Today is Ascension day in the Church of England calendar, the day we mark Jesus' ascension to heaven after his resurrection from the dead. It marks the beginning of Thy Kingdom Come, the global prayer event. Thy Kingdom Come runs until Pentecost Sunday (4th June) and each day is marked by a call to prayer utilising a specific theme. We will post two items here each day to help us engage in prayer. The first is a video from the Most Revd Michael Curry, the presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church. Today's theme is #Pledge2Pray #ToJesus.
Click below to watch very helpful daily Advent reflections by Jim and Dolly's friend Amy Orr-Ewing.
The Gospel reading set for today, Tuesday 28th June 2016, in the Church of England lectionary is Matthew 8:23-27.
‘23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, "Save us, Lord; we are perishing." 26 And he said to them, "Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?" Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, "What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”’
I can't help but feel this is relevant to the climate we find ourselves in today as the financial markets are in turmoil and the political parties are seemingly in meltdown.
I believe the Lord is calling us to speak out in the spirit and ‘rebuke[d] the winds and the sea,’ for this is what brought great calm to the storm that Jesus awoke in. Bill Johnson says, ‘you have no authority over a storm you cannot sleep through. In other words, you need peace in the middle of the storm to have authority over it. We might find that difficult in the midst of what is going on. But peace is not the absence of fear. It is the presence of Jesus; it is the presence of the Holy Spirit. As we find ourselves contemplating what is going on around us, let us call upon the source of peace. Let us seek His presence through the storm. As we do this, peace will come upon us, we will be elevated to a place with authority, and we will be able to rebuke the storm of chaos we see around us.
Let’s adopt this approach as we think about all that is going on in the political and financial climate right now. Let’s be those that calm the storm by seeking His presence, by experiencing His peace and by rebuking the volatility of the current climate in the UK, across Europe, and the wider world.
Sometimes, in a church like Cornerstone, we can miss some of the richness and depth available to us though the Church of England's calendar of worship, otherwise called the lectionary. It lays out a number of spiritual seasons, Christian festivals and holy days, daily Bible readings, prayers, and other information which aim to provide believers with spiritual content to enrich their worship of God.
This year I want to connect more fully with the season of Advent which began on Sunday. To that end I intend to post a number of blogs over the next few weeks exploring some of the themes traditionally embraced during Advent.
The season of Advent marks the beginning of the Church year. It is a season of expectation and preparation, as the Church prepares to celebrate the coming (adventus) of Christ in his incarnation, and also looks ahead to his final advent as judge at the end of time. The characteristic note of Advent is therefore expectation and the fundamental Advent prayer remains ‘Maranatha’ – ‘Our Lord, come’ (1 Corinthians 16.22).
In the northern hemisphere, the Advent season falls at the darkest time of the year, and the natural symbols of darkness and light are powerfully at work throughout Advent and Christmas. This brings a healthy dimension to the core theme of Advent: hope. It is true that when everything is going well, there is nothing to hope for. It is in times of struggle, loneliness, rejection, fear, or doubt among others that hope comes in to play. In this sense, the physical darkness of the season with the least hours of sunlight of the year, can convey a sense of longing for the light - or hope - during the season of Advent.
And so today, I leave you with this quote from Sister Stan, an Irish nun who wrote the devotional from which this quote comes from, Gardening The Soul -
'Hope is daring, courageous: it has the audacity to reach a hand into the darkness and come out with a handful of light.'
Blessing and increase,
While we are in the process of fasting negativity, it is likely that it may have raised a few conversations. Optimistic people can often be said to look at the world with 'rose coloured' glasses. This is another way of saying that these people have an unrealistic perspective on reality, or that their head is 'in the clouds.'
However, Romans 15:4 states,
'For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.'
Hope is not some ungrounded emotion that blinds us to the reality of life's circumstances. Hope is the result of believing scripture. It is rooted in the reality of a good God who loves us and was so desperate to get us back that he opened wide his arms on that Cross to prove it. Christians that have a positive outlook, believers that are optimistic about their circumstances or about the future do not wear 'rose tinted' glasses; they were 'blood drenched' glasses. They see life through the finished work of the Cross which necessarily goes through the resurrection by which the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is alive and at work in us (Romans 8:11). Jesus' blood has paid for everything and the victory is already his. Believing anything else is to undermine both the Cross and the resurrection.
Every believer is called to be a person of hope. It is not simply an option for the optimistic. It is the requirement for the children of the ever-loving Father.
What colour are your glasses?
'May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.' - Romans 15:13, ESV
Blessing and increase,
For Lent this year, which started on Wednesday 18th February, I am encouraging us all to take on a fast of negativity. Below you will find an attachment explaining what a negativity fast is (and how to do it) and a list of declarations you can make to help bolster your faith.
Negativity is a vast issue in our culture. Our default position seems to be to make a negative comment rather than an encouraging one. For example, how do you feel about the weather? How do you feel about your job? How do you feel about our government? How do you feel about other events happening in the news. How do you feel about your noisy neighbours? How do you feel about the new one way system on the Barclay Estate? How do you feel about other drivers? What is your default answer when someone asks you how you are?
When we ask the above questions, they can provide insight as to whether we engage in negative thinking or not. When someone asks how you are, do you reply, 'not bad,' 'fine,' 'there but by the grace of God...' Or is your reply more like 'I'm really well and life is good,' 'it's been a wonderful week, thank you,' 'I had a lovely time with friends on Wednesday...' Typically, when I ask people how they are the response is less than positive. If you think about it, answering 'not bad,' is a pretty negative response. It's saying, 'well, it wasn't good,' even if it was. What lens do we use to process our thoughts? Are we so ingrained in our cultural negative/pessimistic thinking that we find ourselves unable to express joy or hope in our everyday situations?
The purpose of this fast from negativity is to help us break out of our cultural bent towards negativity. It is not from the Kingdom of light. And so in replacing negative ways of thinking with kingdom ways of thinking, we are seeking to renew our minds as in Romans 12:2 -
'Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.'
May you be blessed during Lent as you seek to embrace a period of renewing your mind with kingdom thinking.
This morning I read several chapters of Isaiah. I was struck by a number of verses but one I had not noticed before stood out.
Isaiah 40:26, 'Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.'
The prophet is, of course, referring to the stars in the night sky. Little did he realise the sheer number he was referring to. On the Alpha Course, Nicky Gumbel speaks of the throw away line in Genesis 1:16, 'He also made the stars.' These verses are easy to overlook as unless we are astronomers, the stars are not a big feature of our lives.
However, A friend of mine shared this video of the Andromeda galaxy, the nearest neighbour to our Milky Way. The video is of the most detailed photograph ever taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The video zooms in on the photograph to unveil extraordinary detail of a portion of the Andromeda Galaxy. The deeper we move into the photograph, the more stars are revealed. There are over 100 million stars in the portion of the galaxy photographed. What look like brighter stars are in fact, clusters of thousands of stars.
The sheer scale of this image is breathtaking. Realising that is of a small part of the galaxy even more so. But then, when you realise that there are over 100 billion galaxies in our universe, Genesis 1:16 seems like the most understated and misrepresented sentence in history!
The scale of our universe is incomprehensible. However, it is more comprehensible than the God who created it. When we lift up our eyes to the night sky, we stand in awe of the source of all creation and we realise that our vast vocabulary simply cannot do justice to represent the great and wonderful God that we serve.
Blessing and increase,
The following post is by Revd Richard Pennystan from St Chad's Romiley, who preached at Cornerstone Church last year. He, and his curate, are doing a daily blog on wisdom this year. If you would like to receive these blogs through email please fill out a contact form on the contact page so that we can put you in touch.
Money, integrity and honesty are all key themes you'll have seen in this chapter. Safe in the knowledge that we’ve got a 19th of the month 11 more times in 2015, I’m going to leave reflections on them for future months. Today I want to reflect on one verse to build on yesterday’s theme of folly.
v3 People’s stupidity frustrates their path
yet their hearts rage against God.
We make unwise choices, we pursue foolish paths, we chase feelings and immediate pleasure, that path leads to emptiness and then we blame God.
Even when they’ve fallen in a pit, the fool still justifies themselves and refuses to humbly recognise their mistakes and weaknesses and switches quickly to blame God.
Sadly as a pastor, I see this cycle happening time and time and time again. Part of folly is the choice to avoid all self reflection and not even consider the question of whether we might have got it wrong. That leads to blame and God often seems like a good target.
There is a flip side to this, which I see quite often, when folly leads to frustration, or pain or brokenness, then we can fall off the horse the other side from self justifying and fall into self-hatred, believing not just that “I’ve made a mistake”, but “I am a mistake”, not just that “I got it wrong” but “I’m a failure”. The danger here is that we blame God too, we push Him away blaming him for the way He made us.
One of the consistent messages of the whole Bible is not to blame God, but to take responsibility for our own actions and what they lead to. The people of Israel blamed God for the collapse of their nation and destruction of the temple when the Babylonians invaded in 587BC, but the loud message from God was; “This is what you chose when you broke the covenant relationship with me”.
We blame God, when we believe in a god who isn’t the God of the Bible!
What I mean by that is; we blame God, when we believe in fatalism, when we believe God is in meticulous control over all our actions and use that to absolve ourselves of responsibility. If we blame God for the outcome of our decisions, or we blame Him for the way He made us leading to those decisions, then we’re not taking responsibility. God, as a loving parent wants us to become mature and take responsibility.
The beauty of the good news of what Jesus has done is to make sure that our mistakes are not the end of the story. We all get it wrong, that doesn’t mean God gives up on us. When our mistakes lead us down a path to pain, we can choose not to rage against God, and push Him away, but rather to turn back to Him, because He welcomes us back, gives us a second (and third and fourth..) chance and if we’re willing to learn, He’ll teach us wisdom through the process.
Christmas is a time to celebrate. Most people around the world mark Christmas in someway; it is, perhaps, the most celebrated festival in the world. Ultimately, of course, it's because of the arrival in our world of the Saviour of the universe. We celebrate Christmas because we are eternally thankful and supremely grateful. But Christmas isn't about Jesus for everyone.
For some, it is about looking back; it is about marking healthy tradition; it is about family; it is about goodwill; it is about generosity of spirit, and it is about feasting. This has much to do with the influence of Charles Dickens and his novel, 'A Christmas Carol.' In his time, the celebration of Christmas had almost been outlawed through the puritan movement who saw it as a Roman Catholic invention filled with the, 'trappings of the popery.' It was Dickens's vision of Christmas that led to the celebration as we know it today. There are mixed views about the purpose of his aforementioned novel, but it is likely that it had something to do with the hypocrisy he saw in the church. As a man of, 'deep religious convictions,' he longed to see Christmas celebrated as it once was, but with some new traditions brought in.
As such, today Christmas is recognised as being a season of goodwill, of family, of generosity of spirit, and of feasting. But these 'traditions' are much more than the influence of a good novel - they are in fact, a hallmark of the Kingdom; values that underpin the very life that Jesus lived. For those that like to take the Christ out of Christmas (Christ's Mass) they still celebrate his values!
But it won't necessarily be fun for everyone. The video below tells the story of those who have been displaced by ISIS; Christians who have been forced to make a choice between Christ or their home, and with that, everything they have ever known. They stayed strong, choosing Jesus above all else. This is true persecution on a biblical scale. And we get to do something about it. Open Doors are one of the charities that we support through our church tithe. If you want to give something a little more this Christmas, please consider adding your support to our fellow brothers and sister across the world who have been illegally forced out of their homes.
Yours in Christ,
We are coming to that time in the year when life for those without a home becomes increasingly difficult. As temperatures drop and the threat of rain is more prevelent, the reality of life on the streets takes an even more painful turn. To understand this further please read this linked 'New Statesman' article about Tony, a member of our own church family who was homeless less than 2 years ago.
Once you've read it, it might shed some light into the difficulty and reality of a life on the streets. There is a huge stigma attached to living on the streets and many people make incorrect assumptions about the circumstances that lead to a person becoming homeless. Tony's comments in the article shed some light on this.
Jesus himself alluded to thoughts that some who are homeless might have themselves in Luke 9:58 when he said, 'Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.' Jesus reached out to a number of society's homeless in the Gospels and never turned them away.
When we consider the scale of homelessness in London, a normal response is to suggest that there is little we can do to make a difference. But then there was the story of a boy on a Californian beach who came upon hundreds of thousands of starfish washed up on the shore. He started to throw them back in to the sea one by one. A Pastor came along and said, 'I admire your tenacity but it's not going to make much difference is it?' The boy responded by picking up another starfish, throwing it back into the sea and saying, 'Well, I'm pretty certain it made a difference to that one!'
The Cornerstone Night Shelter starts on Thursday November 6th. There are still opportunities to serve that need to be filled. We still need a few cooks and more people to help set up. I highly recommend coming along on a Thursday evening, if for nothing else than to talk with the guests and hear directly from them about their experience on the streets. There will be 30 guests each week and while there will still be many on London's streets, let's make a difference for the ones that we can.
Words have power. Over 50 years ago the following words were uttered, "I have a dream!" Even though these words were spoken half a century ago, today they are still remembered. While there are undoubtedly some who would attribute these words to Joseph, of technicolour dream coat fame, and maybe others who would reference them to a song by Abba, the majority of people would associate them with the civil rights March on Washington in 1963 when Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his momentous speech. "I have a dream," a simple phrase of only four words, but one which contains far more meaning and depth than its four simple words suggest.
A few simple words can incite revolution and shape centuries. "We shall never surrender," "We choose to go to the moon," "I am prepared to die!" All words spoken by world leaders, words that infused hope, brought courage, and that ultimately brought about change for the better.
Words have power. But there is no phrase in documented history that has been as revolutionary, as dangerous, as offensive, as subversive and yet as civilization forming as the phrase, 'Jesus Christ is Lord!' What reaction do they cause in you?
On the outset, they might not seem powerful in today's world. However, I know people who have had to flee their country because they believe these words to be true. Not only would their government execute them, but they would be murdered by their own families. In a free state like the UK, the words, "Jesus Christ is Lord" might upset a few people because they find them offensive, but in some parts or the world they will bring about death. This is because if Jesus Christ is Lord, then no-one else is. All authority belongs to him; he alone has the supremacy.
As we head towards Christmas, we would do well to ask the question that Jesus put to his disciple Peter, "Who do you say I am?" Because, if, as he claims himself, Jesus Christ is Lord, then no-one else is. And this has huge implications for all people. They have huge implications for us as believers also. To what extent do we believe that 'Jesus Christ is Lord!' - are we willing to die to protect this truth? Do we realise the power that is unleashed as these words are spoken by a believer? To what situations in your life do you need to declare these words today? Words have power. Particularly these words. Let's declare them, proclaim them, believe them, and live them.