Tag Archives: Methodist Church

A Word in Time: Saturday

This is my final Bible study in the Methodist Church‘s A Word in Time series for this week. You can join in the online discussion here.

Acts 2:42-47

42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.


“They devoted themselves … praising God and having the goodwill of all the people…” (vv. 42, 47)

Background

At the end of the Day of Pentecost, Peter found himself the leader of a new community of more than 3,000 people who were learning together how to follow this risen Jesus (Acts 2:41).

Groups could decide to align themselves around a set of rules, say the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), or find a new Covenant built on a gracious agreement to build relationships (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Here the people of Christ develop a set of ‘holy habits’* designed to strengthen the community.

So, as they meet every day, they work at:

  • biblical teaching
  • fellowship
  • breaking of bread
  • prayer
  • sharing resources
  • service
  • eating together
  • gladness and generosity
  • worship
  • making more disciples

As they devote themselves to each other and the flourishing of these habits, the community around them spots that there is something positive about this new group. They care for each other, their generosity spills out and becomes infectious.

A group that was by now numbering in the thousands was becoming more significant, but rather than cause alarm, we read that they had the “goodwill of all the people” because of their habitual practice of behaving like Jesus.

Luke tells us that “day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (v. 47). It was not just that people were keeping an eye on what the developing group was up to, but that new converts were joining in.

Faith in Christ is attractive when allied to a convincing change of life.

Holy Habits, a book by Methodist minister Andrew Roberts, is being used by churches and circuits throughout the Connexion. It explores the ten habits as a model for discipleship.

To Ponder

  • “Evangelism through being like Christ can be more effective than ‘speaking at’ people.” How far do you agree with this statement? Why?
  • How would you develop these holy habits in the life of your church? Which is the most difficult habit for you?

A Word in Time: Friday

This is my Bible Study for today in the Methodist Church‘s A Word in Time series. You can also join in the online discussion here.

Acts 2:36-41


Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’

 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.


“So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.” (v. 41)

Background

This verse is one guaranteed to make preachers either jealous or sceptical. Wow, 3,000 converts in one sermon. That’s old-school Billy Graham territory without any of the pre-planning. Or is it Luke (the writer of Acts) getting carried away with his story?

What we do know is that this is the culmination of an extraordinary movement of God’s Spirit in Jerusalem as promised by Jesus (Acts 1). The disciples had done as they were told, and waited faithfully. Then, with the coming of the Holy Spirit, they had poured out from their meeting room and begun telling the story of God’s grace (Acts 2:1-11).

Jerusalem, packed with crowds for festival-time, was ripe for a holy experience and they got it. Peter, newly fired up, preaches what we read in Acts 2 and much more, it seems: “… he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them …”.

The question that comes at the end of Peter’s sermon already suggested the crowd had been blindsided by their experience. In verse 37 we read, “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?'”

Then comes the first altar call, a challenge to repentance and baptism, and 3,000 respond. Luke says they are added – but to what? There’s no church yet. There have been about 120 previously in the disciples’ group so where they have been meeting is clearly not big enough for this lot.

Suddenly Peter is the leader of something unexpected. And why shouldn’t it be 3,000 people? The Holy Spirit has moved in the kind of extraordinary way foretold by the prophet Joel and a whole new response is called for.

What will become the Christian Church is beginning to flower: tentatively and with many hurdles on the way, but it begins here.

To Ponder

  • How can we help people when they ask ‘what should we do?’ as a result of being impacted by the word of God?
  • How effective is public preaching today? Are people likely to respond as powerfully as the people of Jerusalem did? Why?

A Word in Time: Thursday

This is my Bible Study in today’s A Word in Time series on the Methodist Church website. You can join in an online discussion there too if you like.

Acts 2:14, 22-35

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.

22 ‘You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24But God raised him up, having freed him from death,because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. 25For David says concerning him,
“I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
moreover, my flesh will live in hope.
27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One experience corruption.
28 You have made known to me the ways of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”

29 ‘Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.30Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
“He was not abandoned to Hades,
nor did his flesh experience corruption.”
32This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. 33Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. 34For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
“The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand,
35   until I make your enemies your footstool.’ ”


“This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.” (v. 32)

Background

The picture of Peter we get in the Gospels is of a man who wanted to match up to the example of Jesus but kept missing the mark. In his enthusiasm to speak he didn’t always think. His passion to walk with his master led him often to put both feet in it.

But significantly it put him in the front row.

The picture we get in Acts is a completely different one. Set on fire by the Holy Spirit, Peter is now a confident advocate of a new reality: “this Jesus … raised up”.

The way he begins his address, generally understood as the first Christian sermon, is in itself a testament to the change brought about by the coming of the Holy Spirit: “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” (v. 14).

If we follow Luke’s narrative, Peter had been waiting in the room barely an hour ago for the promise of Jesus to be fulfilled (Acts 1:8) and now he is addressing a mass of people in the Jewish nation’s greatest city. He is not just appealing for their attention, he is commanding it.

If his manner is bold, then the content is staggering. Peter tells them that their hero king, David, is nothing more than a mouldering pile of bones in a grave (verse 29), but he and the disciples have been witnesses to something far greater.

He knew that to prove his case he needed witnesses – his own testimony would not be enough. He calls Scripture to his defence, indeed the very King David he has dismissed as a dead corpse: not as a king but as their greatest Psalmist – using Psalms 16:8-11 (in verses 25-28) and Psalm 110:1 (in verses 34-35).

Peter tells them that what they were witnessing had been God’s plan from the start, King David had been in on it and the disciples were witness.

To Ponder

  • How can the Church tread the fine line between boldness and arrogance when preaching the resurrection of Jesus?
  • The change in Peter and the disciples was evidence of the Spirit’s coming. How do people see the change in your life?

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?

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?

A hymn for Methodist Covenant services

This time of the year in the UK is when many Methodist churches hold their Covenant services: to celebrate God’s constant faithfulness and pledge their own lives in God’s service.

I wrote the following hymn some years ago and the words seem appropriate for the service.

It is best sung to the tune Morgenlied which was set in our 1932 hymnbook to the Harvest hymn Now the year is crowned with blessing.

Lord of ages past remembering
Lord of ages yet to be.
Hope of every generation,
yours the grace that sets us free.
Thorn and cross your battle tokens
symbols of a life laid down,
as the hope of all the nations
dies to claim us for his own.

So for this our generation
hear us as we bow the knee.
Shape our witness to our neighbour,
send your Spirit, set us free!

For the lives where hope lies bleeding,
for the homes where love has died,
for the victims of injustice,
raise, O Lord, a battle cry.
Bread and wine your passion’s tokens,
symbols still of hope restored.
In the sacrament we offer
we proclaim our dying Lord.

So for this our generation …

Make your Church a pilgrim people,
challenge our complacent ease.
Then, because your truth disturbs us,
Father, bring us to our knees.
Lives renewed your gospel tokens
symbols of the Spirit’s call.
As the world that you have ransomed
hears the truth: You died for all.

So for this our generation …

Copyright © Gareth Hill Publishing/Song Solutions CopyCare, 14 Horsted Square, Uckfield, TN22 1QG

John the Baptist and Dr Who

Peter-CapaldiFor the next week I am writing the Bible Study notes for the Methodist Church website, A Word in Time.

Today we begin with the set Gospel reading, John 1:6-8, 19-28, which is about John the Baptist calling on the people to get ready for Jesus.

Somehow the BBC programme Dr Who manages to get into the notes, which you can read here.

I will post a link each day until next Sunday when another writer takes over the duties.

Stories of hope across Europe

Day two of the Extended Cabinets meeting in Braunfels, north of Frankfurt, included a time of sharing stories.

The reason I’m here is that three of us from the Methodist Church in Britain have been asked to come and share about Fresh Expressions. I’m with Stephen Lindridge, the Methodist missioner from the Fresh Expressions initiative and one of the initiators of Mind The Gap in Gateshead, and Peter Hancock, Northampton District Chair and a founder of The Bridge in Hinckley, Leicestershire.

I’ll be talking about Tubestation in Cornwall, not surprisingly.

But yesterday we sat in small groups and heard stories from Siberia to southern Germany of how God is inspiring people to plant new churches and risk new things.

  • The Belarus pastor whose work isn’t officially recognised by the government because she’s not allowed a sacred space but where the children go to school and tell stories about how they love their mothers because they pray for them.
  • The church in Finland slowly being brought back to life after one old man sustained it and believed in his vision from God that people would come. Now they are, one by one.
  • A German church where a pastor heard the call to go and rescue a dying congregation and moved home. Now the fellowship has grown from a handful to a systainable church, mainly recalling former members but beginning to impact its community.
  • A teenager who used the Latvian version of Facebook to bring together 30 unchurched young people to begin a youth group. Now some of them are inquiring about baptism.

There were many more stories but that’s a flavour of what was shared yesterday. We also heard two lectures on why adults came to faith, much of it interesting but probably too rooted in the German cultural setting to need repeating here.

Today we tell our stories, thrilled to know that we will simply be adding to the good news others have already shared.

Praying in tongues

I’m at the meeting of the European Cabinets of the Methodist Church in Braunfels, Germany, where the leaders of Methodist communities from all over Europe have travelled to talk particularly about evangelism and Fresh Expressions.

My role is as one of three people from the Methodist Church in the UK who have at one time led Fresh Expressions – new ways of being Church – and may have something to say to the leaders here.

Perhaps there’ll be more to say about the presentations we make and what I say on Tubestation – the church on the north Cornwall coast which resonates so well with surf culture.

But what struck me tonight was the amazing worship – or at least the amazing experience of being in the opening worship.

Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, one of the four bishops in Europe and our host, is holding together a community of maybe 70 people in this extended Cabinets meeting: from Germany, France, Sweden, Norway, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland and other countries … as well as interlopers like me.

For the first evening’s worship, it meant running the worship in two languages – German and English – and therefore choosing hymns which could be sung in both. It meant providing a transcript in English of the German-language sermon, as well as a headset translation for those who only spoke Russian.

But for the time of open prayer the invitation was to use our own language and for some time we shared as people poured out their prayers. We couldn’t understand most of them and yet, in an extraordinary, we understood exactly what was going on.

The community of faith was reaching to God, holding each other up before their Father and longing for the best. It was a remarkable moment – and a great note on which to begin five days together.

Churches say vulnerable will pay the price for Chancellor’s cuts

Churches have voiced concern over Chancellor George Osborne’s inaccurate use of welfare fraud statistics in his Spending Review speech.

The Methodist Church, the Baptist Union of Great Britain and the United Reformed Church have criticised the Chancellor for claiming that welfare fraud is responsible for cheating tax payers out of £5 billion a year.

A Department of Work and Pensions report published last week stated that welfare fraud accounts for £1 billion of money lost, with tax credit fraud accounting for an additional £0.6 billion, leading to £1.6 billion lost in total. Church leaders said the exaggerated £5 billion figure depicts the poorest and most vulnerable in society as thieves.

“Exaggerating benefit fraud points the finger of blame at the poor,” said Revd Alison Tomlin, President of the Methodist Conference. “Let us be clear this recession was not caused by the poor, those on benefits, or even benefit cheats. The poorest in society only got poorer during the boom years and it’s simply not fair to make them pay for the bust.

“Questions also need to be asked about the £7 billion of uncollected tax revenues that the Chancellor claims he is targeting. According to the HMRC, there is approximately £42 billion in uncollected revenues; why does Mr Osborne only speak of £7 billion?”

Revd Graham Sparkes, Head of Faith and Unity at the Baptist Union of Great Britain, said: “There is already deep concern that the severe reductions in welfare provision will cause immense hardship to the most vulnerable. This misuse of figures to exaggerate the scale of benefit fraud only adds to the sense of injustice.”

Mr Simon Loveitt, Public Issues Spokesperson for the United Reformed Church, added: “The coalition government is very keen to talk about fairness and the false notion that ‘we are all in this together’, but the Chancellor’s exaggeration of fraud and last week’s Comprehensive Spending Review confirm the grim reality that it is those who are most vulnerable who will pay the price for that which is so clearly not their fault.”