Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Winter 2021 Prayer and Fasting



I recently got sent a prophetic word from my friend Alain Emerson who leads a network of churches in Northern Ireland. The whole of his word resonated with me (I have included it at the end of this blog so you can read it and spend time meditating over it and weighing it - I would love to hear your reflections). 

The central part of what Alain sensed God saying is that just as we are in winter physically we are also in winter spiritually. Spring is coming but we need to allow winter to run its course. In his words we need to 'conserve divine energy for the spring ahead' and recognise that winter has 'its own beauty and purpose'. One phrase particularly stuck with me:

make the place of hibernation in this season the place of My habitation

I so sense this is the season we are in. This isn't the moment to be making big plans for the future and thinking how we scale everything we do. It is the time to be pressing into God, deepening our roots, doing the unseen work of abiding in Christ, all in order to be ready for spring which will surely come. It is for this reason I think our current Wellbeing Journey is so well timed. We are getting ourselves ready to re-emerge into the new normal. 

All of this impacts the coming week of prayer and fasting which start on Monday 1st. I feel a pressure (almost all of which is internally generated) to have a week full of activity. Fast for the whole week. Have a week of 24/7 prayer and push to fill every slot. Try to impress God with our energy and activity. There will be a time for all of that (well not the last part), but in this moment I think we need a week to abide. To be with Jesus. To ask God what spring is going to hold. To prepare ourselves for all that Jesus is about to do in us and through us.

These are the ways we are going to abide in the coming week:

  • Join us for our Kingdom Come hour of prayer on Monday at 8pm. We are going to hear from our site leaders, have communion together and spend time praying for one another. I am so looking forward to us being together. 
  • Every weekday evening at 9.30pm on our Kerith Instagram feed we are going to have an evening Examen. Slowing down at the end of the day to reflect, to rejoice and to finish our days with Christ.
  • I encourage everyone to fast for one meal during the week and spend an hour alone in prayer. If that fills you with dread I encourage you to use the brilliant guided hour of prayer we produced a last year ago.
  • Join me and the prayercast team every weekday, either live at 6.45am or later in the day for  15 minutes of prayer and reflection. 

None of this is about doing stuff. All of it is about slowing down to be with Jesus. 

Winter is here but spring is coming. Let us make sure we are ready for it.

Simon

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I have sensed the Lord say to me over past few weeks, that while this is 'winter' (in more ways than one for many people - lockdown life etc ) there is a hope that Spring is on the way.  In our part of the world the nights are already on the turn, the light of the day is lengthening already, the nights are getting shorter ever so slightly and we should prepare/reposition for Spring. But part of that preparation I sense is to allow winter to run its course. I keep thinking of the animal kingdom this winter and the process of 'hibernation'. The point is of this is to conserve energy for the Spring ahead. I think we are being afforded an opportunity to hunker into the womb of God in this season (not passive as we get on with ‘loving our neighbours’ and doing what we can do) but a posture of relinquishment and making God our ‘hiding place’). I keep getting this phrase "make the place of hibernation in this season the place of My habitation", conserve divine energy for the spring ahead...

While it appears God is ‘revealing’ and exposing ‘hidden (dark) things’ in his church and around the earth in this cultural moment there is also a sense in which God is calling us to seek out new insight / revelation in the ‘hidden place’ of HIS presence. The verse comes to mind, ‘The secret things belong to the Lord’ (Deut 29:29), hidden not always from us but FOR us. Remember also ‘It is the glory of God to conceal a matter but kings to seek it out.’ (Proverbs 25:2). The ‘hibernation’ of WINTER continues to be an opportunity to receive and conserve the divine energy we will need for the SPRING days ahead. This is a moment to ‘seek out’ the secret things of the Lord as we rest in his glory of His presence, this place contains the wisdom/insight He wants to display through us in the days ahead in order that we might lead our cities/nation into His life in the midst of all the talk of lack and an impending economic disaster. What if the antidote to this is a Joseph-like anointing for a time of ‘famine’ approaching? What if the Lord wants to release supernatural insight/wisdom mined from intimacy with Him but this is wisdom proven through the winter (a pit and a jail for Joesph) which when, in His timing, will make kings and queens look to the church for solutions again? 

We cannot control the seasons - rather we submit to the unrivalled beauty each season has and winter, while we don't always like it, has it's own beauty and purpose. So we SURRENDER to SOVEREIGNTY. God is doing it!! God does what God does in winter, and we say ‘YES’ to that. And SPRING will have it’s day soon and it will be glorious.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Join us on our Wellbeing Journey

 


This coming Sunday we start a new series called 'The Wellbeing Journey'. Over 50 days we are going to examine six dimensions of wellbeing, asking where we are in each of them and exploring what we can do to see an improvement in any where we are struggling. 

We are encouraging everyone to go on this journey in community. To make that possible we have over 50 small groups which are going to be working their way through the course material. Some of these are already full but many others still have space to join. If you haven't already signed up then you can find all of the groups listed here. One of the benefits of everything being online is that you don't need to join a group which is geographically close to you - you can be a part of a group from anywhere in the world so please feel free to sign up, wherever you are and even if you aren't a part of Kerith. We would love to have you join us. 

I also realise that for some people doing the course with a friend or as a couple may work better than joining a group. This is absolutely fine - my heart is just that none of us would be doing this course alone. 

There is a book which goes with the course which gives 50 days of reflections on the material. We are attempting to get a copy of the book to everyone who joins a small group. This is being done via small group leaders. As you can imagine this is proving quite a challenge at the moment and so we may struggle to get books to everyone by Sunday. If you want to you can buy the book yourself, as either a physical book or an e-book, from CWR, Eden or Amazon

Our children and youth will also be doing their own version of the course. It is really exciting that we are all going to be aligned this way. My prayer is that this course will help us to hit the ground running as we begin to return to a new normal.

I have the privilege of speaking as we start our journey this coming Sunday. Hope to see you there!

Simon


Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Helping us to Dream the New Normal


It might seem impossible to imagine right now, but assuming the vaccine rollout goes as we all hope we will get back to meeting again physically in 2021! W
e will be able to gather again, worship together, be mask free, hug, have kids work and youth work, go in one another's homes, go out for meals and do all the other things we've so missed in this season. 

With all the change that we’ve been through, not just in our gatherings moving online but also deeply personal changes in our walk with Jesus, we’re aware we won’t re-build in exactly the same way we knew before Covid. The church is people. If we as the people have changed then so will the events, ministries & groups that we are part of.

 

To consider these potential changes we are taking January and February to pray, dream and plan what our ministries and activities will look like when they restart. Although we still don’t know exactly when we will get to this new normal, we want to start thinking and praying now as to what God might be inviting us to re-build, and what he might be asking us to leave behind. As part of that process we want to hear from as many people as possible by asking you to fill in this survey


Please prayerfully consider what God might be saying to us as you walk through these questions. Thank you so much for your help!


Simon

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Kerith Physical Gatherings in Lockdown 3


Since the beginning of the first lockdown last March one of the questions facing churches and church leaders has been how much should they continue to meet physically. Different churches have made different choices, based I would guess on a whole range of factors including their size, their demographic, their ability to move their gatherings online, their local infection rates, the personality types of their senior leaders and much more. We took a decision very early on that we would move our Sunday gatherings online and put all of our resources into making that experience as rich as possible with no physical gatherings. I know that some people have found this hard but I think that it was the right thing to do, choosing to love one another by minimising the spread of the virus and realising that although our buildings might be closed the church as the people of God is very much still alive.

One of the things I have learnt leading through this pandemic has been that although we don't have certainty we can lead with clarity. We can make clear decisions which, even if not everyone agrees with them, mean that people know what we are doing and why. This allows people to make their own plans and not be constantly in a place of uncertainty as to what we are doing as a church.  

With this in mind we have taken the decision that we won't have any physical gatherings while we are in this current national lockdown. Given the rapidly rising number of infections and the resulting danger of our hospitals being overwhelmed I personally think this is the only responsible course of action for us, even though under the government rules we are still allowed to meet. Based on the choices we have made to this point I don't think this decision will be a surprise, but I wanted to let people know for certain rather than having to guess what we might be doing. We will of course review this as things develop.

The good news is that with the vaccine now being rolled out there is a route to a 'new normal' where we will be able to gather physically, worship together, be mask free, hug, have kids work and youth work and do all the other things we've so missed in this season. We are starting to dream about what the new normal will look like and next week I will be inviting all of us to take part in a survey to hear thoughts on how we might do things differently in the future. 

In the meantime I have a few suggestions of how we can not only survive but thrive in this season:
  • Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. We may be in a storm but he is in the boat with us and is going to bring us safe to the other side. Let us be honest and real about how we are doing but also let us be fully focussed on the one our hope is in. Listen to worship music - I recommend Maverick City Music if you haven't discovered them already. 
  • Keep pressing into God through meditating on scripture and prayer. Some great tools are Nicky Gumbel's Bible in a year, Lectio 365 and my prayercast
  • If you aren't already in one then join a small group. We are going to be starting a new series on Wellbeing on Sunday 17th January with a lots of small groups being launched starting from Monday 18th. I am going to be running a group which runs on Wednesday evenings and you'd be really welcome to join me, but there are lots of others available on various days and at different times of day. You might even consider signing up to lead a small group
  • Prioritise joining with us on Sunday mornings, engaging with the online chat and using the prayer chat rooms which are now available on our website. If you can't watch live then find a time later in the day or week to catch up.
  • Use your daily opportunity for exercise to go for a walk with somebody where you can be honest about how you are doing and encourage and pray for one another. Make use of WhatsApp, zoom, text and even writing a letter or sending a card to encourage and keep in touch with others.
  • If you need help of any sort then please reach out to ask for it. We will get through this together, and we will all have times when we need to be vulnerable and admit our need to others. 
I hope that helps. I keep praying for you that in the midst of all that is happening you would know Jesus more clearly and strongly. Our hope is in him.

Simon

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Mary - Christotokos or Theotokos?

 


On Sunday I spoke about the encounter that Mary, the soon to be mother of Jesus, had with the angel Gabriel (recorded in Luke 2:26-38). 

As part of my message I spoke about the debate which took place in the early church as to what title (in Greek) should be given to Mary. Was she Christotokos or Theotokos. Who cares, you may well ask, and what do those words even mean! 

Well first to unpack their meaning. The phrase tokos in both words means 'bearer', Christos means 'Christ' and Theos means 'God'. So Christotokos means 'Bearer of Christ' or 'Mother of Christ' and Theotokos means 'Bearer of God' or 'Mother of God'.

The early church debate wasn't really about Mary, but about the nature of Jesus. Was Jesus in his incarnation two separate persons, one human and one divine with Mary only giving birth to the human Jesus (making her the Christotokos), or was the baby in her womb both fully God and fully human in one person (making her the Theotokos).

The first position is called Nestorianism, named after a preacher called Nestorius although he probably never actually taught this. The second position was argued for by a number of early church theologians including one called Cyril of Alexandria. 

This issue was debated at a church council in Ephesus in AD431 which affirmed the Nicene Creed, and decided that based on that creed Mary was Theotokos. This was further affirmed at a later church council in Chalcedon in 451 which came up with the Chalcedonian Definition which again declared Mary to be Theotokos. This understanding of the person of Christ, that he is both fully God and fully human in one person, is accepted to this day as orthodoxy by the Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic Church.

It is important to be clear that by calling Mary 'Mother of God' we are not saying that she is the Mother of God from eternity, or that God the Father or God the Son originated from her, but that she was the mother of God the Son in his incarnation.

Why does this matter? Well it matters because it impacts our salvation. When sin came into the world every part of our humanity was broken, and so the whole of our humanity needs to be saved. If in the incarnation Jesus had only taken on part of our humanity then only those parts of our humanity he took on could be saved, healed and redeemed through him. If in the incarnation he had only taken on a body but hadn't become fully human then only our bodies could be saved. But because he fully took on every aspect of our fallen, sinful human nature (although he never sinned) and became one of us, then through his death and resurrection every aspect of our humanity can be saved and healed. Not only our bodies but our souls, our minds, our emotions, our hopes, our fears and our dreams can all find salvation in him.

One of the early church Fathers, Gregory of Nazianzus, summarised this beautifully when he declared:

'The unassumed is the Unhealed'

If there was an aspect of our human nature that had not been taken up in Jesus, it would remain unhealed and unredeemed. The wonderful news is that Jesus took on every aspect of our humanity, and so every part of us can be healed and redeemed.

The writer to the Hebrews echoes this when they write:

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by
his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is,
the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had
to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a
merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement
 for the sins of the people.

‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭2:14-17

So let's be grateful that Mary was the 'Mother of God', that the child she bore was both fully divine and fully human, and that through his death and resurrection every part of our humanity can be saved, healed and redeemed. 

Happy Christmas!

Simon

ps - there is lots of theology behind what I've written above. I've almost certainly said something which somebody will point out to me as being heresy! If that's you then please let me know and I'll correct it. Thank you :)

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Healing Evenings and Kingdom Come Prayer


Healing Evenings - Sundays 1st and 22nd November

One of the many things to come out of this season of Covid has been the number of healings we've heard reports of. In the last two weeks I've heard of one person who had an abscess in their mouth which was instantly healed, somebody who had a blood test saying they had cancer but then (after a whole load of people prayed) had a second blood test which came back completely clear and somebody who got prayer for chronic pain in their legs which has now totally gone. Praise God!

We want to create more space for people to receive prayer for healing so we've asked Paul Manwaring, who is part of Kerith Windsor, to lead two evenings for us. Paul has an anointing to pray for healing - the two times he has preached with us recently he finished with words of knowledge for healing to which a number of people responded to say that they had been healed.

The evenings are going to be on Sunday the 1st and 22nd November at 7.30pm, and will be hosted by our Windsor site pastor, Leon Johnson, on our Kerith Facebook page. The stream will start at 7.20pm. Paul will do around 20 minutes of teaching and then there will be an opportunity for people to be prayed for, using the chat function on the live stream to ask for prayer. Please join us, and invite others to come along if you know people who would benefit from this.

Kingdom Come Hour of Prayer - Monday 2nd November

At 8pm on Monday we have our monthly Kerith wide hour of prayer. This will be hosted on zoom - the zoom link will be emailed out on Monday morning but if you don't get it please send an email to info@kerith.church and we will get it to you. 

We will be sharing communion together and we will be praying for our nation and the nations at this key moment in history. We will also be having time in small groups to pray for one another. Please join us from 7.50pm for what is a key hour in the month for us a a community.

Thank you everyone.

Blessings,

Simon

Friday, October 16, 2020

Kerith Talks About Race


I hope and believe that when the history books are written reflecting on the global pandemic we are currently living through, one of the most significant things they will talk about is the conversations which have taken place during this season about race and racism. In fact my hope and prayer is that not only will they talk about the conversations that took place, but more importantly the changes which happened in society as a result of those conversations. I strongly sense that the pandemic has created a unique moment in history for change; that this is one of the ways God is going to bring good from the evil of Covid, bringing his justice and righteousness into the world.

When all of this first happened I strongly sensed God saying to create space for people in our community to tell their stories. We heard publicly from people like Shari Barrett, Pelumi and Rachel Aworinde and Daniele Seidu. These people at the core of our community told us about the racism that they have experienced and continue to experience. I remember feeling a mixture of disbelief, anger and shame at what these people who I count as friends have been through. I also felt regret that despite having know all of them for a number of years this was the first time I'd ever had a conversation with them about things which have so deeply impacted their lives. I know that alongside the public conversations there were many private conversations that took place too. Conversations where some of us had the courage to tell stories we've never told before, and others of us listened and learnt in a whole new way.

So what do we do next? We are going to launch an exploratory research project called Talking about Race. This will be the next step in our goal of becoming a church which actively seeks to eliminate racism, both internally and in our wider society. The research should give us the tools as an organisation to support all people who experience racism and enhance our efforts as a community in becoming more inclusive. 

The first part of the project will be listening to our whole community and getting a good understanding of people's perceptions and experiences of racism, diversity and inclusion. I am delighted that Natalee Matsekeza, who completed the Kerith Academy in 2016 and studied Sociology and International Development, will be leading this project for us. I want to encourage all of us in Kerith to complete the survey - we want to hear what everybody thinks. regardless of their ethnic background. You can find the survey here.

Following on from the survey, Natalee will carry out individual interviews for those who would like to share more. Then in the New Year we will report back on the results of the research and the next steps we are going to take as a community.

Thank you in advance for taking the time to fill in the survey, I really appreciate it. 

Simon