It’s been a hectic weekend. Despite not having a Town Pastor’s shift I seemed to have packed an awful lot into a short space of time. On Saturday Amanda and a few friends went to Westoe Baptist Church for the Great Baptist Bakeoff. I’m glad I didn’t have to judge that one as every single church I know seems to have multiple cooks and bakers who create the most delicious flans, biscuits, flans; cakes, scones and flans.
Whilst they were doing that I joined a small team of mainly Anglican brothers and sisters in Christ for a prayer walk around the town. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I’d decided to make every effort to join them. I’d already got some ideas for focussing prayer and praise at a local level from the recent NBA Spring Assembly so I was up for seeing what I
could learn. We walked from the War Memorial, along past the People’s Centre, the football ground, the supermarkets, museums, the FE college, Middleton Grange shopping centre, One Life centre, York Road and up through the Burn Valley. I learnt that there were many different facets and factors that might need praying for, such as chaplaincy in the FE colleges, small suppliers trying to earn a living supplying ever bigger supermarket chains, NHS workers, volunteer food programmes, outreach services such as Mind and Hospital of God dementia care and a multitude of businesses along the way. I made some new friends and learnt of and shared my own experiences of Hartlepool. For me it was telling that as soon as we started praying in the square we were approached by a homeless person needing some food. One of our vicar friends arranged to meet at a local fast food establishment a little later in the walk and was able to help. Pray for all those who do not have what they need to make ends meet. We all seem as churches across Hartlepool to be committed to rising to this challenge. This prayer walk reinforced a message from the Assembly. Mark Greene had pointed out that we probably all use some form of projected words for our worship, often with a beautiful but unknown nature scene as a background. Imagine he said how much
more powerful it is to sing praise and pray over a familiar scene from your own town or neighbourhood.
On Sunday we had a morning service at West View led by Ian and supported by Jonny and Amanda. Tim brought today’s word.
We were a little thin on the ground today due to illness. Tim brought the next highlight in his series from the Bible. It was a real headliner, Exodus 20… the Ten Commandments. Not one you can leave out. Still something that most people in society know and recognise.
Tim said we could spend a lot of time going through these, but he reckoned it would be like a domino effect as we nodded off one by one. Charles Spurgeon, John Stott and Karl Barth have all variously been credited with saying something along the lines that a good preacher needs a bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. That is still true today. Tim decided to focus on just the one commandment, “You shall not murder”. This Tim suggests is one most of us might think we can tick this one off, but you have to think about what Jesus said in the sermon on the mount. Go beyond the goodness of the scribes and the Pharisees. “Keep the law” Jesus said to the young man who questions. He did not throw over the laws. The scribes over elaborated the laws and exerted immense social pressure. Matthew chapter 5 reinforces this message.
Tim asked “Should the Ten Commandments be engraved on the walls of courtrooms?” It seems like a good idea but if they stay on a wall that is just like the mistake of the scribes and Pharisees. Jeremiah 31 talks of the law being written on our hearts. Jesus asks is to consider what the transformation of the heart looks like. The people he describes on the mount are people at different stages in life. Anger and contempt, the elimination of these is the first stage that Jesus is talking about. Anyone who is angry or says you fool, earns the same label as the murderer. Anger is a vital emotion it compels us to act, to do something . Remember when Jesus got angry in the Temple. Martin Luther King , William Wilberforce, they changed things when they got angry at injustice. Somebody else’s anger can stop us in our tracks. Alone anger is useful and in itself is not sin. But it is dangerous that we can choose to be angry, and replicates itself in many ways . Verbal abuse, road rage . Most people do not know how to deal with anger. It doesn’t work out well if we respond in anger. Look at the world to see where this ends up. Collosians 3 says lay aside anger. Contempt is the bigger brother of anger, never justifiable or good. Do this to your brother and it’s equivalent to murder…raca is the Hebrew word for fool, for even humorous phrases used in contempt. Sticks and stones .., is not a true statement. Contempt combines so much of what is evil about anger. Tim shared how his grandmother used to tell people off if she caught them calling someone a fool. She saw this as a rule from the Bible not to be broken.
Simply sticking to the rules is not enough. Jesus is looking for the transformation of hearts. He even sends the Holy Spirit to help. Paul says in Romans 13 he that loves has fulfilled the law.
We must learn to live the life Jesus teaches. Verse 23 in that says if you’ve fallen out with someone this must be dealt with first. Imagine walking out of your own wedding or baptism in order to reconcile with someone.
Second illustration is from the legal system. Imagine you have an adversary , try and resolve it before you get to court says Jesus. Our society today is obsessed with our rights. The Jesus way is that we need to think of our obligations. Jesus invites us to learn to love. In Ephesians 4 don’t let the sun go down whilst you are still angry.
Peace patience self control. Be reminded as you wash up after dinner today. Jesus doesn’t just want you to wash the outside of cup he wants the inside clean as well.
Service number 2 on Sunday was “The Gathering” of all the Baptist Churches at Oxford Road for an evening service. Ian led this service supported by Amanda and Tim with Maurice from Owton Manor bringing the word.
Maurice’s theme was unity. He started by offering the scene of the 3 mighty warriors or generals from 2 Samuel 23:16 who went through the enemy lines at great risk to themselves and got water. They presented it to David couldn’t drink it as they’d risked their lives. David poured it out as a love offering.
Move on 500 years to the greater Son of David. Jesus in John 17:20 is praying for unity. He wanted the people of God unified with God. Adam and Eve’s act of rebellion created huge disunity. Death, disaster, restricted growth were all consequences.
So what is the hallmark or standard that our unity needs to reach. Colossians 1:20 wants peace and reconciliation. Ephesians 1;8 also unpacks this ideal. This was not a casual thing, it was the will of God. Wanting a time of fulfilment under God’s Authority.,
Unity in the church, in marriage, in work. As believers we need to hear the heart and desire of Jesus. A superficial likeness is not what is needed here. 1 Corinth 12 talks about the various and necessary parts of the body.
When you are joined together you need to work together. Functioning together in a caring spirit.
Unity means agreement in strategy, lightening burdens , tackling projects in numbers.
Good things are happening amongst us as Hartlepool baptists as churches together. Maurice highlighted the example of Steve and Roger Sutton, seeking out churches that are working together . The Gather organisation is now nationwide. God is doing this work across the nation, through conferences and stories to tell.
Unity is a basic desire to restore all things. It is a priority for the Lord and so it should be for us.
Unity is vital for us all as individuals, partners, families and churches. Needs to be born in the heart. Only possible through obedience to the Holy Spirit. David’s generals fulfilled David’s thirst through love and loyalty.