Week Commencing Sunday 25th October

Week Commencing Sunday 25th October 2020

Dear Friends,

I trust you are keeping well.

Please note the following changes for prayer on Wednesdays, beginning 28th October:

The morning session 10.00-12.00 will no longer operate.

The afternoon session 2.00-4.00pm will continue. Come in any time 2.00-3.30 for individual prayer as before. But from 3.30-4.00 corporate prayer will take place.

A reminder that social distancing is adhered to, and face coverings (unless you are exempt) must be worn.

……………………………….

Call to worship

‘They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God’ (The Apostle Paul writing to the Thessalonian Church. 1 Thessalonians 1:9).

‘If the Son sets you free you are free indeed’ (John 8:36)

Hymn

1 O for a closer walk with God,
a calm and heav'nly frame,
a light to shine upon the road
that leads me to the Lamb!

2 Where is the blessedness I knew
when first I sought the Lord?
Where is the soul refreshing view
of Jesus and His Word?

3 What peaceful hours I then enjoyed!
How sweet their mem'ry still!
But they have left an aching void
the world can never fill.

4 Return, O holy Dove, return,
sweet messenger of rest;
I hate the sins that made Thee mourn,
and drove Thee from my breast.

5 The dearest idol I have known,
whate'er that idol be,
help me to tear it from Thy throne
and worship only Thee.

6 So shall my walk be close with God,
calm and serene my frame;
so purer light shall mark the road
that leads me to the Lamb.

William Cowper

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e--W3EZsRTY

Opening Prayer

Our Heavenly Father we give you the praise and worship due to you this morning.

We confess we have at times allowed ourselves to turn the wonderful gifts of your Creation, into idols. We have made these good things into false gods, and have given them our devotion and therefore our worship. Whether family or friends, the opinions of others, or beautiful things. We cannot give these our worship, even though many do. For we know that idolising anyone or anything brings us into slavery and pain.

We worship you Lord because you are our Creator. You have made us, so we belong to you. Your care for all people is shown in the many blessings of Creation. And you have shown your love towards us in sending your Son the Lord Jesus Christ, we see that love in the healing and forgiveness he brought in his earthly ministry, but we see it supremely at the cross. There as the Lamb of God he willingly gave his life as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Including those sins of idolatry.

And now we find our freedom, not only in sins forgiven and a new start. We find it in walking with you. We are amazing you call us into a living relationship with you.

Help us then as we consider your ways this morning to have receptive hearts and minds. Not to give in to the pull of idolatry nor merely adopt what the world says will bring us freedom. But rather that we live our lives on this earth in ways that bring glory to you, motivated by a gratitude out of the love you show towards us. Grateful for all you have given us and all that you mean to us. Amen.

Reading. Isaiah 44:13-20

14 13The carpenter measures with a line
    and makes an outline with a marker;
he roughs it out with chisels
    and marks it with compasses.
He shapes it in human form,
    human form in all its glory,
    that it may dwell in a shrine.
14 He cut down cedars,
    or perhaps took a cypress or oak.
He let it grow among the trees of the forest,
    or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow.
15 It is used as fuel for burning;
    some of it he takes and warms himself,
    he kindles a fire and bakes bread.
But he also fashions a god and worships it;
    he makes an idol and bows down to it.
16 Half of the wood he burns in the fire;
    over it he prepares his meal,
    he roasts his meat and eats his fill.
He also warms himself and says,
    “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.”

From the rest he makes a god, his idol;
    he bows down to it and worships.
He prays to it and says,
    “Save me! You are my god!”
18 They know nothing, they understand nothing;
    their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see,
    and their minds closed so they cannot understand.
19 No one stops to think,
    no one has the knowledge or understanding to say,
“Half of it I used for fuel;
    I even baked bread over its coals,
    I roasted meat and I ate.
Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left?
    Shall I bow down to a block of wood?”
20 Such a person feeds on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him;
    he cannot save himself, or say,
    “Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?”

 

Since the lockdown back in March of this year, I have been teaching on Bible passages and themes that are relevant to the situation in which we find ourselves. I read a briefing recently from The Christian Institute entitled ‘Social Contagion’. I think it help us to understand what is a prevalent problem and so avoid getting sucked into it. At the same time we are reminded of the priority to trust the living God, repent of going our own way and seek him for deliverance and true freedom.

The briefing does not refer to Coronavirus; there is no suggestion the Coronavirus is unreal or fake news. But it does point out the panic, depression and power of suggestion that adversely

afflicts those caught up with negativity. Particularly so for many young people today who have no wider Christian framework by which to judge not only the pandemic, but also other issues associated with origins, ethics and personal identity.

Talk ‘Social Contagion’ (from the briefing by ‘The Christian Institute.’)

Introduction. Defining social contagion

Beliefs, feelings and behaviours can be contagious. We all know people whose enthusiasm is infectious. But harmful and irrational things can also spread from person to person. This is often called ‘social contagion’. It covers many things, from the rapid spread of anorexia and self-harm among young people to outbreaks of mass hysteria.

Often ‘contagions’ can appear to come out of nowhere and spread quickly. Many social contagions are now being spread through online pseudo-communities. These can play a decisive role in manipulating people. They pressure others to engage in damaging activities and so spread the contagion.

Let’s look today looks at examples of social contagions:

The ‘WERTHER EFFECT’ is an example of what are known today as social contagions. It refers to copycat suicides, often following a highly publicised case.

The term comes from a series of suicides across Europe after the publication of The Sorrows of Young Werther in the 18th century. The novel is about a young man, Werther, caught up in a love triangle. Tragically, he eventually kills himself.

As the book's popularity grew across Europe, some readers shot themselves with the same kind of pistol Werther used in the novel. One woman even threw herself into a river clutching a copy of the book

Social Contagion and mass hysteria

There are many accounts of ‘mass hysteria’ and ‘collective delusions’ in history. These dramatic cases show how they can spread between people.

The 1519 ‘DANCING PLAGUE’ In July 1518, Mrs Troffea began to dance in the streets of Strasbourg. During the next few days, more than 30 others joined her dancing.

Mystified physicians concluded that ‘overheated blood’ was the cause. Town councillors built a stage and even employed musicians, hoping that the afflicted might ‘dance off’ the sickness.

This only made matters worse, and around 400 others joined the mania. Reports say some danced until they died of exhaustion. This is only one example of the medieval ‘dancing plagues’ that historians now believe were caused by hysterical contagions.

Tanganyika LAUGHTER EPIDEMIC.’ In 1962, three students at a school in Kashasha, Tanganyika (now Tanzania), suddenly experienced attacks of laughter and crying, each lasting several hours. This occurred for up to 16 days. The symptoms spread to another 92 pupils, eventually forcing the school to close.

Returning home, the children brought the contagion back to their local villages. Within a few months, one village saw 217 people affected and more schools were shut. When the school re-opened the ‘laughter epidemic’ re-emerged.

Some estimate around 1,000 people were affected and 14 schools shut over a two and a half year period.5 Most attribute this to hysterical contagion.

PANIC IN SCHOOLS. A surprising number of mass hysteria cases take place in schools:

In 2016, several children at Elsa Perea Flores School in Peru began fainting, screaming, experiencing seizures and frothing at the mouth. This spread to around 80 pupils, with many hospitalised, and even teachers being affected. Pupils claimed to have been chased by a bearded man dressed in black.

That same year a spate of similar outbreaks took place in schools in Malaysia. Officials struggled to handle the situation, and many schools were forced to close.

One observer said: “It was mass hysteria season and cases were happening non-stop, spreading from one school to another”.

Social contagion and problem behaviour

Academics describe self-harm – and other behaviours like drug-taking and eating disorders – as ‘socially contagious’. For many, these behaviours are ‘coping strategies’ that try to address underlying struggles. While coping strategies can sometimes alleviate stress, the 'relief' is short-lived and they do not address the underlying issues. Harmful behaviour must be repeated for any relief to continue.

Group settings reinforce and help spread these addictive behaviours in several ways.

‘CO-RUMINATION.’ This is where a group of friends keep dwelling on their shared anxieties. Through continual discussion and speculation they can dramatically intensify each other’s distress. The sense of companionship means group members spur one another on in problem behaviour. Studies show co- rumination leads to higher levels of anxiety.

IDENTITY AND COMMUNITY. A problem behaviour can come to define a social group and its members. A subculture is born. Some online communities centre on self-harm or eating disorders. They foster a deep sense of identity and purport to offer shelter to the vulnerable. Group members who consider leaving the lifestyle face rejection from the community.

PEER PRESSURE AND SOCIAL STATUS Research shows that problem behaviours like drug-taking, self-harm and eating disorders spread through group pressure. This pressure can come in various forms, including through ‘advice’, blackmail or rumours. Going further in the problem behaviour is celebrated.

Case-study: Anorexia

Anorexia contagions have been observed since the 1980s. Shockingly, they spread even within peer groups at residential clinics. Here, anorexia is viewed as a social identity, with others pressured to imitate. Deanne Jade, founder of the National Centre for Eating Disorders, says:

‘…I ask myself if an eating disorder unit is the best place for an impressionable young girl to be… As any inpatient will tell you, a specialist unit is the best place to learn how to be really, really good at anorexia… Some patients have reported bullying and intimidation by the hard core cases.’

Some websites depict anorexia as a goddess called Ana; an authoritative voice giving direction and identity. Others look professional, offering diet tips, weight-loss pills and laxatives. The online ‘pro-Ana’ community embraces anorexia as a lifestyle choice.

 ‘I had an illness; I had something few others had; I was special. The anorexia gave me an identity and made me an individual.”’

Accessing the pro-Ana community on social media is easy. A quick search reveals a stream of shocking content. One study found that merely viewing pro-Ana websites made people see themselves as heavier, reporting a greater likelihood of thinking about their weight.

Some sites offer advice on how to trick doctors or carers into thinking you haven’t been starving yourself.

The power of suggestion

Some popular entertainers spectacularly reveal the mind’s vulnerability to suggestion. Derren Brown persuades his subjects to sit in cold water as though it were a warm bath or drink vinegar like orange juice. He has even convinced some that he was invisible.

In tests for new medicines, many sick people can experience genuine benefits from taking a new pill. That’s why placebos are always given to one group and the genuine drug to another in order to test its effectiveness. The nocebo effect is the opposite: the suggestion that someone will suffer negative symptoms leads to the symptoms themselves. The nocebo effect can spread by social contagion.

In one experiment, nocebo expert Fabrizio Benedetti took a group of students into the Alps. He suggested to one of them that thin air could produce migraines. This rumour reportedly spread to more than a quarter of the group and those who heard it began to suffer the worst headaches. Analysis of the students’ saliva revealed a change in processes which also occurs in cases of altitude headache. Benedetti said: “The brain biochemistry changed in the ‘socially infected’ individuals”.

Of course, suggestion requires a suggestible subject. But it might only take a little twinge of pain, or some small abnormality, to make someone suggestible and get them to think: “maybe I am unwell”. Even more people are likely to be taken in by the suggestion if they then begin to show symptoms of some kind.

We can see four parts to this: 1. The person is open to suggestion. 2. The suggestion is made that they have or soon will have a particular condition. 3. The idea takes root, producing psychosomatic symptoms. 4. ‘Social contagion’ results. The more people that exhibit symptoms, the more convincing the suggestion becomes.

Many cases of mass hysteria involve the power of suggestion:

A rumoured gas attack led 35 people to experience fainting, headaches and nausea. The reality: someone had sprayed a harmless cleaning product.

Reports of a virus saw more than sixty factory workers experience numbness, dizziness and vomiting. The reality: no virus was found. The US Public Health Service said the cause was hysterical contagion.

Worry about ‘electro-sensitivity’ led sufferers to experience sickness and insomnia. The reality: sufferers were just as likely to feel the same way when exposed to sham transmitters that don’t emit any electromagnetic waves.

A Biblical view of social contagion

In a fallen world it is no surprise that people can behave irrationally or inexplicably. The Bible points out how absurd it is to bow down to an idol made of half a log, while the other half is burned (Isaiah 44:13-20).

Many examples of irrational group or mob behaviour are found in Scripture. The hundreds of prophets of Baal cut themselves “until their blood flowed” to try to provoke an answer from a non-existent deity (1 Kings 18). God’s own people, delivered from slavery by a miraculous display of God’s power, are nonetheless ready to kill Moses and choose another leader to take them back to Egypt when difficulty comes (Numbers 14:4).

Romans 1 is clear that people intentionally suppress what they know deep down about God — his existence, power and nature. Nothing could be more irrational than exchanging the truth of gracious loving God for a lie!

The only true source of meaning and identity is lost if people ignore God. They are left fruitlessly trying to find purpose in other things. This search becomes ever more detached from reality as society moves further from biblical standards — the exchanging of truth for lies increases.

Drug-taking, self-harm and eating disorders are sad products of a society that has undermined the family and spurned biblical morality. Many, including young people, struggle with poor mental health, feel directionless and lack identity.

The recent explosion in gender confusion and transgender ideology is one area that desperately needs this Christian response. The NHS Gender Identity Development Service has seen a more than 3,000 per cent increase in referrals in the last decade; 75 per cent of those on the waiting list are female.

The Christian Institute have a separate publication, ‘The transgender craze’ https://www.christian.org.uk/resource/the-transgender-craze/  which argues that these unusually rapid trends are being driven by a social contagion.

Christians want to see people protected from dangerous contagions that entrap rather than help them. It is our calling to “shine like stars” and “hold out the word of life” (Philippians 2:15-16). In Christ, people can escape self-hatred and find divine direction, total restoration and everlasting love.

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Hymn

From the highest of heights to the depths of the sea
Creation's revealing your majesty
From the colours of fall to the fragrance of spring
Every creature's unique in the song that it sings
All exclaiming

[Chorus]
Indescribable, uncontainable
You placed the stars in the sky and you know them by name
You are amazing God
All powerful, untameable
Awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim
You are amazing God

Who has told every lightning bolt where it should go
Or seen heavenly storehouses laden with snow
Who imagined the sun and gives source to its light
Yet conceals it to bring us the coolness of night
None can fathom

Indescribable, uncontainable
You placed the stars in the sky and you know them by name
You are amazing God
All powerful, untameable
Awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim
You are amazing God

Laura Story

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yxp-wGqy11k

prayer for knowing your identity in Christ
Lord, I pray that you would unlock my heart that I might be fully alive to my true identity in You. Give me clear revelation to see myself the way you see me. Help me to stand in your truth against all enemy attacks and guard my heart with all vigilance (Proverbs 4:23). Help me to identify the lies, and reveal to me any places where I am chained to the past in a negative way. I repent of any lies of the past. [Name those lies and ask God to forgive you.]

Teach me to hear your voice and not believe the enemy’s destructive lies about who I am. I thank you for my uniqueness and that I am made in your image (Genesis 1:27). I want to understand and feel the deep things in your heart for me (1 Corinthians 2:10-12). I choose to believe the truth about how you see me. I thank you that I can hope in the future and believe in the good destiny that you have for me. You have vision for my future. Help me to live a fruitful life now and overflow with your love to others. Give me greater authority in my prayer life. I want to know you on a deeper level, and I don’t want anything to hinder my relationship with you.     
     
I thank You that I am your child (John 1:12), I have been justified (Romans 5:1), I am Your friend (John 15:15), I belong to You (1 Corinthians 6:20), I am a member of Your body (1 Corinthians 12:27), I have been established, anointed, and sealed by You (2 Corinthians 1:21-22), I am a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20), I am blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3), I am chosen before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4, 11), I am holy and blameless (Ephesians 1:4), I am forgiven (Ephesians 1:8Colossians 1:14) I am adopted as Your child (Ephesians 1:5), I have purpose (Ephesians 1:9; 3:11), I have hope (Ephesians 1:12),I am included (Ephesians 1:13), I am an overcomer (1 John 4:4), I am protected (John 10:28), I am a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), I am qualified to share in Your inheritance (Colossians 1:12), I am the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21), I am safe (1 John 5:18), I am part of Your Kingdom (Revelation 1:6), I can understand what Your will is (Ephesians 5:17), I have God's power (Ephesians 6:10), and I am victorious (1 Corinthians 15:57).

Thank You for this new identity I have in you. Help me to live out this truth in my life every day. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Debbie Przybylski. Intercessors Arise International)

Hymn

All I once held dear, built my life upon
All this world reveres and wants to own
All I once thought gain, I have counted loss
Spent and worthless now, compared to this

Chorus
Knowing You, Jesus, knowing You
There is no greater thing
You're my all, You're the best
You're my joy, my righteousness
And I love You, Lord

Now my heart's desire is to know You more
To be found in You and known as Yours
To possess by faith what I could not earn
All-surpassing gift of righteousness

Chorus
Oh to know the power of your risen life
And to know You in Your sufferings
To become like You in Your death, my Lord
So with You to live and never die

Chorus

Graham Kendrick

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTTlSx6zXio

Closing Prayer

O Lord that lends me life,

Lend me a heart replete with thankfulness. (William Shakespeare 1564-1616)

   

David Barnes 21/10/20