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MAPPING THE JOURNEY (Views from the Abbey 26)

During the recent ‘deep clean’ of our church buildings at Abbey Baptist Church, Reading – a great opportunity to also ‘de-junk’ the various cluttered storerooms, nooks and crannies, cupboards and corners – we came across an old Route Planning Map from 1972. We love old maps. They are so colourful and informative – the ‘A’ roads marked in bright red, the names of important towns written in CAPITALS, the estimated mileage and time of various journeys between where you are and where you hope to get to clearly indicated (in a helpful chart) – but in terms of usefulness for today this particular route planning map is virtually absolutely useless. It is completely out of date. There are virtually no motorways indicated (apart from the M1). Things that were important then are not so important now (where you can find an AA Phone Box, for example). Even some of the so-called ‘important’ towns are no longer that important (Kidderminster is no longer ‘a vibrant carpet-making town). We are off on holiday shortly … but we won’t be using this particular map to plan our journey!

Reflecting on our ‘discovery’ I confess that the thought did cross my mind that this particular map could equally illustrate the ‘mission statement’ of many churches (including our own?) up and down the UK today. We are mapping the journey ahead using outdated maps and methods that may appeal to us but don’t cut any ice with the vast majority of people ‘out there’ – people whom Christ calls us to reach out to in his name (Luke 24:45-49). Many years ago Sir John Lawrence posed the rhetorical question: ‘What does the average church member want? He wants a building that looks like a church, Services of the kind he has been used to, Ministers who dress in the way he approves … and to be left alone!’ Is this observation still true today? Sadly ‘the proof of the pudding has been in the eating’. I visited a church some time ago and the first thing that struck me as I entered was a large notice that said: ‘Switch it off, unplug it, and empty it!’ Fortunately, it turned out to be instructions for the hot water boiler and not the Mission Statement for the Church?! Sadly, it could well have been the mission statement for many a church over the last 50+ years.

As a church we have a ‘Vision Day’ coming up in August. It will be an opportunity to re-think, re-work, re-pray our own ‘Mission Statement’. I hope we will use the day well. It is not a day for recrimination or regret (although perhaps a little repentance for missed opportunities in the past may not be entirely out of place). It is a day to seek, discover, and affirm the plans and purposes God still has for us (Jeremiah 29:11). We need to be brave enough to consign the outdated map we have been following to the heritage cupboard, and embrace God’s up-to-date Route Planning Map for 2021/22. I am not suggesting that following the so-called ‘New Churches’ Sat Nav is any better by the way. Many of these churches are discovering that their way of being and doing church is equally dated (far too caught up with Sunday stuff, sung worship, personal prophecy, etc. than selfless service in the community in Christ’s name seven days a week). Even Sat Nav’s need to be regularly updated!

God’s road map for us is unique (as with every other church). We can only find it by prayerfully waiting on God – and we need to start doing that right now, not waiting until the Vision Day itself to decide yet again to do nothing until we have prayed about it some more! We need to come with ‘God ideas’ not just ‘good ideas’ of our own. God will show us the way forward as we genuinely seek him. As in the days of the Prophet Isaiah we too ‘will hear a voice behind [us] saying, “This is the way. Follow it, whether it turns to the right or to the left.”’ (Isaiah 30:21)! Mixing metaphors, let’s dare to believe God has kept the best wine until last (John 2:10)!

One more step along the world I go,
One more step along the world I go;
From the old things to the new,
Keep me travelling along with you:

And it’s from the old I travel to the new;
Keep me travelling along with you.

Round the corners of the world I turn,
More and more about the world I learn;
All the new things that I see
You’ll be looking at along with me.

As I travel through the bad and good,
Keep me travelling the way I should.
Where I see no way to go,
You’ll be telling me the way, I know:

Give me courage when the world is rough,
Keep me loving though the world is tough;
Leap and sing in all I do,
Keep me travelling along with you:

You are older than the world can be,
You are younger than the life in me;
Ever old and ever new,
Keep me travelling along with you.

~ Sydney Carter (1915-2004)

Jim Binney

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THIS IS MY BODY … BROKEN FOR YOU (Views from the Abbey 25)

Tuesday evening at Spurgeon’s College back in the 1960s was Devotional Evening when the entire college community would gather in the College Chapel for corporate worship and to listen to God’s Word together, and once a month to share Communion. One such evening we had a somewhat elderly retired Baptist Minister – prominent in his day – leading our time together. It was a wonderful evening but when we came to Communion he really struggled to break the bread (whoever had prepared the Communion had neglected to subtly cut the underside of the loaf beforehand). Initially we feared that the Minister’s struggle to tear the loaf would spoil the evening … but actually it made it. Having spoken to us of the cost of the cross for Jesus on our behalf, the Minister’s seemingly endless battle to break the bread reminded us that it was no easy thing for Jesus to make salvation possible for us!

I thought then, and I have often thought since, that when Jesus first spoke those highly significant words, ‘This is my body … broken for you’ at the Last Supper (recorded in all three Synoptic Gospels), he was not just thinking of his own body about to be broken on Calvary’s cross, but thinking of the disciples seated with him around the table – the embryonic church, if you like – the body of believers, the ‘body of Christ’ as the Apostle Paul describes the Church (1 Corinthians 12:27). Did Jesus, just for a moment, lift his eyes look at these handful of believers and envisage a church made up of men and women, their lives laid on the altar of life for God, going out into a broken, rebellious, hurting, yet needy society to take the life-transforming Gospel (in all its multi-faceted layers) out into the world.

Bob Pierce (1914-78) was an American Baptist Minister and evangelist. Much of his work was in Asia, but after a visit to suffering children on an island in Korea, a significant sea change took place in his life. He was so deeply moved by the sacrificial service of the dedicated missionaries that he met, and the plight of those people they sought to serve in Christ’s name, that he became a changed man.  He wrote this famous prayer in the flyleaf of his Bible: ‘Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God!’ He came home and founded (the now well-known) Christian Relief Organisation, World Vision in 1950. I vividly recall reading Richard Gehman’s book Let My Heart Be Broken (which tells Pierce’s story) c. 1968 whilst a student at Spurgeon’s. My friend, and prayer partner, David Carter read it at the same time and one day felt so deeply moved that we both prayed that same prayer in one of our prayer times. After we had prayed it there was a long pause … and then David turned to me and said, ‘I have a dreadful feeling that God heard that prayer … and took us seriously!’

It was a former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple (1881-1944) who famously suggested that ‘The Church is the only organisation that does not exist for itself, but for those who live outside of it.’ Are we prepared, as individual Christians and as a church, to be ‘broken’ by Christ so that like the alabaster jar (in the incident at the home of Simon the Leper recorded in Mark 14:3,4) the fragrance of Jesus might fill the room? If we continue to splash around in the shallows of preserving the existence of our church we will surely die, but if we ‘launch out into the deep’ (Luke 5:1-11) as Jesus exhorts us, we will not only survive but grow!

Broken for me, broken for you,

The body of Jesus, broken for you.

He offered His body, He poured out His soul;

Jesus was broken, that we might be whole:

Come to My table and with Me dine;

Eat of My bread and drink of My wine.

This is My body given for you;

Eat it remembering I died for you.

This is My blood I shed for you;

For your forgiveness, making you new.

Broken for me, broken for you,

The body of Jesus, broken for you.

~ Janet Lunt  

Jim Binney

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THE SECRET PLACE (Views from the Abbey 24)

Do you have a favourite place, a secret place, a place you retreat to whenever you want to be alone, when you want to pray perhaps? It may be a room in your house, or a place in your garden, or a seat in a local park, or somewhere further afield that you can only get to periodically but it is always special when you manage to get there.

Adam Melfort is the central character in John Buchan’s A Prince of the Captivity. An officer and a gentleman, a brilliant career lies ahead of him until he is imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. After he is released he embarks on daring missions in the service of his country, dangerous work behind enemy lines in World War I and espionage in 1920s. His favourite place is Eilean Bàn (Scottish Gaelic meaning White Island) a small island near the Isle of Skye, and it is a place he retreats to in his mind whenever he find himself in a stressful situation.

My favourite place is the beach at Tabgha, on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee [see photo above]. It would appear to have been Jesus’ favourite place as well. The site of a number of major miracles and events, significant conversations with his disciples, but also a place of retreat and prayer for Jesus. I have visited there several times and for me it certainly carries a sense of place and presence, the feeling that I am on holy ground. Of course I can’t get there at the drop of a hat so to speak, although (like Adam Melfort) I often go there in my mind’s eye. These days I often settle for a seat at the bottom of our garden, under the willow trees (when the weather is warm) or my small upstairs study (when the weather is bad). A secret place, a quiet space, is important when you simply want to be quiet, to think, to reflect, and above all to pray. When the famous Canadian missionary Isobel Kuhn (1901-1957) was first converted the only place she could find in a busy household was the broom cupboard. I recall a girl in our youth group at my home church in Greenford who, when she first became a Christian, used to go to the bathroom when she wanted to spend time with God? It doesn’t really matter where our ‘secret place’ is, as long as we find a place, a ‘sacred space’, where we can be alone with God.

Jesus taught us, ‘When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Amen, I tell you, they have their reward in full!  But you, when you pray, go into your inner room; and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, shall reward you.  And when you are praying, do not babble on and on like the pagans; for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.’ (Matthew 6:5-8). It was Leonard Ravenhill who, a number of years now, suggested that ‘No man [or woman for that matter] is greater than his [her] prayer life. The pastor who is not praying is playing; the people who are not praying are straying. We have many organizers, but few agonizers; many players and payers, few pray-ers; many singers, few clingers; lots of pastors, few wrestlers; many fears, few tears; much fashion, little passion; many interferers, few intercessors; many writers, but few fighters. Failing here, we fail everywhere.’

Having said that, I have some sympathy for those people who, like Jesus’ disciples according to Luke’s version of this story (Luke 11:1-4), don’t know how to pray but want to learn. Or for those Christians who have lost their way and need help to start building back a vibrant relationship with God once again. Some years ago, in order to try and help people like this, I distributed a little booklet called Seven Minutes with God [you can find a copy at https://navigators.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/7-Minutes.pdf] to members of the congregation of the church where I was the Pastor at the time. I was roundly criticised for doing this, not for the act itself, but because I was ‘encouraging people to only pray for seven minutes each day’ when, in the eyes of some, they should be spending a lot longer in prayer! Facetiously, I have to confess, I did wonder how long those who were most vociferous in their comments and criticisms actually spent in prayer themselves each day?

The whole point of the little booklet is to help people who struggle with setting aside time to be with God, to think, to meditate, to just ‘be’ sometimes, to pray.  It is simply meant to ‘prime the pump’ so to speak, to get us going again in the realm of personal prayer. It helpfully suggests taking the first 30 seconds to prepare our hearts, the next four minutes listening to God (by reading a short section of Scripture), and the final two and a half minutes talking to God in prayer. Commenting on this simple outline Bob Foster suggests, ‘Very soon you will discover that it is impossible to spend only seven minutes with the Lord. An amazing thing happens – seven minutes become 20, and it’s not long before you’re spending 30 precious minutes with Him.’ Foster is also quick to point out, however, that developing a prayer habit in this way should be for the right reasons not the wrong: ‘Do not become devoted to the habit, but to the Saviour. Do it not because other people are doing it, not as a spiritless duty every morning, not merely as an end in itself, but because God has granted the priceless privilege of fellowship with himself.’

So why not give it a go? You don’t have to tell anybody what you are doing or why you are doing it. You don’t have to ‘clock in’ or report back to the Pastor on your progress. If you want a deeper walk with God … start by giving him just seven minutes and see what happens!

There is a place of quiet rest,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where sin cannot molest,

Near to the heart of God. 

O Jesus, blest Redeemer,
Sent from the heart of God,
Hold us, who wait before Thee,
Near to the heart of God.

There is a place of comfort sweet,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where we our Saviour meet,
Near to the heart of God.

There is a place of full release,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where all is joy and peace,
Near to the heart of God.

~ Cleland Boyd McAfee (1866-1944)

Jim Binney

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There is a character in a Bernard Cornwell historical fiction novel, set in and around the north of England in the 10th century, called Bishop Jeremias (or ‘the mad bishop’ as he was sometimes known). Bishop Jeremias was originally a Norse Jarl (or Lord) who ‘converted’ to Christianity but rather than settle for being a humble follower of Jesus Christ immediately declared himself to be a bishop. In reality, like a number of clerics in those days, he was pretty clueless about Christian doctrine, especially the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit, as demonstrated by the fact that he went around blessing people ‘In the name of the Father, the Son … and the Other One!’ In fairness to Bishop Jeremias, he did at least recognise that the Christian God was a Trinity even if he didn’t have a clue as to who the Third Member of the Trinity was or what he did?

This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, the day in the Church Calendar when we celebrate the coming of God the Holy Spirit upon the embryonic Christian Church as they gathered prayerfully in Jerusalem in response to Jesus’ command to ‘wait there for the promise of the Father … the baptism with the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 1:4,5). The story of that amazing experience which those first 120 or so disciples entered into is recorded in Acts 2:1-4 – an experience that transformed them from a group of fearful believers hiding away behind locked doors into a bold fearless group out on the streets of the city proclaiming Jesus to all and sundry. Moreover, the Apostle Peter, in his powerful sermon preached to the gathered crowds on that first Day of Pentecost in the Christian era, made it clear that this life-transforming experience he and his fellow believers had entered into that very day was not just for them but for all who would truly believe and turn to Jesus: ‘Change your life. Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is targeted to you and your children, but also to all who are far away—whomever, in fact, our Master God invites’ (Acts 2:38,39 The Message).

Jeff Kennedy, in his book Father, Son, and the Other One: Experiencing the Holy Spirit as a Transforming, Empowering Reality in Your Life reminds us that ‘God’s Spirit Lives in You’ but goes on to ask, ‘Do you believe it? What’s more, are you experiencing His power in your life? All too often we settle for merely learning about God rather than experiencing the present reality of His Spirit. But you have access to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit right now and if you want to live out your Christian faith with vibrancy and authenticity, it is essential that you get to know Him!’ Kennedy addresses the vital importance of the Holy Spirit in our lives and shows us how to experience His presence as a transforming, empowering reality. He concludes by encouraging us that ‘If you have ever wondered if the Christian faith is more than mere creeds, doctrines and denominations, or if you long to know that the Jesus of history still lives and dwells in you by the Spirit of God, or if you struggle to tap into God’s presence as a transforming, empowering reality’ then we too can come into such an experience of God if we will take the Apostle Peter’s words at face value.

But how do we know that we have truly been ‘filled with the Spirit’ (Acts 2:4) like those first believers? Someone recently sent me a Mark Pothier quote on Facebook that poignantly said: ‘The Holy Spirit doesn’t just make you dance and speak in tongues, He also makes you shut-up, apologise, and examine yourself!’ How true! I have long believed that the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit is much more a ‘spiritual litmus test’ of what it really means to be filled with the Spirit than any manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit. How we behave is a much truer test than what we profess to believe. This was brought home to me very powerfully when, as a ministerial student at Spurgeon’s College in 1968 I personally came into a similar experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit akin to those first disciples at Pentecost. For me, however, the real test of the genuineness of my experience was not found in any manifestation of any supernatural gift of the Spirit (although I did experience that also) but when I came back to my home church in Greenford a couple of weeks later in order to attend an important Church Business Meeting.

I have to say that I was appalled at the way some people behaved in that meeting – the argumentativeness, the attitude, the dogmatism, the language, the rudeness, the negativity, the verbal abuse dished out to fellow Christians and our Pastor, the bullying, etc., etc. It so disturbed me that I burst into tears in the middle of the meeting – a 25 year-old man, 6’4” tall, 15 stone in weight – sobbing uncontrollably in a Church Meeting as God the Holy Spirit I suspect also ‘cried out’ within me ‘with deep feelings that words cannot explain’ (Romans 8:26). My reaction also had quite an impact on the Church Meeting as you might have expected! I have to say however, that what disturbed me most, was the certain knowledge that in previous Church Meetings (prior to my own personal Pentecost experience) I had behaved, and would have continued to behave, in exactly the same way without realising how contrary to the way of Christ such behaviour was!

So the real test of whether or not we are filled with the Spirit – the real test of whether or not we still need to be filled with the Spirit – is not found in whether we speak in tongues, or have the ability to heal the sick or deliver the demonised, etc., but in how we behave in a Church Business Meeting, or a Deacons’ Meeting (I had been elected as a Deacon at 21 years of age, the youngest Deacon in the church’s history, and had behaved just as badly there as I had in Church Meetings – in fact I had probably learned a lot of bad habits right there, ‘mirroring’ the behaviour of some of the other Deacons who were more senior than I was), or with our fellow church members, or in other public meetings (where we may be the only Christian present), and so on.

It used to be said that ‘The Holy Spirit is the forgotten member of the Trinity.’ I recall the days when Roman Catholics were accused of believing in ‘God the Father, God the Son, and God the Virgin Mary’, and Protestants of believing in ‘God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Bible.’ Those day are long gone now. We can no longer refer to God the Holy Spirit as ‘the Other One’ because we are clueless about who He is and what He does. But it is one thing to know a lot about Someone … and quite another thing to know Someone in such an intimate, personal way that they affect our lives deeply, and inexorably, for the better!

A good few years ago my friend Peter Tongeman wrote a poem called Only One Thing Missing. It’s somewhat dated now but I wonder if it actually still has something to say to us today.

We are organised for mission, we are ready for outreach,

We use the latest guidebooks with the children whom we teach,

We are mildly ecumenical – its excesses are deplored.

There’s only one thing missing – that’s the Spirit of the Lord!

We have regular Church Meetings where each member has their say,

And twelve Deacons to ensure that we decide the proper way.

We’ve a worthy Constitution and we act with one accord,

There’s only one thing missing – that’s the Spirit of the Lord!

We use the Baptist Hymn Book and our organ is first rate,

The prayers are always quite the best, and we never finish late.

The furnishings are in good taste, the best we can afford.

There’s only one thing missing – that’s the Spirit of the Lord!

On Monday there is Girls’ Brigade; on Tuesday it’s the lads.

On Wednesday night we meet for prayer, on Thursday it’s the dads.

On Friday night Young Wives and Choir, thus no group is ignored.

There’s only one thing missing – that’s the Spirit of the Lord!

If only we could shed our pride and learn humility,

And concentrate on Christ, instead of our ability.

By simply letting him take charge our faith would be restored

In the wonders of his saving power – through the Spirit of the Lord!

~ Peter Tongeman (1929-2009) 

Jim Binney

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SHAKEN NOT STIRRED (Post-Easter 2021)

Grapefruit juice, fly-killer, enamel paint, cough mixture, window cleaning liquid, air freshener … No, I’m not delirious through overwork. Nor have I picked up Julia’s shopping list in mistake for my notes. I’m just thinking of how many household items bear the label ‘shake well before use’. Shaking has its hazards, as a college friend of mine discovered when he shook a bottle of tomato sauce without ensuring that the top was screwed on. But usually, it seems that the full flavour, the full power, the full benefit of so many things only comes out when you shake the bottle well. I wonder if we too need to be shaken before use.

We are approaching the Festival of Pentecost, that time in the Christian calendar when we celebrate that first great outpouring of God the Holy Spirit in power upon the Church (Acts 2:1-4). The Lectionary suggests that as we come towards the end of Easter we begin to focus on this wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church (Acts 1:1-11). What actually happened at Pentecost? Was this the time when those first followers of Jesus actually became ‘Christians’? When they were ‘born again of the Spirit’ (John 3:6)? The Church’s ‘birthday’ if you like? Or were those 120 or so gathered together in the Upper Room (Acts 1:15) already true believers? After all they had ‘confessed Christ’ (Matthew 16:13-20) – Peter was simply the spokesperson on behalf of them all – and they had all ‘received the Holy Spirit’ when Jesus had breathed on them earlier in that same Upper Room (John 20:22). In this case Pentecost was more of an ‘empowering for service’ (Acts 1:8) given the task of taking the Gospel out to the rest of the world Jesus entrusted to his Church (Luke 24:44-49).  

We must not take this empowering for service for granted. We must not presume that we have this power when we blatantly do not have it. One of the rules of biblical hermeneutics (the way in which we correctly interpret scripture) demands ‘an honest reading of the text’. In other words we need to hear what the Bible is actually saying, not twist a verse or passage to suit ourselves, our own views or opinions. We perhaps need to apply this same principle to ourselves – we need an honest reading of ‘the text of our own lives’. When my friend, the Evangelist William Hartley, was younger he realised that although he was a Christian he did not have God given power in his life. He took himself off to the Keswick Convention for a week. In those days (it has changed now) Keswick teaching held that you could claim the filling of the Holy Spirit simply by faith. So, at the final meeting when a call was made for those who wanted to be ‘filled with the Spirit’ to stand, and claim the gift William did just that. He felt no different but took it for granted that, in his own words, he had ‘received the Spirit’. When he got home his wife asked him if anything had happened, and William replied, ‘I’ve got it!’ A week or two later, seeing that nothing had significantly changed in her husband’s life, his wife asked him, ‘William where is it?’ You see nothing had actually happened at Keswick for William. He simply presumed that he had been filled with the Spirit when he actually hadn’t. Eventually he recognised this, and gave himself to prayer and waiting on God until one day he was indeed genuinely gloriously ‘filled with the Spirit’ just like those embryonic believers on that first day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4).

What happened at Pentecost was not a ‘one-off’, however, and we see the same thing repeated again and again as the story of the New Testament church unfolds. In Acts 4:23-31 we see one such incident. Peter and John are arrested by the Sanhedrin for preaching the gospel on the streets of Jerusalem, following the miraculous healing of the crippled beggar by the Beautiful Gate of the Temple, and told not to preach in the name of Jesus ever again (vs.1-22). On their release their response was to share the situation with the rest of the church who then gave themselves to earnest prayer over the matter. Although the text suggests that they began praying feeling somewhat cowed and deflated, as they recall the salvation history of God’s ancient people, and remember how God repeatedly intervened on their behalf, they get more and more excited and enthused, and end up praying for quite the reverse of the Sanhedrin’s demands: ‘And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus’ (vs.29,30). Luke goes on to tell us that: ‘When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness’ (v.31). The building was shaken, the believers were shaken, and … as we see from reading on in the account … Jerusalem itself was shaken as a new phase of spiritual awakening broke out throughout the city

Pentecost was never meant to be a one off. It was always meant to simply be the first in a whole production line of believers and churches being filled with the Holy Spirit and ‘endued with power from on high’ (Luke 24:49) in order to be effective witnesses for Jesus in this needy, broken, and hurting world in which we live. When Peter spoke to the crowds on that first day of Pentecost he told them that what these embryonic followers of Jesus had received from God was not just for them but for everyone: ‘For the promises for you for, for your children, and for all who are far away [including us today], everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him (Acts 2:39).

I recall speaking on this passage in a certain church some years ago. After the Service, a lady came up to me at the door and said, ‘Oh dear! We don’t want anything supernatural in this church!’ ‘What not even God?’ I replied. On the contrary what we do really need (and not just us at Abbey) is indeed a fresh, overwhelming, infilling with the Holy Spirit, and a new enduement with power from on high, that overflows into the wider community bringing the blessing of God with it! I’m not a great fan of Martinis, but when it comes down to the Person work of the Holy Spirit, I’m with James Bond. A few spiritual ripples here and there, that fail to disturb our calm spiritual sea, is not what is required today!  We need to be shaken not stirred. But … are we brave enough to face up to our need … and brave enough to pray for God to come and do something significant among us? To pray with the late Daniel Iverson (1890-1977):

Spirit of the living God,

Fall afresh on me.

Spirit of the living God,

Fall afresh on me.

Break me, melt me, mould me, fill me.

Spirit of the living God,

Fall afresh on me.

Jim Binney

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… AND BREATHE (Post-Easter 2021)

Apparently 11 April is World Breathing Day, an annual global event that invites everyone to remember, experience and celebrate the healing and unifying power of breath. We all breathe, and we all breathe the same air, yet rarely do we stop to acknowledge how fundamentally important our breath is, or how it connects us to our planet and to each other beyond our differences. It was only after major heart surgery in June 2014 that I really appreciated the value of breath, and realised just how bad my breathing was prior to the operation. Without boring you with the details I had a congenital heart defect that actually stole oxygen from my body – particularly during extreme effort when playing various sports (which is why I never played football or cricket for England, I now realise), or times of stress – which the operation corrected. I still recall with pleasure taking those first breaths after my operation and being able to breathe really deeply for the first time in living memory.

According to the hymnwriter James Montgomery (1771-1854), ‘Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath, the Christian’s native air’. I wonder just how true this actually is in our personal experience. Is prayer as vitally important to us as the actual air that we breathe? A recent Bible Society survey suggests that the ‘average Christian’ spends just 60 seconds a day in prayer? As you would expect, the same survey revealed that members of the clergy fared much better. Seemingly the ‘average cleric’ spends 90 seconds a day in prayer. Whilst it is true, of course, that quality is more important than quantity, the measure of a man or woman can undoubtedly be gauged by the depth of their prayer life. As the godly Church of Scotland Minister, Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-43), once penetratingly observed, ‘What a man is on his knees before God, that he is … and nothing more!’

The Lectionary suggests that during this Post-Easter period in the life of the Church we give some time to reflecting on John 17. The whole of John 17 is taken up with a single prayer offered by Jesus. It is often referred to as Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer or Consecration Prayer. The four Gospels contain quite a number of the prayers which Jesus prayed in the hearing of other people, but nearly all of them are remarkably brief. They were to the point and incisive. For example, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11) he prayed aloud for the benefit of those who were witnessing the event. But it was a very short, simple prayer. Even the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:5-15), which Jesus gave us as a model for the way we should pray, is very brief. But it is crammed with important things, and says to God just about everything we need to say to him.

The length of the prayers we pray is not a measure of our spirituality. In fact, Jesus condemned the Pharisees for praying long public prayers in order to give people the impression that they were devout. It is a good rule to pray long prayers in private and brief prayers in public. The only time when a long prayer is of spiritual value is when we are praying in private, when we are spending time alone with God, trying to find out what his will is and to know what his thoughts are, or interceding for others. Jesus was able to pray short, powerful prayers in public because he prayed so much in private; he had a very strong relationship with his Father. Often he would go off alone, getting away from his disciples and the crowds of followers, and would spend time with God, seeking his face. His public prayer was incisive and effective because it was supported by a great deal of private prayer.

But why did Jesus spend so much time in prayer? After all he was God in his own right, co-equal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. Surely, he already knew what was going to happen? Surely he had already willed future events. What we fail to recognise is that because of his Incarnation Jesus laid aside many of his divine attributes and exercised his earthly ministry primarily in the power of the Third Person of the Trinity (rather than in his own inherent power). As the Apostle Paul tells us, ‘Jesus has always been as God is. But He did not hold to His rights as God. He put aside everything that belonged to Him and made Himself the same as a servant who is owned by someone. He became human by being born as a man. After He became a man, He gave up His important place and obeyed by dying on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8 New Life Version). Thus, prayer was of vital importance to Jesus – as vital as the air he breathed! Now, if Jesus needed to be a man of prayer … how much more so do we need to be men and women of prayer?

Can I encourage you (if necessary) to make a fresh start with your prayer life. Set aside a specific time each day for personal prayer (even if it is just a few minutes). If you are married to a fellow Christian (or have a close Christian friend) make time each day (or each week if each day is too difficult) to spend some time praying together (even if it is again only for a few minutes to begin with). Make the effort to attend the weekly Church Prayer Meeting (and if the time is not convenient for you either change your schedule or get together with a few others at a more suitable time each week to pray with them). Corporate prayer is just as vital for a local church as prayer is for the individual. There is a good argument to suggest that the Church Prayer Meeting is a better place for making corporate decisions than either the Deacons’ Meeting or the Church Business Meeting (unless both of these latter meetings are themselves ‘soaked’ in prayer). There was good reason why our Baptist forefathers held their Church Business Meetings either following on from the mid-week Church Prayer Meeting or from the Sunday Morning Worship Meeting.

‘I’m not one for sunbathing,’ Dr Rowan Williams told Radio 2 listeners recently, ‘too much lying around and I get fidgety and a bit guilty. But there is something about sunbathing that tells us more about what prayer is like than any amount of religious jargon.’ So what is Dr Williams saying here? That prayer is like a former Archbishop of Canterbury in Speedos lying around on a deckchair? No! As Dr Williams went on to explain, ‘You’re not going to get a better tan by screwing up your eyes and concentrating … you simply have to be there where the light can get at you!’

Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath,
the Christian’s native air,
his watchword at the gates of death:
he enters heaven with prayer.

O Thou by whom we come to God,
the Life, the Truth, the Way,
the path of prayer thyself hast trod:
Lord, teach us how to pray!

~ James Montgomery

Jim Binney

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QUESTION MARK MINDS? (Post-Easter 2021)

When it comes to the resurrection stories of Jesus everybody’s favourite character is Thomas – Doubting Thomas – although few will admit it. We love Thomas because we find it easy to identify with him, and the fact that he eventually found his way to vital faith encourages us all. Thomas was ‘a man with a question mark mind’ (Lindsay Glegg). To Thomas, the cross was only what he expected. When Jesus (having received the news of his friend Lazarus’ serious illness) proposed going to Bethany (a very dangerous decision since the Jewish authorities were looking for an opportunity to dispose of Jesus) Thomas’ reaction was predictable: ‘Let us also go so that we may die with him’ (John 11:16). Thomas never lacked courage, but Thomas was also a natural pessimist. There can never be any doubt that Thomas loved Jesus. He loved him enough to go to Jerusalem to die with him when the other disciples had been hesitant and afraid.

What Thomas had expected had eventually happened (albeit later on) and when it happened Thomas was broken hearted. So broken hearted that all Thomas wanted was to be alone with his grief. So when the risen Jesus appeared to his disciples Thomas was not there (John 20:19-24) and the news that Jesus was alive seemed far too good to be true, and he refused to believe it! Belligerent in his pessimism, he said that he would never believe that Jesus had risen from the dead until he had seen and handled the print of the nails in Jesus his hands and thrust his hand into the wound the spear had made in Jesus side (v.25). Another week elapsed and Jesus appeared again to the disciples and this time Thomas was with them (v.26). Jesus repeats Thomas’ own words back to him and invites him to fulfil the tests he had demanded (v.27). Thomas is wrecked! All he can do is fall on his knees. All he can say is: ‘My Lord and my God!’ (v.28).

We love Thomas because many of us also have ‘question mark minds’. We must not let our empathy for Thomas cloud the truth of the situation, however. There is an old saying that still has merit, ‘Hate the sin, but love the sinner!’ We love Thomas but he had feet of clay. By nature he appears to have been a pessimist. He always expected the worst to happen. He was rather like my late father-in-law whose favourite saying was, ‘Behind every silver lining there is a dark cloud!’ He was like Puddleglum the Marshwiggle (in C S Lewis’ Narnia stories) who always expects the sky to fall on his head at any given moment. Everything changed for Thomas, however, when he finally came face-to-face with the risen Christ. According to Christian tradition Thomas became the first of the Apostles to take the Gospel outside the boundaries of the Roman Empire becoming the first Christian missionary to India, and even possibly China, such was the strength of his new-found faith! If Thomas were here with us today, no doubt he would encourage us to stop doubting and start believing! So what can we learn from John’s account of Jesus and Thomas?

A Common Mistake: Thomas made a huge mistake when he withdrew from Christian fellowship. John tells us here that ‘Thomas … one of the Twelve was not with the disciples when Jesus came’ (v.24). Thomas sought isolation rather than togetherness, and because he was not there with his fellow Christians he missed that first coming of Jesus to the upper room. We miss a great deal when we separate ourselves from Christian fellowship, and when we try to go it alone. There are times, when like Jesus, we need to retreat, but real danger comes when life becomes a total retreat from church.  We all have times (even when we are Christians) when sorrow or doubt or despair threaten to envelop us, and escaping to isolation seems to be the way to go. May I suggest that this is the very time when, in spite of how we are feeling, we need to seek the fellowship of Christ’s people for it is there that we are most likely to find loving support, come face-to-face with Christ himself, and experience the renewal of hope and even faith itself. Which is why, of course, the Writer to the Hebrews encourages us to ‘not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but [rather] encourage one another [by continuing to meet together] … all the more so as you sense the Day [of Christ’s return] approaching’ (Hebrews 10:25). A Pastor went to visit a church member who had not been near the church for months. They sat together in front of an open fire as the Pastor listened to the man explain that you didn’t have to go to church to be a Christian, etc., etc. The Pastor knew it was pointless to argue. All he did was to take hold of the tongs and remove a glowing coal from the fire and place it in the hearth. Together they watched the coal smoke and cool and finally go out. The Pastor then took the same coal and placed it back on the fire where, in the company of other burning coals, it caught fire again. The Pastor made no comment before leaving. Next Sunday the man was back in church again!

An Uncompromising Honesty: Despite his disparaging nickname, Thomas had two great virtues. Firstly, he absolutely refused to say that he believed when he didn’t believe. When the other disciples told him they had seen the Lord, Thomas refused to believe without seeing the Lord for himself (v.25). Thomas would never say that he understood what he did not understand, or that he believed what he did not believe. There is an uncompromising honesty about Thomas. Thomas would never still his doubts by pretending that they did not exist. Thomas was not the sort to rattle off a creed without understanding what it was all about. Thomas had to be sure. ‘There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds’ (Alfred Lord Tennyson). There is more ultimate faith in the person who insists on being sure than in the person who glibly repeats things which they have never thought out and which they do not really believe. Thomas was what we might call an ‘honest doubter’. Unlike what we might call a ’dishonest doubter’, Thomas wanted genuine answers to genuine questions rather than simply excuses not to believe, not to respond, not to take any meaningful action.

A Whole-Hearted Commitment: Thomas’ other great virtue was that when he was sure, he went the whole way! There was no halfway house with Thomas. Thomas was not airing his doubts just for the sake of mental aerobatics. Thomas doubted in order to be sure. He asked questions in order to find genuine answers. And when he did become sure, his surrender to certainty was complete. When Thomas confesses Jesus Christ as ‘My Lord and my God!’ (v.28) the Greek word translated ‘Lord’ (kurios) means ‘master, owner’ – the word by which a bond-servant or slave would acknowledge their master – signifying Thomas’ total allegiance to Jesus Christ. In passing, we should note (in the light of Thomas’ earlier mistake) that this kind of commitment went much farther than just going back to church on a Sunday. Let me encourage you to be more than merely a ‘Sunday Morning Christian’. Those early Christians ‘joined with the other believers in regular attendance at the apostles’ teaching sessions and at the Communion servicesand prayer meetings’ (Acts 2:42 LB).  If someone fights their way through their doubts to the conviction that Jesus Christ is Lord, they have attained a certainty that the person who unthinkingly accepts things can never reach. ‘The person who has fought their way through doubt is the surest person in Christendom!’ (William Barclay). 

There is an old legend about Thomas that, sometime after this experience in the upper room, Thomas fell into doubt once again. He went to see Peter, James and John but they were all too busy to help him. He found his way to Dorcas, who was also busy stitching away when Thomas came in. ‘Dorcas, I’m full of doubt again,’ Thomas blurted out, ‘can you help me?’  ‘Look here Thomas’ replied Dorcas, ‘go out and do something! Go and tell somebody that Christ died for their sins and rose again according to the scriptures!’ And Thomas went out, and said to the first man he met, ‘Do you know that Christ lives? He died for our sins but he rose again for you and for me!’ And right there and then, so the story goes, Thomas and the stranger went down on their knees together … and both rose up triumphant in faith!

Jim Binney



When I was a lad I was a Cub Scout (for a short while … more about that later). We met every Wednesday evening in the big hall (which was actually quite little) in Betham Infants School just along the road from the British Legion in Greenford where we lived at the time (that’s another story in itself). My father (being an ex-military man) was keen for me to join a uniformed organisation, hence why I was forced to join the scouts. I hated it! Too much discipline, and (in my eyes) suspect male leadership … although Akela was OK (perhaps because she was a nice lady like my mum).

On my first Church Parade Sunday (we had them once every month) we all had to march past the British Legion on the way to Holy Cross Church. There was quite a crowd of adoring parents en route to watch us march by and (so the story goes) my mother turned to my father, as I marched by, and said, ‘Why is everybody out of step except our Jimmy?’

Today we are thinking about that post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to his disciples in the Upper Room, recorded by the Apostle John in the Fourth Gospel (John 20:19-23), where Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into his disciples (v.22). Some commentators see this action as pre-figuring the events of the first Day of Pentecost (the Johannine version of Pentecost, if you like) but the Greek text suggests that a tangible impartation of the Holy Spirit actually took place in that moment. Whichever way we look at it, what is clear is that what makes someone a Christian involves a moment (known or unknown) when God the Holy Spirit enters into our hearts and lives, and imparts new spiritual or divine life to us. This, of course, is what Jesus was getting at when he bluntly told Nicodemus (the top Jewish theologian of the day) that he needed to be ‘born of water and the Spirit’ (John 3:5). Just as he had needed to be born physically in order to receive the gift of life, so he needed to be born spiritually in order to receive the gift of divine life! Nicodemus may have known a lot of theology but he didn’t know God in a real, intimate, personal way until that moment. The fact that Nicodemus appears again in the Gospel story – playing a significant part with Joseph of Arimathea in Jesus’ burial (John 19:38-42) – suggests that this initial meeting with Jesus proved to be a significant turning point in Nicodemus’ life.

The Apostle Paul takes this a step further, however, when he tells the Galatian Church (and us today) that it is not enough simply to be ‘made alive by the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:25a) we also need to ‘keep in step with the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:25b NIV). We are back to the analogy of the cub scout (or the soldier) marching in step, not just with his or her fellows, but with God. Learning to keep in time with ‘the unforced rhythms of grace’ as Jesus put it in Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message). This, of course, requires a sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Some of us are instinctively uninhibited by nature. We get an idea, see an opportunity, which we believe God is in … and we want to ‘go for it’ immediately. Sometimes this is right, but sometimes we get ahead of the game, and instead of ‘keeping in step with the Spirit’ we go rushing in ‘where angels fear to tread’ (Alexander Pope). Others of us are reticent by nature. As soon as anyone suggests a new idea, a different way forward, our natural inclination is to resist. We immediately look for the problems rather than the possibilities. We advocate ‘taking more time’ in order to be sure, and although we do need to be wise, we must be careful not to lag behind where God is going, and end up ‘resisting the Spirit’ (Acts 7:51) or even ‘quenching the Spirit’ (1 Thessalonians 5:19). If we are to ‘keep in step with the Spirit’ however, we need to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. We need to be prayerful. We need to listen to God. Above all we need to be obedient, and willing to walk by faith and not by sight – whether that means taking more time or getting on with the task God is putting before us. As a general principle I would suggest that we always try and do the positive thing even if it means making the harder choice. In Greek when faced (as we are sometimes) by two alternative translations – for example should Mark 9:29 simply be limited to ‘prayer’ or should it include ‘prayer and fasting’ – the ‘rule of thumb’ is always opt for the harder reading (in this case include ‘fasting’). So, when faced with a choice as to how God wants us to respond to whatever it is that he is putting before us … probably the harder choice is the right one! It was Robert Kennedy who suggested that when faced with a challenging choice ‘Many people ask “Why?” I ask, “Why not?”’

In writing this, I am mindful of the story of the twelve ‘spies’ Moses (on God’s initiative) sent into Canaan to ‘suss out’ the Promised Land (Numbers 13). Two of them (Joshua and Caleb) came back thrilled and excited about this land God had promised them – a land ‘flowing with milk and honey’ (v.27) – and encouraged the people to ‘go up at once and occupy it’ (v.30). But the other 10 ‘brought an unfavourable report’ (v.32a) seeing only problems ahead – ‘a land full of giants’ (v.32b) that were impossible to overcome. Cutting a long story short we see in the next chapter that the people held a ‘church meeting’ and rejected Joshua and Caleb’s call … and as a result they spent the next 40 years wandering in the wilderness before they finally came back to the same place and finally crossed over into the Promised Land (Joshua 3,4). What can we learn from this? If you are not certain about a path being advocated, but don’t strongly feel one way or another, then I recommend you follow the direction being suggested by those who clearly have a God-given ‘gift of leadership’ (Romans 12:8 NIV). This is why, of course, we call certain people to primary leadership (Ephesians 4:11,12) in the local church. Every Minister is, to some degree an ‘apostle’ (with a small ‘a’) – a ‘sent one’, sent (alongside the other aspects of ministry indicated in Ephesians 4:11), to ‘lead’ the church, to give a renewed sense of direction, a way forward.

So why did I eventually leave the Cubs? I know you are longing to find out. Well … I didn’t actually leave, I got thrown out for fighting! I had to hand back my itchy green jumper, my cap, my scarf, and my woggle (I loved that woggle). As church we too are called to ‘fight the good fight’ (Ephesians 6:10-20) but that fight needs to be ‘out there’ on the battlefield, not ‘in here’ in the barracks! As Jesus repeatedly says to his Church: ‘Let anyone who has an ear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches’ (Revelation 3:6 et al).

He came to you, for in His gentle voice,

He’d much that He would say …

You ears were turned to earth’s discordant note,

And so … He went away.

He came, and in His hand He had a task,

That He would have you do.

But you were occupied with other things,

And so you missed that too.

He would have touched you, and His touch could thrill,

And give you quickening power,

But earthly things enveloped, and you could

Not feel Him in that hour.

Jim Binney

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When I was the Pastor of the Assemblies of God Church in Newbridge (in the late 1970s) there was an elderly lady, Mrs Pullen, who had been converted during the 1904 Welsh Revival. During open times of prayer and worship in the Sunday Morning Breaking of Bread Service she was the first one up to pray. She sat in the front pew and, even though she was only 5’ nothing, would stand tall, and always begin her prayer the same way: ‘Lord, I thank you that I was born in the fire …’ (and then slowly turning to face the rest of the congregation would carry on) ‘… not in the smoke!’ She clearly thought the rest of us were somewhat lacking in terms of spiritual zeal for the Lord and his work.

For most of us the story of the two on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24:13-35) is a favourite account amongst the post-resurrection encounters with the Risen Christ recorded in the Bible. The two forlorn figures, their hopes and dreams shattered, trudging wearily home from Jerusalem to Emmaus, who are joined by a stranger on their journey. A familiar journey for Mr and Mrs Cleopas – a road well-travelled – that becomes for them a journey like no other. A journey of discovery as, slowly but surely, revelation dawns on them as to who this ‘Stranger’ actually is. The empathy with which he listens to their troubles (vs.13-24). The wonderful way in which he opens up the Scriptures for them so that they can understand that what is happening is not contrary to the will of God but right at the heart of it (vs.25-27).  The unintrusive way in which he accepts their invitation to enter their home (vs.28,29). The way in which he makes himself known to them through the breaking of bread (vs.30,31). We could learn a lot from reflecting at length on each of these facets which would help us both in understanding how Jesus can help us personally, and how we can minister effectively to others by following Jesus’ example.

What particularly struck me, however, as I re-read this familiar post-Easter passage (and what I would like us to especially think of now) is Mr and Mrs Cleopas’ particular response as they themselves reflect on this remarkable encounter with the Risen Christ. What was it that predominantly stood out to them? We can picture the scene in our mind’s eye as Luke describes them turning to each other and (in a moment of realisation) saying almost in unison: ‘Did not our hearts burn within us, whilst on the road, he opened up the Scriptures for us?’ (v.32).  It was not the empathy Jesus displayed in listening to their shattered dreams, nor the fact that he accepted their invitation to come and stay with them, nor even the fact that they recognised him in the sacramental act of breaking the bread, that left a lasting impression on them (as important all of these are). It was the personal experience of their hearts bursting into flame in response to Jesus opening up the Scriptures for them! 

In passing, it is important for us to note that it was the exposition of Scripture (more than anything else) that ignited the flame that started to burn in their hearts. For the Apostle Paul, it is the Scriptures that (under God) are our authority in all matters of faith and conduct, belief and behaviour. As he tells his young protégé Timothy: ‘There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another – showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us’ (2 Timothy 3:16,17 The Message). According to what we learn here, it is Scripture that uniquely has the inherent power to ignite zeal for God and his ways, within us – rather than empathic pastoral care, or ‘inviting Jesus into our hearts’, or even (dare I say it) the Sacraments, as important as all these things are – as long as we read Scripture and put its teachings into practice, of course.

But what does it mean to have a burning heart? The Greek word Luke uses here (kaiō) means ‘to set fire to’ and is used here metaphorically of the human heart being set on fire for God. It means more than simply being ‘enlightened’. It means being ‘set ablaze’ with understanding of, and enthusiasm for, God and the things of God. We are reminded of John Wesley’s testimony to his conversion on the 24 May 1738: ‘In the evening I went, very unwillingly, to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.’ It was Jim Elliot (a Christian missionary killed by Auca Indians in 1956) who asked himself (and us) the question: ‘Am I ignitable? God deliver me from the dread asbestos of “other things”. Saturate me with the oil of the Spirit that I may be a flame.’ Jesus came not simply to save us from the power of satan, sin, and death … but to set our hearts on fire for God. John the Baptist proclaimed that whereas he (John) baptised in water, Jesus came to ‘baptise us with the Holy Spirit and fire’ (Luke 3:16). A W Tozer once said, ‘Some fundamentalists know much about the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and too little about the dynamic of the Holy Spirit. Though every believer has the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit does not have every believer. In steering clear of “wildfire” fanaticism many of God’s children have only the “no fire” of formalism.’ John Wesley is reputed to have advised his fellow Methodists to ‘Light yourself on fire with passion, and people will come from miles to watch you burn!’

A Minister was roused from his sleep one night by the police with the news that his church had caught fire. Hurrying to the scene he found the fire brigade quickly bringing the fire under control. Apparently more serious damage had been averted by the prompt and zealous action of a man who lived just across from the church. He had spotted the fire, phoned the police and fire brigade, and also managed to put out a good proportion of the fire by the time the fire brigade arrived. Visiting the man a few days later, to thank him for his invaluable help and assistance, the Minister inquired as to why he had not seen the man in church before since he lived so close. ‘Well.’ the man replied, ‘the church has never been on fire before!’

Take a few moments to prayerfully reflect on what you have just read. Then use the verses of the following hymn (written by General William Booth of the Salvation Army, many years ago) as a prayer. Don’t rush through them … pray through each verse thoughtfully and with meaning.

Thou Christ of burning, cleansing flame,
Send the fire!
Thy blood-bought gift today we claim,
Send the fire!
Look down and see this waiting host,
Give us the promised Holy Ghost,
We want another Pentecost,
Send the fire!

God of Elijah, hear our cry:
Send the fire!
To make us fit to live or die,
Send the fire!
To burn up every trace of sin,
To bring the light and glory in,
The revolution now begin,
Send the fire!

‘Tis fire we want, for fire we plead,
Send the fire!
The fire will meet our every need,
Send the fire!
For strength to ever do the right,
For grace to conquer in the fight,
For power to walk the world in white,
Send the fire!

To make our weak hearts strong and brave,
Send the fire!
To live a dying world to save,
Send the fire!
O see us on thy altar lay
Our lives, our all, this very day,
To crown the offering now we pray,
Send the fire!

~ William Booth (1829-1912)

Jim Binney

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Easter Peoeple Easter People

John Foster tells how an enquirer from Hinduism approached an Indian Bishop. Unaided he had read the New Testament, and the story had fascinated him. In particular he was gripped by the person of Jesus Christ. He felt he had entered a new world. In the Gospels it was all about Jesus … his works, his suffering. In the Book of Acts it was all about the disciples of Christ … what they did, what they taught. They had taken the place Christ had occupied. The Church continued where Jesus left off. ‘Therefore’ this man said to the Bishop, ‘I must belong to the Church that carries on the life of Christ!’

During the last 2,000 years there have been times when the Church has undoubtedly lived up to being this kind of Church. Even today there are parts of the world where the Church is growing phenomenally…

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