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

A New Route

There are some words in the book of Joshua that have, recently, been coming back to mind.  The people of Israel are about to enter the promised land.  Joshua instructs the people to follow the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of God’s presence with His people, as it is carried into their new land.  The reason why Joshua reminds the people to follow God is because;

Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits between you and the ark; do not go near it.”

(Joshua 3 vs. 4)

As I looked at the verse, I couldn’t help but smile, Joshua instructs the people in social isolation!  But, in this verse, there is something that really spoke to me and to the situation many of us find ourselves in at this time;

…since you have never been this way before.

As I think back over my life, I remember the long hot summer of 1976 when there were standpipes in the streets.  I can remember times of industrial unrest, which led to power strikes and having to take energy saving measures. I can remember the bread shortage…… foot and mouth…..the miners strike and perhaps you can too.  But;

….you have never been this way before

Coronavirus has affected me in ways I could never have imagined.  Closing the Church building, even for private prayer.  Seeing all of the groups and clubs having to suspend their meetings has been difficult.  Around two weeks ago, I had not heard of Zoom. Now, it is part of my life (something I have had to learn very rapidly).  Over the next two weeks, I have to conduct 3 funerals where the numbers attending are restricted.  All the time, at the back, of my mind has been that nagging fear of “what will life be like once this is over?”

Life hasn’t been all doom and gloom.  Some good things are coming out of this.

I am enormously grateful to members of my family.  They are really helping with the services and sorting out my struggles with technology.  Communicating with the Church community would not be possible without them.

I am enormously grateful to those folk from the Church who are helping the vulnerable members of the community.  Our Homeless project has had to adapt to the current situation.  Visitors and volunteers alike have been a joy to work with.

I am really grateful for the on-line community of Baptist Ministers.  We are there to support, encourage and pray for one another.  A few of us met online last night for a “virtual pint”!  It was lovely to catch up with friends and realise that I am not on my own wrestling with the issues that coronavirus presents.

In all, the biggest message I would take from this is the importance of keeping our eyes fixed on God because, none of us have ever

been this way before  

Heart-broken

I wanted to share with you some thoughts from “behind the scenes” from, what has been, one of the most heartbreaking and difficult times of ministry that I have known.

I have been really privileged to be part of a wonderful Church community in Clacton-on-Sea since the end of 2007. I have a great team of Deacons, some very committed volunteers and helpers and a Church family that I love dearly.

I find myself looking forward to Sunday services and our Deacons meetings, can only be described as a gathering of friends. On the Sundays when I am not here, I really miss the Church family.

I take the writer to the Hebrews seriously when he says;

And let us not neglect our meeting together

(Hebrews 10 vs. 25 – NLT)

Over the past couple weeks, the world that I know, and love, has changed. Coronavirus has turned my (and many others) world on its head.

I cannot recall anything, in my lifetime, that I can equate with Coronavirus. I remember bread shortages and the 3 day week (but, only just). I remember the summer of 1976 and seeing stand-pipes in the streets. This is something different for us in modern Britain. Something that, it seems, we are powerless to control.

In the early days there seemed to be a lack of information and direction. I can remember one politician saying that we should “wash our hands whilst singing the national anthem”. It seemed to me that they were not taking it seriously and so, I too could treat it with humour.

As more details have emerged, however, I appreciated that this is something that needs to be sensibly dealt with. Again, a lack of information from Government made my task impossible. I was being asked to make decisions based on zero knowledge.

This has all changed this week.

The Government announcement on Monday and subsequent clarifications meant that we, like many Churches, we have had to make the difficult decision to, temporarily, close our doors. This was the advice from the Government, and the national Church.

This really goes against the grain for me. I like the fact that our doors are open most days of the week because, I have always believed that, the Church should be at the heart of community open and available as a praying presence. I am also aware that the church supports members of our church family and the wider community. If the doors are closed, how can we do this?

As I have tried to come to terms with the implications, I am sure I am not the only minister who has had a few sleepless nights worrying. There have been times when I have felt so out of my depth and uttered overwhelmed by the decisions I have had to make and I am still making.

I have read comments from some ministers who say “exciting times ahead” ; “time to stop doing church and start being church” and so on. I confess I am not feeling excited – I am heartbroken.

I don’t dispute with the decisions that national Government and denominational leaders are making. Painful though they are, ultimately, I think they are right. I agree that people should self isolate and take sensible precautions so that this pandemic is controlled.

I believe the measures we have put in place locally, are the only ones we can in light of the situation. We are offering practical help to folk who find themselves in isolation.

In addition, we will be live streaming a, shortened, act of worship. If you would like to receive the links for this, please let us know on info@pieravenue.org.uk.

The Church building will be open from 10:30 – 11:30 on Sunday morning for private prayer only. We will, however, continue to monitor the given advice and local events as I am not sure if we will be able to continue to do this. There are ways that we can continue to support one another and keep in touch. Phone calls, messaging, and texts. I would urge you to keep in contact.

Despite all of this, I am looking forward to the day when our doors are open again and normal service is resumed.

I continue to hold our fellowship, community, nation and world in prayer.

What’s it all about?

Have you ever felt like punching the air and shouting “yes!” when a writer presents something that has really touched you deep inside?

It happened to me this morning.

To be honest, I was avoiding some dreary admin form which was asking me the same question multiple times in multiple ways. I’d had enough. So, finding an excuse, I picked up a book that I have been reading for some time. This is what I read;

Once we get caught up in leadership roles of responsibilities and accountabilities, it is easy to lose sight of an all important question: what are we really inviting people into when we invite them to join us on our Spiritual journey? With all our emphasis on external signs of progress, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that we are not primarily into our plans and schemes. We are inviting them into a life giving way of life in God.


(Ruth Haley Barton – Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership)

I punched the air!

I shouted “yes”!

Now please understand this. I love the Christian Church. I love being amongst Christians. I love the things that we are engaged in but, there is a danger that we can become all about being an organisation rather than a radical disciple making movement.

I appreciate that there needs to be a structure and policies and so forth but, when these begin to take up so much management, I find myself wondering if the Holy Spirit is being squeezed out.

As Ruth Haley Barton progresses in her thoughts, she talks about community and the way that the Christian community is shaped by the flow of life around it.

As I look at the flow of life in our wider communities at the moment, I am more and more aware of how dysfunctional our world is. One glimpse at the news only seems to support this view. If you look at Social Media, you can see the depth of anger and fear that is generated. I read, in the news recently, more than 60 children per day ring Childline with suicidal thoughts.

What kind of world are we creating?

Jesus said;

I have come that they may have life in all its fullness
(John 10 vs. 10)

It’s obvious to me that the wider community are not living “life in all its fullness”. If I can be brave, I am not sure that the church community is living “life in all its fullness. As I look at my own life, I know I am not living “life in all its fullness”.

This has to change. But how?

Ruth Haley Barton provides some insight;

The process of crafting a life-giving way of life in community is led by leaders who are willing to make tough calls on concrete matters that affect our pace and our levels of expectation…… When making such decisions spiritual leaders ask, “how will this affect our quality of life, the quality of our relationships in community, our families, our attention to prayer and spiritual journeying, our ability to maintain sane rhythms of work and rest (particularly the Sabbath)?


(Ruth Haley Barton – Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership)

We have to be brave enough to name our present reality and recognise that it is unsustainable.

We have to be brave enough to recognise and stop unhealthy practices.

We have to be brave enough to build deeper community with each other

I don’t have any answers as to how we can do this. I just know that this is something we, at the fellowship I am privileged to be part of, need to start looking at.

Feeling Irritable!

angry man with smoke coming out of ears clipart

I have noticed it in myself and I have noticed it in others.

Irritability

It tends to sneak in at those moments when I am over busy.  When I try to keep all the plates spinning at once.  When I am under pressure and feeling unappreciated.  Something just seems to snap inside.

Irritability

The mouth opens and out comes words that wound and hurt others and makes the situation worse rather than better.  You see, once I have snapped, I feel guilty for having done it and more than a little foolish.

I have been reading a fantastic book recently called, Strengthening the soul of your leadership by Ruth Haley Barton.  In it, she advocates learning to live within your limits.  She also points out that one of the effects of living beyond our limits is irritability. 

I wonder if Moses was getting irritable when his father in law, Jethro, came to him and said;

Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good.

You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.

(Exodus 18 vs. 17 – 18)

I have been enormously grateful for those who have acted like Jethro in my own life.  I can be a driven person and take on more and more.  It is a humbling moment for any of us when we realise we cannot do it all. We all have our limits.  I suspect, many of us are living beyond our physical, spiritual and emotional limits.

Jethro certainly doesn’t hold back and he points out that only is this not good for Moses but, it also not good for the people he is leading. 

As well as encouraging us to recognize out limits, Ruth Haley Barton also encourages us to build a margin into our lives. I think there is good scriptural precedent for this;

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.

(Leviticus 23 vs. 22)

Yes, this verse is about provision for the poor but, I think there is good life advice here.  Leave space, leave a margin, leave room in your life.

I am seeking to build some margin in my life, do you need to build some in yours?