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.
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.
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.