Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Discerning God's Will: Acts 16:9-15

When Lucy entered the wardrobe, she was looking for a place to hide, what she discovered was the magical land of Narnia. 

Sometimes God opens doors for us that lead us to people & places we would not have expected to go to. This is exactly what happened to Paul & his companions in Acts, but not before two other doors had closed to them. 

Paul was on his second missionary journey 49-52 AD, travelling with Silas & joined by Timothy in Lystra & later on Luke – who wrote the Gospel & the book of Acts.

In Acts 16:6-7 we read ‘Paul and his companions travelled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.  When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.’

Sometimes God opens doors, and sometimes he closes them.

Vicar visiting parishioner – leaves note with Rev 3:20 written on it ‘Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.’ Later that day same card pushed through Vicarage door with Genesis 3:10 written on it "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."

Luke doesn’t tell us how the Holy Spirit stopped Paul & his companions from entering both the province of Asia & Bithynia, or how they felt about it.  Maybe they sensed that it wasn’t the right place to go to, or maybe there was something that prevented them from going like illness or opposition, or maybe they received a word of knowledge or prophecy.    

When God closes a door, it can be hard, we can be left feeling dejected and disappointed, especially if it was something we had our heart set upon, something we felt called to, and something we’d been praying about. 

Applying for jobs – Ambleside 

But a closed door can be as much an answer to prayer as an open door. It might be God’s way of saying:

This is not the right way for you. OR
It’s not the right door to pass through right now, but maybe later. OR
There are things I want to deal with in your life first, before I allow this door to open. OR
Sometimes a closed door can be a real blessing, it can be God’s way of saying “I have something different, something better in stall for you.”

Ruth Graham (late wife of Billy Graham) once told an audience once, “God has not always answered my prayers. If He had, I would have married the wrong man—several times.”

When God close a door, it’s often to enable another door to open.  This is what happened to David Livingstone, the Scottish missionary and explorer who first tried to go to China, but prevented by outbreak of First Opium War in 1839, & was led instead to Africa.  He is known as "Africa's greatest missionary, & became an anti-slavery crusade & through his influence the East African slave trade was brought to an end. He wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Herald “if my disclosures regarding the terrible… slavery should lead to the suppression of the East Coast slave trade, I shall regard that as a greater matter by far than the discovery of all the Nile sources together.”

It’s also what happened to Paul & his companions.  During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them’.

Paul was clearly open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. How do we discern the will of God for our own lives?

1) Walk with God.

If you want to know God’s plan for your life, then you must learn to walk with God, to develop a relationship with Him. Christianity is all about relationship rather than just religion.
And so you must cultivate your relationship with God. You must seek to know Him and not just seek to know about Him. Jesus said: My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27

Spend time in His Word - many people want to know what God’s plan is for their lives, but they overlook the fact that God has already shown us what His will is, on so many issues through Scripture.

Take time for prayer. When you pray – give space for God to speak to you in the silence. Write down the question(s) you want to ask God, and listen to God’s spirit to see what comes. Write it down, and compare what you’ve written to what Scripture teaches us about God.

Seek wise Christian counsellors. Share it with other Christians who know you well, and who know & love the Lord & ask them what they think of it.  

Proverbs 11:14: Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.

Get involved in church and join a small group, go on retreat, take every opportunity you can find to nurture your relationship with God & get to know his voice. 

Proverbs 3:5-6: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.

2) Surrender your will to God’s.

Many times when we say we are seeking God’s will, what we are really wanting to say to God is this: “OK, God, here’s what I’m planning to do. Now I need you to rubber stamp this, all right?”

If you want to know what God’s will is for your life, you must be committed to doing whatever it is that He desires for you to do.

Romans 12:1-2: Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

When we surrender to Him, that is when He really begins to direct our steps.

3) Listen to your heart.

Psalms 37:4-5
Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.  Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. (NKJV)
When we are close to God, He begins to shape our desires so that you desire the things that He has already called you to do.

4) Take a look at your circumstances.

Look out for God-incidences – appointment to Carlisle.

The closing of the door to Asia & Bithynia & the vision Paul received, were God incidences. God often uses closed doors to show us clearly what He does NOT want us to do. And He also uses open doors at times to show us what He DOES want us to do.
Sometimes the only way to know if a door is one God wants us to pass through, is to test it.

We never know what will happen when we go through a door God opens.

In the case of Paul & his companions, it resulted in the Gospel being taken to Europe for the very first time.

It resulted in the encounter with Lydia in the city of Philippi. Lydia was clearly an important & influential person in the city, a seller of purple cloth, she was also a worshipper of God, in other words a Jew.  But on hearing Paul speak, she gave her life to Jesus, and she and her household were baptised, and they became the first Christian converts in Europe.
It marked a turning point in the spread of the Gospel, spreading for the first time ever into Europe. 

This would not have happened, if God hadn’t closed certain doors to Paul, and opened another. 

Open doors are not always the easiest doors to pass through. If God opens a door, it doesn’t necessary mean it will be the easy path to take, but if God has opened it, it would foolish not to walk through it.
Think about your life at the moment. Is God closing some doors, and opening others?  What might he want to say to you about this?  If you are sitting there thinking, I have no idea if God is opening or closing doors in my life, then pray about it. Ask him to show you how he might wish to use you, and the people He is leading you to, just as He led Paul to Lydia.  Amen.

Questions to Consider:

  • Can you think of a time when God opened or closed a door in your life? 
  • Is there a door you would like to see opened, but it’s not? What might God be saying to you through this?
  • Is God opening a door for your now? How can you test whether it is from God or not?
  • We are all called to be God’s witnesses, who might God be wanting you to share your faith with? 

To Do:

  • Pray this week that God may open a new door to you - what could it be?
  • Pray that God may lay on your heart one person He’d like you to share your faith with this coming week – who might this be?

EU Referendum – A Christian Response

In just over four week’s time, the country will decide whether it wants to stay in the European Union or leave.  Coming to an informed decision on how to vote is not easy, especially when you hear conflicting and contradictory messages coming from the rival ‘Vote Leave’ and ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ campaigns. As Christians what should our response be to the EU referendum vote?

There isn’t a simple answer to this question.  We can’t ask ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ as if we could determine how he would vote, and there isn’t a single ‘right’ way to vote as Christians.  In St Martin’s there will be those who think Britain will be better out of the EU, and those who think we are better staying in (a helpful website exploring different Christians positions on this issue can be found at But I do believe there is a Christian approach that we should all take as we think about how we are going to vote on June 23rd.

·    Reject politics of fear

First of all we need to reject the politics of fear, which both ‘Vote Leave’ and ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ are guilty of.  Basing decisions from a position of fear is never wise. The Lord says to Joshua ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.’ (Joshua 1:9) Instead we need to….
     Look for facts

No one really knows what the impact will be if Britain chooses to leave the EU, but it is worth taking time to consider the benefits and draw backs of belonging to the EU. Full Fact ( is a very helpful independent, non-partisan, fact checking charity that seeks to provide the public with the best information possible without the political spin! If you are confused by the claims and counter claims made by the various groups in the EU referendum debate, then this website can be extremely helpful.
     Ask questions

Very often when it comes to making decisions, the question we ask ourselves is ‘How will this affect me?’ However, as Christians we need to think outside of ourselves and consider others. Paul writes in Philippians 2:3 ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.’ And Jesus calls us to ‘love our neighbours as ourselves’ (Mark 12:31)

So with the EU referendum we need to think about what impact leaving the EU may have on others.
Some important questions to consider include:

o   What financial impact would Brexit have, especially on the poorest within society?
o   Would the nations of the EU be more prosperous, more just and more secure with Britain inside it?
o   What impact would it have on the current migrant crisis?
o   What impact would Brexit have on the future of the United Kingdom re. Scottish independence?
o   Will it lead to isolationism?

·   Conduct debates with respect

    There is a lot of mudslinging and personal attacks that go on in politics, and it’s ugly and 
     unnecessary. As Christians we need to always show respect and understanding to those we are debating with, even if we don’t agree with them. As the Apostle Peter instructs: ‘Show proper respect to everyone’ (1 Peter 2:17).

Prayer should underpin everything we do as Christians, and we need to be praying about the EU referendum, and if you are still undecided on how you are going to vote then pray about it!  The Church of England has released the following prayer for the EU referendum campaign:

God of truth,
give us grace to debate the issues in this referendum
with honesty and openness.
Give generosity to those who seek to form opinion
and discernment to those who vote,
that our nation may prosper
and that with all the peoples of Europe
we may work for peace and the common good;
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Pentecost Sunday 2016 Acts 2:1-20


The Pope was on a visit to New York. At the airport he was picked by a limousine. Looking at the beautiful car the Pope turned to the driver and said, "You know, I hardly ever get to drive. Would you please let me?"

The driver was hesistant and said, "I'm sorry, but I don't think I'm supposed to do that."

But the Pope persisted, "Please?" Eventually the driver said "Oh, all right, I can't really say no to the Pope."

So the Pope took the wheel, and put his foot on the pedal, 20, 30, 40, 50, eventually he gets up to 100 miles an hour in a 45 mph zone.  A policeman soon notices and pulls him over.
The policeman walks up and asks the Pope to roll down the window. Startled and surprised, the young officer asks the Pope to wait a minute. He goes back to his patrol car and radios the chief.

Cop: "Chief, I have a problem."

Chief: "What sort of problem?"

Cop: "Well, you see, I pulled over this guy for driving way over the speed limit but it's someone really important."

Chief: "Important like the mayor?"

Cop: "No, no, much more important than that."

Chief: "Important like the governor?"

Cop: "Wayyyyyy more important than that."

Chief: "Like the president?"

Cop: "More."

Chief: "Who's more important than the president?"

Cop: "I don't know, but he's got the Pope driving for him!"


The question I want to ask today is who is in the driving seat of your life? Who’s in control of your life? You or God?

As Christians it should be God who is in control of our lives. And the way we do this is by surrendering our lives to God, but because I’m a back seat driver & like to be in control, the decision to surrender my life to God is one I have to make afresh every single day.
If we want God to be in the driving seat of our lives, then we need to be filled with his Holy Spirit. This isn’t a one of event, but something that needs to happen every single day. When Paul tells the Christians in Ephesus to be filled with the Holy Spirit (5:18) he uses the present continuous tense, in other words he is saying “Go on being filled over and over and over again.”

Today I want to talk about who is the Holy Spirit, what does the Holy Spirit do, and how we can be filled with the Holy Spirit.  And then I want to give people the opportunity to receive the Holy Spirit.

Because I believe that more than anything else, this is what God wants to do today. Just as He poured out his Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, so I believe God wants to pour out His Spirit on us today.

Who is the Holy Spirit?
  • Spirit of God
  • In Gospel reading Jesus says “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you for ever.”
  • Word the NIV translates as advocate in Greek is parakletos (John 14:16). It means ‘one called alongside’ – a Counsellor, Comforter or Helper.

Who is the Holy Spirit for?

  • The Holy Spirit is for all of us.
  • In our reading from Acts, Peter quoted from the prophet Joel who said ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.’ (Acts 2:17)
  • The Holy Spirit is given to everyone who turns to Christ, irrespective of sex, age, background, race, colour or rank. 
  • The Holy Spirit is the presence of God in us.
  • Every Christian has the Holy Spirit within them. Paul writes to the Corinthians “Do you not know your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.” (I Corinthians 3:16) 
  • When we give our lives to God, God’s spirit comes and dwells within us.
  • But there is a difference between having the Holy Spirit living within us, and being FILLED with the Holy Spirit. Just as there is a difference between having two glasses one containing a drop of water in it and one being filled to the brim.
  • God wants us to be FILLED with His spirit.

What does the Holy Spirit Do?

  • It’s through the Holy Spirit that we encounter & experience God’s presence in our lives. He helps us to worship & glorify God.
  • The Holy Spirit equips us for service, giving us special gifts. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
  • The Holy Spirit helps us to become more like Christ. Paul describes this as the Fruit of the Holy Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control.

How can we be filled with the Holy Spirit?

  • We ask for it!
  • Jesus said “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?  Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
  • God wants us to receive this gift.

But there can be some barriers to receiving the Holy Spirit.

  1. Sin – creates a barrier between ourselves & God, like a blocked drain pipe, the blockage first needs removing. This is called repentance - not only acknowledging the wrong we have done, but literally turning away from it. True repentance should result in a change of actions. 1 John 1: 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
  2. Fear – people fear what the Holy Spirit may do, but Jesus says just as it is unthinkable that we would give our children a snake if they asked for a fish, so God is a loving Father, he’s not going to give us anything bad. He wants the best for us.
  3. Inadequacy - If you’re anything like me, you may feel a sense of inadequacy, and so you think “If I ask I’m not going to receive, because God knows what I’m like, and I don’t deserve it.  I can understand why holy people would receive this gift, but I don’t think God would give the Holy Spirit to me.  What Jesus says is not how much more will your father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to really holy people who’ve been Christians for a very long time.  He says, “How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”