Say Ann and start growing

by Bob Lunt

SEAN (pronounced SAY-ANN) is a method of Christian education for people without means, opportunity or education to study at Bible or theological college. From humble beginnings it has built partnerships all over the world, its courses now translated into over 70 languages. Its International Director, Terry Barratt, son of one of its missionary founders, recently revisited South America where it all began and was particularly struck by growth in Bolivia, where nearly 2000 are doing SEAN courses. Recently they were approached by a church of 5000 members, founded by a converted Paraguayan professional footballer (these things happen in South America!). He is now the senior pastor and has requested that his 30 assistant pastors do the Life of Christ course, before opening it up to the rest of the congregation.

In the highlands and isolated areas, SEAN’s partners have over 1000 students. One Saturday morning 20 pastors gathered to share their news, some travelling nine hours from remote areas. One testified: “Fifteen years ago, due to the lack of work in Bolivia I emigrated to Argentina. I suffered tough times there, which by the grace of God led me to meet Jesus in a church whose pastor represents SEAN in Argentina. So from day one I was discipled and trained to serve the Lord in ministry. By following God’s Word, my life improved and eventually I was able to return to Bolivia. I began to witness and started a church. Now we have a large congregation of all ages which I lead following that pastor’s wise counsel: ‘People need God’s word’. For this we use SEAN courses”.

Another pastor shared: “Several years ago we visited the local prison. A slow chain of conversions led to the establishment of a prison church and a SEAN Bible training ministry in the prison. After a time the impact of the new Christians’ witness, discipline and conduct became so noticeable that the authorities sent a judge to investigate. He made the extraordinary decision to shorten the sentences and set free ten Christian prisoners, stating that ‘What has happened here needs to be made public’. These freed men serve in different churches to this day.”

These accounts are a pattern repeated worldwide in places where motivated Christians and Theological Education work together. Over in Paraguay there are more than 2000 students. A significant advance has been made in their Tacumbu Prison ministry, where there are now 1600 prisoners in the Christian-run section of this 3500-inmates prison. 300 are studying SEAN courses.

A Christ-like Church

bishopJune 2014

Five years ago, when I first came to Sheffield, I travelled round the Diocese meeting people at a series of Deanery events.  People asked me lots of questions.  The most frequent one was this: “What’s your vision for the Church in this diocese?”

The answer I gave was always the same.  At the heart of my vision for the Church is that we should become more like Jesus: we are called to be Jesus’ People and to become a more Christ like church.  That phrase is at the heart of our Diocesan vision.

But what does that mean?  Five years ago, I explored the theme of being a Christ-like church through the lens of the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5.1-10).  If we are to be a Christ-like church we must learn to be poor in spirit, mourning for the needs of the world, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers and willing to be persecuted for righteousness sake.

In the second half of our Centenary year, I want us to return to the core of our vision to be a Christ-like church.  This time, I want to invite you to explore this theme through a different lens: the great “I am” sayings of St. John’s Gospel.

There are seven great sayings and we will explore them at the different centenary events, beginning with the Cathedral service on 8th June.  According to John, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life”, “I am the good shepherd”, “I am the door for the sheep”, “I am the light of the world”, “I am the resurrection and the life”, “I am the way the truth and the life”, and “I am the vine”.

These are enormous claims made in bold, striking images, rich in allusions to the Old Testament scriptures.  No-one else has made such claims in the entire history of the world.

As the Church in this Diocese we are called to bear witness to this Christ in the 21st Century, just as those who went before us were called to bear witness in the 20th Century in these same communities but in very different times.  At the heart of our witness, as theirs, is the call to proclaim Jesus Christ and to be like him together.

Please do come and join us at the different centenary events.  I am excited at what we will learn together about Jesus and what it means to be a Christ-like Church as we look back and as we look forward.  I’m hoping to produce a short study guide for Churches to use in the autumn to explore the same themes together.

As one old translation of Psalm 95 puts it:

“Come let us sing for joy to the LORD, let us shout aloud to Jesus our Rock”.

Editorial – June 2014

By David Bent; Team Rector

As we watch the situation in Ukraine unfold, we see a people formerly united as one nation now dividing into those who see their future allied more towards the West and those who see their future allied with Russia. Closer to home we await the vote in Scotland for, or against, Scottish independence, where a ‘Yes’ vote would end over 300 years of united government that followed the formation of the United Kingdom in 1707.

I guess few of us here in South Yorkshire can influence either situation, except through prayer, but we should pray for wisdom, righteousness, peace and grace for all those involved and affected by these situations.

But the underlying roots of these situations are common to us all as the quest for power comes up against the desire for independence and a yearning for change challenges the status quo. We see it in family relations, local and national politics, we see it in our communities and workplaces, and we can see it in the church.

As a church we have a responsibility to work for unity with diversity. Jesus prayed for unity and St Paul describes the Church as the Body of Christ, where Jesus himself is the head and we are the individual parts of his body, each with a unique role to play. Within a body it is the unity of the many parts that gives it its strength, while it is the diversity of each part that gives it its flexibility and its beauty.

I rejoice in the journey we have made together as the four churches in The Rivers Team and I pray that we may continue to enjoy the diversity that we have together within the unity that we share. But our responsibility for unity goes further. In his death and resurrection, Jesus destroyed the barrier that separated individuals from God and, in doing so, broke down the barriers that separate individuals from each other. And when Jesus returned to heaven and sent his Holy Spirit on his Church, he commissioned us to continue this ministry of reconciliation. Maybe not in Ukraine or in Scotland, but certainly in our homes and in our communities.

In the words of St Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

“Where there is discord, harmony.

Dear Theophilus… June 2014

Dear Theophilus

If you blink you’ll miss it! Such is the way with Ascension Day, a major Church festival, that slipped by on Thursday May 17th (40 days after Easter Day) with no bank holidays and no fanfare. I doubt the same would have been true when Jesus returned to his Father in glory. I’m sure there would have been great celebrations in heaven between the Holy Trinity and the angels at the return of their conquering hero. Mission accomplished!

In fact Ascension Day was so important to Luke that he mentioned it at the end of his Gospel and at the beginning of the book of Acts. To Luke it was the pivotal point between the mission and ministry of Jesus and the mission and ministry of the Early Church. The closing ceremony of one event becomes the curtain raiser for the next.

Just before he returns to heaven Jesus blesses his disciples, promises them his Holy Spirit and commissions them for the task ahead. The dumbstruck dis-ciples are then told by the angels that one day Jesus will return and, in the meantime, they were not to stand around with their heads in the clouds, but to get on with the job in hand. (Acts 1:11)

And that is where Christian ministry needs to be worked out; with one eye on the task ahead and the other on the return of Jesus. Maybe we shouldn’t have our heads in the clouds, but we should remember that faith in Jesus means that we too will one day share in the glory of heaven. In fact St Paul goes fur-ther by saying that through faith in Jesus we are already seated with him in heavenly places so that he might show us the riches of his grace (Ephesians 2:6,7). And that should give us a whole new perspective on our lives today.

In the tasks and challenges that face you each day, take time to step back and look at them from heaven’s perspective. What is God working out in your life long-term? Keep one eye on the task and keep the other on the return of Jesus and the glory that, by faith, you and I will share with him.

David

Theophilus is the guy for whom Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. (Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1) Theophilus means ‘Lover of God’ so, if you love God, it was written for you!

Listening to God – Ten Days of Prayer…

Listening to God during the Ten Days of Prayer 2013

Thank you so much to everyone who took part in the Ten Days of Prayer this year. It has been exciting to see so many people engaging in serious and sincere prayer around the Rivers Team in a variety of different ways.

  • ‘Something to talk about’ at the Sidings pub asked the question ‘Why pray?’ concluding that if Jesus needed to pray then so do we! There was also discussion about how we pray for ourselves and for others.
  • The youngsters of 7 Up wanted to know: ‘How long should we pray?’ They were keen to pray for their families, their friends and their schools.
  • Praying at the Waverley

Prayer postcards were a new resource for the diocese this year. We had prayer collecting boxes at various strategic points across the community and we delivered over 3000 cards door to door. People shared prayer requests for their sick family members and friends as well as raising local, national and international concerns. There were many prayers for justice and peace.

The Ten Days culminated in a walk right through the whole team. With much new building, including the Waverley Development, our parish boundary is expanding. This was a significant act of ‘claiming the land’ and praying for fruitfulness and blessing on our communities. We were reminded that like Esther, we have been called ‘for such a time as this’.

As we approached our Pentecost services, we were reminded again of Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones. This is a powerful picture in which the Word of the Lord is heard and the Spirit of God breaths life into a mighty army.

Our continuing prayer must be: Come, Holy Spirit, come!

Spotlight on Mission (June 2013 – CPAS)…

Spotlight on Mission – June 2013

This month’s Mission in the spotlight is CPAS who are patrons of our churches and are an evangelical organisation working to support local churches in mission. They describe themselves as an organisation that enables Churches to help every person  hear and discover the Good News of Jesus.

Their  vision statement reads:

We are committed to mission and equipping churches for their God-given task of evangelism. We believe the most strategic way for us to help churches become more mission-focused is by developing         effective leadership.

We long to see a Christ-centred, Bible-based, mission-focused Church where leaders are clear about their call to discipleship, growing in Christ-like character, and competent to lead in a time of rapid change;  where leaders discern God’s direction, enable action, build teams,   develop leaders, facilitate communication, and nurture  people;  where leaders work in teams, reflecting the diversity of   ministries, and model themselves on the servant character of Jesus; where leaders help transform inherited churches,  pioneer emerging churches and deliver creative residential ministry, effectively helping children, young people and adults hear and discover the good news of Jesus Christ.  This    includes:

  • Making disciples of young people and developing leadership       potential through Ventures and Falcon Camps.
  • Resourcing churches in developing missional leaders.
  • Developing key local church leaders for mission.
  • Taking a national lead in furthering missional leadership through our patronage work.

Why not find out more about CPAS by visiting their web site

www.cpas.org.uk

Dear Theophilus (June 2013)…

Dear Theophilus… ,

Sometimes, throughout the history of the church, numbers have grown phenomenally as they did at Pentecost when over three thousand found faith in Jesus.  At other times, the church grew in ones and twos as people like Cornelius, Lydia and the Philippian jailer  became Christians.

The same happened during the 3 years of Jesus’ ministry.  Sometimes large crowds followed him and sometimes he met people in ones and twos.  People like Jairus and his daughter, Zacchaeus and Matthew.

The disciples also shared in this ministry to the ones and twos as Jesus sent them out in pairs to the people in the villages around about (see Luke Ch. 10).  He told them to meet people in their homes, share with them the peace of God and if they were met by “People of Peace” (as opposed to people who were hostile to the gospel) to stay there, eat with them, heal their sick and tell them about the Kingdom of God.

As Christians today we meet many people in ones and twos in their homes, their neighbourhoods, their places of work and socially.  Can we do this like Jesus instructed his disciples to do, and get into conversation with them, share with them the peace of God and discover who among them are “People of Peace”?

These are the people Jesus has called us to invest our time and energy in for the Kingdom of God.  These are the people he has asked us to pray for, to share meals with and to tell about the Kingdom of God.

We all long for times, like Pentecost, when thousands suddenly find faith in Jesus.  In the meantime, let us be thankful for the ones and twos we know who are “People of Peace” and let us be committed to investing in them our time, our energy and our prayers.  I suspect that, in the overall picture, more people have found faith in ones and twos, than in large crowds.

David

Theophilus is the guy for whom Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. (Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1) Theophilus means ‘Lover of God’ so, if you love God, it was written for you.

An Update from David Vickers

An Update from David Vickers

Revelation 3:8 says, “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.”

God has been making this word clear to me over the last months.  On my last visit to Lebanon, doors were opened in Tyre in the south, in the  capital, Beirut and recently in the Bekka in the east.  The most recent development concerns a remote Palestinian refugee camp which has an archaic water supply and distribution system which has remained essentially unchanged since it was used by the French cavalry at the beginning of the last century.  The water is highly polluted and ever year results in the deaths of many vulnerable young and old from kidney failure,.  No one is taking the initiative on this, each waiting for someone else to address the problem.  It now seems likely that a group I worked with in Pakistan, who are now setting up projects in Gaza, may be persuaded to find funds for a new well, distribution pipes and quality control.  The links are there from previous work in Lebanon as a result of prayer and ministry by  a group of Palestinian Christians who are now supporting over 100 Palestinian families who have escaped  the conflict in Syria in the last two years.  In fact Syrian Palestinians have now doubled the size of this small camp.  Please pray that this project is completed quickly and Jesus will be glorified as prayers for this are answered.

Last month I went to the Crimea Peninsular of Ukraine.  This is another    corrupt country.  In Crimea, I met up with previous contacts who run the Young Leaders of Crimea Group.  I had the opportunity of sharing the Gospel and my testimony with around 23 young people from different backgrounds, including Tatar Muslims.  I encouraged the group to use quiet times to listen to the voice of God.  This resulted in atheists accepting that God speaks to them too – Halleluiah.

Back home, God is on the move in Brinsworth Comprehensive School.  I have recently become chairman of a School/Community Forum, bringing key people together to address issues shared by school and community, particularly racist incidents and misunderstandings. This has also led to me planning to take school assemblies later in the year. I would be interested in talking to families in our churches who have children at the school.

God has opened a door for me to visit North Korea in October.  It’s marvellous how He does it.  More news on that later.

Keep praying.  The walls are coming down!

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