During Advent we will be publishing 3 small devotional articles per week, written by members of our congregation.
'Hope For The Future'
Luke 1:46 – 'My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour'
Does this pandemic fill you with fear for the future, do you feel alone?
Mary was ‘greatly troubled’ when the angel Gabriel told her that she was to bear ‘the Son of God’! Did she feel alone and frightened at what lay
In first century Palestine, being pregnant and unmarried was very shameful, so was she shunned by family and friends? Even Joseph was going to end the engagement until an angel explained the situation. Mary probably only had her cousin Elizabeth to turn to for advice, but this was her first baby also, she wouldn’t know what lay ahead.
Then Mary learned that they must travel to Bethlehem around the time of her confinement! This would be an arduous journey of approximately 80 miles, which probably took around a week, with danger from wild animals and robbers. By day it would be very hot and at night, freezing.
When they arrived in Bethlehem they had no certainty of a place to stay and no medical help with the birth. Despite all of this Mary knew that God was in control and was able to praise Him (Luke 1).
Much later Mary would be at the foot of the cross witnessing her son’s cruel, painful death for the salvation of those who trust Him, and would eventually understand and believe. We know from Acts 1:13 that Mary was a member of the early Christian community.
Mary’s hope for the future was in Christ, ours can be also.
'Still In The Business Of Miracles'
1 Thess. 1:5 – 'because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction...'
What do you tell a child about Christmas? Do you tell them about the presents, the food, or the story of the awesome miracles surrounding the birth of Jesus? Do you talk of the miracle of Angels speaking to Zechariah, Mary, the shepherds and to Joseph in a dream? What about the delight of Elizabeth having a baby in her old age and the miraculous star guiding the wise men?
Zechariah’s miracle overflowed at the naming of his son. The shepherds’ miracle continued as they bubbled with excitement, setting off to find the baby Jesus. How many awesome miracles would the wise men recount on their journey home?
Miracles touched Simeon and Anna as they met the family presenting the baby Jesus in the temple. Joseph and Mary would see many more glorious miracles and Mary was already storing them in her heart.
How many miracles are stored in your heart? Father God is still in the business of miracles. Look out for them in the midst of your daily life – the very best one is the life-changing moment when we allow Him to take over our lives. (1 Thess. 1:5)
May the excitement of the Christmas story bring joy and delight to you and your children as the awesome, miracle-working God works into your everyday lives.
'Forward In Faith'
Hebrews 11:1-2 – ‘Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…’
What a year it has been, one like no other any of us have known. We might wonder what else could happen, and as we approach Christmas this too is an unknown this year. Sometimes we might wonder what next?
In the book of Hebrews chapter 11 there is much about faith, and a book that I am currently reading also speaks of faith as being the secret to success in the Christian life. The faith of Hebrews chapter 11 is the faith of God, which is His gift, and is based upon His word to our hearts.
Such faith will move mountains and accomplish the impossible. Faith born in what Oswald J. Smith calls the “agony of prevailing prayer and soul travail”. Such faith will rise above the storms of life, discouragement, and the virus that we are currently having problems with, and which prevents us meeting in fellowship and prayer.
Christmas may be different this year but we can go forward in faith and trust knowing that we have a God in whom we can put our trust. A God who is alive and active in this world today, who hears and answers the prayer of those who put their trust in Him.
‘Faith, mighty faith the promise sees,
And looks to God alone
Laughs at impossibilities
And cries “It shall be done"'
- John T.
'The Ultimate Sacrifice'
John 15:13 – ‘Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends’.
On Remembrance Sunday this year I set myself a task which at the time seemed very doable.
For years I have been interested in the history of both World Wars, but particularly the First World War. Some years ago myself and a couple of others went on a trip to France and Belgium, visiting the cemeteries and monuments remembering the fallen of that conflict; it was an incredibly moving week.
What you may not know is that there are many soldiers from both wars buried in our local Churchyards and cemeteries, these soldiers would have been wounded in battle and died of their wounds after returning home, some up to four years after the end of the War.
The task I set myself and Dad was to visit all of the graves of those soldiers who are buried in Derbyshire; I thought there were around 220. Dad quickly agreed. Having looked into it further, there are 1,793!! We will still try to do this task to honour and remember those who gave their lives to defend our country, giving what we now remember as the ultimate sacrifice.
Throughout lockdown I have been on many walks (as we can't really do much else) and one fine day we visited Eyam, I’m sure many people know the story of that small Peak District village, but reading the plaques and history, what a sacrifice they made. The village Parson called on the villagers to quarantine themselves and some records state that around 75% of the residents died from plague.
As we move towards Christmas at the end of this strange year we may think back to the sacrifices we have made and indeed friends and loved ones we may have lost, but we also remember one who came to make a unique sacrifice.
Christmas reminds us of the coming into the world of Jesus, a baby born to die. This baby would eventually give His life as a sacrifice to enable anyone who comes to him to have a relationship with God and an eternal place in Heaven.
'The Rock That Nought Can Move'
Romans 5:3-4 - ‘Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.’
This has been a year unlike any other. It has caused not only suffering and grief for many, but also confusion and uncertainty for us all. And as we look to our world leaders for guidance, we find them going against their own regulations, and contradicting their own advice. There doesn’t seem to be any certainty, and opinions change frequently.
However, as we’re approaching Christmas time, we can be reminded of the hope that God brought to the world through the birth of Jesus. Jesus was the means by which we can be made right with God, and God’s word is to be trusted and in it we find certainty. This can be a great encouragement in these times of difficulty, as the bible tells us in Romans 5:3-4 - ‘Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.’ At Christmas time we remember the hope that came into the world in the form of Jesus Christ. In him we can have hope, even in days of uncertainty.
The hymn writer says: ‘Who trusts in God’s unchanging love, builds on the rock that nought can move’.
'God's Son Shared In Our Humanity'
1 John 4:1-2 - 'Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God...'
In the few weeks when we were able to meet again, Nick steered us through some of the Apostle John’s letters. They were written towards the end of the first century by a disciple of Jesus who lived long enough to see the emergence of some bizarre heresies. A heresy is a departure from the apostolic gospel record, a distortion of what we regard as ‘orthodox’ or in-line with God’s truth. Specifically, John had to address the heresy of ‘Docetism’. This involved the rejection of the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was truly a man. The Docetists were teaching that the appearance of the Son of God on earth simply involved the illusion that he had flesh, blood and bone. The incarnation (taking on of human flesh) involved too much compromise of his divinity in their confused thinking. John didn’t hesitate to call them out as false prophets on account of this error. He asserts that the genuine work of the Holy Spirit involves the conviction in our hearts that Jesus truly came in the flesh (1 John 4:2).
An honest reading of John’s gospel will dispel any uncertainty that he witnessed Christ as a real human being. The authenticity of Jesus' humanity is demonstrated by the references to Jesus' mother (2:1–11) and brothers (7:3–10); his weariness at the well in Samaria (4:6); his thirst (4:7); his grief (11:33); his suffering and death. For 2000 years Christians have found strength and comfort in the fact that God’s Son took on human flesh, knew grief, pain, rejection, and eventually death and yet was raised in victory over the grave. In this year of anxiety fuelled by the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic, the fact that God’s Son shared in our humanity should reassure us that His plan for all that look to Him for salvation includes sharing in his glorious resurrection.
'He's Working In The Waiting'
Isaiah 25:9 – ‘It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”'
Advent may appear on the surface to simply be a period of waiting, the build-up to the main event: Christmas morning. The natural world reflects this pattern; when all seems either dead or dormant in the depths of winter, most are waiting – waiting for the first shoots of spring, the firstborn of the livestock, or for the first rays of sunshine. But what is the relevance of the waiting? Is anything going on beneath the surface? In reality, although the soil may appear barren, God is always working.
God in his immeasurable power could have made a way that we might be saved in an instant, at any moment, but instead he sent a child - a child that would take time to grow. So all creation waited with baited breath as the child began to mature, to teach and preach, to live the life that we could never live, and ultimately, die the death we deserve.
It’s evident that God uses seasons of waiting for his purposes. He moves in the stillness and in the quiet, teaching us patience, honing our character and conforming us into the image of Jesus. So during Advent, and any period of life that we may feel we are left waiting, without answer to prayer, or without growth, we must seek His will, and wait on him. He is altogether good, and He is always in control.
'I Can't Sing'
Hebrews 13:8 - 'Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.'
The words of a very well-known song, sung by Barry Manilow, go like this:-
‘You know I can’t smile without you,
I can’t smile without you,
I can’t laugh and I CAN’T SING,
I’m finding it hard to do anything’.
How those words possibly sum up some of our moods and feelings at this difficult point in time. During the short time that we did get to meet together again, as a fellowship of believers, between first and second lockdown, one of the most surreal feelings was that of not being allowed to sing. It was weird to hear the organ playing, the congregation looking at the words in the hymn books and trying to resist the temptation of singing aloud (we could hum though). All was not lost though, because it did focus your mind and heart on the wonderful gospel (good news) words that the hymn writers were Spirit led to write.
Whether or not we will be allowed to sing the Christmas Carols this year I don’t know, but I do know one thing, the words will still have the same meaning, the same truth and the same message of the Good News of Jesus Christ, God's Son, Saviour that they have always had. The first verse of perhaps the best loved, most sung carol at Christmastime, inspired by God, penned by Charles Wesley, starts as follows:-
‘Hark, the herald angels sing,
Glory to the new born KING,
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
GOD AND SINNERS RECONCILED’.
In an ever changing world we can put our trust in these truths when all around us seems so uncertain.
'Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.'
'A New Start Is Promised'
Colossians 1:10-13 – ‘so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God...’
Winter; how we long for something happy in the midst of dark days. Usually it’s Christmas: carols, angels and nativity or perhaps delicious food, presents, songs and firelight – maybe a mixture of both?
It’s also the time when the garden ‘shuts down’. Have you already had the delight of planting your bulbs with the children? So many questions – 'Why do they look dead?'... 'Why in mucky soil?’. A good time to explain the joys of seedtime and harvest – set in place by God Himself.
The bulb takes a power boost, gathering strength from the compost – ready to leave the dark times and break out into the season of being what it was created to be. The loving Lord God has put a living parable into every season for us, even if the situation seems hopeless.
Through Jesus, God has provided us with a fresh start however dark our lives are. If we turn to Him, give ourselves into His planting hands, He will plunge us into His own Life and His Word of hope and peace; flooding us with His light we grow into the person we were created to be – walking daily in His Presence.
Even when things go wrong and forgiveness to others is needed, a new start is promised as we grasp the reality of walking with the unseen wonderful, living, loving God. Without Him, life is a ‘bulb’ never planted, with Him you are deeply loved – ask Him to show you how to walk with
'The Government Will Be On His Shoulders'
Isaiah 9:6 – “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders…”
We understand from the Government that it could well be a different Christmas this year, due to Covid-19. Life is different again, in this second lockdown, with a few changes to the rules we all had to live by during the first lockdown.
We live with hope for the future in the sure knowledge that Jesus is in control of our world. Isaiah 9:6 says: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders…”and goes on to say in verse 7: “…from that time on and for ever”.
We have to love and care for one another all the time, not just through this pandemic. John 3:16 tells us why – “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”. We are being asked to follow the rules to keep each other from this pandemic so that the NHS is not overwhelmed. That is a small ask compared to what Jesus did for us. He loves us, He gives us our daily bread, He watches over us. We can celebrate Jesus’s birth without all the trimmings, if it transpires that the lockdown needs to
continue for a while longer.
- Alistair and Bronwen
'Hope In Him'
Isaiah 53:5 – 'but he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that bought us peace was upon him and
by his wounds we are healed.'
The year of 2020 will go down in history as the year of the pandemic when families were kept apart. John and I were not able to see our grandchildren physically for months, and then when we could see them, it was outside in the garden and we couldn’t hug and kiss them, which was very hard!
As most of you know Rebekah and Pete's wedding was postponed in May and went ahead in September with just 30 guests. Up until the last minute we didn't know whether or not it would take place, but in spite of everything we had a lovely day!
Non-essential shops, pubs and restaurants were closed; all these things were put into place for our safety and wellbeing.
Two thousand years ago Jesus came into the world to save us from a disease called sin, something that we have all inherited from Adam since the beginning of time. Our sin separated us from God; the birth of Jesus was the opening chapter of the greatest act of rescue in the history of the world. No wonder Christmas is such a joyful event! One of my favourite carols is ‘Joy to the world the Lord has come! Let earth receive her King’. The King of kings and Lord of Lords who was born in a stable and laid in a wooden crib would eventually be nailed to a wooden cross, taking upon himself the sins of the world and dying in our place (Isaiah 53:5).
But there is good news, for after Jesus had died he rose again 3 days later, victorious over sin and death and opening up the way to be reconciled to God through the finished work on the cross. We can have a sure and certain hope of everlasting life in heaven with Him, if we simply come to Him in repentance and faith. What a gift, what a hope, what a Saviour! May you know His forgiveness, joy and peace this Christmas.
'Rest In Him'
Matthew 11:28 - 'Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.'
If I was writing this in 2019, rest is not something that would have been particularly on my mind. We are so easily consumed by the business of life, work and socialising, rest is very often at the bottom of the list. However, it is 2020 and for some of us this year has forced us to stop, slow down and rest. As we approach what would normally be a busy Christmas time, I think it’s important to find time to rest, but more importantly to rest on God’s word and remember why we celebrate Christmas. Let’s take this time to reflect on our Saviour Jesus Christ and his coming into the world at Christmas time, and find rest in Him.
With 2021 fast approaching, it brings with it a huge amount of uncertainty and anxieties, of course we don’t know what to expect. For me personally, 2021 brings the biggest change, as I enter into married life and also move away from the countryside, where I have always lived, to the city. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, however we have a hope that is bigger, as Christians we cast our fears and worries at the foot of the cross, where Jesus paid the price for our sins. Our hope for the future is in Him, and he will offer us true rest.
- Beth W.