Bethel Baptist Church
Worship Service in the building
23 August 2020
Service available as text (below), or for audio see the Podcasts page.
Welcome to Bethel Baptist Church this Sunday 23 August. Harry and Mandy are on holiday at present – let’s pray that the Lord bless them and refresh them at this time. I’m Graham Steel, and Harry asked me to prepare the message for this morning.
Well, what an unusual year. I have to confess that I felt a bit fraudulent during lockdown, and even since restrictions were eased a little in the summer – I have spent a lot of time at home and I have appreciated life being a bit less busy. Although the restrictions are for the benefit of the health and well-being of all of us, I have been quite well and I am grateful to the Lord for my general health which is better than that for many people. Although I have spent most of my time since March at home, I have been working – working from home. Once again, I am really grateful to the Lord that I have a job and I was not furloughed – I would have found it quite difficult to be productive for an extended period without work. Back in 1992, I experienced three months of unemployment when I was made redundant from my first job – I hated it!
The Lord’s timing is perfect. For much of the year I would like to be cycling to work, but as I have been working from home since March, I have instead been doing a cycle ride most mornings, early in the morning. On Tuesday 11th August I had a good ride. I came home, by the back door I took the panniers off the bike, and then I carried the bike around the back of the house to the shed where it lives. But before I put the bike away, I get the bicycle pump out of the shed and check the tyres. As I went into the shed to get the pump, I heard a loud noise – a heavy shower had started just as I entered the shed, and was hammering on the roof. Thank you Lord, I got home just in time! When I got into the house, Dylys commented that I looked a bit wet, which shows that it was a heavy shower. That evening, some of us from church had a Zoom interview with xxxx, who we are expecting could become our Children and Families Worker. Zoom meetings last for 40 minutes and then suddenly terminate, unless you want to pay for the privilege of a longer meeting. So we had three successive meetings on Tuesday evening – a total of two hours, but at the start of the latter meeting the interview finished, we said goodbye to xxxx, and we continued in discussion and prayer. At the end of the meeting, Harry invited several of us to pray – Andrea was the last to pray. She said her prayer, followed by “Amen”. My head was bowed in front of the Zoom session on the computer for a few more seconds, then I lifted my head to see that the Zoom session had gone – the session had been just long enough for Andrea’s prayer. Like the weather in the morning, perfect timing.
3 Everything that happens in this world happens at the time God chooses.
2 He sets the time for birth and the time for death, the time for planting and the time for pulling up,
3 the time for killing and the time for healing, the time for tearing down and the time for building.
4 He sets the time for sorrow and the time for joy, the time for mourning and the time for dancing,
5 the time for making love and the time for not making love, the time for kissing and the time for not kissing.
6 He sets the time for finding and the time for losing, the time for saving and the time for throwing away,
7 the time for tearing and the time for mending, the time for silence and the time for talk.
8 He sets the time for love and the time for hate, the time for war and the time for peace.
9 What do we gain from all our work? 10I know the heavy burdens that God has laid on us. 11He has set the right time for everything. He has given us a desire to know the future, but never gives us the satisfaction of fully understanding what he does.Ecclesiastes 3:1-11, NASB
What an unusual year. It has been quite different. There is a lot that we might have done, that either we could not do, or we were unprepared to do it in the unexpected restricted circumstances. We cannot and will not remain indefinitely in a temporary state of affairs with regard to Coronavirus. Perhaps at first we wondered how long it would take to return to normal. But soon it became obvious that there would be no one significant day when all restrictions were eased and we would all be safe again. The term “The new normal” is designed to suggest that the world is changed forever. In part this means that we are waiting for a vaccine to protect us from contracting Covid-19, and for other medication to help those who do catch it. In part it means that some safeguards must remain in place. In part it means that our routine and habits are changed – some shops, businesses and services will never return to the old normal, and will close down as they are either no longer viable or no longer required.
To an extent, this is a good thing. Most of us have a natural inertia, we wrongly assume that the status quo is best. Aren’t you glad that some things which were normal in the past, have changed forever. For a long time it was normal for farmers to plough fields with horses or oxen – maybe there are people here who think it would be good to go back to those days. Most of us probably would not want to see that. If you can remember when outside toilets were common, aren’t you glad that toilet technology has moved on since then?
Does anybody remember seeing a mangle in operation? I guess the manufacturers were not too happy about the introduction and rising popularity of washing machines with spin dryers.
We try hard to support out of date shops, businesses and services, when what we need is to let go and allow replacement shops, businesses and services to flourish. The people and businesses who will benefit most from Covid-19 are those who are forward-looking and can see the new replacement goods and services that will be in demand.
The New Normal
I never realised, Google showed me that “The New Normal” is the title of an American TV sit-com, and a quick glance tells me that it is not one that I could commend.
The World Economic Forum despises the phrase “The New Normal” as one which offers comfort to the western world, but states
‘Normal’ has not worked for a majority of the world’s population, so why would it start working now?
The quote comes from an article about sustainable development. We like the concept of “normal” when it allows us to enjoy unsustainable privileges, or more than our fair share.
There is a global consultancy called “Bain” whose mission is to help businesses plan for the future. They recently posted an article entitled ‘The “New Normal” Is a Myth. The Future Won’t Be Normal at All’, and concerning the effects of Covid-19 they state:
We cannot afford to go back to the old way of doing things. The companies that most aggressively adapt and extend new ways of operating will turn this crisis to their advantage.
To summarise an article that I do not want to cover in depth, their message is that for businesses the new normal will be more digital, more automated, and interestingly, “more simple”. By “simple”, they mean that businesses, and churches and all of us should be doing what we need to do, and cut down on the extraneous stuff that we do not need to do.
What does it mean for us, God’s people, and for His Kingdom in this world?
Firstly, Covid-19 may be changing a lot of things, but eternal truths do not change:
7 Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.
8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
9 Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited.Heb 13:7-9, NASB
How curious that in my NASB (the New American Standard Bible translation), the word “is” in verse 8 is italicised. I know that the NASB uses italics to denote words which are not there in the original language and text, but which the translators have inserted so that the sentence is coherent for us. More commonly, we use italics in text as a means of emphasis, and it is fortuitous in this case, a reassurance: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
31 “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’
32 “For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
33 “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.Matt 6:31-33, NASB
Jesus’ injunction “Do not worry about what you will eat or drink” reminds me of the panic buying that set in at the start of lockdown, when people were afraid that supply chains could break down, and wanted to build a stockpile for their own security, and of course this action drove the real shortages. Dylys sometimes tells me that I am worrying when I should not be. More to the point, if I do get anxious about food or drink, or paying bills, or about the health of a loved one; shouldn’t I be all the more anxious about the extension of God’s Kingdom, and whether I am living righteously in His sight?
1 Thessalonians 5:
16 Rejoice always;
17 pray without ceasing;
18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.1 Thes 5:16-18, NASB
I felt a bit wary in selecting these verses, not because they are a problem, but because they occur in the midst of a series of exhortations and I would not want to suggest that the others are less important. You can check it out in 1 Thessalonians 5 in your own time. In any case, circumstances do not change anything here: our focus must be upon the Lord, and He is good.
So firstly, we have looked at scriptures that show some eternal truths that do not change. But secondly, as living beings we are changing all the time.
2 Peter 1:
1 Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ:
2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord;
3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.
4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.
5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge,
6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness,
7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.
8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.2 Peter 1:1-8, NASB
We might be more familiar with the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, but Peter provides us with a similar list: faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, love. It is a high standard: whilst you should strive for the high standard, if you are truthful, you will probably say, “I am not there yet”. That is why I chose this passage rather than the one in Galatians, and have highlighted those words “If these qualities are yours and are increasing”. The Christian life should be one of growth, and growth means change. If you know a child well, but you only see that child once a year, maybe at Christmas, you will notice the difference each time – the child is growing. Christians should be growing, and if you are no different this year to what you were last year, something may be wrong.
As a church, we must be faithful to an unchanging God, but at the same time we must be adapting and changing as He directs us. We want to appoint a Children and Families Worker to help us to re-engage with younger generations. A 20th century church will not effectively reach a 21st century community – we must be ready to change. Perhaps the bigger challenge comes with social distancing and playing safe. Just as shops and businesses have had to adapt, we need to be attentive to the Lord as to how we can reach out and serve the community in safe and respectful ways.
In Ecclesiastes 3 we read that “Everything that happens in this world happens at the time God chooses”. King Solomon the author then lists a number of life events, and it does not matter whether we are contemporaries of Solomon or living in the 21st century – each of us experiences most of what he lists. Although he is listing the ups and downs of life in this world, his message is that God is in control and He determines that we experience these events at the time of His choosing. He knows; we are often caught by surprise and maybe unprepared. It is our duty to love Him, trust Him, and be faithful to Him.
I have to confess that in one respect the lockdown this year came as a relief to me: I felt a bit less busy. But we must not use changing circumstances as an excuse to cut back on our faithfulness to the Lord.
I have become conscious in recent weeks of how broad a spectrum of opinion there is in society and in the church of how we should respond to Covid-19. At one extreme, people believe that we should be prepared to take a hit with the loss of some lives and some uncomfortable sickness, and society should be allowed and encouraged to continue work and social life as normal – in theory there should be no great loss of jobs, no great recession. At the other extreme, people believe that we should extend lockdown and restrictions in order to minimise loss of life and quash the spread of Covid-19 as quickly as possible. The clash of widely differing opinions, especially when so much is at stake, leads to unrest and instability.
Heavenly Father, You are the creator of all things. All that we have comes from You. You made everything good. The world is in a mess, and we humbly confess that this is the result of our own sinfulness. We pray that in Your grace and mercy, You would lift the Covid-19 virus from our world. As Jesus taught us to love one another, we pray that You would inspire all people to recognise the importance of respecting one another; also that You appointed rulers and authorities in this world in order that we might have peace, and that as far as possible, we need to be submissive to the authorities who are over us.
We pray especially for a spirit of peace in Lebanon, and that You would be gracious to the people of Beirut whose lives were sent into turmoil when the explosion happened. Please bless every effort to bring aid and relief to the people of Beirut.
We pray that You would bless all in our church, and bring about a time when the majority of us are able meet together again, to worship You, and to encourage and serve one another.
38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,
39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.Rom 8:38, 39, NASB