Newsletter 17th Jan 2021

Message from our Minister

I enjoy trying to complete the occasional crossword. I find it both challenging and relaxing. It’s great when you can see the answer almost immediately but often you can find yourself stuck! The more that you look for an answer, the more you can be frustrated with yourself. It is at these times that I put the crossword to one side and revisit it later. You just need to focus on something different. When I return to the crossword it is amazing how often the answer comes to mind. Though I have to say not always! The problem has been that in my haste I had entered an incorrect but plausible answer to the clue. That meant that it influenced the adjoining squares for possible answers. There is much at the moment we are finding difficult to work out or understand. Perhaps it is a reminder to us that our focus should not be always on the circumstances that surround us and which we find impossible to make sense of, but upon the promises of Almighty God. He has promised to be with us in all circumstances. God richly bless you all, Rev John Izzard 

Biblical Water Search

We haven’t had a wordsearch for 9 weeks!  It’s a bit longer than that – 61 years on January 17th in fact – since Lesley and Martin were baptised (see “January 1960”).  The Methodist Church does it a bit differently, but here we have some biblical words about water and baptism for you to find.

January 1960

17th January 1960: 5 young people aged 15/16 were baptised at City Road Baptist Church, Winchester, among them Lesley and Martin.  This was by immersion, on confession of faith (you had to be interviewed, take a course of classes, and answer questions on the actual occasion).

One person from the church, Miss Glover, a teacher, had been a great help to Lesley, and she gave Martin a book called “A Private House of Prayer” by Leslie Weatherhead, a Methodist minister and theologian.  For each day of the month, the reader is invited to move through seven rooms of the house of prayer: Affirmation of the presence of God; Adoration, praise and thanksgiving; Confession, forgiveness and unloading; Positive affirmation and reception; Petition; Intercession; and Meditation.

This general pattern of prayer is probably familiar to those who have studied for preaching or worship leading.  It can be very helpful – perhaps too often we dive straight in with our requests, and miss the preparation and reflection.  Should prayer in our services be like this too?

– And for those looking for something from Lesley’s Happy Book:  “It’s marvellous news that God always hears our prayers, and that includes the silent moments when the Spirit acts on our behalf.”  (Source unknown)

Opinion

Why doesn’t God stop Coronavirus and mend the world?

(continued from last week. Here alternative views are discussed)

Nevertheless, Jessica’s view is controversial to some. Many would object that a God who isn’t in control of the whole show isn’t the God of the Bible. Calvinist theologians believe that God is the author of both joy and sorrow and, even though we may struggle to see it, works through both for his ultimate purposes and glory. They say the warfare view contains too much of the same sort of randomness in suffering that the atheist must contend with. 

Inevitably, different Christians will come to different understandings of how to reconcile God and suffering. What we can agree on is that God is good, suffering is bad, but that his love and purposes will win out in the end.

The Christian story is of a broken and rebellious creation that is awaiting the renewal of all things. We are called to live faithfully for the kingdom that has already come in Jesus, while awaiting the kingdom yet to be in which ‘“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ (Revelation 21:4).

God is mending the world

I believe that God is masterful enough to be able to weave many of the experiences and tribulations of our life into a tapestry that is ultimately beautiful to behold. Yet, in the present, we often only see the tangled mess of threads on the underside of the tapestry. The big picture is something we can usually only recognize in hindsight, as we see how painful experiences have shaped us. 

At the same time, I want to avoid the danger of simply palming off the reality of suffering with trite clichés. Simplistic apologetic explanations can do more harm than good in insensitive hands. There are many griefs and sorrows we would all swap in a heartbeat if we could. Some things are just plain awful and can’t be dressed up any other way. There are many questions we will never see answered this side of eternity. Sometimes we will come to an end of trying to explain things and can only throw ourselves on the mercy of God, weep those who weep, and continue to stand up for truth and love wherever we can.

The good news is that, whatever questions remain, we are called to trust in the God of the cross and the resurrection. The One who turned the greatest injustice and defeat in the world into the ultimate triumph. He specialises in turning evil into good. 

These are unprecedented times. Crises can bring out the best and the worst in people. Many will be rediscovering what really matters to them. Many will be looking for hope in the midst of despair. God is mending his broken world, and he began with Jesus. We are called to join with God in seeing redemption happen all around us, and turning Good Friday into Easter Sunday.  Justin Brierley

Justin is Theology and Apologetics Editor at Premier and presents the Saturday radio show and podcast ‘Unbelievable?’ and the fortnightly Ask NT Wright Anything podcast

 Offering during lockdown   

  We encourage you to consider setting up a standing order (Contact Paul for details) . Alternatively you may wish to put an offering aside each week and add it all as a lump sum all in one go when we eventually meet again. Feel free to use this prayer while you do so:
‘Father, we thank you for all your goodness to us. Please accept this contribution as part of my worship. Guide those who administer it in order that it can be used for Your purposes. May Your Kingdom come and Your will be done. Amen’

Unanswered Prayer

“The four living creatures and the twenty four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people” (Revelation 5:8)

It’s awesome to imagine that our unanswered prayers – all the frustrations, the tears, the dashed hopes- are being stored up by God in those golden bowls and may, eventually, become our most powerful contribution to the world. Let me say it again: our unanswered prayers may be the real ministry of our lives.   As Tim Chester writes :

Prayers we think of as directed to the present are in fact being stored up for answered prayer on the final day. When we pray for those suffering ill health we are expressing our longing for the day when there will be no more sickness (Rev. 21:4). When we pray for God to end wars and oppression we are expressing  our longing for the day when the kingdoms of this world  will become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ (Rev. 11:15) When we pray for mercy on those suffering natural disasters we are expressing our longing for the day when creation itself will be remade (Rev. 21:1)….. The prayers that we think have gone unanswered may in fact be stored up in the bowls of incense held by the twenty-four elders, waiting for a greater fulfilment than ever we anticipated…… Many of your prayers are lodged there and one day they will determine the ultimate course of history.  Tim Chester, The Message of Prayer (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press 2003, 243)

(From ‘God on Mute’ by Pete Greig)

Christian charity Release International is forecasting that persecution of Christians in China and India will increase in 2021.

The report says China has managed to avoid the scrutiny of the international community thanks to its strong trading relationships. Chinese authorities “have bought freedom from censure due to trade with China. Many countries now regard this trade as essential to their own economies,’ International Release partners say.

“The government of President Xi Jinping is increasing its “clean up” of anything that does not advance the communist agenda. They appear to believe that they can achieve this by systematic opposition,” they continued.

Non-registered churches have been raided and closed in 2020 and increasing numbers of registered churches have been made to install CCTV cameras. Earlier this month, Bob Fu, one of the leading advocates for persecuted Christian in China, faced bomb threats against his family in the US.

According to Mr Fu, the Chinese government has taken advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to strengthen restrictions on underground believers.

“The Chinese government is trying every way to take advantage of the virus by increasing the crackdown against Christian churches,” Mr Fu said. ‘It has accelerated particular campaigns, such as the forced removal of crosses,” he continued.

In India, there is also a growing intolerance towards Christianity. In September 2020, Hindu extremists gathered crowds of up to 3,000 people to attack Christians in three villages.

It is believed that prejudice against Christians increased following the landslide victory of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2019.

According to India’s Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Christians suffered 225 incidents of religiously motivated violence during the first ten months of 2020 – compared to 218 incidents in the same period in 2019.

Chief Executive of Release International, Paul Robison said: “Our partners tell us that attacks are on the rise under Communism in China, Islam in Iran and Malaysia, and under militant Hinduism in India.
“Yet despite persecution and pandemic, we see clear evidence of the boldness, courage and trust in God of Christians under pressure around the world,” he concluded.

Dear Father God, We pray for those brothers and sisters in Christ who are facing persecution in different parts of the world today. We recognise their bravery and courage in the face of such hardship and ask that you would strengthen them in their faiths during these difficult times. In Jesus’ name,     Amen

Please send any contributions that might be published by next Tuesday morning to:   andy