Week Commencing Sunday August 16th

Devotional Materials. Week Commencing Sunday 16th August 2020

Call to worship

‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.’ Matthew 5:11, 12

‘Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.’ Galatians 6:2

 

Opening Hymn

 

1 He who would valiant be 
'gainst all disaster,
let him in constancy 
follow the Master.
There's no discouragement 
shall make him once relent
his first avowed intent 
to be a pilgrim.

2 Who so beset him round 
with dismal stories,
do but themselves confound—
his strength the more is.
No foes shall stay his might, 
though he with giants fight;
he will make good his right 
to be a pilgrim.

3 Since, Lord, Thou dost defend 
us with Thy Spirit
we know we at the end 
shall life inherit.
Then, fancies, flee away! 
I'll fear not what men say,
I'll labour night and day 
to be a pilgrim.

 

John Bunyan     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5yHJMPw8RHU

 

Opening prayer

Almighty God we thank you that you are our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. You call us to your service: give us strength to put on the armour you provide that we may resist the assaults of the devil, and ever trust in the salvation which you have promised us in Jesus Christ our Lord.’ Amen

 

There are various organisations advocating for freedom of religion and belief. These include ‘Christian solidarity Worldwide’, ‘Open Doors’, ‘Barnabas Fund’ and ‘WorldServe’ who offer hope and aid to persecuted Christians across the world.

Many are unaware of the scale of the problem. It is not reported in the media. ‘Open Doors’ put it succinctly on their web site ‘Imagine facing torture and death for just five words- ‘I believe in Jesus Christ.’ This is the reality for more than 245 million Christians today. They often face physical violence towards themselves or loved ones- or lose homes and jobs because of their faith in Jesus.’ Open Doors’ also report that ‘Christians are the #1 most persecuted people group on earth…Every 6 minutes, a Christian is killed for following Jesus.’

Reading. Hebrews 11:33-38 (NLT)

‘By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them.  They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword.  Their weakness was turned to strength.  They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight.  Women received their loved ones back again from death.

 

But others trusted God and were tortured, preferring to die rather than turn from God and be free.  They placed their hope in the resurrection to a better life.  Some were mocked, and their backs were cut open with whips.  Others were chained in dungeons.  Some died by stoning, and some were sawed in half; others were killed with the sword.  Some went about in skins of sheep and goats, hungry and oppressed and mistreated.  They were too good for this world.  They wandered over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.’  (Hebrews 11:33-38, NLT)

 

Article. "Fellow Prisoners" Michael Card

August 21st, 2019

 

‘Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those ill-treated as if you yourselves were suffering’ (Hebrews 13:3).

I am writing to you from just outside the city of Jinan, in Northern China.  Along with friends from WorldServe, I have been visiting some of the leaders in the underground Church.  WorldServe is a ministry that serves believers in closed and restricted countries by simply coming alongside them and listening to their needs.  But during the past week here in China and Vietnam, I've begun to discover that listening is neither simple nor easy.

​It is not easy to listen to the stories of suffering you frequently hear in this place - stories of torture, and prison, and persecution.  In one of our first meetings, we spoke to some brothers who were concerned about a couple of women from their community who had been imprisoned along with their young children.  One brother (we call him snowman) had been chained to a wall in the prison yard in the dead of winter. The guards watched through the window, warm inside, waiting for him to succumb to the cold.  Finally, as dark fell, they decided it was easier to leave him there for the night to make sure he was "finished."

The next morning, as they approached the still suspended body, they noticed steam rising from it.  Miraculously, he had survived the night's exposure to sub-zero cold.

​That same winter two young women, who had been thrown out of their home for embracing Jesus, were wandering from house to house in their village asking to be taken in.  Like the Holy Family, they discovered that no one would make room. To shelter the new converts would bring guilt by association.

Finally, they quietly whispered, "We lay down in the snow.  We had lost all hope and decided to 'fall asleep' in the drifting snow."

When they woke up the next morning, warm and unharmed by the winter chill, they noticed small footprints all around them in the snow.  It became apparent to them both that small animals had come in the night and lain next to the two girls, keeping them warm.

​Again and again we heard these kinds of stories, stories of suffering and the remarkable intervention of God, saving believers not from the suffering, but through it.  One man told us that though he had been tortured several times, he felt no pain during the beatings.  Another older brother we called "tire man," had his hands ripped to shreds by the nylon strands in the tires he was forced to pull apart in prison.  With another one of those gentle smiles I became used to experiencing, he showed me his hands.  They had healed almost scar-free.

Not all the stories end with miraculous interventions or healings.  Many have died in prison.  Many more wander the streets, having been forced out of their homes only because their association with the underground Church was exposed by neighbours and, incredibly, sometimes by members of their own families.

Hebrews 11:33-38 contains a list of both those who win and those who lose.  By faith some of them conquered kingdoms, stopped the mouths of lions, and quenched the fury of the flames.  But others were mocked and flogged, stoned, and even sawn in two.  Like the believers in China, all were called to suffer for their faith.  Though some might not have been miraculously "delivered," all of them were winners by the simple fact that they overcame by grace through their faith in Jesus.

​If you think I'm going to spin the story to manipulate you into feeling guilty or inferior in your faith because you have not experienced prison, you're wrong.  What I'm campaigning for is your presence.  The hunger I'd like to awaken in your heart is simply to "be there" in prayer alongside the brothers and sisters, some of whose stories I've been telling.  It does not necessitate the seven thousand mile plane ride I made to get here.

​The same author of Hebrews who gave us the list of the winners and losers (who in the end were all winners), ended his "brief letter" with a benediction.  Call it the key, or the starting place, call it anything you want, but within that benediction he opens the door to a whole new world of prayer - the prayer of presence.  "Remember (in prayer) those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners," he said.  Prayer as an extension of our presence, of your being there, not prayer for miraculous deliverance or healing (though these are still appropriate requests to make), but prayer that, in faith, projects your presence into those prison cells in China, Vietnam, Sudan, El Salvador, Pakistan, Iran, and Iran...the list goes on.  More believers are dying for Christ in this present day than at any time in the history of the Church.  One believer in China spoke in tears, "I thought you had forgotten us."

​Remember those who are in prison, and in your remembering, by faith, be there for them, be present.  In your prayer, open the door of your life to their suffering, not that their laments might end, but so they will know they do not lament alone.                                                              Michael Card

 

Song. ‘Fellow Prisoners’ Michael Card (from the album ‘Soul Anchor’)

 

I was a prisoner, but you never came
I was naked hungry and so cold
I was frightened, I was suffering
But the torment was I suffered all alone

Remember then the brothers who are suffering
Remember that your sisters are in pain
For some of them the sun of hope is setting
For others it will never rise again

The chains can't bind the hopefulness
And the bars can't block the means of grace
And the distance that might separate
Could not defeat the prayers that we might suffer in their place

After all these could be your own children dying
Your wives, your mothers, your husbands, and your sons
And we must weep the tears that they are crying
In prayer we take our stand beside them, so they won't be alone

So fellow prisoners, remember
That we may know captivity
There's a purpose, in the calling
For it is the Lord who sets the prisoners free

After all these are your children dying
They're your wives, your mothers, your husbands, and your sons
So we must weep the tears that they are crying
In prayer we take our stand beside them, so they won't be alone
So they won't be alone

 

                                                                                           https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2S2-z3raSw

Prayers

Persecution in Nigeria

“We are tired and we do not want to bother others about our tragedies. We seem always to be reporting deaths and attacks, and people are weary of our reports,” said a village head from Nigeria’s Middle Belt earlier this year, as he tried to explain how the scale of anti-Christian violence is greater even than is reported. Pray that our brothers and sisters in Nigeria will know that they are not forgotten, and that fellow-Christians around the world are not weary of hearing about the attacks and deaths. Ask that they will be comforted by the knowledge that they have a heavenly Father who knows and cares if even a sparrow falls to the ground and that they are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31):

‘O God of hope, please fill us with joy and peace as we trust in You. In a world of uncertainty and anxiety, when many are mourning for loved ones, when many have lost their means of livelihood, when old familiar ways of living may be gone forever, where the “new normal” is as yet unknown, and where persecution of Your followers looks set to increase, please make us people who overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. We pray this in the Name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.’ (Romans 15:13)   Barnabas Prayer Guide July/August 2020

Persecution in China:

Pastors in China report that the authorities maintained their crackdown on churches during July/August 2020 Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, preventing Christians from accessing livestreamed church services. As ever, authorities in different parts of the vast country acted differently, some ordering churches to stop live-streaming and some actually blocking the livestream. (Barnabas Prayer Guide)

At least six leaders of Early Rain Church were taken from their homes. And this was just one incident in years of intrusive government surveillance and harassment the church has endured. Many members are still in detention, on bail or under house arrest. A letter by Brother Zhou, [name changed for security reasons] a member of Early Rain said:  Our three families have now been under guard for more than 480 days...They saw the guards bitten by mosquitoes in summer, and almost frozen in winter…The couple felt compassion. Sometimes they give food, sometimes they give the Bible... This is the way Christians express their love. Yes, we treat them as human beings. However, their leaders use them as chess pieces and dogs. Even when the virus raged, they stood pitifully at their posts…

Thank God for the love and compassion shown by the members of Early Rain Church who are under house arrest, towards their guards.

Pray that the guards will be moved by the example of the Christians they are guarding, and that their hearts will soften.

Pray that the government will stop harassing, intimidating and detaining Early Rain Church, so that church members can practise their faith freely and peacefully. (Christian Solidarity Worldwide Prayer guide July-October 2020)

Pray that, despite all such efforts, Chinese Christians will be able to build themselves up in their faith and keep praying in the Holy Spirit, even if they cannot pray together. (Jude 20)

………………………………………………..

Benedict Rogers, the East Asia Team Leader for ‘Christian Solidarity Worldwide’ wrote the following article for their ‘Responses and Prayer Diary’ (July-October 2020) I think his ‘reflections on lockdown’ will help us cherish our usual freedoms in this country, while motivating us to support those persecuted for their beliefs elsewhere:

Article ‘Reflections on lockdown’ Benedict Rogers

As someone who has spent all of my adult life advocating for freedom for others, I have found myself over the past few months willingly accepting restrictions on my own. And as someone who has spent my adult life travelling the world, for the first time I am unable – and unwilling – to go much further than the grocery shops five minutes around the corner, as infrequently as possible, or a short distance for some brief exercise.

No one in Britain in any generation since the Second World War has ever experienced such restrictions on their basic freedoms. The liberties we take for granted – to pop to the shops whenever we want, to hop on a train to visit a friend, to drive a few hours to see relatives, to go to a bar or restaurant, to shop for clothes, furniture, garden equipment, books, or to go to church – are now taken from us.

Maybe – just maybe – the experience of lockdown makes the stories we hear in our work in CSW of those imprisoned, detained or otherwise restricted for their faith and conscience, just a little less abstract.

Just maybe it helps us to empathise in a new way with those under house arrest or in prison. Of course there is a vast gulf between our lockdown and the detention of prisoners of conscience. For a start, the restrictions we face are genuinely in the public interest, and are not in any way targeting our beliefs. We have a government that was genuinely reluctant to impose a lockdown, and while it may be criticised by some for acting too slowly, it is surely good that we do not have a government that is overly eager to curtail our freedoms.

These restrictions are approved by a democratically elected legislature, and are temporary. I have no doubt that when the government and its advisers believe it is safe to ease the restrictions they will do so. I don’t doubt that places of worship will re-open when it is possible. Don’t forget that the decision to close places of worship was taken with the agreement of religious leaders. And none of us is tortured for our beliefs.

Indeed, we have access to church online. No one is stopping us reading the Bible, praying, surfing the Internet, calling our friends and family, reading the newspapers or books, or watching television. We have access to high quality medical care. And, despite the economic hardships suddenly inflicted on us by the pandemic and the panic-buying in the early days of the crisis, most of us have good food.

Nevertheless, we know that if the police find us gathering with people with whom we do not live, they will disperse us. And if we fail to comply, we could face a fine, or even prison. So although the context, reasons and nature of the restrictions are very different from those in places of persecution and repression, we suddenly find that the government and the police have unprecedented powers over us.

How does this make us feel? It is my prayer that it will make us cherish the freedoms we have until now taken so much for granted. And I hope it may enhance our solidarity with those for whom such restrictions are far more serious, long-term and painful.

It is one thing to be confined to one’s home for one’s own safety and that of others, for a period of time, in the public interest. It is quite another to be under house arrest or in a prison cell for a lengthy sentence, enduring torture, being denied medical care, being beaten for praying, prohibited from reading the Bible, refused family contact.

So whenever the lockdown ends, whenever our freedoms are restored, let us not forget what it feels like –even for us, with all the comforts and liberties we enjoy – to have some freedoms suspended. Let that motivate us to pray and protest and campaign with greater empathy and passion for those around the world who suffer far graver deprivations, at the hands of authorities who wield power not for the public good but to repress ideas and beliefs.                                                   Benedict Rogers

 

 

Hymn

 

There is a hope that burns within my heart,
That gives me strength for every passing day;
A glimpse of glory now revealed in meagre part,
Yet drives all doubt away:
I stand in Christ, with sins forgiven;
And Christ in me, the hope of heaven!
My highest calling and my deepest joy,
To make His will my home.

There is a hope that lifts my weary head,
A consolation strong against despair,
That when the world has plunged me in its deepest pit,
I find the Saviour there!
Through present sufferings, future’s fear,
He whispers ‘courage’ in my ear.
For I am safe in everlasting arms,
And they will lead me home.

There is a hope that stands the test of time,
That lifts my eyes beyond the beckoning grave,
To see the matchless beauty of a day divine
When I behold His face!
When sufferings cease and sorrows die,
And every longing satisfied.

Then joy unspeakable will flood my soul,
For I am truly home.          

Stuart Townend https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qyMWBx6vvJo

 

Blessing

Go in peace, be very courageous, hold on to what is good, do not return evil for evil, strengthen the faint hearted, support the weak, help the afflicted, honour all people, love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit; and the grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.’ Amen.

                                           David Barnes 12/8/20