19 February 2018
On Sunday, Simon Clift spoke on fasting [see ‘Love is an action' series’] from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. I sense this is a real ‘word in season’ for us for three reasons:
a) It ties in with the ‘spiritual health-check’ we did on Ash Wednesday and the suggestion that people use the ‘spiritual healthcheck’ book individually during Lent. (If you hadn’t heard about that, look at this blog [http://www.stjamesbythepark.org/blog/taking-a-spiritual-healthcheck] or pick up the materials from church next Sunday.)
b) This coming Saturday, the PCC are having an away day at which we’ll be looking to make decisions about the key mission priorities we want to have as a church over the coming years. This is the culmination of last term’s “Big Yes” / “discerning our collective mission priorities” evenings which many came to. In due course, the priorities the PCC decides upon will help to shape our decisions about buildings and budgets - as well as shaping the life of lots of groups within the church.
c) This coming Saturday is also a worship training day for our bands and tech teams, led by Neil Bennetts. As many of you know, the last year or so have been a testing time for our bands and tech teams, and this will be a great opportunity for them to come together to worship and learn together as they seek to serve God and us and lead our church in worship.
In the light of this, I’d love you to consider agreeing one day this week, or this coming month, when you will fast.
Simon gave some suggestions during the sermon as to what that might look like - typically going without food (but drink plenty of fluids) between an early breakfast and an evening meal; or for 24 hours. Some of you may need to seek medical advice first to see whether it is wise, but for the vast majority of people, fasting can be a really healthy discipline - and of course, when we are fasting to seek God, it becomes of great spiritual worth, too.
Specifically, would you pray and fast for our PCC (as they make these key decisions and work out how to implement them) and for our bands and tech teams (as they continue to adjust to lots of changes and seek to lead us in worship)?
Fasting isn’t just for the ‘super-spiritual’. It has been a common practice for most Christians for most of the last 2000 years - but is something that our generation has lost. Jesus clearly expects us to - so let’s learn together.
I’m suggesting that each cell group and missional community commits to experimenting with fasting on the same day (even though some will be at work, others on holiday etc) because we often need the encouragement of others to start at something which seems daunting. That’s why some who want to start running choose to join a ‘couch to 5k’ running group - it provides encouragement whilst training, and a degree of accountability. If your group fasts on the same day, you can message each other through the day to share how it’s going, and reflect on the experience together.
If you’re not in a cell group or missional community, choose a day to fast - you can always ask other friends in the church to give you particular encouragement on that day.
Who knows - once you’ve done it once, you may want to try again (for a slightly longer period?) later in Lent. Simon shared yesterday that since he started experimenting with fasting over the last couple of months, he has experienced a greater hunger for the things of God - in addition to a new enjoyment of food and a new awareness of how food can diminish us.
Let’s seek God together in prayer - and in fasting - for the life of our church and our mission in this area. Let’s pray - and fast - for God’s Kingdom to come and his will to be done.
We take cars for annual MOTs. Some of us get regular physical health-checks. When was the last time you took a spiritual health-check?
On Ash Wednesday, we gave the opportunity to take part in one. For those who weren't able to make it, here's some of what we covered:
Spiritual health is closely tied to spiritual growth. Sadly, for many Christians, a spiritual growth chart looks something like this:
In other words, after we become a Christian, we grow spiritually quite rapidly - but then we plateau for the rest of our lives until we die. At that point, Jesus completes our spiritual transformation (we are renewed in body, soul and spirit) and we get to live in his presence. That spiritual growth chart is similar to a physical growth chart for humans - growth through childhood and adolescence, but then no more growth for the rest of our lives.
But the Bible pictures spiritual growth as being more like this:
In other words, we should be on an overall trend of spiritual growth throughout our lives. Yes, there are ups and downs along the way. But by the time we die, we should be considerably more spiritually mature / healthy than in the immediate years after we become a Christian.
The apostle Paul was a great evangelist - but he wasn't just interested in people becoming Christians. He was passionate about Christians becoming more spiritually mature: "We proclaim him [Christ], admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect [mature] in Christ" (Colossians 1.28).
Similarly, when talking about why Jesus gave certain gifts to the church, Paul explained that it was "so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity ... and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." And the effect of this maturity? "Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching ..." (Ephesians 4.11.16).
Spiritual maturity means becoming more and more like Jesus. Here’s Paul writing to the Corinthians: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory" (2 Corinthians 3.18). John Ortberg describes the effect of spiritual transformation like this: "When transformation happens, I don’t just do the things Jesus would have done; I find myself wanting to do them. They make sense. I don’t just go around trying to do the right things; I become the right sort of person."
So ... being a spiritually healthy Christian means growing to spiritual maturity - becoming more and more like Jesus. And that's a lifelong process - not one that stops after spiritual adolescence!
We developed some questions (actually, we borrowed bits from various different sources) to help each of us diagnose the state of our own spiritual health. Click here to take this 'spiritual health-check' yourself.
Go on - give it a go! You've got nothing to lose and everything to gain. As you fill it in, be honest - this is just between you and God. If you score low in a section, it doesn't mean you're a bad Christian - it's just flagging up areas where you can grow.
A physical health-check is only beneficial if we begin to put into practice the GP's recommendations. It's the same with this spiritual health-check. If you just leave it there, it's been a waste of time. To get the most out of this health-check, once you've done it, choose one (or maybe two) areas which have been highlighted as needing some attention, and begin to work on it, prayerfully.
And don't work at it alone! Spiritual growth comes as we allow God's Spirit to work in us, and it happens in the context of Christian fellowship. Learn from the wisdom of others who are stronger in that area than you are.
And if you want some more ideas on how to work on these areas, specifically on 'spiritual disciplines', here's the 'growing spiritually' handout we used to help people follow-up.
Have fun - and let us know how you get on!
"In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy ... being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1.4-6).
Hi St James Family!
It is now about 5 months since I left Southampton and moved to Bristol. For those who don’t know/remember, I am currently living in Bristol and doing an internship with a church called Woodlands on the New Wine discipleship Year. I’m doing a leadership placement, and spend my weeks serving in my church, getting theology training and putting this training into practice in my placements. It has been a crazy 5 months with the adjustment of living without mum and dad, being in a completely different city and working rather than going to college.
I have some amazing people from St James who are supporting me this year both financially and in their prayers. Each month I send out an update, but I was speaking to mum over Christmas and we realised that no one else from home has any idea what I’m up to here!…
As I said, I am doing a Leadership Placement. This sees me being heavily involved with the running of our Alpha course - which runs every term and has between 60 and 100 people coming each week. The person who does all of the admin for this has just stepped down, so I am now doing a lot of the behind the scenes work to make each Alpha night run smoothly. It’s been great to just be given the trust to do this. It has also taught me a lot about how leadership isn’t always the upfront people; its the behind the scenes people that often get overlooked who help to make services and events happen.
I am also helping to start up a new children’s group at out 9:15 service that we have every Sunday morning. I and another intern (Hannah) have been asked to start a new group for year 2 children as their normal group has got too large. This is quite a big task, one that we are really excited about and again, thankful to the Woodlands staff for giving and trusting us with this task. Our first session with the kids is this Sunday (4th Feb), so prayers for that would be greatly appreciated!
The Discipleship Year was 100% the right choice. I spent a lot of last year searching for something to do when I left college, and decided that I was going to come to Bristol about a month before I moved. But the people that I have met here and the experiences that I have had tell me that I am exactly where I need to be. I am part of a team of 13 interns and I completely love each and every one of them. We bonded very quickly as a team and now are very much like family. Just having people here who support and love me is something that I cannot express how grateful I am for. I am so thankful to God for guiding me to Bristol and putting me in a place where I am so loved and cared for.
I have also learned a lot about myself in the last few months. I was never that confident in who I was as a person or how I looked. But in the last months, God has taught me to love myself for how he loves me - and I have completely fallen in love with myself. To look in the mirror and like what I see is a very strange and new experience, but one that I don’t want to go away. One of the phrases that us interns use a lot is “Confident in Love” - this is how I feel…confident in the love that Jesus has for me, no matter what I look or what I wear.
I would love it if you could pray for me - even all the way back in Southampton!…
- my future is still quite uncertain. I feel like God may have called me to do something next year but its all very new so would love prayer for reassurance and answers. I have learned to trust God’s timings because his plans are better than my own, but there is still the part of me that worries about the future!
- each month I am still struggling a little financially and had to pay rent very late this month. Once again, I completely trust that He provides, but prayer for that provision would be greatly appreciated!
- last term I got very tired because I was doing a lot of work. I’m getting good at saying ‘No’ and have learned that it is a good word! Please pray that I wont get too stressed or tired, and that I will be able to find a good balance of ‘work and play’.
- finally, that God will continue to work in me. He has been so faithful and loving towards me over the last few months. He is working in me in ways that I never would have imagined. Please pray that he will keep working in me, and transforming me into his disciple.
I really do miss my Southampton church family. It was very strange being back at Christmas but I really loved being back in the building and seeing so many people. As I said, I do a monthly update and if you would like to be added to this I would be more than happy to put you on the list, or am happy to answer any questions you have about what I’m doing here in Bristol - just give me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m normally quite fast at replying, it just depends on how busy I am!
Hopefully you enjoyed this little update on how I’m doing, its very strange that I haven’t lived in Southampton for 5 months, but I know I’m exactly where God wants me and am loving every day of being in Bristol and working for Woodlands.
With love and blessings,
Here's Dan filling us in on plans for the 'Spiritual Health-check' evening, plus updates on mission priorities, buildings and Alpha ...
Loneliness is rife amongst older people. There's even a government minister for loneliness now. (One joker said there should be two of them so they don't get lonely ...)
We've got a wonderful opportunity to invite local older people to a lovely tea party with live music, plenty of tea and cake - and opportunities for ongoing friendship.
It's on Saturday 10th February, from 2-4pm at Shirley Parish Hall. Is there someone you could invite a long - a near neighbour? Someone you see at the shops? Someone you see walking the streets?
Tickets need to be booked - call 023 8021 6016 (on the day only: 07543 945770). Suggested donation £2.50 per person (pay on the door). Leaflets are available from St James' by the Park.
Donations for transport are also welcomed!