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Praise of the Week: Be Thou My Vision (8th Century AD)

In honour of a missionary a national holiday is established and even rivers turned green! That missionary is none but St Patrick, the missionary to Ireland.

Patrick was born in AD 373, along the banks of the river Clyde. His father was a deacon, and his grandfather was a priest. When Patrick was about 16, raiders stormed and torched their town. Patrick tried to hide, but one of the raiders spotted him and dragged him out of the bushes, hauled aboard the boat and took him to Ireland, as a slave. His conversion took place there. Later he wrote: “The Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart tot he Lord, my God.”

Eventually Patrick escaped and returned home. His family was overjoyed to have him back, not wanting to lose him again. But one night, in a dream, very similar to Paul’s vision of the Macedonian man in Acts 16, Patrick saw an Irishman pleading with him to come evangelise Ireland.

Patrick was about 30 years old when he returned to his former captors with the Gospel of Jesus. As he preached multitudes came to listen. The Druids opposed him and tried to kill him. But this did not deter him. Patrick’s preaching was powerful and blessed by the Lord. It is reckoned that he planted some 200 churches, baptising thousands and thousands of people.

Patrick’s ministry endured long after he went to be with the Lord. Centuries later the Irish church continued producing hymns, prayers, songs of worship and sermons. In the 8th Century an unknown poet wrote a prayer asking God to be his Vision, his Wisdom, his Best Thought day and night.

In 1905, Mary Eliza Byrne, a Dublin scholar, translated the ancient poem into English. Another scholar, Eleanor Hull, in Manchester, crafted the translation into verses and metre, which then was set to a traditional Irish folk tune, called Slane. Through this praise Patrick’s ministry still endures, inspires and blesses us.

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Learning To Dance In The Rain

“For I know the plans I have for you” said the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”. 

Jeremiah 29:11

I’ve often clung to this passage from Jeremiah, this promise from the creator of the universe that he intends for us to prosper, to flourish, to bloom.

On the dark days it can be hard to keep it in focus, easier to dwell on the suffering of the now, but the promise is always there. It was there for the Israelites in the wilderness, it was there for persecuted Christians across the ages, it is there during times of war and peace and it is there now for you and I.

Let’s take a moment to think about it. The creator of the cosmos wants you to prosper.  He gave his only Son to die for you. He knows every hair on your head, he has plans for you, he plans to give you hope and a future.

I felt challenged recently to imagine what that looks like in our current situation. Within our current limitations, what does it look like to prosper, to thrive not just survive? Rather than waiting for the storm to pass, how can we help each other to thrive and prosper now? 

Change hits us all like a tornado, swiftly and unexpectedly changing our ‘normal’ overnight. We adapted quickly into survival mode and survived the first six months. We have enjoyed finding fellowship in unexpected places. Now that this ‘new normal’ looks set to be with us for a while how will we respond? Do we lay low and wait for the storm to pass? Or do we continue to adapt and learn to dance in the rain? Do we learn to thrive or do we simply survive? 

Please pray

  • Lord God thank you for your promise to prosper me. Help me to remember that promise on dark days.
  • Lord we want to thrive in your promise and serve our church family and community. Grant us wisdom and courage to do this in this ‘new normal’.
  • Guide us God. Whisper your plans into our hearts, guide our words and feet.

What plans has God laid on your heart? If you hear God whispering plans, please share them with our church family. We are all learning to dance in the rain.

[from Cat Rawlinson-Watkins]

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New Sermon Series Coming Soon: New Normal

The Coronavirus pandemic very much turned our world and life upside down. At the beginning of the year none of us imagined we could be in the circumstances we and the whole world find ourselves for the last five-six months.

We had to adopt new ways of living, isolating, communicating. We had to review our plans and hopes for the future. We learnt new expressions, like social distancing, Zoom, and New Normal. At the beginning of the year I planned a sermon series for early autumn on prayer – Praying with Paul. The series would have been a kind of follow up of the series we had last year: Paying with Jesus. Well, in normal circumstances we would do Praying with Paul. But we find ourselves in New Normal. And to be absolutely honest, nobody really knows what New Normal means. We feel very much lost and disorientated in this New Normal. Many hope that the so called New Normal will somehow, someday turn back to the old familiar Normal. I seriously doubt it! Not in our daily life, shopping, work, education, holiday, or even church. I believe New Normal is going to stay, and stay for a long time. We better get prepared for it.

I hope the sermon series ‘New Normal’ will help us to consider, explore what we need to do not only to survive but to thrive in the New Normal. Jesus stated with authority that “I have come that they may have life, and have life to the full.” (John 10:10b). We will focus on the Lord and His Word to lead us in our present circumstances that we will have life to the full as He promised and made possible for everyone who listens to Him and trusts in Him. For Jesus assures us that

“everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”

Matthew 7:24-25

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Another Prayer Across the Pond

On the 8th of August we had a new prayer initiative as we prayed together with brothers and sisters in Christ from La Jolla Christian Fellowship, San Diego, USA. It was a blessed hour to share, pray and laugh together.

We will join together in prayer again at 17:00 on Saturday, 19th September. We invite you to be part of it too. Nominated people from both church families will pray on particular subjects. The church families are invited to pray along, silently, or joining in aloud at appropriate times.

This is part of exploring a possible international relationship, whether that is simply to know them and hold them in our prayers, or perhaps developing into something more than that. We lift this up to the Lord to guide both of us. We have got great possibilities, it is up to the Lord and us what we will make of them.

We will send out an update with more details and about the logistics of joining the prayer time. If you have any questions or comments please let us know by emailing to office@comelybankchurch.com.

Meantime, please pray for this new prayer initiative and put it in your diaries – just one hour, at 17:00 on 19th September – and be part of it.

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Lavender Prayer: 7. Calmness

Is there a Godly calmness in Lavender? What does God mean by it? Test it. I found myself thinking of Jesus calming the storm. Jesus was in the boat with the disciples, in the middle of the storm – and yet he was able to sleep through it. But then he knew he was protected, just as David had written: “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (Psalm 4:8)

So if we just ‘know’ that we are protected, we can sleep in peace and be calm, right? Is that the message of calmness? I think the call to calmness for our church family at this time is the calmness that we can give out to others. Remember: physical distancing, not social distancing.

We can hold on to Jesus because we know that he has an even firmer hold of us – it is the triumph of our hope. We are still going through a time of trouble through the coronavirus – we need God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). And we know that we can come to him in prayer – that we should come to Him in prayer. Where does that leave us? It leaves us firmly in the Letter to the Romans:

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

Romans 12:12

And how do we take this joy, this patience and this faithfulness and use it to help and encourage others? How does this provide calmness?

Look again at the lavender; pause and live. In that moment, we can adore Jesus. We can take that calmness, that quiet assurance, and go out to other people – be a witness in what we say, what we do, how we act.

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,”

1 Peter 3:15

And that calmness of how we do it will so often be what is noticed, as others say to themselves: “That ‘way’ of Christ; it is true. I want that in my life.”

As we look at the lavender, we can gain a feeling of calmness. It is a strength. The calming strength of Jesus.

[from Timothy Pitt, elder]

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New Normal?

We are emerging, slowly, from a period of hibernation brought about by the lockdown, a slowdown from virtually all activities which are part of everyday life. For many the lack of normal contact with other people has been the hardest part – no conversations, no cake, no laughter, no life. We all hope for something different, real life to resume. But will it, and what will it look like? Will we like the ‘new normal’?

I think this may be a reflection on the Christian life for many of us. Are we waiting for something new – that promise of heaven – and not really sure what it will be? We have recently spent time in prayer for ‘Thy kingdom come’, and the scripture goes on ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. During his life Jesus often talked about the Kingdom being near, and that His death would usher in that Kingdom. He never said we would go to heaven, rather that His Kingdom would be established on earth.

So, are we waiting for something, we’re not sure what, to happen in the future, or are we living the life of that kingdom now? The early disciples were clear that the events of Easter changed the world, they were living in God’s kingdom, not Caesar’s, and so they were encouraged to look forward with hope. The first century apostles had seen ‘resurrection’ because they had seen Jesus, alive and well. As we break out of the Covid lockdown, let us also break out of the old life into resurrection life.

But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.”

1 Thessalonians 5:8-10; NIV

[from John Baggaley, Session Clerk]

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Praise of the Week: What a Friend We Have in Jesus (1855)

Tragedy, loss and sorrow were not unfamiliar to Joseph Scriven. Still he knew that no matter what, in Jesus he has got a faithful friend! He watched in shock as the body of his fiancée was pulled from the lake. Their wedding was planned for the next day! Reeling from the tragedy, he made up his mind to emigrate to America. So the 25 year old left Dublin for Canada.

Ten years later, in 1855, he received word that his mother at home in Ireland was facing a crisis. Joseph wrote this poem and sent it to her. Mrs Scriven evidently passed a copy to a friend, who had it published anonymously. It quickly became a popular hymn, though nobody knew who had written it.

Joseph fell in love again. Sadly tragedy struck a second time, his bride, Eliza Catherine Roche, contracted TB and died before their wedding could take place. Joseph sought refuge in ministry and doing charity work for the Plymouth Brethren, ad preaching among the Baptists. He lived a simple and humble life in Port Hope, Canada, cutting firewood for the widows, giving away his clothes and money to those in need. He was described as “a man of short stature, with iron-grey hair, close-cropped beard and light-blue eyes that sparkled when he talked.” Ira Sankey wrote:

“Until a short time before his death it was not known that he had a poetic gift. A neighbour, sitting up with him in the illness, happened upon a manuscript copy of “What a Friend We Have inJesus”. Reading it with great delight and questioning Mr Scriven about it, he said that he had composed it for his mother, to comfort her in a time of special sorrow, not intending that anyone else should see it. Some time later, when another Port Hope neighbour asked him if it was true he composed the hymn, his reply was, ‘The Lord and I did it between us’.”

On October 1896 he became critically ill. In his delirium, he rose from his bed and staggered outdoors where he fell into a small creek and drowned at age 66. His grave was arranged so that his feet were opposite those of his lost love, Eliza Catherine Roche that at the resurrection they might arise facing one another.

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To Stay or Not To Stay ? – That is the Question

“When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.”

Mark 5:15

When Jesus redeemed and saved the demon possessed man who was dangerous both to himself and others, the population of the village begged Jesus to leave them (v. 17). While the man himself asked to let him stay with Jesus (v. 18). What do you ask of the Lord when He reaches into your life? Do you want Him to stay or to go?!

Mark 5:1-20 tells the healing of an extremely disturbed man, who lived in a graveyard (probably living in empty or abandoned tombs), hardly wore any clothes, was destructively self harming and also dangerous to his surrounding! He terrorised the whole area and there was no way to control him.

When Jesus came to him, He healed the man, but the demons who previously tormented the poor man destroyed the pigs of the community. Because of this loss they population begged Jesus to leave them. They saw only their loss (the pigs) and not their gain (a sick person was healed and they do not have to live in terror any more)! Jesus saved them too from their fear and suffering they had no control over. Now they don’t have to fear, yet instead of bringing to Jesus their other sick neighbours, friends, and family members as others did (Mark 1:29-34), they rather send Him away.

We also face fear, emotions, anger, lies, anxiety, delusions often on daily basis, not knowing how to navigate between them to remain unharmed, or how to get rid of their terror. Is there anyone who could help?

Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee to come to the aid of that man! Not even a violent storm could stop Him! He crossed over the huge gap between the holiness and purity of heaven and the sinful brokenness of our world to save us! Not even death on the cross could stop Him! Do we feel sorry for the “pigs” we lose as part of His salvation, or rejoice over all that we gain through Him? Too many insist on keeping their “pigs” rather than receiving new and abundant life Jesus offers them. For whoever believes in Him will become truly, fully human. Will you ask Him to stay?!

“What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”

Philippians 3:8-9

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Lavender Prayer: 6. Grace

Is there a Godly grace in Lavender? What does God mean by it? Test it. I tried writing this article the way I thought it should be written, as that was both true and easy – Jesus died for our sins and gives us the gift of eternal life with God the Father not because of what we have done but because He loves us; THAT is grace. Job done. But then I asked the Holy Spirit if that was the angle I should be looking at. I got a sense that there was more; there was a message for us as a church family still adjusting to living in a world of coronavirus (and remember – we are in this world but we are not of this world).

Echoing last week: peace be with you. And in that absence of anxiety, as it says in Hebrews 4:16:

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

This time is surely a time of need, and we are being pointed to God, for it is from Him that we may receive not just mercy but grace. OK, I thought, if I can only get to God’s throne then I can gain grace in this time of need. But what then do I do with it? Do I put it in a box marked ‘precious’ and hide it? We need to be familiar with grace, as it is a powerful godly weapon:

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,”

Titus 2:11-12

We, as a church family, are being pointed back to the first Lavender word (purity). So how do we seek or gain that grace? We can look back at the second Lavender word (silence) – we are not silent so that God will forgive us; God has forgiven us and it is that grace of forgiveness that stuns us into silence. And where is this grace? It’s all there in one of ‘my’ books:

“The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.”

2 Timothy 4:22

Grace is with us. As all flowers do, lavender grows and spreads. So use the grace of lavender to grow and to spread – in purity, silence, devotion and serenity, and in what is yet to come.

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Lavender Prayer: 5. Serenity

Is there a Godly serenity in Lavender? What does God mean by it? Test it. ‘Serenity’ means to be untroubled; to be at peace within; it is the absence of mental stress or anxiety. Even the sound of the word is peaceful.

The coronavirus pandemic triggered a pause and a reset in our behaviours and way of life. Some of it we adjusted to easily; other aspects continue to be difficult. At times we felt alone, anxious and stressed – both as individuals and collectively as a church family. But thinking of my picture of the lavender, I am hearing a gentle word from the Holy Spirit: we are not alone and there is godly cure for anxiety. Indeed, for me, just the thought of the Holy Spirit gives me a sense of serenity, of comfort and companionship.

There has been a quiet strength in SSCB’s fellowship over these last few months – looking out for each other, checking in with each other and connecting with each other through the E-pistle Newsletter, Zoom Services and the Zoom Fellowship. For many there has been the added strength of Home Groups.

We are not called to respond alone, either during Lockdown or – each in our own time – as we re-emerge. We have always been together in and through Jesus:  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace  …” (Ephesians 2: 13-14)

There at the start of verse 14 is the truth staring at us in plain sight. The serenity of the lavender led me to the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is reminding us all of the calming power of Jesus: “He Himself is our peace.” And then I found this precise message just waiting for me in John 14:26-27:

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

John 14:26-27″

When I think of Jesus and acknowledge Him I am calm and free from anxiety. I am serene. And if all it takes is a picture of some lavender to remind us of that, then thank you, Holy Spirit!

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