To venable (verb): To randomly muse upon this and that.

Archive for the ‘Church’ Category

Churches Back Together

In the UK there is still indication that churches will be able to meet together again in the flesh from July 4th. This will no, doubt be with restrictions, but it is a date to aim for. As a result of that plans are necessarily going to have to be made. Here is one document with thorough and helpful advice.

One thing that concerns me as I look towards the transpiration of events over the next few weeks is that of priorities. I fear that much attention is going to be given to practically preparing for returning to our building, whilst not much attention will be given to our hearts.

For some this is because they just so long to be back meeting together in a bodily manner. It is all they have longed for since late March and therefor being back is all they think about.

For others the problem is making sure we follow everything to the nth degree of the regulations and advice of the government. And any departure from the requirements is seen as dangerous. This can lead to a kind of mania of regulation investigation and implementation

For others it is the fear that if we do not put all the relevant precautions in place then we are going to put our health and the health of many others in a perilous danger.

For others it is simply that they love to administer and they love to examine the detail.

Now all of the cases just mentioned have redeeming features and a great deal of it is legitimate. We do long to function as churches; we do want to obey the government: we do want to protect our health and we do want to administer things well.

However, in all this we need to make spiritual preparations a priority. In many ways we potentially return as different churches. Over 100 days will have passed. People have changed; relationships have changed. We need to be thoughtful of what the Lord has been teaching us. We want to go back with the reality of knowing the Spirit of the Lord upon us.

Above all we need to be going back as a humbled and broken people. If we are in such a state then all will be well.We will be set to be used by the Lord in future days.

This all reminds me of the Mary and Martha dichotomy in Luke 10:38-42.

38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Martha was not wrong, but Mary was wiser. And what Maratha was doing would have been transformed if she was Mary-like. This is because we are transformed for living and serving when we are Mary-like.

As we face the next few weeks then let us not forget to be Mary-like. Otherwise we will all be planning and preparing like Martha and there are going to be lots of agitation and argument.

It’s All Too Western?

I am left wondering about the response by the church in the West to the restrictions that have come upon us as a result of Covid-19 crisis, I want to muse upon this issue from the point of view of history and geography

History.

The Church in the West has for several centuries been in an anomalous situation. We have largely be accepted, even at times celebrated, by the governing authorities specifically and society at large, more generally. I say this is an anomaly because it is not how it has been through much of the world and through much of history.    

It is also an anomaly because it is out of kilter with the ministry of our Master and Lord Jesus. Here is the summary of the ministry of the One we call Master and Lord:

He was despised and rejected by men;
    a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces 
   he was despised, and we esteemed him not (Is. 53:3).

We cannot expect to be accepted if we follow the Saviour who was not accepted. They gave Him a cross as the reward for His love and righteousness. Should we expect anything more for ourselves?

We need to be finished with our comfortable and convenient Christian lives which have been engendered by the welcoming culture around us. Normal Christian living is to know discomfort and be unaccepted.

And we start to get grumpy when the government does not consider us to be essential. Really!!! I think we should probably feel more concerned if they think we are essential.

What is our response to this. Get on and live godly in Christ Jesus. Honour the government and go forward by faith

Geography

Many of our brothers and sisters around the world are living right now as such a people. That is they know what it is to be despised and rejected by the community in which they live. They know the reality of the opprobrium that falls every day because they choose to honour Christ and take up their cross every and follow Him.

The thought of being able to freely gather at a screen and see other brothers and sisters whilst hearing God’s Word and praising His Name is something they can only dream of. And we start to complain because we are not able to meet in the flesh; that concept would be beyond their wildest dreams.

And for those who are able to use online facilities to meet with others they are glad to feast on such scraps of fellowship. Of course they long to meet together, but glad of the mercies which afford them some semblance of fellowship.

Let us not despise our blessings brothers and sisters in Christ. To be restricted from meeting together is not as it should be and we should be longing and working so as to be able to experience that. In the meantime let us not belittle the privileges that we have.

So in all things give thanks. We are privileged in so many ways.

 

 

 

It Is Something.

I have read much about what this time is not in terms of church life. Much of it focuses on the fact that if we are not meeting together “in the flesh” then this cannot be real church. I certainly understand that and agree with it.

However, I am also very concerned that we do assert that this is a time when we can be something. The danger is that we say we cannot properly be church meeting together in congregation and therefore we just give up until normality resumes and then we pick-up where we left off.

Through the providential workings of the Lord we can be something at this time because of the provision of online technology. This allows us to meet together. it lacks in certain ways, but it does provide something. and through this we can fellowship, we can hear God’s Word and we can…. Well we can do a lot of things. I have written here about my view on celebrating the Lord’s Supper now.

And then we think of the evangelistic opportunities that there are are online now and also through conversation and contact with others. in many ways there may well be opportunities now that would not arise at any other time. There are three main reason for this:

  1. We are shaken. The normality of our existences across the whole globe has been shaken. Even going to the shops has taken on a whole new meaning. People are looking for answers.
  2. We face death. The reality of death has been all the more vivid through the dreadful spread of the coronavirus.
  3. We have time on our hands. A lot of people have more time on their hands than normal.

In all this we need to be aware that God has set us for such a time as this. As Mordecai challenged Esther those years ago in Esther 4:14: For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”  Moreover, he has given us the means of technology to make a lot of this time.

I just fear that much could be lost in terms of building up the people of God and reaching out to others because we are just fixated on what this time is not. Let us read of Nehemiah and what he told the people after he had surveyed the wall in Jerusalem and be stirred. And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work (Neh. 2:18).

The people of this world are seeking many ways and means to support others and others through this time through the innovative use of technology. Surely we as the church should be zealous to use all the time and means at our present disposal to advance the cause of our God.

So let us rise up and serve the Lord.

The Lord’s Supper Now?!

Many, even most, churches around the world at this present time are not allowed to congregate in assembly as normal. As a result there have been necessary adaptations to church life. Generally these have involved the use of online technology. One specific issue that has been raised is that of celebrating the Lord’s Supper in communion together. Is it possible to be celebrating the Lord’s Supper when our only gathering can be online?

Two basic principles need to be established initially:

  1. We cannot begin to think that this is normal church. It is not. Normal church involves interacting with one another in the flesh, in community, together. To think that meeting online is normal is foolish and sets us up for all kinds of problems should this time pass.
  2. We should be seeking, as much as lies within us, to function as churches. We should not give up in despair and say that nothing can happen now so let’s down tools and wait for the calamity to pass. No! Rather we should be seeking as much as possible to fulfil the call of Acts 2:42: And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

But can we legitimately seek to continue to celebrate the breaking of bread in the Lord’s Supper at this time. Here are my thoughts:

The Supper Frames The Church:  For a church to exist it must be framed around certain doctrinal understandings. Such understandings all focus and cohere in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. This message declares how Christ alone came to rescues sinners from their sins by His death, burial and resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 11:26 we read For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. The sacrament when celebrated frames the church in the fundamental doctrine of Christ. To give it up too easily prejudices the welfare of the church.

Yes the Church is also critically framed by the preaching of the Word, but the Lord’s Supper feast is vital.

The New Covenant : We are a people of the new covenant. We are a people of the reality that Christ has done everything and we are blessed in Him. We are a people of the new covenant day; the first day of the week which is resurrection day. This is our special day of worship. It surely must appropriately, even essentially, be a part of our Lord’s Day to celebrate the new covenant feast. If we fail to do so we fail to give the people in our care the opportunity once again to define themselves in the new covenant.

Remembrance: The essence of the establishing of the feast is to make sure at that we call to mind the reality of our Lord Jesus dying for us. To fail to celebrate deprives the church of this memory prompt. We are so easily prone to drift away from the essentials of our faith. The Lord’s Supper when properly celebrated energises the remembrance juices of the church in the right direction. And as we note the importance of remembrance we hear the words of our Lord in the institution  And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood (Lk. 22:19-20). 

Oneness: Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. The celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a declaration of our oneness in Christ. During this time of being fragmented physically by necessity we even more so need the spiritual declaration of oneness in the communion feast.

 

With these points in mind we have to ask whether there is any legitimacy in celebrating the Lord’s Supper in an online way. Some would say that to even think of that is to think of the impossible. But is that the case? We do need to assert that anything less than the actual having the emblems physically shared is less than ideal. Nevertheless we must be aware that if we fail to celebrate the Lord’s Supper we lose so much and deprive our people of so much.

It must be a judgement call whether the means to our hand are sufficient so as to make a reasonable approximation to the actual celebration. To use some online connection and allow people to provide their own appropriate bread and cup at home seems to me to be reasonable way of maintaining the value of the Lord’s Supper into the life of the church.

But some would say that this trivialises the feast. My rejoinder would be that the feast can be trivialised in whatever way you take it. The important things is how it is led. Appropriate decorum can be achieved online. However, having people sat at home does mean that there is an extra caution here as regard to not being too causal.

For those who conclude that we must wait until we are able to meet again in the flesh, I would counsel that the Lord’s Supper should not be ignored in the interim. A proper declaring of an uncelebrated Lord’s Supper at least draws the people to be aware of what are the privileges in the Lord’s Supper celebration that they are missing. And this can give anticipation of when it can be celebrated again.

But I ask how long will you wait? We do not know how long this extremity will last. Are we wise to restrict our churches from the Lord’s Supper blessing when there are ways to make it work?

For those who would rather not celebrate the Supper I wold not want to scorn such scruples. However, I would want to urge a thinking through of the New Testament delineation of corporate spiritual life which is so very different to the Old Testament. In the Old Testament the regime is very strict and tangible; the ceremony is strictly prescribed. In the New Testament the order is far more flexible. There are principles which must be adhered to so as to honour the Lord. The beauty of these principles, though, is that they can be outworked in all kinds of cultural circumstances. Can they not be outworked now? I fear that overly restricting the celebration to certain physical circumstances is harking back to an Old Testament Day that has passed.

This leads me to ponder on the providential operations of God. Has He not sufficiently provided us with the wherewithal to operate as churches during this time? Can we not accept even the computer technology as a providential gift?

In all this I want to clearly assert that I believe that the Lord’s Supper is a feast for the church. It is “a when you come together feast” (see 1 Cor. 11:18). I do not want to encourage an individual celebrating of the Lord’s Supper. It is a church ordinance.

So these are my musings. Good believing people and churches will reach different conclusions. I plead respect and courtesy for those who see things differently to us. Above all may there be a desire to seek to honour the Lord and edify His people among us at this time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coronavirus (6)

I last wrote some two weeks ago. Since then I have not been well. May well have had a mild dose of COVID 19. However, it has not been possible to get a test. I am now feeling stronger.

It has been a bizarre time with all the hiatus around appertaining to the transformation of our society through the restrictions that have gradually, but swiftly, changed how we interact with one another. This has had a significant impact upon us as a church.

As churches we are left with something of a tension. We do not want to give the impression that a virtual church conducted online is how it should be. It certainly is not. Church is meant to be lived out with real face-to-face community. However, neither do we want to give up in despair and say that there cannot be anything of church at this time. We do want to engage best with what is technologically available to facilitate fellowship and the functioning of the church.

We have been using ZOOM thus far as our main means of gathering. The advantage of this platform is that there can be interaction and there is a sense of us being together. Live-stream facilities seem to have a far better presentation, but less sense of community.

This is all a new voyage and there should be understanding within churches and between churches. I suggest that as long as four main guidelines are operative then, although we may be doing things differently, we will be on the right lines:

  • we are seeking to operate according to the principles of scripture.
  • we are seeking to do all to edify the people.
  • we are seeking all for the glory of God.
  • we are zealous in prayer.

It is good to feel somewhat brighter again. The last two weeks have been somewhat bewildering and a struggle. However, I look back to the keeping power of our God and thank Him for how He has led us as a church and family.

 

 

The Martin Braithwaite Problem

Martin Braithwaite signed for Barcelona from fellow La Liga club, Leganes on February 20th. He previously played, without a great deal of success, for Middlesborough. As he joined his new club he made the following observation about himself:

“I’m a technical player. Also physical – I’m fast, I’m strong. My best attribute is my intelligence. I move intelligently and study the game. I call myself a football student. I think the way we play here my movements will help the team a lot. Of course the main thing is I’m a goalscorer – I’m here to score goals.”

And I’m left thinking; really, is it sensible for him to have such an estimation of himself. Here he is signing for Barcelona, one of the most successful football clubs in the world, and saying, effectively that Barcelona should be glad that they have got him. A footballer who has achieved so little elevating himself to such grandeur. The man has surely lost his senses.

And yet that is true of so many churches. We start thinking far bigger of ourselves than we should. When the principles of grace and of wonder at being bound into a relationship with Christ are lost then we are a danger to ourselves and to all who come into contact with us.

The Ephesian church in Revelation 2:1-7 had so much going for them. They were hard working, doctrinally sound and faithfully continuing (see vv2-3 and v6). All these are right and proper, but the big danger in such a situation is pride. We start to preen ourselves as regards to our success. We set ourselves above other less fruitful and less faithful churches (as we deem them to be).

And yet the Ephesian church is threatened with extinction (see v5b). The Lord says that this is so because they have lost their first love. Their passion for Christ has ebbed away and their engagement with Him has faded. Religious activity has replaced relationship with the Lord. Such a development is fatal to sensible self-evaluation. Such churches and people are best removed because they can cause great harm.

The one bound to his first love, who properly esteems Jesus as Lord and understands his own worthlessness is in a healthy situation. Such people are humble in all their ways and therefore are of use and pleasure to their Lord. Such a person knows his Lord and exploits can flow out of His life which are pleasing to God. Such a person flows with a life of hard work, sound doctrine and faithful continuance in humility.

The one who has lost touch with the Lord is a Martin Braithwaite type character who can have a maliferous impact in all kinds of ways. And the warning of scripture is that Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall (Prov.16:18).

Of Pew Bibles And Phones

Oh those days of old when I was first saved. Days when you had your own Bible and took it to all the services / meetings. You read it at home and when speaking with others about His ways. Those days when you knew where different things were on the page even if you could not exactly remember the chapter and verse. And in your searching for something you would alight on it and be thrilled to be drawn back to a truth that had been used of the Lord to bless you in the past.

But now it is so different: we have pew Bibles and phones. We can go to church without our own bibles and knowing there will be one in the pew. Or we just don’t need a Bible at all; we have our phones after all and we can just click it up.

I understand the value of pew Bibles; they give a version of the scriptural text which is readily accessible to all visitors. All can follow along with it in church. Everyone has opportunity to see immediately what is being considered in the Word being studied / preached.

I understand the value of your phone. They are the means which are to easily at hand for the Bible to be read. So many, youngsters in particular, use it as their initial point of accessing information.

Nevertheless, I feel I have lost something by easily slipping away from having my own Bible which I, in a sense, grew with in the Lord. And when one was worn out I would by another and live with that text.

Earlier today I was listening to someone reading the Word, John 1 in fact, and in my minds eye I was seeing the text on the page. I am pretty sure it was the lay-out of my first Bible after I was converted

Praying For All The People

One of the calls of shepherding ministry is to give ourselves to prayer. We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word is what the apostles said in Acts 6:4 as they sought to resolve the issue of the disputation over the widows support.

So a priority for any elder and group of elders is to pray for the sheep that the Lord has placed under their care. We pray above all for their welfare in the Lord. To use the prayer of Paul for the Colossians as a model would be no bad thing:

Asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col 1:9-14).

This call to prayer is a delightful duty for all elders. To fail to pray for the people is an abrogation of responsibility. The people should know that as a part of our care for them; we pray for them.

Moreover, we should pray for all of them. Not just the ones we find encourage us or we find easy to get on with, but for all of them.

And as people are added into our congregations we should be diligent to pray for them. In fact I am led to ponder, that if we are not praying for all the ones that he has given our church connection with then why should He supply us with more? If we are failing to care for the ones given to us, and that must include praying for them, then why should He trust more of His dear sheep to us.

So if we are shepherds to God’s people we must pray. Otherwise we are actually displaying that we are not really shepherds, even though we may bear that title.

Stewarding / Greeting

This satirical video (which you can find here) about those who have responsibility for greeting people at church will, at least, have you smiling (possibly even creased up laughing).

It humorously deals with what is. in many ways, a very serious issue. I feel welcoming people at church is one of those ministries which can be taken for granted. It is seen as something that is easy to do and is on little consequence in the whole maelstrom of church life. I believe this to be an inappropriate assessment.

The way people are welcomed at the door is so important. Some may be coming to church with many griefs and burdens; a cheery greeting at the door can uplift them and set them up for a good time at church. Some would be coming to your church for the first time. The first impression those people get of the church is likely to be with those greeting them on the door.

Those involved in stewarding / door duty should be gifted with awareness and sensitivity. They need to potentially deal with people becoming ill or other eventualities. Their competence, or lack thereof can effect  how church goes for many people.

So take note of those in your church who are involved in this vital ministry. Pray for them and encourage them as they seek to serve the Lord.

Leadership and Communication

Our God is a communicating God. His revelation to us today is a sure word; it is the Bible. He is also a God of love who always acts to work good for His people. If you are a leader among God’s people you are called to represent this God to His people. In our lives as elders, people should see that we are people who communicate well and therein show our love for the people in the church.

So many churches degenerate into confusion as a result of bad communication. Often this takes the form of no communication; people refuse to interact. As a general rule we should be labouring as leaders so that people are interacting well in the church which we shepherd. We need to set an example with this.

We should respond to enquiries and requests for information promptly and courteously. We should seek to not confuse anyone or mess anyone around. If we have various communication platforms such as email, messenger etc., we should make sure that they are regularly checked so that we do not miss anything.

Failure to communicate in a healthy way leads to frustration among the people. They wonder why there has been no response. They are perhaps left to fester on an issue or wonder if they have done anything wrong. Through these means Satan can come in among the people of God and cause disruption.

With a little good organisation, care and attention we can make sure that we do allow the devil any inroads into the fellowship of God’s people.

In Ephesians 4:25-27 we read these words. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbour, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Here is a passage which most certainly has direct application to how we communicate together.

So fellow elders let us set a good example here. Let us be diligent in engaging with communicating with the people in our care whether that be personally or through the various electronic channels that we have nowadays.

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