Welcome to the first edition of Bethlehem Briefing. I hope you will find it helpful. It is designed to keep us in touch with one another as a church during these unusual and potentially stressful times. Each week I will try to include a devotion, a news update and some matters for prayer. If there is anything you would like included, please email, phone, or message on the Church Facebook page.
Come with me to Psalm 74 verses 9 to 12. Have you ever had a few words in your head going round and round troubling you because you know they are in the Bible somewhere but you don’t know where? That has been happening to me for the last few days. The words are, “None of us knows how long this will be”. That is my main concern, as I am sure it is yours, in this current crisis. None of us knows how long we will be under restrictions in travel and social contact. None of us knows how long we will face problems in work, school and home life. None of us knows how long our wonderful NHS workers will face such pressures.
So I was glad to find those words in a Psalm. Here is the full verse: “We are given no miraculous signs; no prophets are left, and no one knows how long this will be.” Psalm 74 v 9 It is one of the Psalms of Asaph. The complete set are Psalms 73 – 83 & 50. I must confess I used to think that he was rather a pessimist who was inclined to bemoan his lot. But I think I have got to know him a bit better now. He was not living in the glory days of the Old Testament Church. The days of David and Solomon were long gone. Asaph lived in times like ours. The church faced many pressures from outside, with enemies bearing down on them and even destroying their cities. But the greater pressures were from within the church, the low spiritual life of the people, their discouragement and lack of fruit. Asaph’s favourite prayer is “How long, Lord”?
But there is something about Asaph that makes him a really attractive believer. In all of his Psalms he tells God how things really are. He even admits his own temptation to fall away (Psalm 73), but he doesn’t leave his Psalms without cheering his soul with faithful truths about the Lord. Take this complaint in Psalm 74 where he says, “None of us knows how long this will be”. Just a few verses later he reminds himself that although he doesn’t know how long this will be, there is someone who does. “But you O God, are my king from of old; you bring salvation upon the earth….The day is yours, and yours also the night..It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth; you made both summer and winter.” Verses 10, 16, 17
What can we hold on to when we are in the midst of such uncertainty? Like Asaph, let’s remind ourselves that:
1. God is our king. He has been since we first trusted in Christ as Saviour and he always will be. We are not in control, no government is either. But our God is still our king.
2. God brings salvation on the earth. He saves from death, destruction and the grave. If we know his salvation we need not ultimately fear anything. Fear him ye saints and you shall then have nothing else to fear.
3. God set the boundaries of the earth, every boundary. He sets the boundaries of this virus. It will go only as far as he decrees and no further.
So, whilst we take all proper care and precautions, we can trust in our God (whilst still praying, “How long, Lord?”)
What an unusual Sunday. The church doors were closed and no sound of singing was heard from within. No children running around and laughing (or crying) together, and no face to face fellowship. It’s true that you only really appreciate something when it is gone. As Joni Mitchell sang in Big Yellow Taxi, “Don’t it always seem to go, That you don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone”. I’m sure we all appreciate in a particularly new way, what it feels like for those of you who are housebound and miss the weekly fellowship meetings.
But we did have the livestream. We now have another way of “meeting” and we are looking at ways of meeting on a Wednesday that may be more interactive.
We don’t want anyone to be at home anxious and lonely. You may be alone, but we don’t want you to be lonely. I have been so encouraged to hear of people phoning one another, and there have been many offers of help. IF you happen to be someone who has been overlooked, with no one contacting you, please let one of us know. Contact Jenny and me on 01639 882564, or message me through Facebook (yes I am on Facebook, though I use it with great discretion) email me through the website or on [email protected]. Or contact Jonathan, Ben or Andrew. We are all here to help and however small it seems to be to you, even if you just need a reassuring chat, please get in touch.
Having said that, I can’t chat at the moment! I have no voice. Over the weekend I was diagnosed with a serious upper respiratory tract infection. I am on strong medication and , Praise the Lord, it is working. But I still have no voice. Why has the Lord allowed this? I can think of many reasons: to humble me first and foremost; to teach me not to rely on the gifts God has given but on the God who gives, and takes away; to show the reality of what I have been preaching over the last few weeks from 1 Corinthians 12 – that the church is more than one person. We are a body and the Lord has supplied many others with gifts that they are using to his glory and the good of the church. None of us is indispensible in the work of God. Perhaps another reason is to get me writing rather than talking.
Brief Prayer Requests
I don’t want to weary you (although it occurs to me that reading this is different from hearing me preach – you can skip bits, put it down and come back to it, return and ponder – which you can’t with a sermon), so I’ll end with some prayer items.
1. All our elderly and vulnerable members and friends who may be on their own at home and subject to 24 hour news that can be distressing. That the Lord will minister to their hearts and assure them of his love.
2. For all who work in the NHS, Social Care, Emergency Services, Education and any others who continue to supply essential help to those who need it.
3. For all in local, regional and UK government who have very difficult decisions to make. They are put there by God to administer temporal things. We are told to pray for them and to submit to them Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2, so it is right that we are good citizens, as Jonathan was reminding us on Sunday, obeying the law and observing the restrictions imposed on us.
4. Pray for the gospel to spread rapidly and be honoured (2 Thessalonians 3 v 1). It may seem a strange prayer, but every day believers are finding new ways of reaching out to people in demonstration of genuine Christ – like love, and telling them the good news of a Saviour who alone gives certainty and hope.
Finally, for those who are following the daily readings, until the end of March we are reading one chapter of John a day. So here it is
March 23rd – John 13; 24th – John 14; 25th – John 15; 26th – John 16; 27th – John 17;
March 28th – John 18; 29th – John 19; 30th – John 20; 31st – John 21
Warmly yours in the Lord
Your Pastor Jeremy