Tag Archive | fear

Throw out the Walking Stick…

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There is a temptation to believe that God only turns up at big Christian festivals, or in buzzing charismatic churches. We really should have learned by now, that He turns up wherever He is invited – from damp prison cells to dusty pews, and from crowded shopping malls to isolated mountain tops.

Yesterday we played as part of a Sunday morning service, in a church in Kislingbury, Northampton. we were also there on Saturday evening, doing a small concert. But yesterday, the rector had kindly invited us back to hijack the Sunday morning worship. We did our normal thing – sang songs and told stories; this time, to an audience of about fifty to sixty people, most of whom had been attending one church or another in that benefice for many years.

A quiet Sunday morning service in a fourteenth century church – pews, tradition, no one under the age of fifty years and liturgy. We were happily shoehorned into the middle.

Untitled designBoth last night and today, there was a lady (we’ll call her Sue) who sat fairly near the front of the church with her husband. She told me later that she had seen an advertisement promoting our coming to the church, and on the strength of that, had decided to come.

When she got up to go forward for communion, it didn’t take any great deductive skills to work out that she was in great pain. Slowly – painfully – carefully, with a much needed walking stick.

At the end of the service I got chatting with her and her husband; I asked what the nature of her pain was; I was told it was arthritis which had started in her knee some years ago, but in the last five to six months has spread with extraordinary aggression to her hips, her shoulders and her spine. She expressed real fear about what she saw as the inevitable spread to her neck, and what that would mean.

I asked whether it would be ok for a couple of us to pray for her. She said it would, and I toddled off to find a prayer partner from the host church.

We sat with Sue and her husband, and with permission, laid hands on knees, shoulders and back.

Let’s be honest – I didn’t have any real clue what I was doing – which of us do when we pray for people, right? I did my best Robbie Dawkins or Todd White school of healing prayer. You know – ask what the pain level is at the start – in Sue’s case, seven out of ten, with ten out of ten expected when she went to bed that night – and we started to pray. We invited the Holy Spirit in and off we went.

We prayed for about ten minutes, during which I felt the heat from my hands that I’ve become familiar with when the Holy Spirit is present, and then I asked how she was doing. She said that her pain had reduced to about a three or a four. She was also tearful and expressed a feeling of huge spiritual and emotional release.

We carried on praying.

About ten minutes later, I asked how she was doing again, and was told that her pain had reduced to a two.

Now, this was all very pleasing, and we were very grateful, but my prayer partner was called away for something else, and my woefully limited patience was suspicious that we weren’t going to get any further, so we stopped and chatted. Then I asked her whether she could lift her arms, and she found to her surprise that she could.

She sat and cautiously experimented with this new activity for a moment or two, and we chatted a bit more.

Then I felt God prompting me that whilst I thought we’d finished, He didn’t think so, and we were to continue praying.

So we did.

Once again there was heat under my hand as we prayed, but much greater this time. We can’t have prayed for more than another five minutes, but when we finally finished, she was able to stand up with a lightness that took her breath away.

She stood, her face radiant

She and her husband had both connected with us on Facebook, so I was able to pick her out and contact her through Messenger later. She has been walking easily, without a stick ever since, and is praising and thanking God in no uncertain terms.

New faith, new hope, new life…

Not wishing to overstate the obvious, but so are we.

Right now I feel like the snotty nosed kid who managed to turn up on bonfire night, and someone shoved a sparkler in my hand. The fire isn’t mine, but it sure is beautiful. I am breathless, delighted and struck with astonished awe to be allowed to be there.

Thank you Loving Father.

Closer to You

Click this link to watch the Closer to You video


That “love thy neighbour” thing – I meant that…

-God

cable street sign 2 I’ve been asked to write a blog about our song ’Love Your Neighbour’. This is my third attempt.

We sit here in a world of unspeakable violence, where Muslim extremists are murdering Christians, Christian extremists are murdering Muslims (yes really), Hindus are murdering Christians. The devil is at work in every corner of the world.

Fear is everywhere. It is fed by the media who rarely tell us what we will find encouraging. It festers and grows within us, blocking out what is good and true.

And fear breeds alienation and hate.

I learnt recently that we go through behavioural cycles every four generations; apparently, popular culture tends to repeat itself every eighty years (Strauss and Howe).

Well, with that in mind – in 1939, Germany invaded Poland. This was the year that we look on as the beginning of the Second World War and a time of atrocities throughout the world that is hard to consider without shuddering. But actually, German fascism, with it’s accompanying trend for violence and hate, started some years before that in 1933, when the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nazis) took control of pretty much every aspect of life, both public and private, throughout Germany.

The thing that came as a shock to me, was how much closer than might be expected the UK came to fascism. Oswald Mosely and his British Union of Fascists provided our own answer to the violence of Hitler’s Brownshirts, with the BUF youth movement, the Blackshirts. The Riots of London’s Cable Street in 1936 bore food for thought, as the Fascists, in uniform, marched confrontationally through the Jewish Sector chanting slogans and violently opposing all who stood in their way. Fortunately, in a rare move, the communists, anarchists and labour parties all stood together with the Jewish community, building multiple barricades, and, despite the extraordinary apathy of the Metropolitan Police to the violent behaviour of the Blackshirts, the March was eventually foiled and abandoned.

So, here we are eighty one years on. We look back on those appalling years of the holocaust with horror; and yet our newspapers are full of stories about the extremism of today, and we seem to be oh so ready to take the bait and let our hearts be filled with the fear and hate that so nearly prevailed then.

heartsong welcomesAs an antidote, I’d like to share a story from Heartsong, Tennessee with you:

Steve Stone is pastor of the Heartsong Methodist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. He learned that the Memphis Islamic Centre had bought some land adjacent to the church, and were planning to build a community centre and a mosque.

Unlike so many in the US Bible Belt, Steve decided on an approach of love; instead of objecting to the plans, his church put up a large sign that said: “Heartsong Church Welcomes Memphis Islamic Center to the Neighbourhood.”

First of all, there was astonishment from the Muslim community. This led to heartfelt gratitude and, ultimately, friendship. Over a period of time, a bond developed between the two churches of love and tolerance, which at the time of the Ramadan Festival, when the Muslim community centre was still not built, led, in an unprecedented move, to the Muslims being offered use of the largest room in Heartsong Baptist Church.

The friendship between the Christians and the Muslims in Heartsong is ongoing. Now, when the church has a barbecue, they serve halal meat, so that Muslim friends will feel welcome. Joint projects are planned, friendships forged, doors and hearts opened so that God can really work.

On hearing about the story, CNN arrived to interview the Muslims and Christians in Tennessee, and an item about the co-operating communities was broadcast on the CNN Global News Service and seen all over the world.

7500 miles away, in a small community in Kashmir, a group of astounded Muslim men saw the news item. Having believed that all Americans hated them, and were against Islam, they sat in amazed silence. “How can we try to kill these people when they welcome us like this?” One of them was so touched by the love of the Christians in Tennessee that he went straight to the local church in Kashmir, and cleaned all the anti-Christian graffiti off.

Steve Stone was at home when he received a phone call from Kashmir. A man, who he had hitherto never spoken to, told him they had been watching CNN when the segment on Heartsong Church was aired. He gave the undertaking that, following the expression of love from Heartsong Church, this community in Kashmir would, in the same way, take care of their own Christian community.

Loving can be hard, it can mean going against the grain, both in terms of what our neighbours and friends think, and in terms of how our own desires and instincts feel. It begins with asking God to take our anger away whenever we are slighted or injured, and pervades every facet of our lives. In this age of an ever shrinking planet we need to bear love in mind when me make decisions about the clothes and food we buy, the newspapers we read, the electoral parties we vote for, right down to the things we say and who we’re prepared to sit next to on the bus. Being loving involves both risk and commitment in so many ways.

I leave you with a quote from a man who had every reason to live in fear … Martin Luther King:

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

When I was a child, I was taught that love doesn’t make the world go round.

But actually, I suspect that it does. cross sun