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Sunday, May 24, 2020

Earlier this month, one of our words for the week was “weary.”

 

This is something many of us have experienced during the lockdown time. Objectively, this seems a little strange, as this is a period that is literally defined by the importance of not going anywhere or doing anything.

 

Of course, for a number of people, this time has meant more work than ever – those who are home schooling, for example, or those working on the front lines and in key worker roles.

 

Even those who are not affected by the above, however, have found themselves growing mentally and spiritually weary as time goes on and uncertainty weighs down on us. And as our lives look so different now, it can be hard to find ways to truly rest.

 

We are promised, however, that we will be given rest if we seek it.

 

Matthew 11:28-29 “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.”

 

So what does the bible say about rest?

 

Rest in nature

Psalm 23:1-3 The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.

 

This is one of the best known passages of the Bible. It’s something that everyone can immediately identity with. Green pastures, quiet waters… later on in the psalm, the author goes on to speak of going through the valley of death, and feeling God’s presence with them instead of fear. Is this because they were first strengthened by a moment of rest with God?

 

While the psalm uses poetical imagery, it can also be taken in a literal sense. Nature can be deeply restful. Of course, not everyone has easy access to actual green pastures and quiet waters – some may not even be going outside of their homes at the moment.

 

But God may well have his own idea for something you will enjoy, whether it be a moment in a park, a garden, or a view from your window.

 

Rest in obedience (and snacks)

Kings 17:2-6 “Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah:  “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there.”

 

So he did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.

 

When this story takes place, Elijah was actively doing good, obeying God’s commands – he had just warned of a coming drought, the result of God’s displeasure with the idolaters in Israel. But just after this, when God told him to go and hide himself, he did. He didn’t push on with his ministry, or try to find another good work to do.

 

God had prepared the place for the rest, and also a plan to keep Elijah strengthened, by having the ravens bring him food.

 

This is a very practical moment – Elijah needs food for strength, so God sends it to him. How often do our troubles seem so much worse when we haven’t eaten all day? Elijah rests because God has commanded him to, but the rest itself is something that God has designed to benefit Elijah’s human needs.

 

 

Rest after work

Genesis 2:2-3 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

 

God rested.

 

This is something very important to remember, any time we try to convince ourselves that we can get along fine without rest. Do we think we’re going to do better than God?

 

This would later become the Sabbath day, a day only for rest. Of course, Jesus made a point of freeing us from the religious structures of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:12, “How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.") But the importance of time set aside to rest was built into humanity from the very beginning.

 

The day of rest is listed as the final moment of creation, the seventh part of a seven-part story. It’s included every time we look at these events – we consider it a part of “creation”, even though God wasn’t creating anything on that particular day.

 

Might a time of rest be just as essential to our works as the works themselves?

 

Rest in faith

Mark 4:35-40 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.

 

 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

 

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

 

 

Jesus knew that he needed to rest. And he slept through some circumstances that would ordinarily have someone’s full attention. Interestingly, the storm didn’t wake him, his disciples did.

 

He reprimanded them for their lack of faith – the faith he had, that they would be safe. Of course, he didn’t just go right back to sleep, he commanded the storm to be still first. It seems he wasn’t telling them that it was wrong to bother him, but rather that they shouldn’t have been panicking.

 

A time of rest will often be interrupted, either by others, or by our circumstances, or both. It doesn’t mean that we should ignore those who need help (“I’m sorry, I can’t help you with the storm, I’m having some me time. You understand.”)

 

It should be noted Jesus did make a point of setting boundaries when necessary – there are many other times in the gospels when he rested, often taking himself away from his active ministry in order to do so.

 

But when our lives feel like unmanageable chaos, taking a moment to rest can seem as nonsensical as having a nap in the stern of a boat during a storm.

 

If we do rest, we do so in faith that Jesus will fulfil his promises to us.

 

“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.”


Saturday, May 16, 2020

A selection of resources to grow and deepen our faith

In our first blog post we spoke about how Bristo Baptist Church has had to adapt to the lockdown in Scotland. This week, we're looking at how you can continue to grow and deepen in your faith outside of the Zoom and WhatsApp conversations. So, what resources are there to help you?

Some of these have been around for a while - others have been developed in response to the current situation, such as an online-only church festival.

If there are any other resources that you enjoy using, please share them with us!

Bible Gateway

There are plenty of free resources online, including websites with study Bible options. You’ve probably heard of Bible Gateway, but did you know it offers over 200 Bible translations, including ones in many languages, from Hindi to Twi? Reading different translations is a great way to study as you can see different nuances in what is written. The website also has a verse of the day, which you can receive by email, plus a blog.

Bible Hub

A similar resource is Bible Hub, a site that encourages learning and practical application of the Bible. For example, there is a tool that allows you to search by theme and then cross-reference to other passages on the same topic. Like Bible Gateway, this site has over 40 translations of the Bible, and offers parallel readings of up to 13 different English translations. Bible Hub even provides the opportunity to explore the Hebrew origins of the Bible, breaking down each verse word by word.

Logos

Logos offers upgrades to access more expansive resources - although the free Logos 8 package is perfect for anyone looking to deepen their Bible study. This package provides over 20 digital books, connected to a search function on the site, plus an option to search for the definitions and morphology behind words in the Greek and Hebrew source texts.

Daily Devotional

If prayer is something you would like to develop further there are a couple of great options online. The Daily Devotional from 24-7 prayer uses scripture to help you pray each day, and focuses on the movement’s six core values: prayer, mission, justice, creativity, hospitality and learning. This devotional has a handy app meaning you can access the resources at any time, and you can choose to either read or listen. Content is released each Monday for the week ahead, and you can listen back to 3 months of devotions.

The Prayer Course

Alternatively, if there is a group wanting to look at prayer together, why not try the Prayer Course? Made up of eight sessions, which include a video and pointers for discussion, each one ends with a practical section in which you are invited to pray for each other, worship or reflect on what has been discussed.

Spring Harvest

Although many Christian festivals are sadly unable to go ahead this year, that hasn’t stopped them using technology to reach out to people! Spring Harvest Home was originally started as a substitute for their events - however, they are continuing to publish videos on their YouTube channel for you to enjoy. These videos are perfect for all ages, from Thoughts for the Day to puppet shows from Duggie Dug Dug!

Soul Survivor

Meanwhile, the Soul Survivor website offers a back catalogue of talks from Soul Survivor festivals, aimed at teenagers, between 2017 and 2019, while the recordings from Naturally Supernatural festivals are ideal for the whole family. If you are interested in hearing more from the team at their Watford based church, Andy Croft and Mike Pilavachi have launched a daily podcast, Take Heart, on their YouTube channel. This podcast is based on John 16:33 and aims to encourage people to remain close to Jesus even in tough times.

Online sermons

Alternatively, if you are looking for sermons by famous preachers, Sermons Online offers a fantastic catalogue of talks from people such as Billy Graham and Rick Warren, along with other sections such as music and testimonies.

Joyce Meyer

Joyce Meyer Ministries, established by the American author and speaker, also offers daily devotions, questions and talks. This website also has an app, allowing you access to their resources at any time.

The Bible Project

Finally, if you are looking for something to summarise themes and books of the Bible, take a look at the Bible Project. These short, animated videos are very accessible and perfect for introducing Biblical concepts to a variety of ages.

Additional resources

Alternatively, there are plenty of Bible resources available to purchase, most of which you can subscribe to. These range from Encounter with God  , which provides daily Bible readings and looks at contemporary issues in the world, to Cover to Cover which focuses on one book of the Bible over a 7 week period.

There are also resources for the whole family, such as Exploring the Bible Together. This 52 week family plan is an excellent way to worship together while catering for all ages. If you want to look at other resources like these try websites such as The Good Book, BRF Online, Eden and CWR.


Saturday, May 9, 2020

ipad and computer screen

The Covid-19 lockdown has touched every part of our lives, and church is no exception. Some churchgoers were first made aware of what was to come, when we heard we would no longer be able to meet for services – this was announced before the wider lockdown went into effect.

While we all understand the importance of doing our part and keeping everyone around us safe, we feel the loss of our regular meetings keenly. If there was ever a time we needed the support and love of our church, this is it…

But that support and love is still there. And as the lockdown has progressed, we have found many ways of meeting and sharing from our own homes.

One of Bristo’s first reactions to the lockdown was to start a Whatsapp group, Bristo Connected, which has allowed us to keep in contact on a day to day basis. It has given us a place to share words and testimonies, worship songs, art, prayers, announcements, good news and bad. This isn’t the first group Whatsapp that has been in use at Bristo, but it’s certainly the biggest, and possibly the most active. (And probably has the most emojis, but we’d need to count them to be sure… not that I’m volunteering.)

There has been a strong show of support for the recent use of Zoom for Sunday services and prayer meetings. The app was used before by some of the smaller groups, but we’ve found that even the bigger meetings can work well (with some careful management, screen sharing, and strategic muting.)

Many members of the congregation have commented on how much it means to be able to see everyone’s faces when meeting, which we weren’t able to do when following the written services at home.

Some have also mentioned how much nicer it is when taking communion, as you can be sure that you are eating and drinking at the same time as everyone else. Interestingly, it seems that some churches have questioned whether you can even have communion when you’re not physically together, but at Bristo the agreement has been that if we’re together in the spirit, that is all that’s needed.

In general, the separation we’re experiencing has made for serious reflection. For many, the lockdown has highlighted the importance of staying in contact with our brothers and sisters. The incredible privilege we have enjoyed in being able to meet together in the past has also been mentioned – it might be that none of us knew how blessed we were. Doubtless when we are able to meet in person once more, everyone will be fully aware of how wonderful it is to be together.

Of course, many of us miss meeting physically. It does make a difference, being able to give someone a hug, or lay hands on them while praying. (Although from some testimony shared recently, it has been made apparent that a digital laying of hands can be remarkably effective! We might want to consider writing to Zoom and asking them to add a prayer symbol, along with the thumbs up and applause buttons.) It has also been mentioned that while Zoom gives us the chance to meet face to face, making eye contact becomes tricky…

Everyone has agreed that we are very fortunate to be living in an age where this kind of technology is available. It has prompted a few discussions about how we might be able to incorporate technology into other areas of our church life, such as our outreach programs.

All the discussions around the lockdown might bring Psalm 133 to mind, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.” Meeting in person is good, and pleasant, and it is missed. Yet, while it may seem like we are more separated than we have ever been before, we are all still unified in Christ – and the amazing experiences we have had, as we work to stay connected, have shown that to us all.