It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Coming

Cemetery, Grave, Graveyard, Scary, Tomb, Tombstone

 

If you have lived as long as I have, you will remember what Good Friday used to be like in the fifties. It was a day of solemn remembrance. My family would have hot cross buns for breakfast, and then we would go to church. We knew and loved the special hymns : “There is a green hill far away”; “When I survey the wondrous cross”, “Alas and did my Saviour die…” and there would be readings from the Gospel about the crucifixion. It would finish with communion. Our service only lasted about an hour, but some churches had services three hours long, from mid day to three o’clock in the afternoon. 

All the shops were closed, and the banks, and people talked in hushed voices and a general air of solemnity prevailed. 

 

Easter Saturday was much more light hearted. But Easter Day itself dawned with a burst of joyful celebration! WE often had family or friends staying and we would have a special breakfast, the children would be given Easter eggs, and then we would go off to church. We children loved it! In my memory, the weather was always sunny, with spring flowers everywhere, and everyone was happy. We sang our favourite hymns, “Christ the Lord is risen today! Hallelujah!” “Up from the grave he arose!” “Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son!” The whole weekend was a time of reflection on the Cross and the Resurrection. 

 

I don’t remember when it began to change. When did the shops begin to stay open on Good Friday? When was it treated like any other day? Business as usual? When did the whole of Easter become a commercial opportunity as the population binged on chocolate and hot cross buns, and lamb was on the Sunday menu rather than seen as a symbol of sacrifice? The decline of Easter as a time of any spiritual significance for most people must have slowly happened over several decades. 

Daffodils, Blossom, Bloom, Osterglocken, Yellow, Nature

It is not crises which bring about indifference to religion and spiritual things: it is the creeping distraction of other things. Entertainment, prosperity, material possessions, sports, business, family matters, not necessarily bad things. They are what the Bible identity as weeds which choke the seed, the “cares of life”. At first they distract, then they preoccupy, then they overwhelm. Crises on the other hand cause a re-think, a re-evaluation of priorities , a separation of the urgent from the profoundly vital. 

 

In these days of lockdown, a re-think is taking place. Questions are being asked: will this spell the end of Christianity, or will it produce a glorious burst of revival? (Spectator April 2020) To be honest, I hope it will bring an end to Christianity as we know it. All too often Church has become routine, predictable, formulaic. Where is the excitement, joy and awe? Why are we satisfied with an hour of singing some songs and a few blessed thoughts? Where is the presence of God? 

 

To be fair, it isn’t all like that, thank God! I have been in some terrific meetings with great preaching. Many churches are full of wonderful saints serving the poor in the community, loving each other and giving sacrificially. Pastors are caring for their flocks with compassion and diligently working at delivering good sermons. I am grateful! 

 

Yet do you yearn as I do for days when we couldn’t wait to get to church because we expected to meet with God? When worship was full of powerful truth that brought us before the throne? When we could be electrified by a word of knowledge, a prophecy, a testimony of God’s intervention?

This crisis probably will change the church: it will be different. Who knows how we shall meet in the future? Shall we return to our church buildings on Sunday mornings, with no great expectations of God speaking to us? I hope and pray that whatever it will look like, there will be an outbreak of celebration that will run and run, because we shall be delighted to find that multitudes who are now in the valley of decision, have come to Christ. Many who are now lost will be found; many now broken-hearted will be surprised by joy. Many who thought that God was dead will find that he is very much alive!

 

Its Friday now, but Sunday is coming 

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This is my Story

From the archive: Billy Graham in London, 1954

You may have seen recently on FaceBook or Twitter a clip of Billy Graham preaching . What energy, fire and zeal! What uncompromising conviction and authority!

I was eight years old when he came to England in 1954 to preach at the Haringey arena in London, which held 11,000 people. I went on a coach with my mother and a few from our little Brethren assembly in Maidstone, Kent, where my family lived. This was the extent of my Christian experience, and consequently I had no notion of a big Christian meeting! In fact, hardly anyone did at the time. So to enter the vast arena and see thousands of people sitting rapt, listening to this American man preaching the Gospel was a new and vivid experience. It was truly awesome. I remember how the huge choir began to sing softly after the preaching, “Just as I am, without one plea,

But that thy blood was shed for me
And as thou bidst me come to thee,
O Lamb of God I come”.

 

As they sang, Billy Graham invited those who wanted Jesus to be their Saviour to come forward. The atmosphere was hushed and
solemn as hundreds of people rose from their seats, and walked quietly to the front, many of them weeping.. The crowd in front of
the pulpit swelled, and still they came, right through the six verses of the hymn. I gazed around in wonderment, the moment indelibly printed on my memory.

Billy Graham had been invited by a group of London clergy to conduct a series of meetings for a period of three weeks, but such was the unprecedented response night after night that he stayed for over three months! The meetings made headlines in the daily papers which were frequently reporting stories of conversions. It was extraordinary that the main news of those months was about the impact of the Gospel.

 

The signature hymn became, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine”, with the chorus, “This is my story …

The London Underground trains were full of people singing it, and it could be heard everywhere, as joyful new converts sang it in the streets! One can hardly imagine such a thing happening now.

 

From time to time in our history God has powerfully used individuals to awaken the nation to its need of God. John Wesley, George Whitfield, and William Booth are the most famous who come to mind. Each of them saw multitudes turn to Christ, and what is more, the culture was deeply impacted and changed. In recent years, the moral decline has been steep and ugly causing Christians to seek God ever more urgently for a fresh out pouring of the Holy Spirit, for powerful preaching of the Gospel and for multitudes to turn to Christ.

In these days when all our props, preferences and and priorities are being swept away, it is stimulating and encouraging to recall prophetic words that have come over the last two decades. In the nineties, we held leadership conferences in the Brighton Centre. One day, Wesley Richards, a UK pastor, prophesied that he could see a towering wave gathering out to sea. It was taller than the Brighton Centre and would engulf the entire city and flood its streets. That same afternoon, another prophetic man, Rodney Kingstone, prophesied the identical word! Terry and I have often prayed for that wave to break. A few weeks ago, we happened to meet Wesley Richards again. Terry reminded him of that word. “Oh Yes!” He exclaimed. “I see it as clearly today as the day I gave it!”

 

We have also frequently prayed about a recurring vision that Ginny Burgin has had over twenty years now, of beacons being lit all over Britain, fires of revival . More recently, in fact in January in a revival prayer meeting, Terry saw in the Spirit some lock gates on a river. At the side was an old rusty wheel for opening the gates that was stiff; but as we prayed the wheel began to turn slowly to open the gates and release the flow of water.
Even today I have seen on a local women’s prayer app a prophecy about a sleeping lion awaking. I also had a prophetic word about a tug boat coming up the river Thames. Behind it, emerging out of the mist, came a majestic and huge ocean going liner. It filled the river, and the displaced water flooded all over London. I took that to mean that something much bigger than the church as we know it is going to come , to London, but hopefully all over the UK.

 

These words and many more encourage us to keep tugging on God’s sleeve! “How long Oh Lord?” Sighed David. He spoke about waiting
with eager longing for God, looking with yearning for the dawn of a new day.

Sometimes waiting seems endless. Think how long it was before Isaiah’s prophecies came to pass: about 700 years! I remember hearing a prophecy about a greater revival yet to come that would include miracles and eclipse everything that had gone before. I thought it was imminent! It must be twenty-five years ago now, but that is a mere blip compared with Isaiah! However, signs are there: dare we believe that we are on the edge of something awesome, breath-taking in its scope and power? Lets not give up ! Lets keep praying and believing: we may yet hear praises again on our streets: this could be our story!

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Death of a Pigeon

Yesterday a pigeon committed suicide. I was in the kitchen downstairs when I heard a loud thump. Afraid that Terry had fallen off his chair in his study, I raced upstairs, only to meet him coming down. “Did you hear that bang?” He asked in a state of shock. His desk faces the window overlooking the garden, and he described how a pigeon had come hurtling towards the window and smashed into the glass. “It dropped like a stone!” He said.

This is not an unknown occurrence. Our garden has many trees and they are reflected in our windows sometimes causing hapless birds to think they are flying into the leaves only to give themselves a nasty shock and doubtless a headache. Usually they fly off, rather dizzily. But this one plummeted to Earth never to rise again. We went out and gazed at its still form. Its feathers looked very smooth and glossy, but no breath stirred its plump chest. I felt sad. Terry dug a hole and laid the bird in it. One minute it had been flying carefree, and the next, death had come unexpectedly. It had thought it was flying into safety, into green foliage, but it had been an illusion. End of pigeon.

shallow focus photography of pigeon

 

Later in the day, I was engaging in a different sort of death, a hopeful death, anticipating life. Instead of laying a dead bird into the ground I was pushing seeds into soil, expectant to see green shoots of lettuce, cress and spring onions beginning to germinate in a few days. Jesus said that seeds must fall into the ground and die before they can bring forth fruit. (John 12). Then in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul reflects that a change occurs when a body is sown into the ground: it rises into a different sort of life.

At the present time in this nation, (and in others across the world) we are going down into a sort of death. Everything is coming to a standstill and life as we know it has come to an abrupt end. Is this a crashing disaster? Or will a new and different sort of life emerge? Already stories are coming out about how this virus and the measures taken to deal with it have changed hearts and attitudes for the good. No doubt there will be very sad and negative stories too. But I for one would be glad to see the death of some things, such as the casual attitude to abortion, the preoccupation with gender issues and obsession with political correctness, to mention a few. At least Brexit has retreated into the shadows as a major topic of wrangling! There will be sadness as the death of what we have come to regard as normality takes hold. There will be grieving and hardship. But dare we hope that new life will spring forth?

Christians can be sowing seeds now in prayer for revival to break out; for a preoccupation with the kingdom of God to arise , and instead of the arrogance of a society that has turned its back on God that there may be a new humility as people recognise anew their need of Him, and find New Life in the One who is the way the truth and the Life.

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Paul in Isolation

Sudden isolation brings all sorts of unforeseen pressures; we can find ourselves getting bored, frustrated or depressed. So it is helpful when we can find something purposeful to do! Gardening, DIY, and contacting friends we haven’t seen for ages become highlights of our day! Maybe even the forgotten art of letter writing is being rediscovered?

How did the apostle Paul cope with isolation? Imprisoned in Rome, Paul now has time to write all those letters he had meant to write but had been too busy dodging threatening hordes of Pharisees, or being shipwrecked, or flogged, or stoned, or escaping down city walls in a basket. But now, he can put quill to paper and get in touch.

He shakes his manacled wrist and dips the quill in the ink. The guard peers curiously at the blank page as Paul begins, and a blob falls on the pristine page. He sighs. Its difficult to write when you are chained to a soldier. He hears voices outside, a key turns in the lock, and his colleague and adopted son is let in. Timothy! They greet each other joyfully, and then seeing the pen and ink, Timothy asks what he is writing. Paul explains that he wants to communicate with his friends at Philippi, but is hindered by his chain. “Why don’t you dictate to me, and I’ll write it down for you”, suggests Timothy.

Paul brightens immediately, and in a loud voice begins to dictate. “Paul and Timothy, servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Philippi: grace and peace to you.” Making sure that the guards can hear clearly, he assures the Christians at Philippi of his love and prayers for them.

He pauses and Timothy waits expectantly. Paul knows that the Philippian church will want news of him too. How much should he say? It is some years now since he saw them and much has happened . However, he doesn’t want to dwell too much on that. After all, he has only been at the centre of a couple of riots, escaped at night from a murderous conspiracy, preached before 2 governors and a king, been flogged, abandoned in a dungeon, shipwrecked… and now is under house arrest in Rome. Not worth mentioning.So he says nothing about all that, eager to get to the exciting stuff!

He turns to Timothy. “Next sentence: “I want you to know, brothers, that what happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel”. Ah! This is the real drama! “ The whole Praetorian Guard knows why I am here, because I preach Christ.” Conscious of a tremor in the muscular arm next to him, he turns and grins at the soldier, who looks embarrassed. Paul knows he is one of the few left who have not yet responded to the Gospel, but it wont be long.

Paul is an apostle, and he knows that his commission has not been revoked by finding himself in jail. It is a change of location and, being no longer mobile, will involve a change in tactics; but the message is the same, and he must now bring it to the Praetorian guard. Paul doesn’t moan that this strange new restriction makes it impossible for him to carry out his ministry. He adapts and finds new ways to do it. He calls himself a servant of Christ Jesus. He didn’t stop being His servant when the handcuffs were clapped on him; he just became a servant in chains, preaching the Gospel in prison, and now he is overjoyed that the Gospel is bearing fruit throughout the whole palace guard! God’s plans, far from being stifled are being wonderfully fulfilled.

This inspired the local church, and they stepped up to the plate and became bolder and more courageous too. But even more remarkable is that the letters he wrote in his confinement not only instructed and encouraged the churches of his day, but have continued to bless the church throughout the succeeding centuries!

Whatever strange and surprising circumstances we find ourselves in, the church is still the church with a message to preach. We must not dwell on the awkwardness of these restricted times, but adapt, and find new avenues to be the servants of the Lord. Who knows what things you are inspired to do which will have far-reaching consequences!

Many creative and innovative ways are already being displayed, voices are being raised in worship, and thousands of people are tuning in online who never normally come to church. God has his ways! Lets pray for an abundant harvest: even more than the whole Praetorian guard!

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Small things

In these strange days of enforced separation, the pace of life has become slower for many of us. It had slowed down a fair bit anyway for Terry and me as we are officially retired, although we travel a lot and Terry preaches most weekends. Or has been. But now, marooned in our house in Sussex, we are having to re-evaluate our lives.

I have discovered that one quickly begins to appreciate small things which render our days more pleasant. For example, yesterday I took advantage of the slot designated for the elderly (really? Me?) at our local Tesco store. I was surprised to find that it was very quiet indeed. Very few people were shopping, which made it easier to walk around without having to make efforts to keep the obligatory 2 meters distance from other shoppers. While some items were in short supply, I was able to purchase enough necessities for the foreseeable future. The lady on the checkout was most friendly and chatty. But what really pleased me most of all was that I was presented with a beautiful bunch of pink and white flowers, left over from Mothers’ day. Altogether, it was a successful, and un-stressful, shopping trip!

I am also grateful that the Water Board sent along a cheerful and hardworking team of men to deal with a persistent leak from the water mains. They dug large holes in the lawn, and filled them in again when they couldn’t find the source of the problem. Eventually they surmised it to be under our garage. They assured us that they would be back this week to fix it, and it might involve breaking up the garage floor. We waited apprehensively, wondering if the limitations imposed by Covid 19 would not allow them to continue, and I had visions of the water gurgling away into a swelling lake beneath our house into which we would gradually subside. But on Tuesday morning, the main guy turned up, and hit on a simple solution which he proceeded to put into practice. Then the other two came and efficiently filled in a hole in the driveway, taking pains to make it look almost as good as new. All three were cheerful, polite and diligent. The main topic of any conversation (conducted at a safe distance of course) was not the virus but the leak, which made a nice change.

These things are not groundbreaking— although I suppose fixing the leak was, technically— but I appreciated the thoughtfulness in both events. Added to that, I am extremely glad that we have a garden, that the sun is shining, and that today I saw a robin, and some blue tits and a wren. I planted some seeds having found some forgotten packs in the shed, and used some forgotten compost and planted them in forgotten pots. Amazing what you find when you have time to potter about!

Small things: but they add to the joy and contentment of life in the slow lane. I know many are distressed, worried and frightened, and we are praying constantly for them to look to the God of all comfort to find strength. But I also hope for many to find that, as the things they had thought to be essential to their well being are no longer available, they will find pleasure and joy in small things which up to now they had taken for granted. Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air…..Consider the lilies of the field..” Now we shall have time to do that. It helps!

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Tsunami!

matt-hardy-1163332-unsplash.jpg

Until the devastating event of December 26th 2004 I had never heard the word tsunami.
Following the towering wave that hit huge swathes of East Asia on that Boxing Day, it
became a globally understood word. When the shifting of tectonic plates of the Earth’s crust occurs, it generates earthquakes which in turn causes massive waves in the ocean. As they advance upon the land and crash onshore, huge damage and destruction is left behind.

In 1996 or 1997 Newfrontiers held a leaders’ conference at the Brighton Centre, and the so-called Toronto blessing was still fresh in our minds. One of the speakers, well-known for his prophetic gift, declared that he could see in the Spirit a huge wave gathering out to sea, and rolling toward the beach, where it would fall upon and deluge Brighton and beyond. This was particularly vivid as the room in which we were gathering was upstairs with large windows overlooking the ocean, and one could easily imagine such an event happening. The next day during the conference in another setting, someone else brought an identical prophetic word.

From time to time as we continue to pray for revival we remember these words and bring them to the Lord, calling on him to remember and to pour out such a wave of his Spirit that will wash and cleanse our land.

Yesterday, a small group of us gathered to pray, and the image of a tsunami came strongly to mind as someone brought a tongue, and we recalled the prophecies about the wave. In the decades since Toronto, the decline in our nation seems to have accelerated. More children are born outside of marriage than within it; gender confusion has grown to the point of ludicrousness; knife crime in our cities is nearly an everyday occurrence; some are rushing headlong into hedonism while others are seeking refuge in a more aesthetic lifestyle: “clean eating”, veganism etc. There is the constant threat of financial difficulty, now presented on our high streets as institutions which we had taken for granted were solid and lasting now face closure. And of course a massive crisis of leadership as all the wrangling and disorientation over Brexit continues.

Finally, arts and culture have been hi-jacked I believe by the desire to keep pushing
boundaries of what used to be perceived as decent, and be “real”. But do we actually always need to see “real”? Is it edifying? Informative? Engaging? Instructive?
I ask, because, misled by the high praise and high ratings in several newspapers we went to see a movie, which has also won awards . We should have checked it’s content first. Yes, the camera work was clever, the settings of 18th century grand palaces and gardens were sumptuous. But there appeared to be almost no story, just a threadbare and sordid account of a far-fetched three-sided lesbian relationship between Queen Anne and her maid and a duchess, the latter being rivals for the queen’s attention.

I ask myself some questions: even if this account was true, do I need to know about it? Or at least, do I need to see it in such intimate detail?
Was it entertaining? Was I enriched by the experience? Did I come away a better person for having seen it?
If it wasn’t true, why was it invented? What was the point?

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There were scenes where people were vomiting, masturbating, and behaving with crude
lasciviousness. We left halfway through, feeling besmirched.
OK. These things go on in life. But what is so concerning to me is that instead of being
marginalised as a tawdry bottom of the barrel movie, it is applauded and recommended; so that people who would surely prefer not to see such things are lured into the cinema by the expectation of a pleasant and rewarding experience. The main actress gets an award; and so the general feeling is that she has done well to portray such “art”.

I totally understand that much art has to do with the need to expose bad things, to bring
them to public attention so change can happen. So called “kitchen sink” dramas in the 60’s did that. And although much of the movie industry exists for pure entertainment, that is not always the motive, and rightly so. But my gripe about “the Favourite” is that it is pointless as well as revolting.

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, what ever is
admirable…think on these things.” (Philippians 4 v8)

I am praying for a tsunami of the Holy Spirit to come and wash us clean. A tsunami is
destructive and terrifying; but it crashes down on what was thought to be unassailable and permanent and breaks it up. It flattens the old and makes way for the new. It changes the landscape.

Come Lord, and make all things new!

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New book by Liz Carter: Catching Contentment.

Liz Carter kindly sent me the manuscript of her new book. Catching Contentment which is due to be published on November 25th. I am very happy to recommend this thoughtful and timely book. I asked Liz what spurred her on to write it and this is her reply:

Why have you written a book about contentment?

We live in a world where pain is sometimes our closest companion, and we want to ask God where he is in it all. It might seem God has left us alone, kept distance from us, seems unwilling to answer the cries of our heart.

And we long to ask, ‘Why?’

Growing up with a chronic progressive lung condition, I often asked these questions of God. As often, though, I felt I shouldn’t express my distress, that instead I should be filled with joy at all times, in the best of health, healed and whole. But my reality didn’t match up to this ideal I’d somehow grasped hold of, this notion of Christian life as a delight-filled, rosy garden. My reality was of sometimes crushing, agonising pain, of words shrieked out to God, of disappointment and sadness. When I heard the word ‘contentment’ I thought that it only applied to people who had everything together in their lives, people who were mended. The broken people like me couldn’t possibly find contentment.

But when I read Paul’s words in Philippians 4, about finding the secret to being content in every situation, my thinking was turned upside down. Paul wasn’t talking about the kind of contentment which resulted from life being simple and perfect, but instead from the raw reality of living in a broken world, where suffering happens and we find courage for the journey in the presence of God.

I think that our culture is always pushing the idea of the pursuit of happiness at us. We see it in every ad, on every social media feed. We must fulfil that need inside us in any way we can. We must get that thing and then experience it, then we’ll be content. And there’s always something more around the corner to make us happier.

Church, too, can push a version of this at us. A version called wholeness. When we’re whole we’ll be content and better able to serve God. We can’t be content until we’ve reached wholeness, because Jesus said that, right? Until our sickness is healed or our depression lifted.

These two versions feed into something common to all of us: the need for something to soothe the deepest parts of us, to fill the gaping void. We are always searching for the thing.

But I think Paul was suggesting a third way. As I dug into Scripture to explore contentment, I found that it wasn’t to do with how I was feeling at any given moment, but that it was something God longs for us to reach out our hands for. I discovered a contentment which burrowed into the depths of my lived pain and gathered it up, a peace which was far beyond my comprehension. And I found that it was in the act of looking away from myself and towards Jesus that I ran headlong into this startling contentment, a ‘holy’ satisfaction. It doesn’t look like the cat who got the cream, or lounging on a beach in sunshine; it sometimes looks like brokenness, instead. It delves into a God who loves so passionately that he is willing to get into our depths with us and for us.

Who might benefit from the book?

My prayer is that the book will speak to many who are living with uncertainty, disappointment, waiting and pain in body, mind or spirit. That it will speak into lives that have been broken in any way at all, and to people who are supporting those who suffer.

‘Take a deep breath
And walk into the journey
Place my shaky hand in yours
Drag my tired feet forwards
Into the wild depths of you.’

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