From the Heart – Dr Michelle Byrne

NEW YEAR – THOUGHTS OF A CHRISTIAN!

New Year is celebrated by most.  Many gather together in number to party during the preceding evening up to the moment when Big Ben chimes twelve times to mark the end of one year and start of the next.  It is at this time that celebrations reach the pinnacle.  Fireworks are lit, ‘Auld Lang Syne’ is sung and, often with a glass of special alcoholic beverage, much dancing takes place.

New Year marks an end to the merriment of the festive period, with most returning to work and education shortly after. Mindful of the exuberances and indulgences associated with the Christmas celebrations, many make resolutions. These are typically aimed to address their problems in finances, health and well-being caused through the celebrations over the recent festive period.  The resolutions are intended to commence on the first day of the new year.  It is hoped that they will soon become integral in day-to-day life and bring improvements.  However, such intentions are typically short-lived,as life resumes the regime it had prior to the commencement of the festive period.  Ultimately, then there are the feelings of failure adding to the issues the resolutions were to address, plus the misconception that another year will have to pass before there is opportunity to make amends again.

I view New Year through a different perspective. I am a Christian. To me New Year is just another day.  I feel that the media and entertainment industry portray it to be a special occasion in a ploy to promote parties and celebrations that boost income to them.  In reality, every day is special, for every day is made by God and so should be rejoiced over.  In acknowledgement of this, we should always have a spring in our step and joy in our heart.  How wonderful to think that the celebrations of New Year’s Day should be with us always and not just on one of the 365 days of each year!

New Year resolutions are borne through a recognition, by oneself, that behaviour and practices of life are not ideal. The resolutions are thus created as a response to the recognition of sins having been done and the necessity to make changes to cease such behaviour in the future. We all do wrong things, think wrong thoughts, or fail to do right things, as it is part of human nature.  This mean that Christians and non-Christians sin.  Understanding that fact, Christians frequently accept that their behaviour is not ideal and apologise to God for their shortfalls in prayer and partaking in communion. Through these Christians know that God forgives them.  Indeed, God also continues to love them, despite them repeatedly sinning.  Having accepted this truth, behaviour is automatically changed to become better, through Christians refocusing on their desire not to sin and to become more like Jesus.  God is always available to approach in prayer.  He likes interaction with us, for it demonstrates our need and love for him.  Therefore, changes to inadequacies in our behaviour and lifestyles can be addressed and improved at any time during the year, not just at new year……HOW LIBERATING!

In conclusion, New Year provides a nice way to spend time with friends and family.  However,  many of the associations of the time are false.  Through following the Christian faith, a much more steadfast means of making a new life-changing way of living can be made.

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Carol’s Spiritual Question – How do we get into Heaven?

Photo – Clement Percheron – Pexels.com

Many of us still have child-like dreams of what Heaven and Hell are about. As children, we cannot always differentiate between what is true and what are lies – even white ones! I have a secret feeling that teaching children about God and the Devil can almost be construed as methods of control so that they behave properly – a bit like threatening them that Santa won’t turn up if they’re naughty!

As we get older – and particularly when we become elderly – some people start to look at their own mortality and reflect upon their life so far as well as wondering how long they have left to live. Many of us, including me, look for a more spiritual balance in life and go back to church.

Many of us try to do good throughout our lives, whether we’re Christian or not, and maybe we hope that that will give us a free pass into Heaven or whatever the hereafter means to people of the various religious denominations. I now know that there’s far more to it than just being virtuous and living a good life.

Mo – Having studied theology and being a Minister for many years, you’ll know what Jesus and God have said about getting into the Kingdom of Heaven. To err is to be human, as they say, and how many of us can claim we’ve lived a sinless existence? I strongly believe that it’s one of the most difficult things in life to be a Christian, especially if we try to live by example. Can you give us some pointers from your studies about how we should lead our lives? Are there any guarantees?

What would the Lord be looking for?

Mo’s response:

These are such good questions and I have come across them many times as a hospital chaplain. In fact they touch on what is at the very heart of the Christian Good News (which is what the word ‘Gospel’ means). Over the centuries and in many religions there is a great common desire for an after-life. A desire that this life is not all there is.

Increasingly today there is a belief that there is nothing afterwards. So many live life just for today. They believe that loved ones only live on in memory or in the love that goes on. I find this deeply unsatisfying because it is all dependent on self

In all this there is a rejection or a denial of God. A Being at the centre and therefore Lord of own life. Sounds plausible at first but, in the end, it is hollow and hopeless and very dependent on ‘luck’ or circumstances

The Gospel is Good News for ALL who will receive it – no matter their circumstances in life.

Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God (or Heaven) being very near to everyone. Really there are two parts to it – the Kingdom that we can experience now and the eternal part that we experience after we die. The Good News bit is that it does not depend on our goodness. I love your statement that to err is to be human and that we cannot claim to live a sinless existence no matter how hard we try. Sometimes I feel as if I am a walking civil war!

St Paul writes in his letter to the Romans Chapter 7 (The Message Version)

17-20 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel and, just when I least expect it, they take charge.

24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

Also in that letter he writes in Chapter 3

23  all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

This is the starting point for us all. That we acknowledge our desire to know God and our inability to make it on our own; to be perfect.

None of us can earn our way into Heaven. God does not owe us anything. We often try to bargain with Him, eg: God, if I go to church so many times, will you bless me! Or treat Him like a heavenly Santa Claus.

But God is God! The Bible tells us He IS love and knows us so well. He cares about our fallen nature and so He sent Jesus, not just as an example because that would show up even more our inability, but to be our Saviour.

That is a very religious term so what does it mean? We have realised that we are not able to be our own Saviour and we are in need of help. This goes against the grain of most of culture today which says we can be anything that we want to be if we try hard enough. We teach it to our children. I see it often written outside schools – believe, achieve. This is all well and good up to a point but it can often make us self-centred and, perhaps I might add, our own Saviour. Our achievements become our own gods and we fall into the trap of comparison. Either we are better than others who are less fortunate or not good enough when we see others who are more ‘successful’.

If we look again at that quotation from Chapter 3, we see we have ALL sinned and fall short of the glory (the character) of God. Comparison gets us nowhere. We are ALL guilty

God is also a God of Justice and hates sin. Some folk think that if there is a Heaven only the nice people will get in. Or, if God is love, then He would not turn anyone away. But how can a holy God overlook our sinfulness? This is where Jesus comes in. He came in person not only to tell us about Father God’s love for us. He lived a sinless life, not just as an example but so that He, who was without sin, could pay the price for our sin

What does this mean? Someone once said it is like a judge who discovered a dear friend in the dock before him. The accused was indeed guilty and the judge had no choice but to give him the strictest sentence which was a large fine. Then the judge removed his wig and robes and went to meet his friend and to pay the fine himself. That is gift. What the bible calls grace – an unmerited, undeserved gift.

On my first trip to the Holy Land in 2012, I was overwhelmed as we said a prayer on the Mount of Olives looking down the road that led into Jerusalem. It is believed to be the way that Jesus took to go into the city where He was to be killed.

The prayer was one we often use here in our churches. It says ‘Father of all, we give You thanks and praise, that when we were still far off You met us in Your Son and brought us home.’ I was aware that centuries ago and so far away from the country I was born, Jesus walked down that road for me!

That prayer is based on Romans 5

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Remember, I said that the Kingdom of heaven is both here and yet to come. When we realise for ourselves the magnitude of what Jesus has done for us then we begin to live in response to His love and grace. He also comes to live within us by His Spirit. It is freeing, comforting and hopeful to live in that knowledge. In that sense the Kingdom of Heaven is here and now

But also we have a promise of life to come. An eternity with God forever.

This amazing God loves and values us not just for a limited existence but for eternity. Jesus has paid for our frailty and waywardness and inability and opened the way for us. And that eternal living in the presence of God can start NOW! No-one is worthy or good enough BUT the God of love accepts us as we are and works in us to change us by His Spirit

A Christian funeral is so different because there is hope which has begun in THIS time now.

Do I believe in heaven? A definite yes because Jesus said so.

John 11:25-26

Jesus said…., ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.

Will I go to heaven? Yes! Not because I am better than anyone else but because I believe in the One who made it possible.

What will it be like? – that’s another question! – but Jesus tells me it will be in the presence of Himself and Father (and perfect love) for ever. The pressure is off. There is freedom and hope.

Here is a prayer that you can pray if you have not known Jesus as Saviour.

Dear Lord Jesus, I acknowledge that I am not perfect and often fail in many ways. I am so glad for Your offer of new life. I accept the gift of grace that You gave from the cross where You died for me. I ask that You come and live within me by faith and I look forward to Heaven, not just after I die, but the eternal life that can start now. Amen.

Previous Questions

Super Power

Is the Bible trustworthy?

Care for the Planet

The Return of Christ

Suffering

Prayer

Which is the Real God

Is Satan Still Around?

Is being Good Enough?

Is God relevant to our life and modern times?

Why bother going to Church?

Carol’s Challenging Question – Alcoholism

Christmas is coming – the geese are getting fat, or so the rhyme tells us.  But, apart from the “eat, drink and be merry” petition, some people who are hooked on booze really don’t need any more encouragement to drink to excess, even if it is the festive season and a time for jollity and celebration.

Alcoholism is a disease – there’s no two ways about it.  It might start as just social drinking but, before long, it can really take hold if the person doesn’t get a grip.  It can become an addiction just like drugs, tobacco, food obesity, gambling, sex and the myriad of other ills which people can become dependent upon. No-one has an issue with sensible drinking and keeping it within moderation but it’s when it gets out of hand that the problems start. Sadly, I’ve heard that older people are drinking more now, whether through loneliness, boredom, habit or because they have nothing else to do! Thanks for the photo Dan Pexels.com

There are many causes of alcoholism including family history, drinking from an early age, mental health disorders, stress and trauma, peer pressure, etc. and just the simple fact that, for many people, it tastes nice and can lift their mood or make them relax.

Sadly, though, it can soon take hold. While some people can tolerate relatively large amounts of alcohol seemingly without obvious health problems, the long-term prognosis is mostly bad. Once a person becomes dependent upon alcohol and cannot control their use of it, it can cause them very serious physical, emotional and mental suffering. That’s apart from the possible side-effects of broken relationships, divorce, job loss, money troubles and much more.

Apart from reduced life expectancy, alcoholism can lead to many cancers including breast, mouth, throat, oesophagus, voice box, liver, colon and rectum in addition to high blood pressure, heart and liver disease, stroke and digestive problems.

Alcohol is such a part of people’s lives these days. I’ve heard it said that, if it was invented now, it would be banned as it’s such a danger to good health! We all know what happened during the time of Prohibition and the government have tried to limit the purchase of it by increasing the tax on alcohol. Some people turn to cheap alcohol – or even meths – once they are addicted.

So, Graham, does the bible have anything to say on alcoholism and what do you think the Christian stance on it should be?

Rev Graham replies:

Thanks, Carol, for the question and outlining some of the benefits of taking a drink and lots of problems which may occur from excessive drinking (when I refer to drink it will mean an alcoholic beverage).

Recently I was in discussion with an ex Bible College student who reminded me of the humorous comment Mr Hawker, one of our tutors, shared in the context of drinking alcohol as found in Acts 28: 11 -16: the brothers gathered at the Three Taverns and the Apostle Paul thanked God for them and took courage (aka a drink!!).

Thanks Pixabay

The Bible outlines that it is can be good to drink from the fruit of the vine, in the context of moderation and not to get drunk from it. Wine, beer and other drinks may be alcoholic or non-alcoholic and can be enjoyed accordingly.

In assessing the value, cause and effect of alcoholism it can fall into a number of categories such as: 1) Religious thought and teaching. 2) Morally assessed as a Vice. 3) At times characterised as a criminal activity, as in the case of drinking while driving. 4) In the light of recent medical evidence it is classed as a disease.  

There are further categories which relate to the levels of consuming alcohol from: 1) Abstinence – choosing not to drink any alcoholic substance; 2) Moderation – choosing to drink or not drink on certain occasions or regularly consuming small amounts of alcohol; 3) Excessive the use of alcohol socially and on a daily basis or used as a form of self-medication.

At this point it might be helpful to look at a number of bible verses; there are up to 100 which encourage or discourage various levels of drinking.

Advice To Drink

Deuteronomy 14: 26:  You may spend your money on lots of things including wine and beer. Isaiah 55:1: All who are thirsty, buy so as to eat and drink. Ecclesiastes 9: 7:  Go eat and drink with gladness and a joyful heart approved by God.

Psalm 104: 14 – 15: God grows the fruit of the vine that makes wine to gladden the heart. John 2: 3 – 11: Jesus changed water into a better wine for guests at a wedding.

1 Corinthians 10: 23 -24:  We have a right to eat and drink whatever way we choose but everything is not beneficial or edifying in seeking our own way. 1 Corinthians 9: 19 – 23: Paul is free from constraints so that he may be a servant to all. 1 Timothy 5: 23: Stop drinking water and take a little wine to act as medicine for your illnesses.

Advice Not To Drink

Leviticus 10: 9: In entering the sacred tent, you must never drink beer or wine. Judges 13: 7: Samson’s mother was not to drink strong wine or beer for he will become a Nazirite. Numbers 6: 3: Separate from wine and strong drinks.

Habakkuk 2: 15: Don’t choose to get a person inebriated. Hosea 4: 11: Often immoral practises and heavy drinking go hand in hand. Isaiah 5: 11: Do not rise up early and drink late into the evening and become inflamed. Isaiah 28: 7: Priests and prophets have fallen because of strong drink and so lacked vision and judgement.

Proverbs 20: 1: Wine is described as a mocker and drink a brawler and those led astray by it are not wise. Proverbs 23: 31: Do not gaze at wine when it is red, sparkles and pleasantly consumed for it bites and poisons like a snake. Proverbs 31: 4 – 5: It is not good for kings and leaders to drink too much wine and beer less they forget their laws.

Romans 13: 13: It’s important to behave decently, not in carousing and drunkenness. Romans 14: 15 – 21: It is wrong to act in a way that causes our neighbour to stumble and fall, so it might be better not to eat and drink at all.

Galatians 5: 19 – 21: The fruits of a sinful nature include drunkenness. Ephesians 5: 18: Do not get drunk on wine which leads to debauchery; instead be filled by the Spirit of God. 1 Peter 4: 3: A pagan’s lifestyle will include excessive drinking.

As outlined, alcoholism has for centuries been a problem for religion, morality and law and defined as a sin, vice or crime depending on what structures a society is built upon and the values attached to it. In the later part of the 18th century and in the light of medical research, alcoholism had been categorised as a form of disease. During the 19th century, following the growth of the Temperance Movement in America, asylums were established as places for the specific care and treatment of those suffering from alcoholism.

In the 20th century, efforts were taken to move away from a religious and ethical disapproval of excessive drinking and re-evaluated it as a sickness which has been used as a ‘sick role’. However, if alcoholism is perceived as a disease, then judgement will continue in a different form with people being assessed as ill and not individually capable. Also it will not be acknowledged in physiological and psychological norms. So changing any understanding of alcoholism to a new value setting will not mean that it is deemed as value neutral!

The medicalization of alcoholism and other addictions is not without its critics and can undermine the responsibility of the individual.  Any change in language related to religious, moral, criminal and medical understandings also has its problems for many treatments retain a moral and religious character as exampled in Alcoholics Anonymous. For those attending an AA group they will be encouraged to share their story and seek to co-operate with a Higher Power to bring about change and experience a measure of healing.

The effects of alcoholism for individuals, families and communities is complex and multi-faceted and any cure or change depends on the type of help received and what levels of individual responsibility are taken. Thanks Pixabay

In my time working as a Project Worker for Adullam Homes in Bury, Greater Manchester, we welcomed many individuals who had lived with, for many years, the complicated effects of excessive drinking. For some, abstinence was their choice while others felt they were able to continue to drink in moderation and, for a few individuals, they continued to live in astate of being inebriated.   

The greatest lesson I learnt during that time was that there was always a reason why people found themselves affected by various addictions and difficulties. It is very easy to judge a person, especially when they are totally drunk and not behaving well. The back-story of any person is vital in understanding where they have come from and it helps in working with them as how best to move forward in trying to find an appropriate pathway for their healing and support.

Conclusions

So, Carol, in trying to answer your question, there is within the Christian faith an encouragement to see individuals take more self-responsibility for their actions so as to avoid their lifestyle being seen solely as a sin, crime, disease and vice of gluttony.

Within criminal law there has been a demand for harsher laws that will seek to contain the increased effects of excessive drinking which is strongly associated with criminal activity.

Medical Models based on various psychological and therapeutic approaches have increased and given more weight in support of alcoholism but they have had only a limited measure of success. Over time there had been the hope that medical treatments would act as a cure which would eliminate any religious, moral and criminal labels.

In a Christian sense it is important to find a balanced moderation or abstinence in thinking, lifestyle and example that relates to drinking alcohol. There is an acceptability to enjoy the fruit of the vine that God provides to some reasonable level. However, there are consequences, in the short and long term, to excessive drinking and there is plenty of advice from the bible as how best to handle the joys and temptations alcoholic beverages bring.  

SIGNPOST ORGANISATIONS

Premier Lifelinepremierlifeline.org.uk – 03001110101

Betel UK – recovery from addictions Tel – 0121 594 0650

UK Christian Rehabs  Tel – 02038 115 619

Addiction Services Salvation Army  Tel – 020 7367 4500

Alcohol Change UK – Tel: 020 3907 8480 email – contact@alcoholchange.org.uk

Alcoholics Anonymous – Tel: 0800 9177650 (National helpline) or help@aamail.org

Drinkline – Tel: 0300 1231110.

Eclipse – Alcohol Addiction Support – Tel: 0161 839 2054.

Turning Point – Smithfield Detox Unit – Tel: 0161 827 8570.

Manchester Integrated Drugs and Alcohol Service – Tel: 0161 823 6306.

Achieve – Trafford – Tel: 0161 358 0991.

Thomas – Salford – Tel: (Men) 0161 792 5982 (Women) 01254 660 861.

Mosaic – Support for Families and Friends – Tel: 0161 218 1100.

Pathfinder – Tel: 0161 716 4000.

The Counselling & Family Centre – Tel: 0161 941 7754

Previous questions

Homelessness

Asylum Seeker/Refugees

Suicide

Poverty

Crime and Punishment

Pornography

Abortion

How can God forgive Terrorist?

Child Abuse

Bereavement

Carol’s Spiritual Question – Why bother going to Church?

With the declining attendance of people going to traditional Sunday morning church services, I wonder whether these will fade out completely in time. Many of those who do still go tend to be of an older age group. So few children are taught Christianity in schools these days and even fewer parents teach them about Jesus and God at home.

In Victorian times and before, church attendance was of the utmost importance but, over the past 50 years, and certainly since the influx of so many immigrants from different parts of the world into the UK, we are a much more mixed society with many people having their own religious faith and practices which are not necessarily Christian. Thanks Pavel for the photo Pexels.com

Many people these days are having to work longer hours to make economic ends meet; they have family commitments which leave them little or no spare time for going to church; they prefer to have a lie-in on a Sunday morning; there are many more Sunday morning activities for children to attend; they have no interest or belief in Christianity or any other faith. It’s hard for the church to compete against Netflix or Sky TV!

I do go to church regularly on a Sunday and mostly find the experience a joyful and uplifting one. By sharing our common thoughts and values, it reinforces our spiritual beliefs and teaches us how to lead a better life following Jesus’ example. Christianity gives us the hope of life after death and offers us a structure by which to live our lives in a good way. We can also feel part of a community where we help and support each other; undertake philanthropic work at home and abroad; make charitable donations to people less well off than ourselves and enjoy a social life together.

Graham – I know that a church is just a building and it’s the people inside that make it work but why do you think it’s important for people to attend?  Jesus never insisted that people should go to the synagogues – in fact he was disparaging about the practices in some of them! The attendance at evangelical and gospel churches does seem to have bucked the trend and increased in number – I’m told that it’s not unusual to have over 200 people attending on a Sunday morning. Similarly, attendance at Roman Catholic churches is still relatively high compared with the Church of England churches. Do you have any ideas what could attract people back again or has that ship sailed now?

Rev Graham replies:

As you have indicated, Carol, there are a number of reasons why people attend or don’t attend church services. Being attached to a place of worship is important for any person who has a particular faith so that it is nurtured and strengthened. The church is not a building; it is a gathering of people from three to 200 and more who worship God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a variety of forms. 

Do Not Give In Or Give Up! 

Thanks Ingo for the photo Pexels.com

In Hebrews 10 we have an outline of God’s continual gift of forgiveness through the ministry of Jesus Christ and in that context we are encouraged not to forsake meeting together as some Christian believers have done. We should continue to meet so as to spur each other on in acts of service and the study of God’s word which will ensure spiritual growth and maturity. 

For many it can be easy to fall into a habit of casually attending and associating to particular places of worship which may lack real conviction and a deeper experience of God’s presence and saving grace. This can be compared with a person regularly visiting a greenhouse with the hope that eventually they will become like one of their favourite vegetables that live within it. If we attend church or dwell in a greenhouse it is not automatic that we become a Christian or a vegetable!! 

When you mentioned the concern you have, Carol, about the numbers who attend church, I feel that, in one way, it is irrelevant because the strength or weakness of a church is not dependent upon the numbers that attend. There could be over two hundred people attending a church service when in reality there may be only a few classed as true believers. The remainder may have at best a nominal faith while others are seekers of truth, agnostic or even without any faith and belief.

So the level of maintaining or losing one’s faith is not dependent on attending, or not attending, church. A seed of God’s spirit can germinate within a person’s heart and mind at any time which may lead them to become dedicated disciples of Jesus. The place and worth of a church is when it offers people the opportunity to be spiritually fed and nurtured so as to flourish and embrace the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit which are made available to us.

Trying To Give Up!

In the Western Church, attendances have certainly declined which contrasts, when questioned, to many people who still express a belief in God, Jesus and the importance of church life! Comparisons can be made with church attendances in Africa, Asia, Latin America and other places within the world where the Christian church is growing and is very vibrant. 

When I attended Emmanuel Bible College and Manchester University, I majored in church history. The term history was often referred to as God’s (His-Story) that has, and does, influence world history which contrasts with forces opposing God’s (His-Story). The Western world in its current state has neglected, and seeks to give up where possible, the teachings and lifestyles of Jesus as expressed in the church. However, in its new-found wisdom and enlightenment, it struggles to replace God’s order and lacks wisdom, depth and healing.

Taking up His Cross!

Jesus entered a chaotic world under the governorship of the Roman Empire, dominated by the Jewish faith and surrounded by a strong Greco secular world which worshiped idols and human philosophies. In the midst of such chaos and confusion, Jesus and his disciples established the Christian faith which developed from altars to an ‘unknown god’ and the synagogues.

After the death and resurrection of Jesus, the disciples would have felt confused and fearful but, as we read in Acts 2, they received the gift of the Holy Spirit to empower them to sustain new church communities and buildings. This is exampled in the history of the church as seen in the established Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Church of England and non-conformist churches. Those within the early church suffered persecution for their faith, Celtic missionaries shared the gospel throughout the Middle Ages and many leaders were raised up during the Reformation, Enlightenment, Revival and Renewal periods often when it seemed that the church would no longer exist!

Given Up!

Carol – you touched on the fact that it is difficult to determine exactly why people do not want to attend church. In the Old Testament, many prophets and priests acted in an unholy manner and neglectful of their responsibilities as Good Shepherds and teachers over their flocks. They succumbed to worshipping foreign gods and embraced ungodly teachings which compromised their faith, lifestyle and example to their congregations.

As sin (defined in a biblical context) increases in human society, it will affect political, philosophical, religious and social views and actions. World and spiritual leaders without the Spirit of God to guide and inspire them will only offer human wisdom that in itself is limited and will fail to deliver real peace, love and harmony. God allows people to wallow in their misdeeds for a season but, as Galatians 6: 7 points out, God is not mocked and whatever a person sows they will reap accordingly. God in various ways moves mountains and obstacles to unsettle those who seek to live without Him and offers renewal and restoration to all those who turn to Him in repentance and faith.

Going Up!

World history from a Christian viewpoint can and does repeat itself in periods when the church is healthy and when in decline. The church is not moving towards oblivion but rather to a time when God will change the whole world order back to its original intent as found in the Garden of Eden.

We do not know how or when that will take place but, in faith and belief, we do not have to worry about how the church is or isn’t at any one point in time. God wants all of His creation to embrace personal faith in Jesus as their Saviour and Lord and will enable people to live a life of holy discipleship which acts as salt and light in an unsavoury and dark world.

A few years ago when returning from a Men for Missions trip in Albania, we had an extended stay at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul. As I walked around the vast airport, I witnessed people from all walks of life, from different cultures and backgrounds, and I had an amazing sense that each and every person in that airport represented the diverse wonders of God’s creation in colour, creed and thought.

Thanks for the photo Oleksanr Pexels,com

There are no boundaries or constraints upon God’s timing and workings within world history; He raises kings, prophets and priests. He puts down nations, leaders and movements. God is in control of the environment and has the capacity, even with the neglect of humans, to renew and refresh His world.  

Take Up!

When we attend a worship service in church or walk around the cathedral of God’s earthly creation, it is secondary to wonder as to whether or not we are in a period of decline, health or increase. In John 17: 25-26, Jesus prays for himself, the disciples and for the future church. “Though the world does not know you, I know you and they know you have sent me. I have made you known to them and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

In following God personally we may experience His peace, forgiveness and healing alongside His almighty protection, provision and wonderful presence and, just like all the saints and those persecuted for their faith, God gives strength to the weak and an assurance that all is well in His hands.

Selah

Graham

Ps As you listen to this amazing hymn ‘The Day thou Gavest Lord has ended,’ sung in a capacity Salisbury Cathedral, the last verse tells us that God’s kingdom stands, and grows forever. Amen to that.

Previous Questions

Super Power

Is the Bible trustworthy?

Care for the Planet

The Return of Christ

Suffering

Prayer

Which is the Real God

Is Satan Still Around?

Is being Good Enough?

Is God relevant to our life and modern times?

Is the Church Pompous

From the Heart – The Joy of Christmas

Carol says:

Christmas. What does it conjure up for you? Is it nothing but hustle and bustle, stress, money worries, who wants what and from where, etc. Or is it a chance to see family and friends, enjoy delicious food and drink, observe the excitement of the children in the build-up to the Big Day, watch rubbish television and fall asleep after consuming too many sprouts and Christmas pudding? Not to mention listening to never-ending Christmas “muzak” and Noddy Holder’s interminable “Merry Christmas Everybody” song everywhere you go!

Christmas is all things to all people. It can be a time of great excitement, jubilation and celebration but for many people, especially those living on their own or having lost loved ones, it can also be a time for reflection, loneliness and sadness.

For me, it’s a bit of both! I absolutely adore the magic of Christmas with the wonderful decorations and beautiful street lighting; the exterior of many homes and shops all decked up with various versions of Father Christmas and his entourage; the delicious smells of Christmas markets and the glow of the stalls; the special candle-lit church services and the sounds of the traditional Christmas carols which have been sung throughout the centuries. What I don’t like is the pressure that’s put on people to buy ever-more expensive goods which they often can’t afford; the overwhelming amount of presents children receive these days which they often don’t value or just dismiss and I particularly dislike the blatant commercialisation of the season.

The current severe economic climate will be very worrying for many people and the extra pressure of Christmas will not help their mental or financial health. Maybe now’s the time for us all to re-evaluate what’s important in life and try to teach children the value of giving rather than the amount the gifts cost! I know several people who, this year, are having to make real cut-backs to the amount they can afford to spend on gifts. Some people are making their own creative presents with unusual and inexpensive items which will have had more thought and love put into them than just buying them off the shelf. I’ve read in the past that even the Royal Family make or buy small unusual and very personal gifts, despite the fact that most of them are multi-millionaires!

Maybe it’s also the time for people to remember what Christmas is REALLY all about – the joy of giving and the time when God sent Jesus to earth.

For people who want to enjoy a more authentic Christmas this year, maybe the following suggestions might help:

1) Try to connect to the deeper meaning of Christmas rather than just the glitz.

2) Help someone by making their life better, even in a small way.

3) Celebrate the season with forgiveness if you’ve been offended.

4) Create a new “family” of friends to celebrate with or volunteer at a local charity.

5) Make it fun and festive and do something really unusual.

6) Do what you love – hobbies/interests/watch a feel-good film/enjoy a lovely meal/listen to a favourite piece of music.

7) Do something nice for your neighbours – leave a “Secret Santa” gift/make or bake something, etc.

8) List all the things that are wonderful in your life – “count your blessings” as they say!

9) Get up, get dressed, get out! Don’t mope indoors.

10)Buy yourself a meaningful gift.

And, most of all, make God and Jesus the focus of the Christmas season!

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From the Heart – Dr Michelle Byrne

Michelle knew from a very early age that she was a child of God. Not only by the fact that she was a regular Sunday School attender, participating in many Church processions and other activities, but having a very strong faith, in many ways based on deep personal insecurity. This feeling was compounded and made real when her much-loved dog died and it made her realise her mum would also die at some time in the future. By regularly praying the “Our Father”, Michelle became much more secure and happier.

Even as a teenager, Michelle enjoyed going to Sunday School as well as avidly watching religious programmes on television, especially “Songs of Praise”. It was after a local doctor encouraged her growing faith and took her to Flixton Fellowship, which she found to be a wonderful experience, that her relationship with God really grew. After reading the “Foundation in Faith” booklet at the age of 19, Michelle’s faith became even more real and alive.

Despite suffering from asthma as a child and a massive array of other complicated medical conditions throughout her life, Michelle’s strong faith has never wavered. She has always found that every need has been catered for by God, even during the most life-threatening situations. God runs through Michelle’s life completely and he has nurtured, supported and loved her throughout. Michelle believes strongly in “God-incidences” and believes God has been there so many times when she was desperate for help – “I gave you the gift of life – why are you surprised” is an oft-quoted saying Michelle strongly believes in. Michelle has never felt alone and trusts God implicitly, despite her poor parental relationship, on-going serious health problems and survival “against all the odds” history.

After graduating from Medical School, Michelle went to work in hospitals and a GP’s practice between 1999 and 2002 when, at the tender age of 27, she had to retire due to her medical conditions. During her working life, which she loved very much, God was still with her and she leaned on Him enormously to cope with her own illnesses as well as the gruelling physical and emotional trauma which the long hours and working conditions forced on her. At the age of 30 and having no-one else to depend on, Michelle’s faith was further reinforced when she accepted that God is the only perfect person and became even more dependent on Him to walk by her side. She also realised the real meaning of God being the Father and what a proper father should have been.

Despite her many trials in life, Michelle is happy and contented knowing that God is constantly with her, even in the most adverse of situations. She sees God’s hand in all aspects of her life.

Apart from when she’s at church, she is never happier than when she’s spending time and looking after her “Reptilian Family” 13 terrapins and tortoises who, needless to say, are all named after biblical characters!

Some of Michelle’s reptilian family.

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From the Heart – Rev. Debra Blair – Part 2

In Part 1, we looked at Debie’s early religious life and how she developed her nursing career. After life as a Nursing Cadet, becoming a Sister and working as a Bereavement Nurse, Debie then believed God was calling her to become a Priest. Here she continues her story.

As a Bereavement Nurse with extra time on her hands and weekends free, Debie got more involved in St. Mary’s church life and became a Eucharist Assistant which enabled her to set the altar, administer Holy Communion, take Communion to the house-bound and other related tasks. She started undertaking readings at church then was asked to lead an Advent Meditation session. One thing led to another and it was then suggested she go into Ministerial training. Aged 53 by this time, and having worked in Bereavement for 10 years, Debie at first dismissed the idea but, after overcoming some initial obstacles, she felt God was sending her a message that this was to be her new vocation. Coincidentally, her mum died during the year and, as a tribute, Debie and Garry (her brother) bought a bell for the St. Mary’s tower. With more time on her hands after caring for her mum for so long, it was now right to for Debie to decide where her future would lie.

Her first task was to contact the Director of Vocations who she told about all the obstacles she had had to overcome and why it had taken her a year to decide to apply again for Ministry training. Numerous interviews followed while going into the church employment process with Debie still working in Bereavement. Eventually the Bishop telephoned to say she’d been accepted as an Ordinand. After 38 years working for the NHS, Debie gave five months’ notice and left the job she still loved but which she knew she needed to move on from to the next stage of her life.

As she had several associated degrees as well as bereavement and safeguarding experience, Debie was able to complete the training in two instead of the usual three years. The training involved gaining experience of the wider church-life including going to a new church for a few months experience; evening classes and weekend study days; summer school and Easter school and learning about many aspects of the role of a Priest and Deacon. Being fortunate to have an NHS pension, Debie was able to become a self-supporting minister which meant she isn’t paid but could be called upon to work in a wider area. It was in February 2020 that she received a telephone call from the Archdeacon telling her about a vacancy at St. John’s Church in Flixton, Manchester, which had been without a vicar for over 3 years.

However, the following month, the Covid pandemic lockdown came into being which meant all job posts were frozen. Having already been “priested” and acting as a Curate at that point, after several interviews and meetings with some of the church members, Debie eventually became Curate-in-Charge at St. John’s in December 2020.

Since that time, she has worked closely with St. John’s other ministers and lay people, PCC (Parochial Church Council) members, Sunday School leaders, local community groups, hall users, schools, regular visits to the local nursing home, etc.

Her typical workload can include officiating at funerals; organising banns of marriage and interviewing couples; preparing Sunday services; producing monthly returns to the C of E; attending Deanery Synod, Chapter and Missionary Community meetings; preparing for special events such as the Festival Manchester and St. John’s celebration of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee; being a member of the Pastoral Steering Group; home welfare visits, especially to give Holy Communion to the bed-ridden; officiating at Christenings; writing sermons; organising courses such as those for Lent; preparing for special events in the Church calendar such as Easter and Christmas; liaising with another local church for cross-services; writing the introduction for the monthly church bulletin plus all the administration involved in running a modern church. She also manages to fit in time to act as ‘cover’ for other local churches when necessary as well as meeting her own Spiritual Director on a regular basis.

But the most important part of Debie’s life is, and always was, her prayer time and her continual aim of strengthening her faith in God who has guided her closely throughout her life.

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Carol’s Challenging Question – Bereavement

Who can forget the national outpouring of love, shock, pain, disbelief and deep sorrow felt by many millions of people in the UK and worldwide at the devastating news in September that Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, had died. Only her closest family, friends and officials must have known that her end was near but the Royal Family managed to show such devotion, fortitude and bravery – at least in public – as they carried out their duties, knowing full-well that they were being watched on television by possibly billions of people around the world.

The public too felt grief-ridden at the news, with millions of people watching the television coverage and hundreds of thousands going to Edinburgh or London to see The Queen lying in state and paying their respects.  Although most people had never met Her Majesty, the shock and grief felt was palpable. Wonderful stories emerged of the Queen’s sense of fun, care, duty, strong family bonds and, for many people, it became a celebration of a life very well lived.  

Thanks Kristin Snippe and Paddington Bear unsplash.com

But the Queen’s passing would also have brought back many painful memories of their own loved ones who had died, whether recently or some time ago, for many who attended the public events or witnessed any of the coverage on television. 

Most people have to go through the heartache of bereavement of someone they were close to at some time in their lives.  It’s said that the more you love, the more painful is the grief – and the least little thing can cause people to have flashbacks to remember happy times and the people they’ve lost.

Bereavement is defined as a feeling of emptiness, overwhelming sadness and often lots of mood swings and tears.  It’s the experience of losing someone important to us and is characterised by a range of emotions as people gradually adjust to their loss.  It can be emotionally devastating whether it’s a partner, family member, friend or pet.  Grief can also manifest itself in a whole range of feelings including tiredness, anger and guilt.

Talking to someone about a loss or getting professional counselling is a major step forward in coming to terms with bereavement although, for many people, it can take months or years to accept the situation and move on.  Finding simple pleasures, exercise, walking, taking up a new hobby or participating in a new challenge can really help people to fill some of the gap after the loss of someone close. 

Bereaved friends of mine say that they accept as many invitations as possible to do something such as lunch, a trip out, etc, often because they don’t like being in the house on their own or they just need some company to take them out of themselves. Loneliness and depression can soon set in when one’s world suddenly implodes.

Graham – did Jesus ever say anything about bereavement during his brief time on earth?  What would be the Christian view be of it?

Rev Graham replies:

Thanks, Carol, for your question and those helpful definitions on how bereavement can affect everybody at various times and in different ways. You mentioned about how the world mourned the passing of the late Queen Elizabeth II who is recorded to have said, after the 9/11 disaster in New York, that “Grief is the price we pay for love”. If we don’t love or care about someone or something then we will not grieve or mourn that loss.

As a Christian Minister for over forty years, I have conducted hundreds of funeral services, particularly serving the Greater Manchester area, and have found that there are four principle aspects that may be referred to in any service. 1) Acknowledging and mourning the loss of the individual who has died. 2) Gathering together special words and feelings that reflect the love, appreciation and thanksgiving for that shared life. 3) Seeking to find and experience a comfort in the loss of a loved one both human and divine. 4) In a Christian funeral there will be a sense of hope that, having departed from the earthly body, the committed spirit of the loved one will enter into that promise of a resurrected and eternal life only made possible through the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus as recorded in John 11:25

We only die once physically but it has been attributed to Ernest Hemingway that “Everyman has two deaths, when he is buried in the ground and the last time someone says his name”. When we arrange headstones for the grave, a plaque for the ashes and recall birthdays and other events, they act as an everlasting memorial for the deceased who are briefly brought back to life and we are reminded of times shared together in the midst of a continued loss and sadness with thanksgiving. 

You asked, Carol, if Jesus had said anything about bereavement. There are three specific occasions where Jesus was involved in raising individuals back to life. Such miracles towards the end of his earthly ministry revealed his tender heart of love and compassion for all people and an intention to bring comfort to their loss that reflected God’s power and love for a suffering world.

Mourning with Compassion

1) Jesus, during his travels, met a funeral procession that was leaving the village of Nain and in the coffin was a young man, the only son of a widow. When Jesus saw the procession his heart went out to the woman and he said “Don’t cry”. He touched the coffin and spoke to the dead man: “Young man, I say to you, get up”. The dead man sat up and began to talk. For those who had been mourning, that funeral was turned into awe and praise as the people acknowledged that God had come to help them. (Luke 7: 11-17)

2) On another occasion Jesus became aware of the plight of a man named Jairus, a synagogue ruler, whose daughter had seemed to have died. In his compassion he offered words of comfort to him saying: “Don’t be afraid, just believe”. Then later: “This child is not dead but asleep”. Jesus took the girl by the hand and brought her back to life. This also proved that not all religious leaders were against Jesus (Mark 5:21-24, 35-43). Thanks Dave Lowe for the photo unsplash.com

3) Jesus was close to the family of Lazarus and his two sisters Martha and Mary. Lazarus became ill and Jesus reassured the sisters during his two day stay that it would not end in his death.  Later Jesus became aware that Lazarus had fallen asleep (died) and, after four days, returned to comfort the sisters and bring Lazarus back to life and in the process was ‘Deeply moved in his spirit and was troubled and wept’ (John 11:30- 35).

There are occasions in life when we anticipate loss as exampled when Jesus approached the city of Jerusalem and wept over it because he was aware of its future disaster and its rejection of his love towards them. (Luke 19:41). However, there are other times when loss is totally unexpected and, in both cases during the days of Jesus’s life, he prayed and brought petitions to the Lord with loud cries and tears to the one who can heal, save and sustain us. Jesus learnt what it meant to obey the Lord in the context of his own pain and suffering (Hebrews 5: 7-9).

In the Old Testament there are incidences where prophets raised people from the dead. Elijah prayed that a young boy be raised back to life (1 Kings 17: 17-24). Elisha prayed for the woman of Shunem to be as brought back to life (2 Kings 4: 32-37) and even from Elisha’s tomb a man was raised from the dead. (2 Kings13: 20-21).

In the early church we read about Tabitha, a believer (Greek name Dorcas) of Joppa, who had died and the believers were filled with sadness. Her body was laid in an upper room and the Apostle Peter was asked to attend and he prayed alone in the presence of Dorcas and asked her to get up. She opened her eyes and, seeing Peter, sat up. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. All the people were overjoyed and the news spread quickly throughout the city and, as a result of this miraculous act, many believed in the Lord (Acts 9: 36-43).

In Acts 20: 7-12, a young man called Eutychus was listening to the Apostle Paul preaching well into the night and he was sat near a window but unfortunately fell from it which was three storeys high and died. Paul immediately threw himself on the man and put his arms around him and the man came back to life. When the meeting ended the young man returned home and all the people were comforted with what they had witnessed.

In these brief accounts we find that, whenever grief and bereavement occurs, there will always be an offer of compassion and healing from the Lord to our situations as we exercise personal faith which is a witness to those without faith. 

Mourning with Thanksgiving

As we enter into everyday living here on earth we will encounter the loss of close family members as well as friends, neighbours and work colleagues. Jesus would have had similar experiences, losing Joseph his father who may have died when he was young yet very thankful for the continued love and support from his mother Mary and others close by right up to his death on the cross.

Jesus would have grieved for the loss of John the Baptist, a close family member, who had been beheaded by Herod at the request of his wife Herodias (Matthew 14: 1-12). Jesus in all his travels and interactions with people was aware of those who were ill, in need of healing and had lost loved ones. He always sought to offer them love and compassion with a sense of thanksgiving for each individual.

Thanks Pro Church Media unsplash.com

Many leaders and prophets knew about loss such as Nehemiah, who grieved about the destruction of Jerusalem but was thankful for the favour of the King and God (Nehemiah 2) The Israelites mourned the journey of exile into Babylon yet found comfort from many psalms such as Psalm 30:5: “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” and in verse 11, “You turn my wailing into dancing, you remove my sackcloth and clothe me with joy”.

Mourning with Comfort

Any form of a funeral service represents a rite of passage from this earth to the next. For the Christian such a service represents a promotion into the everlasting presence and glory of God. We can never bring back to life those we have lost but in celebrating, mourning, sharing thanksgiving and finding a comfort, we may be able to acknowledge the passing of a loved one’s life and enter into the experience of Placement as touched on in one of my earlier blogs ‘Loss Adjuster’.

When I am asked to take a funeral service, I will arrange to see the family as soon as possible. One of my first questions is to ask if the loved one had been poorly for a while or have they suddenly died? We then confirm details around the service and exchange words that will be contained in the eulogy/life story. There is a growing realisation that such loss will get worse before it gets better leading up to the service and then well into that sense of Placement. It is a growing acknowledgement of what is being experienced is their time to die, having had time to live and so we begin to come to terms with their loss long term.   

Resurrection

In the Christian tradition, the death and resurrection of Jesus is the most important event in world history. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was permanent and he didn’t die a second time but ascended into heaven (Mark 16). In life we are born, live and die and experience many changes that will bring us great joy and deep sadness.

So “Grief is the price we pay for love” and it involves strong and emotive feelings that may result in actions that can cause severe paralysis and an array of emotions that can easily get out of hand. The disciples of Jesus will have mourned his death and were confused about his resurrection and ascension. They encountered death and persecution for their faith in the gospel of Christ alongside the early church fathers and members of local congregations.

Jesus is the first fruit of those who have fallen asleep (1 Cor 15: 20) and Jesus’ resurrection ensures our eternal life: “Because I live, you also will live” (John14: 19). In all the days we walk this earth we will in one form or another experience bereavement but we can be assured that, as Jesus wept for those he loved, he weeps for us today in all our joys and sadnesses.

Graham

PS – Just after publishing this post my best friend John Noble, for over sixty years, died after a long illness. He was an influential Broadcaster, Evangelist, Humourist and Poet. He leaves behind Sandra, Sarah and Emily. May he truly rest peacefully in the arms of Jesus.

(Bring your thoughts and prayers to God for those who you have lost and give thanks for those still with you as you listen to this moving song Bring Him Home by Coln Wilkinson from Les Miserables)

SIGNPOST ORGANISATIONS

Premier Lifeline – National Christian Helpline Tel 0300 111 0101

CRUSE Bereavement Care – Tel: 0808 8081677.

MIND – Tel: 0300 123 3393 email info@mind.org.uk

Carers UK Helpline – Tel: 0808 808 7777

Bereavement Help and Supportwww.gov.uk

At A Loss – ataloss.org

BEAD – Bereaved Through Alcohol and Drugs – beadproject.org.uk

The Compassionate Friends – Tel: 0345 123 2304 tcf.org.uk

Dying Matters – dyingmatters.org

The Good Grief Trust – thegoodgrieftrust.org

Samaritans – Tel: 116123 or jo@samaritans.org

SANDS (Child bereavement) Tel: 0808 164 3332 sands.org.uk

Child Bereavement UK – Tel: 0800 0288840.

Childline – Tel: 08001111.

NSPCC – Tel: 0808 800 5000.

Previous questions

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Suicide

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Crime and Punishment

Pornography

Abortion

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Child Abuse

Carol’s Spiritual Question – Is the Church Too Pompous?

If I was looking through the windows of some churches, particularly those of the Roman Catholic faith, I would feel very intimidated by the pomp and ceremony on display there.  Apart from not knowing the norms and values of the people within, or what sort of welcome I would receive, I would probably find all the robes, religious relics and some of the acts of worship far too bizarre for my personal taste.

Thanks Emmanuel Ikwuegbu pexels.com

In the past, the church was a very strong influencer on people’s lives and congregations lived in awe and fear.  The masses would hang on to every word spoken and questioning faith or rebuking anything a priest said would be tantamount to heresy!  Nowadays people are not prepared to be so subservient and many church congregations have dwindled apart from the new people’s churches and gospel worship establishments which are on the increase.

Fortunately I go to a church where the vicars are very down-to-earth, friendly and approachable and everyone is made to feel valued.  While they follow the traditional Christian conventions and wear their collars during the services, there is no “holier than thou” or condescending demeanour and the congregation have a strong fellowship and team spirit.

If we consider how wealthy the church establishment was in the past, and how much land and property it owned, it makes us wonder where it all went to and how what remains could be better-used in our modern-day society.  For instance, why are churches not more dual-purpose?  There are so many homeless people, asylum seekers, etc. living on our streets or in costly council-provided accommodation, why not make more use of empty or only partly-used church buildings? Or sell them off and donate the money to help the poor in society?

Why do we need the top hierarchy of the churches living in sumptuous palaces and luxurious houses with all the trappings of wealth?  Why do we need all the glorification and icons? After all, Jesus lived a very simple life and didn’t need all the robes and accoutrements to get his messages across – apparently he deplored it!

So, Graham, as a Minister of Religion, how do you view all the ‘pomp and circumstance’ which goes with some churches today and what do you think God would make of it all?

Rev Graham replies: Thank you for your question, Carol, and a quick answer would depend upon what Church tradition a person may align themselves to and what those of no church or religious persuasion thought.

Union Hall church today

In my early years, I grew up in the family home that was connected to Union Hall, an independent church in Hulme, Manchester, before its redevelopment in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

My mother was the caretaker/cleaner of the church and in my parents’ bedroom there was a door that opened up into the church hall and another larger room that was used on Sundays and midweek as the sanctuary and as children we would often play there. Such a space contrasts sharply to cathedrals in Manchester, Coventry, Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s in London which are consecrated and the alter and sanctuary set apart from other areas within the church building. 

Dwelling

In Psalm 84 we read about God’s dwelling place and His desire to co-dwell with His people, just as the sparrow and the swallow dwell in God’s creation. In all our places of worship, both large and small, God wants to grace us with His presence and bring a blessing to us.

In Exodus Chapters 25 – 31 we read of the instructions given to Moses concerning the Covenant (Law), Tabernacle (place of consecrated worship) and Priesthood (administers of the Sacraments). The Old and New Covenants between God and His people are restorative actions following the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden where God dwelt harmoniously with them and all creation.

The Law/Ten Commandments, housed within the ark, were given to Moses to regulate people’s living in a holy and ordinary manner. The Tabernacle was a dwelling place that, during the wanderings in the wilderness, represented God’s movable co-dwelling with His people. The Priesthood, which Aaron and his sons were called to, were to represent a Holy God to a sinful people and the vestments they wore, as found in Leviticus 8, were reflected in the celebration of sin offerings. 

Co-Dwelling

To one degree or another, when we enter a simple place of worship or a magnificent cathedral both seek to represent an intention that a co-dwelling may exist between a Holy and Almighty God and a worshipful people. If a place of worship is considered pompous then it is in danger of detracting itself from the important purpose of providing a space for personal confession, worship and teaching for Holy living. Conversely, if a neglected building is trying to represent the presence of God, it will be in danger of stifling any healthy attitude of confession, praise and worship. An environment, attitude and form of worship will help or hinder any sense of co-dwelling and worship to Almighty God.

In the UK we have the Royal family who are good at certain aspects of pomp and ceremony which may inspire, irritate or serve to separate people rather than bring them together. I’m sure Jesus would favour the belief that the church and its leaders and followers should be more inclusive under the sound of the gospel than exclusive in all its activities.

If the church is labelled pompous, there is a feeling that it doesn’t fully connect to the reality of ordinary people and therefore may be classed as distant and irrelevant to modern living and lose the opportunity to share the core message of Jesus who would not be considered pompous but very much connected to ordinary people.  For all those in positions of power and influence, the spirit they convey is often more important and may act as a soft spiritual power compared to a spirit that is cold and distant.

Thin-line Presence 

In both grand and basic buildings, they may be classed as acceptable if their main intention is to lift a believer into the presence of God in various forms of worship, liturgy and teaching rather than acting as a form of entertainment with those leading being the main focus. The cross in any church acts as an icon to reminds us all of Jesus’s redeeming work on that cross.

In the New Testament we are taught to have an attitude of Christ and to imitate his lifestyle. He was willing to descend from heaven to live in a servant form to bring honour and glory to God (Philippians 2 6-11). Jesus had no home, income or status of his own apart from being the Son of God within the Trinity. He was despised and rejected and sent to the cross as a result of the ruling and pompous religious authorities of his day. On the cross he was given a criminals’ garment to wear and many believe that, during his crucifixion, he may not have worn any cloths at all! 

John the Baptist, as a result of his forthright views and opinions, died a martyr as he prepared the way of the Lord and was very different to conventional priests, clothing himself with animal skins and having a diet of locusts and honey. The Apostle Paul was raised in a Jewish family and adhered to all the Jewish laws and ceremonies and went on to become a rabbi. After his encounter with the risen Lord, he lived a simple life travelling and helping to establish the early church while being persecuted and imprisoned.

Earthly Tensions

As the early Christian church established itself, there existed a growing dilemma between serving God and securing an earthly power base. Jesus, Paul and many early church fathers spoke out against areas of compromise that existed within the church during the rise and fall of the Roman Empire.

Thanks Manuel -Filipe pexels.com

The church has, and often does, seek to govern in a worldly manner which reveals itself in how Canonical law, worship and sacraments take place or don’t take place. The Holy Spirit of God is the true power within and alongside the church. A priest who represents God wearing elaborate garments or simple tee shirts has to humbly convey a sense of the God’s Spirit so that people are uplifted to truly worship God with thanksgiving.

The church is, and always has been, in various stages of flux that includes both decline and increase. It is required to constantly be in an attitude of penitence, forgiveness, humility, renewal and confident in the power of the Holy Spirit rather than in its own human structures and aspirations. The Kingdom of God will be fully established in God’s time that will represent a restoration of the perfect Garden of Eden where a creator God is happy to co-dwell in the presence of a forgiven, worshipful, created believer.

Hallmarks

As I mentioned at the beginning, Carol, depending on a person’s experience of worship and those without any Church or religious persuasion, it may be concluded that all churches can be pompous and off-putting or humble and uplifting in their own particular setting. To differentiate between the two it will be helpful to identify certain hallmarks:

  • Does it radiate a sense of the otherness of God?
  • Is there a thin-line presence between heaven and earth?
  • Is there a sense of self-promotion that represents a misuse of spiritual power and influence?

In my retreats and study times, I often attend Mirfield Monastery in West Yorkshire where there exists the hallmarks of a majestic consecrated abbey that conducts its life and witness in a very simple monastic form as referenced in one of my blogs Ironically Iconic. In Genesis, we find a perfect situation where the creator and the created have friendship and presence together without the help of a third party as represented in the role of a priest. That special relationship is broken and the ‘shame of nakedness’ entered human life with God giving Adam and Eve animal skins to cover themselves!

In a restored Garden, Heaven and Eternal space, the Christian hope is that we will not require any further laws, tabernacles, vestments and sacrifices to draw us near to God. The true pomp and circumstance will be found when we abide in the very presence of God Almighty 24/7.

Graham

Listen to this majestic hymn about the greatness of God Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken by John Newton based on Psalm 87: 3

Previous Questions

Super Power

Is the Bible trustworthy?

Care for the Planet

The Return of Christ

Suffering

Prayer

Which is the Real God

Is Satan Still Around?

Is being Good Enough?

Is God relevant to our life and modern times?

Carol’s Spiritual Question – Is God Relevant To Our life And Modern Times?

Life has changed in so many ways since Jesus’ time on earth. There have been so many technological, scientific, medical, cultural, religious and other changes and life has become far more complicated than thousands of years ago.  One only has to think of the ability to put men on the moon; send rockets to Mars; the ability to communicate all around the world in seconds; create babies through IVF; and all the other medical and scientific advances that have been made and so much more.

In the past, people were far more prepared to believe in the supernatural, or worship idols or gods, whereas these days we like to think that we’ve advanced and demand more specific proof.  People are far more questioning than they were even 50 years ago, particularly from people who were once regarded almost as saints, including doctors, police officers, teachers and scientists and, dare I say it, even priests!  I well remember the fear and deference such people instilled, particularly among the often poorly-educated working-class.

So many people these days don’t have a belief in a Christian God, or any other faith for that matter, and some atheists actively discourage others to believe.  One of the most powerful arguments against there being a God is that a good God wouldn’t allow bad things to happen.  That’s very hard to argue against in any rational and persuasive manner.

These days, many people don’t seem to care much about life after death and just live every day as it comes.  It seems to be mainly the older generation who still attend church regularly and stick to their traditional religious beliefs and habits.  This is borne out by the statistics which shows church attendance decreasing all the time and, in some areas, is almost a thing of the past.

Graham – with all the developments that have taken place over the centuries, why do some people still need God in their lives?  Why do you think He is still relevant to us when people are now so much more self-reliant and less prone to needing an invisible friend?

Rev Graham replies:

There are many sub-questions, Carol, contained in your overall question and I will not be able to give a complete answer to them all. I believe the nub of your question relates to how relevant is the presence of an eternal God in a contemporary world? Yes our modern world is more technical and advanced than centuries ago but it does not mean that it is more wise or knowledgeable. I think we have to be careful to conclude that, just because church attendance has declined, that people are devoid of any faith in an invisible God.

There are over 11 bible verses that speak about God being invisible such as (John 1: 18), ‘no one has seen God at any time’ but, as in the case of the Apostle Paul after he was physically blinded, the Lord opened his eyes spiritually and he went on to reflect to the world the reality of the invisible God he personally met after being an enemy of Christ (Acts 9)

In my book “Blog 51: Insights to Daily Living” (2019 and a second edition 2020 in black and white or colour ) one of my blogs: I’m not religious but I’m spiritual touches on some of your observations, Carol, and how people are thinking and believing in our modern time.

Private Faith

The faith of any individual is very private and personal. It can be argued that some aspects of the Western church have abandoned support and guidance for the individual in the face of secularism and the rise of other world faiths. When we compare the Roman Catholic church, it seeks to uphold the teachings of Christ and the doctrines of the church in an uncompromising manner. Such a stance can help an individual who might be unsure of their faith when questioned on aspects of the teachings of Jesus and church doctrines. What they can do is confidently refer to church teachings as a basis of their own faith and as a form of answer to the challenging questions asked of them.

By comparison, many of the free Protestant churches and the Anglican Communion, since the Reformation, have allowed philosophical and political pressures to challenge and change various aspects of their understanding of Jesus’s teaching and church doctrines. Then, when a person is asked on certain matters what they believe, they struggle to answer in a collective manner because the church, rather than holding to an uncompromising position, has allowed itself to change and accommodate to modern thinking that has undermined its strength and collective belief. 

As a result of these different stances, some people have left the church that does not accommodate modern and secular-related issues while others are happy to hold on to positions which maintain and strengthen their faith. Conversely, many people have left churches because it seems that the views of the world have become more important than the teachings of Christ and long-standing doctrinal beliefs.  Such churches have declined in attendance because of their compromise with secular and other world faith positions. Either way the church has to be true to the teachings of Jesus and people have to decide in their own ways to join, support or reject such teachings to accommodate their personal and private beliefs and lifestyles.

The purpose of our website, Carol, is to raise awkward questions and find answers that hold on to the teachings of Jesus and church doctrine but also try to accommodate modern thinking so as to embrace the Christian faith rather than reject it.

Choices and Consequences

Photo by Karl Gimblett pexels.com

When we think of a bygone era of faith, we may be tempted to believe that everyone who attended church was a very godly and devoted Christian! In reality it is not to dissimilar to today, only in a different guise – people are more real in what they believe or do not believe which is evidenced by church attendance or no attendance.

As society in general has changed over the years, it may be argued that it is freer from the previous constraints of certain religious laws and practices which I’m sure Jesus himself would not have approved of. A person with faith will always seek to encourage people to embrace faith and live a life that models Christ. Equally, those without a Christian or spiritual faith will want to persuade people to live a moral and upright life but without any reference to a guiding and constraining deity.

Church History

At this present time we may say Western Europe is more secular than spiritual but, as any study of church history records, situations can change, especially if they are fanned by the prayers and faith of believers and God’s Holy Spirit that can renew and revive. So, in all our debating and thinking, we have to remember that church attendance and personal faith is, and always should be, considered separately with the emphasis more on personal faith than church attendance.

When people break away from the disciplines of faith they tend to becomes more self-seeking and confident in their own theories and practices and find that they want to become more god-like themselves. This tends to lead to a moving away from any organised faith and undermine any existence of a personal and invisible God. 

Within human nature, there is a tendency that exists in all religions, philosophies and political debate that one group is completely right and the other is terribly wrong. Lots of people drift in and out of church or some form of organised religion while holding on to their own form of faith or no faith. As Christians, we have to be humble is our quest for truth, to seek wisdom and to hold on to Holy Scriptures that anchors us in the forever challenging world of faith, belief and unbelief.

Making Peace

In my many years of pastoral care and support with individuals and families, I have observed that many young and old people, when realising they are going to die, will seek to make peace horizontally with family and friends and vertically with their creator, universe or just themselves as they realise the limitation and value of human and divine relationships.

It does seem that, in our western and secular world, the existence and worship to God is considered irrelevant and meaningless. However, we have to remind ourselves and each other that the world is God’s – He has created it and daily sustains it. The Holy Spirit of God dwells in the market place, in the corridors of power, in palaces, hostels, entertainment venues and freely within the country and seaside and speaks to that spark of the divine that lives within us to encourage and offset current views of unbelief.

In concluding my responses to your question, Carol, I find the thought of an invisible friend very heart-felt and so true. It is in the heart of all human beings to act as their own god and have their own say on life’s decisions and journeys but that is not wise or the complete picture. Scripture brings out on a number of occasions how God is active and powerful, even in an invisible form, but is able to sweep over individuals and nations as in times of revival.

Recently we have witnessed the example and legacy of the late Queen Elizabeth II who allowed the Lord to fill the God-shaped hole in her heart and, as a result, the Queen today will be experiencing the reality of the resurrection to eternal life and the visible presence of God Almighty.

Listen to this great hymn Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise which challenges modern thinking that all ‘religious worship and liturgy’ is just a whole lot of ‘Mumbo Jumbo.’ We all live by faith and do not have a complete understanding of all that is around us both materially and invisibly. As we wear those spectacles of faith, we are able to see and believe the reality of God through Christ ‘image of the invisible God’ (Colossians1: 15-20) that offsets doubt as we daily walk, talk and pray with our invisible friend in a modern world which is so reassuring.

Check out this powerful worship song: The Greatness Of Our God by Hillsong Worship

Graham

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The Return of Christ

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Prayer

Which is the Real God

Is Satan still around?

Is being Good Enough?