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)
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.
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.
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.
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”
“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.”
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!
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.
If you visit your local Christian bookshop, with a view to buying a bible, you will see many different options available to you. There will be various translations and versions aimed at particular groups of people. It is fair to say that you will be spoilt for choice! Most of these bibles will have one thing in common, they will contain chapter and verse numbers in the text.
However, The Books of The Bible is an NIV translation where the chapters and verse numbers have been removed from the text (with the exception of the Psalm chapter numbers). This version also contains single-column settings, like you would find in a novel or biography. Section headings have too been removed from the text. The books of both the Old and New Testament are also in a different order to the normal one. Additionally, books that were originally joined together, but had to be separated due to the length of the scrolls, are shown as one book. For example: the two books of Samuel and Kings are shown as one book.
But does this actually make any difference to the reading of scripture? Is this just another gimmick which gives an excuse for another version of the scriptures?
Well actually I have found it does made a difference. Whilst chapter and verse numbers can be useful references when using a commentary or concordance, they can influence the way that we read passages of scripture. When they are removed the text flows more naturally. Although it might seem strange at first reading a bible without chapter and verse numbers we need to remember that they were not in the original text and were only added afterwards. The publishers have instead made breaks in the text at what appears to be more natural places.
The single-column setting makes for a much cleaner layout, which in turn I have found helpful when reading longer passages of the bible. Whilst section headings and footnotes can be useful, they can also be distracting too whilst reading the bible.
Should you buy this version? I purchased The Books of The Bible a few years ago and have found it a very helpful addition to my library of bibles. It is one I certainly recommend.
So who do you think is the most important person in your church? As they might say at the Oscars “here are the nominations”
Is it the pastor / vicar? Well you can’t have a church without a leader can you?
Is it the preacher? Well you can’t have a church without a preacher can you?
Is it the worship leader? Well you can’t have a church service without any singing can you?
Is it the youth leader? Well you can’t have a church without someone leading the young people can you?
Is it the Sunday school teacher? Well you can’t have a church without someone teaching the children about God can you?
Is it the crèche leader? Well you can’t have a church without somewhere to leave the young children during the service can you?
Is it the Treasurer? Well you can’t have a church without someone paying the bills and making sure that the church does not run out of money can you?
Is it the Technical team? Well you can’t have a church without someone making sure all the microphones, sound mixers, laptops and various other gadgets are working properly can you?
Is it the person on the coffee and tea rota? Well you can’t have a church which does not serve coffee and tea after the service can you?
Is it the caretaker? Well you can’t have a church where no repairs and maintenance are ever done to the building can you?
Is it the cleaner? Well you can’t have a dirty, dusty untidy church can you?
Is it the administrator? Well you can’t have a church that is disorganised and not run properly can you?
And the winner is…….. well there is no winner because no one person is more important than any other. We all have different gifts and they all need to be used to build up the church.
It is strange though that we often act like we do not believe this. You will hear people say things like:
“We’ve got a really great pastor at our church”
“The preaching is outstanding at our church”
“The worship is awesome”
“We have a great youth leader”
However we rarely heard anyone say:
“We have a great treasurer and even though money is a bit tight they always insists we regularly give to mission work”
“Our caretaker is great he always ensures that repairs are carried out immediately and keeps the building in fine fettle.”
“The technical team are awesome. They arrive an hour before the service starts to set up the equipment and stay on for an hour to put it away. Nothing is too much work for them.”
“Our church is so clean and immaculate.”
I wonder why we tend to regard some people as more important based on their particular gifting?
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function,so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with yourfaith;if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach;if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:4-8 NIV)
As we come to the end of the first month of 2021 this has certainly been a difficult and tough month for many people. At the beginning of January the UK entered its third national lockdown. We have seen a new variant of coronavirus emerge with the challenges that this brings. Sadly the number of deaths continues to rise and over 100,000 have now died from the virus in the UK.
The NHS are under significant pressure in different parts of the country as they battle to help those affected by coronavirus.
On a positive notice, it has been good to see the vaccine being rolled out and hopefully that will aid in the struggle against this virus.
If we are being honest it can be quite discouraging looking back over January. Therefore I thought it would be good to share some links below to articles written by other Christians, that I have read this month and found helpful. I have included an extract from the article beneath each link to give an indication of the content of each one.
Adrian Warnock has written a very comprehensive piece on the Covid-19 vaccines and starts by saying: “Some Christians do have genuine concerns about vaccination which I will address in this article. I wish to appeal to believers to consider carefully these matters rather than reflexly reject the COVID-19 vaccines.”
Chris Goswami gives us 3 ideas for living well in 2021 and says “As we enter what we hope is a less exciting year than the last one, few of us now doubt that we are living in historic times. You may have heard Uncle Albert’s signature line in the comedy Only Fools and Horses: “……during the war …..”. He sits in the corner and says it a lot, and it gets met with a chorus of sarcasm from Rodney and Dell Boy. Well I wonder if we will end up in our old age quipping “during the virus …..” only to be met with a chorus of “grandad you tell us that story EVERY WEEK!” I don’t know, but “the virus” is the defining narrative of our age, the story we will retell for years to come, a period of history on which school examination questions will be set.”
Jeff Weddle reminds us that it is time for Christians to do their job and says “In our current state of rancour, arguing, shouting, rioting, and clamouring, I have an idea: how about we listen to what the Bible says a follower of Christ should do and quit following the world’s example.
If we did, we would shine like lights in the world. The good news is that what we’re told to do sounds very refreshing and lovely right about now!”
Randy Alcorn asks if sin is inevitable in the Christian life. “One common Christian misunderstanding today is that grace and salvation in Jesus means God has lowered His standards, as compared to the Old Testament law. That’s simply not true. God has raised His standards for the Christian life—but He has empowered us to live that Christian life through our relationship with Him and His indwelling Holy Spirit. His grace teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness (Titus 2:12).”
Garrett Kell reminds us why we need the armour of God. “It was the boy’s first day of junior high. All was going well until three older kids took his lunch, ruffled his hair, and stuffed him in a locker. They snarled at his squeals and high-fived one another as they walked away. What the bullies didn’t know, though, was that the kid in the locker was the little brother of the football team’s starting middle linebacker.
After lunch, the boy told his brother what happened. His brother looked him in the eyes. “Let’s go.” As the boy came to his locker, the bullies were waiting for him, grinning. But he hadn’t come alone this time. He came in the strength of his older brother. That was the last day they messed with him.”
And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God. (1 Sam 23:16)
Many people are finding life difficult at the moment. Last Monday was the day known as “Blue Monday”. According to psychologist Cliff Arnall the third Monday in January is the most depressing day of the year! Thus the name “Blue Monday”. Additionally, this year in the UK we are also in our third lockdown. Not really a great combination. Whether or not last Monday is the most depressing day is obviously not a fact but life is not easy for many at the moment.
What do we do in the current situation to cope in these difficult times?
Do we spend more time on social media?
Do we binge watch loads of stuff on Netflix?
Do we try and drown our sorrows by excessive drinking?
Do we go out for long walks everyday?
Do we spend all day in bed and just hope the situation improves?
David, before he came king, was facing a very difficult situation with King Saul. He was in the wilderness with his group of 600 men and Saul was searching for him with his army. We are told that day after day Saul was searching for David. This must have been a very difficult stressful time for David. Although David had known the presence of God with him, he was also, like you and I, a human being too. When you hear that someone is searching for you with the intention of killing you then it would be understandable if you got very worried and concerned.
And then we are told that Jonathan, Saul’s son, went to meet David at a place called Horesh and helped him find strength in God. We are not told what Jonathan did. Perhaps he reminded David of how God had given him victory over Goliath. Maybe he reminded David of the deliverance of the Israelites from the Egyptians. We are not told. It simply says that he “helped him find strength in God”
Three brief but important thoughts strike me from that verse:
Look to God
When we are facing problems we need to look to God for His help. We cannot do things in our strength. Many of us think we can. But we cannot. Our pride might not like that but it is true nevertheless.
Life might be a lot easier if we just recognised that. God’s strength is mighty, ours is not. Look to Him. Do not look to the solutions I mentioned earlier, instead we should be “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:3)
We need others
We do not exist on our own as Christians. We are part of Christ’s family and share our faith with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Although we can meet God anywhere, He will often use others to help us and to be a blessing to us. You will never reach the point when you outgrow the need for the help and support of other believers.
Others need us
Jonathan was able to bless and help his friend. We should look to encourage and support our fellow believers, especially during these difficult days. Let us aim to encourage them to keep on going and not give up. Being a Christian is not just about us. There are others in our family we need to support.
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1 Thess 5:11)
Whatever situation you may be in today look to the Lord and find your strength in Him.