Category: Inspiring Discipleship

How Can We Sing The Lord’s Song In A Strange Land?

Michael Shaw,

This post by Michael Shaw was originally published at Seventy Two

All around the country many pastors are constantly checking with Government guidelines to see how and if they are able to meet them. While there are moments where we are having to try an interpret the rules each week, there are some things that remain consistent, one of those is congregational singing. Some people are enjoying new a creative ways of doing worship, (we have been doing reflective “not sung” worship services for a few years  now – so we have got used to it) while others are finding it much harder, one minister said on a facebook group “I have never ever led worship without singing”.

But it is not just pastors, churches are having to get used to services without sung worship and some people just don’t like it. Someone I know said this to me, on why he will not be attending, “with no singing I doubt I would (come)…. (I can’t) understand how your church like virtually all the rest are  not bothered about singing”. The criticism is a little unfair, as I imagine most church leaders are bothered, but just know that the guidelines are clear.

Now I do not believe that God caused the pandemic, but I think that God can use the Pandemic to teach us. We are a church in Exile,  we are in a strange land, because we have lost the familiar of what our worship used to look and be like, whether that is hymns or choruses, choirs or guitar and drums, most worship involved singing. We are learning to not sing the Lord’s song in a strange land. See Psalm 137.

So what is God trying to teach us? I think we have become too reliant on worship as an activity we do “in church” together, we have become used to doing worship rather than, as Paul writes in Romans 12 offering our bodies, our lives, as worship.

Amos 5 (and we have to be careful not to assume that Amos is talking to us directly) says that the worship of the people of God had become detestable because unless worship led to an outbreak of justice, unless it radically changed our perception of the world, then worship was something that God “despised”. Has our sung worship become so detestable to God that he needs to force us to stop singing?

Author Stephen Mattson said this on Facebook recently “Worship isn’t always a hymn or song or sermon. It’s often a protest, an act of civil disobedience, a march, or a night spent in jail.”  People have told me that God needs our sung worship, maybe God doesn’t need it at all, maybe the point of worship was to break the chains of injustice. Maybe what  God wants from our worship is not what we think he wants.

Jesus said in Matthew 25 that when we feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, house the homeless, clothe the stranger or visit the Prisoner, we do it for him. Maybe this is exactly the type of worship we should be offering to God. Maybe this is exactly what Paul was talking about offering our bodies.

When people said that the churches were closed, I refuted that, we never did close and yes many went online, but many also discovered that the church could be a place for real good.

During lockdown many big “worship” led churches have found themselves becoming food banks or clothes and food distribution centres. Pastors were walking dogs and doing shopping. The Youth Worker connected to our church was cycling around the local area delivering food. My fear is, that when things eventually go back to normal, when Exile ends, we will just go back to singing the old songs in the old ways. Will all the efforts that have helped so many people just cease?


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Twelve Steps Towards Freedom: Live

Dave Gregory,

This post by Dave Gregory was originally published at Seventy Two

He sat down in front of the young adult group one Sunday evening.  An Australian whom our minister had got to know.  Let’s say his name was Roger.  “Hello”, he began, “my name is Roger, I am a Christian and I am alcoholic”.  To the ears of a very naive young Christian in their early twenties (nowadays that would make me a Millennial) that seemed odd.  It got my attention.  But the combination of those two things – Christian and addict – didn’t seem to fit.  But over the next hour or so, Roger unpacked with some honesty his journey into addiction and faith.  It opened my eyes.  That for Roger, each day was a battle to find freedom.  The desire of the addict was never fully going away.  But each day he stayed off the bottle was a victory, one that he asked Jesus to give him, one more step towards freedom.

I don’t know if you have been following each of the twelve steps as we have journeyed towards freedom.  Freedom from our addiction to fossil fuels that are driving climate change and rubbishing our environment.  Towards freedom for the natural world that God’s redemptive heart is to “liberate from its bondage to decay” (Rom 8v21).  A journey recognising our powerlessness and seeking a deeper conversion to God’s purpose.  Going deeper than “greenwash”, confessing our climate sins and being ready and willing to change.  Listening to the voice of so many vulnerable people around the world facing both a COVID and climate emergency just as acute.  Willing to take practical steps to mitigate the impact of our lives on theirs and the life of the natural world, whose myriad forms of life face extinction at one hundred times the natural rate.  And not just for a moment, but to endure in a new way of living as disciples that shares God heart for his good creation.  Goodness perhaps you have increasingly been aware of through lockdown and over the summer as we have enjoyed more time outdoors.  I’ve taken to sitting in the garden over the summer for my daily prayer time reflecting upon what its plants and wildlife, and the wideness of the sky teach me about God, sensing the divine presence.

But this journey is not about ticking off the steps.  Nor does it end here.  Looking ahead, these steps need to inspire us to a new season of renewal in how we live as disciples.  I guess this is one difference from the journey to being addicted to alcohol and being addicted to climate changing fossil fuels.  With alcohol, the only solution is to stop using it and engaging in a daily battle for freedom.  Our addition to fossil fuels is more difficult to deal with.  Having shared this journey, have you stopped using fossil fuels?  Not by a long shot!  On the day I write this on September the 12th 2020, Carbon Dioxide makes up 411 parts per million of the atmosphere.  A year ago, it was 408 parts per million.  The global COVID lockdown has had little impact.  We are all trapped in this addiction because our lives are embedded in a global economic structure reliant on fossil fuels that seems beyond our control.  Already one degree warmer than 200 years ago, the Earth will warm by up to 4 degrees by the end of the century if nothing is done, when even the Gen Z’s will be old never mind the Millennials!

Perhaps you know all this.  But has it brought spiritual awakening?  The last of the twelve steps is Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”  So, how are you going to do that?  Is your spiritual wakening to climate change enough to make you think how to include the issue in your ministry as a leader?  To encourage the church to take it up on their agenda.  To let it reshape your sharing the gospel, and joining with God’s mission to your neighbourhood and the whole Earth?

Perhaps you are already doing this.  A lone voice struggling to heard among all the other demands that face us as Christians and churches.  Seeking growth to stem continual decline.  Reaching out to Millennials.  Pioneering.  Speaking up for economic and racial justice.  It can be hard to keep on alone.  It can be hard to be released from addition and when you don’t have others to support you.  That why the Twelve Step programme of AA and other groups is worked out in community.

At the start of September, to coincide with Climate Sunday, BUEN was launched.  The Baptist Union Environment Network.  Gathering people across the Baptist Together family who share a concern for God’s “buen” – good – creation, over climate change and the environment.  Connecting within our Associations people who want to share their concern and passion to inspire others.  To share in God’s mission to care for creation.  Enabling Baptists Together to work for justice for creation and people impacted by environmental change.  And releasing and listening to the voice of children, Gen Z and Millennials whose future world is being shaped by our lives today.

A community of people, seeking to be free from addiction.  Supporting and encouraging one another, sharing the invitation to share in God’s mission to care and redeem creation with others.  You can discover more and how people and churches are already responding on the BUEN Facebook page, on Twitter and in the Baptist Union website – .  Or you can read about in the latest Baptist Together magazine.  To get involved, you can email BUEN at .

This year is an important one for responding to climate change.  In just over a years’ time, the UN Climate Conference will convene in Glasgow.  It’s vital that the nations of the world accelerate their response.  We need a 4-degree shift in the way our global society works if we are to counter a 4-degree shift in our climate.  And if we are going to play our part, raise up a shared prophetic voice, we need a 4-degree shift in our discipleship too.  It’s going to take a while, but we don’t have long.  Finding freedom from this addiction is urgent.  The world is already 1-degree warmer, and we and creation are feeling the impact of that.  We need to begin a journey of 1 degree shifts in our discipleship to bring us towards loving creation as God does, will all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  A daily battle towards freedom.

And despite all the doom and gloom that we hear about climate change, there is hope.  Remember the power of the butterfly.  Something I learnt as a meteorologist.  It’s the way the weather and climate works.  A butterfly can flap its wings over South America, and 5 days later you can have a tornado in Texas.  Small things matter.  Didn’t Jesus say something similar.  Yes, I think he did.

“‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.’”  (Matt 13v31-32)

This blog is the final part of a series of 12 from Dave Gregory. To see previous blogs in the series, please click here.



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150 Days is a Long Time!


This post by weba_admin was originally published at Seventy Two

Nick emailed me in March, “Surely this isn’t going to last that long, I mean Glastonbury is still on!” How naïve this sounds after months of lockdown and coronavirus – but at the time it made sense. I’d announced that I was writing 300 words every day on each of the 150 Psalms in the bible. This would take until August 13th – nearly 6 months. Surely this virus thing would be over before that.

It seemed a good idea at the time. Four of us were trying to grab 5 days of ski-ing in France in early March, just as the French president announced the closure of all resorts, hotels & restaurants. As we sat on a ski lift, realising that our skiing was coming to an early end and we’d be heading home, I had an idea: “I think I might write a daily blog during this coming lockdown.” My fellow skiers encouraged me and asked what about. “How about the Psalms” I suggested? And the idea was born.

So, on March 17th 2020 I embarked on a daily discipline of writing and recording a 300 word reflection on each Psalm under the title “Love in the Time of Corona” (the name inspired by the novel by Gabriel García Márquez). It was designed for people who knew the psalms, and for those who have never read any of them – and may not believe in God. The purpose was to provide a daily diet of something biblical for people who were now stuck at home or whose routine was significantly disrupted. Some inspiration, encouragement and challenge in the midst of turmoil and uncertainty.

So off I went. The writing came easily (to quote Robert Louis Stevenson). I simply read the psalm and asked God for an idea – which popped into my head – and I was away. The Psalms are awe-inspiring, challenging, awkward, honest, brutal, gracious – and at times I didn’t agree with the writers. They need wrestling with – they are not always easy – and at face-value they can cause a problem or two. But as I have for years read a psalm every day anyway – they seemed a good place to go – and to encourage this daily practice in others.

What was surprising was how many people read them or listened to the audio. Every day I had comments from a wide range of people – churched and non-churched. Some were reading every day – others just now and again – but loads of people were engaging – and many were finding a way into the psalms that they hadn’t before. It was something that worked in the moment. If I did it next year, I don’t think it would have anything like the impact. It was a consequence of the pandemic and the lockdown that gave it ‘traction’. Like so many things – they worked because of the coronavirus restrictions – online church attendance soaring, Joe Wick’s daily exercises, the clap for the NHS and so on.

Working through the psalms showed just how often the writers felt under pressure and were crying out to God. This was ideal for people struggling in the pandemic.

All my longings lie open before you, Lord: my sighing is not hidden from you. My heart pounds, my strength fails me; even the light has gone from my eyes. My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds; my neighbours stay far away. (Psalm 38:9-11)

But, and it’s a big but [this was my catchphrase for the blog] – again and again the writers cry to God, and the answer comes. This was the theme over and over again.

So, which Psalm for the next phase? How about Psalm 18:

He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.

I am very glad I did it, but I was also glad when I reached Psalm 150 and could take a break.

Love in Him,

Matt Frost

The written blog can be found here: Love in the Time of Corona

The audio blog can be found here: Love in the Time of Corona

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Sharing Faith and Prayer Online


This post by weba_admin was originally published at Seventy Two

At Wotton Baptist Church we’re running our Sunday services on Zoom. It has been a good way to maintain fellowship for a church of our size, but the significant number of vulnerable children and families attending mean that we can’t publicly circulate the details of the service.  Consequently we have welcomed a few new folk along during lockdown but we have not seen the explosion in attendance that others using YouTube Premiere or Facebook Live have seen.

Our church’s not-particularly-original but nonetheless genuine strap-line is ‘good news people’.  We are very keen to find new ways to share faith at this time when Tearfund and others are reporting an upsurge of interest in prayer in the community during lockdown.  God independently poked two members of our leadership team about running 24/7s Prayer Course on line to connect with this need.  Tomorrow will see the last session of the course.

To advertise the church’s ongoing prayerful presence, we sent a postcard to all 2500 households in our small town.  The flip side of the postcard (see images) included an invitation to join in with The Prayer Course.  Off the back of this we started a small course (with just 3 seekers and 3 new believers) plus me on Zoom.  It’s been an absolute joy to take part in the course – they want to learn to pray and week by week all 6 of them seem to have grown in confidence and faith as we have prayed together. Despite being aimed at believers The Prayer Course is accessible for anyone who wants to pray and 24/7 are more than happy for it to be used on Zoom.

We’re following lots of other churches in launching an Alpha Course on Zoom in September and I’m hopeful that the three seekers will take the invitation to join in.  Five of the 6 prayer course attendees have already visited Sunday morning zooms on more than one occasion (two of them were Sunday regulars pre-lockdown).

In common with lots of churches, we’ve had a huge increase in local engagement through involvement with community care and in helping and being helped by our own neighbours.  I’m hoping and praying that we can use more Zoom groups like The Prayer Course and Alpha to build more of the good news of Jesus into these new bridges.

Wotton BC are on of the churches working through the Re:Imagine process together. For more information on Re:Imagine, click here.

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Church Re-imagined

Ashley Liston,

This post by Ashley Liston was originally published at Seventy Two

It seems remarkable that it was only six months ago that four representatives of our small Baptist Church in Kirkby Stephen attended the first session of ‘Re:Imagine’ which had been organised by the Northern Baptist Association. Alongside leaders from two other Baptist Churches in the North East we were encouraged to consider the culture within our church as well as the culture of the world in which we live today. We resolved to focus on two areas of work which would help us connect better with our community; firstly looking to develop better links with the local primary school that is immediately adjacent to our church building and secondly to engage in a scheme to befriend lonely and isolated people in the area.

I try to imagine what sort of response I would have received from our church if I had suggested that we should stop meeting each Sunday in our church building and start to meet using Zoom. Most would have never heard of Zoom and the concept of leaving the building where Baptists have been meeting for worship for many decades would have seemed preposterous. But then Covid-19 arrived and on 23rd March the Prime Minister announced that we should all stay at home and that public gatherings, including in places of worship, must cease.

From the first week of Lockdown our church decided to use Zoom as a means of meeting together for worship and for fellowship. There were inevitably some technical issues but within a few weeks all our regular attenders were able to connect to the service including members who were in their 80s and 90s. We were delighted to find that many of the speakers who were scheduled to speak still agreed to join us on Zoom. We encouraged speakers to keep their talks to about 15 minutes and we included a variety of new, creative on-line resources which provided us with fresh opportunities to reflect, learn and pray. We quickly discovered that trying to sing together was almost impossible with our voices all being slightly out of sync, but we did find that we were able to enjoy listening to or singing alongside well produced worship songs with the option of being muted or unmuted.

Our usual Sunday service attendance was around 20 people but within a few weeks we found that we were being joined by new people. We had advertised the service on our Facebook page and used the notice board and local paper to promote the fact that ‘The building is closed but the church is open’. It was though mainly through word of mouth and existing church connections that new people were joining us with numbers rising to around 30 by June. We encouraged other people to take part in the service including sharing a brief talk, reading scripture and leading in prayer. What was most obvious was the real sense of fellowship we were enjoying. Most of those attending would log in 10-15 minutes before the service and start sharing news and asking after one another. Everyone would stick around afterwards for at least 30 minutes as, one by one or bubble by bubble, we went around the fellowship asking how people were and how their week had been.

On 4th July it was announced that places of worship could open again, albeit that they would need to observe social distancing, strict hygiene requirements, wear masks and refrain from singing. We felt that the benefits of continuing to meet using Zoom far outweighed those of meeting in our building whilst also recognising the risks of asking members in vulnerable groups to attend a worship service. Over the months we had continued our Bible Studies each Wednesday using Zoom which included the LICC series Life on the Frontline but in keeping with our tradition we arranged a break over the summer months. We are though opening up the church for an hour or so each Wednesday evening to allow a small number of us to meet for prayer, praying for our country our community and our church whilst also allowing us to start the preparations to make the premises safe for public use, whenever that might be.

So, what have we learnt as we have met week by week?

Perhaps most obviously, we have been reminded that the church is about people and not a building. This is something we all know in theory, but in reality the distinction between church and chapel can become somewhat hazy and the idea that the premises are in fact simply a resource for us to use for the work of God is easily forgotten. Before Covid-19 we used the building 2-3 times each week for a few hours. Now it is used for 1 hour each week. We are blessed by having simple and very functional premises, but we are being challenged with the question. How should we be a steward of this resource in the service of God?

We have really enjoyed having new people in our fellowship each week. We have got to know them well and this has brought a new dimension to the fellowship. I have always appreciated the reputation our church has had for being welcoming but these are not just visitors. These are people who we are really getting to know and are now being embraced within our church family. The Zoom format certainly prevents any huddles or ‘in-groups’ forming. We are also recognising that some people are relatively new to church or where English is not their first language so avoiding too much jargon and simplifying the service has been important. And do you know, I think as a result of this we are enjoying it all the more too.

We have recognised that our church has differed from others in the area that have either emailed an order of service, posted a recorded service onto YouTube, put a brief message on their website or, as far as we can see, been invisible. Zoom has allowed us to meet together. It is personal and very real. People have shared their stories and opened up in very personal ways to each other. There have been tears as we have shared with one another the joy and sometimes deep sadness in our lives. I am very aware that this is something that is possible mainly because of the relatively small size of our church. How would we organise this if we had 200 people attending each week? I am sure it would be possible, but I am clear that if I was given a choice between a slick, semi-professionally produced worship service and our simple but intimate gathering, I know which I would choose.

One of our neighbouring churches has described returning to their premises as coming out of exile. I cannot imagine anything being further from the truth for our church as we continue to meet on Zoom. We are gathering together in our homes, scattered across the communities in which we live, finding that God is causing us to Reimagine church life in ways could never have imagined. We will be approaching the primary school again as we suspect they be struggling for space as they accommodate their socially distanced pupils. We are aware that the problems of loneliness and isolation have massively increased during Lockdown. This has been a challenging time for us all, but it is a time where we as a small church in Cumbria have sensed that God is leading us to a new place and our prayer is that we will be obedient to his call and allow Him to work through us to achieve his kingdom work.

Isaiah 43:18-19

Forget the former things;

do not dwell on the past.

19See, I am doing a new thing!

Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?


For more information about Re:Imagine click here.


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Unexpected Blessings

Karen Golder,

This post by Karen Golder was originally published at Seventy Two

Years ago there was a shift in my family’s life.  An unplanned, unexpected transition. A move from one side of the globe, having been there for years, back to the UK.  I went from feeling like a round peg in a round hole, to feeling like I was in the wrong place and not knowing what we were supposed to do – what was God playing at?  What was he thinking?  

We had just got to a good place with our language and ministry and then due to health we had to shift everything back the the UK.  The loss felt huge – health, friends, pets, home, language, role all changed. I was reeling for a long time, and when I stopped reeling, I started questioning.  I questioned – was this God that I’ve trusted more than I trusted any human actually trust worthy?  Does he actually care at all?  And why do I feel like he is sidelining us.
We relocated back to the UK and I felt sidelined, and then he moved us to the far South West corner of the UK and I felt even more sidelined (interestingly this is a feeling that people of Cornwall have lived with for years).  My head said ‘God doesn’t side line us, he’s the one who searches for the one.’ But my heart was saying other words!
As we struggled to know how to keep ministering and keep true to our calling with a child with disabilities and special needs we felt that God kept saying ‘I still want you on the front lines.’ But in reality it felt like he was shifting us further and further into obscurity.  I told myself off – ‘Who are you to feel like you should be up front anyway? That’s just pride Karen!’  ‘Just be true to what is in front of you. Don’t compare!’ I kept telling myself.  But in reality the geography of where we were meant I couldn’t keep on a national role of our organisation, and contact with people who ‘made things happen’ was less and less. My world had become so so much smaller. Was it his discipline? Was it circumstances? Was it just bad luck to have a child with special needs? Whatever it was. I felt like my wings were being clipped. And my world being shrunk.  We continued to attempt to work at what we believed he wanted from us.  We continued to give it our all, but there was a sneaking thought in the back of my mind, God wants you ‘out of sight and out of mind’.
Transition is hard, finding your feet when life has side swiped you is hard, maintaining friendships and ministry with a child with special needs is hard.  We kept going, and God gave us the blueprint for Breathe Communities.  We started this and it has been a joy to work with, become friends with, and minister to others who are willing to say ‘yep, I’m broken too, its only Jesus that holds me together.’ (But Breathe Communities is a story for another day).  And then a strange thing happened – lockdown….
Lockdown suddenly levelled the playing field in so many ways.  As a family with special needs, suddenly we had online access to church services and conferences without hassle and angst, without worry of being late or worry of seizures in the service or the worry of a child saying or doing the wrong thing. And without guilt because to be part of the community you should ‘be’ there.  Suddenly being there virtually was enough for everyone.  
Suddenly, accessible activities were happening online and the stress of getting out of the door, wondering about toilet access, sensory issues, safety etc were null and void.  And suddenly we felt part of the conversation again.  Everyone was wondering about how to adapt, and scrambling about what to do, and having gone through massive adaption as a family, we were were part of the conversation again.  Conversations that were happening all over the region and country were accessible to us again, we could join in, participate to give and receive. When it takes an hour and a half to even drive out of the county,  attendance at conferences and meetings around the country didn’t often happen (especially as I work part time in school too).  I suddenly felt like we belonged with others ministering again.  
This time has of course been harrowing for many, with huge loss for so many people, we wish it had never had to happen.  But it has shown us new things, it has made us grapple with issues that were on the horizon, but weren’t imminent enough to be grappled with (like technology use), but as lockdown blasted us into this situation I have heard many people and families, who before felt isolated, say that they now feel involved, that they feel part of authentic community.  Meetings, AGMs (like my organisation’s one this morning) and services have been attended by a lot more than usual in many cases and I sincerely hope we don’t just go back to how things were before. 
As we step into a new normal, we need to make sure that those for whom lockdown has been hard are drawn back into community, but also, for those that have been given a new lease of life and purpose through this time we need to work out how that continues.  The virtual world has often been viewed, up to now, as second best looked down upon as ‘not real or authentic’ (and as a wife and Mum of gamers I am as guilty as anyone of doing this!) But I have realised during this time, that actually, this virtual world, can be a life line and a wonderful tool for those that would otherwise be excluded. 
I can say that this tool as a family, has improved my well-being, my sense of purpose and fulfilment over this period and we have many comments from those that have been part of our community during lockdown describing what a lifeline it has been. (Not to mention the carbon footprint that has been saved with so much less travel!)  So, if you are a decision maker in your church or community, as part of the demographic of those with disabilities, please don’t shut your online presence down at the end of this time.  Please value it and those that have been involved.  Please notice the voices that have never spoken out loud in prayer in your church, but added prayer points and ‘amens’ to your WhatsApp groups daily.  Please make every effort for all kinds of communication moving forward.  
Love is demonstrated in different ways, but it always looks like something. Maybe love, over the next few months looks like reinstating some of the old, but moving into the new too. 
If you would like to hear a bit about what Breathe Communities has looked like during lockdown, here is a short video.

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Twelve Steps Towards Freedom: Presence

Dave Gregory,

This post by Dave Gregory was originally published at Seventy Two

I’ve always found the Bible a bit odd.  I mean, the beginning and the end.  No, not the kind of questions it raises when placed aside the story of the cosmos told by science.  I always found it odd in that it starts with a story of a garden.  And ends with a story of a city.  From the Garden of Eden to the New Jerusalem.  I mean, when we are thinking about caring for creation, wouldn’t it have been better to end up the image of a garden as a symbol of a new heaven and new earth?

I guess that it captures the flow of human culture through the ages.  From scattered groups living off their surroundings, through the discovery of agriculture and the beginnings of urbanisation.  Through to today when over half of the worlds eight billion people – expected to rise to nearly 70% by 2050 – live in sprawling, often chaotic cities leaving a huge imprint on the environment and climate of the planet.  Not quite New Jerusalem.

Yet while the garden and city seem polar opposites, look again and you will see similarities.  In the twentieth century there was a trend towards green cities.  The “Garden City” project before the Second World War.  While the post-war new city of Milton Keynes, renowned for its roundabouts and grid-roads has one million trees planted within its bounds.  Looking down on the city from the north, one can hardly see any buildings.  Looking to the future, we are going to have to green our cities, attempting to tackle local and global environmental issues as well as making then good places to live in.

New Jerusalem is a garden city.  Like Eden, there is a river flowing from it – “a river of the water of life as clear as crystal flowing … down the middle of the great street of the city”   (Rev 22v1).  On each bank stands “the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit”  (Rev 22v2).  And in both Eden and New Jerusalem there is no church or temple.  Yet, the presence of God is within them.  In Eden, God is described as “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen 3v8).  While in New Jerusalem, “the Lord God almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev 21v22).  However you look at these images, whether through the lens of rational literalism or metaphorical imagination, they both speak of the presence of God seeking encounter.

While we know that church is not the buildings, buildings often shape our community.  They are the places where we gather, know one another, worship together, celebrate significant moments.  Places where, however utilitarian they look, are the places where God is sought and encountered.  With COVID-19 this has paused in the expression of our faith.  And with the need to keep them COVID secure, looking ahead when we do begin to gather, numbers will be limited, and worship will have a hugely different feel.  Perhaps it is time to discover and respond to the presence of God in new ways.

The penultimate step of “Twelve Steps Towards Freedom” is again not about our actions.  It is about becoming more aware of the presence of God in our lives.  That we seek “through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God … praying only for the knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.”  This bears a striking similarity to Paul’s prayer in his letters to the young churches of the New Testament era, for example that in Ephesians. 

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you” (Eph 1v17,18)

For if we are to make a difference to the environmental issues that our world and its people face, it will take more than an awareness of the issues and of carbon budgets or recycling.  We need a change of heart that comes from an encounter with God.  The God who makes, sustains and cares for creation.  If our relationship with God is to develop a focus upon our relationship with creation, then perhaps it is time we left our buildings behind and took time to seek the presence of God within the world of creation.

So, with our buildings closed for the most part, and our activities suspended through much of the summer, why not take some time to see God – the God of creation – within creation.  In your garden, on a walk, in the park.  Whether your setting is rural or urban, God is there and be found through what he has created.  Of course, this thought is not new is it?  Celtic and Franciscan spiritual insights draw greatly from creation.   Seven hundred years ago, in the thirteenth century, the Franciscan Bonaventure encouraged people to glimpse within nature signs of God’s presence and action.  God’s power in the sheer fact that things exist.  God’s desire for relationship with creation in the exuberant creativity of its wide-ranging diversity.  And God’s love in seeing how things relate to one another, working together for God’s good purpose.

So, while we are still not yet fully returned to our buildings, take some time outside this summer seeking the presence of God.  And there, look at whatever vista is before you.  Take in the whole scene.  What does it say about God’s power?  How does this sense of God at work in creation before you, empower you to share in caring for creation?  Don’t rush this.  Take your time.  If you feel powerless before the immensity of it all, then ask him to empower your imagination over what might be possible.  Not necessarily something big.  Remember the mustard seed of Jesus parable.  “Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” (Matt 13v31)

Now, focus upon one particular thing that you see.  Perhaps, the one thing that specially stands out to you.  Take time to look at it.  And then look again.  Look through God’s eyes.  What does he value in what you see?  What does he rejoice over in it?  Let God’s rejoicing feed your appreciation of all that God has made.  Let that rejoicing feed your own desire to share with the creator in his pleasure over creation.

Next, take time to notice how the thing you have fixed your attention on is connected to other things around it.  Insects to flowers.  Trees to air and soil through leaves and roots.  The shaped of hill to rain and the power of flowing water.  The waves on the sea, driven by the streams of air.  How do such things express God’s love and care for creation?  What do they say about his care for you?  About his gift to life to you?  “See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these” (Matt 7v28,29).  Draw upon this gift.  Allow it to cement your desire to share in God’s care of creation.

And discovering new connection with God.  Having a new appreciation of God’s will, ask for God’s power to live that out.  That ahead, whether in garden or building, you grow in being a missional disciple sharing with God his mission to care for creation.

This blog is part of a series from Dave Gregory. To see previous blogs in the series, please click here.

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