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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.
 
Wednesday 25 March

I hope you're all bearing up in these extraordinary times. We're all having to learn new ways to occupy ourselves and bring a different sort of structure to our lives. Between ourselves, the leaders are hoping to keep in touch with as many of you as we can by phone and through email. Let's all take time to phone or email friends: it's better to have several people calling you than no one! The Riverside email group is a way of getting news and prayer requests round a good number of the church. A special shout out to mums and dads who are now home-schooling their children. I expect the first few days may be quite fun, but I reckon you'll soon get to appreciate teachers more than ever! There's lots of support on the BBC, and don't forget Worship for everyone Facebook page at 4:00 this afternoon for some fun family worship.

It must be very stressful being the leader of a country at the moment. Finally, here's a prayer for our leaders in different areas of our lives. You might like to use it during your prayer time today. Every blessing to you all.

Heavenly Father, All authority is Yours, but you have given authority to leaders to lead and guide us. Today, we ask that You would give all our leaders wisdom, discernment, strength, and resolve. Keep them healthy, safe, and rested so that they can continue to guide us through this troubling time. Give our government leaders wisdom about what needs to be done to stop the virus and stabilize our economy. Give our spiritual leaders Your discernment on how to meet people’s needs as they continue to glorify Your name and encourage the Church. Give our medical leaders insight into how to stop the virus. Strengthen their resolve and honor their hard work in creating a treatment for COVID-19. Give our civic leaders inspiration, courage, joy, and strength to meet the needs of their communities. And help us, as leaders in our communities, to display courage, hope, generosity, and kindness. Would the way we honor others inspire those around us. In Jesus’ name, Amen

Tuesday 24 March

Many thanks to Peter for starting this daily sharing and reflection. Kerry and I send you greetings and our love in Jesus at this difficult time. It's a strange feeling for everyone, and yet it has been amazing how many, many people have been ready to help one another; a phone call, a note through the door or an email.

Some churches have been able to stream their services on-line and Word Alive, a large conference in the West Country, which has been cancelled, are putting past services on their website starting on Sunday 29th March - www.wordaliveevent.org There are many other on-line provisions for Christians at this time, some of which Peter and others have shared. We are hoping that we will be able to produce a podcast on the website for Sunday mornings.

In Matthew 6:33-34 (NIV), Jesus says, 'Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.' The problem that we all experience at such times as these is that we focus on the 'what if's'; what might happen next, how will we cope. Jesus encourages us to look firstly to Him and then live each day as it comes. He promised to be with us as He was with the disciples in the boat on the lake in the storm.

Paul blessed the Thessalonians (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 NIV): 'May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.'

Monday 23 March

An article was forwarded to Margaret today by a very good friend of hers. It's written by someone who, through chronic illness, has had to be isolated for long periods of time and who reflects on how she has coped with it. It's quite long, so, over the coming days, we'll include some extracts from it and I hope that, in our current situation, you may find something of help and comfort. If you want to read the whole piece, it's at  www.bimblings.co.uk/2020/03/15/inside-a-guide/

JOY

When life is full of horrible things, it can be easy to stop seeing the good that endures. 

Joy doesn’t need to exist instead of sadness, pain or anxiety, it can exist alongside it.

Tuning your mind and your eye to spot the joy and beauty around you in every moment takes practice, but it’s worth it. It helps your brain and your body feel safer, calmer, and more optimistic. It is good to remind yourself that even if you carry a lot of pain or fear, right now, right in this moment, you are OK.

Taking photographs of the things you notice and/or writing them down can help.

My tea tastes good. A blackbird is singing. The early morning light is making soft shadows on my desk.

Make it a challenge to collect as many moments like this as you can. Make it like a game. Post them on social media, or share them privately, back and forth, with somebody that you love. When the days feel bleak, look back and remind yourself and each other: there was good here too. There will always be good things around you. You will always have the freedom to enjoy them, even if it’s only for a moment.

A caveat, however: don’t use beauty and gratitude like junk food, shoveling it in till you feel numb, or as a wall to block out the rest of the world. This isn’t about papering over reality or escaping from anything — that only does more harm than good. A good way to do it is to honour what’s happening or how you’re feeling first, then add a positive.

I’m feeling really scared today, but I just noticed the way the sky shifted from purple to blue and it made my heart lift.

Make space for both.

If you do nothing else at all, open your windows. Put an extra jumper on if need be, but let the fresh air in.

 

Sunday 22 March

I tried recording a short talk for this morning, but, unfortunately, my technology doesn't enable me to upload it! I'm looking for advice so that we might be able to find ways of doing it in the future. Had we been in church, we'd be looking at the Parable of the Talents. Here's the NIV text:

(The Kingdom of God) will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.
The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

A few thoughts for you to reflect on this morning:                                                                                                                                                                  

1) We've always used this parable to talk about how we use our gifts and talents in God's service. The NIV makes it clear that this parable was actually about the use of money. How does that affect your reading of the parable?   2) Is there a message here to us about how we as Christians use our money? Is there a message to those who stockpile during this crisis?   3) This parable was once presented by a theologian to a Jewish audience to see how they might respond. Two things emerged: first, they couldn't understand how the master here could be God, as it describes him as a hard master who harvested where he hadn't sown, which seems very unloving and ungodlike; and second, they thought the third servant deserved commendation, because the other two were obsessed with making more and more money, whereas this servant refused to be caught up in the capitalist desire to acquire more and more! What do you think about that? 

Saturday 21 March

As I mentioned on Thursday, Becky and Nick are streaming a short family worship today at 4:00pm. If you click on the link below, it'll take you to their Facebook page where you can listen in.

https://www.facebook.com/worshipforeveryone/photos/gm.2463041647339207/2385262298241221/?type=3

Worship for everyone Facebook page

Churches Together in England are calling for a day of prayer tomorrow, and they suggest that, as well as finding a few moments during the day to pray, we might put a candle in our windows at 7:00pm as a symbol of our solidarity and the light shining in the darkness. Here's a short prayer you could join in with:

Loving Heavenly Father, You know what we are each going through. Some of us are isolated and feeling lonely; some of us are frightened because our health is not good; some of us panic when we think we might be short of food. Many of us are generally anxious. Thank you that you understand and don't condemn. Help us, today, to sense your everlasting arms, encircling and enfolding us. Help us to feel held and safe. What we pray for ourselves, we pray for people everywhere, in whatever circumstances they find themselves. We pray this in the name of Jesus, Amen.

 

Friday 20 March

If you copy the whole of the link below and paste it into your internet search, it will take you to the Facebook page for a Primary School in Norfolk; I guarantee it will cheer you up today! 

https://nam05.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2F1113312978814547%2Fposts%2F2040457576100078%2F%3Fvh%3De%26d%3Dn&data=02%7C01%7C%7Cdedb056f059145baed7a08d7ccc2605c%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C637203007514872663&sdata=t7bqz1w1%2FrNN6%2FqpZHREg8KIoT0%2BCJzk4%2FMRQvlZKfI%3D&reserved=0

or click hereBrooke Primary - Video

Thursday 19 March

We're very conscious that many people will feel isolated and may be very worried during this difficult period, and not being able to meet regularly with your church family only adds to this sense of isolation. We'd really encourage you to keep in touch with one another either by regular phone calls, or, if you have smart phones, to use Facetime to speak to each other.

On Sunday, there is a National Day of Prayer. May we encourage you to find just a few moments during the day to pray for our country, for all those on the frontline who put themselves at risk every day to care for those who are suffering from this frightening virus, and for all those who are sick , in isolation or are afraid.

If you're missing worship, there are lots of online resources that you could access. Here are just a few:

If you can access podcasts or apps, you could try:   

There's a great family worship service every Wednesday and Saturday at 4:00pm on the Worship for Everyone Facebook page, also available at Worship for Everyone on YouTube. It's run by Nick and Becky Drake and their family; Nick and Becky write many of the all-age songs we use in church.

We'll try to put something each day on this page as a reflection or a prayer to help you through these difficult days. So, for today:

Dear God, I feel alone. Please bring the warmth of relationships into my life, even if it's only by email or phone.  Please cover my thoughts with hope.  Please send your love into my heart.  I know you are alive in all I experience.  May the birdsong sing to my soul, may the trees remind me of life, may the bread I eat nourish my soul with its goodness as I connect with the world around me. I give thanks for all those who love me, for all those who care.  Help me to receive your love in my heart, to embrace your life flowing in mine. I know I live and breathe as part of your family and dwell safely in you. I know you understand me. I am not alone. Amen                                                          

 

 

  • Hebrews 10:30-31

    “For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.”It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

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