Sunday, 30 November 2008

Bulgaria summer camp reunion - and spreading the gospel [the news of Jesus]

Recently I caught up with the team I was part of that went out from the UK to Bulgaria in July. There’s something about shared experiences that can bring you together, isn’t there? Jim and I felt it was only about two weeks since we were together there playing cards and Mafia with the Bulgarians, learning to hurry our hops and steps to keep in time with the dances, eating soups and Shopska salad and bread and noodles, attempting to teach English through the use of animal noises, trying to emphasise the importance of the idea of sin and the fact that Jesus is the only Saviour in the Bible study times, chatting the Americans about Little Britain, and wandering around the mountainous landscape surrounding our hotel on someone’s misguided idea of a “hike”.

For those reading this who pray, do pray for more freedom for Bulgarian students to speak about God on their campuses. The Christian student groups are unable to hold their events in the university or even advertise on campus, which means they really can only reach those they are close to. Having seen the situation first-hand, I would love to see the gospel explode across the country, bringing light to all those who are following dead religion – superstitious ideas not based on the historical gospel – or to those caught in poverty there. Also, the movement would benefit from having a staff worker in the South, where there are no student groups.

Life has moved on for me since the trip. But the students we met are continuing in their journey of deciding where to put their trust. It is great to hear that most students from the camp are now attending churches in their cities in the North. Almost all are still in touch with the Christian student groups. May our generous God do what he has done for me and bring them
all from spiritual death, through his cross of forgiveness, to true and everlasting life!

In the UK, of course the challenge continues to keep on doing the uncomfortable thing and reaching out, and, together with that, to fight complacency in our own hearts and resist the pursuit of comfort that is such a big cause of stress here (just try asking a middle-aged mum whether she is ready for Christmas!) Isn’t it funny how unimportant things can take over without us ever noticing? While we pray for the Bulgarians we should also pray that the church here continues to find ways of getting the gospel out there to non-Christians, and doesn’t settle for merely supporting those within the church. Let’s not lose our sense of mission and the pull on our hearts of Jesus’ command to go to all the world with the gospel (including our work colleagues and old school or uni friends)!

Saturday, 8 November 2008

How to see other people

After two and a half months of unemployment, I have a job :) - and a new set of people around me. Such a change has helped me to see again what God's instruction to love and serve others will actually mean in practice, and, after last month's overdose of posts on comic books (I guess I have had some time on my hands) I have decided it will be worthwhile to post on some of the lessons I have been learning. I hope it's helpful!

It struck me this morning that being dismissive of someone (ie. a family member or someone at work) is usually just a concealed form of hating them. Or at least the two are linked. It says to them “I would rather you were out of my way”. It suggests that the person not worth your attention is repulsive, someone you can abuse and treat without any compassion or grace whatsoever.

But impatience and hate are not God’s way.

The way of hate forgets that God has given us his powerful Spirit in order to love the unlovable, and to care about others in times of stress and suffering when we wouldn’t naturally do it. I think we would all do well to study Jesus’ words during his time of suffering, in the Garden and on the cross. Not only did he pray for his followers when he was in agonising fear, on the cross he chose to forgive the crowds mocking him. Giving people our love can be tough and costly, but it shows grace.

There’s one more thing that being dismissive of others shows up in us. It shows we have forgotten that every person on the earth was made in the image of God, whether or not they are becoming more like him or less. As such, we should honour that God-given dignity and beauty.

Last year I read something from CS Lewis that said that every person we meet is an eternal person, with an eternal destiny. All our friends and family, and those on our streets and in our offices and schools; every one will have one of the two eternal homes to go to. They will either be in a place of great honour for ever in the renewed world God will rule, enjoying the enormous blessings of knowing our generous God, or they will be cast out, far from love and life, suffering for ever in a place where God punishes their sin. These sobering truths remind us that we are far more than animals – we are responsible creatures, whose decisions have profound effects. We will be held accountable.

And what else can we see from the Bible about other people? They were all designed to find the most joy in life in knowing God in a relationship, and in reflecting his goodness in the world by being like him: loving others and loving the Father, making a positive impact on the society and the world, making the right moral decisions, etc. And they were all designed to rely on God in prayer; some days, when I really know the blessing of talking to God and asking him to for help and strength for every situation, I wonder how I could possibly live without this amazing gift.

In the gospel these things – a relationship with God, reliance on him, joy, changed behaviour – can come to anyone. And they bring real hope and fullness of life, whether that is to a business-obsessed young professional, a struggling council estate family or your most awkward work colleague! All the blessings that God has for believers can come to any one of the people you know through the double-punch package of the gospel and God’s Spirit. Happy days!

So next time you are tempted to sidestep that whining adolescent or talkative pensioner who you don’t think is worth your time – think again about the God who created them to reflect his glory. Think about their eternal destiny. And, perhaps most of all, think about the love shown by Jesus on the cross.

Pic above right: Some Bulgarian students helping a (quite poor) town by renovating the park. I was there and got involved by visiting an inspiring old lady who was ill and lonely and loved the company. These are some examples of how we can love the overlooked in our society. Pray for those pictured to become Christians and for their friends in a country where there has been official opposition to Christian groups.