Thoughts on what God has been doing in the church since I joined it!

I recently came across a blog commenting on trends and movements within the church over the last 50 years. I have read lots about what God had been doing over the centuries concluding that God has continually sort to renew His church when it has lost its way or needs correction.

This was what happened with Martin Luther and the Protestant Revival; Wesley and Whitefield with the Methodist / Evangelical Revival and there are many other historical examples. In each case the renewal movement created a new branch of the church as well as bringing correction and adjustment to the church they left.

What was stimulating was the encouragement to reflect on the movements that God has been bringing to His church over recent years, the years since I have been part of His church.

“Over the last 50 years there have been two main movements that have helped to reshape the church so comprehensively that we sometimes forget that a change took place.  First, the Pentecostal/charismatic movement has caused many to experience personal faith and a corporate encounter with God that has enabled the church to be renewed and empowered for mission.

Second, the ecumenical movement has dramatically changed the landscape so that most Christians now see their identity in Christ as primary and their denominational affiliation as almost incidental.  It was not always that way round.  We are now in a significantly post denominational situation and able to work easily across boundaries that were previously impermeable.”

Then even closer to today we have had “the emerging church”, which has encouraged innovation and imaginative new ways of being the church, to take account of the culture of those we are seeking to reach. This has been accompanied by “missional church”, recognising that mission isn’t just something we do in other continents, but is relevant and important in our own context.

Following on the heels of these movements has been what is called in the US “New Calvinism” centred on the teaching of Tim Keller, John Piper and Mark Driscoll amongst others. In the UK Tom Wright has been similarly influential. “Following a time when Christian teaching has seemed to dance to the tune of the secular world, many new believers have yearned for clear and intellectually sound explanations of Christian teaching. Clarity and substance are in demand.”

In summary, the consequence of the renewal God has been bringing to His church over my life time has been an emphasis on unity in Christ, empowered by the Spirit, concerned for good teaching, oriented towards mission and relevant expressions of the church.

This is something we can easily take for granted, but has been a genuine, real and exciting work of God.

There are still challenges ahead, how do we grow in a mission context that is hostile to the Christian faith, how do we get our voice heard in the public square? There is always more for God to do, however I found it helpful to reflect with gratitude on what God has already done.

WRITTEN BY TONY THOMPSON

tonyt

Tony is an Elder at Hope Church Luton and part of the Leadership team.

He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

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Small Groups: Part 2

When Jesus commands us to love one another, he is not talking about having good feelings about our brothers and sisters. He is talking about relationships that are worked out in spending time together, sharing and praying together:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34,35)

“…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:21-23)

“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” 1 Peter 3:8

Small groups can also be a safe environment to discover spiritual gifts God has given you, and step out tentatively away from the larger congregation, if that suits your character more: He has given each of us gifts and character traits that are intended to be a blessing to others, and small groups offer the chance of that dreaded accountability most of us don’t want, but do need in areas of our walk with God we find a struggle.

Fellowship with other Christians isn’t a one size fits all matter: it’s not about squeezing a square peg into a round hole. We are all different characters. But whether shy and retiring, or open and confident, the need to be spending time with other Christians is the same – that is what God intends for his church. Pray that God will lead you to the right group for you. Having said that, our idea of the right group may differ to His idea of the right people, and Christian relationships can result in lifelong friendships with people we otherwise would have little in common with, for God knew that we needed one another. For it must be remembered that:

“My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

So pray about the fellowship you are getting with other Christians, for it is an essential part of growing in your faith, and God has a treasure of blessings in it for you. So…

“…let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

WRITTEN BY KAREN ROY

Karen Portrait

Small Groups: Part 1

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:20

 

We give serious, sometimes intimidating names to small gatherings of Christians: cell group; fellowship, bible study. But aren’t they all just God’s excuse to get us together  in a more intimate setting than church on Sunday can, by nature, allow? For it is in this environment that we build the relationships he intends us to have with one another.

While Sunday church IS a time when God will and does meet with us, it is in smaller groups that we can grow, because it is here that we spend time in close contact with other Christians in whom He lives. As we read God’s word together and work out how we can apply it to our every day lives, as we compare our fears and struggles, as we share our testimonies of God’s faithfulness, so we strengthen one another, our faith grows and we gain the courage to persevere in our walk. It can be of immense comfort to know that at a regular time each week, someone will be coming alongside you in prayer about the issues in your life. Also, knowing that others are praying for the things you have shared in their quiet time can be of great encouragement. God intends us to  “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11) and it is the small group that equips us to do this. Church is about relationships – these are easier to build in smaller groups than on a Sunday, when it is all too easy to leave the building without having spoken to a single person.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 is usually applied to marriage, but is just as important to the subject of our relationship to one another in the church:

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

It is in sharing, studying and praying together that God will often speak to us, and minister to us through one another’s words (whether or not they know it or ‘feel’ it at the time!) to speak into the issues that concern us. It is in the fathoming out a piece of scripture together that He will work the nourishment of His word into our souls, as “Iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17). I have been in countless Bible studies where, in the course of discussing a set passage, the Holy Spirit has deftly guided the discussion into uncharted waters and spoken into different people’s situations, and they have left knowing that they have been in his presence and heard directly from the throne of grace, that He has directed his word exactly where it is needed. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

John Stott wrote, “I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that small groups, Christian family or fellowship groups, are indispensable for our growth into spiritual maturity.”

And for the early church, ‘home group’ was the norm. The fellowship described by Paul in Romans 16  and Acts was the principal component of the New Testament church:

“So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart…” Acts 2:46

WRITTEN BY KAREN ROY

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Fasting: Part 2

Fasting can also, crucially, keep us prepared for when God wants to speak to us, often through the everyday, mundane things of life, for we have a God who loves to communicate with his people, and fasting keeps our spiritual ‘ear’ at the ready to hear him when he does.

Surely we want this passionately? And God, full of grace, wants this passionately for us too.

So I have been asking Him to show me how I can fast, and the answer I received took me back to last year when I took up running. Now when I say running, I am using the word rather loosely. Think harassed mother of three on a gentle jog whilst listening to audio books, rather than Paula Radcliffe. But the point is, I knew that I needed running in my life. I wanted running in my life, but had put it off for years after a handful of attempts when I would dive in, all guns blazing, and set off for a 45 minute run and, five minutes in, be gasping and staggering home with a stitch, feeling deflated, frustrated and give up, discouraged, resigned to the fact that running simply wasn’t for me. It was just too much, too soon. Sound familiar? Then I learned something that changed everything: I could learn to run. I discovered a running program called Couch Potato to 5K that teaches you in tiny, achievable steps. You start by running for 60 seconds at a time, which just about anyone with two functioning legs and lungs can do. By the second week, you’re running for 90 seconds at a time, by the third 3 minutes, by the fifth 5 minutes and so on, all without feeling you are going to die, until by the end of 9 weeks, you can run for 30 minutes. The feeling of having built up to that capability was incredible.

So I began to wonder if this ‘slowly slowly’ approach could be applied to fasting. Was fasting something that I could learn to do, and train myself to do in determined, bite sized chunks, rather than go into it gung ho and land flat on my face? And that is what I am doing. Starting with small, manageable steps, I am learning to fast. And just as with the running, it is often the last thing I feel like doing, but at the end of it the rewards far outweigh the effort.

Unlike running though, fasting is, of course, something we do in private, and fasting can’t be discussed without reference to Jesus’ words on how we are to behave when doing it:

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18

Again, remembering that our fasting is between us and God, I don’t think He’ll mind me sharing what happened on the very first time I managed to take just one meagre step forward in it recently (I did say slowly slowly!), as I feel it demonstrates God’s heart of abounding encouragement towards his children, and his promise, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” James 4:8. I got in my car, switched on the engine and for the first time in a long while pulled on the lever by the steering wheel to activate the screen wash. The liquid covered the windscreen and in one firm swoop, the wiper scraped away all the debris and dust I hadn’t even noticed had built up over time, and left me with a crystal clear view. I sat smiling to myself, knowing that God was saying, ‘Well done’.

WRITTEN BY KAREN ROY

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