What is God saying through Coronavirus iv

Like many people, my plans for 2020 went “out of the window” when coronavirus and the lock down happened here in the UK.  As I have wrestled with this new way of life, I have been asking the question “what is God saying to me through coronavirus?” 

This is the fourth blog in this series.  I do not pretend to have the answers, nor do I claim to have thought these things fully through.  The whole purpose of writing these is that they spark a discussion in the fellowship to which I belong.  If they go wider and cause further discussion; Great!

In the early days of lockdown, I struggled with trying to know what I was to do now.  My normal routines and patterns of work and life were no longer going to fit with this new situation.

It was amazing how quickly my wife reminded me of all those irritating little jobs that I either avoided, or just never found time to get round to.

The garden needed clearing

Our document filing boxes needed a good sort out

I rediscovered clothes I had forgotten that I even owned, shoved at the back of the wardrobe.

Our garage now is teaming with black sacks full of rubbish that await the re-opening of the local rubbish tip. As I stacked the sacks, I found myself wondering “how long will it take before we replace all this with yet more stuff?”  Sean’s first law of sorting out says;

Rubbish always expands to fill the space available to it

This law, I have found, is true not only with “stuff” but, also with life in general too.  Everything expands to fill the space available to it.

One of the biggest struggles I have faced in lockdown, is handling the guilt that is attached to “I am not working in the same way that I always work”.  I should be doing more.  Ministry is one of those callings where each day is different but, there are anchor points.  Without the anchor points, how could I justify my working life?

It was amazing how soon I discovered that there were webinars, meetings, discussions to be had, endless paperwork, filming, preparation and people to organize.  I could fill every second from dawn to dusk and never complete the amount that was suddenly available to me. As I started to fill my diary, I felt God say to me;

Just breathe

As I breathed, I realised that the only person putting pressure on me during lockdown was, me.  It is a sobering realisation in life, we are our biggest critic and we are our biggest problem.  The only person who was demanding production, usefulness and justification of me, was me.

Just breathe

I think there is something here for all of us and for our Churches too.  We all need a season when we can Just breathe and take stock of where we are and what we are about.

Sometimes, in an effort to justify ourselves and our churches, ministers have been guilty of becoming competitive and driven.  We have painted a false picture of what success looks like, in our desire to be successful.  I know I have been guilty of this

Mea culpa,

Mea culpa,

Mea Maxima culpa.

Yes, there have been things to do during lockdown.  There have been services to plan, prepare and film.  There have been phone calls to make and meetings to attend but, there has also been time to breathe

Just breathe

What is God saying through Coronavirus iii?

This is the third part of my series of blogs of what I believe God is saying to me during this time of coronavirus.  I hope these blogs will spark some discussion in the fellowship to which I belong.  If they spark wider discussion, Great!

This is one of the hardest blogs in this series that I have had to write.  I had to face one of my “demons”.  What made this hard was, it was something I had never fully appreciated about myself before. Resistance to change.

Here is how it happened.

It was on the evening when the Prime Minister announced the lock down.  As the press conference was taking place, my phone was ringing and text messages were coming through from church people asking “what are you going to do?” 

In truth, I didn’t know.

As I listened, my immediate reaction was “oh good, at least he didn’t say Churches had to close, I can still do my Sunday service!”  As further details emerged, it became clearer that I was entering uncharted territory. 

Sundays cancelled. 

Weddings cancelled. 

Visiting cancelled. 

Hospital and chaplaincy involvement cancelled. 

Gatherings cancelled. 

Conferences and training events, cancelled. 

Funerals completely different.

How was I going to be a minister if, I had no congregation and no Church? I struggled to understand my personal significance in a world that had changed beyond all recognition.

Our usually busy Church building, fell into silence.  All activities ceased and we were closed.

As I wrestled with all of my emotions and the issues I was now facing, I felt God was saying to me;

You cannot keep doing, what you have always done.

In my head, I knew the truth of those words. I would have said, and have taught, that I believe that the Church needs to accept change.  A church that doesn’t change, is a church that dies. The change we were now facing, however, was not one that I had time to prepare for, or opt into.  This is change is one that was forced upon me.  There is a line in the Book of Psalms that keeps floating around my mind;

How shall we sing the LORD’S song in a strange land? 

(Psalm 137 vs. 4 – KJV)

This has been a question that I have been constantly asking of myself.

My default position was to do what I knew.  In the early days of lock down, I concentrated on learning to use Zoom so that we could “do Church” as normally as possible.  I looked at ways to keep the Church community together, now we were forced apart.

As time has progressed, however, I have found myself wondering what will life be like when we get back together? 

In the silence of the building, I have wondered what activities will I be overjoyed to see restored but equally, which ones will I find myself saying “oh dear”? 

I have wondered how to refocus the missional engagement of our fellowship.  Do we need to drop some of our project work in order to focus more of our resource on others?

A more challenging question is, what have we learnt in lock down that we need to keep on with?

I don’t pretend to know the answers to these questions but, what I do know is

We cannot keep doing, what we have always done.

What is God saying through Coronavirus ii?

This is the second in my series of blogs about, what I believe God is saying to me at this of lock down due to the Coronavirus. The point of these blogs is to spark some discussion and help the fellowship I belong to explore what God may be saying to us at this time. If they start discussion beyond our fellowship, great!

It happened again the other evening.  It is happening quite a bit recently.  I found myself shedding a few tears.

Now, to understand the significance of this, you have to know me.  I am not the sort of person that gets “over emotional”, I am not cold but, I am fairly good at keeping my emotions in check and holding it together.  So, for me, this was not my usual reaction and I found myself wondering, why was I responding in this way?

What had happened?

It had been a really nice evening.  I had led our Housegroup@home gathering.  In common with many Churches at this time, we cannot meet.  The only way we can “gather” for prayer, Bible study and so forth is via Zoom.  I was the meeting host.  Every time somebody joined, I felt really excited that they were there.  I felt my heart lift when I saw those familiar faces from our church fellowship. 

As the meeting came to close, I felt quite sad.  I clicked the “close meeting” and shed a few tears. I realised that God was saying something to me.  So, what was it?

As I have thought about it, I really felt God was saying to me;

Appreciate afresh the people you are amongst.

It came as a bit of a shock.  I am a Pastor.  People and ministering to people is what I do.  So, why did I need to appreciate them afresh? 

That is where the problem lay;

people is what I do

Like many, my diary gets somewhat busy at times, and life becomes about tasks and what I have to do.  The danger is that people can end up becoming work, another task that has to be accomplished.  With a diary that was suddenly empty, I had space to think about how I really relate to people.

This is not just about me this is something that, I believe, God is saying to the Church

I really hope that the fellowship I belong to, will take this on board.  When we return to whatever “normal” is going to be, I hope we learn to appreciate each other afresh.  I want us to look at ways in which WE can build real meaningful relationships with each other.  I hope we look beyond the narrow confines of our friendship groups within Church, really notice and appreciate each other.

One of the early Church Theologians came from Carthage, in North Africa.  He was a man called Tertullian, you may not have heard of him but, you probably recognize his best known saying;

See how these Christians love one another

Jesus said;

“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another.  This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” 

(John 13 vs. 34 – 35 The Message)

Let’s make these more than words; let’s make them a reality.

What is God saying through Coronavirus?

The email landed in my inbox the other day.  It was another invitation to attend a Zoom Meeting.  This one looked really interesting, it was more than an opportunity to catch up with friends and colleagues.  This invitation was to engage in a discussion about “What is God saying to the Church through Coronavirus.”

I suppose it caught my attention because, like many people, I am struggling to navigate my way through these uncharted waters.  I am not laying the blame for coronavirus at God’s door but, I do want to make sense of the what, why and how of our current situation.  I want to know the answer to the question, where do we go from here?  My intention at this meeting was not to contribute but, to listen.  I want – I need answers. 

Being honest, if I was asked the question “what is God saying to the Church through Coronavirus”, my answer would be “I haven’t got a clue”.  I feel, when it comes to this question, I have absolutely nothing to offer.  I admire those ministers and Churches who have risen to the challenge of our current national situation and have created an online presence and are reaching untold numbers throughout the world. 

I equally admire those Churches who, despite their limitations, have gone the extra mile in reaching out to their communities.  They have shown incredible creativity and resource in doing what they can.

In the fellowship I am privileged to be part of, I am deeply grateful to those who have put together worship and helped us to keep in touch with one another, you are really helping us to;

Sing the Lords song in a strange land

(Psalm 137 vs. 4)

What is God saying to the Church through Coronavirus?  Honestly, I don’t know.

I checked my diary, it is surprisingly empty these days.  I discovered that the days the Zoom meetings were to take place on, I had appointments – typical! 

It was during last night that I woke up and, in my frustration, I turned to God in prayer – in fact, I let God have it with both barrels!

I awoke this morning feeling so much better and also with a fresh insight.  I cannot answer the question “what is God saying to the Church” because, it would take the Church to explore it.  What I can do is share what God is saying to me through Coronavirus in the hope that may help spark discussion.

So, here is my intention. I intend, over the coming few blogs, to share some reflections on what, I believe, God is saying to me at this time. I hope it may inspire you to think about what God is saying to you and, together, we can discover what God is saying to the Church through Coronavirus.

Making Peace With Coronavirus

I hesitated as to whether to write, yet another, piece about the coronavirus.  Why?  Because I am really fed up of hearing about it! 

Every news report, TV program mentions it.  My professional and personal life has been incredibly disrupted by it.  I have to think twice before I leave the house and, at times, I have felt like a prisoner with no end to this in sight!

Let me put the hysterical me to one side a moment. 

We have all been affected by coronavirus and, I hope, that we as a nation learn something from it.  I hope we learn to value and respect those who work in retail, the NHS, Care Workers and others who have really helped to keep us all going at this time.  I hope we learn to value and respect some of the simple things in life that we have taken for granted – up until now. I hope we learn to value and respect this earth on which we live and I hope, really hope that humanity, as a whole, draws closer.

This will, in time, pass.  What we do not know is when. I read a lovely quote from Jack Kornfield that said;

“Everything that has a beginning has an ending. Make your peace with that and all will be well.”

(Jack Kornfield)

I suppose, for me, this has been the biggest challenge and the biggest area of learning I have had to do in the face of the Coronavirus.  Making peace with my situation.

Blocked goals, delayed plans, inconvenience and just the “not knowing” have been stresses and areas of anxiety for me.  But, as I place each of these into God’s hands, I find I am making peace with Coronavirus because, God is at work in this too.

So what is next?

Well, there lies the issue that many of us are now beginning to turn our thoughts to.  Can I book a holiday?  Will I have a job to return to?  Will I have to support my children / grandchildren in a post Corona world?  There are a myriad number of worries and concerns all screaming for my attention.  As I my thoughts started to turn around in my mind, I read some words of Jesus

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

(Matthew 6 vs. 34)

I had always imagined these words as a command.  If you worry, you break the command and, therefore, worry is a sin.

Wrong!

Worry is a normal part of being human.  I think Jesus here is giving us some advice.  What I see this as coming down to is live the fullest possible life today.  When tomorrow comes, live the fullest possible life then.

I have come to believe that this is more than “making the best of a bad job”.  I believe it is about looking for God in the here and now.  Experiencing his loving guidance in our lives.  Observing the blessings that he is giving us today.  Cherishing the moments we have and resting in his presence.

I think, if we take Jesus advice, I think we can make peace with coronavirus

Isolation

Isolation.

It’s a word that many of us are growing familiar with at this time.  Whether we are isolated because of health reasons or, isolated because of the circumstances at the moment. Phone calls and social media contact are good, but they do not take away the feelings that isolation brings with it

I know that I have joked that if I had my time again I would be a hermit.  I enjoy a bit of space and quiet.  I am one of those who find it easier to connect with God in silence and solitude.

But, today, I found myself thinking you can have too much of a good thing!

I suppose, this thought came from the fact that the isolation we are living in at the moment is different.  The element of personal choice has been taken away by the coronavirus.  If I chose, to break the rules and guidance, it would be an incredibly selfish thing to do, I would be putting others at risk.

This enforced isolation has left me with the feeling that, somehow, I have missed Easter this year.

It was strange not being in Church and taking part in the range of activities that we would normally do.  It was strange not singing “Thine be the glory” with my Church family around me. 

This morning I was reading a passage in John’s gospel.  It is the one where Mary goes to the tomb and finds that the stone is rolled away.  Jesus’ body is not there and Mary is devastated.  In her loss, she has an encounter with somebody she, initially, thinks, is the gardener.  You can read this passage for yourself in John 20 vs. 1 – 18.

As I read the passage, I found myself understanding Mary’s tears.  Isolated from Jesus through circumstances beyond her control, life must have felt incredibly empty, devoid of meaning and her future was very uncertain.  In her heart must have been a massive gaping hole that nothing would fill.  All that stretched before her was isolation.  Would life ever be the same again?

Let’s be honest, isolation is not easy.  Stuck 24/7 within the same walls.  There are only so many box sets you can watch or jobs around the house and garden you can cope with.  If you have family members around you, there are only so many conversations you can have or games you can play.  If you are on your own, the days can seem long and lonely.

It doesn’t matter how you are isolating, eventually, isolation gets to you.

It is into Mary’s isolation, that Jesus steps.

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

(John 20 vs. 15)

It is a great question.  At this point, I don’t think she really understood the resurrection.  All she can see is her isolation.  Her tears cloud her vision, and her heart aches within.  This stops her from seeing Jesus.  The very one who she was seeking was right in front of her.

As their conversation ends Mary realizes that isolation does not have the last word.  No matter what, she will never be on her own again.  Jesus is there, and brings hope to the isolated heart.

Today, if isolation is getting to you, don’t worry. It gets to everyone at some point. Can I encourage you to step back for a moment.  Take a deep breath.  Ask God to give you a glimpse of His presence with you. 

Isolation does not have to be isolating.

Is Everything Going To Be Okay?

My immediate response to that a question like that should be; “of course, in time, everything will get sorted out.”  But, in the depths of the night, when my mind is turning somersaults, I find myself feeling less confident. 

I have looked at some of those warm phrases on social media, and found myself comforted for a short while but, it soon passes as the cold reality of my fears surfaces again.  That is the way my fears tend to work.  They have a habit of nagging away just below the surface and, in the depths of the night, they take on form again.

I can remember being told many times, in my formative Christian years, that worry and anxiety merely showed my lack of trust and faith in God.  Therefore, if I worried I was sinning.  Not surprisingly, that did not stop me worrying, it only caused me to bury my worries deeper.  They would then put in appearance later.  What I learnt very quickly was, telling somebody “don’t worry” doesn’t stop them worrying!

In the light of our present circumstances, I don’t need to share with you what my fears and worries are.  I am sure many of you have enough anxiety and worry of your own! 

What I do want to give, in my writing this piece, is something that I have been reflecting on.

Today, I was reading a piece about Julian of Norwich.  She was an anchoress in the late 14th – early 15th century.  She lived through some terrible times in our nation.  The Black Death, The Peasants Revolt, and the persecution of the Lollards. 

During this time, she had 15 showings or visions.  They were written a book known as “Revelations of Divine Love”.  These revelations are the oldest surviving book written in the English language by a woman.   

It was her 13th showing that spoke to me as I spent some time in quiet this morning.  She had been struggling with something that was really troubling her.  It was nagging away and she really seemed to get no rest from this deep seated fear when God spoke to her.  This is what she writes;

“But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’

These words were said most tenderly, showing no manner of blame to me nor to any who shall be saved.”

Perhaps you recognize that phrase all shall be well.  But, the part that really spoke to me was These words were said most tenderly.

I have come to understand that fear and worry are a natural part of all of us.  How we process and respond to our worries and fears will vary from individual to individual.  Far from being a sin, I think denying our concerns demonstrates a greater lack of trust in the goodness of God.

As Julian of Norwich saw, when we share our deepest of fears with God, we are not met with condemnation but with compassion.  As the prophet Isaiah says;

“Though the mountains be shaken
and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

(Isaiah 54 vs. 10)

If you are worried.  If you are fearful.  If you are anxious.  Please do not bury it, but share with those you trust and you can share it with God, who has compassion for you. 

Corona Poem

There is no escaping the fact that Coronavirus has had a massive impact on life. The way in which we live life has changed dramatically in the last month. We have seen the panic buying, the strangeness of “social distancing” and now, we are living with the “new norm”.

But, I have a problem…

You see, this is my favourite time of year. Easter is, in my opinion, the high point of the Christian year. I enjoy being part of our fellowship as we journey together through Palm Sunday. We share communion on Maundy Thursday and mourn together on Good Friday. I love the singing of “Thine Be The Glory!” and rejoicing in the resurrection on Easter Day.

This year is going to be different…

Thanks to coronavirus, none of this can happen this year. We will be doing things but, we will be at a distance.

This got me thinking…

We take so much for granted. We live each day shopping, travelling, talking to people and do not give it a second thought. We have even taken our Church life for granted.

From time to time, in my reflections, I have a stab at a bit of poetry (don’t think I do too much damage to the art form with my ramblings). This is something I have started to put together…..

When the history books are written

about the events of our today

Have you stopped to consider just what they might say?

Will they talk of politics

Of who did right

Or wrong?

Will they talk of closed schools

Of loo rolls?

Of queuing for the shops?

Will they talk of isolation

Or of separation

And times of hidden fear?

But…

I hope they will remember

That the earth had time

To breathe

And that people

Found some kindness

Reaching out to those in need

And…

I hope we will remember

That what once we took with liberality

now we must view with a new reality