Tuesday, 18 May 2021

Resilient Faith handles Curved Balls

 Hi, I have been quiet on my blog for a few months now. Not because I have nothing to say but because I had no time to write it down due to some family issues that needed to be handled. In early February by dad died. Although we knew he was ill it was quite sudden. A definite curved ball that needed to be caught and fielded well. What with planning his funeral, we also needed to work out mum's future as she has a number of care needs, not least of which is dementia. A great help in all of this was my church leaders offering me as much compassionate leave as I needed. They took my curved ball and and helped me field it well.

As the last 3 months have evolved there have been a number of other curved balls to catch and my family team have done (IMO) remarkably well in catching and fielding them. So how does all of this connect with our faith lives?

Firstly, none of us is exempt from life's curved balls. The idea that being a Christian means a sort of fairy tale existence of having all we want, having lots of wealth, health and happiness, simply does not stack up in my understanding, with the bibles teaching and especially that of Jesus. Curved balls come at all of us.. Over the last year many, and that includes many Christians, have lost their jobs around the world due to the pandemic. Christians in war torn countries like Nigeria, Syria suffer the same loss of homes, livings, the same dangers as any others. Christians have died or been badly affected by COVID like everyone else.


Secondly, how we view our faith matters. Because it affects how we field the curved balls that come. James tells us that we will face trials

Jas 1:2  Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 

Jas 1:3  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 

If we believe that nothing testing or difficult will come to us, then when it does it is likely to shake and even break our faith built on sand. If we know that testing will come and are prepared to rely on Jesus, no matter what, we will get through it, with our faith strengthened and our trust deepened. Our faith more resilient.

Facing dad's death and its consequences brought our family closer together, working out things between us, sharing the things that needed investigating or doing and sharing in those first 2 months looking after mum. Day by day I asked God for the strength, wisdom and patience needed. Day by day he gave it to me. God enabled me to conduct dad's funeral and help our family through a difficult day. 

Don't misunderstand me. I don't hold that being a Christian is all about some sort of stoic resilience to the challenges of life. My experience has been one of great blessing from God, but not always in being wealthy or healthy. God has never left me without, always given more than I had any right to expect, but has also led me through some very difficult things in life and often in church life. My trust in Jesus and the direction of the Holy Spirit has led me through those times and made the faith that I have deeper and more firm through them. I believe these each have helped my faith in Jesus to be more resilient,



Tuesday, 26 January 2021

Difficulty or Opportunity?

 In most parts of the world this Coronavirus pandemic has been felt. Its impact varies depending upon the severity and spread, but here in the UK, we are into our 3rd lockdown and it looks like this year is going to be punctuated with yet more virus related restrictions and problems.

For many this has presented all sorts of difficulties and challenges, not least to Christian churches. Not well known as early adopters, churches can often be slow to respond to change at best and at worst drag as if they have an anchor buried in the ground. Perhaps we should be seeing things in a different light, after all if God is God, then God can work through any situation to bring good. 

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

It is challenging our ways of meeting, not being able to meet in person, its challenging our online abilities, its challenging the way our finances work, its challenging the way we make decisions, especially those with a congregational view of church governance. 

But is this really an opportunity rather than a difficulty? Is it a chance to explore new paths on the journey? Is it a challenge to rethink our approaches and our ways which we have got so used to? Well that possibly depends upon how we approach things. For me the faith life has never been a controlled, everything nicely in its place journey, its had surprises, bumps and also fun and excitement. 

Last year when all of this started, many churches looked at online presence. We had never streamed or filmed our services. How could we do this, should we? Agreeing this was an opportunity to use the time well we talked to others who were more experienced in this and made choices. We used the empty church to do something that would never have happened normally, moved the sound desk area to a better place with a new enclosure and re-wired our entire audio visual systems as well as putting the church onto the internet. Much of this possible through the generosity of the church with skills, money and time. The result, we are much better prepared for the future, already able to link those who cant come with those who can and did when we were open for a while through the middle of last year. We also took the time to link our hall and chapel to enable larger gatherings in the future oh and re-carpeted the chapel. Not every church has the finances to do these things. Careful use of income and encouraging a sacrificial attitude to giving regularly enabled us to have some savings. but fundamental to our thinking was enabling the church to continue meeting in whatever way we can and spending what we had to achieve that. It has opened up opportunities for the future.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Finance is perhaps the most challenged area for many churches. Where a significant portion comes from the service collections or from hiring the premises out, that has caused big issues. Is this really a challenge to the way in which we support church ministry and staff? Perhaps more use of  regular giving through the bank would help some? But does it really honour God that we, his church, rely on those outside of the church to provide for our activities? Is this an opportunity to re-think how we do this in church life. Let me use a simplistic if imperfect example - If a church was made of 10 couples 5 single people and 5 who have non church partners so might find it hard to give, and based upon the average household income (yes I know there are all sorts of reasons folks can't or don't but all examples have flaws) at a giving of 5% that would amount to £18K a year.  There is the challenge on all Christians (including the churches IMO) to be generous to each other? Giving to support other poorer, embryonic and smaller adapting churches - the UK Baptist Union try to to do this through Home Mission, which could be better supported than it is (IMO). Opportunities abound.

Another challenge to our Church lives is that of meeting in person, many I know struggle with this not happening, wanted to keep the churches open regardless of the potential increase in infection that might cause. I know of many churches where whatapp,  Zoom, Teams and other online apps, used on mobile phones (which a large number have), pads, laptops etc, have increased prayer times and the numbers engaging in prayer. Many churches now able to go "online", some have seen a big increase in their attendance. Now we don't know the future impact of this, but there are many who do not come into church services who are joining online, and in some cases that has led to conversions to the faith and joining the church. Again there are many churches who cant do this technically. If we were truly generous could not those churches with the resources and technical expertise, help those which do not? 

I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one

I think this pandemic can be seen as a difficulty to be weathered and then we can return to the old "normal". I hope and pray, that this is not the case. That we will listen to the challenges, learn and adapt as we seek God for a new "normal" and embracing the opportunities. A new way to be the Church that God is calling us to be. To hold on to what is good and let go of what needs to be let go off. An opportunity to shine in a new and different way.

May God bless you as you and your churches struggle and face the opportunities that all of this time can offer.



Friday, 11 December 2020

 

In early December Nicola (my wife) and I put up the Christmas trees in the Church and the hall, ready for them to be decorated. Nicola couldn’t help putting on the balcony Christmas lights once again, before we left, just to look. There is something about lights like these that remind us of what time of year it is and what we celebrate. Why? Well perhaps because Jesus described himself as “the light of the world” and also used a parable to explain that we, his Church, are to be lights, which are not hidden but shine for all to see.

When the times are difficult and things seem dark and hard, the light of the church, in my understanding, should shine even more. Christmas is a time to remember the hope that God has given through Jesus, the joy that comes from knowing him, being a part of the light that shines and cannot be extinguished and the peace that comes from knowing that this life is a part of life and not the end.

I love the lights that we use to celebrate Christmas, I love the candles and the Christmas trees, even if they are part of recent tradition. 

I like walking the streets at this time of year, seeing more and more houses being lit up with a huge variety of lights and tableaux's. And then there are our high street lights which we help the local traders group raise money for each year. We almost didn't have any this year as we could not do any charity events. But people wanted the lights up, I think because it brings us a sense of joy and celebration to see them. Local businesses and individuals all gave towards this and we we able to put them up again.  I think all of these speak of a deep seated desire in folks to celebrate and they spark me into prayer and rejoicing as I walk

Various people from the church added to our decorations to prepare the church for the season. Today (11th Dec), we had our first Christmas service, for our toddler group, a Christingle, look it up if you have not heard of it 😊its simple but a great way to tell the story of Jesus to children. 

Our church celebrations this year will be different as we follow the many guidelines, but we can still rejoice and celebrate all that God has done through the first Christmas and the coming of Jesus. We can shine to our friends, colleagues, and neighbours, so let’s be those lights in the best way that we can, drawing others to the light of world at a time when the world needs light and not darkness.





Tuesday, 20 October 2020

The old or the new?

One of the things I have probably heard the most during this Coronavirus epidemic is "when can we get back to normal?" or "when can we return to the way things were?". I can completely understand the need to re-find some sense of comfort in being able to do things in the ways we had grown used to. For example in my case that might include:

Planning trips to see our children and grandchildren

Organising holidays well in advance

Meeting up with folks over a coffee or a meal

Sharing worship in person with the church

Catching up with the church over coffee after the services and in other meetings and gatherings.

Meeting all of the toddler group mum's, carers and children

...

The longer this lockdown or partial lockdown has continued and a few weeks has stretched into 7 months, so far, we still see no clear end to the situation and so what was thrust upon us by the rapid change has become a sort of new normal.

Jesus' arrival heralded a new normal for all people. No longer a normal of trying to win God's favour by observing strict religious codes and rules, but a new normal of inclusion in God's kingdom through Jesus' suffering, death and resurrection. A new normal of Salvation by God's grace and not our observances and rituals. This new normal caused ructions, the religious of the day wanted Jesus out of the way, they clung to the old. Jesus' words about new wine in old wineskins certainly caused issues. I am not sure he meant the old was bad and the new was good, but more that a new way meant a new container, the old wouldn't be able to hold it.

As I reflect a little on what has happened I can be sad at what I don't have and miss - the personal contact with friends and family, the buzz of church before during and after worship, the laughter and fun with the toddlers and so on. But I can also consider what is different and positive. Less meetings to travel to and so more time for other things (like speaking to church folks with real time given to it on the phone and not in snatched conversations with others waiting). Folks being able to attend services on Zoom who often work hours that make actually getting to church on Sunday hard. And then there is the on-line chats with our children and grand-children which are more frequent.

The old normal has some useful things to pull forward into the new normal but I wonder how much of the old we need to let go of and embrace the new a little more. Then perhaps it will not be so frightening but instead will become an opportunity to embrace new ways of doing things in all aspects of our lives and especially in our church lives.

God is more than able to work through each and any situation, after all church has survived two millennia so far and a good many changes have happened in the process. Maybe there is something for us in this embracing of the new, Isaiah wrote God's word to him down for us and maybe they are worth reflecting upon in the current situation. "Behold I do a new thing".


Friday, 21 August 2020

A Rock in a world of confusion

 I suspect that like me these last months have seemed like a sea of shifting sand. Different countries, even different parts of countries approaching this virus pandemic in different ways. In The UK we have England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales all taking slightly different approaches - perhaps a foretaste of what things will be like if and when some get independence? Each claim to be following the science, the mantra of the post modern world? Because politicians don't want the blame for any bad or wrong choices, its all down to the science. Yet the scientific community does not have all of the answers, there are different views on how it spreads, how isolated folks should be, heard immunity and so on.

The plethora of rules, regulations, guidelines and such is truly mind boggling and as a church minister it has proven both time consuming and difficult to navigate through it all, especially when we consider opening the church for limited congregations.

Rocks, sand and water in Saligo Bay, Isle of Islay | Islay ...Jesus told a parable about building our houses on sand or rock. And yes I know he was talking about faith. The question of what we have faith in is very relevant to the situation. My faith in Jesus has helped me to stand firm in this uncharted time. It helps me to take a more considered look at how to respond and how to get involved. For many of the world their faith in human endeavour and has been shown to be flawed, science is not the universal panacea, governments are flawed and make mistakes, the worlds economy lives on a foundation of sand, which it seems is very easily moved.

What has caused me even more thought is how easily the world economy can be pushed into melt down by a little virus. Perhaps it speaks to us about the fragility of the systems that we hold so firmly to? In the area in which I live I have been pleased at the response of people to giving up time to help others. Ensuring that those who have to shield etc still get their medication, shopping and a phone call to cheer them up.

I wonder if the real problem that this virus highlights relates to our ways of life. Is our travelling the globe with relative ease, our desire to do as we want, often without regard for the impact on the ecology of the planet or others, now getting some payback? It seems to me that some things are going to have to change or this has every chance to become a regular problem.