Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Division and Chaos

Over some months I have been pondering over and praying about the situation we in Britain find ourselves in. A referendum that managed a small majority to leave the European Union has caused major issues.

I was preparing for the start of a sermon series early in September and the series is working through Galatians. The thing that I began to see was the way in which division can come is not always from where you expect. Paul was trying to correct something that was affecting those churches and reading his other letters churches in other parts of the regions. Something that you might have expected from other faiths wanting to put the early Christian faithfully down or divide and conquer them. But no this came from within. Paul refers to those trying to add extra conditions into the simple salvation by grace that he preached in Galatians:
Gal 2:4  This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.

Strong language - false believers, some who were trying to convince the Christians that they were not saved if they were not circumcised. And it got worse, later Paul took a stand against Peter who had bowed under pressure and it seems at that point would not share the Lord's table with "Christians" who were uncircumcised. What a state of play, polarized views, division. Fortunately the whole thing was sorted out by the church meeting together and discussing, praying and then agreeing the way forwards.

It got me to putting together some thoughts from my prayer and study for the division that the Brexit / Remain thing has caused in Britain. My conclusion - God was not /is not on either side in this debate, the church has not heard God's direction, in my opinion. This debate that has successfully done what nothing that I can recall in my lifetime has achieved - its divided churches, its divided political parties, its paralyzed government as MP's seem like infants in a playpen, all fighting to get the toys they want and no one managing it. I don't believe that God is in such division and chaos. But I know there is one who thrives on it, working in the background to sow discord and division - the same one who attempted to break Jesus away from his earthly task.

Mar 1:12  At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness,
Mar 1:13  and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

The Christian church has an opportunity, if we can surrender our partisan views first, I think, to speak into the chaos and to encourage healing in this dire situation.To bring order to the chaos and to speak out on letting partisan views go and instead truly seek first the kingdom of God and then his direction for the country. We could set an example, but we might well simply remain as divided as the rest of the nation.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

A rock in a moving sea

Change is a large part of life today, life can seem to be in a permanent state of flow, much as the sea is constantly moving in tune with the position of the Moon and its orbit..

A majority of the people in the UK want the change that will come with leaving the EU, hoping for a new "golden age". Sweeping away 40 years of working in one form or another with our European neighbours.

Our Prime Minister has been removed and replaced by someone, who IMO, should have taken the post last time and done what he said he was in favour of, getting the UK out of the EU.The last one lasted only a short while, I wonder how long this one will last, especially if he can't deliver on his big promises? And then what? More change.

Many saved for their pension over decades only to find that their pensions are no longer worth what they were led to believe. As they retire, life changes, money is more restricted, things taken for granted can no longer be.

As I write we are in a heat wave, some of the hottest temperatures recorded in this country, its almost too hot to do anything. I am used to walking up mountains with wind, rain and even snow. This year my mountain walk up Ben Nevis was in temperatures ranging up to 28deg C at the bottom.

Recently in my daily bible reading I have been working through the book of Isaiah, an Old Testament prophet who lived at a time of change as well. Israel, a powerful nation that had initially relied upon God to guide it and aid it had forgotten their roots and gone their own way. The result is that Isaiah warns them of the huge change that they will face in the years to come, the nation dwindling in power, attacked and overcome by other nations, the people would be capture and taken away.

In the midst of all of this, God gives hope, there will be a time of restoration and more, a time when a new way will be brought to them by God's anointed one, the saviour. In the massive changes that they would face a promise stood, a promise of hope, a promise of salvation, something to hold on to, a rock in a moving sea of change. The psalmist recognised that in psalm 62.

Change is a part of life, sometimes it can be planned, sometimes it is unexpected and worrying. But in the changes of life there can be a constant, a Rock that will not change, an anchor that won't budge no matter the weight of the waves, Jesus. Jesus who asks us to build our faith on the rock that is a solid foundation for all things, him. God's promise to us that has been realised and made complete. My experience of faith in Jesus is that no matter what I face in life, no matter what changes, I face them better when I look to him for guidance, he has become the rock in my life that does not move and allows me to handle the swirling waters of the deep that life at times tries to engulf me with.The waters may break around me but will not overwhelm me. I hope the same is true for you.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

The Sower and the Soil

Recently I had been preparing for a family service at a local church which has no minister at present. Our church and this church work together on a project that we call Kidz Klub, aimed at 5-11 year olds, and I had agreed to go and speak at this service working with one of their service leaders. The subject  "the Sower" Matthew 13 1-8 is what we are using this summer for our Kidz Klub theme.

In preparing and then leading this service I found myself considering the two sides of the story that I was looking at. The first, the seeds and what happened to them, the second the sower.

We often read of decline in church attendance, falling numbers of believers and so on and over time churches have come up with lots of imaginative ways to try to attract people, some work after a fashion others seem not to work well. I asked myself are we more interested in numbers than we are in deep rooted disciples of Jesus who in turn will take their part in sharing the message of the gospels? Are we looking for quick apparent results rather than deep rooted faith that grows through discipleship and nurture?

The Sower parable gives us ways in which the seed, the word of God, is impacted by the ground in which it is sown:

The path - hard, unyielding on which nothing can take root, the seed lies there to be eaten by birds and so there is no impact. What in our lives, our churches, our communities would be the equivalent of the hard path? What prevents the words of God penetrating and taking root? In conversation we concluded that in such case we might need to take a concrete breaker with us.

The Rocky Soil - looks better than the path, the seed takes root, but underlying rocks prevent any real roots and so the sun scorches the young plant and it dies. How often do we see immediate and expressive responses to the gospel message only to find that shortly after the enthusiasm has gone and the impact has worn off. Perhaps we in church life need to help remove the rocks so that the roots can establish and the impact can grow?

The Weedy soil - Again this looks like an improvement, seeds grow and the result looks good. But life crowds in, pressures take charge and choke off any further development. Its sad but in my opinion its the state of many who go to church in this country. The solution, if there is one is two fold - sharing the need for the commitment to be disciples and to make it a priority but also churches need to be pro-active and imaginative in how they disciple.

Good soil - Well prepared, well looked after soil leads to seeds that grow into wholesome and productive plants, disciples who in turn will be productive in the Kingdom, drawing many others to faith in Jesus and so bring glory to God.

The point of this? Christians are called to be sowers and I see that as a challenge. The church can blame its decline on lots of  things - cultural change, lack of time, money, resources, too many alternatives for people other than church and so on..It can try to mimic culture with an entertainment based attitude to worship and its services which may well attract people but do they become disciples? Perhaps what people need is a church that is authentic in its message, living it out as well as preaching it, a church that does not try to mimic and adopt its culture but challenges it fearlessly. A church which is focused on preparing the soil of peoples lives to receive the seed, the word of God, sows it and encourages it to grow and be fruitful.

Oh, I think I read something about that kind of church in the bible.

Friday, 24 May 2019

All the way my saviour leads me

Those who know me know that I am a lover of all sorts of music and especially church music. I enjoy much of the modern church music produced through Hillsong, Bethel, Worship Central and New Wine as well as many older Hymns and chants.

The main thing for me is not the age of the song, it's rhythm or who wrote it but does it at the moment of singing inspire me to want to go deeper in worship to the one who fills and sustains me? As I sing I often find myself transported in my spirit to a different focus from where I was. Often helping me see things in different ways or just being able to let something go that was troubling me. Depending upon my state of mind, busyness and such, different songs affect me.

Last year I went to a worship concert of "Rend Collective" a fantastic evening of singing, worship and connection with my saviour through the music as well as some lovely times of reflection.

Recently I was thinking of using a modern take on an old hymn in a service, only to find that my music team struggled with the way it had been scored, they knew the older version. I gave way, I have to admit a little grumpily. But it really would not have worked well.

Then as I prepared for opening a church members meeting at a church I am helping out during a ministerial vacancy, it came to mind again, but in its traditional version. Hmm! It stuck, It was exactly right as I listened to it.

  1. All the way my Savior leads me,
    What have I to ask beside?
    Can I doubt His tender mercy,
    Who through life has been my Guide?
    Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
    Here by faith in Him to dwell!
    For I know, whate’er befall me,
    Jesus doeth all things well;
    For I know, whate’er befall me,
    Jesus doeth all things well.

Jesus leads us if we will listen, his leading is often gentle, sometimes we listen, sometimes we just don't hear. The Psalmist in Psalm 40 reflects on being given a new song to sing even when they were in dire straights "Psa 40:3  He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him."

The hymn reminded me that my saviour was in charge, leading me and the church so that any concerns I might have could be let go. Later as we sang it as part of the meetings opening worship, I was once again transported to that place of peace and wonder - All the way my saviour leads me ...

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Wrath and Mercy

A few weeks back I was reading during my quiet time in the morning and came across a comment by a writer on the subject of God's wrath."If you don’t believe in a God of wrath, you have no idea of your value".  Initially this seemed hard but the more I considered it the more it made sense.

All too often, Christians that I speak with, prefer to stick with the New Testament, Jesus, the disciples and the theme of love as shown through Jesus. The Old testament is at best treated with cursory interest at worst it is put aside. Perhaps a sad reflection on our society and culture, which seems to want to make things after their own image, even God.

For me there is a problem in leaving the Old Testament out of the picture and not wanting to engage with a God who does show anger, who we are told pours out his wrath at the sin of humanity. A number the prophets talk of God's wrath at sin, the sin of his people, who chose their own ways rather than God's. The impact over time was that the nation of Israel became degenerate, broken and self focused. In effect choosing to do whatever seemed OK at the time. (When I look at our culture I see many of the same traits). Ezekiel for example, tells us that God's wrath was to pour on his people as result of this.

What is God's wrath all about? Well it seems to me that it is about the effect of sin. Sin not only is a choice to go against God's ways, it has consequences, one person's wrong doing will affect others. For example our collective attitude to discarding our rubbish - often not in rubbish bins, affects others as it pollutes our towns and cities and even our hedgerows, land and seas. Most of us drive vehicles and most of us use them regardless of distance or need. These pollute, whether using "so called" clean fuel (Electric) or fossil fuel (petrol, diesel) they cause environmental damage - the energy source has to come from somewhere! So when we use them without consideration and damage the planets Eco-systems, what are we doing? When we live lives that are so self focused it leads to the attitude of work till we drop, being busy all of the time, filling every moment with doing. No wonder we suffer extreme stress and mental and physical illness. Not what God intended and hence his best for us is that we take regular rest to regenerate our energy and to help our well-being.

What God created was good, what we do is often not so good and in fact causes serious harm. Now I begin to get it. God's wrath, at least in part, is perhaps related to the impact of sin on everything. We are told that the price of sin is death, ours! Pretty harsh stuff. Measuring sin and its impact multiplied by humanity, past, present and future would be too difficult to compute. But God knows that computation and instead of wiping us out, God's love for us wins. All of that wrath was taken up and drunk by Jesus - read the account of the garden of Gethsemane.

All of the price of all of that sin, all of that wrath at that sin, taken and transformed by Jesus, through love, God's love for us. Love that means that if we accept the free gift of God, we are forgiven, restored to relationship with God, through Jesus. Wrath and mercy meeting through the life changing, live saving work of the cross. And our value? Beyond price I think.