New Chapter


I’ve done quite a lot of reading whilst away on sabbatical this summer. I’ve read all sorts of different things, from novels to non-fiction books in the fields of leadership, discipleship, sociology and popular psychology. I’ve had my mind stimulated and provoked in all sorts of ways. I’ve also been writing too, the fruit of which I hope will emerge soon.

When it’s time to take a break from reading an interesting book, most people prefer to pause not in the middle of a chapter but at the end. It feels like a better place to stop, rather than part-way through something. We can then pick things up again later, in a new chapter, with a sense of anticipation of something new about to unfold. 

Life is like that. And so is the life of discipleship. Sometimes we pause or take a breather and then pick things up exactly where we left off – like in the middle of a chapter. But there are other times when we re-start in a new chapter. Things feel slightly different. We’re still in the same story but it’s like we’ve turned a page and there’s a new chapter heading.

This September seems like that for me. It feels like Isaiah 43:29: ‘See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?’ That’s partly because I’ve been away on sabbatical and am returning after a break. But it’s more than just that. As I’ve been observing and listening and praying I think it’s a new season, certainly for me and for us at The Belfrey, and maybe for many churches in our region and nation. Things feel slightly different. Like we’re in the same story but starting a new chapter.

Jesus told his disciples that they needed to be discerning to understand the times and season they’re in (Luke 12:56). Jesus knew it’s important to know when you’re starting a new chapter.

A new chapter will not look the same for us all, especially in own daily lives. For some it’ll be about big changes – like a new job in a new city and a new church. For others it’ll be about developing a new interest or turning what was previously just an idea into a new reality. It may be about new routines in new places – like finding a new regular coffee shop or eating place. It may be about picking up new connections – at work, at home or with a potential new friend. For some it’ll involve praying new prayers – bold and brave prayers, or using a different prayer-style, or a new prayer-posture (kneeling down, arms raised, standing up, etc). For others it’ll be about buying a new translation of the bible and enjoying hearing from God in a fresh translation of Scripture. 

In church life a new chapter will, for some, be about joining a new small group. (If you’re not connected with a small group for mission and discipleship, I’d urge you to do so at the start of this new season. It’ll help you thrive!) It’s about developing new friends. Serving in new ways. Inviting new people. For some who don’t yet know Jesus, this will be their season for finding faith, marking it in baptism, joining a church and beginning to live the new life Jesus is calling them to. For others it’ll be about experiencing new encounters with Jesus, going deeper in worship, being healing and being filled anew with his love.

To begin a new chapter, or indeed to enter into anything new, you can’t be passive. Instead, you must actively step out and step up. To use an agricultural picture, we’re to sow seed. That’s so important if we’re to going to see fruit this season. I believe God is calling us to sow. To invest. To give. I told the staff team at The Belfrey just this last Monday, that this week we needed to be looking for every opportunity to give. This is about planting. Planting seeds of love, of kindness, of generosity. ‘Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, but whoever sows generously will also reap generously’ (2 Corinthians 9:6). There’s a harvest coming. A harvest to be reaped. It’s a harvest of love that comes from showing love. A harvest of financial resourcing that comes from financial giving. A harvest of answered prayer that comes from praying. A harvest of people coming into God’s kingdom and finding family in church that comes from us inviting friends and loved ones to find out more. But all these new things only come from sowing. From sowing a seed. There’s no harvest without sowing.

At The Belfrey, as we joyfully celebrate on Sundays, warmly build community midweek in small groups, persistently pray early on Tuesday mornings, generously give our tithes and offerings, faithfully invite friends to church, kindly show God’s love in all sorts of practical ways and continually pray for God’s transformation of the North, so we’re sowing seed. Seed bringing a new season. Seed opening a new chapter.

A new chapter is exciting – but it’s challenging too. It’s both a privilege and a responsibility. That’s why we need to rely on the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit (Zechariah 4:6), giving our best (Colossians 3:23) and trusting the Lord (Proverbs 3:5). That way we can be sure a chapter is being written that future generations will long to read and share.

What time is it?

Here’s the substance of the closing talk I gave at New Wine’s ‘Inspire’ conference a few days ago. Inspire was a great event in the North, for the North and it was a privilege to be asked. It was my first public speaking opportunity since returning from sabbatical.

Paul Manwaring from Bethel Church in Redding, California was speaking at The Belfrey a few weeks ago. Amongst all he said, one phrase in particular stood out for me. It was this: ‘do you know the time?’ Jesus said that disciples need to know what time it is (see Luke 12:56). So what time is it?

Here are 4 things the church in the North needs to hear about the time in which we’re living.

1. It’s time to WAKE UP!

The apostle Paul said to the church in Rome: ‘understand the present time: the hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber!’ (Romans 13:11-12). He’s saying: it’s wake-up time! Whilst this is always God’s message to the church, I believe it’s a particular word for the North at this time. In fact this was the word I shared, at the beginning of this year, with the people of The Belfrey in York, where I’m Vicar. It’s time for awakening.

I’m very grateful for an extended period of sabbatical rest I’ve just experienced. Whilst on sabbatical I spent some time reflecting on this passage from Romans 13 and subsequently wrote this in my journal: 

‘It’s time to awaken. It’s time – not to be selfish. Not to mess around. Not to live for ourselves. But to take up the more noble task of putting on armour. Taking up the sword of the Spirit. Fighting for the kingdom. With weapons of love.’

God wants to awaken his church to his love and power. He has great plans. Especially in the North. But so many of us and our churches, if we’re honest, are asleep! When someone’s asleep, they’re there, but not there. Taking up space but making no impact.

To wake some people from their sleep, just a gentle nudge or a little whisper in the ear will do. That’s how God’s going to wake up some of us. Gently. However, to wake up others it involves something more dramatic – shaking, pushing, shouting and even occasionally a slap around the face! That’s how he might need to do it for some of us, if we won’t awaken. Because it’s time! Time to wake up to the task of seeing our region transformed. There’s much to do. Aided by our prayers and our work, the Spirit of God wants to wake up our region!

I had a busy run-up to my sabbatical. My last day was Pentecost Sunday – 15th May. In St Michael le Belfrey Church that evening we were pleased to host one of the key beacon events for our region, at the request of the two Archbishops. It was a wonderful time of celebration and prayer. Tom Holmes led worship brilliantly and Miriam Swaffield spoke so well. We cried out to the Lord for our villages, towns, cities and region. I went to bed that evening tired but excited about the day that had been and about the sabbatical about to start. Next morning I was up early, ready to take a plane journey from Manchester to California. I made all my connections and ended up on a very full plane, with virtually every seat taken, except for the the next to me. ‘Wow!’ I thought, ‘I can stretch out and sleep!’ But just before we took off a man sitting nearby saw the seats and had the same idea as me. He got up and and sat down in the space. ‘Oh well’ I thought. I introduced myself and he told me his name was Chuck. He was from St Louis Missouri. He was on business. He was in the UK to meet some British partners in his online enterprise. Then he said, ‘but the main reason I came was to preach. In a church in Coventry’. ‘Oh’ I said, ‘that’s interesting’. I hadn’t yet told him I was a Christian or a church leader. ‘Yes, I felt like I was sent to this nation with a message.’ ‘And what’s that?’ I asked. And he replied: ‘Revival is coming to your nation.’ I said: ‘I believe that too’. And that started a conversation which lasted the whole journey!

Later that day when we’d parted company I thought to myself: this is day one of my sabbatical. And what’s the odds of me sitting next to a man, who doesn’t seem like a religious crackpot, who’s on a mission from God, telling the UK church that revival is coming?! In many ways that conversation with Chuck set the tone for much of my sabbatical, as the Lord has been speaking to me and giving me faith for much greater things in my city and region.

When I was nineteen years old someone spoke a prophetic word over my life. They said that ‘I would be a leader in the UK church, when revival comes’. Those words profoundly impacted my life, and to a large extent have shaped my future. And since then those three words – leadership, church and revival – have always been important to me. In my lifetime I’m expecting to see a spiritual awakening. And I believe it’s coming, and may well be here.

One of last awakenings to hit the North of England was in 1850s as the fires of revival swept across the Pennines, impacting Lancashire and Yorkshire in particular. One couple affected by that work of the Holy Spirit were a couple called Benjamin and Anne. Benjamin worked in the gasworks in Barnsley and was offered the job of Manager of the new gasworks at Skelmanthorpe, fifteen miles to the North West. He and Anne moved there and heard the good news about Jesus. They gave their lives to Christ and followed him to their dying day, seeking to impact their community with the gospel. Since then, each subsequent generation of their family has continued to follow Jesus. Their son William, who married Arabella, followed Christ. Their son Luther, who married Mary, followed Christ. Their son Richard, who married Christine, followed Christ. And their son Matthew, who married Sam, is following Christ. That’s me – Matthew. I am part of the continued legacy of that revival. Five generations later. Such is the impact of revival.

God wants to do it again. Bringing many many people into the kingdom. He wants to bring revival in a way that won’t peter out, but will last. It’s time. Time for awakening.

2. It’s time to GET READY!

On many occasions Jesus told his followers to get ready. To get ready for his coming. Especially for his Second Coming, when he’ll return in glory. But we also need to be ready for him coming afresh by his Spirit. Are we ready for him coming in reviving power? He wants us to be prepared.

Before going camping you have to get ready. You don’t just turn up or you’ll be in trouble. Instead, you pack a bag. You get your tent ready. Maybe buy some more tent-pegs. You gather camping gear. Buy your food. Check you have enough camping gas. Maybe get some more. There’s lots of preparation work to do. Similarly God wants us to get ready for what he’s about to do and, if we’ll look, for what he’s already doing. Because the Lord is on the move. Stirring hunger in hearts. There are people across the streets from us or in our network of friends with a growing hunger for God. They’re waiting for us to help them. To show the love of Christ in practical ways. Are we ready? Are we ready to tell them our story of faith and explain the good news? Are we ready to invite them to church?

Are our churches ready? This is not a time for petty disputes or for multiple Church Council meetings about the colour of carpets or how many Holy Communion services a month we have. It’s a time to be doing the basic things well. Like pray. Nothing of lasting significance happens without prayer, so it’s important that churches pray. Do you have a regular prayer meeting where you pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit? If not, start one in your front room. Do you have a small group system and discipleship programme ready for people? Do we offer people the opportunity to give their lives to Jesus in our church services? Or aren’t we expecting any folk who don’t know him to be present?

Are our families and homes ready? Are you ready to invite people into your home? Neighbours in distress and people in need? Do you have enough coffee mugs ready for the conversations, the bible studies and small groups that are going to take place?

Are you, personally, ready? The Lord wants to use you, even more than he’s doing now. He wants your life to be totally dedicated to him. Serving. Following. Living for him. This isn’t a time to be returning to old lovers. And old sins. That’s like taking a shower and then putting your dirty underwear back on. No, this is a time to wake up, get clean, get dressed and get ready.

Jesus Christ is fully committed to you. He died and rose again for you. He’s won your forgiveness. He’s given you a brand new life. Are you fully committed to him? He’s calling each one of us to commit our lives to him and then go and live for him. If you’ve never done this and never handed your life over to Christ, do it now. Hear his call to follow, and say ‘yes’ – it’s as simple as that. If you’ve committed your life to Jesus many times before, do it again. That’s the best way of being ready. Having a life surrendered and dedicated to Christ.

3. It’s time to LEAD ON.

I was in the United States for the first seven and a half weeks of my sabbatical. At conferences. Touring. Visiting beautiful places. Meeting people. Writing. Praying. Whilst I was there we had the EU referendum in the UK. I watched all evening on BBC online as the results came in. Then, dot on 6am UK time (and midnight in Chicago, where I was staying) it was finally announced that ‘leave’ had reached 50% and had won. Over the coming hours and days I watched with interest as events unfolded across the pond in the UK. The Prime Minister stood down. Many of the Labour leader’s shadow cabinet resigned. UKIP’s leader retired. Then we had a poor performance at the Euro2016 football tournament and even our national football manager resigned. Many Americans were asking me: ‘what’s going on in your nation?’ It felt to me like there was a vacuum of leadership. I wrote about it in my journal, saying that ‘the British look like sheep without a shepherd’ (quoting Jesus’ words from Mark 6:34) and I prayed for new leaders to step in and step up.

Those recent very public examples from politics and sport highlight what is probably still the case in many fields in the UK – that there’s a great vacuum of leadership in much of our nation. Not just in politics and sport, but in other areas too. It’s time for leadership. For leaders gifted with humility and authority to step up and lead on.

It’s a time for great leaders to emerge: in politics and local government; in business; in education; in media; in the church and in the family. That will include many of us – and people just like us. Called to make a massive difference in the spheres of influence in which the Lord has placed us.

Leadership is often hard. Pressurised. Sometimes lonely. Sometimes people don’t like the decisions leaders make. But don’t let that stop anyone leading when God has called them. In fact, we as the church need to encourage all our leaders. And we need to let them lead. Yes, we advise them, help, care and pray for them. But we must let them lead! We must say to them: ‘You have our support. Lead on!’

4. It’s time to LOVE PEOPLE

Jesus said that there are basically two commandments that all disciples need to follow (Mark 12:30-31). Both relate to love. Love God and love people.

Being dedicated to Christ is hopefully a sign of our love for him. But what about our love for people? Do we love people?

As I was arriving back at Manchester airport a few weeks ago, my plane arrived at the same time as a number of others. So there was a long queue at passport control. It’s not what your need, after after a long-haul flight, but there was nothing I could do. I tried to estimate how many people were in front of me, and reckoned there must have been a thousand or more in the queue. It took a long time to get through as we shuffled along to present our passports at the front. There wasn’t much to do and I was on my own, so as I waited and shuffled, I watched people. It was fascinating. I was in the UK and EU queue. And I could hear people talking, many with a northern accent. That didn’t surprise me, given I was flying into Manchester! I guessed that most folk lived within a couple of hours or so of the airport. So these were mostly people from the North. These were my people. Good, northern folk. People I want to see come to Christ. En masse.

So I began to pray for them. I quietly blessed them and thanked God for them. And as I did that I found I had a love for them. But as I searched my heart I recognised that it wasn’t a big love. It wasn’t a deep, compassionate, love. It actually felt pretty shallow. And I felt convicted. 

So I began to pray for myself. ‘Lord give me a greater, deeper, stronger love for these tired, lovely people. Give me more love’. Later, on the train back to York I wrote about it in my journal, writing down my prayer. Asking the Lord again for more love.

What about you? Do you love the people God’s put you with? I mean, really love them? People at your work? On your street? In your community? In the North? For some of us, we don’t have a great love. But we can ask for love. And God will give it to us. He promises to pour love into our hearts. Giving us compassionate hearts. Not patronising, judgmental hearts. But tender, kind, caring hearts. Hearts of love.

So let’s pray for a fresh outpouring of love, both for God and particularly for the people of the North. A love that spills out into very practical action. Will you join me in asking the Lord for that? Because it’s time to love people. The wonderful people of the North.


In between each point I paused and led us in a response. This included those present committing themselves again to Christ, with two people making a first-time commitment. We ended by praying for love. More love. For the men and women of the North, whom God passionately loves.


Why I Pray

Here’s a short 4 minute film recorded last week on Why I Pray. It was produced by Belfrey Media for The Gathering, a regular Friday night event, to help people go deeper in prayer.

We’re in a season, I believe, where the Lord is calling us to awakening.  (If you’ve not seen it, do watch my video on this from earlier in the year, by clicking here). The church needs re-awakening to the wonder of Christ and the power of the Spirit (Eph 5:14). And our nation is being called to a spiritual awakening (2 Chron 7:14), which is why both Archbishops have asked all the clergy to gather their communities to pray.

There are lots of ways to pray. Lots of types of prayer. Lots of styles. The most important thing is that we pray! That’s why we ended The Belfrey’s annual meeting last night with 40 minutes of prayer, concluding with us kneeling before our Servant King and saying the Lord’s Prayer.

Nothing of lasting significance happens without prayer.

Pursuing a Culture of Honour


If there was one thing I’d like to see change in the UK church, what would it be? That’s a question I was thinking about the other day. 

One answer would be ‘see more people become followers of Jesus’ or ‘be more positively influential in society’. Those things are good – and needed! But on reflection there’s something else I’d love to see more of in the UK church. It’s something more basic to how we live, react and think. It’s something that would make a massive difference. It’s pursuing a culture of honour.

In a few weeks time I’ll have been ordinand for exactly 20 years. Over that time I’ll have been in ordained leadership in 3 churches as well as been a Director of Curate Training for a northern Diocese. I’ll also have been on various church bodies (synods, committees and councils), and attended many church meetings (national, regional, local). I’ve seen many good things over these last 20 years. I’ve met many great people. People who encourage me and give me hope for the future. But on too many occasions I’ve also witnessed people not honouring each other.

Most of the time people don’t see it. I’m sure there are times when I’ve been part of it – when, without realising, I’ve thought things, said things and done things that have dishonoured others. Dishonour is prevalent in much of contemporary culture outside the church and it rubs off on us. When I share in that I’m adopting the spirit of the age rather than the Spirit of God. I’m showing that I’m influenced more by the culture of the day than the culture of God’s kingdom (Rom 12:1). 

It’s all about how we treat people. And it begins with how we think about them. If we can think differently, we will act differently. As disciples of Christ we are meant to think differently (Romans 12:2) – especially about people (Rom 12:9-21).

The bible has much to say on this. As well as honouring God (Prov 3:9) the are 3 groups of people whom disciples of Christ should especially honour:

– First, we’re called to honour OTHERS. That basically means everybody! Romans 12:10 says ‘honour one another above yourselves’. This is a general call to think and act humbly, wanting the best for others above ourselves. This is a call to serve.To be selfless rather than selfish. 

– Second, we’re called to honour POLITICAL LEADERS. Romans 13:7 says this. We don’t have to agree with their politics to honour them by showing respect for them, praying for them and encouraging them. It’s all part of honour.

– Third, we’re called to honour CHURCH LEADERS. 1 Timothy 5:17 describes this – in fact saying that ‘they are worthy of double honour’! We’re supposed to give our church leaders twice as much honour as we think! 

Sometimes we’re good at this but too often in the church I’ve observed just the opposite, with people, politicians and church leaders being dishonoured. I believe the Lord is calling us to change. We need the Spirit of God to convict our hearts, to change our thinking and to renew our actions. In short, we need a culture change.

If this kind of culture change happened then it would have a massive impact! Not only would churches become even more positive and encouraging places to be, but those outside the church would sit up and notice. It would have enormous missional impact.

So what does a culture of honour actually look like? And what kind of mind-set change is needed as we pursue a culture of honour? There is much guidance on this in the Scriptures. I’ve been studying this recently, so here’s 10 biblical characteristics of people pursuing a culture of honour.

1. Assuming the best

Too often we assume the worst of people. Someone says or does something and we immediately think negatively about them. But God doesn’t call us to imagine the worst (Ps 41:7). Instead we’re called to assume the best, to believe the best and trust that even if someone has done something we don’t understand or even disagree with, that their intentions are good. This is an often overlooked aspect of loving people and is part of what it means to ‘trust/ believe all things’ (1 Cor 13:7).

2. Giving the benefit of the doubt

Rather than choosing to take offence (Prov 12:16), we give the benefit of the doubt. At times this is hard work and we need to be forbearing (1 Cor 12:7). Some people think that living like this is naive. Not at all. It’s consciously choosing to think well of someone rather than being cynical of who they are and what they’ve done. Taking offence is too easy. The harder but better choice is to choose not to. After all, taking offence is always a choice. To give the benefit of the doubt doesn’t mean that we can’t disagree or even politely challenge, but we do so thinking of their point of view first rather than ours and assuming they mean well. If we think like this, our reactions will be very different.

3. Speaking positively 

When someone does something that potentially frustrates us, we also have a choice about the words we use to them and about them. God wants us to speak positively. This is what the bible calls ‘blessing’ (Rom 12:14). Blessing is speaking good words over someone – words of life and love and hope. We do this through our prayers and also in the way we speak about them. We’re also called to challenge and warn others about this (eg 2 Tim 2:14), discouraging gossip (Prov. 16:28; Titus 3:2) and not encouraging factions (1 Cor 1:12f). When people annoy us, we’re told not to speak negatively and as such ‘curse’ them (Rom 12:14). Instead we’re called to think and act differently. Jesus has much to say about this in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:43).

4. Building Up

We speak positively because our intention is to build people up (Eph 4:29). This is God’s desire for us. It’s how he treats us. Conversely we have an enemy who wants to do the opposite – who seeks destruction rather than construction (John 10:10). When we tear someone down (Prov 11:9) we’re actually doing the devil’s work for him. We mustn’t do this. Indeed we’re called to a much more noble task.

5. Forgiving Others

There’ll be many times in life that we will feel like we’ve been badly treated. Sometimes we’ll conclude that people have deliberately been vindictive towards us. We then have a choice to forgive (Col 3:13), or not. To forgive is not to excuse bad behaviour. It’s showing mercy. Letting them off. Not holding a grudge (Lev 19:18). Holding grudges doesn’t help them or us. To forgive means that we think and live as if it’s not happened (1 Cor 13:5). Sometimes this can be very painful and difficult, but the Spirit of God will help us, if we ask Him. It means that next time we see that person we can hold our head high. When we forgive like this we are being Christ-like (Eph 4:32).

6. Holding my tongue

So often we react to a situation by saying something unhelpful and we then regret it. We wish we’d held back and either said nothing or chosen our words more carefully. That’s why the bible says we should be slow to be angry (James 1:19). It’s better to hold our tongue and be patient (1 Cor 13:4), especially in a public setting. This doesn’t stop us talking later in a more measured and personal way in private (Matthew 18:15) which is what Jesus says we should do when people sin against us – being bold and brave and going to see them. Sending an email or just walking away whilst still harbouring anger is not an option.

7. Being kind

If we’re not careful we can become quarrelsome people. Being quarrelsome can even get into an organisation’s culture. Just look at our political system – which is set up to be adversarial! We must not let that happen in a local community and if we see it we must pray and work to see it changed. The bible could not be clearer when it says that ‘the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome’ (2 Tim 2:24) but instead ‘must be kind’. Kindness is a wonderful gift and a sign of grace. This is how God treats us (Rom 2:4) in the hope that our lives are changed.

8. Being thankful

Thankfulness is a way of life, so much so that we’re called to be thankful in all circumstances. It’s God’s will for our lives (1 Thess 5:18). Becoming a thankful person means that we remember and recall good things and turn them into thanksgiving. Some of us have never had this modelled for us in our families or church communities. But it’s deeply biblical and foundational to worship (see, eg Psalm 100). There’s always something to be thankful about, even in a difficult person or frustrating context!

9. Being hopeful

Hope is about believing a better future. Our God is described as ‘the God of hope’ and has great resources of hope for us (Rom 15:13), calling us to be people of hope. This means that even if someone keeps treating us badly, we continue to treat them well, praying and believing that a better day is coming. The enemy wants us to give up, give in or to despair (2 Cor 4:8) but God doesn’t want us to lose heart (2 Cor 4:18) and has better plans (Jer 29:11). 

10. Showing love

Finally, and to sum all this up, we’re called to love. To love in word and action. To think love. Because God so loved and loves us (John 3:16). This is ultimately what pursuing a culture of honour is all about. We don’t hate (Prov 10:12), we love (John 15:12). And we love sacrificially (John 15:13) even when we don’t feel like it. It’s a command to all disciples (John 15:17). It’s what we do. 

Of course a culture of honour can easily be abused. We can be taken advantage of. That’s the risk. But love always involves risk and love is a risk worth taking.

To live like this we need the Spirit of God to so implant the word of God into our hearts and minds that the way we think about people changes. As that happens and as we think and live differently so a culture of honour is built. 

UK society desperately needs this. But so does much of the UK church, including the church in the North. That’s why, for the sake of serving God’s transformation of the North, I give myself to pursuing a culture of honour.

Seniors Arising

  

A few weeks ago I shared what I sensed was a prophetic word for an older member of our church. It was about how he was going to see an increase in the effectiveness of his prayers when praying for people for healing and that the Lord had saved the best years of Christian service for his latter years. It was an exciting word!

Last week Doug Greenfield, a senior member of The Belfrey passed on a similar message to me which he’d been sent, relating to seniors in general. I think it’s worth sharing here in my Discipleship Blog:

I see a company of radical believers in their 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond arising in these days. This generation will experience personal revival that will re-ignite their passion and their purpose. They are full of wisdom, zeal and they carry dreams yet to be fulfilled. Their latter glory will be greater than the former.

I see them walking with the younger generations and empowering them with encouragement.

They are gathering together and redefining the term “senior”. They will be a sought after generation. They will be honoured and respected by the younger generation. Many will arise to places of predominance and leadership. They will produce more fruit in their latter days with less effort. 

Financial increase and sudden provisional surplus will come to them. Favour will rest upon this generation and a wave of healing, health, and rejuvenation will visit them. Their “latter glory” will be greater than the former and they will be filled with joy that overflows!

Let it be!

(If you’re encouraged by this word and it seems to resonate with you, why not read my recent Leadership Blog on Jacob, which has a similar message entitled It’s Not Too Late).

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Fuel for our Souls

  

Each day this year I’m using  Tim Keller’s daily devotions on the psalms, called My Rock My Refuge as part of my prayers. It’s short and simple and I thoroughly recommend it! Here’s today’s entry, which is really helpful on sharing faith.

READ Psalm 47:1-3   1 Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. 2 For the Lord God is awesome, the great King over all the earth. 3 He subdued nations under us, the people under our feet.

THE JOY OF SUBMISSION. God is the powerful King of the whole earth and is subduing people to his rule. But because God is the rightful King – the one we were created to know, serve and love – the result of his conquest of their hearts is joy. They clap their hands because of his rule over them (verse 1). God is the fuel that our souls were designed to run on. So the greater the submission to the true King, the greater the pleasure. Rather than thinking of ourselves as an embattled political minority or persecuted underdogs, Christians should be so overflowing with the joy of our salvation that we feel the privilege of singing his praises to those who do not know him.

Prayer: Lord, “sharing my faith” feels like a threatening duty, but it should not be that. If I urge people to believe in you, I am summoning them into joy. I should not do such a thing with a long face. Open my lips, that my mouth can speak your praise with winsomeness. Amen.

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5 Marks of Discipleship

  
There are 5 marks of discipleship. They’re clearly evident in the story of Simon’s calling to be a disciple in Luke 5:1-11. They’re not just there to tell you about Simon but to speak to you about Christ’s call upon your life. The 5 marks are:

– obedience

– team-work

– wonder

– mission

– commitment

You can hear one of the talks I gave on this recently by clicking here.

Which of these marks is Jesus wanting to speak to you about today?

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Generous

 

It’s a compliment to be described as generous. Generosity is a universally recognised positive characteristic – a quality virtually everyone aspires to. But what actually is it?

1. What?

According to the dictionary, generosity is ‘liberality in giving‘. It’s giving above and beyond. The bible agrees and says that the person who follows the Lord ‘is always giving generously’ (Ps 37:26), with followers of Jesus urged to ‘sow generously and reap generously’ (2 Cor 9:6).

With this understanding in mind, it doesn’t take long to realise that generosity can’t be quantified, because describing an act of giving as ‘generous’ will very much depend on the resources available to the giver. For instance, it’s kind, but not generous, for a UK millionaire to give £50. But for someone who’s poor in the UK to give £50 would almost undoubtedly be described as ‘generous’. The bottom line is that only God truly knows! He knows our circumstances better than we know them and he sees the heart attitude behind every act of giving.

2. How?

Generosity is most obviously seen in the way we give money. Generous financial giving is intrinsic to the life of faith because all our resources, including finance, come from and belong to God. So when disciples give we’re giving away what isn’t really ours in the first place! We’re only redistributing resources.

Generous financial giving starts with tithing – that is, giving away our first 10% of income to the church in which we worship. But for most Christians, certainly in the affluent west, financial generosity should stretch further than a tithe. Giving a tithe is a great thing to do, but it can become legalistic – giving 10% to the penny and no more! Sometimes people who tithe can also forget that the other 90% also belongs to God too!!! 

God says that when we tithe he will look after us and bless us. He also knows that giving your first 10% of income is a step of faith. He understands that we might wonder if we’ll have enough to live on for the rest of the week or month. That’s why he unusually says that we can ‘test him’ in this, to see if it works (see Malachi 3:10). It does.

3. Why?

Living generously is the best way to live. The more you give, the more impact you can have. And the more you give, the more the Lord provides, so you can give again (see 2 Cor 9:10-11). So it’s a win-win! The recipient receives and so does the giver.

Sam and I have given away at least the first 10% of our income to our local church all our married life. On top of that we give to various charities and support the education of two children in developing countries. We also give when the church has a gift day and sometimes give spontaneously to a particular need, if it seems right and we can help. There are no doubt many people who are more generous than us, but we certainly aim to live generous lives. That’s because we know that generosity is a core biblical value. And we’re convinced that living by biblical values is the best way to live.

4. When?

Generosity is a life-style. We’re not just called to live generously every now and then, but all the time. Obviously there’ll be key moments when we’re challenged to dig deep, but in the end it’s about who we are, spilling out into what we do.

At The Belfrey we ask worshippers to renew their financial giving annually. This helps us all plan our giving (which the bible says is important – 1 Cor 16:2; Prov 21:5; 2 Cor 9:7). It also helps the church plan too. At present we ask the church to do this in January.

5. Who?

Everyone who wants to live well should be generous, whether you’re a Christian or not. But for the follower of Jesus, it’s basic and core. In fact it’s a command (Luke 6:38; Luke 12:33; 1 Timothy. 6:18). Being generous is what disciples are called to be.

So how do you spot a generous person? Well, they’re normally the ones giving, not taking. Serving, not being served. They’re normally looking out for those who are struggling, sad or vulnerable. They’re thinking more of others and less of themselves. They’re normally happy enough in who they are to give themselves to building up others. Truly generous people have learned the secret that life is best lived by giving.

In the end, generosity springs from grace and is all about grace. Grace is the way God loves us – with an undeserved, unending and unconditional love. His grace is seen supremely in Christ – in the way he lived his life and the way he sacrificially died for our freedom. Grace is how the Lord gives to us. And that’s how we’re supposed to live too. Living gracious, generous lives.

The Diocese of York (of which The Belfrey is part) get this. That’s why the Diocese’s strap-line is ‘Generous churches, making and nurturing disciples’. Generous churches. Generous people. That’s what the Lord calls us to be. 

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5 Fasting Questions: 5. WHO?

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The fifth of 5 Fasting Questions that many people have is: WHO? What kind of people should fast?

Is fasting for all believers, or just mature Christ-followers? Nowhere in the bible does it suggest that fasting is part of the advanced manual for especially mature or devout believers. In fact when Jesus teaches on fasting in Matthew 6 he’s giving basic discipleship teaching, placing it alongside basic prayer as he teaches the Lord’s Prayer.

Is fasting for all ages? No. Fasting is normally for healthy adults and should not be imposed on babies or young children or the elderly who are frail. There is evidence that short periods of fasting is not detrimental to pregnant women or their babies, but if in doubt on any medical matter you should consult a qualified doctor.

Is fasting for dieters? Well yes … but dieting shouldn’t be the goal. The main aim of fasting is to help you draw close to God. If you happen to slim down in the process then that might be a great spin-off, but if dieting is your real aim, there are other and often better ways of doing it that fasting!

Is fasting just for Christians? No! There is good medical evidence that fasting is beneficial to your body, whoever you are. Timed periods of fasting gives your digestive system a rest and can energise your metabolism to burn through calories better. It can have a positive effect on insulin sensitivity allowing you to tolerate sugars better. It can help regulate the hormones in your body, improve brain function, the immune system and improve skin condition. The fact that most religions encourage fasting means they know that it has further benefits too – not just for the body but also in sensitising the soul. 

For the last two thousand years, followers of Jesus have fasted. So unless you are physically weak or have a medical condition where fasting is not recommended, then fasting is for you.

PRAYER

Lord Jesus, thank you that your call to fast is for ordinary people like me. As you teach me about fasting, may the benefits be many – even if I don’t always see them immediately. Most of all, use fasting to attune me more to your presence for I want to know you more. Amen.

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5 Fasting Questions: 4. HOW?

  
When a disciple thinks they need to fast, how should they do it? This is a fourth of 5 Fasting Questions that many people have: HOW?

The most basic and simple way to fast is to eat no food and drink only water. This is particularly good for shorter fasts (eg. 1 or 2 days). If you’ve never done that before, your body might feel a bit strange at first, but unless you are diabetic or have some other medical issue, your body should be able to cope with this. Should you choose to intake only water for longer than a few days it’s wise to research well and even take medical advice first.

After that, there are lots of other ways to fast. At the moment at The Belfrey we’re preparing for 7 Days of Prayer & Fasting, with some already beginning 21 Days. We’ve offered 3 options to people, which many are finding helpful:

  • DANIEL FAST: this is a specific diet of fruit and vegetables taken from Daniel 10. For more details go to daniel-fast.com and for a list of suggested foods click here.
  • PARTIAL FAST: replace one meal a day (eg. lunch) with prayer.
  • SIMPLICITY FAST: cut out certain activities (eg. technology, social media) to focus on God.

These kind of fasts are especially helpful for longer periods of 7+ days.

It’s good to prepare for fasting. If you’re only going to drink water and you normally drink a fair amount of coffee or tea you’ll probably get a headache reaction for a day or so. Cutting down your caffeine intake for a few days before can make this easier, and drinking lots of water can help relieve this kind of headache just before and once your begin your fast. If you’re going on a Daniel fast it’s useful to research what foods you’re going to eat and even plan your diet. If you’re going to cut something out of your life for a season and this affects someone else then it’s good to explain or talk that through first (eg. a social media fast might require a short post of explanation; a sex fast will undoubtedly affect your spouse and require a conversation!)

It’s important to listen to your body. You will learn a lot about our body through fasting. Be attentive to what is happening. To how it feels. To its aches and groans. To its desires and urges. As you fast you are beginning to take more control of your body and not allowing its natural urge to eat to dominate. This can be a really good thing. However fasting is not meant to make you sick or ill. If you sense that happening, stop and/or consult a doctor. 

If you want to know more about how to fast, there are lots of online resources for people who have questions, so don’t be afraid to use those. And finally, don’t forget the very practical words of Jesus in Matthew 6, which remind us that fasting is not about showing off our religious maturity to others – it’s to draw close to God. The Message paraphrase helpfully puts it like this:

‘When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don’t make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won’t make you a saint. If you ‘go into training’ inwardly, act normally outwardly. Shampoo and comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face. God doesn’t require attention-getting devices. He won’t overlook what you are doing; he’ll reward you in full.’

PRAYER

Lead me Lord, so that when it’s time to fast I may do so appropriately. Teach me not only about fasting but about self-discipline. Help me to know my body better, but most of all enable me to know you better for you are the great and loving God, revealed in Jesus Christ. Amen.

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