31 March 2020

Dealing with Disappointment

Dear Church Family,

On Saturday, 28th March I was feeling disappointed. It was supposed to be a really busy day for us as we were supposed to be having the Spring Supper at church. People had signed up and in the past these events have born fruit with people coming to church off the back of them. But it had been cancelled. In fact, ‘cancelled’ seems to be a word we have seen a lot. Here are what would have been the church notices for two weeks ago (you can imagine yourself, if you can remember, sitting in a chair listening to these):

  • Tonight is the evening service where we will continue looking at the 10 Commandments
  • The Sunday School prize giving is next Sunday morning
  • On Thursday we will have our business meeting where we look forward to welcoming new members and affirming the vote on new elders.
  • Little Miracles, Discoverers and 116 will be meeting
  • On 21st March is our church walk. We will meet Cannock Chase
  • On 28th March we will be having the Spring Supper
  • On 1st April Pelsall Village School will be coming to church for an Easter service

All of these things, good things, gospel and growth opportunities, have been cancelled. And these are just some events at church. All of us have personal appointments that have been cancelled: school trips, birthday parties, medical treatments, family visits and so much more. And all of us, as much as we are blessed by the online service, are deeply disappointed that we are not able to meet each other physically week by week. How do we live with these disappointments? 

It is helpful to define ‘disappointment’. The prefix ‘dis’ means ‘apart’ or ‘away’ as in pulled apart or away. So the word means that an appointment we expected has been ripped away from us. It is sadness or displeasure caused by the non-fulfilment of one's hopes or expectations. 

Paul the apostle is an example of someone who had to deal with disappointment. In Romans 1:13 we read of how he wanted to visit Rome but was prevented. In Acts 16 we see how he kept on trying to preach in various places but was stopped by God:

“Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, 
having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.
When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, 
but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.

Paul wanted to do good things, there isn’t much more good one can do than preach the gospel, but he was “kept by the Holy Spirit” and Jesus “would not allow him” to. In Paul’s letters he sometimes talks of how he longs to be with people but is prevented. However, in Paul’s disappointments, he was being led by God to something else. The story continues…

“During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him,
“Come over to Macedonia and help us.”  After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for
Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

He was led instead to Macedonia and whilst there saw conversions and churches planted (see the rest of Acts 16). From this small account there are three truths that we can meditate on which can help us overcome our disappointments at this time:

  1. Notice how God is in control

It was God who stopped Paul going to the places that he’d planned. God had a bigger picture in mind for his glory as the gospel spread into Europe. We just don’t know what God’s plans are behind our disappointments, but we do know that he is in control and, as we read in Ephesians 1:11, “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will”.

  1. Remember that God is working good from our disappointments

With the benefit of having the whole story in Acts 16 we can see how God worked good out of preventing Paul doing what he wanted to do. We don’t always have the benefit of seeing this but we do know the truth that Paul writes in Romans 8:28: “ And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Your disappoint is, even if we can’t see it now, being worked for the good of all of God’s people.

  1. Disappointments bring new appointments/opportunities

Paul being prevented from going in one direction was led in another. Going to Macedonia gave him new opportunities he would never have thought he had. Think about what opportunities you have now that you wouldn’t have had if appointments had not been cancelled (the blog from last week may help with this). One such opportunity that I would ask you to pray for as a church is that the online services would be watched widely across Pelsall. We are advertising them on the Pelsall Common page in time for Easter. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people came to know Jesus over this time because they had been forced by the uncertainty to think of eternal things and found the answers through the gospel preached online?

Our disappointments can actually reveal the state of our hearts and what our deepest desires are. It is good to have desires and fine to feel the sadness of disappointment. However, we should not be disappointed to the point of being completely crushed by it, rather Paul encourages us in Philippians 4:12-13 to be content in all circumstances. Our greatest desire ought to be Jesus, his promises always remain, and he can never disappoint.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment in history happened on Good Friday. How disappointed the disciples were when the Messiah hung on a cross and died. However, on the third day Jesus rose from the dead. The cross and resurrection shows how God brings amazing good out of the worst of circumstances. And the resurrection is the promise of an even greater appointment that will never have a ‘dis’ in front of it. We too will be raised with new bodies in a new creation with no sin, sickness or death. This will be the opposite of disappointment, it will beyond our imagination:

However, as it is written:
“What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
the things God has prepared for those who love him

With love and prayers,
Steve

24 March 2020

Don’t Waste Your Quarantine

Dear Church Family,

In Ephesians 5, Paul talks about how we are to live in this world as “children of the light” (5:8), or in the context of Sunday morning, living as citizens of the new Jerusalem whilst we are exiled in Babylon. In Ephesians 5:15-17 Paul tells us this:  

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lords will is.”

Every situation we are in contains opportunity. It may not feel like it, and we can’t dismiss the difficulties of our present situation, but we are in an opportunity that God has given us. How then shall we live as wise people in these days of quarantine? Here are some thoughts on how do to make the most of this opportunity.

What we were made for

When God made Adam and Eve, he made them to tend and keep the garden that he placed Adam and Eve in. In Genesis 2:15 we read: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” We were made to work, to produce, not to just consume. 

I think this is a helpful way of thinking about how we use our time in quarantine - spend a decent amount of time in activities that are productive, creative and caring. 

Opportunities to make the most of

So often we are so busy that we say we haven’t got the time to do all sorts of things that are on the productive side outside of our normal work. We don’t have that excuse for a while! Take some time to do some thing that you excuse yourself from doing because you are too busy:

  • Spend more time in Bible reading and prayer - perhaps get that New Years Bible reading plan back on track. There are lots of things we can pray for, the church we will be sending out prayer updates.
  • Keep community going - why not try and ring a church member each day or two? Try and ring someone you don’t know and ask them how they are doing and how you can pray. One tip for this: Don’t be afraid to pray over the phone; it may feel a bit weird at first but just do it and you’ll be both blessed and a blessing.
  • Be a witness - in a world where there is confusion and selfish stock-piling there will be opportunities to share our faith in word (by sharing the hope and assurance we have in Jesus) and in deed (by being generous and giving to those we see in need). You could even invite someone to watch the live stream on Sunday.
  • If you are married and/or have children spend some quality time together. Eat together, read scripture and pray together, have conversations.
  • Read a book that engages your heart and sets your mind on things above.
  • Sing! Although for some of us this may be more of a “joyful noise” rather than a melodious song, the songs of the faith help us remember the truth of our faith.
  • Take the time to do some activities that stimulate your mind and body - things like exercise (according to government guidelines), hobbies and housework/DIY.

Opportunities to avoid

There is nothing wrong with activities that are consumeristic such as watching movies, listening to music, reading, social media, gaming and so on. But all these are gifts from God that have dangers if not moderated. Here are some things that, whilst tempting, we should avoid because they are not “making the most of the opportunity”:

  • Checking the news too much - this can cause anxiety and angerChecking the news too much - this can cause anxiety and anger (two of the emotions that we have considered recently at Table Talk). Set a time to check the news twice a day for a short time (15mins or so) rather than all day. You will find out all you need to know in that time.
  • Similarly, avoid excessive time on screens/social media. It is great to keep in touch with each other through social media but don’t go overboard. Again limit yourself to a couple of times a day. 
  • Beware of the temptations that come with enforced isolation with the internet - pornography especially is a temptation for many. Let us make sure we have accountability on our devises and a commitment to purity. 

There is some really good content that you can consume online. I would recommend articles on the gospel coalition website: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/

Brothers and sisters, when all this is over, let us be able to look back and say that our quarantine, whilst difficult and horrible at times, was not wasted.

With love and prayers,
Steve