I recently returned home to Cape Town, South Africa for two weeks following the sudden death of someone who was like a second Dad to me. He was 67 and in good health and passed away two weeks after having a stroke. It brought back lots of memories too about my own Dad's death - he died almost four years ago after a six-month struggle against leukaemia, aged just 55.
My head has been spinning with numerous reflections - about grief, mourning, seeking to live life well, what matters in life, to name a few. But one of the key Scriptures that I've been reflecting on has been the following verse from Psalm 90, a prayer of Moses:
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (:12)
The two deaths I've mentioned have reminded me that life is unpredictable, that only God knows how many days we've got left on this earth. And it's clear from Moses' prayer that an understanding of this is a key to us gaining a ‘heart of wisdom'.
Over the past few months I've thought a lot about the heart. It was a key theme in our 3 KINGS teaching series and also the focus of a midweek men's group I led last term called ‘Wholehearted' (see Numbers 14:24).
In the series we saw the contrast of King Saul and King David. Remember what God said to Saul through the prophet Samuel:
But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord's command. (1 Sam 13:14)
and what he said to Samuel just before David was anointed as the next king of Israel:
The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Sam 16:7)
The heart clearly matters to God - and therefore it should matter to us too! We should heed the encouragement in Proverbs 4:23 - Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
So in a world obsessed with externals and in spending time on things that don't really matter, where we're in danger of being ignorant of death and living as if we're always going to be alive with endless days, can I invite you to join me in reflecting on and thinking about how to cultivate a heart of wisdom, a heart after God's heart.
I love the book of Psalms that we are following in our summer preaching series. There really is something for everyone in this book - every joy, every disappointment and hope is honestly expressed in songs written thousands of years ago. Some Psalms contain very strong emotions - it's not cleaned up, it's raw - and I'm encouraged that God included such thoughts and feelings in His word. Many Psalms, even the very sad and angry ones, end by declaring God's faithfulness, His loving kindness and mercy. I try to do that when I journal and blog - I may start with a challenge, a moan or a groan but I end with God's grace - after all, that's what I really need!
Over the last year at King's we have developed the Pastoral Care Clinic: this happens on the first Monday evening of the month and anyone from King's can come to the Catford site to receive pastoral support (our next date is September 1st at 7.30pm). We have a wonderful team of experienced volunteers who listen, help people think through their situation and pray with them. People have found encouragement in some very challenging situations like marriage breakdown, work and financial pressure, depression and health concerns. It provides a safe place to share - as many of us are under pressure but feel we don't have anyone to confide in. People often come for prayer at the end of a meeting but really need more time to sit and share their story - this provides an appropriate follow up. It's amazing that as two or three are gathered, the Lord Jesus, who binds up the broken-hearted and gives grace to the burdened, comes near.
This last term I have also been involved in a leadership development group with some King's people - we have talked about the values of King's, as well as grace, prayer, diversity and how to study the Bible, among other things. Within a few weeks we had made real friendships, laughed, shared honestly, worshipped and prayed together. That's the way lives are changed and disciples made as we meet around the word, guided by the Spirit. Tough times are shared and we find grace together. If you've never been part of a group at King's why not check out our groups in September - we have a great selection planned.
Have a grace-filled summer.
The Feast is now on its annual August break after another year that continues to reflect both the desperate situations in which people find themselves as well as the remarkable hope there is in the gospel of Jesus.
Talking to people on the streets in Catford is my favourite place for talking about hope in Christ. This is because it is very real: for the murderer, the thief, the rough sleeper, the person with addictive behaviour, the person with suicidal thoughts there is a question - can I be saved?
Barry (name changed) has been a regular visitor to The Feast for a year or two. As with other angry men he struggles to build genuine friendships because he has spent so much time stopping anyone getting close. After initial slow progress, Barry went on the Alpha course, then did it a second time - and then responded to Jesus.
The Bible describes people who met Jesus and were not the same afterwards. Barry changed - he became much less angry and he started to offer to help others. The Feast has always been a place that encourages people to step out of their poverty rather than remain trapped by it. One way we do this is by encouraging people to help others. In recent months Barry has also been attending church each week and is doing the New Christians course. In June, Barry went to Encounter Camp which is a week-long camp run by Worcester Hope church aimed at people who have life controlling issues. In the worship and prayer times, Barry met with God. Barry is now due to get baptised and is also preparing to get married.
If you haven't spoken to someone who is desperate for hope recently - you are missing out! When you do, you could be used by God to contribute to their transformation.
Remember: In the midst of brokenness and darkness the Good News shines brightest.
Prayer is key - we all know that. The Bible is full of exhortations to pray! "Pray without ceasing"; "Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests."; "Don't be anxious about anything, but in everything ... PRAY!" .
Prayer is key for our inward transformation and deepening intimacy with Jesus. Richard Foster writes: "To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us.". In prayer we experience what Andrew Murray describes as "the fellowship and interchange of love".
Prayer is also key for our effectiveness in life, witness, and Christian service. Look at the way the early Christians prayed when Peter and John were released from prison, having been jailed for healing a disabled man and preaching the Gospel: "Now Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus."
Knowing all this, I have yet to meet anyone who finds prayer easy! We all learn how to pray the hard way. I remember learning how to ride a bike - I was wobbly and all over the place at first, I felt silly in front of others. Since then I have pedalled hundreds of miles on a bike and had some amazing experiences. When I became a Christian, learning how to pray seemed just like that! Richard Foster writes "It is harder to pray inconsistently than consistently, in the same way that it is hard to play a good game of tennis when we practice only once in a while."
What might help us to learn how to pray? Firstly I think it helps us to recognise what prayer is. It is not only the words we say to God, but includes every inclination of our hearts towards him - every tear cried, every whisper of horror against injustice, every longing for good.
Secondly, I think we need to know ourselves. The way a spontaneous person who gets easily bored develops a consistent prayer life, will be quite different from the way the person who loves routine does so. We can each find patterns of regular prayer which work for us, being creative and ringing the changes in different seasons of life.
Thirdly, we can use the help of some age-old, time-tested structures for prayer - the Lord's prayer, which encompasses everything we should pray about - and prayer exercises, developed mainly in the contemplative movement to help distracted people like us to focus in and meet with God.
Fourthly the help of the Holy Spirit in the prayer life of the believer is astounding. Paul recognises this when he writes: "The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express." We can ask again and again for the Holy Spirit to guide and direct our praying. Many have received the gift of tongues by asking, which assists their prayers especially when they do not know what to say.
Finally we can help ourselves by keeping a record of things we have prayed for and recording answers to prayer. After only a few months of doing this we will notice the remarkable results of prayer - right here, in the complexity of our own lives.
There are no prayer giants - just ordinary people like you and me who gradually learn to pray by wobbling around, looking silly, and trying again! Brother Lawrence, a 17th Century monk, wrote these words after making it his aim to pray without ceasing:
"There is no mode of life in the world more pleasing, and more full of delight, than continual conversation with God."
Here is the greatest of all prayer's rewards, to find joy in the continual presence of God with us from day to day.
I recently had lunch with a friend who told me that his wife's bank card had been cloned. Money started disappearing from their account and was being spent in Malaysia! It took a couple of weeks to sort it out and she had to get her identity verified at her local bank. Identity theft has become big business across the world - apparently Interpol maintains a database of 40 million lost and stolen travel documents from 157 countries.
But no-one can steal your identity in Christ! Frequently the New Testament tells us that when we become believers we are 'in Christ'. Previously we might have formed our sense of identity from our family background, our gender, where we came from, our job etc. But when we become Christians we have a new identity. 2 Corinthians 5:17 states: 'Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!' Our identity undergoes a fundamental transformation - we are now 'in Christ'.
In many workplaces it is common for employees to have ID cards to enable them to gain access to particular buildings. Your identity card opens doors to places that other people cannot go, e.g. police officers have authority to enter restricted areas and gas and electricity meter readers have to have ID in order to take readings.
Our identity in Christ is not dependent on how good we are as Christians. A police officer's ID has nothing to do with how good he is. He has been given authority. That authority comes from the person who issued the ID - it is not even dependent on how good he is at his job. In a similar way, your identity in Christ gives you spiritual authority, access to all of God's promises, provision and privileges and it also gives you access to heaven when you die.
When you reach 'a certain age' you become eligible for a Freedom Pass. It allows you free travel on public transport and you would be foolish not to use it! You don't need to offer to pay again every time you travel - the price has already been paid. And the price was paid for us as believers when Jesus died on the Cross - so let's enjoy the full benefits of our new identity in Christ.
We tend to take our annual holiday early in the summer so while many of you are still waiting for your summer break Val and I have already been away - and returned! All the ingredients that make a relaxing time for us were there - great company, lovely food, good weather, beautiful countryside, plenty of rest... and oodles of time for reading! I took three different types of books with me this time - some novels, a few books on the Bible (surprise, surprise!) and something on personal development. This might not be your recipe for a great summer break but if reading is one element in your time off, I thought I'd share my three best reads.
The first is a novel by Hilary Mantel. I only discovered this brilliant writer in the last twelve months and have now read three of her long books, including Wolf Hall. A Place of Greater Safety tells the story of three key characters who played a significant role in the French Revolution. A fascinating read about friendship, creativity, power and corruption.
Scott McKnight is a professor of New Testament who writes with great clarity and real passion. In his book The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited he takes a fresh look at what it meant when Jesus preached "the kingdom" and how that relates not just to the gospel we preach but the life we are supposed to live. Provocative, stimulating and inspiring - and just to keep you on your toes, I don't think he has got everything right, but well worth reading.
The easiest read was Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard, Susan Fowler and Laurence Hawkins. There is a whole series of One Minute Manager books and each one is really a parable-like story which aims to explain key principles of leadership or management. As with all the others I found this one really helpful in making sense of things I have been slowly learning through experience and showing how I might develop further. If you find it helpful then look out for The One-Minute Manager Meets the Monkey which was for me the best of the others in the series.
Whether reading is a part of it for you or not, I hope you have a great summer! Val and I send you our good wishes - as we settle into our new home in Bournemouth we shall look forward to hearing about all that God will do, both in and through King's Church in the days to come. One thing is certain - there are exciting days ahead! God bless you, people of King's - He is a wonderful God and His love is ever for you!
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Steve Tibbert leads King’s Church London, with sites in Catford, Downham and Lee. Over the past fifteen years the church has seen continued growth, both in size and diversity. Steve also oversees a number of other Newfrontiers churches in the UK. His book, “Good to Grow”, was published in July 2011. He is married to Deb, and they have three sons.
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