Old Meeting House Congregational Church (1643)

The Best Hidden Church in Norwich!


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You fearful saints, fresh courage take…the clouds you so much dread…are big with mercy, and shall break…. In blessings on your head.

You might have heard that on the 3rd Saturday every month we have Sing on Saturday at the chapel, this is a time when we sing the hymns which have been loved over the years and are not sung so often these days. You would be right in thinking that I love singing the old hymns especially as I find them so uplifting and inspiring.

It might surprise you if the hymn that I turn to more than any other was written by a man who contemplated suicide. Life had become so meaningless and hopeless for William Cowper, the famous English poet, that he decided to commit suicide. Hailing a horse-drawn cab, he gave as his destination a bridge over the River Thames. But the fog was so think that he rode about for an hour or more. Where was the river? Rebuking the cabbie for taking so long to find the river bank, Cowper thrust open the door of the cab. Upon doing so, he discovered that instead of being near the river, he was right back at his own doorstep! Smitten by the coincidence, he rushed to his room, took a quill and paper and penned the lines that have cheered millions who have come to the brink of disaster:

God moves in a mysterious way

His wonders to perform;

He plants His footsteps in the sea,

And rides upon the storm.

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Consistent cheerfulness and enthusiasm can make my day…may even change a life.

I wonder if you were ever sent to Sunday School as a child. What memories do you have? I can remember singing lots of choruses and the one that sticks out in my mind was “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam.” I never really liked it much and it is only in recent years that I have realised what the simple words were all about. Sadly, there are many people’s lives that are anything but sunny, they are filled with pessimism, depression and dark thoughts. There is a verse in the Bible that tells us that Jesus came to give us abundant life. True Christians should be the happiest people on earth yet over the years that I saw people as a counsellor, I met very few really happy people. Proverbs 23 verse 7 shows that our thoughts determine our lives.  Sometime ago I made the following list of positive things that I choose to say especially when facing a negative situation. I have found these positive affirmations help change my life and I hope they will do the same for you.

“In order to promote happiness and joy, I sincerely promise that wherever I am:

I will talk health instead of sickness.

I will talk of prosperity instead of failure.

I will carry good news instead of bad news.

I will tell the cheerful tale instead of the sad tale.

I will mention blessings instead of burdens.

I will speak of the sunshine instead of the clouds.

I will think of cheerful things, not gloomy, and my thoughts will shine in my face.

I will praise, whenever I can, those putting forward an honest effort to perform their tasks creditably.

I will always remember: a merry heart doeth good life medicine.”

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The legacy

Every Christian has to acknowledge a debt to books of devotion. The great Charles Spurgeon inherited a library of Puritan books which transformed his life. The books written by Christians in the past constitute an invaluable corrective to our tendency to compromise. Left to ourselves, we easily slip from the highest. We excuse our faults and failings as amiable weaknesses. When we see how those who have attained spiritual power have had to discipline themselves, we realise afresh where our slackness is leading us. At the same time, we have to be on our guard against a subtle temptation in reading devotional books. We are conscious of a heightened emotional and devotional thrill. Our hearts respond to the higher call. We feel how much we really want to be our best selves. But if we are not careful we leave it at that. We take the will for the deed. We are satisfied that we have felt good and resolved to be good, and expect the day to be better than yesterday. We forget that before the new thought or the higher vision are really ours, they have to be expressed in action. I may feel the glow of a new resolution to be absolutely loving all day, but it means nothing if I am irritable at the first test. Ideals are deceivers till they are actualised. Holy thoughts must lead to holy acts, or they become unholy deceptions. How much of what I learned to-day in my devotional hour have I implemented in actual conduct? That is the test, and the only one, of the reality of my devotion.



Can you be quiet?

Many people come to the Norfolk Broads to find peace and tranquillity. I recently was told a story about a family from London who chose to have a holiday on the Broads. All went well on the Saturday when they arrived at the boatyard to collect their boat for the week. However, the boatyard owner was woken early Sunday morning by someone banging at his front door. It was the family who the day before hired one of his boats for the week. “Please, can I return the boat now?” He pleaded with the boat-owner. “We just can’t bear the silence.”

Life in 2018 is full of noise and one of the most challenging things to do is to be still and quiet. I have met quite a number of people who find it difficult to be still before God. Even if they are relaxed physically – a requirement which anyone can learn – they find their minds racing round a hundred things. This mind-wandering is very disturbing for many eager souls who would serve God with a quiet mind but find they cannot. There are ways however in which we may aid our minds to attain stillness. One good way is to read a portion of Scripture, like Psalms 23, 62, 91, or the 14th chapter of St John’s Gospel. Then quietly say some such prayer as the following: “God is now flooding my life with His peace. Every fret and care is going before the tide of His peace. I am at rest in Him.” Hold that thought for a few moments steadily and you will find it much easier to realise His presence with you. Then begin to lay before Him the needs of the day, assuring yourself that He will provide all the courage, strength, wisdom and patience you will require. As the day goes on, if you find yourself getting troubled, remind yourself that His peace is ever flowing around you and within. You may be engaged on a thousand thronging duties, but you will retain your poise and your inner peace. Let’s remember the verse from the Bible which says, “Thou will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You.”

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The Unseen Friend

“When I look back I have no doubts that Providence guided us, not only across those snowfields, but across the storm-white sea. I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia it seemed to me often that we were four not three. I said nothing to my companions, but afterwards Worsley said to me, `Boss, I had a curious feeling on that march that there was another person with us.”

- Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton (1874 – 1922), after one of his journeys.

Sadly, I meet rather a lot of people who seem to think that God either does not exist or that He left this planet years ago. I just can’t agree with this. As I look back on my life I have a very strong sense that at times I have been guided by an unseen hand. I meet the right people, I find (or was I shown?) passages in books that have inspired me, doors of opportunity have opened, the list is endless. I really love the quote by Shackleton and it is my prayer that you will love this quote too.

Every true Christian should believe that God guides. It is a fundamental doctrine found in the Bible. But how does He guide? Many people have abandoned their belief in His guidance because they asked it in a special difficulty, and so far, as they know they have received no help. Why does God seem to deny guidance sometimes? One possible reason is the condition of our own lives, the quality of our faith. God’s guidance is a question of purity of heart. “The pure in heart,” said Jesus, “shall see God.” When there is conscious sin we cannot very well to expect to get God’s guidance. If I am harbouring any evil whatsoever in my heart I cannot go to God and expect guidance because I am not following the guidance I already have, which is to cast evil out of my life. Evil not only prevents me from getting new guidance, but it throws a smoke-screen between myself and God, so that I cannot see the guidance when it is there. Before asking further guidance, I must ask myself whether I have obeyed the guidance I have already received. Have I surrendered every known sin? Have I given Christ the right to control my every thought and desire? God says, “Make yourself clean, put away the evil of your doing, cease to do evil, learn to do will.”


The Hindrance of Self-Effort

The saying; “God helps those who help themselves” is supposed by many to enshrine the truth of Christianity. But this is only a half-truth as it can lead us to place the emphasis on self-effort. We mistakenly think that God has lost His power and needs our help! It may go against our human reasoning that as the psalmist reminds us that our help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth. God is the one who initiates we just have to follow. The act by which deliverance is secured is from God and not by our self-efforts. The best effort we can make ourselves is to bring our lives to the places where they meet Jesus Christ. He is after all the Saviour of the World. He alone can “break the power of cancelled sin and set the prisoner free.” We cannot lift ourselves by our own shoes laces. He and He alone can raise us to the high places where we can have fellowship with Him. One of the important lessons we must learn is “to let go and let God”. This is easy enough to say but terribly difficult to do. However, the more we can allow the spirit of God’s freedom to rule the less self-effort we need to make. Those who try to save themselves by the sheer power of their will sooner or later break under the strain. When we give full and free entrance to the spirit of Christ, the work of regeneration and renewal goes on steadily like the growth of a flower. The more simple and natural our faith the truer it is. “Himself He cannot save” was said scornfully of Jesus Christ by those in the crowd. It is true of every one of us. “He that finds his life shall lose it, but he that loses his life for My sake shall save it.” The way of deliverance then is the way of surrender. We die to self in order that we may live to God.


How different are you?

Ideally real Christians are different from others, not by degree but in kind. They have God in their lives whilst others do not. Because they have God they have a bent towards walking in righteousness – a proactivity towards purity and holiness – and when they fail, which often happens, they feel it and know it. As any kind of sin causes a rift in their relationship with God.

But here’s the rub: though they know what it is to be holy, they cannot be holy by direct effort. That’s a job which is God sized. If we are to master our lustful passions, it will be done through His empowering our weak lives. There is no other way.

I like the following explanation given by the late C.S. Lewis. He wrote. “Put right out of your head the idea that…Christians are to read what Christ said and try to carry it out – as a man may read what Plato or Marx said and try to carry it out. They mean something much more than that. They mean that a real Person, Christ, is here and now, in that very room where you are saying your prayers, is doing things to you. It is not a question of a good man who died two thousand years ago. It is a living Man, still as much of a man as you, and still as much God as He was when He created the world, who is really coming and interfering with your very self; killing the old natural self in you and replacing it with the kind of self He has. At first, only for a moment. Then for long periods. Finally, if all goes well, turning you permanently into a different sort of thing; into a new little Christ, a being which, in its own small way, has the same kind of life as God; which shares in His power, joy, knowledge and eternity.”

Turning us into “a different sort of thing” takes time – actually a lifetime. What God wants is for us to give Him our bodies, so He can begin the process right now. It’s not what we make of ourselves that matters, but what God is making us by the power of His Holy Spirit. You might say that we’re a work in progress and will remain so until we go to God or until He comes to us. Then and only then will His work be done.

We can only see life piece-meal – like a bug working its way along a clothesline. God sees what we will be when we get to the end of the line. Until that day comes we must keep inching along making a little progress every day, upheld by His faithfulness, assured by His forgiveness and encouraged by His promise that we will someday be what He has called us to be.

The Bible reminds us in 1 Thessalonians chapter 5 verse 24: “The one who calls you is faithful,” Paul assures us, “and He will do it.”


2018 - The only way is forward!

Have you been in a tight corner? In Exodus chapter 14, verse 15 we read of the children of the Israelites being caught in a corner with the Red Sea in front of them and Egypt’s chariots behind them. It is not surprising to read that they acted like frightened sheep! They felt utterly abandoned. But when a sudden voice rang like a trumpet through their trembling ranks encouraging them to go forward, the soul of the people awoke to life. They found that they had courage to go forward, and when they did, they found that wonderful things happened. That call made them men, God’s men. They learned for the whole world that to go bravely forward trusting in God is to give God a chance to reveal His power!

There is a time to stand still and there is also certainly a time to wait in prayer upon God for His help and guidance, but these stages only bear their fruit when we pluck up courage and go forward. Nothing can happen till then. God has no chance to answer our prayers till then. We can learn from those far off days in the annals of Israel till our present day, that splendid rallying cry has been the very Word of God to His people whenever they fall despondent and fear what is to come. “Speak unto the Children of Israel that they go forward. It is His Word to us today.

Those who are facing difficult tasks, duties that frighten or responsibilities that weigh heavy need to have their blood stirred and their courage stiffened by being told in God’s name to go straight up to the thing whatever it is and do it. You know best what your particular Red Sea is, you have no doubt stood still and looked at it, and I am sure you have prayed about it, but it is still there, God’s ordained obstacle in your way. Well, His Word to you is Forward March. The time for prayer is past, now give God a chance to answer it now.

Things happen, wonders happen, even miracles happen when we go forward trusting in His Word. Gates open apparently of their own accord, mountains of difficulty dwindle into climbable slopes, the very sea has a path through it after all. Forward then with your trust in God no matter what is to come.

Furthermore, there is a message here for all of us who are perplexed and doubting souls, even to us there is a way out, and the way is just right forward. A man who has lost faith in prayer stops praying, he gives the habit up, is this not so, whereas his way of deliverance is to go on. Even though he is in doubt as to whether God hears him, even then for he will never learn the truth about prayer if he gives up the practice no matter what his doubts are, or what his anxieties are and moreover he will come to have no desire to learn, but pray on and the faith and justification will surely come again.

Again, this is a message for every soldier in the army of Christ. Moods come to most strenuous people when they sit down and try to reckon up the prospects of success. Despondence is also apt to find them when they are too easy prey to the enemy. One cannot be a Christian and admit that someday the spirit of this world will conquer the spirit of Christ. This wave or that one as you watch them comes in at last for all that. Remember God is as willing as ever to deliver those who put their trust in Him. The Name of Christ still casts out devils from men’s lives. It only seems that the glory has departed because we stand shivering on the brink of the great new tasks to which God is calling us. Let us all go bravely forward, and the sea will be divided for us again.  


Kneeling we conquer

We all experience difficult times in our Christian lives, but we must remember that behind every human opponent lies the invisible power of darkness. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual powers that control them. For this reason, “we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish (demonic) strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4).

I once heard a preacher say that life is like a Punch and Judy show. When the puppet-villain puts in an appearance, we can take him out with a club, but what have we accomplished? The man behind the scene will simply place another puppet on the stage and begin to pull the strings once more. Far better to get behind the scenes and take out the puppeteer!

God has supplied us with the means to reach beyond the scene to the unseen realm of reality. His are not the schemes of human endeavour, but an infinitely more powerful strategy – namely prayer. This is the mechanism that puts the forces of God – a third force – on the field, a force for which the enemy has no counter-measures.

The main thing about prayer is to keep at it. Jesus said we “should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1). But praying is hard work at times! It can be much harder than waging war.

The Puritan, Matthew Henry wrote, “Our cause is more or less successful, as our friends are more or less strong in faith, and fervent in prayer. We should be glad of such help. We should not be shy of asking it of others.”

Martin Luther agreed: “No man should be alone when he opposes Satan…If the prayer of one doesn’t help, the prayer of another will.” 


God’s power tools

Do you enjoy an exciting life? When we commit our lives to God utterly we never know what is going to happen. We are born into a new world. We have to learn the laws of that world. The old laws won’t work. Many of us make the mistake of thinking we can have a new life in God on the level of self-directed thinking and planning. When we give God control of our lives we give Him the right to use us as He chooses. We become His power tools to be used for His purposes in the world. So long as we claim the right to self-determination we thwart God. When we die to self we literally cease to have any right to ourselves apart from God. Our new aim is to discover His purpose for us and with us. If He chooses to ask us to face a difficult situation of word with awkward people, or bear a heavy burden, we face these things as part of our service to Him. If we complain or feel sorry for ourselves, we proclaim that we have not completely lost ourselves. God asks His disciples to have unquestioning faith in His leading. Can we hold on to His declared Will even when material things suggest we are wrong? That was the triumph of the Cross. Humanly speaking, it seemed absurd that Christ should allow Himself to be crucified. Yet it was in line with the Will of God, and He never wavered. We can trust God utterly. He never fails. Out of seeming disasters God can bring His most wonderful victories. We just have to trust and obey. 


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