Sunday, March 29, 2020

With Thanksgiving

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

I love that in these verses, we are reminded to give thanks to God in every situation...and believe it or not there is a lot to be thankful for amidst all of this panic and tragedy. 

Schools and workplaces are shut and people are unsure when their next wage is coming. There is a surge of people having to claim state benefits, which can mean a long wait until they receive any money. Many businesses won't survive being closed for this long. The supermarket shelves are empty because people are panicking and stockpiling incase they need to isolate, meaning that many people can't buy what they need (this has actually started to improve as people are beginning to get used to this new way of living). Police are stopping and questioning people to see if they have a genuine need to be outside. Thousands of people have lost their lives. The world is in mourning and it's a scary and uncertain time for all of us. 

Though through all of this I can see alot to be thankful for. 
I see families spending time together, parents being involved in their children's learning as homes are being turned into classrooms, families are playing games, watching movies and sharing books together. 
Around lunchtime I can sit in my garden with a coffee and can hear the neighbourhood kids playing and laughing in their gardens...mine included! 
Most don't seem to notice that anything is wrong...all they see is that they are spending lots of valuable time with their families. 
I'm thankful for that laughter and the sounds of children happily playing in their gardens. 
Of course, this isn't the case for many families who will be finding this time very difficult, and we must remember to keep those families who are struggling in our prayers.

I also see communities coming together to help one another. 
Groups of volunteers are being set up to help pick up shopping and prescriptions for the isolated and vulnerable. 
One local restaurant has closed its doors, but the boss is still paying his staff and offering them as volunteers to any local organisation that needs some extra pairs of hands. 
Another local business, a gardening service, is dropping off free seed growing packs to local children. 

One of my favourite things that I have seen is a national game of "I spy"; people are putting pictures of rainbows in their windows for children to spot as they go for walks with their families. I love this! I love that there are so many symbols of God's covenant of love for us in windows all around the country. I could be wrong, but I like to think that this was inspired by God Himself as a sign for us all that He is with us and is watching over us. "Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments." Deuteronomy 7:9

There are many, many stories surfacing of community heroes. People working on the "front line"... teachers , retail staff, carers, NHS workers and many more putting themselves at risk to keep our country running and to ensure that we can still access the services and goods that we need. There is always alot of good to be found in these situations. Love always prevails, and I am thankful for the kind and loving members of our communities. 
"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." John 1:5.

How much more will we appreciate our lives when this is over? 
How much more thankful will we be for the small things that we took for granted in our normal day to day lives? 
An ice-cream on the beach, a trip to the park, visiting family and friends, going to church....I miss it all! 
We have all been forced to slow our lives down and live in the present. Life looks very different right now, but it's not all bad if you look hard enough and hold on tight to the good things. "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Romans 12:21.

As a church we have had to learn to spread outwards even more into the community. We were never supposed to be contained within our walls. Our walls have been torn down and we are no longer contained. Church has been made all the more accessible without those walls. Millions of people have been tuning in to services on TV and online. 
People can have an anonymous peek into our Faith without any pressure or follow up and I feel that we should continue to bring church to people in this way when normal life resumes. 

The downside to this is that the Church is scattered and the enemy must be loving this opportunity to creep in! 
Jesus was tempted by the devil when He was isolated in the desert. Weirdly enough around this very time of year! 
Like Jesus, we also have a shortage of bread...both spiritually and physically! It is hard to come by in the supermarkets right now as people panic buy and strip the shelves of necessities. We are also unable to take part in Communion, breaking bread with our church family. "Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” Matthew 4:4. 
We still have God's word, we have our Bibles, we have an abundance of resources available to us online and we have more ways than ever of keeping in contact with our fellow Christians. We have all that we need to keep on our spiritual armour! 

Church doors may be locked, the buildings may be standing cold and empty...but the church is living, loving and thriving. We ARE the church. We are God's hands and feet on this Earth and we are called to feed the poor, comfort the lonely and pray for the sick. 
We sing songs and say prayers each week of faith and His Will being done. Now is the time to put our promises to Him into action!
We can still do all the things that we are called to do. We can donate to the foodbank and help to feed the poor, offer to pick up shopping for those who are unable and only buy for ourselves what we need. We can keep checking in on those members of our communities that we know will be isolated and lonely at this time. 
Those who live alone are going to be suffering immensely at this time, and a simple message, letter, phone call and prayer can really make a difference to someone's emotional wellbeing. 
Most importantly we must keep praying, keep worshipping and keep trusting.

People are understandably afraid right now, but we can take comfort in the fact that Jesus will stay beside us through anything and everything that life throws at us. 
A friend told me recently "put your hand in Jesus' and let Him guide you." I hope we can all be encouraged by this. Jesus is right here, holding out His hand ready to guide us if we stray, steady us if we stumble and catch us if we fall. 

This is a dark time that we are in, and so this is also our time to shine!  
Remember that God is always with us, He loves us entirely and eternally, and He will bring us through any storm! 
He will guard our hearts and our minds and give us peace and comfort through Jesus Christ...and I am thankful for Jesus more than anything.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Going Against The Grain

"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." Romans 12:2 

Sometimes, following Jesus takes not just Faith, but courage. We, as Christian's, are called to go against the grain. We are called to stand up for what is right and good, regardless of what other people may think of us.

The bible is full of messages of courage, bravery and drawing on God's strength, and for good reason...we need it!

It's so easy to join in with others and go with the majority, even though we know that they are wrong. We see this every day. Bullies go unchallenged by their peers due to fear of becoming their next target. People join in with gossip in order to stay relevant. We have all seen it happen, whether at school or in our adult lives...but how many of us have had the courage to stand up and say "stop"?.

How many of us have had our opinion of someone changed based on what a friend has said to us about them? We can be manipulated into thinking that it is justifiable to bully and put people down because "did you hear that they did/ they said this?". If everyone else thinks that a person is horrible, do we tend to agree without finding out for ourselves? Of course we do! Or at the very least our opinion of that person is changed. Other people's opinions matter to us. We want to be liked, we want to be in "the in crowd". We tend to agree to avoid making waves. It takes a great strength to challenge a peer, a friend, a colleague, or even a leader, in any situation.

How many of us have had our opinions of OURSELVES changed based on what others have said about us? A worship leader in my church once said to the congregation "sing loud...and if you think that you can't sing then you are wrong, you only think that you can't because someone once told you that." I wonder how many others things there are that we think we can't do just because someone has once knocked our confidence and told us that we can't?

What if David had listened to King Saul when he told him "you are not able to go out against this philistine and fight him, you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth."? (1 Samuel 17:33). David knew that he was the one who could defeat Goliath. He knew that God was on his side, even if noone else believed in him.

What if Ruth had listened to Naomi when she told her to "Go back to your mother's home."? It would have been normal practice for her to return to her family, it would have been expected. But Ruth knew that her place was with Naomi, and in staying with Naomi she met and married Boaz, and went on to have a son. That son was Obed, David's grandfather.

If Rosa Parks hadn't stood up for what she knew was right, black Americans might still be forced to sit at the back of the bus. If Emmeline Pankhurst hadn't stood her ground then women might still not be able to vote.

One decision to be brave and stand up for what is good and what we know is right can lead to amazing outcomes. Courage spreads like fire, one person encouraging another. All it takes is one person.

Jesus is that one person who stood up for what was right, regardless of what others thought of Him.

When Jesus was in Jericho, he left a city with a large crowd following him. They walked past a blind man, Bartimaeus, who was begging on the side of the road. Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was in the crowd and he shouted out to him. The bible says that many people rebuked other words, they criticized and showed their disapproval of the man begging on the side of the road. Jesus told the man to come to him, and the crowd quickly changed their tune! "Cheer up! On your feet! He's calling you!" (Mark 10:46). Jesus wouldn't have just passed by the man and ignored his calls for help, I have a feeling that he waited for the reaction of the crowd before calling the man to Him. He showed the crowd what was right and led by example.

Through prayer and reflection, through listening to how God guides us, through reading the bible, we can know what His Will is, and yet others will try to persuade us to conform to their opinions and their idea of what is right.

Jesus told us that the most important commandments are to love God and love others. We are told to encourage and build one another up. We are told to stand up for the poor and the oppressed. When other peoples opinions or actions go against what Jesus taught us, then we must keep our focus on Him and go against the grain. Like Jesus, we must be the ones to go against the crowd and do what is right.

There is a message going viral on social media right now; "Be Kind".
This should be a no-brainer, but unfortunatley we live in a world where people will put others down to make themselves seem better. It took the tragic death of a woman for people to start standing up and saying "that's enough". If only someone had stood up sooner.

"Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love." 1 Corinthians 16:13‭-‬14