When Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the surface of the moon in 1969, it must have felt like the strangest thing to experience a place where no-one had ever been before. What will it feel like for us as we launch out into a changed world after lockdown?
Here is the first of a series of excerpts from Bob and Mary Bain’s new book, ‘Launching after Lockdown’.
AN UPPER ROOM LOCKDOWN
Jesus brings peace to our fears and is with us. Our faith in him is fact-based, supported by the first hand witness accounts of his resurrection.
NORMAL LIFE HAD STOPPED
It was in the build-up to Easter, as I prepared an online Sunday message for a group of churches in my home region of Northumberland, that I began to see, and be amazed by, the parallels between what we have been going through in this pandemic, and the experience of the first followers of Jesus, just a few days after His death. The resurrection had happened but they hadn’t really understood what it all meant yet. Their main feelings were that everything that had become normal life for them over three and half years of being with Jesus, had suddenly ground to a halt. They had walked and ate, adventured, and lived their lives with Jesus throughout that time, and now he had been brutally taken from them. Suddenly everything had changed – there was a sense of loss and also a very present feeling of danger too. Just like Jesus, they also might be grabbed hold of by the authorities, and suffer a gruesome death at their hands.
FEAR LOCKS US IN
In John’s gospel, chapter twenty, we can read about the way the disciples reacted to their sudden change of circumstances and the threat that they now faced. Their knee-jerk reaction was absolute fear. All former courage and brave posturing had instantly vanished from them, and basic survival mode had kicked in. They rushed inside, closed the doors, and locked themselves in – ‘for fear of the Jews’ (John 20:19). This has been our situation too. There has been a very real threat from Covid-19 in this pandemic. Our knee-jerk reaction has been to lockdown and isolate in order to minimise the danger of death. Sensible survival measures have been implemented, sometimes painfully slowly, but there has also been a lot of fear. As we have heard the stories of what has happened to others, and the daily death numbers, nationally and globally, fear has gripped our communities.
JESUS IS HERE
For the first disciples of Jesus, locked away in an upper room, the presence of Jesus, suddenly standing among them, was a big shock. They hadn’t taken in the promise which he’d made to them of His resurrection. He’d said he would be back, raised from the dead, but none of their plans had factored in that piece of information. Their strategy on how to handle what had happened had gone as far as a lockdown. This was very understandable in the circumstances, but Jesus had been left out of the picture. Their strategy had been entirely based on fear.
Then suddenly he comes and stands among them, in the middle of their fear, and says ‘Peace be with you.’ (John 20:19, 21) He knew these were the first words they needed to hear. Jesus hadn’t abandoned the first disciples and he hasn’t abandoned us either. He comes and stands among us.
No wonder the disciples needed to hear those words, ‘Peace be with you’. Perhaps this figure standing among them was a ghost? But he showed them his hands and side, and then they were convinced He really was there with them – raised from the dead; and they were totally overjoyed (John 20:20)! What a turnaround in feelings! Their emotions were all over the place. Luke says, in his gospel, that they were ‘unable to believe for joy and amazement’ (Luke 24:41).
The joy of those first locked-in disciples wasn’t all froth and bubble, based on wishful thinking. Jesus had shown them his hands and feet, and they had touched him. Luke’s gospel records that he even ate some fish in front of them in order to convince them (Luke 24:41-42). Ghosts don’t eat fish. We may not have been there that day but there is a factual base to our belief that Jesus rose from the dead. The gospel accounts are there to reassure us that his resurrection really did happen. He was able to convince even doubting Thomas, when he appeared to them again a week later; this time with Thomas present. ‘Jesus said to Thomas, “You have believed because you have seen me; blessed are those who have not seen me and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
When Jesus saw Thomas, a whole week had gone by since his first appearance to the other disciples. A week can be a long time in lock down. The disciples were still processing. He was there before their eyes, and they could still hardly process it. We can almost hear them exclaiming, ‘Unbelievable!’
In our lockdown we have been having our own experiences of processing what has been going on. There has been a lot to take in! Jesus is saying to us, ‘Stop doubting and believe. I have risen from the dead, and I am with you now.’ He wants us to have confidence that he is not a myth. There are the facts of history – we can read about what the disciples witnessed – the empty tomb and the folded grave cloths, and the multiple witnesses who saw him alive and risen. Paul has a long list of them, for example, in 1 Corinthians chapter fifteen, including five hundred who saw Jesus at the same time!
We also have our own growing experience of his presence through the Spirit in us. The lockdown has been a time to reflect on and process our own personal experiences with him.
WITH US RIGHT TO THE END
We shouldn’t be surprised then, by Jesus walking with us, supporting us in what’s going on right now. He said to those first disciples, ‘Surely I am with you always to the very end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20). Last time I looked on the calendar, the age to which Jesus is referring hadn’t come to an end; when it does, I am sure, he will wrap it all up and be the last one to leave. In the new language we are learning from zoom meetings, he is the one on the button who will end the meeting for all participants! He will be the last one left in the room! In all the upheaval of the circumstances in which we are now living, Jesus is there with us, saying ‘Peace be with you. I am really here. I’m not a myth. I’m not some kind of make-believe comfort blanket’. It’s very reassuring.
WORDS OF PEACE AND COMFORT
The peace that Jesus brings is like a strong force coming upon us and allaying all our fears. I felt this need for his peace early on in the lockdown, when I realised that one of our daughters who is a nurse, was interacting in her hospital with covid-19 patients but, at that time, was being inadequately protected. Bad images of my daughter catching the virus and dying, gripped hold of me. I’d just watched a short animation film which graphically detailed the way covid-19 kills people so that hadn’t helped me, and the media news was laying it on thick with fear. Resting back in the peace of Jesus and taking my fears to him in prayer, was the only way for me to keep calm. These words from one of Paul’s letters really helped me, ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving make your requests known to God, and the peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:6-7).
PERSONALISE AND DECLARE GOD’S WORD
Two psalms were particularly an immediate blessing – Psalm ninety-one and Psalm one hundred and twenty-one. In the first few days of the pandemic it seemed as if everyone was bringing these two psalms out of their storehouse of good Bible passages. They are full of words of comfort and reassurance that God is looking after us and helping us, and are always worth a read at any time. So it was the words of these psalms that I personalised in prayer. I would read them out slowly and personalise them by changing the sentences into first person plural. So for example, ‘Surely He will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly plague’ (Psalm 91:3) became ‘Surely, You will save us from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly plague’.
As I have read these psalms they have become lovely declarations of God’s peace and protection over my family, and those for whom God has prompted me to pray.
There are things ahead out there into which Jesus is sending us; new circumstances which we will have to get to grips with.
SENT OUT FROM LOCKDOWN
When Jesus appeared to the locked in disciples in the upper room, he didn’t just reassure them once. He repeats, ‘Peace be with you’ a second time as well. Something was coming up next which was also going to need them to rest in his peace (John 20:21). They should have guessed! They had been on the move with Jesus for three and a half years, and had understood a little of how he behaved. At one time he had warned a would-be follower what would be ahead for him, as a lifestyle, if he did choose to follow Jesus.
‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.’ (Luke 9:58).
The disciples had lived an itinerant lifestyle never knowing where they might be going next. There had been nothing static about following Jesus. He was always on the move with purpose and direction. So what Jesus said next shouldn’t have been a surprise!
Jesus says, ‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you’ (John 20:21). They are paralysed by fear and behind locked doors, but instead of leaving them there, Jesus is giving them their marching orders! He commissions them for mission. They will be going in his name and authority, to the whole world. Jesus unpacks the mission further – they would be witnesses to His resurrection, not only in the city of Jerusalem but ‘in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8).
A NEW DIRECTION AND PURPOSE
The disciples were given a plan that is geographically huge, and way out there in terms of their emotional state at the time. No wonder they needed those words, ‘Peace be with you’. Jesus was giving them a wider tangible reassurance of peace for what was ahead. Rather than hiding away, he was sending them out.
I believe he is doing the same with us. He is there to reassure us in our fears with his peace, but he is also launching us out into a wider place. He is coming to where we are currently positioned and addressing our immediate emotional state, but he has new direction and purpose for us which will require us to move. Even as Jesus spoke those sending words to the first disciples, he is speaking them to us too. ‘As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you’…
Launching after Lockdown is available to buy on Amazon.
Dear Partners and Friends of Welcome Network,
Once again it’s that time of year to look back and be thankful for all that God has been doing in us and through us as Welcome Network!
This Autumn, Bob brought a teaching word about Breaking up the fallow ground, when speaking at a local church in Alnwick. After questioning a farming friend about the ins and outs of ploughing nowadays, Bob ended up on a tractor with the farmer later that week!! In the farming calendar, it is certain that the better the ground is prepared, the better the harvest you can expect to reap! Our prayer for each one of us, is that our hearts will be open and receptive to God’s preparing work, so that we can all be fruitful in our lives and work in 2020!
Prayer and Worship have been so important in fuelling our united hunger for God to move across Northumberland! We have hosted two gatherings of Open Wells, in Alnwick this Autumn, together with others in the local area. Both meetings were encouraging as we welcomed new people, and were able to build up one another, during worship, prayer and small group sharing.
We have had good feedback from the Northumberland Prayer Net event held in September. Eighteen pop-up prayer groups took part, and we are hoping to do it again in 2020. As a result of this event, we are now working with several church groups along the Northumberland coastline with a vision to hold outdoor prayer meetings at the beacons on the evening of Pentecost Sunday next year. We are picking up on the ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ vision – that many would come to know Jesus Christ personally in our nation.
People continue to come and use our home as a place to take a break – a quiet space to pray and seek God. Recently we hosted an Alpha away day for one of the local churches with whom we relate. If you would like to visit our Prayer Garden (Albafarne) yourself (see https://quietgarden.org/gardens/albafarne/).
In Northern Europe, we made our first visit to Finland in October. We connected with the Evangelical Alliance there, and with some of the church leaders in Helsinki. We met and chatted with one gentleman who has been organising prayer across the whole city of Helsinki for many years. We are returning at the end of January to attend a National Day of Prayer for Finland and to teach and share about Prayer Walking, with a group of church leaders.
Please pray for good things to come out of the bits of media work we do! This year we have contributed to local radio programmes on Spark FM in Sunderland and Lion heart radio in Alnwick.
Locally, Mary is enjoying being part of the Open the Book Team, going into schools in our area to tell and act out Bible stories.
We are appreciating being part of local village life in Shilbottle! This November we co-ordinated the civic Remembrance Day service, and over the Christmas period we hope to deliver a prayer card and HOPE magazine through every door in our village.
A BIG thank you to all of YOU for your encouragement, support and prayers for us! We would not be able to do it without you!
Please keep in touch, and let us know how we can pray for you!
Much Love and a very Happy Christmas!
Bob and Mary Bain XXX
Welcome Network, 29 Grange Road, Shilbottle, Alnwick NE66 2XN; Mob: 07988564299
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; See our website blog for ministry news. To support our work, please send gifts to Welcome Network, HSBC sort code 40-16-11 A/C no. 22141965 or use our giving link ,https://www.give.net/welcomenetwork/oneoff
Dear Partners and Friends of Welcome Network ,
Mary and I have found it a real joy to be involved in organising, and participating in several worship and prayer initiatives this Summer, as well as hosting friends, groups and family members in our home. A busy and encouraging season, which also included our Ruby wedding anniversary and the marriage of our son, Matthew to the lovely Sharmila!
Our vision has always been that every person might experience the love and power of God, and know that they are accepted and belong, and we are excited that Welcome Network has now released us to be Village Chaplains in our local community of Shilbottle. This is on a part-time basis for a few hours each week. It gives a more formal framework for what we have already been doing here, as a presence and point of contact in the village.
We are continuing to help bring together an Open Wells worship gathering in Alnwick, every two months. It has been great to see this develop over the last year, with a core team in place and different ones getting involved. Our aim is to encourage and nurture the revival of our nation through the bringing together of the prayers, the worshippers and the prophetic.
We have also been spending a lot of time building relationships across the area; this has enabled us to set up a major prayer event this month, called the Northumberland Prayer Net – Eighteen pop-up prayer groups lifted up the county in prayer, in and around one weekend; specifically praying for healthy church relationships and mission.
Earlier in the year we facilitated two prayer groups in Sunderland and on Holy Island, as part of an event called Europeswells . People prayed across the whole of Europe at places where there was a history of revival. We chose these two places because of their significance over the years, in bringing spiritual blessing and change to our nation.
Various groups and individuals have visited our home and prayer garden, Albafarne, this year, to pray and draw near to God. It has been a joy to receive them. You are also very welcome to come! Bob met up with our local MP for the second time, at the annual National Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast in June this year.
Helping churches – We continue to provide wide-ranging input and advice to ongoing or new, ministries and churches. We don’t charge for what we do, but support towards our work is always welcome.
This year, in Leicester and Wakefield, we delivered workshops on how to reach our culturally diverse communities with the gospel, and in November, we will be doing something similar at a revival conference in London. We have had the opportunity as well to do some workshops and talks, and a few radio programmes locally in the North East.
In our wider networking role, we have been grateful for the input of Christen Forster, as one of our charity’s directors (see jesuscentred.org). Also our long-term team members, Steve and Gemma Carder have recently returned from an exploratory mission trip to Columbia. We, ourselves, will be going to Finland in October, and hope to relate with various ministries there who have a passion for seeing unity in mission among the churches.
Last, but not least, we want to thank God for all of you, our Welcome Network team and supporters – you have been a great blessing in enabling us to develop this work together. Thank you for your prayers and financial giving. It has all helped, and we appreciate so much, your input into our lives! Let us know how you are doing.
Much Love from
Bob and Mary Bain XXX
Welcome Network, 29 Grange Road, Shilbottle, Alnwick NE66 2XN Mob:07988564299; e-mail: email@example.com See our website blog for ministry news & info : welcomenetwork.org To support our work, please send gifts to Welcome Network, HSBC sort code 40-16-11 A/C no. 22141965 or use our giving link, https://www.give.net/welcomenetwork/oneoff