Hetty’s Devotions

The Church in a Pandemic

Here is a piece written by my wife Hetty reflecting on the church in our current time.

What happens when a church/ faith community/ group of believers, find themselves in the world of Covid 19?This is a question that I’ve been stewing on for 8 months. In March and April I kept my ears and eyes open for evidence that believers were mobilised to give assistance wherever the need was. I also wanted to see how churches were adapting their services to the challenges and opportunities of ‘online’.

At first I noticed the Sikh and Muslim communities making and delivering meals for tertiary students who had lost their income. I saw that churches were moving online but it was a poor attempt to replicate the service as close as possible, losing much of the sense of personal connection. Some church leaders tried bizarre stunts to continue certain practices.

Closer to home I heard of the work a group of Christians, which included my daughter, was doing to provide meals to the homeless and hungry. To change the sit-down meal they offered in the past with a takeaway one. Our local Christian school is using the produce from their horticulture unit to make meals and fresh food hampers for families who are having difficulty making ends meet.


Yesterday I stumbled across an article about the pandemics of the past. It explained the advancement of the early Christian church during and following the Antonine and the Cyprian plagues that occurred in the Roman Empire of A.D. 165 – 262. The combined pandemics’ mortality rate was anywhere from one-quarter to one-third of the empire’s population.


So what caused the baby Christian church to become a significant religion?Here’s a different way of asking this question: What was God doing in the hearts of the believers? How was He resourcing and equipping them?This is a quote from that article-
“Rodney Stark, in his seminal work “The Rise of Christianity,” argues that these two pandemics made Christianity a much more attractive belief system.While the disease was effectively incurable, rudimentary palliative care – the provision of food and water, for example – could spur recovery of those too weak to care for themselves. Motivated by Christian charity and an ethic of care for the sick – and enabled by the thick social and charitable networks around which the early church was organized – the empire’s Christian communities were willing and able to provide this sort of care.Pagan Romans, on the other hand, opted instead either to flee outbreaks of the plague or to self-isolate in the hope of being spared infection.”


Ah! There it is. Charity.


But where are the majority of today’s Christians to be found? Fleeing the outbreaks? Self-isolating? Pretending that nothing’s changed? Trying to get modern technology to ensure the congregation can continue to tithe? Demanding that the government leaders allow their churches to meet in person again?
Or living out the commandment of Jesus to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”(Luke 10:27)


I don’t want to search for this. I want it to be so, so patently obvious that a blind man couldn’t miss it. I want people to say “Christians? Yeah, there they are….. using their facilities to cook meals……..providing shelter………helping those struggling with anxiety………using their charitable networks to distribute aid.”
The twenty first century Christian has been equipped by God and He has given each of us a particular task that we must undertake where He has placed us.
Right now we find ourselves in a pandemic.

Categories: Christianity, Church, Hetty's Devotions | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

O God Our Help in Ages Past

A reflection by Hetty

O God, our Help in ages past

Our Help for years to come.

Our Shelter from the stormy blast, and our Eternal Home.

I am a small girl, sitting on a hard wooden 1950s school desk.

High above the blackboard is a wedge shaped speaker, and out of the speaker comes a crackly, church organ led version of this hymn.

It’s Anzac Day.

A familiar tune that I only heard once a year in the same place at the same time. At first it was the melody that gave me comfort and peace. Every year I forgot, and then I heard it again and my soul remembered. I sat in that new classroom, one year older, and let the notes cascade over me, swirling around me, enveloping me.

Then I began to listen to the phrases. And in my young mind I joined the words to my life. Our help, my help. Ages past, my past.

There was only one event in my past. My father died. Whatever else had happened meant nothing to me. It loomed large whenever I glanced back and it touched everything that was now.

I let these thoughts skitter across my consciousness and then they disappeared until next Anzac Day.

Next Anzac Day. I was in high school now. No speakers on the wall, we were all in the quadrangle with the principal on a platform leading the service. We had sheets with the words of the hymns, and there it was – my hymn.

I stared at the words:

Our help, ages past. Our Hope, our Shelter.

Stormy blasts.

There was something I’d never noticed before. Our shelter from the stormy blasts. I’d certainly known some of those in my ages past. Oh, I knew it was meant to conjure images of soldiers hunkered down in trenches while bullets and explosions rained down on them. But I also knew the hunkering down I’d done while the circumstances of my life exploded around me.

Our Shelter, my Shelter.

My family began to attend a different church. Now we had a service every week and a hymn book in the pew. The services were long but the hymn book was a source of entertainment for a young girl with a good imagination. I silently read through the wedding vows at the back, choosing two random people in the congregation to marry. I read through the alphabetical index and the topical index and anything else I could find in that book.

And then I found it! My Anzac Day hymn.

There were more verses that I’d never known!

“Under the shadow of thy throne,

Thy saints have dwelt secure;

Sufficient is thine arm alone,

And our defense is sure.”

I hummed the tune under my breath as I read the words.

Here was the perfect marriage of my comforting tune and these life affirming words on the page before me.

I knew this. I’d lived this.

“Before the hills in order stood,

Or earth received her frame,

From everlasting thou art God,

To endless years the same.”

Did it matter that I’d lived through stormy blasts? Did it matter that more stormy blasts would be coming my way in the future? Not when I had the assurance of a eternal, everlasting Shelter.

“Time, like an ever-rolling stream,

Bears all its sons away;

They fly, forgotten, as a dream

Dies at the opening day.”

This morning I woke up singing my Anzac Day hymn. Much time has rolled on since I sat staring at the speaker above the blackboard. They fly, forgotten, as a dream.

But Thou……our Guide, and our Eternal Home. My Eternal Home.

Categories: Christianity, Faith, Hetty's Devotions, hymns, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

One Generation from Extinction

The following is another post written by my wife:

When I married I lost my surname and took my husband’s. My sisters also married and then the name we had since birth was lost from our family. With no brothers to be able to carry the name into the future, it was gone.

My parents-in-law also saw the future of their name disappear. They had two sons, who married and gave them eight granddaughters. Whether by marriage or when they die, the surname will be lost in one generation.

photo 4Our faith heritage can suffer a similar fate. In just one generation the faith of our fathers and mothers can be lost. Who holds this fast? In whose hands can we entrust this faith to ensure that our grandchildren and the generations to come will carry on trusting God?

The obvious, and truthful, answer is there in the question. We trust God to hold us and keep us trusting Him. But that doesn’t allow us to be passive while God does all the work.

Our family will never be big. Probably our two grandchildren (aged one and three years) will stride toward the future holding hands, just the two of them, carrying the family history and folklore and faith with them. From our perspective it is a scary country that they are entering, full of dangerous terrain, uncertain and dark valleys, and threatening inhabitants. As grandparents we come from the relative calm of a Christian era, when even those who were not Christian lived by a Christian moral standard. Today we paused and asked ourselves, how do we prepare these little children for that foreign country called The Future?

Fortunately it is not up to us alone, and I believe this is the key. Of course they have believing parents and we must support them in their role to nurture faith in their children. But they also have five Aunties and an Uncle who will model a life of faith to them. We can and must give every effort to ensuring our faith heritage is not lost. We have a holy task as grandfather, grandmother, auntie, uncle, sister, brother, and parent. And as we do this we are obliged to hold each other accountable before God.

There is a future world in need of the Good News of Jesus. And I pray it will hear this Good News from the lips of my grandchildren.

 

 

Categories: Children, christian, Christianity, Faith, Hetty's Devotions, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Epiphany: a story

Melchior, Balthazar, and Caspar

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(Picture from The Life of Jesus, painted by Paul Forsey)

It was a black night. Nothing lit our Eastern sky, nothing. The tiny pinpricks of starry light were almost blotted out by the inky darkness.

Nevertheless, our team was out there on the dunes, peering into our telescopes, occasionally lighting a small candle to jot notes and diagrams onto our parchments.

It was a still night, which was a good thing. Sand grit can be a problem if it’s blown into our equipment and ink. Caspar was sitting in the middle of a huge groundsheet, gazing across to the horizon. It was so quiet that, even though I had my back to him, I heard it when he stopped breathing. He wasn’t dead, just dead surprised.

I turned and said, “Cas?” and then looked where I thought he was looking.

I answered his unspoken question. “I think it is.”

“I’m going to make a light” he said, “you get Melchior.”

I set out over the dunes. With no illumination I stumbled along. Once I turned to look behind me and saw Caspar’s small candle. But behind him was a rising glow from near the horizon. I finally found Mel; actually I stumbled onto him. He cursed as I landed on him, causing his ‘scope to drop to the ground.

“Look” I said, and standing close behind him with my arm alongside his head, I pointed to the west. He moved slightly to follow my direction. “Yes…” he murmured.

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking” I asked.

“I think I am, Balthazar!” he replied, and I heard the twinkle in his eyes.

We ran then, back to Caspar, who had been consulting the charts. He was fairly jumping out of his skin! And that’s not bad for an eighty year old astronomer.

This was the beginning of our journey westward. That little star, rising up into our world, had been predicted for centuries. But not as headline news in the Astronomers Of The East Gazette. No. It was hidden in the historical parchments of our discipline, to be discovered through intense cross referencing and study. A group of us were hoping and waiting for its appearance in our lifetime. And here it was!

The following days were a buzz of preparations and talking. Our colleagues agreed that Mel, Caspar and I should be the ones to meet the promised King. The King born somewhere to the west of us. The King whose star we had seen rising in the darkness.

And this King would be worshipped with gifts.

So a committee was formed to find appropriate gifts. The gift registrars. They consulted the astronomical charts too, for clues. Each gift would be fraught with meaning. Finally they came on the night before we were to set out. Three packages were presented to us.

“This one is the only gift we could give to a new King” they said. “It is the ultimate symbol of power and majesty.” Caspar stood beside me and whispered breathlessly “Gold!”

“This one” another registrar said, holding up a small box, “was a tricky one. Something in our research suggested this new King is also Godly. So in this box is the very precious frankincense.” He handed it to Melchior.

A third registrar stepped forward.

“Finally, our last gift.” A few of the other members of the committee shuffled uneasily and looked down, as if they weren’t too sure about this choice of a gift.

“Myrrh.” And it was offered to me.

An explanation was called for. The registrar continued. “It’s traditionally used as an embalming agent. The committee thought it appropriate as all kings eventually die, and this new King will deserve the very best of burials. Although” he added,

“this King is a God, so it should not be necessary. However, on the off chance…..” He was now clearly out of his depth so I stepped forward and took the package from him. He looked glad to be rid of it.

The journey continued. The next morning we were assisted onto our camels and the whole assembly of astronomers were there to see us off.

Our College president handed us the scrolls containing copies of the prophesies of the Hebrew Daniel, concerning the King we were seeking. And so we left our home in the East.

It was together boring and exhilarating to be travelling.

At night we pitched our tent, found our telescopes and studied the sky as we had always done. But we hardly needed the telescope to see that Star; it became larger and brighter every night. It was our signpost, our route map, our light for our path.

During the days I reread Daniel’s prophesy. He was an alien in our country, captured over 500 years ago and brought to Babylon as booty.

He wrote about his God and a plan to bring a saving Christ into the world. The ‘Son of Man coming from heaven’.

When we reached the region of Palestine we made our way straight to the city of Jerusalem. I was glad to stop there. Beyond this country was the Mare Nostrum sea and I didn’t like sailing much. I preferred the ships of the desert – camels, and the waves of bare sand.

At the palace the guards brought us before the ruler King Herod. He listened to the reason for our coming, and looked puzzled. “No new kings here!” he blustered.

“A new born King, a baby perhaps?” I suggested.

Now he looked positively scary. “No newborns around here!! “

Melchior offered another idea, “we believe him to be the king of the Jews.”

“What?!!” roared Herod. “I am the king of the Jews!”

And then “Send for my advisors, and those magicians I have!”

They came, and they confirmed what we had said. In the town of Bethlehem the Christ would be born.

Now Herod ordered us out of the room while he conferred with his advisors.

We sat in a tiny anteroom, cooling our heels. “I don’t like that man much,” said Caspar, “can’t we just go over to that town and check it out for ourselves?”

But then the door opened and we were called back in.

Herod’s plan went like this:

We were to go to Bethlehem, find the baby King, and then return to Herod and give him the precise location.

It was something about the way his moustache twitched when he spoke that made me wonder. His whole demeanour had changed since before, but that moustache was twitching! I didn’t trust him.

Well, we found Bethlehem, and we found the King. Our star continued to lead us until it stopped over an ordinary-looking house in a plain old street. No palace, no royal crib, no red carpet.

We felt a tiny bit overdressed for the occasion, and the gifts we brought seemed a tad too grand for such an ordinary child, but we knelt before him. His parents didn’t blink. It was as if they knew His importance, as if they understood Who he really was.

I bowed deeply.

I offered the jar of myrrh to the child’s mother.

In my heart I felt some flutter of recognition as I gazed upon the small boy sitting on his mother’s knee.

The star had brought me to Him. He was the end of my journey.

Hetty Stok,

Epiphany, 2019

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Telling Bible stories to young children

Once again my wife reflects upon one of our passions – how to present gospel stories to children.

 

The story of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet. (John 13:1-17)

 

Traditionally, we concentrate on Jesus, the teacher, humbling himself to wash the feet of his disciples. However, to a young child, this would not seem unusual at all. Their experience is normally one of adults caring for them; teachers and childcare providers, parents, and grandparents. It would be strange to them if the disciples had washed Jesus’ feet!

 

So how could we tell this story?

 

Often Bible storytellers try to interpret the stories. We want to be sure the child understands the meaning and the lesson. In short, we tell the child what they should think.

I’m wary of this approach.

I believe that when we impart God’s Word to young people the Holy Spirit is present and active in their hearts and their heads.children 1

We need to trust that He will guide them as they hear our stories.

Our aim should be to facilitate worship in children.

 

The lives of children are full of friends, family gatherings, travelling, food, and identity. This story has it all. Jesus plans a meal together with his friends. They all travel to an upstairs room in a house. They probably walked along dusty roads to get there. When they arrived there were probably hugs and kisses all around. The table had an array of food and drink, lovingly prepared by others in their circle of friends.

Most importantly, Jesus was with his friends: they identified themselves (and the community recognised them) as His followers.

 

So, as you tell this wonderful story, touch on these points of contact.

 

Children will also visualise the story as you tell it. They will “see” it using their own experiences. Therefore a table full of food will be their family’s dining table.

Enrich the story for them by telling them the colours, the smells, the icky ness of the dirty feet, the warmth of the water in the basin, the gentleness of Jesus hands, and the softness of the towel.

 

When we tell stories in this fashion we help a child take it into their heart. The story will resonate with them.

 

And finally, give the child a way to respond to what they have heard. Wonder with them, sit quietly and ponder, provide art materials, sing. Follow their lead as they follow the Holy Spirit.

 

Categories: Child Theology, Children, christian, Faith, Family, Hetty's Devotions | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Easter Sunday in Santiago -Hetty’s Perspective

Hetty’s thoughts about Easter Sunday

We had an appointment to meet Kiki at the cathedral at 11am, so we found a car park and walked into the city centre. It wasn’t difficult to find each other. As we approached the cathedral the Risen Jesus was being wheeled in. We followed Jesus.
Just inside the doors he did a tricky 25point reverse and back outside.
Crowds of tourists/spectators were shooed out of his way. Meanwhile people in costumes arrived from all directions: little angels, Biblical characters, and traditional Spanish women in high veils. And lots of green-caped churchmen and women. Then we realized another float was coming into the square.
To drums and trumpets and a Spanish version of the bagpipes , Mary was being borne aloft by two dozen men. No wheels under this lady! Her carriers had her rocking from side to side as she and Jesus inched towards each other. We then got an Easter Pageant and a kind of sermon. It was good that we knew the story and that the word Halleluyah is universal. The two Marys went to meet Jesus, ran back to tell John and Peter who in turn ran towards Jesus. Then some angel children released some doves. After that the procession went through the town to more music.
We turned back to the cathedral for the 12 o’clock Pilgrims Service. there was a lot of pomp, ceremony, smells and bells, but we understood little of it. the priest did welcome us in English but I didn’t realize it immediately and didn’t precisely notice when he went back to Spanish.
At the commencement of the Communion we left, found our way back to the car, and started on our journey south.

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The Invisible Man

Another of Hetty’s reflections: Matt 12:1-14

Mostly I am ignored at the temple. I go every week to pay my tithe, say my prayers, listen to the priest’s words, and no-one seems to notice me – I’m invisible.

Imagine my surprise when Jesus, surrounded by his followers AND a gaggle of Pharisees marched right up to me. Me! An invisible man with a shrivelled hand, who no-one ever wants to see, let alone help.

They were arguing about something. Arguing politely, but I could tell that those lawyers were trying to trap Jesus with his own words.

They stopped before me.

“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” they asked him.

Ah, so I was their visual aid. Here was a “rubber meets the road” moment for Jesus. (Or should that be “donkey’s foot pad meets the road?”)

Well he answered the question with a question. And then using the convenience of a man in need of a miracle close at hand, Jesus drove his point home. “Stretch out your hand,” he told me. I did. I gazed down at my hands. They were both as perfect as each other!

Heavenly father, it is not the rules that keep us right with you. It is not what we give up or do without. You only want us to live “mercifully”; to value our fellow humans as you do; to do good, every day of every week. Help me go through this life journey following Jesus in all that I do. Amen.
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Jesus Clears the Temple

One of Hetty’s reflections: John 2:13-16

I’m right behind Jesus. Since he did that miracle with the wine at the wedding, I want to see everything he does. This seemed like a routine visit to the temple … until …

I’m on my way home. I have to give some serious thought to what I’ve just seen. Jesus was a man out of control, or was he? What did he mean when he said, “My father’s house”? That would make him … the son of God! Can that be true? What about the line about destroying the temple? If, if, someone destroyed such a structure it would take more than three days to build it again. It would take another miracle.

I’m sticking with this guy. Whatever he does next, I’m going to be there to see it.

Lord help me to keep my eyes on you. Not because I have to witness the miraculous, wonderful as that would be, but because you are the one who made me. You love me more than anyone else would. Stepping with you will be the best way I could travel through life. You know what will cause me to stumble, and if I’m close to you, you’ll gently take my arm and tell me, “Watch that stone there Hetty. Don’t trip over.” Thank you Jesus for being the best travelling partner. Amen
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The Wedding at Cana

A reflection by Hetty on the Wedding at Cana. John 2:1-11

A bystander at the Wedding at Cana: I surely must have had as much to drink as those around me, but the celebrationns are set to continue for a while yet. On observing Jesus talking his mother to task and giving strange orders to the servants, my interest was piqued. How amazing the resulting miracle! Who is this man? Who is he related to? Where can I find out more about him?

To follow Jesus at this point would be to follow a magician, a sideshow.What about when he begins to say things people don’t want to hear? What about when he starts to make demands of me?

Lord, may I grow in my understanding of Jesus day by day. Please give me the faith and courage, not just to know him, but also to follow him, willingly, in obedience.
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I’ve heard about Jesus …

A reflection on Matt 8:5-13 by Hetty:

I’ve heard about Jesus: Water, evil spirits, diseases, they all obey his word. So when he said he would come and heal my servant, I told him plainly, “That’s not necessary. Just say the word and I know he will be cured.” I knew he would have made the journey for me and the young man, but he is the “Chief Officer” and what he says goes. But I wasn’t expecting his amazement at my reply. And those comments about my faith – surely I’m not as good as all those pious Jews?!

Jesus comes for each of us. He makes no distinction between masters and servants, Jews or Gentiles. He only requires our faith in him.
“Remind me that you are
the Way,
the Truth
and the Life
and apart from you there is no life.”
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