Monday, 30 March 2020

Fruitful Faith in Fearful Times

Last Sunday morning, in my talk I explained that, for the Christian, a vital part of keeping God’s Second Commandment – loving your neighbour as yourself – is sharing the Good News of Jesus with others in word as well as deed, in what we say to them as well as what we do for them. And how important that is at this time when so many are understandably very fearful about life, as we all of us face so many uncertainties, so many unknowns. /So many things we placed our trust in give us good cause now for doubt; so much of what we took for granted has suddenly disappeared. Anxious times indeed.

It was St. Peter, in his epistle, who reminded Christians, when challenged about the truth we have to share, to do so respectfully and lovingly, but to be always ready to do so. Peter trusted in that incredible promise of Jesus that the Holy Spirit himself would give us the very words we need on such occasions. It’s a mystery, I know; but I also know it to be true - as millions of other Christians have known it to be true from those very first days of the Church./ How reassuring; and how much it raises our confidence as disciples when we discover this to be true ourselves. All it takes is not a degree in Theology, but faith, faith ‘as small as a mustard seed’ Jesus told his disciples; that is, just enough faith to be obedient to his command to tell others about him, about who he is, about his wonderful love for them, and why he came to ‘save’ them and offer them eternal life./ No, a person does not need a degree to tell someone that; just a little faith, faith ‘as small as a mustard seed’.

It is at times like these that people are more open to listen to the Good News that Jesus is. One person who had good cause to be fearful and in the most fearful of times was St. Paul; and yet he chose a fruitful faith in fearful times.

The piece we just heard read to us from Ch 8 of Paul’s letter to the Romans almost certainly was written from gaol or while under house arrest awaiting judgement. It was for both him and his readers a time of great suffering and fear. And yet fear and suffering are not uppermost in his mind as he writes: he doesn’t focus on these; rather, he focuses on God’s great love for us in Christ, Christ’s championing of our case, and Christ’s promise of eternal life. Paul thinks about their fears and their sufferings with a truly Christian mind; that is to say, he looks at them from the perspective of eternal life, and the deep, deep love of Jesus for us, a love from which as vs 38- 39 ‘nothing can separate us’. It is from this perspective, the perspective of eternal life and of Christ’s deep love, that we can look at how we can grow a fruitful faith in fearful times.

Ch 8 of Romans is a wonderfully reassuring chapter which I commend to you all to read in full and to pray about as you put yourself in the shoes of his readers. Great preachers have preached on just one verse alone from chapter 8 for longer than it takes a former churchwarden of mine to get round 18 holes of golf. No names mentioned of course!

Paul being Paul, just as Jesus did, mixes reassurance and promise with reminder and rebuke. To belong to Christ, he tells us in this chapter, is to know for sure, for certain, of his eternal presence in us, of our eternal safety in him, and that we can never be separated from his love, whatever life throws at us. So, says Paul, we should live appropriately in that security, seek Christ’s agenda - not only for ourselves but for this world and for others, allowing ourselves to be led by his Spirit in what we say and do, because this shows that we are God’s, by no means perfect, but nonetheless faithful children.

Of the many things we can glean from this chapter, one is certainly an insight into the whole perspective Paul has on this life and its troubles because of his faith in Jesus, because of his understanding of the necessity, the inevitability, of that first Good Friday and Easter Day. He understood the requirement of Good Friday, of the meeting of God’s justice and mercy on the cross, and of his love in willingly paying the debt human pride and sinfulness owed. He understood the significance for the whole of humanity of Easter Day, of the resurrection of humanity’s unique and universal Saviour which proved that Jesus was whom he claimed to be and that his offer of eternal life was no empty promise but a sure hope. And so it followed for Paul that these great truths would challenge the Christian to adopt a pattern of belief and behaviour which radiated the life of the Spirit of Christ living in those who had put their faith in him.

And of course Paul’s assurance and confidence about his situation - truly awful though it was in human terms - arising from the historical facts of Good Friday and Easter Day and the experience of the Holy Spirit in his life since his conversion, enabled him to build a ‘world view’ we would probably call it today, that made perfect sense. He had found answers to the four essential questions needed to make sense of this life, answers which had to work together rather than against each other: what is the origin of life; what is the meaning and purpose of life; how ought we to behave; and what is our destiny? All these come together and are answered perfectly in Christ. Or as Saint Augustine put it: ‘Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.’

God’s great love in Christ then; Christ’s championing of our case; Christ’s promise of eternal life, all these, says Paul in v 31 should convince us that we can put our faith wholeheartedly in Christ and not fear those who mock or slander or persecute us, nor indeed what happens to us in this life. And in verses 35&36 he paints a stark and terrible picture of what one might face. We must, as Christians, be realists: to be human means to live in a fallen and a broken world, a world where disease and death are part of the challenge of what life is. I don’t have time this morning to go into the question which I know troubles many people and prevents many from believing in a loving God, ’Why does God allow suffering?’ But I will just say this. Neither Jesus nor Paul address it in the way that would satisfy our curiosity. Jesus, when asked, simply tells his questioners to make sure they become reconciled to God and to do their utmost to relieve the sufferings of others, making very clear as he did, just who is the ‘neighbour’ whom we are called to love ‘as ourselves’. At base, it is only the prospect of eternal life, freely offered by Jesus, that allows us to believe in a loving God; this and the revelation in Jesus of God’s eternal love for us. Meanwhile, let’s get stuck into the relief of others’ suffering rather than just the cultivation of our own safe spaces and comfort zones, because that is our calling at this time, something we should do with love, peace, and joy.

It is obvious that Paul is more concerned about our spiritual life, and how we live that out in the here and now, than he is about our physical death and the sufferings we face. Why? Because he deems this far more important in the greater scheme of things./ It is difficult, I know, for us to do so because so much constrains us to focus on everyday needs, even if not just ours but the needs of others: there are not only mortgages to be paid but the next door neighbour’s shopping to be done, there’s the Coronavirus to be battled and beaten. / But if I know Jesus and the sure hope he offers of eternal life with him, it changes completely the way I look at this life and my relationships. It means that I need not fear and will want to live a fruitful life of faith for him because, as Paul says, nothing can separate us from God’s love. The danger is that the Church and Christians become wrapped up entirely in meeting their ‘neighbours’ physical and emotional needs, forgetting their spiritual needs. I know it’s not seen as very ‘British’ to talk about one’s faith, but the Christian faith is so much more than just the offer of tea and sympathy or doing the shopping – even if that’s all people want. It may well be a good idea to start with tea and sympathy, but we cannot leave it there. The love we know we must offer to all; it is a love which casts out fear and it is founded on Christ.

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Some Reflections on the Christian’s Role in this Pandemic - 22nd March 2020

I’ve been reflecting over the past few days – as, I hope, you would expect of me - on the Christian’s role during the current pandemic and what it is we, as Christians, can bring to others in their need, in their loneliness, and in their fears. How may we best help our ‘neighbour’? That word ‘neighbour’ which in the teaching of Jesus encompassed a far, far wider meaning than just ‘the person who lives next door’. I am sure you will agree that it has been both heart-warming and encouraging to see how people of all faiths and none have responded to those in need at this critical time we all of us face. With so many uncertainties and unknowns it is very troubling indeed.

Yet as I talk with people at this extraordinary time when Christians and non-believers alike find ourselves forced by our current situation to think more deeply than usual about life, about its meaning, its purpose, one’s destiny, I find not only the opportunity to talk about Christianity, about Jesus, but also a far greater openness and willingness amongst non-believers to do so. It is an opportunity and a challenge all Christians ought to make the most of: not to do so would be to short-change people, to deny them the supreme and unique comfort of Christ - the message of his priceless offer to all, the assurance of their sins forgiven and the sure hope of eternal life through him. What a wonderful message that is at any time; and especially so perhaps at this!

Christians have a calling of course, a duty given us in the Second Commandment, to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’; and so the practical deeds of love – doing the shopping for the vulnerable and isolated, collecting their prescriptions, phoning the self-isolators and the lonely, etc, etc are ones we must do as best we can – if of course we are able and, it goes without saying, in a way that poses no health threat either to them or to us.

But these also offer us an opportunity to speak of Jesus. Our detractors will say that doing so is ‘insensitive’ or ‘taking advantage of people when they are at their most vulnerable’: but such attitudes come from a view of the world that either refuses to acknowledge God’s existence or actively works, wittingly or unwittingly, against Him: they fail or refuse to recognise that we are made by God, in his image, and for a relationship with him. No, here is an opportunity both to serve others and to confess him, those two sides of the same coin of what must constitute the Christian’s love.

It was through the message of Christ crucified and the sacrificial love of ordinary Christians that Christianity turned the Roman empire upside down, introducing a completely new hierarchy of virtues, values, and morality: the ‘light’ of Christ turned back the ‘darkness’ of paganism, and this against all the odds - or as we would want to say, by faithful self-sacrifice and by God’s grace!

Christians argued in love and through love (what we used to call ‘charity’) that each and every human being is created in the image of the one, true God, and therefore of infinite value. This turned upside down the prevailing view of the status, value, and rights of every living individual.

It was this truly egalitarian spiritual doctrine the Christian community believed and, albeit imperfectly, practised, that produced such a deep and dynamic moral and social reversal which then had so many far flung fruitful consequences for all.

From the beginning, Christians argued, for example, that women were of as equal value as men, that infanticide was wrong, that ‘might’ was seldom if ever ‘right’, and that this life is not the be all and end all of human existence.

This last point, the message that there is eternal life and that it is offered, as a gift, to all who will be reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ, must surely be on our lips at this time when so many are forced by their circumstances to contemplate their mortality.

The Second Commandment is very much about loving the whole person: and if ‘whole’ means the mind and soul as well as the body, then why would we so restrict our love by not sharing the ‘Good News’ of Jesus with them?

That Christians and the institutional Church have too often failed in this their calling we must acknowledge; but British Common Law, the ending of slavery, the establishing of universal education, the emancipation of children, the relief, rather than the acceptance, of the evils of poverty, the motivation for modern scientific enquiry, the sanctity of human life, and the very concept of ‘human rights’, all these and so much else are the consequences of the Christian revolution which dates from the first century Anno Domini; and we should not be reticent about saying so.

This is still a Christian country and most people’s moral outlook - whether they realise it or not - is a direct consequence of that simple but wonderfully liberating and sustaining fact, the historical fact of the first Easter.

It is the resurrection of Jesus which proved that everything that he taught, did and, most importantly, claimed about himself, could indeed be believed – reasonably, rationally, and on the basis of sound historical evidence. That evidence will never be sufficient for those who do not wish to examine it, but to those who humbly and genuinely search for the truth, Jesus has promised to make himself known; we have only to open the door of our lives, but from the inside, and invite him in.

For many, sadly, it is only at times of adversity or uncertainty that they are able to hear Jesus knocking at the door of their life (Revelation Ch 3 v 20) with his offer of forgiveness, reconciliation, and a personal, eternal relationship with him: their lives at other times are too much taken up with distractions, temptations, and so much more. We can lovingly and respectfully help them to hear his knock by sharing the Good News of him with them.

Yes, there will be some who don’t want to hear it, and some, sadly, who will even hold it against us. But the ‘loving’ Christian really has no choice: as St. Paul says to the Corinthians in the passage that was read to us this morning, ‘we are ruled by the love of Christ’, or, as another translation puts it, ‘the love of Christ constrains us.’

As a very practical aid in this, the book ‘City Lives’ (you can find copies on a table by the New Room in the church, which is always open) tells the stories of a whole variety of people from different backgrounds who have heard his knock and responded. It would surely be a most ‘loving’ gift to offer (in a suitably gloved or freshly washed hand of course!) to a neighbour in need.

May the Lord Jesus bless you in all you that you do for him.

Rev Campbell Paget, Vicar of Brenchley 22 March 2020

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Truth Despised

The Christian faith may be ‘Good News’ to many – to many millions indeed throughout the world; but it is considered ‘bad news’ by many more. Christianity has been despised by the proud, the prurient, and the powerful since its beginning. As I said in last week’s talk entitled ‘Truth at odds with the World’, it is in the Christian ‘Gospel’s’ challenge to those political, social, cultural and sexual mores increasingly popular or accepted in the world today that we encounter such heartfelt animosity and, yes, fear; and where Christianity is most despised and Christians increasingly persecuted.

But right there at the beginning it was Christianity’s challenge to the Roman Emperor and to Roman life which caused Roman writers to describe it with such derision and disparagement: what Christianity advocated unashamedly undermined almost everything the Romans held dear and built their life upon! When the Romans threw away their sick, the Christians founded hospitals; when the Romans threw away their unwanted babies, the Christians found them homes; the Romans idolised might, the Christians revered love. We know this to be true because the Romans wrote it down!

I don’t think most people realise just how much Christianity was at odds with the Roman world. But then I don’t think most people realise just how much Christian moral, social, and sexual ideas formed Western society and still, despite opposition, permeate so many of the ideas and ideals the majority of people still hold dear. They may think or choose to believe that these ideas just somehow came about naturally; but history tells us very different. And I don’t think most people realise how much so-called ‘new’ understandings of what life is and what human beings are, are in fact regressions to the very moral and spiritual darkness from which Jesus, the Light of the World, called us and calls us still to shine into that darkness as saving lights to him.

And so the words in this morning’s two readings serve a timely reminder that in every generation Christ’s truth will be despised and, if his followers remain faithful, we will, in Jesus’ own words, ‘be persecuted on his account.’ It always has been thus; and so each and every Christian disciple in each and every generation needs to examine honestly and as objectively as possible these two things - ourselves and the society we live in: and we need to ask ourselves this. If our society is at odds with Christianity and despises it, what am I, called to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in the world for Jesus’ sake, doing about it? And then, if we’re brave enough, this much more challenging and disturbing question. ‘If my honest examination of contemporary society reveals that increasingly it can no longer be described as ‘Christian’, if I have not recently been ‘persecuted and had all kinds of evil uttered against me for Jesus’ sake’, then what is the current state of my ‘salt’ and the location of my ‘light’?

These are tough questions, I don’t deny it; which is why telling the whole truth about Jesus and his saving love for us must be told, and not just the comforting, cosy part. He calls us in his love to find in him rest and peace for our souls; but he also calls us to ‘take up our cross and follow him’. This is why he can say, as he does there in verse 12 – and remember this is from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, so we are talking about the very heart of his teaching – ‘rejoice and be glad!’ And before that in v 11 ’Blessed are you’. Why? Because you have stood up for me and been faithful: our reward in Heaven is given to us not because of achievement but because of faithfulness.

When we look at our society today, increasingly we see social and moral problems which require the major surgery of God’s truth and his love but which receive instead either sticking plaster solutions or quack medicine or worse. And when we examine these issues with an open and objective mind, and a Christian one, we find that at the root of them are the proud, the prurient, and the powerful - people interested only in themselves, their sexuality, their power over others. There has been a concerted campaign going on for years now to undermine Christianity and all it represents, the traditional family and all it represents, love and respect for home and country and all they represent. This is not to say that there are not perfectly healthy and respectable different ways to be ‘made in the image of God’ and a member of society, but we should not be foolishly naïve about the forces trying their hardest to destroy these precious things and set up the most dystopian alternatives.

Let me give you just a few examples of where we Christians can be the ‘salt’ and ‘light’ these situations need. If you disagree with me, of course come and argue your case after the service: otherwise, join me with your placards!

On 14th Feb 2020 in the High Court, the judge ruled for Harry Miller, an ex-policeman, against The College of Policing and The Chief Constable of Humberside regarding an alleged ‘hate crime’ because he tweeted a Christian view on transgenderism. It transpired in the case that Humberside Police held over 130, 000 registered offences of such ‘non-criminal cases’. They accepted that these could be pointed to in any vetting search on the person concerned by a potential employer. (I couldn’t take my placard to Humberside Police Headquarters, but I did go to their website and make my views known.)

Or again, last week I mentioned how the truth is often buried because it is regarded as ‘bad news’ by those wishing to promote a particular cause or agenda. In America, a commonly used hormone blocker has been found responsible for over 6000 deaths including some children, whilst a report in an Australian medical journal in October 2019 said this about the use of such a drug on children and teenagers:

‘Puberty blockers are given to adolescents so that they will have enough time and serenity to make up their minds about which path to take.’ So transgender doctors say, but the report also says this:

“How can the child be expected to ‘think straight’ when denied the sustaining effect of, in particular, GnRH on various parts of the brain that integrate memory, cognition and emotion into rational action? “What effect can be expected from the administration of cross-sex hormones on the growing brain? There are no relevant studies, but imaging of brains of adult transgenders has revealed shrinkage of male brains exposed to oestrogens at a rate ten times faster than ageing, and has revealed hypertrophy of female brains exposed to testosterone. Neuronal death has been noted on bench studies.” The report continues. ‘Nearly all teenagers are bundles of unfamiliar hormonal activity which provoke increased risk-taking, heightened anxiety, romantic interests, mood swings, and new friends. What transgender medical treatment may do is scramble these on top of suppressing pubertal changes.’’

Or something quite different. In United Nations established refugee camps, Christian refugees are regularly denied access or vital supplies. Why? Because the camps are in reality controlled by extremist Islamist groups. You have only to look at how few Syrian Christian refugees have made it to this country.

Or thinking of those Roman babies left out to die but collected up by the Christians and found homes. Can you think of a modern equivalent? I can! There are groups who believe that women should be offered the opportunity to have their unwanted child, and have parents waiting to adopt the baby rather than destroy it. But increasingly they are being prevented even from giving women all the facts so that they can make an informed choice.

There are many more cases in many walks of life both at home and abroad.

So what can you and I do? Are we to sit quietly and say nothing because, well, it’s all too complex, too difficult, and we might upset people, people we know! Or will you be ‘salt’ and ‘light’? Will you not only consider the issue but get stuck in? Will you hide your light, or will you allow it to shine so that people are drawn to it and can see the issue more clearly?

We don’t have to be perfect examples of humanity before we take up our cross and follow him. We don’t have to hold Oxbridge degrees in Theology before we speak of him. (In my experience that has often been a hindrance rather than a help to many Christians but I’m not going there this morning.) We do not have to have the gift of the gab: as Paul said to the Corinthians in our reading just a couple of weeks ago, ‘I did not come to you with great eloquence.’ He could have done – he was a very bright button - but he did not: the ‘Good News’ of Jesus can be presented to the ignorant and the blind in simple terms. Some certainly will despise it and us for sharing it. You and I Jesus calls not to change people but to share his truth and his love with them in order that they might have the opportunity to change: and to the humble and sincere searcher for truth Jesus promised to make himself known.

We are to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in order to draw attention to him. When we do some loving or ‘neighbourly’ act, when we say something wise or helpful to another …..and don’t mention him, we draw attention to ourselves, and so people go away thinking ‘what a nice person’ rather than ‘he or she did or said that because of this person Jesus Christ.’ Salt and light, remember!

I havn’t had time this morning to touch on Psalm 2 but I do recommend you pray it through. Verse 4 reminds me of the adage, ’If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.’ And ‘with fear’ in v 11 is the English translation. Translating is often tricky. Here ‘fear’ is better translated ‘with appropriate awe and wonder’.

Let me finish as I finished last Sunday with this thought. If you feel uncomfortable because what the world says is ‘ok’ you feel is not - as a woman, as a man, as a parent, as a disciple – because God’s word tells your mind it is not, and God’s Spirit stirs your heart to feel profoundly that it is not, then you can be sure that God is with you. But then you need to do something about it. He will not leave you on your own; but it is in our sufferings ‘on his account’ that we really get to know Jesus and grow in confidence in our faith in him. So be salt! Be light! And ‘rejoice and be glad!’ As the Psalmist says in the last verse of his psalm, ‘Happy are all who take refuge in him.’

Sunday, 16 February 2020

'Truth at odds with the world’

In my experience, and I’m sure in yours too, people who claim to know the truth about life’s big issues tend to be taken with a large dose of scepticism. ‘Who are you to say what the truth is?’ ‘What makes you think, whatever your academic or technical credentials, that you can tell me the truth about matters which are complicated and complex beyond belief?’

So many people these days have given up, not only on the idea that some one or some group might just know the truth about life’s big issues, but even on the concept of truth itself. Sure, we can agree at the micro level – the truth that, for instance, 2 + 2 make 4: but at the macro level? No. There seem to be so many different and differing understandings and interpretations of the truth about this life and our part in it that people just give up and become no longer interested in truth – it’s all too difficult, they say, or else they just become cynical. And who can blame them?

‘Bad news’, which so often means ‘the truth’, is ‘buried’ by those powerful enough to do so: all three of my careers to date have certainly convinced me of that! We are all of us flawed, fickle and fallible human beings: can anyone be believed? Is it not therefore wise to be sceptical? Take, for example, climate change. Whose evidence about the truth of what is happening and what is predicted are you going to believe? There are Nobel Prize-winning scientists on either side of the debate; and we know, going back to my first point, that unhelpful truths in this particular debate quickly get buried.

And so it’s really not surprising that for many people ‘truth’ becomes ‘whatever works for me’. And if something else ‘works’ for you, then that’s fine by me. As long, that is, until our truths clash; and then we have a problem. How are we going to resolve it? On what basis, what standard, what authority?

A few weeks ago I spoke about Jesus Christ’s claim to be ‘The way, the truth, and the life’, and about the incredibly compelling factual evidence to support his claim - his claim not only to ‘know’ but to ‘be’ the truth. Such a claim by anyone would generally be regarded as at best bonkers, at worst evil. But when people have examined closely him, his life, his teaching, his claims about who he was, and, so very importantly, what happened to him after his death - they have realised that he presents a most disturbing challenge to their ideas about the world, about humanity, about themselves.

The fact (t?) is that Jesus’ truth, though he intended it first and foremost to be wholly liberating for us, is at odds with the world and what the world believes. And what so many people find so uncomfortable in his teaching is that he refused to compromise - however well-meaning or well-intended - with the views of the world - by ‘the world’ I mean, as he meant, ‘those beliefs at odds with his’ – because he knew that views contrary to his truth lead not to liberation but to frustration, not to freedom but to slavery, the frustration and the slavery which take hold when, ironically, we think we know better about ourselves and about the world, both of which were his design, his creations.

I would like to take just three areas this morning where the truth Jesus taught was and increasingly is at odds with current and popular thinking. And I must add, because it is a most worrying and dangerous matter, that in all three areas members of our very own Church of England, in the House of Bishops and in General Synod, have begun to be taken in by or given in to the world’s views on these matters, to the Spirit of the Age, the Zeitgeist, to accommodation …just as Jesus and his Apostles warned us would happen.

Almost certainly the most shocking and insulting statement of Jesus, as far as most people are concerned, is his statement on the main reason why he came; his firm and clear statement that human beings need to be ‘saved’ from our sins and from our ‘selves’ or, if you like, the ‘selves’ which are responsible for the sins we commit and which, says Jesus, are a barrier between us and God and which spoil our relationships with one another. But he also made it clear that he and he alone could solve this problem for us – but only his way. As you read the record of Jesus’ life and teaching in the Gospels, it becomes crystal clear, crystal clear, that God is not at all happy with how we are. But Jesus presents God as our ‘Heavenly Father’ who loves us more than we can conceive of or imagine and hates to see the damage we do to ourselves and to others by our selfishness and our sinfulness. And as would any concerned parent, he must do something about this because he loves us. The Gospels show clearly Jesus’ love and compassion for all; but they do not show him coming to indulge our views of ourselves, to flatter our egos, to tell us that we need not change. Rather, he warns us to believe him and to believe in him; that only he can put us right with God and give us new lives freed from the destructive slavery to ourselves and to the temptations and demands of the other gods in our lives - all those things which blind us to the truth about life’s most profound and pressing issues, beginning with ourselves and our relationship with God and our fellow human beings.

The world tells us, subtly but o so persuasively, that it can satisfy our pursuit and longing for ‘identity’, whereas Jesus says that our true identity is to be found in relationship with him. The world tells us that we must be ‘affirmed’ in whoever or whatever we are, whereas Jesus says that we need to ‘repent’ and to be ‘born again’ through faith in him. The world tells us to indulge our narcissism and our hedonism – our preoccupation with ourselves and our appetites, whereas Jesus says, ’Come to me with all your burdens and I will give you rest. Take my truth to heart and you will find peace for your souls.’

No, this need to be ‘saved’ is so greatly at odds with the world’s understanding of the human condition and what it means to be human.

A so a second, idol-smashing, way in which Jesus’ truth is at odds with the way the world sees things is in his view of what human beings are and how we need to be transformed. Jesus says that we are made in God’s image by him and to live in relationship with him; that to know him and to obey his commandments is to enjoy a freedom the world cannot give. Indeed, the world without God can only offer, as I mentioned, frustration and slavery, the delusion that we can recreate ourselves into whatever we want to be.

Sadly, I have talked with so many who, looking at themselves and at their lives, have realised the frustration and the slavery – to job, to wealth, to success, to ambition, to appearance, to feelings, the list goes on: yet will not take the step of faith to trust Jesus’ offer of new life. And so they just carry on. I have also talked with those who, having examined themselves and their lives, have taken that step of faith and found in Jesus the peace and the freedom he offers discovering their true ‘identity’ in him. But the world is very cunning in its propaganda and in its temptations and in its apparently credible but innately specious arguments, drip fed as they are through the media and by groups whose aims are anything but the genuine freedom of the individual. Jesus came to set us free: they offer only slavery to appetite and to destructive addiction. When the New Testament writers spoke of ‘transformation’ and of ‘identity’ they were not speaking of what the world speaks of today regarding those things: ‘transformation’ was not about changing our God-given and scientifically and medically identified sex, it was about becoming like Christ, in whom we find not only our true identity but also the freedom to live fulfilling and abundant lives beyond the prison of the self.

All this leads to the third area in which Jesus’ truth is at odds with the world; and that is in how we behave to and with each other. The great and powerful thrust of the world’s propaganda is towards the deification of the self: it puts the self in the place of God and even declares that we are God. The trouble with this though is that the more we concentrate on satisfying our own appetites, the less time and space we have in our lives for others: this alone speaks volumes as to why loneliness, suicide, alienation, family break up, violent crime, and much else are on the increase. The facts simply do not allow us to blame it – though it is very consoling to do so – on economics, on poverty, and much else. The truth, uncomfortable though it is, lies much closer to home – in the preoccupation and infatuation with the self. It may start small; but it gets bigger and bigger as the world strokes and inflates our egos. We have to choose between two incompatible gospels. The world’s gospel centres on ‘me’, on my ‘identity’, on my ‘sexuality’, all of which must be ‘affirmed’ as they are and as I see them - or else! And today ‘or else’ has come to mean such socially destructive weapons as ‘no platforming’ or ‘hate crime’. This ‘gospel’- and powerful forces, even within the Church of England, are promoting it - can seem just and reasonable, appearing to be compassionate and in the name of equality and justice. But it flatters…. to deceive. On the other hand, there is the true Gospel which centres on God and his redeeming and transforming love in Jesus Christ, confirmed and made real in our hearts and minds by his Holy Spirit. There is no possibility of compromise between these two gospels, however much the world and the wolves in sheep’s clothing in the Church try to use Christian vocabulary in support of their views and even change its meaning to suit their own deceitful purposes. We would be both faithless and foolish to swop the true vine of Jesus for the diseased vine of the spirit of the age. We would be both faithless and foolish to swop Agape for Eros. We would be both faithless and foolish to swop the communion of the saints of God for the ‘radical inclusion’ of those who deny God - simply in order to remain the ‘established’ church of this land. And we would be both faithless and foolish to believe that accommodation with world views at odds with God’s revelation in Jesus Christ are ‘harmless’. If we are prepared to stand up for Christ’s truth however, we will find ourselves being persecuted. If so, said Jesus, we should ‘rejoice’! (?!) Let me finish by saying this. If you feel uncomfortable because what the world says is ‘ok’ you feel is not - as a woman, as a man, as a parent, as a disciple – because God’s word tells your mind it is not and God’s Spirit stirs your heart that it is not, then you can be sure that God is with you. Remember. As John put it in his letter, ‘He who is in you is greater than he that is in the world’.

Sunday, 9 February 2020

Where are you in the game?

1 Corinthians 2: 1 – 16 and Matthew 28: 16 – 20

A few weeks ago I spoke about Jesus’ claim to be ‘the Way, the Truth, and the Life’. That was the message Paul brought to the Christians at Corinth, and then reminded them of in the portion of his letter we have just heard. It was, it is, a message which centres on ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’.

That second part, ‘and him crucified’, is a sobering reminder to us of the great cost of his love – his unique and life-changing love for us and for everyone in the world. It also reminds us of the primary focus of the Christian message, our message, and the challenge it presents to people. It reminds us that our message to the world must never be anything less than ‘Christ crucified’, and that we are not at liberty to change it, or to water it down, or leave out the uncomfortable side of it, the side that reminds us that Jesus DIED for you and for me and for the sins of the whole world, with its most uncomfortable challenge to human pride in ourselves and in our foolish ideas that we do not need Jesus, nor to be forgiven, and the delusion that we are just fine as we are.

People come to church for different reasons; people are at different stages in their journeys in or into faith: but until a person embarks on the road of discipleship, of active commitment to Jesus and to unashamedly being known as a ‘Christian’ – and that is becoming even in this country increasingly difficult and dangerous – however else people think of themselves as being ‘Christian’, it is something very much less than how Jesus explained and sees it.

As far as Jesus and the New Testament writers are concerned, to be a Christian is to be a disciple. And if we consider his parting words in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 28, read a moment ago, we discover what it means to be a disciple.

First of all, Jesus assures us that the authority we have for our task as disciples comes from him; from him to whom (v 18) ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given.’ That is to say, there is no higher authority: no-one, however high their authority on earth, can tell you or me that we cannot do what Jesus has commanded. They may think they can, they may persecute or kill us and often do so: but our authority is from God himself. So, let’s be quite clear here: we do not offer opinions or advice; we speak with authority, his.

Secondly, to be a disciple of Jesus means to be publicly committed to him and wholeheartedly engaged in carrying out the mission he has given us, a mission in which EVERY Christian has a part to play. Specifically – and when local churches these days are being asked to draw up mission statements, and mission plans, and mission whatever the buzz word or trendy topic happens to be today – it must be focussed on, contain, and be nothing less than what Jesus told his disciples, for all times and all countries, in verses 19 and 20.

‘Therefore go, and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them everything I have commanded you.’

Now I think that’s pretty clear: and so when you hear other Christians or churches or church leaders suggesting anything different, be warned! But thirdly - and this is so encouraging, so heart-warming when we’re feeling feeble or futile or fearful as disciples, faced perhaps with a tricky situation at home or at work – we have his presence with us every step of the way. (v 20 again) He has promised his Holy Spirit to provide us with whatever we need to be effective disciples – even the very words we speak to proclaim his truth. And it is this third aspect or condition of being a disciple that Paul so very much relies on in explaining himself and his mission to the Christians at Corinth.

Let me just pick out a few of the vital things we need to know, things that will help us understand about the mission to which each of us has been called. Taking the passage as a whole, these things are clear and ought to give all of us every confidence and encouragement to be disciples of Jesus. The key word here is ‘simple’. First, the role of disciple requires simple people, ordinary people, people who won’t let their egos get in the way of the message entrusted to them. (verses 1, 4, 13) Secondly, our message needs to be simply presented (verse 1, 4, 13 again) Thirdly, the message itself is a simple one, that is, a plain and straightforward one (v2)

Fourthly, in everything we can rely on God and on the power of his Spirit in us, in our very words, and in their effect on others. When you and I simply and faithfully speak to others of ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’, it is the Spirit of God who will be at work in the minds and the hearts of those listening. And to those, to anyone, who is genuinely and humbly seeking the truth, our words will register. That is to say that those whose ears are sincerely open will then be in a position to make an informed decision about Jesus Christ. In everyday life we will find ourselves battling, on their behalf, against all kinds of myths and misunderstandings people hold about Jesus and Christianity; we will find ourselves battling against ignorance, against pride, against the temptations of and often slavery to other gods – to wealth, to success, to popularity, to self. But to the humble in heart, to the sincere, the message of ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’ will be not the ‘foolishness’ the wisdom of the world claims it is, but the ‘Good News’ of (v9)’the things God has prepared for those who love him.’

Like Paul then we go to others not as philosophers, politicians, or salesmen but as ambassadors: and here Paul describes the simplicity of what that means and involves, and the great power that is at work in those who will work with Jesus.

The wisdom of the world rejects Christianity as ‘myths’ or ‘unscientific’. But the wisdom of the world cannot answer the questions only Christ and Christianity can. Myths and science by their very nature cannot explain who made us, why we exist, how we should live, what happens when we die. Only the one who created the world and us can explain these things and so much more.

We need to have (v 16) ‘the mind of Christ’ to understand and to proclaim these truths. And, says Paul, those who belong to Christ, those who have begun on the road of discipleship do have his mind, that is to say, his wisdom. The question remains then for each of us, ‘Where am I on the road?’

So let me leave you with this thought; something to consider and pray about this week. Where are you on your faith journey and have you yet committed to the road of discipleship? It might help if I use a footballing analogy and ask, Where are you in the game? Perhaps you are already in the forward line, taking on the opposition and keen to score goals against the world, the flesh, and the Devil? Or perhaps you are in defence, providing a wall for your team against shots at goal aimed at defeating God’s word or his people? Perhaps you are in midfield acting as a vital link between the two, supporting both attack and defence with your gifts of encouragement, discernment, prayer, and whatever other gifts God has given you to get you to play an active and useful part in the game? Or are you perhaps still somewhere in the stands, watching your team play but playing no really active part yourself? I can only guess that because you are actually here today, you havn’t entirely lost interest in the game and left before the final whistle!

The words here of Jesus and of Paul set out very clearly what it means and requires of those who call themselves ‘Christians’: that each one of us is called to discipleship, a calling in which we know what our mission is; we know on whose authority we have it; and we know that we are never on our own because ‘Remember, surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’

Sunday, 26 January 2020

Matthew 14: 22-33 and Acts 3: 1-10

Interestingly, after I’d already prepared a good chunk of this talk, I saw that Campbell had written on last week’s service sheet – ‘Why not volunteer for something that takes you beyond what you are used to or out of your personal comfort zone, and discover what amazing things you and God can do together.’

And really this is the gist of what I want to talk about this morning – and why I chose today’s readings about Peter getting out of the boat and walking on water and Peter and John healing a crippled man.

Both these stories are really about stepping out in faith, and the stories show how God can work through us in amazing ways if we’re prepared to do this.

When I say stepping out in faith, I mean being obedient to what we feel God is asking or prompting us to do.

This may be undertaking some new role or calling in the church; starting up a new venture or group; or it may be responding to a nudge from the Holy Spirit to say or do something in a particular situation that we find ourselves in.

It’s basically being led by the spirit of God and responding in faith.

Now I’m conscious that many of you are already doing an awful lot to serve this church and the local community – but as Campbell says – I think God wants to encourage us all to step out of our comfort zones – to expand our faith boundaries and to give something we perhaps haven’t tried before, a go.

You see the more we get out of our comfort zones – the more we have to rely on God – and the more he can work through us.

In the film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – there is a bit called ‘Leap of Faith’ which you can watch on You Tube.

Indiana Jones has to take a step of faith in order to cross between two sides of a rocky cavern. It looks like there is nothing at all there to support his weight.

And it’s only as he takes a step off one side that he discovers that there is an invisible bridge under his foot.

And in the Christian life, as we are out of our depth naturally speaking, we have to rely on God to help us and then we discover the supernatural power of God’s Holy spirit working in us and through us.

For instance, many of us struggle to to share our faith with those around us. We feel out of our depth talking to our friends and neighbours about our faith in God.

So, we refrain from doing this because we feel embarrassed or fearful or we’re not sure what to say; but Jesus tells us not worry about what we should say - because the Holy Spirit will give us the right words to speak.

However, the only way we’ll experience this is if we take a step of faith and speak out – and give it a go.

Actually, it’s a good thing if we do feel out of our depth and don’t really know what to say – because then God can speak through us.

As I’ve said, the more out of our comfort zone we feel – the more we have to rely on God, and the more he can work through us.

Many Christians are also really daunted by the idea of praying aloud with other people present – for instance at a prayer meeting or in a bible study group, because it’s not something they’ve done before and they feel fearful.

But if we are prepared to take a step of faith and give it a go – we may well be surprised at the help God gives us and the prayers which come out of our mouths.

When I was quite a new Christian, I went to a bible study group and to my dismay the guy running it asked each of us to pray for someone else in the group.

I wasn’t used to praying aloud for people and even worse, he asked me to pray for an elderly lady who I really didn’t know very well at all but who was clearly struggling with life.

When it was my turn, feeling very nervous, I said an arrow prayer - Lord please help me because I haven’t got a clue what to pray – and then I just prayed whatever came into my head hoping it was OK.

I was really surprised that the elderly lady seemed quite moved by what I prayed. However, I was even more surprised when the group ended, and another lady who knew this elderly lady quite well, came up to me and to told me that my prayer had been just right for her.

Because I was out of my depth I had to rely on God and he helped me and gave me the words I needed to pray.

In a similar vein – the whole area of praying one to one for other people is a big challenge for many Christians; and especially perhaps the idea of praying for healing for someone.

It does take courage to offer to pray with someone. Quite a few times I’ve avoided opportunities to pray for people because I haven’t felt very full of faith or I’ve felt awkward or embarrassed.

To some extent the more we do something, the more comfortable we’ll start to feel, but stepping out in faith is often a challenge because it does take us out of our comfort zone.

I remember the first time I offered to pray with someone for healing over 20 years ago. I’d been on a healing course and we’d been told that God would likely provide us with opportunities to give it a go and pray for people.

So, when a lady who worked in my office came in saying she was in pain with a kidney infection, I felt I ought to offer to pray for her.

I ummed and aahed for about half an hour and eventually summoned up the courage to ask her if she’d like me to pray for her. A big part of me hoped she’d say no – but she didn’t, she said – ‘oh yes, please.’

We went to an unused office and feeling very awkward, and wanting to escape back to my desk - I prayed a very quick prayer for her asking Jesus to touch her life and heal her.

I hoped that would be it – but she stayed in an attitude of prayer with her eyes shut for what seemed like ages. I asked her if she was alright – and she said ‘oh yes’ and that she’d been experiencing a great sense of peace and the pain in her kidneys had gone.

I was really surprised because all I’d felt was nervous and embarrassed - but God was able to work through that.

Stepping out in faith needn’t always be a big thing. God often prompts us to do little things. Perhaps to give someone who is struggling our time; to show someone an act of kindness; or to give some money to a person or organisation who needs it.

Sometimes he may be prompting us to pass on some words of encouragement to someone or perhaps a bible verse that may be helpful to someone.

And if we’re obedient to what we feel prompted to do, He can make a deep impression on them.

I remember a few years ago being welcomed to an evening service at St Matthews Church in High Brooms. This guy saw me come in and walked up to me and gave me a very warm welcome.

It wasn’t a big thing, but I’m sure God prompted him to do it, because through this man’s actions I really felt that God himself was welcoming me to the service and that He was pleased I’d come.

Sometimes God may be prompting us to start something new.

It could be starting a daily bible reading programme – like the Bible in One Year or going to a bible study group or prayer meeting. Or perhaps we feel that God wants us to go on a course, or to start up some new local group or initiative.

A friend of my daughter has started up a prayer group for mum’s with young children. And at my previous church a guy set up a monthly men’s breakfast group and invited Christian speakers along.

All these things involve stepping out in faith.

Perhaps you feel that God is asking you to do something but you’re worried that you’re not up to it.

Well, firstly God knows exactly what you’re capable of and if he’s asking you to do something – you are definitely capable of it.

And secondly, if God asks you to do something, He will always help you to do it.

I’ve mentioned before – that when I first felt called to preach, I really wasn’t particularly enthusiastic. My initial response was a bit like John McEnroe’s to the line judge at Wimbledon – “Lord, you cannot be serious!”

I had no desire at all for an upfront role; I really didn’t like public speaking; and I wasn’t convinced that my knowledge of the bible was up to it. But I gave it a go and discovered that God was helping me and actually – apart from feeling nervous - I enjoyed it.

Still today, I look at some bible passages I’ve been given to preach on and think – ‘Oh Lord what on earth can I say about this’ – but I’ve found consistently that with prayer and application, God always helps me find something to say.

As I’ve said, God calls us to do things we’d struggle to do naturally – because just as a swimmer who is out of their depth has to swim – so we - when we’re out of our depth have to rely on God to help us.

So, to tie up what I want to say this morning – I’ll quote Campbell again. ‘Why not have a go at doing something in your Christian life that takes you beyond what you are used to or out of your personal comfort zone.’

Something where you’ll have to say ‘Lord you’re going to have to help me with this because I can’t do it on my own.’

If you do, you’ll likely experience God the Holy Spirit working in and through you and your faith will become stronger and more real.

Maybe you’re not a Christian yet but you’d really like to know God’s love for you, and to experience the power of faith in your life.

And maybe this is something you’ve been thinking about for a while.

Well perhaps today is the day you need to step out of the boat and invite Jesus into your life to be your Lord and Saviour.

Or maybe you are a Christian and you’d like to step out in faith but you feel you need more of God’s Holy Spirit – more of his power and presence in your life. Or perhaps you have a healing need.

Whatever your need Aline and I will be very happy to pray with you at the communion rail or after the service – whichever you’d prefer.

I’m going to close now with a time of quiet prayer and reflection where you can share anything that is on your heart with God.

Perhaps though, reflect on ways that you can step out of your boat and do something for God that is beyond your normal comfort zone.

So, let’s all pray quietly for a few moments.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Healing and Words of Knowledge

As some of you may know, Aline, Moira and myself recently did an eight week course on Christian Healing and Wholeness at Goudhurst Church.

It was a really helpful and interesting course, lead by two members of the Goudhurst congregation – Faye, a lady GP and her husband Wes, whose work involved computers and data analysis.

They had both written the course after several years of studying Christian healing and of their own practical experience.

A couple of things we were taught really struck me, and this morning I’d like to share these with you as they have relevance for all Christians and indeed for anyone who has a healing need.

The first session covered looking at what the bible says about healing and at how Jesus healed people; and the second session, at our own part – as Christians - in God’s plans to heal people.

Wes said that as a younger Christian he’d prayed for quite a few people to be healed but with limited success. This resonated with me because I’ve also prayed for quite a few people to be healed – but also with limited success.

For instance, I prayed with my former boss at work three times for his ears to be healed from Tinnitus – but with no apparent effect whatsoever.

Oddly enough later on in the course we learned about how being a Freemason can have a very negative spiritual influence over people’s lives – and my boss was a freemason for a number of years – so maybe that was part of the reason my prayer didn’t work. I don’t know.

Anyway, given his limited success, Wes decided that he’d look again at how Jesus prayed for people to be healed and he realised that when Jesus prayed for people, he didn’t pray prayers of supplication asking his Father to heal them.

He didn’t pray Father God have mercy on this person and touch them with your healing power - as we are inclined to do.

Instead, he always spoke words of authority or gave people instructions. For instance, he said to the Leper – “Be clean.”

He said to the paralytic man – “Get up take your mat and go home.”

He said to the man with the withered hand – “Stretch out your hand.”

He said to Jairus’s daughter “Little girl I say to you get up.”

He rebuked demons and the fever which was afflicting Peter’s mother in law.

Wes and Faye pointed out that Jesus healed people by speaking words of authority over people’s sicknesses and diseases, over demons and even death.

Now you might think – well it was alright for him - he was God’s son. But the thing I learned on the course which really struck me is that as Christians we share in the authority of Jesus.

Let me try and explain. You see, as Christians, Jesus lives in us and we live in him. The Holy Spirit who lives in us – is exactly the same Holy Spirit who lived in Jesus and who empowered him to perform the miracles he did.

And as Christians we are Jesus’ physical body in the world. We are his hands and feet and eyes – and as we submit to him and seek to reach out to others in his name, he gives his authority to us. He gives us authority to speak and to act in his name.

And this is why I chose this morning’s gospel reading from Matthew – because in it we read about Jesus giving his disciples authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

Notice that, authority to heal every disease and sickness. There is no disease or sickness which is too hard for Jesus to heal.

Faye explained that as a GP – a Doctor – she has been given authority by the General Medical Council to write prescriptions. That authority is hers.

And in the same way, as Christians, Jesus gives us authority over demons and disease and sickness.

So, when we pray for people to be healed or to be set free from infirmity – we need to recognise this authority and seek to exercise it in Jesus’ name.

So, when we pray for healing for someone, we’re not so much praying a prayer of supplication - imploring God to heal them; we’re recognising and exercising the authority which Jesus has given to us.

We’re seeking to speak and to act in Jesus’ name – as he would.

Wes said when he recognised this, the words he used when praying for people changed and his prayers for healing started to become more effective.

We can pray a prayer of supplication before we address a healing need. For instance, Lord Jesus we invite you to come now with your healing power and to touch so and so’s life.

But then ideally, we should address the sickness or condition we are praying for. For instance, I say to you damaged knee – in the name of Jesus be healed and made whole. Be knit together and restored.

Or I say to you Arthritis in Jesus name, leave this wrist; depart and be gone; full movement without pain be restored in Jesus’ name.

Faye encouraged us to picture in our mind’s eye what complete healing might look like in the situation we are facing and to seek to pray it into being.

It can seem a bit strange and almost presumptuous praying like this, but we are seeking to speak and to act as Jesus would – in his name.

Wes and Faye stressed that when someone comes with a healing need, we should always try and listen to what God may be saying, as sometimes there may be other needs in a person’s life which first need to be addressed.

This is particularly true where a person’s relationships are in disrepair and there is perhaps a need for forgiveness or reconciliation.

Of course, we won’t always be successful when we pray. Sometimes people will experience healing and perhaps a feeling of warmth on the afflicted area; sometimes they may experience partial healing; and sometimes there may be no apparent effect. But we can at least give it a go.

By doing so we are being obedient to verse 8 of today’s gospel reading where Jesus tells us to go out into the world and; “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”

Wes and Faye emphasised that we are all on a journey and learning all the time. We’re all wearing L plates.

They also stressed that perseverance is important. Jesus prayed twice before a man’s sight was fully restored in Mark Chapter 8 and we may need to pray for people several times before they are fully healed.

There’s a great little series of videos on You Tube about Healing called the Normal Christian Life – and in one of them called ‘Watch her leg grow out’ - a young man prays four or five times for a stall holder’s wrist to be healed from Arthritis before it’s fully healed.

Each time he prays there is a small improvement. Its actually quite funny because the stall holder says “Listen mate, I appreciate your concern but we could be here all day doing this.” In the end though his wrist is completely healed because the young man perseveres.

The other thing we learned about in the course which made a particular impression on me, was Words of Knowledge. Words of Knowledge are a spiritual gift mentioned in today’s reading from 1 Corinthians.

They are a bite sized piece of information which God imparts to us through his Spirit, and they can be particularly helpful in a healing context, as God can highlight specific healing needs that he wants to address.

And this is why we are now waiting on God before some services and praying for Words of Knowledge.

Words of Knowledge can be little pictures in our mind’s eye. For instance, at Café Church last month when we were waiting on God, I saw a little picture in my mind’s eye of a patch of skin which wasn’t quite right and I sensed there was a person who was concerned about this.

It really was a brief little glimpse – but Wes and Faye encouraged us to share anything like this as it might be important to someone – as indeed it proved to be.

Words of Knowledge can also be specific names or places or professions or diseases which come into our minds as a thought.

Sometimes we may even see words highlighted in our mind’s eye when we see someone. John Wimber who was a well-known American evangelist recounts in a book how he saw the word ‘Adultery’ written across the forehead of a guy he was sitting next to on an aeroplane.

They ended up having quite an interesting chat about relationships.

Words of Knowledge can also be felt as a sympathy pain – where you feel a specific pain in an area of your body – which someone else is experiencing.

For instance, in the session where we covered them, we were all encouraged to be still and wait on God and then share anything we felt God might be saying.

I was sitting there relaxing and trying to be conscious of my body when I felt a pain at the base of my wrist. It only lasted a second or two then went. But then it happened again – so I thought I’d better share it.

It turned out the lady next to me had a pain in this exact spot – as in fact did a guy behind me.

We prayed for both of them – and the lady’s wrist pain disappeared. I’m not sure about the guy as I didn’t ask.

We’ve waited on God a couple of times now – at Café Church last month and at the joint service at Lamberhurst on 29th December. A few people have responded to specific words and have experienced various degrees of healing.

As I said earlier Aline, Moira, and I, are all really new to this and we are by no means experts. We are all learning but we are seeking to be obedient to God.

In time we’d love to see not just Brenchley Church but also perhaps Matfield, Horsmonden and Lamberhurst Churches become places where through Words of Knowledge, people start to realise that Jesus is alive and real and that he cares about their situations and wants to heal or help them in some way.

So, to tie up what I want to say this morning – firstly, if you are a Christian – realise the authority that Jesus gives you to speak and to act in his name.

Although healing may not be your main area of interest or service – do bear it in mind as a possibility if you encounter situations where people are open to being prayed for.

And secondly, when we were waiting on God at the joint service at Lamberhurst we felt that God was saying that he wanted anyone with any sort of need to come to him – not just those to whom a Word of Knowledge applied.

We can’t promise that God will always answer our prayers in the way we might hope but we believe that he loves you and cares for you and that he wants to touch your life for good in some way.

So, if a Word of Knowledge applies to you – or if you have any sort of prayer need do come and see us after the service and we’ll be very pleased to pray for you.

As usual there will be the opportunity to ask me questions after the next song – but I’ll close now with a time of quiet prayer and reflection – where you can share anything that my talk may have raised or anything that is on your heart, with God. So, let’s all pray quietly for a few moments.