3 fears that turn up when God is at work

The dimmed lights. The chair. “I’ve started so I’ll finish”. I don’t need to add Magnus Magnusson or even John Humphrys to reveal that the subject in question is Mastermind. For a generation, or two or three, it was and perhaps is the greatest, most challenging of all quiz shows.

What you might not know about Mastermind is how it came to be.

It was the brainchild of Bill Wright. Wright had been a gunner on an RAF bomber in the second world war. His plane was shot down and he was taken prisoner. Part of his experience as a prisoner of war was interrogation. Interrogation in a darkened room. The interrogation began with three questions seeking his name, rank and number.

Not surprisingly the experience left its scars on the airman. Recurring nightmares of sitting in a darkened room being asked to provide his name rank and number continued into the post war years.

One day the story goes, Wright had an idea, an idea to turn his nightmare into a quiz show. The darkened room would remain. The intimidating interrogator would remain. But instead of being asked for name rank and number, the contestants would be asked for their name, occupation and specialist subject. The BBC liked the idea and Mastermind was born.

Not everyone is able to turn their fear into a successful quiz show. The Mastermind story is, however, a reminder that fear can be turned to our advantage. In fact, the gospels give the distinct impression that when fear is around it is frequently a sign that God wants to or is about to do something. The fear is evidence of His closeness not an indication of His absence (Matthew 10.28, 31, 14.27, 17.7, 28.10; Luke 5.10, 8.50, 12.32).

How do we apply that to our lives in practical terms?

Firstly, you can feel afraid because you feel unworthy.

When Simon Peter and his friends brought in a miraculous haul of fish because they obeyed Jesus’ command, Simon Peter’s reaction was perhaps not one we would expect:  “Go away Jesus – I’m too sinful to be associated with you”.

Jesus’ response? “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”

Don’t let the fear of your own weakness keep you from the mission to which Jesus calls you.

Secondly, you can feel afraid when you face opposition.

When Jesus sent His disciples out on mission, He knew that they would face opposition.

How did He teach them to handle the fear of opposition? Fear God more than people (Matthew 10.28). And remember that your heavenly Father will look after you (Matthew 10.29-31).

Thirdly, you can feel afraid when your future seems uncertain.

The story of the disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee in stormy weather while Jesus slept is well known. Jesus stills the storm and then asks them why they were afraid. They were no doubt afraid because they thought they didn’t have a future! But when Jesus is in your boat you always have a future. He’s started His work in you. And He’ll finish it.

 

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It’s never too late for grace

At the age of eighteen he was king. By twenty-one he had lost his throne and spent the next thirty-six years in a foreign prison.

That was the trajectory of King Jehoiachin’s life up until the age of fifty-seven. Caught up in events that heralded the exile of the nation of Judah, Jehoiachin’s personal and public faithlessness both mirrored and encouraged the declining spiritual health of the nation.

You search in vain for any indication that the final years of Jehoiachin’s life might escape the kind of futility and failure that had marked his first fifty-seven years. 2 Kings 24.6-17 and Jeremiah 22 present a depressing picture.

However, right at the end of 2 Kings, the picture unexpectedly brightens up:

27 In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the year Awel-Marduk became king of Babylon, he released Jehoiachin king of Judah from prison. He did this on the twenty-seventh day of the twelfth month. 28 He spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat of honour higher than those of the other kings who were with him in Babylon. 29 So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes and for the rest of his life ate regularly at the king’s table. 30 Day by day the king gave Jehoiachin a regular allowance as long as he lived. 2 Kings 25.27-30

At the age of fifty-seven, after a lifetime of frustration, failure and futility, God dramatically changes everything. A new king comes to power in Babylon. And everything changes. God changes everything. For the rest of his life Jehoiachin is honoured in a way that he has perhaps never experienced.

No matter how difficult or frustrating life has been, God can dramatically change things. Thirty-six years of setback can be overturned in one day. That’s God. That’s grace. And it applies every bit as much to you as it did to Jehoiachin. It’s never too late for grace.

3 Reasons to bother with small groups

If you have never had the experience, spare a thought for those who have had the experience.

First up is the possibility of complete non-attendance – except for the leader(s). Or worse still, the group of two. The two least connected people in the group – that usually has eight other members – trying to “go through the programme”. Then there’s the singing. Out of tune singing to an out of tune guitar.

And the person who talks too much. And the person who doesn’t want to talk. And the person who somehow manages to bring the antichrist or the abomination of desolation into every answer to every question.  And the silences in the prayer time. And I could go on. And you could go on. Did I tell you about the time I asked someone if he would like to close in prayer and he just said “No”? I suppose he was at least being honest.

Small groups. House groups, home groups, cell groups, connect groups, interest groups – whatever you want to call them, they have the potential to be the most awkward, cringe worthy experience you can sign up for!

So why bother?

Let me give you three good reasons to bother.

Small groups give us the opportunity to give and receive encouragement. Notice I said give and receive encouragement.

We all need encouragement. 1 Thessalonians 5.11 says: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

We need encouragement because it builds us up. But encouragement is a two way street. Verses like the one just quoted create an expectation that church is not just where we receive encouragement but also where we give encouragement. You are supposed to be an encourager as well as one who is encouraged. Connect groups enable us to operate in giving mode as well as receiving mode.

Without small groups, a church will face an encouragement deficit

Secondly, small groups provide an opportunity for us to exercise spiritual gifts in a safe environment.

In 1 Corinthians 14.26 Paul paints a picture of what church can be like:

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.

But how does that work, even in a smaller church of, say, twenty people? Everyone has something to share is what Paul is suggesting. Small groups are ideal for the level of participation that Paul sets out in this verse.

Finally, small groups enable us to ensure that we stay true to our calling and mission in the end times.

Hebrews 10.24-25 says:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

It is in the context of giving encouragement to and receiving encouragement from one another that we find the impetus to stick with the mission, even when there is difficulty and opposition.

Small groups are important. Not because they are another meeting to attend. They are important because they create the climate in which our faith and love can grow. I’m not sure we can’t really be church without them.

“Creating an atmosphere”

Some people create an atmosphere. At least that’s the way we describe their impact. I’m not entirely sure of the psychological dynamics of that phrase. I just know that when some people enter the room something changes. Whether that’s a result of our reaction to something that we perceive at a conscious or subconscious level or whether it needs a different explanation, I do not know. What I do know is that some people change the atmosphere.

We normally think of creating an atmosphere as something bad, something negative.

Some people however, create a good atmosphere.

Take Barnabas (Acts 11.22-24). He created an atmosphere when he went to investigate the revival at Antioch. Given that he was on a mission to investigate what was going on, it would have been easy for Barnabas to settle for assessing the situation. But he chose encouragement over assessment.

And the atmosphere that he created resulted in the growth of the church and eventually the beginning of a missionary movement.

Encouragement is a profound atmosphere changer. If you decide to be an encourager you’ll create an atmosphere. A good one. Guaranteed. Have a go and see if it works.