So we are in lockdown again here in the UK. To be fair, in Manchester we have been in one form of lockdown or another since last March apart from a mad two weeks or so in summer when we were encouraged to ‘Go Out To Spread Covid About’. Now here we are again.
‘Lockdown’ gets frustrating because it’s so LIMITING.
When I think of all the people I can’t see, all the places I can’t go, all the things I can’t do, compared with what I used to be able to do. All these external limiters, I’m like you, I can start to get gloomy, kind of claustrophobic. The walls are closing in…
How can that change?
One way is when I start to think about what I can do, rather than what I can’t.
Most great innovations have historically have come out of hard times when people had to reinvent, realign, reconfigure – or just start something completely new. That’s one thing I have loved to see in the church since Covid first kicked in and many have responded in imaginative ways.
Personally speaking, I know I could easily look at what I can’t do all day long and before long I’d get down – or…
I could ask what I could do, or rather, what God could do through me, if I offer myself and everything I have back to him, and say to his Holy Spirit ‘Please use me.’
What a great prayer, a dangerous prayer, just two words, but everything changes when I pray them: “USE ME!” I guarantee God will always answer that prayer because he loves to hear it.
I started thinking about the apostle Paul as I looked in the maps in the back of my Bible and there are all these journeys. Not holidays, Spirit led missionary journeys he took.
Paul often went along the trade routes of his day to cross cities and countries across much of the known world of his day. We read in Acts details on these dangerous journeys where he went around telling everyone about his past life as a persecutor of Jesus followers who was turned around on the Damascus Road by the One he had once blasphemed.
As he did so many believed too, but he was all too often persecuted himself, threatened, tried, beaten, shipwrecked, flogged, bitten by a snake! Nothing stopped him.
I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.Acts 20:24
He kept going where he sent next, because he didn’t sign up for an easy life or expect it because he followed a man who went to a cross, after all. knew from the start when Jesus called him it wouldn’t be easy so he never expected it to, how’s this for a job description from Jesus?
“This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name”Acts 9:15-16
Then came lockdown.
There were of course many times when he could not travel weren’t there?Acts closes out with Paul arriving in Rome under guard everywhere he went, bound with a chain, then he’s placed under house arrest for two years in Rome, doing what? No Sudoku. No Netflix. But it says he welcomed everyone during that time..
proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.Acts 28:31
‘Without hindrance.’ What does that mean? It means nothing can stop the Lord from using us, but us.
The fact is, those times when Paul was in prison or under house arrest, the words he wrote while there, have actually left us a far greater legacy than anything he did face to face when he had been ‘free’ to visit thew cities physically on his missionary journeys.
Paul wrote from confinement to Timothy, the young man he had called to be his apprentice and son in the faith – he never stopped mentoring and encouraging this nervous young leader know what no matter what, writing to remind him, “God’s word is not chained. Therefore I endure everything.” When you realise God’s word is not chained, it sets you free, and helps you endure anything.
Who could you encourage today? Even if you can’t get out of the house for any reason? Is there someone who comes to mind, I’m sure there will be if you sit quiet for a few minutes undistracted, maybe the Holy Spirit will remind you of someone from long ago, perhaps it’s some young person who’s worrying what the future holds, or someone younger in the faith you could pray for and get in touch with sending a card or a text, encourage someone today from where you are?
SPREAD SOME JOY!
Paul wrote his most joy filled letter to the church at Philippi to cheer them up while he was in another prison.
“I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.
How? How come? Because he wouldn’t let anything stop that happening! He kept pivoting, changing, finding a way to share Jesus with someone, so the gospel could go viral – and now who is less than 2 metres away he can spread it to? Hmm… he’s chained between two guards – so they are a captive audience! “Hey guys, can I tell you why I’m really here? I used to be just like you once you know, I loved arresting Christians and then one day I was headed to Damascus to round up some more when suddenly…”
As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. (There’s a little revival going on in Cell Block P)
‘And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.‘
You will be an example during this time of crisis, either a good one or a bad one! You can sit alone sucking your thumb all day, or find a way to share the hope you have inside no matter what’s happening or going to happen outside. There’s so much bad news you can choose to be your focus or you can partner with the unchained, unhindered good news. There’s always a way, where there’s a will.
The apostle Peter who served a bit of time for Jesus himself wrote to Christians scattered and under pressure everywhere that they should always be ready to give a reason to everyone who asks why you have hope. That indicates that though we go through the same things everyone else might, because we now never go through it alone but with Jesus standing with us we can go through it differently, so others see the difference. They’ll say ‘Hey, your job’s in danger too… how come you’re still smiling?’ Those people you’ve been telling at work for years that you’re a Christian will be watching even closer now to see if it helps. Because right now everyone is hungrier than ever for hope.
If you’re just as worried about money, just as negative, just as fearful about death as a non-believer, you better check (with God) whether you really are a Christian. When Paul was put in prison, he kept the place up all night singing, and it wasn’t the blues or country and western. That’s what led to another prison revival. Nothing stops the Lord, unless we stop.
SHARE THE GOOD NEWS
There’s bad news on loop on every channel and platform. Every now and then the newsreaders try to brighten it up at the end telling us a duck learned to ride a skateboard. Meanwhile, we get..
To bring good news to the afflicted;Isaiah 61:1
To bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives
And freedom to prisoners
Who’s close to you that you could share the good news of Jesus with? Paul had those prison guards, so that’s where he started. I’m praying for a guy called Ray who lives right opposite my house. Ex soldier. I’ve had a couple of good chats with him when I have gone out for my exercise walk and I offered him a 4 Points Card – and he took it.
BE INTERESTED IN OTHERS
Paul thought about others while he was inside.
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.Phil 2:4
I know if I just self focus all the time in the house I’d go bonkers really quickly and find myself in a dark place before too long. But then I look at what and who Paul thought about – who he prayed for, expressed his gratitude to, who he encouraged, and I can see there’s always a choice of what’s on my mind.
For example at the end of his letter to the Romans, after all that theology, he doesn’t just sign off with ‘kind regards.’ No. But he shows us a glimpse of his prayer list and his grateful for list, and who he wants God to bless list (you do have them don’t you?). He has a word of blessing for loads of people in this place where he can’t see anyone face to face, but he looks to heaven and thanks God for them one by one with a smile from his cell as he talks about what a blessing they are;
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. 2 I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.
3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. 4 They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.
5 Greet also the church that meets at their house.
(How’s the church that meets at your house right now? Greetings to it!)
Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.
6 Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.
7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among[d] the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.
(Hmm Junia the female apostle… interesting…)
8 Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord.
9 Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys.
10 Greet Apelles, whose fidelity to Christ has stood the test.
On and on, until he says,
16 Greet one another with a holy kiss.
I love that! Doesn’t work at the moment with social distancing, but when all this is over – I am puckered up! At the moment of course we are online. Do you moan about that? Or should we seize the opportunity? What would Paul have given for a chance to reach the nations through the internet instead of having to get on another leaky boat? Thousands of new people keep checking us out, some weeks more than when the first lockdown happened – it’s fantastic. We had someone joining and fully interacting with our Ivy Church online service live last Sunday from Brisbane Australia. Amazing.
Nothing stops the Lord. Why should Covid or Lockdown stop us? In fact, this can ‘only serve to advance’ the gospel!
Paul fought slavery while he was stuck inside.
We don’t ever have to be stuck, when there’s plenty so wrong in the world right now we can get stuck into. Paul started the letter he wrote to a rich guy he knew called Philemon with the words, “Paul – a prisoner of the Lord” Did he self focus? Did he ask him to post bail or say ‘I’m a Christian celebrity get me out of here?” No.
The only reason he wrote was to appeal to Philemon in the strongest terms to set his slave Onesimus free. Even though he’d run away and maybe even stolen from him, he said ‘He’s your brother, receive him like that.”
There’s a cause you can can fight for, a wrong you can fight against, a struggle you can join, an injustice you can be part of making right. Today!
Jesus said “Go into the all the world and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey me…”Matthew 28:19
You say ‘I can’t go anywhere.’
Really? Change your mind. (That’s a nice way to say repent)
What’s your world? Who’s in your world?
You have a world God has put you in. There are 2.7 Billion people in the world of Facebook alone, more people than China. You probably have some friends on there or some social media platform who are worried and wondering if there’s a God and they’re even praying right now for themselves or someone.
They’re also watching what you’re putting out there. So it would probably be a good idea if you did too. We can have views on everything of course but if all they ever hear from you is doom and gloom, why your politics is right (or left), you probably need to take the word Christian off your profile.
Why not post a Bible verse from how God spoke to you? You are reading it I’m sure? It’s our daily bread and I’d be emaciated without it.
How much would the apostle Paul have loved a Facebook page? We are in times when the whole world just got WAY bigger for the church, while we sit around moaning we can’t go to services like we used to and we ‘just long for community but we’ve have had enough of screens’ – so let’s download another boxset instead.
What can you do?
This is often the issue, we start to think what we can’t do. But
What can you do?
What could you do?
What can we do together? That’s an even better question and it’s why it’s great to be part of a church because we can do a lot more together than any of us can do alone.
I was thinking about some of the things Ivy has been doing in the last year and you know what? It’s really true – the gospel isn’t chained.
Even just over Christmas if you’re part of our church, together we’ve been getting the word, the good news, out there no matter what, any way we can, rather than just complain or get paralysed by the ways we can’t.
We have helped feed the homeless, helped a prison ministry, food pantries, done the Christmas shop and helped the Message Community Shop. We have helped the sick, encouraged the weak and strengthened struggling marriages, obviously we don’t publish details about it to protect people’s dignity but we never stop loving people in a world of need.
Who Can We Bless?
Quite often I’ll say to the staff team, or often to the elders, “Who can we bless?” It’s SUCH fantastic fun! We do this because we are not paupers, we are a kingdom of priests.
Remember the time when King David said, ‘Who is there we can bless from the house of Saul?” That’s how royalty thinks. That’s how God thinks when he blesses you and me? They ended up being generous to a disabled man that day in a way that changed his whole life.
That’s how we think in the kingdom. Not ‘Who will bless me? How do I get blessed?”
“Who is there that I can bless? Who is it we can bless?’
God will tell you – because he’s thinking the same. He’ll show you someone. Someone you can love like Jesus, someone you can love for Jesus.
If you say ‘Oh I just can’t do it because I am home- schooling, looking after kids” Listen – DO IT WITH THEM!
Find a way to show them, involve them, saying,
We can teach these things to our children, the schools won’t but it’s a really important lesson forever because if you’re a Christian this is how we will be judged. You don’t get saved by good works, but for good works that God has prepared in advance for us to walk in today.
You won’t be judged for salvation but for what you did for others with the new life only Jesus can give us. What we did for him.
This is how we’ll be judged guys, even if there’s a lockdown right now – if you say you’re a believer, this day is coming and I believe it’s very soon…
Matt 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the [a]holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’
41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
44 “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’
I dare you to pray that “USE ME” prayer today – and remember, you’re never stuck in – if you get stuck in!