This Saturday (25th May) we have our cleaning and maintenance day. Join us from 10 a.m. to help look after the building and grounds. We’ll be having another cleaning & maintenance day on Saturday 29th June from 10 a.m. as well.
On Saturday 1st June we will be hosting a Mosaic Workshop from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. as part of the Dearne Community Arts’ Festival preparations. Come and be involved in a community tile mosaic which will be displayed at the festival on 28th September at Astrea Academy Dearne. All welcome to attend; no previous experience necessary.
Because of holidays, our meeting at Cherry Tree Court will be on the 3rd Sunday in June (16th June) at 10.30 a.m. We will also be sharing Communion in the evening on the 3rd Sunday rather than the second Sunday.
The next ‘Churches Together’ prayer meeting will be on Wednesday 19th June at 10.30 a.m. at our church.
Advance notice of Summer Fun Days, which will be held from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. on:
- Wednesday 31st July (Renaissance Centre, Bolton-on-Dearne)
- Wednesday 14th August (GPCC)
- Wednesday 28th August (Thurnscoe Reservoir)
Advance notice also of our next Team Building Day, which will be on Saturday 10th August from 4-6 p.m. Join us for another fun session of exploring our giftings – ending with a takeaway together!
‘The wilderness’ may describe an actual place (desert, barren land, difficult and wild terrain) but may also refer to those times in life when we may feel abandoned by God, even though we are seeking Him intently. Eugene Peterson referred to these times as the ‘badlands‘.From a geographical point of view, these are places where sedimentary rocks and clay-rich soils have been extensively eroded by wind and water. They have steep slopes and it’s hard to grow food in that environment; they are full of canyons, ravines, gullies and other geological features which make it difficult to travel or settle there. The psalmist called this a ‘dry and parched place where there is no water.’ (Ps 63:1)
So often, when we are in these dark, dry, barren places, we ask God why. Why do we have to go through these things? Why do we have to suffer? Why do we have to walk through so many trials and tribulations? I don’t have answers to those questions; God’s will seems to me very often to be a mystery. But sometimes we have to be in these places so we can see and experience first-hand the miraculous providence and provision of God. Isaiah said that God’s people would see all that God had done and would then ‘see and know, consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it.’ (Is 41:20) Maybe we have to be in the arid places in order to see, know, consider and understand God’s mighty power afresh.
Mother Teresa is greatly revered as a woman who did great works for God, founding the Missionaries of Charity in India in 1950 which continues to minister to the poor and needy across the whole world today. It was only after her death that many of her letters were released to the public in a book called ‘Come Be My Light’ and these described the darkness and spiritual drought which she personally experienced even while serving God so faithfully. ‘The darkness is so dark, the pain is so painful,’ she wrote. She said that for many years ‘my soul is just like an ice block’ and spoke of having ‘no prayer, no love, no faith – nothing but continual pain of longing for God.’ We can often believe that if we don’t feel God’s presence, we have sinned and done something wrong or that God has withdrawn from us (‘our midnight is Thy smile withdrawn’, as the hymn writer puts it. (‘Lord of All Being, Throned Afar’, Oliver Wendell Holmes)), but I believe the tough times are part of life’s journeyings which we simply have to walk through to teach us to live by faith and not by sight. Spiritual refreshing comes from God. We cannot manufacture this ourselves; we simply cry out to God to provide for us the living water we so desperately need.
Tonight’s message continued the series ‘The Wells of Salvation’ and looked in particular at Psalm 84. This psalm reminds us that God helps us to make even the most barren of valleys a place of springs; the presence of His Spirit in us can transform the darkest, driest place into somewhere that is fertile and green. (Ps 84:5-6) So often, when we are in the desert or wilderness, we feel abandoned and forsaken by God, but living water is available even in the most arid of circumstances. The Israelites discovered this; they experienced, as we do, ‘dry patches, low spots and seeming fruitlessness’ (Nicky Gumbel), but they also found springs and wells which God provided (Num 21:16-20) and on two occasions, God was able to bring forth water from rocks (Ex 17:6, Num 20:8). We can flourish instead of fainting even when we are in dry places.
Ps 84 is a psalm of great encouragement and blessing, but the Valley of Baka is not a happy place; it’s a place of tears (the word ‘baka’ refers to a balsam tree, which seems to weep ‘tears’ of gum or sap.) Balsam trees grow well in dry situations, whereas most trees need water and nourishment to grow; this valley, then, can be said to represent those dry times in our lives when we may not feel God’s presence or blessing, but which can still turn out to be times of growth and development.
Is 41:17-20 reminds us that God can make rivers flow on barren heights and springs within the valleys. He can turn even the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into springs. In the desert, God can plant trees so that people may see and know, consider and understand that He has done miraculous things. God is able to provide for us even when we are in impossible situations – perhaps especially when we are in impossible situations. The result of His provision is our praise. When we flourish instead of faint, when we find a place of springs instead of a desert and therefore go from strength to strength instead of collapsing and dying, we praise God because we know that deliverance only comes from Him (see also Is 43:20-21, 2 Cor 1:8-11).
So if we are in a dry place, we can take hope in the God of living water who is able to refresh us and lead us on.
Prayer is the simplest means of communicating with God; it is eminently do-able (even children can pray) and totally essential, but so often there are stumbling-blocks and barriers to effective communication. We may feel we are too busy to pray; we may always procrastinate and put off prayer until later. Often, we are diffident and not confident about prayer, feeling that we don’t have the right words. Jesus reminded His disciples that there was no need for big words or endless repetition (Matt 6:7-8); God hears us when we pray.
Scrabble is a great game for building vocabulary, but Stephen remembers playing as a child and making up very interesting words which sadly were not real! In the TV series ‘George and Mildred’, George once played a solitary game of Scrabble, feeling pleased with himself for making the word ‘YACHT’, which unfortunately he spelt ‘YAHT’. When his wife asked where the C was, he said, ‘underneath the yacht!’ Prayer is not about finding complicated words, however; it’s about verbalising our feelings and making our requests known to God. This can be done in very simple language (our words can be few, as Eccl 5:2 says; the prophets of Baal may have used many words in 1 Kings 18:26, but their endless repetition didn’t get any response!)
It can be hard at times to express our thoughts and feelings verbally. Other forms of communication can be helpful (sign language is useful for those with hearing problems, for example), but God knows what we need anyway (Matt 6:30-32). We needn’t get in a flap about prayer; we just need to get on with it and ask Him to be involved in our lives.
Simon the sorcerer believed that God’s power and blessings could be bought by money: ‘When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’ (Acts 8:18-19) Peter made it very clear that the gift of the Holy Spirit was not available for purchase, and it’s worth reminding ourselves (since we live in a consumer society and believe that money can buy pretty much everything we need) that God’s blessing is freely available to all His children. Eph 1:3 reminds us that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms. As Iain Gordon comments,“The Christian life is becoming (in your experience) what you already are (in your position in Christ).”
We often feel inadequate when we look at the apostles and see the wonders they performed, but we need to remind ourselves that these were ‘unschooled, ordinary men’ whose lives were turned upside-down by Jesus. (Acts 4:13) James reminds us that our prayers are powerful and effective, telling us that Elijah was simply human as we are yet achieved so much not because of his greatness or goodness but because of God’s power (see James 5:17-18). Following the healing of the lame man in Acts 3:1-10, Peter is at pains to point out that the healing came through Jesus and not through his own goodness or righteousness (Acts 3:12). Far from being daunted by the miracles we see in the Bible, we should be encouraged, for we belong to the same God who has always used flawed, imperfect people for His glory and fame.
Andrew Wommack says, “You need to live from the standpoint that God has already done it. He’s provided everything you need. It’s not a matter of trying to get God to move in your life; it’s a matter of you moving over into agreement with Him and receiving what He has already provided.” Instead of trying to ‘earn’ the right to work for God (like Simon the sorcerer), we need to realise that ‘Christianity begins not with a big DO, but with a big DONE.’ (Watchman Nee) In pouring out His Spirit, God has already done all that is necessary for us to live a life that is abundant and overflowing with blessings.
In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul talks about life as an apostle, and it’s not an easy description to read. He talks of great endurance, troubles, hardships and distresses, beatings, imprisonments and riots, hard work, sleepless nights and hunger. (2 Cor 6:4-5) Quite how we in the Western world have swallowed whole-heartedly the myth that being a Christian means having no problems and a trouble-free, stress-free life is a mystery to me; I suspect it’s because we’re not reading the Bible as much as we should be, because there it’s plain that suffering, persecution and trouble are an integral part of life in a sin-stained world, and that trouble and blessing come upon the Christian and non-believer in much the same way (see Matt 5:45).
This is not to imply that there are no advantages to a life of faith, because there are, but Paul’s point here is that his ministry was not dependent on favourable circumstances for effect. So often, we blame our circumstances for our failings, believing that we would be a better Christian if we had a different neighbour, boss or family! Subconsciously, we make excuses, believing that a life of faith only flourishes in ‘good soil.’ The truth is that God is able to make grace abound in all circumstances; He is able to bless us abundantly wherever we are so that we can flourish even in situations that don’t look favourable (see 2 Cor 9:8, 2 Cor 12:9).
Paul spoke of positive things as well as negative (‘purity, understanding, patience and kindness… the Holy Spirit and … sincere love…truthful speech and …the power of God.’ (2 Cor 6:6)) He also spoke much about paradox: ‘genuine, yet regarded as imposters; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and not yet killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.’ (2 Cor 6:8-10) This is a challenge for all of us who like neat boxes and pretty answers, for paradox defies those beautiful categories and simplistic solutions.
Peter and John knew what it is was to have nothing and yet possess everything. In Acts 3:1-10, they encountered a helpless cripple as they were on their way to the temple to pray. Crippled from birth, this lame man was dependent on others to carry him around and dependent on others to provide the money for him to survive. His was a bleak life with a bleak future. He spoke to them, hoping for money, but Peter soon dispelled that notion (‘silver or gold I do not have’ Acts 3:6). Nonetheless, he went on to say, ‘what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’ (Acts 3:6) What followed is the first recorded healing after the resurrection and Day of Pentecost: ‘Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.’ (Acts 3:7-8)
We may, like the crowd, be filled with wonder, amazement and astonishment at this miracle (Acts 3:10-11), but we may also wonder why we do not see such things happening more often in our own lives. We hear testimonies of such things in other countries and understand that God does not change (Mal 3:6), yet there can be a huge gulf between our heads and our heart, between our understanding of who God is and what He can do and our experience of it personally. I think there is a clue in this phrase ‘having nothing, and yet possessing everything.’ So often, in our lives, we have so much – material wealth, academic knowledge, comfort, luxury – and yet spiritually we possess so little. We need to empty our lives of all that is not necessary in order to press on in God to the inheritance He has prepared for us. The truth is that God has already blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms. (Eph 1:3) He has already done all that is necessary for us to give to those in spiritual need. We need to ‘press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of us.’ (Phil 3:12) Then, like Peter, we will be able to pass on something truly life-changing to those in need.