Monday, 22 August 2016

Summer shut down?

The summer shutdown, schools do it (6 weeks, 7 if you live in Doncaster this year), colleges do it, universities do it.  Even the Martial arts club my boys go to does it.  They basically shut down, run nothing for a period of time because so many people are away and teachers need rest.  Church doesn't do it but there are weeks when I wonder if it may not be a bad idea, but then I stop and think about it and realise it would be horrific.

Don't mishear me, I'm not knocking holidays, I've enjoyed a lovely two week break.  Part in hectic, let's go, let's see, let's climb into bed exhausted and hot at the end of everyday having crammed as much as possible in, London and part in relaxed, cool, tranquil North Yorkshire.  But I do wonder about the spiritual effect of holidays, especially extended holidays.  It used to be that most people went away for a couple of weeks, but there seems to be a growing trend to be away for as much of the school summer holidays as possible, sometimes in long unbroken stretches.

I'm not sure why that is but I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that as families we cram our lives so full of stuff that everything else gets shunted into holiday time.  If we are busy all the time in term time; children at different clubs every night and at weekends, busy with work, busy with life, busy with church.  Then we try to squeeze in visits to family and friends at holidays.  But actually all we are doing is filling up our holidays and making them as busy as the rest of the time.  When do we stop and rest?  When do we stop and take the time to evaluate, to meditate on God's word and slowly chew over what it has to say about our pace of life, priorities, loves, goals and so on?

One by product of the cramming of term time is the cramming of rest time full of people to see, things to do to make up for our inability to do so in overfull term time.  I wonder what damage it is doing to our families, our churches, our communities and the gospel?  I wonder if the concept of leisure and holidays is gradually choking our churches?  If it is becoming the Christians other object of worship, a rival to God?  I'm certainly aware of the danger in my own heart and mind of overworking now and pinning my hopes on rest then.

When our churches seem to shut down or hibernate for the summer there is something wrong.  It's fine for a Martial arts club to do it, or for a school to do so.  But a church is a family, I'm taking it that we don't absent ourselves from our families for weeks at a time.  My fear is that as this becomes the norm we will find ourselves in years to come reaping the costs.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Frustrated and grateful

Anyone who follows this blog or occasionally drops by, or hears of anything, Grace Church related will know that we are currently looking for a permanent home from which we can serve the community and reach out with the gospel more effectively.  Having exhausted current buildings, such as office and retail spaces, as regards a new home and been told 'No' at every stage we had contacted Peel Holdings who own much of the land around Hayfield.  However, last week we heard back from them that they had no suitable spaces available for us to use.  This was immensely frustrating as they pretty much seem to own Hayfield.

So where now?  Firstly, we have contacted our local MP who has written to both Peel and the local authority about our need of premises from which to serve the community.  She has promised to be in contact once she hears back.  We are very grateful to God for her advocacy on our behalf and will continue to pray for her as she serves our community.

Secondly we are going to put some feelers out and enquire about the price of land that is for sale around about us just to gauge prices, though we fear it will be exorbitant due to the airport.  We do all of this grateful to God for the security we enjoy at the school where we meet and aware that we need to seek his will and trust his purposes and timing.  As a church we covet the prayers of God's people for our situation and our future.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

A modern proverb?

"Image is nothing.  Thirst is everything.  Obey your thirst."  So went the advertising slogan for Sprite that I still remember decades later.  How far from the truth that is in our modern culture.  In our society image is everything and nothing else really matters.  Oh we may trumpet soundbites like 'Be true to yourself', 'Be the you you really want to be' and so on.  But they come with subtle small print, and the small print says only be true to yourself if that fits with societies values and norms, with the you society will accept.  Don't be true to yourself if you don't, hide, suppress, repress.

Image has become everything.  I've been watching the Olympics and amidst all the great sport and phenomenal athleticism and dedication I've been heartbroken to see athlete's vilified and victimised for not portraying the right image.  Not having your hand on your heart when you sing your anthem, letting disappointment show, not having the right hair, or look and so on.  If people don't fit in with our media massaged and manipulated view of norms or right then we jump all over them.  We seem to forget that these are real people dealing with real emotions and four years (or a life time) of dedication and expectation, hopes and dreams.  Let alone the more fundamental truth that these are people made in God's image.

It has struck me again whilst I have watched with a sense of sadness athletes being attacked on social media for not fitting the image, not doing the done thing, not meeting others expectations of how they should react, that it shouldn't surprise me at all.  It is what disciples of Jesus should expect everyday.  I think of Daniel and his friends taking a stand for their faith in Babylon and the pressure they faced for not fitting in, not conforming.  And then tragically I think of Esther who hides her faith and does conform, for whom image is everything, at least initially.  But then I am reminded of the grace of God that transformed a wretch like Esther to save his people.

And that challenge hits me again.  The call to stand out, the call to live having experienced and drunk deeply of the water of life that Christ brings and to hold that out to others.  Knowing that it is what they really long for no matter what society says.  That image doesn't matter as much as the reality for which God has made them.  And that as people made in the image of God I am called to loved each and everyone of them and call them back to that image redeemed in Christ.

Monday, 8 August 2016

The search for a new home

As a church Grace is looking for a new home.  We've been renting the school hall we meet in for a few years and we have a very good relationship with the school, there is certainly no pressure from them for us to move on.  But there are a number of push and pull factors that are propelling us to look for somewhere new; our Sunday school really needs a bigger space, our opportunities to serve the community are limited by hiring space, especially a school where mid week opportunities are curtailed, and we currently have someone in our extended church family who is effectively excluded from church because of the building we use.  All of that has led us for the last few months to be praying for and searching for a new building.

However, the area we are in throws up a number of extra complexities.  There are no other community spaces in Hayfield and renting another school wouldn't solve the problem of a base to serve the community from the rest of the week.  We've contacted various offices that are for let and have been told they would not let or sell us any space as they don't want to go through the change of use process.  So we have been in contact with Peel Holdings who own most of the land round here to ask if there is some land available they could gift or help us build a building on which we could use for the community outreach we want to do.  As of yet we have heard little back and so we keep on praying.  We have asked the local MP to use any contacts or influence she has, and again we keep on praying.

What can you pray for us, here's some pointers:

  1. Pray that as a church we stay united and prayerful as we look to God to provide 
  2. Pray that we don't take our eyes off our mission of reaching the area with the gospel even while  we wait.
  3. Pray that our God would move those at Peel to provide a piece of land or a building
  4. Pray that God would provide the finance we need to build that building and that he would be glorified through his people.
  5. Pray for us as leaders to keep people not projects the main focus.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

There's no place like home

We are just back from a couple of weeks holiday who took in the hustle and bustle of London and the calm serenity of North Yorkshire.  As well as the period of rest and opportunity to eat ice cream, visit a beach/Buckingham Palace/Tower of London/Scarborough cricket ground, and spend time with the family it also provides an opportunity to visit other churches and just be part of the congregation.  It is an opportunity I enjoy but it reminds me every time that what makes our own church home is the family we find there.  The interconnected interdependent web of relationships.  The shared experiences, the committed care, the easy yet intentional way we are around and with each other.

So I return from holiday refreshed but also pleased to be back to my church family, where God has put me and where I find those relationships that provoke me and go deep which we so desperately need.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Despising the ordinary

What could church do that would enable you to flourish spiritually?  That's the question we began with at Gospel Group last night as we studied Nehemiah 11-12.  It's a fascinating question isn't it because there are so many possible answers and so many of them are dictated by the trends in our society.  But it is a question worth thinking about not least for how it exposes our habit of despising the ordinary God instituted means of flourishing in our faith.  What could church do that would enable you to flourish in your faith?

In Nehemiah 11 and 12 the walls are rebuilt, the people have committed themselves to the covenant having repented of their sins.  And now they put structures in place in Jerusalem that will help them as God's people flourish in God's city.  Firstly 1 in 10 of the people from the surrounding villages and towns moves into the city.  We need others, something that is plainly obvious when you read the New Testament and pay any attention to the one another's.  They put leaders in place who will administer what needs to be administered, who will give direction and be the bridge between good intentions and actual action.  They put the priests in place to make the offerings and sacrifices which we know point to Jesus the great high priest who once for all offers himself for sin.  They recognise the Levites and put them in place, those who read, teach and apply God's word to the people.  They set people apart to be gatekeepers, to provide security from their enemies but also to facilitate purity by keeping Sabbath traders from other nations out.  And they recognise and put musicians in place who will lead the people in recognising, rejoicing in, and responding to the faithfulness and goodness of God.

In Nehemiah 12v44-47 we are told that the people ensure that these groups are provided for materially on an ongoing basis so they can keep on dedicating themselves to their given roles, so that God's people have the trellises (yes I know that's been used somewhere else) which facilitate spiritual flourishing.  Israel commit themselves to having structures and people in place that will enable them to flourish spiritually.  But it's worth noticing that these are the ordinary everyday things that God's people had done for centuries.  It is not a magic bullet, it doesn't guarantee spiritual flourishing (see chapter 13) but it does provide an opportunity for it to happen.

As you move into the New Testament we see similar structures put into place in the New Testament church.  Those who read, teach, and apply the bible to the people, those who guard them (see Acts 20 - elders watch over the flock), musicians to lead us in worship, leaders who help direct us as to where the rubber hits the road with a passage.  And yet because of the sheer ordinariness of it all we are tempted to despise such things, to take them for granted because of their everyday or every Sunday-ness.  Instead we ought to thank God for them and for providing them so that we have opportunity to spiritually flourish and we ought to dedicate ourselves to making the most of the opportunity they provide rather than looking off and wondering about or longing for the silver bullet that will provide instant flourishing.

Friday, 24 June 2016

British Evangelical's blind spot?

I listened to a fascinating, informative and insightful talk by Mika Edmondson on the Black Civil Right movement and the American church's response to Black Lives Matter.  It was impassioned and full of love for people and a concern for the honour and glory of God.  It's well worth a listen.

But whilst I listened I found myself thinking where has the evangelical church in Britain been similarly blind and inactive when injustice is plain?  Where have we failed to be the voice the scriptures and our Saviour would call us to be for people made in his image and for whom he gave his life that by believing in him they might find life?

It is something I want to take time to think through more carefully.  But certainly I found myself initially reflecting on the churches silence, and at times demonising, of the deprived and working class.  Interestingly even as I have reflected on this there have been examples of exactly that over Brexit.  Our society is deeply divided along class lines, with misunderstandings and stereotyping rife among those on each side of the divide.  Opportunities, access to good education, a voice in the political process, job chances, health, and even life expectancy are not equally distributed in our society.  We are not an equal opportunities nation.  Are we an equalising opportunities church?

Are we a voice for those needing it?  Are we providing the opportunities society denies?  Are we holding out the gospel of hope to all regardless of background and which estate they live on?  I'd love your thoughts as I think on this more.