The Holy Spirit Unites

This blog post links to a sermon preached on Sunday 14th October 2018 – Listen below

 

Have you noticed how our society craves unity? Jeremy Corbyn turns up at Glastonbury and promises to unite the country. Football clubs bear the name ‘United’. Universities by their very name promise unity in diversity. People search for it in sex, music festivals, sporting events or religion. Why? Because we are made in the image of a triune God who is the essence of unity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

And yet rather than unity, we often experience division. In our own bodies and minds. In our relationships, both with people and the God who made us. In fact, you can argue that the dominant theme in the Bible is the search for unity. Of a God who responds to disunity by sending Jesus…’and through him to reconcile to himself (re-unite) ALL THINGS – making peace by his blood on the cross’ (Colossians 3:19). In the new heavens and new earth, we will be perfectly united with God.

 

In the meantime, God has a chosen model of showing unity to a unity-hungry world. A model the world should look at and find irresistible. What is that model? The local church! And it is only through the work of the Holy Spirit that such a disparate, sinful group of people could ever show unity. Because our unity isn’t around preference – we’re not called to uniformity. We are not called to be a black church, a white church, a working-class church, a ‘modern songs only’ church. The earliest example of this came after the Holy Spirit came on the believers at Pentecost. Straight away we see the church coming together, sharing their things, eating together, breaking bread together and so on (Acts 2:42-47). The result? ‘The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved’.

 

Have you given up hope that this kind of life might happen to you? Well please don’t – because by the power of the Spirit we can know this unity, this love, this generosity! In fact, it’s in our vision statement – ‘to be a growing community of people – from different backgrounds, stages of life and experiences, including the vulnerable – who are one family in Christ Jesus’.

 

Ephesians 4:1-13 gives us some pointers as to how this unity comes about. We are united as a family, and the fruits of the Spirit contribute to our being a loving family (e.g. in verse 2 –  humility, patience and bearing with each other). We do this through the ’bond of peace’; being at peace with each other is like the mortar between bricks – it holds us together in love.

Secondly, we are united in our calling to become more like Jesus ‘until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ’ (v13-14). In fact, the gifts of the Spirit are given for this purpose – that we might present each other perfect in Christ.

Finally, we are united in our calling to be on mission – our unity shows God to the world. We’re saying – heaven will look a bit like this! When we are united…’then the world will know that you sent me (Jesus) and have loved them even as you have loved me’ (John 17:23).

 

So, in summary, the Holy Spirit unites us in our calling as the family of God on mission. But we only get the power to live like this when we look at Jesus. The role of the Holy Spirit is to point us to Jesus and it’s as we look to him that we are given power to love one another and show him to the world. He didn’t come to die for us as individuals. He came to die for his church. We can only have unity of the Spirit because of Jesus – he was broken so we might be whole; torn in two so that we might be united as one. That’s why we celebrate communion, eating broken bread. That’s why we drink wine which represents his blood – his lifeblood in us gives us power to live in a way which doesn’t always come naturally!

 

So, are you in? Are you present in your local church? Do you go out of your way to be with others who aren’t like you, even when it isn’t comfortable? Are you living at peace with others? Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to show us Jesus more and more, that we might together receive power to live as a united family sharing Christ with a broken world.

 

Written by John Greenall

Being Colour Blind

posted in: Bible, Tony Thompson | 0

In two separate contexts in the last week I have heard Christian leaders say that they are “colour blind”, by which they mean that when they look at someone they do not see their colour, or their background, they just see a person. I understand what they are saying, but are they right? Is this a helpful way of thinking and talking? I know it is potentially controversial, but I have concluded that we shouldn’t be colour blind and in fact it is only white people who would even suggest it!

The reason I think it is unhelpful is that it assumes that we are all equal, which is not the case. In the eyes of God all are equal, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3v28 but is not yet a lived out reality in our world, or even in our churches.

It ignores the fact that our society is rigged to give some people advantages over others. This is not just associated with colour, there are issues associated with “class” and wealth, and gender. We are not all equal, and not recognising this is unhelpful, especially when it comes from those who have all the advantages. As Paul also says we should remember the poor. Galatians 2v20

Reni Eddo-Lodge says,

Not seeing race does little to deconstruct racist structures or materially improve the conditions which people of colour are subject to daily. In order to dismantle unjust, racist structures, we must see race. We must see who benefits from their race, who is disproportionately impacted by negative stereotypes about their race, and to who power and privilege is bestowed upon – earned or not – because of their race, their class, and their gender. Seeing race is essential to changing the system.

This video powerfully demonstrates the truth about privilege, it is only short and worth watching.

There are all sorts of statistics, which I will not bore you with, that demonstrate the advantages that white men from a middle-class background have compared to others. i.e. people like me! I think that Jesus and the Bible challenges those who come from privileged backgrounds to acknowledge that and seek to uphold the cause of those who are less privileged.

We need to speak more about “white privilege” more than being colour-blind! I did so at a conference I spoke at recently and the shock I had was that some in the audience, people of colour, were astounded that I would do so as a white man, they had never heard a white person acknowledge that before.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

Breaking the Silence on Child Abuse

posted in: Book Reviews, Tony Thompson | 0

Child abuse is something that I am aware went on but until recently had little understanding of the impact it has on the individuals affected and the wider society. Breaking the Silence on child abuse by Robert Stevens greatly helped my understanding and is essential reading for anyone who has been abused and anyone in pastoral ministry.

Nobody really knows how many adults were abused as children, either sexually, physically or emotionally. Estimates range from 5 to 25% of the population. The devastating long-term impact of child abuse is only beginning to be widely understood, Robert Stevens was himself abused as a child, but it took around 40 years for him to come to terms with its impact.

Being a workaholic, or perfectionist, alcoholic, drug addict, self-harmer, or even helping others, fighting for a cause, hiding in a community can all being common coping mechanisms. But until the underlying symptoms have been addressed, these coping mechanisms simply keep a lid on the trauma caused by abuse.

Not everyone who suffers in this way has been abused, but for many the root cause is abuse. Until that abuse has been dealt with battles with addiction will never be won.

Robert describes the symptoms he suffered,

There is a reoccurring deep-seated fear of being controlled again and a fight never to allow that to happen. When it is not fear of being controlled it is an anxiety of being abandoned…… hopelessness of no way out… anger of injustice of it all…… being odd one out, different from normal people. Fear, anxiety, hopelessness, depression, self-loathing and more….. At times, it is overwhelming.

It is a struggle with the distrust of people and often those who are an authority figure or who are loved ones…..

He also gives clues as to how to deal with the feelings and even walk free. The common theme seems to be changing how we view ourselves and the world.

When a wave of emotions sweeps over us like a tsunami tell yourself – don’t expect anyone else to do anything; step aside and ask what is happening; do something constructive.

Changed emotions are a side effect from a change in thinking.

Accept from the Master-Creator that I am an awesome creation because God is an awesome Creator. It is tough for survivors to accept that they are awesome. I have been given a life which God has prepared and permitted in every part. I am chosen by God, made holy by Him and dearly loved by Him.

Desperate lows can be turned into determined highs. Distrusting our emotions can lead to a deeper dependence on the Lord.

We need rest from all the sin that has been done to us. My scars are displaying his grace and his power. I have always thought that those who shine the brightest have been polished up by past suffering.

It is not an overnight transformation but a time-consuming restoration through the different stages.

Healthy mourning. I was not responsible for the injury to me as a boy. It was their sin not mine. I am not responsible for being abandoned. I am responsible for my own journey of restoration. I should grieve the loss as if I were grieving the death of a close friend. Claim back the emotions of my loss and the emotions of my freedom.

Having worked through these issues over years Robert is very honest about the issues he still faces,

I still experience feelings of rejection because I still catch myself thinking that I am different. Battle for right thoughts. Can’t do anything with feelings but thoughts can be arrested.

Can be over-sensitive and harsh words slip out of our mouths on a daily basis.

I have found it difficult to forgive what I see as needless offences of a few Christians.

He realistically admits, Others can shoot us in the back, but we can also shoot ourselves in the foot when we misinterpret what someone has said.

There are also warnings for those who seek to help,

Victims of trauma are not helped by well-meaning people who want to organise life for them or dictate a road of recovery to them. They need to take control themselves.

Work in a team so that you do not become depended upon (or worse you depend on them), and so that you yourself have the support and wise counsel from others.

Keep Jesus and people, not projects central.

These are just some of the highlights.  All in all, a very important and helpful book.  I have ordered copies for all our leaders.

 

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Written by Tony Thompson

The Holy Spirit Empowers

This blog post links with a sermon preached on Sunday 23rd September 2018 – listen below

 

Corrie Ten Boom stood speaking to a crowd of people on forgiveness, when the worst guard at the concentration camp, the one who had been particularly cruel to her and her sister approached her and asked for forgiveness.  

“Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”

And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!”

 

 

 

 

What do you think of, when you think of powerful people?  World leaders, super heroes, the wealthy, celebrities… the list could go on.    

God’s Kingdom is topsy turvy; Power in the Kingdom of God looks differently to the way the world views it.  The kingdom demonstrates empowerment differently. Its purpose is not for personal gain, its fruit look meek, even poor in spirit, it’s servanthood and sacrifice.

Yes, it includes the supernatural, yes, it transforms brokenness, yes, it is influential, life-changing and powerful.  God empowers us – weak, full of flaws, imperfect. Why? So we can’t glorify in our own greatness but point directly to Him.

2 Corinthians 4:7-8

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 

Jesus fully god, fully man demonstrated his power through sitting with the most despised and the ignored, he demonstrated his omnipotence through weakness.  He was beaten and whipped, spat at and abused. He died a death reserved for the lowest of the low. His weakness has had such a powerful impact that it is rejoiced in over 2000 years later.  

Empowerment is God giving us the authority and power to see things transformed, in our own lives, in our towns and in our communities.  

Empowerment is not being bound by hatred or bitterness; but being free to love and forgive even our worst enemy.

 

Written by Linda Geevanathan

The Influence of Willow Creek Community Church

posted in: In The News, Tony Thompson | 0

Over the Summer we had a preaching series on “Heroes of the Faith”. I spoke about the influence that Bill Hybels, the leader of Willow Creek Community Church. (You can listen to the sermon below).

 

 

The extent of the influence is demonstrated by looking at the 8 values of Willow Creek, I would hope we would hold them all!

 

  1. Lost people matter to God, they therefore matter to us

 

Willow Creek started as an outreach ministry and are still organised and give priority to those who do not yet have a personal relationship with Jesus. I guess this was one of the things that drew me to Bill in the first place. I too felt called to help the church become relevant to those who have not been brought up in the church.

 

  2. Fighting injustice and working for peace. Living out Jesus mandate makes church complicated, but it is a price worth paying.

 

Willow Creek is involved in an amazing number of mercy ministries in the US and across the world. In their context they are accused of being political which doesn’t endear them to everyone. Too a lesser extent this is true for us. We have a growing ministry “Good News to the Community” which seeks to live out Jesus mandate. No doubt this will expand.

 

   3. Radically inclusive, reaching all nations, ages and social backgrounds.

 

The Willow Creek story is like ours, starting out as predominantly a white church middle class church it has purposely sought to broaden its base and is now a fully integrated community. We have been on the same journey.

 

   4. Becoming fully devoted followers of Christ. 95% not enough.

 

Just going to church on a Sunday is not enough, the whole of our lives need to be devoted to following Jesus.

 

   5. Women and men serve according to spiritual gifts 

 

Willow Creek would have a different emphasis on spiritual gifts than we have, but the principle that God has given each of his follower’s gifts of grace that we should use in the service of Him is something we would have in common.

 

   6. Steward resources wisely and generously, it is part of discipleship.

 

This is something that I recently realised we had not been emphasising enough. We need to be talking about stewardship as individuals and as a church. How we use our resources is a true sign of where our hearts are.

 

   7. Gather regularly for worship, teaching and prayer.

 

In a context where there are so many different demands on our time maybe we should be giving a greater focus on encouraging people to give a priority to gathering as the people of God midweek and on Sunday’s. This is something that Willow Creek have realised they need to do.

 

   8. Dependant on and courageously obedient on the Holy Spirit 

 

For a church that is not known as a Charismatic Church Willow Creek and Bill Hybels have emphasised the need to rely on the Holy Spirit in a way that would surprise many. We would want to echo that focus, we must depend on the Holy Spirit and be courageously dependant on the Holy Spirit.

Staff Summer Reading Recommendations 2018

Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit by Francis Chan (Recommended by Luke Middleton)

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I brought this book from Newday last year after hearing Francis speak and thought it looked interesting. I then got given it as a present less than a month later, so thought it should move to the top of my book pile! It was easy to read and understand, so if like me you aren’t a massive reader then it will be suitable. The main thrust of the book is about the Holy Spirit and how the Christians today can sometimes neglect or be content with ignoring that we have access to and God works through us with his supernatural POWER! Broken down into 7 areas ranging from ‘I’ve got Jesus. Why do I need the Spirit?’ to ‘Supernatural Church’. Spoiler alert: most community areas at Hope will be doing a 7 week study in small groups based on this material in the autumn to accompany a Sunday morning preaching series, so if you want to be ready to dive in head first in the autumn then pick up a copy from the church bookshelf for a fiver!

“It is easy to use the phrase ‘God’s will for my life’ as an excuse for inaction or even disobedience. … My hope is that instead of searching for ‘God’s will for my life’ each of us would learn to seek hard after ‘the Spirit’s leading in my life today.’ May we learn to pray for an open and willing heart, to surrender to the Spirit’s leading with that friend, child, spouse, circumstance, or decision in our lives right now.”

 

 


 

The Good God by Michael Reeves (Recommended by Linda Geevanathan)

This book is about growing in our enjoyment of God and exploring how God’s triune being makes all his ways beautiful.  The book reminds us God is good, it refreshes us and wins our heart for him.  It explores God as triune and looks at how it is as triune that he is so good and desirable.  Reeves encourages us to reflect on how Christianity is not primarily about lifestyle change; it is about knowing God.  One of the key purposes of the book is to help us know and grow to enjoy God more.  Knowing the incredible love of God is the very thing that transforms us, our desires, our preferences and inclinations. It changes the things that drive our behaviour: we begin to want God more than anything else.  I really enjoyed exploring the trinity through this book, it is an easy read and I thought brought fresh revelation to foundational truths.

The Prodigal God by Tim Keller (Recommended by Linda Geevanathan)

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The book is a very short but profound read.  It explores the essentials of the Christian message, the gospel looking at the story of the Prodigal son; which although is one of the best known parables, Keller says is actually one of the least understood.  In the book each character in the story is examined; the lost son, the judgemental older brother and most importantly, a loving father. 

As I read this book I felt I had a fresh revelation of the power of the gospel and the extravagant love of God.  Tim Keller summarises that  “God’s reckless grace is our greatest hope, a lefe-changing experience, and the subject of this book.”


Taste for Truth by Barb Raveling (Recommended by Sarah Hibbard)

For a long time I have wanted to lose weight but have struggled. I recognise the need to renew my mind in relation to eating but have always found it really difficult. Doing the study in the book has been really helpful as it has enabled me to look at what the bible says about loosing weight.
It looks at different bible verses and our response to food. It also deals with some of the lies we tell ourselves. One of these is I deserve a doughnut. This is also the name of the app that accompanies the book. The app is free and well worth a look. I have so far lost over a stone in weight. I am looking forward to continuing the journey. It has also help me understand that sometimes there is real freedom in boundaries.

Spiritual Slavery to Spiritual Sonship by Jack Frost (Recommended by Sarah Hibbard)

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This book is an excellent book, looking at our relationship with God the Father and how that effects out relationship with others.  I found the book easy to read, it made my laugh and cry sometimes at the same time. It was also very challenging, and practical, after reading the book I found that I needed to say sorry to a couple of people. The book talks you through how to do this. I found that this book have helped me to unlock more freedom in my life and improve my love for people.

A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah (Recommended by Jane Reynolds)

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When my sister in law offered me this book I had no idea what it was about, just it was based in Sierra Leone. I put it in the door of the car and didn’t touch it until I cleaned it a couple of weeks later.

Most people read biographies of the rich and famous, the influential and those who have done great things. This is different. It is the story of survival and the most amazing acts of kindness; unconditional love and grace. It shows humanity at its bestand its worst. Above all it shows the power of Christ’s love and compassion poured out through determined individuals working with the lost and the broken. Sometimes they succeeded.

 

This guy has touched the hem of Jesus garment and found healing but as far as I am aware he doesn’t know Christ. He is still on his journey.

With the help of Christians and others his life has been transformed showing there is hope for everyone. Let this compelling, short book, build your expectation and hope for others, challenge your depths of compassion and encourage your resilience through life’s continual challenges.

 

 

 


 

 

God is Stranger by Krish Kandiah (Recommended by Shirley Weston)

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I loved this book.  It is beautifully written by someone who cares deeply about social justice and the needs of ‘those on the edge’ and lives this out through his own work with refugees and vulnerable children.  He talks about some of the more challenging passages in the Bible with honesty and sensitivity.   We are encouraged to delve into some passages in which God acts in unexpected ways: when He chooses to ‘turn up an pick up a fight’ (Jacob), ‘turn up way too late’ (Gideon) , or apparently ‘not to turn up at all.’ (Naomi).  Kandiah challenges our own perceptions of God by looking at the context of different Biblical events and relating them to the story of the Bible as a whole and God’s character, above all depicting his all encompassing love for all creation.  We are left at the end of the book with a call to respond and in particular to see how hospitality and service should be a key part of our Christian lives.

Abbas’s Heart (Finding our way back to the Fathers delight) by Neal Lozano with Matthew Lozano (Recommended by Theresa Middleton)

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During this May I attended a conference called Unbound, a freedom and deliverance model created by Heart of the Father ministries. This book was  recommended at the conference.
The book is about the person of God the Father as revealed through Jesus.I found it an amazingly clear book to read revealing new truths to me.It contains practical application and personal prayers at the end of each chapter which can be put into practice immediately. I guarantee you won’t be able to put it down.

Reimagining Britain: Foundations for Hope by Justin Welby (Recommended by Tony Thompson)

I have recently read the book with the same title as this blog, the book was written by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury. It is an important and thought-provoking book, I would even say a brave book, well worth a read.

The premise of the book is that due to several factors, not least the vote to leave the European Union, the UK is at an important point in our history similar to where we found ourselves after WW2. We need to “reimagine Britain”, and the Christian faith needs to play an important role.

He recognises the task is even more complicated than it was in 1945, this is because

The differences between now and 1945 are both external and internal. Internally, society has become a great deal more complicated.

Today’s society is faster, more complicated, more independent and more confused.

Religious observance is far weaker, yet where it occurs, far more committed.

His concern is that,

Reimagining will inevitably happen. It may occur thoughtlessly through the mere passage of time, in which case it is likely to be bad. Values in this case would be dictated by the powerful and rich, and imposed through self-interest.

He identifies the divisions within our society,

The over-65s are the Baby Boomers. They have good pensions, they have had relatively good jobs. Their debts and materialism were the foundations of the 2008 crash, which led to vast unemployment for those then aged 18 to 25. They have not constrained their consumption of the resources of the earth. Voting as they did in 2016, they committed the upcoming generation to a new adventure outside the EU, which the majority of young voters had been against.

He talks about the adverse impact of faith leaving the public sphere,

The privatization of Christian faith and the consequent diminution of a national meta-narrative of virtue and vice, leading in some ways to the divorce of ends and means of policy, has led to an absolute lack of foundations to deal with numerous faiths, different cultures, globalized economies, and above all, to a world in which all values from around the planet confront us more rapidly and effectively than ever before. Public faith was and probably still is sometimes more surface than reality, at least in countries where its expression is a necessary part of holding power. Nevertheless, when faith is increasingly privatized, it leaves a vacuum which relativism in belief or a great plurality of incommensurable beliefs is unable to fill.

However, he is wise in how we change this,

The Church must never seek to compel but should always, in any political system, witness to the truth it believes that it knows and experiences.

We need to present an alternative to the hope offered by terrorism and he believes this is Christian hope, he does not  just state it but explains why

We need a narrative that speaks to the world of hope and not mere optimism, let alone simple self-interest, that enables us to play a powerful, hopeful and confident role, resisting the turn inwards that will leave us alone, despairing and vulnerable.

Reconciliation is the process by which diversity is accepted and even welcomed, without sliding towards oppression by the dominant power……….Reconciliation is the core of Christianity.

He then seeks to apply Christian principles to the building blocks of society – family; education; health; housing and economics before going on to tackle major issues we are facing, foreign policy; immigration; climate change; abortion; the relationship between different faith groups.

He is always practical, not just theoretical and he is always Biblical, seeking to show how the Bible is relevant to issues facing Britain today and how it should play its part in reimaging Britain, giving hope to the future of our nation.

E.g. He demonstrates how the book of Ruth and the parable of the Good Samaritan has things to say about our foreign policy and attitude to immigration. He uses the example of Rehoboam (son and successor to Solomon) as a lesson to politicians. He also applies the parable of talents and the prophecies of Jeremiah to the contemporary situation.

Encouragingly the book has received good reviews.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/mar/05/reimagining-britain-justin-welby-praiseworthy-vision-of-uk

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/apr/01/justin-welby-interview-reimagining-britain-archbishop-of-canterbury

Although some take the opportunity to have a dig, e.g. Rod Liddle in the Sunday Times.

Welby is not the sort of man to grasp a nettle firmly. He is perhaps the sort of man who will poke at it tentatively with his finger, a sure way of getting stung.

And Liddle’s conclusion,

But the only moral imperative I take from this is that the government should spend more money — well, sure, sure. But so easy to say. And, sadly, much of the rest is a painful equivocation.

Speaking in the public realm is not without cost! The importance of this book, in my opinion, is not in the details of what it advocates in the different areas dealt with, but in the principle that the Bible and Christians have a crucial role to play and that our voice needs to be heard. For us to be heard, we must speak out. Well done to Justin Welby for speaking out. I am challenged to identify ways that I need to speak out, may I challenge you to do the same.

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