Archive for the ‘people’ Category

God brings people together and when he does: he speaks, he stirs and he sustains

Niall starts us off with a Bible reflection

Niall Lockhart starts us off with a Bible reflection

First Steps was hosted by Ballyhenry Presbyterian Church on the edge of Belfast, N. Ireland on Saturday 6 February 2016. Niall Lockhart is the minister at Ballyhenry and we asked him to start us off with a Bible devotional. It was great: it was devotional but also packed a challenging punch for us all, both staff and participants. Thank you, Niall, for allowing me to blog excerpts from your talk.

God brings people together. It’s the story of the Bible. But in a very down to earth way it’s also the story of Wycliffe here in Ireland.

God is on a mission and through Wycliffe God is bringing people together. People from different church backgrounds (it’s one of the great strengths of Wycliffe), people of different ages, with different skills and backgrounds, people with different personalities. People who end up in different roles, some going and some supporting those who go, an incredible diversity of people who can find their place and call in an organisation like Wycliffe.

God brings people together, just as He has done here, today.

And when God brings people together God works. Now God can work in all kinds of ways.

When God brings people together: God speaks.
Turn to Nehemiah chapter 8. Verse 1:
‘All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel … (verse 3) … He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of all the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.’

The came together and God spoke to them. God has brought you together here today. I want to encourage you to anticipate that God will speak to you today.

But secondly in the Bible when God brings people together: God stirs.
The book of Acts is a book about mission. In Acts chapter 4 we find the early mission movement facing extreme pressures. There was an enormous need for God’s word to be proclaimed, and yet resources were few and obstacles were many.

But look at what happened in verse 23 and following:

On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. ‘Sovereign Lord’ they said, ‘you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them … (verse 29) … Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.’

They came together and God stirred. Gave them a new vision of who He has, and gave them a new boldness and energy in the work of mission. God has brought you together here today. I want to encourage you to anticipate that God will stir you today.

But thirdly, and finally, we discover in the Bible, that when God brings people together: God sustains.
Turn to John 20 verse 19.
On the evening of the first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After He said this, he showed them His hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’

Those first disciples came together. Carrying their own weaknesses, their own personal failings, their own limitations, their own fears. And when they were together the risen Lord Jesus met with them. He breathed His Spirit on them. And as He sent them He promised to sustain them. He promised to sustain them with what they needed most. His presence.

Friends, God has brought you together here today. I want to encourage you to anticipate, yes that he will speak, yes that He will stir, but also to know that He can and will sustain you. Amen.

Find a Wycliffe Bible Translators UK & Ireland First Steps day near you!

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Friday Night Theology from Evangelical Alliance arrives promptly in my e-mail inbox every Friday afternoon around 4pm. It is almost always well worth reading – thinking about the topic oneself or with friends. In fact, that’s the whole point of it.

So I want to share some extracts from Chas Bayfield’s thoughts with blog friends this evening…

Since the plane’s disappearance on 8 March, I have found myself becoming quietly (and slightly morbidly) obsessed with the story. But what I’ve been reading and hearing was not news, it was conjecture; assertions from anyone qualified to have an opinion which, for the record, appears to be anyone who has ever flown a plane.

Know-it-alls from the aviation world have bestowed upon us the benefits of their expertise, each one confident enough in their own speculation to have it published in an international news journal.

Add to this the plethora of opinions from bloggers, the Twitteratti, rock stars and our friends and families and you really have quite a smorgasbord of different theories. The plane was hi-jacked by pirates. The pilot was suicidal. A meteorite hit it. Aliens stole it.

In the last 24 hours, there have been enough articles on flight 370 to fill 70 pages of Google. The simple fact that a plane can disappear in this ultra modern hi-tech age has left people baffled and awed. I am encouraged that so many men and women who do not think themselves religious, still have the capacity to be ‘certain of what they do not see’.

Christians see God as an anchor; a safe mooring. Belief in God grounds us and helps us make sense of the world in which we live.

Our mandate today is to pray for the families and friends of those onboard flight MH370. But it is also is to keep God at our shoulder, in our eyeline and close to hand.

I have found the endless theorising frustrating. The dogmatism of “experts” too often self-promoting. Much media coverage intrusive and insensitive. And yet, as Chas says, wanting to know becomes almost obsessive.

I have almost wept with the relatives trying to come to terms with this terribly sad story by hoping beyond hope. I have applauded the efforts of governments and flight crews to search for the haystack and then for the needle. My prayer is the same at that expressed by Chas above: to pray for the families and friends that somehow they will experience God’s peace in closure.

Chas Bayfield is creative director at Noah advertising agency and secretary of Cricklewood Baptist Church

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Pope Francis

Pope Francis

An ironic question (see meaning if you’ve never heard this phrase before) which popped into my head this evening as I read the current Evangelical Alliance Friday Night Theology post which focusses on the latest statement by Pope Francis – The Joy of the Gospel.

The admission of the writer David Smyth (public policy officer at the Evangelical Alliance Northern Ireland) added some poignancy:

Growing up as a Protestant in Northern Ireland I am fascinated by this man and especially hearing him talk of evangelisation and being born anew. Many Protestants here were told from a church pulpit that the Pope was the anti-Christ. Yet this man challenges me deeply both in how I look at him and how I look at others.

David goes on to confess to doing what we all do – whether we admit it or not – we put labels on people!

You see, I label people. Not as the literal anti-Christ so much, but try as I might not to, I do label others who claim to follow Christ: sound, liberal, fundamentalist, happy-clappy. And it’s not just me or confined to the Church. A brief reading of the headlines this week shows some of the labels society places on others: prostitute, druggie, slave, alcoholic. We take someone’s action or aspect of their personhood and use that to define that entire person. We constantly use labels to separate ourselves and to define ‘us’ against ‘them’. In doing so we dehumanise the image of God in others, reducing them down to a word.

I can’t escape the fact that when I look at the way Pope Francis rejects labels and encounters individuals I am reminded of Christ. Jesus looked at people through God’s eyes, literally. He refused to put labels on people, seeing the holy humanity of each person made in the image of God. When we encounter Jesus and become his followers he takes our labels away. This is part of the ‘joy of the gospel’, a new identity in Christ. We are given new life, new relationships with God and others and a new identity beyond our labels.

As I get older, I seem to get wiser… well, sometimes. Or maybe I’m maturing in my  understanding of how God sees people? Anyway, I’m starting to see people differently. People in my church whose gifts I never recognised before. Colleagues in work who have a different perspective on things, but hey, that’s OK! People on the street or on the bus… I wonder about the person behind the front, the facade, the fashion…

And here’s David’s punchline!

So here’s the challenge this weekend. What labels have you put on yourself or on others? Is there someone you need to take out of a pigeonhole? What’s stopping you seeing people through Jesus’s eyes?

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