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Paul talks about how to overcome feeling under siege

Day 14

In conversation with a lady stood in the queue at Sainsbury’s at the weekend (of course we were two metres apart before you ask), she referred to us as a country being under siege. That got me thinking and I guess there is a genuine sense of siege in people’s lives at this time. Remember over 25 per cent of the world’s population are presently confined to their homes.

I think most of us at sometime or another have felt under siege. People who have experienced long term illness, depression, battling addiction, bereavement and a whole host of other things that give us the sense of being under siege.

Our encouragement is that when we read the Old Testament, we see God breaking through sieges and delivering His people. We witness God turning situations around for the good of His people.

So, if you feel hemmed in, under stress, feeling lonely… let me remind you that our God is the God of breakthrough and will provide grace and favour during these unique times for us as a country.

Psalm 46 talks about natural disasters and other calamities that come over people’s lives from time to time, and then inserts this little phrase: ‘And God is in the midst of them’.

Allow God to break the limitations of your world and for you to see the bigger picture.
He will give grace to endure and you will know that even though you feel a sense of siege mentality, you can rely on the certainty of God’s abiding love and presence.

‘If God be for us… who can be against us ?’.

In times of lockdown, let us pray for breakthrough.

Have a Spirit inspired day.

Paul

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Ruth talks about having a break

Day 13

In this time of lockdown I am sure many of us have been very thankful for social media, whether it’s Facebook, WhatsApp etc., to keep in touch with our families and friends. It was great last Tuesday to be part of the Zoom Bible Study group and on Sunday being part of the digital service and Zoom coffee time. But I would just ask that we remember some of our older members who don’t have access to social media etc. If you could just pick up the phone and give them a ring I am sure they would be very grateful.

There is a famous advert that says this “Have a break have a Kit Kat (other Chocolate bars are available) 😀 So there is one thing I have been thinking about at this time and it is the Sabbath Rest that the Lord gives us. He didn’t give us a Sabbath rest just to spoil our fun, He gave us it so that our bodies and spirits can be refreshed and renewed and that we can have fellowship with Him. So now we have been given this Sabbath rest I hope we can all enjoy it positively.

My phone is set to start giving me notifications from 7 o’clock each morning. So every time my phone pings I am tempted to look and see who is trying to contact me or what people are saying on social media etc. I have been thinking that perhaps at least for one hour during the day I ought to have a Sabbath rest from my phone.

God wants to have Fellowship with us and wants us to have a Sabbath rest so that we can be Renewed and Refreshed. Please take this as Gift from Him.

Ruth

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Tim talks about the significance of rainbows

Day 12

As I do my daily exercise of walking around my estate with Linda and Lola my dog I have noticed many hand drawn rainbows in windows as well as other notices of support for the NHS. The significance of the rainbow is found in Genesis 9: 12 – 17 The Message translation says:

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.’

Genesis chapters six to nine tell us about the story of Noah and the flood God allowed to cleanse the world. The rainbow was established to remind both God and mankind that the earth will not be destroyed again.

The rainbow is truly a reflection and symbol of the beauty of love. It represents a love, a promise, a covenant like no one else could give but one only God.

The rainbow is also a sign that reminds me that God is not remote but is with us in both the good and bad times, we may be separated from each other in this time of lock down, but I believe that the Godhead is with us and often carries us through our own daily struggles.

So let me encourage you to draw a rainbow and put it on your window and also to draw closer to the Godhead and allow the Holy Spirit to help you to communicate to and hear from God.

Tim

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Tony talks about the power of prayer in difficult times (part 2)

Day 11

There are apparently 222 spoken prayers in the bible. According to google, the Dakes Annotated Bible contains 222 actual prayers. There are also many biblical references about prayer, some encouraging us to pray, some instructing us how to pray, and others warn that our prayers will not be answered if there’s any form of evil, bitterness or sin in our lives.

Are All Our Prayers Answered?

Paul’s Troubles

When we consider the troubles experienced by the apostle Paul:

“But in all [things] we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in sleeplessness, in fastings” (2 Corinthians 6:4-5)

We may assume that the prayers of Paul and the prayers of those who worked along side him had not been answered.

Christians Through the Ages

Throughout the ages Christians worldwide have experienced hardship, persecution, torture, death, famine, diseases, natural disasters etc. Is it right for us to conclude that their prayers were overlooked by God?

Many years, before the demolition of the the Berlin Wall, the western world had prayed for the freedom and release of Christians who had suffered many things under the communist regime in what was then the USSR. Years went by and nothing happened. Why did it take so long for our prayers to take effect?

The Prayers of Jesus and Paul

There are two classic cases from the New Testament that are often cited as evidence of unanswered prayer:

  • The account of Jesus as he prays in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-45, Mark 14:32-40, Luke 22:39-42).
  • Paul’s prayer for healing (2 Corinthians 12:8)

Sometimes we must scratch the surface in order to see the bigger picture and the higher agenda. The prayers we offer for our immediate situation may be the start of a more global answer.  At this point we may be asking ourselves:

What do we do when our prayers seemingly go unanswered?  How should we pray

  1. Return to Scripture

“Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven.” (Psalm 119:89)

We may adopt the view that God is beyond our reach. That we cannot influence His sovereign authority. We may believe that our prayers will never influence God’s will, change His mind, thwart His plans or hinder His cause.

However, scripture calls us to pray, and actively encourages us to pray. When prayer combines with scripture we have an exceedingly powerful weapon in our armoury. Listen to what God says.

The bible encourages us seek, call and pray. God doesn’t stand at a solitary distance aloof or alone. “He is near”, He is not far from us, “He may be found”

“Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near.” (Isiah 55:6)

“If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

The prayer Jesus taught us invites us to embrace God’s purpose, look out and look up, engage with God to build heaven in the lives of others rather than seeking to satisfy our own selfishness.

“Your kingdom come, Yours will be done, on earth as I heave”.

Submission to God’s greater plan of salvation is the essence of Jesus prayer in Gethsemane.

Paul resigned himself to let nothing stand in the way of the purpose of God for his mission: “My Grace is sufficient for you, my strength is perfected in your weakness “

All of us who are seriously contemplating the subject of “praying in difficult times” must at some point surrender ourselves completely to the will of God and permit “thy kingdom come, thy will be done” to become our watchword.

2. Have Confidence in The Word

When our focus is on God, our hearts become established on a secure foundation. Our confidence is given a better platform upon which to build. We are no longer using the building blocks of our own imaginations. The structure of our lives is now in accordance to a higher architectural design.

Isiah says of the Lord:

“For My thoughts [are] not your thoughts, Nor [are] your ways My ways,” says the LORD. 9 “For [as] the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isiah 55:8-9)

A consistent prayer life permits us to be transformed by God’s Word, as our spirits are renewed by His Spirit who grants us access into the presence of God.

Developing a habit of reading the bible gives the Holy Spirit who is the transformer of human hearts and minds access into our lives. It is the Spirit who guides us, and most importantly reveals to us the mind and thoughts of God (1 Corinthians 2:16).

Paul informs us that by the Holy Spirit; “we have the mind of Christ”.  James reminds us that “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

So keep on praying, God will do really amazing things, even more than you can imagine.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

3. Renewed Faith Transforms Prayer

“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater, 11 So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper [in the thing] for which I sent it.” (Isiah 55:10-11)

God’s Word will never fail, we have His promise, that His word will accomplish its task. Therefore, pray with confidence.  Never give up on prayer. Pray without ceasing and let God do amazing things through you. When our prayers are in accordance with the Word and the Spirit they are like the “rain and the snow which water the earth”, God’s word prospers and the earth is blessed.

In the midst of a severe Medatoranian storm, the ship on which Paul sailed was breaking up and about to sink. Everyone around him were in despair of their lives when Paul stood and confessed these words:

“Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.” (Acts 27:25)

As we read in the bible about the emerging nation of Israel, it was usually at the last moment, when all help and all hope seemed lost that God brought the deliverance. The nations prayers were usually answered but not in the way they anticipated.

Life for everyone is difficult just now. But in closing I would like to remind you of a time in the book of Acts when Paul and Silas were in lock down, shut up in a high security prison. At midnight they prayed and sang hymns to the Lord. There singing must have been so bad that it triggered an earthquake. The earthquake was so severe that the prison fell apart. God had set the captives free.

Our God works miracles.

Tony

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Janette talks about ‘the best of times, the worst of times’

Day 10

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…

A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

These words written in 1859 could describe today and how many see the current crisis we are in.  Before us is a world that seems to know no boundaries, we live a ‘global’ existence with travel and access to things previous generations could only dream about.  Before COVID 19, we in the UK had it so good, in fact we still do and yet suddenly our view of the world, the view of our world has changed.  Gone is the freedom we take for granted to go where and when we want without restrictions.  To visit friends and family and even to go to the workplace; instead we are confined to our homes!  For some working from home is welcome, for others it is frustrating, going to work for many is a necessity as they strive to keep the rest of us safe.  Thank you to those dedicated people in the NHS, those working to keep supplies of food available and those delivery drivers.  We still have the best of times, but our view is distorted by the circumstances we are in.  This reminds me of a very well-known Bible reading, 1 Corinthians 13, often referred to as the ‘love’ chapter.  In verse 13 we read these words in The Message translation:

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears, and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

I am sure I am not alone in wondering what the next weeks and months are going to bring and probably like many I am given to trying to work out what may or may not take place.  That can feel like ‘squinting in a fog’, trying hard to see a way through this time in our lives.  But this verse speaks of hope, it says that the weather will clear, and the sun will shine. COVID 19 will at some point release its hold on us and we will look back and wonder at all that took place.

I would like to hope that in that looking back what we see is that through it all God was with us and that we will all have stories to tell of how He has met us during the worst and the best of times.  To do that we need to know the assurance that faith in Jesus brings, that ‘joy comes in the morning’ and that He, that is Jesus has promised to be with us in every situation, however big or small, however good or bad.

Like Dickens we can say it is the best and the worst of times.  It is the best because we live in 2020, in a country that has an amazing health service, world leading distributions systems, connectivity through IT and social media to name just a few and although this is the worst viral outbreak for generations the globalised world has enabled governments to manage situations with knowledge and experiences being shared. 

There are stories of people doing amazing things and some of people being self-serving  and unkind but we have an opportunity to show the love that Jesus has given to us, to tell others of the peace that comes from having a relationship with God through His son, Jesus.  So, don’t hold back, take this opportunity to give hope to people, a hope not based on world leaders and governments, not based on the here and now but a hope that is eternal as we read in Hebrews 10:

So, let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.

Remember

Our worshipping together may be virtual, but I would encourage us all to get involved in all the digital solutions our great communications team have put at our disposal to ‘meet’ together over the next weeks.  Each of us in some way can make the ‘worst of times, the best of times’!

God bless you all.

Janette

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Paul talks about how God’s banner over us is love

Day nine

We are instructed to be alert and watchful as to the things around us for fear of contamination and infection, and rightly so, however, may I remind you that God has provided a covering over our lives. The Bible tells us that ‘ His banner over us is love’. When I read that Scripture in the Songs of Solomon I always think that an exclamation mark should be inserted after the phrase ‘ His banner over us is love!’

In ancient times the banner was the symbol of the King’s protective care for His subjects. It also spoke of ownership, it flew over the house to identify who the owner was. God has raised a banner over your life, displaying ownership and care. We belong to Him and He is infatuated with you as as His child. His love surrounds us, strengthens us and shields us. When Moses help up his hands with the help of Aaron and Hur whilst in the wilderness, he built and altar and called it ‘ Jehovah Nissi’ which means ‘ The Lord is my Banner’.

So whilst all around us we are conscious of germs, viruses, and contamination, over and above us is the security blanket of God’s amazing love for us.

Stay well and enjoy the sunshine of His love over your life each day.

Paul

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Phil talks about shielding

Day eight

This week 1.5 million people will have received a letter or text from the NHS informing them that they are considered to be so high a risk that they should completely shut themselves away for at least 12 weeks – this is called shielding.

They are not to leave their homes and they are not to come into contact with anyone. They are so vulnerable that they would be a serious risk if they contracted Coronavirus. What is more, the NHS couldn’t cope with the surge of people needing hospital care and more acutely intensive care couldn’t cope with the numbers of people needing to be ventilated.

The country is about to mobilise 250,000 volunteers to support them and ensure that they are kept safe while the danger passes.

This morning the young doctors in surgery were wearing their old hospital scrubs and donned masks and gloves – they are keen to protect themselves.

When the enemy is so new and potentially deadly we sometimes have no choice but to hide away to protect ourselves. David experienced several occasions when in the face of an overwhelming enemy he had to hide away. Yet God proved to him that with God on your side any enemy can be overcome.

As Christians we have been equipped to cope with enemies. That is why the leadership has recently been emphasising the basics of our Christian life. They help protect us from the storms of life that expectedly and unexpectedly come our way.

We learn in Ephesians 6 that to be well protected we need to be fully armoured. Our shield is faith. Belief in God and what he can do allows us to fend off the burning arrows that come our way.

The Message version of this chapter makes it clear that we can’t win on our own – we need the help that God gives us to protect us. Also this is not about a pandemic that will go away but issues that we need protection throughout our life. Therefore, grab hold of the full amour of God. God’s Word and prayer are vital and so are truth, justice, righteousness, faith and salvation worked out into reality within our lives.

Shield yourself from the virus now circulating locally and help others more vulnerable than you. But more than this use this time where we have more space in our lives than ever to fully equip yourselves for the rest of your life.

Have a great day shielding, self-isolating and social distancing!!!

Phil

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Richard talks about sharing the burden

Day six

If you know me, you’ll know that I am a massive sports fan. So, whenever I get the chance to watch TV at home it often involves live football and cricket, or catching up on the most recent sporting contests on demand. This is very much to the annoyance of my mum and Hollie (who I can proudly say is now my new fiancée!). The recent lack of live sports on tv as you can imagine has had a big impact on the way I spend my down time, and made life for my mum and Hollie much more pleasant than it was before.

Thankfully, I also love watching films and the other day I found myself sat, engrossed in the new Toy Story film. This is the fourth in a series of animated movies which have given me a lot of enjoyment over the years, ever since the first one was released back when I was a child. If you have seen any of the Toy Story films you will undoubtedly be able to recite the famous song You’ve Got a Friend in Me. In challenging times, like the ones we are living in now, it is important to know you have the support and love of a friend, someone who is available at the end of a phone or screen to share your burdens with.

Some of us at Smawthorne Community Church are working our way through the Bible in One Year reading plan, which includes Old and New testament readings each day. The book in the Old Testament that we are working through at the moment is called Numbers. In chapter 11 it tells the account of how the Israelites complained to God because of the food he was providing them during their travels in the desert. The food was called Manna and is described as a fine, flake-like thing like the frost on the ground. Doesn’t sound like the most appetising of meals but still God was providing for them in a mighty way. As a result Moses, the leader of the Israelites, must have received a lot of anger from the people and turned to God in his despair, asking “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant?…I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me.” In response God is compassionate and asks Moses to gather seventy of Israel’s leaders, so he can fill them with the power of the Spirit, meaning “they will share the burden of the people” so that Moses will not have to carry it alone.

The current focus of the government, in the wake of the virus, is rightly to safeguard the health of people in the UK. However, in the face of such a crisis it is easy for us to feel alone, especially with the practice of social isolating which means we are physically distant from others. It is also easy for us to feel like we’re carrying a heavy burden, especially with loved ones who need great support and face real danger from the virus. But during these times it is an awesome truth to know we serve a God who is our great provider and sends people to share the burden with us. There are many times I can recount when a friend has crossed paths with mine just when I needed it. Looking back, I can give thanks to God for those people he has sent my way to offer wisdom, encouragement and friendship.

Now more than ever we need to be using the incredible technology we have at hand to continue life together and connect with others. This week, why not think of one way you can be a friend to someone, help carry the burden and share God’s light in their lives.

Have a good week,

Richard

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Tony talks about the power of prayer in difficult circumstances

Day four

It has been said that we are living in unprecedented times. As the government takes measures to reduce the impact of COVID-19 upon the lives of everyone in our nation. Yet no one knows where, when or who will fall victim to this virulent virus.

What can clearly be seen is the good and the bad spilling out of humanity. Selfish attitudes and actions, an unwillingness to conform to rules and guidelines, depletion of supermarket stocks etc. Many are complying to government guidelines, while others argue that our basic human and democratic values have been taken away from us.

The bible tells us “look up… your redemption draws near” in Luke 21:28. (I’ve used this verse out of context as a means of diverting your attention to a higher authority. Be positive, because our “help comes ‘not from’ the hills, our help comes ‘from’ the Lord”.)

Scripture is littered with the prayers of desperate people. All kinds of prayers, from all kinds of people. People in different situations, each with different needs, and each looking for different outcomes to their own particular needs.

There are prayers in times of battle, prayers in times of trouble, prayers in sickness, prayers for guidance, prayers in times of blessing, prayers in times of strife and prayers of desperation. But the good news is that our God answered their prayers, turned their lives around and provided the help that they desperately needed.

Here are just three examples:

Some prayers are born out of fear (Peter walking into the water) –  Matthew 14:30

Some because of broken relationships (Jacob wrestles with God over the imminent encounter with his brother Esau) – Genesis 32:24

And some out of shear desperation (Hannah prays for a child) – 1 Samuel 1:13

How we pray in times of difficulty (or any other time) often reveals something about ourselves:

• Highlighting our lack of trust in God. Calling into question our lack of confidence in His ability to act on our behalf.

• We question the bible and the promise of God to be with us in our troubles.

• We struggle with our feelings of guilt and unworthiness.

• Our lives and our time may be too full of other business.

•  Or we just can’t be bothered.

However, “Praying in difficult times” (or at any other time) should be as natural as breathing. We must remember these basic truths:

  1.  It is redeeming grace which carries us into the holy place.  (Colossians 1:22, Jude 1:24)
  2. It is saving grace that enables us to stand before God ‘who’ makes intercession for us. (Romans 8:26-27, 34 Hebrews 7:25)
  3. Grace gives us boldness in the presence of our Heavenly Father ‘who loves us so much’. We come to God not because of our own goodness, but because of “the blood of Jesus”. (Hebrews 10:19)

Take encouragement from John 15:16, Jesus tells his disciples all about his loving Father, and he tells them that “they can ask Him”. He will listen to them (us) because they (we) are joined to Him.

In John 16:13-14 we are reminded that the Holy Spirit is our guide, as we pray – He who helps us. The one chief aim of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Jesus.

John 16:25-27 informs us that the Father will hear our prayers out of the deep love that he has for His Son.

We should never feel intimidated at the prospect of prayer. The Holy Trinity are united in purpose and will to work and to do whatever we ask in prayer.

In closing I would encourage you not to give up praying.

Luke 18:1: “Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart,”

Luke 21:36: “Watch therefore, and pray always…’

1 Thessalonians 5:17: “pray without ceasing,”

1 Timothy 2:8: “I desire therefore that you pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting;”

Ephesians 3:21-22: “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Tony

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Tim talks about practical support for vulnerable people in church, our neighbours and our family

Day three

Jesus told the disciples to go into all the world and preach the good news, but according to
the Government Foreign Office the advice is not to travel overseas. So let’s now think about what we can do to help each other, our families and our surrounding neighbours and communities which brings us back to the same actions of the early Church
in Acts 2 and 3.

Every day the Government is encouraging us to self-isolate and more of our institutions are
being made to close down, but on the other hand we are told to keep an eye on those
around us. As more of us are forced to self isolate and are confined to our houses, we could easily feel like the walls are closing in and we are out of sight and out of mind.
But last Sunday Janette reminded us that Jesus has broken down the wall that separated us
from God, so although we may be remote from each other, Jesus is with us every moment of the day.

But what as individuals can we do to keep connected – social media / texting / telephone
calls / emails and even old fashioned letters or cards enable us to still communicate with
each other and our families. Can I also suggest that we have an opportunity to reach out to our neighbours, regardless of age, and offer to help with either practical issues (shopping, walking dogs, feed the cat, prepare a meal etc.) or support and reassurance.

With regards to supporting our surrounding communities, sadly we have had to cancel
foodbank for a short time, but as we see on the news media and social media people are
thinking of invented ways of keeping in touch and providing help and support. As our nation goes further into lock down can I encourage us all to look up and remember
that we are connected to the Alpha and Omega of Revelation 1, and look out of your walls
and make connections with our families and establish relationships with people on our road, estate, village, community.

However long this situation goes on for, let us be the thread of hope and trust for our
families, church and secular communities need.

As part of this thread of hope, if any of you reading this blog need any additional support
either practical or spiritual please don’t hesitate to contact any of the Smawthorne leaders.

Bless you all
Tim Weeks

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Pastor Paul talks about putting your trust in God

Day two

We recently entered the season of Spring, when we are expected to see new life, fresh things, people feeling better about themselves after the Winter season. Yet, what we are seeing unfold before our eyes is something we have never witnessed before… the spread of a deadly and dreadful virus.

Clearly there is much fear and panic in the hearts of people, as we live in uncertain times. However, be encouraged that whilst there is evident confusion and unease on the ground, our confidence and anchor is in an unchanging God.


I read Psalm 46 again this morning and reminded myself that God IS our ever present helper in time of trouble. The Psalm ends with an exhortation to ‘Be still and know that I am God’.

I genuinely believe that God will bring good out of this Pandemic. The God you and I have trusted in the past is the One who is faithful still. Allow His perfect peace to rule in your heart during this uncertain time. I woke up yesterday morning with the thought that if God my Father cares so attentively for the wild flowers in a field… how much more will He attend to you and I and do the very best for us. Remember we live in God’s very own Intensive Care Unit and He has promised to shield us from all danger.

In the Bible the phrase ‘And it came to pass’ is often used. This awful situation will come to pass and I pray that we will reassemble as a church community and see new people join us because of the care and love the local church has demonstrated to its community during this difficult season.

I pray that God will strengthen your heart and mind and each day our focus will be on a God in absolute control over all things.

Stay in faith
Paul

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