Turning evil into good?

Over the weekend just gone a young white man travelled hundreds of miles to go on a killing spree in a predominantly black neighbourhood, live screening the event on social media. A report from the BBC is shown below.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-61462939

Whilst this event took place in America it has been widely reported and has once again had an impact in our communities. Such events can not and should not be ignored. My prayer is that they might be a catalyst for healthy and lasting change, my fear is that they will create a growing spiral of division, anger, hatred, and fear. We need to keep praying but I also think that prayer needs to be accompanied by action. This blog is a small action on my part!

As Christians we need to offer an alternative to the world’s response. We believe in a God who overcame evil by triumphing over it on the cross. I believe that ultimately evil always overreaches itself, as is shown by the cross and resurrection. We believe in a God who calls us to be reconcilers. We therefore need to be active in speaking out against injustice, we need to be active in working towards reconciliation. We need to hate what is evil and rejoice with the truth.

As a white Christian I can only listen to the pain this event has again caused to my black and brown brothers and sisters. Hear the fear, anger and hopelessness that once again has surfaced. How could it have happened yet again? I can listen though. I can also encourage my friends to share those feelings with God, to join them in lament, join them in asking God, how long O Lord? How can you allow these injustices to continue? To recognise that things are not how God intended them to be, and long for his kingdom to come.

I can also encourage them to hate evil but not to allow that to spill over into bitterness. To plead for them to not believe the worst of all white people. To encourage everyone that there are alternatives to either trying to not think about such events because of the pain they cause, or to be overwhelmed with despair. I can also speak out against the injustice and challenge other white people with influence to do so too.

The events of the weekend need to be a catalyst for more conversations between people from different racial backgrounds, strengthening friendship and understanding of each other.

We need to have faith that events meant for evil can be used for good. We can be part of that.

Let us not hide from such events but talk about them. Please feel free to contact me if you want to talk to me about them, I am always happy to listen.

Refugees and Asylum Seekers

posted in: Uncategorised 0

 

Over the past few months, we have felt as a church that God has been speaking to us about a new area of ministry he wants us to invest into.  This ministry is to provide support for the many refugees and asylum seekers here in Luton, and show the love that God has for them, and the intrinsic value and dignity that they have.

Where has all this come from?  Well, over the past few months and without actively seeking it, we have had 5 refugees start worshipping with us, and we are expecting more to join us shortly.  As we have got to know these people, we have heard first-hand about the difficult circumstances which have forced them to be displaced from their home country, and away from friends, jobs, homes and families.  And having spoken with local council representatives and other local churches, we have realised that many of these asylum seekers are grouped together in small local hotels, and without the language, understanding and confidence to engage with the community around them.

At Hope Church we have felt God speaking to us and our need to respond to this.  A small number of us met to pray and chat with some local asylum seekers, and very quickly had a page of ideas of services and support which would be beneficial. However we also felt strongly that with other existing projects we are already involved in, that we should focus on 1-2 promising initiatives which we can commit to and support.  Those initiatives will be (1) a specific refugee-focussed session of Open House on Wednesday afternoons and (2) English Language lessons.

Speaking personally as a leader of the church, I have been amazed and excited by how quickly and easily plans have fallen into place for these initiatives!!  The right rooms are immediately available, the right leaders are immediately available, we have had immediate support and encouragement from across the church family, and in times of prayer about refugees I have immediately felt the Holy Spirit close, energised and powerful.  It is miraculous that having met to discuss ideas in the late March, these initiatives will be up and running within 6 weeks of that first discussion.

God is on the move! It is exciting to feel His passion and energy in His purposes.  No doubt there will be surprises, joys and challenges ahead, but God we pray to you for your blessing.  If anyone feels stirred to join us as a helper please do contact me ASAP Jonathan.hopechurch@gmail.com

 

Jonathan Adams (on behalf of the Hope Leadership Team)

 

Other interesting links

City of Sanctuary network:     https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_of_Sanctuary_(UK)

UN Refugee Agency:             https://www.unhcr.org/uk/

Asylum seekers in UK:           https://www.unhcr.org/uk/asylum-in-the-uk.html

Manna, Sabbath and rest.

Life is getting increasingly difficult for so many people. Covid is still around but we now have the added challenge of cost of living increases which are causing some to struggle to make ends meet. In this context I have been reflecting on the manna, special bread, given in the wilderness as described in Exodus 16. There were special rules for gathering it, you could only gather enough for the day (no surplus) except the day before the Sabbath when twice the amount could be gathered because there would be no manna available on the Sabbath day.

24 So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it. 25 “Eat it today,” Moses said, “because today is a sabbath to the Lord. You will not find any of it on the ground today. 26 Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.” Exodus 16

What I have been pondering is the obvious importance given to Sabbath, taking time off from work and resting, even in the most extreme of circumstances. Being in the wilderness having to collect white stuff falling from the sky seems extreme to me, yet even so God insists on taking time off to rest. Why was this so important, why did it trump everything else?

I think it was because God wanted to instil in his people the importance of living in a different way than they had lived in Egypt. In Egypt their whole lives were built around work, no respite, they had to make bricks every single day of their lives. They had been miraculously set free from slavery and the sign of that was a day each week when they didn’t work but rested and appreciated all that God had done for them. He showed that they didn’t need to work because he gave them enough provision without having to work every single day. He didn’t give them surplus, but he gave them enough.

Having been used to a slave mindset where everything was about work God knew how important it was that they learnt to live in the freedom he had won for them.

I have been pondering this because I believe we still battle with a slave mindset and can find it difficult to take time off. To take a day a week, then extended times at other times (the equivalent of the Jewish Festivals) when we stop working and trust in the provision of God. To set aside time to appreciate God and His creation. In challenging economic times, the battle is even harder.

Thorough out my childhood the phrase 6 to 2 was important, it was the shift that my father would work every Saturday and Sunday in addition to his normal Monday to Friday work. This paid for our holidays we were told. Looking back to my childhood I wonder if my father got it right. Working 7 days a week meant we didn’t have the time with him we would have otherwise. My brother and I missed out; I think my father missed out too.

It is not just my father, I think many of us struggle to relax and take time off, to not think about work but to rest. To celebrate the provision of God, to recognise that we are no longer slaves but free people, to trust his provision. I suspect the lesson God was trying to teach the children of God in the wilderness still needs to be learnt. Not least by myself.

There are different reasons we struggle to take time off, to relax. It can be economic, we think we need to work crazy hours to make ends meet or to have the lifestyle we desire; it can be that we get our identity from work and from success in the workplace, this drives us on; it can be a wrong view of what serving God is like, thinking he is a master like Pharoah constantly demanding from us.

Whatever the reason I think that God wants to release us into the freedom that he has won for us, and to do this we need to win the battle to rest. To trust that God’s way is the best way.

 

The trauma of refugees

posted in: Tony Thompson 1

In Luton, as in many parts of the UK, we are seeing an influx of refugees fleeing persecution and conflict. Even before we receive people fleeing the war in Ukraine, there are over 1,000 refugees in Luton, living in hostels and hotels waiting for resettlement. All having their own stories of trauma. Many of us are regulalarly coming into contact with them and seeking to befriend and support. Recently I came across a very helpful guide,  giving practical information on how we can best support those who have experienced trauma. Some of it is copied below, the full document can be found at –

https://cloud.squidex.io/api/assets/thi-beacon/8bc2c1f0-8aa7-46ca-adb1-f69bc85ac464/

 

Normal Reactions to Trauma

Each person responds to trauma differently. It can help people to know that their reactions are normal, that reactions will often vary from day to day, and that they will go away with time. These are some normal reactions when people are overwhelmed by a traumatic experience:

  • Physical: People may find that their heart pounds and they breathe quickly. They may have headaches and stomachaches. They may have trouble sleeping or have no appetite. They may feel shaky or exhausted.
  • Mental: They may be confused and unable to concentrate or to make good decisions.
  • Emotional: They may be anxious, depressed, or overwhelmed. They may blame themselves for what happened. They may be irritable, angry or violent. They may feel numb.
  • Behavioural: They may want to be alone. They may try to avoid how they are feeling by using drugs or alcohol, working non-stop, overeating, and so forth. They may do things that, in the end, will bring them harm, like smoking, spending more than they can afford, engaging in illicit sex, and so on. They may have accidents.

Following traumatic experiences, people must grieve their losses in order to heal. Grieving is a process with ups and downs that often takes a long time.

Children’s Reactions to Trauma

Children may have unique ways of dealing with trauma and are often unable to express their feelings in words. These are some of the ways they may be affected:

  • Emotional: They may become fearful, angry and aggressive, or sad. They may lose interest in life or school. They may feel that they are somehow responsible for what happened. Older children may feel guilty that they survived when others did not.
  • Physical: Their speech may be affected. They may lose their appetite. They may complain about headaches, stomachaches, or other aches. They could have hives or asthma.
  • Behaviour: They may regress and start sucking their thumbs or wetting the bed again. They may have nightmares or bad dreams. They may cry a lot. They may be deeply upset if they lose something that matters to them, like a stuffed animal. They may do poorly in school because they cannot concentrate. Older children may struggle with using drugs or alcohol or engage in risky behavior. They may be more susceptible to self-harm.

Things that will Help Recovery

  • Finding aspects of their situation they can influence or control.
  • Connecting with available resources to begin to rebuild their lives and self-confidence.
  • Taking care of their body by eating well, exercising, and getting as much sleep as their body needs to recover.
  • Re-establishing routines and setting small goals that they can accomplish.
  • Expressing their pain. They should talk to someone who is a good listener. Write or draw about what happened and share it with someone.
  • Telling God how they are feeling, either in prayer or by writing it in a letter or lament (read Psalm 13 as an example).
  • Singing or listening to soothing music.
  • Laughing when they can. Crying as needed.
  • Spending time with people who are positive and helpful.
  • Asking for help and accepting the help others offer.
  • Learning to calm themselves with a breathing exercise.
  • When people are willing, praying aloud with and for them.

“The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18 NIV

Things that will Slow Recovery

  • Making big decisions.
  • Being very busy.
  • Drinking alcohol or drinks with too much caffeine.
  • Taking drugs to sleep.
  • Talking in public about their experience before they have had time to recover.
  • Listening to many others retell their traumas.

Telling Their Story

After a disaster, people need an opportunity to tell someone what happened to them. Telling their story is a very important part of recovery. It allows people to process what they have experienced and begin to deal with it emotionally. After people talk about the facts of their story, and their thoughts about it, also invite them to talk about their emotional experience.

If possible, meet with people individually or in a small group. If you are listening to two or more people together, encourage them to share their story but not to dwell too much on the most difficult parts, as that may traumatize the others. Things to remember:

  • Keep information confidential
  • Listen in a caring manner
  • Do not criticize or give them quick solutions
  • Do not minimize their pain by comparing it with your own pain.

These are questions that can be used to guide your listening:

  1. What happened?
  2. How did you feel?
  3. What was the hardest part?

Use these additional questions, if appropriate, to help them recognize any good things that have come from the situation:

  1. Who helped you?
  2. Were you able to help others?
  3. What gave you strength to get through?
  4. Did you see God in this situation? Explain.

If the person is not able to talk about their experience, ask them to draw a picture and then try to discuss it. Expressing feelings through art can be especially helpful for children who haven’t yet developed the ability to talk through their feelings and reactions.

Writing a lament or a letter to God expressing their feelings can be very healing. The important thing is to encourage them to be honest with God about their feelings. God is strong enough to handle honesty. With time, encourage them to remember God’s faithfulness, even in these trying circumstances.

People should be calm before they leave. Doing breathing exercises individually or in a group can help them relax before they go.

Caring for Caregivers

Caregivers have often experienced their own trauma, and can be further affected by hearing about the experiences and feelings of others. After listening sessions, someone should listen to the facilitators themselves so they can express how they were affected by what they heard and saw. This can be done individually or in a small group. Praying together for trauma victims is helpful to assist the caregivers in releasing the pain and responsibility to God, and to invite God’s power to bring victims the help they need.

Caregivers, too, can benefit greatly from drawing or writing about their feelings.

 

The relationship between Christ and His church.

posted in: Tony Thompson 0

I have been reflecting recently about the love that Christ has for the church and its implications.

We are told that for the joy set before him Christ endured the cross, scorning its shame. Hebrews 12v2.

In the book of Revelation, we are told what that joy was.

Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready. 19v7

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 20v2

The church, Christ’s bride, is his joy, his delight, his passion, his motivation.

This is something we need to hear and reflect on. We may also love the church, but we can become discouraged by her faults and apparent weakness. We can work hard in the church and see a marginalised and messed up community. Yet she is Christ’s bride, and he will vindicate her.

I am told that Martin Luther told the story of a king (representing Jesus) marrying a poor girl—in fact, a prostitute (representing us). And at their wedding day, she says to him: “All that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you!” And so, she shares with him all her debts and shame. And the king says, “And all that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you.” And with those words, he is hers: she becomes a queen, and all his kingdom is hers.

What a powerful picture of the relationship between Christ and his bride.

There are some implications from this.

We shouldn’t separate ourselves the church or be unconcerned about the church. It has been easy to do so after many months of not meeting together. Other things take the place of gathering with God’s bride. We get out of the habit. Let us all decide to re-engage with Christ’s love and passion, his church.

Second, which is especially relevant for leaders within the church, like I me. If the church is Christ’s beloved bride, we must treat her with great respect. It’s so tempting to want the church to look at us, to admire us, to depend on us. But think what that is! Richard Sibbes said, “Many make love to the spouse of Christ.” Trying to get the bride to admire you is flirting with the bride of Christ. True friends do not behave that way. No, if we’re friends of Christ, we point the church to her husband. Isn’t that telling, trying to get the bride to admire you is flirting with the bride of Christ. I find that stops me dead in my tracks. May I never flirt with Christ’s bride.

Then thirdly, if we love Christ we will share his concerns, especially being the champion of his bride.

 

 

 

Being slapped on the right cheek.

posted in: Bible 1

On Sunday I challenged everyone to ask God to open their eyes to understand the Scriptures better. I prayed the prayer myself. I am embarrassed to confess that I was surprised when God answered my prayer!

I have read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 to 7) many, many times. Included in the sermon is the verse “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” Matthew 5v39.

What I hadn’t paid any attention too before is that Jesus specifically mentioned right cheek, what is so special about being slapped on the right cheek? I realised if I were going to slap someone, I would normally use my right hand and hit the other person on the left cheek. To slap someone on the right cheek, I would either need to use my left hand or use the back of my right hand.

I know enough to understand that in ancient cultures and some current contexts, where toilet paper is not available, what the left hand is used for! Using the back of the hand to slap someone is equally insulting. Therefore, to slap someone either with the left hand or the back of the right hand is a very great insult. It is to dismiss them as dirt, to treat them with distain, to take away their dignity and treat them as an inferior. It is significantly different then just being slapped.

The next step in my eyes being opened was to recognised that I had never metaphorically been slapped on my right cheek. I have no recollection of being treated with distain, never had to handle being regularly treated as if I were dirt and an inferior, never had my dignity consistently undermined. I realised that I am the privileged one, a tall, white, well-educated male. I am more likely to slap others on the right cheek than to be slapped!

However, many of my friends have had to live with that experience historically and even currently. They experience things I have not. I need to recognise that, and admit that. People experience being slapped on the right cheek for many different reasons, it can be because of their ethnicity, gender, social class, education or for other reasons.

What Jesus says to these people is to turn the other cheek. Doing so is to seek to be dignified, to declare I am equally human. It is saying I should be treated not with contempt but honour. It removes the power to humiliate. It is a refusal to acknowledge that I am inferior. The alternative to offering the other cheek is the expected response, to cower in submission. It is a refusal to hang your head in shame.

The application for me of this instruction from Jesus is therefore to never strike anyone on the right cheek and to encourage and support those who are slapped on the right cheek. To encourage and support them to respond with dignity. Not what I had ever seen before. Thankyou Jesus for opening my eyes to the truth that is in your word.

 

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