armour-plated praying

This bloggage was first written as a ‘Thought for the week’ sent to all of the ministers of the Eastern Baptist Association…

Isn’t it interesting how easily we can overlook things? I have recently been reminded that when reading the New Testament letters it is important to  remember whether they were written to an individual or to a whole church. That can help us apply and unpack what is being said in revealing ways. (It doesn’t mean, of course, that God won’t speak to an individual through a ‘church’ letter or a church through an ‘individual letter’).

This Sunday I am preaching on Ephesians 6 – the armour of God.

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

I know that I have often applied this individually to myself and to others as a guide for how to protect oneself spiritually. But when you consider that the letter to the Ephesians was written to a whole church the passage takes on a different tone. If you think about it, one soldier on their own is not going to last long in a battle. It’s only when soldiers are together in a platoon, a company or battalion that they are effective. Paul’s injunction to put on the armour of God is for all of us so that we may be effective together. Roman soldiers were an extremely powerful force when they locked their shields together and stood side by side or when they moved forwards together – look at how far the Empire extended!

Ephesians 6:10-20 is about prayer. Verse 18 begins with the conjunction ‘and’ which means it is a continuation of the preceding thoughts. There’s no doubt in my mind that the last three verses are another way of saying the same thing as the preceding seven. Pray together, pray for each other. Did you notice how many times in the passage the word ‘stand’ or phrase ‘stand firm’ is mentioned? It comes four times in just four verses. One of the main reasons for us to pray for one another is to enable each other to stand firm. Wobbly Christians don’t last very long so it is important that we are able to stand firm together and we need the prayers of others to help us. Pray that we (collectively) may be a people of truth, righteousness, good news, faith, salvation and the word of God.

And this is one of the reasons why I lament the demise of corporate prayer in our churches. How can we expect to stand firm as followers of Jesus if we are not praying together and praying for one another regularly? How can we expect to be a spiritually strong unit together if we are not collectively listening for our Commander-in-Chief’s orders? How can we expect to make an impact on the communities we serve if our armour is uncared for, rusty and falling apart?

If any of you have found ways that help your church to pray together I would love to hear from you. if you don’t mind I would like to compile them and put them on our website as a resource to help.

And of course we are part of a bigger movement – the Church. We are encouraging all of us to join in with the Thy Kingdom Come movement leading up to this Pentecost. You can find plenty of resources here: https://www.thykingdomcome.global/ And we will be inviting you all to join in with another Wave of Prayer in the weeks leading up to our Gathering (which will be on September 28th at Billericay Baptist Church). And we are blessed to see how many of you pray for your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ through the weekly prayer focus and this email.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.

water works

Photo by George Becker on Pexels.com

The evening service was about to begin. There was a good number of people in the church, many of them there because the young people were going to be leading the service. This was a service that the young people had put together with their leaders so as the Youth Minister I was there with a sense of pride and anticipation.

A hush descended and the service began. One of the young people came onto the stage and it became clear that she was acting out being in a bathroom at someone else’s house. There was a bathroom cabinet there and she was clearly tempted to open it and have a look, but resisted.

Then she proceeded to mime sitting down on the toilet (using a chair, thankfully). “Okaaaay…” I thought, “I wonder where this is going.”

Then the sound effects started.

Water was poured into a bucket and this was amplified through the sound system. I could see a number of the older folk present tense up and I could see others visibly agitated. The water pouring finished and (I think) there was a flushing sound.

Then the young person could not resist the temptation to open the cabinet and when she opened it a whole load of polystyrene packing balls streamed out.

The theme of the service was ‘temptation’. But I have a feeling that the theme is not the thing that most people remembered. I was reminded of this just now when I was pouring out a glass of water. And I confess that I chuckled to myself. I chuckled because I remember being torn at the time about whether it was appropriate, especially with the sound effects, based on the reactions of some and at the same time wanting to applaud the imagination and creativity of the young people involved.

I thought about writing about it on this blog (which I am doing) and I chuckled to myself again because I know that some of the (formerly) young people who would have been involved in that service read my bloggages and will be reading this. I wonder how they’re feeling as they read this?

I am feeling an immense sense of pride and joy. It’s because so many of these (formerly) young people are still strong in their faith and I played a little part in that. It’s because so many of these (formerly) young people still want to be known as my friends 20+ years later. It’s because I can see how God has been and is at work in their lives. Some of them are even in leadership roles in churches that I serve.

What positive part have you played in the life of others? How have others been blessed by you? Be encouraged.

How about thanking some of the people who have played a positive part in your life?

Be blessed, be a blessing

say what you see

Some of you may remember Audrey 3 from a couple of weeks ago. She’s a venus flytrap and I bought her to deal with the small flies that seem to like annoying me while I am in my office. Since her arrival the number of annoying flies in my office has dropped significantly and it looks like Audrey 3 has eaten some of them because several of her ‘mouths’ have been closed recently and have now reopened.

I wasn’t around when the flies got caught so I can’t confirm whether there was a loud ‘whump’ or ‘om, nom, nom, nom’. The trap is triggered when a fly moves one of the tiny hairs inside the mouth and I really would like to see it happen. The temptation is to use a cocktail stick or something like that to trigger the trap. But the advice given to owners of venus flytraps is that you should not trigger them unless there is food in their mouth. Apparently it takes a lot of energy for the plant to trigger the trap and that needs to be replenished by the energy obtained from absorbing the prey. Unnecessarily triggering the trap can lead to the plant’s death.

There’s a real temptation to make a comment about the consequences of triggering Article 50 here but I am going to resist it and allow you to make your own jokes. But there are times for all of us when we have to go to extra effort because of someone else.

It could be as simple as someone leaving the toilet seat up, or leaving the lid off the toothpaste. But there is lots of scope for us to have to take extra effort in life because of the actions of another person.

Do you get frustrated when someone is dawdling along the pavement in front of you and start to go around them and they change direction right in across your path? You then have to stop suddenly and change direction to avoid knocking them over.

Or what about if you have a dishwasher and someone has thoughtfully brought their dirty dishes and placed them on the surface in the vicinity of the dishwasher rather than in the dishwasher? They may think they have been helpful but you have to finish the job.

Or maybe you have trodden in something unpleasant on the pavement that was left behind after someone had a takeaway, or even worse, after their canine friend had done what it had to do? There’s some serious cleaning up needed then.

How about when someone’s having a barbecue in a neighbouring garden and you’ve got washing out drying?

Most of the time when our hairs are tickled and we have to make the effort to react and respond to others they are unaware of the effort we have expended. Of course we would like them to know (and that’s why car horns were invented I think) but ask yourself for a moment how many times are people doing that for us and we are unaware of it? Because we are unaware we won’t know.

We human beings almost always live in communities with other humans. Sometimes they are informal, like towns or cities, and sometimes they are more formal like places of work or places of worship. In every case I think we would be better off if we all put into practice some of the most overlooked advice in the Bible:


Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. (Ephesians 4.2 NIV)

or


Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3.13 NIV)

The emphasis is mine, but the opportunity is there for all of us. How different would life be if we all bear with one another? (Say what you see)

Be blessed, be a blessing

x = 10 10 10

Image result for thinker

Rene Descartes is thought to have nailed it when he said, “Je pense, donc je suis.” Or, in Latin: “Cogito ergo sum.” In English we translate it as: “I think, therefore I am.”

It’s really clever. I can prove I exist because I have consciousness and because I have consciousness I am able to prove I exist. It’s almost a circular argument along the lines of whether the chicken or the egg existed first, but the genius of Descartes is that he enables us to enter that circle by the way he phrased the statement.

There have been later developments of this…

“I’m pink, therefore I’m spam.”

“I stink, therefore I scram.”

“I drink, therefore a dram.”

“I sink, therefore I swam.”

(You may suspect that some of these are not so much ‘later developments’ as ‘hot off the press poor quality puns’, and you’d be right).

But while Monsieur Descartes’ ability to prove existence is quite incroyable it does seem a little bit, erm, limiting if all we do is exist. I wonder whether beyond ‘I think, therefore I am’ we ought to consider something like: “I love, therefore I live.”

Existence is all very well, but it’s a bit lonely on our own. To be in relationship with others is far more exhilarating and the pinnacle of a relationship is to love and be loved. Not a mushy romantic love; nor a passionate sexual love; not even a familial kinship love. But he sort of self-giving love that wants the best for others and is not based on feelings that can change or on what the other person has done for us but on an a sense of the innate value of others. In loving that way we become truly alive.

And because love does not exist without someone to love it demands relationships so we go beyond existence on our own and find community, fellowship, friendship, companionship, belonging and the joy of being known.

If that sounds good, then don’t be surprised because it’s what Jesus was saying nearly 2000 years ago! It’s the way that God loves us and enables us to love others. It’s the way to experience life in all its fullness. It’s what is described in 1 Corinthians 13.

The art is to put it into practice.

Be blessed, be a blessing

By the way, if you don’t understand the title, x is tens… existence


audrey 3

So, this is Audrey 3. (That’s a Little Shop of Horrors reference, nothing to do with my Grandma for anyone who knows my family). I have always been fascinated by plants that eat insects and when recently I had a persistent little fly in my study I decided that now is the time to get myself a venus flytrap.

In researching beforehand I discovered that a supply of water and good light is more important to the plant’s survival than a supply of insects. I found out that they really don’t like being triggered without gaining food from it as that takes a lot of energy. And I discovered that venus flytraps only grow naturally in boggy land in North and South Carolina in the USA.

So far I have not seen Audrey 3 in action. I have kept her well watered and she sits near the window in my study in order to get the light she wants. But the pesky little flies have not decided to fall for her charms. I am not sure what I am expecting if / when they do. I would like to think that there would be a ‘whump’ followed by “Om, nom, nom, nom” but I suspect it will be far less dramatic than that.

I do wonder what vegetarians and vegans make of carnivorous plants. Do they cheer them on for getting their own back on more sentient beings, or do they resent them for eating ‘meat’?

And then, more recently, there was a freaky moment on YouTube. I had been speaking with a couple of people about Audrey 3 and why she was called that. Then yesterday as I was scrolling through the videos YouTube was offering me to view, I was offered a song from Little Shop of Horrors! How on earth did they know that I had been thinking about this show? Are they monitoring my conversations? Are they ready my mind?

Of course not. It’s just one of those random coincidences that happen sometimes and which the human brain contrives to put meaning to. Like when a song has been on our mind and we switch on the radio and it’s playing. Or when we have a sense of deja vu. I have a hunch that this is how superstitions start. Something happens just after something else and we attribute a causal connection. So perhaps a black cat walked underneath a ladder while someone was spilling some salt and at the same time a mirror was broken and a person who had been walking on the cracks in the pavement got distracted and tripped over… There must be some sort of connection.

It’s like bad luck always coming in threes. Nope. But sometimes it does, and sometimes we notice that it did.

I wonder if it’s true that the same people who are willing to see cause and effect at work in random events are less willing to see a creative mind behind the universe we inhabit, and are less keen to think that the Creator might be interested in them?

Be blessed, be a blessing – and if you have any flies you want getting rid of, you know who to call (or is that another film?).

training

train 2
Not the train I was on!

I was on a train yesterday at silly o’clock in the morning. It was almost full of commuters heading into London, however there was a spare seat between two blokes so, muttering an apology for disturbing them, I tried to squidge my way into the space.

I am not a very wide person and I kept my arms and elbows in front of me in order not to cramp those beside me, but the two of them reacted very differently. One of them (we’ll call him ‘Lefty’ because he was on my left) gave way a little. He moved across and enabled me to fit one side of my back against the back of the seat. I couldn’t get my arms back, but that was okay. He also kept his legs together so there was room for my legs.

The other, on my right, (guess what we’ll call him? Yup. ‘Bob’) did not give me anywhere near the same amount of space. Bob remained spread out. His arms and shoulders were pinned against the back of the seat (and part of the back of mine). I couldn’t lean fully back against the back of the seat because of him, so I remained hunched forward, hugging my backpack. His legs were spread out in such a way that if I hadn’t shifted mine it would have been a bit… intimate. Bob was not giving me a millimetre of ‘his’ space. He also had ear buds in and was playing music loudly enough for me to be able to hear the tinny ‘tshh te tshh te tshh’ that we are often blessed with by fellow passengers.

Because I was so cramped I could not move my arms to get out my phone or my Kindle to entertain myself, so I remained in this position for the rest of the journey. Every time we stopped at the station I willed him to get up and get off the train, but Bob was glued in place and my telekinetic powers were useless against him. It was not a comfortable journey.

Now I realise that I could have asked him to move. But I could see in the reflection of the glass in front of me that Bob had his eyes closed. He was either asleep, feigning sleep, or trying to block out the fact that there were other passengers and that made it more uncomfortable to contemplate interrupting him and asking him to give me my space. And I am British. And I wasn’t sure what sort of response I would get. So I suffered in silence.

At the end of the journey we all disembarked and part of me was feeling quite resentful about Bob. He hadn’t given me any consideration at all. But I had chosen not to ask him to move, and maybe he hadn’t realised how uncomfortable I was.

A part of me also thought, “Well played!” He had maintained his position, preserved his space, and had a much more comfortable journey than me.

So what are my reflections on Bob and Lefty?

There are times when we need to be considerate of others. We need to adapt our behaviour, attitude and approach in order to enable them to grow and flourish. It’s a part of what Jesus meant by us being ‘servant-hearted’.

But there are also times when we should not yield to the demands of others if they are going to cause harm to others or if they are asking us to compromise our core beliefs. In Luke 21:19 Jesus said to his friends (in the context of being persecuted), “Stand firm, and you will win life.” (NIVUK)

The art is knowing which is appropriate at any given time. I would suggest that the difference is to do with whether our core beliefs are under threat. Of course we need to know what they are, and we also need to be sure that we are not elevating secondary issues to the status of ‘core beliefs’ because we want to get our own way.

Be blessed, be a blessing

sticking your oar in

Yes, it’s been a long time since I last wrote anything here, but in my defence I have had a lovely week off last week, which accounts for most of the time!

While on holiday in Center Parcs (near Thetford) Sally and I went for a row on the lake. It was a lovely day and it was very pleasant pootling about on the water. There were quite a few other people out and about in a range of different craft and I have reflected on them:

There were some energetic people who were in what looked like a catamaran made of two canoes. Six people were brandishing paddles and attempting to coordinate their strokes so the boat went in roughly the desired direction. It seems to me that such a vessel clearly needs to have agreed priorities and a good sense of teamwork otherwise they will either go around in circles or head off in the wrong direction. How often do organisations (churches included) go wrong because of a lack of shared vision and people who all choose to do their own thing rather than working together?

There were some electric boats out there. They were gliding, apparently effortlessly, around the lake and because they were electric they didn’t make any noise. If you weren’t watching where you were going they might sneak up on you and surprise you. What bothered me about some of these boats was that they didn’t seem to understand that their ability to change direction and speed was much greater than our rowing boat so we couldn’t be sure that they would avoid us. I decided that we needed to make our intentions clear and change direction early to avoid them when in fact it would have been a lot easier for them to change direction. Are there times when people cause others around them to have to make adjustments to accommodate them without realising the impact they are having?

There were some pedal boats. You know, the good old fashioned kind. They had the advantage of pedal paddle power, and I think they had a rudder too. I couldn’t tell whether everyone on board had pedals or whether it was just the couple in the stern of the boat (that’s what it looked like) but they could go quite a pace when they put their mind (and legs) to it. I’m not sure if it was possible for some of the crew to coast while others (or just one) did all the hard work (a bit like the person on the back of a tandem could) but there were definitely some boats where it looked like there were people who should not have been passengers who weren’t putting in a shift. Does that sound familiar?

Other boats were available, but none were on the lake at the time we were. There were, however, three couples who had chosen to row a traditional rowing boat. Of course in those boats the person who is rowing is facing backwards, so they depend on the passenger to tell them what is going on ahead of them and give them some guidance. Each person has an important but different role to play. When it was my turn to row I discovered that I had a dominant hand which meant that I naturally pulled harder on one oar than the other one. That led to a tendency to head off course. I had to keep correcting the direction we were travelling in. It’s really helpful in those circumstances to have someone with you who is giving you guidance as they can see the way ahead more clearly. You have to trust and rely on them.

Draw whatever lessons you feel you can from these reflections, but for me the most important one is that it was good to spend time with the one I love on a lake, rowing.

Be blessed, be a blessing.