Glory, power and imagination

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21 (New Living Translation)

Power for the powerless
During the last few months it has certainly been easy to feel powerless, as many of us have had to rely on others. We may not even have been able to choose what we ate as others have done the shopping for us. Yet in Ephesians chapter 1 we discover that if we trust in Christ then we have been given much more than we realise.

We’ve been chosen, adopted, loved, blessed with every spiritual blessing, redeemed, forgiven and had the mystery of God revealed to us.

All of this and more in order that we might bring praise and glory to Jesus and so when we read about glory and power we assume it’s all Gods, yet here we discover God’s power at work within us. So next time we feel powerless, hold onto Ephesians 1 or 3:20-21 and remember that it is not our strength we rely on but the might power of God at work within us. We may be weak but God is infinitely powerful and glorious.

Not limited by our imaginations
When we talk about dreaming big or blue sky thinking, we often say the only limit is our imagination, but with God it is different. When we pray it can be difficult, when we meet a new situation or one we cannot work out for ourselves, we can be left not knowing what to pray or do. Yet prayer is more powerful that we realise as God chooses to accomplish even more than we ask for or can conjure up with our imaginations. When we pray and prayer for our community, God can act globally. When we pray for something that seems superficial he can do something deep and profound. When we pray for our immediate situation God can change our futures. Where we are bound by our experience or confidence in prayer, God knows no bounds, and works infinitely beyond our greatest prayers, hopes and dreams when ever we pray.

Glory in the church
Where is all this taking place you may ask? God’s powerful answers to prayer are often forgotten or overlooked, yet they happen everywhere. When God answers our prayers we assume things would have worked out that way anyway. When something seems natural (rather than supernatural) we assume it would have happened despite our prayers. I wonder how often we actually stop to take stock of the things that have happened precisely because of our prayers? I think it is our human nature (corrupted by sin) which means we are more likely to focus on prayers we think remain unanswered, than to remember those which have been answered many times over. And that is one of the reasons we have the local church, it is why we have one another to remind us of those prayers, to thank us for praying and making a difference.

The glorious church
The church, God’s local gathered people, are themselves a reminder of answered prayer. Every believer is a miraculous work of God. Which is precisely why this prayer ends “Glory to (God) in the church”, because the church is a living witness to the world that God answers prayers. Every believer is the answer to someone’s prayer, maybe even a life time of prayers. Our unity is an answer to prayer, when we could so easily be divided, a prayer Jesus’ himself prayed for. God is glorious and in his mercy and grace he has chosen to invest his power and glory in the church, as we live for Christ as a community. We are not to look down on people as it is God’s glory, rather we come alongside others in humility, as Jesus did. We are not called to rule over others, but to serve and love. We are not called to boast in ourselves but to boast of Christ.

So as the Message translation of the Bible put’s it:

Glory to God in the church!
Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!
Glory down all the generations!
Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!

Unity, blessings and patient prayer

After three months of being unable to meet together in person, I wanted to be able say that we would be in our church building this Sunday, but I can’t. I’m sure you share my deep longing and desire to be together again in person, returning to what we had before. Sadly it is hard to know when a service will look like those we held in the past. The current Church of England guidance denies us the chance to sing, to use responses as we have, to sit together, use hymn, service books or Bibles, or to meet in the numbers we are online. Things would look different too as we would want to wear masks and speak from behind screens to make sure we were doing everything possible to reduce the risk to those most vulnerable. So now is the time to listen to God and pray, to pray for patience, wisdom and insight. As we pray and take stock I thought it would be helpful to reflect on why we meet and to give thanks for the things God has gifted us in the present, as well as lamenting what we miss.

Who and what do we meet for?
If you were asked what we meet together for I’m sure we’d have many different answers, but our unifying purpose is a person not a place. We meet because of Jesus, we meet together as one family, created by God through the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. We meet because Jesus invites us and tells us to, we meet to give Jesus honour and praise, but much more takes place than we may at first think.

Sit, submit and commit to Christ 
Jesus prayed for the church (the original word being ekklesia, meaning a gathered people),“I pray also for those who will believe in me…that all of them may be one.” (John 17:20-21). When we meet we practice and demonstrate the unity we have in Jesus. We also submit ourselves to Jesus, we commit ourselves to him and we sit under his authority and his word as we declare his Lordship in our lives. Our confession of sin, acts of forgiveness, singing his praises, prayers and celebration of communion and baptisms are not a goal in themselves but the various ways we show our unity with Jesus. We show that we are one, that we are new creations living together for Christ.

“The gathering is the place of formation, not merely information. The word is not only proclaimed and taught but enacted and obeyed together through shared prayers of repentance and faith in Jesus, times of confession and forgiveness.”   

Donna Jennings

Formed and filled to go
A healthy gathering of Jesus’ people is far from passive, instead it is an active stand against sin, the world and the devil and it is one of the means Jesus uses to form us into his likeness. We gather to be empowered, equipped and encouraged to worship Jesus with all of our lives. The focus of our faith is not directed towards an hour a week where we worship, instead we gather to fuel and grow for a week, a life of worship. We come to be formed, filled and scattered, as Christ’s hands and feet sent out to the world.

A new community
So we gather as one, a new community, shaped by the Trinity, the community of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We gather to express our unity, our ‘oneness’, which makes the idea of being split into little groups or multiple services a step backwards. The thoughts of leaving an accessible gathering behind (like Zoom) which has enabled the housebound to join us another step backwards, if we want to be one. God has actually made us more united than ever as our Zoom services gather people from both of our congregations, something I am really thankful for. It is also a joy to gather to talk and share fellowship after the service, getting to know new people or older acquaintances better. I for one am very grateful that rather than being kept from fellowship as I have to set up for another service I am able to stop and talk with you all.

Positive steps forward 
It is wonderful to know that God has gathered us together, as one, more in lockdown than ever before, and to know that when we look back we’ll have so many things to thank God for. So let us stand united, in worship and prayer again this Sunday and let us pray and seek God for the way forward. Although it is true that some churches will be returning to their buildings this week others are not planning to return until September. So let me encourage you to pray and seek God’s leading as I am doing. And if people ask when we will be opening the building you can tell them that we are already meeting every Sunday on Zoom, but that when we do re-open we will make sure we communicate it as widely as possible. So as we continue to love God, love others and make disciples let us remember what is certain…

neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38,39

Why Black lives matter

George Floyd was killed on the 25th May by a Police officer who accused him of using a fake $20 note. George’s death sparked global protests, with positive and negative outcomes. Positively it has enabled people from different races to stand together against racism, negatively a hand full of people have used the protests to start riots, destroy property and loot businesses.

What does the gospel have to say about Black Lives Matter?
1. The phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ is an important rebalancing, as the Bible tells us that we are all made in the image of God. Everyone is created with the same worth and dignity; whatever the colour of our skin, age (unborn, young or old), gender, ability, mental health, who we are attracted to, all of us are valued and loved by God.

2. There are no second class people in God’s eyes, which is one of the ways we differ from God as in our sin we constantly judge and put a value on others. By making us unique God is able to display his endless creativity, which is something to marvel at, yet in our sin we fear the difference or use it to discriminate.

3. Racism and sexism are not a thing of the past, until Jesus returns we will have to live with prejudice and injustice. I have loved living in cities full of diversity and it is easy as a privileged white person to think that serious racism is a thing of the past. Yet it is George’s death and seeing it on the bus, at a church and online that remind me it has not gone anywhere.

4. As Christians the gospel gives us confidence that there will be an end to racism and prejudice when Jesus returns. This is not like my wishful thinking, but it is guaranteed. If Jesus is to judge and put right every wrong, then this injustice along with all others will be put right.

How should we respond?

1. Empathy – (yet knowing most of us will never truly understand)  
We have all seen frustrations overflow and certain actions or words trigger a response from us. George Floyd’s death is not the last time that people of colour will encounter prejudice in their day-to-day lives. So we need to try and understand and empathise.

2. PrayerPrayer is powerful and it is one of the most effective things we can do. So pray! Pray for those who face prejudice every day and whose lives will continue to be a battle for survival and a battle to be respected and heard. God will hear our prayers and he will answer them. Although we must be prepared for him to be at work in our own lives too, which may be painful. 

3. Share the message of Jesus, his love and forgiveness
Jesus Christ offers us a new start, he died whilst we were still his enemies. So let us pray for the pain, hurt and frustrations experienced by those who suffer because of the colour of their skin, but let us also hold up to God those who feel justified in abusing and demeaning people because of some difference.

4. Speak out
Because God is a just God we need to stand against injustice, sometimes at great cost. We do not want to be a silent supporter, when we should be a vocal opposition. The silence of the Church in Germany during the Holocaust and the silence of the Church in South Africa during apartheid allowed evil and injustice to thrive. So let us speak to those in power, be ready to speak to our friends, families, in our communities and workplaces.

5. Admit our failure
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the right Reverend Justin Welby earlier this year said “When we look at our church we are still deeply, institutionally racist.” He went on to give a personal apology. He said, “I am ashamed of our history, and I am ashamed of our failure.”

Imagine the effect on institutions and businesses if we spoke like Justin, admitting and confronting racism. This in itself is a significant step in healing and restoring divisions and hatred. So let us pray for political leaders and all those with power that they would help to eradicate racial bias and work to support those affected by it.Thank you to Pastor Agu Irukwu who inspired me to write this piece.