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Real game changer: A thought from Phil about Pentecost

Day 71

It’s amazing how new phrases arrive in our lexicon and take over our world almost instantly when a new situation arises. In 2019 some of the following would have meant nothing to us: Coronavirus, PPE, Furloughed, Shielding, Social Distancing etc… you get what I am saying. Yet now these words and phrases are written and spoken millions of times every day and seem to dominate our conversations and media.

In church circles we used the term furloughed but in a different context. To us it meant the period of time when missionaries working overseas came back home for a period of rest, recovery and to tour our UK churches telling the people about their ministry abroad.

One phrase that has got under my skin slightly is when people pronounce that one of the changes thrust upon us at this time of crisis is that ‘this will be a real game changer!’ I can’t help myself – it must be the cynic in me – but I start to go down the path of thinking to myself – will it? It is human nature to quickly take up our old ways of living and patterns of behaviour as soon as things revert to normal.

There are blessings to be found in this trying time. I love that the fact that I have been able to watch daily as nature has transformed from spring into summer. It started slowly at first, with subtle changes that hinted that the natural world was awakening and then the momentum has gathered until everything is in glorious bloom and some plants visibly growing daily. Most years I am so busy that it just sort of happens and I only sample nature during my summer holidays or occasionally out on the golf course. It does feel like ample compensation for having to live a simpler, slower, constrained life and we have been blessed to have great weather.

So, this is the week that we are celebrating a real game changer. Something that had a permanent and lasting impact on our world and can do the same for your life. The Church celebrates Pentecost. This is the time when God gifted us himself and sent the Holy Spirit to be with us, to encourage us and to be our comfort and helper.

Can you imagine how wonderful it must be not just to acknowledge the existence of God or to understand that He loved us so much that He sent His son to connect with us, but now He can be permanently in us, with us and working alongside us. His supernatural power can be demonstrated in our lives and in what we do. Now that is a game changer! Jesus promised that God would send us a helper, and this is the Holy Spirit. He even said it would be advantageous for himself to leave this world because He would be replaced by the Holy Spirit.

In John 14 we read the following in the Message translation:

15-17 “If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you. I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. The godless world can’t take him in because it doesn’t have eyes to see him, doesn’t know what to look for. But you know him already because he has been staying with you, and will even be in you!”

This friend Jesus speaks about is the Holy Spirit. The impact of this is potentially limitless. Jesus taught clearly that the only limitation placed on the power of the Holy Spirit is our lack of faith. We only need a tiny amount to make a huge impact. Even Jesus found that He could not perform miracles in places where people lacked faith. It is clear to me that God has chosen to work through us. This week accept the Holy Spirt as a real gift to you from God and have faith that this is something that will be a real game changer in your life. Accept it as a gift, believe in it and learn to work with Him who is part of God. Use the gifts given to you to bring glory to God and never be the same again.

Have a great Pentecost!

Phil

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Linda talks about the upper room experience

Day 69

When I was a little girl about 50 years ago, there was quite a popular chorus sung at my local church the words went something like this:

‘If the same Spirit
That raised Christ from the dead
Dwell in you, dwell in you;
If the same spirit
That raised Christ from the dead Dwell in you, dwell in you.
It will quicken your mortal body If that Spirit dwell in you;
It will quicken your mortal body If that spirit dwell in you.’

Unfortunately as a five year old I didn’t quite get the words right and my version much to everyone’s amusement ended with ‘He will quicken my naughty body’, which of course I sang very loudly and was often a party piece when visiting speakers visited the family home.

Of course I don’t really think the holy spirit was sent to quicken my naughty body but he was sent to give me guidance, comfort and power.

Last time I wrote a blog I wrote about 40 days. The last part of the blog referred to Jesus’ ascension to his father and how the disciples gathered together in an upper room to prepare and plan for the direction of the church now they were on their own.

Today I would like to look at what happened in the upper room. The story can be found in Acts 1-2.

The disciples had been through quite a turbulent time in the last six weeks. They had witnessed so much happening. To name a few they had witnessed Judas who was a disciple betraying Jesus, to Jesus being tried and crucified, Peter had denied all knowledge of Jesus, to Thomas doubting that Jesus had risen again. Then they had all spent time with Jesus after his resurrection, witnessing him performing miracles finally finishing with them witnessing his ascension.

Now here they are again a little bit lost and wondering what the future may hold for them. Then they remember what Jesus said to them before his ascension and return to an upper room. At this point it’s good to remember it’s not just the 11 apostles, it was all followers including his mother, brothers and the women who were first to the tomb and discovered that Jesus was alive. Acts 1 12-14.

When they were back in the upper room it’s good to note that the first thing they did was to put things back in order by discussing who could replace Judas as the 12th apostle. Peter stood up and recalled a prophecy from David (Psalm 109 v 8 and Psalm 69 v 25) After this had been completed by the casting of lots, Matthias was chosen to join them as the 12th apostle.

Now the house was in order they got down to the serious business of praying and seeking God for what he wants them to do and where he wants them to go next. (As Pentecost was nine days after ascension I think it’s safe to say it was a long prayer meeting). After waiting and still all together in one accord for approximately eight to nine days, they were still seeking and praying for the Holy Spirit which Jesus had promised them on the day of his ascension, but without the hindsight we have had no idea what this Holy Spirit might be.

The Holy Spirit finally fell upon the upper room. The bible describes it as coming as a rushing wind that the disciples could physically hear. They also described seeing tongues of fire resting on each other’s heads as they were all individually filled by the Holy Spirit to equip them for the future. It must have been quite a sight to see and noisy too as people outside of the upper room came to see for themselves what was happening; they even accused the disciples of being drunk. This prompted Peter to address the crowd. He recalled a prophecy through Joel in 9th century BC where he said “in the last days God says I will pour out my spirit on all people”. After Peter had finished speaking that day, over 3,000 people were saved.

The disciples had to stay where they were in the upper room waiting and praying for the Holy Spirit in effect they were in lockdown waiting for the next steps. They knew the promise Jesus had given them of power, peace, boldness and a comforter to get them through the days ahead

Whilst we are in lockdown waiting for our next steps, what are you in need of? Are you in need of comfort, boldness or peace? If so, first pray that God would reveal himself to you, putting right any obstacles between you and God. Then pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit into your own life or contact one of the leaders to join you in praying in one accord with you. Remember though, it wasn’t a quick prayer, the apostles prayed consistently for the Spirit to fall.

The Holy Spirit will enter your life when invited. It may not be like a rushing wind, he may come quietly like a dove descending gently on a breeze, but from experience all I can say is he will give you peace, comfort and boldness when needed and you won’t be able to explain it but you will know why.

If like the 3,000 you need to get to know Jesus as your personal saviour, pray that the Holy Spirit will reveal Jesus to you as a friend.

Linda

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Paul talks about not losing heart during the pandemic

Day 65

Hi everyone,

If you managed to get out of the house a little during the last eight weeks, you will have
noticed an increase number of joggers. People of all shapes, sizes and ages pounding the streets in an effort to retain their fitness during lockdown (good on them I say). In my mind I want to join them… but as they say ‘the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak’.

Whilst out walking, I have noticed some runners ‘grimace’ at certain times and also stop and hold their side. This, of course, is them experiencing the inevitable ‘stitch’. I remember from my cross country runs in school, developing a stitch wasn’t pleasant, and running through that pain was a challenge.

The Christian life is likened to a race, times when it’s nice and steady and focussed, and then times when we feel the ‘stitch’. It’s painful and hard and we consider quitting and walking away. In 2 Corinthians 4 the Apostle Paul shares his own personal testimony. He starts and ends the account with the same phrase… ‘Don’t lose heart’. He shares with us his own intensely personal struggle to keep going and not give up. It’s a compelling account of grit and determination.

When you think of it, Paul had plenty of reasons to lose heart. It’s admirable how he kept focussed and passionately energised to do the work that God had called him to do. I admit there have been times when I have felt no one cares, no one is paying attention, I’m running on empty, devoid of energy and enthusiasm. All of us travel through periods of discouragement, and we, generally speaking, pass through them into a better place.
The demands of life in lockdown can wear you down and cause you to be insular and withdrawn.

Can I share some pastoral counsel with you:

1) Renew your perspective… God is at work. Look what He is doing internally and what God is doing eternally. At the end of Chapter 4, Paul tells us that his inner man (i.e his spiritual nature) is being renewed every day. Change the way you look at your circumstances – the key to persistence is perspective! Paul also reminds us not to dwell on things that are seen, but value eternal things. See the bigger picture. Trust even when you cannot see.

2) Rehearse the promises of God… cling to them. Look to memorise certain Bible verses
e.g ‘all things work together for good to them who live God’ Romans 8 v 28. Feed your spirit with God’s Word every day. Stand on His promises and speak them over your life each day.

One day, during the the Second World War, the Prime Minister of the day, Winston Churchill travelled on the London Underground to the House of Commons. He had a very big decision to make for this nation. As he sat in the carriage with the general public, he invited them to share their thoughts. A little girl sat opposite him asked if she could speak. He gave her permission and she simply said, ‘never give up’. The rest is history. Churchill used that phrase regularly throughout the remainder of his life.

‘Don’t lose heart’.  God is greater than Covid-19, His plans stand forever, we will emerge from this stronger and more effective, and in case it might have slipped your mind… You are the apple of His eye!

Run through the stitch and win the prize… Winners never quit… Don’t lose heart.

Blessings,
Paul

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Janette talks about clearing out the rubbish

Day 62

Well here we are, week nine of lockdown and I hope you are managing to keep busy and have some focus to your day. I find myself in a phase of life which is quite different to what I have known before, I have time! The problem with having time to do things is that you have to get down to those jobs which always seem to be at the bottom of the list, such as clearing out cupboards!  So last week this was the target I set myself, to clear out the cupboards in our kitchen – I have to say is was not as bad as I thought it would be and now every time I open a cupboard I get a deep sense of satisfaction, and even more thrilling is I can see what I have and access it easily. As I was clearing out the cupboards, I was reminded of a story in Genesis 26 where because of the envy the Philistines felt against Isaac, they had filled the wells which his father Abraham had dug with rubbish, but Isaac reopened the wells. (Genesis 26:12-18). In my imagination I see these wells which were once a deep source of pure clean water, filled with earth and rocks and any other rubbish which the Philistines had to hand. I wonder what would have been in those wells if they had been filled up in today’s world? I am sure there would have been old tyres or a supermarket trolley, our imaginations could I am sure create quite a picture! We may not know how long the wells had been stopped but what we do know is that Isaac was determined to clear them out. He made a decision to get to grips with what was hindering the flow of water, and even though it wouldn’t have been easy he removed the rubbish and restored the flow of water.

Throughout the bible we read a lot about water, it symbolises life. Jesus tells the women of Samaria that the water he wanted to give her was ‘living water’ (John 4:9-11). Jesus announces that all who believe in him will have streams of living water flowing out of them (John 7:37-39). Today Jesus want us to know the water of the Holy Spirit is flowing through our lives. Water that is flowing is always fresh and life giving; it has a sound that brings joy to those who hear it, and this is what Jesus wants to give us each day. The trouble is that sometimes our lives get filled up with rubbish! Sometimes the rubbish is big stuff that is thrown at us and stops the flow of the life giving presence of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes it is a slow, steady build-up of things – a bit like my kitchen cupboards; it is easy to just keep pushing things to the back but all the time they are creating a blockage to the flow. Whatever the size, the rubbish needs to be removed so that the Holy Spirit can flow freely through us and into a world that particularly at this time is looking for hope, comfort and peace.

I really do believe that one of the benefits of lockdown is that our lives are simpler, we are not as busy, and our time isn’t clogged up with the rushing and business of how we were before this virus hit. Cleaning cupboards is not the most exciting activity but it is one which we need to do regularly and in the same way I believe we need at times to decide to clear out the clutter and rubbish in our lives so that the living water of the Holy Spirit can once again flow through us without obstacles reducing the flow. I want to encourage you today to ask our Lord Jesus to show you those things that are stopping the flow of the Holy Spirit in your life, and ask the Lord for his strength to deal with them and restore you once again so that out of us all who believe will flow that living water which comes from our heavenly Father.  

Isaac went on to dig more wells in other places declaring that ‘the Lord has given us room and we will flourish in the land’. (Genesis 26:22). My prayer is that we will all know the Lord’s blessings and that we will all flourish in the days that lie ahead.

God bless,

Janette

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Ruth talks about the importance of friends

Day 58

Before the onset of Facebook etc. there was a social platform on the Internet called Friends re United. When you enrolled and put in your details you could see if there was anyone that you had known from the past e.g. school, work etc. and I know many people got back in touch with their old friends.

Over the years I have formed many friendships, from childhood to older age and it’s lovely when I meet new people and then before I know it I have made friends with them. I still have friendships that I formed as a child and we are still close friends. Often there seems to be a bond in friendship that is different to merely making an acquaintance with someone. When you meet new people there is something about a particular person that draws you together. C.S Lewis says this about friendship: “Friendship is born when one says to the other, what you too; I thought I was the only one”. It’s lovely in these days of lockdown to pick up the phone and talk things over with your friends. You often feel very supported when you have finished your conversation.

In the Bible there are many instances of close friendships and I suppose one of the most famous is that of David and Jonathan’s close friendship. David owed his life to his friend Jonathan. Also Jonathan gave up all his hopes and aspirations of becoming King for the sake of David. Jonathan must have been in touch with God and he must have seen that David was God’s choice for Kingship. Wow what a friend to have. David grieved for Jonathan when he was killed in battle (2 Samuel Chapter 1:25-26) and provided for Jonathan’s family (2 Samuel Chapter 9).

Another friendship was that of Paul and Barnabas (although this one did not turn out so well). They went through so much together but after a disagreement about Mark they parted company (what a shame). Follow their story in Acts 13:2-15:41.

But of course the best friend we can have is Jesus. He gave His life for us (John 15:13-16) He has forgiven our sins. He is the one that knows us best and He knows just what we need at any time of the night or day. He is always there and we can turn to Him at any time.

How great it is to have a friend like Jesus.

So this weekend pick up the phone and have a chat to one of your friends, they might need you at that precise moment to give them reassurance. But never forget to have daily time with Jesus, He is longing for you to fellowship with Him.

Ruth

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Tim shares the thought ‘it’s all rubbish to me’

Day 54

Philippians 3: 8

On Sunday evening the Prime Minister announced a tentative relaxation of the lock down; so we can now do more exercise and either walk or bike to work. 

Wakefield Council have agreed to open three waste centres across the Borough and I have now been redeployed for up to the next six weeks to help manage the expected long queues as Wakefield District residents want to get rid of tonnes of rubbish and garden waste. 

My normal job involves helping people by adapting their homes, from today my role is to prevent the roads around the various recycling sites being clogged up and fly tipping taking place. I’m sure everyday I will be surrounded by rubbish. 

Whilst I was thinking about rubbish I was drawn to Philippians 3: 8 which says “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” (New King James Version) 

I work for the largest department in Wakefield Council – Adults, Health and Communities, but last Thursday at my traffic management training I found out that Waste Management controls and oversees the largest individual Council budget – so ‘where there’s muck there’s brass’ is very true.

In the New Living Translation, Philippians 3:1-11 has the sub heading – ‘The Priceless Gain of Knowing Christ’. 

The book of Philippians has been described as Paul’s joy letter and is believed to be a personal letter from Paul to express his love and affection for the church found in this Macedonian city. 

Philippians is also a joyful book because it emphasises the real joy of the Christian life – having the privilege and ability of knowing Jesus Christ personally and being able to depend on His strength rather than our own. 

Paul’s personal desire to know more of Jesus Christ above everything else is wonderfully expressed in his own words recorded for the Philippian Christians and ourselves in Philippians 3:7-11, which says:

“But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead”. (New King James Version) 

Can I challenge us all this morning – the next time you put the rubbish out for the bin personnel to collect, remember that though we were once rubbish sinners, we now because of the glorious death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ are heirs of the Father and members of the body and bride of Christ. 

When you think of where we were and what Jesus has accomplished for us – everything else is rubbish compared to knowing His love, grace, peace and joy. 

If you are lining up to tip your rubbish and see me in my bright yellow fluorescent jacket – give me a wave and obey the rules and remember that we are priceless in God’s eyes. 

Tim Weeks

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Linda talks about 40 days

Day 49

Hi everyone hope you are keeping safe and well.

Today I want to share with you a few thoughts about 40 days. 40 days are talked about quite a few times in the bible. I am just going to touch briefly on three.

The first one is found in Genesis 7 and is very familiar to us all. It is the record of Noah’s ark. Noah and his family had spent years and years trusting God and building the ark to the exact specification God had given him. This in itself is a miracle as he was building the ark ready for rain like they had never seen before.

On completion of the ark Noah then waited for the command from God to enter the ark. On the exact day and time given by God Noah entered the ark with his family and of course the animals. It then started to rain and it rained and it rained for 40 days and nights. Although there is no description of what was happening on the ark during the 40 days of rain Noah and his family must have been wondering if it was ever going to stop. They could also have been wondering if they had enough food on board for themselves and the animals. Even after the 40 days of rain Noah and his family had to remain on the ark until God’s appointed time for them to leave.

Another story recorded in the bible that refers to 40 days is David and Goliath this story is found in 1 Samuel 17. I know we are all very familiar with the story, but today I want to look at it from Goliaths view. Goliath was a champion among the Philistines, he was chosen to fight the Israelites. Goliath was fully prepared for battle he had on the full armour, the only bit of him not protected was his face. He had come out to battle for 39 days but no one from the Israelites were brave enough to fight him. He thought that the victory was his. But God had a different plan on the 40th day he sent David the young shepherd boy (who was later going to be king of Israel) David unlike Goliath was physically unprepared he had no armour, he had no experience of battles but he had one thing on his side that Goliath didn’t and that was God. He listened to God and obeyed him he stepped up when no one else did. Using the only weapon he knew how to use a sling and stone he aimed at Goliath who was laughing with embarrassment that the Israelites thought David could win the battle against a giant like him then with just one throw the stone hit Goliath in the middle of his forehead the one place not protected and down he fell.

Another time 40 days is mentioned in the bible is in Acts 1 again a story we are very familiar with, it is the ascension of Jesus to take up his seat at the right hand of his father. After Jesus death and resurrection he had spent a further 40 days teaching his disciples about the work they would be doing on his behalf he talked to them, he prayed with them and he empowered them to do the work of God after his ascension. After the ascension of Jesus the disciples went in to the upper room to pray, as before the ascension Jesus had promised them that he had to go to his father before the comforter could come.

Now you may be wondering why I have shared about 40 days and how we can relate to the stories I have referred to. Well it is 40 days since the official start of full lockdown and I can’t speak for you but I have needed the courage, stamina, and peace that all the characters in the stories needed

Noah, David and the disciples were all ridiculed by their peers for believing that God was going before them.

Goliath was well prepared so he thought but God knew better.

The Israelite army had had lots of training but it took a shepherd boy with no training but knowing God was on his side to beat the battle.

Noah and his family were safe in the boat only because he had followed God’s instruction no matter how daft they appeared and he kept going right to end.

The disciples although they had walked and talked with Jesus could have easily given up hope as after the 40 days he was taken away from them again but they held on praying and seeking God. God knew they would need further support so he sent his holy spirit the same spirit that we have access to on a daily basis.

So how are you coping during the 40 days of lockdown do you feel have you felt ridiculed for believing.

Have you been questioning why God?

Have you been feeling abandoned just like the disciples when Jesus left them.

Did you feel you were well prepared like Goliath only for God to disrupt your plans like or are you like David and have a giant like Goliath in your life that you need to overcome.

If so you are not alone I think a lot of people have felt these thoughts too.. I just want to remind you that God is never more than a prayer away. He will hear and answer prayer just keep pressing in. He promises to never leave us or forsake us. His promise to Noah was the sign of the rainbow and with so many rainbows on show during this time claim God’s promise to you. He wants us all to find that inner peace that comes from knowing him. As the verse in the Psalms says:

                 Be still and know that I am God.

So remember be like Noah Stay in, Stay safe, Save lives!

     Linda x

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Mandy talks about lockdown, birdsong and the gas man

Day 47

Something that always lifts my mood is hearing birdsong, wherever I am. Even on busy normal work days, I can be rushing about and suddenly hear a bird singing, notice it and really listen, even if it is just for a few seconds… which becomes a few seconds of rest from the hustle and bustle of my busy mind and life.

What is really lovely at the moment whilst in Lockdown is that life and the streets where I live are much more still and quiet. So when I’m on my lunch break, whilst working from home in a very busy and full house, I can sit in my little garden and really hear the many different birds, I can have a minute, take a breath, feel more still and then get back to work.

When I hear the birds singing I am reminded that there is a plan, a purpose and a much bigger picture for our lives than whatever is currently happening. I am reminded that no matter what I am never alone, I am loved and cared for, and that God says in His Word ‘Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?’ Matthew ch6 v 26.

Today we thought we had a Gas leak, so I opened windows and aired the room, then closed it up whilst we ate a very lovely Sunday lunch (not made by me of course). It seemed worse so we called the Gas Board who advised me how to turn off the Gas supply (I had no idea!), that we should evacuate the house (to the garden or car) and that they would arrive within the hour. Ten minutes later a friendly local chap arrived, checked everything and all was well. We did everything he advised us to do and had done everything I thought we should be doing… then I heard a Blackbird singing away!

I was reminded again… that no matter what difficulties we may face, (yes, anything, even a Gas leak) especially during these strange times… of what the Bible says, ’God, you’re my refuge. I trust in you and I’m safe! That’s right – He rescues you from hidden traps, shields you from deadly hazards. His huge outstretched arms protect you – under them you’re perfectly safe; his arms fend off all harm. Fear nothing.’ Psalm ch91 v 1-5

Today I was reminded to turn to God and not try to work things out myself (as I usually do), but to rest in His Peace and Protection and His Love for me! I pray that you are all reminded of this too today and take a few moments rest listening to the birdsong.

Mandy x x

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Olivia shares the thought ‘still here to help’

Day 42

This week got off to a busy start for me workwise. Since social distancing measures were introduced and Covid-19 changed the way health services operate, we have seen a reduction in the number of people attending A&E and contacting their GP practice when they need help. This week, we launched a new social media campaign called #StillHereToHelp which aims to encourage people living in the Wakefield District to continue to get help if they need it. Working in partnership with other health and care services in Wakefield, we want to make sure everyone knows that help is still available to them and urge them not to put off seeing someone if they need to.

I think this message is more relevant than ever, and it applies to all areas of our lives, not just healthcare. I want to take this opportunity to remind you that while we can’t physically see each other, your church family is still here to help you. While many things have changed, you can trust in the fact that you have a group of people thinking and praying about you every day. These are unprecedented and trying times, and it’s okay to reach out and ask for help. If you feel like you or someone you know needs prayer, you can fill in a prayer request form on our website and we will pray for you.

In Ecclesiastes 4:12 it says: “By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.” We are stronger when we come together and share the burden. Richard wrote a blog about this at the end of March. He used the analogy of the famous song from Toy Story, ‘You’ve Got a Friend in Me’ to express the importance of having a friend to go through difficult times with. So, if you haven’t already, please reach out to someone close to you and share the burden. There’s nothing like a good catch up over a cup of tea or coffee to lift your spirits!

Not only is it easy to feel disconnected from your church family when we’re not able to meet every Sunday, it’s also easy to feel disconnected from God. There’s something special about being able to come alongside fellow Christians to worship God and being in that wonderful atmosphere is something I definitely miss. However, it’s important to remember that He will always be near, no matter where you are. In Psalm 46 it says “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Don’t hesitate to call on Him if you are struggling; He is your ever-present help in times of trouble.

In James 4:8 it says “if you draw close to Him, He will draw close to you”. Why not use this gift of time we have been given to delve deeper into God’s word and get to know Him even more? We are so lucky to live in a time where we can access literally thousands of fantastic resources to help us develop our relationship with God. There is a wealth of songs, preaches, podcasts, blogs and Bible studies available online that will help you.

Here are some of my favourite resources:

Elevation Church podcast

Elevation Church’s lead pastor, Steven Furtick, has shared some of the most powerful and life-changing preaches on this podcast. Once you get past the cheesy Americanisms they are amazing and always relevant to where I am in my life at the time. Listen here.

Bible in One Year

A number of us at Smawthorne Community Church are doing the Bible in One Year study which, as the name suggests, guides you through the whole Bible in one year. Find out more here.

Worship

Our worship leader has created a playlist of amazing worship songs that you can listen to here.

Lift Devotionals

We have some incredible people in our church who are full of wisdom and knowledge. Our Lift Devotionals are shared every week and are designed to lift you up and give you some Bible-based encouragement to start your day with. You can check them out here.

If you have any favourite go-to resources, please share them as it’s always a blessing to find new ways of learning more about our amazing Father.

Have a great day everyone, and remember we’re still here to help. Please get in contact if you want to have a chat!

Olivia x

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Tim shares the thought ‘Here am I, send me’

Day 40

Isaiah 1:8

I work for Wakefield Council as a Disability Project Officer based at the Civic Centre in Castleford and I project manage various disabled adaptations within people’s homes across Wakefield District. However, after some basic awareness training I was requested to provide Personal Care and Support at a Care Home. This request was rejected as I had not received sufficient training and had no previous experience. On this occasion I was unable to say “here I am, send me.”

But I do applaud and give my full respect to all the front line NHS and Care Home workers who are willing to assist those in our hospitals and care homes not just in the Wakefield District but right across the UK; plus the key workers who enable these front line individuals to function. I hope that you will join me again on Thursday night and vigorously clap our new superheroes.

Two Sundays ago, Linda and I led our digital Sunday morning service, as part of that service Linda shared that with regards to going to Zimbabwe she had no calling, but she was willing to be led by God and step out into the river of God as mentioned in Ezekiel 47.

Since the lock down our Foodbank service has changed and we now operate a twice a week food parcel delivery service on behalf of Wakefield Council and other agencies. I would like to thank everyone who has willingly given their time to support, and donate and distribute food parcels across the Castleford district and beyond. We wouldn’t class ourselves as heroes, but we have received some lovely comments from both the agencies and the parcel recipients.

I don’t think Isaiah would have classed himself as a hero, let alone a superhero. In Isaiah chapter 1 we read that Isaiah had a vision as he tells us in verse 1 “​I saw the Lord seated on a throne, he was high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple​.” Isaiah’s reaction is recorded in verse 5 “​Woe to me!” “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty​.”

Instead of being destroyed, Isaiah’s lips are touched and his guilt is removed, then he hears the Lord speaking and asking for a volunteer to go and talk to the Children of Israel on the Lord’s behalf. In verse 8 Isaiah in effect raised his hand and volunteered to go as he declared “​Here am I. Send me​!”

God did indeed use Isaiah to speak to the Children of Israel and in Isaiah chapter 53 God uses Isaiah’s mouth to prophesy the horrific death and glorious resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Are you being asked by God to do something during this time of lock down and saying “Me Lord are you sure?” No matter how big or small the task is, all you need to say is “Here am I send me!” and he will guide you as you step out for him.

God bless you and all involved in serving on the front line and our community.

Tim

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Olivia talks about shifting your perspective

Day 35

Good morning everyone!

I’m sure the abrupt change to life has affected us all in some way. It’s easy to dwell on all the things we can’t do and accepting this new – albeit temporary – way of life is not easy.

I know my life has been impacted quite significantly. The fact that I haven’t been able to see my beautiful nephew George is really difficult. He turns six months old in six days, but I haven’t seen him since he was three months old as my sister and brother-in-law live in Norwich. Although we get sent pictures and videos almost daily, it feels like I am missing out on seeing him change from a new born into a proper little boy. It’s heart-breaking.

Another thing that has been affected by Covid-19 is weddings. My cousin was supposed to get married at the beginning of April and I was supposed to be a bridesmaid for my friend’s wedding in June. However, both of these weddings have sadly been postponed. My brother was also supposed to get married to the lovely Laura in June. We were all ready for a very busy but exciting few months; mum was making the wedding cake, my Auntie Angela was going to decorate it, and we were all planning how to turn a barn in the Oxfordshire countryside into a beautiful wedding venue. However, Covid-19 made its grand entrance, all of these plans have come to a grinding halt, and my brother won’t be getting married this June.  

When you look at how drastically our plans and expectations for the coming months have changed, it’s easy to get yourself down and only see the negatives. However, I have made a conscious effort to shift my perspective and I’ve found that there are so many things to be grateful for. I started my job working in communications for NHS Wakefield just as we went into lockdown. Like most people, we are all working from home and it’s hard when you’re not getting that face-to-face contact and support from your team when you’re in a new role. Nevertheless, it has been a very interesting learning experience. When I was doing my masters last year we were taught about crisis communications. I never thought I would be in the midst of a crisis so early on in my career, and I definitely didn’t think it would be a global pandemic. Although it’s been stressful and very busy at times, being at the epicentre of it all has been a unique experience and something I am very grateful for.

Another thing I am grateful for is the slower pace of life. I feel much more content and peaceful. This has definitely been helped by the beautiful and unseasonably settled weather we are having at the moment. It’s meant that almost everyday I’ve been getting out for walks with my parents, camera in hand, and I’ve been able to witness the seasons changing in front of my eyes for the first time. It’s so amazing to see new life appearing and I have loved capturing the beauty of nature on camera, which is something I normally have to put aside due to competing priorities.

These are just a few of the things that I have become really grateful for while I’ve been in lock down. I could go on and on about the many other things, but I won’t put you through that!  

When I was thinking about what to write for this blog, a well-known verse from Matthew came to mind: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34). We are in the midst of a global pandemic and none of us can control what is going to happen, all we can do is take each day as it comes. Our plans have been derailed, we can’t see our loved ones, and it is a very scary and uncertain time. We don’t know when this will end and what impact it will have on our world, but we do know that our God is greater. He is in control and we can put our complete trust in Him. When we do this, our perspective shifts and being grateful becomes so much easier.

While life may not currently look like how we would like, it’s important to focus on all the things that you are grateful for, even something as small as being able to sit out in your garden with a cup of tea and appreciating the God-given beauty all around you.  

Have a great day,

Olivia

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Tony shares the thought ‘it all kicks off at three o’clock’

Day 33

Acts 3:1 “Now Peter and John were going up into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour”.

The newly baptised, Spirit filled, power endued Church of Jerusalem were full of excitement, enthusiasm and power. Moving in realms that they had previously witnessed only in and through the life ministry of Jesus, they were about to experience the same signs and wonder miracles of their master, teacher and Lord.

The two disciples were standing at the Temple Gate, in Jewish tradition, to attend the evening prayer meeting.

There were three such prayers services daily:

9am in the morning
12 noon
3pm, which is referred to as the ninth hour, 3pm is also the time for the evening sacrifice.

Many Jews believed that, God must be worshipped, and that prayer was a significant way of conducting worship. Maimonides, who was a medieval Sephardic Jewish philosopher that became one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars of the Middle Ages, wrote:

“there is no obligation by virtue of any command of God, unto any number of prayers, nor to any certain prayers, nor to any definite time of prayer. However, they usually pray three times a day, and believe that each of those three times was recommended unto them by one of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The time of offering up the morning and evening sacrifice was recommended or commanded by God, as a time of prayer; a sacrifice being an actual prayer, as the other is real or verbal.”

These times of prayer, including the morning and evening sacrifices, were greatly important to the Jews. We read in Psalms 141:2 [NIV] “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.”

In 1 Kings 18:29 we discover that the prophets of Baal continued to mutilate themselves up to the time of the evening sacrifice, but no one answered their prayers.

Ezra reinstated the tradition of morning and evening worship when the Jews returned to their homeland after the Babylonian captivity (Ezra 3:3).

Other divine activities and divine appearances and revelations are noted in both Old and New Testament. (Daniel 9:21, Acts 10:3 for instance)

What the disciples were to encounter was a dynamic movement of the Holy Spirit upon the life and body of a man unable to walk from birth. We don’t know whether the two disciples had had any pre-empting words of knowledge, visions or prophetic messages. What we do know is that the outcome was one of divine intervention, the prayer meeting was severely disrupted, and the temple was turned into a dance hall and the disciples ended up in deep trouble. By far, the greatest outcome was the miraculous way in which the Church was about to change with more than five thousand people being added to their numbers. (Acts 4:4)

What’s the significance of three o’clock? As already stated, 3pm is the time for prayer, it also the time of the evening sacrifice. Just a few weeks earlier on the very first Good Friday, we read in the gospels:

Matthew 27:46-50, Mark 15:33, Luke 23:44: It was at the ninth hour, three in the afternoon that Jesus’ life expired.

Matthew 27:51-54, Mark 15:38, Luke 23:45-46, when the life of Jesus expired, at the same time the curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom. The the tombs of dead people broke open, and many who had died were raised to life.

There was a disturbance in the natural world, as deep darkness and an earthquake came upon the land from 12 noon till 3pm. On this occasion, temple worship, the hour of prayer and the evening sacrifice would have been disrupted.

When the Lamb of God expired on the cross, the blood of the new covenant which sealed the redemption price of humanity took its full effect. No longer would we depend upon the sacrifice of lambs, bulls and goats as the means of bringing us into the presence of our Father God. The temple curtain was torn into signifying that the way to God is now open to all (Isaiah 1:11, Hebrews 9:12-15, Hebrews 9:24-28).

The foundation of our confidence is no longer standing on the foundation of animal sacrifice but is anchored in Christ (Hebrews 1019-22).

Fifty days after Easter Day, the Holy Spirit rained down upon the gathered disciples. God was no longer “afar off” but had come to live in the lives of those willing to receive Him, obey Him and follow Jesus’ directive to go and proclaim the Gospel. What awaits for us living today? The mandate to go and preach the gospel must continue to be our number one priority. The promises of God are “Yes and Amen” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Miracles, signs and wonders still “following those who believe” (Mark 16:17).

Tony

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Angela talks about drawing close to God

Day 29

In this week following Easter and the resurrection of Jesus I have been thinking about the disciples and other close followers and how they all reacted to the traumatic experience of first witnessing the crucifixion of Jesus and then on Easter Sunday hearing the news that Jesus was indeed alive. Through these life changing days we see many different reactions and emotions from those who had been close to Jesus during his time on earth. On resurrection morning the women who discovered the empty tomb were firstly totally devastated and in complete grief for the loss of Jesus. Moments later when they realise that Jesus is standing before them these negative emotions soon change to joy and a compelling realisation that their Lord is raised from the dead. The women instantly run to tell others and share the news.

Later on resurrection day Jesus appears again to his disciples and John chapter 20:20 describes how the disciples were “overjoyed when they saw the Lord”.  There was of course one disciple missing to witness this. Thomas was absent and when later the other disciples retold what had happened, Thomas was unable to believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Thomas famously claimed that unless he could see for himself and touch the wounds of Jesus he could not believe. As is often our experience, doubt and unbelief filled Thomas and he was unable to see or experience the truth of the resurrection.

Peter, the disciple who had denied Jesus three times leading up the crucifixion on hearing the news that Jesus is alive, immediately ran to the empty tomb and when he saw the empty grave clothes he wondered what had happened. Peter is listed by the apostle Paul as the first of the disciples to see the risen Jesus. It is difficult to imagine the mix of emotions felt by Peter when he witnessed his Lord alive. As is with us when we stumble and fail God, Peter surely will have felt regret, sadness and overwhelming negative thoughts about his standing in God. Seeing the risen Jesus, changed all this for Peter, the negativity disappeared and Peter realised that he had an amazing future if he loved and trusted his Lord. It is interesting that in restoring Peter, Jesus doesn’t refer in any way to Peter’s failures before the crucifixion, instead Jesus asks Peter if he loves him three times and gives Peter a great command to feed his sheep. Peter as we know went on to become one of the greatest apostles leading the early church and was used mightily by God.

We know that the crucifixion and days that followed were traumatic and a time of great crisis and immense change for the disciples and followers of Jesus. Through the crisis and change they all made different choices and felt different emotions that drove their response to their changing circumstances. For Peter who had failed God so significantly, he chose to draw close to God again, to trust and love God like never before and as a result Peter was used mightily in the days and years that followed the resurrection. There is a key lesson here for us too, no matter how we have failed God in the past, the current crisis presents an opportunity for us to draw closer to God, to trust and serve God more than ever before. 

Crisis and change always present choices and opportunities. Let’s be encouraged by all we have heard and experienced over Easter. I encourage you to take the opportunity that this lockdown presents. Choose to draw close to God to overcome fear, uncertainty and unbelief, and come to trust and love him more. We know that God will never disappoint for he truly is our “refuge and strength”.

God bless you all

Angela

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A post Easter message from Pastor Paul

Day 27

Hi everyone

We are already talking about life post Coronavirus. Will we revert back to type and normal routines? Think about life through the eyes of the disciples post Easter. For them the Cross was the end, their hopes and aspirations for the future were in ruin, they were anxious for their own lives due to their association with Jesus.

However, Easter Sunday changed everything. Their leader and master was back with them and it certainly injected courage and energy into them. They suddenly had a new perspective on life and ministry. Jesus was kind to them, He gently reminded them ‘I told you so’.

Their empty hearts were full again and now ready to turn the world upside down.
It’s interesting that the word ‘empty’ is significant in relation to the Easter story.
We see an empty Cross, empty grave clothes, and, of course, an empty tomb!

The Apostle Paul reminds us that the Resurrection changes everything and if it hadn’t happened our faith and service will have all been in vain. The unique truth of the Resurrection sets Christianity apart from every other religion. Our leader is alive and building His church. May the dynamic truth of Jesus rising again from the dead, stir us into action and mission once again. Remember the words written by Paul in Romans 8… ‘if the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead… dwells in you… you will be a difference maker!

I believe in life after Easter and I pray we will be carriers of the life of the risen Jesus into a world looking for answers. At the Cross, Jesus announced ‘It is finished’ (three hugely significant words). On Easter Sunday, the Angel announced ‘He has risen’ … again three words of huge importance.

In April 2020 the community of believers in Smawthorne Community Church declare ‘Lord send me’… three words that could change your life and help change your community.

Live out the Easter message every day of the year.

Easter blessings
Paul

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Centurion’s Log

My name is Timotheus and I am a Centurion currently serving in Palestine, based for the last three years in Capernaum where I built up a good relationship with the religious leaders and had one of my servants healed by one of their Prophets called Jesus.

This is an extract from my diary I want to share with you all.

Ten days ago when our Governor Pontus Pilate requested myself and my legion to come to
Jerusalem to apprehend a criminal called Barabbas, who we caught and put in prison prior
to his crucifixion.

But five days ago on the first day of the new week Jerusalem was turned upside down as
this Prophet Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey while the crowds rejoiced, partied and
cried out in their language ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’.

But today the joy and happiness of five days ago has been replaced with a crowd baying for
blood and crying for Jesus to be crucified despite Pilate’s objection as he knew that this man was innocent.

So I stood in Pilates courtyard and saw the criminal named Barabbas being released and my men taking away this innocent Prophet while I finalised the paperwork with the Governor.

When I got to the barracks my men had put a purple robe on Jesus and a crown of thorns
was rammed into his head, we then had Jesus flogged 39 times using a whip with lead
chunks at the end, each time the whip was withdrawn large chunks of flesh came away too; but through it all this Man never said a word.

Following the flogging we tried to march Jesus and two other criminals through the streets of Jerusalem, but Jesus kept on falling down, so we grabbed an African man and forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. All the time the crowds kept crying abuse and venom at the same man they cheered a few days ago.

When we got outside the city and up a hill called ‘Golgotha’ in the local language we placed the cross on the ground and my men laid Jesus on the cross and nailed his hands and feet to it, the other two criminals kicked and screaming their hatred towards me and my men, but Jesus put up no resistance and as we dropped the middle cross into its position he seemed to pray for us and everyone in the crowd. We also hung a sign above Jesus which Pilate had dictated to me ‘This is Jesus, The King of the Jews’ which really annoyed the religious leaders.

After three hours of darkness from noon to three o’clock Jesus cried out in the local
language ‘My God, my God why have you abandoned me’. After a short time Jesus cried out
again with a mighty shout ‘It is finished’ and breathed his last breath.

At that moment panic hit the city as there was an earthquake and in the Temple a curtain
which separated people from the Holiest place was torn in two from the top to the bottom.
With the earthquake I took the decision to bring the crucifixions to an end by breaking the
legs of the criminals, but when I got to Jesus I rammed a spear into his side and right
into his heart and as I withdrew the spear a flood of blood and water gushed out. This made me declare ‘Surely he was the Son of God’.

I and my men left some women at the place of crucifixion and made our way back to our
garrison – before retiring from the night I had to report back to Pilate and assign four of my
men to guard Jesus tomb.

As a professional soldier I have seen many crucifixions, but I believe today we crucified an
innocent and holy man. I don’t believe my actions will be remembered, but I do strongly
believe that the death of Jesus will be remembered forever.

Centurion Timotheus
Jerusalem AD33

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Paul talks about God’s heart

Day 21

Hi everyone

One of the grim statistics we have to endure every day is the mounting death toll of Covid-19 victims. Each day figures for the UK and other nations are published. I’m sure you feel helpless and uncomfortable when those details are disclosed.

On an average day before this dreadful invisible virus broke out, research tells us that roughly 130,000 die each day across the globe, a large percentage of those don’t know Jesus.

Many are asking ‘What is the meaning of life?’. There are lots of different views and opinions expressed, however, I think the answer is summed up in the words of 1 Timothy 2:4: ‘God wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth’.

Everything else that happens on earth is secondary to this. This is the great plan and heart of God. Surely this is what Easter is all about… there is no greater plan, there is no other ‘Grand design’… this is it! There is no Plan B.

One of most significant chapters in the Old Testament is Isaiah 53. It speaks about the events of Holy Week and the Cross, some 700 years before they took place. It also includes a promise that through the death of Christ on the Cross, a harvest of souls will be gathered. It’s captured in three words frequently used when referring to the death of Jesus: ‘Once for ALL’. One of the great Easter texts is the words of Jesus speaking about Himself: ‘And if I be lifted up I will draw ALL men to myself’.

Why is it God’s number one plan? Because He loves His Son so much He planned to have millions upon millions more of ‘them’. God looks at you and expects you to become like Jesus. Wow, what a blueprint the Father is working to. He sees phenomenal potential in you.

The Father heart of God is towards the lost, and His will for every person on the planet is for them to repent, receive the Gospel and receive Eternal life… some by grace will respond, however, some will not. God has given power of choice to people.

There is no limitation in the word ‘ Whosoever’ it’s all inclusive!! God’s ability to save is not limited. If that’s the desire in the heart of God, then surely it should be ours also? To see as many of our family, friends, work colleagues and neighbours all come to a saving knowledge of Jesus.

The ‘whosoever’ in John 3:16 is your friend, work mate, relative. Share with them over this Easter period the amazing narrative of what happened 2000 years ago.

May we see together this Easter those we have prayed for receive Jesus.

Have a fruitful Holy Week

Paul

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Linda talks about Preparation Day

Day 20

Matthew 21:12-13

Over two thousand years ago today was the Tuesday between palm Sunday, when Jesus was greeted as a hero with singing, shouting and the waving of Palm leaves, and Good Friday where they shouted crucify him and hung him on a cross. This day can be called preparation day.

It was the day when the Jews were preparing their sacrifices for the Passover. The poorer people who couldn’t afford lambs sacrificed doves and these were often purchased in Jerusalem after they had walked from the outlying villages.

On arrival at the temple they were greeted by the market traders and the money changers who had probably inflated their prices on the animals used for sacrifices, knowing that the people had no choice but to pay what they asked or they wouldn’t be able to make the Passover sacrifice. (a little bit like now when some shops are charging inflated prices due to high demand for products)

Then Jesus enters the temple. Yes, they had seen him before, in fact some of them were lining the roads shouting hosanna just 48 hours earlier. They had seen him perform miracles but this time it was different, he didn’t teach in the temple or perform miracles, at least not straight away. He unleashes his indignation at what he sees. He overturns the tables of the money changers, releasing the doves and scattering the animals. By doing this he temporarily puts a stop to the preparations being made for the Passover sacrifices and feasts.

Why did he do this? I would like to suggest two reasons:

  1. He didn’t like the injustice of the poor being exploited for a quick buck. Jesus teaches us to look out for those worse off than us. This is still the case today, we need to look out for the poor around us and help them in any way we can.
  2. Jesus knew that before this Passover over 2000 years ago they would be able to see him as the final Passover lamb, the one who had been making preparations to redeem the world once and for all.

We no longer need to prepare for the Passover as we have the assurance that Jesus came and died for us all, whether we are rich or poor, all we have to do is prepare our hearts to accept him and follow him.

So let’s not forget as we look towards Good Friday Jesus was prepared to spoil the preparations as he prepared to pay the ultimate sacrifice for us his own life upon a cross.

Linda

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Angela talks about stepping up and becoming a hero

Day 19

I heard a story on the news this morning that inspired and encouraged me. The news reported that during the pandemic a postman had been checking on residents while delivering their post and for some this had proved a life line as the postman had been their only connection to the outside world. The story went on to talk about a deaf lady who needed essential supplies and the postman had picked these up from the supermarket and brought them to her on his delivery rounds. I work in the NHS and it’s amazing how NHS workers and other key workers are being hailed as heroes and each week you will no doubt have joined in with the weekly “clap for carers”, where we all have the opportunity to show our appreciation for the amazing work and self-sacrifice of our key workers during the current national crisis.

This story of the postman and other stories I have heard in recent days caused me to stop and think and ask myself the question, what am I doing to make a difference for others?

 As a follower of Christ, showing the love of Christ to others and looking out for the needs of others before we look out for ourselves is a command of Jesus.  John chapter 15 says, “love one another as I have loved you”.  We also know there are no boundaries to God’s love, Romans 8 says “nor height or depth nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which in in Christ Jesus our Lord”.  This is an amazing and wonderful truth but it also gives us a template for how we should love others. Our love for others should have no limits. 

Thinking about this command of Jesus, loving others without limits and putting others before ourselves, it’s a challenging one because it goes against our human nature. It is therefore only by partnering with God in a path of good works (to quote our very own Pastor Paul Howells) and by asking God to come along side us and help us that we can and will be able to lover others in this way.

The current crisis and pandemic offers us all an opportunity to step up and become a local hero, we can all play our part. Being a hero these days can be as simple as sending a card or text message or giving a lonely or vulnerable person a call, or if you are well and not in a vulnerable group and able to go out to do essential shopping or collect medication, you could check on your neighbour, friends, church family, and offer your help. These are just some examples of heroic acts but there are many more!

We know that focusing on others rather than ourselves is good for our mental health and psychological wellbeing, it stops us becoming self-centred and reduces our own anxieties and worries. Doing what God commands and expects is always good for us in every way.

Thinking about heroes, a story in the bible comes to mind, Rahab who stepped up and became a true hero in a crisis. Rahab was an innkeeper and prostitute and God used her in a tremendous way. Rahab helped two spies from Israel hide when they were being pursued by the authorities. Rahab hides the spies and helps them escape. Through this act of heroism Rahab believed and trusted in God and she went on to marry one of the leaders of Israel. Therefore, by trusting in God, following his commands and putting others before yourself can be life changing. The full story can be read in Joshua 2.

I encourage you all to step up and become a local hero, show God’s love to your friends, neighbours, work colleagues and make a difference!

God bless you

Angela xx  

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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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