Praying for the Persecuted Church

There are many countries in the world today where life can be difficult for Christians. In these countries both individual believers and the church face persecution for their faith.  For those Christians who live in Muslim countries Ramadan can be especially tough and challenging for them.

We may at times feel helpless to know how we can assist and support our fellow Christians in their struggles. One thing we can do though is to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ. But what should we pray?

Open Doors is an organisation that works to supports the persecuted church throughout the world. There are many resources available on their website to help us in praying for our fellow Christians.

They also have a prayer diary and the following five prayers are taken from this month’s issue in which some of the prayers focus on Christians in Muslim countries during Ramadan.

  • Ramadan is a lonely time for many believers from Muslim backgrounds, especially those who must keep their faith secret. Many feel intimated because they are not fasting. Pray that isolated believers will know the Lord’s comfort and be strengthened in their faith.
  • There is an urgent need for Christians who can stand by  believers from Muslim backgrounds, to model the Christian life to them. Pray that churches will be places where  believers from Muslim backgrounds are warmly welcomed and receive the love and care they need – especially during Ramadan.
  • Believers from Muslim backgrounds often visit their families during Ramadan in Malaysia, but these visits can be incredibly difficult, as not every family member supports their decision to follow  Christ. Pray for wisdom for these believers and ask God to use them to open the hearts of their families to the love of Jesus.
  • Pray for wisdom and boldness for Christians in Muslim majority areas looking for ways to share the love of Christ with their Muslim neighbours during Ramadan. Pray that many Muslims will begin their journey towards Jesus as a result of their witness.
  • A Christian in Indonesia was rejected by his family when he became a believer, but he still plans to visit them this Ramadan because he wants them to know about Jesus. Pray for courage and protection as he shares the good news and ask the Holy Spirit to prepare the hearts of his children and relatives to receive the seed of the gospel.

Open Doors do a very good job in supporting the persecuted church and if this is something that interests you I would highly recommend that you explore their website

The Road to Emmaus

Devastated! That is how I felt. I had hoped that he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. But our dreams were cruelly shattered. It was over.

Last Sunday when he rode into Jerusalem it seemed like my dream was shortly going to be fulfilled. Israel would at last be redeemed and set free. The crowds had cheered him into the city. Yet by Friday the crowd were crying for his crucifixion. He died later that day. All my hopes and aspirations were shattered.

I decided to remain in Jerusalem until Sunday before returning home. Just before leaving, some women from our group of his followers, came back from visiting his tomb and said his body was missing. They reported that they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive. A few of our men ran out to the tomb and confirmed on their return that the body was indeed missing.

Hearing this news left me perplexed. I did not know what to do. I eventually decided to head back home and set out with Cleopas to walk to the village of Emmaus. It was time to rebuild my life again.

As we walked along the road discussing everything that had happened, we both felt sad and confused about the events of the last week. Shortly after our journey began, we noticed a man walking alongside us. He asked us what we were talking about and we told him about our hopes that Jesus was the Messiah and how he had been crucified. We also told him too about what the women and men had seen when visiting the tomb.

The stranger then started explaining the scriptures to us showing how they had predicted the Messiah would suffer before entering his glory. He went through the writings of Moses and all the prophets explaining from the scriptures the things concerning himself. As he spoke, I could feel my heart burning within me. Hope was being renewed in my heart.

We had almost reached Emmaus and the end of our journey. The stranger though appeared to be going on. Cleopas and I asked him to stay the night with us as it was now getting late. He agreed and we sat down to eat. And then it happened! The stranger broke bread and blessed it, suddenly we recognised who he was. At that same moment he disappeared.

Looking at each other we both knew that we had been with Jesus, walking and talking with him along the road to Emmaus. Jesus who had been crucified three days ago was alive. He had risen from the dead. The joy that flooded our souls was incredible. No more were our dreams shattered. Our hope had been restored. There was a purpose for living.

Very soon we were on the way back to Jerusalem to report this wonderful news to Jesus’ other followers. I would never forget that day. It totally changed my life. Our Lord has risen from the dead and this changes everything.

Find the Body!

Today has been the worst day of my life. I, Caiaphas the High Priest, presumed all our problems had been solved when they crucified Jesus of Nazareth last Friday. We watched him die on that cross and saw the Roman soldier pierce his side with a spear, witnessing the blood and water flowing out of his dead body. Jesus had died on the cross and we stayed to the end of the crucifixion to make sure that was so. There is no doubt whatsoever about that. He died.

After his death we followed Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus as they carried the dead body to the tomb in which he was to be buried. We saw they rolled a large stone across the tomb. I doubt that even Samson could have rolled that stone away!

However, we were still sightly nervous. Jesus had told the crowds that after three days he would rise from the dead. Some of us feared that his disciples might steal the body and tell everyone that he was raised from the dead. We could not risk that happening. Therefore, we asked Pilate to seal the tomb and put some guards by the entrance until the third day. All our bases were covered now, and we could soon get back to normal life.

For the first time for a while, I was happy. Well at least I was until I heard about this morning’s events. The guards reported the news to us. There had been an earthquake at dawn and the guards saw an angel of the Lord roll aside the great stone. They were so scared they fainted. When they woke up the tomb was empty, and the body was gone.

We had an emergency meeting of the elders, gave a large bribe to the guards, and told them to say that while they were sleeping Jesus’ disciples came and stole the body during the night. Additionally, we told them that if the governor found out we would cover for them. Thankfully, the guards were happy to accept the bribe.

But as I lay here in bed, I am not convinced that the people will believe our version of events. The disciples all deserted Jesus when we arrested him. They ran away. I do not think anyone would seriously believe that they had the courage to attempt to take Jesus’ body from the tomb. Also, the strips of linen that had been covering his body and the cloth that had been wrapped round his head were still in the tomb. If they had stolen the body, why would they have removed those items?

The longer I think about what happened today the more I am convinced that the key thing is for us to find the body. We must find the body. Once we get hold of the body, we will display it publicly to squash any talk of Jesus being raised from the dead. Yet within me is a question that I am too frightened to contemplate. What happens if we cannot find the body? Logic says that if we cannot find it then the words of Jesus have been fulfilled. He has risen from the dead. I must find that body!

Image by Dozemode from Pixabay

The Crowd on Palm Sunday

As Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the day we remember as Palm Sunday, many people came out to greet him. Yet a few short days later instead of cheering Jesus, the crowd cried out for his crucifixion. It is an astonishing change in attitude from the crowd.

When I think about the crowd who greeted Jesus on Palm Sunday, I observe three different groups of people amongst them.

FIRSTLY: Disciples and the other followers of Jesus.

I am not just referring to the twelve disciples but also to the others who followed Jesus around. (For example in Luke 10 Jesus sent out seventy two people to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God. There were also the women mentioned in Luke 8:1-3 who supported Jesus financially e.g. Joanna, whose husband Chusa was Herod’s administrator; Susanna; and many other women).

Yes we all know that the disciples got things wrong and make mistakes. I guess that is because they are humans like us! However they were not naïve or stupid. They knew it was dangerous going up to Jerusalem. Mark 10:32 tells us that “that those who followed him were afraid.” Yet they still bravely followed Jesus.

I would imagine that when walking into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday they may well have felt nervous and worried about what might happen. However deep down they wanted to follow their master.

I wonder if we can identify with those disciples? We want to serve God but so often feel we are not adequate or feel scared. Or we just plain get it wrong on occasions!

SECONDLY: The crowd who spread their garments cheering Jesus

The Jewish people hated being ruled by the Romans. They wanted their freedom back. It was the week leading up to Passover, when they remembered God rescuing the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. The religious and nationalistic expectations of the crowd would have been huge. The people had for years been longing for the Messiah to come and rescue them from the Romans. Could Jesus be their Messiah?

However the Messiah / King that the people were expecting was a military king, just like David. They were looking for the wrong type of king. Israel was looking for a king to defeat their enemies: the Romans. But Jesus did not regard the Romans as his enemies. Jesus’ enemies were the power of sin and death. These were the enemies that he came to fight and defeat.

His was a spiritual battle in which he would be going toe to toe with sin and death. They were the real enemies. These were the enemies that had brought misery to the human race and that Jesus would defeat.

We might ask the question: how could the crowd have turned against Jesus so quickly?

It is easy sometimes to worship God when He does what we think He should do; when God answers our prayers the right way (i.e. our way).

However what happens when our prayers are not answered in the way we think they should? What happens when Jesus does not “drive out our Romans?” Do we still praise Him then? Or do we allow ourselves to become either bitter or disappointed with God?

THIRDLY: The Pharisees and the religious rulers

If you study the life of Jesus in the four gospels, one thing that leaps out is that the Jewish religious leaders did not like Jesus!

Whenever Jesus performed a miracle and they had a chance to criticise it they did.

If we remember the amazing healing of the blind man in John 9 and the way that the Pharisees would not accept this miracle. You would imagine that they would have been overjoyed but no they were not.

There was the occasion when Jesus healed a man with a withered arm and the religious leaders were unhappy with this as the healing happened on the Sabbath. This grieved Jesus. (Mark 3)

It is difficult at times to comprehend what was wrong with them!

They seemed to think the way to God was through obeying rules. And don’t you dare break their rules or you are in trouble! (woe betide you!)

Yet I wonder are there occasions when we are like the Pharisees? Do we allow religious traditions to stop us from meeting Jesus? Does the fact that “we’ve always worshipped like that” prevent us from truly meeting Jesus in a fresh way? Do we search the scriptures like the Pharisees but refuse to come to the one who gives life? (John 5:40)

In closing which one of these three groups of people do we think most reflects us today?

National Day of Reflection

On Tuesday 23 March 2021 the UK had a national day of reflection to remember all those who had died in the pandemic. This date was chosen as it marked the anniversary of the announcement of our first Covid lockdown.

We had an online service last night at our church as part of the national day of reflection. During the service our vicar read some scriptures to us which I felt would be good to share this week. Hopefully you will find these verses helpful:

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (
Psalm 23)

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you (1Peter 5:7)

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.
” (Psalm 46:10)

The Last 12 Months of Church

It is now one year since we had what might be described as a normal service at our church. However, even that service was different. We all had to wash our hands on arrival and we were not allowed to shake hands or hug anyone. There was also no coffee served after the service. Although there were no restriction on numbers who could attend about one third of our congregation stayed away. Little did we know what lay ahead of us!

We were then closed the next week and after some experimenting we arrived at our current online worship format, which is a service done on Zoom and streamed via Facebook Live. It is also recorded and uploaded to our website too. We then have coffee over Zoom after the service.

In the summer, autumn and also in December we moved to a hybrid method. This consisted of limited numbers in the church building (up to a maximum of 30 people) and the rest of us met over Zoom or Facebook Live.

We closed again after Christmas, at the beginning of the third lockdown, and returned to a fully online service. At the beginning of April our church will be reopening again and we are moving back to the hybrid method mentioned above.

If someone had said to me on 1 January 2020 that this would be how church would be then I would not have believed them! But this is the reality for us all.

We are very fortunate at our church in having a good tech team, that has worked very hard making this new way of meeting for worship work effectively. Our team has spent many hours working on the technical aspects, such as making sure all the various gadgets speak to each other. And without their sterling effects we would not have been able to do what we have done.

It seems these days that virtually everything at our church is conducted over Zoom whether that is Sunday services, Midweek services, prayer meetings, housegroups, coffee mornings, Messy Church, PCC meetings and our APCM. Modern technology has certainly been a real blessing, as 15-20 years ago most of what we have done would not have been technically possible.

Whilst I am pleased that we have been able to meet, I do have to say that it is not the same as meeting in a church building in the normal way. There are times when it has been difficult to engage fully in the services. There are distractions at home too. I also feel that online communion does not really work. That is not to say that I do not appreciate our online meetings. I realise how fortunate we have been to still be able to worship together. It is just being honest. I have been to a couple of services in our church during these last 12 months, when we were open, and whilst they were different e.g. face masks, social distancing etc it felt really good to be back in the building again.

I am fortunate as I have a reasonable reliable broadband connection and am happy with using technology. However, I know there are some at our church who have not been attending our online services for various reasons e.g. no internet, uneasy with technology etc. For these people the last 12 months will have been difficult. In our housegroup 8 of 10 of us have continued to meet. Two of our members have not been attending the Zoom housegroup but others have kept in contact with them.

So what does the future hold for us? How long will we have to worship with restricted numbers? Will some members of our church be reluctant to come back? What changes might we need to make to our services e.g. social distancing, not sharing the peace with each other? What about coffee after church? There are some important decisions that need to be made. And they are not easy ones.

In closing I know it can be easy to get discouraged when looking at things from a human prospective. However we must remember that we need to keep on eyes focused on God and put our hope afresh in Him.

Bible Articles

Psalm 119 is a wonderful passage of scripture where the psalmist glorifies God and His word. There are many verses that the reader could spend time mediating on to their benefit e.g.

I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (v11)

Turn my eyes from worthless things, and give me life through your word” (v37)

How I delight in your commands! How I love them!” (v47)

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path” (v105).

I find this psalm very encouraging and am challenged by the writers love of God’s word and desire to live it out.

This week I wanted to share some articles on the Bible which hopefully will encourage you to read it more. I have included an extract from the article beneath each link to give an indication of the content of each one.

Bible reading good for you

You’d kind of hope it might be true, but it’s good to have it confirmed: Lockdown has seen an explosion in all sorts of activities, from learning languages to gardening, but it’s also seen Christians reading the Bible more, and finding hope and comfort in it.

According to our recent survey, a significant number of Christians have reported that reading the Bible had led to an increased hope in God (42%); 28 per cent said it had increased their confidence in the future, while 63 per cent said that it had enabled their confidence to remain the same, rather than dipping.

The Bible as one astonishing story

In this very informative 10 minute video clip Chris Goswami explains how:

“The Bible is a library of different books written by many authors over hundreds of years. Each one brings their own voice, their own story. But there is one story that reaches across the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation, one unifying narrative.

Knowing this ONE story means you can understand the place of any book in the Bible”

Who wrote the bible?

John Piper answers this question and says:

“When Christians refer to the Bible as the word of God, they mean that — and I would say, I mean. I’m one of those people who believe this; I’d stake my whole life on it. So, I mean that the Creator of the universe, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who upholds the universe by the word of his power, was guiding and is guiding all things according to a great purpose. That God has chosen to reveal himself to human beings in human language. He has chosen to speak. Amazing.”

Treating our Bibles like our mobile phones

Ever wonder what would happen if we treated our Bible like we treat our mobile phone?

What if we carried it around in our purses or pockets?

What if we flipped through it several times a day?

What if we turned back to go get it if we forgot it?

What if we used it to receive messages from the text?

What if we treated it like we couldn’t live without it?

What if we gave it to kids as gifts?

What if we used it when we travelled?

What if we used it in case of emergency?  …..

Oh, and two more things:

You never have to worry about the battery dying, it has eternal life.

And unlike our mobile phone, we don’t have to worry about our Bible being disconnected because GOD already paid the  bill.

Two different ways of reading Scripture

I remember once hearing a preacher say that there are two different ways that we approach reading scripture. The first was described as looking down over scripture, whilst the second was referred to as being under scripture. So what is the difference between these two methods and does it actually matter?

The first one is the idea that we stand over scripture and ask what do I think this passage means? I expect many of us will have attended Bible studies over the years when we have been asked that question or a very similar one by the group leader. Whilst that sounds fine in reality it is not quite what it seems. When we read scripture like this we often approach it with our own theological leanings and biases which then determines our interpretation of the passage in question. Therefore, depending on what our theological position is on a particular subject it then affects the way we interpret the passage before us.

The other way, that he referred to as sitting under scripture, is different though. In this approach we put aside our theological leanings and biases and ask God to open our hearts to truly understand what He is saying, even if it contradicts our theology! The obvious advantage to this method of reading scripture is that we have more chance of hearing God this way. Why you may ask? The reason is because we have not already decided the meaning of the passage by our own biases and prejudices and therefore we are hopefully more open to hearing God.

Do you ever read theological debates on line? I expect if you do you will have noticed that one of the problems with these debates can be we look for our “proof” verse to support our viewpoint. We then wade into the argument saying that we are right and everyone who has an alternative view is wrong. It is obvious they have to be wrong because otherwise we could be incorrect in our presumptions! Sadly the arguments sometimes do not just stop at saying someone is wrong but can generate into accusing fellow believers of not being real or genuine Christians! This to me illustrates the problems that can occur when we come to scripture and bring our theological biases and decide in advance what a passage means

I have to be honest and say that I myself have done this and it can stop one from fully engaging with scripture. I guess though it is a safe way to read the Bible because if we come to it in a spirit of humbleness and openness there is always the risk that God might show us that we are wrong in a particular area. We then might have to change our viewpoint and completely rethink our theology in that area or maybe in many areas! Additionally we might have to make changes to the way we live too. This sounds like it could potentially be dangerous and life changing!

This Season of Lent

Today is the first day of Lent, which lasts for 40 days excluding Sundays. During this time Christians prepare to remember the death and resurrection of Christ at Easter. Lent is a time for reflection, study and repentance, and the 40 day period reminds us of the time that Jesus spent in the wilderness being tested by the devil.

Often when people discuss Lent you may hear comments such as: “I am giving up chocolate for Lent” or “I am giving up coffee for Lent.” When I hear someone say that I am often curious why they are doing that, especially if they do not appear to have a Christian faith. Obviously, all the money you save by not having chocolate or coffee could be given to a charity helping people who are less fortunate than you are. It might also be a good thing from a health prospective too! However, I do think if we limit our thinking on Lent to statements like those two ones we are missing out.

Instead of giving something up for Lent have you considered taking something on instead? What do I mean by that?

As Lent is a time for reflection then it seems to present a good opportunity to set some additional time aside this season to seek God. There are many different ways of doing this. For example:

  • Joining a study group for the Lent period. This might be one at your local church. Alternatively, it could be an inter-church one. A few years ago the churches in our parish used to meet together in small groups to study a Lent course.
  • Reading a Christian book in Lent. This does not have to be about Lent of course, it could be on any theme.
  • Spending some additional time studying the bible in Lent. This could be using a Lent study guide but does not have to be.
  • Committing to spending extra time in prayer during Lent. This might be by yourself or perhaps joining a prayer group with others.
  • Listening to some online sermons. These could be sermons that have been preached at your own church or maybe at another one.

If you are anything like me then you find it very easy to waste or fritter away time. Whether it is the television, Netflix, YouTube or social media we seem to spend a lot of time in these activities without too much effect.

The season of Lent presents us with a good opportunity to deliberately set time aside to get to know God better. To spend time listening to God and obeying Him.

One of our old church leaders used to use the expression “fasting and feasting in Lent” and I thought that summed up very well how we can use this time to grow in God.

It goes without saying that we do not have to wait until Lent to set additional time aside to seek God. but this season does present an opportunity for us to slow down and focus afresh on God. Paul tells the Galatians that we reap what we sow. If we spend time with God it will help us to develop our relationship with Him and also enable us to be a blessing to others. Whether you keep Lent or not use the time wisely to reconnect with our Father.