The Patience of growing seeds.

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Gardens are amazing things. I have the real privilege to be writing this, sat outside on a warm sunny day in my own garden. As we move deeper into the summer months where things are getting warmer, the gardens are in full bloom, BBQ’s, paddling pools and World Cup Parties are in full swing – we can forget that hidden from our very eyes, the Kingdom of God is growing.

The Sunday gospel reading from a few weeks ago was the Parable of the Mustard seed and the parable of growing seeds (Mark 4:26-34). In these two parables, Jesus gives us great illustrations of how God’s Kingdom; the Church grows.

“It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” (Mk 4:31-32)

A Mustard seed is tiny. It looks weak, vulnerable and useless on the outside. If you eat it, can’t sustain you and it can be easily lost. Yet Jesus reminds us that the power of that tiny seed is on the inside. Even though it looks tiny, it produces the largest tree. How can something so tiny produce something so large? That is how the Kingdom grows. It begins very small, so small that we feel that nothing is happening. When we look at our churches we might look and feel like Mustard seeds. With small congregations we might feel weak, vulnerable, like nothing is happening, but hidden from our eyes, in the very heart of all that we do, God is at work, in every person we engage with. God doesn’t look at us on the outside, but from the inside. He looks at and works from our hearts therefore, we should be patiently waiting for these small seeds to grow. They can only grow, like any seed, if the soil is ready and prepared. The soil is solid Bible teaching and focused prayer.

The other parable tells us what we can do to encourage the growth of God’s Kingdom:

“A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” (Mk 4:26-27) 

What is important to the farmer is not how the seed produces the crop for him to harvest but that he actually scatters the seed. The Farmer trusts the seed, he has faith and patience in God and in that seed and believes that it will bear fruit. God in his great sovereignty nurtures, encourages and maintains the seeds we scatter. This seed is telling people about Jesus, from loving our neighbours to inviting them to events but unless we are scattering the seed then we will not see growth.

In the heat of the summer, continue to scatter seeds and be patient for their growth. Even through the most rough and tough times we are to keep hold of the hope and joy that deep down, God is still at work in all that we do, even if we feel like mustards seeds. There is a great future! We are to look forward in joy that all these seeds that have been scattered is forming and becoming a great tree.

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Facing your anxiety and fears

Most, if not all of us today suffer from some kind of anxiety or fear. It could be related to your job, your health, your family or friends, finances and even your faith. Some of us suffer from panic attacks that come out of nowhere. They all begin as something very small but if left unmanaged, they can grow to the point where it impacts every part of your life. A few years ago, as a student I suffered the fear of writing assignments and essays. Despite studying for at least 10 years in higher education, I still hadn’t learnt how to deal with the fear of a pending deadline or the pressure of achieving the best mark. Is it the right format? Did I actual answer the question that was asked?Picture1

I came across a really helpful booklet called Anxiety and Panic Attacks: Trusting God when you’re afraidby Jocelyn Wallace (pictured). She is a Christian counsellor who has worked in residential treatment centres for girls in the USA. In this booklet, Wallace defines Anxiety as being “…fearful or apprehensive of something bad happening that it affects you physically.”(p5) It is something that your body begins to suffer after your mind has processed your thoughts and feelings that you might have. I am no expert on how to deal with Anxiety but through my biblical studies, I was able to uncover the truth about how the Lord understands anxiety and fear.

The most related verse to anxiety is Proverbs 12:25 which reads:

“Anxiety weighs down the heart,but a kind word cheers it up.”

God understands anxiety as the weighing down of your heart, our heart full of worry, not knowing what is happening or if anyone can control what is going on. It feels like we are being brought to the ground under the burden of fear. When we live without a relationship with God, our lives feel out of control – we are fearful about what will happen because we live in a world where bad things do happen, when reality hurts us. God designed the cure for anxiety to be found in Jesus. Through Jesus we can come to the Father and find comfort and strength. The Lord will never abandon us in what we are facing. We might feel that the only person we can trust is ourselves and we want to be safe from other people.

Peter wrote to his fellow Christians who themselves were suffering the reality of this world and he instructs them:

 “Cast all your anxiety on him (God) because he cares for you” 1 Peter 5:7

Peter tells them and us today to cast or throw your anxiety to God because he cares and loves you. It is like throwing a bag full of books to a friend – the worries and fears that weigh your heart down, throw them to the Lord, and trust that he will catch them, hold them and deal with them. Even if we haven’t believed in Jesus; God is still there for us to come back to him. Come and receive his care, his love by completely trusting in him. It sounds easy to say trust in God, but without giving it a go how will we know?

What is the thing that causes anxiety or fear in your life? Throw it to the Lord because he cares and loves you. He loves you so much that he sent Jesus, his only son to die on the cross for you, so you can throw your fear of work, of health, of life to him and receive the hope and joy of eternal life.

Training in godliness…

We all know that physical exercise is part of a good and healthy lifestyle. Recently I have been attending the local gym and getting into a routine that requires commitment, lots of energy, and time. This level of commitment began to have a  strain on other things in my life and as a result I took a 2 week break from the gym.

Unfortunately, that break turned into 4 weeks. The time to ‘go to the gym’ was eventually squeezed out of my ‘life timetable’ – it has lost its place and is replaced by other things instead. Does it matter? Surely physical exercise comes in all different  forms, walking, cycling, football, cricket etc. Do I need to go back to the gym? How  do I get back into a rhythm of doing 30mins on the bike or 20 mins at level 15 on a  cross-trainer? To begin with – it’s going to be hard – but eventually I’ll get back into the habit.  

Paul wrote these verses to his young apprentice Timothy:

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but  godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present  life and the life to come (1 Tim 4:7-8). 

Paul reminds Timothy about his priorities – training yourself to be godly. It is amazing how physical exercise, Marathons, Football, Rugby, Tennis etc, have  become an idol or ‘mini god’ in people’s lives. They become part of the ‘ timetable of life’ and tend to replace spiritual growth and faith. I want to be  clear, all these are great things and God created all things to be good (as Paul  reminds us earlier in 4:4-5), but when they become a priority over our  commitment to the Lord, we must remember what is more important – getting  a hat-trick on Sunday – or growing and living in hope of eternal life through  faith in Jesus Christ?  

Physical training has value but growing in godliness is vital. Physical training has a limit, our bodies wear out – eventually our bodies will die – but growing  in our spiritual life, growing in our ability to pray, depending more of our lives  by faith in Jesus, reading and shaping our lives by the Bible, God’s Word, we are living our current life in obedience to the Lord, including our physical  exercise; and we are preparing for eternal life promised to those who have  faith in Jesus. When we get out of the ‘habit’ of gathering to worship or when it  is squeezed out of the timetable – it is difficult to get back into a rhythm, our  training in godliness suffers. We get blinded by our sin and the world around  us that we forget about what Jesus has done with our sins on the cross.  

It is so easy to conform to the world, to listen to myths, olds wives tales and get carried along with the crowd to Decathlon and Sports Direct and forget to gather with your brothers and sisters to worship the living God. It is vital to offer our prayers to our Father, to be taught from the Word through Jesus the  Son and go out to witness by the power of the Holy Spirit, to nourish,  encourage and grow each other as the body of Christ, the church. 

Focus on your godly training, get back into godly ‘habits’ and be a real witness to the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ.  

Loving difficult people…

Conflict is something that I real struggle with and I know that I’m not alone. The other day, I was watched two people arguing about one of them jumping a queue in the local supermarket. The one who committed the crime was taking no responsibility and showing fingers and using abussive language. This is not unique. There are so many people in our society today who have no respect or are nasty for no apparent reason. So how do we cope with these people? How can we grow to love them? Are you someone who has become difficult to love?

I read a great little book called “How to love difficult people” by William Smith. It is part of the CCEF (Christian Counseling and Education Foundation) series. (See picture).

Smith starts his solution by saying:

Learning to love difficult people starts with understanding that you (like me) are hard to love too.

We need to accept that we are not perfect and we can be difficult to love too. We sin like everyone else and to be humbled by that truth is the starting point to loving others who are like us. As Isaiah 53:6 reminds us:

We all like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all (NIV)

God sees us as difficult people, who are sinful, rebellious and selfish, like sheep, but he had a plan to reconcile us back to him. He sent Jesus as the good shepherd to gather us back to himself. God’s goal is to gather these difficult people into his fold. Do you think God gives up after a week, month, year? Why should we? We need to keep praying for the people in our lives who we find difficult- that they encounter his unfailing love. Don’t quit, but pursue. Be encouraging, pursue areas of growth, pursue them for their own sake and love them even if they don’t love you in return. I leave the last words to Paul and use them as a prayer for what you are going through:

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (Romans 15:5-6 NIV)

Amen

C.H.Spurgeon on Genesis 24:63

Over the last 2 years, I have been fed by the wonderful wisdom that C.H. Spurgeon has provided in his “Morning and Evening Prayer”. For the Morning of the 15th August, Spurgeon takes us into middle of Genesis with this very specific verse:

63 And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening. And he lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold, there were camels coming.

Spurgeon draws out the importance of meditation and specifically, the location and time that should be devoted to it. He brings to light this amazing statement:

“If those who spend so many hours in idle company, light reading, and useless pastimes, could learn wisdom, they would find more profitable society and more interesting engagements in meditation than in the vanities which now have such charms for them”. C.H. Spurgeon. Morning Prayer 15th August.

Spurgeon emphasises that the time we have and the way we use it has a huge impact in the way we view our own lives and how we treat God. The amount of time we can spend watching ‘trash’ TV or playing games on our mobile phones – including the trend of catching Pokemon – is remarkable. We become slaves to our own pastimes and we find it very difficult to leave our phones alone for more than 5 minutes.

When was the last time you went for a walk without your phone or computer? When did you last go into a field and give praise to God for the beauty of his creation and grace he gives to us so freely?

I have recently discovered that I am spending 5-6 hours a day just sat in my study – working on my computer – this is not healthy – this is not spending time meditating and enjoying and receiving the wisdom of God through his Word. Spurgeon raises this issue:

“Our little rooms are neither so healthy, so suggestive, so agreeable, or so inspiring as the fields.” C.H. Spurgeon. Morning Prayer 15th August.

We are to meditate in the field – spend an hour in the evening everyday and go for a walk – giving thanks to God for the day you have had, for sending the Lord Jesus Christ to be our Saviour and for giving us the wisdom found in his word. In the Urban climate I am him – Spurgeon does say – The Lord is found in the crowded streets too.

Where do you spend time in meditation on God’s Word? It is vital we spend time reflecting and growing closer to the Lord instead of growing more dependant on disposable ‘charms’.

NEW BLOG: The arrival of the Urban Curate

Well… It has been a while. Since the Ministry Trainee came to an end I have been training at Bible College and therefore I have not been able to update this blog as much as I wanted to. The blog remains the same with the same focuses but with a new name. The Urban Curate reflects what I will be doing over the next 3-4 years. I will be living in an Urban area near Birmingham and working in a local church that is small in number and strong in tradition. These posts will be a variety of experiences, reflections and learning that come from what the Lord is doing here and hopefully it will build and encourage Christian believers to be effective and growing disciples. As Paul encouraged the Colossian church by saying:

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. Col 2:6-8 NIV.

This is a challenge for us as Christians today. We need to be aware of what we believe and accept today. There is much heresy available on the Web, in magazines, newspapers, books, movies, etc. We need to be rooted in Jesus Christ and grow by being built up by his teaching and his grace. What is interesting in these verses (that you might want to reflect on) is the overflowing of thankfulness. We are so thankful for what the Lord Jesus has done by dying on the cross for our sins and to restore our relationship with God. It is by Christ alone that salvation is obtained and therefore we need to be full of thankfulness. I am so thankful that the Lord has called me to be a servant of his Word and that by his Spirit he has given me encouragement, Wisdom and knowledge. I pray that as you read this blog, you will be encountering God through his Word, by his Spirit, so you may be encouraged and grow in your faith. I hope you benefit from the blog. Please keep reading and growing in your faith!!!!

Good Friday Meditation service

As we are over the half way point in Lent, it is time to begin the preparation for Holy week. As a MT last year, I was given permission to conduct a Good Friday Meditation based on the Stations of the Cross. The aim of the service is to allow people to come into the church, say a few prayers, sing some hymns and then to begin the Stations. Unlike the traditional method of the Stations, I have made it more like a Labyrinth, to give people the chance to walk through the story in a different way.  There are so many variations to the stations, but I have chosen the nine that are scriptural in the gospels and they are:

Stations of the cross.

  1. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Mark 14:32-42
  2. Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested, Mark 14:43-52
  3. Jesus is judged by Pilate, Mark 15:1-15
  4. Jesus is helped by Simon to carry His cross, Mark 15:21
  5. Jesus is crucified, Mark 15:21-32
  6. Jesus promises His kingdom to the repentant thief, Luke 23:39-43
  7. Jesus entrusts Mary and John to each other, John 19:25-27
  8. Jesus dies on the cross, Mark 15:33-41
  9. Jesus is laid in the tomb. Mark 15:42-47

At each station, there is a bible open with the selected scripture for you to read the story, then there are application questions to reflect on. There is usually a reflective aid to help you focus, e.g. Jesus in the Garden is represented by a kneeler for people to kneel and pray. The natural way of going through the stations is in a chronological order, but you can go through it by a different order which would be a change.

If you are thinking about Good Friday this year and you have no plans, then I suggest this method as a good alternative for a Good Friday service.