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Tedium or Te Deum?

I am wearing a dress and smart shoes, and even a dash of lipstick. It must be Sunday! Every Sunday during lockdown, I have dressed up a bit and cooked a roast dinner after we have “ been to church” , that is, interacted with our church online in our lounge. It gives contour to the week, makes a change and varies the rather monotonous routine.

I am reminded of a little book called “Hinds Feet on High Places”. It is an allegory of a girl called Much Afraid. She meets the Shepherd who begins to change her life as she journeys with Him to the High Places. She encounters many difficulties and dangers, highs and lows, but at one point she comes to a dreary shore alongside a leaden, dull sea. Day after day she trudges along; nothing seems to change, the landscape is grey and featureless, the sky uniformly cloudy. There appears to be nothing to look forward to on the horizon, and every day is dull. She begins to get frustrated and restless. This is worse than facing deadly peril when at least there is excitement, an adrenalin rush, action! But this endless boredom is making her wonder if she has made a mistake! She can’t see the Shepherd: surely he wouldn’t want her to be living in such mindless tedium? Should she go back and look for something more fulfilling?

But she can’t go back, she must keep doggedly walking.

Sometimes our path lies through boring territory. We didn’t choose it, it’s just where life has taken us. Of course, in this strange
lockdown time, some people would give anything for a chance to be bored, to just stop and lie down! They are dealing with the opposite
problem. But others feel like they have been trudging through the wilderness and getting nowhere. Every day is the same! Attempts to
liven things up work for a while, but the novelty wears off. You live for the one day in the week when you make a quick dash to Tesco.
Imagine: that is now an event, not a chore! You torture yourself with memories of visits to the grandkids, days at the beach, picnics…even going out for coffee would be nice.

Where is God in all this? You feel useless, non-productive, sluggish. Surely this can’t be right? We followed the map: but we ended up
here!

Yes. The map takes us through Boredomville. Why? Because everywhere the Shepherd leads us is with purpose. There are things
he wants us to learn while in this season. It would be tragic if later on we realised that we failed to lay hold of the lessons we were
meant to learn.

One is patience. Patience isn’t learnt when you are preoccupied and rushing around. It is learnt when life comes to a standstill, and you don’t know when it will move again. For most of us, we experience this sort of frustration on the M25 when the traffic has ground to a

halt in the rush hour. But we haven’t had to live through days, weeks, months of nothing much happening. We won’t learn just by gritting our teeth: we learn by believing God has a purpose and is working it out, so stay in faith!

Another thing to learn is persistence in prayer. God is giving us time to remind him of his promises for revival and to pray into them. It is encouraging to hear of the sale of Bibles rising exponentially; of increased numbers watching church videos, of small groups multiplying online. These are not revival, but they are indications of a stirring taking place: pray on!

Linked to this is the exhortation in Psalm 46 to “Be still and know that I am God”. We have lost the art of being still in his presence and cultivating hearing his voice. Now is the time to rediscover it! Wouldn’t it be great if we emerged from this humbler, closer and more full of love for him, and faith in his promises?

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The Watchman

What are you waiting for? Perhaps you are in a queue outside the supermarket, with a trolley, two metres apart from the persons in front and behind, waiting for the slowly shuffling line to bring you to the door. Perhaps you are waiting for a book from Amazon to bedelivered; or seeds you planted to germinate; or like us, for another grandchild to be born. (Two in fact!)

We are all waiting for lockdown to be eased, for the coronavirus to cease its violent assault on our society, for vaccine to be developed. Some are eagerly awaiting re-entry into normal life; others are waiting with trepidation.

David the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 130v5 : “ I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning.”

How do watchmen wait for the morning? Habakkuk the prophet imagined it: “I will stand at my watch and station myself upon the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me.” (2v4)

The watch from 3 am. until dawn is the hardest. The soldier wakes and gropes in the dark for his boots and cloak. Everyone else is asleep and snoring around him. He goes quietly up the stone stairs to the ramparts and briefly acknowledges the man he is relieving, and takes up his station. He can’t see much because it is so dark, the darkest hour. The thought flits across his mind, “Isn’t it a bit pointless trying to “watch” in the dark? It’s black! Why not just stay in bed?”
But he is under orders; he must stand guard!

There are some things he can see: vague shapes and silhouettes of trees. On a clear night he can see the skies full of stars, and if the moon is full, he can see a lot more, not as clear as day, but clear enough to discern movement, such as animals scurrying about, owls flying, or even the stealthy movement of marauders lying in wait. But if it’s a cloudy night, what then? Or foggy? If he cant see a hand in front of his face, is it a waste of time? But he has learned, you don’t only watch with your eyes, you have to train your senses. He stands very still and listens intently, slows down his breathing, every sinew alert, tense. He waits.
Every rustle of leaves, a twig snapping could be suspicious. Every flutter of a bird could indicate it was disturbed… by what?
Its dark; its cold; it may be wet. Its lonely. He is tired. He yawns thinking wistfully of his warm bed. He begins to drift, to loose concentration, his eyelids lower…No! He must not sleep! Disaster could come while his eyes are closed and his hearing dulled. He shakes himself, re-aligns his position, changes his stance slightly. Looks toward the east: will morning never come? Is there a glimmer of light on the horizon?
He waits. He watches. It will be morning soon.

Daylight brings relief that night is ended. Are we simply waiting for the coronavirus pandemic to come to an end? For these “unprecedented” days to finish and allow us to get back to normal, whatever “normal” will look like? Many Christians are expectant for more, waiting with eager longing for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, for the Good News of the Gospel to be proclaimed with power and vigour, for myriads to lift up their eyes, once blind, now opened, and shout, “Now I see!” Salvation to be poured out accompanied by signs and wonders, the manifest works of God when he comes in power as he did at the first Pentecost. We are waiting for such a sweeping move of God that can only be described as ‘unprecedented”!

Sometimes we get fed up with waiting and walk away. But waiting for the empowering presence of God is waiting for a certainty.
Morning always comes, he has decreed it. “His going forth is as sure as the dawn”.

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A Fox in the Garden

brown animal on green grass

This morning Terry saw a fox in our garden. He looked up momentarily from his book and thought, “That squirrel looks unusually big,” took a closer look and realised he was looking at a fox: or rather , it was looking at him with haughty indifference. Having stared him out, it strolled casually across the lawn and lay down on the grass in a patch of sunlight.

In a rural setting we can appreciate foxes….unless you have lambs or chickens of course. We live on the edge of a small country town and foxes can be seen from time to time in the fields and woods. This one was beautiful with a rich tawny, glossy coat and a luxuriant fluffy tail which it coiled around itself as it lay in the grass. It looked strong and healthy and was a pleasure to see.

A few years ago we lived in west London and scraggy feral foxes were a pest. They roamed the streets arrogantly, scavenging and leaving their droppings on our doorstep. They loped around in broad daylight, investigating rubbish bins and generally behaving with insolence and defiance. Somehow, seeing them skulking around in city streets seemed unnatural and was unpleasant.

Foxes are not meant to be in cities. They adapt; but they loose something in the process. They don’t thrive, they look thin and scraggy and their coats are not luxuriant red, but brown and boring. They don’t behave like rural foxes, they have lost their natural dignity, and are a poor imitation of what a real fox should be.

I was going somewhere with this: ruminating on “little foxes spoiling the vines” , and “foxes have holes…” etc. But I keep coming back to this theme of not being in the right place. This is a picture of some people who are reading this. You are not in the right place. You are in alien territory, adapting, existing, but not thriving. You have lost a sense of destiny, and with that, a sense of self esteem. You were born again, liberated, made to run freely in meadows and woods, metaphorically speaking, but instead you are slinking around city streets looking for anything that is edible but not necessarily nourishing, ashamed, dissatisfied. Not living like a real fox.

The message is this: this is not you! Don’t be content with just existing, get back to being who you really are. Take responsibility for your life. Rediscover the dignity of what God intended and made you to be. This is not about external details, where you live, what you do, covid 19, : it is about knowing your identity .

“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

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Some Light-Hearted Thoughts about Birds and God

I never cease to be amazed by birds. Just the idea of inventing living feathered creatures that fly about is wonderful to me. Who would have thought that one up?

And of course they sing! Last week I was walking in the glorious bluebell woods near our home when I saw a man, camera in hand, looking up into the trees overhead.

“Seen something interesting?” I enquired. “ I can hear a woodpecker”’ he answered, “and I would love to take a photo.” There followed a long and interesting conversation, (at a safe distance of course) about how to identify birds from their songs. I was fascinated, and when he suggested I buy a CD of birdsong from Amazon, it was the first thing I did when I got home.

Many birds visit our garden feeders and I identified twenty in the first few weeks of our residence here. Sometimes I wake in the night to hear a screech owl, or the haunting hoot of a barn owl. One morning at five o’clock in April two years ago, I heard a cuckoo loudly calling: and last week we were excited to see a lesser spotted woodpecker in our garden.

So where am I going with this? Simply that I think Jesus watched birds too. He watched farmers planting seed and the birds following the sower and stealing the seed. He knew how much they sold for in the market place: one penny for two! He said that God fed and clothed the birds and the lilies, so why should we be worried about provision for our food and clothes? He knows our needs , like he knows the needs of birds. He also notices when a sparrow falls to the ground! Imagine! The demise of such a fragile little thing is registered by God Almighty! So be assured, he really sees you too.

King David was also aware of birds. One day he was in the courts of the Lord and he noticed a sparrow’s nest near the altar. (Psalm 84) No-one else was allowed to get so near the altar, but God permitted a sparrow to rest there. David found comfort in that. If God could allow a little bird so near, then he, David, need not fear, but take delight and shelter in the tabernacle.

Perhaps in these days of lockdown when for many of us the pace of life has become slower, we can take some moments to stop and listen and enjoy the sounds and sights of nature around us. God speaks to us through his creation. The Heavens declare his glory: every spectacular sunset points forward to a day when the skies will split and Jesus will descend in the clouds. But blades of grass, clusters of rhododendrons, sunlight slanting through the purple haze of bluebell woods, and the evening shadows of distant hills all declare his wonder. The ugly pupae of dragonflies hauling themselves out of the mud, waiting on a reed while the extraordinary transformation into the iridescent winged creature takes place, is a powerful picture of being born again. Skeins of Canada geese across an evening sky, the call of sheep and lambs in Springtime, the flutter of a peacock butterfly all have things to say to us.

To me, all these and more speak of the amazing ingenuity, creativity, imagination and enjoyment that God must have employed in creating the world. The sheer diversity is breathtaking. And as humans perceive increasingly the complexity of animals, birds, plants, insects, weather patterns, the more we realise that we will never come to the end of exploration and discovery.

The Apostle John had revelation about this. “You have created all things; and for your pleasure they were created.’ God took huge delight in making things and sustaining them and watching them. I think he takes even more delight in watching us watching them and enjoying them too! I often thank him for it; I hope you do too. But the stunning thing is that we also come into that category: he made us for his will and pleasure too! We have the capacity to bring joy to him.

Paul says that “all creation is waiting, standing on tip toe to see the glory of another world, the new Heaven and New Earth. This is just a shadow of what will come. “Eye has not seen , or ear heard, neither has it entered the heart of man what God is preparing for those who love him.”

It is going to be good! Its going to be fantastic!

And the birds will be out of this world!

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Bit of a Bodge Up

When I was a little girl at school, I learnt to sew: not very well. It sounds Victorian now, but we had to learn to do different stitches on a piece of cloth called a sampler. By the end of term mine was crumpled and grey with holes where I had had to unpick the stitches and try again. Eventually I graduated to make an apron, but again, it was a sorry affair, joyfully abandoned and never worn. A bit of a bodge up.

 

Lately I have been rediscovering the fun of creativity as a long forgotten instinct to make something has suddenly reasserted itself . I started with knitting just before Christmas and a few weirdly coloured hats and scarves emerged. Then I thought I would venture into sewing. But because all the shops are shut, I couldn’t go out to buy materials and fabrics, so I phoned a friend who has a curtain making business to ask if she had any bits and pieces that I could experiment with. She happily left a couple of bags of leftovers on our door step.

There was some beautiful stuff: mostly heavy brocades, far too stiff and thick for any clothing. (Remember the Sound of Music when Maria made play clothes for seven children out of curtains? I’m sceptical). But eventually I hit upon a tutorial online , “How to make a cloth bag.” In fact I was surprised to discover that there are dozens of tutorials making all sorts of things!

How difficult could it be? I chose a tasteful beige and brown material for my first attempt and cut up an old sheet for lining. I struggled a bit with frayed edges, and ended up with a passable bag which looked fine on the outside but didn’t bear much scrutiny on the inside. I sorted that by running a line of machine stitching all round the outside, hiding the ragged edges inside. Bit of a bodge up, but not bad.

For my second attempt I tried a different technique. The tutorial made it look so easy! This time the outside fabric was grey with pink leaves and the lining was a bright magenta. I got into a horrible muddle and ended up with one side right and the other with the lining and stitching outside. I racked my brains : I could not see how it worked! Back to the drawing board, or rather, the Ipad. At last I could see how the pieces were meant to be sewn together, and the end result was quite pleasing. But I am glad that all the ragged ends are hidden inside the lining. Again, a bit of a bodge up.

My next attempt at creativity was in the garden. I have long wanted to plant a vegetable patch, and sowed some lettuce, tomatoes , and beetroots in some plastic food cartons. Then on a trip to Lidl’s, between the soup and socks, lo and behold , a cold frame! I returned home triumphantly with my find.

Terry kindly helped me put it together, although flat packs are not our preferred way of spending time. However, it was a warm, sunny day, so we got on with it.

It was not straightforward : no words, just rather indistinct diagrams were our guide. But after a couple of hours our mini green house was constructed. The corners are not quite ninety degrees and there is a gap between the panes at the top, but, hey, the seedlings look happy. Bit of a bodge up, but it works.

 

As I read through Philippians, I keep coming across words Paul uses to describe himself now, and what he will be. He says, he is not yet perfect, but he is pressing on. But although he has not yet attained perfection, he has a glorious hope, that the perfect is waiting for him, while he stretches forward to grasp what Christ has already obtained for us.

He says it even more clearly to Titus: “Now unto Him who is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless in the presence of his glory with exceeding joy”. What a prospect! As we stumble along, straining toward the goal, there will come a day when Jesus presents us before the Father with joy, and the Father will welcome us because we will then be perfect, in Christ. Not a bodge up! Do you feel like a bodge up now? Bit of a muddle? A bit ashamed by your mistakes and discouraged that perfection seems so unattainable and frankly, unlikely? That is not how the Father sees you. He sees you in Christ, his perfect son.

Not a bodge up.

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It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Coming

Cemetery, Grave, Graveyard, Scary, Tomb, Tombstone

 

If you have lived as long as I have, you will remember what Good Friday used to be like in the fifties. It was a day of solemn remembrance. My family would have hot cross buns for breakfast, and then we would go to church. We knew and loved the special hymns : “There is a green hill far away”; “When I survey the wondrous cross”, “Alas and did my Saviour die…” and there would be readings from the Gospel about the crucifixion. It would finish with communion. Our service only lasted about an hour, but some churches had services three hours long, from mid day to three o’clock in the afternoon. 

All the shops were closed, and the banks, and people talked in hushed voices and a general air of solemnity prevailed. 

 

Easter Saturday was much more light hearted. But Easter Day itself dawned with a burst of joyful celebration! WE often had family or friends staying and we would have a special breakfast, the children would be given Easter eggs, and then we would go off to church. We children loved it! In my memory, the weather was always sunny, with spring flowers everywhere, and everyone was happy. We sang our favourite hymns, “Christ the Lord is risen today! Hallelujah!” “Up from the grave he arose!” “Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son!” The whole weekend was a time of reflection on the Cross and the Resurrection. 

 

I don’t remember when it began to change. When did the shops begin to stay open on Good Friday? When was it treated like any other day? Business as usual? When did the whole of Easter become a commercial opportunity as the population binged on chocolate and hot cross buns, and lamb was on the Sunday menu rather than seen as a symbol of sacrifice? The decline of Easter as a time of any spiritual significance for most people must have slowly happened over several decades. 

Daffodils, Blossom, Bloom, Osterglocken, Yellow, Nature

It is not crises which bring about indifference to religion and spiritual things: it is the creeping distraction of other things. Entertainment, prosperity, material possessions, sports, business, family matters, not necessarily bad things. They are what the Bible identity as weeds which choke the seed, the “cares of life”. At first they distract, then they preoccupy, then they overwhelm. Crises on the other hand cause a re-think, a re-evaluation of priorities , a separation of the urgent from the profoundly vital. 

 

In these days of lockdown, a re-think is taking place. Questions are being asked: will this spell the end of Christianity, or will it produce a glorious burst of revival? (Spectator April 2020) To be honest, I hope it will bring an end to Christianity as we know it. All too often Church has become routine, predictable, formulaic. Where is the excitement, joy and awe? Why are we satisfied with an hour of singing some songs and a few blessed thoughts? Where is the presence of God? 

 

To be fair, it isn’t all like that, thank God! I have been in some terrific meetings with great preaching. Many churches are full of wonderful saints serving the poor in the community, loving each other and giving sacrificially. Pastors are caring for their flocks with compassion and diligently working at delivering good sermons. I am grateful! 

 

Yet do you yearn as I do for days when we couldn’t wait to get to church because we expected to meet with God? When worship was full of powerful truth that brought us before the throne? When we could be electrified by a word of knowledge, a prophecy, a testimony of God’s intervention?

This crisis probably will change the church: it will be different. Who knows how we shall meet in the future? Shall we return to our church buildings on Sunday mornings, with no great expectations of God speaking to us? I hope and pray that whatever it will look like, there will be an outbreak of celebration that will run and run, because we shall be delighted to find that multitudes who are now in the valley of decision, have come to Christ. Many who are now lost will be found; many now broken-hearted will be surprised by joy. Many who thought that God was dead will find that he is very much alive!

 

Its Friday now, but Sunday is coming 

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This is my Story

From the archive: Billy Graham in London, 1954

You may have seen recently on FaceBook or Twitter a clip of Billy Graham preaching . What energy, fire and zeal! What uncompromising conviction and authority!

I was eight years old when he came to England in 1954 to preach at the Haringey arena in London, which held 11,000 people. I went on a coach with my mother and a few from our little Brethren assembly in Maidstone, Kent, where my family lived. This was the extent of my Christian experience, and consequently I had no notion of a big Christian meeting! In fact, hardly anyone did at the time. So to enter the vast arena and see thousands of people sitting rapt, listening to this American man preaching the Gospel was a new and vivid experience. It was truly awesome. I remember how the huge choir began to sing softly after the preaching, “Just as I am, without one plea,

But that thy blood was shed for me
And as thou bidst me come to thee,
O Lamb of God I come”.

 

As they sang, Billy Graham invited those who wanted Jesus to be their Saviour to come forward. The atmosphere was hushed and
solemn as hundreds of people rose from their seats, and walked quietly to the front, many of them weeping.. The crowd in front of
the pulpit swelled, and still they came, right through the six verses of the hymn. I gazed around in wonderment, the moment indelibly printed on my memory.

Billy Graham had been invited by a group of London clergy to conduct a series of meetings for a period of three weeks, but such was the unprecedented response night after night that he stayed for over three months! The meetings made headlines in the daily papers which were frequently reporting stories of conversions. It was extraordinary that the main news of those months was about the impact of the Gospel.

 

The signature hymn became, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine”, with the chorus, “This is my story …

The London Underground trains were full of people singing it, and it could be heard everywhere, as joyful new converts sang it in the streets! One can hardly imagine such a thing happening now.

 

From time to time in our history God has powerfully used individuals to awaken the nation to its need of God. John Wesley, George Whitfield, and William Booth are the most famous who come to mind. Each of them saw multitudes turn to Christ, and what is more, the culture was deeply impacted and changed. In recent years, the moral decline has been steep and ugly causing Christians to seek God ever more urgently for a fresh out pouring of the Holy Spirit, for powerful preaching of the Gospel and for multitudes to turn to Christ.

In these days when all our props, preferences and and priorities are being swept away, it is stimulating and encouraging to recall prophetic words that have come over the last two decades. In the nineties, we held leadership conferences in the Brighton Centre. One day, Wesley Richards, a UK pastor, prophesied that he could see a towering wave gathering out to sea. It was taller than the Brighton Centre and would engulf the entire city and flood its streets. That same afternoon, another prophetic man, Rodney Kingstone, prophesied the identical word! Terry and I have often prayed for that wave to break. A few weeks ago, we happened to meet Wesley Richards again. Terry reminded him of that word. “Oh Yes!” He exclaimed. “I see it as clearly today as the day I gave it!”

 

We have also frequently prayed about a recurring vision that Ginny Burgin has had over twenty years now, of beacons being lit all over Britain, fires of revival . More recently, in fact in January in a revival prayer meeting, Terry saw in the Spirit some lock gates on a river. At the side was an old rusty wheel for opening the gates that was stiff; but as we prayed the wheel began to turn slowly to open the gates and release the flow of water.
Even today I have seen on a local women’s prayer app a prophecy about a sleeping lion awaking. I also had a prophetic word about a tug boat coming up the river Thames. Behind it, emerging out of the mist, came a majestic and huge ocean going liner. It filled the river, and the displaced water flooded all over London. I took that to mean that something much bigger than the church as we know it is going to come , to London, but hopefully all over the UK.

 

These words and many more encourage us to keep tugging on God’s sleeve! “How long Oh Lord?” Sighed David. He spoke about waiting
with eager longing for God, looking with yearning for the dawn of a new day.

Sometimes waiting seems endless. Think how long it was before Isaiah’s prophecies came to pass: about 700 years! I remember hearing a prophecy about a greater revival yet to come that would include miracles and eclipse everything that had gone before. I thought it was imminent! It must be twenty-five years ago now, but that is a mere blip compared with Isaiah! However, signs are there: dare we believe that we are on the edge of something awesome, breath-taking in its scope and power? Lets not give up ! Lets keep praying and believing: we may yet hear praises again on our streets: this could be our story!

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Death of a Pigeon

Yesterday a pigeon committed suicide. I was in the kitchen downstairs when I heard a loud thump. Afraid that Terry had fallen off his chair in his study, I raced upstairs, only to meet him coming down. “Did you hear that bang?” He asked in a state of shock. His desk faces the window overlooking the garden, and he described how a pigeon had come hurtling towards the window and smashed into the glass. “It dropped like a stone!” He said.

This is not an unknown occurrence. Our garden has many trees and they are reflected in our windows sometimes causing hapless birds to think they are flying into the leaves only to give themselves a nasty shock and doubtless a headache. Usually they fly off, rather dizzily. But this one plummeted to Earth never to rise again. We went out and gazed at its still form. Its feathers looked very smooth and glossy, but no breath stirred its plump chest. I felt sad. Terry dug a hole and laid the bird in it. One minute it had been flying carefree, and the next, death had come unexpectedly. It had thought it was flying into safety, into green foliage, but it had been an illusion. End of pigeon.

shallow focus photography of pigeon

 

Later in the day, I was engaging in a different sort of death, a hopeful death, anticipating life. Instead of laying a dead bird into the ground I was pushing seeds into soil, expectant to see green shoots of lettuce, cress and spring onions beginning to germinate in a few days. Jesus said that seeds must fall into the ground and die before they can bring forth fruit. (John 12). Then in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul reflects that a change occurs when a body is sown into the ground: it rises into a different sort of life.

At the present time in this nation, (and in others across the world) we are going down into a sort of death. Everything is coming to a standstill and life as we know it has come to an abrupt end. Is this a crashing disaster? Or will a new and different sort of life emerge? Already stories are coming out about how this virus and the measures taken to deal with it have changed hearts and attitudes for the good. No doubt there will be very sad and negative stories too. But I for one would be glad to see the death of some things, such as the casual attitude to abortion, the preoccupation with gender issues and obsession with political correctness, to mention a few. At least Brexit has retreated into the shadows as a major topic of wrangling! There will be sadness as the death of what we have come to regard as normality takes hold. There will be grieving and hardship. But dare we hope that new life will spring forth?

Christians can be sowing seeds now in prayer for revival to break out; for a preoccupation with the kingdom of God to arise , and instead of the arrogance of a society that has turned its back on God that there may be a new humility as people recognise anew their need of Him, and find New Life in the One who is the way the truth and the Life.

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Paul in Isolation

Sudden isolation brings all sorts of unforeseen pressures; we can find ourselves getting bored, frustrated or depressed. So it is helpful when we can find something purposeful to do! Gardening, DIY, and contacting friends we haven’t seen for ages become highlights of our day! Maybe even the forgotten art of letter writing is being rediscovered?

How did the apostle Paul cope with isolation? Imprisoned in Rome, Paul now has time to write all those letters he had meant to write but had been too busy dodging threatening hordes of Pharisees, or being shipwrecked, or flogged, or stoned, or escaping down city walls in a basket. But now, he can put quill to paper and get in touch.

He shakes his manacled wrist and dips the quill in the ink. The guard peers curiously at the blank page as Paul begins, and a blob falls on the pristine page. He sighs. Its difficult to write when you are chained to a soldier. He hears voices outside, a key turns in the lock, and his colleague and adopted son is let in. Timothy! They greet each other joyfully, and then seeing the pen and ink, Timothy asks what he is writing. Paul explains that he wants to communicate with his friends at Philippi, but is hindered by his chain. “Why don’t you dictate to me, and I’ll write it down for you”, suggests Timothy.

Paul brightens immediately, and in a loud voice begins to dictate. “Paul and Timothy, servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Philippi: grace and peace to you.” Making sure that the guards can hear clearly, he assures the Christians at Philippi of his love and prayers for them.

He pauses and Timothy waits expectantly. Paul knows that the Philippian church will want news of him too. How much should he say? It is some years now since he saw them and much has happened . However, he doesn’t want to dwell too much on that. After all, he has only been at the centre of a couple of riots, escaped at night from a murderous conspiracy, preached before 2 governors and a king, been flogged, abandoned in a dungeon, shipwrecked… and now is under house arrest in Rome. Not worth mentioning.So he says nothing about all that, eager to get to the exciting stuff!

He turns to Timothy. “Next sentence: “I want you to know, brothers, that what happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel”. Ah! This is the real drama! “ The whole Praetorian Guard knows why I am here, because I preach Christ.” Conscious of a tremor in the muscular arm next to him, he turns and grins at the soldier, who looks embarrassed. Paul knows he is one of the few left who have not yet responded to the Gospel, but it wont be long.

Paul is an apostle, and he knows that his commission has not been revoked by finding himself in jail. It is a change of location and, being no longer mobile, will involve a change in tactics; but the message is the same, and he must now bring it to the Praetorian guard. Paul doesn’t moan that this strange new restriction makes it impossible for him to carry out his ministry. He adapts and finds new ways to do it. He calls himself a servant of Christ Jesus. He didn’t stop being His servant when the handcuffs were clapped on him; he just became a servant in chains, preaching the Gospel in prison, and now he is overjoyed that the Gospel is bearing fruit throughout the whole palace guard! God’s plans, far from being stifled are being wonderfully fulfilled.

This inspired the local church, and they stepped up to the plate and became bolder and more courageous too. But even more remarkable is that the letters he wrote in his confinement not only instructed and encouraged the churches of his day, but have continued to bless the church throughout the succeeding centuries!

Whatever strange and surprising circumstances we find ourselves in, the church is still the church with a message to preach. We must not dwell on the awkwardness of these restricted times, but adapt, and find new avenues to be the servants of the Lord. Who knows what things you are inspired to do which will have far-reaching consequences!

Many creative and innovative ways are already being displayed, voices are being raised in worship, and thousands of people are tuning in online who never normally come to church. God has his ways! Lets pray for an abundant harvest: even more than the whole Praetorian guard!

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Small things

In these strange days of enforced separation, the pace of life has become slower for many of us. It had slowed down a fair bit anyway for Terry and me as we are officially retired, although we travel a lot and Terry preaches most weekends. Or has been. But now, marooned in our house in Sussex, we are having to re-evaluate our lives.

I have discovered that one quickly begins to appreciate small things which render our days more pleasant. For example, yesterday I took advantage of the slot designated for the elderly (really? Me?) at our local Tesco store. I was surprised to find that it was very quiet indeed. Very few people were shopping, which made it easier to walk around without having to make efforts to keep the obligatory 2 meters distance from other shoppers. While some items were in short supply, I was able to purchase enough necessities for the foreseeable future. The lady on the checkout was most friendly and chatty. But what really pleased me most of all was that I was presented with a beautiful bunch of pink and white flowers, left over from Mothers’ day. Altogether, it was a successful, and un-stressful, shopping trip!

I am also grateful that the Water Board sent along a cheerful and hardworking team of men to deal with a persistent leak from the water mains. They dug large holes in the lawn, and filled them in again when they couldn’t find the source of the problem. Eventually they surmised it to be under our garage. They assured us that they would be back this week to fix it, and it might involve breaking up the garage floor. We waited apprehensively, wondering if the limitations imposed by Covid 19 would not allow them to continue, and I had visions of the water gurgling away into a swelling lake beneath our house into which we would gradually subside. But on Tuesday morning, the main guy turned up, and hit on a simple solution which he proceeded to put into practice. Then the other two came and efficiently filled in a hole in the driveway, taking pains to make it look almost as good as new. All three were cheerful, polite and diligent. The main topic of any conversation (conducted at a safe distance of course) was not the virus but the leak, which made a nice change.

These things are not groundbreaking— although I suppose fixing the leak was, technically— but I appreciated the thoughtfulness in both events. Added to that, I am extremely glad that we have a garden, that the sun is shining, and that today I saw a robin, and some blue tits and a wren. I planted some seeds having found some forgotten packs in the shed, and used some forgotten compost and planted them in forgotten pots. Amazing what you find when you have time to potter about!

Small things: but they add to the joy and contentment of life in the slow lane. I know many are distressed, worried and frightened, and we are praying constantly for them to look to the God of all comfort to find strength. But I also hope for many to find that, as the things they had thought to be essential to their well being are no longer available, they will find pleasure and joy in small things which up to now they had taken for granted. Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air…..Consider the lilies of the field..” Now we shall have time to do that. It helps!

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