Sunday 21st June 2020

Call to Worship: ‘Wait on the LORD; Be of good courage,

And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the LORD!’ Psalm 27:14

PRAISE: Listen to or sing a hymn of praise.

Prayer: Lord God, we come once more to offer You our praises for all You have done and continue to do for us through Christ. We want to thank You for Your love, Your grace, Your mercy, Your blessings, too many to count. We come also asking for Your forgiveness for the many times we have squandered Your gifts and forgotten Your love. We pray for those who do not recognise You in Your world, who have not encountered the wonders of Your redeeming grace, or the power of Your Spirit in their lives…. Lord God, on this Your day, we offer You ourselves: all that we have and are, in grateful service and humble thanks. And we continue to pray as we take the words Jesus taught as we say, ‘Our Father….’

Reading: Acts 12:1-19 We continue our journey through the book of Acts as we read of Peter’s miraculous escape from prison.

Prayer: Loving God our Heavenly Father, on this day we call ‘Father’s Day’, we are reminded You call us Your children and invite us to call You, Abba, Father. What a privilege. You are the Father who loves us with a love we can scarcely comprehend and are closer than we could ever imagine. As we reflect on Your love and care, we want also to pray for fathers and grandfathers everywhere. We want to thank You for them – thank you for their love, their caring, their strength, their wisdom. Lord, You know the joy of fatherhood and also the pain, for You witnessed the life and death of Your Son Jesus Christ. Today we thank you that You know and understand our pain and struggles, You weep with us but You also rejoice with us, knowing that in Your Son Jesus Christ the work of salvation is complete, and so we can be right with You, and surrounded by Your Fatherly love, now and always. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Reflection: New normal and press briefings….It’s June, and we are halfway through this unprecedented year with its ‘new normal’ of social distancing, restrictions and face coverings. Another part of the now usual routine is the daily press briefing: our afternoon update from London or Belfast with all the latest news and guidance….In these devotionals, we are working our way through the book of Acts, focusing on the life and times of the Early Church. For these believers it was also an unprecedented time; their new normal of persecution and scattering but through it all so many amazing encouragements, signs and wonders through the power of the Holy Spirit…I want you to imagine with me a sort of press briefing given at this time by the territory’s ruler, Herod Agrippa. He is a ruthless man, in a long line of cruel and merciless rulers of the same name, but he is also pragmatic and wants to win favour with the people and with Rome. He’s confident he cuts an impressive figure on the podium with his royal robes glinting in the sunlight….his briefing would perhaps go something like this: ‘Good afternoon. I want to give you an update on a law and order issue concerning that troublesome sect known as Christians, those followers of Jesus. Today, you’ll be pleased to hear I’ve taken a decisive step towards wiping them out…I have arrested their key leaders, had one executed and another, Peter, awaits trial in my maximum-security prison. His public trial will take place ASAP….’ With this, Herod lifts his papers and with a swish of his robes leaves the arena. The listeners, especially the Jews, are delighted with this news…But neither Herod nor his attentive listeners could have known what would happen next…and the all the while the Christians are ‘earnestly praying’ (12:5).

The scene shifts to the night before Peter’s trial. Despite all that is scheduled for the next day, the proximity of the guards, and the uncomfortable and heavy chains that bind him, Peter is sound asleep. Suddenly there is an angel at his side and light floods the room. Peter’s chains fall to the ground as the angel speaks, ‘Hurry! Get dressed, put your shoes on. Grab your cloak and follow me…’ Peter must have been rubbing his eyes in disbelief as they miraculously pass both the first and second set of guards and find the heavy iron gate that leads to the street has opened all by itself! Peter, now realising the incredible hand of God at work, goes straight to the house where he knows the believers are gathered in prayer. They too are in for a shock as Peter the man they were praying for and thought was in prison arrives at the door!

The next morning, if Herod had scheduled a press briefing, it would likely have been significantly delayed. The soldiers guarding Peter are frantically trying to find their missing prisoner; even Herod has joined the search. But Peter is nowhere to be found, has in fact given a briefing of his own to the believers, and the only executions that take place are those of the guards. Herod in a rage, tries to avoid the fall-out by heading up the coast to Caesarea, and far from being snuffed out, ‘the word of God continued to increase and spread’ (12:24).

June 2020 – we are halfway through this unprecedented year. A year in which so much has changed, but for God’s people so much also remains the same and Acts 12 reminds us of what some of those things are: No matter how things look, God is in control. No matter who or what tries to thwart the purposes of God, ultimately they will not succeed. God will continue to use His faithful people, people like those of the Early Church and today like you and me, in ways of His choosing. And we are called in good times and difficult times, like the Early Church, to be people of ‘earnest prayer’; that’s not our ‘new’ normal, it’s our ‘always’ normal. Prayer that is persistent, patient, disciplined, faithful and hope filled. So, whatever these next days, weeks, months bring, make it your daily briefing to remind yourself that the God of Acts is also the God of today, the commission of His Son our Saviour to be His witnesses (1:8) is still our commission for today, and that earnest prayer, as for the Early Church, is our ‘normal’ and at the heart of all we do. Now that’s a briefing to give full attention to!

Prayer and Praise: Take time to thank God for who He is and for His work in your life. Commit yourself to that earnest, God-led prayer. And offer your heartfelt thanks through listening to or singing your favourite hymn of praise.

Benediction: The grace of Christ attend you, the love of God surround you, and the Holy Spirit keep you, now and forevermore. Amen