As we cannot meet together as church at this time we have provided a place where we can share our thoughts and readings, as we normally do in our Sunday morning meetings. Please clickhereto submit your own thoughts and they will be added to this page daily. Click to read thoughts and readings which were shared during March and April.
On 30th May Julie wrote: 'I found the 'Verse of the day' on my phone very encouraging yesterday and thought it worth sharing: "For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you." (Isaiah 41:13) In the midst of feelings of uncertainty as lock-down starts to ease, some children and teachers return to school next week and shops and other workplaces are looking at how to reopen safely, it is so reassuring to know that God takes our hand and will lead us each step of the way and we do not need to fear.
On 29th May Merle wrote her reflection 'Unquenched beauty': 'There is colour in my garden all year round. It starts with the early spring bulbs interspersed with a succession of wildflowers, as well as with the blossoming of many shrubs. Three shrubs standing together were so crowded that I took a chance and trimmed down a rather overgrown ceanothus which stood between a winter flowering viburnum and a beautifully scented coreopsis.' Click here to read Merle's reflection.
On 27th May Merle wrote about 'the daylight thief' who visits her garden: 'One joy I’ve had in my garden is seeing the array of plants that grow in it which have not been planted by me. I have a vine, a clematis and two variegated ivies which have trailed under or over the fence and re-rooted themselves, as well as flowers and creeping plants which make colourful additions to the cracks in the paving and steps.' Click here to read Merle's thoughts.
On 26th May Andrew shared his thoughts on doubtful praying: 'It would be easy when reading the remarkable events related in the book of Acts to feel belittled by it all, so that we feel our faith, and what we do, seems so small by comparison, but this is to take it the wrong way. To start with, the events in Acts are the product of a unique set of circumstances. This is not to say spectacular miracles do not still happen, but they usually arise out of an extreme set of circumstances or a particular anointed ministry. A friend of mine witnessed some amazing miracles in Africa, but many Africans are very poor, some are really desperate and there is no free health system. For most of us here, the answers to prayer may be far less spectacular but can be no less significant. The other thing to say is that we should not idealise the faith of Christians in Acts. One particular incident stands out as showing they were only human, like us, but their weakness did not top God doing something special. Chapter 12 relates the remarkable story of Peter’s escape from prison in the middle of the night when an angel comes to get him and lead him out through barred gates, not to mention heavy chains simply falling off. Then there is an almost comical episode after he turns up at the house of Mark’s mother where people are praying (presumably for him), but fails to gain entry because the servant is so shocked she neglects to unlock the door for him; and the others won’t do anything to let him in because they can’t believe he’s there! Only repeated knocking on his part gets them to relent and open up. What is clear is that they could not believe that such a miracle was possible. They obviously must have had some level of faith to be praying for him, but not enough to believe the servant girl when she told them Peter was at the door. Yet God answered their prayers beyond what they had the faith to ask for or expect. We can take heart from this. I remember praying for a friend of mine who was an alcoholic. He had been a Christian but had lost his faith, which had taken a massive blow after a christian pastor had run off with his wife ( though it has to be said his marriage had not been in in a good way, and it doesn’t say a lot for the pastor either!). I found it difficult to imagine how someone of such profound cynicism, fuelled by such restless intelligence and perceptiveness, could come to God - it was a tough nut to crack indeed! I wanted to see him find God again but, to be honest, I wasn’t able to do more than pray half-believing that such a thing could happen. Well it did happen. And I took heart from the way the God showed he is able to work with what was only a small seed of faith on my part. There is a warning in the letter of James which is easy to take the wrong way: according to many translations, James says that he who prays doubting will not receive anything from God. But the issue James is dealing with is whether someone really wants an answer to a prayer, whether they are properly committed to what they are asking. He is thinking of a situation where you ask for God’s wisdom and guidance when in fact you are rather doubtful as to whether you want that prayer answered, maybe because you might not like the answer given you! I may have only half-believed, but I really did want my prayer to be answered. If we really want an answer, God really is willing to honour our prayers even when we are hardly filled with perfect and boundless faith in him to answer. We can pray in the spirit of “Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief” and He really will listen and work with the level of faith we have got; and he really will be ready to take us up on what we ask. The shortfall in their faith in Acts, and the shortfall in my faith did not stop Him moving mountains.'
On 25th May Kelly wrote: 'I really look forward our church Bible study which, in the current situation, is now done through Zoom. Our Sunday talks and Bible studies are recorded so there is always an opportunity for any who’ve missed them to access via the website and listen. A couple of friends recommended that they had started listening to the Bible study and the Sunday talks for a second time and they’d benefited from hearing it again. I did this on Wednesday in preparation for this week's study. If you think you’ve heard the Bible study because you were there, think again! When I listened to the previous Bible study this week I was blown away by how much I’d missed. It was relevant the first time around but hearing it the second time made it clearer and went to so much more depth. Understanding how the Bible is applicable to my life resonated within me so much, and was extremely powerful and moving. Listening to it again is life changing and I cannot recommend it enough. Thank you to John who works so hard to prepare all the notes, also to all the people who take part, share their thoughts, experiences and have been prepared to share themselves.'
On 25th May Merle wrote about a plant that was 'worth rescuing' in her garden: 'A small compact plant with a large unopened bud attracted my attention as we were weeding the garden. I rescued it, gave it its own good compost in a nice earthen pot and waited.' Click here to read the outcome and Merle's thoughts.
On 25th May Cathy wrote: 'I was enjoying seeing a foxglove in flower and noticing afresh the bumble bee footprints to guide it into the flower and nectar. I thought 'now is the time of the foxgloves' which reminded me of the words from Ecclesiastes 3;1-8 about there being 'a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven'. We're certainly much more aware of time during lock-down, how we have more of it, how we can choose how we're going to spend it, how we have time to contemplate what's happening to us and much more, depending on our circumstances. This has entailed a whole raft of responses, from myself from anger, resentment to the deepest satisfaction and gratitude, that through the whole experience there is a loving heavenly Father teaching his child about herself, those around her, the wonder and beauty of creation and Himself and his desires for a needy world.'
On 23rd May Julie shared a thought from her garden about how we can flourish: 'I love irises! Two years ago I planted an abundance of bulbs and was rewarded by a colourful array of purple, yellow and white irises last summer. I have watered them faithfully this spring and eagerly awaited their flowering.' Click here to read Julie's thoughts.
On 22nd May Claire wrote about appreciating the 'weeds', a lesson from nature enjoyed during lock-down: '... What things do we notice and appreciate now that life has slowed down? Has lockdown given us a new perspective so that we now value something that we didn’t before?' Click here to read Claire's thoughts.
On 19th May Claire wrote: 'I woke this morning thinking about a recent conversation I’d had with a neighbour who I met while taking a walk around the village for my daily exercise. After the usual comments about the weather, enquiries after the wellbeing of our family members, the conversation inevitably turned to the coronavirus pandemic and the Prime Minister’s recent guidance about starting to ease the lockdown restrictions. I admitted that, as much as I longed for life to go back to normal, that in a way full lockdown was simpler: just ‘stay at home’ and obey the rules. We agreed that working out how businesses and schools could safely implement the latest guidance might throw up all sorts of challenges, and how to apply the new advice regarding travel and possibly seeing loved ones in a socially distanced way might be open to misinterpretation. We pondered whether people might look for loopholes in the regulations and that the situation might become less black and white and more grey. I admitted that I quite like black and white; I know where I am. My neighbour to my surprise disagreed. She said she liked grey. She said it gave her more scope . . scope for what I didn’t ask! My thoughts this morning led me to apply this to how I feel about being in God’s love. There’s security in the black and white fact that God loves each of us unconditionally. No grey area there. But do I keep things black and white? When doubts creep in, when a lack of confidence makes decision making difficult, when life gets ‘noisy’ does the ability to hear God’s whisper get lost in ‘the grey’? A new set of restrictions of my own making can come in and cloud my view. The black and white fact that we are loved by God isn’t restrictive, but our view of ourselves can be. If we sharpen our vision we find the scope to enjoy His love, to express it freely, to revel in it without limitations, and to share the freedom of it in our relationships with one another. I was reminded of the song written by Stuart Townend ‘In every day that dawns’ which is a lovely song thanking God for His favour, His mercies and blessings and His grace that changes us. The words reminded me that, because I walk with Jesus, He enables me to be free to give Him praise, for in everything I know that He loves me. The song finishes with the lines, ‘There are no shadows in your faithfulness, There are no limits to your love.’ That sounds pretty black and white to me! What better assurance do we need as we go forward with our loving God through this period of uncertainty?'
On 19th May Cathy wrote: 'Having short hair, which is no longer that short, and being unable to cope with those at the back peeping out just below my ears, I searched for the very old hair shearers that my father used to clip around the back of his neck. Making all the seemingly appropriate preparations to try and make sure I sheared away at the right ones off I went and, after a certain amount of clipping and tugging, job done. Perhaps fortunately I won't have to see the result from the back. However when I had swept up the clippings there was a pile of soft, wispy, curls and I suddenly thought of the verse '...And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.' (Matthew 10:30) So touching eh?'
On 17th May Jenny wrote her thoughts following on from the last two Bible studies: 'In our recent bible studies we have been considering thoughts and feelings and how these are intertwined. We have been asked the question; Is it possible to control our thoughts and feelings? As a person of the choleric/melancholic temperament thoughts and feelings are so innate to my character that I know and understand nothing else...' Click here to read Jenny's article 'A different path'.
Lessons from lock-down gardening: We learn so much from the natural world and even Jesus, as he taught his disciples about the Kingdom of Heaven, used examples from nature. Merle is developing a new section for us to share lessons learnt from our lock-down gardening. Click here to read and here to add your own contributions.
On 17th May Anne shared an article entitled '5 signs we could be on the cusp of a spiritual awakening' from Premier Christianity, written by Pete Greig on 11th May 2020: '1. The UK Blessing: For starters there’s the national blessing song. Released a week ago, it has now been watched two million times which is equivalent to 200 new people every single minute of every hour since last Sunday. Yesterday a BBC journalist asked me about the extraordinary unity the song displays. A lot of people are celebrating that. And stories just keep coming in from those who don't consider themselves religious, saying that the track has moved them unexpectedly to tears. Is a worship song going viral everything we’re praying for? Of course not! But is it something? You’d better believe it! Maybe something is stirring? 2. Prayer Surge: Then there’s the research commissioned by Tearfund and released on the same day (quite coincidentally) as the UK Blessing song. This survey indicates that some three million new people have turned to prayer in the UK since lockdown began. The online British bookstore Eden reports a 55 per cent increase in sales of Bibles in April. And demand for prayer resources from 24-7 Prayer has been going through the roof. At Emmaus Rd our twice-daily prayer meetings are suddenly wonderfully well attended. Now we know why. Is a sudden surge of prayer everything we need? Of course not! But is it something? Could it be a start? You’d better believe it! Something seems to be stirring in the UK. 3. Church Attendance: The Tearfund survey also indicates that record numbers have begun attending church online since the lockdown began. Generally we'd expect around 5-7 per cent of the nation to attend a Sunday service at least once a month. But over the past couple of months, this figure has jumped - in fact it has skyrocketed - to 24 per cent of the British population. Almost one in four. And 5 per cent of these people wouldn’t normally be at church in, well... a month of Sundays! “I've never known a time in my life,” says Nicky Gumbel, “when people are more open to [God’s word] than they are now.” Is virtual church attendance everything we’re praying for? Of course not! But is it encouraging? You’d better believe it! It seems to me that people are far more likely to attend a normal church service if they’ve attended a digital one first. Here at Emmaus Rd we are by no means unusual in having more than doubled in size since lockdown and we have more people than ever signed up for our next Alpha course (online). It’s not everything. But something does seem to be stirring. 4. Public Opinion: Slowly the national media is picking up the story. First the Guardian newspaper last Sunday, then Good Morning Britain on Wednesday, followed by a piece by my friend Krish Kandiah in the Times on Friday and a BBC News at 10 report last night. What are we to make of this? Is a week of positive media attention everything we’re praying for? Of course not! Is it widespread or prominent? No, not yet. But it's a pleasant change from the usual cynical sniping. Could it be an early sign that public opinion is preparing to shift? You’d better believe it! 5. Young People: I would never have believed a few months ago that I’d be seeing a headline in a major British paper saying this: “British public turn to prayer as one in four tune into religious services online”. And then the stunning subheading: “Young people lead resurgence in faith”. Yep, you read that right: the demographic leading the charge to church is the sophisticated, supposedly post-Christian 18-34 year olds. We do not pray ex nihilo. No-one can jump to the top of the staircase in one go. We find faith for the big things that God hasn’t done yet, by celebrating the small things he's doing or he's already done. On a cold, dark night when we spot sparks in the hearth, we blow on them. We don't pour cold water on them. We pray: "More, Lord." We say: "Well, if you can do this, maybe you can do that?" Are all these developments any more than embers in the hearth? Has this past week been without heartbreak? Are we experiencing some kind of revival? Are any of these encouragements guaranteed to last? To all these questions we must clearly answer with an emphatic "no!" But could these sparks somehow become a wildfire? Does tragedy often precede resurrection? Could this really be the beginning of a spiritual awakening in our nation for which so many have been praying so faithfully and for so long? My friends, this is a time to pray with greater faith, preach with greater confidence and plan with great ambition. Yes, let’s dare to believe it!' Pete Greig is the founder of the 24-7 prayer movement and the author of a number of books including, God on Mute (David C Cook), Dirty Glory (Hodder and Stoughton) and How to Pray: A Simple Guide for Normal People (Hodder & Stoughton).
On 12th May Laura wrote: 'I just wanted to share a small practical challenge from a talk I listened to that Rachel sent me (from the ‘ladies night’ at her church). The challenge was to do one thing at a time. Usually our world is so busy that we turn to multi-tasking to manage everything, but actually it gets in the way of so much. They talked about several practical examples. The first was taking our phone to the toilet (!), the second was just enjoying a cup of tea – not feeling like we need to do anything else at the same time, but being able to sit down and the only thing we are ‘doing’ is enjoying that cup of tea. They talked about being with other people – not also trying to reply to a text message, or read the news at the same time. It sounds obvious, but I actually find it really hard to put my phone down sometimes when Ash is trying to talk to me (sorry Ash!). I thought of a few more, like scrolling through things on my phone while we are watching TV. Ironically, while I was listening to the talk - I was also baking some muffins in the kitchen! I know that there are bits of the talk I missed because I was reading the recipe or looking for something in the cupboard. If I’m walking somewhere, doing the washing up, or driving, I usually count those times as ‘dead space’ and try to ring someone for a chat. Sometimes that is fine and good, but if I do it all the time then I am not giving myself time to slow down, and actually – the other person is short changed because they don’t have my full attention in the phone call. Recently I have realised that I seem to have quite a lot of my ‘thoughts’ while washing up. If I always feel the need to ring someone and fill that time, then I don’t have the space for those thoughts. It also makes it hard for God to get a word in edgeways..! I also thought about the challenge to do one thing at a time mentally, with our thoughts. How many of us will be thinking about one thing, and then another thought pops in about what to have for dinner – and suddenly we’re writing a full shopping list in our heads, and have lost what we were thinking about originally. I find that particularly hard when trying to pray. I also find a physical conversation can be completely hijacked by the thoughts going on in my head, and once again, the other person doesn’t have my full attention – but this time because I am trying to do more than one thing in my head. I have often felt there is nothing I can do about how quickly my thoughts wander, but it links with the Bible study last week and really trying to discipline the mind. I have really taken the challenge to slow down and do one thing at a time, both physically and mentally – for the sake of my relationships with other people, for the sake of my relationship with God, and for myself.'
On 8th May Adrian wrote: 'Who would have thought all this would have happened?About two years ago I indicated to Anne I was not feeling that well. Anne being ever pro-active arranged for me to go to the Nuffield in Norwich to have a health check. A number of surprises emerged as a result of my visit; one being my blood pressure was so high they would not let me go on the treadmill for one of the tests! As a result of the health report I received, there was a clear need to make some changes to my life. At that time, I was one of two Deacons responsible for overseeing Pastoral Care at Colchester Road Baptist Church in Ipswich. I decided to resign as a Deacon at the next AGM partly on health grounds but also to allow younger people to consider being Deacons.
Early in 2019 I also resigned as a Small Group Leader. By early Summer, we knew our future was not at CRBC. On Pentecost Sunday we happened to visit Halesworth Community Church as we were dog-sitting in Dennington. From this ‘one off’ visit, what we experienced led us to return. Later we placed our bungalow on the market and started to plan a move nearer HCC. We had a number of abortive purchasers that, at the time, were concerning. We moved out of our bungalow in Ipswich in November 2019 as we wanted to preserve the sale. This necessitated a hasty move into temporary rented accommodation, which has proved a God-send. Since then I have made several changes. To mention just a few, I have sold our motorhome, left Rushmere Golf Club and I will cease to be a Trustee of Inspire Counselling and Training in Ipswich at the end of August.
We have no TV where we are living currently but the property is situated in a very rural idyllic setting – perfect for a lockdown situation. As a result of the lockdown we have had a cruise to the Baltic cancelled, and we are unable to move into a property we have purchased in Halesworth. I have also become a Grandfather of twin girls, which at my age, is quite delightful.
In spite of all this change, amazingly I feel freer and more relaxed than I have felt for years. I believe God has well and truly shaken my ‘comfortable nest’. Looking back, I can already see His handiwork on this transition. If we had purchased any of the aborted properties each one would have been wrong. Trying to sell the motorhome now would be very different to selling it when we did. I could go on and give other illustrations of how God’s timing has been in all of the journey so far.
More than ever, I believe there is no place to put our trust other than in Father God. Who else would we put our trust in, especially currently? I am not quite sure when we will move into Halesworth but I am happy for Father God to continue to influence our timeline! For somebody who is not overly change orientated, the last two years have been ‘interesting’ but the great thing is peace has never left me. At times, I have felt this is very different to my usual risk adverse approach to life developed over many years in financial services.
John has prompted us recently to remember the words of the song, “Songs in the Night” by Matt Redman. If you are going through change currently, which is causing you discomfort, ponder on the words of this song. Within the lyrics the song invites us to “Be still, stand, wait and not be afraid” because Father God is, “God in it all.” There is a wonderful line that I find so helpful, “And so when I am in the storm Lord, the storm is not in me”.
The journey continues amidst a world experiencing unprecedented uncertainty but the truth is God is the same yesterday, today and for ever. What a privilege to be one of His children?'
On 8th May Cathy wrote: 'I just wanted to explain what the flower was in the picture you click on this month to go to the Thoughts and reading section, in case you were wondering. Its a dandelion seedhead after the rain! Maybe you already knew, but believe it or not in all my many years, I had never noticed the dandelion clock looking like a spikey hairdo before, it was a delightful discovery, partly like a little gift - see, there are still things you've never noticed before. It got me thinking about Elijah hiding away in a cave and hearing God's whisper. He'd seen God's power at Carmel consuming a sodden sacrifice with heavenly fire, but now here he was in the cave, depressed and running for his life. This time Elijah didn't experience him in the hurricane, or storm, but in a little whisper to his heart, enquiring how he felt and reassuring him that he wasn't forgotten. I've felt that these little things like soggy dandelion heads are one of the ways the Lord speaks to our hearts, he knows us, loves us and is there for us every step of the way.'
On 5th May Julie wrote about going forward: 'Some people may have noticed that the style and design of the website has changed recently. We have had the current website design for nearly 6 years and the template on which it was built has become obsolete, leading to problems loading pictures. It was time for a new design and new approach. As I’ve thought about it, I can see parallels with life at the moment.' Click here to read Julie's article.
On 5th May Laura wrote: 'Ash and I watched the National Theatre’s streaming of Frankenstein this weekend – not a play for the faint-hearted!! It is a display of fantastic acting, but dark, thrilling and unnerving. I didn’t actually know the story of Frankenstein before watching it – I thought Frankenstein was the name of the creature, not the scientist who created him. I was gripped and at the same time, wanted to turn it off. It has stuck with me, and strangely came to mind this morning when I was reading Hebrews. My reading was Hebrews 10:19-25. In particular, the phrase in verse 19 ‘draw near to God’ stood out to me. My reading notes commented on the fact that this has two meanings – the ‘once-for-ever step’ that we can make because ‘we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all’ (verse 10). And the other meaning is the lifetime process of drawing near to God as we get to know and love him more. As usual (!) I read the same verse in the Message which says: ‘So, friends, we can now – without hesitation – walk right up to God..’ ‘..full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out.’ (verse 19, continuing in verse 22) I thought how amazing that is! And also wondered how often I feel like that in daily life.. do I walk into a room, confident that I’m presentable both inside and out..? Not often! But I can – because I’m made in the image of God. This is where I started to think about Frankenstein. It doesn’t take long for the creature to realise that he is ‘hideous’, and he lives his life in the shadows, avoiding the shrieks and assaults from humans. He seeks out Frankenstein (his creator) and when he finally finds him, even his creator calls him a ‘monstrous thing’. Initially Frankenstein is amazed at his movement, balance, the fact that he can speak and read – but that is nothing to do with who the creature is, it’s marvel at his own achievement. He calls him ‘a monster, a brute, a filthy mess of nothing’. It is one thing for the creature to know that all men find him repulsive, but another entirely to hear that from his creator. It’s not a pretty story, but at the end there is an interesting line – the creature says to Frankenstein ‘all I wanted was your love’. Thankfully, our situation is different! We are not hideous, we are made in the image of God – and he loves us, so much that he sent his son as our sacrifice. We don’t need to do anything to earn this love, it is given freely. We can draw near to him – both in the ‘once-for-ever step’ and in the lifetime of walking with him.'
On 4th May Merle wrote about the new challenge she has set herself for this week: 'I woke up to early mist and the thought that, once it’s cleared, it should be a sunny day. However, when the mist cleared it has turned out to be a grey day with possible sunshine at noon. I’ve decided to have a different week ...' Click here to read Merle's blog.
On 3rd May Anne wrote: 'I have just received the following link from a friend and it is SO brilliant I wanted to share it with everyone. I thought this was the most efficient way of not missing anyone out. Be blessed as you listen - it is SO encouraging that right across our nation God has worshippers everywhere. Please seehttps://youtu.be/PUtll3mNj5Uto go to 'The blessing' by churches around the UK.'
On 1st May Merle wrote her reflection 'A soggy mess': 'I expect many had great plans for this year, 2020, as I did. Like myself we have all had to accept a completely different way of life, as imposed by the government to protect us from Covid-19.' Click here to read Merle's reflection.
On 1st May Julie shared her thoughts following the Bible study: 'I have thoroughly enjoyed the last 3 Bible studies which we have held via Zoom. The teaching has followed on and built upon each previous week and I was particularly encouraged by this week’s study on ‘What does it mean to be called?’. I particularly enjoyed the discussion around the question ‘Is there a difference between God’s call and what we think of as a career or specific ministry?’ My first thought was a huge sense of gratitude to God that he called me at such a young age and that I have known his leading and guiding at every stage of my life. I then reflected on his specific call and thought that this is a reflection of the temperaments that he has given us and the specific talents and abilities which he has gifted us with. To fulfil the specific call he has put on our lives will require us to use all of who we are and the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit which we talked about last week as we seek his guidance. Our call to a specific career or ministry is rooted in our temperaments. For myself, what has under-girded everything I've done, and which I believe has been, and is, God's specific call on my life, is a love for people and also for information, and a desire to provide the information and resources that enables people to better fulfil their potential and calling. That is what has motivated both the secular work I've done and within church life, although I don't see a distinction between the two, other than practically. It's been expressed in promoting children's literacy, teaching family learning, working on a library counter, ghost-writing and building the church website. I recognised that calling in my mid-teens, though couldn't have articulated in the same way then, and looking back can see it running through everything I've done. As I approach the age that I would have expected to retire when I first started work, I feel so blessed to see that thread of God's call running right through my life and even in this current situation of lock-down. I obviously have no intention of retiring now, rather my work within Suffolk libraries is developing and I am looking forward to continuing to learn and grow and develop in whatever God calls me to in the future.'
Laura has written her thoughts about discovering who she is and what she is living for following the Bible study on 29th April: 'As we were working our way through the Bible study last night, I was reminded of some thoughts I’d had as I was reading through Ephesians several weeks ago. It took me so long to find them last night, that by the time I’d found the verses – the discussion had moved on and it wasn’t relevant anymore!'. Click here to read Laura's thoughts.