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Yours Faithfully – Pentecost reflections

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In his latest ‘Yours Faithfully’ column for The Sentinel, Saltbox Church Liasion Officer Tim Lucas looks forward to Sunday’s Pentecost celebration while reflecting on the Holy Spirit, new life and restoration.

This coming Sunday, Christians around the world will celebrate Pentecost, when the very first Christians experienced the power of the Holy Spirit. The account in scripture says that at the end of that day, three thousand people became followers of Jesus.

The number 3,000 is worth some consideration.

In 4BC, there was a terrible massacre in Jerusalem. It was Passover time, and a crowd had gathered in the temple, but they had become unruly. The then ruler, Herod Archelaus, had entered the temple sat on a golden throne, and had appointed his own high priest to oversee the temple proceedings. Unhappy with the choice of high priest and the blatant blasphemy, the crowd began to rebel.

Archelaus could not regain control of the crowd, and so he resorted to violence. He sent his soldiers to slaughter them, and that day three thousand people were killed in and around the temple grounds.

This tragic demonstration of power would still have been in people’s consciousness at the time of Pentecost. It was a mere 30 years earlier. Some of them would have been alive at the time of the massacre, and may even still have talked of it often and sorrowfully. 3,000 was a painful number.

On the day of Pentecost, the people of that area hear a group of people talking in different languages about something they have termed The Good News. (The idea of languages at Pentecost is also worthy of some thought by itself.) This good news resonates with them. It is the good news that God has raised Jesus from the dead, and is now in the process of raising the whole of creation from the dead.

The message is spoken, and a new way of living – or a new life – is offered to the people. The number that is recorded as having positively responded to this message is three thousand.

Thirty years before, three thousand people had been killed by oppressive powers, and on the day of Pentecost, three thousand people entered into new life. There is something written into the very fabric of Christianity that concerns itself with restoration – with bringing new life in a restorative way.

Where people have lost, where they have been overpowered, where they have no hope, where they are broken and weak and poor, a great power is offered to them. It is not an oppressive power, but a freeing one. Christianity is the story of restoration and renewal coming into the world, beginning with the marginalised, ostracised, poor, weak, and overlooked.

That is really what Pentecost points us towards. When we experience the Holy Spirit, we will be stirred with an invitation to take part in this great act of restoration. It means that we don’t just receive ‘new life’ as an ambiguous term, but we receive it as a new way of life, a new way of living. The old has gone, and all things are made new, and we play a part in that.

Perhaps this Sunday you might think about things that need to be made new. What things are you aware of that need to encounter true and lasting restoration? If you feel a stirring from within to act upon those thoughts, then you might well be experiencing the Holy Spirit. Follow the stirring and see where it leads.

Tim Luas (Saltbox Church Liaison Officer)

Yours Faithfully – The Marathon of life

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In his latest ‘Yours Faithfully’ column, Saltbox’s Church Liason Officer Tim Lucas talks about the 2019 London Marathon and how it acts as a metaphor when it comes to the journey through life.

Like many people, I spent a good portion of Sunday watching the London Marathon. As the television cameras followed the race and spoke to individuals along the way, it struck me how accurate a metaphor the London Marathon is for life.

Both are shaped by stories. It’s common for people to run representing a charitable cause, often one close to their hearts. Each training session they undertake, and each step placed on the race day, is done so with that charity in mind, or perhaps more accurately for the person who drew them to that charity, be it themselves or a family member, friend, or other loved one. Something has happened to give that charity a place in their lives.

Likewise, we all go through life carrying a story of our own – a thing which has changed us deeply, and which, in its own way, affects every step we take.

Both deal with issues of identity. There is a good mix of people who dress in ordinary running gear and those who dress in fancy dress. Whether they are running for comfort or another reason, the scene is of fluorescent outfits running alongside giant sheep and even Big Ben.

Life brings with it experiences that will cause some to find it very easy to be true to themselves, while others will find that very difficult. For some people it is very easy to be themselves, and they have no qualms with allowing themselves to be seen. But for others, there is a tendency to cover up, to pretend to be different than they really are, to hide behind something rather than be exposed as themselves.

Both also come with their dangers and setbacks, some more serious than others. On Sunday, a man dressed as Big Ben made it to the finish line in good time, only to be too tall to actually pass the finish line. What followed was a humorous encounter with him, a scaffold-type structure, and a race volunteer.

But for Hayley Carruthers it was a more serious matter, ending up crawling over the finish line, scraping her knees, and temporarily losing sight in one eye.

We will all be able to name somebody who has faced setbacks. While some will be something to laugh at, others will be sobering and moving.

Both take their toll on us. There is not a person who has run a marathon and not felt it. Even the elite athletes feel the strain of running that distance upon their bodies. And there is not a person who has not felt some level of pain, strain, or sorrow in life.

As I reflect some more on the London Marathon I am reminded of Jesus’ words: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’

I used to pass this off as a little bit glib. But rest is actually a very great thing to be offered. When the marathon runners have pushed on through 26 miles, their bodies worn and tired, their joints aching and stiff, then the promise of rest will be something of great joy.

And as we pass through life, with its challenges and strains, uncertainties and issues, we are offered rest. Much needed and greatly appreciated rest. What a very great thing to be offered.

Tim Lucas (Saltbox Church Liaison Officer)

10 Days of Prayer – Day 10 – Life (Paul Critchley – Presence Worship)

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Bible reading: John 10v10

‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’

Reflection: In a world where there is so much pressure of advertising and social media to have a seemingly perfect life, many families and individuals find themselves caught in a bid to attain the latest and best in pursuit of happiness. These things are of course so transient but have become so high in our society’s priorities for what life should look like for us. The stark reality is that when the hope of attaining or holding onto these things disappears it can seem like all that was reached for, even deserve, is snatched away.

In John 10v10 we are reminded that, whilst our enemy the devil is looking for ways to take from us in any way he can, Jesus is offering to all a fulfilled life both here and eternally based on His capacity to fill us with His goodness, His love, His strength and His assurance. All things that will not pass away and have the capacity to fully satisfy.

Surrounding this hope there are those who would seek to monopolise on, even draw into a wrong dependency people who are looking for an escape from their daily trials and have been blinded to the possibility of a new and redeemed life.

As we consider the goodness and freedom that Jesus has freely offered to those who will call on Him and trust Him today, we turn to prayer and welcome the harvest of life in abundance from the One who is able to breathe His life into every heart that is opened.

(Paul Critchley – Presence Worship)

Give thanks that God has a unique destiny and loving plan for every person.

Prayer points:
For a breaking of the cycle of poverty in local families and communities;
For people in the UK to once again look to Jesus as the good shepherd for our guidance and blessing through and beyond Brexit;
For good to conquer evil in our continent where radical groups, gangs and people trafficking rings threaten communities.

10 Days of Prayer – Day 9 – Wisdom (Lloyd Cooke – Saltbox)

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Bible reading: Proverbs 2v6-9 

‘For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose way of life is blameless,
for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.

Then you will understand what is right and just and fair – every good path.’

Reflection: Two teachers were once applying for the same Vice-Principal position at a local high school. One had been teaching a total of 8 years and the other a total of 20 years. Everyone expected the teacher with the greater experience to get the job, but when a decision was made, it was the person with 8 years teaching who was chosen. The teacher overlooked for the job complained bitterly – “I’ve got 20 years teaching to her 8” he cried. “I’m vastly more qualified.” The school’s reply went like this: “Yes sir, you do have 20 years teaching to her 8, but where she has 8 years’ experience you have 1 years’ experience repeated 20 times.”

Simply experiencing the passage of time doesn’t mean we have grown or learned from those things we experience during that time.

Often, those who have seen God move in the past can be most resistant to beholding God’s “new thing”. Is it time to check if we are wise enough to let go of the past and ready to learn new things?

(Lloyd Cooke – Saltbox)

Give thanks that God has answers to the world’s problems.

Prayer points:
for our local schools to be resourced and empowered to set young people on paths of destiny;
for a new spirit of wisdom to come on the leaders of local and national government;
for people across Europe to find the ancient paths of God’s ways that have blessed our continent in the past.

10 Days of Prayer – Day 8 – Power (Phil Barber – Potters Church, Longton)

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Bible reading: Acts 19v8-12

‘So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to those who were ill, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.’

Reflection: In the account in Acts 19 of Paul’s missionary work in Ephesus I am struck by several things.
Firstly, Paul’s total dedication to the work of proclaiming the Gospel. He is passionately and wonderfully ‘sold out for Jesus’.

Secondly, his persistence in doggedly explaining the Gospel daily for two years which leads in part to the breakthrough that occurs.
Thirdly, his courage to stand firm in the face of quite fierce opposition.
Fourthly, his obvious partnership with the Holy Spirit to produce ‘extraordinary miracles’ which fan the flames of revival.

The partnership between God and Paul is the key. It is never either or but always a partnership which produces the most effective results. Of course, we need an outpouring of the church taking the Good News to the world, but we also need an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

I believe it is this kind of ‘power evangelism’ that will bring the explosive Kingdom growth that our brothers and sisters experience in many parts of the world today, but which often eludes us in the West.
It should be what we hope for, pray for and are working for.

Watchman Nee said: Our prayers lay the track down on which God’s power can come. Like a mighty locomotive His power is irresistible, but it cannot reach us without rails.
Oh, for days like those in Ephesus!

(Phil Barber – Potters Church, Longton)

Give thanks for churches around the world living in the Spirit’s power.

Prayer points:
for our city to be stirred by God’s power changing lives;
for communities in our nation to experience signs of God’s glory in their midst; for the Holy Spirit’s anointing on the church in sharing the gospel so that all people in Europe hear the good news of Jesus

10 Days of Prayer – Day 7 – Fruitfulness (Robert Mountford – City Vision Ministries)

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Bible reading: Psalm 1v1-3

‘Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers.’

Reflection: My wife Sue and I love to walk in the countryside, more often than not along the banks of a lake, river or stream. A common sight on such walks is the prevalence of trees growing by the river-side. Often, the trees are visibly leaning towards the water. Almost always they are strong, healthy and full of leaf. Constant access to the water, together with sunlight, carbon dioxide and soil- based nutrients, ensures that the trees situated by the water-side will enjoy long- term health, life and fruitfulness.

The very first statement at the beginning of the 150 Old Testament psalms uses the same picture of healthy and fruitful trees growing next to water as an analogy of a healthy, happy and fruitful life. In the spiritual context, the water which enables a flourishing, fruitful life is the Word of God. Constant attention to, and delight in, the words which the Lord speaks in the scriptures are the secret of spiritual health and success, as surely as access to natural water enables trees to thrive. Alongside this comes the observation that refusal to walk in step with the wicked, to stand on the path of sin and to sit in the company of scoffers will remove the potential for harm and disease that would blight life and hinder fruitfulness. According to Psalm 1, allowing the Word of God to feed us is both our duty and our joy. As we pray for a harvest of fruitfulness at every level of society, we ask the Lord to give us grace to avoid the things that would destroy our spiritual health, and to embrace the life-giving truth of God’s Word on a daily basis. (Robert Mountford – City Vision)

Give thanks for the word of God preached and lived out each week in the UK.

Prayer points:
for local businesses and community initiatives to prosper in our city;
for growing churches as the blessing of God rests on His people in our nation;
for creative governments to help overcome the economic squeeze in European nations over recent years.

10 Days of Prayer – Day 6 – Healing (Ian & Hilary Brayshaw – Hope Community Church, Hanley)

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Bible reading: Luke 9v1-6

‘When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal those who were ill.’

Reflection: In Luke 9 Jesus gives the disciples power to cure diseases. He sends them out to do it, and they do – “healing people everywhere.” Jesus teaches us that whoever believes in him will do the same works he did and even greater things. One of the many ways we can do this is by interceding through prayer. Right through history, “God has revealed himself as ‘Yaweh Ropheca’ – the Lord who heals you.” (Exodus 15:26) He is a healer of the body (Ps 103:2-3). He is a healer of emotions; healing the broken-hearted and bandaging their wounds (Ps 147:3). And He is a healer of problematic situations; mending and restoring situations that are causing problems. (2 Kings 2 v 21 ‘I have healed this water; never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive.’) We are coming in prayer today for those who need healing, for those requiring care and support, for those who are broken and for situations that are causing harm. As we do this, we can have full confidence that we are coming to a God whose very nature is that he is a healer of all things. He is full of compassion and desires to bring wholeness in every area of life.

(Ian & Hilary Brayshaw – Hope Community Church, Hanley)

Give thanks: thank God for ways in which you have seen his healing or wholeness come.

Prayer points:
for greater capacity and quality of care for the elderly and infirm in our city;
for supernatural healing to increase in churches & on the streets of our nation; for the abused or sexually wounded in our continent to find wholeness in Jesus.

10 Days of Prayer – Day 5 – Joy (Ev Carter – Beacon House of Prayer)

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Bible reading: Psalm 67v4-7

‘Let all the nations burst forth with praise, let everyone everywhere love and enjoy the Lord’ (v3 Passion translation)

Reflection: This reminded me of inspiring testimony I heard on a Christian radio station recently. A young lady had an operation to solve a problem in her womb, the operation went wrong and left her unable to walk. Before the operation she was running marathons, now she has to use a wheelchair. A tragic story! Yet, As I listened to this young lady telling her story I was amazed that she demonstrated so much love and joy in her life. When asked about this she described how, at this difficult time she found herself leaning closer to Jesus. He gave her strength for each day. She gained fresh understanding of The life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Every day she is overwhelmed by his love. The joy of knowing him makes her feel complete in a way that she had never experienced before. Her life was devastated by the operation, but she was transformed by the love of God! The evidence of God’s love and joy in her shines through and has opened up opportunities for her to share her faith with others (including the radio interview). Instead of being overwhelmed by her circumstances she is overwhelmed by God’s love.

May the power of God’s love in us shine through and open up opportunities for faithful witness today.

(Ev Carter – Beacon House of Prayer)

Give thanks to Father God for the blessing of His son Jesus as the source of joy in our lives.
Prayer points:
for our city to positively embrace its uniqueness and future potential;
for churches in our nation to share vibrant testimonies of God at work;
for the celebration of all that is good in, and our different identities in, Europe.

10 Days of Prayer – Day 4 – Peace (Tim Lucas – Saltbox)

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Bible reading: Philippians 4v4-7

‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’

Reflection: Despondency, tension, and anxiousness are rife in the world. Whether we look at a wide-angled view of society and politics, or whether we focus in on families, groups, or individuals, it is clear that there is great need regarding peoples’ present condition. To this end, Paul and Timothy write not only that we should pray, but that when we do we will have our hearts and minds guarded by the peace of God.

Where there is anxiousness, we should pray; where there is tension, we should pray; where there is despondency, we should pray – and in all things there will be peace. That is not our logical assessment of what should happen – certainly it is beyond our understanding – but time and again throughout history it has been proven to be resonantly true.

It is out of that peace that there will come an ability to rejoice, to be gentle, and to be calm; and it is through that peace that we will be drawn into Christ. As we pray for peace to be found in particular lives, situations, circumstances, groups, families, individuals, and places, may we find an end to those things which would destroy and overpower, and may we find an increase of rejoicing, gentleness, and calmness. And ultimately, may we find that our neighbourhoods, our regions, our nation, and the nations are drawn ever deeper into Christ.

(Tim Lucas- Saltbox)

Give thanks for the godly peace that comes when relationships are restored.

Prayer points:
for reconciliation in broken families in our city;
for a unity of political will over Brexit in UK Parliament and the EU;
for the role of churches as peacemakers in communities suffering unrest or injustice across Europe.

10 Days of Prayer – Day 3 – Righteousness (John Alessi – St Paul’s, Longton)

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Bible reading: James 3v18

‘Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.’

Reflection: What do we see as we look out of our windows onto our city, our nation and our world? A society ravaged by rising crime, gangland knife culture, increasing drugs problem and violence on every hand. The situation is complicated by our political and financial institutions diseased by greed, dishonesty and selfish ambition.

So, what would we like to see? A city and a world guided and inspired by a spirit of self-giving, integrity and working for the common good. What about institutions that are honest, accountable and transparent? Wouldn’t it be great to see all people groups learning to live together with tolerance and mutual respect? And what about God as our reference point, receiving His love and power as we are restored to our true heavenly calling?

Maybe this is something like in keeping with what James calls the ‘harvest of righteousness.’

The question comes to us as to how we can get there! Whose responsibility is it? What is the strategy? Lots of different groups need to be involved, but as God’s people, we have the challenge of moving from wallowing in despair to providing a basis of hope for the future.

So, do we pray? Of course! But to reap a harvest of righteousness takes commitment and faithfulness. We can, and must, be instrumental in developing a healthy and robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results as we do the hard work of getting along with each other and treating each other with dignity and honour.

(John Alessi- St Paul’s, Longton)

Give thanks for all those helping to build healthy communities in our land.

Prayer points:
For crime in our city to fall and the lives of those causing crime to be changed; for a new spirit of honesty and integrity across the banks and financial sector; for nations across Europe to embrace the tide of migrants amongst them and help them find a home.