Sunday, 29 June 2014

Life and new life

For the past couple of weeks I've been busily involved in some study and a prac placement in a nursing home at Ipswich, involved in palliative and dementia care. There were many images and incidents which touched me whilst I was there, none more so than when one of the nurses brought in her six week old baby to show the residents. The unmitigated joy that many of the elderly people showed in the presence of  a baby girl was delightful to behold. As one generation passes away, the promise of new life continues.
For people with dementia or Alzheimer's disease or in the end stages of a terminal illness, life is often placed into a different perspective. Things may not be as important as they once were. Relationships can take on new meaning. Pleasure may be found in simpler things- an enjoyable meal, music from the past, someone taking the time to hold their hand. And somehow the human condition is distilled into its essence, the need for relationship, to love and be loved. There is a camaraderie found in such places that is not often replicated elsewhere. To a world which, as resources become more stretched, increasingly espouses the "survival of the fittest" mentality, I would declare that such communities prove that every person has worth and value, and the world would be a poorer place without them.
In the west we shy away from death. It's neatly packaged and hidden. We need hardly be reminded at all that our lives are finite. We're constantly encouraged to concentrate on the things of this world. But they're transient and fail to bring lasting satisfaction.
In the course of the last two weeks I also had contact with another woman who was hospitalised following a horrendous motor vehicle accident. This lady did not have any cognitive impairment and the prognosis for her recovery was good. Raised in a nominally Christian home, she explained to me that at the time of the accident, which she remembered completely, she was aware of a presence surrounding her, as if holding her, and she felt in her mind the assurance that she would live.This has reawoken her faith in Christ and she realises that some aspects of her life need to change. She told me that she now has no fear of death, and a firm belief in an afterlife. I pray that she will recover, both physically and spiritually.
Life is short. But those of us who know Jesus as our Saviour know that this earthly life is just the beginning of our life with Christ that stretches into the joys of eternity. The apostle Peter tells us:

"For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever. And this is the word that was preached to you."
(1 Peter 1:23-25)

Thursday, 12 June 2014

I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back

Lean on, trust and be confident in the Lord with all your heart and mind, and do not rely on your own insight or understanding.
In all your ways know, recognize and acknowledge Him, and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths.

(Proverbs chapter 3 verses 5 and 6 - Amplified Bible.)

Monday, 2 June 2014

Touch not God's annointed

"Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm." 1 Chronicles 16:22

"In China, Christians are persecuted with beatings and imprisonment. In the West, Christians are persecuted by the words of other Christians."  "The Heavenly Man" Brother Yun, with Paul Hattaway, Monarch Books 2002  pp.308-9

Those of us within the body of Christ have a responsibility to pray for our ministers and allow and equip and support them to do their job. In thirty years of church attendance, I have never met a minister who was not dedicated to his or her calling and who had God's will for their congregation at heart. There may be charlatans out there, but I think they're the exception.  Today ministers must be theologically trained at university level, so spend long hours of study in preparation and training. 

Why then should ministers be targets of people who want to criticize them and bring them down? I personally know two former ministers who are no longer in church ministry due to the treatment levelled against them by certain factions within their congregations. One is still attending church and works in a secular job ,applying his gifts in other areas. The other has not only walked away from ministry but is also struggling faith-wise. 

Give credit where it is due. Satan saves his big artillery for those in the front line of Christian ministry. They are his main opposition. All Christians are involved in a spiritual war, so it's no surprise that those in Christian leadership are under attack. The evil forces in mainstream society may be quite obvious, but the ones ever trying to destroy Christian relationships and communities may be less so, and we all need to pray for discernment.. If the enemy can slip into the Christian community and infiltrate its ranks, he divides and conquers. "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand." (Matthew 12:25).

Sadly, Satan uses the failures of Christians to attack their church communities, appealing to their baser nature- jealousy, pride, lust, self-centredness, self-pity.
Criticism, bribery, seduction, manipulation and slander- just some of the devices that are levelled against those in ministry. Often the perpetrators have practised on members of the laity, ministry leaders or the previous pastor.  
For further information regarding the realm of attacks upon those in ministry and church conflict as a whole, I recommend Jim Meyer's blog "Restoring Kingdom Builders" - link   (link is also in the right column of this page in Links section.)
 Pastor Jim has provided me with much food for thought and encouragement in the two years that I've been interested in this area.

What can be done within church communities to protect those in ministry, whilst addressing concerns? If I had to make one suggestion that all members of the laity could follow, it would be - don't gossip. Not at all. Most, if not all, within churches, me included, have found themselves talking unwisely about other brothers and sisters in Christ. I've also been on the receiving end of some pretty vicious gossip.   I still have to guard my tongue, but I pray that I will be more discerning than ever when I listen and speak in conversations. Because gossip doesn't start with a great big critique of someone, it starts as a little niggly observation about something unimportant. It permeates church culture. An like the heat of the sun through a child's magnifying glass, it creates smoke, then a tiny flame, then an unstoppable fire that burns a forest down. According to Pastor Jim Cymbala of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Church in New York:
“I know what most easily destroys churches. It is not crack cocaine, government oppression, or even lack of funds. Rather it is gossip and slander that grieves the Holy Spirit.”

Don't talk about a third person with somebody else, unless you have something complementary to say. Praise your pastors and your church. If you have a concern regarding a brother or sister in Christ, pray first, then try to speak with them about it if you are able. If you have a genuine concern about a matter that impacts on the integrity of the church, pray first, then speak to a pastor about it, to them and nobody else. Abide by the decisions that they make in relation to your concerns and don't go around slandering them if their decisions are not what you would do. They are accountable to God in the long run for decisions that they make regarding the fellowship.
If somebody wants to draw you into their own little clique of alliances by sharing titbits of juicy information, (significantly unfounded and untrue), don't have a bar of it. If you have been guilty of gossiping, make a covenant with God that He will prompt you to speak wisely, to hold your tongue and to politely but firmly steer conversations away from subjects you shouldn't be discussing.
Just one way we can support those in ministry and promote church unity. 

Lamentaions 1: 12

"Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?"