Message from Geoff Lanham on 3rd June
I hope this message finds you with your heads above water as we begin to emerge blinking into the sunlight of the initial lockdown easing. It takes some getting used to moving from a screen image to being two metres away from the real person! As a woman writing in the Guardian today expresses it, ‘It’s a very strange feeling. Being with people, but not being able to be ‘there’, you know? So, you’re all the time checking yourself. ‘Am I allowed to do this? Am I not allowed to do this?’ Today as I try to write this, I have to confess to feeling a bit flat and overwhelmed. We all probably have similar days, I guess. Just when you thought the news couldn’t get much worse, the turmoil in America and the awful footage of the death of George Floyd at the hands of a rogue policeman have exploded into the daily headlines. There’s a lot to process in the world right now.
I’ve been drawn to Psalm 61: 1-3, as it seems pretty relevant to how I’m feeling.
1 Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.
2 From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
3 For you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed and it feels like your feet are slipping, you need to be able to stand on solid, higher ground. David is saying God is like that rock, that higher ground that we can scramble to. He describes Him as a refuge or strong tower. We don’t have much use for strong towers these days, but if you’d lived in Ireland at the time of the Viking invasions you would have relied on strong towers. When the Vikings were spotted, a bell would be rung and rope ladders would be lowered down. The monks could climb up and know that they always had somewhere safe to run to.
When it feels we’re falling, our hearts are faint and doubt, struggle, anger, danger or depression threatens to overwhelm us, we need to get to higher ground. And the rock that is higher than I is not a physical location, it’s a person. It’s the name of Jesus Christ.
Eugene Peterson has written honestly about himself in his book “The journey”
“The person of faith is described as one who “cannot be moved, but abides for ever.” But I am moved. I am full of faith one day and empty with doubt the next. I wake up one morning full of vitality, rejoicing in the sun; the next day I am grey and dismal, faltering and moody. “Cannot be moved” – nothing could be less true of me. I can be moved by nearly anything: sadness, joy, success, failure. I’m a thermometer and go up and down with the weather.”
I think he does a good job of describing most of us. Whether we are protected fully from life’s storms or not, we can still find that God is our refuge in the sense that our experience of him makes a massive difference to our ability to cope with the storm. We may not be unscathed, but we are not crushed.
God’s presence can be like a safe harbour, a place in which to recuperate and get new strength. We may carry wounds from the experience, but we emerge to live again with fresh heart and courage. Now there are all sorts of false refuges in which we can seek comfort and protection when life gets difficult: overwork, drink, drugs, affairs, over-exercise and compulsive behaviour of many kinds. Perhaps the challenge of this Psalm is to make Jesus our true place of safety and salvation. With him, we can be secure from fear, whatever the dangers we face. With him we can pour out our hearts. When I was a child and I was angry or I’d been badly told off, I used to run straight to my bedroom and shut the door. I’d get inside my wardrobe in an effort to isolate myself from the pain I was feeling. You probably had your own equivalents. Psalm 61 encourages me that running to the presence of Jesus with our pain is a much better strategy.
I’ve also been feeling that it’s time to major on the hope we have in Jesus for a few weeks in our church services. It may well be that we’ve had people watching our services who might never go to church normally. So, on June 14th, we’re going to be holding a service designed specifically a bit more for the non-churched. It’s a great opportunity to invite your friends and neighbours to tune in. Why not take the risk of issuing an invitation to watch as I consider the theme of: The cry of our hearts: Making sense of life’s longings? The service will be a bit shorter than usual and will include some interviews with people who’ve found faith in Jesus. Maybe you’ve had an interesting conversation with someone over the last ten weeks, when it felt like you were talking about issues that really matter. If so, the Guest Service could be a great next step. Over the following three weeks we’ll be unpacking the Christian hope further using three incidents from the Gospels. Let’s be praying for the Lord to gather in those in whom he’s working. Thank you.
Message from Matt Simpson on 27th May
I hope this message finds all of you well. It has been good to be in contact with some of you during this time of lockdown – I am sure I speak for the whole staff team when I say that, although we are missing seeing you in person and in church, we are encouraged by what we are hearing of how God is at work in and amongst our congregation during this time of crisis.
At the last live service at KPC before lockdown took hold, on March 15th , Geoff Lanham shared a picture which I believe is significant for KPC at this time.
Geoff spoke about us being led into the desert, but God has placed a well there. If we are to survive and thrive, then we need to stay close to the well.
The well is a picture of God’s presence and provision for us in a desert time.
The desert is often a setting in the bible where important events take place. The New Testament Greek word for it, eremos, could be translated as desert, wilderness, or quiet, solitary place – often a place of retreat or withdrawal.
We are all experiencing this lockdown differently. For some of us, this is probably a very quiet place indeed, when we are isolated from our family and closest friends. Some people have also had to withdraw from their normal work duties because of shielding advice.
However, for others this time is the very opposite of quiet. I am keenly aware that for some, this is a time which is much busier and more stressful than usual. Key workers and those juggling home schooling and work are two groups of people I have particular sympathy for. I have found it personally encouraging though to hear about the solidarity and understanding which people in different situations have largely shown each other during this time.
Whichever situation you are in, I believe the picture of God providing for us in the desert is still relevant for everyone.
In Luke 4: 1-13 Jesus himself is led into the desert to be tempted by the Devil.
This in itself is remarkable. Luke 3: 23 tells us that Jesus started preaching when he was thirty years old – so he waits all this time to start his ministry, and then is led by God immediately into a place of isolation and solitude!
Some of the most important things followers of Jesus experience are things that nobody else will know about – experiences and events that are hidden from the view of others. I wonder if how we handle this time might be revealing to us what is in our hearts, when for many of us the content of our lives and what normally takes up our time is stripped away?
When Satan tests Jesus, he does this in three different areas. As Jesus’ followers I expect these are areas we will struggle in as well when God takes us into a desert place.
The first area where Jesus is tempted relates to appetite. In a place of desert, Satan promises Jesus easy access to food.
I wonder if the related temptation for us in our situation is to take comfort in things that we think might quickly make us feel better – perhaps overeating, or drinking too much alcohol, or over consuming entertainment such as Netflix as a means of escape. But Jesus says we don’t live by bread alone. Instead, we need God’s word to us, which we find in scripture but is also spoken with love by the Holy Spirit into our own individual situations.
Secondly, Satan appeals to Jesus’ ambition and desire for approval – saying that if he would just partner with him, then Jesus could reach out and take power over the nations of the world and receive their glory and praise.
It seems many people are attempting to assert their significance at the moment.
I recently heard the comedian Ricky Gervais poking fun at what he sees as vain celebrities with a messiah complex who think people still “need to see my face” now their film has not been released or their tour has been cancelled.
However, Holly wood celebrities and pop stars are a too easy target. It’s our problem too. I have to admit that most of what I do at the moment feels very insignificant in the light of everything that is going on. But Jesus tells us that we don’t have to prove our relevance, because our significance is not found in ourselves, but in the relationship we have with God which is expressed through our worship and service of him.
So yes, we might be insignificant, but that is not a reason to lose hope – in fact, if we devote ourselves to God, perhaps we can move forward from here with greater freedom from selfish ambition and break the addiction many of us have to the approval of others.
Finally, Satan tempts Jesus to grasp for artificial assurance. Saying that if Jesus would throw himself from the temple walls, then God would surely catch him. Jesus responds to Satan by saying that the scriptures say that we should not put God to the test.
Maybe we are all looking for a sense of security at the moment. We need to be guided in our decisions by advice, because we all face a trade-off of different risks. It is clear though that in this life perfect assurance doesn’t exist – and covid-19 shows us that no matter how powerful we are, there are risks that we cannot escape in life. (Perhaps perfectly illustrated by the fact that the PM ended up in intensive care with the virus he has been trying to protect the country from). Instead of embracing artificial assurance, Jesus affirms the need instead for ultimate trust in God.
How could Jesus stay strong in the desert? We should remember that he had just been baptised and as that event took place he had heard the voice of his father in heaven speaking to him “you are my son, whom I love, in you I am well pleased”. Jesus travelled into the desert with those words of affirmation, approval and assurance ringing in his ears and so was able to withstand the counterfeit offer.
I hope and pray that each of us also would in this time of desert know more of the security, significance and support of God, would experience his love by staying close to the well and become more the people he wants us to be.
May God bless you all.