Thursday, 9 February 2017

Colin: Planted By The River

I was recently asked what makes River so special and it’s clear to me that it is not one attribute that makes it so. Rather it is the combination of many attributes that makes River such a wonderful community to be a part of.

We glimpse something of it when meals are provided for a new-born’s family to help them through the early weeks; when a festival is run for the community at the cost of the church; in the readiness with which many speak prophetic words to comfort, exhort and strengthen the heart of the hearer; and in the ease with which the sick are prayed for in faith to make them well. You can see the heart of it in the deeply committed relationships that have bound friends together through thick and thin for decades.

Yes, I thank God our Father for River, but how did we get here? A few thoughts will help us live in the good of where we find ourselves and help propel us into the next season He has for us.
Firstly, the church was begun by an experience of the presence of God through His Holy Spirit. A group of youngsters were boating on the Thames and were overwhelmed by God and started speaking in tongues and prophesying. Over the years, adventuring in the gifts of the Spirit has been a hallmark of our community, sometimes dynamic and ecstatic, at other times gentle but just as powerful.

Secondly, we have come to know God as our loving Father. His heart is to bless us and through us to bless the world. He is for us, He is always working for good in all things, He is patient and willing to walk at our speed, He’s not controlling but allows our choices to influence His plans, He asks us to partner with Him in ways we could never have dreamed, knowing we will mess up some times but will grow through the work. In short, we know we are the apple of His eye (Zech 8:2), and that fills us with joy!

Thirdly, we have found that Jesus always treats us better than we deserve! We can all think of a hundred reasons why God shouldn’t accept us, why we’re not worthy to be used by Him to bless others, and why we deserve to be punished or to have misfortune, but when we come to Jesus we receive grace. We find He is gentle and humble and accepts us just as we are, whilst promising to transform us. He speaks words over us that lift us from the hum-drum to the highest places, things like, “You are the light of the world”, “I chose you to bear much fruit and glorify your Father” and “You will do the works I do and even greater works than these.”

Yes, this community is underpinned and watered by its theology, its understanding of who God is, which in turn shapes our thinking around life’s biggest questions: why the world is like it is, who are we and why are we here? That’s effectively what Psalm 1:1-3 says, “Blessed is the one who… delights in the law of the LORD, and in His law they meditate day and night. They shall be like a tree planted by rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever they do shall prosper.”

So whatever other resolution we may have made for 2017, let’s add a determination to make reading the Bible a delight and to ponder on what we’ve read. The Bible is the Word of God to us, it is given to lead us to Jesus and is the best way of learning who God is and what He wants of us. Don’t be put off by feelings of inadequacy or by thinking you’ll never understand it all… the truth is none of us understands it all and we are all inadequate, but God has promised to teach us by His Holy Spirit, to lead us in paths that are good for our souls, producing fruit in our lives that brings glory to Him!

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen”  2 Corinthians 13:14

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!