Editorial – March 2020

by Eddie Short

A Season Of Generosity

I don’t know about you, but I’m finding it hard to believe that we’re already into the third month of 2020! This year seems to be flying by and Easter is already just around the corner. In fact, the 40 day season of Lent – when Christians around the world spend time reflecting and preparing for Easter – is already underway.

Lent is a time when Christians have traditionally given something up as an act of sacrifice to honour the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made for all of us when he submitted to death on the cross. However, over the last couple of years, in The Rivers Team we’ve instead been encouraged to take part in the 40 Acts Generosity Challenge.

Created by UK Christian charity, Stewardship, for the past ten years 40 Acts has challenged followers of Jesus with this question: what if Lent could be about more than just giving stuff up? What if it could be a time of radical generosity as well as spiritual discipline?

Taking part in 40 acts is a great opportunity to live out our Christian faith in a practical way that can have a positive impact on those around us. That’s not to say that you can’t still mark the season by sacrificially removing something from your life. But, if you’ve already committed to give something up during lent, why not replace it with a commitment to a daily act of generosity?

So how does it work?

It’s easy to take part in 40 Acts by signing up at www.40acts.org.uk. You’ll then receive an email each morning for the rest of Lent with a short bible reading and reflection, together with the daily generosity challenge. Each of these has an overall theme and then three different ways of acting on it, each requiring an increasing level of engagement. So you can decide how far you want to take each day’s challenge.

40 Acts can be done alone, but – for those who can – engaging with it as a couple or family is a great way to build a culture of generosity within your home. We’ll also be encouraging each other during 40 Acts as a church family, through The Rivers Team WhatsApp and Facebook groups, while our Sunday sermons throughout Lent will also tie into the same themes as the daily bible readings and reflections, drawing on the book of Proverbs.

Generosity is, without doubt, central to the Christian life. Jesus not only tells his followers to be generous (“freely you have received; freely give” – Matthew 10 v8), but we see him modelling generosity throughout the gospel accounts of His life and ministry. Because, of course, generosity is about a lot more than simply financial giving. As Jesus showed by inviting Zacchaeus to eat with him, we can be generous with our time by giving it to those who are lonely or ostracized. As Jesus demonstrated when he feed the 5,000, we can be generous with our hospitality. And as Jesus modelled through his ultimate act of sacrifice on the cross, we can be generous with our love and compassion.

So, as we go through the season of Lent, building towards the celebration of Easter, let’s be deliberate in our generosity. Let’s live out the gospel message of salvation found through faith in Jesus, one small daily act of kindness at a time!

Parliament on Persecution

Bob Luntby Robert Lunt
On 6 February MPs debated the persecution of Christians. This followed a report commissioned by Jeremy Hunt and the presentation of the 2020 Open Doors World Watch List – the 50 countries where it’s toughest to be Christian. There is evidence “Christians are the target of about 80% of all acts of religious discrimination or persecution around the world”.

Rother Valley’s new MP, Alexander Stafford, suggested the UK’s aid budget should “help persecuted Christians and give more money to minority groups affected, such as poor Christians in Syria and across the Middle East”. This led to discussion about withholding aid to governments such as Nigeria’s which has “shown little sign of stopping the silent slaughter of the innocent … After years of generous aid the massacre of Christians is escalating”, some 1,300 having been killed in the past year.

China and North Korea featured in the debate. China has closed churches, arrested members, replaced pictures of Jesus with those of the Chinese leader, torn down crosses on church roofs. Human rights defenders have been arrested and tortured; the distraught wife of one said to the police, “His mind is shattered. Just what did you people do to him?”

One MP reported a defector from the North Korean national security agency describing being trained to look for ‘people who remained silent’, ‘people meditating’, ‘smokers or drinkers who suddenly quit’ – all potential signs of Christians. Severe recrimination, often leading to death, follows.

A prominent contributor to the debate was Fiona Bruce – not the newsreader but the MP for Congleton. She spoke with deep feeling of how in 2016 the Select Committee on International Development visited Nigeria to review the Department for International Development’s (DFID) programmes there. Despite her appeal, the DFID staff declined to listen to the concerns of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) about how Christians were being targeted and “killings could not simply be put down to local disputes between herdsmen and settlers”. Ms Bruce called for a report on what the DFID staff are now doing to address persecution of Christians – especially in light of the kidnap and murder in January of a leader of CAN and the videoed beheading of 10 Christians on Boxing Day.

The challenge of Christian persecution has been forcibly put to the DFID and the Foreign Office. Will there be action before the Lord comes?

Source: Hansard

Metanoia (The Process of Transformation)

dvickersby David Vickers

Have you ever considered how it would be if you had never committed yourself to following Jesus – if you had refused to accept His call on your life? This may have been quite recently or decades ago. In my own case, it was 8pm, June 16th 1984. It was a dramatic occasion at Mission England at Anfield.

In 1999, I started writing a book – a sort of autobiography. It wasn’t intended to be published. I wanted a record of my life up to that point so that, when I might lose my memory in older age, I could be reminded of people, events and situations that had influenced my continuing story. When I started it, it was titled, “Christmas Shopping in Damascus”. Twenty-one years later and I am still writing it and there is no sign of it being completed this year.

It is now called, “Joining the Dots”. It opens with a quote from Psalm 143:5
“I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done.”

Each dot is a place, time, person or event in my history. As I reflect on diaries and journals kept throughout my life, I consider what He has done to transform me. I can still remember my life before I became a follower of Jesus. I had a new job which I liked, but was living alone and going through a divorce. I was probably binge drinking too much. I was also senior steward of my local Methodist Church.

From that moment in 1984, things started to change. Some changes have been dramatic and some almost unnoticed at the time. Its not until I look back that I begin to recognise God’s hand in creating and joining up the dots in my life to get me to where I am today. I am at peace today, so I thank God for the seemingly bad and good things that have shaped me. I have rebelled occasionally; I have been proud of personal achievement. He has always lovingly nudged me back on the right path.

He has never forced me to transform. But I am blessed that I don’t rebel as much as I did. And now I have many stories to tell of my walk with Him. I can testify to His guidance, His love, His protection and provision. And I can also testify to His patience with me and the times when He chastised me, as loving fathers have to.

Romans 12:2 teaches quite clearly:

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

So, look back and meditate on your life and give thanks for all the marvellous ways that God has been at work. You are special to Him and He will never give up on you. He is preparing us for eternity with Him

 

Spotlight on Mission – TEAR FUND

spotlightOn their website Tear Fund asks the question How to pray for the climate crisis?

As the climate crisis is increasing it is hitting people in poverty the hardest – the ones that have done the least to cause it. Extreme weather like flooding, cyclones and droughts are becoming more severe. They are destroying crops, displacing communities and pushing people further into poverty.

One of the first things God asks of us is to care for his creation
(Gen 2:15). Then, throughout the Bible, God reminds us through Jesus and the prophets to speak up for the oppressed, the marginalised and the poor. God wants to bring restoration and peace to all of our relationships – with him, ourselves, other people and creation. And he wants us to join him in doing this.

Prayer first
From the 9–19 November world leaders will be gathering in Glasgow for this year’s United Nations’ climate talks, also known as COP26. In preparation for this, Tearfund is partnering in prayer with CAFOD and Christian Aid. Prayer underpins everything we do at Tearfund. Our God can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine (Eph 3:20). Will you join us and pray?

Pray as you go
Wherever you pray – on your commute, walking back from the school drop-off, on your lunch break or before you go to sleep – WhatsApp is a simple way you can commit to praying. Here’s how you can sign up to receive prayer points every one to two weeks about the climate. 1. Add +44 (0)7916 874441 to your phone’s contacts 2. Text ‘PRAY’ via WhatsApp to the number above. We will add you to our list and send you prayer points every one to two week

 

 

Editorial – February 2020

by Denise Cryer – Reader

Some thoughts behind the prayers following our sermon on Psalm 29.

The Psalms remind us how awesome God is! It’s easy to take His presence and love for granted. The first verse reminds me how often I fail to spend time in awe of Him:

“Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness.”

A great place to begin! From acknowledging God’s awesomeness, we can begin to pray in perspective for our world, our communities and ourselves.

“Lord, speak your healing into the nations” – Sometimes we feel decisions made by world leaders are out of our control. But “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it”. So there’s no problem too big or too small for God. We’re also encouraged in verse 4 that “the voice of the Lord is powerful [and] majestic”. We pray the world might hear His voice – and respond.

“Lord, speak into our communities and into the lives of Your faithful people” – Each community within the Rivers Team is diverse with different ethnic and religious groups. As Christians here we long to be lights that brighten and enlighten those we encounter. It’s hard to believe God will use us to speak to those of other faiths and cultures, but He’s the God whose love knows no barriers. Let’s trust Him to open doors to speak of His love.

Let’s not forget the enemy! He’s working tirelessly to destroy God’s work in our communities and the bridges built over the years. Lord, speak into unbelief, that Your church might grow, Your light shine in all that doesn’t glorify You.

We believe in a God of the impossible. But in our walk with God and our prayer life do we have faith to pray “big”, in the sure and certain hope that nothing’s impossible for God?

The end of Psalm 29 encourages us: “The Lord is enthroned as King forever; The Lord gives strength to His people; The Lord blesses His people with peace.” David in Psalm 85:5 says, “I hear the most gentle whisper from One I never guessed would speak to me” (Message Bible).

Let’s take time to sit in God’s presence, stop talking for 5 minutes, and say, “Lord, speak, for your servant is listening.”

 

 

Pastors more at risk than bandits

Bob Luntby Robert Lunt

Pastor Alain is used to receiving harassment from Cuban authorities. A key leader in the Apostolic Movement and leader of Emanuel Church in Santiago, he has been subject to much intimidation and abuse, and the government has refused to register his denomination. Pressure has increased recently, with those in power trying to criminalise his pastoral work.

In 2016 his church and pastor’s home were surrounded by police, state security and members of the military while Alain was out of the country. Hundreds of church members were detained, including his wife Marilin; the authorities then demolished church and home in front of their daughters. This was not the first time – it had happened in 2007 too.

Tragically, this harassment is not simply history. Last year Alain was going to Washington DC to a State Department meeting on Religious Freedom, the perfect platform to raise concerns about this in Cuba and call on the international community to take action. But he was stopped from boarding his flight by Cuban government officials who informed him he was banned from leaving Cuba for reasons of national security.

The targeting did not stop there. In August and September Alain was summoned to the police 17 times. At one of these he was informed that if his church went ahead with their planned women’s conference, he would be charged with the crime of ‘disobedience’ and risk imprisonment. Despite the high stakes, Emanuel Church went ahead with the event. True to their word, the police did indeed charge Alain with disobedience.

“In Cuba, pastors are more at risk than criminals and bandits”, Alain told us. “I committed no crime, it had to be manufactured. My disobedience, according to them, is that I cannot meet with other pastors, I cannot carry out any religious activity. They want me to stop being a pastor.”

Despite the ever-increasing risks to his freedom and twice witnessing the destruction of his property, Alain refuses to give in to the government’s threats. He continues to preach the Christian faith and carry out his pastoral duties, “convinced that neither death nor life … neither the present nor the future, nor any powers … nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38).

Source: Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) (working on Alain’s case)

Spotlight on Mission – The Barnabas Fund

spotlight

barnabas-blue-logo_GB[1]

The Barnabas Fund states the following:

We believe we are called to address both religious and secular ideologies that deny full religious liberty to Christian minorities, while continuing to show God’s love to all people.

We believe in the clear Biblical teaching that Christians should treat all people of all faiths with love and compassion, even those who seek to persecute them.

We believe in the power of prayer to change people’s lives and situations, either through grace to endure or through the deliverance from suffering.

“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

We seek to meet both practical and spiritual needs.

We seek to encourage, strengthen and enable the existing local Church and Christian communities, so that they can maintain their presence and witness, rather than setting up our own structures or sending out missionaries.

We seek to tackle persecution at its root by making known the aspects of the Islamic faith and other ideologies that result in injustice and oppression of non-believers.

We seek to inform and enable Christians in the West to respond to the growing challenge of Islam to Church, society and mission in their own countries.

We seek to facilitate global intercession for the persecuted Church by providing comprehensive prayer materials

You can find out more by taking a look at their web-site
www.barnabasfund.org

Thank you for your giving and prayers which are much appreciated and vital to the work of our Mission Partners and don’t forget you make a gift to them any time during the year just make sure that you place your gift in an envelope and clearly mark it for our Mission Partners.

Editorial – Dec 2019

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAby Revd Margaret Baker

Dear Friends

I have just watched one of the many adverts on the TV for this Christmas season and its really made me cringe as it talks about its Crimbo offer. I struggle when people talk and write Xmas, as this is missing the main component Christ, so this advert is just one step too far.

Many people will celebrate on the 25th December and will miss out on the real meaning behind this season.

What can you and I as Christians do about it? Perhaps we need to reflect on how we celebrate and ask ourselves how does, what we do communicate our Saviours Birth. Do we put Christ at the centre?

Our Christmas celebrations will not just happen, we will need to plan to make sure that everything is in its place and that’s just what God did that first Christmas he needed to make sure that everything would happen as he planned, nothing happened by chance.

The angels need to prepare Mary and Joseph who needed to take on their responsibilities, the journey to Bethlehem would have needed some preparation too and bit by bit everything else fell into place right up to and beyond our Saviours Birth.
Our journeys continue today, God is with us every part of the way if we allow him to be.

The Christmas song “The Saviour’s Day” says

Open your eyes on Saviour’s Day
Don’t look back or turn away
Life can be yours if you’ll only stay
He is calling you, calling you
On the Saviour’s Day.

So don’t forget to help others celebrate the real meaning behind the season and remember its not just one day that is special but every day as he journeys with us.

Happy Christmas and best wishes for 2020

Behind the Smiles

Bob Luntby Robert Lunt
Thailand is often called the ‘Land of Smiles’; but pull aside the veil of fun and frivolity of this tourist destination and a darker side is revealed.

When Christians Ijaz, his wife Shaida, and their children Joel and Angel arrived in Thailand from Pakistan on a tourist visa, they visited the UN Refugee Agency in Bangkok. But after their visas ran out, Ijaz was arrested and locked up in the notorious Immigration Detention Centre, which is basically a filthy, overcrowded prison. He died there from a heart condition, having been put in a punishment room because he could not pay his hospital bills. Barnabas Fund is supporting Joel and Angel’s education.

Ijaz was part of an influx of Pakistani Christians to Thailand that began around 2013. They were fleeing the discrimination, violence and persecution that many Christians face in Pakistan, but discovered that in Thailand they were treated as criminals, discriminated against, and had little if any hope of getting an adequate job.

One 30-year-old Christian fled Pakistan with his brother after being accused of blasphemy (a charge that can result in a death sentence) and receiving death threats. He said the two of them were locked up with about 100 other men in a cell not much bigger than a family living room.

Initially whole families were taken into the Detention Centre and held in cramped, unhygienic cells. Even children as young as three were forced to wear prison-style uniforms. Christian groups urged the Thai government to stop detaining mothers and children, and mercifully children have been released into foster programmes. Barnabas Fund is helping provide food, medical care and education for such children.

Another group of suffering Christians in Thailand have fled from ethnic and religious persecution in Burma. As of March this year, there were nearly 97,000 refugees from Burma living in nine camps in Thailand. Many are Christians of the Karen ethnic group. Living conditions in these camps, hidden far from any tourist near the Burma border, are extremely poor.

Thailand is more than 90% Buddhist, with Christians making up less than 1% of the population. Buddhism is seen as an essential part of Thai identity. Churches and evangelists can operate freely, but converts from Buddhism to Christianity are often viewed as freaks embracing a foreign religion.
Source: Barnabas Fund

For Everything There is a Season

dvickersBy David Vickers

Just before Christmas, in 1997, in a Bible study in Liverpool, I felt God leading me to the desert. I don’t really like being under a hot sun. Six weeks later I was helping to plant a new church on the edge of the desert in Kuwait. That began my mission work in the Middle East. God confirmed the calling many times. I knew I was where He wanted me. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name (Revelation 3:8)

Over the years I have seen much fruit as lives and communities have been transformed. I have travelled widely and God has opened many doors. I never felt prepared, but God had other ideas. The longer I have been associated with the Middle East, the harder it is to listen to God’s voice about doing anything else.

No man can shut the door that God has opened. But the things He asks us to do are often for a limited season. Only God knows when that season is over.

But now He is making it clear to me that He has something different for me to do, at home in England. This has been hard for me – leaving friends and familiar places can be painful. But God’s plan is always best. Bring it on. There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

I don’t fully know where God is leading me, but opportunities have been opening up involving issues related to ageing. When I was younger, I was involved in the lives of young people and children, both in England and overseas. Now I am approaching seventy, this new season brings new opportunities. I have taken on local, regional and national roles as an activist with the elderly and let go of much of the stuff from the season past. I need to learn to let even more go.

So, if you want to know more about recognising the value and contribution that older people make to community and church, I’m your man. Over the past couple of years, I have become involved in Rotherham Older Persons’ Forum, AgeUK, Silver Voices, Independent Age, Retired Nurses’ Groups and the National Pensioners’ Convention.
As well as the Rivers Team, I still attend other churches (and some mosques) to meet those who have a ministry to the marginalised of Rotherham – the elderly, homeless, mentally ill, and those of other cultures and faiths.

I am not as fit as I was and am starting to feel vulnerable myself. There have been times when I have thought that God could not use me further, and it was time for Him to take me. But while I am still breathing, I believe that God has more for me. And that is true of all who are in a later season of their lives. We don’t retire from God’s work. The work may change from season to season. It does not become less important in God’s plan, no matter how we feel about it. God’s diverse family is made up of a mix of ages, abilities, experience, strengths and weakness all playing their part in the body of Christ. Our commission in Him is still to make disciples, be the source of hope and see transformation of communities.

The most important calling is to pray. Prayer can continue when all other activities may be coming less possible. Prayer causes God to open unimaginable doors and opportunities.

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