The bicycle and the flowers

posted in: Filipe Almeida 1

By  Filipe Almeida

 

It is interesting to think that in the middle of good days and others without news in this lockdown, I have discovered new things. Reinventing myself has been one of the exercises, even if there are days when I don’t feel inspired, I have found reasons to reflect in new ways. Experiences with nature have helped me in this process. I can already hear the song of some birds and recognize the species and in a very personal way this has given me joy. Not only the birds, but the blue sky on sunny days, the fauna found in the walks and the fields of flowers.

 

A few weeks ago, after a day of work at home, I decided to enjoy the end of the sunny day by cycling a little. The plan was for a quick ride close to home with the awareness that I would need to divert around people all the time and thus maintain social isolation. But when I arrived at the destination 10 minutes from where I live, my desire was not to return, but to continue cycling, to continue exploring and discovering new places in Luton (even if it was not so far).

 

As I rode, I had the expectation that I would find something new. Something that would bless and build me up. I continued cycling and passed through a path with tall trees with the most diverse songs of birds which only impelled me to continue. Right after this path through the trees, I came across a pedestrian crossing and bicycles and at a certain point I found a bit of abandoned trash and debris and that was not so cool. At this moment I reflected on life. In some moments of our lives we are not faced with pleasant or good things and how this is related to this time in Covid-19 when we have faced sad and uncertain experiences. But the question that never left my mind was what would I find at the end of that path?

 

When I reached the end of this path, I came across a beautiful field of wild yellow flowers and my heart was filled with joy and emotion. I cycled quickly to get close to these flowers and spent time in prayer! It was me, the bike, the flowers, the birds, the sunny sky and the Lord speaking to me. The Lord spoke to me that in the midst of the difficulties and unpleasant things we encountered on the way (as it was with the garbage I found), at the end of the way, the Lord would have prepared for me a beautiful place that would fill me with peace and joy. As I prayed and sang praises, the Lord spoke to my mind and heart that only He has words of eternal life, even while so many people are dying all over the world. And the Lord kept saying that his power can overcome any kind of evil.

 

Our experiences with God give life beauty in big or small things! On this day cycling, I just realized that this is the Lord’s time to work even harder in my life and I accept and receive what He wants to do in me each day.   During the Covid-19 period, I think the Lord wants to do special things in his Church. He wants to wake us up and by the power of the Holy Spirit to use us as witnesses. May we be open to what the Lord wants to do in us at this time, even with ups and downs. In this moment of the walk of life (or pedaling), we are facing very unpleasant things, but that prepares and strengthens us for the future. May we remember the beautiful field of flowers that we will find at the end! Even with the challenges of the present and others that may come, this is a time that we will experience much more of the Lord and will be even more used by Him until we are in our eternal home with Him.

 

 

 

 

Reflections from John Piper’s Coronavirus and Christ – Part 2

posted in: Coronavirus and Christ 0

Download the book from: https://www.desiringgod.org/books/coronavirus-and-christ

 

The unchanging God 

based on reflections from John Piper (Coronavirus and Christ)

One thing that this pandemic could do is challenge our confidence in who God is.  It can feel like we are standing on shifting sand, our lives, our jobs, the lives of those we love, the economy everything that seemingly our society is built on reveals itself to be sand. These things are temporary, good things, but temporary and not worth building our lives on, however until they are shaken we don’t realise the depth of trust we put in them.  Consequently, as these things are shaken so can our confidence in who God is.

Is he a good God?  Is he righteous? Can we trust him? Will he be faithful and what does that faithfulness look like if it isn’t a safe, healthy life, a good life for us, our families and friends?

The truth is in the midst of all this God the rock DOES NOT change.  The coronavirus pandemic does not change who he is. Our trust, our hope, our faith isn’t put to shame when we put it in the great ‘I AM’.

God the Rock

In Isaiah 8:12–13, God said to Isaiah, “Do not fear what [this people] fears, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honour as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.” In other words, don’t put God into the same group as all of your ordinary fears and dreads. Treat him as an utterly separate and unique— with a transcendent—fear and dread.

God is righteous, he is holy, he is good. Who He is does not change in the midst of the Coronavirus.  His righteousness and goodness requires that he not simply give us an easy life but gives us opportunities to turn to Him and away from the things that draw us from him He is the great I AM,  he is the Alpha and Omega, Creator of all.

 

The Sovereignty of God

God is all-governing and all-wise. He is sovereign over the coronavirus. This is good news—indeed, it is the key to experiencing the sweetness of God in his bitter providences.  His sovereignty means that he can do, and in fact does do, all that he decisively wills to do.

The coronavirus therefore is not a surprise to God, in fact our God could stop it at any time, therefore He is allowing it.  However He governs it, He will bring an end to it. It is a bitter season but again and again in the Word of God we read of men and women who lived through bitter seasons and drew closer to the Father.  He uses all things for the good of those who love him.  This is a time ordained by God. God governs it. He will end it. No part of it is outside his rule or reign. Life and death are not a game of chance they are in his hand.

Job did not sin with his lips (Job 1:22) when he said: Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. (Job 1:21)   The Lord gave. And the Lord took. The Lord took Job’s ten children.

In the presence of God, no one has a right to life. Every breath we take is a gift of grace. Every heartbeat, undeserved. Life and death are finally in the hands of God:

Therefore, as we think of our future with the coronavirus—or any other life-threatening situation— be reassured, know peace as our future is in the hands of a holy, righteous, good God.

James tells us how to think and speak in this manner:

You ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:15)

If he wills, we will live. If not, we won’t.

Your life, your destiny is not left up to chance.  God has ordained every day of your life and this season is no surprise to him.

It reminds me of a song we used to sing with children at church – The wise man built his house upon the rock and the foolish man on the sand. When the storms came the house on the sand fell flat but the house on the rock stood firm.  Let’s together build our lives on The Rock. Jehovah has not and does not change as seasons do.  He is our refuge and our safe place.

Reflections

  1. What image of God do you tend to hold in your mind?
  2. When you picture God as the rock, what does this mean to you?
  3. Think back to a time when you have experienced God as a place of refuge and safety.

 

Prayer

Pray for yourself and those around you feeling unsettled and uncertain in this season that they would know God as the Rock worth building a life on.

Reflections from John Piper’s Coronavirus and Christ – Part 1

posted in: Coronavirus and Christ 0

Download the book from: https://www.desiringgod.org/books/coronavirus-and-christ

Come to God who is your Rock and solid foundation.

If the Coronavirus Pandemic is going to serve as a reminder of anything it is this – Life is fragile and we are not in control! The fact of the matter is that the current pandemic has shaken people to their very core, exposing the true nature and durability of their foundations. Those who have chosen to build their lives upon the destructible foundations of family and social relationships are left vulnerable as they can’t socialise with friends or even spend time with family members during this season. Those who have chosen to build their lives upon their careers and job security are worried and fearful, wondering whether they will have employment to return to when the lockdown restrictions are lifted. Many others who have placed their security and confidence in their financial wealth have been shaken as they are wondering how on earth they will survive on their furlough income, and for the many thousands of people who are self-employed they don’t even have that as a fall-back! Stock markets are crashing. People’s investments/savings are diminishing, and others are worrying about the possible threat of the economy sliding into recession.  All things considered the foundation of financial security is looking very unstable indeed. There are in fact innumerable other things that people have built and continue to build their lives, hopes and dreams upon that are beginning to collapse before their very eyes.  The question that we- as believers ought to be asking is this…. as seemingly indestructible foundations are shaken and collapse during this pandemic, are we confident in the sure and solid foundation of Christ, our rock who cannot be shaken – EVER?

Trusting in Christ, not playing percentages

In the first chapter of his book – ‘Coronavirus and Christ!’ John Piper mentions the    occasion when he was diagnosed with Prostate cancer.  All the talk was about odds. Odds with waiting to see! Odds with medications, odds with other procedures and odds with radical surgery. Even though John and his wife took the numbers/percentages seriously, non the less, they were able to look each other in the eye and say, ‘Our hope is not in the odds, our hope is in God’.  In this pandemic, I have heard many people (mostly non-Christians) talking about odds/percentages; ‘chances are that I’ll recover quickly; I’m young and healthy.’ ‘If I continue steadfastly with self-isolation and maintain social distancing I’ll be ok!’ Chances are many of us won’t contract the virus, but whether we do or don’t our confidence and hope is not in – the percentages! But in the God who will never leave us or forsake us.

 

Deuteronomy 31 v.6 (NIV)

‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.’

 

God Has Spoken

Our God is not on mute in this season and He has spoken. When He speaks from His word, we can trust and rely on it completely because there is no disconnect between who God is and what He says.This is what God actually said:

 

 

  ‘God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain

          Salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for   

          us so that that whether we are awake or asleep we

          might live with him.  (1 Thess. 5:9-10)         

         

What God says is that, even though we are sinners and have not lived one single day of our lives without falling short of God’s standards of love and holiness, He has spared us wrath and condemnation by taking all of our sin, guilt and shame. The punishment for all of it fell on our Saviour Jesus Christ. He ‘’died for us.’’  Therefore, we are free from guilt, free from punishment and secure in God’s merciful favour. ‘’Live or die’’ God said, you will be with me. That is very different from playing the odds! This is a firm rock under our feet. It’s not fragile. It’s not sand but rather a 100 percent guarantee for all those who put their trust in Christ.

Our Rock for Eternity and for now

One of the things I think God is wanting to remind us of during this season is the fact that, although our rock is eternal and our ultimate hope will be in our future resurrection living with Him for eternity in glory, God wants us to experience it now. Its tangible, it’s very real and very powerful!

 

A SOLID FOUNDATION

Quote: ‘’ the same sovereignty that could stop the

Coronavirus , yet doesn’t, is the very same sovereignty

that sustains the soul in it.’’ (John Piper)

It doesn’t really matter very much what I or anyone else thinks about the current pandemic and what the possible outcomes might be. However, it does matter what God thinks. He is not silent about what he thinks. (1 Peter 1:24-25) “The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’’  Jesus said that God’s words in scripture ‘’cannot be broken.’’ ( John 10:35).   His words therefore are a firm foundation for our lives. When He (God) gives counsel about the coronavirus, it is firm, unshakable and lasting.

 (Ps 33 :11) Therefore, in the best and worst of times, we can know an unshakable peace and joy. God is not just wanting us to grit our teeth and endure this season but rather to experience his joy and delight in it. (Jer 15: 16).

 

Our faith is not a leap in the dark but a walk in the light

Many people think that the Christian faith is no more than a blind leap in the dark, but the bible tells us that the foundation of our hope is TRUST, not only in a set of beliefs, or a moral way of life, but primarily in the person and work of JESUS CHRIST. He alone is the only one who – in this season of uncertainty and painful waiting for ‘’better days to come ‘’ can still our hearts with peace and comfort, reminding us that whatever the outcome of this pandemic for us  we can stand firm on the solid rock and unshakable foundation of Christ.

 

Reflections

  1. What are your specific fears and worries at this time?
  2. Are you tempted to put you confidence in percentages/odds at this time?
  3. What bible truths or passages are you standing on at this time?

 

Prayer

Pray that you and those you connect with experience real hope in this time and know that the rock under your feet will get you though this season.

Ramadan in Lock down

Many of our Muslim friends and neighbours are about to enter a very important time in their religious calendar – the time of fasting known as Ramadan. As many of us are aware, this is one of the 5 pillars of the faith, an essential way of expressing their devotion to God through the discipline of refraining from water and food from sunrise to sunset over a period of 30 days.

This will be a different kind of Ramadan though – one which is done entirely from the home.   Some rituals which are a key part of Ramadan will be missing.  This includes praying in the mosque and the collective act of worship demonstrated by that, as well as the social interaction enjoyed over the ‘Iftar meal’ at sunset when the fast is broken. I have had the pleasure of being at a number of Iftar meals, have sat on the floor in people’s guest room, breaking the fast with dates (in the tradition of prophet Muhammad) and enjoying the benefits of South Asian hospitality.

According to the Manager of Makki Mosque in Manchester

 “The hardest part for us will be the social aspects.  Each year we take part in gatherings for breaking the fast meals with friends, family and the wider community. These will be in our own homes this year.  We often share food with friends and neighbours. This will continue but with carefully observing social distancing and ensuring ‘no-contact’ drop-offs.”

One of the biggest challenges might be having to spend the traditional Eid celebration which comes at the end of the 30 days of fasting, with immediate family only.   Many of my Muslim friends go in and out of each other’s homes during this time giving and receiving food as well as gathering to eat in large groups with the wider family that is valued so highly in the Pakistani tradition.

In a similar way to Christians working out how to respond to the current climate, Muslims have been urged to see this as time of self-reflection, a time to show love to those in the community and to demonstrate godly qualities during a time of testing.

This could also be an opportunity for us to reach out to our Muslim friends and neighbours.  Let’s send messages of support and love for them and show them that we are aware it’s their fasting month and that it might be strange and difficult for them.   Why not tell them that you are praying for them and ask for any particular requests?  My Muslim friends always respond positively to this!   We can also ask  how they are doing and be open and honest about our own struggles.   It’s an opportunity to talk about faith in the light of what’s happening in the world. It’s a great way to show the love of Jesus.

 

 

 

 

Rebalancing Life in this Coronavirus world.

posted in: Jane Reynolds 0

By Jane Reynolds

One of the great things for some of us in this Coronavirus world, is we’ve had more chance to join with our families in worship. For me this means going to ‘church’ in different places around England and Wales. I offer this unashamedly from one of my ‘trips’. My life group has found this helpful and I hope you will too.

It’s not unusually to be feeling a bit confused and out of sorts by all the changes in our circumstances. As Christians we don’t always understand what’s going on inside. We know we have a mighty God who is faithful and true in every way, but Gods plans are not always our plans and he does things his way, and in his time. There are five key areas in all of our lives that have been affected by the Coronavirus . Five areas that are found in Jesus. Up to this point we may have thought they were rooted in Jesus, but these suppositions may be being tried and tested at this time. The may need a little rebalancing.

  1. Connection

God made us to be connected to each other and to him. When He looked at Adam he decided it was not good for man to be alone. Our God is a triune being: Father, Son and Spirit, living in unity together.

Jesus also asks us to be devoted to one another in fellowship. It is therefore natural that we are missing each other and the contact we use to have with each other.

But we are not disconnected, either from each other or from God.

Let us use this time to make deeper connections with our Father God. As we spend time with Him, let us catch His heart for others, those in our fellowships, those around the world. Let us catch Gods heart for the suffering, the lost and the lonely, those that do not know Him and those that do.

Let us plug into the free gift of the Holy Spirit who helps us to pray and teaches us all things: The spirit of wisdom and of grace. May we be changed and grow as we spend time with God, with our families and friends during this time.

  1. Structure.

We have a God of order and design. Without structure comes disorder. Our normal structure of life have changed, making us feel off balance. We can take steps to rectify this. Lets develop new structures and routines make time for exercise and personal prayer. For some we need to guard from over working, for others we need the structure to ensure we remain productive and don’t leave this time with regrets. Let’s make time for personal prayer and reflection, time to have important conversations with friends and family. Just because there is a disorder in the world doesn’t mean we have to be disorganised. Let’s build new routines and bring order into our lives

  1. Safety.

So did you want to stand and fight or fly away when this all started? Did you ignore it, thinking it would all go away, or did you rush to the shops and panic buy? Perhaps you have lost your job security or been placed on furlough. All of us have our health threatened by an unseen force, so tiny yet so powerful. Yet we have a God who is far stronger, who faced death without fear and won that ultimate victory.

Jesus asks us to be ‘strong and courageous’. We say God is our strength and refuge, that He is our security and we can trust Him because He is faithful, He is Jehovah Jireh, my provider. However, many of us felt insecure and frightened as we learnt more about this virus.

We need safety and security to flourish. The truth is the world offers nothing absolute. When we know who God is and what He has done for us, who God made us to be, and who we are in God, then we can stand secure in our faith and praise without fear.

  1. Freedom.

Let’s face it, most of us don’t like being told what to do at times. We feel our freedom has been taken away with the lockdown. Things are frustrating, plans have had to change.

The truth is it is God who brings true freedom. Let us not be pulled down by the loss and confusion of the world at this time. Let us not be foolish but listen to wise council and stay at home. We have more freedom that the apostle Paul who rejoiced in prison. Let us redirect deceptive thoughts that tell us we are disconnected, alone and trapped. We are part of a world wide family and have far more freedom to worship, to make new routines, exercise and enjoy Gods magnificent creation than many others, despite being in lockdown.

  1. Purpose.

God made us with a purpose. We can confuse our purpose with our identity. Some of us are grieving because we feel a loss of purpose, or status as our jobs change, we feel of a loss of identity. However our identity has not changed, we remain children of the living God. Heirs to His kingdom and adopted into His family through Jesus. Neither has our purpose. We were created for good works which we can still do, just in new ways. We were created to worship and fellowship, to love God and each other. During this time we can learn even more what that means and how we can outwork the two key commandments and elements of our faith, loving God and loving our neighbour as ourself, in new ways.

 

Let us remember that we are able to do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Let us be strong and courageous through this time because we were created to have connection, structure, safety, freedom and purpose and that has not changed. We find all that we need in Christ our rock and our salvation. God knows our needs, He gives us our identity and purpose. His mercies are new every morning and we can put our Hope and trust in Him.

 

Jane. With thanks to Dave@Ascot Life Church.

 

Children and Mental Health during Isolation

By Shirley Weston

When it was announced that schools were closing – there was a mixture of emotions – some joy and relief maybe, some resignation, some initial shock.  But for one group of children, the events of the last few weeks have been met with a considerable amount of panic and fear. Calls to Childline have apparently rocketed with a peak number of counselling sessions required following the announcement of school closures on March 18th.

Other children may not have demonstrated these more extreme reactions but , talking to people it appears that isolation from friends, lack of structure, lack of physical activity and confinement with the same people may be leading to various kinds of stress, arguments, boredom, irritability and low motivation.

Inevitably this has had an effect on the rest of the family.    A number of parents have essentially gone into survival mode to try to cope with the situation which may continue for several weeks, dare I say months!

 

What advice is available?

 

Parents and carers, if you are needing some support during this time then these two articles may be helpful and I encourage you to read them:


https://childmind.org/article/supporting-kids-during-the-covid-19-crisis/

https://www.baps.org.uk/content/uploads/2020/03/FACE-COVID-by-Russ-Harris-pdf-pdf.pdf

Of course, I am aware that I am not a parent and therefore don’t have direct experience, but I have tried to put together some ideas and advice by reading articles and talking to a number of families.

The written, online advice at the moment seems to be suggesting key factors at this time are:

  • Structure

It is important to provide some kind of structure to each day with fun planned activities.  Try to ensure children are starting the day at the same time and going to bed at a normal school time.

  • Communication

Allow children time to express their fears and anxieties, be open about what’s happening and give appropriate information.  Set regular times to talk to them individually or together and respond to their emotions as they are expressed during the day in different ways.

  • Modelling

Model (if possible) a good calm attitude in the midst of what’s happening and stay positive.   But also, be honest about some of the things you are feeling and don’t be hard on yourself when it doesn’t go well!

 

Suggestion for Family Activities

  1. Contribute positively

Encouraging children to be part of the solution to the problem can be an important part of helping them to think and act positively.

‘The research from natural disasters suggests that involving vulnerable children in family and community responses to potential danger increases resilience, protects against development of helplessness and may help mitigate against post-traumatic effects’ (Mental health Grace Alliance)

This may include:

  • Writing cards to elderly people or people on their own
  • Planning and cooking meals for people in the home
  • Writing positive messages to display in the windows

My 9 -year-old niece has found a place (a plastic container under a tree) where she can leave cards and gifts for her friends who live in the flats nearby to find when they have their turn to play in the area.  This has been a great source of motivation for her and given her a sense of purpose.

 

  1. Sports and games
  • Set different physical challenges for the children for each day. How many times can they run around the garden? For how long can they stand on one leg?  How quickly can they roll across the lawn?
  • Try some new games – hopscotch, scavenger hunt (find something shiny/ round/ a feather/ three different shaped leaves etc.), tug of war, hide and seek. One of the girls I was in touch with told me how her mum had been teaching her a game that she used to play as a child in Pakistan!
  • Encourage the children to plan their own workout for the rest of the family to join in, or to organise a game or quiz.

 

  1. Positive communication
  • Communicate about a common interest with a friend – my 6-year-old nephew does ‘nature club’ with his friend over skype. They talk about something of interest that they have found in the garden!
  • Communicate regularly with remote family members – allow the children to share pictures or models that they have made and play games remotely. Again, depending on the age of the child, have them organise the game!

 

  1. Crafts and hobbies

There are many things they can do but here are a few:

  • Writing and drawing things in chalk on the paving slabs
  • Giving children an area of garden to work on
  • Baking cakes – trying out new recipes
  • What can you do with scraps of material or things lying around the home? A junk modelling challenge is fun and easy to organise.
  • Encouraging children to take photos and create a gallery on the wall.
  • Researching the songs and names of birds and trying to identify them.
  • Making a cardboard box TV – create characters that they can stage or present (craft puppets can be made for this game too)

 

A time to draw closer to God..

Bring God into the situation – He knows what’s going on, He is faithful and loving and good.  Be honest about your own fears but model giving them over to God:   God knows what is happening. He is not surprised and He doesn’t want us to be afraid. In fact, the Bible tells us 365 times that we don’t need to be afraid. That’s enough times to read one per day for an entire year!

 

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  Isaiah 41:10

 

Encourage the children to pray.  Have them write down the names of people that they want to pray for – you could display them on post-it notes or on a big poster.

 

This may also be a unique time to read the Bible together – encourage the children to learn verses.  There are lots of ways of doing this.  For example:

 

  • Write down a Bible verse with one word on different pieces of paper. Stick them up on the wall/fridge.  Encourage the children to look at the verse.  Gradually remove the different words until they have learnt the whole thing.
  • Set Bible verses to music or get the children to come up with some actions to go with them.

 

There are some great online resources for children’s ministry

 https://www.gocurriculum.com/5kingdomofheaven?utm_source=aweber&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=MTC-popup-corona

 

https://www.worshiphousekids.com/

https://ministrygrid.com/gospelproject

 

You are not alone…

 

In conclusion, it is not unusual to feel overwhelmed at a time like this and if you children are feeling overanxious, irritable, demotivated etc. be aware that you are definitely not alone in having to deal with this.  Please reach out to others within the church and outside of it, seek help and ask for prayer.  Connect with your small group, share with other parents and if you have input and ideas please do share anything that has helped you.

 

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