John 11:25-26 (NIV)
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
In the UK (and in the Northern Hemisphere generally) we are very fortunate to celebrate Easter in the springtime. There are many visual symbols that we associate with Easter – some are more cultural than Biblical, such as Easter eggs, but they are wonderful opportunities to reflect on the new life Jesus gave us through His sacrifice.
At Bristo Baptist, we had a few different art projects representing different aspects of Easter. There was the cross, probably the most important symbol of Easter, representing Christ's death. For Easter morning, Jeanette added bright flowers to this one, symbolising new life.
Another popular symbol of the new life Jesus gave us is the egg, which the Sunday School used to decorate tree branches to very colourful effect!
There are many lovely flowers and tree blossoms out at the moment in and around Edinburgh. Why not go for an early morning walk and enjoy some quiet worship time, admiring the blooms and the intricate details of God's creation...
Another art project in the church was from Palm Sunday, which combined the thorns of Jesus' crown with the palms used to welcome Him to the city. Palm Sunday and Holy Week leading up to Easter are a very good time to reflect on Jesus' human suffering and sacrifice, before entering into the celebration of His resurrection at Easter.
Some of these elements can also be spotted on a nature walk...
Finding alternative ways of worshipping is even more important at the moment, while we're still restricted in certain areas of our usual worship. We've written about this a few times on the blog before (scroll down for more inspiration!) and we'd love to hear more ideas...!
Easter is one of the two most significant celebrations in the Christian calendar. While we reflect on the nature of salvation and Jesus’ sacrifice in our Bible studies and services, it’s also a chance to introduce these concepts to our kids in an easy-to-digest way. After so many months of school (and sunday school!) at home, here is some inspiration for Easter-themed family activities.
Families with younger children
God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of His blood (Romans 3:25)
One of the best ways to engage younger children is through practical demonstrations, which will stay in their minds for a long time. A simple way to do this is to buy a vase of white carnations and explain to them that these represent how perfect Jesus was. You can then add red food dye to the water and watch as later the flowers change colour a few days; a great way of showing how Jesus took on our sin even when he was blameless.
Another idea is to make ‘stained glass’ window crosses. To do this, cut the outline of a cross out of black card and attach it onto a large sheet of cling film (or another transparent material). You can then have fun ripping up pieces of different coloured tissue paper and sticking them onto the cross to make a stained glass effect. As you stick the cross up on a window, take time to look at how much it is changed by putting it up to the light – just as we are transformed by Jesus’ love for us.
Families with teens
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
As restrictions are slowly eased and larger groups can meet outside, why not try this fun game, which demonstrates the idea of separating the old from the new. The above link has some Bible passages and suggests guidance for a discussion on how, when we believe that Jesus died for our sins, we can begin a new life with Him.
Another idea for teenagers is to challenge them to sacrifice their time for others during their Easter break, perhaps by helping someone with shopping or calling someone who is feeling lonely. As they do this, encourage them to consider how enormous Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was and how He went through it for them.
Teenagers doing things by themselves
We know…that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know Him who is true (1 John 5:20)
Teenagers in your life may be keen to explore the Easter story and what it means for them in their own way, without being led by an adult. If this is the case, there are several resources that you can direct them to, such as this Easter devotions kit, which invites teenagers to consider different aspects of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
If your teenager prefers watching videos you could send them links to these three Easter themed videos from the Bible Project on YouTube:
To do as a family
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith…not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Something to engage the whole family in the lead up to Easter Sunday is Resurrection Eggs. This requires 12 plastic eggs and some items from around the house, which are then used to tell the Easter story. Families can look at one egg a day leading up to Easter or even hide them for an egg hunt on Easter morning.
Another popular idea is Jelly Bean Prayers. For this, simply take a jar or bag and fill it with different coloured Jelly Beans. Then, attach a poem that helps us reflect on God’s creation as well as the Easter story:
“Red is for the blood He gave.
Green is for the grass He made.
Yellow is for the sun so bright.
Orange is for the edge of night.
Black is for the sins we made.
White is for the grace He gave.
Purple is for His hour of sorrow.
Pink is for our new tomorrow.”
You could even go one step further and give each person a certain colour of Jelly Bean when they do something linked to that colour. For example, yellow depicts the bright sun and could be given when they show kindness or bring happiness to another person, while white depicts God’s grace, which is something that can’t be earned and is given to everyone in the family on Easter morning.
Do you have any other family Easter activities planned for this year? Let us know!
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23)
Spring is my favourite time of year! As the days become longer and the flowers begin appearing I feel so much joy, especially as the warmer weather provides more opportunities to get out and about after the cold winter.
We often talk about hope in our lives, particularly at the moment: “I hope I don’t catch Covid” or “I hope children can return to school soon.” Although we know God has His hand on the situation, there is still uncertainty in these kinds of thoughts.
However, just as the crocus and daffodils will certainly soon be sprouting, brightening up our daily walks, we have a sure hope of a secure future ahead of us with God in heaven.
Here are a few scriptures to think about over the next couple of weeks, to help us focus on the theme of hopefulness.
The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send…will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you (John 14:26)
The Holy Spirit is someone to remember when we think about God keeping His promises to us. Jesus’ promise to send a ‘helper’ was made to the disciples and is also carried out in each of us who believe in Him.
Just as the promise of the Holy Spirit was, and is, fulfilled, we can also recall the many things that God has done in the past and all the goodness He’s brought to our lives. To help you remember these things, why not make a list of them and put it somewhere to read at the start and end of each day? You could also write out Psalm 71:5: For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth.
Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour, and my hope is in You all day long (Psalm 25:5)
Whenever we catch up with a friend, we’re reminded of our friendship and that they’re still there for us – in the same way, talking to our Father God reminds us that He’s there for us too. As we talk to Him about what we’re struggling with and what we’re going through, we can ask Him to guide and direct us. This can also help build our confidence: Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9)
As part of praying and talking to God, it’s good to listen out for Him too; whether that’s while you’re praying or during the day, or even from somebody else saying something to you. God can use His answers to guide and strengthen you in the situation– and you might be surprised by His response!
Praise be to…the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
Being in a church means being part of a great community of people who have a wide range of life and faith experiences. This means that there will likely be another person who has been through something similar to what you are facing, and through this the church can support each other. You may be able to help someone else going through a similar difficulty in the future.
If you’re not too sure where to start with this, you can follow the example of the disciples straight after Jesus was taken to heaven, as They all joined constantly in prayer. (Acts 1:14) Praying with and for others is a great way to support each other.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8)
In the Bible we see plenty of times in which God has worked in people’s lives and fulfilled promises to them. We see this especially in Abraham’s life, when his wife Sarah was seemingly too old to have children: Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him ‘So shall your offspring be’ (Romans 4:18).
We can take encouragement from reading others’ stories that God will never leave us or let us down, and that He is working in the background even if it doesn’t always feel like it. Others, like Ruth, Moses and Gideon, all saw this, and today we can draw on their experiences to also have confidence that God is at work in our lives, no matter what our situation.
We hope some of these themes will be beneficial to you over the next few weeks. As the new life of Spring is appearing, keep remembering the wonderful new life we have in God through Jesus’ death and resurrection: For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (1 Corinthians 4:17)
If you want any more inspiration, why not listen to a song on the theme of Hope?
This is the second half of our January kindness calendar – weeks one and two can be found in the previous blog post.
We were inspired to create this calendar by an “Acts of Kindness” advent calendar for the days of December. However, it can be very easy to remember to be kind at Christmastime, when we’re feeling warm and joyful amid various celebrations and gifts.
The cold months following Christmas and New Year can be much more challenging. We’re encouraged to think about personal goals and intentions, creating new years resolutions that require us to look inward – but we can forget all the warm, fuzzy feelings that led us to give generously to others just one month before.
Galatians 5:13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve on another humbly in love.
Being kind – and serving others – takes effort, and is an active choice we make. With this calendar, we hope to give some structured ideas of how we can direct our kindness this month.
If you aren’t able to follow these day by day, don’t worry! Try bookmarking this blog post and coming back to it when you need some inspiration.
Proverbs 12:25 Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.
Under current circumstances, there may be more than one person in your life experiencing anxiety. Think of someone in particular who might be struggling and send them a supportive message, Bible verse, or picture.
If you spend time on social media, choose an account you follow and leave the creator an encouraging message.
Start a conversation with someone you work with and try to find out something new about them. (This might need to happen at the beginning or end of a Zoom call…)
Send someone a bunch of flowers to brighten up their day. Order from a local business if possible!
Proverbs 14:21 Blessed is the one who is kind to the needy
Try going a few days without spending money on treats like take away coffee. Use the money you saved to make a donation to a cause you support.
Do you have an older relative or friend who doesn’t like using email and text messages? Take the time to handwrite them a letter or card, letting them know you’re thinking about them.
Take a critical look at how eco-friendly your household is. As we’re spending more time at home, there might be ways to cut down on excess energy that we’ve overlooked. Could you use the heating a little less in certain rooms, or improve your recycling habits?
Organise a group video chat for your family over a cup of tea. Make it special by suggesting that everyone bring (or bake!) their favourite treat.
Send a recommendation to a friend for a book, film or song that you enjoyed, telling them why you think they would like it.
Being kind to yourself is also important! Today, find a small treat for yourself, perhaps cooking your favourite meal, watching a favourite movie, going for a nice walk, or taking a bath.
Proverbs 11:17 Those who are kind benefit themselves.
When’s the last time someone cut you off in traffic, or complained about your work performance? Take a moment to think about how you felt, and make a choice to forgive them.
When is the last time you received exemplary customer service, or had a really great take away meal? Take a few minutes to leave a review – or even contact the business directly if you want to mention a particular employee’s performance.
1 Corinthians 13:4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud…
What do you find yourself complaining about most frequently? Over the next few days, every time you find yourself about to complain (either in person or online) about the problem, find something else to talk about that’s positive and encouraging instead.
Find a chore or task in your home that needs completing. Then do it without telling anyone!
Send a message to someone telling them why you appreciate them. Mention something specific about them or something they have done that you admire.
Have a look back through this blog, and the one before it – which of the “acts of kindness” fit most easily into your day? Choose one or two to try and make a regular part of your routine.
As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Colossians 3:12)
Last year two of our blogs looked at loving our neighbours. This month we look at what acts of kindness we can do for others in our day-to-day lives, even in these difficult times. Some are simple, others are more involved, but ultimately we should do our best with what we’ve got: Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people (Galatians 6:10).
January can be a long, dark month and there are plenty of people who would appreciate some brightness. Here are our ideas of acts of kindness to try during the first half of this month – remember in all of these that God sees you, even if it feels like others do not.
Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones (Proverbs 16:24)
On a day of resolutions, why not resolve to contact an elderly neighbour on a regular basis, perhaps by calling them or writing a letter?
As January stretches ahead of us, write your favourite Bible verse or positive quote on a card. When you buy a takeout coffee or go through a self-checkout leave it for the next person to find. You could even do this in your house by leaving a message on someone’s desk if they are working from home!
2020 was a difficult year for many businesses, especially smaller ones. Today, instead of buying food or a coffee from a large chain or supermarket, choose to support your local independent businesses instead.
Do you know a school pupil who has passed a test, or someone who has recently completed a unit of a course? Send them a message to say congratulations on their achievement, especially if others are not aware of it. This doesn’t have to be academic; it could be conducting a presentation at work or being brave at the doctor’s!
Give kind comments to as many people as possible today. Perhaps you like the jumper your local shopkeeper is wearing, or something a friend has shared on social media…. Let them know!
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you (Matthew 7:12)
When was the last time another person did something kind for you? Perhaps helping you with shopping, providing a listening ear, or simply holding a door open for you? Find an opportunity to say thank you to them!
If you go shopping today, buy an extra item and donate it to a local food bank, helping those in need in Edinburgh. Edinburgh City Mission at Granton Baptist is our local Basics Bank, and there are others around the city that also require donations.
Get outside! Whether you are picking up litter or putting out bird food, do something kind for nature. Even if the weather isn’t great, think of how you can reduce, reuse and recycle within your home.
Contact a friend and arrange to meet up with them, perhaps for a walk or a takeout coffee. Make the most of your time together by switching off digitally and giving them your full attention.
William Arthur Ward said, “A warm smile is the universal language of kindness”. So today, see how many people you can smile at as you walk down the street, or in a queue at traffic lights!
Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10)
The pandemic is a difficult time, including for the younger members of our society who have faced many changes over the past year. If you have a young neighbour, plan a craft pack to put through their letterbox, perhaps with card, pompoms, crayons, and glitter glue inside!
We are very fortunate in the UK that we are able to publicly meet and display our faith. However, many Christians around the world are unable to do this and face severe persecution because of their faith. Today take a look at some of the Prisoner Profiles on the Release International website and read the prayer points for them, or even write a letter encouraging them. Charities working with persecuted Christians also include Open Doors and Barnabas Fund.
Do you know someone who is lonely or self-isolating? Find out what their favourite takeaway is and deliver it to them – it will cheer them up and also help support local businesses!
Share something that will make a friend smile. This could be a happy memory from past times together, an inspiring thought or something that made you laugh today.
On the next bin day, take out your neighbours’ bins and return them after they have been emptied. It will save them having to go out into the cold!
We hope you enjoy following these ideas. We’ll have more later in the month!
Advent calendars have been in the shops for a long time now, and you can even buy them for your pets! However, this time of year is about so much more than counting down to Christmas with chocolates.
Advent is a time of expectation, not only as we look forward to Christmas and celebrating Jesus coming in to the world, but also our expectancy of Jesus’ return in glory: They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory (Matthew 24:30).
Here are some practical ideas for how you can anticipate the coming of Jesus, both individually and with others.
My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow me (John 10:27)
One of our first blogs was about Bible resources we can use for study at home. There are some great devotionals to use during Advent, including these from the Bible Reading Fellowship. With their study notes you can journey through Advent individually, reflecting on how we can bring God’s love to a world in need, or by following Luke’s record of the Christmas story.
You can use the themes of Advent: Peace, Hope, Joy and Love, to find themed Bible studies or reflections for the coming month. There may be special Christmas devotionals you can follow, or you can look for Bible passages that fit these themes for your own spiritual needs. If you have been feeling anxiety, for example, you can look up verses relating to God’s peace and pray through them, using the seasonal theme to remind you of Jesus’ coming and the Peace he brings to us with His presence.
Another great idea for individual reflection during advent is to contemplate artworks depicting the Nativity story, perhaps the visit of the Magi or the annunciation . As you spend time looking at the paintings you will notice many details that allow thoughts and insights into these wonderful events.
On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays throughout December, Bristo will be open for an advent ‘walk through’ event. We invite you to join us for a visual experience of the Nativity story, focusing on what the Bible says about Jesus’ birth. There will also be an opportunity to personally reflect and pray on various Advent themes.
Counting down with others
The holy one to be born will be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35)
As we reach the end of November we are beginning to see more windows with Christmas decorations on display. While you plan how to decorate your home this year, consider the meaning behind the different colours we associate with the festive season.
While decorating for Christmas is cultural rather than Biblical, it can be a lovely reflective exercise. Red ornaments invite us to reflect on the blood that Jesus shed for us on the cross, and green reminds us of the hope that has been gifted to us through His death. Gold decorations depict something valuable, as well as joy and celebration, while bright blue can symbolise the skies from which Jesus’ birth was announced to the shepherds and the Magi.
One specific decoration you could introduce this year is a Jesse Tree. This practice comes from medieval times, and takes you through the whole Christmas story, from creation to Jesus’ birth. Simply take a branch, which reminds us of the new life given to us by God, then, each day, read a Bible passage and hang an ornament on it, until you’ve got 25!
Another way your household can count down to Christmas is to gradually build your Nativity scene. (This is a fun idea if you have children!) Begin with the manger, stable and animals and then, each week, move figures of Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men towards the Nativity scene. Each evening during their journey you could light a candle or place a star above the scene, reflecting the star that directed the Magi to Jesus. When they arrive, the only person left to add is Jesus Himself, an ideal addition for first thing on Christmas morning!
You can also decorate your windows with lights and ornaments for any passersby. Perhaps each time you go for a walk throughout December, you can collect decorations for the room, such as fir cones or holly. By Christmas Day you will have a wonderfully festive display that will bring joy to everyone who walks by your window!
What Advent traditions do you or your family follow each year? Let us know!
It’s autumn! I am such a huge fan of autumn. I start every season with a list of things I want to do. The list for autumn usually includes walking outside, taking note of the beautiful colours of the season, knitting, having a Pumpkin Spice Latte when they come into the coffee shops and cooking more with squash and other seasonal bounty. The excitement of the season, twinned with the potential of what I’m going to do, makes me quite hyper active and restless!
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1
This autumn feels different. There is still the excitement, appreciation of colours and the changing light, anticipation as the colder nights seep into our homes, but there is something else present too. I expected to feel a shadow over this autumn. A sense of things lost, and a fatigue caused by months of restructuring and restrictions due to the pandemic. I do feel those, not least because I have experienced personal loss recently, but another feeling surprised me. Sitting comfortably next to the sadness and tiredness, which I acknowledge, is an acute appreciation for the things and experiences we have, and a renewed awareness of the healing power of doing things that make us happy.
"Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it. Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy." Psalm 96:11-12
Autumn is a time when animals hibernate (some people do too!), leaves drop off trees and we say goodbye to some of our crops and summer flowers. Nature winds down, ready to slumber, after a final golden and fiery orange farewell. The world can look bleak come winter. But underneath the Earth’s monotone surface a huge replenishing is occurring. Plump and ripe seeds such as shiny conkers and prickly beech have already fallen to the floor and are active in their preparation for Spring. Fattened birds are already preparing for their migration back to us, and tiny bacteria and other micro-organisms are ploughing nutrients back into the soil ready for a busy spring.
“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” Job 12:7-10
We observe a sleeping Earth, but in reality it’s one of its busiest seasons of preparation. In the same way we each have our seasons that may feel lifeless or sleepy. We may be tired, we may feel that there isn’t much point anymore, we may be fed up, not taking much joy in things. Feelings and experiences are seasonal- some can last for years and years and some for only months or weeks. While we can neither hurry nature or our own natural processes, we can remember that it’s okay to have seasons that are in themselves a process or a journey. Like Autumn turning to Spring; an essential transition that we may not look forward to and that can seem to take a very long time! Along your journey it is worth remembering your value, and taking time to look after yourself. Don’t rush yourself on your unique journey, your Spring will come at the exact right time.
“I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit.” Leviticus 26:4 NIV
Please take some time this week to do at least one thing that makes you happy, remembering that you are worth the time taken to look after yourself. Mine will be getting a pumpkin spice latte (and then not feeling guilty afterwards!)
Love your neighbour as yourself (Mark 12:31)
Earlier in 2020, we looked at how we can love our neighbours in times of lockdown. We may not currently be experiencing the serious restrictions that were in place in the spring, but opportunities to meet in person are still very limited.
However, there are still plenty of ways we can show God’s love to others – including those we don’t know or have never even met.
Gifts for others
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13)
Each year, as Christmas cards and gifts begin to appear in the shops (a date which seems to get earlier all the time!) we are invited to reflect on the greatest present ever gifted to humanity, Jesus: the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23). If we are able, we can use gift giving to bring just a small reflection of the joy of Jesus to others, particularly those who are not as fortunate as ourselves.
Until 15th November, Bristo is collecting shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, run by Samaritan’s Purse. Since 1990 the organization has gifted over 1 million boxes of gifts to children in need across the world. As these are items you might find during your typical weekly shop, such as toys and school supplies, this is a fantastic and practical way of showing God’s love to others. The Salvation Army is also running their Christmas present appeal, which donates new toys and gifts to children who otherwise may not receive a present.
If you’re wondering what to buy for friends and family, or even as a Secret Santa present for a colleague, consider buying a gift such as the ones offered by Oxfam’s Unwrapped section of their shops and website. Through these gifts you will directly help Oxfam’s projects across the world, giving others access to water and education as well as supporting the organisation’s emergency response work. Another idea is to make your recipient a Secret Santa for a vulnerable child in the UK through the Action for Children website - this is perhaps an alternate to a work or friendship group Secret Santa .
Loving others in our local area
Anyone who loves God must also love their brother or sister (1 John 4:21)
In the news we often hear about brothers and sisters in our own city struggling, and it can be hard to know where to begin in terms of helping them. However, there are some great local organisations that you can support in doing this.
At Bristo we support Fresh Start, an Edinburgh-based charity that helps people who have previously been homeless by setting them up in a new home. To support their work you can donate, contribute items or volunteer. Alternatively, our local food bank is Edinburgh City Mission at Granton Baptist.
This year, we’re continuing to support the programme of giving Christmas Hampers to refugee families around the city. You can get in touch with the church to find out more and how you can contribute to one of the hampers.
Last Christmas our 20s/30s group also collected and delivered hats, scarves and gloves to homeless people in the city centre, along with cups of hot chocolate. This is a lovely way to connect with people in your local area – although we do strongly recommend doing this with others rather than on your own.
Giving your time
Above all…put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony (Colossians 3:14)
Most of the above suggestions have detailed how we can use money to contribute to charities that help others. However, even if you don’t have too much money to spare this year, what you may have to give is time.
This may take the form of volunteering at local organisations such as schools or community groups – or even offering to tutor somebody in a special subject like a second language.
One local charity, People Know How, have a role of Wellbeing Caller, which you can sign up to. This involves calling somebody once or twice a week simply to have a chat, especially if they’re feeling isolated or lonely. The Wellbeing Calls service is currently being run via telephone and the organization will carefully match you with a service user based on both of your interests, allowing you to build a good rapport with each other.
You could also give your time by attending, or even organising, a virtual fundraising event. At Bristo we will be taking part in Tearfund’s Big Quiz Night on 14th November, together with Granton Baptist. This event will be raising funds to help people in need and contribute to Tearfund’s work towards ending poverty, which they do by working with local churches and Christian organisations. (If you are interested in joining us for an evening of fun you can email GBCbigquiz2020@gmail.com with your contact number. See you there…!)
Since this blog started at the beginning of lockdown, we have focused a few times on the different and creative ways you can spend time with God and in worship… especially under the changed circumstances we have all experienced.
These changed circumstances have been more noticeable than before since Bristo has started using the church building for services again. Those who have attended Sunday morning services will know that one of the biggest adaptations to make has been in music, as we are not yet able to sing as a group under health and safety guidelines.
While we all miss the experience of singing together, this has proven to be an interesting time to try something a little different for worship. Although music is the most common – and possibly easiest – group form of worship, there are so many ways to express your feelings about God and connect with him alongside the rest of the body.
Something that not many people have tried before, but can be a perfect option if you’re looking for an alternative form of worship, is art. We’ve been exploring this a little recently at Bristo, as those who are used to practising worship through art have been able to bring their materials into the service.
Art, craft and design has been a recognised expression of the Holy Spirit since the Old Testament; we read in Exodus 35 how God filled craftsmen with His spirit as he was giving commands for the creation of the Tabernacle.
30 Then Moses said to the Israelites, “See, the LORD has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 31 and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— 32 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 33 to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic crafts.
34 And he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others. 35 He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as engravers, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers—all of them skilled workers and designers.
If you’ve been to an arts worship event, you might have seen someone free painting, or perhaps painting a prophetic vision they have had. This can be an amazing experience, and is often what people think of when they imagine “art worship”. However, this can also be a little intimidating, especially if you’ve not had much practise in painting and drawing. But this by no means the only art worship you can do – just as we all enjoy singing practised and familiar songs, there is just as much to be had from pre-planned arts and crafts.
Some crafts are good to use as metaphors or reflections on the service or bible reading. For example, a few weeks ago, some members of the Bristo creativity team painted rocks during art worship at church. This was a focus on the many verses involving rocks as imagery in the Bible. You might find an interesting craft or art project that reflects a recent Bible study or book you have read.
Another simple art activity that’s easy to plan is creative lettering – drawing or painting out the words to a Bible verse. This can be a good exercise if you’re meditating on a particular passage of scripture, as it forces you to pay attention to each word by itself and take your time to think them over. This might be an option to try if you regularly journal, as the process is similar. There are lots of lettering tutorials available online if you want help!
You can also use your creative talents to make something for everyone to enjoy, like this Autumn-themed display from Jeanette (photo above.) Using our creative talents to reflect God’s natural wonders for ourselves and others is a great way to worship. Think of some favourite nature-based hymns, for example, like “You’re Beautiful” or “How Great Thou Art”. You might want to try something like arranging flowers, or pressing leaves…
And if you’d like to try free painting or creating art without any particular plan, you can always grab some paints, put on some worship music in the background, and see what you can come up with! If you haven’t painted before, or if it’s been a while, just enjoying the colours and shapes you can create is a lovely, thoughtful worship option that can allow you to pray at the same time.
You may have noticed some art going on at the back of the church recently…! If you’d like to join in with the sessions, please get in touch with the creativity team ahead of time so we can plan an activity with the service leader for that Sunday.
But the suggestions above can all be followed at home as well, during a quiet time or family worship. Why not see if there is a new form of art worship that will give you something new to explore…?
1 Corinthians 12:4-11 tells us how the Holy Spirit gives us gifts to build the church and glorify God. In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 we also read that we are called to use them in love for others: If I have the gift of prophecy… but do not have love, I am nothing.
This week we continue looking at how we can serve Bristo with our gifts, combining our congregation’s experiences with what the Bible says about the respective roles. Do any of them look like they might be for you?
Bible group leader
Being a group leader is about discerning what God is saying, while also enabling and encouraging group members’ participation. It’s also about flexibility, and being ready to abandon your prepared points when you discern the Spirit raising other topics or personal experiences for group members.
Bible groups offer an opportunity to come together as God’s community. As you learn more about the Bible and grow together you can serve, love, support and pray for others: When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him into their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately (Acts 18:26).
Acts 8:26-40, when Philip helped the Ethiopian eunuch to understand Scripture, reflects how a Bible group leader can encourage others in their faith through teaching.
Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name welcomes Me (Mark 9:37).
Children in our churches are our future Sunday school teachers and preachers – so teaching them about God is a great way to serve the church, both now and for the future.
Although children’s ministry may currently be online, there will still be opportunities to contribute to their learning. Adults can also learn plenty from children… Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it (Mark 10:14-15).
When trouble comes, problems arise, don't know which way to turn ....
We turn to our Father, our Heavenly Father in prayer
As parents, sisters, brothers, you look out for each other in family love ....
True of us as a family in the Lord!
If danger arises, threats abound .....
Our Father, our Lord, our God is there as we wage war in prayer!
When you love someone, you long to spend time with them, captivated ...
Intimacy in worshipful prayer with the Lord our God.
Through our relationship with our Saviour Jesus Christ, we are part of a global family - the family of the Creator - the Lord our God! And globally we are united as we seek Him in prayer.
This quote depicts the wonderful gift we have in praying to God, not just on our own, but also with others. We read throughout his letters how Paul both prayed on behalf of others (Romans 15:5-6) and requested prayer for himself (Romans 15:30-33).
In 2020 this is even more significant as, although we are frequently apart, we can still support each other in prayer.
Music & technology
For many people, worship is a way to draw closer to God. I am blessed to come from a musical family and enjoy using this passion to facilitate others’ worship during a service.
Music is used in various ways during a service, such as enabling praise or reflection. A music group helps others to worship God and develop their relationship with Him: Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns and songs…Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:18-19).
Technology is also vital, as it can support the worship and communicate news. More importantly, it assists those harder of hearing to get the most out of church and, currently, ensures the smooth running of a service in person and on Zoom.
Standing at the front of church is not as scary as it seems! At Bristo we are recording songs separately at home, so that could be a perfect opportunity to try joining the team, either musically or in a technological capacity.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19)
While many of us enjoy seeing church friends, we are called to share the gospel. Our God is so awesome, why wouldn’t we want to bring others to faith?
If you’ve not done it before, watch others’ conversations and see what works for you. There are some great resources online, including Alpha, which is a great tool for sharing the gospel.
Jesus provides an example to follow in John 4:1-26 when he went against social conventions to speak with a Samaritan woman. He helped her focus on the present opportunity, rather than her past, and challenged her perceptions on where people could worship: believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem (John 4:21)
If you feel called to serve in your church, speak to a church leader and see how you can get involved!
We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach. (Romans 12:6-7)
We all have gifts from God and are called to use them to meet others’ needs, including in different areas of church life.
This week we look at a few of the different ways we can do this with the help of our congregation, with input from some of Bristo’s members. Each of these roles is specifically relevant to Bristo, though there will be many other churches who have similar structures.
Even if God is drawing you to something out of your comfort zone, give it a go! You might discover something brand new.
The gifts used can vary greatly. Teaching and preaching, though similar, are not necessarily the same, and there can also be a prophetic element to some sermons.
Preaching involves gifts such as: teaching, prophecy, faith, discernment, leadership, wisdom, counsel, encouragement and words of knowledge.
The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines preaching as ‘God’s appointed means for communicating the gospel of salvation…and for strengthening the spiritual life of His people’. Jesus was the first to preach the Gospel in its fullest form, following forerunners such as John the Baptist, as He called people to repent while also providing encouragement and direction from God’s plan for people’s lives.
The role of preaching can be life changing, as it involves sharing the gospel, guiding people towards God and a greater understanding of Him. You may have a burning passion to preach – we see this in 1 Corinthians 9:16: when I preach the gospel… I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! In 2 Corinthians 4:5 Paul also emphasizes how preaching should be for Christ, rather than ourselves, and through this we can discern God’s words to those listening.
1 Timothy 3:8-13 states that deacons must be sincere and worthy of respect, they must hold to the truth of the faith, and they must be able to manage their own household. Deacons act as a team and bring various skills that complement each other, such as administrative, financial, leadership, decision-making, discernment, pastoral or problem solving.
Although a deacon’s work is less public than a preacher’s, they are no less significant to the life of a church. In Acts 6:1-7 we read of the first deacons, who took on some of the apostles’ tasks including the daily distribution of food, or ‘diakonia’. Nowadays, the role will vary depending on the church.
At Bristo, deacons are elected and meet regularly to discuss topics such as finances and pastoral care, with larger issues being presented to the congregation. Although no specific gifts are required, we seek to discover what gifts God has released into each new diaconate team, and deacons use these to work together to ensure the smooth running of the church, whilst seeking God’s will and direction.
Upkeep of the building
Much of the work that is required to maintain and run the building is unseen. Even during the pandemic when the building is not used as much, maintenance and building administration are still needed.
The Church is a metaphorical building with Jesus as the cornerstone. As we read in Ephesians 2:22, a church is where people are built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. Maintaining a building where people can meet and worship Him is a fantastic thing.
The space is often shared with community groups from outside the church, so maintaining the building can be an ideal way to serve them. Information about church events or short gospel messages can be displayed around the building, providing an outreach opportunity.
Many churches would be lost without people who maintain the building! Their gifts help preserve the building for future generations to continue worshipping God.
The Bible makes a lot of strong and pointed statements about wealth; promoting how it can be used to help the needy in society while addressing how money can usurp the place of God in our lives and be used to rule over others.
The Bristo Finance Team seek to honour God by using their collective skills to promote and administer wise stewardship of the money received by the church.
You may have noticed an offering plate or a bag being passed round during services. These funds, along with standing orders and other income, are used to further the work of a church. This may mean supporting charities, purchasing resources for children’s work, and various other projects. As we read in Mark 12:41-44, anything you give will always be gratefully received by a church.
As well as donations, churches require people gifted in finance to ensure that funds are used in a way that furthers God’s work in the church and the community.
As with other roles, the finance team is a position that calls for prayer to discern God’s will for a church’s finances.
We’ll continue to look at more serving roles in the next couple of weeks…
Do you feel drawn to any of the roles in this article? Pray with a friend and see where God might be taking you.
The past week has brought a lot of changes for everybody in the UK and many of us may now feel burdened by the prospect of the months ahead. While our society often promotes a “chin up” attitude, this is not always the best method for dealing with difficulties. As Christians we know that there is somebody by our side who wants us to share our problems without judgment.
The issues confronting us for the remainder of 2020 may be wide ranging, from family to finances to our children’s education… While God doesn’t necessarily remove worries straightaway, He does take their weight and we can completely lean on Him.
Here are a few ideas on how to share your concerns with Him and feel at peace, knowing He is at work in the situation.
Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you (Psalm 55:22)
- Write down what is burdening you, scrunch up the paper and throw it away. As it falls into the bin know God has taken it – not that the situation has disappeared, but the weight of having to carry it yourself has been lifted.
- As you pray your worries to God, write them on paper and put them in a jar. As you shut the lid know that particular worry is safe with Him. It will be wonderful to read these in a year’s time and see how God helped lift these burdens, or has given you guidance in how to deal with them.
- Take a walk by some water, choose a stone and pray about your burden while holding it. Then throw the stone into the water, knowing that God will be working on the situation, just as erosion will be shaping and changing the stone as it flows onwards in the water.
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2)
Talking aloud – to God or to others
- When we vocalise our prayers to God we distract our mind from ruminating, something that can often make us feel much worse. He is always nearby with a caring, listening ear.
- You can ask others to work through burdens with you and provide support in the form of prayer. Everyone is on their own journey with God and opportunities for mutual support will often arise. It’s great that we can help each other in this way!
- Refocus your mind by speaking, or singing, praises to God. Doing this reminds us that He is bigger than all of our problems and, with His fantastic power and kindness, can easily carry their weight.
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 (Matthew 11:28-29)
Reminders of God’s presence
- One of the overriding feelings in 2020 for many has been isolation. It is always good to remind yourself that God is with you, ready to listen to whatever is weighing you down.
- Choose an item that you see regularly, such as a shoe in your hallway or an image on a noticeboard. No matter how you are feeling, when you see the object remind yourself that God is by your side wants the best for you. While He doesn’t promise that life will be easy, He does promise to sustain us through whatever difficulties we face.
- The Word of God is our sword and we can use it in the fight against burdens. In our society it can be easy to bottle things up, especially with so many demands on our time and energy. However, God’s word can provide us with rest, as well as wisdom and strength to work through a situation. Why not choose a verse from this article and write it in a prominent place in your home?
Some closing thoughts
Although God, the creator of the World, is so huge, He cares passionately about every area of our life. No matter how small a worry or a concern may seem, He cares.
Even Jesus was burdened before He went to the cross: Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done (Luke 22:42). While our troubles are not as painful as His – being crucified for humanity’s sins – God is constantly shaping us to become more like Jesus. Sometimes going through challenges can help us to become more like Him, with God’s guidance.
God does not let us go through difficult times on our own, and never will: Even to your old age and grey hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you (Isaiah 46:4)
24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
A legacy is defined as “something left or handed down by a predecessor.” So what will our legacy from this historical year be? Perhaps it won’t be as significant as the fundraising of Captain Sir Tom Moore or daily workouts from Joe Wicks. But how about blogs like this, which may be read in the future, or memories of a special birthday celebration for someone?
This week we are being inspired by Christians who left lasting legacies through their work in human rights. Hopefully, by looking at their actions and attitudes, we might find bigger moments in our own lives to demonstrate our faith and its mandates.
Martin Luther King Jr (1929-1968)
If someone slaps you on the cheek, turn to them the other also (Luke 6:29)
Martin Luther King Jr followed his father by becoming a Baptist pastor, although his legacy came from leading the civil rights movement in the USA which eventually led to the end of racial segregation. Along the way his incredible leadership and speeches, often referencing Christian ideals, inspired many to join the movement for equal rights: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice”.
One of these ideals was the use of non violent tactics to create change, something recognised by his Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. While this was partly influenced by time in India and Ghandi’s policy of nonviolence, King also established the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957. He fully embodied Luke 6:29 by not only refusing to protest with violence, but by being arrested several times when peacefully demonstrating against segregation.
You can read more about King's life and mission here:
Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)
Heal the sick... Freely you have received; freely give (Matthew 10:8)
Nightingale was called by God at the age of 16 to go into nursing and, despite her family considering it unbecoming of a lady of her social stature, followed in faith. Her career started by training nurses, which in itself would have left a legacy. However, when the Crimean War began in 1853 there was a public outcry about the conditions in which British soldiers were being treated. Once at the battlefields, Nightingale established higher standards of care and even spoke personally with soldiers, leading to her nickname of “The Lady with the Lamp”.
Her legacy comes from faithfully following God’s calling, as she helped formalise the education of nurses and midwives, with the Nightingale School of Nursing opening in London in 1860. She also emphasised the importance of district nursing, viewing the home as the best place to care for others, plus reformed military healthcare.
Read more on:
William Wilberforce (1759-1833)
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners…to set the oppressed free (Luke 4:18)
The beginning of Wilberforce’s political career was not overly ambitious: “I did nothing – nothing to any purpose”. However, this changed during a tour of Europe in 1784-5 when he travelled with an evangelical Christian, Isaac Milner. Here Wilberforce’s spiritual life changed completely, as he would get up early each day to pray and study the Bible.
Despite considering priesthood, James Newton (writer of Amazing Grace) persuaded him to use his faith as an MP. Influenced by the abolitionist Thomas Clarkson, Wilberforce consistently campaigned and lobbied for the abolition of slavery, even giving a 3 hour speech in parliament in 1789.
Although the slave trade was abolished in 1807, Wilberforce eventually dedicated 45 years to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. The legislation to free slaves was passed just three days before his death in 1833, and the law was passed in 1834. His legacy remains through other social issues too such as restricting child labour, while he also helped found the Bible Society.
Read more on:
Christian Führer (1943-2014)
At the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed (Joshua 6:20)
Führer, a pastor of a Lutheran church in Leipzig, is a lesser known figure in the fall of the Berlin Wall. Despite being watched carefully by the Communist authorities in East Germany, Führer followed his conviction that churches should continue to meet and share their faith.
In 1982 he organised prayers for peace on Monday evenings, which attracted hundreds of people and eventually became demonstrations. News spread to other areas of East Germany and others began demonstrating on Monday evenings too. Eventually 70,000 protested on 9th October 1989 despite police warning that they would be shut down and armed soldiers being present. The movement finally ended with fall of Berlin Wall on November 9th: “If any event ever merited the description of ‘miracle’ that was it… It is astonishing that God let us succeed with this revolution.” (Führer).
Even after this Führer continued be an activist, particularly by standing up for the rights of the unemployed in East Germany following the fall of Communism.
Read more on:
What legacy have others left for you this year? What legacy do you hope to leave for the future?
One of the earliest blogs we uploaded was about creativity in God – specifically in finding creative pursuits to keep us worshipping during lockdown!
We’ve followed this with a few blogs featuring creative expressions from different members of the church, including a selection of poems from Andrea. At the time, it was difficult to choose which ones to include, so we’re following up with another set today! These are all from her poetry collection Inspired By His Presence, and the photos were provided by Andrea as well.
As we all head back out into the world, as things start edging back towards normality, we hope that everyone will be able to keep to the new pursuits and creative explorations that they may have started during this difficult time. We also hope that these poems, centred on God and a relationship with Him, will inspire you.
The pendulum swing of heaven
Chimes the hour
It is time
Elastic in the Father’s hands
Always long enough to do His bidding
Refresh in the deep pools of His love
Experience volcanic eruptions in the depths
Power pulsing through every atom of your being
Flow with the tide
Advance – retreat – advance – retreat –
Always coming back to the unhurried rhythms of heaven
That begin with
© Andrea Mill 2019
Meditation on Psalm 84
Inspired by the paraphrase in The Passion Translation
Father how you delight to dwell in your children
As each heart longs for you
For union with you
Rising in praise and worship
Celebrating you as the source and spring of life
What pleasure and contentment is there for all those
Who live every day enjoying you
Like birds nesting in a safe place
Raising their young in the warmth of summer
What strength is found in hearts set on the highway of
Digging deep in the valley of tears
In pools filled with delight
Where others find only pain
As you shower down springs of blessing
Living water strengthening every step forward
In answer to every prayer
The kindness of your presence wraps around like a shield
To defend and protect
Just one day of intimacy with you
Is like a thousand days of joy in one
So much better to live even on the threshold of your temple
Than to live life without you
Enticed into false beauty presented by the world
Your generosity knows no bounds
Those who walk hand in hand through life with you
Lack no good thing
You lavish your love and spiritual gifts
Upon those who walk with integrity
What a delightfully abundant life is available
For all those who daily trust you
© Andrea Mill 2019
When all sensation of joy is lost
Know that I am here
Living within you
Joy can be grasped, held on to and embraced
When you are still
And stop striving
Rest in me
Float in deep pools of my love
Surrender your will
And find intense satisfaction
From being in my presence
Serenity from a sense of safety
Bliss in this present moment
Enjoying me as I passionately enjoy you
As your heart begins to sing
Take delight in future hope
Vision and creative solutions
Revelation from a heavenly perspective
Into what has stolen your joy
Be filled afresh to overflowing with my Spirit
Let the river of life flow into your being
Refreshing every part
Cleansing body, mind, soul and spirit
Allowing me into my dwelling place
I do not give to you as the world gives
I am with you
You will find joy in me
© Andrea Mill 2019
Wind of the Spirit
Wind is visible in the long grass
Blowing this way and that
Yet the same wind goes undetected through a manicured lawn
Take heart my beloved
For the grass has been cut short
But it is growing
And I will be seen
I will be seen!
© Andrea Mill 2019
Last week, we looked at Matthew 18:20, where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I with them – inspired by how God is present with us as we meet together as a church, regardless of whether we join together virtually or in person. But how else do we know that God is with us? This week we take a look at God’s omnipresence as well as His gift of the Holy Spirit.
Omnipresent (all present) God
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20)
We know God is continuously present everywhere on Earth, as well as above His creation in the heavens. Although in some moments His presence is felt more keenly than others, we can be certain that He is constantly with us. As David wrote: Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me (Psalm 139:7-10).
When we consider this, we see how amazing Jesus’ arrival on earth was. God had the ability to choose literally any incarnation of Himself on Earth, and specifically chose to live as a human being among us. This demonstrates the full extent of His love, allowing Him to sacrifice Himself for us in a way we could see and understand.
Paul describes the exciting new life we have thanks to this in his letter to the Galatians: I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Galatians 2:20)
It may feel overwhelming that God, who created the entire world and each of us, walks with us every day, including when we meet with others in His name, whether that is by Zoom or in person. Yet this same God chooses to actively come near to us, as we see in His decision to send Christ to die for our sins.
Through this, the barrier caused by our sin was broken down and removed, showing how God chooses to be ever-present with His children: God did this so that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from any one of us. ‘For in Him we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:27-28).
But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth….He will glorify Me because it is from Me that He will receive what He will make known to you (John 16:13-14)
As Jesus is both fully man and fully God, He acts as a mediator between humans and God. This means we can be fully at peace with Him following Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross: Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). Yet before Jesus returned to Heaven He also promised to send a helper, the Holy Spirit.
He did this so the Spirit could constantly help us contribute to the growth of God’s kingdom by living in us, guiding us, comforting us, strengthening us, empowering us and producing spiritual fruit through us. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you (John 14:16-17)
We read of how the gift of the Holy Spirit first came to God’s followers in Acts 2:1-21: All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. This is a great chapter, in which we see some of the power of the Holy Spirit – His ability to help people understand God’s word, and each other.
As we continue to live by faith, the Holy Spirit will be by our side, helping us to grow even further. Through this we will gain even more knowledge of God’s truths promised to us. One way of experiencing this and growing together is certainly through meeting with others as part of a church, whether that is over the internet or face to face (at a safe distance!)
Even while we have been apart as a church over the past few months, many people have commented how connected they feel with each other thanks to God’s continual presence with us, no matter where we are or how we join together with others.
Like many churches across the UK, Bristo Baptist has now reopened for Sunday morning services. We have, however, opted to continue sharing the service on Zoom for those who would prefer to join from home, or are unable to attend in person. We also continue to email out a PDF document of the service for people to read in their own time.
As mentioned in our first blog back in May, when we first began using Zoom many people mentioned how nice it was to see each other during meetings. Although we are still meeting without being all together in the same building, we know that God is present with all of us, no matter how we choose to take part on a Sunday morning. This week, we take a look at how He promises to be with us in any group gathering or decision-making process, a topic that we’ll be continuing with next week.
For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I with them (Matthew 18:20)
This verse will be familiar to many of us, as it is often quoted at church meetings as a reassurance that God is with us during our time together. While this is true, if we read the previous verses we see that Jesus is actually referring to supporting those who have sinned and guiding them towards repentance. The context of where two or three are gathered in My name, therefore, is the idea of God being with people when they meet together in agreement on a particular matter, and seek to follow His plans.
As Jesus spoke to His disciples in this way, He will have reminded them of two sections in Deuteronomy, as at the time Jewish men were required to memorise the Torah (the first four books of the Bible):
On the testimony of two or three witnesses a person is to be put to death, but no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness (Deuteronomy 17:6)
One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse someone of a crime, the two people involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time (Deuteronomy 19:15-17)
Here we see how the Jewish law dictates that two or three witnesses are required in order to bring a case to court. Applying this to the original context of Jesus’ words, we can be confident that He will be present at any meetings attended by a church, including those focussing on discipline or government, and He will guide us through any decision-making processes.
Where two or three are gathered in My name also refers to the fact that Jesus will be with those who meet in agreement on a particular issue in a way in which we seek His heart. As a church, we agree that Jesus died for our sins as a demonstration of His immense love for us, and so we currently meet knowing He is with us as we gather, whether virtually or in person.
If He is with us at these times then we know that He will be with us at others, such as when we pray by ourselves:
Then you will call on Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:12-13)
It is comforting to know that Jesus is with us on an individual level and hears our prayers. Yet it is also reassuring that, when we come together with the same purpose of worshipping God and supporting each other, He will be with us all no matter where we are or how we meet with others.
Two weeks ago, we looked at some examples from the Bible of people who had to wait in order to receive what God had promised.
Of course, there are many more examples than the ones we covered, far too many to include in a single blog! Or even in two blogs… but we decided to split our list into two, one for the Old Testament and one from the New Testament.
These are a few more stories of people who waited for what God would give them.
Waiting for the Messiah
The story of Simeon is a well-known part of the New Testament, told in Luke 2. Simeon had been promised that he would see the Messiah before he died. It’s not entirely clear how long he waited after the promise had been given – but his reaction on seeing Jesus, finally, suggests it had been a long time.
‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.’
Simeon, however, had not been waiting in the temple night and day since the promise was made… he was prompted the Holy Spirit to go the temple that day. Like us, he had to be open to hearing God’s instruction, and ready to follow it, in order to receive the incredible promise he had been given.
Waiting for Healing
Many of us who have suffered from ongoing or chronic health issues know the frustration of waiting for healing. Several of the stories of Jesus’ healing miracles involved people who had been waiting for years, or even decades, for their illness to be healed.
Just a few examples include two different women from the book of Luke. One had been waiting for twelve years for healing:
Luke 8:43 ‘…but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.’
And another woman who had been crippled by a spirit for 18 years:
Luke 13:12-13 ‘…When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.’
And in John 5:6-9, Jesus meets a man who has been waiting for healing for thirty-eight years:
‘When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.’
Waiting for the Holy Spirit
During the time between his resurrection and ascension, Jesus gave the disciples very specific instructions about what to do after He was gone.
‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’
They did as they were told, returning to Jerusalem after the ascension and waiting with the other believers. During this time, they “all joined together constantly in prayer” while waiting. As a result, when the Spirit came at Pentecost, they were all together in the same house, and experienced the life-changing presence of the Holy Spirit they’d been promised.
It seems unlikely that they would have known what they were waiting for. Just after Jesus gave them His instruction to return to the city, they asked him whether he would now “restore the Kingdom to Israel.” (Acts 1:6) They seemed to anticipating an event in the physical realm, with the type of power they were used to seeing in rulers and kings. The power that came on them at Pentecost was something entirely different.
This was waiting in true faith, not even knowing what the promise itself held. How many of us feel as though we’re in suspense for something, but unable to even guess what might be coming next?
In this case, at least, the story itself tells us what to do – just keep praying.
In this week’s blog our music group share their favourite worship songs. Worship is a key part of Bristo Baptist’s church services and music is one of the many ways we can express our praise and thankfulness to God. There are plenty of songs to listen to, from ones that encourage us to enter God’s presence to those that help us to reflect on our relationship with Him.
When we think of worship in the Bible we probably think of David, who wrote around half of the Psalms. Many people are inspired by his words for their own songs:
Praise Him for His acts of power; praise Him for His surpassing greatness. Praise Him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise Him with the harp and lyre, praise Him with the timbrel and dancing, praise Him with the strings and pipe, praise Him with the clash of cymbals… Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. (Psalm 150:2-6)
We are also encouraged to sing our worship to God by Paul in his letter to the Colossians: Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts (Colossians 3:14-17)
If you’re interested in the evolution of worship music this fantastic video takes you on a rapid journey from the 6th to the 21st century. Who knows what fantastic songs will appear in the next 10 years!
When I became a Christian I felt that I gained a new purpose in life, so “Mercy Road” was the perfect song to have at my baptism last year. I used to sing this in my old church and have many good memories of playing it with friends there.
Lord You Have My Heart
My favourite worship song is “Lord You Have My Heart”. It has such a powerful yet simple message, a plea to God to take all I have and to use me for His purpose, and a reminder that I WILL Praise Him! It was sung at my Baptism by a four-part harmony group with an acoustic guitar. Beautiful!
I have found this version which is amazing!
How Great Thou Art
This is a classic hymn in so many ways. It has a simple, clear message about the truths and beauty of God, building to the wonderous sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. As a member of the worship group, it’s also lovely to have a song that everyone knows – and is ready to belt out when singing along!
It was difficult to think one of a favourite worship song as I have many and each for different reasons. However, I decided to go back to the beginning and I mention the hymn that first revealed God’s love to me, the condition I was in, that no matter how good I thought I was, God revealed that I was a sinner, as all have sinned and fallen short of God’s grace, that I couldn’t save myself, the only way to be truly saved was to put my faith and trust in Jesus and what He had done for me on the cross at Calvary.
The words of “Amazing Grace” reflect my testimony of how I once was, but how I am now through God’s grace and love. The version I personally like is the one sung by Judy Collins
Amazing Grace is a popular one with our music group! Another member writes:
As a lifelong choral singer, I love the tradition of choral worship in the church, whatever background it comes from. These songs calm my spirit and help me worship like nothing else. However, it isn’t just about the style of music – as for most worshippers, choral worship is perhaps more to be listened to than sung, but for me participation in worship is very important. This is why I’m drawn to great hymns that have stood the test of time – they’re perfect for congregational worship, and people from all backgrounds are able to join in, and they even cross denominational boundaries.
Amazing Grace is also great for its enduring popularity and universality. It’s so well known that it’s recognisable practically everywhere. It has been translated into many languages and has inspired Christian hymn-writers/songwriters for generations.
But I think what’s most significant about this hymn, the reason it’s so enduring, are the words and the backstory behind it. When I hear it I know that it was meaningful for John Newton; it’s not just theology or poetry (though it contains both in abundance.) For the same reason, it makes the theme of grace personal, and perfectly sums up and illustrates the gospel on an individual level.
I struggled to choose one recording of Amazing Grace, so I instead want to demonstrate the diversity of the song, and maybe one of these will appeal to you. Here are traditional, a cappella, gospel, bagpipe and world versions .
Days of Elijah
As a musician I love facilitating other people worshipping God. One of my favourite songs for this is “Days of Elijah” as it has so much energy as you play and sing it. The song gives us hope for the time when Jesus returns in glory and also helps us identify with Old Testament figures such as Elijah, especially his sense of isolation within the culture he lived in. I particularly love this video of US Marines singing and dancing – for me it really encapsulates the enthusiasm of the song! You can also see the lyrics here.
And Can it Be
Out of all the songs we sing, ancient and modern, the one that stands out for me is “And can it be” by Charles Wesley. It is a song that has come down the generations and is still a great sing today. What is striking about it is the way it expresses the wonder of the gospel message – as if every time Wesley thought about it, he still couldn’t get his head around the depth and boundlessness of God’s love and he was not ashamed to admit it. He shows us a humility which we may need to work on if we are to sing the words as he did.
What are your favourite worship songs? Have you discovered any new ones during the lockdown? Let us know!
Waiting is difficult… of course, it’s always been difficult, even though everything is all the more instant now.
We might be asked to wait for a day, a week, a year, or longer, for a promise from God. This might be something specific for our lives, or it might be something for someone else, or for our church.
It might be waiting for circumstances to change, as we’re all waiting for at the moment.
Everyone’s situations are different. We’re all waiting for different things, and will be waiting for different periods of time. While there’s no blueprint for “how long to wait,” there are plenty of examples in the Bible of times that people had to wait to see the promises of God.
Which one of these might the closest to your own circumstances?
(Galatians 6:9) Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Abraham is promised in Genesis 12 that God will make him “into a great nation.” (Genesis 12:2) He must have immediately wondered when he would have his first child… yet he went years after this with no children at all.
But Abraham waited, and was rewarded with the blessings that God wanted to give him. This is referred to in Hebrews, as an illustration of God’s unshakable faithfulness in giving His promises, and our responsibility to react to these promises in faith.
(Hebrews 6:13-15) When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.
This story also gives us an example of what might happen when we try to take action on our own, and speed things along without God’s direction. Abraham had a child with his wife’s servant Hagar in Genesis 16… but not the child that God had promised.
In Genesis 18, Abraham and Sarah are promised a child. At this point, Sarah has waited so long that she doubts that God can even fulfil this promise, and laughs at the idea. It is three chapters later, in Genesis 21, that Isaac is finally born.
There are some uncomfortable opportunities to see ourselves in this story… are we trying to push things along without consulting God? Are we beginning to doubt God’s plan for us?
We already talked about Joseph in last week’s blog, but his story is certainly one of waiting. He was promised by God that he would become a leader in his family, and it took years of suffering in the lowest circumstances before he came into that promise.
It might have seemed unthinkable, to Joseph, as he sat in prison, to consider the dreams that he had had of his bright future. Yet he continued to work and gain the trust of those around him, and when the time came to act, he didn’t hesitate.
Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”
“I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.”
Joseph was ready to operate in the giftings that God had given him, giving God the glory, and it was this act that led him into the promise God had given all those years before. He had spent his time wisely, ready to practise his gifts and abilities, and waiting for the chance that God would give.
The story of Job is such a clear demonstration of immense patience and endurance that is has now become an idiom… someone might be referred to as having “the patience of Job” if they show remarkable resilience in times of difficulty.
Job is put through terrible trials, losing his children, his wealth and his health. His friends try to help him, attempting to make sense of what has happened. They speak at length of God’s possible purpose in allowing this to happen, suggesting that Job himself might be to blame… even Job’s wife tells him that it would be better to just “Curse God and die” (Job 2:9) than to continue on in this way.
Although Job does speak out about his anguish, he doesn’t agree with what his friends are saying, or do what his wife tells him to. He waits on God – enduring everything he is going through.
His endurance is mentioned later in the new testament, as James encourages other believers during a difficult time for the early church, full of persecution and suffering.
(James 5:11) As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
While Job’s trials were extreme, we can take comfort in knowing the full story – and in knowing that God is indeed full of compassion and mercy.
We have all been in an unexpected situation in recent months – perhaps, for some, making it seem unlikely that God would use us for His plans, when there are so many demands on us already. Some of us may be used to God using us in certain ways, which are not possible under current conditions. Others may have had plans for the future that are now uncertain or delayed.
However, God can always utilise us, even in a global pandemic! Here, we look at how people in prison, in low social positions, and even a man who heavily persecuted Christians were chosen by God as part of His plans.
Genesis 37-47: But while Joseph was there in prison, the Lord was with him….and gave him success in whatever he did (read more)
At first, Joseph had everything going for him – he was his father’s favourite son and even had dreams from God about becoming a leader. However, his life was not so easy, as his brothers became jealous and sold him, resulting in Joseph working at the home of Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials. While there, Potiphar’s wife falsely accused Joseph of sleeping with her and sent him to jail.
Although from this it may seem that Joseph would no longer become a leader, God continued working His plans. While in jail Joseph still interpreted dreams, including for a cupbearer who later recommended him to Pharaoh. This led to Joseph being appointed second in command and guiding Egypt through a difficult period of famine.
From Joseph’s life we can see how, even when things seem bleak, we can trust that God is with us. We can also be confident that he will give us the skills to carry out His plans, just like God’s gift of interpreting dreams to Joseph.
Exodus 1-4: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (read more)
Moses had an unusual start to life. To stop him being killed by the orders of an oppressive king, his parents left him in a basket in the Nile. He was soon found by Pharaoh’s daughter who cared for him. God, though, had big plans for Moses, including him asking the King of Egypt to free the Israelites from slavery. However, Moses doubted his ability to do this, even though God responded with miraculous signs and encouragement: I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do (Exodus 4:15). As promised, God did help Moses to communicate with the King, eventually leading to the Israelites’ freedom.
From Moses’ experiences we can learn that, even if we feel scared or unequipped to carry out God’s plans, He will prepare you. We also see how we should go forward with confidence, knowing God can help us do what He has planned!
1 Samuel 16:4-14: There is still the youngest…he is tending the sheep (read more)
Here God sends a prophet, Samuel, to find the next king of Israel – as King Saul had displeased God, and was no longer fit to hold his position. God directed Samuel to Jesse, in Bethlehem, as one of Jesse’s sons would be anointed king.
The first son Samuel meets is Eliab, of whom he thinks “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here” (1 Samuel 16:6) due to his strong appearance. However, God reminds Samuel that, unlike humans, He examines people’s hearts rather than their outward looks. Even Jesse himself didn’t think that David, his youngest, was important enough to meet Samuel – David had to be called in from his duties tending the sheep to meet the prophet. Yet God thought differently, passing over all the other brothers and choosing David.
From this situation we see how we should be open-minded to what God’s plans as well as considering more than outward appearances when we meet other people.
Judges 6-7: “Pardon me, my lord…but how can I save Israel?” (read more)
Here we see Gideon, from the weakest clan in his tribe and the least in my family (Judges 6:15) being told that he will defeat the Midianites. His response is similar to Moses’, asking for signs to confirm what God has said. When the time came, God made sure His power was clear to others, ordering Gideon to send many of his soldiers home, leaving just 300 men to face the opposing army.
This can’t have been easy for Gideon, especially given the Midianites’ strength. However, Gideon was confident of God’s promises and, with His help, the Midianites were defeated and ran away.
From these two chapters we see what God can do with a little, whether in number or someone’s self-belief. Remember too that God promises to be with us, no matter how few: where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I with them (Matthew 18:20)
Luke 2:8-20: There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby….An angel of the Lord appeared to them (read more)
The role of the shepherds in Jesus’ birth is familiar to many of us, but have we ever properly reflected on it? This was a group of shepherds in their normal, everyday jobs, never expecting God to personally come before them, choosing them to be the first to hear the good news. Seeing angels in the sky must have been wonderful, if not a little scary, and it’s no surprise that the first words were Do not be afraid (Luke 2:10).
It is encouraging to see that God can, and does, choose people who consider themselves most ordinary. Just because you don’t consider yourself skilled or influential doesn’t mean you can’t be part of big things for God.
Paul (previously Saul)
When we looked at Paul’s experiences of lockdown in a previous blog, we did not mention how he actually became a Christian. We can be inspired by Paul’s writings today thanks to God choosing him, even while he was brutally persecuting the church: going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison (Acts 8:3).
Yet God chose to come to Saul (his previous name) even during his journey towards Damascus to take Christians as prisoners. He came to face to face with the God he was persecuting and, after becoming blind, was suddenly reliant on those around him. This included a disciple, Ananias, who, although doubtful of God’s plan for Saul, learned that This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel (Acts 9:15)
From Paul we see how God can change people’s hearts, and so can trust that it is possible. We can also learn to seek opportunities to help others through this process as Ananias did. Even if you’re doubtful of what God has planned, trust that His plans will work out for the best!
Are there any other situations that you are inspired by in the Bible? Let us know!
This week we’re continuing with a series of creative worship. This selection of poems and photographs is from Andrea, who has also written about her experience of creative things with God.
Sometimes when reading the Bible or meditating on a small part of it, ideas start to form in my mind for a poem, and as I pray asking God to give me His words, then often the poem seems to write itself! As I search for the right word or phrase, I can be surprised by what comes to mind as the Holy Spirit leads me to something poetic and beautiful.
So some of my writing is sparked off by spending time with God, but other times I sit down to intentionally write a poem by inviting the Holy Spirit to co-author something on a particular theme and I am often amazed at what comes!
At other times, my writing is therapy as I partner with God to work through a hurt, problem or grief and the process brings healing and comfort.
God is the Creator and we are made in his image, so are all able to create something in our everyday lives be that a solution to a work problem, a design, drawing, recipe, gardening , photography, painting etc. – all can be enhanced and inspired when we intentionally partner with the Holy Spirit to bring a bit of heaven down to earth!
Meditation on Psalm 121
Look up eyes that are cast down
Look up to heaven
See life from a heavenly perspective
The Maker of heaven and earth designed you
And is with you to help and guide
Look up to the skies
Look up to the hills
Pour out your feelings
Cry for the Lord’s help
For He watches over you day and night
And will protect you
His timing is perfect
Entrust every aspect of your life to Him
For He sees it all
And always will
This too will pass
Draw close to the Lord
Share life with Him
And see circumstances through His eyes
Lift up your eyes
For all help comes from the Lord
© Andrea Mill 2019
What’s in a name?
Given by parents but inspired by God
Names are passed down through the generations
Carrying with them blessings and curses
That shape each life for good or ill
Family pet names, nicknames, banter
Even names spoken in jest but with negative connotations
And become labels that stifle potential
Yet terms of endearment breathe life
The name of womanly strength given to me
Rarely used within my family
Became weakened by shortening and replacing with pet names
Even spoken by teachers
Pierced like arrows into my very soul
Stole my confidence
Smothered my potential
Until God called me by my name
And I became born again
Adopted into God’s family
One by one the arrows were removed
Words of love and encouragement broke my shackles
Healed my wounds
Restored my God-given personality
The pet names whispered by my heavenly father are:
Intimate and life-giving
He delights in me and rejoices over me with singing
In His love I am secure
I am strong
My identity is in Christ
My name is child of God
© 2018 Andrea Mill
From a rosebud to a rose
Song of Songs 2:1-3 The Passion Translation (TPT)
I am truly his rose, the very theme of his song.
I’m overshadowed by his love, growing in the valley!
Like a tightly wound spring
About to burst into bloom
This was me
Until I met Jesus
Unable to see who I was
But Jesus gently opened me up
His love released the tightness in my heart
Removed my thorns
And taught me how to love
I began to bend in the wind of the Holy Spirit
To turn my face towards the warmth of his love
And as my tears watered the soil
I put down roots ever deeper into him
Receiving his nourishment surging through my veins
Passion rising in my heart
Revealing talents I was unaware of
But in partnership with heaven
And I began to open up
To bloom as God designed
No longer a bud
But flourishing as a rose
© Andrea Mill 2018
As I walk, my feet begin to follow a depression in the ground, like a hollow scooped out
before me and I continue down
Down until the sides are higher than me,
Down, down, till I’m walking through a valley
All around there is colour, flowers, trees with healing in their leaves, humming of insects,
joyous birdsong, yet nothing penetrates me
My eyes are downcast as I walk down, down ever lower into this valley of darkness and
As I focus on my life, my circumstances, the problems that surround me
My mood descends
I see no way out
But suddenly I remember that when I lift my eyes to heaven, there I can find hope, infinite
help, lightness of being, healing
As I look to heaven, I begin to feel the infilling of the Holy spirit, connecting me, connecting
with my spirit
I feel flooded by love, such power, powerful love of God that I do not understand,
Deeper, wider, higher than this valley that I’m going through
I feel warmth
I feel like crying, touched by the love of God
Hope begins to rise in my breast
I begin to see light in the distance
I begin to notice the colours around me
I begin to hear the voice of the one who loves me, saying “Come follow me
Look into the skies, see the chariots of fire, see the angels ministering to you, see your
All of heaven is on your side
Look to heaven not at your circumstances
Look to me
Look to my love
And I will lift you
I will provide for you
I will heal you
I will strengthen you and guide you out of this valley
For perfect love overcomes fear
In heaven there is infinite creativity, a solution for all problems
Not what you see, not what you might think, for my ways are not your ways
So come to heaven
Let me lift you
Seek my face
Seek my face
Because when you do seek me, when you knock at my door
I am there waiting to answer you
You need not walk through this Valley alone for I am with you
I will always be with you.”
© Andrea Mill 2018
Walking barefoot alone along a golden, Hebridean beach
Emptiness stretching out before me
Just the cries of swooping seabirds
The noise of wind in my hair and waves crashing upon the shore
My thoughts drift as my feet dip into the edge of the icy sea
Here, at last, is the solitude I crave away from the demands of people and things
Warm sun breaking through the grey and white clouds, sparkling upon the sea
Now and then I am jolted back to reality by the reach, force and depth of an incoming wave
And I am reminded that the glory of God is all around, everywhere
Shining down from heaven and reflected in the waves
Cool, refreshing water for my soul
Invigorating wind reviving my spirit
The seabirds’ call drawing me towards the voice of God
Although it is solitude that I seek
God is here
As my head is cleared of the clutter of daily life
I begin to hear His voice and feel His presence
He is always with me
He supplies my every need
And I realise that my longing for solitude is actually a longing for God
© Andrea Mill 2017
This week we take our inspiration from the Day by Day Bible notes which, earlier this year, focussed on some of the encounters with God in the Bible.
God is always at work. Sometimes, however, He breaks into our lives in a more obvious way than usual... although we may not have seen a burning bush or encountered an angel, we can still learn about how God meets with us today by looking at examples from scripture.
Here are 7 encounters with God, one for each day in the coming week…
Sought out by God
Genesis 3:1-13: “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid” (read more)
Here we see humans sinning against God for the first time, after being tempted by the devil. The devil wanted to alienate Adam and Eve from God, and so made them doubt by twisting His words, leading them to disobey God’s rules. This event changed humanity’s relationship with God forever.
After eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve felt guilt and shame when they realised they were naked and so hid from God. He, however, still searched for them, seeking to have a relationship with them. In verse 21 He even fashioned clothes for them to wear.
From this we see that God asks “Where are you?” even when we’re distant from Him. He wants to have a relationship with us and so we can be confident approaching and talking to Him.
God speaks in a dream
Genesis 28:10-22: There above it stood the Lord and He said, “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham” (read more)
This passage takes place as Jacob was fleeing from his family after cheating his twin brother, Esau, out of his inheritance. (Read more in Genesis 27). Despite perhaps feeling lonely, and probably guilty, Jacob met God in a dream and was shown tremendous promises for his future; including having as many descendants as the dust of the earth. God also promised that He would always be with Jacob.
From this, we can learn to tune in to what God is telling us, regardless of how far we may seem from Him, or what we have done to distance ourselves from Him and others. This may not necessarily be in dreams, but perhaps through prompts to read a Bible verse, advice from a friend, or even missing a bus home which leads to an exciting conversation! Also know from this that God will still be with you when you make mistakes; He will always have a plan for you.
A personal encounter with God
Exodus 3:1-15: God called to him from within the bush, “Moses, Moses!” (read more)
Here we see Moses being called personally by name while he was shepherding, at a moment when God knew he would be alone. This was an encounter made specifically for him – though he still had to see and follow the invitation God set out. Moses was willing to leave his daily tasks and listen to God, and what resulted was an amazing, intimate, conversation in which he heard the many plans for his life.
We perhaps need to open our eyes more to encounters with God, for example through conversations with others. There may also be moments when God will speak with you when you are alone, requiring you to see His invitation and step aside from what you had planned to do. He knows you, and knows which situations to speak with you in. How might he call you by name?
Being open to these personal encounters can lead to discovering the exciting opportunities that God has planned for us individually, as it did for Moses.
An encounter with God’s power
1 Kings 19:11-18: “Go and stand on the mountain… for the LORD is about to pass by” (read more)
Here we see only a small portion of God’s power, yet Elijah had to hide himself from it.
Elijah witnessed God’s ability to control the weather and even the very earth, but after these powerful events he hears God in a quiet, calm whisper. As mentioned in our article on how to pray, how much more will God be capable of if this is only a small part of his power?
It seems Elijah wasn’t fully aware of what He’d just witnessed, just as we may not always be aware of when God is appearing to us. We might also be looking for the wrong sign – we might be waiting for the fire or rushing wind. Sometimes His presence is not always obvious and we may have to listen closely to hear what He is saying, like listening to a quiet whisper.
A life changing encounter
Luke 1:26-38: the angel said to [Mary] “Do not be afraid…you have found favour with God” (read more)
When Gabriel first greeted Mary she was greatly troubled, as I imagine we all would be! Despite this, she was very rational in the conversation she had with the angel; she asked questions to help her understand what was happening.
Mary knew she could trust what Gabriel said, as he promised for no word from God will ever fail. This promise ultimately led to God’s Son breaking into our world in the biggest way imaginable, just as it had been promised throughout the Old Testament.
Let’s echo Mary’s words, may Your word to me be fulfilled and be willing to let God shape our lives, knowing that His word will never fail. How about the job He’s pushing you towards, the charity work He’s given you a passion for, or the person He’s prompting you to share your faith with?
Clarity from confusion
Luke 24:13-27: He explained to them all that was said in the Scriptures concerning Himself (read more)
In the Bible we read plenty of encounters during Jesus’ time on Earth, from His birth through to this passage, after His resurrection. Here we see the disciples oblivious to who they were talking with and even reluctant to recognise Jesus as the Messiah, despite the prophecies about Him. Jesus had to walk them through all that had been said and come true about Him to help clarify their confusion.
Sometimes we doubt and don’t see the bigger picture of how God is at work, and that’s ok. There are some fantastic ways to remind yourself of, or learn about, the basics of our faith, including attending an Alpha course https://alpha.org.uk/which Bristo are hoping to run very soon.
You may have an encounter with God that isn’t about showing you the next step of your own life, but rather revealing something about Him.
Reading the Bible in a regular and committed way can help with this; Jesus in this example was speaking to people who knew the scriptures intimately. He used their existing knowledge to enlighten them and show them the deeper truths behind their knowledge.
Encountering God through others
Acts 8:26-40: Then Philip…told him the good news about Jesus (read more)
In this passage we see how God both sends assistance in times of need and sends us to others facing difficult times. Philip and the Ethiopian were brought together because God knew that one was able to increase the understanding of the other – and through this human encounter, both men experienced God. For the Ethiopian this experience was very fleeting, and he was probably left a little bewildered when Philip vanished! However, we see how he was changed forever through being saved by Jesus: he went on his way rejoicing.
God will also find ways of helping us understand His word with the help of others, whether through shared Bible resources, study groups, and other encounters. Like Phillip we can help others understand His word too, through sharing blogs like this or chatting to those around us. God might want to use us to create an encounter between Him and someone else. Keep an eye out for opportunities from God to do this!
What other encounters with God in the Bible inspire you? What encounters have you had yourself with Him? Let us know!
Last week, we looked at how to pray. This week, we’re looking at different types of prayer mentioned in the Bible.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, as there are countless ways of praying – but a lot of prayers can be broadly defined by the categories below.
When looking at your prayer life, it can be useful to consider which types of prayers you go to most frequently, and if there are any prayers you could be working to include in your day to day communication with God.
Prayers of adoration are prayers of praise, acknowledging God’s goodness, power and love for us. This is the same mindset we have when we worship, and a prayer of adoration is considered to be an act of worship itself.
This is a chance to consider the wonderous nature of God. It might not mean thanking Him for anything specific, just recognising who He is.
Who among the gods is like you, LORD? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? Exodus 15:11
I love you, LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Psalm 18:1-2
“Great and marvellous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages. Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.” Revelation 15:3-4
Part of coming before God with a desire for communication is admitting where we have fallen short of him. Confession is a key part of our relationship with Jesus, as it’s the forgiveness of these sins that is our salvation.
A confessing prayer involves searching our hearts for anything we need forgiveness for. Sometimes our actions have been obviously sinful, but other times it might be pattern of thought or a bad habit that we haven’t noticed. Part of the prayer might be asking God to reveal these issues to us.
Prayers of confession should also be prayers of repentance: literally, a turning point. In confessing the sin you state an intention to stop.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9
Thanking God for specific blessings in our lives is a vital part of prayer. It can also be very helpful to include this before asking God for anything, even if the request is uppermost in your mind. A prayer of thanksgiving means looking at your life and circumstances with open eyes. Even in difficulties, struggles or tragedy, we can give thanks.
We can also thank God for the privilege of being able to come to him with our requests, and for listening to us. We might thank him in advance for whatever the answer to our prayer is, knowing that He always has our best interests at heart.
With thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Phillipians 4.6
Petition and supplication are names given to a prayer of request – asking God for something we want. This is a very common type of prayer, and is likely to be tried even by those who have never prayed before.
While it’s important to balance out this type of prayer with the prayers mentioned above, a prayer of petition isn’t a selfish action. God encourages us to come to Him with our needs, wants and desires, as He knows how to fulfil them.
This is also an expression of our faith, as asking for something in prayer means you believe God will answer the prayer. Of course, this type of prayer should also be accompanied by an active attitude of listening, and a willingness to take action as God instructs you.
If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! Matthew 7:11
This is the name usually given to praying on behalf of someone else – a type of prayer of supplication. Interceding means to intervene, or stand in the gap for someone.
This might be for someone in particular, who is going through something you want to pray into. It might be more general – for those in your community, for your leaders, for those in another part of the world.
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people. 1 Timothy 2:1
Sometimes, we’re called to intercede for those who have been fighting by themselves for a long time, and need someone to support them through prayer. We might also be called to intercede for our church or for other believers. Jesus gave us an example of this when he prayed for His followers: Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. John 17:11
This is a prayer of dedication something to God. It might mean dedicating something to the will of God, or to his honour. There are several instances of people in the Bible dedicating something to God – for example, Hannah in 1 Samuel, dedicating her son to God’s service ("For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord," 1 Samuel 1:28)
Another example is found in Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gesthemane, as he asked if he could be spared the suffering that was to come – yet also dedicating his life to God. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:42
Prayer of lamentation
This is a prayer that comes from a place of pain, in which we cry out to God. This can simply by expressing what you’re going through to Him, and doesn’t always mean we’re asking for anything in particular. Sometimes, in moments of deep hurt or crisis, we don’t know what to ask for, but can only bring our pain to God.
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? (Psalm 13:2)
Like a prayer of petition, this is an act of faith. We trust God with our hearts, and our pain, and believe that He will help us in our need. It’s also an act of worship – acknowledging God’s nature and His ever-present, deep and unshakeable love for us.
Praying in tongues
This is a different type of prayer, as it’s not so much about the content of the prayer as the action itself. Praying in tongues is a gift of the Spirit – it means praying in words you don’t understand. Sometimes, the words will be understood by those around you, either because you’re praying in a language they recognise, or because the Spirit has given them an interpretation.
This type of prayer comes from the Spirit – it’s first noted in the Bible in Acts, when the Spirit descends on the believers at Pentecost. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Acts 2:4
It’s sometimes mentioned in the New Testament, as a result of a new believer being baptised in the Spirit.
Praying in tongues is a way to communicate to God without needing to put anything into words. While we can be given interpretations, this is mainly about speaking with God himself. For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. 1 Corinthians 14:2
There are many other types of prayer mentioned in the Bible. As prayer is act of communication, there as many types of prayer as there are ways of communicating with someone. Knowing different types of prayer can help you structure your prayer time, or pay attention to what you’re saying to God and why.
The most important thing to know is that He is always listening.
Lockdown has been a time of trying new things, and in the past weeks many people have been joining online church services. For some, it will be the first service they have been to in a while.
Prayer is a key part of any meeting of believers – but it can sometimes feel strange when other people seem to pray effortlessly but you have no idea where to start.
God cares about you and longs to hear from you, and the reopening of churches for private prayer may be a good opportunity to try praying yourself, if you haven’t before. Here are some useful pointers to help you talk to Him.
The Lord’s Prayer
A good starting point for structuring your prayers is the Lord’s Prayer:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name – addressing God and praising Him for all He has done
Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven – acknowledging He is in control and not us
Give us today our daily bread – ask God for what we need
And forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors – confessing and repenting of our sins, as well as forgiving those who have hurt you
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one – asking for help in overcoming sin and for protection from Satan’s attacks
While Jesus Himself taught this prayer, He does not say that this is the only way to pray…
When should I pray?
Nowadays we can send a text anywhere, anytime. Equally, we can pray to God wherever and whenever. Just like texting, prayer is communication with God – it can be brief or lengthy, and the best bit is that the person you’re talking to loves you unconditionally! Unlike a text though, we don’t even have to use any words: the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself….intercedes for God’s people (Romans 8:26-27)
It can be useful to have a routine of prayer, similar to how you might call relatives at the same time each week. Don’t be afraid, however, to pray spontaneously when something prompts you – such as hearing somebody is ill, or when you see something wonderful in God’s creation. God promises to always listen to you: we know that He hears us – whatever we ask (1 John 5:15)
Prayer should not be regarded as a duty…but rather as a privilege to be enjoyed (E.M. Bounds)
What should I pray for?
Firstly, remember how powerful God is. We shouldn’t put limits on His ability to do anything – He parted the Red Sea (Exodus 14), made a blind man see (John 9:1-12) and, ultimately, raised His son Jesus from the dead. God will be listening and working in even the smallest of prayers: if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “Move from here to there” and it will move (Matthew 17:20)
It is also good to listen to God before you pray. You can do this by reading the Bible, and sermons can help direct you too. After all, reading the Bible helps us know God more and communication is much easier when we know someone well! Let Him shape and inspire your conversation with Him.
Don’t be afraid to be persistent either, especially you are praying for something God has put on your heart. None of your prayers will go unanswered, even if the answer is “wait” or is a different solution to what we expect. God’s plan is perfect and we will understand more once we’re in heaven: You do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand (John 13:7)
Who should I pray for?
With so many situations to pray for, it can be hard to know where to start. Here are a couple of ideas:
You can imagine circles working outwards, beginning with yourself then moving onto your partner or family, then your friends and church. Finally you can consider your nation and then the world. Some of these are very large topic – so try to listen to, or to feel, what God is saying you should pray for in that moment.
Another idea is to use the fingers on your hand starting with your thumb, which is strongest, to represent those who support and sustain you. The pointing index finger reminds us of those who guide and help us while the tallest, middle finger, represents our governments and leaders. The weak ring finger reminds us to pray for the helpless and weak and the final little finger represents yourself.
Remember it is okay to pray simply. As Joyce Meyer says, Prayer is simply talking to God like a friend and should be the easiest thing we do each day.
Fancy giving it a try?
The Try Praying initiative is an excellent 7 day guide to praying and shows it is much easier than you think! A lot of churches, including Bristo, have these booklets outside so pick one up as you’re passing.
Alternatively, Bristo Baptist Church will be reopening for private prayer soon. (You can check the website for announcements.) Members of the congregation will be on hand to answer any questions you may have, and to provide even more ideas on how to pray.
Drawn in by creation: a photo series
A couple of weeks ago, we looked at ways to stay creative during lockdown. This is a lovely example of creative worship from Jeanette Holligan, who has been inspired by God’s creation while on walks around the green spaces of Edinburgh.
Her photography, or photos shared with her from others, often sparks words as well, and her responses have been included with the series of pictures below.
(Photo: Jeanette Holligan)
Oh taste and see that the Lord is good
New life springing up
Heaven and earth meet
A sound is released an invitation a smile
Created to thrive
To burst forth
(Photo: Jeanette Holligan)
What can you see and feel?
I see movement
God’s glory on display
I see beauty in the clouds
Our creator calling us to join him
as he displays his splendour and majesty for all to see
(Photo: Jeanette Holligan)
Beauty in everyday life. Take time to stop when something catches your eye and ask God to speak to you.
The words from a song came to mind – a song based on Amos 9:13, by Kevin Prosch, “So Come”
Behold the days are coming
For the Lord has promised
That the plowman will overtake the reaper
And our hearts will be the threshing floor
And the move of God we've cried out for Will come,
It will surely come
For You will shake the heavens
And fill your house with glory
And turn the shame of outcasts into praise
All creation groans and waits
For the Spirit and the bride to say
The words that your heart had longed to hear
Even so come
(CREDIT: Kevin Prosch, Even So Come 1991)
(Photo: Jeanette Holligan)
Our Father never slumbers or sleeps
He is fierce as a lion and gentle as a lamb
The mother looks around proud of her new babies
She has dreams for them
But for now their company and nearness she cherishes.
(Photo: Kate Downes)
Drawn in drawn upwards
There's a story being told
I'm invited to look linger and contemplate.
Movement in the sky
God is at work displaying his glory for all to see.
The trees giving an invitation.
Romance is in the air.
Our bridegroom king is wooing us setting us apart.
The green speaks of pastures new fresh encounters. Life more abundant.
If you’ve felt inspired to write, or create your own artworks, we’d love for you to share them. Let us know what creative ways you’ve found to worship during this time!
At Bristo Baptist Church we have recently been reading the book of Philippians. Although we began in February, it took on a whole new meaning for us once lockdown began.
Philippians was written by Paul to a church in Philippi (in modern day Greece) which he had established during his second missionary journey. This book is one of the Prison Epistles, which were written while Paul was under house arrest in Rome. “Epistle” means letter or message and is often instructional, written by a teacher or leader. As we read, I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:8), Paul was very close to the Philippian church and must have found it challenging to not be allowed to visit those he loved.
We have also had to change our way of life – not meeting loved ones, not sure when we’ll be together again – and so we can find encouragement from Paul’s letter.
Paul was under house arrest for two years while on his third missionary journey, which involved travelling to Jerusalem with aid during a famine. However, the authorities at the time wanted to halt Christianity’s spread, and so arrested Paul.
Despite this terrible event, God had told Paul you must also testify in Rome (Acts 23:11). From this, Paul was confident God’s plan was for him to minister, whether to the guards around him, or by praying and writing to others. He therefore prayed that God’s plan would be carried out, rather than for his release – I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel (Philippians 1:12).
God knew this current pandemic would come and, even though it has disrupted many plans, be assured that you were meant to live through this period. He has placed you in whatever situation you are in to work for His kingdom. Paul was able to pray and carry out God’s plan at a time when letters took weeks to arrive… how much more easily can we follow His plans nowadays!
“Perseverance” may imply that we have to ignore bad things that are happening. However, Paul doesn’t tell us not to doubt, but instead that we should hold onto God’s promises.
Times of doubt can come during times of conflict. For the Philippian church, conflict came from outside, through authorities and false preachers, as well as inside, through disagreements. For us, conflict may currently exist in news articles, social media and even within our homes.
Paul’s advice to the Philippian church was to not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition…present your requests to God (Philippians 4:6). We can do the same, knowing God will listen and relieve anxieties in a practical way – or change our perspective and bring us peace.
Doubt can also appear during times of suffering. Despite his suffering, Paul was excited to share the gospel with new people. At this time, our suffering may be emotional, such as grief, stress or loneliness, or financial difficulties. While we’re not promised that we won’t suffer, God does promise that He will be with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9). Think though of all His love that you’ve already shared during this period, and will continue sharing!
Paul tells his readers to stand firm in the Lord (Philippians 4:1), creating images of the tortoise formation in which Roman soldiers would create a defensive shell with their shields. Even when the battle seemed desperate, the soldiers would still have to listen to their commander’s voice. Paul was certainly feeling desperate – For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain…Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! (Philippians 1:21-22). However, he held onto God’s truths and promises, all of which helped him to stand firm. For us standing firm also means listening to Jesus, especially His promises which never change…
His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations (Psalm 100:5)
The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble (Nahum 1:7)
Joy & optimism
Paul’s letter inspires us to find joy in any circumstances, something which may surprise us – I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want (Philippians 4:12).
We, who are so much freer than Paul, can surely find plenty of things to be thankful for, even in our current situation. Pretty flowers, sunshine and beautiful sunsets are all given by God to enjoy – the same God about whom Paul writes I can do all this through Him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13).
Paul clearly experienced many feelings during his house arrest, but we can see his genuine joy in God’s blessings. We see this even in his optimism about death - I eagerly expect and hope that I… will have sufficient courage so that now, as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death (Philippians 1:20).
So today, know that you can trust God, even if His plans are different to yours. He knew this period was coming and has not abandoned you because of it – I know the plans I have for you… plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).
Are there any parallels to our current situation you’ve been reading in the Bible recently?
*all Bible verses are taken from the NIV
Staying occupied during the long weeks of lockdown have been a struggle for many of us – even if we have work to do from home or household chores, it can be hard to keep fulfilled during our downtime. Movies and tv will only go so far!
Everyone has an inner desire to create things. God is the original Creator – and we, in His image, hold that inside of us too. We can see and appreciate all that God has made (The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Psalm 91:1)
There are many instances in the Bible when God called skilled craftsmen to create for Him. While we’re not all going to get called up to create bronze and gold fittings for a temple, we’ve all tried to create something at some point in our lives, following the desire to create that God has implanted in us.
For some people, this desire to create is obvious, if they have a hobby like painting. But a lot of people often feel as though they’re not creative, because they’re not “artistic” or “musical”. You might be surprised at the number of ways you can be creative, using the gifts God has given you to His glory (and for fun!)
Here are a few ways you can be creative at home, during the remainder of lockdown and afterwards…
If you play an instrument or sing, you might already spend time practising at home. But it can be even more fun to practise with other people! While we’re kept indoors for the lockdown period, this sounds impossible – but there are ways to get together and play. If you have friends who enjoy music, you could meet them outdoors on a nice day to practise safely.
There are also digital options. The Bristo worship group has been recording parts of songs using Bandlab, an online platform for musicians, putting the tracks together to make recordings of worship songs. If you have musical friends, this can be a fun option.
Something else to consider, for those already skilled at music – have you ever tried writing your own songs? This might be the next step to expand your gift.
Learning lines from a play or movie is its own type of creativity – many people enjoy the social experience of community theatre, as well as the fun of acting itself.
This might seem impossible to do from home. But with a few friends, you can organise a read-through of one of your favourite plays or screenplays.
This can also be something that kids can enjoy – maybe even with costumes! (Or puppets…)
Getting up close to flowers and plants can be a big mood booster for many people, and a vase of flowers can make a huge difference to your indoor space.
The art of flower arranging goes back hundreds of years, and there are plenty of things to learn if you’ve never tried it before! If you want instructions, there are plenty of Youtube tutorials available.
This is also a practical skill to learn, for any event in the future that requires flowers – you can also arrange your own bouquets as unique and personal gifts for friends or family.
This hobby can be a little expensive in terms of materials, and might be easier for those who have their own gardens. However, if you want to splash out every week or so, it can be a relaxing and peaceful hobby to enjoy. (Not to mention low-stakes… flowers are always going to look good no matter what we do with them!)
There are many types of sewing, knitting and embroidery to try. If you’re after something potentially calming, a lot of people find cross-stitch to be a contemplative and relaxing activity. Once you know the basics, you can focus on creating your own patterns and pictures, experimenting with new ideas.
Knitting can also be calming, once you’ve got the basics down. The physical feeling of making stitch after stitch and watching your creation grow is really enjoyable. And you’ll never be short of scarves!
There are endless projects you can make with a few sewing skills. And this is a pretty easy hobby to get started with at home, during the lockdown. There are many books and video tutorials with easy to follow instructions to get you started.
If you ever wanted an incentive to create something, cooking and baking provide the perfect balance between effort and reward.
Just by following a recipe, you’re creating something (which you then get to eat…) but with practice, you can start creating your own recipes. If you’ve never invented a recipe before, it can be fun to find two similar recipes and use them to create your own version of the dish.
Other challenges might be to buy an ingredient you’ve never used before, and try to make a dish using it. If you live with someone else who enjoys cooking, you could try your own mini version of Masterchef, with a little friendly competition. Maybe each person could make their own sauce for the same piece of chicken or fish, and the winner can be decided with a taste test!
Baking is another way to get creative, as there are usually more decorative options with baked goods. Even a basic batch of biscuits can become a fun project with a few different colours of icing!
Not all creative endeavours have to have a big audience – sometimes, they can have an audience of one! A nice letter written to someone special can be a creative exercise, and it can also be a great way to set an easy goal for yourself: you know you’ll only have to write a page or two, not a whole novel!
A letter can also take other forms. You can include a picture or short poem for the person you’re writing to (if you don’t like writing your own poetry, pick a few lines from a poem you like, and maybe explain why you wanted to share them.)
You don’t even have to write the letter. You can record yourself speaking to the other person and send it, maybe as a WhatsApp voice note. You could even film yourself speaking to the camera, and send a video letter!
A prayer journal is a great creative activity, and one you can add to daily. Writing down your thoughts, feelings and prayers can be a healthy exercise, as well as a creative one. Taking your inner thoughts and putting them onto the page can help you take a real look at how you’re feeling.
While all of the ideas listed in this blog can be done as your own form of worship – appreciating the abilities God has given you, and your capacity to enjoy them – bringing creativity directly into your time with God can be particularly powerful.
You don’t have to write in a journal, if you don’t find yourself connecting to writing. You could draw, dance, sing – or listen to the Spirit’s prompting for ways that you can include your unique talents in your worship time.
Ask for guidance
If you’d love to start creating something but aren’t sure where to start – just ask!
Of course, you can ask those around you for help and tips, as they might have noticed something you enjoy doing that you hadn’t thought to pursue before.
But this is also something you can bring before God. He was the one who made you and gave you your talents and desires. Even something as seemingly small as a new hobby can make a difference in your life – and He knows what you’re going to love doing!
As we come to the end of our tenth week of lockdown, we've all found it challenging at times to follow Jesus’ command to “love your neighbour” (Mark 12:30-31) especially given that, currently, loving your neighbour realistically means isolating yourself from them.
However, this does offer opportunities to connect with others in new and exciting ways, and the chance to hopefully build relationships that will continue past the end of the pandemic.
Here we offer some suggestions from Bristo, Scotland and beyond, on how to show love to others during this time.
Ideas from Bristo Baptist Church members
“We’ve been getting to know our immediate neighbours better by baking cakes for each other on alternate weeks and passing them over during the clap on Thursday nights” Christopher
“My next-door neighbours are in their early forties and both working full time from home during the pandemic. They have twp children, one who is able to get on with school work on his laptop. But the other younger child is about to start school after the summer holidays and has had to be left to her own devices a lot of the time while her parents worked – and has been playing up as a result.
Upon hearing their struggles over the garden hedge, I had an idea to put together a surprise “lockdown care package” to leave on their doorstep to cheer them up. I found an unused gift bag and other things I had in the house for my grandson, like chocolates and Jaffa cakes (plus a bottle of wine for the parents) and sneaked it round to their front door.
The next day I received a text asking if the lockdown fairy was me, to which I replied “I couldn’t possibly comment!" So they guessed, and were very appreciative of the kind act. I had also included a printout of “the Father’s Love Letter” but so far have had no comment regarding that - a conversation for another day!” Andrea
“The Bristo Baptist Church blog has been great to find a way to get involved with church from a distance. Even though the blog is new, I'm hoping it can be something church members can get involved in and enjoy together in our online space.
We're also aiming to create blogs that can be shared with those outside the church, if they're interested in learning more about what we do and believe.” Kate
Ideas from Baptists across Scotland
Every Sunday the Baptist Union of Scotland holds a National Prayer Evening on their Facebook page. On Sunday 17th May, their theme was “Loving your Neighbour.” People around Scotland gave many ideas on how to do this, from donating to food banks and assisting with their deliveries, to creating social media groups for neighbours to keep in touch and help each other out when needed.
As so many churches have now moved online, it was also suggested that links to Zoom services could be shared with others, or perhaps the Blessing UK video which involves over 65 churches and movements singing God’s blessings over our country.
As restrictions are now being lifted slightly, why not visit a friend who has a garden and have a good catch up, especially if they’ve been on their own during the lockdown? Even a telephone call will be appreciated!
If the good weather continues you could also offer to do gardening for somebody, an ideal activity for maintaining social distancing while having a conversation.
For somebody who still has to self-isolate or shield, a bunch of flowers will brighten up their home, while posting cards offering to help others in your street – with a short Bible verse on them, or an offer for prayer – will also go a long way in showing them God’s love at this difficult time.
If you find out it is somebody’s birthday or anniversary in your street, you could even arrange a socially distant street party to celebrate together!
Please let us what else you’ve been doing to show love to others during the lockdown!
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.
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.”
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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.