(December 19, 2020) Brian Bell challenges our moving into 2021…
A nearby retailer’s Christmas catalogue included interviews with several local personalities and one of the questions asked was to reflect on 2020 and what they had learned ie ‘The best piece of advice I’ve ever received was…’ Interestingly one young woman’s reply was ‘This too shall pass…’
Now whether she was aware or not, those words have a scriptural basis. There are times in scripture we read ‘and it came to pass…’ and while the context such as in Luke 2:1 (KJV, Darby) relates to fulfilment of an event, I have heard believers use them in the sense that ‘difficult’ or ‘bad’ times will pass.
Hope for 2021
I’m sure for many, the fact that 2020 is going brings some relief and the hope for something better in 2021. Its true 2020 proved an exceedingly difficult year, as we remember those who lost their lives to the virus; grieving families; for the organisations which collapsed for financial reasons; the loss of jobs and the impact on livelihoods; loneliness for many who live alone. We applauded, of course, frontline health and other workers.
Believers who live free from persecution, we Christians found that although our habit of fellowshipping together was disrupted, we were not separated from fellowship with the Lord! More than at any time previously we found modern communication over the internet proved its better side.
I believe we can praise the Lord that as 2020 draws to a close, a vaccine, which I understand should have taken 10 years to get through its various stages, has been ‘fast tracked.’ We had been praying the Lord would intervene and I personally believe the sovereign Lord enables those in the scientific and medical field for, as a person who has been taking medication for almost six months now to deal with a specific medical condition, I know how medication has helped in my treatment.
And, as we did throughout 2020, as it comes to an end, we can continue to look to God’s word! In this short meditation I go to Ezekiel 34:16NLT with three main thoughts of reaching out (without elaborating, but based of God’s example of caring) …
The context of Ezekiel 34 is one of contrast as the Lord tells Ezekiel to prophesy against the shepherd leaders of Israel and verse four highlights specific failings of those shepherd leaders. When we come to verse 16, the Lord says how he will shepherd his people: ‘I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.’
1. Going out – ‘I will search…’
This speaks to me about attitudes and actions. Now we don’t all have the same aptitudes but here are ways of how we may go out –
i) Going out to our fellowships –
I believe that as we are able, it is important for our spiritual well-being that we meet with other believers as Hebrews 10:25 says ‘… let us not neglect our meeting together…’ While this includes our Sunday assemblies, it also includes gathering for times of prayer and Bible study. If we are in a commitment of membership (our Congregational denomination has formally membership-admitted and non-member adherents). It is important we seek to encourage and support our fellow believers and the pastor by our presence, engaging and giving as we are able.
ii) Going out to our communities –
In past years here in Northern Ireland, it was common to engage in door-to-door visitation, perhaps giving out gospel tracts and or holding open-air witness. This is not so prevalent in the present day and it is quite common to see a sign on many doors ‘No cold calling, no junk mail.’ One of the more innovative steps taken by our faith community in recent years has been ‘community initiatives’ whereby our local church fellowships have joined to form ‘all age’ teams who engage in activities such as gardening as a means of bringing a gospel witness.
iii) Going out to our world –
The world is much more accessible than it was in the late 19th and early 20th century when much ‘pioneer’ missionary activity took place. Missionary organisations are in the main, well structured, reaching out to many parts of the world and yet there is still a significant ‘unreached’ population. Radio and television broadcasts, whether local or more international and of course the internet provide platforms which if effectively use, can be effective tools for evangelism.
2. Drawing in – ‘…bring them safely home again…’
It is a cause for concern when people we know seem to become disinterested in spiritual matters and for whatever reason stray (backslide as we sometimes say) or simply stay away from the place of fellowship, or struggle with issues of faith. Some folk are perhaps discouraged and Jude in his letter (Message version) says: ‘…go easy on those who hesitate in the faith, go after those who take the wrong way.’
We still need to assure folk of the Lord’s love for them as well as ours and be there for them and this is one way in which pastoral visitation (not solely a role for the pastor!) can be valuable.
3. Lifting up – ‘… bind up … strengthen…’
This speaks to me about the role of a shepherd and it relates to those in a leadership role in our fellowships. People may be hurt (injured) as in this verse, they may become spiritually weak. We need to poor in the oil and wine. Of course, people in leadership are not without imperfections, we too may struggle, however, we are to try and lead with a view to lifting them up.
A friend of mine, much older and mature than me, told me of an incident in which he met a young man who been through an exceedingly difficult life experience and who was no longer in fellowship and how he tried to encourage him. ‘You don’t kick a man when he’s down’ he told me – he had the right spirit for lifting up.
We are often refreshed by the well-known Jeremiah 29:11, God’s word spoken to his people in captivity. His plans are for our good even when things haven’t worked out to our expectation; he is sovereign in all things.
Here are the words of a song from my more youthful days, I am not sure who authored it, but I believe it is still in use in one form or another, not necessarily in the version I am familiar with and quote below…
‘How great is our God, how great is his name,
He’s a wonderful Saviour,
He’s forever the same,
He rolled back the waters of the mighty Red Sea and
He said, “I’ll never leave thee, put you trust in me.”’
As we enter 2021 may we know the Lord’s mighty hand on our lives, the lives of our families and our church fellowships.
Brian Bell is a diaconate member, Christ Church (Congregational) Abbots Cross, Northern Ireland, and a volunteer with Disabled Christians Fellowship Ireland. He describes himself as ‘grateful for the privilege and opportunity given me to serve my Lord.’ Link: The-Prospect-No-Room-at-the-Inn