Beth has written an encouraging post for us to read and reflect on:

I was recently musing over the reality that life doesn’t go as we expect it. The reality that things are broken was palpable to me. I had finished a call with a dear friend who has been dealing with ongoing illness for 16 years. Her days are filled with chronic pain and intense bouts of fatigue. For her self-isolation is the norm.

Then today I read about a Nigerian pastor, Lawan Andini, a convert from Islam who led many other Muslims to Jesus, including his Father-in-Law who was a famous mallam (Quranic scholar). He was seized by Boko Haram on 2nd January 2020. After demanding an impossibly large ransom, they killed him on 20th January. Please pray for his grieving widow and 7 children.

Sometimes life is just hard, painful and uncertain isn’t it? I suppose this reality is tangible to us all at the moment as COVID 19 impacts us in various ways. As a nation we are left uncertain of what lies ahead.

The Israelites also knew what living in a broken world felt like. They had experienced oppression, slavery, illness, mistreatment and 40 years of wandering in the Wilderness. Moses and the Israelites had walked through tough and amazing times together and as the Israelites head to the Promised Land and Moses towards his death he pointed them again to God. Listen in to his promise:

'There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides across the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty. The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms' (Deuteronomy 33: 26-27)

Moses affectionately reminded Israel “Jeshurun there is no one like our God!” (Jeshurun was an affectionate name for Israel). People loved by God, there is no one and nothing that compares to our God, nothing. He stands alone in His supreme power and might and whatever is going to happen in the future remember that He in His majesty, rides through the heavens, on the clouds to help us! What a magnificent picture of our God! In His powerful strength and glory He comes at just the right time, riding quickly upon His clouds to our help. What a promise for the weak, fragile, vulnerable uncertain Israelites. What a promise for weak, vulnerable us! Its humbling isn’t it? We don’t like to think we need help do we? We think we are strong and self-sufficient and can defeat and overcome whatever comes our way.

But Moses knew the reality of life in a broken world with broken, weak people so he reorients their focus to look to God. He reminds the Israelites to turn and cry out to their faithful, great warrior God, the mighty one who sees every need and will promptly come to help. Our God promises to be close and present with us in the hardships of life too.

Moses also reminds Israel that their God not only comes to help but He is their place of protection and strength: The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. What a glorious comfort for the Israelites and for us! Amidst life’s hardships and uncertainties God promises to provide safety and security by carrying and protecting us in His strong arms. Arms of divine strength which will not grow weak or weary, arms which uphold and sustain, arms which fight and care for us and arms which will protect and shield His people through pain and sorrow.

Oh to be found within His loving grasp and divine keeping! What security is found in our omnipotent, eternal unchanging, powerful God! The God who comes to help and protect us and keep us till the day we see Him face to face. No trouble can make us sink below His mighty arms.

My friend has demonstrated this promise to me. God has helped and carried her along the hard and difficult path she is still walking. She cries out, He helps and He carries. Just weeks before Pastor Lawan Andimi was killed for loving Jesus he urged his loved ones to “Thank God for everything” and affirmed them they are all in the hands of God whatever happens to them.

May we too rest in the loving arms of our God who rides to our help, protecting and carrying us. Listen to this updated version of an Old Hymn by Co Mission and praise God that there is None like Him!

In September last year we began a sermon series in the gospel according to Mark. Last Sunday (Easter Sunday) we finished it. And Mark's gospel has a strange ending: 'Trembling and bewildering, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid' (Mark 16:8). In fact, it's such a strange ending that a number of scribes in the early centuries tried to add a few paragraphs of their own, which appear in our Bibles as verses 9 to 20. These verses aren't included in the earliest surviving manuscripts of Mark's gospel, which is a sure sign that they're not original. Mark himself wanted to end at verse 8...

NB. There are only two places in the whole of the New Testament where something substantial got added later - the other is John 7:53 to 8:11. Neither of these two additional passages represents a shift in what Christians believe, and both are highlighted very clearly in our modern Bibles. We don't need to be concerned by these additions. In fact, the remarkable thing is how little variation there is between different manuscripts of the New Testament, and how carefully the text was copied.

Having seen that Mark's gospel has a strange ending, the question we need to ask is why? Why does Mark's gospel have such a strange ending? One answer to that question is that it it is historically honest. If Mark was writing a fairy-tale gospel this is the point where Mary, Mary and Salome burst into song accompanied by the angel. Only someone wanting to record facts would dare to give us such an anticlimax: ...the women ... fled ... they were afraid.'

Actually, this isn't the first time in Mark's gospel that the followers of Jesus have responded to him in fear. In Mark 4:35 to 6:6 we saw that a fear of Jesus can be very positive - it's an acknowledgement of how awesomely powerful he is. The Jesus who stops the storm isn't merely a 'mate' but a Messiah. The resurrected Christ isn't someone you take lightly but a King at whose feet you fall. It's right to fear Jesus in the same way that the whole Bible tells us that it's right to fear God. But we've also seen that a fear of Jesus can be very negative - it can combine with unbelief. When the residents in the region of the Decapolis saw the awesome power of Jesus they begged him to leave them alone.

And so how should we understand the women's response of fear at the resurrection? It seems that their fear gives rise to two negative responses. Firstly, they 'fled' from the tomb. The word 'fled' isn't a positive word in Mark's gospel. In 14:50, when Jesus was arrested the disciples 'fled' (along with a naked young man). Or in 5:14 the same word is used to describe the residents in the region of the Decapolis. Secondly, they 'said nothing to anyone' despite being told by the angel to tell the disciples and Peter (16:7).

We understand that the women were afraid - it would be strange if they weren't. The news that Jesus has defeated death should make all of us tremble. But what they do with their fear seems to be negative. We should see fear and joy, and we should see them telling the disciples and Peter. And of course we read those reactions in Matthew, Luke, John and Acts. But we don't read them in Mark. Instead, Mark writes chapter 16 verse 8 and then puts his pen down. He wants this strange ending. And I think it's because he wants us to respond differently to these women - to resolve to respond to the resurrection with fear and joy. And Mark wants us to say something - or to tell the ends of the earth that Jesus is alive. Mark wants us to ask the question: how will we respond to the resurrection?

Kate Short encourages us to read 'Happiness' by J. C. Ryle and join the book discussion at 7:45pm on Thursday 9th April...

We’re facing uncertain times, where anxiety and loss (of loved ones, financial stability and freedoms) are looming ever closer with every daily government briefing we tune into. But this time of uncertainty is also a time of opportunity. Perhaps working from home, no daily commute or just the absence of regular hobbies and commitments has given you more time to slow down and think.

Hopefully, you have received a copy of ‘Happiness’ by J C Ryle through your letterbox over the past week. As a church, we are going to read it together and then, on Thursday 9th April, discuss what we thought as part of a ‘virtual book discussion’.

In case you need persuading, Ryle’s book is short, concise and easy to follow. The language has been updated since it was first written and it shouldn’t take you more than an hour or so to read in one sitting. More importantly, this book couldn’t be more relevant to our current global situation.

We’re living in a time and country where the world is our oyster and yet we have higher rates of depression and family breakdown than ever before. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, thousands of people are facing losing their jobs or business or missing out on milestones like finishing their A-levels or GCSEs and saying goodbye to friends. Lockdown means we are all separated from our friends and extended family, and for those on their own, the next few months are perhaps filled with a huge sense of loneliness and isolation. These circumstances will leave many of us feeling distinctly ‘unhappy’.

But Ryle provides a medicine for this. He doesn’t belittle the very real, difficult circumstances we may be living in. Instead, he exposes the myths we believe and the temptations that lure us to find happiness where it can’t be found, and he points us to the truths we all need to hear about how we can truly be happy.

This is a very weird time for all of us, and you might be missing ‘normal church community’. But this is also a great opportunity for us to grow as a church and to make the most of this time that God has given us.

The book discussion will be very informal and relaxed; a sharing of thoughts rather than a formal bible-study structure. The focus will primarily be application: ‘how does the content of the book apply to us specifically’. With that in mind, have a think about these questions as you’re reading:

  1. What do you feel you are ‘lacking’ in life that means you’re not quite as happy as you could be?

  2. What things are you anxious about for the future which might be robbing you of happiness now? What do these fears and anxieties show about where you may have put your hope?

  3. Are there any areas in your life where your priorities might be in the wrong order?

  4. What difficulties are you experiencing (or have you experienced) that have made it difficult to be happy? What truth does Jesus offer that provides happiness in spite of these difficulties?

  5. Which of the truths about being a ‘true christian’ do you think you need to hear and apply to your heart most?

  6. Do you have any objections to what J C Ryle says after reading the book?

I find it helpful to write in books as I am reading; things I liked and things I was confused by. Feel free to do that as this is a gift from Village Church to you. However, I know some people will see that as sacrilege so if you’d prefer, it might be helpful to write some notes down on your phone just to help you remember what you’ve read as we’re discussing.

I really hope you can join us for our ‘virtual book club’, and I’m looking forward to hearing what you think about what J C Ryle has to say.

Sunday at 10:30am

Mangotsfield Primary School

Emersons Green

Church Farm Road 

BS16 7EY

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