Posts Tagged With: Christian

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

For a Time Such as This

How has God been preparing the church, the people of God, for a time such as this? And what hints and leadings has He been giving us to be His active representatives on earth right now?cropped-cropped-isaiah.jpg What opportunities has He created? These are all questions my wife has been challenging me with in recent times. Hetty has written the following.

In 2005 we went to live in the UK for 16 months. I found myself with a lot of time and looked about to find something to become involved with. Our local church put me in touch with Bridgebuilder, an organisation that worked with schools to teach children about the Christian faith.

This appealed to me because for 15 years I had been a volunteer teacher of Christian Religious Education in Australia. Every week I spent 30 minutes in each class, sharing Bible stories, and praying with the students. It was a government legislated privilege to be able to do this.

In the UK things were different. The best Christian churches could hope for was to be invited into schools for a few hours every year. Bridgebuilder developed programmes and presented them to a hundred students at a time. I felt appreciative of our Australian system but knew that there was a lot of opposition building against it in the secular community.

Fast forward 5 years and my fears were being realised. The CRE programme was under attack, the organisation overseeing it was scrambling to adapt to the pressures. If the Government removed its protective legislation how would its mission to school children continue?

This was the moment that I thought back to my time in the UK. Could God have given me this experience so that I could now see a way forward in my local situation? Had He been equipping me for a future I didn’t yet know?

Today the universal Church is part of a universal crisis. Alongside health, economics, education, transport, employment, and a hundred other areas of human life, the Church is wondering how it will survive in a Covid 19 world and how it can keep being Christ to that world.

Many Christians and churches are trying to tweak what we’ve always done – drive thru communion, services in the car park while parishioners stay in their cars, and the like. Generally we are hunkering down and looking after our own flock. Missions means going ‘out there’, but we’re being told to stay at home.

But my thought is that God has been preparing His people for a Covid 19 world. What He was doing in your life ten years ago, or five years ago, or last year, was ‘the equipping of the saints’. Cast your mind back.

Look around your immediate vicinity. What appearance does this new world have? How has it changed? Then go back to our marching orders. What is a Christian’s primary mission, and what equipment and training have we been given by God to carry it out?

One example is the scandal of child abuse that has rocked the Church. The Church has become a stench to the world, and often it is trying to make excuses for the actions of its own people, desperately trying to salvage its reputation. I cringe whenever this issue is raised. I want to hide in shame.

So how should we view the sequence of events in our time with the idea that God is using them to equip us? And how do we move forward into the future with this massive millstone around the neck of the Church?

I believe God can and will advance His kingdom in spite of the wickedness of mankind. Abusive churchmen and women cannot thwart His plans. Perhaps the Church needs to fall on its knees, confess, repent, and seek forgiveness from those it has harmed. Never seeking a lenient sentence, but accepting judgement, and giving all it owns (every last gold goblet!) in restitution and compensation. A broken and contrite heart. Personally, I am waiting for the leaders of our churches to start this process.

Then we can be used by God to …

 

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The Second Sunday of Advent Poem

The Battles of Advent

Preceding ‘gentle Jesus meek and mild’

The battle raged:

The snake in the garden,

The first murder,

The lies, deceit

And betrayal.

The Old Covenant sad stories

Reveal

The real struggle.

When David stood before Goliath

The real fight

Was in the heavenlies.

When David lusted after Bathsheba

The battle raged in places

Far beyond earth.

When the second Adam

Was nailed to a tree,

The Romans and Sanhedrin

Were not masters

But slaves.

When Christ arose,

The false Prince lost.

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Another Advent Poem – Glory

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14

Haloes,

The sun’s brightest rays,

The seductive gleam of gold

Or the rich sparkle of diamonds

Are muted and dim

In the radiance of Your glory!

Categories: Advent, Christianity, Poem, poetry | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

The Avalanche of Poor Behaviour

The vitriol against our bankers is reaching fever pitch. Even at the local gym my wife encountered patrons seething at the behaviour of the banks. This comes on top of the recent inquiry into child abuse. The churches, in particular, came out of that with their reputations badly damaged. There is another current inquiry into the behaviour of the managers of Aged Care Homes. The police are under scrutiny because of poor behaviour and our politicians have reached lows that has even left voters aghast that new lows are even possible.

The level of self righteous anger is seen on tv news shows, radio talk back, newspapers and blogs. Society is venting! The populace is restless and angry.

There is one segment of society left out – the rest of us – the ordinary punter. But are we really in a position to cast the first stone? Let me ask: Are our tax records spotless and our driving record immaculate? Have we always been honest and honourable with the boss, or spouse or colleagues? Have we used the cash economy to avoid tax? If there was a tv screen on our foreheads that broadcast our inner thoughts for everyone to see, would we have any friends? If we came across an easy way to make extra, illegal, money but wouldn’t be caught, how would we behave?

The problem is that each one of us, banker, politician, you and me – everyone – has a sinful nature. It is an unpopular concept in today’s society in which truth is considered relative. Today we are told that there are no longer clear wrongs and rights in the moral sphere and yet we are surprised when people “do wrong”. We ourselves do wrong but we justify it to ourselves – just, as I am sure, the bankers did, or the paedophile, or the manager of the home or …

Yes, we do need laws to protect children, bank depositors, old people and so on, but let us not pretend that we are innocent.

In the apostle Paul’s words, “We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Sinfulness is a problem we all need to deal with. The ultimate answer is not the laws that we have piled on year after year to try to control all sorts of behaviour but rather the real answer is an encounter with Jesus Christ and the the forgiveness and renewal that is freely available through him.

Yes the laws are important to order a civil society but even more important is a radical renewal of each person – politician, policeman, you and me.

Yet first, each of us has to acknowledge that we have a problem and we ourselves do not have the resources to deal with it but Jesus has. In Luke 19:10 Jesus says to the tax collector ( or banker, or business manager or you and me) “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Step one is to acknowledge that we are “lost.”

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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

Categories: Advent, christian, Faith, Hetty's Devotions | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Madrid and Mission part 1

We have spent the last two days in Madrid looking at the possibility of future “mission” work, either in a church or school or both. We have come to the conclusion that church attendance in Spain, as with most European countries, is very low. There is still a strong hold that Catholic traditions have on behaviour but this doesn’t translate into a gospel empowered lifestyle.

There are bright spots. There are Catholic priests who are trying to shake up the church. A version of the Alpha course in Spanish is being used. There are small groups of evangelicals trying to make a difference. But in a population of 47 million people these are only pin pricks of light.

One of those pinpricks is Life International School, currently housed in rooms previously used by doctors at the ground floor level of an apartment complex. The 14 students between 3 and 5 are taught in the English language from a Christian Worldview. Lives and families are being changed. There are plans to obtain land and build but even bigger dreams to equip teachers and inspire others to set up schools. There are hopes to engage local parents and other adults through English conversation classes with a clear Christian perspective.

The staff at this school come from the US, Canada and Russia. They are an amazing group of people who have responded to God’s call.

We have been inspired and humbled by what we have seen and heard. The commitment and sacrifice is genuinely amazing. Our challenge now is discern what God is saying to us

An interesting TGC article: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-gospel-in-spain/

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Sin had slithered …

 

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers;  he will crush your head,  and you will strike his heel.”

Gen 3:15

Sin had slithered in

and God living harmony

destroyed.

Life and love became terminal.

Hope less.

 

Through the human

silence of the guilty

in the garden

the Word spoke again.

 

Sin and love

declared enemies.

One must go.

 

An enemy crushed.

A head abolished

forever.

 

The cost:

The Godman would come

From the broken

Mother of the living.

A divine son slain.

A Word crucified

so that love

and harmony

will rise and rule again.

 

 

Pieter Stok

 

 

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Bible Black Holes

Another blog post from my wife.

Did you know there are black holes in the Bible? There are mud puddles, canyons, and prickle bushes as well.

I know about these because I tell Bible stories to kids.

Have you ever noticed how many empty spaces there are in Bible stories? For instance, what did Jesus and Zacchaeus discuss over lunch? And what was happening on Easter Saturday?

Try telling these stories to children. They’re not afraid of black holes. They will launch straight into them.
Slimy mud puddles that most Sunday school teachers avoid, such as how Mary got pregnant? Kids will take a running leap into that one.
Tricky prickle bushes that college theologians won’t venture near? No problem for the minds of 5 year olds. A group of preschoolers once explained the Resurrection to me.

Grownups can read the signs at the top of a cliff that say “Don’t go too close to the edge” or “Danger. Unstable cliff edge”, but kids only see an opportunity to explore.
Burning bushes, talking donkeys, floating zoos, miracles…
And the best part is that they will joyfully take the grownups by the hand, if we are willing to let them lead us.

Next time you’re reading your Bible and you find a black hole, find a child to tell the story to. Sit alongside them and wonder together. No space suits, flack jackets, parachutes, or safety harnesses required.

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The Prophetic Imagination 

I have just finished reading Walter Brueggemann’s book “The Prophetic Imagination” (1978, revised 2001). From the outset I want to make it clear that I don’t understand all of it.  His descriptions, allusions and theological ideas left me floundering on more than one occasion.  I found his writing style difficult.  Yet, it is one of the most exciting books I had read in recent times.

Breuggemann’s main thesis is that the prophet’s task is to lead the people in the groans and complaints (grieving) over the current order (which he calls the “royal consciousness”) with its lack of compassion, justice and with its propensity for self-justification and  self-preservation. Positively, the prophetic is called to lead the vision and praise for a new kingdom – a new future led by Jesus himself.

Brueggemann takes us on a journey through the Old Testament, from Moses to Solomon and then onto Jeremiah. He explores the idea that the God in the midst of His people in Moses time had been subsumed to the King’s wishes from Solomon onward.  The “Royal consciousness” of Solomon’s kingdom (much like the arrogance of pharaoh’s royal consciousness) had overrun the alternative community inaugurated by Moses when he led the people out of Egypt.  The prophets’ task then was to grieve for that which had been lost and the kingdom’s deathly future and to herald a new possibility.

Brueggemann says much about the grieving of the prophet for the addiction to the culture of death. This resonated with me.  Because we live in a culture of death at present and we,  like many of our fellow citizens, are blinded to its decay and futility.  The powers of our age with their spin, bread and circuses camouflage the fact that our present social order is toxic and deadly.  Even our churches have taken on many of the attributes of royal consciousness in the way they operate.

This book also made me think about so many issues our society faces – refugees, minorities, aborted children, in fact all those dis-empowered and on the fringe.  His solution however is Christ centred. The answer he discovers from Scripture is a real king and a real kingdom that has been inaugurated and that calls its citizens to both grieve for the present but also energize the new.

Brueggemann also reminded me of the “prophetic” element of the Christian’s “prophet, priest and king” calling. There is the challenge for the body of Christ to be far more grief stricken for that is which is unjust, deadly and flawed in our culture and to proclaim and embrace a more Christ-like vision.

Even though this book has been around for a while I believe it has a particular relevance for our present time. And moreover,  you are probably smarter than I am and can even get more out of it.

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