- Congratulations this week to Sarah and Takashi on the safe arrival of baby Amelia. Congratulations too to Kevin and Angie on becoming Grandparents – we pray for the Lord’s blessing on all the family.
- Naomi adds: We are in the middle of ‘Fair Trade Fortnight’. There are special offers on such items as chocolate in Sainsburys, (Aldi and Lidl always have a good range of fair- trade chocolate.). The UK chocolate business is worth £4 billion a year – we each eat an average of 3 bars a week. Yet 60% of cocoa farmers in West Africa live in poverty and only 3% of them earn a living income
A prayer: Father thank you for fair-trade initiatives that promote justice – to improve people’s lives and develop environmentally sound practices that will bring fruitfulness and prosperity. Please encourage Christians to continue to be active in setting up and supporting such projects. Amen
Tuesday Fellowship on Zoom.
During chatting, baby Rose made an appearance (with mum Sam!) She looked like a little doll, so peaceful and asleep! Brian then taught us a clever trick with which we might be able to impress our friends. We then discussed points from Ephesians 5 : 1 -20 before finishing with prayer.
Martin’s Brain Tester
Psalm 23 Across the World
Belong – Believe – Behave
Did you hear Mike Pilavachi’s talk about this sequence from Soul Survivor, Watford last Sunday? – Still available on YouTube.
I remember going to churches which practised the opposite sequence: You can come along, as long as you behave appropriately; we will preach at you, and when you believe, we will allow you to belong to our church.
A sequence more likely to reach people (and we have seen this happen at Gunville) is: We will welcome you as a friend so that you feel you belong here; as you meet with us, and with Jesus, we pray that you will believe; then Jesus will affect the way you live and behave.
So the first step in our church is to welcome people and to treat them as family. What do you think?
Mike also said that the best thing we can do for our neighbours is to be good news.
Did we get it wrong?
The convicts had created a variety show that raised money for charities. The inmate audience could donate from their weekly pay if they so wished. Performances were held in the prison chapel.
After a while I was invited to join the group. I agreed on the understanding I could include a Gospel trick in my presentation. This was agreed. (somewhat to my surprise!)
On one upcoming show, time restrictions meant I could do only one spot. Ruth and I discussed it. Which one? The Gospel spot or the secular one? We decided on the secular. It would be a manipulative act with plenty of colour and set to music.
On the night of the show, I was on the stage ready to go. All I needed now was the music. Which did not come. Something had gone wrong backstage. All I could do was wait. And wait. As I stood there waiting, I began to think that Ruth and I had got it wrong. A Gospel trick with patter would have been better. It did not take long for the chair scraping to start along with cat calls and generally giving me a hard time. At last, the music came on and I completed my act.
A few days later I received an urgent message that a convict needed to speak to me. I found him in a prison workshop. I asked him, “what can I do for you?”. He replied, “you were on the stage waiting for the music to start.”
“What about it?”
“While you were waiting, the Cons were calling out, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. Why were they doing that?”
“They know I am a Christian, and they were mocking me,”
“Well I need to tell you something of my past. I’ve done some pretty nasty things in my past. That is why I am in here. No excuses, that is just as it is. But there is one terrible thing I have done and it has haunted me ever since”
“I sold my soul to the devil. Is there any way I can get it back?”
“What did you do?”
“I was at a race meeting and I told the devil he could have my soul if I could win the next three races. I did win them and my life has gone downhill ever since.”
“So am I lost forever or is there a way out for me?”
“Yes, there is a way out. Jesus has promised He would never turn away anyone who comes to him.”
“So will you help me?”
“What do you want me to do for you?”
“Will you lead me to your Jesus?”
So, did we get it wrong? I do not know, but if we did it is a reminder that Jesus can use even our mistakes to bring glory to him and others into His Kingdom. So be encouraged.
Till next time, Bafflin Brian
Africa’s Silent Genocide
A slow motion and largely ignored war is taking place in Africa’s most populous nation, and time is running out for the world to act, says REV JOHNNIE MOORE
Nigeria should be Africa’s crown jewel. It is the continents most populated country with over 200 million people, and it has its largest economy. It is a country rich with oil – the tenth largest oil reserve in the world – but poor in governance. It is also a divided nation, with Islam being the dominant religion in the north and Christianity in the south. Its irresistibly rich resources have previously been its demise. Colonial powers exploited it. Postcolonial powers corrupted it. Now terrorists are destroying it – usually beginning with its Christians.
As one of France’s most prominent intellectuals, Bernard- Henri Levy wrote in The Wall Street Journal: “A slow-motion war is under way in Africa’s most populous country. It’s a massacre of Christians, massive in scale and horrific in brutality. And the world has hardly noticed.”
Patience was 13. Revelation was six. Rejoice was four. They are the names of three of the youngest victims of the Christian massacre unfolding in Nigeria. They weren’t the only young victims in their village during the same attack in early 2020. The terrorists killed at least 20 as they went from house- to- house yelling “Allahu Akbar” along the way. They also put a bullet in the head of a three- month- old and hacked a six- year -old to death. We don’t know the names of those children. We do know the name of a 14- year -old girl who was murdered along with her grandparents. Her name was Blessing.
This horror wasn’t even the work of the infamous Boko Haram insurgents who have long terrorised Nigeria’s north-east. These massacres came at the hands of a group of radicalised Fulani tribesman who, profanely inspired by Boko Haram, and IS, have been summarily executing Christians in the centre of Nigeria, and not far from the country’s capital, Abuja, at a pace that has exceeded Boko Haram.
When Rabbi Abraham Cooper and I visited Nigeria on a fact- finding mission last year we met a nine- year- old girl who told us about watching Fulani terrorists murder her parents and siblings with machetes. Then there was a pastor whose church had been set alight twice. He met with us soon after negotiating the release of two female parishioners kidnapped by terrorists while en route to a Christmas celebration in 2019. The young women, newly released, stood next to him, still showing signs of shock. They recounted how the terrorists had captured them at their ‘checkpoint’ within earshot of a state police outpost. One of the young women was clever enough to keep her phone on and concealed. It allowed the local authorities to locate them. Yet government troops who came within visual distance of the girls chose not to rescue them, so the woman’s courageous pastor took the situation into his own hands. He began to communicate with the terrorists. The ransom demanded was a fortune, so he sold virtually all his possessions, as did other church members to pay the $1,000 required to save their lives. Risking his own life, he drove to the designated place for the exchange in the hope that the terrorists would fulfil the agreement they had reached; mercifully they did.Other stories don’t end so happily. We met men from a village razed by the Islamists. We were expecting to speak with a representative from the community, but instead the entire village showed up in our hotel room. Their families had been massacred; their livelihoods sabotaged. The attackers waited until the middle of the night before assailing men, women and children with guns and machetes. Kidnapping wasn’t to their taste. They started fires, then unleashed horrific ethnic cleansing.
Of course, one victim has emerged as a symbol of all the suffering – Leah Sharibu, the Christian teenager who was 14 when, in an act of heroic faith, she very publicly refused to convert to Islam despite the threats from her blood-soaked terrorist captors. Her whereabouts and health are still unknown. She turns 18 in May 2021.
There have been at least 63,000 victims of Boko Haram and the Fulani since 2000 according to Stephen Enada, executive president of the International Committee of Nigeria. There have probably been even more breathing their last in the shadows of history, unknown to the world. Thousands of churches have been torched, scores of children slaughtered, countless women enslaved, pastors have been beheaded and homes set ablaze. There are tens of thousands of Leah Sharibus. It is a slow motion war and the victims are mainly Christian, with the terrorists determined to also kill or extort every single Muslim who attempts to stand in their way. (to be continued)
JOHNNIE MOORE IS THE CO-AUTHOR, WITH RABBI ABRAHAM COOPER, OF ‘THE NEXT JIHAD: STOP THE CHRISTIAN GENOCIDE IN AFRICA
(From an article in the current issue of Premier Christianity Magazine)
NEXT WEEK WE’LL SEE WHAT IS BEING DONE TO TRY TO COMBAT THIS TERRORISM
Matt Redman: We need more worship songs about the holiness of God. (continued from last week)
The reverence needs the infusion of intimacy lest it become a cool and detached aesthetic. The intimacy needs to be suffused in reverence lest it become a gushy emotion.” AW Tozer unpacked this dynamic beautifully too in The Knowledge of the Holy (HarperOne): “The greatness of God arouses fear within us, but the goodness of God encourages us not to be afraid of Him. To fear and not to be afraid – that is the paradox of faith.”
The most honouring and healthy worship seeks to include both the immanence and the transcendence of God. The transcendence – that God is ‘otherly’ and infinitely higher than our reason could ever comprehend, and the immanence – that he gets up close and personal, and deeply involved with our lives. If we ever claim to draw near to Jesus, but all we find is a tame, ordinary, manageable God, we’re probably not half as close as we’d like to think. When we truly draw near to Christ, it’s not just our sense of his grace and kindness that increases in measure. Our awareness of his holiness and majesty will be on the increase too.
The theologian Dr Darrell Johnson explores this theme brilliantly. He teaches us to compare and contrast the heavenly throne scene we find in Isaiah with the one described to us in the book of Revelation since the introduction of the new covenant. In the first scenario, written around 740 BC, we’re told of the seraphim, who have six wings – and who use two of these to cover their faces (Isaiah 6:2). Then we fast-forward to around AD 92, and are presented a second heavenly worship scene. Here, everything is so similar, and yet there are some remarkable differences. We again encounter these creatures with six wings – but this time there’s something strikingly different about them. There is absolutely no mention of them covering their eyes – in fact, this time we’re told that they are instead “covered with eyes” (Revelation 4:8). As Johnson points out, there has been a seismic change– and something game-changing must have happened to allow these worshiping creatures to now behold holiness. It is the transcendence and immanence of God, interweaved in a beautiful divine mystery.
Holiness vs helpfulness One trend worth noting in our current worship lyrics is the tendency to only write and sing about the attributes of God that are directly helpful to us – and perhaps neglect other aspects of his worth because they do not appear to be directly beneficial to our own lives. It is perhaps ‘holiness versus helpfulness’. The challenge we face is to not only sing about God as shepherd and fortress, or other qualities that we recognise as being advantageous for us. We must also sing of him as the holy one, and marvel at those aspects of his nature and character that are worthy of the highest praise, whether or not we are in the picture in any way.
It’s a whole other level of praise when we worship God for his infinite worth in and of itself – irrespective of whether or not it enriches our lives. The call in these days is fora few more worship songs where the personal pronoun “I” doesn’t even feature. Songs that exist not to reassure us, or to comfort us – but that simply exist to exalt God for the righteous, radiant and holy King that he is. We must make sure to praise him for his holiness– not just for his helpfulness.
There are many other theological pitfalls that we must watch out for as we create and shape our congregational worship responses in 2021, but I believe a lack of emphasis on the holiness of God is our most acute problem.
Tozer once wrote that “our gains are almost all external, and our losses are wholly internal”. Looking back over the last couple of decades, it’s easy to see how we’ve taken some big strides forward externally in our gathered worship expressions. For example, in many streams of the Church, production levels have increased hugely. Musicality and creativity have seen some healthy growth too. Many congregations around the world are writing, leading and even recording high-quality worship music. It’s easy to see how we’ve made some improvements in the external expressions of our worship. But what of the internal side of things? Where are we at when it comes to the heart of the matter? Is our theology deepening? Is our spirituality growing? Are healthy disciples being made? Are lives being shaped by a healthy scripture-based worship diet? Is there a wholehearted pursuit of the presence of God? Perhaps in this season we might benefit from taking our foot off the pedal of all things ‘excellence’ and ‘external’, and apply ourselves more intentionally to going deeper than ever in the internal side of things.
The year 2020 is one we’ll never forget – the amount of disruption and disturbance to our normal way of going about things has been immense – including in the area of our congregational worship. Not being able to gather in person has been painful at times. But alongside the discomfort and the chaos, maybe there’s also been a pruning – an opportunity to come out of this moment spirituality sharper than ever before – and focused once again on the things that carry the most importance. Everything has been stripped back, and we’re forced to think through once again what is our highest priority with worship, and what is peripheral. And, indeed, what is missing. Personally it has taken me back to some simple lyrics I wrote more than two decades ago: “I’m coming back to the heart of worship/ And it’s all about You / It’s all about You Jesus.
PSALM 23 ANSWERS
A. Spanish B. German C. French D. Russian E. Italian
F. Chinese G. Dutch H. Latin I. Swedish J. Hebrew
– Since there are around 3½ million ways of ordering 10 items, if you got any right, you have done well.
Please send any contributions that might be published by next Tuesday morning to: andy