A special thank you to Peter Brown for this weeks service. May God bless you with what they has shared with us. In Jesus Name, Amen.
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Today is Ascension Sunday when we rightly celebrate the triumphant return to heaven of our Lord Jesus Christ where he reigns as King of kings and Lord of lords, and we celebrate the 282nd anniversary of John Wesley’s conversion ‘A brand plucked from the burning’ whose heart was strangely warmed on this day in 1738. It is the ascended Christ who pours out his Holy Spirit on the Church to serve the purposes of God in the world.
Call to Worship: Philippians 2:5-11
your eternal Christ once dwelt on earth,
confined by time and space.
Give us faith to discern in every time and place
the presence among us
of him who is the head of the Body the Church; the beginning and the first born from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy, even Jesus Christ our ascended Lord. Amen.
Prayers of Adoration
Almighty God, we come today reminded of your greatness and glory, your sovereign power and eternal purpose all expressed so wonderfully in Jesus Christ, our Lord, Risen and Ascended.
We thank you for the wonder of Ascension, that marvellous yet mysterious moment in the life of the Apostles which left them gazing intently towards heaven yet departing in joy.
We thank you for the way that it brought the earthly ministry of Jesus to a fitting conclusion, signifying his oneness with you, and demonstrating your final seal of approval on all that he had done.
We thank you that through his Ascension Jesus is now set free to be Lord of all: no longer bound to a particular place or time, but with us always able to reach even to the ends of the earth.
We thank you that through his departing Jesus prepared for his coming again: through his Spirit, his Church, and his coming again in glory. Amen.
Prayers of Confession
You have heard what was written about Jesus in Scripture: How he would suffer and die and then rise from the dead on the third day; how, through his death and resurrection, the forgiveness of sin is now possible for all who repent. So, let us boldly approach the throne of God, where we will find grace and mercy
Forgive us for so often failing to grasp the wonder of Ascension, for living each day as though it had never been.
Forgive the smallness of our vision, the narrowness of our outlook, the weakness of our love, the nervousness of our witness, our repeated failure to recognize the fullness of your revelation in Christ.
Forgive us for our short sightedness. Draw us away from the temptations to seek worldly power and measures of success and call us to the down-to-earth message of your love, to care for the needs of those around us, especially the oppressed and marginalized.
You have called us through scripture to care for the widows and orphans among us; help us to see all those who are left out by society and are in need. Help us to break down the dividing walls that we have placed, so that we may truly be one, as you and Christ are one.
Give us a deeper sense of wonder, a stronger faith, and a greater understanding of all you have done.
For it is in Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
Bible Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:3-10
John Wesley penned these prophetic words in 1786 which underlined his deep concern for the Methodist Movement: “I do not fear that the people called Methodist shall ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. I only fear that they shall exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion, but not the power thereof, holding fast to the doctrine, discipline and spirit with which they first set out.” (John Wesley 1786)
John Wesley was a man with a deep missionary instinct. He was gripped by a passion to reach the lost and he saw the world as his parish. My prayer is that God would rekindle the missionary zeal and passion of the ‘People called Methodist’ to fulfil the Great Commission.
Wesley correctly discerned the health and spiritual bankruptcy of his generation and called them to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
THE SPIRITUAL CLIMATE OF WESLEY’S GENERATION:
v Deism was rife in the pulpit. Contrary to Biblical teaching this philosophy reduced God to an absentee landlord who had no interest in the world and no concern for the wellbeing of humankind.
v Gross immorality.
v The Clergy were disconnected from the people and pretty bland in terms of their preaching. The Name of Jesus was hardly ever mentioned.
v The spiritual climate was very low.
OUR SPIRITUAL CLIMATE:
The Western World is effectively Post Christian with a post-modern culture.
v There is widespread ignorance of the Christian faith. E.g. Story of someone going to a jewellery shop to but a necklace with a cross. Sales assistance in jewellery shop. There is a cross with a bloke on it.
v People are more interested in life before death.
v People are more conscious of doubt than guilt.
v People no longer share a vision of long-term hope. They are gripped with a sense of meaninglessness. “Who am I?” “What am I doing here?”- This generation is living in existential despair!
v There is a negative view of the church. People are showing a renewed interest in spirituality and are interest in Jesus but disconnected from the church and its message.
v People feel alienated from society – especially young people.
v People have low self-image. Eating disorders are on the rise and people see themselves outside of God’s love.
v People see the forces of nature as out of control. The world is unsafe. Our science and technology cannot guarantee stability, safety, and security. We live with a chastened admiration of our technology.
However, since the Covid-19 crisis we are beginning to see a shift in people’s attitude. The New Statesman Magazine reported that more people have been engaging with religion since the lockdown. In March, the Bible App downloads shot up globally at an unprecedented rate. The top English language Bible was installed over two million times, the highest ever recorded for March. Eden, the UK’s largest online Christian Bookstore have seen physical Bible sales increase by 55 % in April, and according to CRUX, an online media platform reflecting Catholic views, Google searches for “prayer” and “Christianity” have skyrocketed.
There are reports that 25% of people in the UK have watched an online service during this lockdown season, ten times the number that normally go to church. Holy Trinity Brompton, one of the UK largest Church, has seen double the number of inquirers signing up for their online Alpha Course.
The national blessing song. Released a couple of weeks ago, has been watched two million times which is equivalent to 200 new people every single minute of every hour watching this video. The song displays an extraordinary sense of unity among Christians from all over the UK. Stories are pouring in from those who do not consider themselves religious, saying that the track has moved them unexpectedly to tears.
Tearfund commissioned a survey which indicates that some three million new people have turned to prayer in the UK since lockdown began.
The headline in a major British paper said this: “British public turn to prayer as one in four tunes into religious services online”.
And then the stunning subheading: “Young people lead resurgence in faith”.
The demographic leading the charge to church is the sophisticated post-Christian generation is the 18-34-year olds.
I am excited because people are hungry for spiritual things and are asking questions. Could these sparks somehow become a wildfire? Does tragedy often precede resurrection? Could this really be the beginning of a spiritual awakening in our nation for which so many have been praying so faithfully and for so long?
My friends, I want to encourage us to pray with greater faith, preach with greater confidence and plan with great ambition. Let us dare to believe that God is able! This crisis has triggered an historic spiritual moment and we need to be ready for the harvest.
I wonder on this Aldersgate Anniversary what good advice might Mr Wesley give to the Church if he were here today?
1. WE NEED TO HAVE A CONFIDENT RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD.
I believe that he would tell us that being religious simply will not cut it with this generation. We need to know God personally. His life was radically changed when his heart was strangely warmed. His personal relationship with Jesus Christ was the bedrock of his life and the axis on which his life turned. For years he laboured in the mission field without any assurance of salvation or personal peace.
He was spiritually desperate. He did not have the faith to continue preaching. When death stared him in the face, he was fearful and found no comfort in the consolations of religion. When he confessed his despair and decision to give up the ministry to his Moravian friend, Peter Bohler, he was wisely counselled to, “Preach faith till you have it, and because you have it, you will preach faith.”
Acting on the advice of his mentor he led a prisoner to Christ by preaching faith in Christ alone for forgiveness of sins. The man was immediately converted. Wesley was astonished. He had been struggling for years and here was a man instantly transformed. He sought the same experience crying out to God, “Lord, help my unbelief!”
On May 24, 1738, he rose as perhaps the most disenchanted clergyman in the Kingdom, and at 5:00 am he opened his Bible and came across these words, “There are given to us exceeding great and precious promises, even that you should be partakers of the divine nature.”
Seeking the grace of justification that evening he ended in a meeting house on Aldersgate Street in London. He wrote in his journal that now-famous account of his conversion: “In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."
He immediately shared the good news with Charles. Charles wrote that “Towards ten, my brother was brought in triumph by a troop of our friends, and declared, ‘I believe.’ We sang a hymn with great joy and parted with prayer.”
Until their conversions, the Wesley’s had what John described as “a fair summer religion.” They were both ordained Clergymen who taught, wrote, composed hymns, and even went on the mission field to save souls—all to no avail. Their conversion experience was seminal and singular; the impact of which is still felt and celebrated by millions of Methodists world-wide.
2. WE NEED TO RECOVER THE PRIMACY OF PREACHING
Wesley’s preaching was gripping. He had one foot in the Word of God and the other in the real world to be a bridge. How much are we in touch with real people, walking in their shoes where they are, engaging with them on the things that matter and addressing the real issues of our time.
As someone wisely said, “If our preaching is not addressing the pertinent issues of the day, we are not really preaching the gospel.” The Apostle Paul says, “…our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction” (1Thess.1:5).
Does our preaching fulfil this criteria of Power, The Holy Spirit, and Deep Conviction?
“Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen; such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on Earth.”
v POWER: Power to change lives. Power with signs accompanying the Word – the sick being healed, the spiritually dead being raised and demonic powers subdued.
v THE HOLY SPIRIT: Why is he called the Holy Spirit? Because he comes to make us holy. He enables us to grow steadily in holiness and steadfast in faith as the fruit of the Spirit matures into our lives. He equips us with spiritual gifts for us to be effective in mission and ministry.
v FULL/DEEP CONVICTION: We desperately need anointed preaching that communicates the love of God with conviction restored to our pulpits. When preaching comes with full conviction sinners are converted, Christians will no longer be comfortable living in sin, backsliders are reclaimed and the doubtful are brought back to the fold in full assurance of faith.
v We need to recover this preaching in our generation. The Holy Spirit wants to anoint us afresh to fulfil what Jesus said, “You shall receive power what the Holy Spirit comes on you…” (Acts 1:8). Remember, when Jesus declared the Kingdom of God the power of the Spirit was self-evident for all to see.
v Wesley’s preaching was Biblical. He was a man of one Book – The Bible. He believed the Bible was the Word of God, not mere human words. It was God-breathed, God-given, a unique communication from God. We need to come under the authority of the Word and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Wesley submitted himself to the authority of Scripture and the Lordship of Christ. They were the energy that drove his preaching and the fuel that ignited his passion and conviction for lost souls.
v His preaching was Christ-Centred. He preached what he believed, that in Christ, and Christ alone, was full salvation. This was underlined in the now famous account of his salvation experience: “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death." He had tried to save himself to no avail. Some people do the same today by means of their good works. His preaching challenged all self-saving, self-serving ideology with the message of the Cross. He offered Christ and challenged people to make a decision to follow Christ. He called sinners to repentance, do we? He expected changed lives when he preached, do we? We suffer from low expectation in our preaching. Wesley expected the power of God to be released when he preached, and lives were radically changed as people encountered grace and the kingdom of God.
3. RECOVER THE PRIORITY OF EVANGELISM.
John Wesley was a mighty Evangelist. He was gripped by a passion to reach the lost. This was a profoundly theological motivation. The whole thrust of his evangelistic fervour was to fulfil the Great Commission and his strategy was to make disciples. The Great Commission burned in his heart. The infilling and the outward thrusting of the Spirit moved him to seek the lost.
O that the Spirit of God would rekindle again in the ‘People Called Methodist’ that evangelistic zeal. May he release in our hearts a missionary burden to seek the lost. O that our hearts would burn with unquenchable zeal and desire to see the lost come to Christ – that the Lamb who was slain might receive the reward of his suffering.
We do not need new methods but hearts that are on fire with God’s love – a burning heart. God does not anoint methods and plans; He anoints people to fulfil his purposes.
Wesley preached as a dying man to dying men and women. His was a fundamental belief that this Gospel was and is life changing. Do we still believe in such a gospel today?
There was a time when Methodists were noted for their evangelistic zeal. People would look out on a dark, cold and dismal night and say, “There’s ‘nought out tonight except crows and Methodists.”
The evangelistic passion of Methodists was imbued in the folk culture. By God’s grace we can recover and reimagine a fresh and bold missional strategy for our times, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, rekindle the fire of evangelism in our churches and take the whole gospel to the whole world.
Wesley broke with the traditions of men and the rules of the church to take the gospel to ordinary people. He ‘submitted to be more vile and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation.’ He was prepared to go into other people’s comfort zones, and so must we. We need to discover new ways of taking the Orthodox gospel into unorthodox places to scratch where people are itching.
4. WE NEED TO REIMAGINE THE POSITIVE VALUE OF PASTORAL CARE & SMALL GROUPS.
Historians have observed that although George Whitefield was a more gifted orator and communicator compared to John Wesley, he did not see the same level of spiritual fruit in terms of people growing in their faith and maturing as disciples of Jesus Christ. One of the major flaws in Whitefield’s evangelistic strategy was a lack of follow up and an effective discipleship strategy.
The genius of Wesley was to effectively garner the fruits of his preaching ministry by employing an effective small group strategy which he called Class Meetings. The New Testament Church mushroomed and thrived using a network of homes and family groups, to disciple and to engage with their communities missionally. This strategy was used effectively for over 300 years. Sadly, that vision was lost and within Christendom the vector of insularity replaced that robust missional call of “Christ for all and all for Christ.”
The Moravians rediscovered it and Wesley, through his close association with them, caught the vision and effectively employed it within the Methodist Movement. For centuries, the Class Meeting was not just the heartbeat but the litmus test of our effectiveness. How are we doing today? How many Methodist Churches have a small group strategy or see it as vital tool for our missional engagement and indispensable for effective pastoral care?
We cannot divorce Pastoral Care from preaching, teaching, and other areas of our ministry. Caring is a fundamental part of what we do and who we are. It is a core commitment of any thriving Church. There is a saying that people do not care what you know until they know that you care. Do our members know that we care?
You may be familiar with this parody: I was hungry, and you formed a humanitarian club to discuss my hunger. Thank you. I was imprisoned and you crept away quietly to your chapel to pray for my release. I was naked and, in your mind,, you debated the morality of my appearance. I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health. I was homeless and you preached to me about the spiritual shelter of the love of God. I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me. You seemed so holy, so close to God, but I am still very hungry, lonely, homeless, and cold. JOHN WESLEY WAS A PASSIONATE ADVOCATE FOR THE WEAK, POOR, ORPHANS, AND WIDOWS, BROKEN AND FORGOTTEN. THIS IS SOCIAL HOLINESS. There has been some fantastic demonstrations of care throughout this crisis. Let me encourage you. Keep going.
5. WE NEED TO BE REAWAKENED TO THE POWER OF PRAYER
John Wesley was mighty in God because he was mighty in prayer. He believed that God did nothing but in answer to prayer. Prayer is where our best theology is turned into experience. For Wesley prayer was the anvil and lifeblood of the Methodist Movement.
Julian Wilson in his book “The Wesleys: Two men who changed the world” recalled a powerful and transforming moment in the lives of the Wesleys which took place at a prayer meeting. On New Year’s Day 1739 at Fetter Lane, sixty believers, including John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield, who had just returned from Georgia, gathered for a “love feast” of bread and water. They prayed through the night until 3:00 am and experienced an extraordinary outpouring of the Holy Spirit. As John Wesley recorded: “The power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of His Majesty, we broke out with one voice, ‘We praise you, O God; we acknowledge you to be the Lord.’” The same manifestations occurred six months later, which John recorded in his Journal: “June 16, 1739. In that hour, we found God with us at the first. Some fell prostrate upon the ground. Others burst out, as with one consent into loud praise and thanksgiving. And many openly testified there had been no such day as this since January the first proceeding.”
These were real experiences, touchstone experiences, Pentecostal outpourings, that energized the movement and galvanized them into a formidable missional force that changed the course of history and the destiny of this nation for the glory of God. By the grace of God, we had revival not revolution! They discovered that God will drench us in his presence when we pray.
Prayer is so vital, yet it is so little used. If Jesus prayed every day to his Father, how much more do we need to pray to our Father? James Montgomery’s eloquent words reminds us of the importance of prayer:
Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath,
The Christian’s native air.
His watchword at the gates of death;
He enters heaven with prayer.
O Thou by whom we come to God,
the Life, the Truth, the Way,
the path of prayer thyself hast trod:
Lord, teach us how to pray!
If prayer be our vital breath when was the last time you breathed in this fresh air? When was the last time you experience something new from God for the first time? When was the last time you had a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit? Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed? Prayer is the Cinderella of the Church. So many of God’s people have no desire or appetite for prayer, hence our altars are bare, and conversions are few. We may be orthodox, but our orthodoxy is dead, our spirituality without passion, and our worship buried under an avalanche of dry and dusty theology.
Prayer turns theology into experience. Prayer is the birthing room for faith, the nursery for evangelism and the school for discipleship. Prayer is the measuring room for leaders; you do not measure a leader by his/her titles or achievements but his/her prayer life. Do you have a prayer life? How deep is your walk with God? Prayer is the one place you cannot pretend to know more than you do.
My dear friends I pray that the Holy Spirit would lead you to rediscover this “vital breath” of prayer and thus ensure that your life is centred on God’s purpose in all that you do. May you walk the talk of prayer; may prayer become the ground and centre of your being. As you breathe this native air may the Holy Spirit restore in you a vital faith and a vibrant spirituality to renew the Church, to raise up the spiritually dead and to bring the lost into a loving and living relationship with Jesus Christ.
May this prayer of Saint Patrick nourish our souls and revitalise our spirits as we breathe in and out the vital breath of prayer. I establish myself today in…
The power of God to guide me.
The might of God to uphold me.
The wisdom of God to teach me.
The eyes of God to watch over me.
The ear of God to hear me.
The word of God to speak to me.
The hand of God to protect me.
The way of God to lie before me.
The shield of God to shelter me.
The hosts of God to defend me.
Christ with me, Christ before me.
Christ behind me, Christ within me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me.
Christ at my right, Christ at my left.
Christ in breadth, Christ in length.
Christ in height, Christ in heart of
every man who thinks of me.
Christ in the mouth of every
man who speaks to me.
Christ in the ear of every man
who hears me, Amen!
Prayers of Intercessions
Lord Jesus Christ, Ruler of all, Servant of all, we pray again for the kingdoms and rulers of this world, that those in positions of authority may use their power in the service of their people and for the good of all.
May your love reign supreme.
We pray for those who take counsel together on behalf of nations, all those who carry the responsibility of leadership.
Grant them wisdom in all their decisions, humility to listen to the point of view of others, courage to stand up for what is right, and a determination to work for justice and peace.
May your love reign supreme.
We thank you for our country, our government, and members of parliament, giving thanks once more for the service they give.
In these times of grave concerns and enormous challenge grant them fortitude and strength. Guide them in their discussions and decisions with wisdom and compassion to serve the common good.
Under the burden of responsibility grant them rest, peace, and encouragement.
May your love reign supreme.
We pray for those who strive to build a fairer society and a better world – those who campaign against poverty, injustice and exploitation; who work for peace and reconciliation; who offer healing to body, mind and spirit; who serve the needy.
Encourage them in their work, support them in adversity, provide the resources they need, and make your love known through their ministry.
May your love reign supreme.
Lord Jesus Christ, we pray that your kingdom may come, despite everything that seems to fight against it; a kingdom in which the first are last and the last first, in which everything that frustrates your purpose and denies your love is defeated, and in which all people live in justice and harmony.
May your love reign supreme.
We ask our prayers in the Name of our risen and ascended Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen!
The Lord’s Prayer
Blessing: Our worship has ended but our work for God’s kingdom continues. Remember this: Our God reigns! He is robed with majesty and armed with strength. His kingdom is from everlasting to everlasting. He holds our world and our lives securely. So, do not be afraid, but go into the world with confidence, knowing that the God who goes with you is greater and more powerful than anything else you will face this week. Go, in the love, grace, and peace of God! Amen!