Called To Speak

Garry started a new series tonight, looking at Isaiah 61. This is a very famous passage, the beginning of which was quoted by Jesus at the start of His ministry (see Luke 4:14-19). It speaks of the Messiah and shows us how God desires to change situations and how He goes about changing those situations. It shows us the Sovereign Lord speaking (using both His names – ‘Adonai’ and ‘Yahweh’ – which identify Him as God Almighty, the One who will be what He will be). When God speaks, we have a duty to listen, for He speaks with authority (as did Jesus – see Matt 13:43, Mark 4:9, Luke 14:35). Jesus Himself spoke so persuasively that guards sent to arrest Him returned, saying ‘no one ever spoke the way this man does.’ (John 7:46)

Isaiah 61 shows us God commissions people. We may think this is obvious of the Messiah, that He was sent by God to secure mankind’s salvation, but in fact, God commissions all kinds of people, including prophets (Isaiah himself was commissioned in Is 6:8-9 and Jeremiah was commissioned at an early age – see Jer 1:4-7). Jesus gave His disciples authority and a commission to drive out impure spirits and heal every disease and sickness (Matt 10:1) and in 2 Cor 5:17-19, Paul makes it clear that God has given to every believer the message and ministry of reconciliation. We are all commissioned to spread the message of good news. (For those interested in learning how to do this more effectively, the Franklin Graham mission training day is on 29th February from 9.30 a.m. until 12.30 p.m. at Full Life Church in Maltby).

We are all at different stages of learning on this journey with God, however. Just as a baby comes into the world unable to speak and only gradually learns to understand words and eventually to speak them, so too the question of how God speaks to us and recognising what God is saying to us often comes gradually. We hear God’s word preached and read it for ourselves and gradually learn to recognise God’s voice. At first, it may not be clear what He is saying, but gradually we learn to discern His voice and to know Him better. As with any relationship, conversation is a two-way process. With strangers or casual acquaintances, it is hard to sustain conversations, but with friends, it is much easier. As we grow in intimacy with God, we learn to hear His voice more clearly.

Our response to God’s voice needs to be that of a servant, willing to work on behalf of another. Paul described himself as a servant and an apostle (Rom 1:1) – we have to learn to serve before we can be sent and set apart. The challenge before us is to listen, respond, obey and serve God when He speaks specifically to us. We are invited to be part of His plan, to be ambassadors for Christ. We too are called to speak.

Better Together (2)

Getting along together and dwelling in unity are keys to God’s blessing (see Ps 133). But as any parent of more than one child will tell you, it’s not always easy to get along in families! Our selfish natures and desire to have our own way clashes violently with the same selfish nature in others! Wisdom means putting aside our pride and learning to live in humility: ‘Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts.’ (James 3:13, The Message) 

Pride is at the root of most sin – even Lucifer’s fall from heaven seems to have been because he wanted top priority (see Is 14:13-14, Ezek 28:14, 17) The book of Proverbs has much to say about living wisely, and speaks frequently about the difference between pride and humility (see Prov 13:10, Prov 19:11, Prov 29:3). It’s when we learn to live humbly and wisely that we can get along with others. God wants us to live in happy connections to people, but this will only happen as we remember that we are brothers and sisters, in the same family, bought by the precious blood of Christ. We are no longer to view other people through that selfish lens where people are simply stepping-stones to our own success or where all that matters is trying to look better than others or get the better of others.

The children’s song ‘Feels Good‘ has much to teach us about the importance of living in harmony, embracing differences gladly and realising belonging and being united are good things!

‘When we live in harmony, when we stand as one
It makes us stronger, stronger
When we see our differences as a work of art
The world is brighter, brighter
What we all really need right now
Is an upbeat song to sing
An upbeat song to sing,

It feels good when we’re together.
It feels good when we belong.
It feels right when we’re united:
No divides, livin’ life as one.

Tell me why we’re fighting, can’t we just get along?
‘Cause we are brothers and sisters;
Nothing strong as family, nothing breaks us apart
‘Cause life is better together.
What we all really need right now
Is an upbeat song to sing
An upbeat song to sing.’ (‘Feels Good (Upbeat Song)’, Rend Co. Kids)

Better Together

Today in our ‘Connections’ series we looked at our horizontal connection with other members of God’s family. God made us to be a ‘healthy, robust community‘ (see James 3:17-18 in the Message version) and, in Nicky Gumbel’s words, ‘There is power in connection: connections lead to life.’ (BIOY, 19-11-19) The enemy seeks to divide and split us up, but if we want to grow up in Christ and become fully mature, we have to learn how to get along with other people.

Our EQ (emotional quotient) is just as important (if not more so) than our IQ (intelligence quotient). The Bible is full of advice on how to love others; Jesus said that the two most important commandments were to love God with all we are (the vertical connection) and to love our neighbours as ourselves (the horizontal connection). (Matt 22:37-38) It’s crucial that we learn to live wisely if we are to maintain good relationships and grow spiritually. James gives us good advice about living wisely: ‘Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterised by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honour.’ (James 3:17-18) This means:

  1. Learning that God’s wisdom is the only way to live. Any philosophy which doesn’t start with God is likely to end up deviating in some way from truth. We have to learn what God considers wise and then live that way! Loving others with selfless, sacrificial love can only be done as God’s selfless, sacrificial love dwells in us.

  2. Real wisdom is characterised by getting along with other people. We have to learn to be gentle and reasonable, not running people down and thinking the worst of them. We have to be merciful and forgiving people (see Eph 4:29-32).

  3. Learning to be consistent, living with integrity and authenticity. Often, moody, volatile people can be hard to get along with and this can lead to resentment and wariness in relationships. We have to be honest with each other and allow ourselves to be vulnerable and to trust. We need to learn to live as Paul commanded: ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.’ (Phil 2:3-4) The Jesus way will always be counter-intuitive and will call us to deny ourselves. (Mark 8:34-35) Only then can we truly love others as He wants us to.

Before we can have significant impact on our local community, we have to become a community of believers, the family of God. We truly are ‘better together’!

Team Building Day (2)

We had an activity where teams had to cross a crocodile-infested swamp using only 3 stepping stones. Most of one team fell in the swamp and were presumably eaten… The activity showed us many things about effective communication, including:

  1. the value of preparation

  2. the importance of listening to each other

  3. the value of clarification and explanation

  4. the need to compromise and be agreeable, rather than being dogmatic and domineering

  5. the importance of trusting each other

Communication is important not only within churches but when we attempt to communicate the Gospel to those who do not yet know God. Avoiding jargon and adapting to culture is important, because we need to be effective in our communication. There were some great 30 second Gospel presentations using everyday objects: a newspaper, a torch, a bottle of vitamin tablets, a pen and so on. It can be hard to think of what to say in these situations, but everyday evangelism means being ready to respond to situations with good news, not simply waiting for the ‘perfect opportunity.’

As a church, we have to be ready, willing and able to take the Gospel to the specific culture and community of Goldthorpe. What this looks like in our particular context will be determined by the people God has sent here (His Lego bricks, as it were) and by the gifts and talents He has given us. We may need to think outside the box and try new methods to reach our community, but one thing is sure. We need to be a church which looks to those who are without hope and without Christ in the world and which seeks to bring the good news of the Gospel to these people, whether that is through personal evangelism or through the outreaches we as a church can offer or which we can support (e.g. the charity B:friend, which meets every Monday afternoon in our building, needs people to literally be friends to those who are isolated and lonely.) Every one of us is important. What can YOU do?

Team Building Day

We had another Team Building Day today, with Sarah Davey helping us to explore communication and vision.

There are many different ‘models’ for churches. Some could be compared to Lego models which come with a full set of instructions which have to be followed exactly to create the ‘set’ piece; others are more like the child who has different pieces of Lego and can create whatever he wants. We all had a go at making Lego models and then had to guess what had been made:

We can often feel like an oddly-shaped Lego piece and wonder where we fit into the body of Christ, but we can be sure that God brings people together and that we can all be fitted together to make His distinct church for our area.

Next, we looked at the importance of communication and discovered that non-verbal communication could be used to line us up in order of the months in which we were born:

In the same way, we need to understand that the Gospel is preached through our whole lives and not simply through our words.

We also discovered communication has to be clear, precise and unambiguous if we are to convey our message accurately. One person had to describe something another person had to draw. It was interesting to see how we needed to clarify and communicate well in order to be sure our message had been heard and understood.

Celebrating Community

The Dearne Community Arts’ Festival aims to champion creativity and celebrate community, and this week it managed to do both with the unveiling of the community mosaic in its new permanent home at Goldthorpe Library. The mosaic, started last summer at our church under the watchful design eye of artist Ruth Waterworth, involved 15 local organisations and 252 adults and it was great to have about 50 people at the official unveiling, led by Barnsley Bard Ian McMillan. Members of Dearne Kids, the local Brownies & Guides, Dearne Churches Together and Goldthorpe Library coffee morning, along with pupils of Goldthorpe Primary School and Sacred Heart Primary School and members of Barnsley Libraries and other local groups, came along to see Ian McMillan unveil the mosaic and enthuse about how this represents so much that is positive about our local community.

Looking through the photobooks of previous arts’ festivals:

Ian McMillan:

Artist and mosaic designer Ruth Waterworth:

More photos:

At this time when there is so much negativity about a small number of disruptive youths and the damage being caused locally, it is good to remind ourselves of the many positive things which happen locally and the very large number of people who work tirelessly, often in an entirely voluntary capacity, to make where we live a better place. If you’ve not yet seen it in person, you can view the mosaic at Goldthorpe Library on the first floor. It’s well worth a visit!