Something to think about

27th May 2020

From Rev Ian Macnair

THE IN BETWEEN TIMES  Part 1

I’ve often been struck by the fact that history books tell us so much about so little and so little about so much. There are particular times that stand out as important, but there are other times that are insignificant – the in between times.

Similarly for us as individuals there are special occasions, key moments when we are fully aware of their importance: birthdays, weddings, bereavements, and so on. But the vast majority of our lives are spent in ‘the in between times’. Like history our memories are very selective. I doubt if this particular time in our lives is one we will want to remember, unusual as it is.

The Bible highlights special events which are significant for us as Christians: Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. But it also homes in on the in between times and the second half of Acts chapter 1 is just such an example.

The contrast between the end of chapter 1 and the beginning of chapter 2 could not be greater. 120 people huddled in an upper room, compared with 3000 people responding to the gospel out in the open air.

The whole atmosphere is different. Chapter 1 is overshadowed by the suicide of Judas. Chapter 2 is simply exploding with the exaltation of Jesus. Perhaps in these days we identify more with the shadow than with the light.

It would be easy to dismiss this occasion as representing an inferior brand of Christianity, Christianity without the Holy Spirit. There’s a measure of truth in that. But at the same time there are lessons that can help us cope with the unusual times we are living through.

Think about the people who were not there. Judas, of course, whose suicide darkened the atmosphere. But more importantly, Jesus. When the cloud took him out of their sight that was it. He was gone.

In our own lockdown experience it is perhaps the separation from people we love that hurts us most.

But what about the people who were there? Firstly, the 11 disciples. Jesus’ parting instructions to them were to look forward not backwards, to wait for the fulfilment of his promise. They were united in prayer and guided by the scriptures. Oh yes, and women as well as men were playing their part.

Prominent among the disciples was Peter. You might imagine that he would have no credibility following his disastrous denial in the courtyard of the high priest’s house. But he had been touched by grace, recommissioned by Jesus and made a better man. The authority with which he spoke now came not from strength of personality but from the Word of God.

Also present were Mary the mother of Jesus and his brothers, Mary who had stood grief-stricken at the foot of the cross, and the unbelieving brothers who had wanted to have Jesus committed.

What a healing of family tensions and disappointments this represents. In these days of unprecedented pressure on our families we can find comfort and hope there.

 

26th May 2020

From Mhairi Boxer

“The Lord will fight for you; you only need to be still.”

Exodus 14:14

This was Moses talking to the Israelites when they were terrified of the Egyptians coming after them. They were heading for the desert and they were lamenting that it would have been better to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert.  They were questioning Moses’ leadership and had also lost faith in God because of their fear, their uncertainty, and their fate.

It doesn’t need to be pointed out how this story parallels what is happening in the world right now.  It’s glaringly obvious that we are also questioning leadership, feeling fear and uncertainty.

How can we feel at peace but have all these questions, not just with the current climate but with the issues in our lives even outside of the global crisis?  I found that at the start of all this people would stop talking about the problems they had before it all happened.

But those things are still very real; broken relationships, illness, anxiety, depression, money worries, the death of a loved one, and loneliness to name a few.  These things are hard enough as they are, but with the onslaught of a pandemic like this, these issues are even more heightened.  Some people felt they couldn’t keep talking about their pre-existing issues because they felt that there was now a bigger issue and one which put us all in the same boat, albeit with differing experiences.  The fact is God sees it all.

I love the verse above when I am tired of trying to work out things for myself – I know that God will fight for me.  This is easier said than done though, for the over-thinker and for those battling real issues and life crisis.  But how do we make the leap from just reading this and it bringing us a momentary comfort, to actually sustaining it as truth in our soul?

God gives us many promises which we can all find to be a comfort in times of need, but is that good enough?  I am finding more and more that a little moment of comfort is not enough.  Yes, God is the ultimate Comforter, our refuge and strength, and the one who will meet all our needs, but how does this really play out in our lives?  I asked God years ago to really make his words be life to me, that I wouldn’t read the Word and say “that’s a nice helpful verse”, but rather that I would feel the breath of God restore me and sustain me through hardship and ultimately help me to know Him more.  I want to see more than black and white when I read the scripture. I want to feel the intention of God’s written Word that it is our very breath of life. 

I am still working on that, and the reason I feel I have yet to reach it, is a lack of trust in God and too much trust in myself.  It’s like I say “Yes, God, your words are true, but…”. Did anyone grow up hearing the phrase, ‘There are no buts’?  Well in God’s promises, there are no buts – His Word is true. 

He doesn’t want us to stress and strive and get caught up with fighting our own battles in our own strength.  He wants us to be still and let him do the fighting.  Our fight really is in surrender, pure and real surrender. That is the battle, to come to God with faith and trust, that we can give up our own motives to allow Him to fight the fight he wants us to win, to gain the victory which is a relationship with Him that is real, alive, powerful and true. Only then can we truly feel His Word as our life source.

“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;

For they are life to those who find them

And health to one’s whole body”

Proverbs: 4:20-22

 

25th May 2020

From Rev Ralph Hanger

Have you heard some people talk about the way they have been more conscious of the birds singing during lockdown?  They reckon they have been less rushed and had more time to listen to nature. It maybe that there has been less traffic and other noise to get in the way of seeing and hearing the natural world around us.  May, of course, is a brilliant month with so many birds hatching and other new life developing.

As we have been more aware of what is going on around us, I wonder if we have taken note of what Job had to say about nature.

‘Ask the animals, and they will teach you,

or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you

or speak to the earth, and it will teach you.

or let the fish in the sea inform you.

Job 12:7-8

David Attenborough has done much to encourage us to consider the ways various species of animals and birds behave and to wonder at the brilliance of nature.  I do not know if he realises that the Bible and its writers got in their first with all sorts of messages to be learned from nature.  We do have the advantage of knowing that what we see around us is not the result of some impersonal force or forces of nature but the work of a Creator God who has used a multiplicity of methods and means to create a rich interdependence between so many plants, insects, animals and birds.  Nature is a truly amazing thing, not just because of its range beauty and skilfulness, but because of what it shows us of the orderly God who lies behind it all.

As God’s hand is behind all creation, it should not surprise us when, in His Word, he advises us to learn from other parts of his creation. Proverbs 6:6-8 is another good example –

Go to the ant, you sluggard (NRSV lazybones)

consider its ways, and be wise!

it has no commander

no overseer or ruler

yet it stores its provisions in summer

and gathers its food at harvest.

We may well get annoyed by these little creatures as they invade our picnics, lunch-boxes or, dare we suggest it, our kitchens.  As we seek to keep them out can we learn any lessons from their persistence or ability to find their ways into everything.  The writer of the Proverbs praises them for their ability to keep working, persistently, without anyone having to tell them what to do.  They know what to do and are single minded in the way that they just get on and do it.  No questions asked.  He also notes how even they know how to make use of the seasons of life to the best benefit for themselves.  They are not very big are they, but they work together in amazing ways.  Have you seen pictures of ant hills in Africa which can be over 6 feet tall and so solid that a car hitting them head-on can be wrecked!  All made by these little creatures. Another interesting fact about the food collecting habits of some of these ants (termites) is that underground they grow their own gardens of fungi!  All the time these little creatures are busy.  What size brain can they have?  Yet they are able to do so much.

As we take advantage of the time to enjoy nature that little bit more during lockdown – those who have this extra time that is! – let us look behind what we can see and worship the Creator who made it and then look more carefully at it and see what we can learn from the truths He has put into it.

 

24th May 2020

From Rev Neil Martin

Matthew 20

Have you ever read one of Jesus' stories and, as you've read the story, had to admit in a little bit of your heart, just a little bit, that if you'd heard that story told, you would have shared the struggle of the people in the story. Not a lot, obviously (cough, cough), as we are all good Christians, just a little. This is one of the stories that I find myself a little bit in agreement with the workers. If you had started work at 9 in the morning, were toiling in the hot, hard Middle Eastern sun, and had worked hard all morning, then you see people coming at 12, then people coming in at 3, and even 5 and you've been at it since 9, how would you feel? Then to see people who had worked 4 hours, 4 hours to your 12, getting paid the same wages as you, most of us would be pretty livid. 'That's not fair, I've worked all day for you, not only that, but these people are the wasters, the people that no one else would hire. I've not only done 3 times the work in hours, I've produced 6 times what they have. You're not fair.' Jesus then rightly points out that He is scrupulously fair. We did agree to work for those wages. So who are we to get upset by His generosity? And He is generous.

Sometimes, if we're honest, we can feel a bit like the workers in this parable. It's a bit like the similar parable in Luke 15 with the older brother. He had been working away hard in the background, and his waster brother comes back, and he gets bitter. 'Father, look at what I've done for you. He treats you like dirt, and you welcome him back.' It can be our experience too. We go to Church, we give our money, we serve in ways big and little, faithfully for years. Then someone comes along, who may have walked away, or is a new Christian, they join in and they're all excited by what they're learning, they tell us things we've known for years. They're full of beans and joy, where we are feeling tired and nothing but duty, it can be frustrating. Yet He is generous.

You see in both of these parables the point is they didn't get what they deserve and, well, neither do we. God is good, gracious, generous, and kind. We do not deserve salvation; it is a gift. We don't earn it; we can't buy it; it is a gift. An extravagant, costly, unbearably precious gift that we cannot earn, we can only receive. We might think that by our good attendance and good works, we have merited salvation, but that is simply utterly delusional. Salvation is of grace from first to last, for He is generous.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.       Ephesians 2:8-10.

 

23rd May 2020

From Rev Graham Banks

Rick Warren said of the current Pandemic, “We are all in the same storm, however we are not all in the same boat”.

What boat are you in?  An oblivious boat? A boat of anxiety and worry? A boat of faith? A boat of trust? A boat of all of the aforementioned rolled into one??

We all cope and react in different ways. Some are completely oblivious to the dangers, whilst others are truly petrified. In between these two extremes there are many variations, (many different boats!). We may all be going through the same storm, however, this is a time for us all to row together! It’s a time to care and look out for one another. It’s an opportunity like no other to show genuine acts of love and kindness to our neighbours. 

Just take a look at the leaders of different countries and we see massive divergence in attitudes and mentalities. The President of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro continues to be a total sceptic saying that the virus is just like a flu and yet as of last Wednesday over 1,179 people died in one day. We have Mr Trump and others who have repeatedly demonstrated significant lack in wisdom, whilst other leaders have been in very different boats. We need to be praying much for the leaders of different countries more than ever.

So, whatever boat you find yourself in, make sure that Jesus is in the boat with you.

With much love,

Graham

‘Faith not fear’

 

 

 

22nd May 2020

From Miranda Shieh

Peace at Home

James 3:16  ‘’For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work’’

Philippians 2:1-13   Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.

 

Have you ever noticed that the easiest place to remain self-centred is at home? There is an incentive to be lovely, more courteous and nicer to friends and others, but not with your family and those dearest to you. With your family, you are tempted to allow yourself privileges, and to be more demanding and less forgiving than with anyone else.

The current lockdown has forced us into a place where, we are made to spend more time with our family and loved ones. It has forced us to take time away from our normally busy lives and to focus on our family and especially those close to us.  To some people, these times have been glorious moments but to others, it has been from one challenge to another, but God’s desire for us is to live in harmony.

So, why is it important to live in harmony in our family regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves?

The Word and especially Philippians 2 reminds us of the importance of living in harmony.

‘’For where envying and strife is, there is confusion … unrest, disharmony, vile practices and every evil work’’ James 3:16 (NKJ and AMP versions).

The question is, do you want confusion, evil works and vile practices in your home? These are the friends that strife welcomes to your family.

Secondly, do you want the power of agreement to work in your lives? Mathew 18:19 says that … ‘’ if two of you agree on earth … it will be done…’’ and you cannot agree if there is discord.

Strife of any kind drops the shield of faith and stops you from getting results in your prayers. It will invite Satan and his cohorts into your midst. Discord is deadly and it will paralyse the power of God in your life. Do all that you can to live in peace with one another (Romans 12.18).

Make the decision today to put the power of harmony to work in your family and don’t allow the enemy to stop you at your own front door. You will be no threat to Satan anywhere else if you allow strife in your home. May the Lord strengthen you by His Spirit in your inner man.

 

21st May 2020

From Rev Ian Macnair

WHAT DAY IS IT?

It’s Ascension Day.

Christmas and Easter are big celebrations both inside and outside the church but Ascension Day doesn’t have such a high profile, even among Christians.

Forty days after he rose from the dead Jesus ascended into heaven. Luke records it twice: at the end of his Gospel and at the beginning of Acts. The Ascension marks both an ending and a beginning.

The ascension marked the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

For the disciples those forty days following the resurrection must have been strange and unpredictable. The appearances of the risen Jesus were a proof of his resurrection but what were they to make of his sudden disappearances? Should the disciples expect to keep seeing him and then not seeing him? When Jesus ascended it brought that intermediate, temporary state of affairs to a conclusive end.

If the ascension marked the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth it also signalled the beginning of his ministry in heaven.

When he rose God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name. Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus Son of God is our great high priest in heaven. He understands our weaknesses. He has been tempted in every way, just like us – with this difference: he committed no sin. So through him we can come boldly to God’s throne. There we will receive mercy and find grace to help where we need it most.

Because Jesus lives forever, his priesthood will last forever. He is able to save all who come to God through him and he lives forever to intercede with God on our behalf.

While ascension marked the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth there was another sense in which that ministry did continue – by his Spirit through his church.

On the Day of Pentecost Peter declared to the crowd, ‘God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses to that fact. He has been exalted to God’s right hand. He has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit. He has poured out what you can now see and hear.’

When Jesus talked to the disciples about the Holy Spirit he said, ‘You know him, because he is living with you. And he will be in you. I’m telling you the absolute truth, it’s for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Helper won’t come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.’

The living presence of Jesus is no longer restricted to a specific time and place or a limited number of people but is the experience of all believers everywhere: ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory.’

Jesus’ work on earth continues: by his Spirit and through his church.

Yes, Ascension Day is something to celebrate!

FOLLOW UP SCRIPTURES:

Luke 24:50–53   Acts 1:1–11   Philippians 2:9–11   Hebrews 4:14–16   Hebrews 7:24, 25   Acts 2:32, 33   John 14:17; 16:7   Colossians 1:27; 3:1–4

 

20th May 2020

From Rev Neil Martin

Matthew 19 - When Culture clashes with the Kingdom

Matthew 19 opens on a subject that is still a hot topic for us over 2000 years later: marriage and divorce. Now, the motives of the Pharisees are highly questionable. Are they trying to trip Jesus up, so that He says something that offends Herod and Herodias, so that He is killed like John the Baptist? Or are they trying to make Him take a position that would alienate many who follow Him? Jesus as usual, does neither. He simply gives a master class in verbal judo. Firstly, He takes them back to Jewish exegesis: "The more original the weightier." Marriage is found at creation, before the fall; Adam and Eve were married, and were one flesh. Then He shows how they have misapplied the law to not only allow, but encourage divorce in vs3 +7-8. Match point: Jesus 1; Pharisees 0. Yet the response of the disciples in vs. 10 is also a bit comical. Well, if I can't get rid of my wife whenever I please, then why would I want to get married? Yet the truth is that the Kingdom is clashing with culture. Easy divorce was a right to the disciples, sanctioned within the law, yet Jesus sweeps this idea away, and the disciples are left unsure what they think.

He does it again with vs. 13 -15. Parents and their children should know their place; some people should be seen and not heard, as their betters speak about important matters. They should have a sense of the appropriate. Yet Jesus reminds the disciples that the kingdom belongs to the very children that they are trying to chase away. The culture of significance clashes with the culture of the Kingdom.

Finally, everyone knows that the rich are special, they are blessed, God loves them particularly. Even today, if you listen to rappers, which I'm sure many of you do, they'll happily inform you that they are more important and significant because they are rich. God loves rich people. This view is subconsciously believed by many today, and it was believed then. The rich were blessed by God, so their salvation was assured. Yet Jesus emphatically says that this is not so. This shocks and appals the disciples; their world is turned on its head. If even the rich can't be saved, who can? The culture of wealth and entitlement clashes with the Kingdom.

So what of us? Are we reading Scripture diligently and openly, ready to be challenged? Are we seeking? Are we willing to have our worlds turned upside down by the truth of what God says? Jesus' words still challenge, still upset, still call for a response. The Kingdom is still in conflict with culture.

 

19th May 2020

From Rev Graham Banks

Judges 6 opens by describing how the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years God gave them into the hands of the Midianites. Verse 6 says that Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.

God chose Gideon to lead them back to the Lord. In verse 11, the angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak at Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite. There his son, Gideon, was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites.

The angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon in Judges 6:12 and said “The Lord is with you”.  The angel also identified Gideon as a mighty warrior, even though Gideon didn’t see himself in that way. “But sir,” Gideon replied, “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all the wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.”

There are a number of lessons that we can draw from Gideon’s day. The situation that he found himself in is not too dissimilar to ours. We are not being oppressed by a human enemy, however the virus has so impoverished us in so many ways just as the Midianites did the Israelites!

I am not implying that our current predicament is either as a result of our evil or indeed God’s judgement, however, some of us will no doubt be asking the same questions that Gideon voiced. “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?”  or “Where is God?”

We might be thinking that the Lord has abandoned us and left us to the virus. Be encouraged that when the Israelites cried out to God, He heard them and sent them a rescue plan and a rescue man!

Even in the midst of great adversity, God would use those circumstances and the enemy they faced to cause the people of God to trust and depend on Him more than ever before.

God WAS WITH Gideon. He may have being weak and small in his own eyes, but God would show him that he was a ‘Mighty Warrior’ when he depended upon and listened to the Lord.

What was true for Gideon and the Israelites is also true for you and us. ‘God is with you’

With much love,

Graham

‘Faith not fear’

 

18th May 2020

From Rev Ralph Hanger

Is it surprising?

The heading to the website article said ‘The pandemic would appear to be having a significant impact on us in rather surprising way’.  It had done its job as I was tempted in to find out more.  The ‘surprising’ impact that was being mentioned was that so many more people are tuning in to on-line church services than would normally go to church on Sunday.  A Salvation Army Major from Norwich was quoted as saying that some 2,000 people had been tuning in to his on-line services when there would normally only be 300 in their citadel on Sundays.  QRBC on-line services have something of the same experience.

The fascinating thing to me was that the writer of the article felt that this was surprising!  We have just celebrated 75 years since VE day bringing much of the Second World War to an end.  One of the effects of the World Wars, I am told, was that churches were full as people faced up to their own mortality and wanted to know more about what comes next as well as what God was doing.  Basically we have not changed since then.  When push comes to shove people are still asking the same questions.  The surprising aspect comes in because in much of society ‘pre-Covid 19’, the thought of our mortality could not have been further from people’s thoughts.  We were all far too busy with life and all that entailed. Now, an unseen enemy has proved just how limited life can be and has brought the physical end of life much more clearly in view.  Where is God in all this? What happens next?

As Christians we should have a clear answer to this.  The question is have we?  How confident are we about our future ‘life’ after death?  If our friends, family or neighbours ask why we are not afraid of death (although we may be apprehensive about the way it comes) are we able to give a clear, Biblical testimony? I find this as much of a challenge as anyone.  Perhaps it would be good to think out our own attitudes so that we can be a real help to others.

PS. I have not tried to say what someone should believe.  I am clear in my mind what Scripture says, but sometimes it is good for us to work it out for ourselves.  If anyone wants help I am sure the ministers, deacons and group leaders would be happy to discuss things with you.

 

17th May 2020

From Rev Neil Martin

Matthew 18 (Part 2)

How do we relate to each other?

One of the areas that has been highlighted over the last 6 to 8 weeks is relationships. Some of us are anxious over our family members who are spread out, that we are unable to see at all, and others are finding that it's all very claustrophobic, spending all day every day with the same people. Jesus spends a lot of time talking about relationships, in families, and in Church, so how does He recommend that we deal with these relationships? I thought I'd go back to Matthew 18, part 2, if you like, because it is full of advice on relationships.

Matthew 18:1-5. William Barclay says this about this passage "the keynote of the whole passage is the child's humility". So, we start with humility, not being self-obsessed, or self-aggrandising, thinking of others as being of equal importance to ourselves. How can I show concern to others as well as myself? We need to be humble, to recognise our own limitations, and the limitations of others as well; to think rightly of ourselves, and others, and then to seek, and display, grace with one other.

Matthew 18:15-20. Secondly, we must be honest with each other, and keep short accounts, with each other and with God. Not sitting on things till we explode. Instead, we need to learn to slowly and calmly talk things through, before we say things we regret. If that doesn't work, we may realise that we need to bring outside help in to mediate. It may seem strange to some of us, but in our relationship with God, it can be helpful sometimes to write a letter to God. Sometimes it can be helpful in such a letter to start with 'God, I'm angry with You', then to write down what comes out. It can be surprising what is simmering under the surface, but God is not intimidated by it; He already knows of it, and is waiting to deal with it with us. The Psalms are full of these types of encounters. Interestingly in the Psalms, once the anger is expressed, it gives way to praise.

Matthew 18:21-35. Thirdly, we should be self-aware, and be willing to forgive. We all do things that are annoying to others, yes even you, and even me, a man of the cloth, hard to believe I know (ask Liz!). We need, as followers of Jesus, to be quick to forgive, to recognise our own flaws, and to be willing to forgive others as quickly as we would like to be forgiven.

Finally, we need to pray for grace, not just for ourselves, but also for others. This is said often at the minute, but it is also true. This is an unprecedented time, and so in our struggle we may need to hold also on to this: It will pass.

We're praying for you.

God bless,

Neil 

 

16th May 2020

From Miranda Shieh

Never lose your joy

Nehemiah 8:10   The joy of the Lord is your strength

Philippians 4:4    Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again. Rejoice!

We live in a fallen world that is full of uncertainty and pain. It’s a place where people are searching for answers to life’s crises. Some seek happiness in their wealth, status, abilities and other people. Regardless of what you trust in, the storms of life will always come. During an attack, pruning or refining season; will you still be able to keep your joy?  Will the very anchors for your life hold up? Will despondency and fear or faith take over?

The Bible warns us that in this world we will have tribulation, but we should be of good cheer (John 16:33).  When the children of Israel were depressed, sad and grieving, they were told to go on their way and make great rejoicing, for the joy of the Lord is their strength and stronghold (Nehemiah 8:10). That means that as a child of God, you can have joy and rejoice in the midst of adversity, because the power to overcome is in remaining joyful. Philippians 4:4, exhorts us to rejoice in the Lord always, not sometimes or only when things are going well. Your attitude should be constant not temporary.

 So what is this joy that strengthens us?

Joy, is an unbeatable force of the Holy Ghost and it is different from happiness. Happiness is an emotion, a state of being happy, that is temporary and subject to circumstances. Joy on the other hand is that quiet confidence that ultimately, everything is going to be alright. It is that force that leads to a determination to rejoice in the face of adversity.

Let’s look at the life of the children of Israel, God’s own people who were told to have joy after they had returned from exile, in the book of Nehemiah chapter 8. Notice that Ezra, who was the Priest, describes the people as sad, grieved and depressed after the Word had been read to them. Imagine how tough it had been to live in captivity. They still knew about a God, who had worked wonders in their life but at this time did not seem to know Him anymore.

Their circumstances must have been tough enough to make them lose their joy. This can be true in our lives today. Do you easily lose your joy when circumstances in your life fall short of the reality of the God you know or serve? You may be asking; where is the deliverance of the miracle working God you once knew? Going back to the captive children of Israel in Nehemiah chapter 8; how were they able to find the joy that strengthened them and moved them to a place of great praise which eventually brought about their restoration?

Firstly, the Priest read the Word to the people and helped them to understand. They understood the Word, and were greatly convicted; their conviction was evident by them weeping while the Word was read. The Priest told them “…be not grieved and depressed, for the joy of the Lord is your strength and stronghold”, and subsequently action was taken based on the Word they had received.

These same words are being given to you today. Notice that it is the joy of the Lord that gives us strength, as it was for the captive children of Israel.

 So what can you do next?

Just as the children of Israel did, when life’s crises seem to overwhelm you, rejoice, because that is where your strength lies. Choose to take your eyes off your situation and rejoice in the provision God has already made for you through the finished work on the cross of Calvary. Jesus loves you and will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear …but He will also provide a way out so that you can endure (1 Corinthians 10:13). He wants to give you endurance in hardship. In the book of Corinthians, Paul tells us that our experiences are light momentary troubles which are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). Therefore, we look not at the momentary troubles in front of us but we rejoice at the exceedingly great promises that are ours in Christ Jesus; promises that are unchangeable.

Also notice that even Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, for the joy awaiting Him was able to endure the cross, disregarding its shame and now He is seated in the place of honour (Hebrews 12:2). And we too are now seated with Him (Ephesians 2:6). And just like Jesus our role model, in rejoicing we will be strengthened to endure oppression or affliction. But our eyes have to be fixed on Jesus with full assurance that He is able to deliver and perfect us. He is the Pioneer and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

Count it all joy my brethren, when you meet trials of various kinds (James 1:2).

 Facing trial and rejoicing? Yes!

 Rejoice because, the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials… (2 Peter 2:9) and that includes you.

Remember that, Christ’s death on the cross has given us the opportunity to come to the end of ourselves and to submit our efforts to Him so that with His strength in our life He can carry out His purpose. As we learn to discipline and prioritise our life, guided by the Holy Spirit; thus making active choices to seek God’s wisdom in exchange for our own then we will experience joy. Let us seek to trust in Him, to acknowledge and receive His righteousness by grace, to abide in Him, to meditate on His words and be obedient to him.  As we grasp a revelation of the Father’s love for us and how much He wants to have a relationship with us, we will experience enormous inner strength to see us through any situation. Rejoice that He is your healer, provider, peace, protection, victory, Saviour and your Present Help in times of need. Make up your mind to be joyful regardless. Be determined not to allow anything or person in this life to steal your joy. Let the joy of the Lord strengthen you and bear you over your situation. Rejoice! Spend time in great rejoicing, rest in Him, soaking yourself in praise and worship in Holy Spirit inspired songs, and be overwhelmed with the joy of the Lord until strength arises. Remember that you have already overcome in Christ Jesus.

Miranda.

 

15th May 2020

From Anna Grimshaw

Luke 22:14-23      (New International Version - UK)

14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfilment in the kingdom of God.’

17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’

19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’

20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.[a] 21 But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. 22 The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!’ 23 They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.

 

Recently I’ve been reading a new book by an American author, Craig Groeschel, called ‘Dangerous Prayers’.   As the title suggests it deals with three very short prayers which have the potential to be very dangerous.   The three prayers in question are ‘Search me’, ‘Break me’ and ‘Send me’. 

I’m currently working my way through the ‘Break me’ chapters and the author suggests that of the three prayers, this is probably the one that people are most afraid to pray.   If you pray this prayer, seriously asking God to break you, then you don’t know where it will end up, you could lose all semblance of control, you could end up completely broken!!!!   And yet the author says “In our brokenness we often experience God’s greatest blessings.”   I know from my own experience that those times when I’ve felt most broken are the times when God has been most powerfully at work in me….I’ve been totally out of control …..He’s totally in control.

As Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest and crucifixion, he didn’t use the words ‘Break me’ but in Matthew 26 we read that he prayed three times, asking the Father if possible to take the cup of suffering away from him, but in the end saying “Yet not as I will, but as you will”.    He gave over complete control to his Father, and so in effect, humanly speaking he was broken.

As we approach another communion service under lockdown conditions, we are called to “Do this in remembrance of me”.  As we remember his body broken for us, we might also think about the brokenness that lead Him to yield completely to his Father’s will so that we might receive forgiveness and enter into eternity with Him.

At Queens Road, like many other places, there have been many discussions and differing opinions about how we celebrate communion, and now, here we are in lockdown with no option but to do things in a way that is very different from what was ‘normal’ just a few months ago.  For me that means in this instance leaving what I might choose, completely on one side….what bread, what wine or how they are served is unimportant…what I’m actually remembering is the important part…. and so I’m coming in my brokenness to the God who allowed himself to be broken for me.

Whether you are willing/able to ask God to ‘Break you’ or not is a subject for each of us as individual Christians, but especially in these challenging times, perhaps we all have the opportunity to take some time to think about how we can better live out our faith with our will broken in submission to His, in the hope that we will emerge from this crisis as a church united in seeking to follow only God’s will as we move into the future.

 

14th May 2020

From Kay Hamer

Some thoughts around the story of the woman with the issue of blood

Mark 5:24-34     A large crowd followed [Jesus] and pressed round him.  And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, ‘If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.’  Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

At once Jesus realised that power had gone out from him. He turned round in the crowd and asked, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ ‘You see the people crowding against you,’ his disciples answered, ‘and yet you can ask, “Who touched me?”’

But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.’

This lady was healed in all sorts of ways by her encounter with Jesus. She lacked courage but was so desperate to be made clean; she was ashamed because of her presenting problems as well as so much more. She was shunned about something over which she had no control and there was no help for her.

Jesus saved her from all the aspects of what was presenting as a physical problem and, as always when God does a work in us, He seems to cover so many aspects. The presenting issue yes but also all the peripheral stuff; like the woman in our story. There might be shame, cleansing, freedom, hope, release and so much more.

It is common to go looking for fulfilment in lots of different ways and places but true freedom can only come from God.

It took her to get up her courage, to make a positive choice (what I call my 'oh alright then God'  moments) to actually go that extra step, searching, asking, wanting.

She needed to let go of all negative results of previous searches for healing and to just trust that the help left for her was to seek from God.

She went to him just as she was, covered with shame and guilt; she reached out and behold  healing came even without Jesus touching her. Power came out of him and into her.

 WOW!

Could it be like this for us? What would it take for us to let go of all that is holding us in bondage, robbing us of the freedom to 'be' who our Lord always intended that we should be?

Our desire must be to be free from all the stuff that gets in the way of total freedom in Christ. 

The woman in the story hugged her shame around her like a cloak then it fell away under his love and power. So does that mean that we just push through the barriers (the crowd in her case) and come to Him. To come with expectancy?

Her shame was obvious to others, is ours I wonder?  I believe that God is longing for us to be whole.

As the woman's cloak of shame became a cloak of righteousness. So it can be for us. The promise is in His word. We need to always remember that He enables, encourages and equips us. We can come to Him and He will reach out with His power addressing our issues and cleansing us.

She had struggled to admit why she had come, what she had hoped for but her 'it was I' said it all.

Can we like her say that? Help us Lord in our struggles to be open and honest with you but also with ourselves; to be real about what we must bring to you for healing and cleansing.

Jesus called her honoured daughter of Sarah. We need to remember that He calls us this too. Sons and daughters whom He sees as precious and honoured in His sight. WOW!

Can we imagine such a God who sees past our shame and uncleanness to the precious pearl beneath?

May our lives be a witness to all that our Lord has done for us; the woman walked away free; as can we.

Lord help us each one to be an example of your love to all, bringing freedom and hope. Amen.

 

13th May 2020

From Rev Neil Martin

Matthew 18 

Who matters in the Kingdom?

I want to start with a confession: I don't like being weak. I don't like being unable to fix or solve problems. I don't like to be reliant on others for help; I want to be the one giving help. This isn't that big a confession though, is it? Does anyone like being weak and relying on others for help? Don't we all prefer to be the ones offering help and fixing things? Yet the challenge given here by Jesus, in verses 1 to 5, is that if we want to be great in the Kingdom of God, if we want to have significance, if we want to be people of influence and power, we have to be like children. We have to be weak.

Children are brilliant, but they are not usually known as being the people of power. Children are generally weaker than adults, both physically and intellectually. They are more open to persuasion, and they live in reliance on others. They are by nature, more vulnerable than adults. For some of us, this period of lockdown may be the first time in our lives that we are reminded of what it's like to be a child, to have to rely on others, to be weak, to be vulnerable. We may need others to get us things, to be ask for help.

Maybe this is an opportunity for us to grow to be great; to be reminded that we need not despise our weakness, but rather use it as a prompt, to remind us that if we would be great in the Kingdom, then we must first become weak. Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of God (Matthew 5:3).

Let's use this time of increased vulnerability and reliance to grow in our trust and reliance on God, and His grace. Let us seek to be great in the Kingdom.

 

12th May 2020

From Rev Graham Banks

We read in Numbers 13 of just how Faith and fear paint very different pictures! 

27 [The men who had been to explore the land of Canaan] gave Moses this account: ‘We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. 28 But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.’

30 Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, ‘We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.’

31 But the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.’ 32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, ‘The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. 33 We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.’

God had told Moses to send some men to explore the Promised land.

12 spies came back from their trip. 10 saw only problems and “giants” preventing them from enjoying Gods promise. 2 spies, Joshua and Caleb, who saw exactly the same land, came back with a totally different perspective and said “we can do it”!

I encourage you to not listen to the doomsayers and negative people around and lift your eyes to where our real help comes from! Listen to the voice of hope from heaven itself. God’s plan is good and for our welfare and this storm will subside in time.

With much love,

Graham

‘Faith not fear’

11th May 2020

From Rev Ralph Hanger

As I sit and write this people across England are waiting to hear what the Prime Minister is going to say about the lockdown in our country.  Are we going to get our freedom back?  How much freedom will we be given.  For what seems like ages now we have been advised to stay at home as much as possible and keep more than 2 metres from other people.  No non-essential trips and so on.  Grandparents cannot visit or be visited by their grandchildren.  For some it seems their independence and freedom has gone.  Are we going to get some of it back?

On Friday we celebrated the 75 years anniversary of VE day.  We were reminded of what it felt to be free from the tyranny of the Nazi threat.  Free from bombs. For many in other lands, free from concentration camps, free from oppressive invaders, free from … … so many things.  What a thrill it was to see those old news clips of the thousands celebrating in London and elsewhere.

What does it mean to be free?  In Galatians, Paul reminds us that we are called to be free (5:13) and that Christ has set us free (5:1) so it is an important concept for us as Christians.

Some equate freedom with independence. ‘I am my own boss.’ ‘I can do what I like.’ ‘I do not have to take orders from anyone.’ ‘I know what is best for me.’ – and a host of similar ideas.  After all, that is what freedom is all about, isn’t it?

In 1 Peter 2:16 we are cautioned about this. ‘Live as free people’ says Peter ‘but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil.’ In Galatians, Paul advised ‘You … were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh.’ (5:13). So true freedom is not a carte blanche to do just anything.  Why not?

Paul explains this a bit in 1 Corinthians 10:23. ‘”I have the right to do anything” you say – but not everything is beneficial  … not everything is constructive’.  This is in the middle of a section where he is pointing out that what I do may hurt someone else’s conscience and I should think very hard before doing such.  He goes on to say that ‘No one should seek their own good but the good of others.’(10:24). This has been the attitude at the heart of a lot of the ‘stay at home’ and ‘social distancing’ advice of the last little while.  It is not only that we might not get the virus ourselves, but that we might not be responsible for passing it on to others, even though we have no symptoms, that the advice is given.

Before getting involved in various activities we need to ask ‘Is this beneficial?’ ‘Is this constructive?’ ‘Does this help other people?’  As lockdown eases, even if it is only a little we need to keep this in mind.  This is true freedom for everyone.

James has an interesting turn of phrase when he speaks of the ‘perfect law that gives freedom’ (1:25 7 2:12). Initially it sounds like an oxymoron.  Opposing ideas. Law and freedom. Experience does show, however, that we only feel free to do what we want to when we know what the rules are.  Think about it.

One last point – Paul takes up the concept of his freedom in 1 Corinthians 9:19. ‘Though I am free and belong to no-one’ he says ‘I make myself a slave to win as many as possible.’  Paul was prepared to give up his freedom and independence in order to win folk for Christ.  I find this a challenge – don’t you?

 

10th May 2020

From Rev Neil Martin

Matthew  17

Sounding like an Idiot.

What's the daftest thing you've said? Depending on how much you talk, I suspect the answer might vary. Peter is a great example of this; he seems to lead with his mouth. In Matthew 16, he goes from spiritual flop, to revealing the greatest secret in God's kingdom, in what appears to be one day. This is then followed by the transfiguration. So Peter reveals to the world that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, a mystery that has been thousands of years in the making is revealed. Just 6 days later, this is the same Peter: "Ah! Moses, Elijah, and Jesus in your revealed glory! I'm just going to go over here and build you all a hut." In the gospel of Mark, the one that Peter is traditionally believed to have helped write, we find that he is at pains to say that he didn't know what he was saying. Yet here's the thing, if Peter has a character flaw, this seems to be it. He opens his mouth and speaks, for good or for ill, seemingly without thought. I wonder one thing about this: Why would you repeat this? Why, as the pillar of the new Church movement, would you let this information out? Have you ever wondered why the New Testament is awash with revealed inadequacy and failure? It's not just Peter, all the disciples run away; Paul talks of needing a thorn, lest he becomes overwhelmingly arrogant. Much of the epistles are written to deal with the failings of the Church to be who they were called to be.

So why do they let this information out? Is it just that they don't understand good publicity, that they didn't understand that you project strong leadership by not admitting weakness and flaws? Or is that they had a different agenda, a multi faceted agenda to give hope. The hope talked of in the story of the man in a deep hole who called for help from three passers-by. The first, a priest, said a prayer and moved on; the second, a doctor, wrote a prescription and threw it down; the last, a friend, jumped down into the hole. The man, seeing his friend, said "What are you doing? Now we're both stuck here!" "No, my friend, I've been here before, and I know the way out."

I believe that the New Testament is full of failure, and success, in part to do two things. The first is to help us to recognise our own failures, and own them before God and man, and then move on in the hope that we can because, you know what, others have done it before us. The second is to point us to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who knows all our weaknesses and failure, has faced every temptation that we have, yet conquered them all. He knew all their failures; He was betrayed and denied by them, yet He loved them, and laid down his life for them, and for us.

It's the same with us, our weaknesses and failures are known by us, and by Jesus, but He may also see the potential speaker, who will see thousands won to Christ, like Peter. Or the founder of foreign Churches, established by their former chief prosecutor, Paul. Just as we fail like they did in the past, by His grace, and by His Spirit, how may we succeed in the future? So, if sometimes you've sounded like an idiot, who knows what divine secrets you may also be used to reveal?

God bless

Neil

 

 

9th May 2020

From Rev Ian Macnair

A still small voice

It comes in the story of Elijah recorded in 1Kings 19 and God’s treatment for what was undoubtedly a nervous breakdown. I still prefer that translation to the more recent ‘gentle whisper’.

‘And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.’

I pray every day that I will hear that still small voice. It’s so easy to miss it with all the loud voices in the world around me, pundits, politicians, influencers, protesters. And perhaps the loudest voice of all, my own cherished opinions, ambitions and desires.

Social media has a habit of shouting at me with opinions I don’t share and convictions I don’t hold. It’s such a temptation to shout back with appropriate emojis. Recently I found myself responding to someone I don’t know and have never met with the words, ‘Don’t be silly! …’

As soon as I posted my reply I heard the still small voice of God saying, ‘That was wrong. Go back and change it.’ I didn’t, but the voice kept echoing, peace kept evaporating and finally I gave in. Fortunately Facebook allows you to edit your comments and I deleted the ungracious words.

When I was in my teens my minister was fond of saying, ‘When you point the finger, three more point back at you.’ How true! The still small voice was saying, ‘Don’t be silly,’ and saying it to me!

You’re probably familiar with the meme, ‘THINK: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?’

Wise words.

I belong to a closed group on Facebook called EDGE. It stands for ‘Evangelical Discussion and Gracious Engagement’. It has vigilant administrators who graciously enforce the ‘G’ in the group’s title. It makes such a welcome change from some of the vitriol in the public domain.

The Bible has more to say about our words, whether they are spoken, written or online. Paul had to remind the Christians in Colosse, ‘Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt’: not bland platitudes on the one hand but not acerbic sarcasm on the other – always full of grace. Alas, sometimes we reserve our least gracious words for our fellow Christians. Paul reminded the Ephesian Christians that ‘growing up into Christ’ involves ‘speaking the truth in love’.

James’s letter, appropriately for our times, is addressed to those who are ‘scattered’ – we know the feeling. He warns us about the tongue. It is like a spark that can set a great forest on fire, a wild beast that cannot be tamed, a deadly poison that can kill.

Meanwhile God continues to speak in a still small voice. Are you listening?

 

8th May 2020

From David Depledge

Downcast but not alone

Elijah was someone who was important to Jesus – he is mentioned several times in the Gospels, most notably at the Transfiguration where disciples Peter, James and John saw Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah. Also in Matthew 11.14 Jesus refers to John the Baptist as “the Elijah who was to come”, (that is the fulfilment of the prophecy in Malachi 4). Elijah was clearly an important person in Jesus eyes. So who was Elijah? He appears quite suddenly in 1 Kings 17.1, described simply as Elijah the Tishbite although he must have had some sort of reputation as he was addressing the king and prophesying a drought. And then the Lord tells Elijah where he can go to avoid the worst effects of the drought, then he brings someone back to life, following which he has his big confrontation with the prophets of Baal. When he has defeated them “the power of the Lord came upon Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt he ran ahead of Ahab (who would have been in his chariot) all the way to Jezreel” – nearly 20 miles.

But then, in Chapter 19, it all starts going rather less well.

Elijah had been wide open to what God was saying to him; he had been courageous; he had enormous faith; God had given him extraordinary gifts. I am guessing, but it might be that there are not many reading this who would think that their spiritual CV was like Elijah’s. On the other hand there are those reading this who have served God faithfully over many years, those who have responded to God speaking to them, those who have been courageous (albeit less publicly than Elijah), those who have used the gifts God has given.  That is great - but the passage we read tells us that however far we have gone in our spiritual journey, we never become immune from the problems that life throws up. Here we have the story of Elijah, super hero, who found this spell of his life very hard. This passage tells us clearly that however many gifts you have, however great the faith you have shown, however courageous you are, you are not safe from the problems that people encounter, from the trials people suffer.

Lets look at the problems that Elijah had.

  1. He was afraid. He knew perfectly well that he should not be afraid, that God had promised to care for His people, but when Jezebel threatened his life, he was afraid. There are many people now who are afraid – perhaps afraid of dying, perhaps of something else. Some of those people, like us, know that God has said that he will care for us – that ultimately we will be secure in his presence even when life here ends. – but still we are afraid. We might then also start feeling guilty about our lack of trust in God, feeling disappointed in ourselves. When we come across someone who is afraid, guilty or disappointed, we need to remember that perhaps not long ago, they were being “an Elijah.”
  2. Elijah ran away from his problem (literally in his case). There are plenty of people who are running away from their problems, perhaps literally, but most by denying the problem, refusing to acknowledge it exists. Running away from problems is not new. As we have seen, Elijah did it. Several other Biblical examples would include Jonah and Peter when he denied Jesus. Fortunately for us, Jesus did not run away – he set the supreme example by going to the Cross when he could have turned away. He is the example of facing and overcoming difficulties in God’s power.
  3. Elijah was depressed, even suicidal. He has used up great spiritual and emotional energy in the miracle on Mount Carmel (even though God did the work!). He has then had this long run, about 19 miles, which leaves him physically exhausted. And Jezebel says to him, I shall kill you by this time tomorrow. He starts to think he will never achieve the goal of ridding the land of pagan worship – he has had an enormous triumph but he still hasn’t won. I’m never going to do it he tells himself – I give up, I’ll just run away. He sits down under a bush in the desert and prays that he will die. He is depressed. Of course he ought to have known that God has the power to sort out the followers of Baal, of course he should not have been trying to work in his own strength. But Elijah was human. He was depressed.

Obviously depression is not God’s ideal for us but he will be with us in it and through it and out of it.

Obviously being afraid is not what God intends for us but, with God’s help, fear can be overcome.

Obviously running away from problems is not the best way to deal with them but with God’s help we can turn around to face them.

If we are fearful, if we are depressed, if we are running away, will God be there for us? Or are we alone?  1 Peter 5.7 says  “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you”. God is there for us – we may be downcast but we are not alone. Sometimes we can take our cares directly to God, and through prayer and bible study resolve our issues. Sometimes we need help from our brothers and sisters through support and prayer. Sometimes we may need other help, perhaps from medical professionals. In all these situations,God is there for us, to comfort, to guide and to strengthen.

Elijah was a great man of God, a very special person. Perhaps you and me are less special in our achievements for God but in just the same way as God was with him through the good times and the bad, so he is there for us too.  Cast all of your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.

 

7th May 2020

From Miranda Shieh

Angels are here to help

Hebrews 1:13-14

14 “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?”

Psalm 103:20

20 Praise the Lord, you His angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word.

When you hear of angels, what automatically comes to your mind? The nativity play at Christmas time? A nice to have Christmas decoration? Your very own guardian angel necklace that cares for and protects you? A comforting thought of imaginary creatures to help children from being scared of monsters that crawl at night when the light is turned off. Heavenly creatures that visited or gave divine instructions to men and women of old in the bible.  The question is do you believe angels still exist and do they have any relevance in your life today?

We are surrounded by spiritual beings….angels from heaven, who listen for the voice of God’s word on the earth.  We also have demons who listen for the voice of unbelief, negativism and fear (Provebs 18:21, Mathew 12:37). We have to choose who we want to act in our behalf….angels or demons?

 Angels are powerful spiritual beings, mighty ones, excelling in strength. They are (present tense) sent forth to minister to those who are to inherit salvation especially with the expressed purpose of protecting and delivering from harm. The word salvation, is the Greek word ‘’soteria’’ meaning deliverance, preservation from harm, temporary deliverance, wholeness. God has created angels, powerful spiritual beings to deliver and preserve us from the World’s evil.  Angels are therefore connected to our deliverance, preservation and wholeness. How shall we escape the temporary dangers and evils of this world if we neglect such a great salvation (Hebrews 2:3) accomplished through Christ. More exciting is the fact that, this...deliverance, preservation from harm and danger ….belongs to God. It belongs to Him to see that no harm or pestilence comes our way. God wants our deliverance more than anything.

Moreover, these angels are ready to work for us (Revelation 1:1-2; Mathew 18:10).  You may be wondering why God has not sent angels to deliver you if it is that important to Him.

According to Psalm 103:20, angels    ‘’obey God’s Voice’’….. ‘’ do His commandments and harken to the voice of His Word’’. Jesus is the high Priest of our confession. He is the voice of our confession in heaven. However, we are the voice of God’s Word in the earth (Hebrews 3:1). Our confession is what activates angelic powers.  The angels of the LORD hear words spoken in faith and respond accordingly. Yes your word matters….. faith filled or fear filled words?  Your confession will either bind or release angels to act in your behalf.

So how can you activate angelic help? When your heart is not filled with the Word, the force of faith is not there. Your confession will be only mental and will soon fail. When you confess and stand on God’s WORD as final authority over every area of your life, this puts you in a place to receive. Also notice that, the angels do what God has asked them to do …obeying His word. Therefore, as High Priest of your confession, Jesus, will see to it that His angels go to work on your behalf, bringing your confession of faith to pass. Your faith filled words will dominate the law of death and its forces ruled by Satan by activating God’s covenant – enforcing angels. When you decide to speak His words, think His thoughts and walk in His Love, you become like Him.

Secondly, walking in obedience and love will enable you to hold firm unto your confession of faith. Obedience makes all the difference when it comes to security because walking in disobedience will inhibit your angels. Psalm 91 refers to this obedience as dwelling or abiding in the secret place of the Most High….in the spirit realm ……a place of security. It’s a place where you have the assurance and trust of deliverance from the traps of the devil, and deadly pestilence. It’s a place where no evil will befall you and no calamity will come near your tent. You will be covered by his feathers and you will not be afraid and His angels will be able to assist you. He will give His angels charge over you to accompany and defend and preserve you in all our ways. His angels shall bear you up on their hands and you will not dash your foot against the stone. It is that place where nothing is impossible to God.

The book of Acts tells us of angelic deliverance that took place as the disciples gave voice to the Word and walked in obedience to the mandate to preach the gospel. In Acts 5:17-21, the apostles were arrested for healing the people and put in jail. During the night, an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and led them out. They were delivered and carried on doing what they had been called to do. In Acts 16: 25-27, Paul and Silas had their hands and feet fastened and they were put in an inner prison. Instead of murmuring about how bad their situation was, their attitude was that of prayer and singing hymns of praise to God. The bible says suddenly, there was a great earthquake, the foundations shock, the prison doors were opened and they were delivered from their physical chains. It does not mention angels but this appears to be same act of angelic deliverance. In Daniel 3: 17- 29, Shadrach and his friends were bound and thrown into a burning fiery furnace that was exceedingly hot, it killed the men who handled them. Three men were thrown in but four men were seen walking loose and not hurt in the mist of the fire. They refused to bow their knees to worship another god even if it meant death. They were delivered by an angel.

We live in a WORD created, and word empowered planet. Child of God, Jesus has given you His authority and power to speak His words in His Name and by His love. Decide to put God’s word first place in your life, speak it in faith, and walk in love. Remove doubt and unbelief from your heart. Fill yourself with faith in God and His Word and love that makes it work. As you do this, even natural hindrances will not make a difference to physical chains in your life because your angels will be activated to bring about your deliverance. Refuse to bow your confession to death’s law. For the angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him and delivers them (Psalm 34.7). It will not only end in your deliverance but others will be saved, healed, blessed and delivered. The angels are waiting to assist you.

 

6th May 2020

From Liz Martin

Matthew 16 - How do we listen?

What’s the fundamental difference between the Pharisees and the disciples? (There’s a clue in the question…)  A disciple is a follower, a learner, someone who hasn’t arrived. The Pharisees thought they had. They had it down; they knew what was what. They were, in their own eyes, the bees’ knees. The problem is, they had completely missed it. While they were away, cooking up clever challenges for Jesus, they missed that God was among them. The disciples, on the other hand, had pretty much nothing together. They fought, they bickered, they argued as to which one was best, they boasted, they had moments of astonishing stupidity – Jesus’ question in verse 11 points to this; how is it you still don’t get it?

They also had moments where they really got it, they listened to the Spirit, and they hit the nail on the head. We like to pick on Peter, the somewhat caricature disciple, always putting his foot in it, for better or worse. But here he is, doing it again. Jesus asks who the people say He is, and then who they say He is. In this moment, Peter seems to be able to forget himself, and to be aware of something deeper, for Jesus says that it has not been revealed by man, but by His Father. The problem is, when we begin to think we’ve got it, that we know, that somehow we’ve made it, as the proverb tells us, pride comes before a fall. And Peter falls.

Sometimes we need to be reminded that we don’t know it all, that we don’t have all the answers, that we’re not better than other people. Which is why, I think, Jesus reminds His disciples of what it means to follow. Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Let’s choose each day, corona virus, or no corona virus, to make this our prayer and our aim, to be disciples, learners, followers, to learn what it is to deny ourselves, to take up our cross, and to follow where He leads. Who knows, we may find it leads to real life.

 

5th May 2020

From Rev Graham Banks

Dear church family,

If we’d have known what 2020 would have held this time last year, how our preparations as well as our plans would have changed!

That is true for each one of us, but it is most certainly true for our government and the NHS. Our government has been accused of winding down emergency stocks of PPE since 2010. Whether or not that is true, one thing remains certain and that is that there is a lesson for each of us. Life is indeed short and unpredictable. We should all be prepared for when this life ends, and be ready for what comes next!

Have you a confidence and a heavenly assurance that gives you peace in the storm?

If you have then you will be ready and truly happy regardless of your circumstances in the here and now. If you are not sure, how about talking to one of us?

I think the following illustration sums 2020 up quite well.

With much love,

Graham

‘Faith not fear’

 

4th May 2020

From Rev Ralph Hanger

The New Normal

The new normal will not be the same as the old normal.  That’s what everyone is saying and it is obviously true that once this pandemic is over things will not go back to just as they were before. Some of this will be good – hopefully some of the camaraderie in neighbourhoods and respect for the NHS will continue.  Some it will be bad – not all businesses will be able to re-open and many folk will have lost their jobs, not to forget the many families which have lost loved ones.  Some will be neutral – shopping patterns may well change considerably and so on.  Yes, there will be changes but will all the changes just be those that have been forced on us by the ravages of the coronavirus?

In Biblical times, when disasters came on the Israelites (and others) it was seen as a time for looking again at the people’s relationship with their God.  Were there ways in which they had moved away from Him?  Had other ‘gods’ taken the place of God in their lives? In what ways had they been disobedient to God?   The story of the plague of snakes which attacked the Israelites in Numbers 21:4-9 is one clear incidence of this. It was when they had started to sort these questions out that they began to see the way out of their difficulties.

With all the ‘science’ that has been thrown at us over the last weeks and months to explain how the virus arose, spread and needs to be dealt with, where has God and our relationship with him been in our thinking?  I am not decrying the science in any way.  God has given us the brains and understanding  to see the what and how things work and we need to use them. Sometimes the ‘Why’ is outside the scope of science more in the spiritual realm – just as real and important.  By allowing this pandemic to occur, is God challenging us – as individuals – as families – as a church - as society – as a city – as a nation – internationally to reconsider our relationship with Him and to seek what changes we may need to make in our lives to follow Him more closely.  We may not feel we can influence the bigger units, but if we make the changes in our lives which God shows us, we can leave the wider effect to God.

If we are ready to use this lockdown time to reflect in this way, perhaps some of the changes in the ‘new normal’ will be very positive indeed!

 

3rd May 2020

From Iain Colville

​Matthew 15

That Which Defiles
1 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
3 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honour your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 5 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ 6 they are not to ‘honour their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
8 “‘These people honour me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
9 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules. ’ ”
10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”
12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”
13 He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”
16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”
The Faith of a Canaanite Woman
21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”
23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.
Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand
29 Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. 30 Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. 31 The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.
32 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.”
33 His disciples answered, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?”
34 “How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.
“Seven,” they replied, “and a few small fish.”
35 He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. 36 Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. 37 They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 38 The number of those who ate was four thousand men, besides women and children. 39 After Jesus had sent the crowd away, he got into the boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan. 

 

Clean hands and open hearts?

In Matthew 15,  we read of three separate incidents, each apparently unconnected from the next, as Jesus deals first with a dispute with some Pharisees over cleanliness and purity, then has an encounter with a Gentile woman with a troubled daughter, and lastly the miraculous feeding of another large crowd.

A group of Pharisees come to Jesus with a question about handwashing in order to criticise and catch him out, but they rapidly find themselves challenged by Jesus as to their own purity (v1-20). To our modern ears, especially in these days of regular 20 seconds of handwashing, the initial question about the disciples not washing their hands before eating sounds rather odd. But the Pharisees aren’t interested in basic hygiene or stopping the spread of germs but the ritual handwashing required by the “tradition of the elders”, a system of rules and regulations extending beyond the Old Testament law and teaching. The Pharisees had taken instructions about purity and ritual handwashing required of Aaron and the priests when approaching the Tent of Meeting for worship in Exodus 30, and extended their application to all Jews when eating generally.

Jesus uses a quotation from Isaiah 29 v13 to call out the Pharisees’ for paying ‘lip service’ in their worship, having their hearts in the wrong place and for focussing on human rules not the requirements of scripture.  Jesus goes on to explain this to the disciples: don’t worry about having clean hands and what you put into your mouth but instead focus on the bad thoughts that come from your heart and out of your mouth (v17-20).  

Don’t stop washing your hands regularly but, as we do so, we could spend those 20 seconds to examine our own hearts and what might have come out of our mouths recently. Are our hearts focussed on what is pure and holy (see Philippians 4 v8)? Is our talk wholesome and encouraging, full of love and compassion (see Ephesians 4 v29 - 5 v2)? Are our hearts in the right place when we come to worship?

Next Matthew tells us of Jesus’ encounter with a Gentile woman (v21-28). Her daughter is demon-possessed and the woman comes to Jesus for help, shouting after him and crying out.  Perhaps our initial response, like the disciples (v23), is that the woman is frankly embarrassing and she shouldn’t be given any attention?  

But Jesus doesn’t send her away. Instead he has a rather cryptic exchange with the woman about “the children’s bread not being tossed to the dogs” to which she replies that “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” (v24-27). This draws out the woman’s faith and persistence and Jesus praises her “great faith” and heals her daughter (v28). 

Seeing the woman’s faith and persistence, Jesus acts. He doesn’t need to meet the daughter face to face. In these times of social distancing, Jesus is still at work in us and those from whom we are keeping our distance.  Are there any embarrassing, shouty people around us, for whom we need to pray or bring to Jesus?

And lastly, Matthew tells us about the miraculous feeding of another crowd, this time of 4,000 men not counting the women and children (v29-39).  Having just read of the feeding of the 5,000 in only the last chapter of Matthew’s gospel, we might initially think this is nothing more than a repeat but with a slightly smaller crowd.

But this time, Jesus seems to be on the eastern (Gentile) side of Galilee, in that he crosses back to the western shore after the miracle (v39). The crowd have been with him for 3 days. They’ve seen miraculous healings of the lame, the blind and the crippled and they’ve heard Jesus teaching.  But now it’s late, they are in the middle of nowhere and have nothing to eat. The disciples are (again) sent to find out whether anyone has any food with them. The answer this time is 7 loaves and a few small fish. Again, little more than a small picnic perhaps for a single family.

We can imagine the questions and wonder in the hearts of the disciples – is the Master going to do it again? Jesus tells the crowd to sit, he takes the picnic, gives thanks and the food is shared out.  This time, there are leftovers to fill 7 baskets or hampers (and apparently these baskets were larger than the 12 baskets collected after the feeding of the 5,000).

Can you remember what a crowd looks like, or what it feels like to be part of a big crowd of people?  I suspect that, aside from the disciples and Jesus, most of the individuals here in this crowd weren’t there when the 5,000 were fed by Jesus. We don’t know whether they were aware of the tiny initial quantity of food. But Jesus takes the little that was available and provides more than enough for all to be satisfied. Jesus again has compassion and he acts. 

The saying goes that “familiarity breeds contempt”. Are we tempted to gloss over, or even dismiss, the feeding of this second crowd?  Perhaps we need to pay attention, if we haven’t been listening properly: Our situation might seem hopeless and, in human terms, the tank might be empty. We just need to offer what little we have to Jesus. Time and time again, Jesus can take the little we have to hand and turn it into plenty.  He who came to be the Bread of Life, will provide.  

Many blessings,

Iain  

 

2nd May 2020

From Rev Ian Macnair

FATAL ATTRACTION: THE SEQUEL

David’s prayer of repentance is recorded in Psalm 51 but I want to take you to Psalm 3. It begins: ‘A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom’.

David had been a successful king, winning the hearts of his people, overcoming foreign enemies, establishing Jerusalem as his capital city and introducing a reign characterised by military power and victory. God had been with him.

But now, not many years after the Bathsheba incident, the nation was in turmoil. Civil war had broken out and David was in great danger. Jerusalem was no longer a safe place to be and he had to go into hiding. Many … many … many were against him.

His family was also in turmoil. The expression ‘dysfunctional family’ could have been invented for them. The leader of the rebel forces was none other than his own son, Absalom (ironically, meaning ‘father of peace’).

And there was turmoil in his own soul. The opposition to David didn’t just consist of violence and betrayal. There were words – cruel words, disturbing words. Many were saying, ‘There is no help for him in God.’

Your situation may not be as dramatic as David’s but it could be no less real. We see trouble in our country and in our world. Maybe there’s trouble in your family, and it’s eating you up, and you’re wondering where God is in all this.

God is gracious and forgiving but many people are not – vindictive people, people with long memories and short tempers. And the temptation is to let them get into our heads and put fear into our hearts.

If Psalm 3 ended at verse 2 it would be bad news, but when we move on to verse 3 it’s good news. David stopped looking round about at his enemies. He stopped looking within at his own inadequacies, and he started looking up, to his God. Panic turned to prayer, and in God’s presence everything began to look different.

But you, O Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cry aloud to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy hill.

I lie down and sleep; I wake again, for the Lord sustains me. I am not afraid of tens of thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.

Rise up, O Lord! Deliver me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.

Deliverance belongs to the Lord; may your blessing be on your people!

David had been locked in to his situation, panicking, demoralised, his head hanging down. But now he sees things differently. God has not changed. His commands have not changed. His promises have not changed. His power has not changed.

At the beginning of the psalm it was all about David, his failure – his problems, his guilt, his fear. But now he has been delivered from that self-centred preoccupation. Now he’s the king of Israel again, God’s representative with a work to do, with a responsibility to fulfil, with a people to shepherd.

For further reading: 2 Samuel 15, 18   Psalm 51   Matthew 1:6, 16

 

1st May 2020

From Rev Ian Macnair

FATAL ATTRACTION

Not the movie, real life …

It was evening. King David went for a stroll on the flat roof of his palace. Looking around he saw a beautiful woman bathing. He should have turned away but he didn’t. Instead he indulged in the secret thrill of voyeurism. As his fascination grew he arranged a meeting, a meeting which ended up in the bedroom.

It was probably the most sensual and passionate time of his life. He wasn’t past it! He was alive and kicking! But from the first moment his eyes lingered where they shouldn’t he was on a slippery slope which led to moral ruin.

Soon Bathsheba told David, ‘I’m pregnant.’ She was married to Uriah, a soldier at the front, fighting for his king. David tried every way to get Uriah to come home and sleep with his wife, but Uriah’s high moral values stopped him. The Bible presents a sickening picture of David’s devious attempts to corrupt Uriah, but he was incorruptible. So to lust, lies and depravity David added the sin of murder.

The Old Testament records what happened next: Nathan’s prophecy, the death of the child, the break-up of David’s family, a downward spiral of rape, conspiracy and murder.

The tragedy of David contains warnings for us all. It wasn’t Bathsheba’s beauty that caused his downfall. It wasn’t an irresistible temptation which he was powerless to overcome. There were other factors.

It began when David was alone. We often say there’s safety in numbers. Conversely, being alone can make you vulnerable to temptation.

It began when he was idle. ‘One evening David got up from his bed’. He had been lazing about.

It began with a neglect of clear duty. It was ‘in the spring, at the time when kings go off to war.’ But king David ‘remained in Jerusalem’. When you don’t do what you should be doing you are putting yourself in danger.

It began with a look. How innocent. But that was when he should have looked away.

He learned to live easily with deceit. His communications with Uriah and with the army commander, as he manipulated the lives and deaths of other innocent people, make frightening reading.

He refused to be content with what he had. He had to have what rightfully belonged to someone else. Uncontrolled greed soon spills over into relationships and can destroy what we already have.

In these unusual days when lockdown can make family life a pressure rather than a pleasure, when self-isolation and working from home can open temptations we don’t normally face, when the internet is an easy pathway to ‘the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and pride in one’s lifestyle’, it’s all too easy to be led astray.

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!

For further reading: 2 Samuel 11—12   Proverbs 5—7   Matthew 5:27–32

 

30th April 2020

From Miranda Shieh

Arise And Go Back

Luke 15: 17-21

17 When he came to himself, he said, ‘how many of my father’s hired servants have abundance of bread, and here I am perishing with hunger. 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants’’ 20 So he arose and came to his father. 21 But while he was yet far away, his father saw him and was moved with compassion…..

We live in a world that is in deep darkness. It is a darkness in the hearts of men, which seems to engulf every aspect of humanity. This is a darkness of disobedience, ignorance and self-reliance on man’s effort. This darkness of the heart seeks to keep people blind; to strip God’s children of their true identity in Christ and lead them into the path of self-righteousness.

As a child of God, you do not have to live in this world’s darkness or be ignorant of it. Remember that you have been made right with God in Christ Jesus; redeemed from the curse; delivered from the power of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Colossians 1:13). You are a joint heir with Jesus; a partaker in the inheritance of the saints in light; have not received a spirit of slavery, but of sonship and are seated together with Jesus. That’s who you are (Romans 8:15, Ephesians 2:6).

The prodigal son in Luke 15, came to a place of famine due to a darkness of ignorance in his life. He made a decision to leave his home for a world that appealed to him. He left as a son with an inheritance in his father’s house but returned begging to be received as a hired servant. In his pursuit of life in the world, he came to a place where he had exhausted all his options, his ways. The result was a famine that exposed the reality of his knowledge of his true identity and his father’s love for him. In moments of crises, desperation sets in, ones true self is revealed. A decision has to be made to slumber and succumb to death or awake and return.

Notice that in his desperation, his first option was to hire himself out to feed pigs in exchange for food; but even his world could not accommodate him. He must have run out of options. How much that would have hurt his father! He saw himself in lack; lost, perishing and unworthy.

 Hosea 4:6 says …My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. He forgot that he was already the son of a loving father with an inheritance more precious than what the world was offering.

Just like the prodigal son, you may be in a place of famine. Fade up with your life, your own ways. You may be feeling lost and perishing; rejected; in need and feeling unworthy of God’s love for you. Your heart may be crying out for a way of escape but you feel unworthy to go back home. I want to assure you child of God, that God is faithful. He does not and will not condemn you but wants you back home but you must be willing. You may be wondering how to find your way home.

So what did the prodigal son do to get back home? He had to be willing to make some tough decisions regardless of how he felt or thought at the time, and so do you.

Luke 15:17, says he ‘’came to himself’’. The word ‘’came’’ means he had gone from his true self. When you go away from God, you forget your true identity. You remove yourself from the covering of a loving Father, who is faithful and merciful, into the arms of an enemy and into a place of famine.  Just like the prodigal son, you have to come to yourself. You could say but how do I come to myself?

You need to consider who you really are and whose you are. You need to ponder the direction of your life and turn to Jesus Christ and the atoning power of His blood; follow His laws, because it’s  the entrance of His Word that will give you light (Psalm119:59 & 130).

The pattern of this world will lead you to a place of famine and darkness. Romans 12:12 warns us not to conform to this world’s pattern but to be transformed by renewing our mind.  This transformation can only come by feeding your spirit with the Word of God, just as you would your physical body with physical food. Your spirit, enlightened by the Word of God, will expose the darkness around you (Ephesians 5:13).  The light from the Word will shine in your heart, making things visible to you and revealing your true identity in Christ. The Light of the knowledge of the glory of God … his mercy, love, compassion, faithfulness….that is in the face of Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Verse 15 says, ‘’But while he was yet far away, his father saw him and was moved with compassion….’’

Secondly, he said, I will arise and go back to my Father and ask for forgiveness. As you allow the light of his Word to take root in your spirit, faith will come (Romans 10:17). Faith in who you are, in the Father’s love for you. Your will have the confidence to arise above your circumstances and go back, not as a hired servant but as a dearly loved  son, a joint heir with Jesus Christ, seated in heavenly places with Jesus. A son who has been redeemed from the curse of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.

Thirdly, he repented of his sin. His sin had drawn him into a place of famine. But now, fully persuaded of a loving and merciful Father, he knew he could repent of his sins and make things right with his Father. Remember that while you are or were wondering in the world, he sees (saw) you. Yes, he knows everything about you but still loves you. No matter where you are, have been or what you have done, come back to the Father and make things right with him. He promises that when you confess your sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive you of your sins and cleanse you of all unrighteousness. He also promises that he will not cast out anyone who comes to Him (John 6:37).

The question is, are you willing to allow the light to shine in your darkness or to come out of your famine? Are you willing to let go of the advantages that your current circumstance provides and to allow the light to come in? Are you ready to arise and go back home. The prodigal son as an act of his will did.

Remember that your heavenly Father loves you dearly; he has not taken your inheritance from you; never left you; will not leave you nor forsake you and will not withhold any good thing from you. He is watching and waiting for you to come back home so that He can shower His love on you. There is nothing that can separate you from His love.

Make a decision today to arise and go back. Go back to the Father. Go back to the Word, Who is God, Who is love. Be grounded in the Word that is able to bring light into your darkness and deliver you from your famine. Your heavenly Father is waiting patiently for your return.

 

29th April 2020

From Liz Martin

Matthew 14

We start this chapter with a link to the last – Herod, son of Herod, has heard about Jesus, but mistakenly believes Him to be John the Baptist, risen from the dead. This alone can give us much to think about!

After recounting the beheading of John the Baptist, a man whom Herod both feared and revered, Matthew returns to Jesus, who has just heard the news about His cousin, and He attempts to retreat to a quiet place, no doubt to find some time alone with His thoughts, to mourn and to pray. But His peace is short-lived (how many of us know that feeling?!). Crowds of people follow Him from the surrounding villages, and, instead of reacting as I probably would, with unspoken irritation, begrudgingly accepting their presence, He has compassion on them, healing the sick, and speaking to them.

You can almost imagine the disciples, whispering to each other in small groups, then repeating the conversation to the others, ‘how are we going to get rid of these people? G’on Peter, you tell Him.’ ‘Why do I have to do it? I did it last time! It must be Bartholomew’s turn. He never gets asked…’ But eventually they go, and they try and get Jesus to send the crowds away. They must have inwardly groaned when He replied: ‘There’s no need for them to go away! You give them something to eat…’ They appeared to be prepared for this answer in some way, as they know what they have available, clearly believing that this will be an argument that will stop Him in His tracks. They, and so often we, have so much to learn. The five loaves and two fish, which we could consider a fairly measly meal for 2 or 3 people, will be used to feed well over 5000 people. Wait, what? What’s more, is that the people have enough that they are satisfied. Now, the miracle baffles us. It’s so huge so as to be just ridiculous. But isn’t this what Jesus is like? He takes the tiny crumbs of our lives, and, when offered, turns them into something we could not imagine.

I sometimes wonder whether there were other people in the crowd who had food, but were not as willing to share as the boy was (John 6:9). How might they have felt, as they saw this miracle unfolding in front of them? That could have been me; that could have been my lunch He used. Am I allowed any? Will I miss out? Will He know?

Following this, Jesus sends His disciples off in the boat, while He, presumably, gets some much needed time with His Father – as He is still in mourning. We are told that later that night, He goes out to them, walking on the water. We’re told by Mark that He intended to walk by them, but Matthew gives us different details. All accounts tell that the disciples are (understandably!!) terrified. But only Matthew tells us that Peter responds to Jesus with quite mind-blowing trust. He asks Jesus to ask him to come out on the water to Him. One of my favourite authors, John Ortberg, very famously wrote a book around this, called ‘If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat’, and he commends Peter, compared to all the other disciples, for alone being willing to take a step into the unknown. How would Peter have felt? It was dark, they were probably tired, but their stomachs were probably still full of bread and fish, and Peter steps out onto the water. Take some time to imagine that moment.

What went through his head? What went through the other disciples’ heads? What went through Jesus’ head? I wonder whether Jesus, in that moment, wasn’t inordinately proud of Peter, this somewhat blustering fisherman, famous for putting his foot in it, who took a step, and walked towards Him. But then disaster strikes. Peter falters, he is overtaken by fear, and begins to sink. He does, in that moment, what any person who genuinely trusts would do: he cries out in desperation to the only one who can save him. ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus’ response is immediate. He doesn’t chastise, or rebuke, not at first, or let him sink a little more, just to teach him the lesson. He immediately reaches out His hand, and takes hold of Peter. For me, there is almost a tenderness in His rebuke, not a harshness, out on the water. We’re not told how they get back to the boat. Do they walk back together, with Jesus holding onto Peter still? But when they get back in the boat, the disciples have but one response: they worship.

I wonder, in these days, what do we have to offer? And are we willing to do so? What steps of faith are available to us? What opportunities exist around us with our neighbours and will we take them? The Church currently is without its meetings and its buildings, will we, the Church, offer what we have to those around us. And, then when that is done, full from our offered 5 loaves and fishes we will worship the Lord of earth and heaven for all that He is.

 

28th April 2020

From Rev Graham Banks

Exodus 19:6 ‘And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation consecrated, set apart to the worship of God’

Worry and worship are polar opposites, and we would be much happier if we learned to become worshippers instead of worriers. Worry creates an opportunity for the enemy to torment us, but worship leads us into His presence, where we will always find peace, joy, and hope.

God created us to worship Him, and I don’t believe we can overcome the pressures and temptations in our lives if we don’t learn how to become worshippers.

It’s easy to say, ‘don’t waste another day of your life worrying’ but worry and anxiety are patterns that, if we simply accept them as a natural response to life’s circumstances, grow more and more.

Determine what your responsibility is and what it is not. Don’t try to take on anything that is God’s responsibility. I often remind people that when they over worry about things, they are doing God out of a job.  (I don’t mean that He worries!).

When we have a problem, we should do what we can do and then trust God to do what we cannot do. So give yourself and your worries to God, worship Him and begin enjoying the abundant life that He has for you.

Philippians 4:6-7  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

With much love,

Graham

‘Faith not fear’

 

27th April 2020

From Rev Ralph Hanger

Lockdown

So we are still in lockdown.  Many have found this very difficult, others not so much.  Whatever our experience, give a thought to poor old Jeremiah.  He was in double lockdown!  The city he was in, Jerusalem, was in lockdown.  It was being besieged by the enemy, who were steadily gaining the upper hand with big earth ramparts being built up against the walls and no-one allowed in or out. Life was getting tough.  Unlike us they could see their enemy and it was scary.

As well as this, Jeremiah was in isolation, not of his own accord but ‘at the king’s pleasure’.  He was in prison, within the lockdown because he had been repeating God’s message that the city was going to be defeated and destroyed.  The messages went on to say that although the current population, that survived, would be dispersed among the nations, God would bring them back to their land and ‘normal’ life would be resumed.  The king did not like the first part of this message and so kept Jeremiah in prison lockdown.

But God was not kept out by the lockdown and He spoke again to Jeremiah.  He told him that his nephew, Hanamel, would be approaching him to suggest that Jeremiah should take up his option to buy a field being sold by a relative.  That field had already been overrun by the enemy and what interest did Jeremiah have in buying a field when his life was at risk all the time?  God, however told him to go ahead and purchase the land.  The sale was completed and properly recorded and so on.  Then God gave the message that this was evidence that in the future life would return to ’normal’ and everyday activities like property sales and so on would go on.

In the middle of the devastating lockdown, God gave his people hope for the future.  There would be light at the end of the tunnel. Things would be bad for a while (but whose fault was that?) but God would act and restore things.

As our lockdown continues, although we respect and listen to our scientists and politicians, let us put our trust in God, who sees the end from the beginning, and has promised plans for our good.

(This story is found in Jeremiah 32 with close reference to Jeremiah 29:11.)

 

26th April 2020

From Miranda Shieh

Psalm 103:1-11 New International Version - UK (NIVUK)

1 Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits –
3 who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6 The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all the oppressed.

7 He made known his ways to Moses,
    his deeds to the people of Israel:
8 the Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbour his anger for ever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;

Do you know that as a child of God, you already have a benefit package that is worth more than what this life can ever provide for you?

As a citizen of this nation, you qualify for certain benefits and it’s your responsibility to find out what those benefits are and to take advantage of them. Some may say, the provision of these benefits is disproportionate and at times not sustainable.

That may be true, but a significant proportion of people are not even aware of the benefits apportioned to them and how to access these benefits. This statement is true in the world as in the body of Christ. We, at times, do a poor job by not taking advantage of the benefits Jesus already provided for us.

Remember that God’s provision is not based on this world’s economy but on His riches in glory in Christ Jesus, and as a born again child of God you are in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19, Ephesians 2:10). You live in this world but you are not of this world (John 17:16) and your citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).  God by his divine power, has already given you everything you need for a godly life, through your knowledge of Him (2 Peter 1:3).

Psalm 103 reminds you that the benefits are yours in Him but you need to find out what these benefits are and take them as yours.

So bless the Lord and remember His benefits again and again to rekindle your hope and stir up your faith. What are these benefits to you? The Psalm says:-

He forgives all your sins.

He heals all your diseases.

He redeems your life from destruction.

He crowns you with loving kindness and tender mercies.

He satisfies your mouth with good things and renews your youth like the eagle’s.

He executes righteousness and justice for you against oppression – He sets you free.

He makes known His ways to you.

He gives you His grace and mercy in times of need.

Say them out loud to Him! It gets even better because at a time of uncertainty, when the whole economy is cutting back on its benefits, God says… I’ll load you daily with benefits (Psalm 68:19 NKJ). Choose to bless the Lord and remind yourself of His benefits every day and watch it come alive in you.

 

25th April 2020

From Iain Colville

​Matthew 13 -  The Parable of the Sower

1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:
                “Though seeing, they do not see;
                                though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
                “‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
                                you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
                        15 For th                is people’s heart has become calloused;
                                they hardly hear with their ears,
                                and they have closed their eyes.
                Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
                                hear with their ears,
                                understand with their hearts
                and turn, and I would heal them.’
16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.
18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

 

The Parable of the Weeds

 

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

The Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast

31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
34 Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. 35 So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:
                “I will open my mouth in parables,
                                 I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”

The Parable of the Weeds Explained

36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

The Parable of the Net

47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
51 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.
“Yes,” they replied.
52 He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

A Prophet Without Honour

53 When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. 54 Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. 55 “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? 56 Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offence at him.
But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour except in his own town and in his own home.”
58 And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

Do you have ‘ears to hear’?

In Matthew 13, we find Jesus in teaching mode, sitting in a boat on the Sea of Galilee just off the shore, where a crowd has gathered to listen.  Jesus uses a series of parables to teach about different aspects of the kingdom of heaven, drawing on images or scenes that would have been very familiar to his listeners.  

Jesus begins with the sower (v3-8 and 18-23), teaching about the different responses to hearing the gospel, as the seed is broadcast upon on different qualities of soil. Some seed falls on the path, the thin soil and amongst thorns, and is not fruitful. But the seed that falls on the good soil produces a miraculous harvest, like those who hear and understand the gospel message.  Are you still sowing seeds of the gospel as you go about your daily life? Are you praying for a miraculous harvest as a result?

Next Jesus’s attention turns to what appears to be an early instance of bioterrorism, where someone comes along at night and sows weeds where a farmer has already sown wheat (v24-30 and 36-43). Jesus uses this story to explain how both good and evil people will live alongside each other until the heavenly harvest at the end of time. Only then will those who do evil will be separated from the people of Jesus’ kingdom, just as the weeds are separated from the good crop.  Jesus makes a similar point with the parable of the net, which catches both good and bad fish before the bad fish are discarded (v47-50).  Let’s pray for each person we meet, that they might be (or become) part of the “good crop” or the “good fish” in the kingdom harvest or the kingdom net.

Jesus also compares the mustard seed, the smallest of all seed, which can grow into a large bush or tree with the growth and impact of his kingdom from small beginnings (v31-32). And he makes a similar point with the woman who works a tiny amount of yeast into a huge quantity of flour (v33). Let’s not be disheartened if we think we only have a little or we don’t believe that we are making any impact in the lives of our family, friends and colleagues. In the upside down economy of Jesus’ kingdom, size is definitely not everything!

Lastly, Jesus uses two brief stories of finding treasure hidden in a field (v44) and the merchant who finds a really valuable pearl (v45) to make the point that being part of his kingdom is worth selling all that we have to secure our place.  Are we fully invested in the kingdom of Jesus or do we need a fresh glimpse of the price Jesus paid upon the cross?

It’s fascinating that Jesus explains his use of parables (v11-17 and 34-35) in terms of his desire to reveal the secrets of the kingdom of heaven to his disciples, but yet these secrets were to remain hidden from the wider crowd. In quoting from Isaiah 6, Jesus compares the crowd with the people of unclean lips of Isaiah’s day, who were hard of heart and who would shut their eyes to the mysteries that Jesus was to unveil.

Perhaps there echoes here of our verse for 2019 (Isaiah 45v3): “I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel who summons you by name.”  Some of these parables will be very familiar to us and others less so. But my prayer is that we may find new treasure even along the most well-trodden of paths as well as in those secret and hidden places. Perhaps these word pictures about sowers and crops, or seeds and weeds resonate today with those who’ve been spending more time than usual tending their gardens?  Or perhaps you’ve been hunting the shops for flour or yeast, which have become as valuable as treasure found in a field or the pearl of great price? Maybe we need to keep our eyes open (yes, fixed on Jesus, but still looking at what’s all around us) as we focus our ears to hear what Jesus has to say to each of us in our present circumstances.

Many blessings,

Iain  

 

24th April 2020

From Rev Ian Macnair

THE SHORTEST SERMON ON RECORD?

The Bible doesn’t keep those kinds of statistics but if it did the prophet Haggai might well be in the frame again. Of the five messages which he delivered, the one recorded in chapter 1 verse 13 is the shortest.

‘I am with you,’ declares the Lord – just two words in Hebrew, Haggai’s native language.

Following God’s command, ‘Give careful thought to your ways,’ we read, ‘Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord.’

Result!

The scholar Robert Alden observes that Haggai has ‘the unique place among the prophets of having been really listened to and his words obeyed’.

There were many questions the people could have asked God. Why did he allow his city to be destroyed? Why did he allow his temple to be defiled? Why did he allow his people to be exiled? Could he not have prevented all this suffering and destruction? Why did he not send prosperity and good harvests instead of recession, inflation and austerity?

God chose not to answer any of those questions. Instead he made a simple statement. ‘I am with you.’

There would be more messages from God through his servant Haggai but this was possibly the most important in spite of being the shortest. As soon as the people gave God his rightful place he assured them of his presence with them and this made all the difference.

And so we read, ‘The Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God.’

Covid-19 raises many questions for us. Where is God in all this? Why does he allow such suffering? Could he not have prevented it? We don’t have an answer to these questions and God does not give us an answer. But he does give us an assurance: I am with you.

It’s there in the Christmas story: ‘Emmanuel, God with us’. It’s there in the great commission: ‘Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ It’s scattered throughout the Bible if we make the effort to look for it.

God’s word to us today is ‘I am with you.’ Wherever you are, I am with you. Whatever you’re going through, I am there with you.

In your pain … in your grief … in your weakness … in your anxiety … in your frustration … in your anger … in your hopes as well as your fears … you are not alone. I am with you.

Self-isolation and social distancing restrict us all at this time but they don’t restrict God. He is ever present, always near, listening to every prayer, sharing every burden.

God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.’

 

23rd April 2020

From Rev Ian Macnair

THE SHORTEST MINISTRY ON RECORD?

The Bible doesn’t keep those kinds of records but I think the ministry of Haggai the prophet might well qualify if it did. Using the dates in our calendar, his ministry as a prophet in 520 BC lasted from August the 29th to December the 18th, and over this period he preached just five messages. Added together they take up only 28 verses in the book which carries his name.

It had been a bad time for God’s Old Testament people. Just 66 years earlier the unthinkable had happened. The Babylonian army had entered Jerusalem, destroyed the city and its holy temple, and taken the population into exile, to Babylon some 900 miles away.

37 years later the Babylonians were defeated by the Persians, and one year after that, in an amazing fulfilment of prophecy, the Persian emperor Cyrus issued an edict allowing exiled Jews to return to their own land. With the promises of pre-exilic prophets ringing in their ears, some took up the offer and by the following year they were back, rebuilding the city and its temple.

However, euphoria soon turned to frustration and disillusionment. The place was a wreck. Compared to the splendour of the old city it was just a heap of rubble. They made a start but within a year it became obvious that the rebuilding of the temple was too big a project. First they needed homes to live in. Also they were facing threats and opposition from local pagans who resented these newly arrived neighbours and certainly didn’t want a new temple to the Lord God.

But the ‘New Homes’ project was going well and soon developed into ‘Luxury Homes’. As the years went by, the idea of rebuilding the temple receded further into the past. Not only so but rampant inflation was diminishing their resources. There was an extreme drought and the harvests failed. People and animals were suddenly struggling to survive.

Against that background on the 29th of August, 520 BC Haggai began his ministry.

This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘These people say, “The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.” … Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your panelled houses, while this house remains a ruin? Give careful thought to your ways. You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house.’

Give careful thought to your ways.

In these days of lockdown and self-isolation, with the threat to businesses and employment and the overhanging storm clouds of global economy shutdown, it would be easy for us to become self-obsessed and self-centred and neglect to put God and his honour first.

The New Testament perspective warns us against this. In the words of Jesus: ‘Do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’

Give careful thought to your ways.

 

22nd April 2020

From Rev Neil Martin

Matthew 12 - A love of false law.

Matthew 12 is a hard chapter; it's a chapter that is about Jesus' conflict with the Pharisees. It starts with the Pharisees applying their interpretation of the law to the disciples. In vs2, they accuse the disciples of doing something unlawful: they were harvesting grain on the Sabbath. At this point, Jesus enters, and He could argue both the law and their interpretation. He could argue that as they have not used tools, they have not harvested, therefore they have not broken the law. Instead He says that their additional laws have missed the point entirely. The Pharisees added to the law; they made a framework that ordered and structured worship, law and commerce. They created boundaries so that people would not break the law in any way. However, Jesus points out that by adding to what God commanded, they have lost the sense and purpose of the law. Their attempts to bring order, whilst initially having been positively motivated, have become a barrier to true service, and to worship, and not only to worship, but also to the people who wanted to worship.

While we can see the error in the Pharisees, the truth is that this happens to us as well. I have had the privilege of being involved in many different denominations and styles of Church services and leadership. All of them would argue Scripture as the source of their rules and service. Yet some would add their rules of how Church should be as also having great authority. For instance, in one Church I visited, I was informed that I could sit quietly, but could not, under any circumstances, speak, sing, or participate in any way, as I did not have a letter of recommendation from my home Church. I didn't mind that much - although I was very popular when I pointed out later that Paul doesn't seem to mention letters of recommendation in a positive light in 2 Cor 3:1-2!

The problem is, I do it too; nearly all of us do. We form opinions that are not as strictly biblical as we would think, then we apply them to others, and to circumstances. For instance, you may have noticed that I have long hair, which is prohibited in Scripture (1 Cor 11:14), however, I believe, as do nearly all scholars that I have read, that the prohibition in the Church on long hair is a specifically regional and cultural one. However, a man in a Church I was at recently prayed with a baseball cap on his head. He was praying with his head covered (1 Cor 11:4). I struggled with this, and a mild urge to reach over and knock off the offending cap, because he was not following Scripture, until this thought came, 'Hypocrite! So, long hair is fine, but a baseball cap is not?'

We need to be wary of creating extra laws; it can lead us to a dark and difficult place where, in response to a healing miracle of grace, we can seek to commit murder (Matt 12:14). We can find ourselves rejecting the very work of the One we seek to honour with our laws. Some, in response, will say, 'let's make everything vague and woolly with no prohibition, and no certainty, that way no one is excluded, and all is good.' However, we find this is at the end of Matthew 12:50: 'whoever does the will of my Father in Heaven is my brother and sister and mother.' There is a will of God, and He does expect us to obey it.

So my suggestion is this: firstly, we must remember that people matter more than arbitrary rules. Secondly, we must be ruthless in checking that are rules are not hypocritical, and also that they are as biblical as they can be. Lastly, we must remember mercy and grace, because we serve the Lord of the Sabbath, who is full of mercy, grace, and truth.

 

21st April 2020

From David Depledge

Mark 4:35-41

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’

41 They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’

At the beginning of Mark 4 we find Jesus sat in a little boat just off the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He had used that boat as his pulpit as he preached to the great crowds that had gathered to hear him. When the day was over, he called his disciples to set sail for the other side of the lake. A furious squall blew up and the disciples found themselves in the fight of their lives. Storms like this are very common on the Sea of Galilee but these storms usually do not happen at night. So, these men did not set out in a storm and they did not expect one either, but a storm came anyway!

We might reflect that life can be like that too! Things can be fine one moment and the next, the bottom falls out. One minute you can be enjoying fair weather and the next, you find yourself in the middle of a terrible and horrible storm.

When the storms of life come, and they don’t come much bigger than the present crisis, they can be severe and cause us great anguish and pain. The storms of suffering blow into our lives and devastate us with heartache, heartbreak and turmoil. One problem can arise after another and that can bury us under a blizzard of issues.

The greatest storm that night on Galilee was not on the sea, but in the hearts of the disciples. This storm on the sea whipped up a storm of doubt within them that threatened to drown them all.

While the storm is raging around them, Jesus is fast asleep in the back of the boat. They go to him urgently and wake Him up. These men are terrified and are losing all hope of surviving this storm.

Before we are too hard on these men, perhaps we should consider our own hearts. Have there been times, in this current crisis, that we have questioned God’s concern for us? We might not have said it out loud, but I am sure there have been times when our hearts have cried, “Lord, don’t you care about what is happening to me, to us?” We’ve probably all been there at times.

I want us to be reminded today that He does care! He cares more than we could ever know.  He cares and He is doing something about the situation, even though we might not see it now. Although we may question His concern, He really does care! God did not save us to abandon us when the going gets tough. He is absolutely committed to us! Heb. 13:5b. “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you”. When the storm is raging; when your boat is rocking and reeling; when the adverse winds are blowing; when the waves are crashing against our vessel; he will hold us up and never desert us under any circumstances. The Lord Jesus Christ is absolutely committed to you and me!

 

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