I was a bad student for my childhood piano teacher. Each week I had to get Mum or Dad to sign my little red practice book to say that I'd practiced my scales, arpeggios and pieces every day. But I often forgot (or knew that Mum or Dad would lying if they signed) so I learned to forge Mum's signature (Dad's was far too elaborate!). Did Mrs Schubert know? (I'm sure that was her name, though it seems unlikely!). If she did, she never let on, and allowed me to get away with it. I hasten to say that forging signatures is not good, and not something I'm proud of!
Although I gave up lessons when I was 12 or 13, I kept playing. And those early lessons instilled in me a love and appreciation for music that was to get me through the teenage roller-coaster years. Over the years (and with the help of Spotify), my appreciation for different genres has grown (although a love for modern jazz or opera eludes me!).
Music is a gift of God for good times and tough times; for celebration and mourning; for joy and depression. Christian music has blossomed in recent years, and in days like these, it can be a real blessing. Music helps us engage in worship and praise to the Lord when we're struggling; it gives voice to our pain as we cry out to the Lord (Ps 130:1-2); it comforts us and lifts our spirits (Ps 81).
Here are some Christian artists or bands that I'm finding helpful (they're all on Spotify, and probably i-tunes):
Sovereign Grace Music
Indelible Grace Music
Each Sunday, I read a Psalm, and over recent years, they've become a real delight and joy.
This week it was Psalm 94. As usual I 'journalled' the essence of the passage. I find that indenting sentences or phrases, underlining, using capital letters etc. helps me to capture the essence and movement of the passage and therefore points me towards an appropriate praise, worship and prayer:
Sing to the LORD - not anyone else!
Tell of HIS salvation - there is no other!
Declare HIS glory - all others are dim & fading!
Great is the LORD
...to be feared above all worthless idols
...splendid, majestic, strong, beautiful.
Worship the Lord in the beauty & splendour of his holiness.
Tremble before him.
The LORD reigns. He will judge with equity - let all creation rejoice (it will be freed from man's sinful abuse).
The LORD's judgement will be righteous and a demonstration of his faithfulness.
How do you read Scripture?
I mean, what do you do as you read? How do you engage with the Author, the Lord himself? How does Scripture bring Christ into your life and your life to Christ?
Here's how it worked for me this morning:
I was reading 2 Thessalonians 3. First, I remembered that these people were under pressure & temptation from false teachers. That's what Paul's primarily concerned with, but much of what he says also relates to the pressures we're under today.
As usual, I had my notebook open and my pen ready to jot down God's promises, encouragements, exhortations etc. As I did that, I was looking for ways to respond: talking back to God about myself - and you, my church family - as he spoke his word.
Here's exactly what I wrote.
Pray that the word of the Lord may speed ahead & be honoured.
He will establish you & guard you.
May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God & to the steadfastness of Christ.
An example to imitate as regards busyness in the Lord.
Do not grow weary in doing good.
Warn brothers & sisters when necessary.
Now may the Lord of peace himself give us peace at all times & in every way. The Lord be with you all. The grace of our L J C be with you all.
Many of us feel as though the rug has been pulled out from under our feet. Life as we know it is changing and at such a rapid pace that our minds are struggling to keep up and process what’s going on. Each day is filled with new information and new challenges, accompanied by a whole range of emotions. Some of these emotions are sinful while others are commendable: an odd, possibly perverted sense of excitement as we look at the news to find out what’s happening next, sadness coupled with a heartfelt desire to help as we learn of people near and far who are suffering, and fear as we wonder whether we might catch the virus and as we move towards the unknown in truly unprecedented times.
One feeling or emotion that I sense everyday is a desire for self-preservation: a selfish urge to run for safety, to look out for number 1, to seek the upside for myself as things go downhill. I find I have to stop and check myself every day because my job every day, and now more than ever, is to serve other people rather than myself. But I don’t help myself by pretending that feeling is not there. I don’t know about you but if you’re honest with yourself and dare to look, you will no doubt find the same desire in yourself. It’s selfishness - sin - which exists in all our hearts and it’s no surprise that it shows itself in times of difficulty when we’re prone to feeling under pressure, panicked even.
What makes you feel safe? Where do you find your security? We all want to feel safe and in such unsettling and uncertain times people are seeking security in all sorts of things. Here are 3 examples of what many people appear to be thinking:
- ‘If only I fill my bathroom with loo rolls and my kitchen with food, then I will feel safe.’ It sounds absurd when I put it like that but many people are seeking safety here at the expense of others. Lucy’s sister, who lives in Ottawa, told us that in a shop she went to someone had spent 300 Canadian dollars on 480 loo rolls! My guess is that even that amount won’t satisfy the shopper’s craving for safety (they’ll be out shopping again!) and though we might not go to that extreme, we’re tempted to buy more than we need because others are and/or the shelves might be empty.
- ‘If only I switch my shares for bank account savings then I will feel safe.’ Many people with saving and pensions invested in equities will bemoan the sharp stock markets falls over the past month. Plain and simple savings in a UK bank account protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme seem far less risky. But even cash savings are susceptible to inflation and no savings strategy (whether it be loo rolls, food or cash) will ever provide lasting safety (see Luke 12 verses 13-21 and Jesus’ reassuring words that follow in verses 22-34).
- ‘If only I keep my job then I will feel safe.’ I want to be particularly sensitive here. I have no intention of being flippant because fears over job safety are acute and personal. Our work matters to us and losing it could lead to all sorts of unwanted consequences. Work is good - it was God’s pre-Fall idea - and we suffer without it: financially, psychologically, socially. Not that we can’t suffer without shopping or savings but work is our good, God-given means of providing for ourselves and those who depend on us. However, just as the loo roll will run out and the savings will suffer from future inflation, the job will come to an end sooner or later.
Returning to the question, where do you find your security? What, or should I say, who can lead you through the deepest struggles, the darkest suffering, even the ultimate defeat of death itself? Answer: only Jesus. Jesus offers true and lasting security. He is able to cope with our greatest difficulties. Indeed, he has already won the victory over our greatest enemy. At John Fleming’s memorial service earlier this month, we were reminded of the apostle Paul’s wonderful words in 1 Corinthians 15:
“‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15 verses 55-57.
So much has changed since we met that day at St Peter’s but Christ’s victory over death hasn’t changed and our unchanging God remains the same. Having defeated our greatest problem of death, it is surely safe to trust him in the difficulties we face each day. Mike concluded the memorial service with a reminder that John would want us to stand firm in the Lord, which is how Paul finishes his chapter:
“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15 verse 58.
A final thought: Instead of listening to another 20 minutes of the news, why not listen to a previous sermon on the ‘Talks’ page of the website which will help you consider Christ and keep things in perspective. Mike’s sermon on Ephesians 1:1-11 and my sermon on 1 Peter 1:1-9 (links below) are about the blessings and privileges of being ‘in Christ.’ I’m not suggesting that we ignore what’s going on in our world or that we become ‘so heavenly minded that we’re of no earthly use’ as the saying goes. Lifting our sights to Jesus in heaven should make us ‘so heavenly minded that we’re of great earthly use’ (see also Colossians 3). Our safety in Christ, who sets us free from sin, should liberate us from serving ourselves to serve others.
Love in Christ,
Surely a church leader should never boast!
Not according to the apostle Paul. In 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul boasts in other churches about the Thessalonians, and as I read his reasons for boasting this morning, I readily thought of the St Peter's Church Family and the current crisis we're facing:
3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. 4 Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. (ESV)
It's been a delight to see many people's faith grow 'abundantly' over the past few months. For some, faith in Christ is entirely new; for others, it's a growing, deepening experience. As our trust and appreciation of the love of Christ grows, so our love for others increases, and again, I've seen that over recent months.
The challenge now is how we continue to nourish our walk with Christ and how we express our love for one another. So I'm working on plans for Sundays. Phil, Lindsey & I are working to link people up with one another so that the 'strong' can adopt the 'weak'. We'll be in touch in due course.
So I boast about you! Yes, really! In fact I did just this afternoon in a phone call to another minister, and I do regularly when non-Christians ask me about St Peter's. But as I boast, I must do so humbly because as Paul goes on to say,
11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
None of this is down to me. It's God who called you, and he who fulfills your 'resolve for good' and your 'work of faith'. It's he who is 'glorified in you - and you in him' (don't forget that), and all this is through his effective and powerful grace.
So this morning I gave thanks to God for you, then I prayed that God would make you worthy of his calling by pouring his grace into your hearts. Glory be to Jesus our Lord!
rAs I sat and watched the news today, I suddenly felt very weary. Motivation had drained away. It's all so unsettling - what's the point of preparing for Sunday when we don't even know if we'll be allowed to meet?
What about you?
I wonder how you're feeling as you watch the news or hear everyone talking about coronavirus: tired, weary, discombobulated (I love that word!)? Frightened, depressed, anxious for yourself or someone you love? Worried about your investments as shares plummet? Worried about your job and how you'll pay the bills?
There is so much to worry about, so many things to fear.
So I've started this blog - and I'll ask our Assistant Minister, Phil, to contribute too. As with everything at St Peter's, I want it to address the significant issues we all face - whether they be emotional, intellectual or practical. And we'll do this as we reflect on our own Bible reading and prayer. I hope you'll begin to see how the Holy Spirit speaks through Scripture into life, and how our lives benefit from being shaped into the likeness of Jesus through his word.
If it gets to the stage where we're not allowed to meet together on Sundays, we'll suggest some Bible readings, post a short sermon and some links to hymns or songs.
We won't promise to blog each day - perhaps a few times each week (when we have something to write!).
In the meantime, do pray for those who are especially fearful, and for those who will face real financial hardship if they're made redundant. Pray that they will know the very real presence of Christ by his Spirit. As Jesus himself prayed, "I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them." John 17:26
Yours in that love of Christ