The new normal should lead to a new normal

As we emerge out of lockdown like hibernating bears emerging from their winter cave, what is your post lockdown plan?  The media is full of talk of a ‘new normal’ which involves facemarks, localised lockdowns, smaller social gatherings, new ways of dropping and picking up from school and so on.  But what about us?  What is your new normal going to be?

I’ve been musing on this this week as I think about this terms preaching plan.  Normally

Want, Need And Must Have
Want need and must have conceptional drawing on the chalkboard

I’d have has this term planned out at Easter but with all the uncertainty over when, if and who would be back meeting together, how many services etc… I simply haven’t been able to put a plan together.  As a rule we tend to preach through books of the bible with the odd topical series thrown in.  I’ve been toying with doing a short series called reset.  Looking at what the possibilities emerging from lockdown brings in terms of us having a spiritually healthy new normal.  But it’s proving tricky to put together.

Let me ask a few questions:

  1. What did you most appreciate about the early days of lockdown?
  2. What did you most miss?
  3. As the lockdown stretched on over months what bad habits became most deeply ingrained?
  4. What one lesson you’ve learnt do you wish to keep?

My worry is that for so many of us lockdown exacerbated already bad habits.  It made us binge watch box sets to alleviate boredom, isolated us from our church family, cemented the idea that online church is just as good as physical church, and made us turn inward to protect us and ours to the exclusion of others even more than before.

As we emerge into a new normal there are things we need to recognise, there are things we need to fight to change.  But there is also a great opportunity to have a new normal.  To make relationship with God and his people a priority.  To maximise the potential for technology to enable us to pray more (I’ve love dour 3 zoom prayer meetings a week).  To look back on the hectic breathless nature of life pre-lockdown and determine and plan not to go back there but to allow time in life to breathe, relate, share and meditate.  None of these things will be easy, they will all take thought and time to establish, we will have to fight for them.

I’d love to know your thoughts.  Whether the potential series ever makes it to preach we’ll see, I’m very aware of danger of my thoughts driving a series rather than scripture. In the mean time what changes would lead to a new spiritually healthy normal for you, your church, your leaders?

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Are we missing the bigger point?

I’ve been biting my fingers (tongue) to stop myself saying anything about this.  But can’t do it any more so here goes…

There has been much outrage about last weeks A-level results.   There have been lots of stories about how unfair it is that an algorithm has done this to young people.  There are lots of heart breaking stories and I’m not wanting to minimise any of these.  The effect on young people’s lives and mental health could and probably will be severe.  But I wonder if we’re missing out on the bigger thing that these results are exposing.

They expose the deeper underlying inequalities of life in Britain.  Inequalities that so many of us know exist but which we ignore so that we can live life as if they don’t.  These results have not been fair but they have been particularly unfair if you are at an historically poor performing school or a school in special measures or in an area of deprivation.  Because previous performance of the school has been taken into account.  If you are an exceptional student in a below average school the schools previous performance has drastically influenced your grades.

What the algorithm at its most basic says is; if you are from there you can’t do any better than this.  You can’t break free.  You can’t get out.  You can’t do that well or be that bright.  That is tragic, that ought to make us angry at the injustice.  But actually it is only putting into numbers and formulas what society already does and says.  Inequality is real in the UK and what is desperately sad is that so many of us give it so little thought, content in our middle class bubbles of good schools and high achieving family, naïvely assuming everyone has equality of opportunity and support.

We live in unusual times and the unusual way of producing these results is having a tragic impact on young people up and down the country.  But let’s not miss this opportunity.   I hope that they come up with some way of resolving the issues, no way will be perfect and every possibly solution with prejudice someone, be it this years, last years, or next years pupils.

But I have a bigger hope and that is that we see the greater tragedy behind the story.  This is normal life, not a once in a lifetime aberration, for so many in Britain. For so many young people the playing field is not level, it is a hard to climb slope they have to slog up as they battle the disadvantages of low income, poor schools, limited opportunities, and lack of access to resources.

My fear with this current outcry is that the vocal majority will go silent once their needs are met.  That instead of pushing for justice for all we will simply go silent when we’ve achieve just-us, when we’ve got what we want for us and ours.

In Isaiah 42 we see that the Messiah comes to proclaim justice.  That he will bring about justice for all nations.  Not just what is legally right but a world without injustice and inequality.  That is his kingdom, we will never bring it about perfectly until Jesus returns, but as those who claim to bow the knee to such a king neither should we stop trying to bring about as much justice as we can.  My prayer is that the church sees the permanent reality of inequality that this current situation highlights, and acts.  Prays, writes, campaigns, volunteers in tough schools, contacts organisations like TLG to see how it can help, provides mentors for pupils.  Maybe even partners with churches in such areas so they can provide support through the links they have.

imagesThe gospel is the only hope for lasting justice.  But the church ought to be a mobilised force for justice wherever it can.  This may just be a huge opportunity for us to live out the gospel values of the kingdom where we are.  But only if we think bigger than just-us.

Preaching that produces

Too much what passes as application is implication (the principle God is teaching us in the passage) rather than real application which takes the implication and works it out for people in the world in which they live in tangible ways.  Application is where we show people how the rubber hits the road!

Good application starts with good interpretation, once we’ve understood the meaning of the text then, and only then, we can begin to think about how it applied to it’s original hearers, and then to us, it will also reflect the context of the book and the bible.

All scripture is crying out for application it’s dynamic – God’s word designed to change!  Just read a prophet and God so often tells us what the application of his word was, what it was designed to do.  Jesus gives us a number of parables of trees and fruit and wise and foolish builder and sower and soils to show us the word is designed to be applied.

Here are some question I’ve found helpful in thinking about this, though I have a long way to go in applying God’s word better:

  1. What was the application for those to whom the book was written?
  2. What truths did it teach them about God, and how ought they to respond to that?
  3. What did it teach God’s people about their hearts and thinking?
  4. What direct application does it give concerning actions?
  5. Is it simply reporting or recommending actions?
  6. Apply what the passage says – your main teaching point will shape your main application point: What is the same for us? What is different?
  7. What is the application for our Christian friends?
  8. What is the application for our church as a body (DON’T SKIP THIS so much of God’s word calls for community application)?
  9. What is the application for our unbelieving friends?
  10. Apply in the light of the gospel – don’t apply a ‘do this’ but apply by changing the heart with the gospel, aim for affections and desires.
  11. Don’t apply all at the end, apply as things come up in your structure and in asides.  Don’t back load application.
  12. Apply boldly but graciously (as if to the person you love most in the world)
  13. Application should shape your introduction and introduce the issues God’s word will be applied to

It’s church Jim, but not as we know it

We met on Sunday for the first time since March.  It was good to meet together again, but it was also strange.  It was strange in terms of the socially distanced layout.  Church at Grace has always been about family and relationships and being involved in one another lives.  That for the moment is not possible on a Sunday morning.  As people arrive sit in their socially distanced seats and don’t have conversations with one another either beforehand or afterwards.

But it was good to be physically present together.  There is encouragement at it’s most basic in simply being present.  We ran two services, one at 9.30 and one at 10.45 with some cleaning in between.  The services were short; a psalm read, a prayer, a videoed children’s talk, a videoed reading, and a sermon on Matthew 12v1-14, before we listened to a video of a song as we paused to think about how God was calling us to respond, before we prayed and left one row at a time.

We recorded the first service and uploaded it to YouTube after the service.  And live-streamed the second service in it’s entirety via FaceBook Live.  We also put together a playlist of hymns and songs for people to use before or after they arrived.  And we gathered on zoom still at 12.15 for people to catch up with one another.

I did miss the singing but the value of meeting together outweighed that.  Everyone followed social distancing, everyone was bemasked(I know, but hoping it catches on).

As we go forward we will need to work hard at maintaining unity, we are now split in 3, one congregation at 9.30 one at 10.45 and about 1/3 of the congregation still shielding or feeling social distancing is too difficult with young children.  We are praying that God helps us stay united, we are working hard to make things as accessible as possible.  But going forward I wonder if this will be the biggest challenge.