Facing Evil

charlottesville

I was stunned.  How could such a thing happen today?  I honestly thought the human race had moved on and yet, the events in Charlottesville just serve to prove that far too often humanity does not learn the lessons of it’s past.

I want to be absolutely clear.  Racism, in thought, word and deed is evil.  I firmly believe that in Christ …

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.                                                                 (Galatians 3 vs. 28)

But, as I watched those horrifying sights coming from America, it was not with any sense of “at least it’s over there and not over here” because, I know, only too well that there is evil here too.  We live in a broken and damaged society and we are living with the effects of (yes let’s name it again) SIN.  It’s such a small word that carries with it so much.

So, what are we to do?  Should we confront, or just hide away hoping that it will pass us by?

One figure from Church history I admire is the German Pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Bonhoeffer was speaking and teaching during the rise of the Nazi party in Germany and saw the full horrors of the terror they produced.  Bonhoeffer was challenged by the question of how Christians should respond in the face of evil.  One quote of his that challenges me is this;

Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer was to stand by his words even to the point of his execution at the hands of the Nazi’s at Flossenbürg on 9th April 1945.

One of the things that really encouraged me, as I reflected on Charlottesville, is that a group of Church ministers gathered to protest and pray on the streets in the face of the racist gathering.  The ministers were from across the denominations.  They stood together recognizing that we are all one in Christ Jesus.

I believe that for too long, the Church has been silent in the face of evil.  It’s time to start speaking out even if that makes us unpopular with “the powers that be”.  I believe that a Christianity that is silent in the face of evil is a Christianity that is divorcing itself from Christ.

As I wrote this blog today, I wondered if I should really post it.  I reasoned that, I may offend some; it is strongly worded for me.  But, I also reasoned that, if I did not publish it, then surely, I was just remaining silent in the face of evil.  I reflected that Jesus, in the face of evil, was neither silent nor inactive.  He spoke out (some of His discussions with the Pharisees are very strong) He acted (money changers in the temple) and He was willing to pay the price on the cross.  Jesus also said;

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”                                                                                                                  (Luke 9 vs. 23)

Let us not be silent in the face of evil but, take to heart the teaching and words of Jesus.

What are you doing here?

o2What are you doing here?

That’s a question I have been asking myself for the past few days!

Last year, a friend came back from Hillsong London conference absolutely buzzing with what they had learnt.  Now, to understand what I did next you have to know me.  I am, by nature, a cautious person.  I would normally “pray about it” (the posh word is procrastinate – which means delay until I am finally nagged into it).   This time, I lept right in and booked my place for Hillsong 2017.

In the week leading up to the conference I tried everything to get out of it.  Even on the morning I was travelling up, I offered (out of pure sacrifice of course) to stay with my wife and do all the jobs that needed doing at home – just to prove how desperate I was to avoid it.

I traveled up on Tuesday, got repeatedly lost around Canary Wharf.  Walked miles.  Got frustrated.  Didn’t like commuters or tourists.  Got to my hotel, was bad tempered grumpy and stressed beyond measure!!!!!  Wednesday morning was full of silly, clumsy accidents involving lost cups of tea, spilt kettles etc.

So, there I was in the pre queue queue surrounded by 1000’s of people, feeling woefully out of my depth asking myself the question “what on earth am I doing here?”.

When we finally got into the O2 arena, the worship began with a presentation on the story of the prophet Elijah when God asks him the question “what are you doing here Elijah?”  Elijah then goes on to have an encounter with God in an incredible way (you can read about it in 1 Kings 19)

I can honestly say, these past few days have caused me to ask some serious questions of the Church (in the UK) and of myself and I want to use this Blog to ask some of these questions and then leave it with you to reflect on what God may be saying to you. 

Firstly, where has the sense of expectancy gone? 

One of the things that astounded me was, the sheer atmosphere of expectancy. For the cynics among you, let me clarify, this was not hype.  We queued for an hour before the doors opened, and then when we got in, the worship did not begin for another hour.  2 hours before worship started, people where keen to get in!

I overheard a lot of conversations as I stood in queues, they were “God conversations”. People were stood in queues praying for each other, sharing problems, encouragements and blessing each other.

I know conferences can be exciting and there is a heightened expectation of things happening but, I wonder, if some of this expectation needs to be in our Churches not just at conferences?

It was William Carey who said;

Carey

I think we have stopped expecting.

Secondly, when did grace become so cheap? 

One of the things I hate about conferences is the “giving”.  Americans, Australians, and many cultures seem to accept the necessity of being asked to give.  I have always been uncomfortable with the giving talks.  I hate preaching about sex and money and avoid them at all costs!

It was during one of the pre-offering talks that one of the speakers said something that really piqued my curiosity and got me thinking, they talked about being willing to pay the price of discipleship.  Discipleship costs.  Jesus made no secret of that, taking up a cross costs something (Matthew 16 vs. 24 – 26)

For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.                                                                  (Hebrews 12 vs. 2)

Before the joy, there is was the price of the cross.

It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who, famously, used the phrase “cheap grace” and I wonder if the Church in Britain has recognised the cost of discipleship or, have we made our faith so cheap it has become of little value? 

Cheap Grace

The cost made be time, energy, commitment and, yes, financial but God was willing to pay the price for grace, are we?

Thirdly, why does the church accept second best? 

Say the word “Hillsong” and people will think music, lights, performance.  I even had somebody tell me “you’ll hate it, be too noisy for you”.  I suppose part of the reason I went was because I wanted to experience the “Hillsong” thing.  From that point of view, I wasn’t disappointed.

What I did discover, however, is that there is so much more to Hillsong that flashing lights and loud music. 

Now, before you get worried that I am suddenly going to start talking with an Australian accent (or if you are one of my readers – I am not going to start writing with an Australian accent!), I am not saying Hillsong is perfect, it is far from perfect.  What I am saying is that we can learn something from Hillsong no matter how large or small that Church that we are involved with.

One of the things that challenged me was the commitment that the leadership had to prayer and personal growth and this translated into the preaching and teaching.  Could it be that too many of our services and sermons are thrown together in the place of “I have to say something” rather than in the place of “I have something to say”.  If you want something to say it only comes in the place of prayer and personal growth.

If you are a fellow minister, do your congregation a favour – clear out of your diary the things you have to do and replace it with what you must do.

One of the other things I found was that, amongst people, there was a willingness to serve.  People of all, ages signing up to things, stewarding, and being involved.  I know too many churches that rely upon a handful of willing volunteers.  One of he values of Hillsong is that there is a culture of service. It’s part of what the Church does.

I felt a bit mean writing this (I may be being very unfair) but, a lot of Churches have people who look at what they can get from it and not at what they can contribute to it.  Instead of looking at what the church provides for you and your family, why not think about what you can contribute to the life of that church?

I was given a lot to think about over the last few days and, I don’t pretend to have any answers but, I do promise to keep asking awkward questions!  If you are still worried that I will start talking Australian there is only one thing I want to say to you

G’day sport!