God's Gift of a New Life
1 One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. 2 And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. 4 Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” 5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” 7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8 Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9 All the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
By the start of the year I had already made my plans for the year ahead: A tour of Romania after Easter to encourage children’s workers and agree locations for Children’s summer bible clubs; In June a tour of UK churches to give updates and testimonies of God’s work in Romania and to train volunteers for the Summer children’s programme; In July, making the craft and games packs for the summer clubs, then a long summer of touring Romania, leading up to 9 weeks of Children’s Summer Bible Clubs.
But the World News filled with one story. People in China were getting sick and dying. Then in Italy and elsewhere. The whole world’s plans for the whole year were about to change.
In our bible text, the man who'd been crippled since birth thought he knew how his day would work out. He would sit at the gate of the city begging for money. He was powerless to do anything to better himself. But at least there were enough people walking through the beautiful gate each day who were willing to give their loose change to a pitiful, crippled, beggar so that he could buy bread to eat and live for another day.
This was his lot and this was his daily plan for the foreseeable future. He had no reason to hope that his life could improve but on this day his future plans - everything that he expected for the future - was about to change.
The two disciples of Jesus came walking through the gate and saw him. Peter and John were both drawn to look at him more deeply.
God wanted them to say something to him.
God wanted to change his plans.
God wanted to change his life.
The crippled man was reluctant to look them in the eye until Peter said “Look at us”.
His full attention was needed – Peter and John were not about to just drop a few coins into his cup and walk away, as if they were merely doing their duty by ‘helping the poor cripple’. They looked at him with the love that they had received from Jesus.
What are these men about to say? – Are they going to mock me, or tell me that my disability is justice for some sort of sin? No, the kind look in their eyes tells me that they are going to give me something valuable.
And then one of them spoke:
“I don’t have any money to give you, but I will give you what I have. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, stand up and walk!” and he took me by the right hand and helped me up.
My feet and ankles felt strong as they had never felt before and I couldn’t believe it! As I walked into the temple with them, I couldn’t help but praise God and I started to jump about with joy like a new lamb that just discovered what its legs are for!
People looked in amazement and Ieard them say “Is this the same man that we have seen begging at the Beautiful Gate for the last 40 years? Wow, he is totally changed. What an amazing miracle of God!”
They were right - I am the same man, but now I have a new life that I could not have even imagined before. Thank God!
I’ve been working with Roma communities in Romania for many years and they are some of the most humble people I have met. Many of them live a hard life in poor conditions. Houses that often-times fail during the violent autumn and spring storms. Homes often without running water or a water toilet. Homes in streets that become rivers of mud when it rains. It’s a tough place to live and many of them have no hope of improving their living conditions.
Those who are able, through education or a little bit of money, do their best to get out – and some succeed. But for the majority, life continues to be hard. With little or no education, work opportunities are few and are usually low paid, irregular work.
They have no reason to hope that their lives and situations could improve but I know that God has a plan to change their lives. And I have seen it happen!
Through the first year of the pandemic, very few from the community were able to earn money because of the travel restrictions. People were hungry and there was no government support. It was a hopeless situation.
But many saw that the people from the church seemed to have an inner peace and through their example and witness 31 people in the village of Tinca turned to Christ, along with their families.
Through the autumn and spring we saw many of these going through the waters of baptism as a sign of their turning away from their old life and towards their new Hope in Christ.
Through April and May this year, Roma people in the communities of Tinca and Tarcea began to get ill. The quarantine regulations are hard, concerned only about containing the virus and taking no account of the family’s own physical needs. There is no home-delivery service for groceries and no money coming in to the quarantined household. Medication is considered by many to be out of reach because it costs money and so disease is allowed to run it’s course. Only the most desperate are taken to hospital – if there is a bed available. Some people are left with long-term health problems. Some people die.
But we are a praying people and we know that nothing is impossible with God, right?
As prayers went up for each family with COVID, donations came in to pay for their medication and basic food rations. Let me say that another way : As people became sick and we prayed, exactly the right amount of money came in to pay for their medication - around 230 people received medicine and were healed of COVID. God is good!
One person said “I have received the medicine and now I shall live. Praise God”
But it was not only the medicine and food that they received. These things sustained their lives, but they also received something that will change their lives for the better.
The pastor said to them “God has answered our prayers for you to recieve medicine. I can’t offer you money to improve your life, but I know someone who can give you hope beyond your physical circumstances.” And each family heard the Gospel of Good news in their darkest moment.
Many chose to Hope in Christ, who had given them physical help that they did not deserve.
They thought that they knew how their lives were going to pan out – more poverty, more hunger, more sickness, more death, no hope to improve their lives. But God stepped in and changed all of that!
God got their attention – like Peter and John saying to the hopeless cripple “look at us” - and when they looked towards Christ and accepted his supporting hand, they chose to step in to the new life that he has planned for them.
So what of my plans for last year? I had the whole year planned out and then COVID happened. But God had a different plan for my year and I needed to pay attention to it. God had a better plan for my future and I needed to step in to it. God said “look at me” – and when he had my attention he started preparing me physically and mentally to step out of my own schedule and into his. And he achieved in one year what I could not have achieved.
In those few months in the autumn of 2020, when the pandemic threat seemed to be reducing, God took me to a property in Romania that was to become my home, mission base and future vision. God provided the vision, the energy and resources to prepare and plant a garden that will go some way to providing winter food for the hungry, and also a place where they can start to learn to grow their own food.
So what of your plans? Did God get your attention during this pandemic – did you look at him when he spoke? What has God been preparing you for? Are you willing to take his supporting hand and walk in to a new future, a new life?
If you did sense that God wants to do something in your life, that can be a bit disconcerting, even scary, but remember the cripple from our text. He could not imagine a different future for himself – after-all he was a cripple – and his dis-ability will have constrained his thoughts somewhat “I can’t possible walk because I never walked”. But he heard the command of God and danced for joy into the temple.
What is the limiting factor that restricts what you think you can do? What we believe that we can or cannot do affects what we believe God can do through us.
With God, anything IS possible! Please, don’t miss this opportunity. I’m sure that a number of you think I’m talking to someone else, but I am talking to you. Yes you 😊 God can use each one of us to do something new. With God we CAN overcome our dis-abilities as individuals and as his church.
You believe that you cannot pray in private or in church? - With God’s help, you can.
You don’t believe that you can offer friendship or support to a stranger? - With God’s help, you can.
You believe that you are not good enough, clever enough, confident enough to step forward to serve God in your church, your community, your family? - With God’s help, you can.
Come and talk to your pastor; give him a call; send an email; ask him to help you to pray through what it is that you sense God is saying to you or preparing you for.
I am truly excited for the church as we return to physical meetings.
I am excited because God has got our attention. He has showed us that our own schedules are maybe not as immovable as we, in the past, thought they were.
I am excited because God has been preparing us - as individuals and as a church - to walk into his plan.
I am excited because God’s plan is so much better than ours!
People will look in amazement at this church and be heard to say “Are these that same people and is this the same church that we have seen in Brixington for the last 40-or-so years? Wow, they have totally changed. What an amazing miracle of God!”. And many will turn to Christ because of your example and witness.