Welcome! It's wonderful to see you here!

I'm a passionate writer - and therefore spend most of my time writing thriller novels. But I also live an interesting life in the nations. This blog is here for that aspect of my life - our life - I live with my wonderful wife and two daughters.

I believe in encouragement. I live for obedience. I believe in learning from our experiences, and this blog exists for both of those, and more.

So that you stay connected, getting every new update, please add your email address to receive all updates directly, or follow the RSS feed.

I was part of the leadership team in St Petersburg, Russia - which planted Hope Church in 2009.(www.hopechurchstpetersburg.com).
In March 2012 Hope Church sent my family to plant into Tallinn, the Capital of Estonia. I therefore lead this small but growing church plant team. Here is the website for Hope Tallinn (www.hopetallinn.ee)

For details on our journey here, read the series called Adventures of Faith which is linked for you on the right hand column, just below. That details our original journey to Russia and then onto Tallinn 4 years later.

Author for fiction novels - Cherry Picking (2012), The Last Prophet (2015), The Tablet (2015) and The Shadow Man (2016) are available on all major bookselling sites. Please visit: www.timheathbooks.com

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Life of a Church Plant leader

Following on from my previous blog about investments, there is another type of investment that many people make all around the world - and these are Kingdom Investments. Usually this entails financial giving, though is by no means limited to that. But within this financial giving, we see further areas that money is invested - the local church, or organisations working with particular people both nationally & internationally, and also to workers overseas (to use the popular phrase - Missionaries).

Now I've been deliberate in using the word investment - and not charity or donations or anything else. Now investment demands a return. You want to see something come from the money you are putting in. If it's a gym membership, you hope your investment will return to you a fit, more in shape body, or a more relaxed mind. If it's some shares in a company, you want to see that the company is growing, that it's producing a profit. You want to see dividends coming back.

So too in Kingdom giving. I've started viewing our 'supporters' no longer as that, but as investors. In such a short time, there has already been a return on their investment. Things are happening on the ground, a church is started, people are getting saved, churches are looking for relationship. A base church is growing. At whatever point people decided to make their investment, I realised that through our communications they were surely already seeing a return. And this is not forgetting the 'treasure in heaven' the Bible so blatantly talks about as a return given to all Christians for any giving they do that's from the heart.

But how does actually giving to a church plant actually work? Where does the money go?

These things rarely get talked about and yet here I am bringing them up. I'm going to talk generally, so as to not 'blow' our own trumpet (if we even have one to blow!) But if its ever been a thought with you, and if you've ever given in the past to such people or are considering it in the future, it's important to think it through a little in detail - after all, when you hear, for example, that rents are really high, you don't want to think that your money is just going into the pockets of a landlord looking to get rich from their Western tenants.

So here goes.....Let's image there is a family moving to be part of a church plant in another country from your church. It's their sole purpose for going, they have no employment taking them there, so they are looking to investors to partner with them for the journey. To do something together, both getting blessed through the process.
Let's say that the church plant is outside of the EU and therefore a visa is required to stay within the country. And we'll also say that a foreign language is involved (which is surely going to be more and more relevant in the future with people coming from the UK or the US and moving to countries where English is not the first language - ie most of the rest of the world!!)

Yes, I know this is sounding a lot like St Petersburg, but bear with me....

Firstly, the family need a place to stay - and cities are expensive places to live. Renting will usually be the only option on two counts - firstly the cost of buying makes it very hard, and secondly it would be wrong on several levels to buy when brand new to the culture and city (but I won't go into detail here about this yet, but email me if you want to know more on this point).

So rent will usually be the highest monthly cost a church plant family would have. Even so, rent will only account for at most 20% of the total outlay of finance needed each month.

Then you have schooling costs for children. Initially the children will only get places in private (ie non state) schools and kindergartens. This is probably the second biggest regular monthly cost after rent. In time these might change (we have, for an example, managed to get Mia into the state system for these next two years. It's basically free, so we are glad of this as our income has dropped by about the same amount so we are no worse off!) In two years time we are likely to have the costs of two children in paid for education...!

Next, and if language and visa's are required, come these costs. They might be 10 or 15% of the monthly cost and you are seeing a bit of a return there, as language skills improve and/or the visa keeps them in the place you are investing into.

And then what? Well there are many more practical things. Food, clothes, medical supplies, electricity, gas, heating. Telephone & broadband. You have annual flights to consider, annual medical cover. The flights and medical covers would be about number 4 in the list of expenses.

Then you have transportation - either the running of a family car or use of the cities public transport. Some cities are much more expensive than others (mainly in the EU though, which I'm not referring to here). St Petersburg has at the moment a very reasonably price transport network, though it is also a very busy one at times!

Within the budget for a church plant family there will also need to be money put aside for a holiday as well as Christmas and birthday's.

It was one of the strangest things I had to do before coming here, which was work out our Expense Budget. Basically we had to cost up everything (including our tithing!) and then work it backwards to see how much money we needed to get us through the year! But it was important we did it like this because you can't just live in a city without the money needed to live there!

It's also a good idea to think about National Insurance contributions and pensions. By not working in the UK you are not earning your NI and this would effect your pension in the future. Many also already have private pensions in place which should be maintained. (We haven't included this yet....note to self! Do it soon!)

I know many people don't give thinking about what cost they are covering, they just believe in the people and want to see them blessed. But on the other hand, having looked at all the things above, there is a lot listed that are just the basics of life in a city - so where does the actual church building stuff go on, you may ask?

Well, of course, all the above is a huge part of church planting as without living in any given city, you aren't properly going to be able to plant a church.

But there is so much more that the church plant leaders do that is more obviously 'church' stuff. For example, church planters will of course tithe themselves - and taking generosity out, if we use the 10% amount, that means 10% of everything an investor gives to the family directly goes in tithes to the local church that has been planted. So that means you are helping hire a venue, provide drinks and food for the church, produce welcome packs etc etc...This is huge for the local church where maybe the small, new congregation couldn't in themselves fund the work.

A church plant family are also going to be hosting people all the time!! This will be 3 or even 4 times a week....sometimes for individuals, or couples, other times for groups and neighbours. Sometimes as whole church events. Most times this is just funded as part of the family opening up their homes. It takes a lot of hosting before people start thinking about bringing something along to help.

So all investors are also involved in this type of hospitality - hosting isn't cheap - to cook 3 or 4 bigger meals a week means much more food for the family but this is so important for building community, especially in big cities, which is where most new church plants are likely to focus. It's easy to feel lost in such a city - to find a family that opens their home to you and invites you to be a part of the church plant is huge and cannot be under-estimated. So investors too are involved at this point.

Because when it boils down to things, once in a place, it's hospitality that really builds people in - sharing your life with individuals, sharing vision, taking them along with you. With us, for example, and especially during specific seasons like New Year, we are having lots of people around - most days usually. And as things grow, visitors increase from other nations, some for the first time, others returning - all of which give opportunity for hospitality.

So I hope this helps you in thinking about Kingdom Investments - yes, giving to a church plant family has many practical issues, but looking past that there is so much more hands on stuff that you maybe didn't realise your money was reaching as well!

So look also for a return on your Kingdom Investments - of course in the 'age to come' but also now....are people getting saved, is the church established and growing, are disciples getting made and how are the poor and rejected being impacted. No one wants to just throw money away, but lets not be shy in investing where the Kingdom return is evident!

So go for it! Look at who God has put around you - bless them and see the return on your investment. And if you haven't anyone around you but want to invest in this way in the Kingdom, you only have to ask....:-)

Thanks for reading and following this blog. Until next time!

Talking Investments - Paper Loses

I think differently to most people, I know that, though rarely do I see it. One such time came talking with a friend & our teacher about 'paper loses'. You know the scene - the stock market crashes, and the doom bearers on TV and the newspapers state how many millions people have lost in one day. Fear rises. For the very wealthy, the loss of £500million may not effect them. But for the average person on the street, the thought of their £15,000 pension now worth £500 is a little more alarming....

And yet, it's obvious to me but maybe not all, no one has in fact at that moment lost anything!

Let me explain. Stocks & Shares go up and down (&up&down&up - crash and boom, crash and boom....) Yesterday you had 1000 shares worth £15 each - wow, that's £15,000 worth! Today they are only worth 50p each - oh no!...you've lost £14,500.....BUT, NO YOU HAVEN'T! It's what's called a paper debt. Only if you sold your 1000 shares TODAY would you receive the £500 they are worth...
So you keep the 1000 shares...and in time, things improve, and soon they are worth £15 again.

So when you hear them say how many millions of pounds have been lost in a stock market fall, don't panic (unless you are planning on selling your shares that same day!) - because like all things, some time later, they are likely to go up again, and back down and up many times. (It is of course another matter when a company goes bust - which is very sad for all effected, but I'm just referring to paper debts here).

So investments are confusing at times - everyone wants to know that the money they are putting into something is working for them. Usually this means financial gains, but many times it means much more....and that brings me to my next entry, which you can see here...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Treasure Hunting Update

So we've been out twice since I last updated here, and its about the last time that I want to talk about now, which happened last Saturday here in St Petersburg.

We went out in two teams, the group made up two English people, one South African, one Nigerian and a Russian. The Nigerian has good Russian having been here over 5 years already but he'd never done a treasure hunt before so I thought to put the other English girl and SA with him who don't have much Russian. I could then go with the Russian lady, who has no English, and at least could communicate with her.

So we formed our two teams on very practical grounds this time - and not as usual by putting people with similar clues together.

So off Janna and I went with the other three heading off on their way as well. Quickly we realised we BOTH had written down the name Vladimiar so we went off looking for him first! Janna had Shoe Shop and I had Watches/Clocks (same word in Russian) and just up from our office (as in lots of this culture fashion base that is SPB!) there are loads of shoe shops, and many of these also join onto Clock/Watch shops as well!

We looked for any men in the shops, and the few we saw we approached, Janna asking if their name was Vladimiar before being told it wasn't and we left.....

I'd also written down Park and Beer and Alcoholism, which understandable here usually all go together. We were heading away from the park I knew, but after going in all the shoe shops up one side of the street just up from our office (yes, about 100 metres and about 6 shoe shops!) we met two homeless men standing in front of a shoe shop.

Janna asked them their names - not Vladimiar - but they were clearly drinkers and when a third man, Kostia, came and joined them, he was clearly drunk. Kostia actually stood in front of them and we talked (Janna mainly!!) with him.....after about 10 minutes the other two walked off leaving us with Kostia. He only had one eye and clearly knew the gospel, he was crying telling us all about it. He showed us his arms where he injects himself. He talked a lot (as does Janna!).
We gave him a few cards for Sunday, explaining that we met just around the corner from that very spot. He hugged me.

He was drunk - how much would he remember....

He didn't come Sunday but Janna saw him again on Monday on the way to a meeting at the office and he said he was sorry he missed it, so we might see him again. How amazing would it be if Jesus gave him his eye back!! Do it Lord!

Anyway, we managed to pull ourselves away from Kostia, crossed over and started heading back down the other side of the road towards our office, and beyond that the park. There were many more shoe shops so at that moment, in God's timing as always, we glance into the first one and couldn't see any men. As Janna turned to walk on, I spotted that someone was coming out and its a man. I signal to Janna and we follow this man into the next door shop - another shoe shop, of course!

We ask him - Is you name Vladimiar? - Yes, he replies, a little interested now.....

Isn't God good!

It's more for our confidence than anything. We chatted with him outside for about 10 minutes, he even said it was a miracle that we'd found him in the way we did....but that was it, he wanted nothing more and went on his way. So our chat with Kostia just before had been much more fruitful, but it was just encouraging to know that God gave us someones name and the fact he'd be in a shoe shop and we found him just at the right moment........had we not talked with Kostia for as long as we did, we'd have been far from there when we saw him......God's timing, you've got to love it!

We had 10 more minutes and I knew there was a very small 'park' area just after the office - it's a few benches and some bushes really, but it would have to do. We didn't have time to get to the park another 10 minutes down the road.

So we waited by the steps.....not long there, a young guy of 21 was walking past and Janna just stopped him and started talking. He listened and listened, and said the occasional thing. We talked with him for about 30 minutes! Janna had written down on her sheet as a prayer need "Trouble with Parents" and when we got to talking about praying for him, he went quiet - there was certainly something troubling him. "Was is a girl?" Janna asked - no. "Is it your parents?" - YES! He wouldn't tell us but yet again God had shown us the person to which he wanted to impact that day, in that moment.

I gave him an invite and suggested he look us up on the web, email me any questions but encouraged him to come along. So we'll see....

Janna walked away weeping for him.

Flic, Johan and Steven from the other team shared they'd had three conversations but didn't feel they had been that amazing - and yet, Katya, one lady they had spoken too, called the number on the invite and went to home group on Tuesday night. At the home group, where many had said they were coming that night, none of them turned up so it meant Katya had 3 of the leaders all to herself to ask lots of questions! So yet another praise God moment! (Later note - Katya became a Christian the following Saturday, coming to church on the Sunday for the first time).

We go out again in a week's time.....

Monday, November 1, 2010

Faith in Giving - Where do you stand?

I recently spoke on this at Hope Church and enjoyed it so much I thought I'd write down my notes here as well...

In the Old Testament we see that giving, or the 'tithe' as it is called, was a very exact thing. We see the 10% rule brought in, but the requirement went far beyond just money in these time. The first born male of animals, for example, were a tithe to God - as were grain and first fruits...

There were rules for everything, in fact these were the Law's for which the people needed to live by, their requirements for living good lives, for staying in God's blessing.

The New Testament brought in a different system altogether - Grace. This included giving. Now we see the basis for Christian giving was from the heart, not out of requirement or law, but more around generosity. Jesus's observations in the temple with the old lady who put in all she had to live on (2 small coins) compared to the rich who 'threw' in their amounts for all to see are very interesting. Clearly the amounts are not important, but the heart. But what is also clear was that proportionally the old lady put in well over the '10%' ( it was ALL she had left!) and the rich probably much less.

So in the NT we see a freedom in giving - no longer to be LIMITED to 10%, but a freedom to be free and generous and to see God lead us into exciting things that he has in store for us.

And in this NT period that churches are in, we see two ends of the spectrum when it comes to giving. At one end we see what is called the Prosperity Gospel - you give in order to get rich! At the other end of the spectrum, in reaction to this, we see people so rejecting that teaching that they lose the joy in giving altogether and revert to the OT tithe system for want of something more grounded...and not so prosperity driven. And all churches are somewhere (usually more in the middle!) on this spectrum....

Let me pause now though and introduce you quickly to three members of a new local church;

First up we have Careful Kev. Kev is a cautious man, cautious with money - in fact cautious with everything. He takes the OT 10% tithe model and keeps it very precisely - to the nearest penny in fact! He's obedient, but really it's a 'bill' to him, a 'cost' at being part of a local church. He doesn't have much joy in it though, it's just something he should do...something he must do. Financially speaking, he has some debts, but just about does ok...

Next up we have Stingy Steve. Steve holds back from all people, even family. At birthdays, for example, he'll only spend money on people that have already spent the same amount on him. But he doesn't really like giving many gifts.
Steve really likes the teaching on freedom from the OT tithe because he can give much less & feel good about it. As it is, he gives only loose change that is clogging up his pockets, just to look good on Sunday's, as well as make his wallet feel lighter! He also always feels he never has enough money - he wants more - if he was rich, he tries to tell himself, then he would give more away. Financially, he's always short of money.

Finally we have Generous Jen. Jen is generous with all she has - time, patience and especially money. She has real joy in her spirit. She see's the 10% tithe as a starting point & prays about how much more she can give above that each month. She gives in many ways - it's exciting and she is always amazed at how God uses her. She lives within her means and has many friends around her. Financially, she always has money to share each month, as well as time, emotion and patience of course!

Kev, Steve and Jen have all recently joined a new local church. They continue their beliefs in relation to their giving over the course of a year - we'll come back to them in just a moment.

Local Churches - Very rarely are local churches funded by big business or huge revenues from television stations and other media. No, nearly 100% of the time (there are always of course exceptions, but generally speaking!) churches are financially supplied through the giving of their own people, the local family of believers that make up that church.
It is clear to me, as well as Biblical, that God's overwhelming preference for blessing in the local church is the generous tithes of it's members.

So, in the 'local church' used in the story above, we suddenly see that there is vision for a building project which will cost the church £1,000,000. So on top of all their normal costs, they want to see this extra amount come in. They need faith and they need God to provide the finances.

And we know where God directs, He also provides for.

So lets look at the numbers. Using the 10% tithe as an example, for £1,000,000 to be given in offerings to the local church, that first means God will release £10,000,000 in order for one tenth of the amount, ie a million, to be given to the church.

And how would our three examples deal with it? Well Careful Kev would see a large amount coming in as the perfect time to clear his mortgage and pay back some loans. It's only prudent after all as he doesn't want the worry of debts. Some money would trickle through to the church no doubt, but not the 10% as normal. No, this large amount coming in was surely for his own blessing to take the pressure off himself, for a while.
And Stingy Steve? Well, suddenly a lot of money is too big a temptation. Now he can finally do all the things he's not been able to do. To take that trip he always dreamed about and to live life the way he's seen others live. The money is soon spent and none of it finds it's way to church.
But Generous Jen is different. She's always made the decision to first give God back a huge portion. She's got a good understanding about money and there's no danger of a generous tithe not making it through to the church.....in fact, with a church full of Jen's, maybe God releasing just £5,000,000 would be enough to see £1,000,000 given in tithes (shocking, that's 20% I here Kev say!)

And this is where you see that somewhere in the past the prosperity gospel based themselves on truth. The Bible does say you'll be blessed in giving. And while our motivation should never be to get rich, there is a principle that God is more likely to bless a generous person than someone who gives very little....and as we've seen, if you were God and needed the local church to get a bumper tithe, what type of member of that church would you most likely choose to give a little extra too......of course, Generous Jen. She doesn't give to get rich, but because she knows the spiritual blessing she is storing up for herself, as well as the blessing in many ways she experiences in life now. She loves the fact that she can play a part of outworking the Kingdom financially in her world and see's this as the reason she has money from God in the first place.

She gets that freedom from the tithe means we are free to give more. Not because we have to, or must do, or need to do. But just because its an honour to, no matter how little we have!

God loves a cheerful giver. Not a rule follower, or a reluctant obedient attitude - but JOY! Real joy. The type of joy you only get by giving money away just to bless something, when there is no immediate return for the giver (that would be a transaction).

But the Bible is clear - giving is never without reward.....but the reward might not always be money, nor should the motivation be for what you'll receive.

So, what type of giver do YOU want to be.....?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Treasure Hunting in St Petersburg - Just the Start of things to come!

Saturday 16th October saw Hope Church gathering together (with just a few visitors from South Africa!) for our first, regular Saturday time together where we'd be going out onto the streets and looking to bring God to the people.

We were using the tool that is known as Treasure Hunting, a very helpful thing for us, especially those doing this sort of stuff for the first time, of which the first story is from just a lady. Before Saturday, this Russian lady had never done anything like this before.

Usually we write down a number of things that we feel God has said, but Janna it seems wrote her whole sheet as if for one person.....she had the name Sasha, that he'd be dirty and sitting on a bench, that he'd also be homeless.....so when the teams went out, she went off looking for Sasha. Remember, this was her first time doing this, it's as if she thought "This is how it works!" - and it did!

She headed for the metro station area as usually outside there are a number of homeless people begging, but at this time there were unusually very few, only one in fact. He was indeed on a bench and was very dirty. A South African man who was in this team later commented that of all the homeless folk he'd ever seen (he went on to say that there are many in SA) this was probably the dirtiest and smelliest he'd ever encountered.
The man had a big beard, so that at first Janna thought she knew the man - she asked him "Is your name .....(I forget what she asked, but when it was clear he wasn't who she thought he was, she said) "then your name must be Sasha!"
It was.

Over about 20 minutes he shared his life story - Janna cried because of what was said. By know she was next to him, with her arm on him. Another team member, who arrived just after the first conversations, said at first he had to stay back so as not to be sick - the smell was that bad! And yet, Janna was next to him.

The team could feel the Holy Spirit was there. It's as if the fragrance of the Lord was there because they all said as the time went on, they could no longer smell anything bad....

Janna talked with him, then clearly feeling the Spirit (remember, this is a new Christian and the first time doing this!) she said he needed to repent! She prayed a prayer of repentance with him, to which he repeated!

Hope Church does not yet have this kind of rehab ministry so Janna gave him information about somewhere he could go to get sorted out. We can only pray he finds his way there.

After this the same team went to a shopping area. The SA guy had some clues that were highlighting some things about a young man God wanted to speak to. They stood in the centre for about half an hour - when people would come, Mark would say "No, it's not him...." until suddenly he saw him, a young man in black with a friend. "That's him!"

They talked. They offered to pray. He would only allow them to pray for him in a church building across the road, so having no problem with that, Mark led him across and into this building. The guys friend was being less helpful, so Janna took it upon herself to talk and distract him so that his friend could ask what he wanted to ask to Mark.

Come Sunday morning, this man turns up at Hope Church. Oleg, one of our Russian leaders, sits with him the whole time. He gets him a coffee at the end and they sit again in the main hall. This man had understood nothing of the meeting. It was a totally new experience to which he did not know what to make. Oleg and Janna, and with Mark, explained everything to him, being patient....loving him into God's Kingdom....they led him to Jesus, praying with him. That is a day he will never forget.

He then went to home group last night with Oleg and seemed to really enjoy it, though it clearly still understanding things - so praise God for this kind of break-through!

I love the clarity God speaks to us - they waited 30 minutes - and yet Mark knew his description, he'd know him when he saw him, as indeed he did - he comes to church - he's impacted but doesn't know why - he's loved and explained things too - he's led to Jesus - he's SAVED! (and now added too we hope!)

These were the stand out examples from Saturday but still there were two other groups, groups that prayed with people, groups that had also been given names and appearances for people they were about to meet.

A fire has started to burn here in St Petersburg. We've seen it in the last few weeks in our celebrations. We've felt it in our hearts. And now we are stepping out onto the streets, contending for so much more, trusting that God will do more than we can ask or imagine and that great things are going to happen.

What started out as monthly is going to be more than that. I feel we need to do it at least fortnightly now, so will take people out with me every other Saturday, to learn together, be trained together and see God breaking through into the lives of those around us - together!

God is on the move in St Petersburg. His Spirit is working, a new time is nearly upon us - it's coming!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What is Church Planting?...A Russia Perspective

OK, so I've been really bad at actually blogging lately (to busy doing the stuff....lol) but alas, I find a spare few minutes on a day I'd normally be busier to write.

So I've been reflecting lately - those in the Christian world are well aware of the phrase 'church planting'. Others might think it's some gardening term, or a funny/strange way of talking about a building (bricks & mortar) program for a church building.

But I wonder, outside of the training ground that is a church plant, whether most fully understand what it is to church plant?

I'm guessing those of you that have been reading over the last two years will have already seen in some detail the essential essence of what it is to church plant. Clearly, firstly, its a lifestyle. It's not something done just on Sunday's (or whenever you meet together as a recognisable group), but it's something you do all the time, every day, every month. For example, having people around for meals. Meeting new people for coffee (these are especially true for a city plant and that in a foreign culture where everyone new to the city is in more need of pastoral care - you know, someone looking out for them). It's helping out the core group as much as possible - so moving them into their houses (for the record, besides our own, the count is three house moves for families already in these two years - and because we all live in flats, the stairs are what make it very hard!).
It's hosting visitors - both family who've come to see exactly where their children/siblings etc have ended up, as well as hosting others looking in, one way or the other, be they church leaders (who are important for bringing in Biblical Foundations), mission teams, visiting speakers, or just tourists.
For a city like St Petersburg, mission teams take some planning and are obviously expensive things to do for those coming here, so you want to use their time well and make their trip worthwhile. After the flights and visa costs, most people have already paid something like £300 each (from the UK) before you are looking at accommodation and the rest.
And of course church planting is very much about what goes on when you do meet together in a recognised group. So the Sunday's and midweeks, and any evening meetings you have. It's bringing new leaders on quickly, training them on the job to help share the load and grow the church. It's training up small group leaders for the existing groups as well as new leaders for new groups that you hope to start soon. It's teaching people to welcome correctly on Sunday's, especially true and challenging here in a culture that to friends Russian's are very open (more open than Brit's) but are far more closed and wary of strangers - even within the church.
None of these latter points are done in one session - that would be the day! But it's continually shaping and encouraging, directing and leading by example. It's takes great patience, and even when you think you've got it right, you realise things haven't gone to plan.
We now have a Welcome Pack which is given to all new people. Because we are on the 2nd floor, someone is on the door on the street and someone else on the door to the office where we hire the hall. The process is that people are greeted on the street, and all new people then walked to the office door and 'handed' over to the person there. They are then given a pack, shown around the hall (toilets, drinks, meeting hall etc) and then introduced to someone in the hall in order for that person to return to the door quickly to greet the next guest.

A smooth, slick system.

Still, there have been weeks when a new person either hasn't seen the guys on the street, or worse still, has been let in, but left to find there own way to our office door.
And there have been times when the office door has been left open, a visitor walking in, straight past the person there, not really noticed at all or given one of our new packs.
So you repeat and encourage people constantly to do it in a way that will best serve those that are visiting us for the first time, which is the only reason we do it this way.

Church planting is seeing God in every situation - we often say to ourselves in my family "It's OK, we're church planting" when we come across a situation that doesn't seem to 'fit' with what we thought we were here for and yet is there, and people are wanting relationship, or we're tired, or something else, and we remind ourselves - "Yes, we are church planting and this is all part of it".

So church planting isn't a high and mighty phrase - it's not a promotion, as if such a thing existed in the church anyway. It's a very down to earth phrase, open to all, available to all. Everyone can be involved in a church plant. Everyone can play their part. Team is essential in all church plants, it's never possible for one person to do everything. It takes a huge amount of energy to get something started. Things that are already established just take a little ticking over and sometimes some hands on to move something on, but something that doesn't exist takes a lot of work to get it off the ground and then to gain momentum.

And it's really momentum you are looking for in a church plant. Momentum that brings in new people, momentum in growth and salvation, in service and gifts, momentum in a team working together, learning together and themselves growing. Momentum for the small fragile group of people that make up the church plant team to get through the quiet seasons and still feel you're moving on. It's momentum all church planters are looking for.

When Hope Church was launched in September 2009 there was a small but eager group to see us through the first few weeks. Many quickly joined and we saw some momentum get us through to December. January is a long holiday month so it was in February when things restarted and I believe momentum continued. In April there was a team coming over and that built some more momentum in, all the way to the end of May, but in Russia by June the 'summer' months have started.....leading through until September, even 1st October before things are back to 'normal'. So for us, one year old, it did feel hitting September again we were starting again, as we looked around and wondered where everyone was! So we are still looking for momentum, but God is faithfully adding to us, building in some strong people to help us get the momentum that could see us through next summer a little easier.

So I hope that this has helped a little as to explaining what church planting is and showing that's it's not an exclusive thing by any stretch of the imagination, but something anyone can do, including YOU. Maybe you've been thinking God has called you to a church plant, or to be a church planter, but you've thought that you couldn't do it. I think ALL church planters at some point during the process say "I just can't do this!" so that is natural - but remember, most important of all, and deliberately left until last, it's God who builds his church anyway. It's all God! We just do some of the leg work (& I realise I haven't mentioned anything on the technical or advertising sides - but to communicate well all new plants need a website, Facebook presence and advertising (we are also on VKontactia, which is a Russian version of FB)).

Jesus said "I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it!"

Why do we church plant - it's obvious - the church is the ONE place on earth that Satan does not have control. Hell's gates cannot overcome His church. The gates of any city are where the leaders would sit and decide things. Satan's power is in his gates, as they work out how to advance in the world, and how to try and attack their most dangerous enemy - the church. But those gates will never overcome the church, which is why we need to plant churches everywhere, in every city and in every nation. The church needs church planters and church plant teams.

So what are you waiting for......?

Friday, September 3, 2010

New season ahead - St Petersburg update

Wow - I've managed to grab some time to actually write something on here!

The summer has been long, hot and hard in many ways. The hottest summer for many many years, the south of the country on fire as a result, smoky skies to boot. The long nights of St Petersburg during the hottest spell meant there was no let up in the humidity and heat. It was unbarable at times, it really was, and something we hope is never repeated! Never!

So I'm grateful for the rain and cold that has hit. Anything is better than that heat. Anything!

At Hope Church as well, we saw the momentum we'd built up hit fast into the summer months, which really start anytime from the end of May, regardless of what the weather might say. Russian schools finish in that week, so from then onwards people go to their dacha's ('summer houses') for various lengths of times, but usually certainly the weekends. That means the city empties a little of Russian's, soon replaced by thousands of tourists.

So we knew the church, as it had been, was going to be a little quiet. Could a church as small and as young as ours get through financially a month that clearly had much the same costs, without the regular giving of our faithful members? How would we get through such a quiet month. Well, God had different ideas!

Yes, many were away but others still joined. In June a guy from England, having been in contact before, came for the first time. He's very much part of who we are, a great asset to us and a good friend now already! In August three American's arrived, all wanting to be a part of us. A Russian lady, who's been in this city for 5 years already, also decided to come for the first time. She's joined us as well.

These people alone are great people to be part of a church. So it was not quiet in relation to them coming.

But what of the finances? Well, having gone twelve clear months now, we have a better idea of the high months and low months. How did God work? Well, I'm not sure what the low month was but I know the high month easily....yes, August 2010....the 'quiet month' just gone! Somehow, with much fewer people and less happening, a much larger offering came in.....it's amazing how God works. We'd also taken a special offering in August for a family who'd had to flee their home town because of a death threat, and had nothing. If that amount wasn't included, it was still our highest month! Also, this didn't include a church in the UK spending about 22,000 rubles on two electronical devises which they wanted to bless the church with.

Finance wise - it was a huge month for the church. Amazing how God works. We are entering a season of financial challenge and God has started it by bringing in some key provisions.

I tell this just to glory in God, in how amazing He is, how He works in His own way, what ever we think might happen. With God you just can never tell!

Personally, as a family also reliant of faith giving, we've seen God starting to act and show that he's got everything under control.......He is good!

We tried to get some rest as well, though that was a little hard. It boiled down to a 4 day holiday we took in the middle of August which was great....but I came back to work with the same amount to do, just with a week's less time!

This Sunday see's the church celebrating our 1st Birthday, and launching a series on faith, titled By Faith. On the 13th September our school of ministry is launched, EFM (Equip for Ministry). (Check out our churches Facebook group for video's on both of these).

It's all great stuff but I'm already realising that I need to do this all with God's energy, because my own is already failing....

But I'm encouraged that St Petersburg is fertile soil. God has shown through his direction that He wants a great church in this city. Those that have invested finances with us as a family are seeing rich returns on thier investments - not only are you guaranteed riches in heaven, where thieves cannot take away from you, but your investments are bringing returns in this life as well through changed lives in this great city in Russia.

And if God effects St Petersburg for the gospel, then the nation and the nations will also follow after!

So I praise my God for all that He has done - I ask Him for strength to grow through these coming months. I also thank you for reading this, and for all those that are investing prayers and finance with us - they are making a difference and I trust by now you know it's a safe, profitable investment....one that you can continue with for as long as God allows!

Blessings upon blessings.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Joseph Series - Part 1 - The Dreamer

Dreams are important - they drive us on, inspire us, give us direction. Dreams change things. In preparation for a talk I recently did in St Petersburg, before I got to Joseph, I looked at another man famous for having a dream - Martin Luther King Jr. He had a dream to change America, from the country it was then, in the 1960s, to what it is like, in some regards, today.
His famous speech was the "I have a dream..." speech. He was killed at just 39 years old in 1968, but in 1964 had already become the youngest person to have received the Nobel Peace Prize. After his death he was to be awarded both the Presidential Medal of Freedom as well as the Congretional Gold Medal.

He died without seeing the forfilment of his dream - others were to walk in the good of it. But he did stand against the tide of opposition, stood in the gap of injustice and remained standing until he was illegally removed by a gunman's bullet.

At Hope Church here in Russia, we recently looked again at the Old Testament life of Nehemiah. He too was a man that had a dream - a city with its walls restored. His dream was also inspired by God and against much opposition saw the walls rebuilt in just 52 days - a miracle!

But as the title to this four part series suggests, my subject for the remainder of this entry is going to be a man I have always respected and felt connected to - the life of another Old Testament character - Joseph.

He was a dreamer too - dreaming actual dreams and then also able to interpret those dreams for himself and others. In Genesis we get a wonderful account of this man, what happens to him, and how God works through those things to bring about His plans and purposes for Joseph. It is hugely encouraging. So the four sections are The Dreamer, then The Hard Worker, Sin, Temptation & it's Accusing Nature and finally Humility.

This entry will now focus on the first of these sections - the dreamer.

We pick up his story in Genesis 37, which I have pasted below to remind you of the account;

Gen 37:2-11;

Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.

3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. 4 When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

5 Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. 6 He said to them, "Listen to this dream I had: 7 We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it."

8 His brothers said to him, "Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?" And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.

9 Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. "Listen," he said, "I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me."

10 When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, "What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?" 11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.

Now we'll jump a few verses to the end on verse 17, where Joseph has been sent by his father to find his brothers, out somewhere with the animals;

So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. 18 But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.

19 "Here comes that dreamer!" they said to each other. 20 "Come now, let's kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we'll see what comes of his dreams."

21 When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. "Let's not take his life," he said. 22 "Don't shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the desert, but don't lay a hand on him." Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.

23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the richly ornamented robe he was wearing-24 and they took him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was empty; there was no water in it.

25 As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.

26 Judah said to his brothers, "What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come, let's sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood." His brothers agreed.

28 So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.

29 When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes. 30 He went back to his brothers and said, "The boy isn't there! Where can I turn now?"

31 Then they got Joseph's robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. 32 They took the ornamented robe back to their father and said, "We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son's robe."

33 He recognized it and said, "It is my son's robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces."

34 Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. "No," he said, "in mourning will I go down to the grave to my son." So his father wept for him.

36 Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh's officials, the captain of the guard.

I've heard many times people using the opening verses of this, talking quite badly about Joseph, giving him a bad account for how he opens his mouth and just blurts out what ever he is thinking. It's as if they assume he is bragging to his brothers, as if saying "Look how special I am...."

I don't think this is entirely fair or true. Yes, he was young (it tells us he was 17 at the start), so maybe there is an element of his youth blinding him to his brothers feelings. Hate is very often hidden though, so their harsh words aside, there was no way for this young Joseph to actually know his brothers true feelings towards him.

But holding this thought, what do we know of the character of this young man, both at this point and from what follows in the latter chapters of Genesis. Well, it is clear to me that Joseph was at least honest, pure, one who flees sin, hard working, he hears from God, he is used by God, he's a great leader and he's very forgiving.

And the brothers? Using the same process, what do we know of them? They are full of hate, have unkind words to say, they even hated all the more, they were mocking, jealous, murderous, plotting evil, lying, greedy and deceptive.

Next to each other, the characteristics of both Joseph and his brothers do not match up; Joseph wins hands down! Given this, the 'bad' account we see in verse two, from which the brothers hated Joseph, we see that what he pointed out to his father about the way they were working with the animals would have been correct. They probably were working badly....therefore their hate was unfounded, based on the fact that their own short comings had been noticed.

Coming back to the story, when you look at what has happened to Joseph, at the hands of his own brothers, it might lead you to ask the following questions;

Did God abandon him to his dream? As if to say, having revealed something to Joseph, did God stand back and take His hands off the matter?

Or had Joseph miss-heard? Maybe he just got it wrong?

Or maybe he should just never had shared his dream to anyone, especially his family?

My starting point to answer these questions is to remember in the Bible it states correctly that God works all things for good, for those that love him. And straight away in the story, even at the end of chapter 37 shown above, we get a glimpse of God already at work, in the way Joseph is sold to Potiphar. Not only is he one of Pharaohs officials, he's also the Captain of the Guard! Talk about rubbing shoulders with people of influence!!

Even before this moment, we see God at work, first through the actions of Reuben wanting to spare his life. Clearly if Joseph had been killed by them (imagining that this option was even possible!) then there would have been no forfillment to his dream. We then see that even through the greed of Judah, God is about to work to bring about the plans He has for Joseph. Because it was their greed at wanting to get something from their brothers downfall that led them to sell him to the passing merchants.

God is always at work and able to forfil the dreams he has for us! Amen

Someone once said "Every great dream begins with a great dreamer", but I feel the Bible says it better when in Ephesians 3:20 you are encouraged that God is able to do more than we can ask or imagine.

As we've seen, Martin Luther King Jr had dreams and God was in them and brought them to be. History has shown us such greats as Vivaldi, Bach, Handel and Da Vinci, who all had great dreams and produced amazing things from them. Yet these last four did things from just human minds.

I personally have dreams, things I know God has said to me but I am yet to see. It's these dreams and promises that keep me pressing on, pressing forward to the day that I see God outworking these things unto completion, all the time knowing that the process has long been started by Him already. And I believe every Christian can have their own promises, their own dreams from God.

The Prophet Joel, which is also requoted in the book of Acts, says "I will pour out my Spirit..." and this we are told will lead to prophecy, visions and dreaming dreams! We are in this time. The Spirit has been poured out on all people and its time to dream those dreams.

With God, all things really are possible, if we submit our plans to his, our ways to his ways, our desires to his, our dreams to his. If we make his dream, ours!

Do you have dreams? Do you have dreams that are personally yours? Do you have dreams for your local church, your city, or your nation? I believe we can each have our own dreams, as well as the corporate ones that include us all. But if we only have corporate ones, God can become less personal, and we just are one of the crowd, hidden behind what covers a much bigger group, safe in our salvation but no danger to the enemy as the corporate dream doesn't take root into our own lives, effecting them as a result. Don't hear me wrong - I do believe we need corporate promises, its just my experience is that if this is all we have, the individual needs to really work at seeing how they can outwork that promise within their own life, thus buying into it, otherwise they tend to just hide behind the fact that God has said something to their church, but nothing changes in their lives, so no fruit results from that word.

Are you a dreamer like Joseph? Maybe you've physically had dreams like he did - maybe you want to? It's been my prayer these last two months that I would have dreams like he did.

Or maybe you feel like your dreams are attacked & shot at like Martin Luther King Jr or Nehemiah? You've shared them to the 'wrong' people and instead of hearing encouragement, you were given harsh words.

Maybe you don't yet have any dreams? To this it just means God has a blank canvas ready to outwork a masterpiece on.

Lord I pray that there would be many dreamers out there - not day dreamers or people that only dream for personal gain, but people who hear you in their hearts. May You put into these people your dreams, and may You breathe life into these dreams. For anyone reading this who has had their dreams attacked and laughed at, please help them to forgive and forget those words, and to once again pick up the dreams you placed in them and give them the encouragement to see these dreams come to reality.

Thank you Lord for all that we can learn from Joseph. Help me to learn so much more from what follows in this series. Amen.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Worship & The Presence of God

One of the real bonuses and blessings that has come out of my elongated time away from St Petersburg has been the chance to travel widely and be in settings that otherwise I wouldn't have been able too.

And probably the greatest thing I've learnt has been to do with the Presence of God - which came after spending two days at a Kings Arms conference in Bedford on the Prophetic, in March. I came away from there different, changed for good I hope. Yet it wasn't (just) the teaching that did that, it was simply soaking in the Presence of God, enjoying Him. Just being his child in his midst. Just being.

Not long after that I found myself at another larger, long establish church.....yet, the worship style was such that it led us in it's own way, in the churches style that really reflected the area they were based and the level of mature Christians they had. Yet their well performed musical slickness didn't have anything on the one man and his guitar I'd just been with and the Presence I'd been so powerfully experiencing. And it's been something I've been thinking about, and pondering ever since. It's not something I think you can formulate, so as to get away from the work of God to trust on human ability, but it is something that I soon know they either have it, or they don't!

It's not even just the song, so as to get super spiritual, but it is amazing the connection between certain types of songs and entering into the Presence of God.

I'm blogging as the start of my own sense of figuring this all out. It's something I want with all my heart for my own life. That intimacy I felt and knew in Bedford has made anything else look poor. I want it more and more!

Not being a musician or singer, it's hard for me to go out and play it directly, bringing the Presence through my own playing, if that were possible. But it's something I know we so need I want to somehow effect the way my church, and others, lead worship.

In trying to communicate exactly what it is I'm seeing, it's hard to fully explain a situation and a feeling to someone who wasn't in that situation and didn't feel that feeling!

So I thought I'd start a series where I also include, by YouTube links, examples of what I mean, in the hope of exposing more people to different songs, which they too might find interesting, useful, or even better, Spirit anointed!

You see it really sort of started with this song for me (though this actually just started my chain of thought!) I believe its not a new song (though this version maybe newer), but it's been redone and re-sung, and has come out of Bethel Church, in Redding, California. And from what I've seen they have a real culture of worship, something that is changing and encouraging churches all around the world. So below is a link to the song I Love, I Love, I Love Your Presence. It is sung by Jenn Johnson. And it sums up so much for me!

Another one, maybe not that well known either, which I came across at Christ Church London, was Your Beautiful, by Phil Wickman. Here is a link (with a particularly good video);

So I hope you find these two moving and encouraging, and that their words turn you, like they have with me, to praise Jesus even more! He is worthy of all our worship.

Keep following, I'll be adding more in time as I continue to explore what it is that brings His Presence in ever increasing measures....

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Finding Treasure on the Streets of St Petersburg

Wow, it's already over a week since I arrived back from my latest time home in St Petersburg, having gone back to help lead, from the church side of things, the Mobilise Team that were coming out to spend some time with us. And having made it back just in time before the volcano erupted that has since closed the skies, and having now got over the worst of my illnesses, I wanted to write something about what happened on the streets of my favorite city!

As an overview, it was quite a tiring week. Emotionally, probably more so than physically, I was carrying a lot during my time there and just kept going.....so on arriving back, my immune system having taken a knock, I seemed to suffer more than I normally do. But that has passed now, thank God.

The team of 8, from various parts of the UK, arrived two days after my arrival, on the 2nd April. I met them with the guys at the airport.

Of course, I was also just adjusting back to life in Russia after a few months out myself. Having traveled all day on the 31st March, I arrived back home at the flat at around 4pm Russia time (I left Oxford at 1:40am UK time that same day). I was not alone though, because working away in the bathroom was a tradesman. There had been a leak, and the repairs were clearly underway. This meant though, on arrival, there was no water, no toilet, no shower. I stayed about 20 minutes and realised I needed to get out, so collected some things together and headed down to Dave & Hannah's, where I was able to catch up a bit, and have a shower! Before leaving, I had seen first hand the 3x3 foot hole in the ceiling left after the water had come pouring in - which would take me the whole week to finally clean up. I hope the repair work is now underway and it will all be finished long before we return as a family.

But what I had gone back for was the exciting extra week and opportunity of mission presented by the arrival of these keen, willing young people from England. And while they were some what eased into the first few days, with more time being given for social, city site-seeing opportunities, the week would soon kick into gear with a lot more structure.

Between the Tuesday to Saturday (which happened on the lunch time on the Saturday but mornings for the rest) we gathered for worship, some teaching and then going out onto the streets of the city, Treasure Hunting. For those unaware of what this is, it's simply asking God for words of knowledge, 'clues', about people we are to speak to, and writing down what we hear/feel/think. We particularly ask for 5 areas - Name, Appearance, Location, Ailment (or illness) and Other, where we put anything we get that doesn't fit into one of the first 4 sections.

I had real faith that some great things would happen (which they did...), helped by the fact that we were going out every day so a momentum could be built (the team from England, clearly warn out by the pace of city life, opted to have a rest on the Friday morning, but I went out anyway, joined by a returning friend who had just spent a week in Siberia doing exactly this - this session, personally speaking, was the most powerful I'd seen). It also helped keep a momentum going for the Saturday, when many from the church were able to join us, learning quickly what happens and then leading (being native speakers, that made things a lot more easier!) It was a really encouraging, final session on the Saturday, and a great platform for the rest of the church to continue with ourselves!

What was encouraging was that by the end of the week, most teams were finding people who matched 4 or 5 clues from their sheets. These starting including names! One encounter, on the Friday, followed a really encouraging chat we'd had with a lady in a Green Jacket standing by some Railings. She had just let us pray for her for a back condition (I can't remember if that was one of the clues, but we aren't limited to what we have written down anyway!).

Crossing the main street through St Petersburg, Nevski Prospekt, we walked straight up to a man handing out adverts, an 'A-board' hanging over his shoulders advertising something. We had intended on asking him where a Chocolate Shop was, another of our clues, but actually, both at the same time but without having the chance to say to each other, we realised HE was our treasure, the man we were to speak with. We asked his name, which we had exactly written on one of our sheets, and then he proceeded to go through the list, pointing out 4 or 5 other clues that also related to him! (We hadn't even spotted the Red Top he was wearing underneath!) We prayed for his Legs and then again, each time an improvement happening. Chatting some more, we asked about whether he had Finance Problems, which he hadn't pointed out from the list but which he confirmed he had. We prayed blessing over him, gave him an invite to church, which he warmly received and said he'd come.

We walked away from those two encounters, in the space of a minute from each other, praising God! Only God could give you someones name, what they are wearing, where they are standing, what is around them and what's wrong with them, then take you to the exact place so that you meet the exact person! Wonderful!

But it wasn't finished there. After a short lunch, I went home. On my list I had the name Sergei, but I hadn't found him. About a mile from home, a drunk man literally fell at my feet (just being a child of God puts us in places where people need our help!) Having helped him sit up, refusing his request to buy him a 'drink', I turned the corner and instantly saw a man begging by some Railings, at the entrance to a church building that had a Yellow, Arched Doorway. His name was Sergei! We chatted (I forgot to say, all the above had to be conducted in Russian...!)

I was able to pray (in English) over him, and invited him to church. (I saw him again on the Saturday on my way home, the first thing he said was that he'd see me tomorrow at church). On the Sunday, he did come, for part of it, though had left before the end, going for a cigarette but not coming back. He is a homeless man. A yet God wanted to reveal His love and heart for him. Be blessed Sergei, where ever you are!

There were many other similar and encouraging encounters - even the most unusual of clues turned out to be accurate - you can't out guess God (anyway, even if some were just made up, isn't God able to even make these ones happen...!)

Some of the evenings were spent going to some university dormitories. Students from another city church here that we are relating into, live in each location and have a group there. So we came in small teams to these, and then, where possible, chatted to the other students living there, giving them a free DVD (the one on the website) and an invite to church.

The final Sunday saw about half a dozen come as a result of this week - on the surface not as many as we may have hoped, but God looks at the deeper work and impact made. It's He that waters the seed thrown out. It's He that brings in the harvest.

I didn't see all the things that I was contending for in my spirit - there is so much more to come. But I saw the beginnings of something that we will continue to walk into as a church. I saw the church catch the vision, the faith to believe God for miracles on the streets as we walk around bringing Heaven to the city.

I'm now back in the UK, awaiting for our family visa to come through so that we can get back home....knowing that we'll be waiting a few more weeks yet.

So pray for all that happened in that week. For those people that responded on the streets, some crying as they were touched, maybe for the first time, by the fact that God loves them as individuals and speaks to his children today concerning them.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Prayer that Mia prayed

Mia Heath - my beautiful, darling little girl of nearly four and a half.

And yesterday, 23rd February 2010, she prayed with me the prayer to become a Christian. I felt this day couldn't pass, this moment couldn't move on without looking at the prayer that this wonderful four year old prayed, and seeing what impact the same prayer could have on your life.

It was the afternoon and we were watching Aladdin on DVD, after her full day in the nursery she's been attending this term. I don't think the DVD had anything to do with what she was about to say, but very much like Mia, and quite randomly it may seem, she suddenly started saying to me that she didn't want to be old, she didn't want to grow old, and then she didn't want to go to hospital. "When you're old you go to hospital...and you die. I don't want to die daddy," she said as I listened to what she was opening up to me.

I needed to respond. Pausing the DVD, I explained how she didn't need to think such things, but still she was saying the same thing. "I don't want to get old and die."

I then said how for me, I knew Jesus was in control. I knew Jesus promised life beyond death...how in heaven he was at that moment preparing a place for me, to welcome me home. I explained that I had no fear of death...had nothing to worry about.

I said that she might get to the age when she felt she wanted to know Jesus was doing that for her as well, that she could pray to Jesus and invite him into her heart.

She then said "I don't know how to pray that daddy, could you pray it for me?"

I sat down in front of her and got her to repeat each little bit after me, so that she was praying the same prayer herself, which went something like this;

"Dear Jesus. I know you are God. I know you came to this world for me, to take away my punishment. I know that you died on the cross and rose again, for me. I know that you are making a place, preparing a place for me in heaven right now. I know that I do not need to fear death, or growing old. I know that you have great plans for me.
Jesus, I invite you into my heart now. I want to follow you. I want to worship you every day (she said the every day bit in Russian!) Jesus, I want to become a Christian, to become a follower of you. I love you and know that with you inside me I never have to fear again. Amen".

And that was that. With that little prayer, repeated with a huge smile on her face that seemed to grow the further in we got, she had passed from death to life, from this earthly world to being seated in the heavenly world. She was now being rejoiced over in heaven by all the heavenly hosts!

Of course, for her this is the starting point, or better still, a clear moment in her life from which she can continue to learn, as she already has been since birth, about more and more of the love of God in her life. And it was after praying, almost as an after thought, that I remembered I was about her exact age when I first prayed that same prayer, asking Jesus to become my personal Lord and Saviour. And in me, from that moment, I knew I was saved. 100%, totally certain.

In my young years, which clearly hadn't been 'too' sinful (we are all sinners of course), my life was changed from being rooted in the world (which only leads to death) to being rooted in God, which leads only to life! I know I've grown more and more from that point onwards. Because it's not that you have to know all things (who in the world actually does know all things anyway!) before you can make such a decision. It's just the same childlike faith that Jesus openly encouraged in the Bible.

So I'm joining with the angels praising God over the life of this little 4 year old who has prayed the prayer of salvation.

Yes, she has more to learn, has many more questions, and that's what we are there for, to help her, to point her to the answers. But praise God that she has welcomed Jesus into her heart....Lord, fill her heart, help her become the worshiper she wants and desires to become. Be with her in mighty power that she may see you doing amazing things in her life.

And if this is what a 4 year old can understand, then it's certainly something you can pray as well. Is it that you also fear death? Do you worry about growing old? Do you wonder what awaits you? Do you want to know that there is life after death, and if there is life, don't you want to meet the person responsible for it?
Maybe it's peace you need? Peace in a situation you find yourself in at the moment? Fear over a loved one?

Jesus really is your answer as well. You too can pray the prayer highlighted in red above. You too can pass from death into life, knowing that the angels are rejoicing over you while Jesus is preparing a place for you. It really is that simple. It's certainly simple enough that a 4 year old can get it....so what about you?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Russian Traveller - Part 4 - The London Area

Last Thursday saw me leaving again from Oxford, heading to Sidcup to stay at my mums while I met with a few people in the area, in relation to the work we are doing in St Petersburg, Russia.

The big thing that I would be learning about was Welcome, firstly by meeting a guy in Catford, who heads up the Welcome side of the King's Church, Catford, and then also at Christ Church London (CCL), the city center church led and started by David Stroud 5 years ago but already at about 400 or 500 people.

I also had a few hours with a couple who know they are called to northern Europe, and feel that this could mean planting into Helsinki. I wanted to help them with this and get to know them a little more. It was really good to have been able to start a relationship that will continue long after they have moved. When Helsinki does get planted, it will be something that as a local church in St Petersburg, we have real involvement in. So I loved the time with the family.

But my first trip, a one hour lunchtime chat, was to Catford, just 25 minutes up the road from Sidcup, where I met with Ben Welchman, a leader at the church and the man responsible for all the Welcome team.

These guys do this particularly well, which is why I had come. CCL even based all they do on what happens here. So I was again blessed to be in such a context of excellence!

Any visitor coming here on a Sunday, for example, is met warmly on the door. There is a specific welcome area within the church for these people, clearly visible with a wonderful display board by all in the hall. They have their own drinks served, and their own places to sit after the meeting (very comfortable leather sofa's, no less!). There is clearly the message "We want visitors and we want to treat them well!"

Having chatted with the visitor, being warm, not pressuring them but also getting to know where they are at & what has brought them to the church, their details are given and this person is then called, by the same person, within 48 hours - usually on the Monday. They are also sent a post card that just thanks them for coming, and encourages their future involvement.

Each visitor is given a very good welcome bag (I was given one by Ben, and apart from going through the three cards that were in there, as I write this I haven't actually studied the rest yet!)

But instead of over-loading the visitor with loads of information, they are selective. There are just three cards - one is a response card for their details (phone and email), the other is an invite to their Alpha course, and the third, maybe a surprise one, is a card that shows how they are get involved and serve within the church. Because, aside from the obvious leadership/worship/working with children roles, they allow anyone to serve, even if they aren't a 'proper' member of the church yet. They know serving will draw someone in.

But over all these, isn't the faceless gathering of names on a spreadsheet, but the warmth and love of truly serving those that come to visit, to making sure every person who has come to meet God really gets the chance too.

Within the CCL context, it was good again to see this model outworked within a meeting basis, and to see how they have adapted it to meet the needs of a city center location in a venue that is not theirs, which is probably the case for all new city center plants. Through their website, I had seen that they invite their visitors to a local coffee shop an hour before the meeting, to have a free drink (they do a free lunch once a month as well). Here I met the first of 5 teams that work within the welcome context for every meeting. Five teams! The others are on the main doors, on the doors to the hall, within the hall looking for those people on their own (they then sit with them) and another team doing the same in the balcony area. The team on the main door also give out the church's in house magazine. This is probably posted or otherwise to church members, so anyone with one of these on a Sunday, in a rather clever way, shows to those around that they are most likely a visitor! How clever.

And without the church planning ahead (I had turned up unannounced), I was warmly greeted in the coffee shop, then again by a guy on the door (also another Tim), who gave me my copy of the magazine (clever!) and the coffee shop team then led me to the hall, where we sat together.

Now if I was someone who had no church experience, this was a very warm and safe welcome - I could better experience what would follow because I was safe and with people I had got to know (albeit only an hour before!).

Then after, using the facilities that meeting in a central London theater offer, they had a separate bar area just for visitors, and where the church leaders make an effect to go straight out to and chat to the visitors - again, having just spoken from the stage to the whole church, they show by their actions that its the visitors they want to meet first, over conversations with friends (which can happen anytime outside of the Sunday meeting).

As bonuses to my time in London, it was great to be able to meet the guy heading up the Mobilise Team coming to St Petersburg on the 2nd April - I really hope I can get out in time to help with and be part of the week. Only God knows about that one though!

Then it was back to Oxford, a late Valentines Day arrival to my very pregnant wife, and poorly little girl, who had come down with a sickness bug that morning.

I'm now largely based in Oxford, and will write a separate part, in time, about what I've learnt from this vibrant, student heavy church here. But not yet.

Thanks for reading - I really hope you have found this interesting - I want to serve those planting into the cities - whether you are going as the leader or just as a member of the team, whether its a capital city or university city, a big or small city, I would love to be an encouragement and source of information to you. If there is something I haven't covered but you want to ask, do get in touch.

I am working on pulling through my notes and starting a blog series that'll be a rough city church planters 'handbook' style reference - so watch this space!