Blueprint: Beautiful Difference

We finished the series looking at the church as the joy of the whole earth, a place where beautiful differences are held and expressed. We looked at it through gender, gifts and generations. You can download the message here: Beautiful Difference or read on for a transcript. IMG_7017

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised
    in the city of our God!
His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation,
    is the joy of all the earth,
Mount Zion, in the far north,
    the city of the great King.
Within her citadels God
    has made himself known as a fortress.
For behold, the kings assembled;
    they came on together.
As soon as they saw it, they were astounded;
    they were in panic; they took to flight.

— Psalm 48:1-5

The Blueprint of the church in scripture is of a people radically different from the wider world they live. For the past 3 months we’ve explored some of the sketches the Bible presents for us: city, family, bride, field, movement, buttress of truth and more (available to listen to/download here: Blueprint).

The city of God, the psalmist says, is the joy of the whole earth. This term we’ve been ‘walking around the city’ together and ‘thinking on the steadfast love of God.’ to quote psalm 48.

In the New Testament the marvelling and celebrating over the people of God continues:

Through the church the manifold wisdom of God might be made know to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.’

— Ephesians 3:10

It isn’t only the visitors to the city who marvel but the ‘rulers and authorities in heavenly places’ (angels, & demons).

What is the manifold wisdom of God that Paul’s announcing?

In Ephesians it is the uniting into one people from two peoples. Jew & gentile coming together as one to show how wise and powerful God is. But this uniting of hostile or different parties isn’t seen only in the uniting of different people groups. In Galatians Paul says that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free. The manifold wisdom of God on display in the church, the joy of the whole earth, is displayed in the beautiful difference on display.

Against that backdrop, let’s get into it and start by looking at the various approaches to difference and what Christianity’s answer to them is: Gender…

Gender

First of, the world is a divided world with many irreconcilable and distinct differences in it.

The creation poem in Genesis shows this:

Light / darkness,

Day / night,

Summer / winter,

Seas / sky,

Land / sea

Those things aren’t one and the same or interchangeable.

The atheist writer and social critic Camille Paglia points out more distinctions from her work on ancient civilisations and the art world:

Earth / sky

Land / Rain

Female / male (female association with mother earth; Job quote ‘naked I came from mother’s womb, naked I shall return there.’)

Body / Head (distinction between body magic and head magic)

Curves / Lines 

Cyclical / Linear

Internal / External

Invisible / Visible

Eastern / Western

Chaos / Order

Nature / Society

The fact that there  are differences/opposites in the world ought to be self-evident. It is often the case that these differences are set against one another, often in conflict. Female vs male, eastern vs western, nature vs society. In the beginning however the difference between the man and woman wasn’t a source of conflict but of joy.

In the creation account when God makes Adam he forms alone. Adam is placed in a garden and commissioned to keep it but early on it becomes clear that he isn’t complete, he cannot complete and carry out what God wants him to do on his own. Next, he declares his aloneness ‘not good’ and tries to find a partner/helper for him. He parades the animals in front of him to emphasise the difference between him and the animals.

(See: Jen Wilkins ‘not like me, not like me…’ here for more on this.)

But when God creates male and female, the first word spoken (despite obvious differences) is ‘same’.

“This at last is bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
    because she was taken out of Man.”

— Genesis 2:23

There is obvious difference but there is also an appreciation of similarity; there is a celebration of the other without competition.

We’re then told that it is ‘male and female’ together who reflect the image of God, not male alone and not female alone. Gen. 5:1 ‘When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them.’ Author Alastair Roberts puts it like this:

We tend to think of the standard unit of humanity as being the individual. But the unit of humanity in scripture is the man and woman made in the image of God. Male and female are akin to two magnetic poles structuring time always in reference to one another. Humanity is irreducibly two, it cannot be broken down.

— Alastair Roberts:

Male & female are different but beautifully so, and in order to fully express God’s image and complete God’s mission they need one another.

Sadly however the story doesn’t end there.

After the man and woman disobey God, their relationship changes as brokenness enters the world. The difference between men and women becomes a source of friction.

Conflict

Gen. 3:16 ‘your desire will be for/against your husband, and he shall rule over you.’ So we end up with books likeMen are From Mars, Women are from Venus’ men say (as if to emphasise our difference) ‘you can’t understand a woman,’ and women say ‘if you want a job done right, get a woman to do it.’ And the conflict grows. And the conflict still grows.

In every society, owing in part to the man’s greater strength than the women but owing mostly to his sin nature, women have been oppressed and abused by men and it is far from over. As the recent scandals in government and Hollywood have shown and along with #metoo campaign and statistics that tell us that something like 1in4 women in the uk have been victims of sexual abuse. The conflict continues.

As Christians it’s our belief that men and women are each made in the image and likeness of God, that means that women ought to be treated with the honour and dignity that is theirs as co-image bearers with men. The laws of nature won’t lead us that sort of mutual honour. In fact the laws of nature are red in tooth and claw, it is a  dog eat dog, dominance hierarchy where the strong eat or rape the weak. One approach to the difference is to embrace conflict and look to establish who’s better than whom.

This other approach, the opposite problem, is that of denying that there are any differences at all.

Deny difference

In modern times we’ve done away with the ‘heaven and earth’ distinction, the ‘visible and invisible’, and increasingly any ‘spiritual’ things at all; that’s what atheism is.

Along with this (and as a result of this?), there is also a growing move to ‘do away’ with the differences between men and women as well. Gender is a social construct we’re told and our sex ought to have no bearing at all on our identity.

In the 1970s the social activist and radical feminist Shulamith Firestone wrote:

The end goal of the feminist revolution must be, unlike that of the first feminist movement, not just the elimination of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself… The reproduction of the species by one sex for the benefit of both would be replaced by (at least with the option of) artificial reproduction… The tyranny of the biological family would be broken.

When she wrote it in the 70s much of what she said must have seemed utterly bizarre, but now her ideas are much more mainstream.

More recently, writing in the Guardian newspaper in May, journalist Amy Westervelt points out that the topic of motherhood comes up in just 3% of all the recent papers, journal articles and textbooks on gender theory.

She also comments that for years women’s magazines have written articles on female sexuality promising ‘great sex’ whilst at the same time also being committed to a policy of ‘we don’t do motherhood’. The fact that sex could lead to motherhood for women is seen by many as oppressive. Just as sex differences are being slowly eradicated so is the value and importance of motherhood. Increasingly the state plays the role of the parent and if a young girl tells her careers advisor that she wants to be a mother when she grows up, she is likely given strange stares and offered counselling.

We devalue motherhood at our peril, we seek to do away with the differences between the sexes at our peril as well.

The Christian message, however is different. Rather than putting our differences against one another or denying them altogether, the Bible teaches that we need one another, that although different we complement one another; as gravy complements chips or as cheese complements wine, the two work to enhance and improve the other.

In the gospel God reconciles our differences by making the divided, united, the two, one. Jew, gentile, male, female, slave, free.

In his passage on how men and women ought to pray in church with the discussion on head coverings Paul concludes by saying:

Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.’

1 Corinthians 11:9

Men and women are meant to honour one another as men and as women, recognising the value and beauty of both. In churches there ought to be no derogatory joking or sexist remarks, just as there should be no chauvinism, belittling, racism, nor classism. There should be no statements about inferiority of any kind among God’s people

C.S. Lewis writing about the eventual destiny of men and women in Christ saw this, saw the value and significance of the people around him and he wrote:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible Gods and Goddesses. To remember that the dullest, and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.

In a society where women are not honoured as women, the society suffers and in a society where men are not honoured as men it also suffers. We live in a society where, as we’ve seen, motherhood is not honoured and valued as a high calling, and the same could be said of fatherhood. The image in popular culture of what a father is is Daddy Pig and Phil Dunfey from Modern Family.

I like Daddy Pig & Phil Dunfey(!) but if a grown up, slightly clumsy & goofy playmate for their kids is about all a man can hope for as a father it’s no wonder fatherhood in our society is in a crisis as well.

Fatherhood, needs protecting and honouring in part because of its difference from motherhood. A Father can much more easily avoid being a dad than a mother can avoid being a mum. When a child is born the midwife never says to the woman ‘who’s the mother?’(!) because she saw where the baby came from.

On the other hand, every time a couple take a child to register its birth the registrar always says ‘who’s the father?’ Because it isn’t obvious! And it’s at that moment a good man will step up and say ‘I am.’ – and it is a statement he will need to make again and again in that child’s life – I am his father, I am her father.’ But it’s a statement that fewer men are making:

In 1972 1in14 households in the UK were fatherless, now it would be 1in4.

What’s more; there 236 local authorities in England and Wales in which more then 50% of the families don’t have fathers. 

This is awful and catastrophic. That is what happens when a doesn’t honour men and women but instead when a society is bent on denying difference and devaluing distinctions between people.

It ought not to be the case in the church. It mustn’t be the case in the church.

The church

The New Testament teaches that the church, as the household and family of God, needs fathers it needs men who are going to take responsibility for and protect the church and it’s a requirement that God puts on men as early on as Genesis.

When the man and the woman disobey God and eat the fruit of the tree, it is the man that God speaks to and addresses. It is the man who is called to account, to take the responsibility and the blame for the actions of the entire human race; we are described as being ‘in Adam’ rather than Eve because a man was created as the representative head.

When the Bible calls the husband the head of his wife it is with this imagery in mind. To be the head doesn’t simply mean that he’s ‘the boss’ or ‘in charge’ any more than in a physical body the head is the boss of the heart; they work together. It is the man’s responsibility before God to be on the look out for trouble, to honour and protect his wife and family and to embody God’s fatherly authority.

God the Father is the model for fathers, the model for husbands and the model for elders in the church. God the Father glorifies and honours God the Son, and so it is the job of the head to honour the heart and ensure its flourishing and full expression.

The way this translates into the life of a local church (which is called the family of God) is that its male leaders are called elders. Paul lays out the requirements for eldership:

An overseer (in the church) must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household how will he care for God’s.

1 Timothy 3:1-3

The pattern is – to oversee or govern in the church, to be a father in the church, a man must be able to oversee and father effectively in his own home. Elders are men called by God and appointed to guard and lead the church, not exclusively (or independently of women it should be said) but nevertheless they are to do it distinctly and deliberately.

But, as with the other aspects of our difference, so here; the way an elder is to govern is as a servant, seeking to become less in order that the church’s members become more.

My friend and church leader Phil Moore says: eldership isn’t meant to monopolise leadership but to mobilise it. Elders are given in order for a church to release others into leadership and positions of authority; because that’s what fathers do.

Elders, are men who are told to take responsibility for the guarding of the church family. They are meant to take the rap for its shortcomings and failures, and it is men as elders who are meant to step up to the block first and offer their necks to the sword before anyone else. Christ offered his life for the church, and asks men to follow him in doing likewise. 

In the book of Acts Paul and Barnabas address a church to encourage them saying ‘it is through much hardship that we must enter the kingdom of heaven,’ and then immediately afterwards appoint elders. It is part of how a church prepares for and survives hardship, by appointing fathers who get hit first when trouble comes; because, again that’s what fathers do.

It is true also that churches need mothers, it’s just that that isn’t what’s being referred to when Paul speaks of elders and the governing structure in a church. Given that the man bears a name used by God ‘father’ it is God’s call on him that he be discouraged from sitting back passively on the sidelines, and embody God’s action in the world.

Families need men who engage in family life as an act of embodying God. Churches need men who step up, rather than step back and refuse to let others take the blame for the state of the church. Again, that isn’t to say that women shouldn’t or that they can’t; it’s just I’m here talking about eldership.

It should also be stressed again that eldership is distinct from leadership and the gift of leadership, as we’ll see when we come on to talking about gifts. Although not independent of leadership, it is distinct from it.

In this church we have men and women in leadership positions across the church, together using their gifts, together guiding the church and making decisions. Our senior leadership team (to use the language common in the world) is made up of men and women. It doesn’t surprise me when a woman has a stronger leadership gift than her husband nor does it surprise me if she’s a better preacher. Our difference isn’t a difference of ability but a difference of kind. Men, as fathers and potential fathers, are called to take account for the church even though it’s the men and women together who end up steering it.

There are women who are recognised as mothers within the church, and the church needs them.

We’ve not done so publicly but as we move forward together it’s going to become increasingly important that we do honour and recognise the various leadership roles people play in the church. The mothering that women like Jane and Ruth have taken on ought to be commended and honoured, the level of maternal care and concern that women like Polly and Amy feel for the church here needs valuing as well.

In the church there ought to be a recognition and honouring of the beautiful differences between the sexes, and not a toxic competitiveness or a blancmange of non-distinction. The church needs fathers and mothers.

Gifts

And so we come to gifts. The church is a place where both men and women should flourish and is the place where part of that flourishing is a result of us using and honouring our various gifts. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit… faith, healing, miracles, prophecy,

NB: for the common good

V26 ‘if one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together.’

And the instruction is given in Romans 12:

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness

NB: no gender restrictions are applied in any of this.

God has given you gifts that are to be used to help strengthen and build the body of believers you’re a part of. Here again we see the temptation to compete, to set our gifts against each other: that gift is better than my gift, or ‘I’m not valuable because I don’t have his/her gift.’ And also the temptation to deny any distinction at all: that we’re all superstars at everything. My friend went to his child’s parents evening recently where the teacher said something similar to that; and he had to try and insist that his son wasn’t good at everything, he said it was quite an amusing battle.

We need to honour and celebrate difference without being threatened by one another

Part of our brokenness shows itself in the way we often feel devalued when someone else is honoured rather than rejoicing in and sharing in their honour. When I compliment one of my kids and not the other when they’re together, the other always protests and so I have to teach them – I’m not devaluing you by honouring them, rejoice when they’re honoured and trust that there are times when you’ll be honoured and your brother won’t.

The chances are that if you don’t know what your weaknesses are or if you feel embarrassed or awkward that you have any weaknesses at all, you’re not through on this.

In the church we ought to work hard to ensure none of us derives our value, worth or identity from our gifts.

Instead we want to celebrate the beautiful differences at work among us and then we will be able to relate to what Paul says: when one is honoured, all rejoice together.

Generations

Lastly, and very briefly, this brings us to another aspect of beautiful difference, that of generational differences.

The church is the joy of the whole earth because it is the place that men and women recognise their beautiful difference, where each member recognises the beautiful difference of the gifts in use and also it is a family where the generations honour and respect one another’s differences.

Again this is counter-cultural. We live in a society and a time obsessed with youth and in a culture that pushes its elderly to the margins and discounts their opinions; demonising their choices, as was seen with the Brexit vote of two years ago.

I’ve heard of some people saying they don’t go to church prayer meetings because too many old people go, or certainly not enough young(!) and I met a visiting couple one Sunday say in a rather disgusted tone ‘there’s so many young people,’ – they’ve never come back.

Instead let’s seek to be a church that honours and celebrates the beautiful differences among us. The church BBQ last week, was a fantastic vision of family, to see older people and younger people together.

The church is a community of brothers and sisters (and not just potential sex partners), of mothers and fathers, grandads and grandmas; a place where people are honoured and nurtured to become all that God has called them to be.

Conclusion

My prayer and hope is that the church in this town and across the world lives up to the her potential and possibility.

My prayer is that one day the world will be caught aghast by the beauty of the church, that like a diamond lying in the muddy banks of a Congolese river and like a flower bursting through a dusty and dry African plain, so the church would be seen in our towns, against the backdrop of an increasingly godless society.

The joy of the whole earth is a community of people where the poor are honoured, and treated with the dignity and value they have, where the rich aren’t deceived into putting their hopes or identity in their wealth.

The joy of the whole earth is a community where our cultural backgrounds play second or third fiddle to our identity in Christ, that people wouldn’t say ‘I’m too English to understand these Africans, or I’m too American to get along with these Asians.’ But instead we’d see ourselves as one in Christ united by him. And we’d work through our misunderstandings. 

The joy of the whole is a community where men and women behave like brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers, where greatness is seen in terms of servanthood and the old make way for the young, cheering them on at every step and misstep and the young defer to the old and listen to and seek out for their advice.

That, and nothing less than that, is what God has called us to be. That is the Blueprint of the church, that is the joy of the whole earth, a community of beautiful difference expressed in gender, gifts and generations.

And all of that is possible because of what Jesus did on the cross. Jesus’ death was an act of destruction, He destroyed the dividing walls of hostility between people and genders, but hie death was also an act of creation; on the cross he was uniting all people under him the head over all things.

Death & Hope

To be a Christian is to trust Christ. It doesn’t mean for one moment that we are shielded from the pain and chaos of life under the sun, but it does mean that in it all we have a friend and a saviour to walk with.

Hope in the English language has come to be something of a ‘flimsy’ word. We talk of ‘hoping for the best’ or we say simply that ‘I hope so,’ meaning ‘I’m really not sure, but I’d like it to happen.’ This is different from how the word is used in the Bible. Biblically hope means ‘certain expectation’ rather like how, during advent, we hope for Christmas. We know it’s coming, we wait for it with anticipation and we prepare for it all the while expecting it to occur.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13 Paul writes to the church and says that we ‘do not grieve as others do, who have no hope.’ Christians grieve, but not as others do. We grieve but our grief is not disconnected from our hope. We are to enter into our grief, not ignore or it pretend it away but we do so knowing that a loved one who has died in Christ is not lost. The person may be ‘lost to us’ but they are not lost to God, he knows exactly where they are.

Paul describes death as ‘being with Christ’ and says that this is ‘better by far.’ When the thief on the cross put his hope in Jesus, the Lord said to him ‘today you will be with me in paradise’. Today, in that very instance, immediately without a delay.

Our culture doesn’t talk much about death, it pushes it to the margins and it likes to carry on with life pretending that death won’t occur. It does occur however and it will occur to each of us, that much is certain. As a result of the way our culture treats death, we can’t expect to be helped much by our upbringing when it comes to thinking about death.

In the Bible death is a departure, it is a defeated enemy that has been and is being placed under Jesus’ feet. Death for the Christian is described as being ‘gain‘ and is talked of as being a servant that takes us into the presence of our saviour. People in Christ who die don’t ‘pass away’ as though they slip into some shadowland. Biblically speaking a Christian who dies has ‘fallen asleep‘ and is awaiting the final resurrection and restoration of all things.

In the Old Testament when King David experiences disaster it says of him that he ‘strengthened himself in the Lord.’ When loved ones die and when we experience disaster we must do likewise. We are so used to listening to ourselves and listening to our circumstances that we could all do with a healthy dosage of speaking to ourselves and our circumstances from time to time. To strengthen yourself in the Lord looks like declaring aloud the truth of God’s word and the theological reality of death for the Christian.

Try reading the following aloud as a way of strengthening yourself:

Father I renounce the lie that this life is the end and that my friend is lost. Instead I declare the truth that they are with you and delighting in your presence. I renounce the lie of doubt that wants me to spiral into despair, instead I declare the truth that you defeated the power of the grave when you rose again on Easter Sunday. I choose to stand on these truths that you are a Father who loves us, a general with a clear plan in his mind, a King with absolute authority and a shepherd who leads us through disaster. Thank you that you identify with us in our grief and pain. You’re the only God ‘out there’ to whom we cannot say ‘you don’t know what it’s like,’ since you do know. You visited the funeral of a friend and you entered the grave yourself, triumphing over it for us. Thank you Lord. Please help me to trust you at this difficult time. 

In Jesus’ name.

Amen

How to Be A Good Local

small town

Jesus was a small town man who spent the majority of his time in small towns and villages no bigger than 1000 people in population.

How to be a good local*:

1) Learn to enjoy small talk (lots of it)

  • People in small towns like Seaford love to chat and often are a lot more open to making conversation than those who live in larger cities. Use this to your advantage: ask about people’s well being, throw parties and learn people’s names. Writing in 1936 Dale Carnegie points out in ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ that a person’s name is the sweetest sound that they hear. People love it when you use their name, do it often.
  • Donnie Griggs points out: ’always acting like you have somewhere better to be will eventually lead you to unnecessarily offending residents in s towns.’

2) Shop local as much as possible

  • Temptation is always to buy the cheapest and most convenient, but try where possible to shop local.
  • Buy the local newspaper, browse the FaceBook pages often to see what’s going on.

3) Eat local, love local food

  • Seaford: 53 places to eat. 2 bake, 1 butchers,  1 fishmonger.
  • Newhaven: 35 places to eat
  • Peacehaven: 23
  • Have you been to them all? Be a great tipper, treat staff like real people,
    Don’t give bad reviews. If you don’t like a place, don’t go back; you’re not a food critic.
  • Food is a fast track to people’s hearts: bake cakes for neighbours, always have something available to offer people.

4) Identify local.

  • Show interest in neighbours activities.
  • Cross social barriers.

5) Be a blessing not a burden

  • Offer help, volunteer, be reliable…

My vision and dream for the members of this church is that people joke about us that we should be mayor since we love our town so much. It may take time, but it is possible. I believe that. Love where you live, take time for the people around where you live.

Be a small town gal/guy like Jesus was.

*Points taken from Donnie Griggs’ book ‘Small Town Jesus’

A testimony of healing

By Rodney and Ann Reed

We were called to be long term missionaries in Bangladesh from the Baptist Church Centre in Handsworth, our home church, in Birmingham. Following our two-week visit to Bangladesh in the Autumn of 2005 the Candidate Board of BMS World Mission (the Baptist Missionary Society) confirmed our ‘Call’ and we competed our training at the BMS International Mission Centre in early 2006 and were then ‘Commissioned for Service’ in Bangladesh.
Before being sent to Bangladesh we were required by BMS (as with all BMS long term mission personnel) to amend our Wills to specify our preferred funeral arrangements and place of burial in case of our deaths in service overseas – we opted for the cemetery of the Baptist Chapel at the Chandraghona Christian Mission Hospital near Chittagong. All those being commissioned for long-term service were also encouraged to have a ‘good’ goodbye with our immediate family members in case our ‘death in service’ prevented us meeting them again. At this time in our lives and missionary experience we knew that road crashes were the most frequent cause of ‘death in service’ with few our predecessors in the recent past dying from tropical diseases or non-road accidents. We were in essence were making a commitment to be ‘faithful unto death’ as had been promised by our BMS missionary predecessors. BMS was originally known as the Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Amongst the Heathen and the first missionaries, William Carey and John Thomas, were sent to Bengal, India in 1793, long before Bangladesh won its independence and received the present-day name. We left Birmingham for Dhaka in May 2006 and Incorporated a BAM (Business as Mission) company in Bangladesh in July 2006.
With our commitment to long term service in Bangladesh we expected ‘risky’ traffic and travel by unsafe vehicles (and in fact were kept safe through many near death experiences on the roads of Bangladesh). We also expected health challenges from life in a steamy delta and residence in one of the world’s most polluted cities but other than one eight-week bout of typhoid for Rodney we were kept safe from the many water and insect borne diseases prevalent in a city of 17million people with its regular floods and temperatures reaching 40 degrees and humidity topping out at 90% in some months of the year.

What we had not anticipated was the emergence of terrorism both ‘home grown’ in Bangladesh and ‘imported’ by ‘Al Qaeda in the Indian Sub-Continent’. First were the reports of murders of members of ethnic minority communities in Bangladesh – Buddhist, Hindu, liberal/free-thinking Moslem, Christian also the vandalism and burning of several Buddhist monasteries and many Hindu temples. Then came attacks on foreigners. An Italian aid worker was gunned down in the early evening in the street outside Rodney’s office gates less than 10 minutes after Rodney left the office through those gates. More attacks on local people were followed by the murderous attack on the Holey Bakery (a restaurant frequented by foreigners and middle-class Bangladeshis) where 20 people were murdered by an ‘Al Qaeda cell’ using sharp bladed weapons. In addition to these customers the victims included three police officers, killed by an IED bomb, who had attempted to negotiate with the terrorists, assuming them to be hostage-takers. A hundred commandos from the Bangladesh Army blasted their way into the Holey Bakery the following morning and killed all of the terrorists but sadly they soon discovered that the terrorists had killed all of the assumed ‘hostages’ within hours of their storming of the restaurant the previous evening.

For our final nine months in Bangladesh Rodney was contracted to lead an Environment Team for a German Government project GIZ PSES Promotion of Social and Environmental Standards in Industry (Deutsche Gesellschaft Für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GMBH). The security situation was beginning to deteriorate so we were required to attend a three-day residential security training course located near Dhaka focussed on ways to keep safe during armed attacks on cars we might travel in and as preparation for being caught up in any hostage taking. We were also required to curb our movements outside of our apartment e.g. no visits to places where foreigners might gather i.e. hotels, restaurants, gyms/fitness centres, foreign mission clubs, walking in the streets was not permitted and no travel allowed in open vehicles. Rodney was also required to travel to and from his office only in a GIZ vehicle, by which time all GIZ drivers had been trained in ‘defensive driving techniques’ by the UN Security Team in Dhaka. Ann was virtually ‘house bound’ for the last few months of our time in Dhaka.

Shortly before the end of this contract we were on holiday in Western China, just back from a short trip into Tibet, when we heard on CNN news of the Holey Bakery ‘siege’ and the deaths of the ‘hostages’. Within a few hours we were shocked to discover that Claudia, one of Ann’s close friends from the Cantemus International Choir in Dhaka, an Italian garment factory owner was one of those brutally murdered and that two of the other women murdered were also known to us. Rodney’s employers GIZ taking advice from the German Embassy then instructed that we must remain in China until the security situation in Dhaka could be carefully risk assessed. Other GIZ PSES ex-pat personnel had been evacuated from Dhaka on the morning of the Commando’s regaining control of the Holey Bakery because it was not known at that stage whether this terrorist attack was a ‘one off’ or the start of an increase in terrorist attacks on foreigners. We were in fact allowed to return to Dhaka a few days later when it became clear to the security experts that the Army had killed not only the terrorists who had committed the murders in the Holey Bakery but also the members of their support cell who had facilitated the attack. On the day following our return to our apartment in Dhaka we discovered that we were supposed to have waited at the Dhaka International Airport for an Armed Police Patrol to escort us from the airport to our apartment situated some 2 miles from the airport!

In August 2016, we retired and returned to the UK where we had the usual ‘end of service’ medical conducted by InterHealth in London and a debriefing conducted by BMS World Mission personnel in Didcot. Then unusually we were referred for a more professional and in-depth debriefing by a Christian Clinical Psychologist in Derbyshire. During a subsequent GP appointment for Rodney in Birmingham it became clear that while Ann was stressed by her end of service security experiences in Bangladesh and needed time to ‘rest and recover’ he was diagnosed as suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and was then prescribed a 6+month course of drug based treatment which was continued by his new GP in Seaford. By this time early in 2017, we had relocated from Birmingham to Seaford and were regular members of the Kings Church Seaford fellowship.
During a series of ‘sermons’ and Sunday morning ‘exhortations’ by Kings Church Eastbourne and Kings Church Seaford leaders Rodney became convinced that it was time to ask for prayer for healing and then to inform his GP that he intended to stop the drug based treatment.
Jez with Ross then met with me at home to talk through the PTSD and its causes and importantly to pray for deliverance from it and for healing. This healing ministry was fully successful, and as soon afterwards as the Seaford Doctor’s Surgery could offer me an appointment I informed my GP about the healing and my intention to stop the drugs. He was a little bemused but agreed to reducing the dosage over a fortnight to zero. I had no adverse reaction to stopping this 6-month course of treatment and am now fully free of the PTSD, including being able to rest and sleep well and am free from the negative thinking triggered by the PTSD.

Twelve months have now passed since the end our service with BMS and our retirement from Bangladesh. Rodney is healed and so we now give thanks to the Lord for his blessing for the reality of that psychological healing.

Rodney and Ann
July 2017

A Promise to All

There is an attitude in the mind of the Christian that needs to be dealt with. It’s an ‘us’ and ‘them’ that divides the church into two groups – the clergy and the laity/the professionals and the amateurs (or producers and consumers!).

It isn’t a healthy or biblical way to think and not ‘killing it’ disables us from living an effective Christian life and it robs the church of its power.

Jesus said ‘my sheep hear my voice and they follow me’. All of us in the same camp/category, all of us ‘sheep’.

In John 15, speaking to his disciples, he said:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6
Every Christian is a disciple and every disciple is called to ‘abide’ in Jesus. Abiding (some translations use the word remain) is an ongoing and conscious relating to Jesus, fellowshipping with him and drawing from him as your life source everyday.

The promise we’re given is that as we do this, we will bear much fruit and not only a high quantity of fruit but quality fruit – fruit that will last. Here, from the mouth of Jesus, is a statement affirming that we have all been called (‘taken hold of’ by Christ) in order that we would all produce good fruit – fruit being Christian character and behaviour that results in the kingdom of God being more fully present on earth.

Every disciple of Jesus is a fruit-bearing disciple. There is no favouritism in God’s family, all of us occupy the position of branch in the vine, all of us need to remain attached to the vine if we’re to do what we want to do and have been commissioned by Jesus to do.

by Jez Field

Kissing Or Microbe Exchange?

The Bible is honest about the nature of reality and about the nature of faith. It doesn’t hide the tension that exists between faith and doubt. In doing so it acknowledges that miraculous moments can also just as easily be explained rationally, if one would prefer. When I look at circumstances and coincidences I often wonder, ‘was that God or was that me?’. I want to be sure that it was God who answered my prayer and not just capricious chance. But then maybe I needn’t force a distinction between the two.

Events can have a physical and a personal explanation. Or, one friend of mine puts it, we don’t have to choose between kissing and microbe exchange.

When someone brings an insight into my life and prefaces it with the words ‘I believe God might be saying…’ I wrestle with the question ‘was that God? Or were they just good at reading my mood?’ Did God just speak to me or did the extra dairy they ate make them a little bit more creative?

Do I need to choose between ‘natural’ or ‘supernatural’? Between ‘God’ or ‘man’. Why can’t it be both? Take the creation of the universe for example. It is often presented as either 1) natural forces at work, something came exist where previously there was nothing = Big Bang or 2) God did it.

But then it needn’t be either, or; it can be both.

Did the universe come about through natural means following a Big Bang? Yes. Did God create it? Yes.
Did God speak to me through a friend’s encouragement? yes. Did that person read my mood and speak into it? yes.

Jesus is a man who divides opinion. Matthew, Mark and Luke all record the time that Jesus’s ability to heal the sick wasn’t always well received. Some people celebrated his ability to heal (not least the sick people being healed!) whereas some accused him of ‘being in league with the Devil.’ (note the honesty of the Bible in recording this, it needn’t have done so).

Christopher Hitchens was a man who, until his death, was a prominent figure in the new atheist movement. He was known for his lively writing style, his pithy put-downs and his unashamed slamming of religious belief, he wasn’t a fan of faith. His brother Peter Hitchens is a British columnist and an active member of the Church of England. He is a former atheist and now ‘fan’ of faith, specifically, Jesus. Two people, one family, opposite views on the world. One of the cleverest men alive, Stephen Hawking is an atheist. One of the cleverest men alive, Alvin Plantinga is a theist. Many of the world’s leading scientists are atheists, some are Christians. Many influential cultural and political leaders are atheists, many more are theists in one form or another.

The line between faith and unbelief or Christianity and atheism isn’t as clear or distinct as we think.

After Jesus’ resurrection but before his ascension he appeared to his followers on a mountain in Galilee. Matthew’s account records what happened like this: When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.

On the day of Pentecost in 33AD God breaks into a prayer meeting with dramatic effect. The Holy Spirit filled the room and empowered the disciples to be effective witnesses for Christ. Peter stands up to address the crowd and preaches about Jesus. Many in the crowd are convinced and turn to follow Jesus, some simply mock him and say ‘he’s drunk on fresh wine!’

There is something else at work it seems in the interpreting of events. Some people, it seems, are willing to believe that an event is from God whereas others are not. It isn’t down to intelligence and it isn’t always down to upbringing or parenting. In our read of the world there are conflicting desires. There is our pride and independence, the desire for others to think and speak well of us. Then there is our desire for meaning and purpose, an innate sentimentalism and bias toward supernaturalisms. Our own will and our own willingness.

At work within our interpretation of facts there is the difference between ‘can I’ and ‘must I’. If I want something to be true I’ll ask the ‘can I’ question, ‘Can I believe in a personal loving God? Could one exist?’ answer: yes. But if I don’t want God to be there I ask the ‘must I’ variety; ‘must I believe in God? Do I have to acknowledge his being there?’ answer: no.

That can either make you a relativist, throw your arms up in the air and say ‘what’s the point in considering it then?’ or (and this would be my suggestion) it can make us a little more humble and open-minded, a little more patient with the ideas of others. It should also make us a little more skeptical of our own emotional agendas. The chances are that if I want something to be true (or not true), then I’ll find plenty of solid ‘reason’ to back up and support my belief.

Since events can have a physical and a personal explanation for them, why not make room for and allow both explanations? Don’t deny the presence of doubt in the life of faith, but don’t herald the redundancy of faith in the world of reason.

Let’s opt to live in a world of both, and. Call it ‘microbe exchange’ if you like, but I’ll stick with ‘kissing’.

by Jez Field.

Story: Nicola Holding

Nicola Holding shares her story of going through cancer and the encouragement and help she received from a couple of Bible verses.

In April of 2011 I went to my GP as I found a lump in my neck.

I was then refereed to the hospital and after having a biopsy I found out that the lump was Hodgkin lymphoma. The doctors and nurses were wonderful and explained what my treatment was very clearly even though they knew that I was scared and frightened. I had chemotherapy and radiotherapy and following this treatment have been in remission since November 2011.

Since being in remission I have done two positive things; one is the race for the life and the other is that i have agreed to have an extra blood done to find out why people like me get Hodgkin lymphoma as my hospital consultant could not tell me why and how I got this type of cancer.

I still find that I feel very tired and will continue to be monitored by the hospital for the next two years. I knew that God was with me through prayer and had a sense of peace too.

These bible verses help me Psalm 121 and Psalm 139.

On Basilica’s, Buildings & People

Church

And Jesus answered him… ‘you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it.’

Matthew 16:17-18

For the first three centuries of Christianity Jesus’ followers met wherever they could and since it wasn’t permitted for them to worship in public buildings or own real estate they typically gathered in homes. They were large homes that could hold a decent crowd but they were homes nonetheless. Fortunately for them however, they didn’t need a building in order to be the church.

When Jesus made the statement above to do with the church he used the Greek word ‘ekklesia’. Ekklesia was a word in common usage that described any group of people/congregation who met together for a particular purpose. As well as this, ekklesia was the word used of the people of Israel in the Greek version of the Old Testament. An ekklesia is a group of people. Thus when Jesus promises to build his church he is promising that he will build his ekklesia – a called together congregation.

Years late Peter expounds this idea when he writes to an ekklesia:

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 2:4-5

The church is built on Jesus. The church is a group of people not a place.

Church has to do with people, not steeples.

So what happened to the word’s usage that church became associated with a building?

In 313Ad Emperors Constantine and Licinius signed the Edict of Milan which legalised Christianity in the empire. It became possible from this time on for Christians to use public buildings for worship and among the buildings they used were Basilicas. Basilicas were Roman public court buildings usually located near the central market/legal place of a town. The word is Latin and is a derivative of the Greek word Basileus (king). The ‘house/place of the king’ referred not to Jesus but to a government official/judge.

Alongside this Christians had been in the habit of meeting around the grave of martyrs at the anniversary of their death to share communion in their honour. Where possible, people of influence built Basilicas of their own around the grave to commemorate the memory of the fallen faithful.

The Greek equivalent for a Basilica was the word Kyriakon (a derivative of ‘kurios’ – Lord). These buildings then were named ‘houses of the Lord/king’ which although wasn’t originally a reference to Jesus, it soon came to mean that.

Over time the word Kyriakon changed forms. The old German form of it was Kirike which over time became Kirche. The word we translate ‘church’ comes from this German word. What’s interesting about that is the observation that where Ekklesia meant congregation/crowd, kirche referred explicitly to the building the crowd met in.

In 1536 William Tyndale translated a version of the New Testament from its original language. In it he translated the word ekklesia into the equivalent word ‘congregation’. Tyndale saw the beauty and significance of the fact that the ekklesia Jesus is a building is a people and not a building. For his trouble the powers of his day executed him by strangulation and had his dead body burned at the stake. They saw that whereas governments and human authorities can understand and control the kirche, it has no power over the ekklesia. 

At Kings we’re committed to being the people of God. We’re gripped by a vision and mission to be the people of God building the community of God, for the glory of God and for the good of society.

This Sunday are you going to Kirche or being part of Ekklesia?

Are you attending a place only to return home after paying your dues or are you partnering with and belonging to a people?

The Gospel Isn’t Advice It’s News

Euangelion

It’s the word the Bible writers’ used to described the Christian message. It’s a Greek word, they spoke Greek. It means ‘Good news’.

Christianity is essentially news. It isn’t advice, it’s a report of something that happened and the implications of that news. Advice is saying ‘do this and you’ll be happier’ or ‘try this and you can be better.’ Advice is offered and rejected, advice can be taken or left, news is different. News is static, news reports, news isn’t concerned with your response.

Peter talking to the crowd on Pentecost declared boldly:  ‘You handed him over to be crucified but on the third day God raised him to life.’ He describes an event, an occasion in history. He reports news.

Paul in 2 Timothy wrote: ‘Christ Jesus died for sinners of whom I’m the worst’. He reports on the event of Jesus’ death.

John tells the religious leaders in Acts ‘There is no other name under heaven given to men by which they must be saved’. He declares truth, doesn’t give advice.

Paul writes to a church in Colossae ‘Jesus defeated the powers of darkness and triumphed over them at the cross.’

NEWS, NEWS, NEWS… Our world is full of news. We have 24hr news channels, daily newspapers, news apps. on our phones and news bulletins on the radio.

Some pieces of news lasts for only a day (like the fact that George McCullen won first place in the school cake baking contest), some pieces lasts for a few weeks (like the suicide of a prominent politician), whilst some pieces of news dominates our papers for years (like the death of Princess Diana). News plays a big part in our lives and good news travels especially fast:

‘It’s a boy!’

‘She said yes!’

When my son arrived in the world I was excited to deliver the news to my family and friends. Since the news broke, my life has never been the same since. The news reported on an event, an event (his birth) that has set my life in a new direction. I have a new routine, a new priority and even a new name.

The Christian news that has been talked about the world over is this:

‘Jesus has beaten death, our sins have been forgiven, new life is on offer to all who want it.’

The event of Jesus’ resurrection is one of the most historically verifiable events of all time. The implications of that event are innumerable; life, the history of the world, the purpose of our lives have been set in an entirely new direction.

That’s the difference that news can make.

The next time you’re tempted to think that Christianity is basically about behaving well or living right or that the church exists to tell people what to do, stop and remember:

The gospel is news, not advice.

God loves chicken

image

As a church we have talked about creating a culture of authenticity and being real with one another.

With that in mind I thought it would be encouraging to share something to show that inasmuch as we celebrate courage we shouldn’t be afraid of failure too.

On a rather cold December evening, on one of my many commutes by bus over to Seaford, God spoke to me. It had never been this loud and clear. Left me quite terrified to be honest.

I had got on the number 12 bus in Eastbourne. I paid for my bus ticket and sat down where I usually sit, just by the front so I have enough room for my legs and weekend bag. I wasn’t doing anything in particular. Just getting myself ready for the twenty-minute bus journey. In front of me was a guy with Turrets Syndrome and just like everyone, after I realised this I averted my eyes. Didn’t want to be caught staring. And there it was, just like someone besides me said it, “Pray for healing for that man”.

I have never been more terrified in my life. The first thought that came into my head was that it was probably just me, I had never prayed for healing before. God had never spoken to me about healing before. I wasn’t qualified. Therefore it was definitely not from God as it had never happened before. The logic there hey. This voice had been foreign. It wasn’t something I would think up. I would have given anything at that point for the voice to be just mine. There were people on the bus sitting behind me, in fact the whole bus was behind as I was right at the front. With just the row in front of me with the guy with turrets. How would I approach this guy? Everyone on the bus would see. What would they think. I was sure there was a law about not invading people’s privacy at that point. There must have been. It felt so wrong. What if he found it offensive that I ‘thought he had something wrong or even worse was a wrong thing himself’. What if he didn’t get healed? What if he asked me why such a loving God would allow suffering in the first place. Whatever the outcome I’d still have to come back to my seat and sit in awkwardness, shame or guilt for the rest of the twenty-minute journey.

I did what a lot of us do, I chickened out. I sat there for the whole trip as if glued to my chair. Paralysed by fear, nearly missing my stop. I was so sad about how fear had managed to create an illusion that it was bigger than God although to be honest if I were to do that all over again I would still be petrified.

Fortunately for me, God loves chicken.

I was reminded of a Father in a field who works the land and would love for his young sons to join him. It’s not that he is unable to do the work himself but he loves partnering with his children. That’s exactly what God wanted with me. I didn’t have to do anything that He wasn’t capable of doing himself or already going to do. All I had to do was trust Him and get up from my chair and do the work that the Father was already doing. Not in my strength but in His.

Knowing that I’m a bit too chicken to be bold by myself actually encourages me. It means that since I’m weak, God has room to show his strength. Who knows maybe next time I’ll be chicken enough and yet willing enough to allow for God’s power to be perfected in my weakness. I hope so.