Ireland, Church, Dublin, Belfast
Sometimes you’ve got to get out of the house. You know, the times when you have to concentrate on something.
I popped into a local bakery for some thinking space. Coffee was good. However, my cogitations were disturbed by a conversation I overheard.
Two young women came into the cafe, sat on a table nearby and started to talk to one of the people serving behind the counter. It turned out that the older lady working in the shop was the mother of one of the two seated women. The conversation covered many topics ranging from work to holidays, shopping, diets and haircuts. But the killer subject was the very bakery in which we were sat. Mother and daughter launched a tirade of complaints about the products, the company, the bosses and just about anything associated with the place. It put me off going back.
All this set me thinking about the way we talk about the church’s problems to one another. Who else is listening? Of course no church is perfect. All groups populated by human beings need evaluation and improvement. But there is a time and a place, isn’t there? It didn’t seem right to Paul that the Corinthians were airing their dirty linen in public, “one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!” (1 Corinthians 6:6 NIV11)
Mind you, the problems of the early church are pretty obvious. We’ve been reading about them for 2,000 years. So, how do we balance this? Here are four principles.
- Personal before Public. It must always be right to first go and talk to the person or persons who can change things.
- Helpful or Harmful? Will talking about this issue build up or tear down the faith of the person to whom I am talking? “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29 NIV11). In particular it is wise not to talk about issues younger Christians may not be able to put into context – and our children should not hear us being negative about God’s bride.
- Honesty and Holiness. It is fruitless to pretend the church is perfect. Therefore when someone asks you for an opinion about the church it is vital to be honest, but also to remember that the Holy Spirit is in the audience. What we say should reflect our real feelings, but not make the Spirit sad.
- Hindrances and Healing. A good question to ask before beginning a conversation about the church’s problems is whether it will solve something and bring the church nearer to a state of better health or not. Will what I am about to say hinder the church moving forward, or help it?
I love a fire. Not that I’m a pyromaniac, but fires in the hearth were part of my childhood. They take me back to family Christmases and a smoke-filled lounge.
Our new home has a chimney, so we decided to install a wood burning stove. In preparation for the arrival of “wood burning stove installation man” I stripped the wall paper and removed an innocuous piece of wood.
As the piece of wood came away, I paused. Looking more carefully I saw a gap between the upper and lower parts of the chimney breast. It should not be there. The higher part of the chimney was completely unsupported. How long it had been hanging there is hard to say, but it must have been many years. At any moment it could come crashing down. The piece of timber was inadequate, but I shoved it back in place until “wood burning stove installation man” (WBSIM) arrived.
WBSIM was suitably appalled and dashed off to retrieve supports from his van. The frame in the photograph was rapidly installed, he built some brick columns, and we all breathed easier.
Sometimes things happen in life that expose our lack of strength. Our faith seems to be inadequate to the challenge. We might reflect on this Proverb, “If you falter in a time of trouble, how small is your strength!” (Proverbs 24:10 NIV11).
But we do not need to be victims of our weakness. Instead, we can be grateful that it has become exposed – for then we can find the strength we need. At the risk of stretching the metaphor we need the spiritual equivalent of WBSIM – the Holy Spirit. He it is that supplies us with hidden strength. I do not know how to build chimney supports, but someone does (WBSIM). I may not know how to find the faith I need, but the Spirit does.
The next time you discover that collapse is more likely than stability, why not go to God in prayer and claim this promise, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV11)
Yesterday was leadership workshop time for the London International church of Christ. Family Group leaders from all over London (and I even spotted some from Birmingham, Norwich, Manchester and Glasgow) gathered for inspiration and instruction.
One symptom of patience is being consistent in discipling/training others. Do we have consistency in our relationships?
One symptom of a lack of patience is giving orders instead of careful instruction. We get impatient when we take on too much. Are we discipling too many people?
One sign of pride is self-sufficiency – which is deadly. It is like saying we do not need God. We need the wisdom of God’s Word and we need it brought to us by other people. It is important to remember that spiritual wisdom always trumps worldly wisdom.
One sign of pride is being resistant to change. How does this show itself? By not asking questions, not being on touch, not accepting criticism, being defensive and hiding what is in the heart. Do we struggle with these tendencies?
Another sign is only listening to the advice we want to hear. Rehoboam did this in 1 King 12. The result was a divided kingdom.
One last symptom of pride is when we agree with someone when with them (at least we give the impression of agreeing, but may not do so in our hearts) and then go away and do something different. If we disagree we must speak up.
Luke 6:39-40 “He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.”
Joseph’s example is inspiring. He fled from a situation in which sexual sin was a very real possibility. Is sexual sin hindering the men’s ministry? Are we talking about it? Confessing our sin? Confessing temptations? Asking one another?
Job 31:1 “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman.
Let’s be aware of where we can be tempted. What are the circumstances of my greatest temptation? When alone, or travelling? Plan a defence. Where do I need to be radical? Perhaps Potiphar’s wife was needy. We must beware of spending time with ‘needy’ women who are not our wives – whether at work, or in the church. Instead, let’s live in the presence of God (like Joseph), and we will be strong in resisting these temptations.
1Cor. 6:18 “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.”
An important principle what helps to inoculate us against sexual temptation is to stay busy with God’s work. Leave no vacuum.
We moved house in August. The new home is what they call a “fixer-upper”. Perfectly habitable but needing work.
The project list is long, but the one selected for the Christmas break was – “take the tiles off the kitchen wall so they can be re-plastered.” Just have a look at the tiles in the picture and you will understand why this is a priority.
Goggles, gloves, hammer & chisel did their work and we soon had a wall bereft of tiles. One obstacle stood in the way of progress – the corner kitchen cabinet. My son helped me lift it off the wall, I removed the fixings, then the tiles and we lifted it back in place. Crockery, glasses, baking ingredients and spices were re-loaded onto the shelves and we went our merry way.
At 00.25am on New Year’s Day our dog jumped out of his furry skin at the loud ‘crash’ that emanated from the kitchen. The photograph tells the story. Cabinet and wall had parted company. Luckily only a couple of glasses broke, and the toaster sports a rakish dent, but it could have been much worse.
The post-mortem revealed a sobering truth. Removing the tiles meant that the screws holding the supporting plates in place had far less grip into the wall. The holes needed drilling deeper to provide support adequate to the new situation. There is a metaphor here.
Change is essential to growth. And it can make us stronger as well as more mature. But change is disturbing and will only strengthen us if we pay attention to the foundations, the roots, the state of the rawl plugs in the wall. The New Year is here, and change is in the air. If we want to see growth in our relationship with God we must anticipate disturbance.
The angels sang to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” (Lk 2.14). Simeon said to Mary, “…a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Lk 2.35). Quite a contrast. When Jesus comes into our lives he brings us peace, but also a sword.
Are we ready to let God drill deeper this year? Let’s pray for the courage to allow our Father to move in us to make us ‘better’, but also stronger. If we will, nothing will come crashing down.