Category: Inspiring Discipleship

The Cross: Costly and Free

This post by Peter Morden was originally published at Seventy Two

This is a time like no other. That’s certainly how it seems to many. The country is in lockdown. The Prime Minister is intensive care. Nearly all of us have a friend, relative or colleague who has become unwell with corona virus / Covid 19. Most of us know a person who is seriously unwell. Many of us know someone who, tragically, has lost their lives. There is nothing good about this virus. It takes life, shatters families, destroys livelihoods. These are unprecedented days.

In the UK we are deeply grateful for the National Health Service. Unlike many countries, our healthcare is free at the point of delivery. Excellent care is available to everyone, whatever their income. But we recognise there is a cost, not least to those who are involved at the sharp end: doctors, nurses and other medical staff who put themselves at risk day after day. Some have paid the ultimate price, giving their lives in the service of others. The rest of us owe all who work in the NHS a significant debt. If this is you, we are so grateful, and you are in our prayers.

It was a day like no other. The cheering crowds of Palm Sunday had given way to the jeering rabble of Good Friday. The terrible cry went up: crucify him! Jesus was led away, humiliated, beaten and in agony nailed to a rough wooden cross. This happened so that through it we could receive something wonderful and free. When his death finally came the ‘curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom (Matt. 27.51).’ Probably this was the curtain that separated the sanctuary from the public forecourt. Its rending would have been a vivid physical sign: the way to God is open. The tearing from top to bottom was both dramatic and final. Something irreversible had happened. And the point is that God had done it. All people had to do was walk through. The salvation Jesus won on the cross was – and is – a free gift to us. All we have to do is receive it by faith.

Yet what a cost there is. The physical suffering alone is impossible to imagine. But something more was happening, as indicated by Jesus’ shattering cry, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me (Matt. 27.46)?’ He is quoting from Psalm 22 but these words describe his own personal experience at that moment. Indeed, never have those words been spoken with such deep meaning and feeling, either before or since. The modern hymn puts it well: when Jesus was on the cross ‘the Father turned his face away’. The cross is a truly God-forsaken place. Jesus dies instead of us. He bears the weight of our sin, rebellion, shame and guilt. We go free. But what a cost.

It’s always important to apply God’s word to our lives. Of course we wonder and worship. In many ways today this is enough: to stand still and contemplate the cross and all it means and praise our God. But perhaps this Good Friday we are called to something more. Faced with this unprecedented event and living in these extraordinary times God calls us to an unprecedented commitment to him. For some it’s a first-time commitment. For some it’s a recommitment. For all it’s a call to echo the words of the great hymn:

Were the whole realm of nature mine

That were an offering far too small

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all (Isaac Watts)

As the recipients of such a gift and faced with such a cost can we do any less?

 

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Twelve Steps Towards Freedom: People

This post by Dave Gregory was originally published at Seventy Two

I’ve taken to going on a short walk after lunch.  My once a day exercise as recommended in the government COVID-19 lock down advice.  Keeping an appropriate distance from other people of course.

During the first week of the lockdown, on a beautiful blue-sky day I enjoyed the wonder of creation around me.  The early spring greening of the trees under the bright sunlit clear sky.  The song of birds all around me, usually drowned out by traffic noise where I live.  And as I walked down one road, I spotted posters in the upstairs window of a house.  A message from a young person, perhaps in response to the school climate strikes.  “Show we care – our world is hurting”.

How true that is and not just because of the climate crisis.  While one person had not forgotten, many of the other windows I pass on my walk each day display children’s painting of rainbows.  A communal expression of hope in this time of the COVID-19 emergency.

Something more immediate has come along and knocked the climate emergency from its star billing it has enjoyed over the past year.  Rightly so given the immediacy and urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic that is impacting people, nations and communities around the world with dire and deadly consequences.

Social distancing has put paid to the student climate strikes and the direct action and campaigning of Extinction Rebellion and others in cities and towns across the world.  The Baptist Assembly in May where there was to be a strong climate and environmental strand is postponed.  And COP 26, UN Climate Conference, due to be held in November at the Glasgow Conference Centre has been delayed until 2021, the venue being turned into one of the emergency Nightingale Hospitals.

To be honest – and this may be controversial – I have some problems with the term climate emergency, a phrase we have heard much over the past year.  I think the COVID-19 emergency casts some light on my unease.  COVID-19 with over stretched hospital and brave medical staff, schools and university closures and lock downs feel like an emergency.  It is immediate.  Something that we must respond to quickly.  Even so, some struggle with it all, continuing to gather and travel around.

This morning on breakfast TV, there were interviews with two hospital doctors who spoke of people struggling for weeks on ventilators with uncertain outcomes as they try and overcome the virus.  Some of them medical staff who have caught the virus caring for others.  Not able to be visited by family or friends, over stretched nurses try to help them stay in touch via the occasional video call.  Scary stuff.  All to try and make the urgent message – “Stay Home, Stay Safe, Protect the NHS” – personal.  If YOU break the self-distancing guidelines, YOU will harm others!  All trying to get across the message that this is an emergency.

There are fears that people will only put up with living an emergency for so long.  In my role as a minister over the past few weeks I have often been asked “how long do you think this is going to have to go on for?”  On the lunch time news today, politicians are asking how and when do we begin to return to life as usual?  What is the exit plan?  The thought that we may have to adapt to a new way of living, one more restricted than we in the developed world have become used to in the past fifty years is one that people are not ready to face.

This is what worries me about the phrase climate emergency.  Emergency is an immediate word.  People can only live with an emergency for so long.  Climate and environmental change are crucial issues that we need to address as society and Christians within it.  But for most people and governments, even with growing awareness over the past year and greater commitment to action, there is not seem the same urgency of response as to COVID-19.  The time scales seem too long.  The pace of change we experience seems slow – year and decades not weeks and months.  Have people truly grasped how much our lives will have to change?  Will they be willing to pay the cost in the short and long term to bring relief to the planet and its people?  How long will the climate emergency last?  How long will people put up with it?

The increasing scary media reporting is aimed at making the COVID-19 issue personal.  And the next of the “Twelve Steps towards Freedom” makes the climate emergency personal too: “Make a list of all persons we have harmed and become willing to make amends to them all.”

Jesus knew the importance of making things personal.  When asked what was the most important of the commandments in the Old Testament he replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’  This is the first and most important command.  And the second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbour the same as you love yourself.’” (Matt 22v37-39)

A part of loving God for me is loving the wondrous creation he has made and gifted to us.  But it can be hard to know how to start.  Yet, the “second command is like the first”.  Perhaps focusing upon people makes the urgency apparent.

There are people around the world who are already being impacted by their own local climate emergencies to which we are connected.  Those most vulnerable to COVID-19 in the developing parts of the world are the most vulnerable to climate change too.  Today, as headline focus upon COVID-19, there is also news of super Cyclone battering Vanuatu, an island nation in the south Pacific.  Already in a state of emergency due to COVID-19, they also must contend with terrible damage caused by a changing climate and the devastation of a second super Cyclone in the past five years.

Whenever I think of climate change, I think of the people my wife Carolyn and I met in Peru when I visited BMS World Mission worker Laura Lee-Lovering back in 2013.  Living next to the Amazon river in flimsy wooden houses, raised on stilts.  Increasingly inadequate as the river levels in the wet season get higher and flood through the raised floors of their homes.

One of the amazing and encouraging things I have seen over the past few weeks is how people are loving their neighbour – perhaps a sign that our Christian heritage is not as lost in this country as we often think.  Checking if they are ok.  Getting shopping if they need it.  Although we are locked down, perhaps community is becoming stronger.  Let’s hope that this is a legacy of this difficult time.

So, the challenge to you this month and to your church community is to build a climate emergency legacy by making it personal.  To make a start in loving your climate neighbour as yourself.  To find out about people for whom the impact of the climate emergency is not in the seemingly hazy future.  It is immediate.  It is here and now.  People for whom it is just as real an emergency today as the COVID-19 crisis is for us all in this moment.   People who our lives are impacting today.  Find out about the work Laura Lee-Lovering is doing in the Peruvian Amazon on the BMS website. Most of the other major Christian mission agencies, such as Christian Aid and TEAR fund, will have stories of how climate change is impacting people lives.  I also subscribe to the “Severe Weather” feed on the BBC News app on my phone.  It alerts me to the impacts extreme weather events are having upon people around the world.  A good prayer prompt.

Making COVID-19 personal may sustain us through the limitations it brings to all our lives and help save some.  Making the climate emergency personal may help sustain our response to people and creation over the longer time that is needed.  Perhaps we need to keep the rainbows in our windows long after this immediate emergency has passed.  A reminder of hope.  A sign of the hope of God’s care for all creation.  Remember, “Show we care – our world is hurting”.

 

This is the eighth blog in a 12 part series from Dave Gregory – you can read the first seven by clicking on the links below or going to our Home Page:

  1. Twelve Steps Toward Freedom – Addicted
  2. Twelve Steps Toward Freedom – Powerless
  3. Twelve Steps Towards Freedom – Conversion
  4. Twelve Steps Towards Freedom – Deeper
  5. Twelve Steps Towards Freedom – Confession
  6. Twelve Steps Towards Freedom – Ready
  7. Twelve Steps Towards Freedom – Change

The post Twelve Steps Towards Freedom: People appeared first on Seventy Two.

Pursuing The Mission Of God

This post by Nigel Coles was originally published at Seventy Two

I’m hugely impressed by the rapid responses so many individuals and churches have already made, since the escalation of the impact of coronavirus. We talk a lot about innovation and adaptation during Re:Imagine and as one leader said to me last week, following the launch weekend for another group of churches in our region, ‘last week we were recognising we needed to re-imagine, this week we’re doing it’.

The story of the people of God is one of thriving in adverse circumstances. The majority of the Bible was first written out of contexts of adversity or persecution. Truth is; it has never been easy, but the UK Church may have been tempted by the lure of the cultural tides of post-modernity into beginning to think it should be. That was two weeks ago.

Asking the right questions is vitally important, I’m sure you’ll agree, as those pursuing the adventure of the mission of God wherever he’s placed us. One of the biggest questions is ‘what is God saying’? Listening to God, first and foremost, is critical for us all in taking our next step in pursuing the mission of God. It remains critical, whatever our circumstances.  A friend of mine has just  told me of a conversation she’d had when out walking with her husband, which another lady began: ‘I’m not a religious person, but don’t you think God is trying to tell us something about what our priorities really need to be’? I’m noticing that more of those ‘not-religious’ are asking our questions, aren’t you?

As someone already convinced I need to be more engaged with people who are a long way from the kingdom of God (my perspective), I’m wanting to lean into God’s purposes for and through my life. This season, however long it lasts, will end. We shall survive. Rather than re-imaging how we’d love things to become, let’s grasp the opportunities as God brings them to our awareness to be the change now.

My daily practice is to give a few minutes to listening to whatever God might be saying to me. The most consistent and reliable mechanism I have to hear him is the Bible, God’s word.

If you’re not already making regular use of the Discipleship Cycle, please take a look and try it. We’re in the process of developing an App to make working round it even easier for everyone, so please pray for this – that it might happen and become a widely used tool, which is a source of blessing.

This week we’re starting a passage for the week – you’re welcome to use it in addition to your regular readings, or to use the Discipleship Cycle with those.

You may also want to grasp the opportunities of more regular contact, albeit virtual, which others can bring, and use the Discipleship Cycle with a small group, so do feel free to share it.

 

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Twelve Steps Towards Freedom: Change

This post by Dave Gregory was originally published at Seventy Two

I have hesitated to write this month’s blog.  But this is a journey and so with fellow travellers I think I need to be honest.  I’ve been travelling quite a lot over the past month.  Some of it greener than others.

I travelled “greenly” by train to the South Eastern Baptist Association ministers conference in the beautiful setting of Ashburnham Place.  I was there to speak on Climate Change and how we need to respond as disciples of Jesus.  It was encouraging to discover an awareness of the issues around the environmental crisis among the ministers there.  And an openness and eagerness to think how to join in with God’s delight over and care for creation, seeking as disciples to live in-step with God’s redemptive hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”  (Rom 8v21)

But I had to start my talk with a confession.  Not all my journeying over the past month had been so green.  The day before, I landed back in the UK after a two-week trip to New Zealand.  I was there to speak at two Messy Church conferences about Messy Church Does Science – using simple science experiments to encounter the wonder of creation and the creator.  A trip that has made me aware of the tensions between our lifestyles and the need to care for creation

New Zealand has a vast, beautiful and awe-inspiring landscape.  In North Island, the geysers in Rotorua display the raw energy of creation, while the majestic mountains of South Island speak of the power of God.  It’s a landscape too that reminds us of how humans affect the environment and not just our recent generations.  Before the arrival of the Maori people around 700 years ago, the land was covered in forest, home to some truly remarkable bird species including the Giant Moa.  A flightless bird taller than a human being, sadly, now extinct due to hunting and deforestation.  You do not need  power tools or a bulldozer to destroy forests and cause extinctions – just stones, axes and centuries.  Environmental degradation was enhanced by the arrival of European settlers a few centuries ago, with their more efficient technology, together with sheep and cattle.

People in New Zealand are very aware of living with climate change.  It came up often in conversation – more than in the UK in my experience.  Walking around the streets of Christchurch I happened upon a public installation making people aware of the dangerous impacts of climate change caused by a global temperature increases above 1.5 degrees centigrade.  And wherever I went, people commented “it’s not usually this brown – normally its green”.

They have had little rainfall since the later part of 2019.  The drought has been part of the same weather system than brought extreme conditions to Australia and led to the vast forest fires.  Thankfully, over the past month these have died down, not due to human intervention, but the coming of rain.  And while in New Zealand, there have been few fires they have not been unaffected.  In one of the sessions I led at the conferences, I showed a satellite picture of the Earth with clouds of smoke covering New Zealand.  Through the rest of the day, people came up to me to show me pictures of when the sky turned yellow due to the smoke from Australian fires over a thousand kilometres away.

Yet, while people in New Zealand are very aware of climate change and its effects, they face a dilemma.  It may be ok to travel around in a camper van when you have three weeks or more to slowly wander around the country on holiday.  But the reality of everyday life is that in order to stay connected, flying can seem the only option given the scale, the difficulty of traversing the landscape and the sheer distance of New Zealand from other lands.  And while the distances we travel within our own country are much smaller, in our own ways we are much the same.

There are ways that we can try and make flying greener through offsetting.  Encouragingly on the bottom of my ticket the airline tells me how much carbon-dioxide my flights to New Zealand have generated – 2.5 tonnes.  An acknowledgment that flying contributes to climate change.  A sign that global business is starting to take the issue on board.  And helpful to me too in my own journey towards freedom.  I can ease my conscience by paying to offset my carbon, supporting initiatives that reduce other emissions or increase carbon capture, like planting forests.  While not ideal, it’s a start in helping us to be more aware of how we are impacting our world.

So, off I go to the Climate Stewards offsetting website www.climatestewards.org.  Linked to the excellent Christian environmental charity ARocha, it estimates how much travel and our lifestyle choices contribute to the growing amount of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere that is driving climate change.  So, I enter in my flight details and they estimate my travel has released not 2.5 but 6.5 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide!  Confused!  Well, yes.

So, who do I believe?  Reading around this there are lots of factors to be considered.  The airline’s estimate is based on their industry carbon calculator and appears to only account for the amount of fuel burned.  Climate Stewards on the other hand include the overall impact of the Carbon Dioxide released based on figures provided by the UK government to help businesses estimate their carbon footprint.

Yet despite this knowledge, I feel a tension within me.  Which figure should I take heed of?  One will cost me more than the other.  How much am I willing to pay for the impact my life is costing the environment?  Yes, I think Climate Stewards are probably right.  And we want to play our part.  But when it comes down to the nitty gritty issue of money, well that can cause us to pause and think.  And in the years ahead we are all going to have to face up to the cost.

While now there is increasing awareness of the issue of climate change, there is a fear in the back of my mind whether we will be willing to count the cost.  I remember that after the global financial crash of 2008 and the failure of the UN Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009 to agree measures, climate change went off the public agenda.  It was too expensive to tackle.  Other issues seemed more immediate.  As I write, the global economy is being shaken by fear of the coronavirus, whether that fear is warranted or not.  We need to remember the words of Jesus – Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  (Luke 6v38)  Words we need to keep in mind when it comes to responding to both the coronavirus and the environment.

The seventh step towards freedom of addiction recovery programmes is “humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings.”  It recognises that lasting change can only come through the work of God within our lives.  At the minister’s conference, in the Q+A session, one person reminded us of a quote that has been circling on Facebook attributed to Guth Speth, an American environmental lawyer;

“I used to think that the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change.  I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address these problems.  But I was wrong.  The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation.  And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”

But surely those of faith do.  Inner transformation is at the heart of what the Christian faith is all about.  For “we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been set free from sin”  (Rom 6v6,7).  As John White the Christian psychiatrist reminds us “freedom from guilt is what constitutes the real beginning of profound change … the discovery that I am loved and accepted … a deep awareness of forgiveness … sets me free to be holy” (John White, Changing on the Inside, 1991, pg. 167).

I don’t know how you will respond to this month’s musing.  But, on this journey towards freedom I will ask God to continue to remove my shortcomings.  When it comes to caring for creation there’s clearly still work to be done.  I will offset, and not penny pinch!  And I will ask him to help me be as generous as I can be to the world that he has generously shared with me.

 

This is the seventh blog in a 12 part series from Dave Gregory – you can read the first six by clicking on the links below or going to our Home Page:

  1. Twelve Steps Toward Freedom – Addicted
  2. Twelve Steps Toward Freedom – Powerless
  3. Twelve Steps Towards Freedom – Conversion
  4. Twelve Steps Towards Freedom – Deeper
  5. Twelve Steps Towards Freedom – Confession
  6. Twelve Steps Towards Freedom – Ready

 

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