A Word in Time: Wednesday

This is today’s study in the Methodist Church’s A Word in Time series.

Acts 2:1-21

2When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 “In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”


“Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?’” (vv. 5-8)

Background

Here we are, on the Day of Pentecost, bystanders at the moment Jesus had promised the disciples would come (Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit had invaded the room where they were waiting and now they had spilled out into the city among the crowds.

Jerusalem was bulging at the seams because it was festival time, and the air was filled with all the languages of the Jewish people. Suddenly the crowd realised that a bunch of uneducated Galilean fishermen were making themselves heard – everyone understood!

Luke (the writer of Acts) tells us that the onlookers were “bewildered” (v. 6), and “amazed and astonished” (v. 7) at this phenomenon. How could it be?

For those with quick enough wits, their minds would go back into the Jewish Scriptures and a story of the people trying to build the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) to reach into the heavens where God dwells.

God said: “Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech” (Genesis 11:7). By an act of God, the people were divided from each other through language. Now in Jerusalem, by an act of God, the words that Jesus’ followers were speaking made sense to all who would listen.

Luke stresses that these were the devout Jews, gathered in the city to worship. It is to them that Peter stands and declares that the day promised by the prophet Joel has dawned (verses 17-21, quoting Joel 2:28-32). The Holy Spirit is on the move, uniting young and old, female and male … “every nation under heaven” (v. 5).

To Ponder

  • What languages should you and the church use to share the Good News with your neighbours? How do we learn to communicate better with unreached people groups?
  • How can local churches improve their interaction with people who don’t speak ‘church-ese’? And what can you do to help?
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A WORD IN TIME: TUESDAY

This is today’s study in the Methodist Church’s A Word in Time series.

Mark 13:5-13

5Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray.6Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. 7When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

9 ‘As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. 10And the good newsmust first be proclaimed to all nations. 11When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death;13and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.


“Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray.’” (vv. 5-6)

Background

In the media race for our attention, the crucial thing is to build up an online profile. Using Facebook and Twitter (both probably too old school now), Instagram, Snapchat and many other platforms, anyone who aspires to be a superstar has to be followed by millions.

It’s impossible to opt out and retreat into anonymity if you want people to follow you. Of course, if you don’t keep your latest exploits where everyone can see them, you will fast become irrelevant.

Today’s conversation between Jesus and the disciples came about because his followers were being seduced by the opulence and grandeur of the temple.

“As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.'” (Mark 13:1-2)

Instead of believing the Jewish religious leaders’ publicity machine, they needed to realise what mattered: did they want to defend the symbol of faith or the one the symbol was pointing to?

“Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray” (v. 6).

Jesus knew that his preaching of the kingdom of God had angered the Jewish priests and leaders. He knew the pressure would be on his followers to recant their stories as false teachers and even family disputes threatened the in-breaking kingdom of God.

We read later in the Bible: “Whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3).

It’s difficult to “consider it … joy” when you feel all the media messages are against your way of life, but while our Instagram account may not be followed by millions our Saviour’s profile is one we are urged to share.

To Ponder

  • Is it a problem or a bonus that the Church doesn’t have money for multi-million pound publicity campaigns? Why?
  • How do we help people “consider it … joy” when they face trials in their life? What pastoral gifts have you found helpful?

A Word in Time: Monday

This is today’s Bible study in the Methodist Church’s A Word in Time series.

Acts 1:1-8

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me;5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ 7He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’


“… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (v. 8)

Background

Living in an age where fake news can travel around the world before the truth has got its boots on – to misquote an old saying – we know only too well the power of communication. Knowing how to get your message out – whether it’s a political campaign or an advertising slogan – is essential if you want to get people on your side.

As Jesus comes to the end of his time on earth, he has been giving the disciples an intensive course in missiology ready for this moment. They are convinced now that he really has risen from the dead, but need a bit more understanding about what comes next.

The answer is not ‘go’ but ‘wait’. Why? Because good communication needs the right network and it isn’t in place yet.

The “promise of the Father” (v. 4) is the gift of the Holy Spirit and a promised power to witness to the truth of the Resurrection and the new reality of the kingdom of God to change lives.

It’s only a matter of days before the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Then the disciples understand exactly what Jesus meant by saying “and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”.

The Galilean boy band will be in on the start of a world tour: beginning where they are but spreading out on the coat tails of the expanding Roman Empire – the very occupiers who have tried to crush the Jewish people. From Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and into the known world the story of a risen Messiah rockets as believers tell it.

Within a very few years the story of Jesus had reached Britain … the ends of the earth?

To Ponder

  • How difficult is it to wait when you have a message you want to share? What can be gained by waiting?
  • What networks do we ignore at our peril?

A Word in Time: Sunday

This week I am providing the Bible study notes on the Methodist Church’s website at A Word in Time. The overall theme for the week is The Gospel of the Spirit and the studies link to the daily readings and prayers in the Methodist Prayer Handbook.

I will repost each day’s reading and reflection here as well.

John 20:19-31 (NRSVUK)

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.


“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’” (v. 21)

Background

The work of mission doesn’t wait. Resurrection day hasn’t finished and the risen Jesus is already reminding the disciples that this new reality is not served by hiding away in their meeting room.

The writer uses that strange phrase “the doors of the house … were locked for fear of the Jews” (v. 19) when we know that those behind the locked doors were themselves Jews.

Who are they afraid of? The NIVUK Bible renders “fear of the Jews” as “fear of the Jewish leaders” which makes more sense. Mob rule stirred up by those who had engineered the crowd’s chorus of “Crucify him!” (Mark 15:11-15) would have frightened off most people.

But as they hide behind the locked doors the disciples encounter something even more scary. How do you handle a risen Jesus?

The writer of the Gospel doesn’t give us any of the lead-in that Luke has in Acts 1. There the disciples are sent to wait in their room (Acts 1:4-8) for the gift of the Holy Spirit while Jesus ascends to heaven.

In John’s Gospel, the risen Christ appears on the evening of Resurrection Day, breathes the Holy Spirit on his friends (verse 22) and signals the start of the new outreach campaign: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (v. 21).

Yet again the battle between dark and light, which has been a constant theme throughout the Gospel, is prominent. The people of God can’t hide away when there’s work to be done.

The disciples are now a sent people: apostles. They are no longer locked away, but released with a new story to tell.

To Ponder

  • Can you think of something the Church needs releasing to do but feels ‘locked up’ about? What is it?
  • Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on the disciples as the work of mission begins after the Resurrection. How can we show resurrection hope in our communities?

General Election: a testament to weakness

 

One of the biggest signs of weakness – even delusion – is to keep repeating something you do not believe in the hope that if you say it enough times you will somehow convince yourself.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May is on the record as having voted against the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, but now tells us over and over again that it’s in our best interests to do so.

Obsessed by the need to give her leadership legitimacy, she has today to ask Parliament for permission to call a snap General Election for June 8.

This is not about uniting the country. It is not about selling a vision. It is not even about party policy. This is simply a testament to weakness: her own.

To do so while the world watches President Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un engaging in a nuclear stand-off is simply irresponsible and displays the worst kind of political foolishness.

 

That the world may belong …

It’s Resurrection Day, the morning we celebrate the fact that the tomb was empty. Despite all the attempts of the authorities to silence Jesus and his message of overwhelming love and hope, he had broken death’s stronghold.

On Easter morning hope was reborn. As first light dawned it became clear that darkness would not have the final word and the cross – that foul instrument of torture – became a symbol of rebirth.

Here is a hymn that reminds us of all the ways the cross still stands to call the Church to action in the world for the good of others.

It is sung to the tune for Great is thy Faithfulness.

God of our sunrise and light of the morning,
dawn on our worship, renew us today.
Come by your Spirit and fill with your passion,
set us on fire with the Gospel we pray.
 
Chorus
We are your people, the Church you have chosen.
We are a gift to the weak and the strong.
We are the shape of your love for all people.
Help us to live that the world may belong.
 
Jesus your cross is the hope of the hopeless,
guide of the blind and the staff of the lame.
Here, as the nations are grieving and limping,
Give us compassion to live for your name.
 
Jesus your cross is the world’s consolation,
object of pain yet the strength of the weak.
Here, as we struggle for peace and for meaning
Jesus we ask for your courage to speak.
 
Jesus your cross is the birthplace of justice,
cloth for the naked, refreshment for thirst.
Here, as we seek ways to live out the Gospel,
May we repent of our need to be first.
 
Jesus your cross is the mystery that beckons:
drawing us close till we see face to face,
sharing your love with the world in its turmoil,
blessing with your uncontrollable grace.
Copyright © Gareth Hill Publishing/Song Solutions CopyCare, 14 Horsted Square, Uckfield, TN22 1QG www.songsolutions.org

All change

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s a strange place to be: at home in the manse surrounded by the normal things of ministry, not sick, not on holiday but not working.

I’m beginning a Sabbatical, not unique among Methodist ministers but still rare enough that people get confused about it and wonder if I’ve been send to the subs’ bench or the naughty step.

Others of course smile broadly and declare: “Three months holiday, eh! It’s all right for some.”

Well, there’s some rest time, of course. There is also some work-related activity and we are encouraged to do something that stretches us spiritually. Sabbaticals are a gift from the Church to refresh and reinvigorate our ministries.

I’ll be working on my hymn-writing and we’ll make a couple of trips including one overseas visit that I’m really excited about, but mostly it’s about being quiet and trying to hear God.

That’s all change from the frenetic pressure of a diary and a helpful one too.

Change: One person at a time

Parliament terrace
The Thameside Terrace of the Houses of Parliament
In company with many, I passed under the scene of the attack on a tube train at the exact moment it was happening: entirely oblivious to the atrocity taking place above.
What is the proper response of people of faith? Surely not to display some kind of righteous, holy anger, but to find ways to reflect the grace of God in all aspects of our lives.

The recommended tune for singing these words to is Go Forth.

To God we come and lift our voices high;
 
children of hope, we sing his majesty!
 
Called to be faithful to the Lord of life
 
– to change the world, one person at a time.
 
In faith we build communities of Grace;
 
hold broken lives for God’s love to retrace.
 
Ours are the faces and the feet he’ll use
 
to change the world, one person at a time.
 
 
Our lives become a song of hope for all:
 
‘Jesus is Lord’ is now our clarion call!
 
God’s chosen people take it to the streets
 
to change the world, one person at a time.
 
 
Open the doors, let none be left inside:
 
send us to share with all who fear the light.
 
Praise God who calls his Church to dare to go
 
and change the world, one person at a time.
Copyright © Gareth Hill Publishing/Song Solutions CopyCare, 14 Horsted Square, Uckfield, TN22 1QG http://www.songsolutions.org

On the radio: panto and Pontypool

Panto pioneering (Thursday)

Church leaders like me have to handle a number of different tasks, like public speaking, leading worship and organising events, but until I worked in one particular job I had no idea it included being the Wizard of Oz!

For a few years, I worked as a Pioneer Minister – doing church with people who don’t do church – in a community where there were no Methodist buildings. It meant I had to build links with the community through other means and so Joy and I decided to join the local panto group.

We’d spotted a poster advertising the start of rehearsals and nervously walked in one evening. We needn’t have worried. Instantly we were welcomed in, ‘adopted’ by a friendly group member and helped through our first visit. When we went for the second rehearsal we were greeted with a delighted: “you came back!”

We were part of the society for three years: performing in the chorus, playing in the band and, yes, I was the Wizard of Oz! There are even a couple of embarrassing photos on Facebook. Now, even though we don’t live in the area, we still keep in touch with people from the society and go back a couple of times a year.

I learned a huge amount from the panto gang about how churches can be better at welcoming and keeping people. We were simply accepted for who we were and what we could offer, encouraged to offer our best and challenged to grow. We were welcomed back every time and reminded about the core purpose – to play our part and get the show on stage.

Although only one of the company had any kind of church connection, a number began to refer to me as “our minister”. It felt as though I was doing my job too.

 

Pontypool rugby (Friday)

This time of the year is one of my favourites. It’s got nothing to do with the weather but everything to do with the Six Nations Rugby tournament which this year is turning out to be one of the best in a long time.

I grew up in Pontypool in the Welsh Valleys, home to the Pontypool Front Row and a whole collection of Welsh internationals. In my teenage years we lived alongside our heroes and on more than one occasion I would travel to school with Terry Cobner, captain of Pontypool and a future Welsh skipper, sitting in the front seat of my Dad’s car.

My own rugby ability didn’t amount to much. The nearest I got was as understudy to Pontypool full-back Peter Lewis … but that was as an actor in our school production of Oliver!

Anyway, back to rugby. I’ve got my Welsh rugby jersey, hat and scarf – I’ve even got some Welsh cakes – and I know which of my Scottish friends I’ll be exchanging banter with on Facebook tomorrow morning before kick-off.

When Wales beat Scotland I will, of course, be generous in victory. Should the unthinkable happen … well, I’m not thinking of it!

Of course, at the end of each game someone chooses the Man of the Match, the player who outshines everyone else.

The Bible tells of how God used prophets and others to try to get his message of love across but in the end needed Jesus to come and demonstrate that love by teaching, healing and ultimately through his death and resurrection.

The salvation of the world needed someone to reflect God’s glory and bear the imprint of God’s character. It needed God’s Man of the Match, living alongside us: modelling heaven’s love on earth and defeating death for all.

Oh, Cymru am byth, by the way!

… and I'm looking for the key