People of Hope – Sue and Azalea

posted in: Hope Church, Luton, People of Hope | 0

I know God’s heart is towards the poor because I read over and over, from the beginning of the Bible to its end, of God’s care with instruction to provide for all, especially the poor and marginalised. Also during periods in my life when we have had little money to go round God’s presence and provision has been particularly significant. We read that we are made in the image of God. Maybe that is why we get so cross at injustice, discrimination and poverty. We see and hear of shocking atrocities, here on our doorstep and around the world. It was never God’s purpose for human beings to treat each other so badly.

Becoming aware of the reality of hardship and slavery in our modern world led me to volunteering with Azalea. Azalea is a Luton based charity that exists to right some of the injustices locally and internationally. Azalea; ‘Freedom from Sexual Exploitation’. Recovery from the tyranny of homelessness, abuse and exploitation, has become Azalea’s focus.

The vision is huge and so prayer is at our core. We want to be conveyors of God’s love to bring hope, significance, identity and choice. I attend a drop in session each week which begins by praying as a small volunteer team. We pray for each other, acknowledging our own need; we are dependant on God but also each other. Because of the practical love and prayerful support from many churches and groups, when the Drop In doors open we can offer a safe, warm, welcoming space for local women and so much more. Follow the link to the Azalea website below.

Although I am there to listen, befriend, signpost etc, I have comparatively few answers to the challenging problems experienced daily by our women. One thing I have and can share is the message that God cares a great deal for each woman. He longs to be our father, to wash away hurts and pain, to give fulness of life and a sure future with Him. I have led a wonderful little group looking at the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. I was involved in a rolling weekly Alpha Course where home make food is enjoyed around the table and God’s truth is unfolded. The whole hearted singing around that table that followed has been the best!

I learn much from the thankful and warmhearted spirit of the women who visit us. At the end of the Drop In we would have shared a little of life together and I will have witnessed again beauty coming out of ashes. Each woman has her own story to tell, her current lifestyle never her choice.

If you would like to become involved please contact Azalea through the website below. Azalea exists because of a huge amount of support.

For more info visit; azalea.org.uk

 

Written by Sue Lightowler

People of Hope – Phyl and Signposts

posted in: Hope Church, Luton, People of Hope | 2
Writing my first blog feels a little scary! I regularly read inspiring and interesting blogs written by others and if I am honest have never felt the urge to write. Tony asked me if I could write something so here goes. I have recently begun attending Hope Church who in their vision statement describe the church as‘A growing community of people – from different backgrounds, stages of life and experiences, including the vulnerable – who are one family in Christ Jesus’.
And One of the ways this is amplified is:
  • A people who want to reach out to others to bring God’s hope and His love to individuals and society.

As a child born in 60’s into a catholic family, where my father left and divorced my mother, a mother who struggled with mental illness and committed suicide when myself and my siblings were teenagers. Early years poverty, numerous times in children’s homes, my own personal struggles with a life I had little control of. A number of my formative years would have involved ‘labels’ single parent family, poor, vulnerable, rebellious out of control teenager, self harm, I could go on.
However this is not how I remember it. My incredible mother, who had no money filled my life with memories, parks, picnics, boxes of clothes we had the freedom to cut up and make into grand outfits which I would proudly go out in! Neighbours who would look in on me when I was ill and my mother was at work. Friends to ‘Play Out’ with and when the social services put us into care, memories of staff that read bedtime stories and were kind.
Of course there was bad stuff, lots of it-and as for most people along with the good times have been times of trauma which has continued to be the story of my life.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because not for one second has God ever left me, every day, all those years and there have been so many wonderful people throughout those years that have reached out and brought Gods love and hope to me. Even if I didn’t recognise it as that. That is the beauty in getting older, you can look back and remember the people that said the right thing at the right time, gave you a bed for a night, gave you money unconditionally, in short made a difference.
It is because of this love and hope I am who I am today and why I passionately believe in people, all people and that each person can be that love and hope to another person despite circumstances, poverty, addiction or the many deficit defining labels put on or accepted by us.We are all part of Gods wonderful creation, we all have gifts and talents that we can use for ourselves and share with others.
I am privileged to work with people who may have no permanent postcode but freely and generously give their time, commitment, talent and energy for the benefit of a community that belongs to us all.
I have been humbled and privileged to see people with so little happily give away and share all they have.
So in closing God is always there, he knows each and everyone of us we are all amazing, I am  going to search for ‘what is strong not what is wrong’, seek to get to know people, ask what their strengths and passions are and hope to live in a community full of love.
Written by Phyl Rainey

Quenching the Spirit – Seasons

This was the last sermon of a short personal series, coming out of our experiences of quenching the Spirit, or how we have learnt to keep on fire with the Spirit. I have struggled with busyness, especially distractions. This is another area I have struggled with, an acceptance, let alone embracing of the patterns of life, seasons of life.

The key to surfing is not fighting the waves but embracing them, being aflame with the Spirit is about embracing God’s pattern, doing and seeing what the Father is doing. Quenching the Spirit is fighting the waves, not embracing what God is doing.

 

There is a pattern of creation.

Day; week; seasons

Sleep and activity; Work / rest

Pruning / growth

Historically it has been a battle to accept God’s pattern in my life.

In my early zeal as a new Christian faith was new and exciting. I wanted to be used, but God wanted to make me useable.

I was motivated by some good motives but I needed to learn about God’s pattern, rhythms of life, investing in the long haul. Not always helped by teaching I received – e.g. better to burn out than rust out.

My drivenness resulted in periods of lowness, feelings of inadequacy, fighting the wave, rather than embracing it. Quenching the Spirit. God spoke into that one time. “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to bear fruit – fruit that will last.” I started to embrace God, his calling, his purposes.

Fruit doesn’t just happen, it is the climax of seasons of activity.

We experience the spirit, acknowledge the spirt in both doing and resting. God rested. Jesus rested. Balance of activity and rest. Different seasons, where different things happen, Summer and Spring, Autumn and Winter. Daffodils starting to show signs of life – feel Winter will give birth to Spring. Can’t rush it but will happen.

What relevance is this for our series – keeping on fire in the Spirit? Not quenching the Spirit?

Not understanding the rhythms of God’s creation meant I quenched the Spirit. Didn’t have the rest I needed. Fought against God’s plan. Impatient.

I misunderstood what it meant to be aflame on fire with the Spirit. Didn’t realise I could be on fire in God whilst resting! Or being pruned. On Fire in the Spirit is different in Winter than in Summer.

General principle – accept the rhythms of life. Find the Spirit is in them all.

So, lets nail it. Truths I didn’t know but now do.

God walked in the evening with Adam and Eve following a day of labour.

Sabbath rest in same list of murder, idolatry etc.

Need to have a balance in life – daily, weekly, annually. Pattern of creation – seasons.

Fruitfulness and abiding. Rhythm. John 15. ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. Growth is result of right rhythm.

Picture of vine – 3 years before bore fruit. Before then cut back until branches strong enough to bear fruit. Pruning important. We must learn when it is pruning time.

God was with me in pruning times– and I didn’t know it. We get it wrong – think we have quenched the Spirit and but haven’t – just a different part of the rhythm. So important. We must embrace fully what the Spirit of God is doing in us.

 

Seasons – the party, the desert. Summer, Winter.

Party or Summer – times of abundant blessings of God. An overflow of gifts from him. More than we can ask of imagine. E.g. Sending out of 12 and 72. Luke 10. Heaven is open.

It happens to individuals and churches and the church in a nation. It is undeserved, often due to the prayers of others! At times of feasting it is easy to trust in goodness of God, the presence of Holy Spirit is obvious.

At these times our focus is on receiving and thanksgiving; giving; learn to handle power; maintaining unity – resisting pride, sense of superiority; storing memories.

Praise God I have experienced times like this in my life. Church in history has experienced times like this. Mountain top experiences but can’t stay on the mountain top.

Spending time in the desert, winter, valley – hardest place to be, especially after a party.  

Many different Biblical images. Desert, wilderness, valley, exile even prison. Jesus driven by the spirit into wilderness not by Satan, although he met Satan there. Moses 40 years in wilderness before confronting Pharaoh, then another 40 years before promised land, Joseph in prison. David, Elijah, Paul, John the Baptist all had winter periods in their lives.

The point of the sermon – the lesson I have had to learn is that God is with us here as well. In the wilderness the Spirit can be with us. Just feels different. Doesn’t necessarily mean we have quenched the Spirit, or something is wrong.

Most Christians, at some point in their lives, find themselves left out of the party, and stuck in the desert. Can feel isolation – even abandoned and rejected. Pride hurt – the things rely on for security – money, friends, reputation, social standing, or responsibility taken away.

We face different fears and temptations in the desert. We receive our daily bread but nothing more. Existing not thriving.

We will grumble and complain until we realise God is doing something he can’t do if we stayed in the party all the time. See I am doing a new thing, do you not perceive it?

We may feel weak and vulnerable but are being made stronger and freer.

Discipling – discipline for our good not because we have been bad. God is a good, perfect coach. Heb 12v7. Endure hardship as discipline: God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?

 

I received a prophetic word along these lines a few weeks ago. That God had been disciplining me, refining me to make me more effective in the ministry he has for me.

Our problems come when we lose sight of God’s love and believe that we have been abandoned in some way. That is why the writer to the Hebrews wrote what he did, to a church going through difficulties, a church that concluded they had therefore lost their way, lost the presence of God, were quenching the Spirit.

Times in the desert will be times of deep healing and releasing, but it will feel like the healing of a surgeon’s knife. It can be horrible and painful, but necessary. We will be healthier and stronger, even if we are left feeling scarred for a while. Like my experience of actual surgery.

Times of disciplining and refining are times when we are freed from sinful patterns of behaviour, fear, and pride: the stumbling blocks to faith and freedom. Produces humility. We should find we are less dependent on others for our sense of self, and less needy of approval and affirmation. Purged from fear of failure. Grow in patience. Unfortunately for us, the only way to learn how to be patient is to experience being constantly thwarted and frustrated, which in itself is infuriating!

One of the great problems for us in learning how to respond to different circumstances is that it is very difficult to break a mind- set that tells us that obedience leads to blessing and prosperity, and disobedience leads to misfortune. That is not what the Bible teaches.

Conclusion

So being on fire in the Spirit may not always feel as we think it should. We need to be able to recognise the seasons of the Spirit. Give ourselves to the season we are in. As individuals but also as a church – different sermon.

Some else also wrote to me a few weeks ago.

I think it is said and I believe that great wisdom only comes as a result of pain. So, I’d like to say that I am indeed sorry for any and all pain you might have gone through that makes you so qualified to speak so much truth. 

Have you misunderstood what being on fire in the Spirit looks like? Fought against it?

Let us see what the Father is doing, embrace it rather than fight it.

As a church – He is laying the foundation of being a diverse church, able to accept and celebrate lots of different cultures, including the poor and  people from a Muslim background.

We are facing financial challenge and the challenge of people leaving who have been with us for a long time. It is all part of what God is doing. Making us rely on Him, trust Him. You may be experiencing your version of that.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

People of Hope – Big Al

posted in: Hope Church, People of Hope | 2

Hi, my name is Alan. However, my nickname is ‘BIG AL’ as I am 6 feet tall and my surname is Short!

I have been a part of Hope Church for around 15 years now, when I joined with my wife Veronica. You may have seen my 3 beautiful daughters, Lydia (16), Felicity (14) and Juliet (11) from time to time. They are the apple of my eye!

Life is very different now to what it was when Veronica and I first joined Hope. In June 2009, I developed a serious and life threatening illness called Infective Bacterial Endocarditus. This came through having my wisdom tooth out, so be careful when you next visit the dentist! Basically, the illness caused me to have a stroke, which left a large scar on the right hand side of my brain, affecting my emotional stability and causing me to develop Epilepsy.

Due to the infection,I also had my aortic heart valve replaced with a bovine (cow) one. I decided afterwards to stop eating beef sandwiches as it was like eating my brothers!

Unfortunately, the emotional turmoil caused by the illness led to a breakdown in my marriage and Veronica divorced me about a year later.  I eventually decided to to leave my job as a psychiatric social worker in 2013 due to my suffering periods of deep depression and hopelessness.

However the LORD has used these periods of depression and despair to develop an empathy for people who suffer from emotional distress.

Although I now longer practice as a social worker, I now volunteer at the ‘HUB recovery Centre’ (for people who struggle with addictive behaviour), which I thoroughly enjoy.

I am also a tutor for adults of 50 years and over who struggle with finding employment.

I love volunteering at Open House, as I can be part of a great team seeking to receive and give away the Father’s love.

Life is not a bed of roses but I am so grateful to the LORD who affirms his loving kindness to me in so many ways, to HIS glory!

 

John Wimber and the Vineyard Movement

posted in: History, Tony Thompson | 0

I have just indulged myself in a little bit of nostalgia! Very early on in my Christian journey I was introduced to John Wimber and the Vineyard movement. My wife and I went to many of the conferences he held across the UK in the 1980’s and we were significantly impacted. Additionally, there was a season when I worked for an American company, Texas Instruments, that I would regularly travel to Texas, sometimes the trip would last for a few weeks. Whilst there I regularly attended a relatively new Vineyard Church both on a Sunday and then mid-week, I became good friends with a couple who were part of the church. I therefore saw the Vineyard first hand.

This was all over 30 years ago.

I have just read a book called “Vineyard Values” which describes the modern Vineyard movement in the UK and describes its roots. It reminds me of those early experiences and reminds of their importance.

“There are some qualities you will find at almost any Vineyard church: intimate worship, openness to the Holy Spirit, a high value placed on relationship and community.”

The chapter headings are also significant.

Firstly, the kingdom of God. John Wimber and the Vineyard helped me and many others to see the importance of the Kingdom of God, the now and not yet of the kingdom. That we should be expecting the Kingdom of God to break in, however we will not see all the Kingdom in this age.

I loved the fact that “everyone gets to play”, the next chapter. Wimber introduced body ministry, it is not just the person on the stage who gets to pray for the sick and perform miracles, everyone should be involved, even me!

I also remember praying “Come Holy Spirit”, knowing that the Holy Spirit is always with us, but that we should particularly invite Him to come and do what he wants to do. It isn’t our church but God’s church, we therefore need to give him space.

Another chapter focuses on the need to “remember the poor”. This wasn’t something that I remember being a focus of the conferences, but the church in Texas had more people from the drug scene than not!

The final chapter is on worship, another major contribution made to the church scene in the UK. Vineyard worship was simple, often a worship leader with a guitar and very simple tunes and words. The focus was on us singing to God rather than just declaring doctrinal truths. I still love those early songs and feel they contribute to a rounded worship, bringing a sense of intimacy.

It is good sometimes to look back and remember the influences you have had. Maybe you were influenced by Wimber and the Vineyard, or maybe you have taken these things for granted in the church today. Now you know where they came from.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King

I have known of this long letter which has been published in book form for some time, it is regularly quoted by others, but until recently I had not read it. I am so glad I now have and would encourage you to do the same.

The letter was originally written whilst King was in jail in 1963 for disturbing the peace, he was leading peaceful demonstrations against racial segregation in America. He wrote the letter on the margins of a newspaper as a response to six white church leaders who were saying the protests should stop and the battle should be fought in the courts not the streets. Kings arguments are articulate, profound and still relevant, as injustice is still prevalent in our society.

He explains his strategy for confronting injustice “collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action.” By self-purification he means workshops to ensure that they didn’t retaliate and were willing to go to jail. They were willing to pay the price.

He explains the basic problem “Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.” A profound thought, which impacts so much, explaining why inequalities in society are so difficult to get rid of.

King superbly paints the picture of what injustice feels like for the victim, helps his readers to place themselves in someone else’s shoes.

“We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed towards gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace towards gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, ‘Wait’. But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people….. then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.”

I have found that I can so easily ignore or be ignorant of injustices until I get an insight into what it means to be a victim.

Another interesting insight is that he feels he is standing in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community, “One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self-respect… that they have adjusted to segregation…… The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence.”

I am sure this polarisation is true in any community that is the victims of injustice.

His critique of white liberals and the white church is something else needing reflection, am I, are we guilty of the same thing? I think we are!

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride towards freedom is not … the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice….Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Luke warm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

He bluntly summarises, “I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership.”

He lays down the challenge of what he says the church should be like, “There was a time when the church was very powerful- in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society…. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.”

King then goes on to respond to the accusation of being an extremist. He says he has gained a measure of satisfaction from the label, saying it groups him with other extremists! Such as Jesus, an extremist for love; Amos an extremist for justice; Paul an extremist for the gospel; Martin Luther, John Bunyan, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson are other extremists he would seek to emulate.

“So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?”

There is such a challenge here for the church today, especially the church of privilege, will we be sacrificial, or will we become maintainers of the status quo? Will we put ourselves in the shoes of victims of injustice and understand what it feels like from their perspective? What sort of extremist will we be? Will we be relevant or irrelevant?

Thank you for your wisdom Martin Luther King, over 50 years later it still speaks to us.

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