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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  

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

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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