Newsletter 28th March 2021

Message from our Minister

There is nothing like a good story and one which is told well. I’m pleased to say that in the age of computer games and modern technology the art of storytelling is still welcome. Words come to life off the page when someone takes the time to get into the mind of the characters. You can close your eyes and be transported to another world. That’s why radio is so exciting. It stimulates a healthy imagination. When you watch television, the images are all there for you, but when you listen to the radio your mind has to do the work and make the connections.      If ever you have had the privilege of reading to a child you will know how hungry they are to hear an engaging adventure. The favourite and familiar stories are those that they like to hear read over and over again, especially when they know what’s coming. Great fun can be had as the pages are turned. I’m certain that the storyteller gets just as much fun out of the experience as does the child!  Sometimes it’s tempting for the reader to skip certain parts of the story to hurry things along. If you have tried it, you are not likely to get away with it. Children are more aware than you of the twists and turns in the story and will shout out immediately, ‘You have missed a bit!’  So to all you ‘would be’ storytellers out there, just say it as it is. 
      
It is worth reminding ourselves that it is our responsibility and commission to share the greatest story ever told in word and in deed with those whom we meet. We must not be tempted to rush from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday in our understanding, but rather to journey the path that Jesus took for us through Holy Week and to be challenged. 
     
As we enter Holy Week it is worth reminding ourselves that the transport Jesus chose on the first Palm Sunday was a donkey. Although known for its stubbornness, a donkey was chosen as a symbol of humility and for the heavy burden of service it would bear. The journey took Jesus to the very heart of Jerusalem. He was prepared to suffer the indignity of unfair and trumped up accusations, along with the rigours of a baying crowd, in order to bring to an end, once and for all, the eternal consequences of sin.
     
Yet the Easter story gives us all renewed hope. Jesus came into our fractured world to mend broken hearts and with that, to entrust the building of a new society based on self-giving love. He offers himself as the one who knows our need of forgiveness and sets us on the right path. His outstretched arms on the Cross seek to hold a petulant world together through sacrificial love. He calls us to reach out to others with that same love. 

My prayer is that the written and spoken word of the Bible, God’s story of love for us all, will resonate and be real for many this Easter season.
Marian and I wish you a very happy Easter.        God’s richest blessing to you all, Rev John Izzard

Good Friday Reflection       The link will go live next Friday morning on the Newport Methodist Church website:   https://newportmethodist.org.uk/

Tuesday Fellowship on Zoom

This week we discussed Mark 8 v 27 to 30. We thought about what people might think about Jesus today, before adding our own answers and starting to think about what this should mean for us in our everyday live. We finished with a time of prayer and then went outside with our candles at 8 p.m. to join in with the community marking the 1 year mark since the first lockdown.

“Gentle and Lowly”

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

In the coming week we will be remembering Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, with gentleness and humility, expressing his way of being Lord.

Mike and Andy from Soul Survivor have been recommending a book called “Gentle and Lowly” by Dane Ortlund*, which centres on those words “I am gentle and humble in heart” – the only place where Jesus mentions his heart.  Of course, Jesus is the Word from the beginning, he is seated in heaven, and he will return to judge.  But for those who come to him, he is gentle.
As it happens (“as it happens!” – why are we sometimes surprised when things happen like this?), the “Inspiring Women” daily notes have been centred on these words every weekend this month, and the notes also mention a song by Brenton Brown called “Humble King” (SOF 1474, and on YouTube).

So, are you weary and burdened?  Jesus has a gentle heart, and will give you rest.
(* My copy is available for borrowing. – Martin)

PALM SUNDAY SPOT THE DIFFERENCES   

Found in Lesley’s Happy Book:

A little card given out at church some time ago, with the words:

“Live in a way that when people get to know you they will want to get to know Christ

Dan Walker

One of the most recognisable faces on television opens up about his faith.
The 43-year-old’s achievements are numerous, including fronting BBC One’s flagship morning show Breakfast, which is viewed by 11 million people a week, and Football Focus  and Match of the Day. As a youngster, he’d dreamed of becoming a teacher, but those hopes were dashed when he was turned down for a training course for being too immature. Next he entered a sports commentary competition …. and won. The prize – two weeks of work experience- helped launch his career in radio, and the move to TV quickly followed.
The fact he’s reported on some of the world’s biggest sporting events, including the Olympics, the football World cup and Wimbledon is even more striking when you consider his stance of not working on Sundays. His determination to follow the biblical command to keep the Sabbath holy has not hampered his career, but his faith has been ridiculed. Simply expressing his belief that God created the world was all one national newspaper needed to jump to the conclusion that Walker wasn’t fit to be a TV presenter. How has reacted to such criticism? 
I’ve never minded talking about it, but I’m also aware that you have to be careful about what you say and who you say it to, because I think it’s very easy to twist words and takes things out of context. But all I’m trying to do is to the job to the best of my ability. In all the time I’ve been a broadcaster or journalist, I don’t think I’ve ever shoved my faith down anyone’s throat. I’m always willing to answer questions about it.
I never mind what people write about me, or say about me, because, as a Christian, I don’t take my value from what people think about me. I know that I’m valued. I can’t control all those hurtful, hateful things that people say about me, about my family, about my faith. I’m thankful that I developed the skin of a rhino.
I like to think that my faith makes me a better broadcaster, a better journalist. It was Martin Luther who said that if you’re going to be the best Christian shoemaker, don’t put crosses on all the shoes, just make the best shoes. That’s the way I see things – I’m to do the job to the best of my ability and see what comes of that.
I know Eric Liddell, the athlete turned missionary influenced you. What was it about him that inspired you so much?
I’d seen ‘Chariots of Fire’ growing up, and I’ve been interested in this bloke who was a brilliant sprinter, didn’t run in the 100 metres because the final was on a Sunday and ran in the 400 instead in the Paris games of 1924, and won the gold medal. I became very interested in the Liddell away from the track, who gave up a lot of success and fame and went to be a missionary in China and later became a prisoner of war. Ultimately it’s the story of sacrifice.
       In 2012, it emerged that he was offered in a prisoner exchange, as a famous athlete, to go back to the UK and a Chinese prisoner would come back the other way, and he turned it down. He gave his place to a pregnant woman who went back, and had her child, and Eric Liddell died, I think, three months later in that prisoner of war camp. I just find that sacrifice incredible really and quite inspiring. To think that he could have easily acted in a different way, when nobody would have known what happened, but he acted in that way when nobody was watching. That to me is a sign of a real hero- thinking of others when it would have been so easy to think of himself.

How can Christians be praying for you and others in high-profile jobs?
The important thing, from my perspective, is that I would do a good job, because I think that encompasses everything, really. Also, the importance of maintaining perspective in this occasionally weird life where there is a tendency to consider yourself to be more important than you are.
I also want to say I have been greatly encouraged by some of the things that people have sent me over the years- old messages, sometimes very short but very pertinent and encouraging. They have really lifted my spirits on occasion; they really do make a difference. I know sometimes I’ve been in very difficult situations where I’m struggling for the right words and I don’t always get it right, but I do feel that I’ve been greatly encouraged along the way by many people who I’ve never met, and that’s a game changer.
Dan was talking to Marcus Jones from Premier Christianity Magazine.

OPINION  

Why Covid-19 is NOT God’s judgement
Premier Christianity’s resident Bible scholar David Instone-Brewer explains why he believes this pandemic is not a sign of God’s anger

The Bible has several examples of God punishing and educating nations through plagues, so we should seriously consider the possibility of judgement or warning whenever a natural disaster happens. But how do we decide whether this is true of Covid-19?  

In the Bible, God’s plagues and other disasters were targeted, predicted and had a clear purpose. Prophets and preachers didn’t claim after the plague or disaster happened that it was a message from God – they warned people of God’s intended action before it happened. And they left no doubt about his purpose in it.  

Old Testament plagues       

The most detailed plagues in the Bible are the ten aimed at Egypt when God told Pharaoh through Moses to “Let my people go” (see Exodus 7-11). He instructed Moses first to ask Pharaoh, then to warn Pharaoh what would happen if he refused, and finally to bring about the plague by waving his staff as a visible sign of his prayer to God to send it.  

These Egyptian plagues were not just accurately predicted; they were specifically targeted. Those beginning in Pharaoh’s palace spread to the whole country except Goshen, the area where the Israelites lived (Exodus 8:22; 9:26). And the warnings beforehand were not only clearly stated, but evident from their progressive intensity: horrible (a stinking red river), nasty (gnats and boils), financial (ruined crops, dead livestock and locusts), dangerous (giant hail), and finally, catastrophic tragedy – the death of the eldest son of each family. We tend to think of these firstborn sons as infants, but the vast majority would have been young men – a specific target that must have decimated Pharaoh’s army.  

On another occasion, babies were targeted when God punished Abimelech, the king of Gerar, for taking Abraham’s wife (Genesis 20). No babies were harmed, but suddenly there were no pregnancies or births in his whole extended household. This must have involved a very large group of people – perhaps his whole clan – because otherwise it would take a very long time to notice the lack of new pregnancies. We aren’t told how this happened – perhaps through a mosquito-borne virus like Zika. This was potentially a much greater disaster than anything that Pharaoh faced, because within a couple of decades his whole dynasty would be gone.  

This curse was targeted at a specific group of people and its purpose was clear – as Abraham realised. He had to admit his own part in leading Abimelech into sin and, after both men repented, God answered Abraham’s prayer to heal Abimelech’s people.  

A drought caused a famine in Elijah’s day, which he attributed to God’s judgement on the Israelites because of their Baal worship. This link was clear to everyone because Baal was the god of thunder, and prayers to him for rain had failed spectacularly. Sadly, there were no doubt innocent victims, but Israel’s faithlessness was immense – 950 priests of Baal and Asherah implies a very large number of worshippers! Israel turned back to God en masse when Elijah won the rain-making competition on Mt Carmel (1 Kings 18).  

A dramatically deadly plague was also targeted at the Assyrian army led by Sennacherib (2 Kings 19). He was besieging Jerusalem, which contained an increasingly desperate people and a king, Hezekiah, who was sensible enough to pray for help. Isaiah (also trapped in the city) foretold God’s actions and presented the purpose clearly. This plague (or whatever the angel brought in v35) killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night. Sennacherib appeared to escape, only to then be killed in his palace as Isaiah predicted. No civilians died.  

New Testament plagues    

Not all disasters, however, are punishments from God. Many more calamities occurred in millennia of ancient Near East history, but the Bible only highlights those few that God used as signs.  

In AD 54/55 worldwide crop failures (which we only know about through extra-biblical sources), caused minor famines throughout the Roman world. This led to severe food shortages in Palestine a couple of years later. This was predictable because the next year was a Sabbath Year when no crops were planted in Israel. With no stores of food at the start of the year and no harvest either, Israel alone would suffer a greater famine in AD 56/57. Everybody would have expected and dreaded it. 

Because it was so obviously going to happen, Christian prophets and preachers could have declared it as God’s punishment on Israel for rejecting their Messiah – but they didn’t. Instead, Paul organised a collection from his Gentile churches throughout the Roman world to show their concern for the Jerusalem Church (2 Corinthians 8). Then he risked his own freedom by delivering it personally (he was captured and taken prisoner to Rome). This collection arguably healed the first serious Church rift, between the Gentile and Jerusalem churches.  

Occasionally God’s prophets will predict and explain a message of anger from him that is proved by a targeted disaster. More often, like Paul, God’s people can use these events as an opportunity to illustrate his message of love by bringing aid to victims of disasters that occur simply because creation is fallen.  

Using these biblical principles, we have to conclude that Covid-19 is not a warning or a judgement from God, as it wasn’t predicted and it isn’t targeted at the guilty. Instead of declaring a message of God’s anger, we can deliver God’s message of love wrapped up in food parcels, friendship, comfort and financial support

Has Leah been forgotten?

On 19 February 2018, over 100 girls were abducted from Leah’s school. Tragically, one of the girls died in captivity. All the others were released within a month – except Leah. Why was she the only girl who was kept? Because she refused to deny her faith in Jesus.
Since then, Leah has spent her 15th, 16th and 17th birthdays in captivity. In May, she will turn 18. Last year, news reached Leah’s family that she was still alive – through another woman who had been abducted. She hadn’t seen Leah, but she’d met another woman who had. This might seem like fragile hope, but it is a lifeline for her struggling family in the face of so little news.
Many Christians around the world are faithfully praying for Leah and her family – but there is a sense that others have forgotten about her. Nigeria’s President Buhari pledged to secure Leah’s freedom in the months after she was taken, and in 2019 there were assurances from the Nigerian government of ongoing negotiations. But things have gone quiet since then.       “I think it is safe to say that Leah is alive. But the silence from her captors and from the federal government is absolutely not good,” says Rev. Gideon Para Mallam, a friend of the Sharibu family. “Indeed, no official news has come out about Leah this past year, neither from her kidnappers, nor from the Federal Government of Nigeria. The silence is troubling. Her parents deserve to be briefed by the government, at least covertly. But we are not getting any of that.”

Jo Newhouse, spokesperson for Open Doors’ work in sub-Saharan Africa, recognised that silence sometimes comes from discretion, but also calls for compassion: “We understand that hostage negotiations do not appreciate media attention because it makes the water murky. However, there can be much more compassion towards the families of captives, and that is why Open Doors has been urging for a dedicated position within government with the sole purpose of maintaining an active family liaison and an open and accessible channel of communication with the traumatised parents of the hostages.”

Many other ‘Leah’s.      

Like millions of Christian women and girls around the world, Leah is vulnerable both for her faith and her gender. She represents thousands of women and girls who have experienced similar persecution in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond. Boko Haram continue their onslaughts in sub-Saharan Africa, and even a global pandemic hasn’t slowed them down – as Rev. Gideon Para Mallam explains:

“In one day in December, just before Christmas, they kidnapped 70 people. They killed over 50 people. And then again, on Christmas Eve, they went to a number of villages in the Garkida area in Adamawa State and kidnapped a number of Christians. We also know about an attack by Boko Haram on a rice farm, in which they killed over a hundred people. So, despite the military offensives against them, Boko Haram still manages to cause havoc.”

Often, in such attacks, men are killed – and it is women and girls who are taken. Many families are prayerfully waiting for the return of their ‘Leah’s. Your prayers make such a difference, helping Leah’s family know they are not alone – and we know that ‘the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their prayer’ (1 Peter 3:12).

“They remain hopeful that Leah will be back,” says Rev. Para Mallam, about Leah’s family. “This whole experience has not broken their spirit. I am very glad about that, because we have been constantly praying and working for that not to happen. We need to uphold them in prayer, so that their spirits are not broken.”

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