Be each other’s fan club!

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‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.’

Reflections based on Ephesians 4:1–29.

This chapter in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is focused on unity, and every believer playing the part that God has called them to. It follows on from our last devotional reading about putting off the old self and living in the way of the Spirit. It is interesting that verse 29 zeros in on our speech and how we should use it intentionally for the building up of those around us. We certainly need the encouragement of one another – perhaps more so than at any other time in history. There are more people suffering from depression than ever before – 85,000 deaths worldwide occur each year due to depression. We each desperately need people who are rooting for us.

Dr Gary Chapman, renowned marriage counsellor and the author of the bestselling The Five Love Languages, recognises how much difference it makes in a person’s life. Indeed, in his book The Family You’ve Always Wanted he says, ‘‘From the smallest child to the oldest adult, when our fan club applauds us, we try harder.’

We do have a responsibility to live as children of God, not by our old sinful nature. We don’t have to strive to do it in our own strength, though, as we have the Holy Spirit’s help. This chapter reminds us that we are grafted into God’s family too, with his Son at the head. Verse 16 says that, ‘From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love…’ Note the imagery: we each make up a part of the supporting framework of the body. We need one another’s support and encouragement. We are not meant to journey in this life alone, but alongside others who will spur us on to be the best we can be.

Reflection: Do you have those in your life that encourage you? If so, find a way to thank them today. If not, ask God to bring encouragers into your life. Look out for ways you can encourage others today too.

Five reasons why we need to repent more

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The words ‘sin’ and ‘repentance’ seem somewhat old-fashioned don’t they? I’m often told to change them when I’m editing Bible study notes, as people don’t relate to such terminology these days.

It is true that sin and repentance are concepts that seem to go against the grain. Our individualistic society feeds off the thought that ‘I’ should focus on myself – and that ‘truth’ is simply what I believe and how dare anyone challenge that. But that smacks of a hardness of heart – whereas we are called to be softened and malleable in God’s hands.

God has been talking to me a lot recently about how vital our need to say sorry is. I’ve come to realise that repentance actually holds the key to unlocking so much freedom within us as Christians.

We need to say sorry both to God and to others. We need to have the grace to allow others to say sorry to us and forgive when necessary.

It is true that, as Elton John says, ‘sorry seems to be the hardest word’. However, here are five compelling reasons to put in the effort.

1. It reveals a humble, honest heart.

God wants us to be humble enough to acknowledge when we are in the wrong, rather than trying to cover it up. When we come to Him with honesty it shows integrity; we aren’t trying to pretend we are better than we are. Saying sorry and asking for forgiveness demonstrates our continued need of a Saviour. We can’t do everything in our own strength – repenting when we trip up shows that we recognise this and are leaning on God.

I love spending time in the psalms – David is one of my biblical heroes. So much strength, wisdom, depth of feeling and a worshipful heart, and yet he wasn’t perfect. He stooped to an all-time low in his episode of covering up his sin with Bathsheba, but, when the prophet Nathan confronted David his immediate response was ‘I have sinned against God’, and he wrote Psalm 51 to God soon after. Here’s a snippet:

Have mercy on me, O God,

 according to your unfailing love;

according to your great compassion

 blot out my transgressions.

Wash away all my iniquity

 and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,

 and my sin is always before me…

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

 wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

To read the rest of this post please click here.

The church is the hope of the world

I’m thrilled to have a guest post from Danny Webster on my blog today. Danny is one of three bloggers currently in Cambodia visiting communities that are being transformed by local churches in partnership with Tearfund. Danny, Anita Mathias and Rich Wells are blogging about their daily experiences and interactions. To follow their journey you can also take a look here.

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I’m in Cambodia with Tearfund to visit and write about a major project they support working in communities across this country. The work is done through the church, a vital part of how Tearfund work wherever in the world they are working, and seeing it in action has shown me why this matters and the difference it makes.

I spent last night in the pastor’s house in a community about an hour to the south of Phnom Penh. I watched the sun turn deep red as it dipped beneath the horizon leaving only a golden hue of fading light in its trail. And I saw the sun rise this morning, as it appeared through the morning haze – a late arrival to the bustle of activity already alive on the street. The cockerels started about 4, the dogs soon after, the neighbour got up and his music drifted effortlessly onto the balcony where we spent the night shielded with a mosquito net now littered with bugs. The pastor told us yesterday he got up around 4 most days; I struggled to believe it, but getting up at 6.30 having been awake the past two hours makes me a more wretched laggard than the sun.

The village I’m staying in, Tonle Batie, is one which supporters of Tearfund can stay in touch with through their See For Yourself initiative. You can see the highs and lows of their experiences, the successes and failures, the joy at crops growing, pigs getting pregnant and the sorrow of chickens falling prey to disease, taking a familiy’s livelihood in a single swoop.

The way Tearfund work in this village–  and many not just in Cambodia but across the world – is by mobilising the church, and in turn mobilising the community. It’s through a programme called umoja – based on a Swahili word meaning togetherness – that helps communities recognise the resources they already have and their own ability to respond to the problems in their community.

Yesterday Rich and I, who were spending the night in the village, sat down to pray with the pastor and a couple of workers for International Cooperation Cambodia (ICC), the local charity Tearfund partner with. Style is different, language is a barrier but the experience of praying with Christians across the world is always a privilege.

There is something about coming together that makes a difference. Whether it is Christians from different continents sharing meals and prayers, or members of a village coming together to improve their community’s livelihood. Earlier yesterday we helped the umoja group in Tonle Bati till the soil in a section of the church land ready for planting bell peppers today. There were men and women, young and old, English and Cambodian, working together on the soil. Admittedly, their hands were more used to the work and won’t be sporting the same blisters as mine this morning.

The church is vital, but it is not the extent of the work. These projects can never just be for the church; they start there, but they do not end there. Umoja is a long process, it is about finding and feeding a vision in the church to come together, to build relationships with the community, to find out what their family and neighbours needs are, and how they can respond to them.

We met a lady so involved in the work of the umoja group, and who was helping on the land yesterday, she didn’t realise she wasn’t formally part of the group. We met an elderly lady whose daughter is part of the group. Mostly house bound she’ll go into the forest when she can to collect wood, which she’ll bundle up and then offer for sale as firewood.

Together the community is helping itself, and in a selfless way, serving one another and supporting families when they go through times of need.

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I’ve been inspired while being out here, by the people and by the refusal to give into easy simplistic

chickens etc-jpegsolutions but commit to long-term sustainable development. I would love it if you could support Tearfund by giving £3 a month to help more communities be transformed, follow all of our blogs and find out how you can give at www.tearfund.org/bloggers.

A picture of God’s faithfulness

As a church this month we celebrated our 10th anniversary – I can’t believe how the time has flown by (yes I know that’s a sign of getting older!). It was rather hilarious to watch clips of our launch service, spotting those who have been with us since the start (and noting how much younger and slimmer we all looked!)

We had a fantastic anniversary service, praising God for bringing us this far and re-dedicating ourselves to His vision. We then enjoyed a feast of international food prepared by everyone in the church. But what has struck me most during this time of celebration is how faithful God has been throughout the journey.

The church almost lost two of its leaders before we even really began as our marriage began to unravel. I remember my husband saying to the pastor who was mentoring the team at the time, ‘but what about the church?’. His answer? ‘God will build His church – you focus on your marriage.’ Wise, true words.

To read the rest of this post please click here.

We need God!

I have been away for a few days this week, enjoying time with family and watching with great joy as our kids played well with their cousins. Then I came home and catched up on news stories. Before we went away we heard the news of Margaret Thatcher’s death – and the really sad news of Rick Warren’s son’s death. I cannot believe the torrent of filth and hate that has emerged on social networking sites, particularly twitter, about both. I was aghast by how much of it came from Christians…

Since we’ve come home I’ve read and watched stories about the horrific rapes in Syria and the disgusting murders of babies carried out by Dr Gosnell. My stomach flips, my heart sinks and an overriding sense of sickness pervades my body as I think about what humanity is capable of – in terms of practical acts, but also through vitriolic outbursts. I don’t really feel like commenting on the specifics of any of the above. So many others have done that eloquently already. All I want to say is we need God – so so badly! I hope and pray that hearing such news brings all Christians to their knees. I am sure that is the case with the most recent news stories, but unfortunately it appears there is so much hate within the Church itself. Our society – locally but also worldwide – is in dire need of its Father. It doesn’t need to see his people divided, lashing out at one another. We need to look at ourselves humbly once again – after all who are we to ever cast the first stone? We also need to come before our God, united, to cry out for his salvation for the world.

We need you God!

The Big Church Day Out has a ‘night in’

Here’s an article that I wrote for the Evangelical Alliance – click here to see it on their site. I’ve pasted the ‘uncut’ version below (the wordier version!) 😉

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photo (c) Josh Hailes

The BigChurchDayOut (BCDO) is now a massive annual event, seeing over 20,000 people gather at the start of the summer for a festival of all-age Christian celebration. So when I heard that the organisers were planning a BigChurchNightIn I was a little sceptical. How do you bring the scale of that sort of event down to create a ‘cosy night in’? Well, BCDO has just finished its eight-night BigChurchNightIn worship tour, featuring Matt Redman and the Rend Collective, which travelled to church venues across the country. The final night, December 1, was in London so I hopped on a train and bus to go and check it out.

The event’s promotional video asked people, “Fancy a night in? Just you and a few friends, maybe put a bit of music on and see what God’s got in store?” The idea was laidback and intimate: to take a few worship leaders out onto the road to spend an evening with church friends, with no other agenda than to be united in worship with God at the centre.

Tim Jupp, the man behind BCDO, said: “Kicking off the first of what we hope will be many BigChurchNightIn tours, this tour with Rend Collective and Matt Redman has been incredibly exciting as it represents so much of the heart and vision of the BigChurchDayOut, with a focus on celebration and drawing the wider church together.”

In House of Praise, London 2,500 people gathered with expectant hearts. The atmosphere was explosive, with people ready to worship as soon as Rend Collective appeared. The venue managed to capture a sense of intimacy really well – I had no idea there were so many people there until the evening’s host told us.

Rend Collective were their usual brilliant selves, singing some of their best-known songs, such as the lively “Come On My Soul” and “Praise Like Fireworks” and emotive “Alabaster”. From the outset lead singer Chris said that: “human voices connecting with God are so much more powerful than the PA system – we want to sing with you, not at you”, adding the challenge: “however crazy you want to go tonight we just want to let you know we are up for it too”. They included their now classic version of “Be Thou My Vision” (“You Are My Vision”).

Drummer/band leader Gareth talked about us all being “one giant collective” that evening, and it was great to see two trumpeters join them on stage for a couple of songs – I had noticed them tweeting earlier in the tour, giving anyone who played a brass instrument an invitation to play alongside them.

Gareth commented that there is “nothing on earth that has a force like the living, breathing church” and they went on to sing their frantic “Build Your Kingdom Here”. It is obvious that their hearts’ desire is to facilitate authentic worship and there were many moments in which they pulled back so the crowd could take the lead on vocals. At one point we all sang “Yes Jesus Loves Me” together!

Bass player Patrick then spoke to us about Compassion, the charity that facilitates sponsoring children around the world. When he first heard the statistics about how poor over 90 percent of the world’s population is he got angry with God, and asked Him why He hadn’t done anything about it. God replied, “I have. I made you.” He challenged us to worship with our hands and feet and a whopping 113 children were sponsored by the end of the night. Fantastic.

Rend Collective told me afterwards that: “We had an amazing time on the BCNI tour. We believe that the local church is God’s hope on this earth and BCNI was a perfect opportunity to encourage and stir it up for the kingdom through worship. To that end the tour was a huge success, with thousands of Christians gathering in their local communities to sing the truths of our faith. Through Compassion, over 400 children in poverty have been blessed through their sponsorship programme; a beautiful expression of worship! We were privileged to be involved.”

After a short interval, Matt Redman, joined with seven musicians, took to the stage. The crowd immediately rocked out to some old and new favourites such as “Blessed Be Your Name” and “We Are Here For You”. Matt was excited to be in the “best city in the world” for the last night of the tour and looked back over the year’s celebrations, including the Jubilee, Olympics and Paralympics, but said we have something far better to celebrate – God has restored us to friendship with Him. He said that we aren’t doing anything new, simply joining in with the eternal song of Jesus, and that’s certainly what it felt like – a people from all over the city, covering all ages, joining together with the same purpose.

Matt and his band took us through a medley of hymns such as “Here Is Love Vast As the Ocean”, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and finished with the final verse of “Amazing Grace”.

I was interested to see Matt pulling back from his mic at times too, allowing the sound of thousands of voices to fill the hall.

Towards the end of the evening Matt led us in some of his really high-energy anthems, such as “Redemption Song” and “Dancing Generation” and the whole venue bounced (yes, the floor too). In a final act of unity and celebration, Rend Collective joined him back on stage for a massive rendition of “10,000 Reasons”.

While it was a slick, professional event the overall impression I was left with was one of humility and inclusiveness. That was the heart behind the tour – and it certainly achieved that.

Tim explains: “As I travel around the UK it seems so much that at this time there is a greater than ever focus on the church uniting, and it is exciting for me that the BigChurchDayOut can play its part in demonstrating this.”

Worshipping with other believers from a host of different churches certainly was uplifting and refreshing – even if it was actually rather a late night out! 😉

A unified Church

I had the privilege of attending the National Day of Prayer at Wembley on Saturday alongside my husband. As he is a pastor we were invited to the leaders’ lunch beforehand, which I have to say was the part of the day that struck me most. Although when we first walked into the luncheon reception we were quite overwhelmed – amongst the sea of people we knew no one but recognised a few ‘famous’ faces. But having introduced ourselves to a couple on the table we’d sat down at, and been joined by a friendly, familiar face, we then listened to some brilliant and challenging short talks by various leaders from different denominations and organisations. Having spent recent weeks hopefully imparting the vision of a more outward focus in our small groups, it was so encouraging to hear each leader stand up and talk about how mission is so much at the forefront of what they feel the Church should be doing today.

I was particularly impressed by Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, who spoke about what it means to be a Christian in the public eye. He said that what struck him when he first came to England was the “invisibility of the Church”. He challenged us to think about what would happen  if our churches wanted to be light in our communities; that for years we’ve been more like invisible salt: “What would that involve? It would involve going out and would also involve hospitality.” He asked whether we are “genuinely open to those who are not like us?”. But he also said that “Jesus is for people but there are times when he is against a culture”, indicating that there are times when we have to say no, not due to our own prejudices, but because of what Jesus teaches. One thing that really struck me personally was when he wondered whether Christian parents have given up on their kids. He said that the biggest problem in Europe is the inter-generational communication breakdown…

Later on, Executive Chair of Crossing London 2013 Stephen Gaukroger again picked up on the subject of reaching our towns and cities. Talking about the initiative based in London for next year he said that we as Christians should give each other the freedom to shout when we want to shout, and be quiet when we want to be quiet. He said that: “only a diverse, united Church is going to reach a diverse city” and that we are going to have to work together if we want to leave a legacy that is not just about maintenance but about mission. That has really come back to me over the last day or so. It can be so easy to get uptight when you don’t agree with what another strand of the Church is doing or saying – but when that is taken to an extreme it does so much damage. I was saddened when I left Wembley Stadium, after enjoying worshipping and praying with 32,000 other Christians, to be met by two guys standing on boxes shouting that what had been happening in the Stadium wasn’t of God because there were Catholics in there. Where was the grace of God – and what message did that give to passers-by?

I’ll admit that often I can get riled by certain debates/exchanges that happen on Twitter/Facebook/blogging sites, particularly on issues that are close to my heart. And I am also frustrated by the misunderstandings and judgements that are passed on the movement our church is affiliated with – Newfrontiers. But I realise I can be guilty of treating others in the same way at times. My mum is currently trying to find a new church and has been going to one for a few weeks that she feels comfortable at. And yet when she told me something the pastor had said it made me uneasy, because it is different to my own experience and understanding of the Bible. But I know that my mum desperately needs to find a church that she can call home, and feel supported by, and it isn’t a ‘salvation issue’ as it were so I’ve been left pondering – is it really important? I think it’s a shame – but I don’t think it is a reason for her not to attend that church. I know there are some big issues that I do need to stand up for, things that others in other parts of the Church don’t agree with me on, and that makes it hard to be united as 21st-century Christians at times. But I am convinced that when we reach heaven we will ALL discover something that we got wrong but thought we were so right about! 😉 I really believe we all need to keep going back to the Bible individually and corporately to see what the reality of the Christian life God has called us to is – and then work together to show the world that the Good News really is good news!

As Ephesians 4 says:

I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

A pioneering woman, pt 3

Here is the third part of my interview with Wendy Virgo.

As you have both grown in your ministry, to the local church and internationally, has your understanding of any issues changed over the years? Have your approaches changed at all?

I think that principles do not change, but the ways they are applied must be flexible. As we have got involved in church planting in other countries we have had to learn a lot about cross-cultural issues; we had to recognise that we are not seeking to import English ways of thinking, but to try to understand what is a biblical way and to establish that. I think this is one of the reasons that wherever I go in the world to visit one of our churches, I feel instantly “at home”. I may be in Mexico, Australia or Zimbabwe, and I may be experiencing different food, climate, dress and customs, but when we gather as the people of God and worship Him, we are together expressing a culture that belongs to the kingdom of God.

We have to be confident that the Gospel is still the power of God for salvation and is relevant to every culture and stratum of society; we have to be persuaded that biblical values hold true and work in every nation. For example, Terry has preached the Gospel of grace all over the world and has often come up against certain practices that are traditional but very legalistic. These have had to be challenged, not because we don’t like them, nor because this is “not Newfrontiers” – not even because “this is old-fashioned and no one does this anymore”. Things have to be evaluated on the grounds of “is this biblical?” For example, in Armenia, it was deemed unspiritual for a man to wear a tie; but in some areas of Africa it was deemed unspiritual if they did not wear a tie! We have to help people to see that the grace of God declares that what you wear is totally irrelevant to your worth or spiritual status! This could, however, be quite hard to establish where there is a hardened tradition. People often flounder on details and have difficulty identifying what is a primary issue that must be attended to, and what is a secondary one and therefore not worth fighting over!