Like most people in church leadership, I’ve been thinking a lot about the conditions for reopening church when the government gives the go-ahead. As I’ve been thinking about this I think it’s valuable for us to again stop and consider what church is, as well as what it is not. I think it’s an important question because as the UK starts to “open up” again, we see shops, for example, being given the go-ahead to reopen but churches have not yet had the nod to do likewise. It’s easy to look at Government and accuse them of overlooking places of worship, deeming them unimportant. But, I think the fact that at the time I’m writing churches have not yet been allowed to resume normal services is an acknowledgement that churches are fundamentally different from shops.
The church is different.
There’s a type of Christianity that I’ve been warning about for years, something called “Consumer Church”. It’s not the church. It’s an imposter.
“Consumer Church” is the mindset that churches are basically a place where a transaction occurs. You pay an agreed (it’s even a suggested) amount and in return, you receive an item, service or experience. If what you get isn’t to your satisfaction, you can usually get your money back – or get what you need somewhere else.
Let’s be honest … who hasn’t walked away from a church service feeling less than satisfied by the worship, preaching or quality of experience? (It’s not always the case that this is evidence of this mindset … sometimes preachers don’t perform … oops, there it is!)
It’s important to think about how transactional church thinking has crept into our thinking in light of the current COVID-19 crisis. This will then help us to decide when and how we are to reopen church buildings.
Church is Open
When the word “church” comes up in conversation, the first thing we think of is a building. We have this mindset that church is a place we go to on Sundays. As we get our family dressed, fight through traffic and get a good seat, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that we aren’t just going to church; we are the church. Here’s the first thing I want to communicate: the church has NEVER been shut. Buildings have been closed but the church is very much “open for business”. The Church was never about brick and mortar.
In the Bible, the church is always a reference to people, not a place. The church is a body of believers that live out the truth that the Gospel changes lives.
So the church is very much open. We’re not closed. The church has a nature that moves forward even against the most fierce opposition (Matthew 16:17-19).
Church is not for the Spectator
I love the fact that our gatherings are structured so that everyone and anyone can come along. You can sit in the back and watch. We’re ok with that. However, being part of Calvary means that you are church. There are expectations on you. Expectations to love, serve, contribute, grow and help others do the same. We don’t sit back and wait to be ministered to. We are the ones doing the ministering.
If we don’t like something, we don’t discount it on the basis of our preference.
If we like something, we don’t accept it on the basis of our preference,.
Each person has a different role to play. For some that means that they are more visible than others but not more important.
We are measured on our faithfulness to what we have been called to do in the Kingdom.
Church is Supernatural
Gathering is important
Jesus gave us the principle that when two or three gather together in the name of Jesus, the presence of Jesus is there.
When Jesus wrote to the 7 churches, recorded in Revelation, He described Himself as one who walks with and amongst the people.
This is God’s way – to dwell among His people (Ex 29:45-46) – not in some kind of omnipresent way, but in a very real tangible way.
There is something supernatural and spiritual that takes place when God’s people gather. We should not devalue this important Biblical teaching.
Historically, throughout the centuries, “church” has been understood as taking place when the Bible is taught, the sacraments are administered, and church discipline (formal and informal) takes place. So, for example, three Christians meeting for coffee, talking about sport is not “church” even though they are Christians meeting. “In Jesus’ Name” means that His authority is brought to bear in our lives.
So gathering is important.
We Gather to Disperse
We don’t gather for gathering’s sake. We gather to be equipped and encouraged so that we can disperse. Jesus called us to “Go into all the world”. We gather so that we can live lives in honour to God, whether that be in a work place, education or home. We are called to take the message of good news to this world. Church helps us do that.
So I hope you can see that church doesn’t need a building. Maybe God is calling us to be church?
“in the kingdom of God, the one thing that qualifies you is knowing that you don’t qualify, and the one thing that disqualifies you is thinking that you do.
Consider the string of accounts in Matthew’s Gospel that we have touched upon. In every passage, a central character assumes that one has to ‘qualify’ to gain some corresponding approval.
The disciples thought little children needed to qualify by being a certain age in order to gain Jesus’ attention (19:13-15).
The rich young man thought he needed to qualify by law-keeping in order to gain eternal life (19:16-22).
Peter and company thought they had to qualify by making a sacrifice in order to gain a reward (19:23-30).
The workers who were hired early thought all employees had to qualify by doing sufficient work in order to gain a day’s wage (20:1-16).
In our moments of spiritual sanity, you and I know that we are no different. We tend to assume that in order for God to approve of us — really approve of us — we need to qualify. And at that moment, the gospel has shifted out of the burning fireplace of our heart and into the cold and dusty attic of self-contribution. A Christian is not someone who has been enrolled in the moral hall of fame. A Christian is a happily recovering Pharisee.”
Philippians 1:3-4 – I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,
Paul visited Phillipi twice. Once on his second missionary journey in around 50 AD and again on his third missionary journey in around 56 AD. It was an impressive city established in around 356 BC by around 2000 soldiers from the 28th Legion who retired there and colonized the city.
God uses normal people to do extraordinary works.
The church in Phillipi wasn’t founded by former war heroes or even an apostle. In fact, the people who started the church were pretty ordinary: a Turkish businesswoman, a Greek Slave girl, and a prison guard.
The businesswoman was a late called Lydia who owned a company called Purple Inc. (Ok, I made that bit up). But she did sell purple clothes to the rich and famous. She was from a town called Thyatira which is in modern-day Turkey. One day she gathered with a group of women to hear the Scriptures explained by Paul. God used Lydia in a tremendous way because she asked some friends to join her in seeking God.
This little girl stands in absolute contrast to Lydia. Where Lydia is Asian, this girl is Greek. Where Lydia is in control, this girl is impoverished, enslaved, and exploited. While Paul and Lydia meet in the context of a formal, orderly group meeting, Paul and the slave girl meet as she follows the missionaries around, screaming her head off. She is disruptive. “These men are servants of the most high God and show you the way of salvation,” she said. Paul doesn’t turn around and say, “I’m doing a seminar Saturday on ‘Crazy.’ I would like for you to come because I think you have crazy in you.” What happens is, in an act of Holy Spirit power, he rebukes and exorcises the spirit that rules her and enslaves her on the inside. The girls becomes an evangelist and brings dozens to the Lord.
The prison guard was a tough guy. He was told to keep Paul and his companions safe but instead, he tortures them. He put them in stocks where their hands and feet where he forced the body into all shapes, locking limbs and joints in place to the point of making the entire body cramp. This jailer is very good at his job, and he probably likes it more than he should! As Paul and Silas started praying for him there was a great earthquake so that the foundations of the prison were shaken.
I’ve heard people with voices like that: when they sing everything starts moving.
This isn’t because they can’t sing it’s because God has heard them. The prison guard turned to the Lord.
A Turkish businesswoman, a slave girl and a prison guard. Probably not exactly your dream church-planting team yet God uses the ordinary people to do extraordinary things.
So by the time Paul writes to them it’s been roughly 1-15 years since he first visited. So it’s fitting that he thanks God for them. But now, he’s no longer writing to the businesswoman, slave girl prison guard. In that time they have changed and grown.
I wonder how old the slave girl is now. What sort of young woman has she grown up to be? I wonder if she has found a good man. Does she have children?
What about Lydia? What has Lydia done for the good of the gospel with all her wealth?
What about the jailer—has he softened, or is he still rough around the edges?
What has God down with you? Looking back can you say that you’ve been used in extraordinary by God and now, through that process, God has changed you?
You know I’m finding? It’s super easy to be negative! So I set about looking at some Biblical principles that I could structure into my week, for the sole purpose of feeding my soul. Here’s what I came up with:
Day 1 – Paul wrote “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” So take a walk for the sole purpose of praying. How does it work? You simply take a walk… outside. Just around the block will do … but try to imagine that Jesus is on that walk with you. As you think about that, make a note of all the things that you can see that you want to say to Jesus “thanks”. It doesn’t have to be a big thing .. small works! And then just go ahead and thank God for that thing. Why? Well simply because you can’t be negative and thankful all at the same time.
Day 2 – Turn off the negative news. I know, we’re bombarded right now, so turn it off (don’t worry it will still be there when you return!). If you’re prone to have quite a negative outlook, turning off what is feeding your negativity will help. I think that hope is the energy of our souls. 1 Corinthians 13:13 says that faith (in God) and hope are linked. Faith is the confidence we have that our source of hope is trustworthy (Hebrews 11:1). So as I turn off the negative, worldly thinking that fills my head, and I turn to God in faith – my hope is restored.
Day 3 – Rejoice. I mean … actually immerse yourselves in worship music. For you that could be reading and singing some hymns. It could be that you load your phone with a worship playlist and put it on repeat. Honestly, one of the best ways I know to help me get out of my negative rut is to focus my heart on worshipping Jesus. The Bible tells us to pour out our souls to God (Ps. 42:4) and lift up our souls to Him (Ps. 25:1).
Day 4 – Money doesn’t buy happiness. We know that. However, I’ve been told that having rich friends makes a difference! ha ha! (I’m not sure that’s right BTW!) But .. I do know that “rich” friends help us stay positive. Wise friends who can lift up hearts and rich friends to have indeed! What the proverb says about friends is true – Solomon exhorts us to “walk with the wise” (Proverbs 13:20). So why not schedule a Zoom meeting with a friend who you know will encourage your spirit?
Day 5 – Smell the Roses. Literally this is what I have been doing. I have some beautifully scented roses and jasmine in the garden at the moment and getting out in the garden has been great relieve for me. If you don’t have a garden, just go for a walk and stop to praise God for his creation. As you do, meditate on what Psalm 19 says about God in creation.
Day 6 – Make a Gratitude visit – I love this! Paul says in Colossians 4:2: “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” Last month Lorrie spent a few hours making cards for our church members and sent them out via post. Last week I roasted some coffee and took great delight in delivering some all over town. I genuinely hope that the people I delivered it to enjoyed it but you know what? This was all for me! It’s good for my soul to be generous.
Last week the Church’s leadership team met to discuss the next phase of our church lockdown. I was so encouraged by the care and attention that our leaders have over you. The summary of our conversation can be highlighted by these main points:
Sunday morning services will continue online for the foreseeable future. This is because social distancing at the School would be very difficult.
Virtual Life Groups are most likely here to stay until a vaccine is found. I can’t encourage you enough to get involved in one of these.
Given the opportunity from the government, we will look at opportunities to socially gather in outdoor places.
We will continue the decentralisation of pastoral care to the wider leadership team.
We are experimenting with a second service on Facebook. This takes place at 4 pm on Sunday and you are encouraged to share and distribute to your friend list.
Our Sunday morning service is being developed to include more of our church family. You have received an email this week tell you how to get involved.
We’re not going to rush to get back to what was normal 8 weeks ago. We’re going to pray, listen to the Holy Spirit as He speaks through others (we are in regular contact with the EA and FIEC committees who are guiding churches, not to mention other church leaders from around the country.)
This Sunday, following the Prime Minister’s announcement to our country, some churches in Southampton are gathering to pray for the road ahead.
Praying is always good. I have found that it is not only a sanctuary but a forge. A sanctuary from the challenges that my own mind throws up – often rooted in the unknown and desire to fix things. Pray is a place where my heart is humbled to accept again the sovereignty of Jesus seek His help. It’s also a forge whereby I’m made ready for what lays ahead. It’s an opportunity for my heart and mind to be conformed to His will and likeness.
The link to access the city prayer meeting is here: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87040213842 but whether you choose to gather with Southampton churches or you are praying on your own I’d invite you to pray at 7:30pm tomorrow (Sunday) following the Prime Minister’s announcement.
Everyone is focused on improving themselves during the COVID-19 crisis, but how does that work spiritually? Most people think of adding a lot of spiritual habits to their daily routine. In this conversation, Aaron Salvato and Brian Higgins unpack what God really wants out of us and how spiritual thriving is less about doing things for God and more about being with God
This is a really interesting conversation hosted by Dr. Mitch Glaser of Chosen People Ministries. Scott McConnell (LifeWay Research), Dr. Darrell Bock (Dallas Theological Seminary, and New York Times best-selling author) Joel C. Rosenberg (Middle East expert). This webcast is a virtual discussion about a new LifeWay Research survey which revealed that nearly nine out of ten pastors see at least some current events in light of Luke 21 and the events Jesus said would occur shortly before His return. These experts will unpack the survey, which was designed to provide an objective picture of the ways in which American evangelical pastors view the end time.
A recent British Museum exhibit provides fresh, dramatic insight into the ruthless enemy of ancient Israel – the Neo-Assyrian Empire and its most powerful king, Ashurbanipal. In Part 1, Patterns fo Evidence considers the story conveyed by surviving artifacts. You can read the article here
This week I was able to reflect a little on the idea of sanctification and stumbled on this post that I think is helpful:
“I’m worn down.
Early on, this isolation felt like a reprieve from our formerly busy schedules. No meetings, no pastoral visits that kept my husband away from home in the evenings, no ball practices or tutoring. No hurried school drop-offs or pick-ups. No cooking a meal for Sunday afternoon potlucks while scrambling to get ready for church on Sunday mornings. The emptied calendar was a welcome respite. I welcomed the quietness of a long, unhurried day that would be replicated again and again.
But a month into this, and I’m beat.
The longer this isolation continues, the more readily my sin rises to the surface. The longer we’re all here huddled in one house with one long, same reality, the more I see the parts of myself that I ordinarily coat with relationships and shopping and coffee shop visits and work and traveling and conversations. When it’s all stripped away, the girl in the mirror doesn’t fare well under pressure. I don’t sleep well; my emotions are constantly frayed at the edges with irritation. Every morning, I read my Bible and then lace up my shoes and walk out the front door. I run the streets of my neighborhood with one reverberating prayer in my heart: “Lord, help me to be different when I get home.”
This coming week I get to record (perform) on a new album from Citizens & Saints so, in tribute, I thought I’d share one of my favourite tracks of the moment – it’s a few years old but a good song to meditate on the goodness and kindness of God.
I’ve precious written about praying and today I feel compelled to share this prayer with you. Written by Philip Doddridge and found in “Piercing Heaven: Prayers of the Puritans”
Light up, O Lord, a brighter and a stronger flame in the lamps of your sanctuary.
Send the arrows of your quiver deep into our conscience. Clothe your priests with salvation, that your saints may shout aloud for joy! Anoint them with your Holy Spirit, that the aroma of your grace may spread throughout all your tabernacles, like fragrant oil poured on the head of Aaron.
Lead us, O Lord, in the way everlasting. Make us resemble our great Master, more and more, as we show grace to others.
Sanctify our hearts by your grace, that we may be as trees bearing good fruit, or like fountains of pure streams. That is the path to lay up good treasure—it is the way for holiness and compassion to spring forth in freedom, to refresh and give life to everyone around us.
May your grace animate our souls, Lord. May nothing stand in the way of faithfulness even to death, or deprive us of the crown of life your grace has promised.
Send forth labourers into Your harvest, and energize them in their work. Give us a deeper sense of that horrible condemnation due to those who despise their divine Master and his Heavenly Father, in whose name he was sent.
Preserve us from that kind of guilt and ruin, God! Your kingdom has come to us, and its privileges. May we never abuse them and be cast down to hell, but may divine grace open our hearts to the gospel.
May we receive all those who faithfully proclaim your word, and welcome them in the name of Jesus. Amen.
So, for example, I have no idea what face you are pulling right now. I don’t know if you are trying to work out where I’m going with all of this, or you are riveted.
Many of us feel overwhelmed by the lack of face-to-face right now. I know I do. I’m used to seeing around 1500 face a day. Now I’m reduced to 3.
Reading the gospels is always enlightening. Notice how many times the gospel writers says that Jesus “sees” those around Him.
Jesus saw Andrew and Peter and called them to follow. He saw Nathaniel and encouraged his heart. He saw the paralysed man and healed him. He saw the crowds and taught them. He saw the legalistic scribe and told him about love. He saw the hungry crowd and fed them. He saw the grief of Mary and Martha at the tomb of Lazurus and wept with them. He saw His own distressed mother and cared for her. He saw the blind man and revealed Himself as the Light of the World.
Everywhere that Jesus went He looks around and sees people and their need. He notices people.
He looks long enough to see people’s need and then moves in and is present with them.
Did the Bible predict the Coronavirus – what a question!
It’s now been two weeks since Schools closed and virtual lockdown imposed on our nation. Is it just me or has it seemed WAY longer than two weeks? I don’t know but what we do know is that the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak is fundamentally changing how we view the world, and the death toll continues to rise each day.
Some of the disruptions on this scale were hard to imagine even a month ago. I mean, who would have thought that Google would be asked to track our movements this weekend so that we don’t go out for a longer walk than we are supposed to? Or, within days, churches have been forced to move entire congregations into virtual communities online? We are certainly living in strange times.
Of course, there is still the odd nutjob around claiming one conspiracy theory after another … “COVID 19 is a ploy by Disney because the tv channel Disney plus was launched at the same time” … or “5G towers are, in fact, the cause of Coronavirus” or “Greta Thunberg caused Covid-19 to help with her global warming campaign.” Or how about the “minister” (more like fleecer of the flock) and head of the Kingdom Church in Camberwell, south London, who has promised his followers that if they purchase a small bottle of oil and piece of red yarn from him (at inflated prices) it will protect them from Covid-19.
I don’t even want to disrespect this blog and you, my reader, to make a comment suffice to say .. no, jut no.
So here we are
Here’s a question I bet you haven’t asked yet: “What doe she Bible say about Coronavirus?”. Glad you asked because it’s an easy answer: nothing. Absolutely nothing. Well, kind of nothing. Although the coronavirus is not mentioned by name in the Bible, it does, of course, talk about the environmental conditions that are indicators that Jesus is coming back soon.
A commonly mentioned passage is Matthew 24.
“For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in various places .. All these are the beginnings of sorrows.”
Ok, so there will be “pestilences” or plagues before Jesus comes back. Now the question is whether COVID19 is one of those said pestilences. Who knows? Really, whether COVID19 is a “pestilence” or “plague” probably remains to be seen. It’s certainly not clear. However, whether it is or it isn’t, what IS clear is that God has given us a way to behave – even in times of pestilence or peace.
Don’t assume that you know God’s intentions. From a Biblical perspective, God has many reasons to judge us. He doesn’t need a virus but don’t assume that this virus is a harbinger of doom. There are many real and tangible opportunities that this crisis brings – an opportunity for society to reset, for communities to value social interaction, for questions about spiritual things to be asked and answered. Don’t ever assume that we know God’s intentions outside of what the Bible actually says.
Don’t assume that God will withhold his judgement forever. Paul said that God has “fixed a day” when the will judge the world. I don’t believe that day has come, and I can’t even tell you if it’s close, but what I can tell you is that we should not consider that God’s patience is qual to His acceptance.
Don’t waste this opportunity to do good. Paul wrote to exhort us that “as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith”. I was reminded this week that the way we reflect the glory of Christ most vividly to the world is to be people who are growing in love for one another.
Don’t walk by sight but by faith. Huge huge huge! We are being bombarded on every side right now with thoughts and images and the immediate danger. and make no mistake, there is a very real and present danger. However, I’d ask you today .. how is your faith? Are you able to see past creation and chaos, to the Creator and His care? Where does your spiritual vision most readily run to?
Don’t forget to seek God. Job was a prophet who experienced severed trials in life. He said “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). Even when it seems like the world is falling apart, God is still in charge.
So, did the Bible predict COVID19? Maybe. Maybe not … Probably not.
Does the Bible give us ANY guidance on how we are to live – pestilence or no pestilence? Absolutley
One of the things that I love to do is write out my prayers. I think that brings depth to what I am saying and sees prayer as a process that is moved by the Spirit rather than an event that can often be, in my own heart, a breeding ground for self-centeredness.
Over the years I have been greatly helped by reading the prayers of others. I’d like to share some of those with you:
A collection of puritan prayers called The Vision of Valley has really helped me greatly over the years The opening pray is one I come back to time and again:
Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.
Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.
Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;
Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty
thy glory in my valley
Philip Doddridge, an English Nonconformist minister from the beginning of the 18th century, wrote this:
Lord, may I put on meekness under the greatest injuries and provocations (Colossians 3:12), and, as much as it depends on me, may I live peacefully with all (Romans 12:18).
May I be merciful, as my Father in heaven is merciful (Luke 6:36).
May I speak the truth from my heart (Psalm 15:2) and may I speak it in love (Ephesians 4:15), taking care not to judge severely, as I would not want to be judged.
Work in me the kind of disposition you approve. Renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10) and make me a genuine son of Israel (John 1:47).
And while I feast on Christ, as my passover sacrificed for me, may I keep the feast with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (1 Corinthians 5:7–8).
Make me steadfast and immovable, always abounding in your work, knowing that my labour in the Lord will not be in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Keep my heart tender (2 Kings 22:19), easily impressed with your word and providence, touched with an affectionate concern for your glory, and sensitive to every impulse of your Spirit.
May I be zealous for you, God (Numbers 25:13), with a zeal based on knowledge and love (1 Corinthians 14:14). Teach me in your service to join the wisdom of the serpent with the boldness of the lion and the innocence of the dove (Matthew 10:16).
In this way make me, by your grace, a shining image of my dear Redeemer. May I ascribe everlasting honours to him; and to you, O Father of mercies; and to your Holy Spirit, through whose gracious influence I may call you my Father; and Jesus my Savior! Amen.
Scotty Smith has published a prayer a day and I really appreciate how he writes, taking bible verses and praying around them. Here’s an example:
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1)
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34–35 NIV)
Lord Jesus, as I meditate and pray my way through these Scriptures, I’m quite literally undone. What but the gift of faith can enable me to grasp the wonder of these words and the magnificence of this moment? What but the power of the gospel can enable me to believe and obey them? Grant me both, I pray; grant me both. On our calendar, we call this day Maundy or Mandate Thursday. It is a day of Holy Week and a day in the history of redemption brimming over with glory and grace. Passover will soon become the Lord’s Supper—your supper. The promises of the old covenant will soon be fulfilled by the blood of the new covenant—your blood. Having shared eternal glory with the Father, you now show stunning grace to your disciples. Having loved this ragtag bunch of broken men—who squabbled with each other hours earlier for positions of honour and who within a few hours would all scatter and deny you—having loved them so well, you now show them even greater manifestations of your love. Your disrobing to wash their feet was with a full view to your being stripped naked to wash their hearts and our hearts. What wondrous love is this indeed! How wide, long, high, and deep!
“Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34 NIV). This is the new and never-ending mandate we’re now under as your disciples. Don’t let me ever forget that the measure of your love is not just the basin and towel of the upper room but your cross and your death at Calvary. There simply is no greater love—none. Jesus, as my heart comes more fully alive to how you loved me by your death and how you love me now in your resurrection glory, I’ll seek to make fewer excuses for loving poorly and to offer quicker repentances when I do. As you continue to show me the full extent of your love for me in the gospel, love through me to your glory. I pray in your name. Amen.
At least SOME things don’t change – however, tomorrow the clocks do. Nowadays we don’t have to worry about the clocks changing so long as our smartphones are set to automatic. Still, consider this your reminder.