Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Some Words for Wednesday - Why does Christmas make us sing?

In this message, recorded at our Christmas Carol Service, we explore why the birth of Christ motivates us to sing.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Just Another Melodic Monday - O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

It's December, so it seems appropriate to have some Christmas-themed songs!  Here is "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" from Sovereign Grace Music's album, "Prepare Him Room".  The lyric have been updated, allowing the song to progress from Old Testament hope to New Testament reality.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Just Another Melodic Monday - Joy Has Dawned

We recently had a song evening, where we shared and learned new songs together.  "Joy has dawned" is one example, which we began learning in preparation for the Christmas season.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Some Words for Wednesday - Blessed are the merciful

We reach Matthew chapter 5 verse 7 as we continue to study the Beatitudes.  Apologies for missing the first couple of minutes!

Monday, 14 November 2016

Just Another Melodic Monday - In Christ Alone

I love hearing this well-known song being given a fresh sound because of the character of the church it's being sung in.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Some Words for Wednesday - Matthew 5: Now, but not yet

We're continuing our series in Matthew 5, "The Beatitudes", focusing attention this time on verses 5 and 6.  The message considers how we are blessed in the present by promises of the future; blessed by the "now-but-not-yet".

Monday, 7 November 2016

Just Another Melodic Monday - Lord I Need You

"Lord I need you" by Matt Maher, sung by the wonderful Dave's Highway.  If you start listening to the song and wonder where their amazing harmonies have gone, just make sure you're sitting down when it hits one and a half minutes...

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Some Words for Wednesday - Matthew 5 - Blessed are the poor in spirit

Well, I've just started to catch up on the blog, after a few busy weeks!  We've recently begun going through the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, and here is the first of that series.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Friday to the Father - 7th October 2016

Thank you for your continued prayers.  We are encouraged as we see the church community develop.  Please pray for wisdom as we consider possible changes to the way we do things.

Currently, our Thursday evening prayer meeting is for men one week and ladies the next, and we're considering changing that to create more opportunities for prayer.  Please pray that we'll do this wisely.

We have begun to use a room in the school next door for the Sunday school.  Thank God for the increased space for the children and teachers.  We now need to provide 2 people to oversee this every Sunday, which will be a challenge!  Some church members from Newtown Evangelical Church have offered their help, so please pray that I'll be able to organise this effectively, and that the Lord will provide what we need to follow His will in this.

A retired pastor and his wife have recently joined us from Jersey.  Praise God for this provision, and please pray that He will bless this couple as they settle into their new home.

Please pray for the church community.  Each family faces challenges at this time, so pray that we will experience the daily grace of God, and learn to bear each other's burdens.

Finally, pray that we will see salvation come to Welshpool.  We are hungry to see the glory of God demonstrated in His saving work through Jesus Christ!

Monday, 26 September 2016

Just Another Melodic Monday - O My Soul, Arise

We had a great time at the Sovereign Grace UK Conference last week.  One of the songs I hadn't heard before was "O My Soul, Arise", a hymn by Charles Wesley that has been given a modern tune.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Some Words for Wednesday - Matthew 4 Part 1

Here's our second recorded sermon, covering the topic of fasting and looking at the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.  Like last week, I'm not entirely happy about the volume - but practice makes better, so we'll get there eventually!

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Some (Recorded!) Words for Wednesday - From the kerbside to the kingdom (Matt.3)

Well, we've now begun to record the messages preached on Sunday and upload them to Youtube.  My apologies for the changeable volume level - I've realised that we need to keep the phone by the amp (which doesn't move around) rather than in front of the preacher (who sometimes moves around a lot!)

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

A change for Wednesday's Words

Usually, on a Wednesday, I post some notes from the sermon I preached on Sunday.  However, it's been a challenge to maintain that schedule recently.  I've come to realise that the time I spend typing up the notes is better spent preparing a fresh sermon for Sunday!  So, I'm planning to start posting a recording of the sermon instead of notes, beginning next week.

We think that the easiest way to do this on Blogger is to upload the recording to Youtube, with a nice background image, and then embed it in the blog post, like we do with songs on Mondays.  Please pray that the Lord will help us to learn this new process, so that we can do it quickly, efficiently and well.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Just Another Melodic Monday - Remember The Lord

A children's song by Colin Buchanan, reminding us to exercise our faith in the Lord - especially suitable for the first day back at school!  Visit his website at to listen to some of his songs and to purchase albums and sheet music.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Just Another Melodic Monday - God's Unchanging Hand

Lately, I've been listening a lot to the newest album by the Franz Family called "Sorrow and Wisdom".  Here's one of their earlier songs, with those clear, crisp harmonies, and words that remind us of the faithfulness of God.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Friday to the Father - 12th August 2016

Jesus said: "This then is how you should pray: 'Our Father in heaven...' " (Matthew 6v9)

We're thankful for the last couple of weeks of holiday.  Being away from home and then having family visiting has meant that the blog has been quite bare, so my apologies for that!

My family were greatly encouraged during our week at the Carey Family Conference.  It was so refreshing to spend time with so many other Christians, learning how God has been active in their lives over the last 12 months.  We were well fed with teaching from the Bible; had many good laughs; and the kids really enjoyed themselves (as usual!)  

We were able to share news about the work in Welshpool and the church that the Lord is building, and were encouraged by the prayers and feedback of others.  Here's a picture from the barbeque on the final evening:

A couple of families from the conference then visited us on Sunday morning, so of course we then invited them to our open house that afternoon!  Praise God that we have a home that we're able to share with others, and we thank Him for all that He provides.

Please pray for the church as the holiday season ends.  I'm planning to increase the time I spend working for the church from one day a week to two days a week - please pray that the Lord will provide for this.  In a future blog post, I'll share how this work is currently funded.

Please pray for the families that are committed to the church community.  Pray that the Lord will provide for our daily needs.  Pray also that we will be guided in our outreach - we're currently considering a Christianity Explored course for teenagers.

Thank you for your continued prayers.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Monday, 25 July 2016

Just Another Melodic Monday - Loved with Everlasting Love

When George Wade Robinson wrote this hymn about 100 years ago, he hadn't heard of Pokemon Go.  However, he did know something about augmented reality - seeing something that others could not.  In the second verse, he wrote:

Heaven above is softer blue,
Earth below is sweeter green;
Something lives in every hue
Christless eyes have never seen.
Birds with gladder songs o'erflow,
Flow'rs with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as now I know,
I am His, and He is mine.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Just Another Melodic Monday - Do Not Be Anxious

Seeds Family Worship simply take bible verses and add music!  Their aim is to provide spiritual songs that children can enjoy with their parents while simultaneously learning God's Word.  Here's an example from the "Seeds of Courage" album: "Do not be anxious" (Philippians 4:6-7).

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Some Words for Wednesday - A Picture of a Church Community (James 5)

We've reached the final part of the letter of James, and next week we'll be finishing the series with a summary of the letter's main themes.  In this final section of chapter 5, we are given a picture of what a church community should look like.

1) In a church community, people should be reliable.  James writes about swearing oaths (5v12), and we find a very similar passage in Matthew 5v33-37 where Jesus deals with the same issue.  Religious people appeared to think that if they swore an oath by a less important name than God's, it didn't matter so much if they then broke that promise.

But James says this isn't so.  Instead, Christians are to be reliable.  We're not to make vague promises that we don't really intend on keeping, but instead we're to keep our word - "yes" should mean "yes", and "no" should mean "no"; otherwise, James says we will be "condemned".

For example, you may know someone to whom you've lent something, and they didn't return it.  Then they borrowed something else, and they didn't return that either!  Eventually, they become "condemned" - you know that they cannot be relied on to return something.  So James writes, if you don't keep your word, you will be condemned in the sight of others.

In order to be reliable, though, you might need some practical help.  For example, I use Google Calendar to remind me to ring my parents each week!  You might also need to reconsider your limitations.  Being reliable doesn't mean always saying "yes" when someone asks for help; sometimes, people need more knowledgeable help than you're able to provide.

2)  In a church community, people should be expressive.  Suffering can be expressed in prayer, and joy can be expressed in song (5v13).  James clearly considers the sober prayer and the praise-filled song are both reverent ways of approaching God, and are not activities for a select few, but for all the church.  Whenever the church gathers, it is appropriate to provide opportunities for open prayer and corporate singing.

James then describes a process by which an ill person can receive prayer from the elders (5v14-15).  The individual is to call for the elders, and the elders are then to pray for God to heal.  They anoint the person with oil, a symbol of God's blessing which the disciples had used previously when healing (Mark 6v13).  There is also an opportunity for repentance and forgiveness (5v15).

What is "the prayer of faith" (5v15)?  It is a prayer that combines a conviction of God's ability to heal with submission to His will.  The only type of effective prayer is the prayer of faith - without faith, we should not expect to receive anything from the Lord (1v6-7) - and this faith in God is expressed through the words "if the Lord is willing" (4v15).

This private scene of healing and forgiveness is then developed further, as James instructs the church to confess their sins and pray for each other's healing (5v16).  Here is a good reason for church communities to meet in different contexts during the week, rather than only once on a Sunday morning.  Large public meetings aren't the easiest situations for people to be open about their struggles and to ask for prayer.  Smaller groups (especially in someone's home), where people have grown to know and trust each other, provide more appropriate and safer opportunities for confession and heartfelt prayer for healing.

James emphasizes the power of prayer (5V16-18).  He has already said that faith and works will be found together (2V17), and so I believe the "prayer of a righteous person" is the same as the "prayer of faith".  Faith and holiness will grow together.

3) In a church community, people should be gracious.  James closes his letter by highlighting the importance and blessing of bringing back believers who have wandered from the truth (5v19-20).  Jesus Christ is our greatest example of this, as he came to find the lost sheep and bring them home.  Just as he prayed for Peter (Luke 22v32), so he also prays today that his people will not fall.  When we see fellow believers begin to wander, rather than behaving as judges (5v9), we should behave as brothers and sisters, and seek to bring them back into the church family.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Just Another Melodic Monday - Come Praise and Glorify

We recently were sent some Sovereign Grace Music samplers by Nathan Smith, lead pastor of Grace Church, Bristol.  We regularly sing songs from Sovereign Grace, and asked for samplers so we could give them to people in the church who weren't familiar with their songs.  This week, "Come Praise and Glorify" is our "homework", as we'll be singing it together next Sunday.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Some Words for Wednesday - The Misery And The Madness (James 5)

James is writing his letter to believers who had been forced to flee their homes because of persecution.  They had left everything, and were now poor and vulnerable to exploitation.  In chapter 5, we find out that rich landowners, some of whom were attending church meetings, were withholding wages from their poor workers.  What does James teach in these circumstances?

1. The misery and the madness (v1-6)

James tells the wealthy people that there is a day of misery coming, a day when they will weep and howl (v1).  Why would they be miserable?  Much of their wealth would have been tied up in their crops - James says that this wealth will have rotted!  Expensive clothes were a sign of riches (2v2), but their clothes would be moth-eaten (5v2)!  

In other words, a day was coming when their goods would have no meaningful value.  They would discover that their treasures were temporary, and they had made no provision for eternity.  Just like the rich man in the parable Jesus tells (Luke 12v13-21), they had planned for days they could not predict, but failed to plan for the one day they could not avoid - that last day, when they would face eternity.

James continues by stating that their silver and gold would also have no value.  Instead it would be corroded, and the corrosion would eat at their flesh and condemn them (v3).  As an illustration, have you ever been tidying one day, and found a voucher for something, only to discover it had passed its expiration date?  You kick yourself for wasting something valuable, and it eats at you.  The more valuable it was, the more it eats at you!

James tells the wealthy that they will discover they wasted a lifetime accumulating treasures that had no eternal value, and this will condemn them - the corrosion will be evidence of a wasted life, and will eat their flesh like fire (v3).

James now points out their madness - he writes "you have laid up treasures for the last days!" (v3)  They were hoarding as though they had forever, but actually time was running out!  They were like turkeys enjoying extra food in the weeks leading up to Christmas (v5)!  Their behaviour was causing the death of people, and those being exploited could not resist them (v6).

But they could not hide their sins from God - he heard the unpaid wages crying out to him, and the cries of the exploited harvesters(v4)!  It is madness to hoard temporary treasures when facing the eternal judgment of God.  

James now turns his attention to the poor believers, whom he refers to as his brethren.

2)  Be patient and persevere (v7-11)

James encourages them to be patient - the Lord is coming, and there will be justice.  As field labourers, they would have understood James' illustration of the patience of a farmer who waits for the seasonal rains (v7)

In Britain, we might respond, "You can't trust the weather!"  However, the return of Christ is more certain than the seasons.  He is not temperamental - he will not fail his people.  So James tells the believers to establish their hearts (v8).  The faithfulness of Christ is to inspire our faithfulness.

So this is not a time for fighting each other.  We are brothers and sisters, not judges.  The Judge is coming - he is at the door (v9)!  James warns: if you don't behave as a member of God's family, you might discover you aren't one!  If you behave as a judge, you may be the one judged!

James then tells the believers to persevere (v10-11) and uses the prophets and Job as examples.  We can see that their perseverance leads to the fruition of God's purposes and promises (v11).

It's not easy to persevere.  Often, it involves a lot of unspectacular obedience - simple, daily disciplines such as praying and reading the Word.  But let's not forget the example of Christ.  He lived for about 33 years on earth, yet there is very little we know about most of that life!  He was about 30 when his ministry began, and people asked: "Isn't that Joseph's son?"  They didn't know him as the Creator of the universe, but as the son of a construction worker.

Christ lived 30 years of unspectacular obedience before 3 years of spectacular ministry: 30 years without being noticed; perfectly steadfast and obedient, but in unspectacular ways.  If you trust Christ as your Saviour, you are clothed in his righteousness - not just those 3 years of teaching, healing and ministry, but also those 30 years of unrecognised, unspectacular but absolutely unwavering perseverance!  

Let us not dismiss the importance of unspectular obedience.  Often, it is unspectacular obedience that leads us into the spectacular plans of God.

As we trust in the perfect perseverance of Christ, let us patiently persevere, knowing he will one day return.  We will all face a final day.  James writes that for some, it will be a day of rejoicing at the harvest.  For others, it will be a day of misery because of what they have wasted.

What kind of final day are you anticipating?

Monday, 27 June 2016

Just Another Melodic Monday - Out of Hiding

I've been enjoying listening to the album "The Undoing" by Steffany Gretzinger recently.  This song, called "Out of Hiding", reminds us that we find everything we need to be accepted by God in Jesus Christ, and calls us to stand firm in our faith.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Just Another Melodic Monday - He will hold me fast

An old hymn given a fresh sound, "He will hold me fast" by Matt Merker reminds us of the unswerving faithfulness of Christ.  

The album which this recording is taken from is called "Amazing Love" and is available for purchase on Amazon as a digital download.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Some Words for Wednesday - A Peacemaker, Not A Peacekeeper (James 3)

We're continuing our series in the letter of James, having looked last time at James' instruction: "Not many of you should become teachers" (3v1).  He gives three reasons why this is the case:

a) The high level of scrutiny - "You will be judged with greater strictness" (3v1)
b) The high level of difficulty - "No one can tame the tongue" (3v8)
c) The high level of responsibility - "The tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things" (3v5)

So the question we might then ask is: Who should become a teacher?  I believe James anticipates this question, and asks it in a different way: "Who is wise and understanding among you?" (v13).  He then goes on to describe the person who should be considered for the role of teaching the church.

1) What you hear is what you get
James describes the characteristics that a person with wisdom will demonstrate.  He says "let him show his works" (v13).  Wisdom is not just invisible head knowledge - it is visibly applied understanding.  In other words, when God gives us wisdom, the purpose is not simply to give us the answers that are needed, but to make us into the people that are needed - needed in the church and in the world.

Godly wisdom has a sanctifying effect upon a person.  It makes them more like Jesus.

James writes that the first characteristic of this person is that they will be "pure".  In other words, the teacher should not be like the fountain James describes earlier, producing both fresh and salt water (3v11).  Rather, he should only produce fresh water.  This person will not change when they step out of the pulpit - he will not be a compassionate preacher, but an unapproachable person.  He will aim to live what he teaches.  In other words, what you hear is what you get.

The Christian writer, E M Bounds, puts it this way in his book The Power of Prayer: "The man is the message.  It takes 20 years to make the message because it takes 20 years to make the man."

The wise teacher will have no hidden motives.  There'll be no jealousy or selfish ambition (3v14).  If someone only wants to promote himself, he should not be teaching the church.  The effect of his teaching will be the opposite of what God wants for a church community.  There will be disorder and every kind of evil practice (3v16)

What does James mean by "evil practices"?  Consider the sinful activities he's already mentioned in his letter: being double-minded; avoiding responsibility for sin; hearing the Word but not acting on it; favouritism; ignoring the needs of others.  These activities won't make the headlines of the local paper, but they will greatly hinder the work of the church.

2) You'll find a door, not a wall

James goes on with his list: "peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere" (3v17).  A teacher will be "quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger" (1v10).  They will be someone you will not only want to listen to, but also feel able to talk to.

The teacher's purpose is to "equip the church for ministry" (Ephesians 4v13) so that the church can mature as a community.  He will help people to explore new responsibilities and opportunities.  When you approach him, you'll find a door that reveals possibilities rather than a wall that discourages you.  The status quo is not an option for a church - change is a necessary part of maturing.  A wise teacher will support the church to embrace that.

3) He'll be a peacemaker, not a peacekeeper

We have four children in our family.  One way to avoid conflict between them is to "divide and conquer".  If you keep them apart, they can't argue!

But that's not a great model for family life.  It's great to have a peaceful mealtime, but not if everyone is sitting in different rooms!  Ideally, you want your children to learn not only how to tolerate each other, but also to appreciate each other and even enjoy each other's company.

"Divide and conquer" is also not a good model for church life.  Sometimes, a church leader will keep people apart to keep the peace.  But a wise teacher doesn't keep the peace; he makes peace (3v18).  He is able to draw people together as he draws them to a better knowledge of God.  This is so that, as a body, the people are able to grow together.

What is the result of this?  "A harvest of righteousness".  The fruit of wise teaching is righteousness, or holiness.  We looked last time at holiness, and recognised that it describes the boundaries within which our relationship with God flourishes.  So the fruit of wise teaching is a community of people whose relationship with God is flourishing.

What does this fruit taste like?  It tastes like peace (3v18): a community of people at peace with God and with each other.

So how do we recognise a wise teacher?

1) What you hear is what you get
2) You find a door, not a wall
3) He'll be a peacemaker, not a peacekeeper

Monday, 13 June 2016

Just Another Melodic Monday - How Sweet The Name Of Jesus Sounds

I heard this hymn, "How sweet the name of Jesus sounds", being sung to a new tune a few weeks ago while meeting with Newtown Evangelical Church, and we sang it together yesterday at our church gathering in Welshpool.  

Friday, 10 June 2016

Friday to the Father - 10th July 2016

Jesus said: "This then is how you should pray: 'Our Father in heaven...' " (Matthew 6v9)

We're grateful that the Lord continues to encourage us and provide for our needs.  Over the last couple of weeks, I've felt that we have "settled in" as a church, and we're now to start "looking around".  This means we need to begin considering how we bring the gospel to the community around us.  Please pray that the Lord will direct us in his will.

We're having an open house this Sunday afternoon, and inviting a variety of people.  Praise God that we have a home so suitable for giving hospitality.  Please pray that we'll have confidence to share the gospel in love as we share food and conversation.

Please pray for our church family: that the Lord would restore health to those who are unwell; give wisdom to those who are facing complicated situations; and provide work for those who are seeking it.

We're grateful to God for help that we'll receive this Sunday morning from Newtown.  Please pray that God will bless those leading and teaching.  Pray for me as I'll be meeting the elders on Monday evening to update them on WCC.

Thank you for your continued prayers.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Monday, 6 June 2016

Just Another Melodic Monday - I have decided to follow Jesus

Sometimes all you need is a chair, a guitar and some simple words to make a profound declaration.  

The hymn is based on the words spoken by a believer in India prior to being executed for his faith in the late nineteenth century.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Some Words for Wednesday - Not many of us should become teachers (James 3)

James is writing to "the Dispersion" - believers who had been scattered by persecution.  They had left their homes, and were now poor and vulnerable to exploitation.

James begins chapter 3 by stating: "Not many of you should become teachers" (3v1).  Within a church, there are recognised roles, often called "offices".  One of those roles was elder or teacher.  The elder was recognised by the church community as having been gifted by God to teach the whole church.

James writes that not many of the believers should become teachers in the church.  Why did people want that role?  Perhaps they wanted to make the church more like the one they had left behind.  Perhaps they didn't want the church to change with the arrival of new believers.  Whatever the reason, James clearly felt he had to discourage people from taking this role.

James gives three reasons for his statement.

1) The high level of scrutiny (v1-2)

James writes that teachers will be "judged with greater strictness" (v1).  He mentions being judged a couple of other times in his letter, and both times involve people making negative comments.

A teacher/elder is scrutinised because if he teaches it, he should live it!  Hence James says that if you have perfect doctrine, you should have a perfect life (v2)!  After all, how can you expect to persuade others if you haven't persuaded yourself?

But everyone stumbles in some way, and it will always be possible to find faults in a teacher.  You'll always be able to find some way to judge or criticise a church elder.

So how does a teacher respond to that?  By toughening up?  Of course not!  The apostle Paul writes that if you speak like an angel, but you don't have love, you're no more useful than a clanging cymbal (1 Cor.13v1)!  A teacher must love the people - he must have a tender heart.  If his heart is armour-plated, how can he speak the truth in love?

A teacher's heart will not be covered with armour, but with scars.  Hence James writes: "Not many of you should become teachers."

2) The high level of difficulty (v3-5)

A small bit controls the direction of a horse.  A small rudder directs a huge ship.  In the same way, a few words can have a massive impact on a situation.

As an illustration, think of the canal in Welshpool.  If you sat in a boat on one side of the canal, and someone asked you to row to the other side, you would probably be able to do it.  It's not a huge distance, and a slight error in your direction won't have a big effect.

However, if you sat in a ferry at Dover, and someone asked you to direct the ferry to Calais, you would probably panic!  You would know that if there's a slight error in your direction, you'll end up in completely the wrong place!  The further the distance, the greater the impact if you get it slightly wrong.

It's the same with the role of teaching a church.  Over the course of a lifetime, getting it slightly wrong will have a bigger and bigger affect upon the church.  A small flame can cause massive damage (v5)!  To avoid causing that damage, a teacher must study hard like a labourer (2 Tim 2v15).  

He must learn how to handle different texts correctly.   He must sacrifice time praying and meditating over the Scriptures.  He must teach to help rather than harm.  In Ephesians 6, the Word of God is a sword.  But this sword is not to be used to hurt people, for "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood" (1 Cor. 15v50).  Instead, it should be used to liberate people from untruth.  

A teacher must train in spiritual swordsmanship, and the training is costly.  Hence James writes: "Not many of you should become teachers."

3) The high level of responsibility (v6-12)

Our words can harm like a fire.  They can affect a person's reputation, their "whole body", and words can affect someone's future, the "whole course of life" (v6).  A teacher must handle his words carefully, not recklessly, and James tells us how difficult this is (v7-8).  Careless words can make the teacher a hypocrite, a source of blessing and cursing (v9-12).

So consider carefully if you want the role of a teacher or elder.  I remember my pastor from Bristol, Mr. Clarke, saying this about becoming an elder: "If you can do anything else, do that instead."  He considered the calling to eldership was such a responsibility, you should consider every other option first.

So James writes: "Not many of you should become teachers."  However, just as there is a fire that harms, so there is also a fire that heals.  When the resurrected Jesus meets his followers, and helps them to understand the gospel, their response is: "Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?" (Luke 24v32).

There is a fire that harms, and a fire that heals: a fire that wounds, and a fire that warms.  The teacher must seek to ignite the fire that heals and warms; that only burns away the impurities; that inspires, motivates and equips the listener for ministry.  It is a difficult task, and only possible with the help of God's Spirit, but it is the only fire worth kindling.

So how do we recognise who should become a teacher?  We will consider that next week, as James answers the question: "Who is wise and understanding among you?" (3v13)

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Some Words for Wednesday - The Talking Dead: A Survival Guide (James ch.2)

In the US, the TV show with the highest ratings is "The Walking Dead", gathering 18.4 million viewers for its season 6 finale a few months ago.  The gruesome series is about a world overrun by zombies, and tells the story of a small group of survivors and their struggle to remain alive.

In James 2v12-26, we read about a different kind of threat which I call "The Talking Dead", and this blog post is James's survival guide.

Question:  Who are The Talking Dead?

Answer:  They are people with a lifeless faith

James tells us of those with dead faith (2v17, 26).  They are people who say they trust God and sound like believers, but there is no evidence in their actions to confirm the truth of their words (v15-16).  What they say is denied by what they do.

As an illustration, I worked for Shropshire Council for 15 years, and during that time I learned that there were people who could interview for jobs really well, but it would turn out that they weren't able to do the job.  They could say all the right things, but they couldn't actually do the work.  If you've worked in the same place for a long time, you've probably met people like that, too.

James says there can be people like that in the church.  They say the right things, but their faith is dead.  They are the talking dead.

Question:  How do I check that I'm not one of the talking dead?

Answer:  My faith should be partnered with holiness.

In James 2v12, he writes that we must speak and act as those judged by the "law of liberty".  That is what a living faith looks like.  But what is this law, and how does it bring freedom?

James writes of the law of liberty in chapter one.  We look into this law when we hear the word (1v22-25).  It is through the Bible that God reveals this law to us and tells us what a living faith and true freedom look like.  If faith without works is dead, faith with works is freedom.

Active submission to the law of liberty is what we call "holiness".  Holiness is to be a part of our private lives and our relationships - in his letter, James gives emphasis to relationships and acts of loving kindness.  Holiness is a vital sign of a living faith.

Some might say we shouldn't be so demanding - that some people have an active faith, and others "just believe" (2v18).  But James says that is not enough - even demons just believe (2v19)!  

He gives two examples of people who had an active faith - Abraham and Rahab (v21-25).  In different ways, they both put their futures at risk by faith (Hebrews 11v17, 31).  They were justified because they believed God's promises and behaved accordingly.  Their faith was made whole by their actions (v22).

Remember, Christians are in a loving relationship with God, their Father in heaven, and loving relationships always have boundaries.  Often, the closer the relationship, the stricter the boundaries.  However, we recognise that those boundaries provide a framework within which relationships flourish.

Holiness is the framework within which my relationship with God flourishes, and it is the evidence of a living faith.

Question:  Why are the talking dead so dangerous?

Answer: They stop the living from thriving.  

If you ever watch a zombie movie, you'll always find the small band of survivors are struggling to get by.  It's almost impossible to thrive when you're surrounded by the undead.

In a similar way, the talking dead are a danger to the church community.  They will stifle love and discourage meaningful fellowship.  By their very nature, they want things to be superficial, and will influence the church so that they do not need to put their lives on the altar (Rom 12v1).

One type of defense many churches use against the talking dead is to have a process by which people become members of the church, usually overseen by the church elders.  Although not foolproof, it's a way of checking that those involved in church decision-making have an ongoing testimony of a living faith.

Question:  Are the talking dead dangerous in other ways?

Answer:  They discourage people who are looking for life.

Unbelievers can be very good at spotting the talking dead.  I'm sure we all have met people who have been discouraged from seeking the Lord because they went to a church and met hypocrites.  

Question:  Who else is in danger from the talking dead?

Answer:  The talking dead are a danger to themselves.

Unless something fundamental changes, the only future for the undead is decomposition.  Their time is always running out.

So what should we do?  We should behave mercifully because we have received mercy (2v13).  Our aim should be to put the talking dead out of their misery by helping them find new life in Jesus Christ.

Notice that James finishes his letter by telling the church how wonderful it is to bring back those who are wandering (5v19-20).  He wants people to find God's mercy.  What does that "bringing back" look like?  Sometimes it looks like rebuke (4v4) and sometimes it looks like encouragement (5v7).  James' tone is very different in these two verses, but his aim is the same - to make sure these people are in the land of the living.

We must pray for wisdom, so that we will know the most appropriate way to reveal to the talking dead their need of a living faith.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Just Another Melodic Monday - Speak, O Lord

The song "Speak, O Lord" (by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend) seems appropriate for sharing while we continue our series in James and are challenged to have a faith that is visible. 

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Some Words For Wednesday - Warm Welcomes and Cold Shoulders (James ch.2)

(Here are some notes from the message shared last Sunday when we gathered as a church.)

We've recently started a new series in the letter of James.  James is writing to "the Dispersion" (1v1) - a group of believers who had been scattered from their homes because of persecution.  They had left everything, and now were poor and vulnerable to exploitation.  

In chapter one, James writes about wisdom and having a faith that is visible.  James now begins chapter 2 by stating that there should be no favouritism within a church community.

What situation is James dealing with?  The wealthy were being given preferential treatment regarding seating (2v1-3).  The message being given was: "If you look pretty neat, you get a good seat.  If you look pretty poor, you sit on the floor!"

James initially deals with this favouritism by giving the church a God's eye view of things.  He has already done this in chapter 1 verses 9-10.  Now he reminds the church that God has chosen the poor to be heirs of the kingdom (2v5).  By discriminating against these poor Christians, they were making judgments contrary to God's judgments - hence James describes them as "judges with evil thoughts".  Their thoughts were evil because they were contrary to God's thoughts.

Within a church community, Christians are to treat each other as members of a spiritual family.  It isn't appropriate to give some a warm welcome, and others a cold shoulder.  In the church James is writing to, favouritism was related to social status, but there can be many other causes.  

Sometimes we overlook people because they're needy, just like the disciples who wanted to send away the hungry crowds (Matthew 14v15).  Sometimes we tut at those who are noisy, just like the disciples who wanted to stop mothers bringing their little children to Jesus (Mark 10v13).

Sometimes we treat believers differently based on their theological slants.  Perhaps they like songs we don't like, or they wear something on Sunday we don't like, or they raise their hands during corporate worship, or they never raise their hands during corporate worship.  For whatever reason, we think that we have an appropriate excuse to stop treating them as a brother or sister in Christ.

Sometimes we give some believers preferential treatment over others because they've been in the church for longer, or because they belong to a certain family.  I remember hearing a minister, in a public meeting, referring to "the core membership" of the church.  There was the membership, and then within that was a "core membership": what some might call the "inner circle".

There are many reasons why we might start to think it is acceptable to show favouritism.  But James says it is never appropriate within a church family.

Of course, not showing favouritism does not mean treating everyone in the same way all the time.  First, we are to show discernment in regard to people's gifts.  The church is a body made of different parts - there are Holy Spirit-intended ways we are meant to be different.  The apostle Paul writes that if we say that all Christians are basically the same, there is a sense in which the church ceases to exist! (1 Cor.12v17)

James himself writes that "not many of you should be teachers" (3v1).  In other words, only a few are meant to have that level of spiritual responsibility within the church.  It is appropriate for us to discern where people's gifts do or do not lie.

Secondly, it is appropriate to discern different needs in the church, and treat people differently in that respect.  For example, James tells us that true religion is not to visit everyone, but to visit "widows and orphans in their distress" (1v27).  In Acts 4v34-35, those who are wealthy give more than others, and what they give is not distributed evenly among the church, but to those who had greatest need.

So, we are not to show favouritism, but we are to be discerning in the area of gifts and needs.  In the church that James is writing to, it is clear that everyone equally needed a seat, and should therefore have been treated equally.

But why does favouritism matter so much?  Aren't there more important issues to worry about than seating?

James doesn't think so.  He writes that it breaks a law that is as important as royalty - "love your neighbour as yourself" (2v8-10).  Jesus clearly teaches that we are to treat all people as our neighbours, both the people we live next to and the people we would never live next to!  Favouritism breaks this law, and that is significant.  Sin has a rippling effect, and breaking one law is like breaking them all (2v10).

The big problem with favouritism is that it undermines the gospel message.  It implies that salvation isn't for all kinds of people.  The gospel teaches us that we must come to God as we are.  Favouritism teaches that we have to reach a certain standard before we can enter the inner circle or join the "core membership".

The challenge for the church is clear.  It's true that the church is a community where people make friends.  However, more importantly that that, the church is a community where God grows a family.  

We have to lay aside our personal preferences.  You are not to love and serve your brother or sister because they are from the right background or because they have the same theological leanings or because your personality clicks with their's.  You are to love and serve them because Christ first loved and served them by giving his life for them.  He did that "while we were still sinners" (Rom.5v8) - we did not win his approval.  Instead, we were won by his grace.

Jesus gives the same welcome to all who trust in him - none are ever turned away (John 6v37).  How can we judge differently to our Lord?

Monday, 16 May 2016

Just Another Melodic Monday - Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)

I thought I would have a look at the CCLI top 100 today.  This can be a useful way of discovering/remembering new or updated songs for the church you're a part of.  

Here's an example of a classic hymn that has been given a modern bridge: "Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)".  It's performed by Dave's Highway, and I could listen to those harmonies all day!

Friday, 13 May 2016

Friday to the Father - 13th May 2016

Jesus said: "This then is how you should pray: 'Our Father in heaven...' " (Matthew 6v9)

We were very encouraged last Sunday as we gathered for our morning service, and later on when we met at our house for lunch and afternoon fellowship.

Thank God for help from members of Newtown Evangelical Church (NEC).  Several people have offered to help us on a monthly basis, so I'm currently sorting out a timetable for that.

Please pray for NEC.  They're hosting an evening with Stuart Burgess on Tuesday 31st May, when he'll be giving the talk: "Inspiration from Creation: How Engineers are Copying God's Designs".  Pray that God will bless this evangelistic opportunity. 

We were encouraged by a couple called Roger and Rachel who came to the Sunday morning service.  They were visiting because they are planning to move into the area, and are taking a look at some of the local churches.  Please pray that the Lord will guide them and keep them in His will.

Please continue to pray that God will provide all we need as a church.  In particular, pray that our application to hire a room at the school next door to our meeting place will be successful.  This will allow us more space for the children's work on Sundays.

Thank you for your continued prayers.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Monday, 9 May 2016

Just Another Melodic Monday - I Will Say of The Lord

The song "I will say of the Lord" by Lou Fellingham reminds us to seek our strength from the Lord, and trust in His limitless resources.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Friday to the Father - 6th May 2016

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4v6)

Praise God for an encouraging weekend!  It was Ruth's 40th birthday recently, so we celebrated by having an open house over the Bank Holiday weekend.  We had over 80 visitors!  As I watched the children playing football in the garden (while I kept an eye on the barbeque!), my heart was provoked to give thanks.  It probably wasn't the first time we'd had an open house since my struggles last year, but it certainly felt like it.  Please pray for us, as Ruth and I are thinking about opening our home on Sunday afternoons during the Spring and Summer.

We were encouraged on Sunday morning by seeing Michelle, and then meeting her husband, Shaun, at the open house on Monday.  Please pray that God would bless and provide for Michelle, her husband and their children, and that Michelle would be able to come more regularly on Sundays.

We were also encouraged to see Ruth with her kids, Sian and Callum.  Please pray that God would bless and provide for Ruth, her husband Richard, and their children.  Sian is currently unwell, but there was an encouragement while she was with us on Sunday morning.  Please pray that God would restore her to good health.

Thank you for your continued prayers.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Some Words for Wednesday - A bother or a brother? Philemon pt.2

(Some notes from the message shared recently when we gathered as a church.)

Last week, we considered the first few verses of the letter to Philemon.  Using the example of the apostle Paul, we found a simple recipe for prayer:

1. Take some thanksgiving.
2. Add some petitions.
3. Mix them together in a caring Christian community.

This week we'll focus more on the purpose of Paul's letter.  He is writing to Philemon, who lives with his family in Colosse: Philemon's son, Archippus, and slave, Onesimus, are both mentioned in Paul's letter to the Colossians.  Onesimus had run away from Colosse to Rome, but was now returning.  How should Philemon react?

The first question we might ask is: Why doesn't Paul tell Philemon not to have slaves?  When we think of slavery, we probably link it to racism, kidnapping and human trafficking.  We know that none of these are acceptable, so why doesn't Paul condemn slavery in his letter to Philemon?

Well, slavery in Paul's day was very different to what we understand as slavery today.  Tim Keller, in his book "The Reason For God", writes:

"In the first-century Roman Empire, when the New Testament was written, there was not a great difference between slaves and the average free person.  Slaves were not distinguishable from others by race, speech or clothing.  They looked and lived like most everyone else, and were not segregated from the rest of society in any way.  

"From a financial standpoint, slaves made the same wages as free labourers, and therefore were not usually poor.  Also, slaves could accrue enough personal capital to buy themselves out.  Most important of all, very few slaves were slaves for life.  Most could reasonably hope to be manumitted within ten or fifteen years, or by their late thirties at the latest." (pg.110)

So, Paul doesn't condemn the kind of slavery he witnessed at that time - although elsewhere, he does advise that if someone can buy their freedom, they should do so (1 Cor.7v21).  Instead, he believes slaves and masters would be active members of the same churches, and both would be transformed by the gospel.

So what does Paul teach Philemon regarding how he should react to the return of Onesimus?

1) Paul sees sons instead of slaves.  This is clearly true of Onesimus (v10).  The slave had run away to Rome, and been converted under Paul's ministry.  Now the apostle felt fatherly concern for Onesimus.  We don't read of Paul having a family, but that doesn't stop him having a parental role within a church.

This is also how Paul views Philemon.  It's implied that Philemon was converted under Paul's ministry - he owes Paul his life (v19)!  Even though Paul has apostolic authority, he doesn't command Philemon - instead he appeals to him (v8-9).  As a spiritual father, he does not exercise the authority the role implies, but expresses the compassion the role demands.

The family dynamic of a church is not only expressed in this letter, but throughout the letters of the New Testament.  A good example is given in 1 Timothy: Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father.  Treat younger men like brothers, older women like mothers, younger women like sisters, in all purity." (5v1-2)

A person's position before God is more significant than their position at work.  Within our own churches, we must be careful we do not divide into cliques based on income or occupation.  No one is to think too highly of themselves, but we are to "associate with the lowly" (Rom. 12v16).

2)  Paul sees a brother instead of a bother.  Onesimus had become a believer since running away - but what does that change?  We might think it only changes the way a person lives, but it's far more than that.

a) There is a change of identity (v16).  Onesimus has entered the family of God, and is now a child of God.  He is able to see himself differently, and the church should also see him differently.

b) There is a change of expection.  Paul says Onesimus was useless, but is now useful (v11-13).  Paul has a different expectation of Onesimus now he is saved - he will be useful to the church.

The gospel makes useless people useful!  Have you learned that in your church?  Or, if the world has written someone off, do you just follow suit?  It's possible for a church to create a culture where believers with "complicated" lives are seen only as recipients of ministry.  The church has no expectation of grace, so the individual shows little evidence of it.  Ultimately, the church ends up seeing a believer as a bother instead of a brother.

But if someone has accepted Christ as their Saviour and Lord, it is wrong for us to see them as only recipients of ministry.  If they are in Christ, they have gifts to use for the benefit of the church: "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." (1 Cor. 12v7)  

There should be lots of opportunities for involvement in the life of a church community.  We are not to demand involvement as though someone's salvation depended on it, but we are to anticipate their involvement as though their salvation produces it.  We are then to enjoy their involvement - to be "glad" of their service (v13) - while they discover the joy of truly belonging to a spiritual family.  

3)  Paul expects Philemon to be inspired instead of insulted.  The gospel regularly challenges us, and it may be tempting to reject it because we feel insulted.  The problem for many people is that, although God accepts us just as we are, He won't leave us just as we are.  The gospel's aim is to make us more like Jesus - and for that to happen, we have to be willing to put everything that contributes to our identity on the altar.

Paul doesn't demand the obedience of Philemon, but he does anticipate it, because he anticipates the transforming power of the gospel.  This power will transform Philemon beyond what could be demanded, just as it was transforming Onesimus.

So our aim as members of a church community is to inspire and encourage one another, and to anticipate and enjoy the evidence of our faith.  We are challenged to not have favourites, but to treat all believers as active members of a spiritual family.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Just Another Melodic Monday - Nothing But The Blood

When you're part of a small church plant team, it's important to do things as simply as possible.  That may be why I'm so drawn at the moment to simple, acoustic performances of Christian hymns and songs.

Here's an example, providing a simple answer to a profound question: "What can wash away my sin?"

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Some Words for Wednesday - A simple recipe for prayer (Philemon Pt.1)

(Some brief notes from the message shared last Sunday when we gathered as a church.)

Today, we're going to take a look at the letter to Philemon, written by the apostle Paul.  In particular, we're going to look at an example of Paul's prayers, and learn a simple recipe for prayer.  But first of all, what is the background to the letter to Philemon?

Philemon is a Christian, and from verse 2 we understand his wife was Apphia and his son was Archippus.  He probably was quite wealthy, as his property was large enough for the church to meet in.  The church was based in Colosse - in Paul's letter to the Colossians, the apostle mentions Archippus and Onesimus, Philemon's slave (Colossians 4v9, 17).

Onesimus had run away to Rome, possibly stealing money from Philemon (v18).  It appears that he met Paul (who was in prison in Rome) and became a believer (v10).  Paul then writes a letter to Philemon, preparing him for the return of Onesimus and teaching him how he should now respond to his slave.

We'll be looking at the guidance he gives next week, and also considering why Paul doesn't simply tell Philemon not to have slaves.  This week, we're going to look at the first few verses of the letter, and learn about prayer in the light of Paul's example.

A Simple Recipe for Prayer

1) Take some thanksgiving (v4).

Paul wants the Colossian believers to be "abounding in thanksgiving" (Col.2v7), so it's no surprise that his own prayer begins with thanks to God.  What does he say "thank you" for?

a) Love for the Lord and love for each other.  Paul recognises that our love for God and our love for each other begins with God.  "We love because He first loved us" (1 John 4v19).  The origin of the compassion evident in a Christian community is found in God's work, bringing us into His family.  It is therefore appropriate for us to thank God for this love.

b) Faith in the Lord and faith in each other.  Paul clearly believes God is the one to thank for their faith in Christ.  Faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2v8).  Why thank Him for their faith unless He is the provider?  

But Paul also thanks God for their faith in each other.  Love should always be partnered with trust, and it is wonderful when that is visible in a church; when we have faith in each other to provide help when needed; to give wise advice; to take responsibility for our roles. That is certainly something to give thanks for.

2) Add some requests (v6).

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." (Philippians 4v7)  What request does Paul make?  Firstly, he prays for the sharing of their faith.  This not only means with unbelievers, but also with each other.  It was appropriate for them to share their faith through encouragement and the use of their gifts.

The reason for this sharing was so that they would gain "full knowledge", understanding the work of Christ in each other, and seeing it taking place.

Why does Paul pray for this to happen?  "For the sake of Christ!"  Jesus will be glorified as the church matures, and as the lost are convicted of their sins.

3)  Mix these two ingredients together within a loving church family.

Even though Paul is in prison in Rome, he writes as though he is a member of a family in Colosse.  Reports of the love evident there is a blessing to Paul (v7).  This is the context for prayer.  The commitment to pray for each other confirms the authenticity of a church family, and the genuineness of the prayers themselves.

This is the stage that is so easy to overlook!  It's tempting to think that my prayer is the bowl in which the ingredients get mixed together.  But actually, it's the church community that is the bowl!  For example, how can we thank God for the love shared in a church community if we're not really committed to that community?  How can we pray for the sharing of our faith if we're not willing to share our lives?

So the simple recipe for prayer is:

1) Take some thanksgiving
2) Add some requests
3) Mix these together within a loving church family

Monday, 25 April 2016

Just Another Melodic Monday - There is a fountain filled with blood

My apologies for not updating the blog since last Monday.  I changed my work schedule last week to ensure we were ready for an inspection, which meant I spent Friday working for the church instead of Tuesday.  The inspection went really well, and this week my routine is back to normal!

Here's a hymn that we enjoy singing together as a church.  It paints a vivid picture of how we are cleansed eternally from our sins by the blood of Jesus.

If you enjoy listening to this version by Norton Hall Band, their EP of hymns is available digitally on Amazon.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Just Another Melodic Monday - For God so loved the world

Here is a children's song that we sang for the first time together yesterday.  Next week, we'll be singing it again and introducing a round!

Friday, 15 April 2016

Friday to the Father - 15/4/16

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4v6-7

We recently applied to hire a different venue for our Sunday service.  This other venue had several practical benefits when compared to our current meeting place.  However, our application was turned down.  While this was initially surprising and disappointing, we see it as an answer to our prayers and your's, and find a peace that "surpasses all understanding".

We've therefore embraced the challenge of our current meeting place, and last Sunday we changed several things about the structure of the service.  The outcome was very positive, and I was greatly encouraged!  We were also grateful for a large family visiting during their holiday in the local area. 

We have also decided to change the time of the Sunday meeting, moving it from the afternoon to the morning, beginning this Sunday.

Praise God for His faithfulness, and for the wisdom He is able to provide.

Please pray that God will continue to provide for the practical needs of the church.  Pray also that God will help and heal those who are currently unwell.

Thank you for your continued prayers.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow!