Off to a good start – the outreach opportunities at the start of a ministry

What is the best way to begin a new ministry? With 24 years of experience as I began my fourth pastorate I resolved that this time things would be different. For the first time we took full advantage of the unique opportunities for outreach which the commencement of a ministry offers.

In most traditions a pastorate begins with some form of Induction, Installation or Commissioning service, followed by a delicious Tea. These are marvellous occasions for fellowship between the new church and the previous or sending church, and also for affirming the minister as representatives tell each other how wonderful the minister is. Links are also strengthened with the wider denominational family and local ecumenical contacts. Such events are very important, but a decade of responsibility in Churches Together attending two or three each year has convinced me that the services themselves are designed exclusively for believers. It appears to be rare for Inductions or Installations even to attract the majority of the new church congregation. So few of them are planned with young people or children in mind and even fewer are the kind of events to which one ought to invite not yet Christians.
It may be that the outreach angle simply slips through the cracks. The church is waiting for the new minister to be in post before they reach out, and the Induction is the only thing on the minister’s mind apart from moving house and getting to know a huge number of people in a very short time. Whatever the reason, many churches miss out on the outreach opportunities inherent in the start of a pastorate. All the attention is on the Induction service and few churches capitalise on the Minister’s first Sundays.

The commencement of a ministry offers opportunities which will only occur once in five or ten years. There are enormous benefits in arranging and publicising events to celebrate the arrival of the new minister for folk beyond the core of the church, and who are not yet believers. At very least, there are the people on the fringe of the church, who may themselves attend or send their children to midweek activities but are rarely present on Sundays. Surely we can offer them something more exciting than a traditional Induction Service. There are the folk who may have belonged to the church in the past but are no longer worshipping anywhere. Then the arrival of a new minister is the perfect opportunity to remind the wider community that the church exists and tell them about everything that we have to offer them.
Traditionally on the first Sunday (often deliberately arranged to be a communion service) the minister will preach a “manifesto” sermon launching into a series “laying out his or her stall” of a vision for the church for the months ahead. But this can wait. Surely it would be better to use that first Sunday for a “come and meet our new minister” outreach service. That is something you could invite the whole community to come to – followed by generous refreshments. As well as word of mouth invitations and widespread leafleting you might have specific leaflets for fringe folk and even individual letters from the minister to lapsed members, at the same time offering them a home visit. The arrival of a new minister is also one of the very few events in the life of a church which local press and radio might see as sufficiently newsworthy to report. If all that publicity has been effective, you might hope to see new faces in the following few weeks too. So those services will not be the start of a series aimed at church members but again services oriented at outreach for folk new to, or coming back to, church. Churches could create other opportunities to welcome the new minister: a special Youth or Family Service; special occasions with the Women’s Meeting or the Toddler Club introducing them to their new minister. Events with food are surprisingly popular. It is easy to make a video of the “First Sunday” service and you could show that video (not the video of the Induction) to these other groups, and make it available on DVD for anybody who wants to watch it at home. A simple direct to camera message, “Hello, I am your new minister and I am looking forward to getting to know you,” will also fit very nicely as an introduction on such a DVD.

To mark the beginning of the new ministry the church will want to revamp its website and its Facebook page. (Of course every church needs a website – how else can we expect people under 40 to know we exist!) So the publicity which goes out to the community for the minister’s first Sunday will also encourage folk to visit the church website or Facebook page. It will list the other activities the church offers and invite people to make contact by email, phone or text. (Since so many people, again under 40, prefer sending texts to actually speaking to a person the church will need a mobile phone capable of receiving texts and voicemail messages. Coincidentally pay-as-you-go mobiles are inexpensive and some providers make no charge for listening to voicemails.) To encourage new folk to stay in touch, we decided to give them each a pen carrying the web address and mobile number, which worked out not that much more expensive than a posh business card: other gimmicks are available, and memorable.

A church and minister who want to take every opportunity to generate and follow up new contacts in this way will need to do so within the window for events to welcome the new minister which only lasts a few weeks. In that period a minister is traditionally kept busy making home visits to his key leaders and church workers. But church members will keep on coming whether they are visited this week or next month. Whether a new contact or a lapsed member will ever be seen again could well depend on the minister offering and accepting the opportunity of a visit in those precious weeks. In this and many other ways, the church members need to be encouraged to put the needs of the stranger above themselves.
They say “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” I am grateful that my new church enthusiastically caught the vision of using the commencement the pastorate to reach out. In the first few months alone, families who had drifted away from the church returned to regular worship. Several new Christian families and other singles have came along to the church and decided to make their home with us, bringing toddlers into our worship for the first time for years. Attendance at both services increased and several years on we still see new faces in our services almost every week. Our Toddler Group doubled in size and there have been many other signs that from that beginning the church is now “on the radar” for many more people in the community. Long-standing members of the church have been very encouraged. Looking back, we were definitely off to a good start.

From Contacts to Inquirers – The Next Ten Words

I am a fan of the American political drama The West Wing. One of my favourite scenes comes in season four when President Jed Bartlet is running for re-election. For weeks his staff have been trying to encourage the highly intellectual President to sum up the answer to any question in just ten words. In a televised debate, his opponent answers a question on taxation with a perfect ten word response. This is how President Bartlet responds.

“There it is. That’s the ten word answer my staff’s been looking for for two weeks. There it is. Ten-word answers can kill you in political campaigns. They’re the tip of the sword. Here’s my question: What are the next ten words of your answer? Your taxes are too high? So are mine. Give me the next ten words. How are we going to do it? Give me ten after that, I’ll drop out of the race right now. (The West Wing series 4 episode 6 “Game On” 2002)

We live in a world of ten word answers. Increasingly in the Christian world everything gets summed up in a sentence which has to be able to fit on a poster or a T-shirt. The most profound mysteries of faith, the great problems of suffering or good and evil, the width and length and height and depth of God’s love, all reduced to the first ten words. What I want to explore is, “What are the next ten words?” This is a vast field, but in particular I want to look at the area of outreach and evangelism.

These activities involve both building relationships and sharing the Good News of Jesus in some way. Most churches have activities designed to serve and build bridges into the community and build relationships. Those activities give many opportunities for the first ten words of faith-sharing. We can tell folk that God loves them. We can offer to pray with them in times of trouble. But what next? What are the next ten words?” How do we extend expressions of faith and opportunities into meaningful conversations? How do we help contacts to become seekers?

Many churches run inquirers’ courses like Alpha and Christianity Explored. But over the years these have plucked most of the low-hanging fruit. Most contacts on the fringes of churches are far from ready for a full seekers’ course. We share our first ten words of witness. But what next? What are the next ten words?

So, to be clear, I would like to discover what Christians and churches are doing about sharing their faith in that area between, on the one hand, sharing “the first ten words” of testimony in the context of relationship-building activities, and on the other hand enquirer’s courses. What can we do to share Jesus within, alongside and beyond our successful Toddler Groups, Cafés, Food Banks, children’s clubs, knitting circles and Table Top sales? What is working in the area of “the next ten words”?

I propose to devote the major part of my Sabbatical Leave this summer to exploring this question. Any helpful suggestions welcomed at peter@pbthomas.com

Building a marriage – a short course

This leaflet sums up a short course for established couples wishing to deepen their relationship. It can be used in a group setting or by each couple at home.

Building Your Marriage
Spending time together
Most couples marry because they want to spend their lives together. But as pressures of jobs and family increase they can find that the time they do have together is spent in routine chores instead of the exciting ‘‘dates’’ they enjoyed to begin with. So it is good to write into your diaries time to be together, evenings, whole days and vitally important holidays. This must be ‘‘quality time’’, not just those moments when you are too tired to care. Remember what it was you really loved about each other in the beginning, and make time to enjoy those things again.
It helps to plan to do some of the fun things you used to do (and
always wanted to do) when you were courting; moonlight walks, candlelit dinners, sports and games, theatre trips, whatever you enjoy together. And don’t be afraid of spending some money to treat yourselves sometimes: your marriage is worth it!
TO DO
 Book some dates in your diaries NOW. An evening together each week for the next month when you will go out somewhere and do something together. A weekend together when you will go away, or just stay indoors and enjoy being married.
 Talk about some of the dates you enjoyed before you were married. Dig out the photographs and relive the past a bit.
Enjoying common interests
As well as making sure your marriage has plenty of exciting activities, it is important to develop some common interests you can talk and learn from each other about and enjoy together from day to day. It is too easy to end up only talking about your job(s) or the house and family matters. It is important that each of you has your own friends and hobbies, but these should not exclude the other. You can enjoy sharing your wider experiences and conversations with each other.
TO DO
 Think of some things you would both like to do which you haven’t ever tried before and book a date now!
 Try to put together an A to Z of activities you could do together from time to time.

Communicating
So many couples are so tired that they spend whole days glued to the TV (sometimes even to different sets in different rooms). Lazy evenings with a favourite programme are very valuable but TV, computer games or the internet must not be allowed to stop a couple from talking to each other. What you talk about can be less important than the fact that you care enough just to say something. Many couples can enjoy each other’s presence without needing to say anything, but long cold stony silences can damage a marriage as much as too many rows.
It is important to learn how to disagree agreeably. For some couples an occasional ‘‘frank and productive exchange of views’’ can be a valuable release of tension, as long as you make up properly afterwards. But too much shouting can be destructive, especially if children are around. It is important to be able to tell each other how you are feeling, and to express irritation or anger in a way which does not harm each other or your marriage. It can be good to make a specific time to talk through big issues and solve them, rather than have a running battle of short exchanges over many days or weeks.
Communication between husband and wife should be based on complete honesty, openness and trust. Marriage should be the one place where we can be completely ourselves without fear of rejection. It is a bad sign if folk want to talk more openly with anybody else (except their doctor, counsellor or minister) than they do with their partner. The strength of any marriage lies in being able to resolve differences positively, by learning to communicate (especially in times of stress), thinking of your partner before yourself, and adapting to their needs, moods and attitudes.
TO DO
 Set aside an evening just to talk together. Talk about anything you like, but if you’re stuck try some of the questions on the back page to get you started.
Sharing burdens
A vital part of marriage is supporting each other through life, not just in the crises but starting in the everyday pressures of job and family. This can begin by talking through things, but must also be expressed in practical help where necessary. One partner cannot sit back and watch the other being weighed down. You share all the loads as a family.
TO DO
 Try to arrange to spend part of a day with your partner at work.
 Tackle one of those household jobs your partner has always done.
 Think and talk about ways in which you can support each other and share the load in your job(s) and in your home life together.
Building each other up
In marriage a couple should be stronger together than they would be apart. Husband and wife should encourage each other and make each other feel good about themselves, rather than put each other down all the time. Compliments are more appropriate than criticism (however justified). A couple should stand together against the world, not take sides with outsiders (even in-laws and old friends) against their partner.
TO DO
 Write a love letter to your partner listing ‘‘The top 10 things I love about you’’.
 Make time to talk openly about ‘‘times I feel you have let me down’’.
Enjoying each other
A good sex life is an important (but not the most important) ingredient of a happy marriage. Not only the physical pleasure, but also the closeness and vulnerability are vital to a deepening marriage. Part of the marriage commitment is that husband and wife are to be for each other the most exciting fulfilling sex partner the other could wish for. So you must set aside times to enjoy each other when you are relaxed and not exhausted. Variety helps excitement, predictability kills it.
TO DO
 Book a date for a romantic dinner together when you know you won’t have to get up early the next day and see what happens.
 Plan a day when you will be able to stay in bed all day.
 Talk about how you feel about your sex life. Share your fantasies.
 Make some plans to explore new possibilities. Good books can help.
‘‘I love you’’ or ‘‘you please me’’?
“I like you, you please me” love, comes from our response to our partner, what they look like, the things they do, the kind of person they are. That kind of starry-eyed romantic love is mostly passive. It depends on our partner. “I love you” ought to convey a much more active kind of love, which gives rather than takes, seeking the best for the one I love and not just what’s best for me. That is not an emotional response but an act of mind and will. Marriage involves both these kinds of love. We need to make time for each other, so we stay in “you please me love. But we also need to work hard at the active giving “I love you” love, to make each other as happy as we can be.
TO DO
Buy each other a surprise present, the simpler and more unusual the better.
Think of ways you could give to your partner as well as receiving.
Think of ways you take each other for granted.
Think of ways your partner is boring. They can’t always have been like that! Now think of what you are going to do to liven them up again!
_________________________
Questions to talk about
One way of approaching these questions is to take them one by one. Start by thinking what you think your partner’s answer would be. Then find out their real answer, but be prepared for a few surprises!

1. Where would you most like to go for a holiday, and why?
2. What is your favourite television programme, film, song, piece of music?
3. What is your favourite food and drink?
4. What is your clearest memory from childhood?
5. If you unexpectedly inherit £10,000, what would you do with the money? (e.g.new car, long holiday abroad, etc. – ignore boring answers like paying the bills.)
6. What animal would you most like to keep as a pet, and why? (Ignore practicalities – if he wants an elephant and she wants an aardvark, that’s fine!)
7. What would you like to change in your partner, if you could?
8. What are the three most important things you wish your partner understood about you?
9. When was the most exciting, earth-moving time you have made love?
10. What does your partner do which makes you angry or upset, but you’ve been too scared or hurt to tell them?

If you want to chat: peter@pbthomas.com

The theological basis for the College of Baptist Ministers

CBM is not merely a response to changing employment law. We believe there are good theological reasons why every minister should strive for excellence in ministry and work out that ministry not in isolation but in cooperative relationships with other ministers. The first post offers some reflections on this theme. All comments and other ideas will be most welcome, with the expectation that in due course CBM will publish an agreed statement.

TEN GREAT REASONS FOR MINISTERS TO MEET TOGETHER AND SUPPORT ONE ANOTHER

1. God calls us to excellence in ministry
God calls us to be the best ministers we can be. Colossians 3:22-24 gives guidelines for slaves which extend to every Christian doing any form of work. Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Surely these commands should apply supremely to Christian ministry: working with all our hearts; as working for the Lord; serving Christ; with sincerity of heart and not only when others are watching. As we grow in knowledge and seek to develop our skills, as we move on in discipleship and in our walk with God, as we exercise spiritual gifts and seek God’s anointing, we should always be doing our best for God.
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)
Fan into flame the gift of God (2 Timothy 1:6)
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. (Romans 12:11 NIV)
Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. (Romans 12:11 The Message)
It is either naïve or arrogant to believe that ministers can possibly fulfil their noble calling as well as they might while ignoring others following the same calling. Individualism is not a mark of spiritual maturity. Great leaders like Moses and Elijah needed others to support them. In Gethsemane Jesus called on the support of Peter, James and John. Paul wasn’t embarrassed to ask for help. He was also prepared to rebuke even Peter when it was required. Ministers need to learn from each other, to encourage each other, to support each other, to spur one another one and if necessary even to challenge each other. To be the best Ministers we can be, we need each other!

2. Dialogue teaches the parts monologue can’t teach
We learn all kinds of things much better by talking about them and by doing them with other people than just by reading or by listening to a professor talking about them. Talking things through with another person brings so many blessings – blessings for you and blessings for person you are meeting with so double the blessings! Talking helps us understand and internalise the things we may be learning in other ways. It helps us think through decisions we are making and find ways through problems we face. It brings encouragement in difficult times and helps us keep going when we feel like giving up. Too often Ministers feel they have no one to turn to when the going gets tough. The wonderful thing about meeting regularly with another minister or small group of ministers is that in times of trial the relationship of sustaining friends already exists.

3. Jesus tells us to pray together.
“Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:19-20)
Here Jesus very clearly makes two promises which are tragically overlooked in our individualistic world. The second promise (in order of the saying) is that Jesus the Risen Christ is present when believers meet together in some special way in which He is not present with them when they are apart and alone. And this is linked in some way to the first promise which is that God the Father will answer the prayers of believers who come together in agreement about what they are praying for, more than if they had prayed alone and separately. If it was not already abundantly clear from other parts of Scripture, Jesus here is specifically promising to bless Christians who meet together and pray together. And that doesn’t have to be at a church service or a prayer meeting or a Home Group. The minimum number meeting together to claim these promises is precisely two. Praying together is always good. Intercessions carry more power because they are united. Praying for each other is good. Praying through each other’s decisions and problems is good. And having somebody else committed to praying for your personal spiritual growth is guaranteed to be good – because God answers prayer
.
4. Opening up to each other is opening up to God
If we really mean business with God we need to open up every part of our lives to Him. And an important way of doing this is to open up our lives to other people. Many Christians (especially Ministers) are afraid of doing this. I am afraid of letting other people see the real me because then they would realise (in the words of Michael Caine’s character in the film Educating Rita) “there is less to me than meets the eye.” I really do need to let somebody else in on “the real me” because only then, when I am truly being myself, only then can God really begin to change me. Many Ministers need to learn to open up to others, and many find it easiest to open up to a fellow Minister. Sharing emotions, sadness, anger, disappointment or discouragement with each other is the same as sharing these feelings with God. Because when we have poured out our heart to our friend, and we know our friend understands, then we can be assured that God also has heard and understood us. British Christians especially are so practised at bottling up our emotions. It is very healthy to have a spiritual context where we can uncork the bottle!

5. Confession and absolution helps us deal with sin
In the battle against the world, the flesh and the devil, having a Christian friend standing with you can make all the difference. Through history the church has known the value of confession and absolution. Jesus has given to all Christians the authority to declare sins forgiven. So James 5:16 makes this invitation. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. In the process of Christian holiness, turning away from sin and being transformed into the image of Christ, every Christian would benefit from having a friend to whom he could confess his or her sins. That friend could offer the blessing of declaring those sins forgiven. More than that, the friend would be there to pray alongside against those temptations in the future. Too many Christians walk the road to holiness alone. We do not need to be alone!

6. It is good to be in covenant relationships with others
There is a place in the Christian life for discipline. For making promises to God and to each other, and for allowing others to call us to account for those promises. In essence most spiritual promises of value are wrapped up in the promise we make at baptism, “to follow Jesus Christ all the days of my life in the fellowship of His church.”‖ It is valuable to allow other Christians to encourage us in keeping our promises. We know we should be more motivated and committed than we are. It‘s good to pray when we feel like it – it is even better to pray when we don‘t feel like it, and even in times when we feel we cannot pray at all, because we have made the commitment to God and to the other person that we will meet.

7. Being accountable is a good thing
Most Christians are educated beyond their obedience. We know much more truth than we put into practice: many Ministers more so than anybody else. We would benefit greatly from other people calling us to account for our discipleship and our spirituality. Being accountable helps us keep learning and praying and it helps us stand firm against temptation. Accountability means we can‘t cheat ourselves, or God. Richard Foster commends this idea of “loving accountability.” He writes, “I need others to ask hard questions about my prayer experiences, temptations and struggles, and plans for spiritual growth.” Any Christian who is serious about being a disciple of Jesus should not be afraid of searching questions. “How is it with your soul?” “How are you experiencing God this week?”
Ministers have a particular right and the obligation to “watch over each other” and support each other in their Christian life and ministry. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. (Acts 20:28) If we see a brother falling into sin, all Christians, and especially those in leadership are obliged to try to rescue them ( James 5:19-20; 1 John 5:16). And every Christian, even a Minister (or especially a Minister) is obliged to allow others to help us on the road to holiness.

8. Seeing Christ in each other
Imprisoned for his faith and tortured for Christ, Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand saw the suffering of his fellow prisoners and asked, “If that were Christ, would you give Him your blanket?” The parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:31-46 reminds us that when we love and serve our neighbour we are loving and serving Christ Himself. Somebody once asked Mother Teresa of Calcutta how she could work with the untouchables and the sick and the dying? Her answer was that she sees Jesus in each one of the people she helps. So as she serves and cares for those who are dying she is serving and caring for Christ Himself. The best way to learn to see Christ in others is to develop a close relationship with a fellow Christian. Meeting with Christ in another person is a wonderful way of experiencing the presence of Christ in ordinary everyday life. Thomas Merton the Twentieth Century mystic puts it this way. “When I meet with you, the Christ in you is able to meet the Christ in me in a way that would not have been possible had we not met.” In the context of Spiritual Direction, John Chryssavgis writes, “In opening up to a spiritual elder, one allows the divine Other into the whole of one‘s life.”

9. Things “better caught than taught”
There are many things in life which we learn by watching others. The piano teacher, the driving instructor, the personal trainer and the life coach all show us HOW TO do what we want to do. The best way to learn to speak French is to spend time with a Frenchman. So also in the Christian life there are individuals who inspire and encourage us by their passion in prayer, their boldness in evangelism, their commitment to holiness and their complete devotion to God. From their examples we learn skills, attitudes and character. We learn hospitality, patterns of prayer and devotional reading. We learn how to cope with life. We seek to imitate their work/life/church balance. We are fired by their wisdom, zeal and love. They are our role models. We catch their faith. As other people share their lives with us, we learn from them how to share our own life with other people. Ministers are often at the “giving” end of relationships but it so valuable to cultivate sustaining friendships in which we also receive inspiration and encouragement.

10. “The perishable art of Christian Ministry”
After a distinguished career as a performer, one famous virtuoso violinist became a professor of music. Somebody asked him what had prompted his change of career. The violinist replied: “Violin playing is a perishable art. It must be passed on as a personal skill; otherwise it is lost.”‖ We can‘t learn to minister just by reading books or following courses. We need to pass on the “perishable art” of Christian ministry by meeting with other ministers and supporting one another in ministry!

Church – singular or plural?

I want to propose a subtle revolution – make church plural not singular.
What kind of language do you use when you talk about the church? In the singular or in the plural? North Springfield Baptist Church IS or North Springfield Baptist Church ARE? Do you say “ NSBC HOLDS ITS morning service at 10.30? Or would you say, “ NSBC HOLD THEIR service”, or even better “hold OUR service at 10.30?” Forget grammar for a moment. Do you think of the church as “it” or as “they” – or even better as “us”? For some people, church is IT – just an organisation with a programme. But the heart of church is really “US.” The people!
So I propose the subtle revolution that whenever we speak about a church we always use the plural, signalling that “the church” is always shorthand for “the people who make up the church”. Never “the church does”, always “the church do”. Even recording minutes of the church as an organisation never “the church has decided” but always “the church have decided”, because it is the members of the church who have joined in reaching that decision.

New content on this blog – Articles from Church Magazines

As this blog is now being integrated into my main website I am adding to it lots of material from other places. I have just added the articles from the magazine of North Springfield Baptist Church over the last three years.

As well as all the sermons and Bible Studies at www.pbthomas.com/blog Other pieces I have written can be found online in various places.
Items about mission, outreach and evangelism are on the EBA Talking About Mission forum.
Various pieces on Christian Ministry can be found on the website of the newly formed College of Baptist Ministers.
Evangelistic and apologetic articles can be found on www.peoplemeetinggod.org
In due course I will add some of these materials to this blog.
Discussions are always welcome: email me peter@pbthomas.com

Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit

“This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: `Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty. (Zechariah 4:6)

NOT BY MIGHT On more than 100 occasions the Old Testament uses the word MIGHT to refer to collective strength, to armies or warriors. In anything God calls us to do for him if we put our trust in MIGHT, we will be wasting our time. Not by might of NUMBERS, or of MONEY, or of GOOD PREMISES, or of NEW TECHNOLOGY or LOTS of ACTIVITIES. These are tools God may choose to use to help bring folk to salvation. But we must not put our trust in any of them. NOT BY MIGHT – says the ALL MIGHTY God. In comparison to His great might, all our human resources count for nothing at all!
NOT BY POWER Over a hundred times in the Old Testament we find this word, which refers to the strength of individual men and women. Not by power of TRAINING, or of EXPERIENCE or of HUMAN WISDOM or of HARD WORK. Don’t think for one minute that as long as we put in the effort, as long as we deliver enough leaflets, or knock on enough doors, or hold enough meetings, people are guaranteed to be saved. It doesn’t work like that!
Not by might or by power BUT BY MY SPIRIT says the Lord Almighty. Michael Green reminds us, “It is the Holy Spirit who convicts people of sin; it is the Holy Spirit who enables people to say Jesus is Lord; it is the Holy Spirit who baptises people into Christ; it is the Holy Spirit who brings new birth; it is the Holy Spirit who assures us that we belong to Jesus; it is the Holy Spirit who produces the fruit of changed characters; it is the Holy Spirit who gives us gifts so that we can serve God more effectively.” Our part is to make sure we are available to God and ready to obey Him when He wants to use us, and that we don’t get in God’s way by trying to do His work for Him! The Holy Spirit is already at work in the lives of “not yet Christians.” And the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives too. It’s the Holy Spirit who gives us the words to say when we share the gospel.

We may feel we could never tell other people about Jesus. But it’s not about skillful speaking and persuasive words. It’s about the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, and working in the people we are talking to! And that power isn’t just for ministers and evangelists, but for EVERY Christian. That is what Jesus promised in Luke 24:46-49:-

“This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

This is the promise of Pentecost. Power from on High. Power to be witnesses for Jesus. The power of the Holy Spirit. The dynamo and the dynamite of God the Holy Spirit at work in OUR lives, which can accomplish so much more than we can ever ask for or even imagine!

Why should we love other people?

Another church displayed a simple poster. “You know that bit where it says, ‘Love one another.’ Well, I meant it.” God calls us to love each other in the church and he calls us to love our neighbours as well. But what should motivate us to love, especially when loving others becomes costly or challenging or just plain boring?

Let me suggest six possible motives why we should love others. I believe they are of increasing importance. The first reason we love is because of people’s needs. Whether in Nepal or India or Africa or Bulgaria, or just down the road from us, many people have great needs, physical and emotional and spiritual. But we don’t love people just because we see their needs and think we could make a difference. That’s a weak motive because however hard we work, however much of ourselves we give, we will never ever make a visible dent in the mountain of needs! Beware of the temptation of looking for “results” and trying to measure our “success or failure.”

Then we may love others because we genuinely care for them. It is right and good that we care about people. The lesson we learn from the bad example of the Pharisees is that it is always preferable to serve out of love than out of duty. But loving people may not be enough because at times people can be very hard to love! It was Charlie Brown who said, “I love humanity, it’s people I can’t stand!” Surely a stronger motive for loving people is recognising that God loves people. Our task is not to love people but to take God’s love to people! God’s love for people is infinitely greater than our love for them. When we want to give up, God’s love never gives up!
Then we should love others because we follow Jesus Christ and His example. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. (John 13:14-15) Christ’s life is a continual example of sacrificial service – and as his disciples we should walk in his steps. And so we should love others also in obedience to Christ’s command. But serving out of duty and obedience will never be sufficient motivation when the going gets so tough that the tough have long since packed their bags and given up.
So what is the ultimate and best reason for loving others? It is simply this. Because God loves you! Never forget this glorious truth. God loves you so much that He gave His only Son to die for your sins so that He could make you His child. God loves you so much that He has come to live WITHIN you by His Holy Spirit. God loves you – and nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate you from that love God has for you. That’s why we love other people God. Because God loves us. “We love because God first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) We love God and we love others because God loved us first. The love which we have received inspires and sustains us. Paul tells the Corinthians, “Christ’s love compels us” It isn’t our love for Christ but it’s Christ’s love for us which compels us to love other people!

May God help us all to love in the same way He has loved us!

Why have you abandoned me?

How much does God love us? The Apostle Paul tells us that the death of Jesus Christ on the cross is the supreme demonstration of God’s love for fallen human beings.
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)
At Easter we make time to remember Jesus Christ dying on the cross. We give thanks to God that “Christ loved us and gave up His life for us.” (Ephesians 5:2).
We sometimes try to imagine what it was like for Jesus to die for our sins. The shame of the death of a common criminal. The physical pain. The experiences of rejection. The guilt of sin. And then death, separation from God who is the source of all life. God loves us so much!
But what was the role of God the Father at Calvary? Jesus gave Himself up – but we must not forget that the Father also had to give Him up and hand Him over. “God did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all.” “Because of our sins Christ was handed over to die.” (Romans 8:32, 4:25)
We find this word which means “hand over” and “give over” and “give up” more than a hundred times in the New Testament. We read that the Jewish leaders handed Jesus over to Pilate. Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified. But this same word can also sometimes mean “betrayed.” In Gethsemane Jesus said, “The time has come for the Son of Man to be handed over to the power of sinful men. Here is the man who is betraying me.” (Matthew 26:21-22, 45-46). Judas hands over Jesus – and the Father hands over the Son to die in just the same way.
Jesus was rejected by His own people as a blasphemer. He was condemned by the Romans as a dangerous rebel. He was deserted by His closest friends. But more important than all these rejections, on the cross God the Son felt the full reality of being abandoned by God the Father. Mark’s Gospel chapter 15 verse 34 records Jesus’s cry of dereliction from the cross. “My God, my God, why did You abandon me?” (Mark 15:34) Why have you forsaken me?
Here is an experience of complete rejection. These were not just feelings of apparent desertion, but the reality of total abandonment. The Son had come to reveal God as the heavenly Father. Jesus had shocked traditional Judaism by daring to teach His disciples to address God as Abba, Daddy. But on the cross for the first time in His life Jesus cannot pray “My Father” but only “My God”. Why have you deserted me? Why have you forsaken me? Why have you abandoned me? Why have you handed me over? Given me up? Betrayed me? WHY have you forsaken me? How those words would have pierced the Father heart of God!
These words as Jesus was on the point of death give us a glimpse into eternal realities. As Jesus was suffering on the cross something very profound was happening deep within God Himself. Martin Luther put it this way. “Christ saw Himself as lost, as forsaken by God, felt in His conscience that He was cursed by God, suffered the torments of the damned who feel God’s eternal wrath, shrink from it and flee.”
In his book “The Crucified God” the German theologian Jurgen Moltmann explains the cross this way. “It was a deep division in God Himself, insofar as God abandoned God and contradicted Himself. The Son suffers in His love being forsaken by the Father as He dies. The Father suffers in His love the grief of the death of the Son.”
So the cross of Christ was just as hard, just as painful, just as heart-breaking for the loving Father as it was for the obedient Son. Any father would suffer handing his son over to such agony and desolation. God the Father was not an aloof spectator at Calvary. The Father was looking on with grief and tears that the world could only be reconciled and redeemed at the inestimable cost of alienation from His only beloved Son.
Amazing love, oh what sacrifice, the Son of God given for me!
My debt he pays and my death He dies, that I might live!
The sacrifice of the omnipotent Father is as great as the sacrifice of the helpless Son. God’s deity is divided! The Holy Trinity, God eternally three-in-One, is split apart by OUR sin as Christ the Son shares our rebellion and experiences our separation from God the Father!
“Christ was without sin, but God made Him to BE sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God!” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
We rejected God! God never rejected us. Proud, selfish and self-centred human beings have abandoned God! Ignored his laws. Refused him the worship of which He is worthy. All we deserve is to be rejected by God. But in place of rejecting us – God the Father rejects his one and only Son. The Son who was one with the Father from eternity, before space and time were created. The Son who from the very moment of his human birth lived in unbroken fellowship with God. The Son who was always the delight of God’s heart. There was absolutely nothing in the Son to cause the Father to turn His back on Him. Yet there on the cross that is what happens. The Son of God is hung up to die, forsaken, abandoned, rejected.
Again Moltmann helps us to understand. “The suffering in the passion of Jesus is abandonment, rejection by God His Father. Jesus humbles Himself and takes upon Himself the eternal death of the Godless and the Godforsaken, so that the Godless and the Godforsaken can experience communion with Him.”
“My God my God, why have you forsaken me?” “Why have you abandoned me?” THAT is how much it cost God to bring us back from hell! THAT is how much God loves you and me! Give thanks as we remember just how much it cost Jesus to die for us. How much does it cost us to live for Him?

Why do people not come to church?

“When you were born, your mother brought you here.
When you were married, your partner brought you here.
When you die, your friends will bring you here.
Why not try coming here on your own sometimes?”

This poster seen outside a church raises an interesting question. Why do folk seem to need so much persuading to go to church? Nationally less than 10% of the population attend a church service on a Sunday. Only a few per cent of the people of Chelmsford are committed Christians. Why is this?
Many non-attenders blame the church itself. The church is “outdated”, they say, “living in the past”. It’s “too solemn”, “too regimented”, “boring”, “pre-occupied with money and buildings”. The church is “all-pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die”, folk complain.
Perhaps these criticisms used to be justified, but no so much nowadays. Churches today are very concerned to be relevant. Our mission calls us to be useful in the community, and in touch with world issues, without neglecting the central spiritual purpose of the church which is to worship God, to offer God’s answers to today’s questions, and to share His saving love with everybody.
Staying away from church may actually be much more to do with the image which the church has in the world than with the reality of church life. The comical, but distorted, portrayal of vicars in comedies and soap operas may scare off many folk from ever meeting a real clergyman. The representations of churches in Eastenders, Ballykissangel and The Vicar of Dibley do the true church of Jesus Christ no favours at all.
Very many folk only ever go to church to special services. At weddings everyone is so happy and at funerals they are so sad that they usually miss most of what is happening. Few people there are used to going to church, so everybody is feeling awkward and out of place. Weddings and funerals may well put people off ever going back to church, because they haven’t actually seen church as it really is.
So what can WE do to help others to come to church? Firstly we should INVITE people! Friends, neighbours, and even strangers, should be given a personal invitation not only to our services but to our regular activities and our special events.
Our publicity with leaflets and banners and adverts on Facebook is bearing fruit. Last week we had no less than ten first time visitors to our morning service! And another guest at our evening service. When new folk do come along to church services or events we should WELCOME them! Not smother them, or scare them off, but definitely not ignore them. We should befriend them, and make allowances for the fact that they might feel as out of place amongst us as we would in their local pub. We should make sure that we tell them about the great things going on at North Springfield Baptist Church, and give them one of our welcome leaflets so they can keep in touch if they want to.
INVITE and WELCOME – two simple things we can all do to make it easier for folk to come to church.