Fruitful In Suffering

Many fabrics today are made of several materials: polycotton is made combining strands of cotton and polyester, for example, a combinatin which makes an extremely versatile fabric, since cotton is noted for its softness and moisture absorption, whilst polyester is renowned for not creasing (less ironing, hooray!)

We often wish life were smooth and without suffering, 100% blessing, finding it difficult to cope with the vicissitudes of life. CIrcumstances, people, illness and loss all have a tendency to make us question God’s goodness and doubt His love.

The truth is that we live in a world tainted by sin, and pure, unadulterated joy and blessing will never be our lasting experience in this life. Lilfe is a mixture of battle and blessing, of suffering and victory, of sorrow and joy. Joseph recognised this. He saw many difficulties from a young age, experiencing ridicule, rejection, oppression and injustice, spending years as a slave and being wrongly imprisoned before rising to prosperity and power as Pharaoh’s right-hand man. The names he gave his children reflect the interweaving of sorrow and blessing: Manasseh (‘God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household’) and Ephraim (‘God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.’) (Gen 41:51-52)

Paul tells us that ‘God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.’ (2 Cor 9:8) Or, in the Message version, ‘God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done.’ This was Joseph’s experience. Even in a land of suffering, he saw fruitfulness and blessing. The threads of suffering and joy were woven together to make a resilient character which was ready to step up to what God had planned for his life.

Don’t despise fabrics made from different mateirals. They have resilience and versatility – and so can we as we allow suffering to refine us and purify us.

A Promise of Peace

Dave spoke tonight from John 14:25-27, where Jesus promised to leave His peace to His disciples, ‘peace not as the world gives’. So often, the media focus seems to be on all that is negative (‘all doom and gloom’, as they say), but Jesus promised a peace that is not dependent on circumstances, a peace that is eternal and acts as an anchor.

In 2 Kings 4:17-28 we read of a woman who faced great personal tragedy when her son (whose birth was a miracle in itself!) died. She did not speak of his death to others or make funeral arrangements, but instead went to find Elisha the prophet herself. Repeatedly she told others ‘all is well’; despite the tragedy and her grief and distress, she demonstrated a trust in God which tells us something of this peace which is not dependent on circumstances.

The Hebrew word ‘shalom’, often translated ‘peace’, is far more than an absence of conflict; it indicates wholeness, wellbeing and contentment. Jesus offers us the opportunity for wholeness, but just as the Shunammite woman discovered, He does not just give us something to mask the symptoms of our pain. He is able to heal and restore.

God’s presence with us makes the difference as we journey through life. His peace is really an assurance that God is in control and therefore we need not fear, even when we do not understand what is happening or when we face suffering and personal tragedy. He gives us new opportunities and calls us to praise Him for all the good things He does, focussing our attention on His many blessings rather than on all we may feel is not right.

God has made many promises to us and calls us to hold on to these in faith, shouting ‘Shalom!’ – all is well! This peace passes understanding and cannot necessarily be explained, but is the gift of Jesus to all who believe.

God In Everything

Stephen spoke this morning from Acts 17:24-28. So often we take God for granted and our Christian life becomes mere habit. In this passage, Paul explores God’s greatness and omnipotence, reminding us that He is the creator of the whole world (Acts 17:24) and is not dependent on us or on our achievements (Acts 17:24-25). He has a purpose for our lives and is in full control (Acts 17:26-27), part of that purpose being that we come to know Him (Acts 17:26-28).

Jesus died so we can have a personal relationship with Him. Before His death and resurrection, the temple was looked on as God’s dwelling-place, with God ‘situated’ in the Holy of Holies, hidden behind a heavy curtain. When Christ died, that curtain was torn in two from top to bottom, symbolising that we now have free access to the presence of God. God does not need our service, butHe longs for our fellowship and desires to meet with us.

So often, we restrict God to certain times and places (‘coming to church’ being one way we organise Him to fit in with our lives.) However, He wants to be with us in all places and at all times. He wants to change our lives irrevocably, so that we flourish from being in contact with the source of all life. We are meant to draw from this source as the river draws from a source. We are meant to live in this source of life, to flourish in God.

God has plans and purposes for us: ‘he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.’ (Acts 17;26) We are not here by accident, but can live in the plans and purposes of God, being shaped and influenced by Him in everything.

The Importance of Christian Marriage

Esau’s wives are mentioned several times in the Bible. He married Judith and Basemath, both Hittites (Gen 26:34) and Mahalath, a descendant of Ishmael (Gen 28:8-9); he also married Adah daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Oholibamah daughter of Anah and granddaughter of Zibeon the Hivite, all women from Canaan (Gen 36:1-2).

This intermarrying was frowned on by God and would be a continual source of problems for both Esau and his parents and remained a problem for the people of God throughout history(see also Ezra 9:1-15). Solomon’s reign started well, but his heart’s devotion to God was led astray by his foreign wives (1 Kings 11:1-6); marrying outside the faith was seen as unfaithfulness to God (Ezra 9:2).

Even today, Paul reminds Christians of the dangers of being yoked to unbelievers (2 Cor 6:14) and urges Christians to marry those who belong to the Lord (1 Cor 7:39). The question of marriage is a huge commitment, a lifelong tie, and for believers this must always be seen as a decision fundamental to faith, not mere fancy.

God is in control and has His people’s best interests at heart. The prohibition on marrying outside the faith is not made out of a desire to spoil our fun or limit us, but to guard our hearts, protect us from the devastating hurt of broken relationships and help us on our journey of faith. It’s better not to marry at all than to marry someone who will not help us serve and worship the Lord who has saved us.

Choose wisely in this vitally important area and ask for God’s help when it comes to the question of marriage!

Creativity in the community

We live in a very creative community! At the family fun day on Wednesday 20th February (10 a.m. – 1 p.m.) at GPCC, we will be doing all kinds of creative things on the theme of transformation and new life. We’ll be looking at the story of Claudia the Caterpillar and making a large collage caterpillar and butterfly (which will be exhibited at the Dearne Community Arts’ Festival later in the year) as well as looking at transformational food (how do you make butter from cream or bread from dough?) There’ll be the opportunity to make butterfly paintings or clay models, so it will be a really fun time of creativity and learning! – free entry and free refreshments.

In preparation for the Dearne Community Arts’ Festival, we’ll also be hosting a mosaic workshop on Saturday 1st June between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Come along to our coffee morning and also take part in a mobile mosaic which will be exhibited at the arts’ festival later this year! Cllr Ralph Sixsmith will be leading this workshop… and the mosaic will then be travelling around the locality as different community groups get involved with it!

The Dearne Community Arts’ Festival itself will be on Saturday 28th September from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. at Dearne ALC in Goldthorpe. This is an opportunity to ‘champion creativity and celebrate community’ and we’re always looking for people to exhibit (and sell) their work, take part in performances (drama, dance, music etc.) and get involved in workshops and demonstrations so that we can learn new skills and enjoy new crafts. See Julie if you’d like to be involved or find out more, but for now, put the date in your diary and come along to enjoy the creativity of so many amazing local people!

January birthday

We had another birthday to celebrate on Sunday evening: