Saturday, 26 November 2016

Colin: Carrying Hope

We are certainly living in uncertain times. There has been a growing dissatisfaction with the status quo, whether with religion as it has been, or established political unions (old & new), or governing parties. The growing desire for change has reached a tipping point as 51% have decided enough is enough, things can’t go on as they are.

Some blame immigration for our troubles, while others complain the rich are getting richer and the poor, poorer, whilst multinational companies avoid paying taxes… Democracy itself is being tested by this uncertainty; the change appears too great for the 49% who wanted reform not revolution. There is more anger and frustration being demonstrated than we have witnessed for some time. We have voted for change, but what will the future shaped by Brexit look like? How will the world be affected by an America led by Donald Trump? The truth is, none of us really knows!

How should we live in these days? I think the church has a key role to play, one we’ve always had, to be a light in the darkness, a beacon of hope in an uncertain world. Biblical authors had a distinct way of describing times like these, times of change in the world order. They announced that the unshakable things are being shaken: the sun will be darkened or turn black, the stars will fall from heaven, the moon will turn blood red or no longer shed any light. None of these ‘signs’ was supposed to be interpreted literally, they were just a way of saying that an established order, an empire or way of life, would be swept away by great change. 

Jesus himself told us there’d be times like these, along with wars, rumours of wars, famines & earthquakes. He told us because He didn’t want us to be shaken. He wanted us to expect these times of uncertainty and distress so that we’d be ready, not taken by surprise. The Kingdom is coming, but that doesn’t mean that everything will be rosy. It comes in the midst of troubles, of trials and of persecutions. In fact, Jesus says these are not signs of the end, but just signs that things are not as they should be. He says that if we’re looking for a sign that the end might come, when God finally makes all things new, then it will only come once the Good News has been preached in all the world! 

Knowing this, we can be filled with peace and joy despite the uncertainty and the trials. No matter what we see or hear, we know that “of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:7). That means we can shine like stars in the darkness, we can be beacons of hope. We know that God is love and that He is for us, that He still sits on His throne, that He laughs at the machinations of those who plot evil, and that His Kingdom will fill the whole earth. We also know that His Kingdom only comes as His people step out in faith and do the things He asks of us. As His children, we are to become like Him; as His ambassadors, we are to represent Him; and as His co-workers, we are to work along with Him to bring peace, healing and hope to the world. We are too weak to accomplish this by ourselves, so He gives us His Spirit to guide us, teach us, encourage us, comfort us and empower us. 

Let the words of Jesus fill and refresh our hearts again today: “I have spoken these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) 

As we enter the Christmas season again, let’s fill ourselves up with the Good News the angels announced, peace and goodwill toward men & women, joy for all people. A Saviour has been born and His kingdom will grow to fill the earth. So let’s keep our eyes on Jesus, love everyone, and demonstrate that heaven is close.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Colin: Signs of the Times

Before the summer we heard incredible reports of thousands of people responding (in some way) to the good news of Jesus on the streets of Reading! We are accustomed to hearing such reports from far-flung places, but down the road!!! If you are anything like me and have been so blessed through coming to know the love of God our Father through His Son, if He has brought joy, freedom, peace and profound meaning to your life as He has to mine, then you, like me, probably pray for our nation from time to time. I hope you join me in regularly asking Father to do the incredible things in our land that we hear are happening in other places. So, if you are anything like me, you would have been wondering, “Is this it? Is this what we have been praying and hoping for? Has revival finally come to England?” So a few of us decided to take a look and went to Reading to join in their outreach for a morning. 

First impressions of ‘The Turning”, as it has been named, were that God was doing something remarkable in a very ordinary looking church with very ordinary looking people… that’s just the kind of thing God does all the time! He uses the weak to shame the strong and the foolish to confound the wise. They had run a mission week with some American evangelists and had seen 60 or so folk respond every day, so they decided to continue and over 2000 had responded when last I heard. What started on the streets led to members of that church growing in confidence in sharing the good news so that they started to lead friends, neighbours, schoolmates and colleagues to Christ. Wow! 

So is this what I’ve been looking for? My honest answer is yes and no. Yes, in that it is wonderfully encouraging to see that level of openness to faith in Jesus in our land. No, in as much as the method used didn’t sit entirely well with me, even though I’m thrilled for our friends in Reading and continue to pray blessing on their work. We all had to use a written script to speak to people, leading them through a set of questions and answers to a point where they pray by repeating a prayer we say. Being an inquisitive sort, I’d like to ask more questions about what is going on for them! Did they pray out of an earnest desire to know God, or was it just easier to pray than to interrupt and divert the evangelist from their desired goal. There’s no denying something remarkable is happening despite my own discomfort with methods. The challenge to me is to be as passionately committed to proclaiming the good news of the Father’s love for mankind and creation as our friends in Reading! The challenge to us is to find ways of communicating the Good News that speak to our culture, answering the sincere questions of our friends and loved ones. I’m currently writing a preaching series called “What is the Gospel?” where I attempt to stir us up to this task… please watch out for it, listen carefully and let me know what you think and any ideas you may have. 

There is no doubt that God is doing great works in the UK. We have seen the church grow in the gifts of healing, tongues and prophecy. We have received a deeper understanding of the Father’s heart for the world, churches are working more together than they have for a long time and there have been significant outbreaks of heavenly activity in places like Reading, thousands receiving prayer in Coleraine in Ireland and over 300 kids responding to Jesus in one day in a school when Lindz West of LZ7 preached to them. These are all signs that the kingdom of heaven is coming, that the spiritual climate in our nation is changing for the better. 

So what is our response? Let’s persevere in doing good wherever and whenever we can. As the apostle Paul says, “Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not lose heart” – Galatians 6:9. You see, God is at work, but He works in partnership with people. So let’s continue in the work with renewed faith, understanding from the signs of the times, that something wonderful is happening!

Monday, 16 May 2016

Colin: Wherever the river flows…

I hope you’re enjoying the new look to River’s website, banners and newsletter? I’m thrilled, as the new logo represents who we are at our core. When I joined River back in 1988, the verse of scripture often quoted was Ezekiel 47:9 “Where the river flows, everything will live” (NIV). I think that scripture still captures the heart of who God has called us to be, and I like to say, “Wherever the River flows there will be life!”

We have been overwhelmingly blessed by the love of God shown to us in Jesus. Seeing the world, and ourselves, through the forgiving and compassionate eyes of our Father brings us such joy and peace. Knowing He has chosen us to partner with Him in mending the brokenness we see all around fills our lives with hope and meaning. You could say our lives have been wrecked (in a good way!) by His love and His inclusion of us in His purposes. Our deepest desire is that others would share that joy!

As churches, we bring life in many ways: providing services where folk can meet with God, youth groups giving young people a safe and positive experience where they’re encouraged to make good choices, mother & toddler groups, community lunches, messy church, etc. These are all wonderful and very necessary as they help others see Jesus and His church in a good light; but if we’re going to see our communities truly loved to life, it requires us all to do our bit and intentionally bring life to those we live and work among. If we’re honest, our lives are pretty full and so we can tend to think, “I’m busy just now, but I’m sure God will send someone else to visit, help, befriend, speak to or pray for that person”. Often we never get around to making the time, but the truth is, God is sending us! No-one else might notice the plight or have opportunity to help.

Another hindrance to us stepping out in bringing life is that we can allow the enemy to disqualify us. We can all think of reasons why God shouldn’t use us, but that is forgetting the grace of God. He treats us all better than we deserve and is looking to work through anyone who is willing to trust Him. Last week I had the privilege of bringing life to a few people. Some of us met a homeless man and were able to help him get a bed for a couple of nights until he could pick up his first pay packet. I got to chat to a lady who was desperate and helped her see what God was doing in the midst of her pain, and encouraged her to ask Him into her life. I talked to another seeker who was seeing things in the church that he was dismissing as meaningless. I sat with him for half an hour and he thanked me for helping him see things differently. (I was late home, but I choose to believe it was worth it.) He departed not quite so dismissive of the things he saw in the church. After I had taught at the Ignite course in Newcastle I prayed for the sick. One lady declared that the sciatic pain she’d carried for 4 months had left her; and a man said his foot pain was healed and proceeded to stamp on the floor to prove it!

The truth is, we are all anointed to bring life in Jesus’ name. That’s why we’re called Christian, which means ‘little Christ’, or ‘little anointed one’. It’s also true that we carry this wonderful treasure in jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7). We are often under pressure and feel inadequate, but let’s not allow that to stop us. It is normal and means that when we do bring life in His name, He gets the glory! Our lives represent the flow of the River, so let’s aim is to bring joy and life wherever we find ourselves.

Life is not easy so we all need encouragement to live this way, which is a good reason to come to RiverFest16! Julian & Sarah Richards have such an inspirational story and will share their wisdom about how to live like heaven is near, in such a way that the abundant life of heaven breaks into this world through us. The Lord is going to do great things among us that weekend!