Something to think about archive (1)

20th April 2020

From Rev Ralph Hanger

I know the two situations are very different and you cannot draw direct parallels from them, but the more I have thought about it, the more similarities I have seen and wonder if the one cannot teach us a few things about the other!  What are these situations?  I am thinking about the exile of the Israelites and the coronavirus lockdown.

I do not claim to be a prophet so I cannot claim that the whole crisis is part of God’s judgement on society for the way it has turned away from Him and at times turned against Him.  It’s worth a thought though isn’t it?  With all the publicity and talk about the virus and its effect and the need to protect against it and the scientific evidence that is supposed to inform all the important decisions and the importance of finding a vaccine and so on, where are the spiritual voices asking what God might be saying to us in the middle of all this?  In the World Wars, I am told, there was a turning to God for answers and comfort.  I do not see that in the media today.

It was certainly sin and rebellion against God that caused the Israelites to be defeated and sent from their own land into captivity – an unprecedented event.  Apart from being moved to a completely alien land and forced to live amongst foreigners as second class citizens, the real tragedy for these people was their loss of the Temple.   This was where all their worship and religious life, which was central for many, was based.  Without the Temple, how could they worship, how could they meet with God, how could they find His way for their lives.  The Temple was vital.  As long as they had the temple they felt safe.  Jeremiah had warned them however about a blind faith in the Temple, as a building, without change of life (Jeremiah 7:1-4).

In their new situation they had to improvise and find new ways to worship and fulfil their relationship with God. (Can you see where I am going?) One of the characteristics of the Jews in exile was that, in spite of settling into their new environments and working for the good of these situations, they maintained their own identity and worship of God as much as they could.  This meant that when the opportunity came for the return to their own land many of them were ready to go.

Even when the Temple ceased to have the same significance for Christians as its fulfilment came to pass in Jesus’ death and resurrection, the writer to the Hebrews encouraged his readers in Hebrews 10:24-25 – not giving up meeting together ….but encouraging one another.

In this time of lockdown and isolation, it is important that we do our best to keep contact with one another.  Our faith, as Christians, is a very personal thing and commitment, but we need one another for the ‘food’ of encouragement to keep going.  Like the Jews we cannot physically meet in our meeting place for worship, prayer and study, but unlike the Jews we have Zoom, WhatsApp, telephone and all sorts of means of keeping contact.  Let’s make good use of all that is helpfully available to keep contact with the Lord and one another.  Then, when we can meet again, we will be able to merely continue the way we are progressing.

(Incidentally the new series of Bible studies beginning on Thursday this week will be looking at the return of the Jewish exiles to their own land through the eyes of Ezra, Nehemiah and Haggai.  Note should appear on the website by Wednesday to have a look at before the Thursday evening zoom study.  The studies on the website are sufficient in themselves but the virtual study enables us to encourage one another and learn together.  Keep an eye out for details on the website.)

 

19th April 2020

From Anna Grimshaw

 Isaiah 58:11 (NIVUK)

 The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.

Given the option, I don’t think many people would choose social distancing or isolation as a ‘normal’ way of life, but maybe there are some advantages.   I’m fortunate enough to have a garden and so in the recent spell of good weather it’s been a very welcome distraction to be able to spend a good amount of time out there, at a safe distance from everyone.

In previous years my gardening has been very much squeezed in between other commitments, but due to present circumstances, I’ve been able to be much more thorough in my efforts outside, than on many occasions before.  So recently I decided to treat my old, well-worn patch of grass with some weed killer and then, a couple of days later I raked off the debris….the result is a very sad and lifeless looking area of green interspersed with large bare sections of brown!!

I’m no expert but I guess that without any intervention from me there would be some recovery, given time, but if I ever have any realistic hope for this sad patch to transform into a vibrant, lush green lawn, then I need to feed, seed and water, and generally nurture it on a regular basis.

In these unusual times if we’re not watchful, we too could become worn out and stressed about what the future holds.   Many people are facing very real difficulties that often could not have been foreseen, over health, finances, employment, family tensions, loneliness or isolation.   And so it’s perhaps more important than at any other time, that we need as Christians to ‘Fix our eyes on Jesus.’  Thankfully the bible tells us that God is at his most powerful when we are weakest.  

So as well as taking care of our physical health, we need to take care of our relationship with God, in the same way as we might care for our gardens.   We need to be fed and watered spiritually as well as physically;  we need to clear away any debris, sow the seed of His Word into our lives and ask Him to feed and water us with his love and grace, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps we can each intentionally spend time asking God to grow us, especially during this time of restriction, to ensure that when it is over, we emerge as individuals and as the body of Christ, full of life and vitality, and overflowing with the love of Jesus and ready to serve Him, in what is likely to be a very different world.

 

18th April 2020

From Rev Neil Martin

Matthew 11 - When God doesn't do what we want Him to.

How do we cope when God doesn't do what we want Him to? When we have been praying and asking for something, something good, something that should fit with what we know of God, but nothing happens? How do we cope when God doesn't do what we hope and expect?

This is the underlying question being asked in Matthew 11. John the Baptist is languishing in prison. He is in prison for serving Jesus, the Messiah, faithfully. He has given his life to serve the Messiah, forsaking position, a wife, children, comfort, a home, even his freedom. Yet now, as he is in prison, he sends his disciples to ask a question of Jesus: "Are You the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?" Gone is the certainty he had about Jesus in the beginning. This is John the Baptist, who once said of Jesus that he was unworthy to untie his sandals, that He is the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Yet now, in prison, away from the light, he is not so sure.

I believe John is asking a very specific question of Jesus at this point. I believe he is asking Jesus if he's going to do what the Messiah should; will He fulfil the promise of Isaiah 42:7? Will He "free captives from prison and... release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness"? He's asking Jesus if He's going to set him free, and fulfil what he believes the Messiah should do.

Jesus gives him, at first glance, a cryptic reply: "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me." Jesus replies by pointing out all the Messianic promises that He is fulfilling. He points John back to the promises of Isaiah 35:4-6, and 61:1. He is saying "I am the Messiah, but I'm not doing what you want today."  Jesus doesn't respond with a plan of what He is doing to send back to John, He doesn't give John comforting platitudes to rest on. He even waits until John's disciples have gone back to him to explain what He means. He is the Messiah, He is the good God, but on His terms, not ours. He will fulfil His promise, but in His time, and in His way. He loves His cousin, as He loves us, but this doesn't mean He always does, or says, what we want Him to, when we want Him to. We are left, as John was, with this challenge. "Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me."

Ultimately, John is trumpeted by Jesus as the greatest prophet, his deeds will shine for all eternity. For God is good, and though John was not freed from his temporal prison, he was freed from his eternal one. God's plans are grander and greater for us than we can even imagine or dare to dream. He invites us to come to Him with trust: "all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

 

17th April 2020

From Miranda Shieh

A Sure Way to Victory

My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words.
Do not let them out of your sight; keep them within your heart…
                            Proverbs 4:20-21 (NIV Version)

No matter what you may be facing today, God wants you to know that He has got you covered and that there is a sure way to victory over the attacks of the enemy.

Notice in Proverbs 4, that God has given you a guide to victory.
He is instructing you to listen to or hear His Word, to get His Word before your eyes and into your heart. That means that you are to do this on a daily basis.
Secondly, He wants you to believe what His Word says and to receive it.
Are you living in fear? God's Word says you have not been given a spirit of fear but of love, power and a sound mind (1 Peter 1:7).
Are you sick or experiencing symptoms of sickness? His Word says you are healed (Isaiah 53: 4-5, 1 Peter 2:24).
Are you in need? His Word says your needs are met (Philippians 4:19).
Do you feel you are losing a battle? His Word says you are more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37). 
Do you feel lost? The Lord says He is your shepherd (Psalm 23).

You may say I have already committed these scriptures to memory and that's OK. But there is a sure way to victory. Just as the memory of your last meal has no nutritional value a day later, so is your complete dependence only on memorised scriptures. There is power in keeping the Word in front of your eyes and into your ears and that power is in consistency. It may mean listening to anointed messages all day long; going to the word, laying hold of scriptures concerning your situation and confessing them. That will get the Word into your heart, change your whole attitude and renew your mind over the circumstances in your life.

A renewed mind will help you shut the door to the fear, sickness and doom that the world is throwing at you. This is because, out of the abundance of the Word deposited in your heart,  faith will rise and your mouth will begin to speak God's Word ....words of healing, power, peace, life and victory. His strength resident in His Words will infuse His strength and power into your body and this will come up and out of your mouth with authority to bring down the mountains and slew the giants in your life.

So instead of looking hopelessly and allowing circumstances around you to dictate your life, decide today to make the Word of God the first place and final authority in your life regardless. Choose to believe God's word above all else and refuse to keep your eyes on the world where there is fear, death and destruction. Arise and fix your eyes on the perfect law of liberty and continue in it (James 1:25). Hear it, look at it, believe it, receive it and see yourself through God's Word. Your victory is assured.

 

 

16th April 2020

From Rev Ian Macnair

THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST – Part 2

• Peace I leave with you.
• My peace I give to you.
• I do not give to you as the world gives.

There’s something even more remarkable about this will. Jesus is the only person in history who came back from the dead to ensure that his will was being carried out. On the evening of that first Easter day the disciples were ensconced behind locked doors ‘for fear of the Jews’. But then Jesus came and stood among them. What were his first words? ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he showed them his hands and side. What were his next words? ‘Peace be with you.’

Thomas wasn’t there and he found it impossible to believe what the other disciples were telling him. ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

I feel sorry for Thomas. ‘Doubting Thomas,’ we always say. We don’t say ‘Moaning Martha’ or ‘Denying Peter’ but it’s always ‘Doubting Thomas’.

The following Sunday evening the disciples were again in the house, and this time Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them. What were his first words? ‘Peace be with you.’

That threefold proclamation of peace after Easter echoes the threefold promise of peace in the legacy. ‘Peace be with you … you … yes, you.’

Jesus did not scold Thomas for his hesitation. He simply gave him the evidence of his resurrection and Thomas believed. I don’t think he’s known as ‘Doubting Thomas’ in heaven. I think he’s known as ‘My Lord and my God Thomas’.

Of course Jesus said, ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ And that includes you and me. The evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is overwhelming. We won’t see him with our physical eyes but we can encounter him by faith and receive his wonderful legacy of peace.

There are five clauses in Jesus’ legacy and we’ve focused on the first three of them. But there are two more, and they have to do, not with what Jesus has done, but with what we have to do.

• Do not let your hearts be troubled.

• Do not let them be afraid.

Later, in his letter to the Philippians, Paul expanded on this last will and testament of Jesus.

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus [chapter 4 verses 6 and 7].

Jesus’ will and testament has promises which he has fulfilled but it also has conditions which we must meet. We can put it like this.

What should we worry about? Nothing.

What should we pray about? Everything.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

 

15th April 2020

From Rev Ian Macnair

THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST – Part 1

I have only once been the beneficiary of a legacy. It was in 1983 and it came at a very significant time. We were living in the London area in a rented flat and wondering if we would ever be able to buy a house, but that legacy enabled us to put down a small deposit on a terraced house in Watford. It was just before the yuppie era when house prices began to rocket. A year later and we would have been priced out of the market for ever. As you can imagine, it was very welcome but, of course, there was a down side. The legacy came through the death of my father and so inevitably it was tinged with sadness.

Shortly before Jesus died he made a will. This may be a surprise, particularly as he said, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ We find the exact terms of his will in John’s Gospel chapter 14 verse 27.

• Peace I leave with you.
• My peace I give to you.
• I do not give to you as the world gives.

We can ask three questions about this legacy. Who made it? What was in it? And who is it for?

It was made by none other than Jesus. It was made only hours before his arrest, trial, sentence and execution. And yet, here’s the amazing thing, the content of his will can be summed up in one word: peace.

Jesus described it as ‘my peace,’ in other words the peace which he knew and which he displayed.

Picture again that night-time scene on Lake Galilee when a great storm arose and the disciples feared for their lives. Jesus was asleep in the boat. The disciples went and woke him up, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing!’  And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, you of little faith?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm.

The striking thing about this incident is not merely peace after the storm, amazing as that was, but peace during the storm, Jesus’ own peace, in the words of Paul, ‘the peace which passes all understanding’.

That is what Jesus offers. That is his legacy, his gift – ‘my peace’.

There is also a clause which underlines the uniqueness of the legacy: ‘I do not give as the world gives.’ There is nothing in the world that can match or replace this wonderful gift.

So who is it for?

In a word, ‘you’. Notice the threefold repetition in the three clauses: ‘you … you … you’.

But where there is a will there always has to be a death. The peace which Jesus offers comes about only because of his death, and what a death – death on the cross. Therein lies the tinge of sadness.

However, as the Easter hymn reminds us, ‘Christ is risen! all the sadness of his earthly life is o'er; through the open gates of gladness he returns to life once more.’

 

14th April 2020

From Kay Hamer

Thankfulness  

Luke 15 v 8-10

''Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one of them. Does she not light a lamp and sweep the house ans search carefully until she finds it?

And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.'

In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.''

Some time ago I lost a ring which was really special to me. I was so upset and searched and searched for it in every conceivable place. Oven, fridge, microwave, any place you name, I looked there. The problem was that I knew where I had left it. I had put it on the kitchen window ledge several days before. Now, it was lovely day and so the window was open!!! Some men were about wanting to do jobs and they came up the drive. I don't need to tell you what I was thinking, do I?

As I said, I was upset and cross with myself at my stupidity.

I prayed a lot asking God to either let me find it or help me let it go. It was only a ring after all.

A  while later there it was!!! How I rejoiced. I was over the moon. Deep inside there was a powerful feeling of gratitude.

The point of telling this story is that I so identified with the woman in Jesus' story. I imagined her joy at finding the lost coin and the message behind it. I thought again about how excited the angels were. All this made me think about how thankful I am that Jesus loves me, he died for me, he is my reason to be.

I want to have that same deep down thankfulness for all that my Lord means to me, I want to be excited about it, I want always to have a heart full of joy that keeps me close to Him.

Saying thank you seems shallow; I want my heart to be full of praise.

How about you? Can I encourage to read the parable again. Get into it and then experience that same joy for yourself.

 

13th April 2020

From Rev Ralph Hanger

Understanding and Faith

Easter Sunday can be a time of great rejoicing and praise as we celebrate Jesus resurrection from the dead.  On the other hand it can be a great stumbling block for folk who, quite reasonably, ask the question “How can someone who is truly dead come back to life? This is something that is too difficult to take in.”

People are often quite happy to accept Jesus as a good person who healed the sick, who taught good moral and ethical behaviour and encouraged everyone to live and work with a motive of ‘love’.  However, when you ask them to believe that he actually died and was then raised to life the attitude is “That is something I cannot explain, I don’t understand how it could happen so it cannot be true.”

This was the attitude of the disciples on that first Easter morning. Mary Magdalene had brought them the news that the tomb was empty, so two of them, Peter and John, ran to find out what had happened.  John ran ahead and got there first, but Peter when he arrived went straight into the tomb. (John 20:6-7).  The next verse (8) is interesting.  We are told that John – "went inside – saw – and believed."  What did he see.  Exactly what Peter had seen – the empty grave clothes that had been around Jesus just lying there where they had been, but no body.  This is followed by the comment "(They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead)" John 20:9.

John saw – believed – but did not understand.  This is what true faith is all about.  It is to believe even though we do not understand.

After all these years of following Jesus I still do not understand physically how a man can be raised from the dead.  I do not understand how, but I have seen the evidence – from the Biblical story – from analysis of the effect it had on people’s lives then and still has to day – from the work of God’s Spirit in me and I believe it to be true.  I do not have to understand for it to be true.

This is not blind faith!  It does not mean I believe everything I am told.  It means that when the evidence is clear I am willing to believe.  Sometimes when I accept something on trust from God, he shows me later ‘why’ or ‘how’ and I don’t stop looking for these answers, but I still believe, whether or not the answers come.  My confidence is in God and not in my understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)

(For anyone wanting to look at the evidence for the Resurrection in more detail, I recommend Frank Morrison’s classic little book – ‘Who Moved the Stone?’)

 

12th April 2020 - Easter Day

From Rev Neil Martin

John 20

If you're scanning this devotion with your mind full of other thoughts, or thinking about other things, STOP. Stop what you are doing and listen. Christ is risen, Christ is risen, just as he said He would. Stop and listen; Christ is risen. This historic event, this real, actual, flesh and blood event that took place in the confines of space and time in Jerusalem around 1987 years ago, changes everything.

It means we can cease to fear mortality, because we know this is not the end. We miss the ones who are asleep, but we rejoice, because death is no longer the end. Jesus was taken and beaten, His flesh was destroyed and His blood spilled out. He was crucified and ended. His body placed and left, guarded by the might of the Empire and the Jewish authorities, the ones who saw to His end. There He lay for 3 nights, before death could not confine Him any longer. It could no longer hold Him, so rampant was the force of divine life in His body. He lives resurrected and restored and has made it that we will be also. We do not need to fear mortality any more. This changes everything.

It means we no longer fear punishment for our sins from a just God. It is finished; it is completed; it is done. His death accomplished this miracle. All our petty grievances, all our evils, big and small, the worst crimes committed by humans atoned for, washed away by His death. All the evils of humanity atoned for, so that all can be forgiven if we will but repent, trust and receive forgiveness. This changes everything.

It means that Jesus has conquered. This is not the end, there is a world to come beyond this one, and because Jesus has conquered, I get to go there, clean, restored, forgiven and righteous. I also get to live my life and declare His praises in wonder, that this changes everything.

 Stop, and give thanks. Christ is risen, no matter what may happen, no matter what we face, this fact, this historic event is certain. Christ is risen, and this changes everything.

God bless,

Neil

 

11th April 2020

From Iain Colville

Matthew 10

‚Äč1Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
2These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
5These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.
9“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts — 10no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. 11Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. 12As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. 15Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
16“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
21“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
24“The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!
26“So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
32“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.
34“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to turn

 

“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law —
36a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

 

37“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
40“Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

Your mission, should you choose to accept it…!

In Matthew 10 we find Jesus sending out the 12 disciples with a mission to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of heaven.  He gives precise instructions as to where they are to go (to the lost sheep of Israel, v6) and where they are not to go (among the Gentiles or the Samaritans, v5). Jesus is equally specific about the mission: they are to announce that “‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.”(v7 and 8). There are further instructions about the equipment they need (in fact mostly identifying what is not needed, v9 and 10) and exactly what they are to do on arrival at each town or village and once they see the response of those to whom they speak (v11 to 16).  Jesus goes on to give instructions for the future, for a time when the disciples would find themselves arrested and persecuted (v16 to 31) as well as a challenge to take up our crosses to follow Jesus (v32 to 42).

In our present circumstances with the repeated refrain “Stay at home”, the very idea of being “sent out” now seems rather strange and distant. But just like the disciples, Jesus has a mission for each one of us.  If you’re not sure about what that might entail, why not ask Jesus to show you? You can be sure that he will equip you and provide instructions for you to follow, just as he did with the disciples.  You may discover, like the Twelve, that you need rather less special equipment than you might imagine.

The message of the kingdom of Jesus is just as vital and important for today’s isolated society.  “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”  Even when we must keep our distance from those around us, Jesus comes near to us, bringing his kingdom of heaven into fruition in front of our very eyes.

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.” The outworking of the kingdom of heaven is exactly what we need to pray for our world, our nation and our city. But maybe your mission (and mine) for this season is not just to pray for these things but to be Jesus’ agent to demonstrate the coming of his kingdom to your family and friends, work colleagues and neighbours. In doing so, we too need to be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (v16), being careful and wise, but not cynical and bitter as we follow the Government’s instruction to “Save lives”.

We also need to hear Jesus’ encouragement to not be fearful: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (v28 to 31). Whether there are many (or, in my case, few) hairs on your head, be assured that our heavenly Father knows exactly how many, as he watches over us and those we love in these times.  Jesus reminds us too that the Father’s gaze will not miss the smallest act of kindness, even a cup of cold water (v42).

And finally, we can take Jesus’ presence with us for every encounter along the way – whether virtual or face to face across that all too familiar 2 metre gap. Have you noticed that 2 metres is roughly the breadth of an adult’s outstretched arms? Perhaps especially this Holy Week, we need to see Jesus with his arms stretched out upon the cross, bridging the gap to each person that we can’t reach out and touch. Perhaps in these times, there’s a new meaning for “taking up our cross” and following the way of the Cross?

Many blessings,
Iain

 

Good Friday, 10th April 2020

From Rev Graham Banks

There are many strong clues in the gospels and other New Testament writings that convince us that Jesus knew how His future was going to unfold.

Luke 9:51 records, “As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”

In John 13:33 He said to His disciples, “My children, I will be with you only a little longer.”

Finally in Hebrews 12:2 which is our word for 2020. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, WHO FOR THE JOY SET BEFORE HIM ENDURED THE CROSS, SCORNING ITS SHAME, AND SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE THRONE OF GOD.”

Jesus also (of course) knew the scriptures where there are countless references to the coming Messiah and how He would give His life for us. Some of the more obvious scriptures such as Isaiah 53:5 Clearly describe how the Messiah would suffer for us. “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.”

Psalm 22 is one of the great messianic psalms. Those who deny the inspiration of the Bible or the deity of Christ try hard to rob this psalm of its prophetic character. Some say it is only an expression of some kind of suffering that David experienced. But we have no record that David ever endured this kind of rejection, scorn, and violence. This psalm also so graphically describes the crucifixion of the Christ who was to come and  would die on our behalf at the hands of a Roman form of capital punishment not even invented when this psalm was written! 

David was the author of this psalm and according to Acts 2:29-30 he was a prophet. ‘’Brothers, l can tell  you confidently that the patriarch David died and was  buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet, and knew that God had promised him on oath,  that He would place one of his descendants on his throne.Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ.” 

Psalm 22, 23, and 24, all of them by David, belong together because they describe the ''shepherd'' ministries of Jesus Christ. In Psalm 22 He is the Good Shepherd who dies for the sheep. In Psalm 23, He is the Great Shepherd who lives for the sheep and cares for them. In Psalm 24 He is the Chief Shepherd who comes for the sheep to take them to glory.

Today is aptly named ‘Good Friday’

 With much love

Graham

‘Faith not fear’

 

9th April 2020

From Anna Grimshaw

Mark 14:17-25 New International Version - UK (NIVUK)

17 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me – one who is eating with me.’  19 They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, ‘Surely you don’t mean me?’  20 ‘It is one of the Twelve,’ he replied, ‘one who dips bread into the bowl with me.  21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.’

22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take it; this is my body.’  23 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.  24 ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,’ he said to them. 25 ‘Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’

2020 is certainly proving to be a memorable year and events are changing so rapidly that it seems we are flying through it.  For Christians the season of Lent, when we prepare ourselves for Easter, is also progressing at speed, and we are very close now to Easter.  However our celebrations will be very different this year……no early Easter Sunday morning Communion service, remembering Jesus’ sacrificial death and victorious resurrection, followed by sharing breakfast together as a church family.  There will still be some ways we can “join” together, but it will certainly be different.

Whilst thinking about these things I was reminded of a meditation I read a few years back, written by Eddie Askew of the Leprosy Mission, based on the Leonardo da Vinci painting ‘The Last Supper’.  It’s a painting that will be familiar to many people…..Jesus is pictured in the centre with the twelve disciples, all of them on the far side of a long table, the near side being empty, as they share a Last Supper together. 

This format is often used on stage or in films so that the viewer can see all the characters involved without obstructions, but Eddie Askew suggested another possibility; the viewer becomes a participant in the scene.   I hadn’t realised that the picture is actually a mural painted on the wall of the refectory in a monastery, so that as the monks ate together, their tables were positioned so that they became a continuation of the table in the picture.   In effect they were sharing every meal with Jesus, they were fully involved in the meal and also in relationship with Him.

I’d seen images of that painting many times before but that explanation, whether it was what da Vinci was thinking or not, showed me a totally different perspective.  In these challenging times we need to allow ourselves to be open to new ideas, new ways of doing things, new ways of doing and being church, and new ways of expressing and demonstrating our personal faith. 

So let’s “Fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” and allow Him to prompt us to step out in faith and service for the glory of His Kingdom, even or perhaps especially, when we are stepping into unknown territory, but with the knowledge that we don’t go alone.  After all, we worship a Saviour who so much wants to be in relationship with us that He was willing to come to earth, to suffer and die a horrendous death, and then to rise victorious over the grave, so that we might be in relationship with Him for all eternity.

Stay safe and blessed.

Anna

 

8th April 2020

From Chris Burrell

At the beginning of the lockdown measures QRBC musicians were challenged by Don to write an Easter worship song, The following words came to mind.

Alleluia , Alleluia, Jesu has risen from the dead.

Mary met a man at the graveside

 But Jesus she did not see

 ‘Mary’, he said and her eyes opened wide

To the Master she knew Him to be.

 

The disciples were gathered together

When Jesus came calling on them.

 ‘Peace be with you’ He said to them all

And He showed them his hands and side

 

Thomas was out when He came there

And would not believe what they said

So Jesus came back, showed His hands and His side

And Thomas then came to believe.

 

Two men were walking towards home

When a stranger joined in with them

But Jesus they did not recognise

Till He blessed and broke the bread.

 

 As Jesus comes looking for us

Just how will we know it is Him?

Will we shut our eyes to the depths of his His love?

Or trust Him for all that’s to come

Chorus

Alleluia, Alleluia , Jesus has risen from the dead.

Alleluia, Alleluia,, Jesus has risen from the dead

 

In our present crisis it’s good to remember, Yes Jesus has been raised from the dead, lets us celebrate together that He is ever present with us and in control.

(The words do have a melody! )

 

7th April 2020

From Chris Burrell

James 1:2-4   "My dear family, when you find yourselves tumbling into various trials and tribulations, learn to look at it with complete joy, because you know that when your faith is put to the test , what comes out is patience. What’s more, you must let patience have its complete effect, so that you may be complete and whole, not falling short in anything."

My shredder has been working overtime, as along with many others I have been clearing out old documents and trying to leave a filing cabinet drawer neat and tidy so that I and any others who might need to at a later time can find what I need. Bills and wage slips going back well over 20 years have at long last been got rid of. (Just how long do I need to keep P60 statements?)

There is also much to do also in the garden and my craft room/study could certainly do with a tidy up, so perhaps soon I can move the sign that a friend gave me many years ago which states ‘God bless this mess’

As we take time for all this, maybe too we should take the time to take stock and clear up how we live our Christian lives? A car needs servicing every so often to keep going efficiently, how much more our Christian lives! During my quiet times recently I have been looking again at James. I find it hard to consider the present crisis and trials ‘pure joy’ but can see that this in current time of testing I will need patience (or perseverance as other translations have it). Lack of patience it was suggested to me means a lack of trust in the God who is in control, although sometimes we find that hard to understand. Joy may then follow as we see God at work in new ways.

God bless

Chris Burrell

 

6th April 2020

From Rev Ralph Hanger

How many times have you seen the Government broadcast with the gentleman telling us to stay home and wash our hands!  It’s funny isn’t?  Some of us, especially the retired folk, do spend a lot of the time at home, but as soon as someone tells us we must stay at home, we want to go out!  It seems to be a human tendency that whatever someone tells you to do, even if you know it is for your own welfare, you want to do the opposite.  We can certainly see that among children and teen behaviour as well.

I thought about this when reading Deuteronomy 10:12-13 recently. This records Moses speaking to the Israelites to remind them of the way God has led them from Egypt to the edge of the Promised land and it says ‘And now Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but

  • to fear the Lord your God
  • to walk in obedience to him
  • to love him
  • to serve the Lord your God with all your heart , and with all your soul
  • and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good.

It was that last part that caught my attention.  So often we think of ‘obeying’ and ‘keeping’ laws as a bind and restraint.  I don’t think that I am the only one who has quoted ‘Laws are made to be broken’ when it has suited me. Here, however, Moses is telling the Israelites that God’s laws have been given to us for our own good – to show us how to get the best out of life.  The Old Testament history of the Israelites is there to show us how true this is and what a mess we make of things when we try to be independent and do things our way.

One of the reasons we misunderstand God’s rules for living is that we don’t have first-hand knowledge of them and only know what others have told us - either positive or negative.  When we begin to read God’s Word for ourselves in a systematic way we see how different God’s way is from ‘normally accepted behaviour’ and how much better it is.

More than any human parent, God really does want the best for us.  He knows what we are individually made of and capable of and his ways are not ‘burdensome’ as John records in his first letter –‘This is love for God to keep his commands.  And his commands are not burdensome for everyone born of God, overcomes the world’ 1 John 5:3.

To make sure we get the very best in life, let us make sure we both know what God’s advice is and keep to it.

 

5th April 2020

Dr Ruth Valerio and Gideon Heugh of Tearfund explore the questions that Christians might be wrestling with during the coronavirus crisis.

How to beat coronavirus:
Stay at home. Keep your distance. Wash your hands. Have a good theology.
Wait, a good what?
Theology is our understanding of the nature of God. This in turn influences the way we see the world. In times like these, when life as we know it has been turned upside down, it’s crucial that we have a good Bible-based theology.

To help, we’ve put together answers to some of the questions that Christians might be wrestling with at this time:
Will God protect us? Why is this happening? Is the virus God’s judgement? Does sin cause illness? Are these the end times? And, how should the church respond?
And the church, of course, means all of us. We are one in Christ, and no amount of social distancing can sever that connection. Speaking of which...

Will God protect us?
Having the right theology can save lives. Literally.
Most churches around the world have stopped meeting in person – for obvious, sensible and necessary reasons. Some, however, have not, citing their belief that God will protect them from the virus. This is bad theology, and it might cost lives.
God does protect. God does heal. Yet we are his hands and feet, and it’s vital that we play our role, listening and acting upon the advice of experts. 
I trust God with my health – but I also try and make sure that I exercise and eat well. If I break my leg, I’ll pray for healing – but I’ll also go to the doctor. 
Trust God, but take action too.

Why is this happening?
To answer this question, we need to go back to the beginning. 
God created a world that he declared to be very good (Genesis 1:31) – a world in which everything exists in harmony with God. Relationship with God, with others, with ourselves and with the rest of creation is central to God’s loving purposes. 
After those relationships go wrong, the Bible then tells the story of how God works to restore them – a plan that finds its ultimate fulfilment in Jesus.

Poverty, conflict, suffering, climate change – all these are the result of those broken relationships. The Bible is clear that God, people and the natural world are deeply interconnected, so if one aspect of that is broken then everything will be impacted. 
As hard as it is to hear, the outbreak of coronavirus is not a ‘natural disaster’. It is a disaster of our own making. Viruses jump species and get into humans, and environmental destruction makes this more likely to happen as people are brought into closer contact with virus-carrying animals. Deforestation, mining, animal trafficking and unsustainable farming practices are all likely factors at play.1

Is this God’s judgement?
God’s original intention was peace between all things – but this is not how we’re living. He created a world in which everything is connected, and there are natural consequences when those connections are broken.  
This doesn’t necessarily mean that God ‘caused’ or ‘willed’ the pandemic – it is to recognise that the brokenness of creation ultimately causes us harm.
In some cultures, misfortune is seen as directly linked to that person’s sin. But biblically,  these links are rarely as simple as that. For example, in the story of Job, Job’s suffering is not a result of his sin, but of the existence and work of Satan. 
In Luke 13:1-5, Jesus is told about Pilate’s massacre of some Galileans who were in the process of offering sacrifices. He responds by pointing out that those who were killed were not greater sinners than those who were not killed. And he makes the same point about the people who were killed when the tower in Siloam collapsed. 
Jesus is clear that the existence of disasters doesn’t mean that those who are affected by them are worse people than anybody else. Such events should never be an invitation to judge others. 

Does sin cause illness?
In John 9:1-5 Jesus meets a man who was blind from birth. The disciples ask about the sins that have caused this blindness – was it his sin or that of his parents? But Jesus tells them that his blindness has nothing to do with sin. Not only that, but it provides an opportunity ‘that the works of God might be displayed in him’. 
The Bible does present links between sin and suffering in a broader sense. Our physical suffering is part of a chain of brokenness from Genesis 3 onwards. Also, there are lifestyle choices we can make that either promote or neglect our health and wellbeing. However, there are no biblical grounds for directly linking a person’s illness with their sin. Even when Jesus heals the paralyzed man in Mark 2 saying ‘your sins are forgiven’, he did not explicitly say that the sins were the cause of his paralysis. And nowhere else does Jesus heal by saying ‘your sins are forgiven’. 
Illness must never be used as a basis for stigmatization and rejection. The Pharisees did that – Jesus didn’t. His message was one of acceptance, inclusion and compassion for all.

Are these the end times?
Widespread conflict in the Middle East. A plague of locusts spreading across Africa. Flooding around the world. Surely these are signs of the end times?
If there’s one thing that we can say for certain, it’s that no one can know for certain. If Jesus himself did not know when the end times would be (Matthew 24:36), who are we to try and say? 
It is important to keep a wider perspective throughout all of this. Christians have been trying (and failing) to predict the end of the world since the early days of the church. Although the word ‘unprecedented’ keeps being brought up, this is not the first crisis of this scale – indeed, there have been far, far darker times in human history. The great plague of the 14th century is estimated to have wiped out nearly two thirds of Europe’s population. I’m sure they were convinced that the end times were upon them too.
War, disease, natural disasters – these are, sadly, nothing new. Jesus said his return would be sudden and unexpected, and he said we were to ignore anyone who thought they knew about specific dates and times, likening people who look for scare-mongering stories to vultures (Matthew 24:28). 
The answer is that there is no clear answer, and that we should ignore those who think they have one.

How should the church respond? 
The church should be the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). As the shadow of coronavirus falls across the land, the church’s mission is to shine as brightly as it can.
We must follow Jesus in showing God’s love, bringing healing to a broken world and responding to people’s needs: economic and emotional, spiritual and physical, both locally and globally. 

We can and we must act. 

When Ebola ravaged West Africa in 2014, it was local churches that helped lead the fightback. In Sierra Leone, Christians used video and radio broadcasts to spread vital health messages. Tearfund trained pastors and gave them phones so they could call people suffering with Ebola and pray with them. Churches gave practical help to people in quarantine and church members provided food, water and toiletries. 
We are already seeing the church rising to the challenge of coronavirus. In many communities around the world, it is Christians who are coordinating local care, creating neighbourhood WhatsApp groups, dropping off food and toiletries to those who are self-isolating, and being there to provide emotional response. 
In Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh – the largest refugee camp in the world – life is becoming even more miserable. Sanitation and hygiene facilities are already inadequate, and the streets are narrow and crowded. But Tearfund’s church partners are distributing hygiene kits and leaflets to educate people about handwashing, social distancing and recognising the symptoms.

Creating a better world
If we lean deeper into God’s love, choosing faith instead of fear, we may find that new opportunities emerge. There is the potential for communities to come together more than ever before; for families to re-discover themselves; for busy people to slow down and build a rhythm of rest into their lives; for people to reconnect with God and his world; for nations to re-tune into God’s word; for churches to learn how to use digital technology to enhance ministry; and for us to develop more local, environmentally-friendly economies. 
One day, we will make it out of this crisis. But what sort of world do we want there to be on the other side? Can we repent of the world we have created, and instead look to build one without such a huge gap between rich and poor – a world where we live in harmony with creation, in which we understand that the well-being of one is bound up with the well-being of all?
In Christ, there is always hope. We can let that hope motivate how we live our lives today as we hold on to God our rock. And, with the love of Christ in our hearts, let us continue to reach out with compassion and determination.

PLEASE PRAY

God of love and light,
In this time of fear, give us your peace.
In this time of isolation, give us your presence.
In this time of sickness, give us your healing.
In this time of uncertainty, give us your wisdom.
In this time of darkness, shine your light upon us all.
In Jesus’ name, amen.

For more on Tearfund’s response to coronavirus, 
click here.

Dr Ruth Valerio is a theologian, environmentalist and author, and leads Tearfund’s global advocacy and influencing work. Gideon Heugh is a poet and naturalist and is the Senior Copywriter in Tearfund’s communications team.

 

4th April 2020

From Rev Neil Martin

Matthew 9

Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralysed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, ‘Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.’

At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, ‘This fellow is blaspheming!’

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, ‘Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Get up and walk”? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’ So he said to the paralysed man, ‘Get up, take your mat and go home.’ Then the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’

12 On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but those who are ill. 13 But go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’

14 Then John’s disciples came and asked him, ‘How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’

15 Jesus answered, ‘How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. 16 ‘No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. 17 Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out, and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.’

18 While he was saying this, a synagogue leader came and knelt before him and said, ‘My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.’ 19 Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.

20 Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. 21 She said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.’

22 Jesus turned and saw her. ‘Take heart, daughter,’ he said, ‘your faith has healed you.’ And the woman was healed at that moment.

23 When Jesus entered the synagogue leader’s house and saw the noisy crowd and the people playing pipes, 24 he said, ‘Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.’ But they laughed at him. 25 After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. 26 News of this spread through all that region.

27 As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, ‘Have mercy on us, Son of David!’

28 When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’

‘Yes, Lord,’ they replied.

29 Then he touched their eyes and said, ‘According to your faith let it be done to you’; 30 and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, ‘See that no one knows about this.’ 31 But they went out and spread the news about him all over that region.

32 While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. 33 And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, ‘Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.’ 34 But the Pharisees said, ‘It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.’

35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and illness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’

What does Jesus see?

What do you think about yourself? How do you see yourself? How we think about ourselves, or our self image, is one of those strange things. People may think we must clearly see ourselves one way, but in fact we see ourselves a different way. For example, at school, I had a friend who was really good looking. You know what I mean, girls would hang around just to talk for him for some reason, they would talk to me even, just so that they could talk to him. He was, as I said, very good looking, so I was shocked one day when he turned to me, desperately trying to be nonchalant, as you do when you're about ask a private question, and said, 'does my head look like a peanut?' One of the most handsome guys in a school of around 1600 and he thought his head was a weird misshapen lump. It turned our he was teased heavily in primary school by someone, that his head was shaped like a peanut, and it stuck. He saw himself as a peanut head.

How do you see yourself? How do you see others? And does it matter? It does matters, because we act on what we see. This is one of the ideas that runs through Matthew 9, how people see us, how we see people, and ultimately how Jesus sees us. Take a look at verses 1 to 8: the men bring their friend to Jesus, because they can see he needs to be healed, it is clearly his greatest need to be physically healed, isn't it. Yet Jesus saw their faith and said ‘Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.’ Notice this, He doesn't heal him immediately. Were his friends shocked that He didn't heal their friend in response to their faith? What were they seeing? Jesus met the man's greatest need but his friends could not see his greatest need, they were utterly unaware. Then the Pharisees step in; they can't see who Jesus is, and are appalled that ‘This fellow is blaspheming!’ They can't see their own God standing in front of their own faces. Jesus, seeing their hearts, rebukes them, and to show them that they can see God is there, that He has authority, He heals the man. The crowd sees this and is amazed, but the passage is silent on how the Pharisees respond.

Or if we look at the next incident (vs 9 -11). We have Matthew, who is seen as a sinner, and possibly even worse for many Jews, a tax collector, a collaborator with the evil occupying Romans. Certainly not a man who would have a leading religious teacher at a table. Most certainly not someone that you would call as a disciple. What would people think when they saw Matthew with Jesus? Does Jesus support the Romans? Does He have no standards? Does He agree with Matthew's way of life? Matthew is seen by others as tax collector and sinner, I believe he saw himself as a tax collector and sinner, as he identifies himself as the author of this story with the sinners who ate with Jesus. So the Pharisees see him as a sinner, and he sees himself as a sinner. But what about Jesus? How does Jesus see him? Jesus sees him as an evangelist, He sees him as a disciple, He sees him as the writer of a book that would be discussed and read and thought about for over 2000 years. Jesus sees colossal potential. Just like with Peter, the fisherman, who becomes a fisher of men; or Paul, the genius interpreter of the law, the chief persecutor of the faith who became the greatest advocate and teacher of the faith.

So this leads to the obvious question, how do you see yourself? And how do you think Jesus sees you? Do you believe Jesus sees you as a person of immense significance, a person of potential greatness, a friend? Does he see you as a Gideon in the making, a mighty warrior? Or a Ruth, a lowly widow from an outcast race, the forbear of kings? Ask him what He sees, He might surprise you.   

 

3rd April 2020

From Rev Graham Banks

A boy asked his father:- “Dad, how big is God?” His father looked up at the sky and saw a plane and asked his son:- “What is the size of that plane?” The boy replied:- “It is very small, I can hardly see it" as he pointed towards the plane measuring it between his thumb and fore-finger.

Then the father took his son to the airport and as they approached a plane, he asked:- “Now my son, how big is this plane?” The boy replied:- “Wow Dad, it’s huge!”

Then the father told him:- “God’s size depends on how close you are to Him. The closer you are to Him, the greater and greater He will be in your life!”

Psalm 8:3-5

“When I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour.”

God is indeed bigger than any of our problems. God cares for each of us and longs that we might trust Him and share with Him our cares and fears. We sometimes think that we can’t bring our seemingly small concerns to God who must be busy dealing with all the big problems in our world, however God loves us enough and is big enough to be able to tend to everything and everyone, that’s why he is God!

With much love

Graham

‘Faith not fear’

 

2nd April 2020

From Liz Martin

Matthew 8

When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, ‘See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’

The faith of the centurion

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘my servant lies at home paralysed, suffering terribly.’

Jesus said to him, ‘Shall I come and heal him?’

The centurion replied, ‘Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, “Go,” and he goes; and that one, “Come,” and he comes. I say to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it.’

10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, ‘Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, ‘Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.’ And his servant was healed at that moment.

Jesus heals many

14 When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. 15 He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.

16 When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all who were ill. 17 This was to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

‘He took up our infirmities
    and bore our diseases.’

The cost of following Jesus

18 When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. 19 Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’

20 Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’

21 Another disciple said to him, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’

22 But Jesus told him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’

Jesus calms the storm

23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’

26 He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

27 The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!’

Jesus restores two demon-possessed men

28 When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. 29 ‘What do you want with us, Son of God?’ they shouted. ‘Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?’

30 Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. 31 The demons begged Jesus, ‘If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.’

32 He said to them, ‘Go!’ So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. 33 Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.

         

   

Do you ever notice how Jesus lives? He is followed by crowds of thousands of people. Yet, when He comes down from the mountain, He responds to a man, an outcast, who comes and kneels before Him. The man knows he has no right to approach Jesus, to ask anything of the teacher, and yet he comes. And in that moment, Jesus does the unthinkable. He reaches out to the man in his brokenness and touches him.

This is followed by Him being approached by another untouchable, though of a very different kind. A Roman centurion comes to Him, asking Him to heal his servant. And the faith that is shown by this Gentile, an unclean man in the eyes of the Jews, amazes even Jesus.

Jesus then encounters His friend’s mum, He touches her, and she is healed. Crowds of people gather around the house, once the sun has gone down, for, as we know from Mark’s gospel, it is the Sabbath, and Jesus heals them. But this is not the only reason Jesus has come; He challenges the crowds who follow Him, that, while He heals their diseases, and takes up their infirmities, there is a cost to following.

We see within this passage those who have need drawing near to Him, but also fear. Fear of who this man is from His own disciples, as He calms the storm with a word; fear too, from townspeople who see Him free 2 men so full of demons that they cannot be tamed or controlled, and who live out in the tombs.

So often, if we’re honest, we don’t know what to do with Jesus. When we’re broken, and hurting, we love to come to Him, to bring others to Him, and to see Him bring healing and wholeness. But sometimes He gets too close; He challenges our sense of comfort, our sense of belonging, our sense of normality. And we don’t know what to do. We like a Jesus we can control, who does what we want, who heals when we want, who provides for every need when we want. While Jesus does those things, with more generosity, more grace, more love than we could ever know, He is also more. He is the King of creation, the Lord of time, He sees the end from the beginning. Even in our current situation, for some of us very centred around Covid-19, for others there are other concerns, it is the same Jesus who waits to meet us, both the One who reigns over all, the One who calmed the storm, and the One who healed His friend's mum, who has compassion on the lost and broken. Jesus: Healer; Lord; Friend of sinners; Comforter of the broken; Judge; King of kings and Lord of lords, our Saviour. Our Friend.

God bless,

Liz Martin

 

1st April 2020 

From Rev Graham Banks

It is often in times of hardship and trouble that we feel that God is a million miles away. Many question, wondering where God is and why He has allowed  a Pandemic to cause such wholesale disaster, suffering and death? Others doubt that God is real and ridicule those of us that believe in Him especially in times like these.

King David experienced many hardships and a number of the Psalms express that in the midst of trouble he often took refuge in God and cried out for God’s protection and help.

Psalm 14 opens in the first verse by declaring that  the fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” In verse 2 he continues, ‘The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.’ 

The psalm unfolds further, drawing out a contrast between evildoers on the one hand and those who trust God on the other.  

Verse 4 says of the evildoers, that ’They devour my people as though eating bread; they never call on the Lord. But they are, overwhelmed with dread.’

Of those who trust God verse 5 says, ‘For God is present in the company of the righteous….The Lord is their refuge.’

On the 1st April often identified as April Fools Day, let us find our refuge in God, let us call upon His Mighty Name and be reminded and reassured that He is present in the company of the righteous and that He hears and answers those who call upon Him. For it is the fool that says in his heart, “There is no God.”

With much love

Graham

‘Faith not fear’

 

31st March 2020

From Rev Neil Martin

Matthew 7

What is the meaning of the Sermon on the Mount? It is heatedly argued in the ivory towers of the theologians as to the nature, principles, and practice of the Sermon of the Mount. Is the Sermon on the Mount a manifesto; is it a summary of wise sayings? Is it all hyperbole that cannot be taken literally? Is it to set a standard that we cannot attain and then turn in despair to Jesus? It seems to me that, for all of our questions, Jesus is pretty clear about its purpose. We can find his opinion, it's there in verse 24:

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house upon the rock".

The purpose of the Sermon of the Mount is to be heard, then lived out in relationship. It is to be lived in relationship with each other (7:1-5). We are to live with each other, challenging ourselves, but also challenging each other. We are to live in dependence and trust in God our Father (7:7-12). We are to seek after what we need from Him, and we find that trusting our good Father gives Him pleasure and that He takes pleasure in giving us what we need. A relationship of trust and friendship.  We are to live carefully with others (7:6;21-23). We are to exercise caution to not share that which is most sacred to us without care, and we are to be wary of those who have a facade of religiosity but do not follow. We are also to be careful to treat each other as we would wish to be treated (7:12).

These words are to be read and heard, and then lived out. That is their intent, as hard as it can be, as imperfectly as we do it, they are to be lived out, so that when storms come, when the storms of life hit us hard, we can stand firm, and remain standing firm. We have a testimony of trust in our good Father in heaven to fall back on, we have a body of people who we have been committed, to who are likewise committed, to us. Within this is a place we stand firm.

This is the challenge and the opportunity from the Sermon, a choice: obey, and be wise; disobey and be foolish. Let's be those who are wise and obey, asking for the Spirit's help knowing our Father delights to give Him (7:11).

God bless,

Neil 

 

30th March 2020

From Rev Ralph Hanger

Windblown or windswept

As the current situation continues, some folk are just beginning to feel the magnitude of the wind that seems to be blowing at them -  self-isolation, self-distancing, working at home whilst looking after the children, potentially job losses, waiting for benefits – just wondering what else could be blown at them.  In all of these things it seems that there has been nothing we could do about them apart from just being on the receiving end.  Whilst this is true, the effect we let them have on us is, to a certain extent, under our control.  Do we allow ourselves to be blown away by them or are we able to stand firm although windswept?

Psalm 1 has something to say about this.  It speaks about certain people who are like chaff (1:4) that the wind blows away and others like trees planted by stream of water, which yield fruit in season and whose leaves never wither (1:3).  Both chaff and trees face the same winds.  One is blown about out of control wherever the wind blows it.  The other stands firm against any wind that comes its way because it has its roots firm and secure.

What does the Psalm say is the difference between them? - Simply their attitudes to God’s word. The one that is like a tree is one who ‘delights in the law of the Lord’ and who ‘meditates day and night’ on this law (1:2).  Law, here, does not mean the regulations and laws in a negative way but the love letter from God helping us live the best way for everyone.  That’s what we have in the Bible today.  Those who take the time to get to know it and to think about it letting it control their lives find how to be firm during times of crisis.   This helps them cope with whatever the wind blows at them because they know that God is in control.  Those that do not have this confidence and ignore God’s word, following those others who are ignoring God have no firm basis to keep them under control.  When the wind blows they get blown with it, panicking, fearing and often out of control – chaff indeed.

At this time of national crisis, it behoves those of us who know this to keep our roots firmly in God’s word so that we can be firm and secure to help those around us who do not have this security.  If you have extra time on your hands in the next little while, it might be a good idea to fit a Bible study project into your new schedule.  You just have to ask to get suggestions!

 

29th March 2020

Crisis Perspective                         

Taken with permission from a Blog called 'Treasures of Darkness'  by Linda Flament   

I am a Canadian-born German, married to a Frenchman, with a 16-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son. We are an international family and live in Denmark, where I currently work as a teacher, but I have also been involved in counselling, speaking and writing. I have met many challenges along my path of suffering, including bereavement, infertility issues and diverse losses. I am still on my journey and have not found all the answers, but have learned some lessons of hope and life.

Here we go again! Another crisis! My life consisted of a long row of crises in the last 9 years, some of which happened simultaneously, combining unemployment, health issues, and financial challenges. Yet, this coronavirus crisis is not merely personal, but universal, leaving people fearful, anxious, panicky, or suspicious, just to name a few reactions. Would you allow me to share some of my reflections with you, after all my crisis experiences?

Bishop T. D. Jakes once said, “When the unfamiliar comes, our first reaction is rejection.”

This Coronavirus crisis is definitely unfamiliar, something no one has ever experienced before. Humanity is thrust into a “new normal” confinement that nobody would like to consider normal, anyway in “normal” circumstances, a little like in a world war, as some have compared this situation to. And nobody wants this.

I have a tendency to panic when crisis hits too fast and finds me unprepared. Where does that come from? Traumatic losses come to mind… The term “freaking out” fits, actually. Maybe that’s why I try to control so much – hence the word “control freak”. And now there are many more things you can’t control than normally…

If I think back at the crises I went through, there was one thing that made everything worse: the loneliness, this uninvited guest that comes on top of it all and “helps” throw a pity party, “proving” me right to have a negative perspective.

So, if I may suggest one thing, let’s try to avoid loneliness. It’s here where we need to become creative in times of “social distancing”. The Italians have found a way of singing together – from their balconies. That’s a great idea. Yet, it’s maybe not for all… We’re not supposed to be copies of each other. We’re all fitted with creativity. So let’s become creative in building bridges to others who might be lonely, even though these bridges shouldn’t be physical. What can you, what can I do to diminish someone else’s loneliness today?

 

28th March 2020

From Rev Neil Martin

‘Be careful not to practise your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. ‘So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

‘And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

‘This, then, is how you should pray:

‘“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.”

14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. 

16 ‘When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 19 ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 ‘The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! 24 ‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 ‘And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Can we trust God?

There is an underlying idea that runs through Matthew 6, and it's a simple one. Can we trust God?

Can we trust that God sees us in our giving (vs1-4)? Jesus clearly contrasts, with humour, the approach of the Pharisees with a picture of them, almost calling everyone to look and see with trumpets. "Come, come gather round look, look, am I not a most generous Pharisee. See, I even give to the undeserving." He contrasts this against the faithful, who give in silence. Can we trust that God will see our giving in secret and reward us?

When we pray, can we trust that God will not only hear us, but that we pray to our Father and not an audience (vs5-13)? At the heart of prayer should lie relationship, not performance. When we pray, we pray to a Father that knows and hears us, not because we are using the right code words, but because we are His children. When we pray in public, it's nice to be eloquent, but can we trust that we are heard not because we are good with words but because we have a Father who loves us?

Can we trust that we are forgiven (vs14-15)? I mean really forgiven; it's gone, never to be mentioned again, never to be brought up, forgiven and forgotten as though it never occurred. Can we trust that as we forgive others we are giving it to the true and final Judge who will resolve all things fairly with finality?

When we give up things for Him, big or small, and only He knows, can we trust that He sees and is moved by this (vs16-18)? Do we trust that we have a generous God who recognises these small sacrifices and is moved by their intent and will reward us accordingly?

Do we live for what is to come, the world that awaits (vs19-24). Do we trust that He is there do we trust that His unseen kingdom is there, that it awaits us, and that our generous Father awaits us in person to give us our reward that He is keen to share with us?

Lastly, can we trust that God will provide for us as we seek after Him (vs25-34). Do we trust that He will look after us? Is He good; is He kind; is He reliable and is He able?

These questions are asked of us by Matthew 6. Jesus challenges the religious facade of superficial obedience with a heart relationship of trust. This is hard, and yet often it is in the very real struggles of life that we find what is in our hearts. When we face trials and frustrations do we vent to our Father, real words, real feelings, real experiences and our real struggles. The Psalms are not always pretty, they are full of questions, they are full of struggle and wrestling  Yet there is within the Psalms, even in the darkest one (which in my opinion is Psalm 88), a trust that God is there, that He hears, that He knows, and that He understands. So Jesus poses us a question in Matthew 6, but He also answer it: His answer is yes, even if it leads to a cross, because after the suffering of the cross, the resurrection comes.

 

27th March 2020

From Rev Graham Banks

Someone recently commented on Facebook that we are experiencing an extended enforced Sabbath because of the Coronavirus outbreak.

I must say that I understand what they are saying after walking the dog this morning and seeing only a few people and one or two cars on the road. City centres are empty, Airports full of parked up planes and buses passing our house unusually empty.

In this time of enforced confinement, there is a glorious opportunity to discover and meet with the Lord in a new and deeper way than we have previously. The prospect of a Sabbath rest experience with God is something that our society has moved away from because of our 24/7 society and modern lifestyles. Have we lost something that God intended to be a vital part of our lives? Could this be a time when we might rediscover something that we have largely lost in our society today?

We read in Genesis 2:2 “By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done.”

There are two things that I would like to highlight from that text.

   1)  ‘After all that work, on the seventh day God rested.’ 

   2) ’Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work He had done.’ 

Firstly, rest is a key focus in understanding why God made the Sabbath. Not just a physical rest but a spiritual rest too. It’s a time to stop from doing the ordinary and repetitive stuff of the week and pause. The Sabbath though is the first day of the week not the last, whereas we tend to view Monday as the first day of the week. The Sabbath is deliberately at the beginning as a sort of ’time tithe’ that is intended to be given to God alone. One of the key reasons why it is at the beginning is to remind us that we are called to trust and rely upon God for everything. A tithe is meant to be given first and not last for the same reason, and that is, that we should give to the Lord first as a reflection of our absolute reliance upon Him for everything.

Rest is an affront to worry and anxiety. When we learn what it means to rest in Him, we begin to understand how Jesus could be sound asleep in the boat in the midst of a storm when the rest of His disciples were full of anxiety and panic. This is so important for us at this time too. God so wants us to discover what it means to be in a place of rest and trust instead of worrying ourselves to death in the midst of this virus storm.

Secondly I often find that I hear God much more on the second week of a two week holiday than on the first week. There’s a physical and spiritual dimension to this for on the first week it’s often about unwinding and letting go of all the stress and busyness that we have come away from. It’s only by the second week that I am actually in a place of rest and surprise, surprise, I am now in a place where I am much more open to God being able to speak to me. That’s why holidays should be renamed Holydays!

The fact that it takes a two week holiday to recalibrate our openness to God is a worrying sign and a strong argument for bringing back the sabbath!  God blessed the seventh day and made it holy. When something is holy it is separate and set aside from the ordinary. It is in that holy place that we can both learn, and be reminded to rest and rely upon God for everything.  Our lives have become too busy, too joined up, not enough full stops and too many commas.

This Sunday the Word for the Day will be part of our online service which we hope you will join us for as we learn new ways of being church together! (See the link on the front page of the website to access the servcie at 10.30am)

May this time be remembered most of all for what we are able to reclaim and rediscover about ourselves and our relationship with our God who loves us so much.

With much love

Graham

‘Faith not fear’

 

26th March 2020

From Rev Neil Martin

Matthew 5 New International Version (NIV)

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfil to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Reading the Sermon on the Mount again, something becomes staggeringly apparent, that actually in many ways is a little bit odd. There are tiers of relationship within the Sermon on the Mount. Have you ever stopped and looked at how important the relationships that we have with each other at any level, are to Jesus?  Why is Jesus so preoccupied with how we treat one another? Why does it matter to Him that I love people? Surely, as long as I focus on Him, nothing else matters?

He starts with the beatitudes, how we relate to everyone, and then moves on to start at the level of those who are family, those who can make us angry. Can anyone wind us up like family? My family can still invoke nicknames and memories to wind me up in front of people that can make me roll my eyes and grind my teeth. What about you? I also know from hundreds, if not thousands, of conversations with young people about their family relationships, that I'm not alone. Yet we are told that we are not to allow ourselves to simmer in anger (vs22), that we should not speak to them in anger (vs22), and that we should be quick to apologise and ask forgiveness (vs23). We are told that God would rather we ask for forgiveness before coming with an offering (vs24). So our family relationships matter.

Then we come to marriage, that we are to commit to our marriages both bodily, and with our hearts and minds. We are not to wander off, or even fantasise; we are to commit to our marriages with the utmost love and dedication.

Next, we are to keep our word with all people (vs37), to seek to be gracious, forgiving and kind to all people (vs42).

The final group is those who don't like us, those who wish to do us harm. This is, in fact, the second time in Matthew 5 that we are told that we must love and speak out even to those who don't like us. For if we look at the end of the Beatitudes, we find Jesus saying that we will be blessed by these people. This is followed, I believe intentionally, with the challenge, in the face of persecution, to continue being salt and to continue being light. To not shrink back and hide, rather to continue and shine. So we are even called to love those we don't like.

But why? Why should people be so important to us? And why should the way we treat people be so important to us? The answer is very, very simple: people are important to Him. You are important to Him, I am important to Him. We, and others, are important to Him.

So as we have moved to a non-lockdown lockdown, what can we do? Firstly, we must be quick to forgive, as we live close to one another; we must be quick to apologise, and try not to speak in anger.

Secondly, we must try to find ways to accommodate the people we live with. If one of us loves board games, and the other hates them, we must compromise. We must be patient with each other.

Thirdly, we must also be willing to give each other space, if someone wants to be on their own, we must recognise and respect that.

Lastly, we must intentionally celebrate and give thanks. We must do things deliberately for others which they enjoy, and in which they take delight. Equally, if we are alone, we must find things that cause us joy, and celebrate them with someone else, either by phone or using the myriad outlets of technology available to us.

Writing things down that we are grateful for can be really helpful. Remembering others, praying for them, sending text messages, finding creative ways of using our time, sing, rejoice, enjoy the sunshine! Our God is still worthy of praise!

 

25th March 2020

From Rev Graham Banks

Dear friends,

Late last year I decided that I would get organised by designing and printing all of the publicity for Love lunches, special service cards and publicity for all of the series that we had planned to teach on for 2020. I felt a sense of achievement and satisfaction after so much investment of time and energy after even completing Christmas service cards for 2020.

Now I feel foolish, because nothing is predictable or certain to happen! Instead, we are having to live and plan for a day at a time and think about new ways of being church together during these days. Booked holidays, birthday parties, and the like are all in the air or cancelled until further notice.

Jesus’ words are so apt and helpful. Matthew 6:34 “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

We don't know what the future holds, but we know Who holds the future!

"I came to the man at the gate of the year, and asked him, 'Give me a light that I may see my way.' But he said to me, 'Put your hand into the hand of God, and He shall be more unto you than a light and better than a known way!'"

The things we need to know He tells us, and sometimes the things we want to know He tells us, but most of the time He throws a veil over the Future so that it is known only to Him.--And that really helps to keep us close to the Lord!

He's promised to never leave nor forsake us, for "Behold," He says, "I am with you always, even unto the ends of the Earth!" (Mat.28:20) And He's given us the torch of His Word and the Holy Spirit as our counsellor to show us where our path is going. We can always throw the Light of God's Word on the path ahead for the Scripture says, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." (Psalm.119:105)

"Many things about tomorrow,

I don't seem to understand,

But I know Who holds tomorrow,

And I know Who holds my hand!"

"So if by some still small voice,

He calls me to paths I do not know,

I'll answer with my hand in His,

`I'll go where You want me to go!'

With much love and encouragement to take His hand each day.

Graham             

 ‘Faith not fear’ 

 

24th March 2020

From Rev Neil Martin

Matthew Chapter 4

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting for forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’ Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down. For it is written:‘“He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’ 10 Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”’ 11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali – 14 to fulfil what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

15 ‘Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
    the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
    Galilee of the Gentiles –
16 the people living in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
    a light has dawned.’

17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’

18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and illness among the people. 24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralysed; and he healed them. 25 Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.

Temptation is not a word that is often used anymore; we don't tend to use it, or even hear it, except for TV melodramas and soaps, and yet temptation is consistently there, just waiting to strike. If you want a recent example of temptation, just look at the shops. There was a 6 months surplus of toilet rolls in the UK. We had enough with normal use to last for half the year without another loo roll being made. Yet it's all gone. Why? Temptation. Me first; my legitimate needs must be met (vs4). Or consider those at risk who won't isolate, who say 'I'll be ok, I don't need to self isolate, it's fine, God will protect me, because I don't like anyone telling me what to do' (vs7). Of course, attitude is key with temptation. We must recognise something wrong in what we are thinking or doing or saying. Knowingly taking more than you need and depriving others is wrong; buying extra for to look out for someone else is a kindness, and only you and God know your heart, and He better than  you. Yet temptation is there, and it is real, and we must recognise that even in our current situation, it is present. There is nothing that the enemy wants more than to trip us up at our point of need.

Yet as we face temptation, we also find the solution is here, both for when we face temptation, and when we have acted on it. For when we have faced temptation and failed, we have the appropriate response: we find it in vs17 ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is the need to repent, to recognise our failure, to take, if possible, appropriate actions, and move on. Our God is gracious, and when we fail, and we repent, He is quick to forgive and set us right again.

Equally when we face temptation, we must remember the promises of God, that the kingdom has come, and in all the things that we face, whether temptation, whether anxieties and struggles which threaten to overwhelm us, whether fears for the present, fears for the future, fears for our friends and family, or fears for ourselves, His promises remain steadfast. He does not change, His goodness and mercy is still new every morning, and His faithfulness is still great. Whether in temptation, or any of these other things, we can find mercy and grace in our time of need, for our high priest is not unaware of our struggles, but present with us always. The kingdom of heaven has come near.

 

23rd March 2020

From Rev Ralph Hanger

How should a man or woman of God behave in a crisis?  This is a question we are all facing at the moment. It was something I had to face when I lived and worked in Kenya and I did not get it all right!

‘The school has run away’ the prefect said as he knocked on my door around tea-time on Saturday evening.  Unfortunately we found this was an accurate statement.  When we got to the centre of the school we found just one Kenyan teacher and half a dozen school boys with packed bags.  Everyone else in this boarding school had skedaddled.   The cause was a series of earthquakes which had started on the Wednesday and a local folklore about the formation of a crater lake.  We were on the shores of Lake Victoria and the fear was that the Lake would rise and submerge the town.  The fact that we were well above the town and Lake level did not stop the boys from panicking and running. Details of that evening are etched on our minds - we set about ‘rounding up' the boys as much as we could and bringing them back to the safest place for them – in the school.  You will need to ask for more details if you are interested.

The point is that we did get about half of the 700 boys back before midnight.  They insisted on sleeping outside in case buildings collapsed, which was fine until it poured with rain!  The thing is that I was responsible for the compulsory school worship service the next morning.  In this situation, what could you say that was meaningful to these boys.  As I prayed I was led to think about Paul in his ship-wreck.  How had he behaved.  So the service was centred around Acts 27.  We saw how Paul

  • was in contact with God about the situation 27:3
  • warned that there would be difficulties, but God was in charge 27:25-26
  • encouraged people not to panic 27:22
  • encouraged people to trust God 27:23
  • gave sensible, practical advice to everyone to behave wisely in the situation 27:31,33-34
  • led by example 27:35-36
  • although the ship  was lost, all people were saved.

With these words we endeavoured to encourage the boys to see that God was still in charge and we could trust him by obeying Him.  We did not need to fear or panic.

All of this sounds all very well and clear headed.  The reality is that at the 'point of delivery' I was very emotionally involved with it all.  My wife, Jane, swears that every time I should have said shipwreck, I said earthquake!  She reckons that some of those lads still believe Paul was in the middle of an earthquake!

In spite of this, the basic facts of God’s involvement in  every ‘critical’ situation remains true and the fact that, especially as his children, we can trust him has not changed - something we would all do well to take to heart at this time.

Ralph

 

22nd March 2020

From Rev Graham Banks

Mothering Sunday is just not the same this year is it? We are advised not to visit if our mum is over 70. We can’t take her out for a special meal, nor can we go to church and celebrate the wonderful gift that is our mum!

So what do we do? Well, there are lots of things we can still do for our mums, it’s just that we might need to think outside of the box as it were. Even with all the restrictions and problems we are facing, it’s still a wonderful opportunity to think of new ideas and discover fresh ways of saying thank you for mums everywhere.

I’m sure that, just as we have seen the Italians singing to each other from their balconies whilst they have been confined to their homes, and are seeing ‘sofa choirs’ emerge here in the UK, we are reminded of just how creative and adaptable we can be in times of change.

In fact, if we are honest, sometimes we grow complacent and take that which is familiar for granted. We might end up just going along with the crowd, or doing what we have always done as an expression of thanks, year in year out.

So, let’s be really thankful for ‘All good gifts around us’ for they are all  ‘sent from heaven above’   

Give thanks for each day that is truly a gift from God. 

Let us learn to take nothing, or no-one for granted, because it’s only when they are taken away sometimes that we recognise just how much they are worth.

During this time, when so many of our normal activities and way of life are ‘put on hold’, may God help us to discover new (or old) creative ways of being church together. After all ’the building is closed, but the church is open’ because we are the church. The way we fellowship has changed but we can discover some fantastic new ways of being church together.

May God Bless you and inspire you during this period.

‘Faith not fear’

Graham

 

21st March 2020

From Rev Neil Martin

Matthew 3

1 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”’

4 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt round his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the River Jordan.

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptising, he said to them: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The axe has been laid to the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 ‘I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptised by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?’

15 Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then John consented.

16 As soon as Jesus was baptised, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’

What can happen when God breaks in?

When we come to Matthew 3, we come following over 400 years of silence in Scripture, and the religious life of Israel has become corrupt. Everything goes on as it has done. Everything is splintered and disparate; in the desert, we have the Essenes; in the Temple and courts, the Sadducees; in the streets, the Pharisees. The status quo is set and established, and God is silent.

Then suddenly, as from seemingly nowhere, from a most unexpected place, a voice in the wilderness appears. A strident voice from a seemingly wild man, not pretty, not eloquent. Yet this voice has an authority; it cuts through the Empire, the courts, the religious leaders and the rebels. It shatters the status quo and changes everything. This voice is the voice of God Almighty, and it cannot be stilled, stopped or denied. This voice changes things.    

We, too, are currently experiencing a change in the status quo. All that has been planned and predicted is suddenly up in the air. Holidays are cancelled, work patterns altered, and we won't even mention acquiring loo roll. Yet our spiritual lives can flourish. We can pray, we can seek, we can let this circumstance lead us to God, not just for ourselves but others. Can we pray that God will use this somehow for His glory? That a voice will come from this situation that calls us, and many others, back to Him, and that many will respond.

The other question that arises for us, as we still ourselves in enforced isolation, is what might God be saying to us?*  Are we willing to seek and give ourselves to listening in quietness and trust?

*If you would like to offer something for this page or to comment on what others have written please email us

20th March 2020

From Rev Graham Banks

Coronavirus. What can we do?

The Church has faced this before, the need for social distancing (what a horrible concept, utterly alien to the Good News of Jesus and foreign to our view of community). “I was sick, and you did not visit me …” [Matt. 25:41–46]. This passage seems to show that we are bound to each other in such a way that no one may abandon the other in their distress and, may be, suffering but compelled to support and help them as we ourselves would like to be supported.

In the year 1527, when the town of Wittenberg, Germany was quarantined due to the bubonic plague and Martin Luther was stuck at home, with his pregnant wife, Katharina, he wrote the letter “Whether one may flee from a deadly plague.”

Over 500 years later, his words still speak to us.

“Therefore, I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me, and I have done what he has expected of me, and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbour needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

Of course, COVID-19 is not the bubonic plague and, thankfully, nothing like it. The words of Luther, and the teachings of Jesus, show us that this is a time not to cancel love, but to be kind, to be considerate and to express our compassion and the compassion of Jesus.

Social distancing is an opportunity for us to be creative in our spiritual practices and to be creative in how we fellowship together. So, let us put our effort into developing new ways and sharing them on this page*.

Be kind to each other and with yourselves. Share with each other what is working. Perhaps we will uncover new and exhilarating ways of sharing the Good News that we may even want to continue after the pandemic has eased or passed.

With much love

Graham

*If you would like to offer something for this page or to comment on what others have written please email us

 

19th March 2020

From Rev Neil Martin

Matthew 2 

What do we do with the mystery in our faith? What do we do with our questions?

Some people, in my experience, seem to have an approach to faith where questions are not allowed. They seem to think that maturity implies that we should all have everything in a neat and ordered box like they do, and that questions are a sign of immaturity, or a lack of faith. If that's the case, then I'm never going to be mature! I read the unfolding story of the birth of Christ and I have questions.

My first question is, why star gazers? Does this not veer dangerously into the realm of astrology, which can be argued is close to divination, which is prohibited in Scripture? Yet here come wise men from another land to bless and worship Jesus, steered by stars which God has set in their places.

Secondly, why does He send Jesus, Mary and Joseph away to hide? Why not do something supernatural and wonderful? Send an angel to blind anyone looking for the baby. Strike Herod down for daring to think he could kill the coming King. Why does God do something so mundane as to send his Son into hiding as a refugee? Surely Almighty God has a more powerful weapon at His disposal?

Thirdly, why does God allow the wicked slaughter of innocent children by the evil Herod? How does He let this happen? How does a good God knowing this event will take place allow it to take place?

You may have questions that are different to mine. Maybe your questions at the moment centre on a decision that someone else has made, that has affected you. Maybe you're querying why God would let this current pandemic come at all, why could He not have just stopped it at its point of origin? Or maybe your questions are completely unrelated to any of those things.

One of the observations that often occur to me as I read Scripture is the intentional raising of questions, like those I have, and positioning them against images of God's sovereignty. For example, in Revelation we find the glorious, transcendent, unparalleled, unsurpassed God of Glory, yet He relays His message to His closest friend, an old man languishing in prison. Equally, in Matthew 2, we find 3 very specific prophecies concerning these events, that were given hundreds of years before Christ was born. These are found in verses 6, 15 and 17-19. God foreknew, and foretold, all these centuries before. What are we to make of this?

Yet within my questions, I have found answers.

Why did Jesus come at all? He came because we were lost, and He wanted to find us. I needed a shepherd and He was willing to take that role. He came because He loved me, He came because He loved you. The Father was willing to put His Son at risk because of love; His Son Jesus was willing to be risked because of love.

I have found that He is kind. I have found through every dark experience in my life that He has been there. I have found His faithfulness to be so much greater than mine, or anyone else's. I have found that He is good. He has walked with me through the dark times and has not let me go.

I have also found that He welcomes us with our questions; He welcomes us to wrestle and struggle with Him. He wrestled Jacob, that heelish* trickster. God wrestled with a man and the man holds on? How? How, unless God holds him up in his wrestling? Or we consider Job, the virtuous sufferer, who, when He saw God as He truly is, could only put his hand over his mouth (Job 40:4). God is not afraid of our questions; they don't intimidate Him. In fact, He is even with us as we wrestle. Consider Jesus' words to Peter in Luke's gospel. Knowing the coming betrayal and denial from Peter, and Peter's subsequent wrestling with his faith, Jesus prayed that Peter would return (Luke 22:31-32). He prays for us still.

This current situation may be causing you to ask questions, it may even cause you to wrestle. I believe that can be a good thing, a maturing thing, a faith refined to gold. I draw comfort from the words of 1 Peter 1:7. "These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honour on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world"

If you are wrestling, pray and seek, He is eager to hear from you. 

God bless,

Neil

*Editor's note - In professional wrestling, a heel is a wrestler who portrays a villain or a "bad guy" and acts as an antagonist to the faces, who are the heroic protagonist or "good guy."   (Source: Google)

 

18th March 2020

From Rev Graham Banks

For some time now The Baptist Union has been focusing upon the theme ‘Beacons of Hope’ encouraging and challenging us to be bright lights of hope in our communities.

Suddenly, we are caught up in the middle of a Pandemic, experiencing the greatest challenge of our generation & facing an unprecedented threat. Everyone is talking about Covid-19, where did Brexit go? Most of our news items are concentrating on the Coronavirus and it seems like nothing else is happening in our world.

Whilst this is obviously of huge concern to each of us, let’s be reminded of the word that we chose for 2020 from Hebrews 12:2 “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”

 God gave us this word for a very good reason, that we might take our eyes off of the problem and re-focus our eyes upon our Saviour Jesus Christ.

 This is a great opportunity for us to be practical living personal Beacons of Hope to our neighbours around us. You could post a letter to a number of your neighbours to offer practical help and keep in touch. Let them have your phone number so that they can be reassured that someone is looking out for them and that you care.

 Let’s be encouraged by the words of Paul too who said, (Romans 8:31-39) “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?...verse37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

With much Love,

 Graham

 

17th March 2020

From Rev Neil Martin 

Matthew Chapter 1

Abihud the father of Eliakim,

Eliakim the father of Azor,

14 Azor the father of Zado

1 This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:

Abraham was the father of Isaac,

Isaac the father of Jacob,

Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,

Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,

Perez the father of Hezron,

Hezron the father of Ram,

Ram the father of Amminadab,

Amminadab the father of Nahshon,

Nahshon the father of Salmon,

Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,

Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,

Obed the father of Jesse,

and Jesse the father of King David.

David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,

Solomon the father of Rehoboam,

Rehoboam the father of Abijah,

Abijah the father of Asa,

Asa the father of Jehoshaphat,

Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram,

Jehoram the father of Uzziah,

Uzziah the father of Jotham,

Jotham the father of Ahaz,

Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,

10 Hezekiah the father of Manasseh,

Manasseh the father of Amon,

Amon the father of Josiah,

11 and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.

12 After the exile to Babylon:

Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel,

Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,

13 Zerubbabel the father of Abihud, 

Abihud the father of Eliakim,

Eliakim the father of Azor,

14 Azor the father of Zadok,

Zadok the father of Akim,

Akim the father of Elihud,

15 Elihud the father of Eleazar,

Eleazar the father of Matthan,

Matthan the father of Jacob,

16 and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.

17 Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: his mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’

22 All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

What do we do when something is beyond us? Not just slightly beyond us, but vastly beyond us? When what is in front of us is so vast it eclipses everything else in our life? When it eclipses all our plans for the future; it covers all that is before us and affects not just us, but everyone we know? An event that has implications that go far beyond us as individuals, impacting the rich and the poor, the famous and the unknown? Even an event that has international implications?

This is what Mary and Joseph were faced with in the coming of Jesus.

Every member of that family line was a real story; a thread of grace, leading to the coming of Jesus. This was an event towards which all of human history had been building, and now it had come. Yet it came in a mystery with some very real consequences; it had drastic implications for Mary and Joseph: What do they do? What do they do, when they are faced with this thing that is so beyond anything that they could ever have imagined and dreamed of? An unmarried virgin and her betrothed are faced with the knowledge that the Messiah is to come, that Mary is to give birth to Him, and that Joseph is to father the coming King of the Jews. A carpenter mentoring a King?

But what about us? What are we to do? We are faced with an unknown future. All our plans, our thoughts and hopes of the future, and even our simple daily lives, have been interrupted by Corona virus. What are we to do? How do we face this as followers of the One who totally disrupted Mary and Joseph's lives?

I believe that there are a few simple things that lie before us. Firstly, we must recognise that God is at work. It may seem unsettling; it may seem strange and uncomfortable, and even disturbing. Like Mary and Joseph, we must recognise that something bigger than us is going on, but it is not bigger than God.

Secondly, we must follow through with small acts of kindness where we can, looking to see how God can use small acts of service to make a difference to the lives of those around us. After Mary was given her news in the account in Luke, she goes to care for Elizabeth, her relative, who by that stage was elderly, and heavily pregnant. Joseph takes Mary as his wife and takes her home. Small acts of love and kindness in which God was incarnate as He worked out His plans around them.

Lastly, we must be seeking to listen. Is God saying something in this to us? Is His voice speaking, and what is He saying?

Neil

 

16th March 2020

From Rev Graham Banks

A word for today Monday 16th March

Over the next number of weeks we are going to be sharing a word for each Day on our website and face book page. Our hope is that you will be both encouraged and feel connected.

For the time being Neil and I will be sharing these words. Neil is planning a more systematic approach, however let me begin with Psalm 91

"Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day,

nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.

A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.

You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.

If you say, “The LORD is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling,

no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;

they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

“Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.

He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honour him.

With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

Psalm 91 isn’t a spiritual magic wand! It doesn’t mean that if you speak these words out that you will have some magical immunity. However these are words of real hope and reassurance that focus upon our God rather than our being dragged into a fearful mindset. Can God do all of the things that the psalmist speaks about? Yes of course. Will God deliver and protect every believer? No of course not. That doesn’t stop us from praying and affirming these truths that encourage us to apply our faith and trust in God. So, I encourage you to Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and finisher of your faith.

With much love

Graham

15th March 2020

The Minister at Castle Hill is Rev Kevin Johnson who was previously a Member and Deacon at QRBC and who went into the ministry from here. In their statement about Coronavirus Castle Hill say:-

"Pastoral Response     If you have chosen to self-isolate or find you have the virus, please keep in touch with [the Ministry Team and Pastoral Area Leaders] by phone, email or messenger. Do also keep in touch with those in your [various church] groups. Our normal pastoral care continues, so please do not feel you are burdening us—we want to support those who need it in our community.

How can we respond to this outbreak in a Christ-like way?   We should bear in mind that taking sensible precautions is not principally an act of self-protection, but primarily an action designed to protect others who are at risk in our congregation and our community. And we should continue to be open-hearted and attentive to the lonely, the vulnerable and the anxious, both within the church and beyond. Above all, we will face the future (which is always uncertain) with courage and faith in God. Clean hands, open hearts!"

 

 

14th March 2020

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby

As we continue responding to Coronavirus, a lot of us are wondering how we can walk in faith, resist fear, and support those who are most vulnerable.

The first thing to say is that following the advice of experts – especially about washing our hands regularly and self-isolating if we have cold or flu symptoms – is a really important place to start.

But what else can we do? Well, the thing about having hope, faith and courage is that although they are gifts from God, we can do our bit to nurture them.

We can take some time to sit quietly and pray, letting God know about those things that are on our hearts and minds. When we do that, we make that connection with God that nourishes and sustains us.

We can pray for those who are physically vulnerable. Those who are financially insecure and worried about needing to take time off work. Those who live in countries without public healthcare systems. Those who do not have family or friends and are facing this situation alone.

We can pray for healthcare workers and political leaders who are responding to this crisis and bearing the incredible responsibility of trying to keep us safe.

That brings us to resisting fear. One way to avoid being overwhelmed by fear is turning our attention to helping someone. Is there a person in your life, or your community, that you could call on the phone and see if they’re okay? Maybe it was someone that you prayed for?

Perhaps they can’t get to the shops – could you pick up some groceries for them? Perhaps they are self-isolating and feeling lonely – could you call them on the phone and see how they are?

If you have some spare income, or some spare food, could you donate to your local food bank?

Let’s remember that we are in this together. Let’s look after ourselves and our communities, gain courage from each other, and walk together in hope and faith.

As it says in Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”