CHURCH IS NOT A BUILDING – CHURCH IS THE PEOPLE OF GOD

WE WILL CONTINUE TO DO CHURCH – WE WILL CONTINUE TO BE CHURCH

2020 VISION – WE NEED TO SEE THINGS CLEARLY – FROM GOD’S POINT OF VIEW

“I WISH WE’D ALL BEEN READY” (LARRY NORMAN)

HOW AM I GOING TO BE DIFFERENT?

PART 2: BY MAKING A DIFFERENCE

REMEMBER CAPTAIN TOM?

He IS different now to how he used to be. And how come? Because he has MADE a difference. And how has he done this? Simply by going for a walk – up and down his garden. Not really spectacular is it? But him doing his “little bit” has caught the imagination of the nation.

He is never going to be the same again – because he has made a difference.

How about you?

How are YOU going to be different from now on and as we come out of this time of Lockdown? How about BECOMING different by MAKING a difference?

What we DO now has an eternal impact. Yes, we MUST become different in our relationship with our God and the way we are going to focus now on eternal things rather than the rubbish of temporal pleasure. But we are not called to hide away in the monastery or the convent. We are called to make a difference “out there” by being the hands and feet and voice of God to a desperate world that is crying out for spiritual impact now. In appendix one Pete Greig reports – with great excitement – that Tearfund research and national media reporting cites 2.1 million views of the new National Blessings Song by Tim Hughes in one week alone; 3 million people have reported turning to prayer; one company reports a 55% increase in Bible sales; virtual church services have seen an attendance rocket from c 6% to c 24% of the British population; young people are reported to be turning to God in record numbers.

In these days of great opportunity we are being called to be different by making a difference!

BUT…CAN I MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

I guarantee that the moment you ask yourself if you can really make a difference to the world now you will begin to feel inadequate – not good enough, not clever enough, not gifted enough.

You will say you stumble over your words, that your mind just goes blank…that others can do it so much better than you!

You will say that you are too old or that you are too young and that no one will listen to you because of this. You will say that you are a nobody. You will say that you are not a “good enough” person.

And all these are lies of the devil! He does NOT want you to make a difference. So, he will lie to you that you CANNOT make a difference. He is the “father of lies” (John 8: 44)

Seize the day! Command him to get behind you. Resist him and he will flee from you (Matthew 16: 23; James 4: 7)

And you know what’s the proof that what you have is able to make a difference? The story of a little boy…a nobody…a nameless child…and we read about him in the story of “The feeding of the 5000” which is so important it is found in all 4 of the Gospels – but we will choose the version found in John chapter 6.

A LITTLE BOY MADE ALL THE DIFFERENCE

Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing those who were ill. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming towards him, he said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Philip answered him, ‘It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!’

Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, ‘Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?’

10 Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.’ 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

  • LET’S LOOK AT THE CROWD:

They followed Jesus because of their need for healing and provision – and they knew that He could meet their needs. We are in that same time now. People – the crowd of people who don’t know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour – are seeking Him – as we have seen in our introduction. But, what difference can you make to them?

  • LET’S LOOK AT JESUS:

He had compassion on the people and knew how needy they were. So, He healed them, and He taught them and now He knew they needed feeding – and asked the disciples what THEY could do. But, what difference can you make to such a need?

  • LET’S LOOK AT PHILIP:

Bless him! He answered on behalf of the rest of the disciples – the problem was too big for him. He looked to Jesus to do something. He basically said: “with man it is impossible”. What about you? What about the Crisis in this nation? What about the crisis in your life? What difference can you make – it’s impossible!

  • LET’S LOOK AT THE LITTLE BOY:
  • Little boys then (more than now) were to be “seen but not heard”. They would not be expected to even consider dealing with a big problem. Don’t you feel like a “little boy” so often? Especially when there’s a BIG problem to deal with?
  • And he didn’t have much in any case – just 5 loaves and 2 fish – and they weren’t big ones at that – and, let’s be honest, pretty ineffective for feeding such a large crowd. Don’t you look at yourself and say that what you have – your gifts and your abilities – are pretty small and ineffectual and that you can’t possibly make a difference with what you have?
  • But…he was WILLING to give the little that he had to Jesus – simply because Jesus asked for it. How about you? Are you willing to give what you have – your possessions, your skills, your giftings, your voice, your hands, your whole body – to Jesus – who is always asking us?
  • We don’t even know his name. That makes him, in the sight of the world, a nobody. But Jesus made him a somebody – and (although nameless) he is remembered down through time and into eternity. He gave what he had to Jesus and not for his own glory. How about you? Are you willing to give what you have to Jesus without expecting or even asking for any “glory” in return?
  • And that was it. He didn’t do anything else. He didn’t take over. He wasn’t asked to give out the food or even collect up the scraps afterwards. He gave what he had to give, and others did the rest. Are you willing to realise that you just have to give Jesus what you have, and He will do the miracle with it and use others to do their bit?

A LITTLE boy made a BIG difference -simply because he was willing to unquestioningly give Jesus what he had. Are you willing to unquestioningly give Jesus all that you have? If you do, then Jesus will lovingly take what you have and do a miracle with it. He will increase the little you have to do good to many, many, people.

Yes, “with man it is impossible – but with God ALL things are possible” (Matthew 19: 26)

CONCLUSION

Captain Tom HAS made a difference – he gave what he had for the good of the NHS and the increase has been phenomenal! And he made a difference with something really simple.

You CAN make a difference with the little that you have. Just smile at your wife, say “hello” to your neighbour, carry in the shopping for the elderly lady down the road, post a tract through a letterbox, send some flowers to someone you love, put a loving arm round someone who is grieving.

Decide that you are going to make a difference now.

And don’t wait for someone to make a difference for you (Jesus has already done that). He now calls you to “Pay it Forward” – “freely you have received, freely give…” (Matthew 10: 8)

Then you shall be different when we come out of this time of Crisis.

APPENDIX 1: POST FROM PETE GRIEG ON SOCIAL MEDIA – MAY 2020

Something is stirring in the UK.

There, I’ve said it.

I’ve hesitated to write this post. It’s probably premature. We’re still bang-slap in the middle of a vast crisis and no one really knows how it’s all going to end. But here’s the thing: over recent weeks, and particularly over this last week, prayers that some of us have been praying for decades, suddenly seem to be finding answers in the most unexpected ways.

UKBLESSING

For starters there’s the national blessing song pulled together by my friend Tim Hughes. Released a week ago, its now been watched 2.1 million times which is equivalent to 200 new people every single minute of every hour since last Sunday. Yesterday a BBC journalist asked me about its striking unity. This harmony – literal and metaphorical – between such diverse groups as Hillsong and The Kingdom Choir, the Coptic Orthodox and the Salvation Army seems to be touching a deep nerve in our divided nation. And the stories just keep coming in from those who don’t consider themselves religious, saying that the track has moved them unexpectedly to tears.

Is a worship song going viral everything we’re praying for? Of course not! But is it something? You’d better believe it! Maybe something is stirring?

PRAYERSURGE

Then there’s the research commissioned by Tearfund and released on the same day (quite coincidentally) as the UK Blessing song. This survey indicates that some 3 million new people have turned to prayer in the UK since lockdown began. The online Bristish bookstore Eden reports a 55% increase in sales of bibles in April. And demand for prayer resources from 24-7 Prayer has been going through the roof. At Emmaus Rd our twice-daily prayer-meetings are suddenly wonderfully well attended. Now we know why!

Is a sudden surge of prayer everything we need? Of course not! But is it something? Could it be a start? You’d better believe it! Something seems to be stirring in the UK.

SIGNSOFTHETIMES

Jesus once rebuked the Pharisees for failing to read the signs of the times (Matthew 16:2-3). These great religious leaders could, he said, forecast the weather but they were oblivious to the presence and power of God right under their noses.

CHURCH ATTENDANCE

The Tearfund survey also indicates that record numbers have begun attending church online since the lockdown began. Generally we’d expect around 5-7% of the nation to attend a Sunday service at least once a month.  But over the past couple of months, this figure has jumped – in fact it has skyrocketed – to 24% of the British population. Almost one in four. And 5% of these people wouldn’t normally be at church in, well… a month of Sundays! “I’ve never known a time in my life,” says Nicky Gumbel, “when people are more open to [God’s word] than they are now.”

Is virtual church attendance everything we’re praying for? Of course not! But is it encouraging? You’d better believe it!

It seems to me that people are far more likely to attend a normal church service if they’ve  attended a digital one first.  Here at Emmaus Rd we are by no means unusual in having more-than doubled in size since lockdown and we have more people than ever signed up for our next Alpha course (online). It’s not everything. But something does seem to be stirring.

PUBLIC OPINION

Slowly the national media is picking up the story. First, the Guardian newspaper last Sunday. Then Good Morning Britain TV on Wednesday. A piece by my friend Krish Kandiah in the Times on Friday. The BBC News at 10 last night.

What are we to make of this? Is a week of positive media attention everything we’re praying for? Of course not! Is it widespread or prominent? No, not yet. But is it a pleasant change from the usual cynical sniping? Could it be an early sign that public opinion is preparing to shift? You’d better believe it!

YOUNG PEOPLE

I would never have believed a few months ago that I’d be seeing a headline in a major British paper saying this: “BRITISH PUBLIC TURN TO PRAYER AS ONE IN FOUR TUNE INTO RELIGIOUS SERVICES ONLINE.”

And then the stunning subtitle: “YOUNG PEOPLE LEAD RESURGENCE IN FAITH.”

Yep, you read that right: the demographic leading the charge to church is the sophisticated, supposedly post-Christian 18-34 year olds.

THE FACTS ARE OUR FRIENDS.

We do not pray ex nihilo. No-one can jump to the top of the staircase in one go. We find faith for the big things that God hasn’t done yet, by celebrating the small things he’s doing or he’s already done. On a cold, dark night when we spot sparks in the hearth, we blow on them. We don’t pour cold water on them. We pray ‘More, Lord.’ We say, ‘Well, if you can do this, maybe you can do that?’

Are all these developments any more than embers in the hearth? Has this past week been without heartbreak? Are we experiencing some kind of revival? Are any of these encouragements guaranteed to last? To all these questions we must clearly answer with an emphatic ‘no!’

But could these sparks somehow become a wildfire? Does tragedy precede resurrection? Could this be the beginning of a spiritual awakening in our nation for which so many have been praying so faithfully and for so long?

My friends, this is a time to pray with greater faith, preach with greater confidence and plan with great ambition. Yes, let’s dare to believe it!

APPENDIX 2: THE STORY OF “GOD’S JUGGLER” (HIGHLY ABRIDGED VERSION!)

In France, in the 1100s or 1200s, when men were building the great cathedrals of Europe and lived in mud while doing so, the story of the “juggler of God” was very popular. Our century needs to be reminded of the story to glean its own wisdom from the tale…

Once there was a juggler. He was a humble juggler, who performed for the children at the local village fairs. He had a dove that he “found” in the sleeves of the children, and a rabbit that he could make appear from sacks of grain, and a little dog that danced on its hind legs and a donkey that carried all the burdens and loyally accompanied the troupe wherever they went. The children’s’ laughter was his best reward, for the peasant parents could not afford to give him gold or silver for his skills, and he was not so talented that he was invited to perform before kings or princes. A warm meal for himself and some hay and scraps for his animals was all he could expect and he was happy, for the children’s laughter was gold in his heart.

As he grew older, his eyes became less keen, and his ears less alert, but more importantly his hands began to lose their skill and sometimes he dropped the balls and then the parents laughed instead of the children and he was sad and both he and his animals would go hungry. One day his little dog laid his head in the juggler’s lap and died of old age, and the juggler realized that he too was too old to train another dog. He thought how he could provide for his faithful creatures and for himself as well and said to himself, “I will ask at the monastery to become a brother for surely they can find something useful for a retired juggler to do.” So he walked with his animals to the monastery and requested that they take them all in.


Now the monastery was supervised by Father Abbot. Father Abbot was from a noble house. He could read and sing and was considered very wise and merciful, but he seldom smiled, for running a monastery is a very demanding position…the abbot, who was wise and merciful, listened to the juggler’s request, for he knew that the riches of the abbey belonged to the people who had given them to the monks for using in good works, and helping a retired juggler was appropriate in his mind, if not in the minds of … others in the monastery who considered him only a mouth to feed, several mouths if you counted the animals.

So the dove was sent to live with the messenger doves of the monastery, and the rabbit was sent to the infirmary to entertain the invalids there, and the donkey was given space in the barn and he was used gently in the fields and to carry firewood from the woods to the kitchen ovens.

The juggler, on the other hand, was more difficult to place well. He was no good with the sheep, and he dug up the wrong plants when weeding and he could not sing or write. So eventually Father Abbot sent him to work with Brother Cook, who Father Abbot knew was the second wisest monk in the monastery, although not many of the other monks would have agreed with Father Abbot’s opinion on that, but then that was why Father Abbot was the wisest person in the monastery. He knew that feeding a monastery took much wisdom of a humble kind. Food cooked in love nourished both body and soul, while food cooked in haste and anger would set one monk against another. Father Abbot valued Brother Cook immensely.

So the juggler worked in the kitchen chopping cabbages and peeling carrots and turnips. And Brother Cook saw to it that there were always a few spare scraps of carrots and turnip peelings for Brother Juggler to take to his animal friends when he visited them during the recreational hour. Brother Juggler would also juggle pieces of vegetable to amuse the kitchen staff, and carve the odd turnip or two with a smiling face before it went in the soup pot. Brother Cook ensured that the carved turnip ended up at the abbot’s table, and that was his way of saying to the abbot he was taking good care of the juggler…


Brother Juggler knew that his hands were not the best for peeling vegetables, for he always wanted to slice the next turnip in a different style from the one before. He knew that the monastery was keeping him mostly as a work of charity, but with love, for the abbot had ensured that no one would be allowed to treat the juggler with contempt. Father Abbot had said to his advisors, “There is no one in this monastery that has made as many people happy as this juggler has. We should be honoured to have him in our midst.”

The juggler had always paid his way before, and as Brother Juggler he was sad, for he did not know of the Abbot’s kind and wise words. His heart became lighter only when he visited his faithful animals at the recreation hour, or when he knelt in the Lady Chapel … where he thought back over the years of all the children he had amused.

Then Brother Cook noticed that his juggler assistant was slowly becoming happier. Even when his dove died peacefully in his hands, and then later his rabbit breathed its last in the lap of the oldest occupant of the infirmary, Brother Juggler seemed more and more content. Brother Cook rejoiced and his soups were even better than ever.

One Sunday Brother Busybody lined up to see Father Abbot during the appointed hour when any monk could approach the abbot in private. Brother Busybody was so bursting with joy, Father Abbot knew he must have some bad news to tell him. “Father Abbot,” he said, “I hope I have your approval, for I found out that Brother Juggler has been taking the donkey into the Lady Chapel and I told him he should not bring animals into the church.” Father Abbot sighed inwardly but he was a wise man so he said “I appreciate what you have done, but until I announce this to our brothers, you must say nothing to anybody about this.” Well, Brother Busybody was very downcast at this, but he had no choice but to obey.

The next day, Monday, just before recreational hour began, Father Abbot slipped out of his rooms and hid himself behind a pillar in the Lady Chapel. Shortly thereafter Brother Juggler came in, alone, and he did not see the abbot who stayed hidden. Instead he went straight to the altar and said “I thought today I would try juggling vegetables for your amusement, though I fear my skill is gone.”


So the juggler juggled this way and that and then, horrors!, he dropped one of the pieces of turnip on the other side of the altar rail, the place where only the priests and not mere monks may go. But Jesus, looking down from on high was pleased that the Juggler was doing his best to give Him all that he had to give – however small it might seem to others. And Jesus knew that the hour of his death had come upon the Juggler.


So Brother Juggler bowed down… and his soul went straight to heaven.


Father Abbot, who had seen everything, then came forth from behind the pillar and touched Brother Juggler’s body to make sure he was not just unwell, and the smile on Brother Juggler’s face stayed in Father Abbot’s soul for the rest of his natural days.


Brother Juggler’s body was laid to rest on Tuesday and the whole monastery said prayers for him. Brother Cook mourned for him, and so did Father Abbot, for they were the two wisest monks, but the rest of the monks hardly noticed his absence, except Brother Busybody who felt very relieved that he had spoken out when he had. Father Abbot noticed everyone’s reactions and held his own counsel until the appropriate time.

The following Sunday, during General Chapter, when all the monks met to hear the news for the week, Father Abbot got up and spoke to all the monks and related what had happened in the Lady Chapel; and all the other monks became a little wiser as they reflected how little they knew of what went on in the souls of others and how unloving their judgement had been. Even Brother Busybody was quiet for a time. And each Christmas time thereafter, Father Abbot requested the donkey be part of the Christmas crib scene in the church, for Saint Francis had encouraged this tradition recently and Father Abbot was very up-to-date on the latest news.

Usually this is where the story ends, but in fact it is not the end of the tale. For Father Abbot, no matter how busy he was, or how important his visitors, would every day visit the donkey and bring him some vegetable treats. To his surprise, Father Abbot found he could talk to the donkey about his problems and the donkey would wisely nod his head, for after a donkey has carried the infant Jesus on his back, no problem could be too weighty to be borne. Eventually the donkey too went to his reward.

Finally Father Abbot’s time on earth was finished and as the monks knelt round him praying, Father Abbot drew his last breath and saw at the foot of his bed his guardian angel, and felt under his hand the rough fur of a donkey’s head. And his guardian angel said to him, “Usually the guardian angel carries the soul of his charge to heaven, but this time the Lord has sent the donkey that carried him into Jerusalem to carry your soul to heaven.” And the abbot breathed out in great gratitude and found himself in front of God’s throne, with the donkey beside him. God’s grandeur was so great the abbot wanted to throw himself down in awe, but the donkey butted his head under the abbot’s arm and held him upright.

And God said to him, “Each soul that comes before me brings with him an intercessor to plead for mercy. Some bring riches and some bring good works and some bring their guardian angels to plead for them. But you have come with a donkey.” And the Abbot, despite his wisdom, did not know what to say. Then his guardian angel stepped forth and whispered in his ear and the abbot smiled and brightened and knew how to reply.

“My Lord God,” he said, “you blessed me with much wisdom and success when I was on earth, and I accomplished much by your grace, though not all that I should have. But this donkey led me closer to the love in your heart than any prayer or song or resolution I have made. So I now rely on your continuing love to overlook all the wrong things I have done. Just as I welcomed the juggler into the monastery in obedience to your loving commandments, even though my advisors said he was useless, so now I request you let me stay in your presence forever, even though I too am useless when compared to your glory.”

And God smiled and said, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, for in aiding my poor juggler, you honoured Me and all the children that he amused. It will be held to your credit too. My heaven, and my earth, and my love, is big enough to hold jugglers and abbots and everyone else in-between.”

And they all lived happily for ever after.

Ann Galvin-Garside is a chartered accountant living in Toronto.

COPYRIGHT 1999 Catholic Insight