The Bible says we shouldn’t worry, even in times like these, here’s how you do that – Roanna Day

A colleague of mine just had her car broken into because she had hand sanitiser on display. Fear has crept its way into the throne room in so many lives and we as the church have to figure out a way to live differently. To be peaceful in the storm; unafraid in the face of a panic. 

Bill Johnson says any storm you sleep through is a storm you have authority over. So; how are you sleeping at the moment? How’s your mental health? When was the last time you relaxed your shoulders and took a deep, long breath? How many extra bags of pasta did you add to your last Ocado order? 

We have a heavenly responsibility to respond and not to react, to move to a different rhythm than that of the rest of the world and it’s times like these when that call becomes just that bit harder. 

Our job is laid out clearly in Matthew: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”

Do not be anxious. Do not worry. This is non negotiable! Matthew doesn’t write: “It’s fine to worry as long as you pray a lot too.” Or, “go ahead and worry, just make sure you’ve donated to your local food bank.” The message is; do not be anxious. 

Admittedly, this is a touch challenging. I look at my immunosuppressed dad and can’t help but think of what will happen if he contracts coronavirus. I cradle my newborn daughter and worry about how she would survive a high temperature. I wonder whether I’ve washed my hands thoroughly enough, did I remember the back of my thumbs? Suddenly door handles, light switches and TV remotes loom, germ-ridden and passed so easily between me, my dad, my husband. They’ve probably got some baby sick on too! How on earth do I keep everyone safe? Quick! I better order some more bleach. 

“Here’s the hard truth: you determine whether you worry or feel anxious or not.”

Here’s the hard truth: you determine whether you worry or feel anxious or not. Not the situation, not anyone else, not the coronavirus. You. Whether we worry or not is decided by what we turn our focus to, what we fill our ‘house’ with, what we pour over and what we empower in our lives. 

Later on in Matthew we get a glimpse into how we can live a worry-free life: “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

‘Come to me’ says Jesus. Come and I will give you rest. This liberating invitation from our Father God is the key to a worry-free life. It’s the thrumming heartbeat of our faith and in moments like this, it’s our lifeline. 

There is no caveat to this invitation. This applies in times of war and famine, in times of joy and celebration and in times of loo roll shortages and obsessive hand-washing. Whatever the day, whatever it is you’re carrying, take it to Jesus and he will give you rest. That’s a promise. 

“Whatever the day, whatever it is you’re carrying, take it to Jesus and he will give you rest. That’s a promise.” 

The other strategy to overcoming anxious thoughts is found in Psalm 34. Verse 14 tells us to “seek peace and pursue it”. This verse echoes the command in Matthew when you remember that Jesus is called Prince of Peace. Peace is a person, peace is Jesus Christ and so peace is the presence of Jesus Christ. Taking a touch of creative liberty you can rework the Psalm’s instruction into this: “Seek Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Pursue him and he will give you rest.” 

David gives us another clue to peaceful living in the opening of this beautiful Psalm “I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.”

How does David stay peaceful? How does he find rest in the storm? How does he bring himself to the feet of Jesus in valley seasons? Through praise, constant praise. 

I hate to pile the pressure on, but, it is our birthright and responsibility to be peaceful every single day. Our King commands it! Thankfully He handed over the blueprint for peaceful living:

  • Run to Jesus
  • Constant praise

“It is our birthright and responsibility to be peaceful every single day.”

If you’re thinking “that’s all well and good but how do I actually do those things?” then here are some practical tips, inspired by my own journey to peacefulness, to get you started… 

Watch what you consume: what you focus on has power. Watch things that make you laugh, meditate on God’s beautiful creation, read the Bible, listen to a church podcast, catch up with a faith-filled friend. I’m not saying you can’t watch *that* true crime drama but take note of how you feel before and after and just try and tip the scales towards consuming things that provoke joy over fear. 

Stay grateful: a few times a day thank God for a couple of the blessings in your life. This is such an easy way to switch your heart posture from fear to joy. Things I’m grateful for today? Our coffee machine, blooming daffodils and being able to exercise again. 

Listen to worship music: as much as you can, fill your house and your headphones with worship music. Yes, you will know every Bethel song off by heart, yes they all have the same four chords but no, it doesn’t matter. Worship music changes the atmosphere around you and it recalibrates your mind, spirit and soul too. I wouldn’t have survived this season without it. 

Being peaceful in times like these takes effort and discipline but it’s so worth it. It means you sleep soundly at night, it means you become a safe space for others and importantly, it means you become a blazing advert for the goodness of God.

Go meet with Jesus and tell him all about it, a great night’s sleep awaits. 

Freedom for excellence – Andrew Price

My friends, you were chosen to be free. So don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do anything you want. Use it as an opportunity to serve each other with love. Galatians 5:13 (CEV)

Think for a moment of the glorious liberty won for us by Jesus. Free from guilt, free from fear, free from slavery to sin. Like the Passover lamb his shed blood saves us from death. And like Moses he leads us out of captivity towards our promised inheritance.  We have been released from a debt we could never have paid.  The more we let it sink in, the more we instinctively turn to praise.  But if we are free, what do we do with this freedom?

Let me present you with two very different visions of freedom.  The first pictures it as our ability to make choices unhindered by anyone or anything else.  Here, freedom means an absence of rules or constraints, where no-one can tell us what to do. This chimes in well with our individualistic, rights obsessed society and is reflected in the idea that we should be able to be anything we want to be.  This vision is superficially attractive.  Its obvious flaw is that our choices affect not just us, but those around us.  To use a trivial example, my choice to play music loudly at 3 a.m. limits the freedom of others to get a decent night’s sleep.  In such cases, whose freedom wins? Ultimately, this sort of freedom becomes destructive as competing interests, each one convinced of their rights, fight it out.  Unconstrained, it leads to anarchy or oppression.   

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The second vision of freedom is very different.  Let’s call it freedom for excellence.  Have you ever seen a great musician perform, one who has complete mastery of their instrument? They play with such freedom and such expression, creating moods and feelings with just notes. Or perhaps you’ve seen dancers at the peak of their powers, seemingly free to move, leap or shape themselves in any way they choose. But how have such people reached this place of freedom? The answer, paradoxically, lies in discipline. Such mastery comes only through disciplined practice.  Rather than throwing off constraints or rules, these artists use them like the rungs of a ladder to reach greater and greater levels of freedom, continually refining and improving their skills and technique. Bishop Robert Barron has expressed this paradox very well; “The law is not the enemy of freedom. The law is the condition for the possibility of freedom”. 

This radically different idea of freedom gives us a fresh understanding of God’s law and helps explain why the Old Testament saints loved and revered it.  Psalm 119, for instance, is a love song to the law.  David delighted in God’s laws, precepts and commands.  Why? Because they guided him into a life lived in God’s presence.  He saw them as lamp for his feet and a light for his path.  Like a virtuoso musician whose disciplined practise leads to even greater freedom in playing, David’s embracing of God’s law led to the freedom and joy of fellowship with God.

“David’s embracing of God’s law led to the freedom and joy of fellowship with God.”

Now, in Christ, we have a new and even better covenant, one that deals once and for all time with our sin and releases us into our inheritance as the people of God.  This new “law of the Spirit of life” is what sets us free from sin and death.  Instead of being written on tablets of stone, it is written in our hearts and minds.  And as we submit to and serve the Spirit we are liberated into life and peace (Romans 8:2, Jeremiah 31:33, Hebrews 7:22, 9:11-15). 

“And as we submit to and serve the Spirit we are liberated into life and peace”

Freedom through obedience?  Freedom to serve? These truths do not sit easily alongside popular ideas about freedom.   We need a revolution in our thinking or we will never be able to grasp that the more closely we follow the leading of the Spirit of God, the freer we become.  But this is the true nature of freedom and the greatest example of this is Jesus, who moved with such freedom and power because he only did what he saw the father doing (John 5:19).  Paul clearly saw the link between being free, being a servant and the pursuit of excellence.  In 1Cor 9:19-27 he tells us that “though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone to win as many as possible”, and then goes on to describe how, like an athlete competing for a prize, he disciplines himself so as to win an eternal crown.  He was so overwhelmed with gratitude, and so gripped by the call of God that he wanted to pour out his life as a servant of Jesus and his people.     

The death and resurrection of Jesus is our exodus, our release from slavery.  But this exodus is just the beginning of a greater journey.  We are now faced with a choice; what should we do with this freedom?  We are rediscovering the truth that being a Christian is not just an individual, private transaction between me and God, where I get my sins forgiven and then go to heaven when I die.  It means taking my place in God’s people, a people with a calling and a mission here and now, not just in the hereafter.  We have the privilege of announcing and demonstrating the good news about this kingdom.  This task is worthy of our very best.  

We are free, but let’s not waste this precious freedom.  Instead, let’s work like an athlete or an artist, to become excellent in the service of the Kingdom of God.  

What happens when the wine runs out? – Andrew Price

Jesus chose a wedding feast to demonstrate his miraculous power for the first time. This was no co-incidence.  Such a feast points to the perfect culmination of this age when all creation will be gathered to celebrate the wedding of Jesus to his bride, the church.  But on this imperfect occasion, the wine runs out until Jesus, at Mary’s request, steps in and turns water into wine.     

For many years the standard quip of preachers when telling the Cana wedding feast story has been along the lines of “Jesus turned water into wine and theologians have been trying to turn it back ever since”.  And doubtless there is truth there.  But what struck me as I read the passage again is how often we run out of wine but carry on anyway.

I’m sure that at the Cana wedding feast, the lack of wine was quickly noticed – and commented on!  There would have been embarrassment all round. When Mary turns to Jesus and tells him that the wine has run out, she is asking him to do something about it, not bringing it to his attention.  I can’t imagine for a moment that everyone would have agreed to just carry on, pretending that there was plenty left.  They knew the difference between an empty cup and one full of wine.  

“But what struck me as I read the passage again is how often we run out of wine but carry on anyway.”

We can find ourselves doing what we have always done, but without the joy and freshness of the new wine.  The immediacy, the closeness of our walk with Jesus somehow fades but we just carry on. Probably, like the Ephesian church in Revelation chapter 2, the things we carry on doing are good.  Far from backsliding, they were working hard.  But their intoxicating first love had gone, and Jesus commanded them to repent.

At times like this we need Mary’s honesty.  To say it like it is, whatever the consequences.  In Exodus, a whole nation looked to Moses to lead them.  They expected him to guide them all the way to the Promised Land. The pressure of those expectations could have been overwhelming.  But Moses knew that without God’s living presence, there was no point in going even one step further.  And God, angry at the speed at which the people had slipped back into idol worship, was saying that he would not go with them.  So Moses prays, “If your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here”.  He was prepared to call a halt to this massive migration unless the God who had reawakened his calling at the burning bush was going to be at the heart of it. Imagine if some of the Israelite leaders had overheard his prayer.  “Couldn’t we just carry on?” they might have said, “I mean, what would we do with all these people if we stop here? What would we tell them?”.  Leaders, in particular, can easily feel under pressure to not rock the boat, especially if things seem to be going smoothly.  Sadly it often takes a crisis to bring us to a place where, like Moses, we are not prepared to just carry on without a fresh sense of God’s presence, without new wine.  God answers Moses’ honest prayer with a new revelation of his glory. 

“The immediacy, the closeness of our walk with Jesus somehow fades but we just carry on.” 

Jesus does not immediately agree to remedy the wine shortage.  But Mary will not be put off.  She knows her son.  So she tells the servants at the feast to do whatever Jesus tells them.  Her persistence and her willingness to take practical action turn disaster into triumph.  And have you noticed the part played by the least important people present? It was the servants who filled the massive stone jars with water and then took some of the water to the master of the banquet.  They didn’t ask questions, they did as Jesus asked them.  I doubt they were the most skilled or gifted people at the feast, but they were available and they were obedient.   We can only guess at the taste of wine made by Jesus.  It must have been wonderful.  The master of the banquet was amazed.  The new wine was better than the old!  And there was so much of it; around120 gallons.  From drought to abundance, from empty to overflowing. But it took honesty and willingness to serve.  

This seems to be a hard lesson for us to learn.  As individuals we can fall into ruts we find comfortable, and only later feel trapped in them.  Churches and institutions can have a powerful momentum of their own which resists any change of direction.  Habits and structures can persist long after the life they once served has gone.  Hard work and perseverance, careful planning and skilled management are all good things, but when the wine that celebrates the presence of the bride and groom has run out, they are an empty cup.  

Only Jesus can bring the fresh wine.  We can’t manufacture it.  Our part is to acknowledge our need and be obedient as God speaks.  Like Moses, we must determine not to go any further until we know that God’s presence will be with us.  

In Praise of Workers – Andrew Price

If you have a bible handy, turn to Romans 16:1-15.  I’m almost certain you’ve never heard it preached on.  You may even have skipped over it in order to get to 1 Corinthians.  But hold on, it’s a part of scripture so it’s there for a reason. Paul, dictating the letter to Tertius, is signing off.  Before he does, he takes time to individually mention and affirm some of the people he knows in Rome. What catches my attention is what it is about these people that he affirms most often.  

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church…for she has been a great help to many people including me.

Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers.

Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.

Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker.

Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord.

Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord”

Now doubtless these people had other gifts.  For instance we learn elsewhere that Priscilla and Aquila were teachers.  Others on Paul’s list may have been prophets, apostles or evangelists. But what Paul is commending is their willingness to serve, to help, and to work hard.  

Worker.  It’s not a glamorous title is it?  At least not to our ears. Maybe if we’d been on the list we’d have preferred to be recognised for our persuasive preaching or our wise leadership.  But what Paul is grateful for, what he wants to commend and encourage is hard work. Remember that minister simply means servant and that to have a ministry is to be called to serve other people.  In the radically different logic of the Kingdom, the last shall be first and the leader is a servant. And what do servants do? They work.  

What Paul is grateful for, what he wants to commend and encourage is hard work.

Without hard work, God given dreams and visions will remain unfulfilled.  The rebuilding of Jerusalem described in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah is a good example of this.  It was God who moved Cyrus King of Persia to support the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple, and God’s hand was evident as the rebuilding progressed.  But the exiles who returned had to provide the physical labour to turn vision into reality.

As in Romans 16, Chapter 3 of Nehemiah carefully records the names of the workers.  Almost everyone – priests, Levites, goldsmiths, district rulers, temple servants and guards – joined in the work and the few who did not, who “would not put their shoulders to the work”, are mentioned dissaprovingly.  The fact that scripture lists the names of the workers tells us something about what God sees and values. He recognises and remembers the efforts of people who would otherwise be forgotten as well as the kings and princes whose names find their way into the history books. 

God is not impressed by celebrity or status. He sees our hearts and he knows how we have worked. It makes no difference whether or not our work is recognised by those around us, God sees.  

Without hard work, God given dreams and visions will remain unfulfilled. 

The people rebuilding Jerusalem carried on their work in the face of threats and intimidation.  At one stage they had to carry weapons as well as building materials. But they continued until the walls were rebuilt and dedicated to God with great celebration and rejoicing.  They had all played a part, from the least to the greatest, and their names are still there for us to see and be inspired by.

Like the returning exiles, our task is to build.   We’re building families, communities and churches that bring glory to God and a blessing to our neighbours.  We need the impetus of visions and prophecies but we also need the day-by-day choosing to be faithful in prayer, to serve with joy and to use our time and energy wisely.  And most of this choosing is unseen and away from public gaze. What we do on platforms and stages is important, but no more so than what we do in our homes, factories and offices.   

We need the impetus of visions and prophecies but we also need the day-by-day choosing to be faithful in prayer, to serve with joy and to use our time and energy wisely. 

Returning to Romans 16, Paul certainly did not undervalue the gifts of the Spirit.  He tells the Corinthian church to “eagerly desire the greater gifts”. But he was also looking for what we often call character; to be helpful, to be ready to serve, to work hard.  He valued the people who shared his devotion to mission and could be relied on whatever happened. Paul and his fellow workers also understood about grace and works. Paul’s letters celebrate God’s undeserved favour and warn the churches against slipping back into believing that we can in any way earn our salvation. 

So Mary, Urbanus and their colleagues were not driven by guilt or trying to win salvation through their own efforts. Like Paul and the other apostles, they were compelled by love. Their lives had been transformed by the measureless goodness of God and the work Paul commends them for was their grateful response.

So let’s remember to honour character as well as gifting.  The people who follow their calling in good times and bad, whether or not anyone is watching.  The people who are always ready to help, to encourage and to share the load. The workers.  

The one question you need to answer before becoming a church leader – Andrew Price

Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realising it!

Hebrews 13:2 NLT

So, you want to lead. Do you like having people round?

The early churches needed people who would keep a caring and compassionate eye on them.  Paul responds to this need and in 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:8, he gives practical guidance about who to appoint.  In both cases, being hospitable is a prerequisite. 

The lists in Titus and Timothy are worthy of serious reflection.  Most of the qualities Paul is looking for – such as self control, gentleness and marital faithfulness – describe character and everyday behaviour. The ability to teach is also among Paul’s non-negotiables, but it’s obvious that he is concerned about who they are, as well as what they can do. He wants leaders who welcome people into their homes and treat them well. 

“He wants leaders who welcome people into their homes and treat them well.” 

The content of Paul’s lists makes it clear that Timothy and Titus must have known the people they are choosing quite well.  The qualities Paul is asking them to look for couldn’t be covered by interview questions or psychometric tests (just imagine… Q1. Are you: a) harsh. b) gentle c) habitually violent. Q2: Do you hold on to the deep truths of the faith? a) always. b) sometimes. c) never).  You’d have to live around people for some time to know, using New Testament criteria, if they were suitable to serve the church as leaders. 

In the Kingdom of God, leadership is fundamentally different to the way it is practiced elsewhere.   The importance Paul places on hospitality reflects Jesus’ insistence that leaders should serve people, not boss them around.  Consequently, the way we develop and appoint leaders must also be different.  Commercial organisations tend to look for ambitious, driven people who will deliver growth and profits.  People are often seen as a cost to be minimised, so that profits can be maximised.  In Paul’s lists, the focus is on people and the growth he values is in holiness.  Business schools can teach many things, but gentleness, hospitality and raising children are unlikely to appear on the curriculum of any MBA.   

“In the Kingdom of God, leadership is fundamentally different to the way it is practiced elsewhere.”

You could argue that Paul’s lists reflect a particular context, where young, small churches, full of new converts and meeting in homes, required a different type of leader to, for instance, a large, well established modern church, with buildings and paid staff.  But while much has changed – Timothy, for instance, did not have to engage with social media – I believe the focus of leadership and the qualities it requires are the same.   

For the record, I believe strongly in developing leaders. I’m currently helping a church design and run a leadership school which has already had a good effect.  I’d be the last to say that churches should not intentionally develop people towards leadership.  But surely the aims, teaching methods, content, and context should be more like the New Testament and less like a business school? Again, for the record, I believe that leaders need to know and be able to communicate the orthodox fundamentals of our faith, particularly when so many of them are being challenged or just ignored.  But again, shouldn’t the focus of developing leaders be on the sort of people they are as well as what they know?

Back to hospitality.  Its importance to Paul underlines his understanding that leadership is not just, or even dare I say primarily, about church meetings.  He saw leaders setting an example and demonstrating how Christians should live.  Remember that Jesus didn’t just announce the gospel, he became fully human and lived among us.  Literally, he fleshed out his message.  His apostolic development programme lasted three years (full time), had just twelve participants (with one spectacular drop out) and included personal and practical challenges.  He and the twelve walked, lived, and ate together.  Jesus was certainly hospitable.  Not in the conventional sense, as he didn’t have a house to invite people into, but he welcomed people and frequently shared a table with them.  He was criticised for feasting with all the wrong people and accused of drunkenness and gluttony.  Even following his resurrection, he played chef at an impromptu beach barbeque.  He was such a good gatherer that the only way he could be alone to pray was by going into the wilderness or up a mountain.  Where did he get this welcoming tendency?  It runs in the family.

“His [Jesus] apostolic development programme lasted three years (full time), had just twelve participants (with one spectacular drop out) and included personal and practical challenges.” 

Our God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Three persons, one God.  He is in himself community, each person loving and honouring the others.  From the beginning, God is sharing himself.  He creates humanity in his own image, and walks with Adam and Eve.  After they fall into sin, his rescue plan is always aimed towards the goal of living right in the middle of his people.  God is not stand-offish or distant, he loves to welcome us into his presence and the atoning sacrifice of Jesus means that we can all do this.  Putting this another way, God is hospitable. 

Hospitality goes even further than people we already know.  In Matthew 25, Jesus turns to the righteous on the day of judgment and tells them that they fed him when he was hungry, gave him a drink when he was thirsty and when he was a stranger they invited him in.  When they ask when they had done this, he replies “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”.  The righteous, it seems, are hospitable.

So, far from being optional or less relevant today, it appears that being hospitable and welcoming is part of being like God.  All of us are called to be like Jesus, and that means being hospitable.  No wonder Paul thought you couldn’t be a leader without it. I know at least one person who has difficulty seeing themselves as a leader, partly because they spend so much time being welcoming, inviting people into their home and raising good kids and now grandchildren. They fit Paul’s list very well, leading through the way they live.  It strikes me as sad that somehow in the intervening centuries, things that Paul saw as central to leadership seem to some to be distractions.   

In this era of division and suspicion, coupled with increasing isolation and loneliness, it’s surely time to honour hospitality.   

Who even am I? And other urgent questions asked by a new mum during a pandemic  – Roanna Day

Over the last six months nearly every part of my identity has been challenged, destroyed or removed. 

My identity as a successful editor in London? Maternity leave and moving to Monmouthshire effectively ended that. Gone are the glamorous lunches, dinners and parties. Gone is the confidence gained from my job title when introducing myself to people. Gone are my free beauty products, connections and, well, gone is one of the main reasons people used to want to be my friend. 

My identity as an attractive, fit, young woman? Somewhere between my abs separating and forceps pulling me apart my self esteem was brutally exposed. Am I still beautiful if none of my old clothes fit me anymore?

My identity as a teacher and leader in church? Gone, when we decided we wanted to push into church around the dinner table here at Great House Farm. I’m no one’s leader, no one wants me to teach at their church, no one tries to grab me for a coffee after a meeting. Am I even a good Christian if no one is listening to me?

My identity as a cared for, carefree daughter? Seriously challenged by my dad’s fight for his life. Suddenly my parents were not just a resource, a support, a place of retreat – they were something in threat, something I had to look after. 

My identity as a wife, sister, friend? Rocked, by the arrival of my daughter and my whole purpose shifting to being about serving, loving and raising her. 

Whether it’s becoming a new mum, living through a pandemic, changing jobs, moving house, leaving a church (or, if you’re a mad woman doing all those things at once!) a big shift in life can mean facing up to who we are and how we define ourselves. 

It’s only now, after much processing with Jesus, that I realise how many parts of my identity I had created to serve me and not God.

The question I’ve been trying to answer during lockdown, and the one I’d like you to ponder too, is; who are you when no one’s watching? 

Who are you when your calendar is completely empty?

Who are you when you’re not working?

Who are you when you’re not going to church?

Who are you when it’s just you and God and all you’ve done is baked, watched Netflix and walked once a day? 

Who are you, when your life is reduced to the four walls of your home? When your circle of influence is just your family? 

In short, who even are you? 

It’s in thinking through all of this, through wondering who I am when so much of me and my life has been changed, that I realised that this crisis of identity is part of the purpose of this time. 

Let me put this another way. Imagine you’re a bulb, a bulb that’s just been planted deep into compost. It’s hard to tell what sort of plant the bulb is anymore, with last year’s growth cut off and the foliage died back. The bulb has been plunged into darkness, given water and fertile soil and then, for the coming months, it’s a waiting game to see whether it will grow again or not.

That’s how I feel right now; like I’ve been plunged deep into the earth, it’s dark and any growth that’s happening is invisible. Can you relate?

I feel this lockdown period is a time of deep planting. We’re in the dark, soggy compost stage now. Last year’s growth has been pruned off and now all we’re left with is the beginnings of ourselves.  

Through the gentle sway of these lockdown days Jesus has shown me that everything that matters about who I am is bedded deep within me and what counts, in these times of deep, dark, planting, is just that I grow towards the light. 

I believe this season is a ripe opportunity to let old growth die back, deadhead false identities and be planted again with purpose.  

“…What counts, in these times of deep, dark, planting, is just that I grow towards the light.” 

It doesn’t matter that I don’t have any social plans. It doesn’t matter that I don’t have a job title other than mum. It doesn’t matter that my church now happens in my kitchen, not in a big building. It doesn’t matter that no one is seeing me be a Christian other than my family.

All that matters, about who I am, is what God says matters. I am who He says I am, and nothing else. 

This is a season, in my life and I believe in yours too, of being deadheaded, planted and watered. Jesus is cutting off old, no-longer-helpful identities and chucking them on the compost heap. Now is the time to rest and reset in the darkness, preparing for next year’s growth. 

Let’s make sure we grow towards the light. 

Kingdom hunger: a study on fasting – Andrew Price

It’s obvious why fasting isn’t popular.  Deliberately not satisfying our hunger for hours or days at a time does not come easily.  At the same time we know that Jesus, our example in all things, fasted and expected that we would too[i].  The result can be that we see fasting as just an “ought to”.  But fasting is much more than not eating.  And while it will always demand self-discipline, if we see it against a wider biblical backdrop we will fast with a greater understanding and sense of purpose.  But first of all, we need to remind ourselves of the unique hope we have.

“The result can be that we see fasting as just an “ought to”.  But fasting is much more than not eating.” 

What is history’s main theme, the melody to which everything else is merely harmony or counterpoint?  Rather than being a succession of random events, scripture depicts history as the story of God’s relationship with his creation. From the beginning, God’s desire has been to live among us as our loving king in the creation fashioned and sustained by him where there is peace, justice and joy, and where death, sickness and tears do not exist. 

Despite our rebellion, throughout the centuries God has been working with and through people to bring about this kingdom.  So committed to us is he that, in Jesus, he actually became one of us.  Jesus not only announced that this Kingdom of God was very close but he also went further, proclaiming that it was already here.  As he healed the sick and freed people from demons, Jesus inaugurated the rule of God on earth[ii].  Like the vanguard of a victorious army of liberation, God’s kingdom had arrived and was driving out its enemies.   

“From the beginning, God’s desire has been to live among us as our loving king”

Then, in his suffering, death and resurrection, Jesus took all that the powers of evil could throw at him and triumphed over them by rising again.  More than this, his resurrection demonstrated that God had begun renewing his whole creation.  What started with Jesus’ resurrection is now radiating out.  And he did this for us and for all who believe.  This is the main theme of history.  And we are approaching the climax.  

This is the good news that Jesus’ first disciples preached all over the Greco-Roman world; God loves his creation, even in its lostness and brokenness, and he has now come to our rescue.  The kingdom of God is coming and its advance guard is already here. Like the first disciples, we know by faith and experience that this is true and that the power of the Kingdom is already at work in and around us.  But we also know that it has not yet fully come.  Suffering and evil still wreck people’s lives.  This is reflected in the prayer Jesus taught us – “your kingdom come”.  As this prayer suggests, we are not passively waiting for the complete coming of God’s Kingdom, we are praying and working for it.  We live in the time between the victory of Jesus and its complete implementation.  As when a stone is thrown into a pond and the ripples begin to spread out and cover the surface, the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will eventually cover the earth[iii]

“God loves his creation, even in its lostness and brokenness, and he has now come to our rescue.”

So what’s all this got to do with fasting?  In Matthew 9, we find the disciples of John the Baptist asking Jesus why his disciples did not fast.  Listen to Jesus’ answer, “how can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them?  The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast”[iv].  With Jesus physically present, there was no need to fast.  But soon he would be taken away from them and that would be the time for fasting as they waited and worked for his return and the renewal of creation.

As disciples, we have tasted the presence of the King and the powers of the age to come, and that taste makes us hungry for the day when the glory of the kingdom is revealed in every corner of creation, when the dwelling of God is with mankind, and Satan, the great enemy of humanity, is thrown into the burning lake.  The joy and the peace we have tasted makes us want more.   John Piper expresses this well when he writes “Christian fasting, at its root, is the hunger of a homesickness for God”. 

To fast is to express our longing for the fullness of the King and his Kingdom.  We fast because we want more of what we have begun to experience; more presence, more power, more peace.  We see the impact of fasting as Jesus casts out a demon that his disciples could not deal with, telling them that this kind comes out “only if you use prayer and fasting”[v].  We see how it lays the ground for God to speak as the early church commissioned Paul and Barnabas[vi].  In fasting we bring our whole selves – body as well as mind and spirit into line with our prayer, submitting our urge to eat and drink to a much greater priority.  As we take time to focus ourselves on God and deny the demands of our stomach, a deeper hunger emerges.  It’s a hunger that other appetites often crowd out – not just the pleasure and satisfaction of eating, but maybe also things like our need to be busy.   As we fast we remind ourselves of our greatest hope and desire and we subject everything else to our desire to see God’s kingdom come in me, in my church, in this world.  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled”, Jesus says in Matthew 5.  Fasting cultivates a hunger for righteousness, for justice, and for the only kingdom that can fully bring them.   

“To fast is to express our longing for the fullness of the King and his Kingdom.”

None of this is about punishing our bodies because they, or nice food, are bad.  This idea has nothing to do with biblical Christianity.  God created the material world, including us, and liked it!  Our firm hope is not for an ethereal, sitting-around-on-clouds heaven, but for a renewed creation where heaven comes to earth.  But like athletes aiming for a medal, we discipline our minds and bodies in the service of this coming Kingdom.  Appetites are fine but we must be able to control them, not vice versa.

Much more can be said about fasting.  Richard Foster’s excellent book “Celebration of Discipline” has a very helpful chapter on it.  There are practicalities to be observed, particularly if you’ve never fasted before, and many types of fast that can be employed.  The main thing however is to do it.  Perhaps start by regularly fasting the midday meal, setting the time aside to worship and pray.  Then move to fasting breakfast and lunch, and then coming together in the evening with your family or community to break bread and eat together.  

“As we take time to focus ourselves on God and deny the demands of our stomach, a deeper hunger emerges.”

So don’t think of fasting as an uncomfortable “ought to”.  It is Kingdom hunger; God’s people hastening the fulfillment of the Kingdom, bringing it into the here and now through a discipline fuelled by longing.  Come Lord Jesus.  

[i] Matt.4:2, 6:16

[ii] Matt.12:28

[iii] Hab.2:14

[iv] Matt.9:14

[v] Matt.17:21

[vi] Acts 13:2-3

Did you celebrate Halloween over the weekend? Here’s why we didn’t – Coming Home Family

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” 

Hebrews 12:1

From the first days of the church, we have been challenged and inspired by the lives of those who have served God in their time.  And there is no shortage of people to look to.  From the first disciples through to men and women today who have devoted everything to God, there is much to celebrate.  The love and hope that are found only in Jesus have inspired courage and self-giving like no other cause.  In 2019 alone, around 3,000 Christians gave their lives for their faith, and the persecution of our fellow believers is getting worse[1].  We know why this is.  Jesus warned us that as the end of the age approaches, as the gospel is preached to all nations, the church will be targeted for persecution and deception[2].  Our enemy knows his time is short[3] and is doing everything he can to kill, maim and destroy not just Christians, but every part of God’s creation.  Life, joy and peace he hates, and will attack until he meets his end. 

“Our enemy knows his time is short and is doing everything he can to kill, maim and destroy not just Christians, but every part of God’s creation.  Life, joy and peace he hates, and will attack until he meets his end.” 

As the passage from Hebrews shows, we have always remembered those whose lives reflect God to us, particularly those who have been martyred.  In doing so we acknowledge that the church is not just those alive today, but every believer who has ever lived.  One day we will be united with them in such joy that it is not possible to imagine as we see Jesus, the firstborn, face to face.  Around the seventh century this remembering took the form of a special day.  In the Western Church this is celebrated on 1st November as All Saints Day or All Hallows. 

Despite the fear and intimidation Satan brings, Christians through the centuries have brought good news: health and healing, hope and forgiveness.  We live in the good of their work.  They kept a witness during dark times, they preserved the true faith, they spoke of Jesus even when to do so was to risk their lives. They frustrated and even overcame the enemy and his forces by “the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony and (they) did not love their life even to death[4]

Every single Christian today stands in a line of faithful witnesses stretching back to the first apostles.  We owe them so much.  We don’t worship or pray to them, and we don’t need to confine their inspiration to a single day each year, but we are ever grateful for their lives and the example they set for us.  

“Every single Christian today stands in a line of faithful witnesses stretching back to the first apostles.” 

We live in a time when the battle for lives is more obvious than ever, and where the genocidal cruelty of the enemy cannot be ignored.  Make no mistake, behind the hatred and killings lies the malice of our enemy, working through those who knowingly or unknowingly promote his cause. It is a great sadness to me, therefore, to see how our nation and even some Christians, have forgotten those who fought our brutal enemy, and instead set aside a day to celebrate the enemy they fought against and his goal of death and misery for all. 

As mini-Christs what we do with our time matters, it actually affects the course of history, the lives of those around us and our eternal inheritance. What we celebrate, what we set aside time for, what we put our hands to is an act of worship and festivals like Halloween are steeped in our enemy’s messaging and agenda. It is not a event to be redeemed.

Do you think that Halloween is harmless fun, just pumpkins and fancy dress?  Think again.  In this season, who and what are you choosing to celebrate?


[2] Matthew 24:3-31

[3] Revelation 12:12

[4] Revelation 12:11

Four ways to shift your perspective and strengthen yourself in the Lord – Emma Duncan

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” I know that’s a brazen theft of a classic opening line, but for me it describes the situation we are in.

For some of us this is a time to slow down, reflect and reconnect, filled with meals around the table and deep conversations. For others; a time of loneliness, worry and sorrow, fraught with financial and relational anxiety and pain. What strikes me is that we are all in the same boat. I have never experienced anything on a global level like this that so unites us in our experience of humanity. Perhaps this is a good time to think about what it means to strengthen ourselves in the Lord.

Paul, in Acts 27, was literally in the same boat as his fellow travellers when a great storm came. Actually, he had predicted the storm and the loss of life in v10, but they set sail anyway. For 14 days and nights they were tossed on open seas by hurricane-force winds and all hope was lost, but then Paul steps up and tells everyone not to worry because he has spoken to an angel who said that God had graciously given him the lives of all those on the boat. What a promise, wrought through the prayers of Paul, to save every life on board! But there are so many more examples where faith is lived out, even when no angelic visitation has occurred.

“Perhaps this is a good time to think about what it means to strengthen ourselves in the Lord.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into a fiery furnace because they would not bow down to any other god but Yahweh. They were in the same boat as every other exiled Jew in Babylon for whom the penalty of not bowing down was death. But Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were confident that God could save them; in a move of unbelievable faith and obedience, in v18, they said that even if He did not, they would not bow to another. What courage.

David returned with his army of malcontents (1 Sam 22:2) to find that all their women and children had been taken by the Amalekites. The army discussed stoning David to death in their distress, even though he was in the same boat – his wife and children were gone too. But it says that David ‘strengthened himself in the Lord’, he sought the Lord’s advice in that moment, and they went after their families and each one was restored. I could go on listing examples of times when our heroes of the faith were in the same boat as everyone else, but their perspective was shaped by something other than the earthly vision or understanding of what was going on. But how do we strengthen ourselves in the Lord?

Strengthening a muscle means to use it repetitively until it builds up and can work harder or bear more weight. To strengthen a structure means to add support to the structure to carry the load. To strengthen a cocktail means to add spirit until it makes more of an impact! To strengthen a metal means to boil away the impurities. I would argue that we go through the same processes to strengthen ourselves in the Lord and there is no better time to get on with doing so than when we are in the same boat as everyone else, whatever our personal circumstances happen to be.

So here are some practical ways that we can ‘strengthen ourselves in the Lord’:

Strengthen your spiritual discipline muscles by learning God’s word, meditating on it day and night (Psalm 1:2); singing praise and bringing a sacrifice of praise even when we don’t feel like it (Psalm 50:23); praying at all times with thanksgiving (Eph 6:18); speaking in tongues to edify, or build yourself up (1 Cor 14:4); fasting and praying (Matt 17:21). The more we do this, the more we can bear in times of difficulty because our lives are planted deep, like oaks of righteousness (Psalm 1).

Add structure to help you carry the load – in other words, we need our lives to be built on the truth of what God says about who He is, first and foremost, and then who we are and what our purpose is here on earth. Read about God, spend time talking to Him about who He is and what He thinks about you, so that those things are unshakeable, immovable truths that shore up every part of your life. If you feel a part getting shaken, find a scripture or a promise that God has given you in your own quiet times that speaks to that shaking, and build your life on truth.

Add Spirit to make your life stronger (this might be my favourite!). The beauty of Jesus returning to the Father was so that He could send the Holy Spirit to be with us (Luke 24:49). The access we always longed for into the presence of God is ours for the taking – being in fellowship with Holy Spirit is our ticket to power, comfort, peace, joy, hope, healing, wisdom and so much more. Make getting to know Holy Spirit a priority in your life.

And lastly, allow God to burn away our impurities (Prov 17:3). This is a really strange time to be alive, but God is shaking up our ‘normal’ and I don’t think He is keen for it all to shake back down as it was before. What is He refining in me through this process? My reliance on routine and predictability, health and wellbeing, freedom, intellect? Whatever it is, don’t fight the fire, allow God to purify you and be sure that even this is a strengthening process. David strengthened himself in the Lord, and so can we.

A straightforward guide to training your mind – Andrew Price

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2Cor 10:5)

Our minds are a battlefield.  What goes on in them changes the course of our lives.  Temptations, deceptions and wrong attitudes try to invade our thinking.  If we consistently reject them, they will retreat.  If we welcome them in, or just offer no resistance, they will dig in, hurting us again and again. In contrast, a mind focused on God gives his Holy Spirit room to establish himself, making our minds a place of worship, where we can hear God and get guidance and revelation.  So it’s not surprising that the Bible has plenty to say about our minds.  God is the source of true knowledge and wisdom and in books such as Proverbs and Psalms, his people are commanded to seek them out.  For wisdom and understanding are better than gold and silver and understanding is a fountain of life (Proverbs 16:16,22). 

“…A mind focused on God gives his Holy Spirit room to establish himself, making our minds a place of worship, where we can hear God and get guidance and revelation.” 

At all stages of our life as disciples, the renewing of our minds is a key to growth and development.  Jesus started his ministry by challenging people to repent (literally, change your mind) because of the nearness of God’s Kingdom.  Without the major change in thinking that repentance requires, our lives would just carry on as before.  Repentance is far more than being sorry.  It is a rethinking of what is important and how we should live, as we begin to understand that God is King and that his Kingdom is now displacing every other power, every other ruler.  A good example of real repentance is Zacchaeus who, once he encountered Jesus, rethought his priorities and gave half his wealth to the poor! (Luke 19:1-10).  But this rethinking doesn’t end with conversion, it continues throughout our life journey.  Paul tells us that it is by the renewing of our minds that we are transformed (Romans 12:2) and he contrasts the “futile thinking” of pagan society with the way the Ephesian Christians were being “made new in the attitude of their minds” (Ephesians 4:17-23).

Despite the importance that the Bible places on our minds, there doesn’t seem to be too much teaching around at the moment on how we can train them.  Although many of us acknowledge the importance of training our bodies and are ready to devote time and effort to this, we seem less ready to commit to training our thinking. Surely we did enough of that in school and college?  Or maybe we think of our minds as neutral territory, just responding to what goes on around us.  The Bible sees it differently.  In both Old and New Testaments we are encouraged to actively influence the way our mind works. 

“In both Old and New Testaments we are encouraged to actively influence the way our mind works.”

In Deuteronomy Moses wanted the people to know God’s laws at a deep level.  He explains how this could be done; “you shall teach them diligently to your children and speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:7).  This is good, practical advice.  If you want to train your mind to focus on God, fill it with God’s word.  Talk about what God has said when you get up, when you walk along, and when you go to bed.  The author of Psalm 119 tells us that he meditates on God’s word.  To meditate is to consciously and deliberately focus the mind on something.  It doesn’t happen by accident, it requires an act of the will.  Try reading a passage of scripture several times, slowly.  Then be silent and ask God to speak through the scripture.  If your mind wanders, just bring it back and continue.  Memorising bible passages is another great way to train your mind.  

Moving to the New Testament, Paul’s suggestions are equally practical.  “Whatever is true”, says Paul, “whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things”.  Paul is asking us to choose what occupies our minds. 

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Of course it isn’t easy, but like any exercise, the more we do it the stronger we become.  Think of your mind as open ground but with many well-worn paths.  These paths are your old ways of thinking.  They often lead to places that you’d rather not go, maybe to anxiety or unbelief, but because you’ve been down the path so many times, the ruts go deep and they are hard to escape.  To train our minds away from such harmful thinking, we need to establish new paths.  To do this we need to consciously and repeatedly turn our thoughts towards the light and away from the darkness.  The morning quiet time is good, but what about the rest of the day? Meditating on scripture, reading an encouraging book or listening to a sermon are all ways of establishing and deepening new paths for our thinking. 

We also need to think about what we feed our minds on.  Is it a nourishing diet or is it junk food?  Everything we read, watch and listen to influences our thinking, but not all are good and healthy.      

In certain streams of Christianity the mind is treated with some suspicion.  It is often pitted against the spirit; head vs. heart, cold theory vs. warm enthusiasm.  Emotion and impulse are regarded positively, thinking and intellectual endeavour less so.  But setting mind against heart is both unbiblical and unhelpful.  It’s true that without emotion Christianity can become mere formal obedience to a distant God. But it’s also true that without clear thinking and reasoning, our faith is too unstable, too dependent on how we feel.  Jesus tells us to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind (Matthew 22:37). 

When the 12 year old Jesus was found talking with the teachers at the Temple, we are told that they were amazed at his understanding and his answers (Luke 2:47). His knowledge of scripture, his challenging questions and his profound parables all speak of a trained and active mind.  Without Christianity’s inspired thinkers, from Paul to Augustine to C.S. Lewis, our ability to understand and enjoy the glories of our faith would be much diminished.  But to think and write in the way they did, these disciples had to stretch their minds through reading and study.  They read widely and were acquainted with the philosophies of their times and they used this knowledge to demonstrate the wisdom of the Gospel in comparison to the foolishness of the world.  Although we are not all called to intellectual excellence, we can all do the best we can with the gifts we have.  When did you last read something that stretched and challenged your thinking?  The sort of book where you have to read and re-read passages several times before you understand them.  

Our minds are certainly a battlefield.  But if we actively train them to turn to the light and fill them with thoughts that bring joy and freedom, we can ensure the outcome of the battle.  Not only that, but by training and stretching our minds, as we do with our bodies, they become a weapon in the fight to take every thought captive.