelcome inherited traits and unresolved family fall out’s, go on to make big trouble later on.  Jacob’s family for example is a case in point.  Jacob started out as a twister.  He met his match in his Uncle Laban (on his Mother’s side) but over a long period God changed and softened him. Meanwhile his relationship with his older brother Esau was a problem for a long time and when you look at the fall out’s and problems his children had … well what goes around comes around!

“There’s nothing new under the sun as families can bring us ‘the best of times and the worst of times’.  Sometimes, decisions made or practices followed by one generation can continue to affect successive generations.  We see that today and at the Healing Prayer Centre at the Crossway we often pray over people’s Family Tree asking God to bring healing and wholeness and cutting the current generation free from traits or blights from the past.  We also often pray with folk who have current relationship issues in their families or with others as we seek God’s perspective and solution to these.

“Praying for healing and wholeness in relationships is as much part of the vision and purpose of the Healing Prayer Centre as praying for physical healing.  Our prayer teams work confidentially in the peaceful setting of the Crossway.”

Is there trouble in your family or relationships that would benefit from prayer?  Why not make an appointment?  Speak to Antony or Email the Healing Prayer Centre or call or text 0755 305 3252.