15. Chris - lockdown poems
Our final "Lent Encouragement" is from Chris.
During lockdown I believe I was given a gift to write poetry and it helped me to express how I was feeling about events in my life and what other people were going through. It also enabled me to write a short book of poems which included Bible verses to help remind me and others that whatever trials we are going through we can always turn to God and cast all our anxieties on him.
Chris has written this poem, entitled "Have You?" for Lent.
Have you ever been betrayed by your close friends?
Have you ever driven a mountain pass with tight narrow bends?
Have you ever had a crowd baying for your blood?
Have you admired a craftsman working with wood?
Have you heard the cock crow all three times?
Have you savoured the taste of crisp white wines?
Have you worn a crown with spiky thorns?
Have you watched a sunrise as a new day dawns?
Have you had nails hammered in your hand?
Have you sat in the warmth and got suntanned?
Have you been sealed in a tomb with a massive stone?
Have you licked ice cream off a crispy cone?
Have you risen again after laying there dead?
Have you found Jesus and on his words fed?
Jesus died and rose to take away our sins. True pleasure in him, real love always wins.
14. Audrey - shelter from the storm
Today's "Lent Encouragement" is by Audrey.
One night I was awakened by a severe storm outside, I became frightened, as one does, when awakened suddenly from sleep by loud noises against the window pane. Where could I go for shelter from the storm? In the Bible, God is often pictured as a mother bird who nestles her young under her wings. Here is security, warmth, protection, provision, love and care. I imagined myself as one of those chicks with my mother - a magnificent eagle, God Himself. I was secure, and I fell back to sleep. What storms are you facing? Psalm 57 verse 1 says: “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.” Rest secure under the wings of The Almighty.
You can read the whole of Psalm 57 here.
13. Teresa - woven together
Today's "Lent Encouragement" is by Teresa.
I love to make patchwork quilts in my spare time, so I decided that lockdown would be a good time to make another. But without the joy of going to fabric shops to choose the materials in person, I thought I would try to make one out of all the scraps I had left over from other projects. At about the same time, I was reading a novel in which a quilt had become a family heirloom. The woman who had inherited it was fascinated by the history that it told, but she was particularly struck that the thread holding it all together was like the thread of God’s love woven into the family’s history. As I started out with my pile of scrap pieces of fabric, I realised that what I had didn’t look like much. It felt like the scraps of our lives – not much to look at and easily disregarded. But as I joined them together and they started to create something beautiful, I was reminded of verses 13 & 14 of Psalm 139, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” It is as if God takes the scraps of our lives, our brokenness and worthlessness and creates them into something truly beautiful. He sees the value in us and loves us enough to take the time to weave Himself into our lives that we might reflect His glory. And the patchwork quilt is also a beautiful metaphor for our church – not the building, but the people who make it special. We come in all shapes, sizes and ages. We all have different histories and baggage. But when God draws us together, we become His beautiful Church.
The photograph shows just a section of Teresa's scrap quilt. You can read the whole of Psalm 139 here.
12. Will - Easter unity
Today's "Lent Encouragement" is by Will.
Easter is always a special time. Soon after we moved to Hartford, I attended a Maundy Thursday service at the Methodist church. It was lovely to come together with brothers and sisters in the parish to think about that journey to the cross and what Jesus accomplished for us there. That picture of unity is something that has stayed with me. I love these verses from Colossians 1: "The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
You can read the whole of Colossians 1 here.
11. Alison - Jesus with us in stormy seas
Today's "Lent Encouragement" is by Alison.
Recently I received some particularly bad news regarding my cancer and my future treatment. God has been with me throughout this 10 year journey but at this moment in time the future was bleak. I felt like the options being offered were similar to jumping into a black hole. I had images of a black hole like we hear about in space, nothingness and empty, going on forever and I had to jump into it. I didn’t want to, but that was my only option. Then a couple of days later, whilst on the phone with my sister I was suddenly reminded of one time when the disciples were in a boat on the sea of Galilee in a storm; Jesus came towards them, walking on water. When the disciples saw him walking on water, they were terrified and cried out, “its a ghost”. But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said, “Take courage, I am here!” Then Peter (one of his disciples) called to Him. “Jesus if it is really you, tell me to come to you walking on the water.“ “Yes, come” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water towards Jesus. The realisation for me that I wasn’t going to have to jump into a black hole with nothing but emptiness, but instead, I had to climb out of a boat and keep my eyes on Jesus and walk on water. Both are hard, but knowing I have Jesus there with me to hold me up, as long as I keep my eyes on Jesus it will be ok. And I would much rather climb out of a boat and walk on water with Jesus than jump into a black hole of nothingness. A little while after this amazing reassurance, I realised that God has chosen me to be in that boat with him, its not my decision it is totally his, and Jesus will always be in that boat on the stormy seas for me and for all of us who choose to trust in God and put our faith in Him.
You can read this in Matthew chapter 14 verses 22-33.
The photograph is of a textile picture that Alison made a few years ago.
10. Chris - perfect peace
Today's "Lent Encouragement" is by Chris.
This verse has been a real blessing to me over the years - "You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you." (from Isaiah 26 v 3). This verse has helped me so much over the years during times of worry and concerns. It’s such a wonderful promise and I love what it says to me. It has really helped me get through some difficult times. When my mind just won’t let me think of anything but the problem, I go over this verse in my mind and begin to realise that I am indeed experiencing the peace that God promises in this scripture. Thank you Lord."
9. Mo - the greatest love
Today's "Lent Encouragement" is by Mo, who describes herself as 'a single working mother of three children & not bad at cutting hair'.
During this time of uncertainty, the commandment I have been encouraged to look at is the second greatest. “Thou shall love thy neighbour as thyself” (Mathew 22:39) We are not called to ‘like’ everyone but to love them. Treating each other with respect, without judgement or prejudice, without preaching or personal preference. To walk with them where they are and to love them as Jesus loves us as imperfect beings. Not easy! As a member of St John’s we are studyong a book together called ‘Gentle & Lowly’. It’s such a wonderful book about the character of the very heart of Jesus. As imperfect beings we have sinned our way into his heart, but, He will not allow us to sin our way out. What security that brings into our insecure world; the greatest love we will ever know.
8. Sue - God's blessings
Our next "Lent Encouragement" is from Sue
I'm an outreach worker in the community for adults with learning disabilities and or mental health problems. God's blessings have enabled me to work and cope with mum and dad who are both in hospital and also my partner who has bowel cancer... who lives separately to me in the Manchester area. My dad has been very ill bordering on critical, but he has recently turned a corner health wise and is on the road to recovery. Every day I say, "I trust you God".
7. Judith - getting into the Bible
Our next "Lent Encouragement" is by Judith
During the last few months I feel very blessed to have had more time to “get into” the Bible and to share what I’m reading with others. I have been especially pleased to see a very close friend who is a new Christian (and as yet doesn’t have a church to attend while Covid is here) growing in faith via our Daily Devotionals last year and our sermons via YouTube. It is lovely for me to discuss issues with her knowing that we now share in God’s grace.
Please visit St John's YouTube channel if you would like to listen to any of the Daily Devotions or services that have been available online over the last year. You can also access the complete set of Daily Devotions in a single playlist.
6. Liz - lockdown wedding
Our next "Lent Encouragement" is by Liz
In April 2020, my daughter Holly and her boyfriend Steve got engaged. We spent the year trying to plan a wedding for 31st December (New Year’s Eve), with constantly changing Covid rules and lockdowns. We had plan A, B, C ... This was quite stressful and challenging but we continued to trust God and his sovereignty in all things. Holly and Steve just wanted to be able get married before God in church, no matter what the restrictions. With the announcement on 23rd December of changing Covid tiers, we were left with no choice but to have their wedding the next day, Christmas Eve. In 20 hours we organised the most special, joyous, blessed wedding day. Thanks to those who dropped everything to help and praise be to our faithful loving God.
'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'. Jeremiah 29:11
The photograph is of Steve and Holly on their wedding day on Christmas Eve at St John's Church
5. Janie - Grandma
Today's "Lent Encouragement" is by Janie.
My Grandma died alone, in a home, in the first lockdown in 2020. It was heart breaking that family were unable to be with her in the weeks before and whilst she was dying. My Grandma had had a close relationship with Jesus her whole life and knowing that God was with her in her suffering at the end and that she is now with Him, in a place without suffering, gave my family and I amazing comfort and peace.
The photograph is of Janie's Grandma.
4. Dee - walk and talk
Today's "Lent Encouragement" is by Dee.
One of the blessings I have experienced during lockdown has been the joy of my regular “walk and talks". As this was limited to one person each walk I have been blessed to get to know people even better than I thought I did. This deepening relationship reminded me of the importance of communicating regularly with God to develop a deeper relationship with Him. My walks have also affirmed the glorious world we inhabit and the intricacies of the simplest of things, from raindrops on a twig to frost on a branch. Indeed, in Genesis 1:31 we are told that “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good”.
The photograph is one that Dee took on one of her walks.
3. Nathan - lockdown introductions
Today's "Lent Encouragement" is also a "Meet the new staff member".
My name is Nathan, I am engaged to Gypsey and I moved to Hartford in the beginning of December. Because of moving here during lockdown, I have yet to experience church or life in Hartford without restrictions! My role as Youth worker allows me to work with the 11–18-year-olds in our local community and reach them with the good news of the gospel. I see it as really important to get alongside our young people and properly invest in them, to show them that they have a wonderful God and are loved deeply by him. I came to faith through the youth work at Keswick so I have personal experience of how important this work can be! Things have been challenging starting a new job in lockdown and not being able to meet in person, but I have been really encouraged by the times we have been able to spend online and seeing young people engaging with the Bible.
2. David - protecting God's creation
Today's "Lent Encouragement" is from David, writing about God's wonderful creation.
"We all love to attract birds whether it's with children at a pond or by setting up feeding stations in our gardens and we delight to see a new variety especially if it's colourful. I like to use up scraps of wood to build bird boxes for smaller birds and by changing the design attract different ones. We now have some nesting boxes in our church tower to attract swifts and other boxes in our churchyard. It does not always go well as they can be attacked by cats, squirrels and larger birds and it is upsetting when they don't survive to leave the nest. The dedication of the parent birds is very impressive and even if disturbed or only one parent survives they will still go about feeding their young.
The psalmist talks of God having us under His protective wing and Jesus, as he laments over Jerusalem, likens himself to a mother hen wanting to gather her chicks in order to protect them. Birds in general and sparrows in particular are used to illustrate God's ongoing care. We too are called to protect that which is vulnerable especially if it reflects God's love and care for us."
The photograph shows one of the nesting boxes that David has made.
1. Amy - pancakes and pondering
Our first "Lent Encouragement" was from Amy. The photograph above shows Amy with her mother over 70 years ago.
Lent has always been a favourite time for me, heralded well over 70 years ago by the wonderful Shrove Tuesday pancakes my mother always made! Always a season to reflect and take stock.... but it comes this year with even more of a challenge, since that's what I seem to have been doing for months! I am sure that never in my life have I done more "pondering", more praying and experiencing the Lord's overruling each day...He has indeed been my refuge and strength. Lockdown has given time to ponder old truths in new situations and to count my blessings, and opportunities to find new creative ways to bless people and to be blessed through many wonderful streamed services.