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A Vast Majority: Part 3

 

I have been reflected on the premise contained in Stuart Murray’s book “A Vast Minority” that Christians in the UK are a vast minority. This hasn’t changed in a long time; we have always been a vast minority but previously within a context of “nominal” or “cultural” Christianity. We are now surrounded not by nominal or cultural Christians but people of different faiths or of no faith.

In this blog I want to reflect on the implications this has for discipleship, something that many are rightly raising as a major issue for today.

In the context where we were a vast minority in the context of cultural Christianity there was less of a gap between church and culture. An hour of worship and preaching on a Sunday seemed adequate to resource churchgoers for the rest of the week, especially when discipleship was understood as being compliant citizens and conforming to cultural norms.

We are now in a very different context, and many Christians have little knowledge of the teaching of the Bible and feel ill-equipped for life in the world outside of the church. Such equipping has to be a priority. We have to be equipped to participate in God’s mission within our families, neighbourhoods, workplaces and spheres of service.

We have to reflect on what a Christian lifestyle looks like in today’s context, sometimes it seems as if there is little difference between the lifestyles and priorities of those who claim to be Christians and those who do not. In doing so we need to avoid just laying down rules!

Human sexuality is an important aspect of discipleship for the Christian community, and especially for a minority in a culture that is experiencing rapid changes in its approach to sexual ethics. And if ‘the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil’, finding freedom in this area of life might help us to live freely in many other areas. Yet this cannot be simply tithe and do whatever you want with the rest of your money.

What if we invited others to join a revolutionary movement, a band of pilgrims, a community with quite different values and priorities than the rest of society? Discipleship only truly makes sense in such a context. Of course, this would mean at least aspiring to be such a community.

Written by Tony Thompson

tonyt

Tony Thompson is the leader of Hope Church Luton.  He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

A Vast Majority: Part 2

 

In my previous blog I started some reflections based on Stuart Murrays book a Vast Minority. In this blog I ask some more questions inspired by that book. I find the questions so much easier than answers!

If our goal is a society that allows numerous minority groups to all live together without any one minority imposing their views on the rest, then…….

How do we speak out prophetically against injustice in society rather than just stand up for our own rights and preferences? My previous blog, I’m alright Jack also relates to this question.

In a diverse society made up of many subcultures what does it means to be counter-cultural? Where does the Christian community position itself among the many minority communities that in different ways are counter-cultural in relation to whatever is perceived to be the dominant culture?

I honestly do not know the answers to these questions, but know that these are the questions that we do need to find an answer to together as a Christian community.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

tonyt

Tony Thompson is the leader of Hope Church Luton.  He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

A Vast Majority

I recently read a book by Stuart Murray with the above title which I found helpful and challenging. It made me ask lots of questions which I don’t know if I have the answers to, but are important to ask.

The initial premise of the book is that Christians in the UK are a vast minority. We are a minority, yes, but we are not a small insignificant minority, we are a vast minority. He goes on to suggest that this hasn’t really changed in a long time, we have always been a vast minority but previously within a context of “nominal” or “cultural” Christianity. We are now surrounded not by nominal or cultural Christians but people of different faiths or of no faith. We therefore need to learn to function differently, rather than just long for things to be as they were in the past.

Accepting this it raises all sorts of questions and issues. One that I have been pondering is this.

The complaint that was directed at Christians from previous generations was that as a minority they imposed their view on everyone. I think there is some truth in the complaint. There is now also the complaint that in this generation some Muslims have a secret (or not so secret) agenda to impose their views on everyone else. Let us all agree that it is wrong for any minority to just impose their view on the majority. However, the very people making the complaint against previous generations of Christians and against Muslims today are doing the same themselves now!

It is claimed we are now a Western secular society, however secularists themselves are a minority in our country. The majority of people are people of faith, but no longer belonging to just one faith group. Yet secularists are seeking to impose their views on the rest of us.

The question is therefore what sort of society are we looking to create that allows numerous minority groups to all live together without any one minority imposing their views on the rest? I don’t know if secular society is ready to allow people of faith to enter that debate as equals. I think that people of faith need to challenge the imposition of minority secular views on the rest of.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

tonyt

Tony Thompson is the leader of Hope Church Luton.  He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

I’m Alright Jack

I’ve recently been stirred to think and ponder something that I don’t feel fully qualified to talk about but something that I feel could be a defining issue for the next few years. Something that I am increasingly feeling I need to have an opinion about, however controversial and difficult.

Our nation and most of the world are rightly concerned about terrorism, particularly terrorism in the name of Islam. As such various initiatives are being put forward by society as ways to combat it, many of which could be seen as curtailing the freedom of Muslims to practice their faith. Examples being proposed legislation which requires faith groups teaching children for more than 6 hours a week to be Ofsted inspected; schools having to raise concerns with authorities if they perceive children are being indoctrinated by religious groups.

As Christians we are rightly concerned about how these impact our freedom of expression of our faith. On the whole we are being reassured by the state that they are not directed at us but are directed at Muslim extremism but that Islam can’t be isolated out for special treatment in law.

This is what is causing me to ponder and think. What do I think about it?

I can’t get away from the famous quote attributed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer regarding life in Germany in the 1930s and 40s.

“First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”

 

I believe that as Christians we have to speak out strongly for our right to exercise our faith in the UK in particular but also across the world. There are examples in the UK where Christians are stopped from expressing their sincerely held Christian principles. We should speak out against this discrimination. The treatment of Christians in some countries around the world is outrageous and we should be outraged and speak out against it. Interestingly many Muslims I know are also outraged by the treatment of Christians in some countries that claim to be Islamic.

We should speak out against all forms of terrorism and seek to do all we can to stop it. However, shouldn’t we also insist on the same rights for others to exercise their faith as we expect for our own faith?

 

Written by Tony Thompson

tonyt

Tony Thompson is the leader of Hope Church Luton.  He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

God Is Our Rock

carmel_splash_183780Most people believe in God, the issue is what is the God you believe in like. For example, Britain First recently visited Luton claiming to speak on behalf of God. They said of church leaders in Luton, “these so-called “Christians” are gormless, trendy, politically correct, tree-hugging, sandal wearing hippies who only care about “multiculturalism”, appeasing Islam and publicising themselves.”

Their actions did not in any way represent the God that I believe in!

We need ways to describe and understand God. The Bible is full of different names and metaphors, pictures for God. Some come from God himself, others by men describing the God they have experienced. Rock is the most common term used to describe people’s experience of God.

Moses and David, in the midst of their difficulties found God to be a rock. Moses at end of his life, looking back on his life. David when he had become King, following 20 years of civil war being hunted by Saul.

He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. Deuteronomy 32v4

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Psalm 18v2

The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God my Savior! Psalm 18 v46

The realisation of God being a rock came out of their experiences of turmoil, as the waves of life crashed around them, God was their rock.

Turmoil.

God as our rock is always relevant – there is always turmoil, waves in life. Life is challenging. As seen by the Britain First conflict – Luton is at the heart of many challenges.

Turmoil comes personally and globally. Global turmoil produces personal turmoil.

Global events become real when they come close, when we meet refugees, when terrorist attacks impact those we know and love. They bring home the fragility of life, its uncertainty. When the financial crisis causes us to lose our jobs, for our savings to be halved, we experience turmoil.

Personal turmoil. You know it can happen, but that doesn’t prepare you for it. Feelings rise up that you can’t do anything about.

It is then that we need to know God as our rock.

How is God a rock to us?

In Mark chapter 4 we have a story of Jesus stilling the storm, following which he says, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

God is our rock by stilling storms in our lives.

However, this is not the full extent of him being our rock. He is also our rock by being with us in the midst of our storms, not as wishful thinking, not as an imaginary friend we rely on when things get tough. But as a real support and comfort.

God is with us in our storms as the risen Lord Jesus. All global forces did their worse, the Roman Empire, religious authorities combined to put him to death; he faced the worse personal forces can do, including his friends deserting him. He overcame, defeated them all. Even the last enemy, death, being defeated. Jesus is with us, as he was with the disciples in the boat.

I didn’t make God up – he revealed himself to me and to all his creation. He revealed himself to Moses and David!

Jesus can say “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

We can have faith in God, our rock.

Such an important truth in the midst of storms and turmoil.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

– based on his sermon from 7th February 2016 – Click here to listen to it

tonyt

Tony Thompson is the leader of Hope Church Luton.  He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

The Benefits & Costs Of Trying To Be Truly Generous

 

Hope Church Centre

A ‘Hotspot’ on the Hope Church Centre

In the few years since the Hope Church Centre opened it has become as much a local community centre as a church building.  In addition to the usual church meetings about 20 groups use the centre throughout the week – many of them secular organisations – from dementia and mental health support groups to language schools and board gaming clubs, run by a wide range of people from groups of volunteers, to national charities, local churches or national organisations. Nearly 200 local people per week from outside the church access the services these groups provide.  Most of these groups pay us to hire the building, which is handy, but there is a bigger picture that I want to share with you.

 

Three things have struck me from welcoming in groups from outside the church into our church building:

1

We would never have been able to play our part in serving the local community to the degree we do, if we hadn’t been willing to let the various local secular organisations use our building.  One relatively small church of over a hundred people would, on its own find it hard to find enough skilled people, such as those experienced in mental health issues, let alone provide enough volunteers to run all the different groups, and it would be next to impossible to connect with people in the local Asian community.

 

2

How many people have commented on the atmosphere in the centre, observed that there is a sense of peace in the place, a kind of presence, or that they feel treated differently by the people they meet in the centre from what they were expecting.

 

3

Some are beginning to move from the community of people outside the church who use the building during the week, to the ‘crowd’ that turns up on a Sunday morning or church event – seemingly on their own initiative, joining in enthusiastically with events, and helping to serve.

 

Three things I have learnt from this are:

1

Have a positive attitude to sharing your resources, be it your church building, your pastors, or your church equipment, let alone your own time. This is easier to say than do,  as being truly generous tends to involve sharing something in a way that costs – we have had to decide to take risks to trust relative strangers from outside the church with our building and the keys, trust them that they will use the photocopier wisely, and be content to accept that things will go wrong! When people ask if they can use things like the photocopier I tend to answer, ‘Why are you asking? – this is your home!’  We have chosen to put the cultural and religious preferences of others before our own in accepting some groups that sit men and women separately or by welcoming a board gaming club that play games counter to some traditional church cultures. Church members have had to sacrifice their preferences for room bookings and storage so we can accommodate the needs of other building users.

 

2

To expect non-Christians using the building to feel the presence of God outside of church meetings, and be ready to act on it rather than surprised when it happens, to be ready to answer questions about God from people of other faiths,  to offer to pray with those who are sick, to explain that the presence they are feeling is the presence of God – rather than follow my default politically correct mindset which insists all such talk is taboo – even when it’s the other person doing the asking!

 

3

To give people time, to be willing to make friends with people who visit the building.

I started to make time to stop and listen to people in the groups that use the building – some of them have become my friends.  Unexpectedly, talking to my new friends in the so called ‘mental health’ groups has done me the most good and been the most enjoyable. Even more surprisingly some of them even seem to like me!

 

Three Things You Could Do:

1

Examine your heart. Is there anything in your church or home life that you are holding onto too tightly? What could you share more generously and sacrificially with people outside of your church or family?

 

2

When someone asks you why the atmosphere in your church or with your friends is so different – tell them!

 

3

Give someone outside of your church or family 5 minutes of your time today.

 

 

yours

Dean

 

Dean is Office Manager at Hope Church Luton, married with two children.
Dean Fryer-Saxby is Office Manager at Hope Church Luton, married with two children.

 

 

 

 

To Welcome Them In Or Send Them Back?

Is The Wrong Question…

Photo Boat

One migrant I met recently had flown in from an eastern European E.U. country a few days earlier.  He showed me his one way plane ticket.  He had no money, almost no English, nowhere to stay, no plan and no friends in the UK except for a sister up north (but he didn’t know her contact info), no food, no drink, no trade and no job to go to.

 

For a few weeks he visited the community centre where I work. My attempts to be of help to him kept going round in circles….

 

Efforts to connect him with his sister via Facebook stalled when I realised via Google translate that he had fallen out with her and didn’t really want to see her.

 

He asked me to get him in touch with particular homeless organisations, but insisted I contact the ones I knew couldn’t help him. Eventually I realised the best way to help him was to go to the town hall. But when we arrived he didn’t really want to queue.  When we established they couldn’t help, I pointed him in the direction of a night shelter down the road that I knew could help, but he was cross & pushy when I said I couldn’t go with him.  It felt like he wanted me to do it all for him, that he only really wanted me to help in the exact way he wanted – normally food or cash.

 

The more food handouts I gave him the more often he returned demanding even more. He was always wanting something else, when he got it, he didn’t come across as grateful but disappointed that I hadn’t given him even more. He could be unpleasantly insistent in getting his way. If it wasn’t convenient to let him in I would have to stand in the doorway to stop him walking straight in – ‘No’ didn’t work. He rarely left the building willingly, I normally had to insist, sometimes with great firmness.  Some female volunteers did not feel safe around him, then a mobile phone went missing, and I suspect he nicked it. I ended up not really wanting to even open the door to him.

 

I concluded he was foolish in coming to the UK so unprepared, felt the law was an ass for permitting such stupidity, and thought the best way to help him would be to pay his air fare back home. But I knew that was not the help he wanted.

 

On Reflection…

He was hard to help – almost impossible – it was like trying to parent a tyrannical toddler or a troublesome teenager.  Truly helping him – sending him back home in my view – would have looked very different to many people’s idea of helping migrants.

 

This Experience Taught Me…

We should not insist there is only one right, moral way of helping migrants, or condemn people or countries who have an opposite view to ourselves.

 

The question we should be asking is not ‘do we welcome them in or send them back home?’, nor is it ‘do we send clothes to Calais or erect fences to keep them out?’ and nor is it ‘do we grant asylum only to refugees in camps near Syria’s border or all of Europe?’

 

The real question to ask yourself is ‘Do I Have Compassion For Them?’, and definitely not  ‘Do they deserve it?’ – often they won’t!

 

My migrant friend was like a child. We were all children once.  Parents don’t ask ‘Does my child deserve compassion?’, they know that’s a stupid question – often children don’t. When you first turn to God, He already knows you don’t deserve His compassion, but like a Father with a wayward child he gives it anyway because, as He said to Moses in the Bible  ‘I will have compassion on whom I have compassion’ (Exodus 33).

 

Our job is to have compassion on all migrants – economic or genuine asylum seekers – out of this the right actions will flow.

 

 

Dean

 

Dean is Office Manager at Hope Church Luton, married with two children.
Dean Fryer-Saxby is Office Manager at Hope Church Luton, married with two children.

 

 

 

 

News From Niger

Hope Church Member Moumouni Koudougou reports on his former churches & school in Niger that were damaged in January’s riots.  Read how God is at work in peoples’ hearts in the aftermath of the riots, and how He is still building His church in Niger.

Niger Riots – 7 months later

Moumouni writes … At last, I arrived in Niger on the 7th July for the much awaited and long planned visit to the churches and the school after the 17th-18th January riots. You may remember that following the Charlie Hebdo events, mobs set fire to and looted a large number of churches

Niger1and Christian businesses. Both of our churches and our school suffered considerable damage. My visit was delayed a number of times due to an eventful house moving process in which we have been trapped since the month of March. (The good news is that we finally exchanged yesterday and will move on the 12th August!).

I intended the visit to be one of encouragement and sup- port to the churches for their rebuilding process, in both a mate- rial and non-material sense. This was greatly enabled by your

generous gifts following our appeal on behalf of the churches and school after the riots. In all, we received around £4000 which I was able to pass on to the churches and school to address out- standing needs. Seating, windows, doors, electric wires, bulbs, paint, musical instruments, church teaching materials, pulpits, water supply, provision for extra security, and school teaching materi- als were amongst other things still on the list and in need of reinstating, repairing, purchasing or adding.

It’s been encouraging to see that the prompt reaction of churches and individuals has signifi- cantly helped to curtail the negatives effects of these riots.

A Time of Reunion and Communion

Niger2The visit also gave me an opportunity to input to the churches, I was asked to be the speaker during a two day teaching seminar themed: ‘Living out one’s faith day to day’. It’s a much needed area of training in this time of persecution with the potential to force some believers underground. This was attended by members and leaders of both our two churches andbeyond. It has been a time not only of nurture around the Word, but also of celebration, com- munion in the Spirit, joyful reunion and sharing of food during the whole length of my seven day visit.

The success of this gathering as well as the previous ones now motivates them to want to make it a yearly event where the focus will be on teaching, hearing from God together for the future, celebrating God’s love and encouraging communion amongst the churches. So we may be returning next year if circumstances allow.

“I Will Build My Church…”

This promise isn’t mine but the Lord’s. Although there still is uneasiness about the riots and numerical growth is somewhat slow, the churches are doing well. It was obvious while in- teracting with everyone that morale and determination are high. It is in sharp contrast to the intention of the riots to intimidate and silence. Morale is especially high among the leaders as they now see the work that God is doing in peoples’ hearts in the aftermath of the riots.

Niger3The initial shock was followed by a surge of determination, and gathering soon resumed in private houses weeks after the burning and looting. This unprecedented episode has not only shaken the church but it also has been a learning curve for the whole Christian community. It demonstrat- ed that beyond the tussles for power and influence what is really worth fighting for is one’s relationship with God.

To date, a number of church buildings are still standing charred and desolate and there is a sense of apprehension as to what the fu- ture may hold. However there is equally a great sense of optimism that God is in control, an optimism that is fed by a belief that God is avenging the church through recent tragic events in Niger such as an unprecedented meningitis epidemic. This may sound superstitious to some but the prevailing cultural mind-set is that things have their origins in the supernatural. This optimism is supported by story after story of people finding faith in Christ in the aftermath of the riots even in the hardened city of Niamey. It has highlighted the peace-loving attitude of the Christian community.

The story of “Ali” illustrates this reality. “Ali” is a son of a prominent religious leader and a friend of one of our colleague. He has had many years of witness but has never shown a spark of interest. However the latest violence against Christians set him thinking, various snippets of his life story collided to bring the light that his background has been sheltering him from. One Sunday morning, unprompted, “Ali” woke up and walked straight to church to give his life to Christ. This move was met with suspicion by many of the church but months have gone by and A is still firm and now talking about getting baptised as well as bringing his wife and four kids to the church. While I listened to “A” I was reminded that it is in no man’s power to save and that God’s ways remain inscrutable to us.

A Brass Camel as a Symbol of Endurance

Niger4I was given a brass camel as a reminder that the church is determined to persevere in the face of adversity. This metaphor is drawn from the harsh physical reality of Niger. The real camel is built to cope with its environment and prowl unintimidated across the desert land of Niger to the shores of the Sahara. It’s a reminder that the church is braced to suffer it lots. They are well aware that riots of this nature may happen again given that this first act went largely unpun- ished, this, despite the government’s attempt to show good will by contributing to the expenses caused to the churches. This determination not to give in to fear and intimidation is comforting.

The Anoura School

The damage done to the school was so extensive that we feared it would take at least a year before the school could reopen its doors to the children. But here as in the case of the churches, God has been faithful and the school was able to reopen its door to the kids, largely Muslim, soon after the riots. The overseer writes:

Niger5“We thank God for this school year, it was literally a vic- tory … another class finished the primary level and we are certain that everything that is planted in their hearts will grow one day.

Praise God for our staff, head teacher, teachers, cooks, the two guards, missionaries, and volunteers… they succeeded with the help of the Lord to lift their heads and rebuild from the ashes … he gave us the victory”.

I cannot finish this letter without thanking you again on behalf of the churches to you all for your much-appreciated assistance in a time of need and your concern for the suffering church in the M majority context of Niger.Niger6

Money Money Money

“Money is neutral……its made of paper or coins.  However…..whilst
money is neutral, it does take on the character of the one who
posseses it. God does not mind us having money. He does mind money
having us. British christians, from my experience, are some of the
most embarrassed about what God really says on this subject.

I felt God speaking to me about this recently using the illustration of money
being like rain falling from heaven on two kinds of hearts.

Pond heart
The rain falls on the pond and it collects and builds. The water is good to
drink from for a couple of days but after 3 months it is already
poisonous. This represents the prosperity gospel at its worst. The
problem being there is no outward flow of the blessing to others. Its
all for me !

River heart
The rain falls on to a river. Always drinkable, always flowing to where
the Spirit leads it to go.   This person recognises he is a steward of
what God owns.. Indeed I saw the volume of rain falling and increasing
as this christian could be trusted to handle wealth.

So the question is “do we give to get” – that’s a good question ! My
own experience over 25 years as a christian has been practically true
as follows:-

When I give generously to the Lord in any Christ inspired way, he
always, always allows me to completely forget the giving over the
following months even years  so that, for my sake,  I know I cannot
manipulate God into blessing me. He does this as he loves me and wants
me to grow in faith and he also knows I am too weak to not be excited
about what he might do !

I have always found over the years that God does reward me financially
when I am expecting it least. God always seems to make sure that it is
a complete surprise to me – a sudden blessing. Jesus said it would come
“pressed down shaken together and running over” and the book of
Malachi even teases us to test God in financial giving.

The other key blessing is that you get Gods attention when he is
looking to trust someone with a task for the kingdom.

I spoke about this when I was recently invited to preach to a
multi-cultural church in Malta on Acts 10 when God specifically
highlights the generous financial giving to the poor  of Cornelius as
qualifying him to be God’s catalyst to reach Peter and subsequently
the gentile world.

So when you give financially you launch a kingdom world far beyond
what you can imagine. You get Gods attention and attract his favour.

Enjoy your joyful giving !

Jon Gledhill

Jon is a member of Hope Church Luton