College update

One of the things I hope to use this blog for is to keep people updated with what I am doing in my college course.  Now 5 weeks in they are working us hard!

We’ve already finished the first module, “Preparing to learn” which is a half module looking at study skills such as essay writing, but also how we use sources, and particularly the nature of the Bible as a source for theology.  My first assignment for that module is due in next Monday – of which perhaps more later.

Yesterday we started a brief overview of Church History.  Brief being the key word, it’s another half module so we will be covering 2000 years in 4 weeks.  Not as crazy as it sounds, the module really is designed just to give a framework into which we can fit other things we learn.  The course approaches Theology from within a historical framework, seeing how the church’s teaching and practice has developed over time and the implications for us as we seek to go out and write the next chapter of the history of the church.

So, for example, in Mission and Evangelism we spent some time looking at Celtic Christianity.  Over 1400 years ago they were the last Christians in the UK to be working in a situation where the state was not tied in with the church, people weren’t assumed to be Christian, and laws were not based on Christian teaching.  As we have now come back into such a time again we can learn from how they approached their situation, to see how we can be fulfil God’s mission in our present day.

One of the fascinating things I learnt about those Celtic Christians was how they reacted to the invading Anglo Saxons.  Yes, they fought back, yes they ran away.  But alongside that they commissioned missionaries to go and take the gospel to the enemy soldiers, risking their lives.  I compare that to our response to those who we perceive to be attacking the church today – we’re good at running away, we can be pretty good at fighting for our rights, but perhaps sometimes we could do more in our response to ensure our words and actions present the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ.

In the paper

As this week’s Beverley Guardian is out I feel I can now blog the text of my piece for last week’s edition.  This is the full text I sent in, which was edited slightly for publication.

All of us will be aware of the crisis that has been unfolding over recent weeks across Europe as thousands of refugees from war in Syria and parts of Africa have risked their lives to cross the Mediterranean and get to Europe.

The first response of many has been to help, and I know some of you will have dug deep to donate to charities working on the ground, or given of your time or expertise.

But there has also been an opposite reaction, which distresses me, which says that we can’t help or we shouldn’t help. Claims that these people aren’t really refugees, that they are Isis agents in disguise, or that even if they are genuine it is not our problem. Views I have sadly heard expressed on the streets of our town, on the Beverley Facebook Group, and by our elected representatives. Some of you may have seen the man collecting signatures in Hull for a petition entitled “Hull is Full.”

I confess that I struggle to understand the mindset that acts only in my own narrow interests with seemingly no empathy with those in distress. Empathy is at the heart of who we should be as human beings, because it is at the heart of who God is. God was so determined to identify with us that he took the radical step of entering our world in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who lived the full human experience including suffering and death.

Jesus was once asked to summarise how people should live, and his response was “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” and “love your neighbour as yourself”. Asked, “Who is my neighbour?” he told a story about a man who was mugged and left for dead on a country road. Religious and political leaders passed by and ignored him and it was a hated foreigner who eventually stopped to help.

The story has a twist in the application. Jesus does not finish by saying that the mugged man was the neighbour of the foreigner and therefore he should have stopped to help. But rather that the foreigner had been a neighbour to the man in need, thereby demonstrating a common humanity that transcended racial, cultural, and religious boundaries. Even the one of a different race and culture, hated and feared, can be the one who will help us in our hour of deepest need. This is the significance of the “as yourself” in the command, which shows that in order to truly love someone we have to able to imagine ourselves in their position, to ask how we would want them to respond to us if the roles were reversed.

Jesus’s final comment to his questioner pushes the point home, “Go and do likewise.” So as we see on our TV screens and in our newspapers those who have lost everything and have nowhere to go, as human beings and particularly for those of us who claim to follow Jesus, there is only one question: not whether we should help, but how.

What ministry is all about

I am convinced that ministry in the 21st Century has to be about more than just caring for those people who are already within the church, and keeping our current activities going.  We have to be reaching out, engaging with the local community, seeking to communicate the love of God in Jesus Christ in whatever ways we can.  And this week has been great as I have had many opportunities to get “outside the church building” (not that we have one!) and into the community.

Last weekend was the National Prayer Weekend, and our Sunday service included prayer stations to bring before God the needs of our community and the prayer requests which we had received from people living on the estate, local councillors, local businesses, and our MP.  A great opportunity to do something for our neighbours that has the power to change situations.

On Wednesday morning I was at the Primary School where our church meets, to give a 5 minute talk at their Key Stage 1 Harvest Assembly.  Different groups of the children sang for us, and I used the parable of the mustard seed to encourage them that however small they are they have the potential within them to do big things for the Kingdom of God.

On Thursday the “Beverley Guardian” came out, and I contributed this week’s “Views from the pews” column, writing about something that I really care about and I believe God cares about too, the refugee situation in Europe.  I used the Parable of the Good Samaritan to encourage people that we must help, even if we might differ on exactly what form that help may take.  I’ll publish the full text of my piece here in due course.

And tomorrow I will be conducting a funeral, for someone who I’ve never met but who used to be a member of another Baptist Church in the area.  A privilege to support a family through difficult times, and to speak of the assurance we can have that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In some ways it’s been a difficult week, as family illness has restricted the time I’ve been able to work.  But it’s weeks like this that I went into ministry for, as in all these varied ways I seek in God’s strength to enable his Kingdom to be extended and lives to be changed through encounter with him.