Sunday, October 19, 2014

Lead us not into Temptation - some practical suggestions

Will they?

Won’t they?

Will they?

Won’t they?

The 1960’s Sandford University Marshmallow test is a wonderful insight into the pain of temptation!

It may only be a marshmallow but for those youngsters it’s a big temptation.

It is the sheer humanity of Jesus that makes his message so real.

He too was tempted … just as we are.

And they were three pretty big temptations.

esus returned from the Jordan full of the Holy Spirit and was led by the Spirit into the desert, 2where he was tempted by the Devil for forty days. In all that time he ate nothing, so that he was hungry when it was over.
3The Devil said to him, “If you are God's Son, order this stone to turn into bread.”

4But Jesus answered, “The scripture says, ‘Human beings cannot live on bread alone.’ ”

5Then the Devil took him up and showed him in a second all the kingdoms of the world. 6“I will give you all this power and all this wealth,” the Devil told him. “It has all been handed over to me, and I can give it to anyone I choose. 7All this will be yours, then, if you worship me.”

8Jesus answered, “The scripture says, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him!’ ”

9Then the Devil took him to Jerusalem and set him on the highest point of the Temple, and said to him, “If you are God's Son, throw yourself down from here. 10For the scripture says, ‘God will order his angels to take good care of you.’ 11It also says, ‘They will hold you up with their hands so that not even your feet will be hurt on the stones.’ ”

12But Jesus answered, “The scripture says, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”

13When the Devil finished tempting Jesus in every way, he left him for a while.

If you are God’s Son … the temptation comes three times.

Three times Jesus drew on God’s word in the Bible and said, “The Scripture says  …”

Tempted to gratify selfish desires and change stones into bread Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3 It is written “Human beings  cannot live on bread alone.”

Tempted to seek wealth, power or fame as he was shown all the kingdoms of the world, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:16 “The Scripture says, “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him!”

Tempted to doubt God’s power and throw himself from the highest point of the Temple, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:13, The Scripture says, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

What temptations come your way?  What happens when someone tempts you with an offer that’s hard to refuse?

God cares about sin.  Doing those things we know we shouldn’t, saying those things we know we shouldn’t, thinking those things that we know we shouldn’t – and leaving out all the things we should say and think and do.  It’s not that our faith is all riddled with guilt.  But it’s the recognition that when you do against your conscience it has a damaging effect, it spoils, it mars, it diminishes the very humanity that God wants to delight in as he offers us life to the full.

So what is sin?

It’s a little word that has the letter ‘i’ in the middle of it!

When I am at the middle of everything things go wrong.

Sin is putting ourselves at the centre and leaving other people and God out of the reckoning.

Sin has been described as ‘the self-elevating and self-centred condition of the human heart.

It’s when we put ourselves up here, in charge and put God down there and keep him down.

Jesus, God’s Son, offers us a very different way of living our lives.

What does that involve?

Think of the equally tiny word, Son.  There’s just one letter different.

This time at the centre of the word Son is the letter ‘o’ , a circle.

To follow in the footsteps of Jesus is to follow in the footsteps of the Son (that little word with a circle at its centre).

To follow in the footsteps of the Son we must put God at the centre of a circle that embraces other people and reaches out into the world around us with love.

You can think of it as a challenge – or you can think of it as a liberating insight that releases a whole new way of living into our lives.

The idea of our services is not just to come up with some interesting thoughts … but to come up with practical suggestions of things we can actually do in the week that’s to come.

So in a moment or two we are going to do just that and look at a few practical ways we can counter temptation and put in its place Godly thoughts and Godly living.

Don’t imagine, however, that our practical suggestions are techiques that will make you holy!

Far from it!

They are more like an athlete’s training program – such a program releases the athlete to realise their potential and be all that they can be.

These are practical things we can do to make space in our lives for that unseen and yet very real presence of God, the Holy Spirit, to come into our lives and enable and empower us to realise our potential, live the lives God has in store for us and live life to the full.

STL 16 God to enfold me

God to enfold me
God to surround me
God in my thinking
God in my words
God in my sleeping
And in my waking
God  in my watching
God in my hopes
God in my life,
God on my lips,
God in my heart and my soul
In my sufficing
And in my slumber
In my eternal and living soul.

After the Song the Hy-Tec’ers go to their group to explore the practical suggestions while the rest of us remain in church and continue

We want to share practical things that can make a difference in the week that’s to come.  They are adapted from  A Spiritual Formation Workbook by James Bryan Smith and Lynda Greybeal (Harper Collins 1993)

Respond to temptation with God’s Word – you could try memorising the tree responses Jesus made –

Tempted to gratify selfish desires “Human beings cannot live on bread alone.”

Tempted to seek wealth, power or fame, “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him”

Tempted to doubt God’s power “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Take that one step further and make it much more personal.  We all know the things that tempt us – there will be things we are very aware of.  Is there a particular verse in the Bible, maybe a promise, that you need to bring to mind each time that temptation comes to you.  You could write that down, make a note of it.  And when you are conscious of that temptation bring it into your mind.

Respond to temptation with the Word of God.

Try a twenty-four hour partial fast – the suggestion in the book is to go from lunch one day to lunch the next day.  Don’t eat but keep on taking fluids, it’s important to drink and keep those fluids up.

Jesus fasted in the Desert and it’s something that can be helpful.

Tradition has it that it is Jesus’ brother James who wrote the letter that bears the name of James towards the end of the New  Tesatment.  He in his wisdom identified the tongue as one of the sources of a great deal of wrong.  After all what we say often reveals what’s in our heart.  So two exercises that involve taming the tongue!

Go a day without saying anything negative.

Go a day without saying anything dishonest.

There’s one final exercise.  And this is one I would like to finish with.

You could do this exercise with the whole of 1 Corinthians 13.  That’s the chapter that celebrates love.

God is love.   The two greatest commandments involve love.

Love God.  Love your neighbour.

We are going to focus on 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

First, let’s read these words …

Love is patient and kind;
it is not jealous or conceited or proud;
love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable;
love does not keep a record of wrongs;
love is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth.
Love never gives up;
and its faith, hope, and patience never fail.

Thinking of what’s going on in our lives at this moment – as one week ends and another begins, think of those times when we are tempted to do the opposite

… pray that God in that unseen yet real power that is the Holy Spirit will come deep within you to resist those temptations that all too often get the better of you and put in their place that love that is the very love of God.

So, let’s gather our thoughts in prayer and for a few moments be quiet …

 Lead us not into temptation - a prayer based on 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Gracious, loving God

When the temptation comes
to be impatient, unkind, jealous,
conceited, proud, ill-mannered,
selfish and irritable …

When the temptation comes
to keep a record of wrongs,
to be happy with evil and unhappy with the truth,
to give up,
to lack faith, to lose hope and to abandon patience …

… pour into our hearts that unseen yet real power that is the Holy Spirit;
Come deep within us
and grant us that power from beyond ourselves
to resist the temptations that all too often get the better of us

… pour into our hearts that unseen yet real power that is the Holy Spirit,
Come deep within us
And fill us with that love that is the very love of God
in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Such Love is patient and kind;
it is not jealous or conceited or proud;
love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable;
love does not keep a record of wrongs;
love is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth.
Love never gives up;
and its faith, hope, and patience never fail.


Hymn 550 May the mind of Christ my Saviour

 1         May the mind of Christ my saviour
            live in me from day to day,
            by his love and power controlling
            all I do and say.

2          May the word of God enrich me
            with his truth, from hour to hour;
            so that all may see I triumph
            only through his power.

3          May the peace of God my Father
            in my life for ever reign,
            that I may be calm to comfort
            those in grief and pain.

4          May the love of Jesus fill me
            as the waters fill the sea,
            him exalting, self abasing -
            this is victory!

5          May his beauty rest upon me
            as I seek to make him known;
            so that all may look to Jesus,
            seeing him alone.

We went on to share in the Lord’s Supper.

After communion we sang a short prayer that means a great deal to me, one that I often choose when leading a Communion service.

It is 500 years this year since it was first printed in English.  It was found at the beginning of a Book of Hours printed in London by Richard Pynson and dated 12th May 1514.  It had already appeared in a number of similar publications in French dating from around 1490.

God in all of my living

God be in my head
And in my understanding

God be in my eyes
And in my looking

God be in my mouth
And in my speaking

God be in my heart
And in my thinking

God be at my end
And at my departing.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Prayer - some practical suggestions

As Christians we are called to be Christ-ian, to be Christlike.

That begs the question, what is Christ like?

It’s possible to see six things that sustained Christ and enabled him to be the person he was - it is those six things that we can draw on in order to build up our Christian lives as well.

An interesting exercise to see how we are getting on in each area of the Christian life – we did a very specific thing last week and asked people to look back over the last week and just see how they are doing –

Godly thoughts and Godly living
Relying on the Spirit
Making a difference in the world
Sharing  God’s love with others
Living out our faith every day.

Each week as we approach Advent we are going to focus on one of those six elements and share some practical things we can do in order to strengthen that element of our Christian lives.

Today, we begin with Prayer.

It’s fascinating to see the way in which you can trace the importance of prayer in the life of Jesus … nowhere is that more apparent than in Luke’s Gospel.

In Luke’s Gospel more than anywhere else he is seen drawing on prayer at key moments in his life and ministry: before his baptism (3:21),

After all the people had been baptized, Jesus also was baptized. While he was praying, heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit came down upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.”

 just before he comes face to face with those Jewish leaders he opposes (5:16),

But the news about Jesus spread all the more widely, and crowds of people came to hear him and be healed from their diseases. 16But he would go away to lonely places, where he prayed.

before choosing the Twelve Disciples (6:12),

At that time Jesus went up a hill to pray and spent the whole night there praying to God. When day came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he named apostles:

before he shares with those close friends the inevitability of his suffering and death (9:18). 

One day when Jesus was praying alone, the disciples came to him. “Who do the crowds say I am?” he asked them.  19“Some say that you are John the Baptist,” they answered. “Others say that you are Elijah, while others say that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”
20“What about you?” he asked them. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are God's Messiah.”

21Then Jesus gave them strict orders not to tell this to anyone. 22He also said to them, “The Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law. He will be put to death, but three days later he will be raised to life.”

Jesus is seen at prayer on the mountain top when his ministry is endorsed by Moses and Elijah (9:29),

While he was praying, his face changed its appearance, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly two men were there talking with him. They were Moses and Elijah, 31who appeared in heavenly glory and talked with Jesus about the way in which he would soon fulfil God's purpose by dying in Jerusalem.

before he shared with his disciples his insights into prayer (11:1),

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

in the Garden of Gethsemane (22:41)

Then he went off from them about the distance of a stone's throw and knelt down and prayed.  42 “Father,” he said, “if you will, take this cup of suffering away from me. Not my will, however, but your will be done.”

and on the cross (23:46). 

Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father! In your hands I place my spirit!” He said this and died.

At the last supper John records a very special prayer of Jesus (John 17). 

After Jesus finished saying this, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your Son, so that the Son may give glory to you.
2 For you gave him authority over all humanity, so that he might give eternal life to all those you gave him.
3 And eternal life means knowing you, the only true God, and knowing Jesus Christ, whom you sent.
4 I have shown your glory on earth; I have finished the work you gave me to do.
5 Father! Give me glory in your presence now, the same glory I had with you before the world was made.
6 “I have made you known to those you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me. They have obeyed your word,
7 and now they know that everything you gave me comes from you.
8 I gave them the message that you gave me, and they received it; they know that it is true that I came from you, and they believe that you sent me.
9 “I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those you gave me, for they belong to you.
10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine; and my glory is shown through them.
11 And now I am coming to you; I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world. Holy Father! Keep them safe by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one just as you and I are one.
12 While I was with them, I kept them safe by the power of your name, the name you gave me. I protected them, and not one of them was lost, except the man who was bound to be lost — so that the scripture might come true.
13 And now I am coming to you, and I say these things in the world so that they might have my joy in their hearts in all its fullness.
14 I gave them your message, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.
15 I do not ask you to take them out of the world, but I do ask you to keep them safe from the Evil One.
16 Just as I do not belong to the world, they do not belong to the world.
17 Dedicate them to yourself by means of the truth; your word is truth.
18 I sent them into the world, just as you sent me into the world.
19 And for their sake I dedicate myself to you, in order that they, too, may be truly dedicated to you.
20 “I pray not only for them, but also for those who believe in me because of their message.
21 I pray that they may all be one. Father! May they be in us, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they be one, so that the world will believe that you sent me.
22 I gave them the same glory you gave me, so that they may be one, just as you and I are one:
23 I in them and you in me, so that they may be completely one, in order that the world may know that you sent me and that you love them as you love me.
24 “Father! You have given them to me, and I want them to be with me where I am, so that they may see my glory, the glory you gave me; for you loved me before the world was made.
25 Righteous Father! The world does not know you, but I know you, and these know that you sent me.
26 I made you known to them, and I will continue to do so, in order that the love you have for me may be in them, and so that I also may be in them.”

It is this wonderfully close relationship in prayer that Jesus has with his Father that prompts his disciples to ask Jesus to show them how to pray (Luke 11:1-13)

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
2 Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say this: ‘Father: May your holy name be honoured; may your Kingdom come. 3 Give us day by day the food we need.
4 Forgive us our sins, for we forgive everyone who does us wrong. And do not bring us to hard testing.’ ”
5 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Suppose one of you should go to a friend's house at midnight and say, ‘Friend, let me borrow three loaves of bread.
6 A friend of mine who is on a journey has just come to my house, and I haven't got any food for him!’
7 And suppose your friend should answer from inside, ‘Don't bother me! The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.’
8 Well, what then? I tell you that even if he will not get up and give you the bread because you are his friend, yet he will get up and give you everything you need because you are not ashamed to keep on asking.
9 “And so I say to you: ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.
10 For all those who ask will receive, and those who seek will find, and the door will be opened to anyone who knocks.
11 Would any of you who are fathers give your son a snake when he asks for fish?
12 Or would you give him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?
13 Bad as you are, you know how to give good things to your children. How much more, then, will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him

 As you read through the story of Jesus, especially as Luke tells it, but also in the other Gospels as well you cannot help but sense that prayer was fundamentally important to Jesus – it was more than anything what sustained him in the life he led, the ministry he shared, in all he did.

I want to home in on one of those moments – and I want to turn to Mark’s Gospel for his account of what happened – and so we turn to Mark 14:32-36 and what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane.

They came to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”
33 He took Peter, James, and John with him. Distress and anguish came over him,
34 and he said to them, “The sorrow in my heart is so great that it almost crushes me. Stay here and keep watch.”
35 He went a little farther on, threw himself on the ground, and prayed that, if possible, he might not have to go through that time of suffering.
36 “Father,” he prayed, “my Father! All things are possible for you. Take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet not what I want, but what you want.”

I just want you to share with the person next to you – what impresses you most about this passage?

In the workbook that Karen has shared with us for these few Sundays  [James Bryan Smith with Lynda Graybeal,  A Spiritual Formation Workbook – a Renovaré Resource for Spiritual Renewal)  the writers draw our attention to verse 36.

First, Jesus has a complete confidence in God

All things are possible for you

Second, Jesus is absolutely honest in his prayer …

Take this cup of suffering away from me.

Third, Jesus puts himself completely into God’s hands and wants simply to do the will of God

Yet not what I want, but what you want.”

So, if we are to be Christ-like what practical things could we do this coming week to strengthen our prayer life?

  1. Set aside five to ten minutes each day for prayer: read and reflect on a Bible verse, simply talk with God … and in silence, listen.

  1. Spend five to ten minutes each day in silence – as very close friends can communicate without words, so too in silence we can be in the presence of God.

  1. Pray the same prayer for ten minutes each day: ‘the idea is to focus our thoughts on God so that God can enter our heart.   See below.

  1. Try the Lectio Divina approach described by Angela Ashwin in “Woven into Prayer”

Quieten yourself with a few deep breaths.

Reading: read a short passage slowly and notice any words that catch your attention

Meditation: stay with those words and repeat them peacefully to yourself aloud or in your mind and reflect on what God is saying through this text.

Verbal Response: in response talk to God in whatever way you want.

Contemplation: move into quiet communion with God, resting in his presence, coming back to those words.

Faithful One, so Unchanging

On the order of service sheet I have suggested a number of passages that you might use to do this simple reflection …

Psalms: 23, 46, 100
any or all the verses
Promises of Jesus
Matthew 11:28-30
Mark 10:45
Luke 15:24
John 14:27
Words of Blessing
Romans 11:33,36
2 Corinthians 1:3,4
Ephesians 3:18-19
Philippians 4:4-7 or 8-9
The Jesus Prayer
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.

We are going to select one of those and do a very simple Lectio Divina exercise. Using the guidelines in Angela Ashwin, Woven into Prayer

First, sit comfortably – and then take some deep breaths in your own time – breathing out, and breathing in.


As I read the words of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 listen out for any particular words that catch your attention.  “See if any word leaps out at you, or seems to be particularly apt for you today.  Try not to analyse it – there will be a chance for that later.

Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the merciful Father, the God from whom all help comes!
He helps us in all our troubles,
so that we are able to help others who have all kinds of troubles,
using the same help that we ourselves have received from God.

Meditation: stay with those words and repeat them peacefully to yourself aloud or in your mind and reflect on what God is saying through this text.  “Allow the word or phrase to find its way to your inner being.”

Verbal Response: in response talk to God in whatever way you want, in response to what has been offered to you.

Contemplation: move into quiet communion with God, resting in his presence, gently coming back to those words whenever your mind wanders.

Put all those things into the hands of God – not what I want, but what you want.  In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Hymn What a friend we have in Jesus

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Six Spokes of the Wheel - what it takes to live the Christian life

The focus of our church life at the moment is to build up our faith and to strengthen our discipleship.  in the weeks leading up to Advent we are going to have a look at six aspects of the Christian life and explore some very practical ways in which we can strengthen each one of them.

We began by taking a look at all six aspects of the Christian life and seeing that each of them is at the heart of the experience of Jesus himself.

What does it take to live the Christian life?

I guess that’s a big question that all of us know some kind of answer to, and all of us would like to be clearer about.

I think it’s worth remembering how the followers of Jesus first came to be called Christian.  It was actually used as a nickname by the crowds in Antioch who were disparaging about these people who aspired to be like Jesus to be Jesus – ian.  Or put that another way to be Christ – ian.

Paul it was who was brought by Barnabas to Antioch to spend a year helping to shape those first followers of Jesus.  Maybe the nickname stuck!  Throughout his ministry he came back to the centrality of Christ and urged those who followed in the footsteps of Jesus to be 'Christlike'.

It was when writing to the church in Philippi that he was most explicit ... Lorna read the first five verses and then the congregation read together what may already have been in Paul's time a statement of faith about Jesus Christ ...

Your life in Christ makes you strong, and his love comforts you. You have fellowship with the Spirit, and you have kindness and compassion for one another. 2I urge you, then, to make me completely happy by having the same thoughts, sharing the same love, and being one in soul and mind. 3Don't do anything from selfish ambition or from a cheap desire to boast, but be humble towards one another, always considering others better than yourselves. 4And look out for one another's interests, not just for your own. 5The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had:
6He always had the nature of God,
but he did not think that by force he should try to remain equal with God.
7Instead of this, of his own free will he gave up all he had,
and took the nature of a servant.
He became like a human being
and appeared in human likeness.
8He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death —
his death on the cross.
9For this reason God raised him to the highest place above
and gave him the name that is greater than any other name.
10And so, in honour of the name of Jesus
all beings in heaven, on earth, and in the world below
will fall on their knees,
11and all will openly proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

As Christians we are called to be Christ-ian, Christlike.

But what is Christ like?

Think of all the names there are for Jesus in the New Testament.  Which of them is your favourite?  Why does it mean so much to you.

Here are seven.

He is the Saviour who forgives and sets us free,
The Teacher who teaches wisdom and guides into truth,
The Lord who lives at the centre of our lives,
and the Friend who understands and comforts us.

He is the Prophet, challenging the powers that be with a whole new way of looking at the world,
The Priest who brings us into the very heart of God and brings God into us,
and the King as he opens up a new way of making society work – God’s way.

That gives us a good impression of who this Jesus is, of what Christ is like.

Interestingly, however, read through the Gospel story and it’s possible to go a bit further.  You can see what makes Jesus tick, what keeps him going, what shaped what he does.

Jesus is sustained and driven by prayer; that comes particularly to the fore in Luke’s Gospel when at every key moment in Jesus life Jesus is to be seen at prayer, often through the night.  So big a part does prayer play in the life of Jesus that his followers want him to teach them to pray in the way he prays.

Jesus is very human.  I wish I could go but I can’t.  Simon Callow’s presentation of Jesus looks a wonderful evening at the theatre.  Having been to an evening on Dickens with Simon Callow I have a feeling this is going to be very moving indeed.

He unashamedly is going to tell the story of Jesus the human.  And that I think is a wonderful enterprise to do.

For Jesus is supremely human.

And he experiences what we experience – joys and sadness, grief and tears, temptation too.  The first three gospels start their account of the ministry of Jesus with the temptations he faces.  In a sense temptation haunts him through his ministry – until on the cross according to Matthew he faces three last temptations – if you are the son of God come down from the cross and save yourself.

What is interesting is that when we dig into the Gospels we can see what Jesus did to resist temptation.  We can see the way he resists temptation and holds to the good with Godly thoughts and Godly living.

There is much for us to draw on there from Christ.

From that moment when he is baptised through the moments of temptation to the agony in the garden and the agony on the cross Jesus draws on the strength of God in the Holy Spirit.  At the last this is what he leaves with his followers when he recognises they will feel as if they are on their own – another comforter to be with them for ever, even the Spirit of God.

Jesus does all in the strength of God, relying on the Spirit.

Jesus comes not just with a message but to usher something new in – the kingdom of God.  He has a whole new way of seeing the world, God’s rule making a difference in the world

He is passionate about sharing God’s love with others – wherever he goes he offers a way of life to follow, he brings healing into hurting people’s lives and it is something to share.

And something happens in his presence - and he makes real the presence of God in people’s lives, living out the faith everyday.

If we want to be Christ like – to build up our Christian lives those are the things we need to draw on too …

  1. Prayer
  2. Godly thoughts and Godly living
  3. Reliance on the Spirit
  4. Making a difference in the world
  5. Sharing God’s love
  6. Living out the faith every day

Those are the things we are going to focus as we move towards Advent.

And now there's a practical exercise to do.  Take a look at the diagram on the service sheet.  It's adapted from a book that has been an inspiration to Karen, our Discipleship Ministry Leader:  James Bryan Smith and Lynda Graybeal, A Spiritual Formation Workbook, A Renovare Resource for Spiritual Renewal (Harper SanFrancisco, 1999)

Take a look at the wheel.  It's got six spokes.  For the wheel of our Christian lives to turn smoothly each one of those spokes needs to be functioning.  We are each of us different and from one week to the next things will be different - but by taking a look at ourselves in each of these six areas and giving an honest account of where we are at the moment, then we shall be able to draw on specific things to help us strengthen each area of our Christian lives.

So, take a look at the Six Spokes of the Wheel.

Now think back quite specifically over the last seven days.  After all, at church on a Sunday we are meeting at the weekend and so can look back over the last seven days and take stock.  It is also the first day of a new week and so taking stock in that way we can look to what lies ahead wanting to strengthen what we do.

Try the exercise.

How do you score?

We are all of us different.

We will be stronger in some than in others.

Give it a try – thinking of the last seven days put a mark on the spoke for Prayer – if you haven't found much time for prayer this last week put your mark nearer the 1: if you feel prayer has played a strong role in your life this las week then put your mark nearer 10.

No one is going to mark the sheet!  Or even look at it apart from you!  So be honest.

All of us will find we are stronger in some areas than in others.  If anyone finds they are putting a 10 for everything, then have a think again!!!!   That would be perfection itself!  And I'm pretty sure we all fall short in some way or other!

What about temptations ?  We all face them – how do you score – this last week have you faced those kind of temptations that niggle away at you, that get you down.  No one else knows what they are but you do.  This last week have they get the better of you then put your mark, nearer the 1.  Or have you managed to resist those temptations ... in which case put your mark nearer the 10.

How much have you found yourself in this last week relying on the Spirit?  We all of us need to draw on that strength from God that is beyond ourselves, on the Holy Spirit.  But thinking of these last few days, how far have you found yourself drawing on that strength - not much?  Or has it been a lot?  The mark goes on the spoke from 1 to 10.

And making a difference in the world – what have you done in this last week to make the world a better place, to work for social justice, to make God's kingdom come, God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven?  How much have you done to work for a better world that's in keeping with God’s rule of justice and love for neighbour and enemy too – 1 if this hasn't figured large in the last seven days, 10 if it has.

What about sharing God’s love?   Have you spoken about your faith and shared the Good news of God's love at the heart of our faith in some way with someone this last week?  How much have you consciously shared God's love?    again, make your mark on the spoke of the wheel between 1 and 10.

And what about living out our faith everyday?  As James the brother of Jesus said, Faith without actions is dead.  All that counts, says Paul, is faith active in love.    How do you feel about your life looking back this last week?   Mark that spoke as well between 1 and 10.

If you join up all your marks and go round in a circle what kind of line would you draw?

Is it a smooth wheel ... or is it a bit buckled?   Is it a strong one or at the weaker end?

This act of taking stock as the week turns is an age-old custom.  One our forebears stressed a lot, not least in approaching communion.  One that is at the heart of the whole Methodist movement with the class meetings at which people would be honest with each other and so seek to strengthen their lives together.

We will be drawn to some things more than others.  Think now where your strengths and where your weaknesses are.

We want our services leading up to be Advent to have a practical feel to them …

Between now and Advent let’s aim to build up each dimension of our Christian lives.  Strengthen all the spokes and the wheel of our Christian lives turns more effectively!

Each week we will think about a particular spoke, reflect on where we are at that week's end, and share some practical ideas about the way in which we can strengthen that aspect of our Christian life.

Spending time with God in Prayer and meditation is the key starting place.

Godly thoughts and Godly living can make a real difference in countering the temptations that sometimes get the better of us.

Then there are ways in which we can draw on that strength from beyond ourselves that involves relying on the Spirit.

We are going to look at practical ways of making a difference in the world so that love for neighbour and social justice really do matter.

There’s a wonderful good news to our Christian faith that means we need to share God’s love with others and work out how best we can do that.

The last spoke in the wheel has to do with the whole of our lives.  How can we ensure that we live out our faith everyday?

Underpinning all that we seek to do we are going to offer each week a particular prayer or a way of praying that can be helpful.

Celtic art is full of circles – wonderful patterns.

Celtic dance is often done in a circle – a slow, rhythmic beat as the circle moves round

Celtic prayer often makes use of the circle.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in the Prayer attributed to St Patrick, known as St Patrick’s Breastplate.

The prayer invites us to see Christ encircling us above and beneath, around and beside, without and within.

A wonderful prayer.

We are going to share in a song to take us into a time of quiet prayer.  I will slowly read the prayer through – and as we do that let’s sense the presence of Christ encircling us.

Christ be with me,
Christ within me,

Christ behind me,
Christ before me,

Christ to seek me,
Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort
And restore me

Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,

Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,

Christ sustaining
All who love me,

Christ uniting
friend and stranger.

We finished our service by singing together a wonderful hymn of John Newton's.  One-time captain of a slave-trading ship he ended up in Olney as Parish Priest where week by week he would meet with a good friend who suffered from awful depression, William Cowper, between them they would write a hymn to accompany the preaching on the subsequent Sunday.

This is a hymn that reflects on the many names of Jesus and finds great strength in those very names:

How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
in a believer's ear!
It soothes our sorrows, heals our wounds,
and drives away our fear.

It makes the wounded spirit whole,
and calms the troubled breast;
'tis manna to the hungry soul,
and to the weary rest.

Dear name! the rock on which I build,
my shield and hiding-place,
my never-failing treasury filled
with boundless stores of grace.

Jesus! my Shepherd, Guardian, Friend,
my Prophet, Priest, and King,
my Lord, my Life, my Way, my End,
accept the praise I bring.

Weak is the effort of my heart,
and cold my warmest thought;
but when I see you as you are,
I'll praise you as I ought.

Till then I would your love proclaim
with every fleeting breath;
and may the music of your name
refresh my soul in death.

John Newton (1725-1807)

So much to pass on at Highbury

If you give a little love you can get a little love of your own

A blessing shared at Highbury

Now and the Future at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions

Darkness into Light