Unfortunately, due to the on going Coronavirus/Covid-19 situation, all church meetings and public activities have been suspended until further notice.  Please feel free to contact any of us on the 'contact us' link (click here) for more information or if you have a particular need.

Please look at the News page (click here) for updates and daily prayers, reflections and encouragement and listen into our podcasts here.

Riverside Church is a busy church with something going on every day.  We meet for worship on Sundays at 10:45am in our church building on Southgate, the main shopping street of Sleaford, a market town in Lincolnshire.  You are very welcome to drop in for worship, where we trust you will be made welcome.

We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, or are homeless; to those who may have come to this country recently and only speak a little English*; to those who are crying, to new-borns, to those of you who are skinny as a rake and to those who could afford to lose a few pounds.

We welcome you if you can sing like Pavarotti or who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re ‘just browsing’, just woken up or just got out of prison. We don’t care if you are more Christian than the Archbishop of Canterbury or haven’t been in church since little Jack’s christening.

We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome keep-fit mums, football dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like ‘organised religion’, we’ve been there too!

If you blew all your money on the horses, you’re welcome here. We offer a welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell or come simply because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.

We welcome those of you who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or if you simply got lost in Sleaford’s one way system and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts and you!

(*kas tikai runā nedaudz angliski / kurie kalba tik šiek tiek anglų / którzy tylko mówią trochę po angielsku / которые говорят только немного по-английски / care vorbesc doar puțin limba engleză)

 

As a Christian fellowship our aim is to show God’s love in action by the activities carried out in our building, and through our interaction with our neighbours, both as a church and as individuals.

Riverside Church is committed to working with the churches in the town wherever possible. We are a part of Churches Together in Sleaford and District (CTSD). Volunteers from the other churches often join us in several of our mission projects.

We run a community cafe at the front of our building.  This venture is known as 'The Source' and in addition to the cafe we have several well-equipped meeting rooms available to let (subject to our lettings policy). Further details can be found here. 

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We use this page to highlight either 'news' items or other temporary information that does not fit naturally on the existing pages of the Riverside Church web site.  If you'd like to know what is going on today or this week, don't forget to checkout our calendar of events on the right, or contact us directly.

Unfortunately, and due to the ongoing situation with regard to Coronavirus/Covid-19, all church meetings are suspended and the Source Cafe will be closed until further notice.

Tuesday 2 June

Joe Warton from the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity sent me this reflection yesterday and it follows on from Peter’s post on Pentecost yesterday.

The Spirit of Note

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
Genesis 1:1-2

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
Hebrews 9:14

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
Romans 8:26-27

‘I hadn’t really noticed many Ford C-Max cars before. Then I got one. And now they’re everywhere. It’s amazing what you detect when you’re primed to notice.

‘It would be an understatement to say not much happens without the Holy Spirit’s involvement. Like the other persons of the Trinity, he too has a rather exhaustive job description: ordering the cosmos; empowering the people of God; unifying the church; convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgement; delivering the spoils of Christ’s victory to sinners; confirming our identity as God’s children; making us holy; keeping us on track. And the whole time, he’s interceding on our behalf. And you thought you were busy!
 
‘The Spirit was central to the birth, life, mission, death, and resurrection of Christ. In the New Testament, there are no less than 261 passages in which the Spirit is mentioned. He’s not some bit-part player in the story of Scripture, but central at every point. It’s important to notice that.

‘Today, in our hearts, in our churches, in our families, and on our frontlines, he is 100% interested. 100% involved. Sometimes we just need someone to remind us of his presence to give us that ‘oh yeah’ moment. Because when we notice him, hope awakens, vision widens, and joy blossoms. We see the hand of God working wonders around us. We remember there is so much more; that life’s not just down to us.

‘If you’re already conscious of the Spirit’s ongoing work in your life, awesome! Keep noticing. But if not, may this reflection act like a spiritual MRI, revealing something of the hidden miracles taking place in your life every day. That might mean being aware of your status as a son or daughter of God when you feel the need to prove yourself. Or becoming more alive to the mission of God, knowing that the Spirit who hovered over the waters, and who rested upon the Lord Jesus, is calling you out into God’s world. You might notice how God is shifting something in the heart of a neighbour, a child, or that person you chat to at the shop. It might be noticing that ‘unnatural’ patience you showed with that customer, and in the delight you experience in your work.

‘What will you notice this week?’

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Monday 1 June

A reflection on Pentecost from Andy Rau, former manager of the Bible Gateway website:

“Why is Pentecost important?” It’s important because it infused the small community of Jesus-followers with the core mission that would define the Christian church ever after: to share the message of Jesus Christ with the entire world.

Consider that in the weeks following Christ’s death and resurrection, many of his followers were undoubtedly still processing the incredible events they had witnessed, and were probably wondering what God wanted them to do now that Jesus had carried out his mission. On Pentecost, God made it clear what Christ-followers should do with the news of Jesus Christ: share it with others. And not just with the Jewish communities in which they lived; the multi-linguistic nature of this miracle made it plain that the Gospel message was not confined to one community, nation, ethnicity, or language.

Pentecost is when the Christian church received, and was empowered to carry out, its grand assignment of evangelism. For this reason, Pentecost is sometimes referred to as the “birthday of the Christian church.”

The mission given to Christians on Pentecost still stands, thousands of years later. We are to share the saving message of Jesus Christ with the world—and as we do so, we should rely on the presence of the Holy Spirit, who empowered the early church to share the gospel, and continues to do so today. The great preacher Charles Spurgeon, reflecting on Pentecost, challenged Christians to appreciate the gift of this remarkable event:

“[The Holy Spirit’s] power was gloriously manifested in and after Pentecost. He remains at this hour the present Immanuel–God with us, dwelling in and with his people, quickening, guiding, and ruling in their midst. Is his presence recognized as it ought to be? We cannot control his working; he is most sovereign in all his operations, but are we sufficiently anxious to obtain his help, or sufficiently watchful lest we provoke him to withdraw his aid? Without him we can do nothing, but by his almighty energy the most extraordinary results can be produced…. The Holy [Spirit] is no temporary gift, he abides with the saints. We have but to seek him aright, and he will be found of us.” — Charles Spurgeon

Every blessing

Peter 

Saturday 30 May

I received the following from Lincolnshire County Council about fostering which I said I would put on the website. It seems all the more poignant at the moment with some families struggling with lock-down. They are also looking for short-term respite foster carers.

Make your house a child’s long-term home

In Lincolnshire there is a real and urgent need for people to come forward specifically to look after children and young people who need a long-term foster family.

Long-term fostering, also known as permanent fostering, is when a child or young person is cared for until they reach adulthood and beyond. It requires a high level of commitment as carers will need to provide a stable home life for a child until they reach independence.

Many of the children who are currently waiting for a long-term foster family in Lincolnshire are part of a sibling group who need to be placed together with their brothers and sisters. It is recognised that being placed with their siblings can help a child settle into a new family and have a positive sense of who they are.

There are many benefits to long-term fostering both for the child or young person and for their carers. Long-term foster carers give a child or young person the stability of living in one family home for the rest of their childhood. A long-term family gives them a sense of belonging, and with consistent routine, love and understanding, they can begin to flourish and be better prepared for adulthood.

Being a long-term foster carer can be a challenging role, but it is also hugely rewarding! 

If you think you could give a child or sibling group a loving long-term home apply to foster today at www.lincolnshire.gov.uk/fostering or call 01522 554114.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

There will be a Service on-line tomorrow organised by Churches Together in Sleaford and District. It lasts for about 45 minutes and includes music, readings, talks and prayers on Pentecost Sunday. Below are the places on the web to find it from dawn tomorrow.

There are two ways to access the video. The first is shorter but less memorable.

Direct link:   youtu.be/FmT0nf415TM

Via Paul Cockburn's YouTube channel:   www.youtube.com/user/mathmethman

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Friday 29 May

Some you will remember Bob Stoner, who was a great support on Street Source for some years before he went to train as a Methodist Deacon. This is today's reflection from him.

Stay safe

Peter

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Thursday 28 May

Today’s verse of the day on my Bible app is Psalm 55: 22: ‘Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken.’

A dictionary definition of the word ‘to cast’ is ‘to throw something forcefully in a specific direction.’ Our verse calls us to cast something specific; namely: our cares, worries, doubts and fears; to throw these forcefully in a specific direction, in this case, God Himself who invites us to do it because He is big enough to take it.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says: ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.’

God shares His comfort with us in these times, so that we can share it in whatever way we can with others.

A prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to cast our cares upon You, that You would sustain us through this time; comfort us that You would help us be a comfort to others, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Wednesday 27 May

As the government begins to ease the lockdown, we'll no doubt be wondering what life is going to be in the future. This article was written by Rev Rosie Harper, who's a Church of England vicar. Her context is obviously the C of E but I think what she has to say is relevant, whatever Christian church we belong to:

"In France, apparently, one of the biggest worries about lockdown was how single Parisienne women would cope: all alone in a small flat and no partner. No dates, no secret affairs, no sex. All the assumptions were that these women would go into melt down. The framework of their lives and their relationships had been undone – it would not end well.

Turns out many young single women in France have loved the shutdown. All the hectic man- (or woman-) pleasing internal drivers had been challenged. They enjoyed freedom from the pressure to have sex, they swapped sophistication for simplicity, they got in touch with how to be self contained and not dependent their partner. To everyone’s surprise it is OK – more than OK, it is very good.

It is possible that as we emerge from isolation some of this self discovery will remain and the young single French woman will have a better life.

This tale is an example of what Richard Rohr describes in The Wisdom Pattern as the process we are always experiencing in life, but which is technicolour at the moment: Order, Disorder, Reorder.

Order is the pattern we thought we knew. The familiar. Some of us loved it, some of us found it had dark and controlling elements that needed change, but it was what we knew. It was life as we had learnt to live it.

Then came the big Disorder. Present joys became past memories. Of course we fear it. Not just for the physical danger, but because it feels like anarchy. It teeters on the edge of chaos, of total melt down. We fear getting sucked into a vortex of unknowing.

Let’s be honest here; both in society and within the Church at large we were already struggling. Struggling with the age of Quantum Physics where what we thought was linear and certain was, it transpires, nothing of the sort.

Mystery, not knowing, holding multiple truths – all this was stretching our religious imagination. Around the edges interesting thinkers were rediscovering ineffable, unknowable layers of faith, whilst at the centre some pretty desperate measures were being taken to sure up the literal against the flow away from certainty .

Now of course everything is virtual. Even the bread and wine. We shouldn’t be surprised. Pentecost tells us the virtual world is vibrant and powerful. Jesus is very much with us but we can’t see or touch him.

This period of Disorder might be all sorts of things. It’s too soon to tell. What we can see is that the biggest mistake the church made in its response to Covid-19 was rooted in fear of chaos.

As a society we have a contract with one another. We elect leaders who make decisions which some like and some dislike, but mostly we obey even the rules we think are mistaken. So our Government tells us what to do, and although we are not all confident that the best decisions are being made we abide by the rules.

In the Church of England it seems our leaders thought the church worked this way too.

Mimicking the Government they issued rules and regulations, forgetting that their relationship with their flock is different. They do not rule over us, but rather are shepherds whose calling is to offer hope and inner depth and strength through our faith in God.

A bewildered nation expected words of lament, of comfort, of inspiration. Alas, although they were there, they got drowned out by the micro-management of Church buildings. We actually only needed to be told to apply the same rules as everyone else!

So it fell to the local to inhabit the Disorder and it has done so in many wonderful ways. The edges between church and community got lovely and smudgy and people lived their faith by loving and helping one another. Some may think virtual services are a bit naff and amateurish but they are rather gloriously filled with heart and courage.

Well, one day we will realise that the era of Covid-19 has passed. A Reordering has happened. Most people will want to go back to how it was before but of course that cannot be.

I can tell you how I would like the new order to look. How I would love the church to be where every human being is loved and valued equally. Where anyone who was in any way different from the majority need never fear rejection or judgement from other Christians. I would love to see the choking tendrils of power, politics, entitlement, the class system to be unwrapped from around the heart of the Church of England. Where those who had been abused received loving care and just restoration. I would love to see us less obsessed by ourselves and more obsessed by our neighbour. As you might imagine I could go on…….

What I think will happen is that we will make every good effort to carry on as before – and slowly the truth will emerge. The financial model, already strained to breaking point will prove unsustainable. Quite possibly the church in every parish model is bust. The trust of the people in a National Church, already horribly compromised by its internal moral failure to treat LGBTI+ people, women or abuse survivors honourably is gone forever and its place on the national and political stage will be seriously challenged.

There will need to be a journey, probably accelerated by this crisis, which will involve letting go of a model of the Church of England which was probably always a fantasy anyway.

I would like to think that a leaner, healthier, more equal community will emerge – a church that is much closer to the poorest, most marginalised in our society. More present in housing estates across the country and less bound up in Bishop’s palaces and London clubs.

I don’t think this is impossible, indeed God could well be in this new destination. I fear, however, that for many, it will hurt like hell to get there."

Every blessing

Peter

Tuesday 26 May

‘Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops’. James 5:16–18

Nell Goddard of LICC writes: ‘If you could have any superpower, what would it be? Some days, I long for invisibility. Other days, for the ability to teleport. Someone once told me that they wished they could dodge raindrops. Personally, I feel that to be a bit of a waste of a superpower, but who am I to judge?

‘Superpowers are all about doing things which are beyond our usual abilities, and ordinarily out of our control. Consider the family in Pixar’s The Incredibles – super strength, body elasticity, invisibility and force fields, and super speed. Very superpower-y, and very useful in a crisis.

‘But alas, superpowers are only for fiction and those bitten by radioactive spiders. In our ordinary world we have only our very human abilities to assist us in a crisis.

‘In this passage, however, James suggests otherwise. Prayer, he says, is a powerful thing. It may look simple and unimpressive, but it has great resources at its disposal. It has, in fact, the power of God behind it.

‘Do we have to be superhuman to access this power? No, says James. Elijah was a righteous man, yes, but he was also ‘a human being, even as we are’. He was just like us, he was right with God, and his prayers stopped the rain! Quite the superpower if you ask me.

‘There was no special formula, no particular routine to it, no special suits – and certainly no capes – made by Edna Mode… Elijah just prayed. And the Lord listened to and answered his prayer.

‘James is clear: there is no situation in which prayer is not the proper response. Family crisis, lost keys, pandemic, broken down car, terminal illness. We must begin with prayer. I find that convicting yet deeply reassuring.

‘Today, may we find conviction, rest, and encouragement in these words, and the God who hears and answers prayer.’

In the time between Jesus’ ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we read in Acts 1 that the disciples, ‘joined together constantly in prayer’; praying about the future. As the lock-down begins to ease, please pray for the future mission and way forward for the Church.

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Monday 25 May

There seems to be only one story on most people's minds - and certainly in all the newspapers and social media sites today - and that's Dominic Cummings's trip to Durham for childcare for his son. I'm not going to be drawn into the politics of this, but I don't think we can ignore the issue, so I've been reflecting on what our response as Christians should be. Several Church leaders have been on social media and the television this morning extremely critical of Mr Cummings' behaviour and also of the Prime Minister's defence of him during yesterday's briefing. What would Jesus have to say? 

I think the answer is quite clear: when he was asked by the Temple authorities about paying taxes, he gave a straightforward answer: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's." Paul also reminds us of the importance of obeying the powers that be, the only exception being when they ask us to do something contrary to God's will. I've spoken to many of you either by phone or email over the last nine weeks, and, like me, you're missing family and friends. At one point, my daughter's husband was very ill, and she was trying to juggle her work as a school chaplain with home schooling and caring for the family, and she would have given anything for us to be able to go down and give her a helping hand; we'd love to have done, but we chose to follow the government's instruction to stay at home. Many of you will know others in a similar situation who would have valued help but who struggled on, doing what they were instructed to do.

We are incredibly fortunate in this area that we have not been overwhelmed by this Coronavirus, but that's because we have obeyed the authorities, and, in a democracy like ours, it's essential that those who set the rules also abide by the rules. On this Bank Holiday Monday, it would now be very easy for folk all over the country to feel justified in breaking the lockdown rules. May we as Christians continue to behave responsibly, respect the law, and continue to pray for our leaders that they, too, will act in ways which command our respect.

Stay safe.

Every blessing

Peter

Saturday 23 May

Brian Draper is a regular contributor to Radio 4 Today Programme’s ‘Thought for the Day’. The following has come from him via the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity.

Breaking Open

I was reminded, recently, of a Hasidic tale which evokes Deuteronomy 11:18 (see also Deuteronomy 6:6), and seems especially apt for now:

‘The pupil comes to the rabbi and asks, “Why does Torah tell us to ‘place these words upon our hearts’? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?”

‘The rabbi answers, “It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay, until, one day, the heart breaks, and the words fall in.”’

It’s often the case that our own break-throughs seem to happen when we, ourselves, break open, isn’t it?

Certainly, some of the more spiritually mature people I’ve known seem also to be those who’ve gone through a disintegration of sorts. In the process, they’ve become more soulfully connected to life, somehow. Their words may sometimes be fewer, but any they do care to speak arise from deeper down within those opened hearts.

This has been, without doubt, a time of breaking open; if not for us personally, then almost certainly for some of those we know and love.

And we’re all affected, in different ways. We’ve all experienced disorientation. We’ve all lost direct contact with people we love. Many still have no physical contact with others. There’s a place for keeping calm and carrying on, but there’s time enough to honour sorrow, too.

It doesn’t have to be an individual heart that’s hurting, either. Families, of course, and friendship groups have suffered; churches will know grief within their communities; organisations have lost work and people; villages, towns and cities, even nations – each are having their own experience deepened.

I think of the words of the Aaronic blessing that have flowed so beautifully through the world, in song, this season. So often, it’s when ‘all is well’ that we perceive God’s blessing in our lives. But how resonant, those words, from within a place where all is not?

Perhaps we can treasure those words that may have rested gently on our hearts, awaiting the time they fall a little further into place. May we thus be open, within this historic opening. And may, indeed:

‘the LORD bless you
and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face towards you
and give you peace.’

Every Blessing,

Robert

Friday 22 May

An interesting reflection which I received this week: it's written by David Coaker, a URC Minister and Brian's brother.

"When will this end? I’ve had enough of this. I want to be able to talk to someone without having to guess how far 2 metres is, or worry about what observers are thinking. I want to go and visit my family. Go away for a few days. Have a meal in a restaurant. Not have to queue to get into a supermarket. Just do a million and one things I’d taken for granted. Aaaargh!

But, I can’t. I shouldn’t. And being inconvenienced now is a lot better than risking my own, my family’s, and other people’s health because I’m fed up with being kept mainly between these four walls. It is also inappropriate as there are many who wish they were in my position. Within our society there are many struggling to keep afloat or wearing themselves out caring for others. And when we look to other places in the world that were fragile even before this, it truly highlights the privileged position many of us find ourselves in.

But knowing that doesn’t stop me being fed up. And whatever feelings we have, bottling them up doesn’t help. Our families might not appreciate us letting loose, as they have their own challenges, but God is willing and able to listen to what is on our hearts.

Too often we only think we can bring before God what we are thankful for, and our concerns for others. And too often what we do bring is a shopping list of our own desires and wants. But you only have to look to the Psalms to hear anguished cries to God, and we have Paul’s words to the church in Rome:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8:26–27 (NRSV)

So as we continue to stay home and stay safe, let us remember that God is still there. This isn’t great, but it could be much worse. And that however we are feeling, God is there beside, around and beyond us. God is already listening, knows how you are feeling, and the Spirit is willing to stir, move and embrace you."

With every blessing,
Rev’d David R. Coaker, Editor of Progressive Voices

I hope you're all keeping well and safe

Every blessing

Peter

 

Thursday 21 May

Today is Ascension Day and here is the reading from Luke 24: 44-53:

He (Jesus) said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’

Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, ‘This is what is written: the Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what My Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’

When He had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, He lifted up his hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

Luke’s first account of the Ascension gives us three aspects of the disciples’ behaviour at this time of departure:

  1. They heard; they heard Jesus many times, but now their minds were opened by Jesus and they began to hear and understand what He was saying. What might He be saying to you today?
  2. They saw: they saw Jesus raise His hands and bless them. This would have meant a lot to them as they realised that Jesus wanted the best for them despite their doubts and fears. Jesus blesses us and wants the best for us too. The disciples saw Jesus taken up to heaven. We don’t quite know how that happened but He went and we can imagine Jesus there with God the Father, just where He should be.
  3. They went: they went back to Jerusalem, where Jesus had told them to go and start telling others about the good news of forgiveness and new life. They were told to wait there until they were ‘clothed with power from on high.’ They were obedient and waited and were filled with the Holy Spirit so that they could boldly proclaim the kingdom of God. Let’s wait on God and receive from Him in this time between Ascension and Pentecost.

Every Blessing and keep safe,

Robert.

Wednesday 20 May

Monday's piece was a bit heavier than usual, so I thought I'd simply leave you with a funny story today to lighten the mood!

A pastor concluded that his church was getting into serious  financial troubles. While checking the church storeroom, he discovered  several cartons of new Bibles that had never been opened and distributed. So at his Sunday sermon, he asked for three volunteers from the  congregation who would be willing to sell the bibles door-to-door for £10 each to raise the desperately needed money for the church.

Jack, Paul and Louie all raised their hands to volunteer for the task. The minister knew that Jack and Paul earned their living as  salesmen and were likely capable of selling some bibles. But he had serious doubts about Louie who was a local farmer, who had always kept to himself  because he was embarrassed by his speech impediment. Poor Louis stuttered badly.  But, not wanting to discourage Louis, the minister  decided to let him try anyway.

He sent the three of them away with the back seat of  their cars stacked with bibles. He asked them to meet with him and report the results of their door-to-door selling efforts the following Sunday.

Eager to find out how successful they were, the minister immediately asked Jack, "Well, Jack, how did you make out selling our bibles last week?"

Proudly handing the reverend an envelope, Jack replied, "Using my sales prowess, I was able to sell 20 bibles, and here's the  £200 I collected on behalf of the church." "Fine job, Jack!" The minister said, vigorously shaking his hand. "You are indeed a fine salesman and the Church is indebted to you."

Turning to Paul, "And Paul, how many bibles did you  sell for the church last week?" Paul, smiling and sticking out his chest, confidently replied  "I am a professional salesman. I sold 28 bibles on  behalf of the church, and here's £280 I collected."  The minister responded, "That's absolutely splendid, Paul. You are truly a professional salesman and the church is also indebted to you."

Apprehensively, the minister turned to Louie and said, "And Louie, did you manage to sell any bibles last week?"

Louie silently offered the minister a large envelope. The minister opened it and counted the contents. "What is  this?" the minister exclaimed. "Louie, there's £3200 in here! Are you suggesting  that you sold 320 bibles for the church, door to door, in just one week?"

Louie just nodded. "That's impossible!" both Jack and Paul said in unison. "We are professional salesmen, yet you claim to have sold 10 times as many bibles as we could." "Yes, this does seem unlikely," the minister agreed.

"I think  you'd better explain how you managed to accomplish this, Louie."  Louie shrugged . "I-I-I re-re-really do-do-don't kn-kn-know f-f-f-for sh-sh-sh-sure," he stammered.  Impatiently, Peter interrupted. "For crying out loud, Louie,  just tell us what you said to them when they answered the door!"

"A-a-a-all I-I-I s-s-said wa-wa-was," Louis replied , "W-w-w-w-would y-y-y-you l-l-l-l-l-like t-t-to b-b-b-buy th-th-th-this b-b-b-b-bible f-f-for t-t-ten p-p-p-pounds---o-o-o-or---wo-wo-would  yo-you j-j-j-just l-like m-m-me t-t-to st-st-stand h-h-here and r-r-r-r-r-read  it  t-to y-y-you??"

Keep smiling, and stay safe!

Peter            

Tuesday 19 May

The following came into my inbox last evening from the Lee Abbey Communities:

A reflection on Philippians Chapter 1 by Magnus Proctor (Lee Abbey’s Company Secretary)

The Apostle Paul is writing to his beloved church at Philippi, some 10 years after its formation (Acts 16). He is under house arrest in Rome, chained 24 hours a day to a Praetorian Guard, one of Emperor Nero’s elite bodyguards. He doesn’t know whether he will live or die.

What can we learn from Paul’s period of isolation in Philippians 1?
V.1 Paul, a bond slave of Christ Jesus
Paul may be chained to the Emperor’s guard but more importantly he is bound, like a bond slave, to his Lord Jesus. He will bow down to no other, serve no other. Coronovirus will not govern us – we have no fear because our faith and trust is in the eternal, all knowing, all powerful God of the universe.
 
V.1 God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi
Paul reminds the Philippians that they are in two places at once. They are physically in the Roman city of Philippi, Northern Greece, but also they are spiritually found in Christ. We are safe. Nothing can harm or alarm us. Our lives and our futures are bound to him.
 
V.4 In all my prayers for all of you I pray with joy
When Paul thought of his absent loved ones, he prayed for them. And when he prayed for them it brought him joy. Joy is a constant theme throughout this letter. Paul was able to say of his beloved church – I have you in my heart (v.7). He had the same affection for them as Christ. 
 
V.12 What has happened to me has served to advance the gospel
But Lord, Paul might complain, "I am an evangelist, surely you have made a mistake. What good am I under house arrest in Rome?" God never makes mistakes. Paul was thrilled because he was able to witness to the palace guards and many were saved. It was also said that he witnessed to Emperor Nero. His isolation was part of God’s plan.
We too in The Lee Abbey Movement, might complain that we have lost our purpose. There are no guests in Devon and few students in London. Has God made a mistake? Or like Paul, with full assurance, can we say that what has happened at Lee Abbey is serving to advance the Gospel. Do we see God’s purpose at work in the present crisis? 
 
V.21 For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain
Paul was under the daily threat of execution yet to him there was no fear. His life’s purpose was Christ himself. (I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ who lives in me. Galatians 2:20). Life was worth living because of Christ, it was worth dying to be with him.
 
V.27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ
Paul reminds us to remain faithful to Christ. We will get impatient, tetchy and irritable, maybe say or think things we shouldn’t. But, have faith, stand strong and rejoice!

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Monday 18 May

I try not to put anything too "heavy" on here, but this piece of interesting reflection landed in my in-box yesterday, and, although it's fairly long, I thought it was well worth a read. It does get me thinking a little  outside the box! I'd love to know what you think of it:

I have been wondering about theology in relation to the coronavirus pandemic.

There will be those who will jump in (yet again – they’ve done it before) and say that this is God’s judgement on the world for abandoning him (and it would be him!) and his rules and regulations.

There will be – and indeed, as I have seen on social media, are – those who will use this to claim that God cannot exist, as he has not stepped in to avert the disaster.

Both of these, it seems to me, are wrong-headed approaches to what is happening. For one thing, both are far too simplistic, avoiding so many of the issues.

But what then is the right approach? This is where I am tempted to start thinking the unthinkable.

I have for a long time thought that judgement is not something external. About this I have in the past written:

Judgement wells up from within. Faced with the utter purity of the love of God, with the blinding white-light brilliance of the love of God, I fall on my face at God’s feet, know that I judge myself and find myself wanting. But I also know myself picked up, put back on my feet, stood upright and told to get on with it.

This is not a wrathful God but a God whose very luminosity and love causes judgement to rise up from within me, to accuse myself, to be unable to look God in the eye until God compels me to, because God has picked me up and put me back on my feet, and sent me on my way. For me this accords well with the striking assertion of Jonathan Sacks that ‘The religious question is not: ‘Why did this happen?’ but ‘What shall we do?’’

Perhaps the answer is to be found somewhere within the recognition that the God who is the ground of my being is necessarily the ground of everyone else’s being too. Part of what it means for God to be the ground of my being is that God is also the source of my consciousness of being, and of everyone’s consciousness of being. The Psalmist may say ‘Arise O God to judge the world.’ But that judgement is not an external judgement. It is a judgement arising from the response of all those women and men who are in touch with their consciousness of being, with their consciousness of God, whose feet are stayed on the rock that is the ground of their being. It is an outcry rising up from within God’s human creatures against injustice and inhumanity, against our lack of love both as individuals and in community.

As a friend of mine, helping me think through what I am trying to articulate here, says:

“I think, in simplest terms, it is exactly right to say that the wrath of God is nothing more (but nothing less) than the love of God resisted, which could only happen by virtue of the energy of that divine love which is continually, effusively bequeathed to creation but which is misunderstood, misappropriated and misapplied. Robert Capon in The Youngest Day: Seasons of Grace on Shelter Island, argues that judgment (at least as far as God is concerned) is discernment rather than condemnation. Condemnation is God's discernment refused, with the inevitable, inescapable self-destroying impact of that refusal.

And humanity, I think, has been consistently refusing to listen to, yet alone heed, God’s discernment.

So can we then say, in this situation, that the coronavirus is something that rises up from the very depths of creation itself as an outcry against our refusal of God and God’s discernment, and as analogous with what rises up within me? That this is one of creation’s cries against our abuse and exploitation of God’s good creation and creatures? A disturbing article in the Guardian notes that a number of researchers today think that it is actually humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases such as Covid-19. “We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.” says David Quammen, American science and nature writer, and author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. “We are creating habitats where viruses are transmitted more easily, and then we are surprised that we have new ones.” adds Kate Jones of University College London, while Richard Ostfeld of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies makes no bones about it: “Nature poses threats, it is true, but it’s human activities that do the real damage.””

The place I keep coming back to is that God is the source and ground and purpose of all Being, and therefore all creation shares in that Being. So the universe itself is, in a sense, the body of God (as ecofeminist theologians and others are daring us to think) and each of us shares in the Being of God. As theologian Mary Beth Ingham puts it:

The incarnation is God’s presence in our world - not an event of the past. The incarnation is still going on in our lives. And our vocation is to join God’s dynamic, incarnate energy in the world and to be that presence wherever we find ourselves.

This outcry of creation itself calls on us not to put the blame on God by claiming that this is God’s judgement, but to acknowledge that in all the horrors of a seemingly uncontrollable virus, of social distancing, creation itself is saying to us: do something about this. This is the requirement of amendment, of change. We must change in the way we relate to the earth, as stewards rather than as exploiters; we must change in the way we do our economics, as sharers rather than hoarders; we must change in the way in which we relate to one another – locally and globally – as sisters and brothers, neighbours, all made in the image and likeness of God, and all of equal value, worth and respect. I heard Lord Peter Hennesey, historian of contemporary history, saying on the radio this week that “Future historians will divide post war Britain as BC and AC – ‘Before Corona’ and ‘After Corona’". I think he is right, though he may not have had my theological slant on this in mind when he said it! And  if there is any mileage in the approach I have outlined here, then I find it one of the ironies of the present pandemic that the virus can be as easily spread by gestures of compassion and greeting as by any other more health related means of transmission.

But what of the wrath of God of which the Bible frequently speaks, and in which the doom mongers of judgement revel? Does an understanding that all language about God is metaphorical let me off the hook when I apply it to this biblical category? Not at all. Nor does the idea that this is merely a human projection, though we do often try to express the personal nature of God through our experience of persons. And in people there is certainly anger, wrath. But perhaps in God it is the shadow side of that overwhelming imperative, that Imago Dei, which is love. There is a complex nexus of projection and reflection in our use of love in respect of God. Perhaps we have to say that the possibility of the wrath of God is real, but that love overwhelms the wrath, and that we, observing the love, find ourselves lacking, find our lives and our deeds flawed, compromised, sinful; and this in itself is sufficient to cause grief, sorrow, amendment. God does not need to be wrathful for this to happen. It is a natural consequence of God’s love. Or, in the language of Capon, it is a failure to respond positively to God’s loving discernment.

I’m aware that I’ve addressed wrath and judgement in this much more than the God-deniers. And yet I hope that the idea of the cry of the earth and the demand for change speaks loudly of a God who is with us (Emmanuel theology), of a God who is in everything and everyone and every situation, but who is also a God who looks to us to work with one another and with God in redeeming and reconciling the world. ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself … and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.’ (2 Corinthians 5.19) 

Stay safe

Peter

Saturday 16 May

Thy Kingdom Come has become an annual event in the national church’s calendar and this year is no exception despite the lock-down. The idea is for us to pray for 5 people we know who do not know Jesus yet. HOPE have shared the following:

‘Join the global Thy Kingdom Come wave of prayer between Ascension and Pentecost from 21-31 May. There are five ways your church can be involved in this year’s Thy Kingdom Come. Find out more here. There is a new Digital Family Prayer Adventure Map & App, an augmented reality app with daily videos and games from the Bible, as well as a 24-7 virtual prayer room, the Upper Room. You can find all the resources on the Thy Kingdom Come website.’

I have also heard this week that Churches Together in Sleaford are putting together a service on-line for Pentecost Sunday which will include short talks from the church leaders and songs and hymns from church worship groups. I will let you know the link when it is known.

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Friday 15 May

A timely reflection from Keela Dee, a young Christian blogger from Texas:

"I pray that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see... what is the overwhelming greatness of God’s power that is working among us believers. This power is conferred by the energy of God’s powerful strength. God’s power was at work in Christ when God raised him from the dead and sat him at God’s right side in the heavens..." -Ephesians 1:18-20 (CEB)

Sometimes the only thing that will get me through a period of anxiety is knowing that the Holy Spirit is within me. I am never alone. I don’t have to get through this by myself. I don’t have to be strong enough. When I confessed my faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit came into my heart. The exact same Spirit that lives in Jesus lives in me, right here, right now! 

Jesus did so many amazing things during his life on earth, but in John 14:12, he says “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” Did you catch that? Jesus says that we can do even greater things than He did! That is kind of hard to believe, but very exciting. With the Spirit, we have the power and potential to be strong and courageous in the name of Christ Jesus! We as Christians just need to believe in the Truth, run to God, and understand the power we have in Him. Why should we be afraid when we have the Spirit of the living God inside us, fighting for us at all times?

"If you make your mind resolute and spread your palms to him, if you throw out the sin in your hands and don’t let injustice dwell in your tents, then you will lift up your face without blemish; you will be secure and not fear. You will forget trouble; you will remember it as water that flows past. A life span will rise brighter than noon; darkness will be like morning. You will be secure, for there is hope; you will look around and rest safely. You will lie down without anyone to scare you; many will beg for your favor. The eyes of the wicked will grow faint; flight has vanished from them; their hope is a dying gasp." -Job 11:13-20

Every blessing

Peter

Thursday 14 May

Hebrews 12:24 says: ‘You have come to God . . . to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.’ Jesus is our mediator whose blood was shed on the cross; it is a better word, a more powerful word, a more transformative word than any other. This word is the source of our hope no matter how hard our circumstances are (Open Doors).

Lord Jesus, thank You that the final word over my circumstances is Your Word and that Your Word is a better word, of authority and hope for the future. Amen.

Open Doors, the organisation that supports persecuted Christians, has some resources to help us understand how people cope all the time under restrictions and lock-down. You can find them at www.opendoorsuk.org and go to the Church at Home page.

A few years ago, a survey was taken of the general public about attitudes to Jesus and Christians. The Talking Jesus research showed the UK church that non-Christians know us, they like us and some of them, right now, are open to having conversations with us about Jesus. It would seem that in this time of lock-down that more people are looking to Jesus and the church for answers. A course has been devised to help us talk to others about Jesus. It’s called the Talking Jesus Course and is available free at the moment from www.hopetogether.org.uk/talkingJesus. The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu says, ‘The most helpful way people hear the Good News of God in Jesus Christ is by a follower of Jesus Christ sharing their encounter with Jesus Christ. This inspiring course will help Christians to be witnesses to Jesus Christ wherever God has placed them.’  Have a look and let me know what you think.

Every Blessing and keep safe,

Robert

Wednesday 13 May

This is a short reflection I found today from the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale, Florida:

“Count it all joy… when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James 1:2-3

Christians often use passages like the above to delegitimize the real suffering people endure — “Don’t let it get you down. You are being refined. Have faith!”

These words feel empty, patronizing, and inadequate to soothe our spirits or heal our wounds. The missteps of others aside, however, we revisit what the author of this passage is inviting us to consider. We are not admonished to have to “feel” joy in the face of difficulties. It is natural to feel bad when bad things are happening.

Instead, we are invited to perceive the truth of our experience more broadly. Yes, we are facing hardships, and they are having a negative effect on our lives. But we are also making it through.

Each day that we continue to show up for our lives in the face of painful circumstances, we are also experiencing the miracle of our own resilience. We see what we are made of—not only when we've finally made it through, but also right there in the midst of the struggle. We can count on ourselves, come what may.

Divine Comfort, in tough times, may our honest pain be tempered by the joy of experiencing our innate steadfastness. Amen.

Every blessing

Peter

Tuesday 12 May

I received the following from Bob Abbott last week. Bob helps with the organisation of Sleaford Keswick and I know that a number of you enjoy the worship and unfolding of God’s Word on winter Friday nights.

‘Just to let you know that due to the Coronavirus this year’s Keswick Convention has been cancelled. However, ‘Virtually Keswick Convention’ – is an exciting, new five-day online event this Summer.  The Keswick Convention Committee invite you to join them for an exciting 5-day online event - on the theme of ‘Hope’ over the period 27th – 31st July. 

‘Check out this launch video by James Dobson, Keswick Ministry Director and keep an eye on further updates there and on the Keswick Convention website:

https://www.facebook.com/153708181458114/posts/1569839113178340/?sfnsn=scwspwa&extid=wJHVWvEqSZjcwxlv

‘Virtually Keswick Convention will feature teaching, sung worship and seminars for adults, youth and children. The engaging sessions will be available free online for everyone.  Join them for what promises to be an encouraging time together virtually.  The theme is hope – chosen because at this time of great uncertainty, in the midst of a global pandemic, there is hope in Jesus Christ.

‘James Robson, Ministry Director for Keswick Ministries, said: “What an encouragement to be part of something bigger – we’re not alone or isolated – but together. All one in Christ Jesus. There will be something for adults, children and youth. It promises to be a great time to meet with God through His Word, together. The Bible Reader will be Christopher Ash, Writer-in-Residence at Tyndale House in Cambridge, who will speak on ‘Hope in Jesus’ from the Psalms.  More details of the programme will be published here – on the Keswick Ministries website in coming weeks.  Save the date and tell your family friends, and church about Virtually Keswick Convention – we are looking forward to seeing you.’

It sounds worth joining in with that and I will try and remind you nearer the time.

Every Blessing, Robert.

Monday 11 May

This prayer came into my inbox yesterday. It's written by William Barber, a Bishop in the United Church of Christ in the United States. You'll obvious recognise that it's written from an American perspective, nut there is much in it which is also relevant to our situation in the UK.

"Most holy, gracious, great, all loving and ever-present God, hear our prayers: 

For those who have known too much unexpected death.

For the children who in a matter of days experienced more than any one should in years.

Hear our prayers for those whose world has been graphically and in some ways grotesquely changed by the death and infection of a germ and the failure of government that caters to those addicted to greed.

May we who know justice and compassion. May we repent for those who have let the viruses of racism, lust for power and lies make a difficult situation worse.

May those who have gone along with the lies just to please narcissism break free and tell the truth. 

May we who can simply change our schedules to meet the challenge of COVID-19 remember those whose entire lives are totally turned upside down and disrupted. 

May we who have no risk factors remember those most vulnerable because of the wounds and fissures of racism and entrenched poverty. 

May we who have the luxury of working from home remember those who own no home of their own and must choose between preserving their health or making their rent. 

May we who can stay in and care for our children when their schools closed remember those who have no options at all. 

May we who are not essential workers remember those doctors, nurses, janitors, deliverers and others whose names have changed from service workers to essential workers.

May we repent for and challenge the powers that refuse to give essential workers the essential things they need to be protected from this lethal virus.

 May we who are losing our margin in the tumult of this economic market remember those who have no margin at all.

As business owners, governors and a president force low wage workers to make a decision between staying home to live or going to work and risking death, loose the power of the Holy Spirit to bring to remembrance that which you said:

If you get rid of unfair practices,

   quit blaming victims,

   quit gossiping about other people’s sins,

If you are generous with the hungry

   and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,

Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,

   your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.(Isaiah 58)

Remind us in this moment you are calling on us to choose the society you desire, which cares for the least of these.

As fear grips our country,

Let us choose love, justice, grace and truth.

In the midst of misery, by your Spirit inspire us to yet believe in miracles.

During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other, let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of Our God to our neighbours.

Strengthen us, O God. Use us, O God. Save us, O God. For we know that you are a very present help in the time of trouble. Amen."

May this be a prayer for all of us.

Every blessing to you all

Peter

 

Saturday 9 May

I received the following from the new CEO of the Evangelical Alliance this week and it is encouraging to hear that people are responding to God in prayer and on-line worship. Our own podcasts are attracting a larger congregation than we get on a normal Sunday.

‘Dear Robert

‘I was incredibly encouraged this week to see that research by our close friends and member organisation Tearfund about more Brits turning to prayer and religious services amid the coronavirus crisis has been featured in The Guardian. You can read the article by clicking here, and for a comment piece by our public policy researcher, click here.

The UK Blessing, which saw more than 65 churches and movements come together online, standing together as one, to sing a blessing over our country, also brought me tremendous joy. This is gospel and unity in action; and on the outside chance you haven’t seen it, I’d urge you to check it out, and if you have, why not watch it again.

‘The good news of Jesus Christ is spreading, and this is good to see. Churches and Christian charities are increasingly being seen as sources of support and an invaluable contribution – being recognised for their ability and commitment to help those in need, even by people who wouldn’t normally be on our team. This is wonderful.

‘Let's continue to be brave and kind in this time, as we make Jesus known. We’ve improved our evangelism hub, Great Commission, to support you in this, and throughout May and June the team will equip and encourage you through live conversations, articles and resources.

‘So, as well as visiting the hub, do join our Story Bearer sessions, live chats about sharing your faith, on Facebook Live on Wednesdays. Also join us next week Thursday at 10am for the third instalment of the coronavirus conversations, where we'll hear from award-winning leader Rev Celia Apeagyei-Collins. You can catch up on previous episodes before then.

‘As we continue to work out how to come out of lockdown, let’s ensure we keep holding up the church in prayer. Visit our online prayer centre for this week's inspiration.

‘With every blessing, Gavin Calver’

Hallelujah. Blessings to you all and keep safe and prayerful.                       Robert.

Friday 8 May (VE Day)

I was born just six weeks after VE Day. My father had served as a mechanic in the RAF and my mother had been an ambulance driver during the War. One of the consequences of the War was the development of a number of international organisations designed to ensure that a conflict like that never happened again; NATO, the United Nations, the World Bank, the European Union have all contributed to 75 years without a world conflict, though, sadly, the world has never been without a war somewhere during my generation. Today we remember all who died in the 1939-45 conflict: in the UK, that was 384,000 soldiers and 70,000 civilians, but, across the world, the figure was a staggering 20,000,000 military personnel and over 45,000,000 civilians, many of whom died in concentration camps; over 1/3 of the civilians were Russian. One of the most poignant pictures I remember seeing a year or two ago during an earlier wartime anniversary was President Macron of France and Chancellor Merkel of Germany standing together arm in arm, leaders of two former enemy countries now side by side in harmony and peace.

One of the titles given to Jesus is the Prince of Peace; and one of the first things he said to his disciples when he met them in the home after his resurrection was, "Peace be with you."

May our prayer today be simply for peace: peace in our hearts through his Spirit; peace in our homes; peace in our country as we struggle through these difficult lockdown days; and peace in our wonderful world.

Stay well and stay safe.

Every blessing

Peter

Thursday 7 May

The latest magazine from Open Doors says:

‘You are probably experiencing isolation in a new way this year. Coronavirus has had a widespread impact on all of our lives. Churches have closed. Families can’t gather together for special occasions – or even everyday occasions. Whether or not your life was usually very busy, it’s likely that your experience of Christian community has changed dramatically in 2020.

‘The measures brought in to combat the spread of coronavirus are not persecution, of course. They do not especially target Christians. But perhaps they help us to understand a bit more what life is like every day for secret believers around the world. Online communication is doubly a lifeline for them – it is a means for people to hear the good news of Jesus in places where sharing the gospel is prohibited, and new believers can be disciple and trained online too.’

Testimonies of how people have found Jesus online like Islèm (not her real name) can be found on the Open Doors website www.opendoorsuk.org. They make amazing reading and give you opportunities to pray.

Every blessing and stay safe,

Robert

Wednesday 6 May

God Has Good Plans

We’re living in an unprecedented time as we navigate the life-threatening and economy-shaking struggles we’re facing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past, we’ve seen catastrophic diseases, disasters, and wars impact various countries, but this is different. At this time, the whole world has something in common: we’re trying to survive a deadly virus. So, as followers of Jesus, how do we make sense of this? What do we do with our questions to God and our questions of God? How do we find good news in a continual stream of bad news? And how do we grasp how this fits into the all-familiar passage of Jeremiah 29:11? 

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. (NLT)

This verse gives hope and is our spiritual security blanket in hard times. It’s printed on t-shirts, etched on coffee mugs, and stamped on greeting cards. While God is a hope giver, we have to understand the context of this cherished verse. 

Jeremiah prophesied to the Israelites in the southern kingdom of Judah before they were taken captive in 586 BC by King Nebuchadnezzer of Babylon. In Jeremiah 27, he prophesied that they would serve this king, his son, and his grandson, and that everything would be under their control (Jeremiah 27:6-7 NLT). 

In the next chapter, a false prophet named Hananiah told the people that God would free them and restore everything to them in two years. Jeremiah challenged Hananiah because of his lies. He also said Hananiah would die and in two months, he was dead.

In chapter 29, Jeremiah encourages the people to live their lives while they’re in exile—to work, marry, plant, eat, and multiply! He tells them they’ll be in Babylon for 70 years and then, they’ll be brought home again. 

God’s plans of a hope and a future for His chosen people probably didn’t match what their idea was. They wanted to go home, yet God said it would be 70 years. They wanted their own king, yet God said they would serve the Babylonian king. They wanted to flourish in their homeland, but God said to do that under a government that was holding them captive. Possibly the hardest part was that the older generation would never go back home. They would die in a foreign land serving a foreign king. 

We can’t insist on our idea of a bright and hopeful future. We tend to be short-sighted and earthly-minded. But God’s ways are so much higher than what our minds can grasp. His plan is better! And it will include forever with Him in heaven, not just a short portion of our lives on earth. 

If our hope is laced with doubt, fear and anxiety, we can change that today. We need to eliminate our“hope-so” attitude and replace it with a “know-so” mindset. Our hope should never be tethered to the conveniences and pleasures the world offers or the ease of a situation. Instead, we fasten our minds to the promises and truths in the Word of God and fix our sights on the day when our bright, glorious, and eternal future is made a reality. Instead of wishing away our days in the predicament we’re in, let’s have confidence that God will deposit hope into us no matter what we’re facing. 

Even in lockdown, we have "a hope and a future" in Jesus.

Every blessing

Peter

Tuesday 5 May

Peter put up a You Tube clip of the Blessing which is amazing. We received it last weekend from good friends of ours down in Sussex. However, for some reason it has been taken down. I put this one up to see if it works:

https://youtu.be/PUtll3mNj5U

We were also encouraged by singing along with an old hymn by Augustus Toplady also available on You Tube:

A sovereign protector I have,
Unseen, yet forever at hand,
Unchangeably faithful to save,
Almighty to rule and command.
He smiles, and my comforts abound;
His grace as the dew shall descend;
And walls of salvation surround
The soul He delights to defend.

Inspirer and hearer of prayer,
Thou shepherd and guardian of Thine,
My all to Thy covenant care
I sleeping and waking resign.
If Thou art my shield and my sun,
The night is no darkness to me;
And fast as my moments roll on,
They bring me but nearer to Thee.

Kind author, and ground of my hope,
Thee, Thee, for my God I avow;
My glad Ebenezer set up,
And own Thou hast helped me till now.
I muse on the years that are past,
Wherein my defence Thou hast proved;
Nor wilt Thou relinquish at last
A sinner so signally loved!

‘Ebenezer’ means ‘hitherto hath the LORD helped us’. It has always meant a lot to me as it was the very appropriate name for my grandparent’s home in Dover. The reference in the Bible is: 1 Samuel 7:12.

Every Blessing and keep safe.    Robert.

Monday 4 May

During this last week, worship leaders and singers from churches across denominations and across the country have gathered by social media to record a wonderful blessing for our nation. It's inspiring and uplifting, and is a reminder that, even though our buildings are closed, the church is alive and well. Click on this link to receive a blessing from God. I think we might be singing this when we get back to Riverside!

https://youtu.be/PUtll3mNj5U

Saturday 2 May

My brother sent me a message via WhatsApp yesterday which said ‘We have been social distancing now for 40 days and 40 nights. So far, the dove hasn’t come back with anything.’ Like all of us, my brother has had to adapt to the Covid-19 situation. He would normally be lecturing to students in China; now he is lecturing via a Chinese equivalent to Zoom to some 300 students all over China from his home. And it shows no sign of changing.

The theme of the Lectio 365 App today is ‘Keep it up’, that even for the long haul God is with us and we can be persistent in our praying over this time. Jesus takes that theme in His parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18: 1-8). In our culture of wanting things now, it goes against the grain to wait and wait some more, and pray and pray again, but that is what Jesus calls us to do.

A prayer: ‘Mighty God, I pray now for those who have lost their livelihoods; those whose family members are locked away in ICUs all over the world. For those who face unsolvable problems and intractable situations. Give them hope in Your goodness; give them stubbornness, resilience and grace to persevere in prayer. And I ask, in Your time and in Your way, that You would answer. Amen.’

Friday 1 May

It's hard to believe that we're into our seventh week of putting reflections on to the website! I hope you're all still keeping your spirits up and finding ways of filling up all this extra time that we seem to have. I suspect there are a lot of pristine gardens around!

Our daughter, Becky, is Chaplain at the Blue Coat School in Birmingham, and this week, with the help of their Music Director, Jeremy, she wrote this song about the lockdown. The Church of England launched a program called "Faith at Home" and this song is part of the resources which they're offering, and encouraging other schools to make their own video. The school have provided a backing track for the song so other schools can do it quite easily. If you want to be cheered up, please listen by clicking on this link: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GAVCHH6ZO2s&feature=youtu.be

Finally, a prayer for today.

A prayer

In these days when ‘all shall be well’ feels at odds with grievous reality,

God be with us.

In these days when enormity becomes a distraction, and small things claim our focus,

God be with us

In these days when our inner solitude is too loud, and outside is unnervingly quiet,

God be with us. In these days when our fear contracts us, and stretches our hope,

God be with us.

In these days when routines are snatched from us, and we drift from our groove, help us to know how shallow was the groove of habit, and how the drift is toward centre.

In these days when we extend our distance from others, help us to know how tensile are the invisible ties that bind In these days when inequalities unleash their deadly effects, help us to know that God loves justice, and it will prevail.

In these days when activity is frenetic, uncomfortable or unavailable help us to know that the God who dwells in us does the work.

Amen

 

Thursday 30 April

The following came into my inbox yesterday from Issachar Ministries and is an article by Tim Lowe, a Baptist Minister in Cambridge.

The disciples in lockdown (John 20:19)


I believe it is God’s purpose at this time to strengthen the remnant of believers in this nation so He can use His church to reap a harvest of souls for the kingdom in the years to come.

The death of Jesus was devastating for the disciples. They had invested so much in following Jesus, and now it all seemed to have come to nothing. In fact, Jesus had been preparing them for this very moment, as well as for their future ministry (e.g. John 13:31-16:33). Yet still, in the moment of crisis, the disciples were overcome with fear and went into lockdown: "the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Judean leadership" (John 20:19).

Their situation was somewhat different to ours, but there are parallels. Consider this. Like many mature Christians today, the disciples knew their Scriptures well, which was normal in that culture. Surely they knew Scriptures such as Isaiah 41:14, "'Do not be afraid, you worm Jacob, little Israel, do not fear, for I myself will help you,' declares the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel." There are many such Scriptures in the Bible to encourage us. Yet in the eye of the storm they were fearful. That’s often how it is for us as well! Yet between Passover and Pentecost something radically changed that made these fearful disciples into bold preachers of God’s word.

How do we respond in a crisis? The great heroes of the faith in the Bible from Moses to David to the prophets all knew how to turn to God for help. The Psalmist declared, "I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy of praise, so shall I be saved from my enemies" (Psalm 18:3). Turning to God in a crisis means seeking Him in prayer and finding spiritual sustenance in the Scriptures. There is little evidence the disciples in their lockdown did either. Why is it, when we most need to turn to God for help, like in the present corona-crisis, we don’t? The disciples could, for example, have brought to mind the teaching of Jesus just a few days previously: "'Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me'" (John 14:1). Jesus had taught them He was going away and they would see Him again. He had taught them He would send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. With hindsight we can easily understand the disciples could not fully appreciate these things. But at least, we might think, they could have been praying and encouraging one another. In our lockdown it is not the time to be fearful but to seek God even when we cannot fully understand His purposes. But this does not mean it is easy to overcome the emotion of fear. What was it that changed the disciples? It was the resurrection of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit that made all the difference. The Scriptures testify to the reality of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, not only as an historical event, but also as a spiritual reality for all followers of Jesus.

The historical events of the resurrection are explained, for example, in John 20:1-23. After the resurrection, on the evening of the same day, Jesus appeared to His disciples: "with the doors locked for fear of the Judean leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you!'" It was the resurrection of Jesus from the dead that began to transform the disciples from fearful men into those God could use to bring renewal into the first century world. Then, "Jesus breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit'" (John 20:22). The power of the Holy Spirit makes the power of Jesus’ resurrection real for each one of us. Paul prayed for the Ephesians that "the eyes of your hearts may be enlightened in order that you may know ... the incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead" (Ephesians 1:18-20). The same power at work in the tomb when Jesus rose from the dead is at work in believers today.

The transformation of the disciples began in lockdown as they encountered Christ in a new way. There are health reasons for our present lockdown, but we should be earnestly praying to God that He, in His mercy, would use this time of restriction to strengthen the remnant of believers in the UK, and that we would not be found to be sleeping. Pray that renewal would begin among the disciples of Jesus in these days.

Wednesday 29 April

Some encouragement that dropped into my inbox this morning:

Does life feel out of control?

400 years. That’s how long the Israelites waited for God to deliver them from slavery. But after they left Egypt, God didn’t take them directly to their promised land. Instead, they camped out at the base of a mountain while God instructed Moses. During that time, God’s glory rested on the mountain. But after 40 days, the Israelites grew frustrated by the delay…so they rejected God and pursued whatever pleased them

If you’ve ever felt frustrated by an uncertain season that lasts longer than you anticipated, you’re not alone. Waiting can lead to disappointment and frustration. In those moments, we can become so focused on our circumstances that we forget God is still in control. If God’s in control, we might ask, then where is He? Why hasn’t anything changed? 

Here are three truths to remember:

1.     Waiting reveals what you worship

When the Israelites’ plans were delayed, they pursued instant gratification because that’s what they actually valued. When you find yourself dissatisfied with your situation, what do you turn to? What you focus on reveals what you value, and what you value determines what you worship. 

2.     Waiting is never wasted

God wasn’t withholding His promise from the Israelites—He was preparing them for it. God’s timeline is different than ours, but your waiting might actually be preparing you for the plans and purposes God has for you. 

3.     Waiting helps us focus on God’s faithfulness

God’s faithfulness hasn’t changed. The God who patiently protected and provided for the Israelites also conquered death so that you could experience eternal life. If you find yourself growing weary from waiting, look up and look back. Look for evidence of God’s presence, and look back on what He’s done for you. This will help you hold onto hope. Hoping in God is never wasted because the One who conquered death is still in control, and He’s always at work in your waiting.

Tuesday 28 April

Gordon Crowther, the new Warden at Lee Abbey, Devon, arrived from South Africa just before the lock-down and the first thing he had to do was to send the guests home who had just arrived for a conference. What a start! This week, I received the following from him.

‘As a Community we continue, even more earnestly, with our rhythm of prayer with key moments at 8.30am and 2pm each day. We hear the Bible read and expounded, we offer our thanks and ask for forgiveness for our transgressions and omissions. We pray for each of the Lee Abbey Communities, as well as camp leaders, Friends and then key workers and leaders engaged in responding to this crisis in our various countries and communities. Recently we have taken encouragement from 1 Peter 5:1-11 and especially the promise in verse 10: 'And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast'.
 
‘Like so many, as a Community, we have navigated grief and the full spectrum of the emotions associated with it. However, we have also set ourselves to listen to God as well as each other – perhaps more deeply and carefully. We want to hear how God is calling us to respond as people of the Living Jesus Christ in this time and in the new time that we will all enter post-COVID-19. We feel sure that God will continue to call us at Lee Abbey Devon to be God’s welcome, to build community and to serve and renew the church, but perhaps in some new ways.’

That has challenged me to set aside some time to pray the same, maybe you can join me. Pray that we may know what God is saying to us at this time and what He wants from us post-COVID-19. If 8.30am. and/or 2pm. are good times for you then you can join in with the Community at Lee Abbey Devon.

Monday 27 April

This dropped into my inbox from an American contact of mine this week. I wonder what you feel about it, and how you pray during this coronavirus crisis and lockdown.

Prayer [in a crisis]

Earlier today a very good friend, who has always professed to be atheist, text me with the following message. [I know this is] an extremely private question, so I don’t mind if you’d rather not answer, but what do you say about this [pandemic situation] when you pray?

I thought, as I’m sure many people are asking themselves similar questions, whether atheist or not, that I’d share with you my response in the hope it may be helpful to some. Firstly, it’s not a private question at all, it’s a personal question, in that my answer may not be everyone’s answer. However, I don’t believe faith should ever be private. That’s how faith is misunderstood and can mutate into all kind of introspective and untested ideas. So I don’t mind you asking at all. Faith is communal not private. So, here’s some thoughts on that question about prayer in a crisis over which we have little control. 

First, I need to set my parameters.

1) I do not believe in an interventionist God who swoops in like a superhero, nor that God would only help those who pray.

2) I don’t pray to God in order to inform God of the situation. If God is God, then God is already more in the know then I am!

3) Neither do a believe in a God who has caused this suffering in order to bring about some higher purpose.

But enough of the negative, what I do believe is ...

God is Love

God is in all things, surrounds all things, is beyond all things, created all things, loves all things.

God is not a thing!

But God is as we see in Jesus.

So, on to what I pray.

The Reformed Church has historically followed a four fold pattern of prayer which you may find helpful. The traditional names can be a bit misleading, so bear with me while I explain. Adoration Confession Thanksgiving Supplication

Adoration this is not simply saying ‘God you’re wonderful’ as if we have to first pay tribute to a superior being. Adoration is a centring, a recognition that the universe is bigger than us, that our needs and concerns are held in balance with the rest of creation, and that the entirety of all that is, was, and will be, is far beyond our comprehension and can only be held by ‘God’. (God is a loaded or misdirecting word for some, you may find it helpful to substitute the word God with The Universe). Confession is not a self shaming exercise, being required to list our ‘sins’ before a judgemental super being, who requires our grovelling servitude.

Confession is the next part of the centring, recognising we all have faults and limitations. Maybe ‘acknowledging’ would be a better word than confession? We acknowledge we make and have made mistakes, we acknowledge that we cannot fix everything, we acknowledge we are deluding ourselves when we act as if we can, or do not take responsibility for our actions.

Thanksgiving may now come naturally. Having worked through both Adoration and Confession they have hopefully brought us to a place where we feel freed of our burdens and inadequacies and able to better focus on our many blessings. Just spending time thinking of all the things we are grateful for or fortunate to enjoy is a really positive experience. Again, it can refocus our thoughts to a place much more capable of positive action, even in a seemingly hopeless crisis.

Finally, Supplication, which in my experience is most often misunderstood as Petition. Petition are prayers bringing a list of problems and grievances to God with the expectation that God, once properly informed, will sort it all out. There is a place for prayers of petition, but it is closer to the ‘get it off your chest’ lament category than a facet of healthy prayer. The subtle difference between the two is asking for the strength, help, skill, guidance, etc for ourselves and others to cope with or tackle our problems, not simply asking God to sort them for us. Prayers of supplication, rather than absolve us of our responsibilities, allow us to focus on them and seek wisdom and courage in tackling them, that a time of reflection can bring.

So, that’s a very long introduction to answering your question in practical terms. But here it is ...

In the current crisis, after preparing for prayer with Adoration and Confession to centre myself, and release my personal burdens, and being in a positive and grateful state of mind through Thanksgiving, I might pray ...

•       May I have the strength to deal with the day at hand, and not worry about tomorrow.

•       May I be alert and compassionate to the suffering of others and patient with those I find selfish or    ignorant.

•       May I trust that there is good in all people and that God is with us in all troubles.

•       May I seek our wellbeing, and not just my own.

•       May I be generous in time, understanding, and spirit. Quick to listen and slow to judge.

•       May those working ‘on the front line’ be aware of the love and support they each have, and may I find ways of sharing that love and support with them.

•       May the vulnerable feel supported and never alone, and the anxious comforted.

•       May Gods will be done (which is goodness for all people/creation)

Well, that’s quite a lot! When you’ve digested it, I’d love to hear your response.

Their response, I love it. I'm going to work through it. It touches on a few things I want to get better with.

How would you reply to an atheist's question?

 

Saturday 25 April

'Contagion, a 2011 disaster movie about a viral pandemic, has soared in downloads and rentals. The 1995 film Outbreak has seen a similar surge in views. Even tales of zombie armageddon like 28 Days Later and World War Z are more popular than ever.

'You might imagine we would be desperate for escapism now, but instead many of us are choosing to watch our worst fears play out on screen. As one BuzzFeed headline despaired: ‘The Only Thing I Want To Do Is Binge-Watch Apocalypse Movies.’

'Charles Bramesco describes this as a ‘sanctioned version of exposure therapy’. By recasting our current situation in a fictional scenario, we can watch a version play out where some characters triumph, a solution is discovered, and ‘an inconceivable menace can be experienced and survived’. In other words: disaster films lend us an illusion of control.

'The pandemic has introduced great uncertainty to areas which we normally try to manage: our health, our financial security, our future plans. It’s shattered the idea that we are rulers of our own destinies. Watching disaster films, refreshing news coverage, cycling between social media, or rechecking the infection curve can provide temporary reassurance – a feeling that we are one step ahead. But for Christians there is an extraordinary assurance that we aren’t in ultimate control.

'In Psalm 121, the psalmist journeys along a dangerous path, wondering where to look for help. He remembers God’s promise to ‘watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore’. God represents himself here as a watchman who cares for the city during the night; one who never tires. For us, too, God’s careful watch promises to cover our whole lives – and deaths – until the end of the age and beyond.

'There are many places we can look for an illusion of control, particularly in a digital age of 24-hour news and streaming services. Perhaps, like me, you need some practical measures to ‘turn your eyes upon Jesus’ instead. This week, why not open your Bible before checking your phone each morning, fast from social media, memorise Psalm 121, take breaks from the news, or use your daily exercise to pray as you walk?

'As we fix our eyes on Jesus, we can rest secure in the knowledge that God himself fixes his eyes on us. There is no safer place in the whole universe than under the gaze of the Lord Almighty.'

from Katherine Ladd, London Institute of Contemporary Christianity.

Friday 24 April

I came across this very new and encouraging song this week from Gas Street Church in Birmingham; you can watch Tim Hughes sing it at (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAzKrZEy_Rg) or click here: By the Grace of God — Live at Gas Street Church

By The Grace Of God

I rest my soul on Jesus

When the mountains shake.

I put my trust in Jesus

The moment I awake.

When my soul is lost as sea

He will be my rock.

My vision be in Christ alone;

This grace is all we’ve got.

His love is like the mighty ocean;

His love for me will never stop.

Oh His arms are strong enough to carry me

Through it all by the grace of God.

So high upon His shoulders

Safely brought this far;

Helper of my helpless soul,

The King of broken hearts.

His love is like the mighty ocean…

You are the passion of my life, Lord Jesus.

You are the song within my soul.

My strength my hope my all in all is You,

Jesus, You.

When breath grows still and night draws near,

I will not be afraid.

I know the plans He has for me

Don’t finish at my grave.

His love is like the mighty ocean…

Thursday 23 April

If you have been using Lecto 365 as part of your daily devotions then you will know that this week Pete Grieg has been reflecting on verses from 2 Chronicles 7: 12-15:

The Lord appeared to (Solomon) at night and said: ‘I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for Myself as a temple for sacrifices. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among My people, if My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.’

The most powerful words in these verses are: ‘when’, ‘if’ and ‘then’. ‘When’ (not if) trouble comes, ‘if’ (not when) we pray, ‘then’ God will act. Terrible hardships are inevitable in life and God’s people are not immune. God gives Solomon three keys to three promises. The keys are humility, prayer and repentance. The promises are the hearing of our prayers, the hallowing of our lives and the healing of our land.

Humility: 1 Peter 5:5: ‘Clothe yourselves with humility.’ This is not something that happens automatically; we have to get up every morning and put on a humble attitude in just the same way as we put on our clothes.

Prayer and repentance: At this time of global crisis, there is little doubt that God is calling His people to ‘pray and seek My face.’ The invitation is to ‘turn away from (My) wicked ways.’ The Hebrew word for turning means return, turn back or answer. There is a sense of homecoming, returning like the prodigal to the happiness of holiness. God is looking for a holy people, a church set apart for Himself. As we seek His face we are accepted by the Father, forgiven by Jesus’ death on the cross and filled again by the Spirit of holiness. C.S. Lewis wrote: ‘How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing, it is irresistible.’

In humility, prayer and repentance, may we come to God, that He may hear our cries, forgive our sins and heal our land.

Wednesday 22 April

The Beatitudes for a lockdown community

When Jesus saw people locked down in their houses, and unable to walk through the streets and he spoke to them, saying.

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who are tired and struggling, aching for the chance to see family and friends for real. Blessed are those for whom lockdown is little different than life before. Blessed are those who take the time to call or zoom, an otherwise forgotten neighbour. Blessed are those who are working all hours so that others can be safe. Blessed are those who desperately need space and time for their own well-being. Blessed are those for whom staying in means being at risk. Blessed are the poor in spirit. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you

Blessed are those who mourn for people who have died. And blessed are those who mourn because they could not say goodbye, could not hold hands, could not join with family and friends to pay their respects. Blessed are those who take the place of family at the moment of passing. Blessed are those who mourn for the routine and ways of living that gave their life meaning. Blessed are those who mourn for their jobs, or businesses, their employees and livelihoods. Blessed are those who mourn. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those whose actions are only now being recognised and valued - the minimum wage workers who make our lives possible. Blessed are those whose work has always been essential and blessed are those who now see this. Blessed are those who are risking their own health to care for those that we are cannot care for. Blessed are those who leave a can of beans and a toilet roll on the shop shelf for someone else. Blessed are those who wheel down the wheelie bin of the isolated household next door. Blessed are the babies born into the midst of this. Blessed are those who help someone they have never before met. Blessed are the meek. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  Blessed are those who in the midst of all that is around can see the injustice and inequity that it highlights. Blessed are those who recognise this light shining on their own lives and commit to living more simply. Blessed are those who are simply hungry. Blessed are the foodbanks, advice services, the charity workers and helpers Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are those who try to social distance but also have compassion for the family with the autistic child, or spouse with dementia. Blessed are those whose patience is being tested. Blessed are those who are trying to work at home and home educate at the same time. Blessed are those who have got zoom working and those that haven’t. Blessed are the merciful. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are those who see God in the rainbows and the clapping. In the helpers and the helped. In the opportunity to reconnect and, In a new understanding of family, community and society. Blessed are those who see this, not as the beginning or the end. Blessed are those who can - in whatever way - be still and know God. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Amen

Paul Bridges 

Tuesday 21 April

The following is submitted by Rev Stuart Turner

How the Virus Stole Easter
By Kristi Bothur  with a nod to Dr. Seuss 

Twas late in ‘19 when the virus began
Bringing chaos and fear to all people, each land.

People were sick, hospitals full,
Doctors overwhelmed, no one in school.

As winter gave way to the promise of spring,
The virus raged on, touching peasant and king.

People hid in their homes from the enemy unseen.
They YouTubed and Zoomed, social-distanced, and cleaned.

April approached and churches were closed.
“There won’t be an Easter,” the world supposed.

“There won’t be church services, and egg hunts are out.
No reason for new dresses when we can’t go about.”

Holy Week started, as bleak as the rest.
The world was focused on masks and on tests.

“Easter can’t happen this year,” it proclaimed.
“Online and at home, it just won’t be the same.”

Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the days came and went.
The virus pressed on; it just would not relent.

The world woke Sunday and nothing had changed.
The virus still menaced, the people, estranged.

“Pooh pooh to the saints,” the world was grumbling.
“They’re finding out now that no Easter is coming.

“They’re just waking up! We know just what they’ll do!
Their mouths will hang open a minute or two,
And then all the saints will all cry boo-hoo.

“That noise,” said the world, “will be something to hear.”
So it paused and the world put a hand to its ear.

And it did hear a sound coming through all the skies.
It started down low, then it started to rise.

But the sound wasn’t depressed.
Why, this sound was triumphant!
It couldn’t be so!
But it grew with abundance!

The world stared around, popping its eyes.
Then it shook! What it saw was a shocking surprise!

Every saint in every nation, the tall and the small,
Was celebrating Jesus in spite of it all!

It hadn’t stopped Easter from coming! It came!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the world with its life quite stuck in quarantine
Stood puzzling and puzzling.
“Just how can it be?”

“It came without bonnets, it came without bunnies,
It came without egg hunts, cantatas, or money.”

Then the world thought of something it hadn’t before.
“Maybe Easter,” it thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Easter, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

And what happened then?
Well....the story’s not done.
What will YOU do?
Will you share with that one
Or two or more people needing hope in this night?
Will you share the source of your life in this fight?

The churches are empty - but so is the tomb,
And Jesus is victor over death, doom, and gloom.

So this year at Easter, let this be our prayer,
As the virus still rages all around, everywhere.

May the world see hope when it looks at God’s people.
May the world see the church is not a building or steeple.
May the world find Faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection,
May the world find Joy in a time of dejection.
May 2020 be known as the year of survival,
But not only that -
Let it start a revival.

Monday 20 April

If you joined us yesterday for our Sunday podcast, you'll have heard me talk about Thomas. The URC Sunday worship also included a sermon on Thomas; it's quite long, but I thought it was an interesting and different perspective on the subject.

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said ‘Peace be with you’. (John 20v.19 NRSV)
 
It has been a long, bewildering, exhausting day. Amidst all the devastation caused to their hopes and dreams by the events of Good Friday, the disciples begin this day discovering that the body of Jesus their teacher, their friend, has been removed, - by whom they don’t know. Disturbed and blinkered by grief, they have forgotten what Jesus has spent three years trying to show them. And, as a result, his death on the cross is a loss to them. The world around them is dark.
 
So they do what human beings tend to do in such circumstances - they lock themselves away - they pull the covers up and bury their heads under the bedclothes. Hidden behind doors of wood and walls of stone they seek that feeling of safety amidst a hostile world hiding not just from the Jewish authorities but from overwhelming feelings of loss as they attempt to make sense of it all. When all the world around them is dark. they are still unsure they can live in the light of the resurrection.
 
John, however, has the answer. We need to have faith.
 
But as this gospel story shows us faith can be complicated by fear and doubt.
 
Behind locked doors all the disciples except Thomas (and Judas) gather. They have heard from Peter and John about the empty tomb and they have heard from Mary Magdalene who has not only seen the risen Jesus but spoken with him also. Yet still they are unsure. Still they are afraid. When all the world around them is dark. they are still unsure they can live in the light of the resurrection.
 
Then Jesus appears and they rejoice. Jesus says to them ‘As the Father sent me so I send you.  Receive the Holy Spirit’. We sometimes tell the Easter story as if the joy of new life and resurrection dawns on the disciples all at once. apart from Thomas that is, who is, of course, absent.
 
In the story of Thomas, doubt is given as the opposite of faith. So, John reports Jesus coming back the same time the following week seemingly to put Thomas right. And, despite what Jesus tells Thomas ‘do not doubt but believe’ and ‘blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe’, Thomas comes to faith precisely because he has the courage to voice his doubt!
 
John, of course, has a purpose in focusing on doubt. He writes in the last verses of the chapter that his recording of these events is simply a snapshot of many events which have not been recorded. He records these events so that successive generations may believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and so have the life that comes from faith. This is his reason for the story about Thomas: to doubt is to be human.
 
For Christians doubt might be the opposite of faith but it is not its enemy. As with Thomas, doubt is not a stumbling block it is a stepping-stone on the road to faith as we go in search of what is true in order that we may find it. In these days of panic buying as someone said to me recently faith is not a packet to be lifted from the spiritual shelf. Coming to faith is a process. Coming to faith will take as long as it needs to take. Thomas simply had yet known the transforming power and presence, joy and confidence,
direction and purpose, guidance and inspiration of the risen Christ. But I wonder if there is something more going on here. Because there is not only doubt but fear as well. For me the enemy of faith is not doubt but fear.

We know a lot about fear at the moment – fear of catching the virus - fear of not getting a supermarket delivery - fear of losing my job as businesses shut down albeit temporarily - fear of being on my own - fear of not knowing how long this new way living will last or if things will ever going back to ‘normal’ what normal may be for you.  
Fear is real. It’s not just in the mind; it brings physical symptoms, trembling, physical sickness.  Fear is not just an individual trait. Fear can grip groups of people or whole communities. What we would term mass hysteria can make a group of people behave irrationally as we have seen as people fight over toilet rolls and pasta. It is the disciples fear that has enclosed them behind locked doors made of wood and walls of cold stone. they have no idea of their next move. But Jesus moves through the locked doors and walls and stands among them and says peace be with you. He gives them direction, direction in the task they have to do to bring new life and hope to a confused and hurting world.
 
Many of us are behind closed doors at this time but these are not doors of wood and walls of stone which keep us inward looking. What many of us are learning afresh during this season is that the Jesus who asks Thomas to look and see is the same Jesus who asks you to look and see the gift of God that is alive and present in those who call themselves the people of the resurrection. The challenge of God is that you should take this transforming presence so seriously that not only you believe in it, but that a whole world of hurting and confused people recognise new life and hope, new direction and guidance.
 
This was the appeal of the Church in our Acts reading. When Peter delivers his powerful sermon on the day of Pentecost he does so almost immediately after the Holy Spirit has burst through the closed doors of the upper room. Peter tells his congregation in Jerusalem that the ministry of the resurrected Jesus continues through his followers all in the power of the Holy Spirit for the resurrection of Jesus and the giving of the Holy Spirit are inextricably intertwined
 
The result is a church which lay in its ability to hold together the proclamation of a stunning new message, a church which nurtured its people by explaining what that message means a church that expressed itself in service and care to those living inside and outside its community.
 
I’ve been humbled by the acts of kindness shown to me over the past few weeks - virtual flowers - e-cards - phone calls and Facetime - offers of shopping for essentials - as well as conversations with those ministers and congregation who are getting to grips with technology needed to keep in touch with their communities all practical ways in which the Spirit is helping us to break out to share the light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
 
As we journey on through these disturbing and dark times let God’s Spirit release us from the fears and doubts that keep us behind our closed doors to continue to share the message of the Resurrection that through Jesus . God promises us new life and new life casts our fear. Scarred and wounded we may be but we will be no longer afraid. Jesus is saying to us Peace be with you! My peace I give to you! As one Facebook post says: Churches are not being closed. buildings are being closed. you are the Church!
You are to remain open! Let the light of the resurrection shine through us now and always. Amen.

 (c) 2020 URC

 

Saturday 18 April

Last week the Evangelical Alliance staff team set aside some time to phone more than 4,000 of its church and organisation members, to find out how things were going in these unprecedented and challenging times.

‘These conversations revealed a number of things, chief among them being:

  • Since the restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 were introduced, many churches and charities have swiftly adapted and they continue their ministry and witness online and in practical and safe ways for those who are not shored up digitally.
  • This temporary way of operating has highlighted areas of growth and how time and resources might be invested in future, and churches particularly are excited about the opportunities to strengthen and broaden their ministry.
  • Some charities are squeezed financially and are prayerfully considering how they might weather this storm and come out the other end with their organisation and staff team intact.
  • Some church leaders are feeling the strain as they manage change, the needs of their congregants and loss of life, primarily from their homes, where they don’t have the energy that flows from the physical presence of their church community.’

Please prayer for the UK church using the above pointers, asking that God, the one behind all perfect and good gifts, will give us all we need to remain resilient and resourced during this time, as we continue to serve each other, society and communities around the world.

Friday 17 April

If my mother had been alive, it would have been her 108th birthday today. She died in 1997, having been a Christian for at least 45 years. Like me, she experienced quite a range of Christian denominations, having come to faith in a Pentecostal church then spending many years in the Plymouth Brethren before joining the true church (!) and being confirmed in a wonderful evangelical Anglican church at the age of 80. I remember sitting at her bedside the evening before she died when she was very weak after a number of small strokes, and one of the last, and saddest things she asked me as she lay there was, "Am I really saved?" "Of course you are," I reassured her; she went to be with Jesus early the next morning. But it was upsetting to see that, after 45 years of following Jesus, she still didn't seem to have that assurance that Christ gives us. 

In these difficult and confusing days, and with the lockdown now set to continue for yet another three weeks (and probably longer for the elderly and vulnerable), it's so easy to feel worried, and God can sometimes feel far away. But there are so many reassuring words in the Bible: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you WILL be saved" - not "might be" or "I hope so" but "you WILL". "Lo I am with you always," said Jesus as he ascended to his Father.

I'll leave you today with one of my mother's favourite choruses to lift you up:

No, never alone, no never alone,
He promised never to leave me,
He’ll claim me for His own;
No, never alone, no never alone.
He promised never to leave me,
Never to leave me alone.                        

 

Thursday 16 April

Peter mentioned the YouVersion Bible app yesterday and the encouraging news that many people around the world are looking for answers from the Bible and from Christianity at this time of upheaval and difficulty. Today’s ‘verse of the day’ is from Galatians 5:1: ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.’

Every year I like to go down to London, to the Royal Albert Hall, to sing in the Great Big Chorus ‘Scratch’ Messiah. I have booked for this year (November) and I hope we won’t be in this situation of lockdown then. It is a tremendous occasion with over 3,000 singers trying to raise the roof of the Albert Hall with a full orchestra and four up-and-coming soloists performing. There are many wonderful choruses in Handel’s Messiah, but a high point is, of course, the Hallelujah chorus when all stand for that rousing tune. However, for me, it is the soprano solo that comes after that is the high point: ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.’

These words are from Job 19:25-26. In the midst of Job’s suffering, of no fault of his own, at this point of despair in his life, he speaks of his Redeemer. God will not let him down. ‘I know that my Redeemer lives’ is a great source of comfort to us in times of distress as it points us to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Redeemer. In fact the soprano solo in the ‘Messiah’ finishes with the words: ‘For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first-fruits of them that sleep.’ May knowing our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, is risen from the dead bring us comfort today and set us free to live for Him. May we know the freedom to share His love and grace with others we might meet on our daily walk or on line today.

Wednesday 15 April

One of my favourite apps on my phone is the YouVersion Bible app. It's free and it gives you access to 61 different English translations of the Bible, a wealth of study plans, a verse for the day and daily prayers. I don't think there's a day goes by when I don't refer to it. It really is worth downloading. It's available for all mobile phones but not, unfortunately, computers. They also send out encouraging emails from time to time, and I thought you might like to read today's reflection:

"You’re staying inside as much as possible, practising social distancing, and checking in on family, friends, and neighbours. Meanwhile… 

Something historic is happening.

While we’re all facing challenges in the middle of a global pandemic, what you may not realize is that we’re also experiencing a season of great spiritual awakening. All over the world, people are searching for answers and hope. And what millions are finding is an invitation into a relationship with God

During the past six weeks we’ve witnessed God moving in amazing ways as we saw the largest engagement increase ever, with more people searching the Bible for hope and peace, sharing Bible verses and Verse Images with others, and engaging in God’s Word with their families through the Bible App for Kids. And we’ve seen more than 1.6 million prayers added in just the last month. Our volunteer community is more involved than ever too, offering their time and talents to serve the global YouVersion Community. 

“YouVersion has given me access to the Bible, increasing my relationship with God and allowing me to connect with His Word every single day. It’s such a blessing to have and I’m so thankful to be reminded of good messages in troubling times.” - Imani S

But it’s only the beginning.

We know that God wants to do so much more as He continues to draw people closer from all over the world. So many people will point back to this chapter in history as a defining moment in their relationship with God. This work matters now, and it matters in eternity.

And you can be a part of it.

We wholeheartedly believe that a daily rhythm of seeking intimacy with God has the power to transform lives. Our hope is that each person in our community is on a vital journey to become who God made them to be, abiding in Him, and drawing closer every day. We recognize that there are many needs in our communities today, and we’re continuing to pray together for our world and for people who are struggling financially

We are honoured to be helping guide people from every country on Earth to seek our amazing, loving God every single day."

Tuesday 14 April

‘Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that He had said these things to her.

‘On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After He said this, He showed them His hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

‘Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.” And with that He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”’ (John 20: 18-22).

The reflection from Lectio 365 seems so relevant in today’s situation:

‘It’s not surprising that the disciples were afraid and had locked themselves away. The threat of discovery by the very authorities who’d orchestrated Jesus’ execution must have felt very real.

‘When Jesus arrives, He doesn’t call them outside or knock on the door. Instead, He appears inside the room; He meets them in their fear and greets them in peace.

‘It’s strange reflecting on this passage while I am in lock down. I am staying in my home, behind locked doors not to hide like the disciples, but to protect myself and others from the spread of Covid 19. Fear itself can sometimes feel like a locked room that is hard to mentally or emotionally escape from. What fears are containing me at present? Jesus, I ask You to break into the place of my fear and bring Your peace.’

Twice Jesus greets the disciples with the words, ‘Peace be with you,’ and calm descends on the disciples. It’s the word ‘Shalom’, which means far more than just peace. It can mean salvation and the risen Jesus shows the disciples His hands and His feet, a sign of the reconciliation He has made through the cross. And then He breathes over them the Holy Spirit. Jesus, I pray that  I would know Your peace in my life today and may I receive the power of Your Holy Spirit to live my life for You.

 

Monday 13 April

Welcome to Easter Week: Christ is risen, He is risen indeed! Hallelujah! Yesterday was the strangest Easter Sunday, wasn't it? I think it was probably the only Easter Sunday in my long life when I haven't been celebrating Jesus's resurrection in church with fellow-Christians. Nevertheless, it was really good, knowing that, wherever we were, even in isolation, we were united together across the town and across the world with brothers and sisters celebrating in their own quiet ways, or tuning in to one or more of the many podcasts and streamed services around the globe. I know some people have criticised Christian denominations for closing their church buildings, but we don't need a building to pray; we don't need a building to worship; with technology, we don't even need a building to meet together. After all, the early church didn't have buildings for years! They met in homes, so probably in quite small groups to begin with. When Jesus ascended to his Father, some of his final recorded words were, "I am with you always." So, whether you're with your extended family, or just with your partner, or with some housemates, or on your own, Jesus's words are for you: He is with you and, because of what he suffered on the cross, he understands your isolation better than anyone. After all, as he hung on the cross, he cried out, "My God, why have you abandoned me?" He know isolation in a way that we don't have to, because God has not abandoned us: "I am with you, even to the end of the ages." Thank you, God!

Saturday 11 April

I always find the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday a strange and difficult day, but particularly this year. We seem to be living in a perpetual Easter Saturday, between life and death, between death and life. I found the following helpful from Danny Webster, Head of public policy at Evangelical Alliance.

‘In the darkness between Jesus’ death on the cross and His rising from the grave there was Saturday. It was a day of mourning. The disciples who had put down their fishing nets to follow Him were left bereft. 

‘The night before Jesus’ death He prayed in the garden and asked His Father to take this cup from Him. But only if that was His will. Jesus didn’t want to go through with this; He wondered if there was another way, a way out, an easier option, a way that could avoid the darkness. He had been betrayed. The authorities had decided that this man who claimed to be from God should be silenced.

‘And on Holy Saturday we remember that silence. The Bible tells us nothing about what happened on that day. Perhaps the religious leaders, keen to protect their purity on the Sabbath, hurried Him off the cross and into the pristine tomb donated for His body. Did they want this finished so they could enjoy their festival? 

‘Some of Jesus’ disciples would have cried, some would have fallen silent, others were in shock or angry or just walked away. The one who they believed was the Son of God was now gone. The distance between them seemed impenetrable. Jesus was torn from the Father He had known from the start, the distance that He felt being without His Father as He bore the weight of all our sin and shame. That distance can be how it feels when we cry out in prayer and we hear nothing back but the echo of our voice. 

‘When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, calling on God to take this cup from Him, He was not pretending to be more spiritual than He was. He wanted to avoid having to die. How often we want to avoid things. We pray to God for something and it can seem like He rejects our pleas. We cling on to what we want. We hold onto the life we know. 

‘But we can know that the King who died on Friday, was silent on Saturday, rose to glorious life on Sunday. The resurrection changes everything, but we can neither skip over the death of Friday nor the darkness of Saturday. Pain is real, grief is among us, and we cannot rush lament.

‘Our non-anxious presences isn’t a glib or flippant sense that there is nothing to see here – we’ll all be fine soon enough. It is a robust sense that even with the hardness and challenges of the presence, even amid the deaths and pain we are experiencing, we know that God is King and He casts out all fear. 

‘As a church we can confidently be assured of the goodness of God and the protection of His everlasting arms. And we can know why this is true despite what we are seeing around us. Our compassion should be in overdrive, as we follow God’s command not to fear. Our hope should be firmly in Jesus as we proclaim Him as the Risen King, as we declare to death that it has lost its sting.’

A poem from Graeme McMeekin from Tearfund:

‘Between Friday and Sunday, is Saturday,

Between death and resurrection, is mourning,

Between uncertainty and certainty, is faith,

Between pain and celebration, is hope,

Between loneliness and community, is love.’

A Prayer: Lord, for those in the midst of uncertainty, pain and loneliness, grant them faith, hope and love. Amen.

Good Friday 10 April

This is the last of Joyce Meyer's Holy Week reflections:

Second Chances

The miraculous lesson of Easter is this: Through Jesus Christ’s death on the Cross and Resurrection, we have been granted a second chance. We have permission to leave our old lives behind and focus on the new day, with all its potential for joy and choices that honour God. 

Our God is the God of “do-overs,” second chances, fresh starts and new beginnings. And He doesn’t have any limit on how many you can have. But sometimes, we lose sight of what God can do because of something in the past. We’re stuck, unable to move forward with the wonderful plans He so desperately wants to reveal to us.

Because Jesus lives, we can have a new attitude toward ourselves. We can live amazed by His great love for us—that even when we’re at our worst, He still chose to die for us so we could be made right with Him (see Romans 5:17). Let that sink in for a moment. Jesus died for our sins and is alive today to help us grow closer to Him and be changed by His Word and His Spirit. 

Do you need a second chance? Ask God for one...or a third chance, fourth or fifth—whatever you need. God is full of mercy and is longsuffering. His loving kindness never fails or comes to an end (see Psalm 100:5).

God is a God of new beginnings and fresh starts! 

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions...(Ephesians 2:4-5 NIV). 

Luke 18:27 (NIV) says, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” Think of an area in your life right now where you need a second chance—a “do-over.” Then take some time to write down some of your favourite scriptures that remind you of God’s mercy and love for you. Ask God to speak to your heart and build your faith as you study. Then, grab a journal and write down the ways you see God working in your life.

PRAYER:

God, I know it doesn’t do me any good to hang on to my mistakes when You lovingly stand before me with a fresh chance, so I let go of all the wrongs I’ve done. Take my sins and make me clean. I give it all to You, excited to see the beauty that You will bring from them. In Jesus’s Name, amen.

It’s time to experience Christ’s love and embrace a brand-new beginning in Him. 

Maundy Thursday 9 April

Today's reflection is the third of Joyce Meyer's Holy Week reflections:

You Can Trust God

The days between the death of Jesus and His resurrection must have been some of the most uncertain days for His disciples. Matthew 17:22-23 says that the disciples were filled with grief just hearing Jesus talk about his crucifixion. 

There are times in our own lives when we feel uncertain or fearful, and that’s actually when we need to trust God and His timing the most. But it’s hard for us to remember that His timing is perfect and it rarely matches ours. 

God sees and understands what we do not. We have a choice. We can “rely on our own insight and understanding”—endlessly thinking about our problems, trying to figure everything out ourselves—or we can believe God has a plan and will work it out.

Without trusting God, we will always be striving to "make things happen" in our own strength. We must remember God not only has a plan for our lives, but He also knows the perfect timing for each aspect of it. 

God is working—often in ways we cannot see—to bring His plans to pass in our lives in the best possible ways. Once we’ve asked God to help us, our part is to let Him speak to our heart through prayer and reading His Word. Then we can make decisions based on what He’s leading us to do, not just what we want, think or feel. 

No matter what you do—no matter what you see or don’t see—always remember that God is with you. In all your ways, submit to Him, and He’ll make your paths straight (see Proverbs 3:6).  

Prayer: 

Father, I know that Your timing is perfect, even when I don’t understand everything that’s going on or how things will work out. Help me to patiently wait on You and learn to enjoy each and every moment of my life, knowing that You are in complete control. In Jesus’s Name, amen.

Wednesday 8 April

I hope we can all find a moment today to pray for the Prime Minister, still in intensive care, and for all those who are desperately ill; whatever our politics, we don't wish this virus on anyone, and we do pray for his speedy recovery.

Today's reflection is the second of Joyce Meyer's Holy Week reflections:

Jesus forgave all of our sins when He died on the cross. Even as He was hanging there, 

He was forgiving. And because He loved us so much, Jesus  willingly gave Himself, so we could experience forgiveness and have a personal relationship with God if we believe (see Romans 5:8 and John 3:16).

Forgiving others can be difficult, especially when we’ve been seriously hurt by those who are close to us. But with God’s help, we can choose to obey His Word and forgive rather than follow our feelings. Jesus was tormented—mocked, beaten and betrayed—yet through it all He was still able to forgive because of His love for us.  

Jesus’s own disciple Judas betrayed Him, and His disciple and close friend Peter denied Him. He also endured other forms of rejection and pain and was no stranger to suffering. Yet in Luke 6:27-28 (ESV), He said, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

When someone hurts us, we can follow Jesus’s example of forgiveness as His Spirit enables us to love and forgive the way He does. If we trust God and choose to forgive, He will take care of the rest. Even when it’s hard, everything God asks us to do is ultimately for our good. 

When Peter asked Him how often he needed to forgive those who had wronged him, thinking seven times would be enough, Jesus answered, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times”(Matthew 18:22 ESV). This means it’s something we should do as many times as people need it.

The truth is, when we forgive, we’re actually doing ourselves a favor. When we decide to forgive and pray for God to bless our enemies and love them like Jesus loves them, God is faithful and He will change our heart as we keep doing what’s right according to His Word. 

Prayer: 

Thank You, Father, for Your mercy and forgiveness. Help me, in turn, to forgive those who have hurt me and to release any bitterness and resentment that I might be holding on to. In Jesus’s Name, amen.

 

Tuesday 7 April

I received an email from the Evangelical Alliance today, that I'd like to share with you:

Subject: Are you ready for The Comeback?
"Our gift of hope to the UK church

These are unprecedented times. Many of us may feel worried for ourselves and vulnerable members of our communities, but at this moment in our world’s history we wanted to bring a message of hope to you and your church. As God’s people, we know that whatever darkness we might be feeling now, Easter is just around the corner. It’s a time to remember Jesus, the light of the world, making a way out of darkness for us. While you may not be leading an Easter gathering this year, we still want to give you an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus with those inside and outside your church community. This is why we’ve created, The Comeback.

>>> Click Here <<<

Pass it on to parishioners, post it on your church website, share it on social media, email it to your congregation. However you choose to use it, this video is our gift to you. We are with you and for you in this season, and our prayer is that we would still be making Jesus known together. 
Blessings,
Eve Paterson
Great Commission lead"

 

Monday 6 April

Good morning, everyone. Thanks to those who joined us for yesterday's podcast. It was good to know that some of us were able to worship together, even if only through the wonders of digital communication. Here is a reflection by Joyce Meyer, as we enter into Holy Week:

As we look forward to the Easter holiday, it’s beneficial for us to focus on what took place over the days leading up to the Resurrection. In Luke chapter 22, Jesus was having what is commonly called the Last Supper with His disciples. The Bible says that one of His disciples whom He loved was leaning on His chest, describing a closeness between the two (see John 13:23 AMP).

We can have the same closeness with Jesus. In fact, John 15:4 says that we should “abide” in Him. To abide in Christ means we “live, dwell and remain” with Him—we spend time with Him in His Word and in prayer, living in His presence—because every day we need fresh strength from Him. 

It’s important for us to realize that we can do nothing apart from Him. We may try to be self-sufficient, but we need to let God supply the grace and ability to do what we need to do. 

Too many times, we see what’s wrong with ourselves and try to fix it through our own strength. Or we try to change our spouse, our family, our friends, or our circumstances. But having a personal relationship with Christ means we can completely depend on Him—taking all the weight off ourselves and putting it all on Him. 

It can be as simple as saying, “God, I need You. I am nothing without You, and I can do nothing without You.” These are powerful confessions because nothing is impossible for God. 

Saturday 4 April

The article below came into my in-box a couple of days ago:

On Being Overwhelmed | Connecting with Culture

'It was Harold Wilson who allegedly said that ‘a week is a long time in politics’. In these recent momentous days, it looks as if that should be reduced to five minutes.

'In the space of a very short time, life has been turned upside-down. Work, school, family life, daily routines, leisure activities, as well as that number one pastime – shopping – have changed for all of us, almost overnight.

'It’s easy to see why our nation – nay, our world – is uneasy. You may feel it yourself, identify it in friends and colleagues, or see it reflected in your social media feeds. We’re experiencing what theologian David Ford has called ‘multiple overwhelmings’. Whether personally, professionally, or politically, it’s one thing to have a single event that knocks us off our feet. But what if the knocks continue to come thick and fast? Is it any wonder we’re confused, anxious, distrustful, and fearful?

'In all this, though, shafts of light manage to break through – the neighbours forming WhatsApp groups to support people in their street, the already-exhausted NHS workers coming in for the next shift, the rainbows in windows of houses saying more than the occupants of those homes perhaps know about the commitment of God to his creation.

'They’re all traces of grace, showing something of a refusal to be shaped by the prevailing culture, which Christians of all people should understand. Because while some ‘overwhelmings’ wound and crush us, others are life-giving and transformative. As David Ford says, the wisest way to cope is ‘not to expect to be in control of everything’, but ‘to live amidst the overwhelmings’ in a way that lets one of them shape the others.

'During this period of Lent, Christians remember that Christ himself embodied ‘multiple overwhelmings’ – baptised in the Jordan, driven into the wilderness, tempted by the devil. Then, at the climax of his life, betrayed, deserted, tortured, crucified. But, as Ford writes, ‘then came the resurrection, the most disorienting and transformative overwhelming of all’.

'Given that death-and-resurrection pattern, what would it look like at this time to be overwhelmed with an assurance of God’s love? Overwhelmed with gratitude? Overwhelmed by generosity? Overwhelmed by a commitment to pray? Overwhelmed by a desire to see others thrive, even if it comes at our expense?

'Given the resources available to us in the gospel, what might we be overwhelmed by today?'

Antony Billington (Theology Advisor, London Institute of Contemporary Christianity)

Friday 3 April

One of the questions people are already asking is, what will church look like when we come out of this Coronavirus crisis? One of the things we're all having to learn is that church doesn't depend on a building, because WE ARE CHURCH, and we're doing church today outside the walls of Riverside. Here's a poem by a fine contemporary Christian poet which challenges us to ask whether we're spending our time worrying about what we do inside the building whilst forgetting what's going on beyond the walls.

Home Improvements (by Geoffrey Rust)

You can’t trust anyone these days.

Take this Jesus.

Seemed OK,

We asked him in,

just being neighbourly, the way you do.

 

Over dinner he was pleasant enough

apart from an annoying habit

of turning the small talk into conversation.

Even seemed keen to hear about

our plans for home improvements.

 

This was the big mistake.

When it came down to it

he wasn’t really interested

in the kitchen units

or the bathroom tiles

or the artificial ceiling in the lounge,

but kept peering into cupboards uninvited

(as if we had dry rot)

and prizing up the edges of the carpet

(as if we had woodworm)

 

and finally disappeared into the cellar

(heaven knows what he found down there)

emerging with a hammer

and a pickaxe

and a pocketful of drawings

and smiling in a most alarming way said,

I’ve just had a much better idea 

and started smashing down the walls.

Thursday 2 April

The following is part of today's daily reflection from Lectio 365:

'Today I am reflecting on how the Lord led the Israelites out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land. The Lord sets the direction and actively leads His people on this journey.

'Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. After three days the officers went throughout the camp, giving orders to the people: "When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits between you and the ark; do not go near it". Joshua told the people, "Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you"  (Joshua 3:1-5).

'The ark of the covenant was God's "dwelling place", and it preceded the Israelites into the Promised Land. Wherever the Lord asks His people to go, He goes first. It helps me to remember, whenever I feel alone and lost in my own wilderness, that God is not only with me, He walks ahead of me. He won't ask me to go anywhere He hasn't already gone.

'Where are You asking me to go Lord? I ask You to show me the next step in my journey, and to begin leading me there. Pause and pray'

 

This comes from Lectio 365 from the 24/7 prayer network and is downloadable to your phone, tablet and computer for free. It includes a Psalm, Bible reading, reflection and prayers. You can either read it for yourself or listen to the recording. Personally, I find the music that goes with the reflection rather distracting, so have taken to reading it.

 

Wednesday 1 April

"Hello, hello, hello: what have we here?

 

I hope you can laugh with me at this: I'm absolutely sure that Jesus had a great sense of humour...and it's something we all need to get us through these difficult times.

Here's a lovely Celtic blessing from the poet John O'Donohue:

May you awaken to the mystery of being here and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence. May you have joy and peace in the temple of your senses. May you receive great encouragement when new frontiers beckon. May you respond to the call of your gift and find the courage to follow its path. May the flame of anger free you from falsity. May warmth of heart keep your presence aflame and may anxiety never linger about you. May your outer dignity mirror an inner dignity of soul. May you take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek no attention. May you be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul. May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.   John O'Donohue

Tuesday 31 March

Not surprisingly, I heard over last weekend that our trip to Lee Abbey in June has been cancelled. It's sad but not unexpected. I, as a former member of the Community and a Friend of Lee Abbey, share in their 'Rule of Life'. Today's portion is based on Philippians 4: 11-12:

'I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.'' 

Paul wasn't speaking lightly when he shared these words with the Philippian Christians. He was probably in prison or under house arrest in Rome at the time and yet he had learned to be content in all circumstances. The Lee Abbey portion continues:

'Many people believe success and contentment are found through possessions, position in life, a large bank balance or satisfying personal desire. Lasting contentment is to be found in Jesus as we enjoy the assurance of His loving presence. We can know contentment despite our outward circumstances. Contentment is a gift from God: it becomes our experience when we learn to accept everything that comes our way as an opportunity for God to reveal more of His redeeming love.'

At this time let us pray that hearts will be softened to the Gospel of God's redeeming love. Please keep interceding for those who are on the front line of the battle against Covid - 19 who are struggling with their fears and also for the poor in many countries who are the most vulnerable.

John Newton wrote this hymn:

Great Shepherd of Thy people, hear; Thy presence now display; as Thou hast given a place for prayer, so give us hearts to pray.

May we in faith receive Thy word, in faith present our prayers; and in the presence of our Lord unburden all our cares.

The feeling heart, the seeing eye, the humble mind bestow; and shine upon us from on high, that we in grace may grow.

Monday 30 March

Did you find it as strange as I did not having a church service to go to yesterday morning? It was good to have Robert's first podcast, and many thanks to Jeff and Allan for making this possible. Perhaps it's good to be reminded that being church doesn't depend on having a building to go to every Sunday; we're all learning to be church in more remote ways through emails, phone calls and social media. The following email reflection dropped into my inbox this week from a fellow-Christian in Sheffield; I hope it chimes with you...and you might like to reflect on the question at the end! 

Waking up, turn on Radio 4, wall to wall coronavirus news, reminding me that I am now a vulnerable person since passing the Rubicon age of 70. Pah, nonsense! What about my mother, soon to be 103? But she is in lockdown in her care home and I won’t be able to sit with her for quite some time. No more Pointless at 5.15, to watch with her. Instead I sit at home and see Boris Johnson at that time. (just as pointless, I muse).   After breakfast (and more radio 4) I paint a garden fence. I am going to have the most cared-for garden since Adam delved and Eve span. Such a beautiful spring day here in Sheffield and I glimpse the Derbyshire hills from the top of the house but being discouraged to go walking in tourist areas, I settle for more gardening.  I am about to go out in the car ( it’s OK: I am using the exception of caring for a vulnerable person i.e. mum.) The virus would surely be the end of her. The most I can do is post a letter through the box at the care home, ring a staff member who brings her to the window and we wave to each other.   On the way back through the deserted streets of the city (today 106 confirmed cases out of a population of 582,506), past the closed shops and unusually quiet pavements, I am reminded of what it was like when I was a boy in the 1950s on Good Friday. Nothing then was open save the corner shop selling the papers. Off I went to sing Matins in the church choir, the church pretty full. The Benedicite. O All ye Works of the Lord , Bless Ye the Lord…….   Did this same Lord create the coronavirus which to date has killed over 20,000 people, I wonder? It’s the kind of question my smart grandson, aged nearly 5, might ask me when we Facetime later….. Please Teddy, no awkward questions today to grandad – but you might want that debate!

 

Saturday 28 March

I found this from the magazine, just produced today, from one of my former churches. 'Wishing you many positive experiences, and even fun times, in this pause from normal living – new bonds with neighbours perhaps, innovative ways to communicate and enjoy everything from solitary line-dancing to virtual choral singing in your kitchen. This is a wonderful opportunity to read all those books, get back to those favourite pastimes that seem to get shouldered out by the pressures of modern life, and perhaps even learn new skills, like my little friend here: (Picture of little dog reading a newspaper which I cannot produce here unfortunately)'.

There will be Podcast on the Riverside Church website tomorrow from 10am for you to listen to - www.riversidesleaford.org.uk It lasts about 14 minutes and can be found on a new 'podcast' page. There are a couple of songs, a reading, an explanation and prayer. (click here: Podcasts)

There are some very useful websites which are allowing us to download material. They include the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity - www.licc.org.uk  HOPE - www.hopetogether.org.uk Christianity Explored - www.christianityexplored.org Bible Society - www.biblesociety.org.uk  The Bible Society have produced some good material for Easter which can be downloaded for free, including children's material. Please have a read.

If you want local council information in your inbox then try www.n-kesteven.gov.uk/stayconnected

Friday 27 March

One of the most depressing books in the Bible is Lamentations. The book is partly a lament mourning the desertion of Jerusalem by God, its destruction, and partly a funeral dirge in which the bereaved bewails and addresses the dead. The tone is bleak: God does not speak, the degree of suffering is presented as undeserved, and expectations of future redemption are minimal. It's the last book you'd want to read when we're in the middle of a global pandemic! But right at the heart of the book, when everything looks as bleak as it can possibly be, the writer pens these words; "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul, 'therefore I will hope in him.' The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord." Isn't that so encouraging? I'm reminded of a verse I heard many years ago: "Two men looked out through prison bars, one saw mud, the other stars." We've only had one week of isolation, but we could have many more before social distancing is relaxed, and we may well feel depressed and stir crazy; but there is hope: we will come through this; so, in the meantime, "God is here, He is near us, in our hearts in our lives, in our midst. He is here, he is near us, Calling us to trust in Him."

Thursday 26 March

Paul writes to the Ephesians (Ch 3: 14-21):

'For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.'
 
These verses have always meant a lot to me through good times and difficult. In these uncharted waters that we are going through in this nation and in the world, these verses remind us again that our rock and foundation is Jesus, in Jesus alone.
  • Hebrews 9:28

    “so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”

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