ASPECTS OF FAITH - PART TWO

 
RESPONSIBLE FREEDOM.
 In Christian and spiritual terms, ‘freedom’ is a freedom from the law, as set out in the first five books of the Old Testament; from sin and spiritual death; and from selfishness, guilt and fear. (Rom 6: 6+7.  Rom 6: 15-23.  John 8: 36).
     Jesus said that he had fulfilled the requirements of the law; and he went on to make an offer. He said, in effect: “You can never, on your own, keep the law. I have done it for you. Accept me. Rely on what I have done and, because of your faith in me, the Father will accept you, and count you among the righteous”.
     But Jesus did not say that he had cancelled the law. It remained, and still remains. Just as prisons exist, and will remain, to contain those who have lived in a particular way, and have broken the statute-book laws; so the spiritual law remains, to deal with those who reject or ignore Christ, and attempt to ‘make it’ on their own. Just as honest men and women are free from prisons, so those who are made righteous in Christ are free from the law. Freedom from the law is the confirmation that those who are made free, in Christ, are also free from the power and effects of sin. This being so, it follows that those who are free from the power and effects of sin, are also free from that spiritual death which is the consequence of un-dealt-with sin.
     Freedom is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end; and the ‘means’ must be exercised responsibly, if the ‘end’ is to be achieved. Those who have, in Christ, received a freedom from (the law, sin and death) are then in a position to exercise a freedom to...to serve the Lord, and other people, with gladness.
     In Christ, we are given a freedom from. We are then required by God to exercise the freedom to which is given us at that same moment. God want us to do what is required of us. In colloquial terms, ‘We are free to do what we are told’.  
     To some, this appears to be a contradiction; to be no sort of freedom at all; but there is no real contradiction, because no-one can obey God, until he is free to do so; and no-one can do so if he is disobedient, because disobedience entails a loss of freedom.  In Christ, we are freed in order to become ‘slaves of righteousness’...to ‘serve the Lord’...’to serve others’...’to do good’...and so on.
 
This is the ‘Good News’ in action. We become free, to love and to serve. (Galatians 5: 13+14.  James 5: 13-end). We are free to put our words of faith into action. (James 2: 14-17).
 
 
Spiritual freedom includes:
 
·      Proper responsibility towards ourselves. We should love and respect ourselves as part of God’s creation; as ‘images of God’, as part of those who are redeemed in Christ, and as ‘Temples of the Holy Spirit’.
·      Proper responsibility towards our families. God has set us in families, to make a growing-ground for learning to love and accept one another, and to share things together. ‘Proper responsibility’ recognizes the dangers inherent in close, social living; as well as anticipating the benefits. 
·      Proper responsibility towards the ‘wider family’ of the church. This entails accepting, loving and respecting other church members, regardless of whether or not their theology matches ours. 
·      Proper responsibility towards the society in which the church that we belong to is set. Such a sense of responsibility prevents despising the ‘world’ all around, and, instead, encourages church members to be a caring community that serves the wider community in love and peace, as it offers wholesomeness of life in Christ. 
 
How are we, in our God-given ‘freedom from’, exercising our ‘freedom to’?
 
 
FUTILITY.
In a cemetery in Kent, there is a special row of 'War Graves', dating from the Second World War. Buried there are the remains of British; French; Polish; Dutch, German and Italian members of the armed forces. There they lie: friend and foe; ally and enemy; side-by-side. Each one is just as dead as the others. All lie at the same depth. Each has the standard, government-issued headstone, with standard lettering. The only thing to distinguish the one from the other is the very brief wording on the headstone; which gives the barest details of name, rank and military number; and the cause of death.
     All senses of ‘right’ and ‘duty’; all the heat of war, and the drama of action, has long ceased to have urgency. Could those bones take flesh again, and speak, they might ask: "What was it all about?" Sadly, there is often a certain amount of 'warring' between faiths; between Christian denominations, and within individual churches: and the same question could be asked: "What is it all about?"
 
THE FUTURE.
The future receives its inheritance from the past. Some part of the future stands in direct relation to us. Bearing in mind who we are, and what we do, or fail to do; ‘What is that part of the future likely to inherit from us?’.
 
GENTLENESS.
In ordinary daily usage, the word 'gentleness' is taken to indicate softness; and we prove this by speaking of something being 'As gentle as a summer breeze', or of someone being 'As gentle as a kitten' However, in its special Christian usage, gentleness must also include concepts of firmness; enabling us to define the word as 'Soft-handed, with firm intention' Just as a doctor or nurse will clean a wound in a soft-handed manner, but with the firm intention of promoting healing; so with 'gentleness' as a Christian virtue.
     In the Bible, there are many texts which state, or indicate, that God has very firm intentions in relation to us, and that, whenever we allow him to do so, he will bring these things into being in as soft-handed a manner, as is possible.
GIVE AND TAKE.
Successful 'Give and take', often involves more 'give' than 'take'.
 
 
GIVING UP THINGS.
Some Christians, hesitant about entering into a deeper commitment of faith, are reluctant because they have come to believe that to follow Christ more closely, means giving up absolutely everything else. In some parts of New Testament teaching, this appears to be the case: but, in other parts, it appears not to make such a radical demand. Consider a few examples.
     Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, and wealthy. He told Jesus that he would give half his possessions to the poor. Jesus did not say: ‘And what about the other half?’ nor did he say: ‘But that still leaves you very well off. Instead, he spoke of salvation having come 'to this house', which meant something far wider than to Zacchaeus only; and would include family, servants and even slaves.
     Joseph of Arimathea is written of as being both rich, and a disciple of Jesus. And what of the Twelve? It seems that they did not give up absolutely everything, or, in one sense, anything at all, in terms of physical possessions, because, in that brief period between the crucifixion and the resurrection appearances, they went back to their houses; to their boats, and nets, and hired servants. The great emphasis of Jesus was, and is, not so much 'give up’, but 'take up’; take up new opportunities; new hopes, desires and joys. Take up a new vision of what the call of God is all about. Take up a new attitude to love and service. Take up ...
 
GLORY.
In heaven, we have a glorified Christ (John 7:39. John 16:14). Where does Christ's glory come from? Obviously, from God the Father, as we read at John 17:1. 'Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you’. At John 17:5. we read that the type of glory to be given to Christ is exactly that which he had 'before the world began'. But Jesus said that there was another source from which glory was given to him; presumably of a kind different from that which was from the beginning. We read about this other source, at John 17:10 where it says: ‘And glory has come to me through them'. Isn't it a wonderful thought, that some part of Christ's glory, no matter how small, comes from those who love, follow and obey him - including us.
 
GOD’S DREAM.
 
Charles Peguy, the French poet, expressed this dream of God
 as the heart of the matter of all Christian ministry. 
 
I myself will dream a dream within you. Good dreams come from me, you know. My dreams seem impossible; not too practical; not for the cautious man or woman; a bit risky sometimes; a trifle brash, perhaps…
…Some of my friends prefer to rest more comfortably; in sounder sleep; with visionless eyes: but from those who share my dreams, I ask a little patience; a little humour; some small courage, and a listening heart: I will do the rest…
 
…Then they will risk, and wonder at their daring; run, and marvel at their speed; build, and stand in awe of the beauty of their building…
 
…You will meet me often, as you work; in your companions, who share the risk; in your friends, who believe in you enough to lend their own dreams, their own hands, and their own hearts, to your building. In the people who stand in your doorway; stay awhile; and walk away, knowing that they, too, can find a dream…
 
…There will be sun-filled days; and sometimes it will rain: a little variety; both come from me…so, come now, be content. It is my dream that you dream; my house you build; my caring you witness; my love you share - and this is the heart of the matter.
 
GROWTH.
Many people, when they read or hear of someone else's 'Damascus Road' type of conversion, followed by rapid growth in faith; begin to feel inadequate in the light of their own no-drama conversion, and slow development. But they need not feel anything of the sort.
     Mustard and cress seeds, planted the usual few days apart, will soon begin to sprout. Their rate of growth is such that, in a fortnight or so, mustard-and-cress sandwiches could be eaten. On the other hand, peach stones need to be in the earth one or two years before the hard shell rots enough to allow a green shoot to break through; take root, and grow. This very slow start will be followed by such slow growth, that it would be several years before peaches could be eaten from the young tree.
     Either way, quickly, as with the mustard and cress, or slowly, as with the peaches, the same principle of life is at work; and the same desired result is obtained. So it is with the Christian life. Either way: quickly or slowly, God is at work; the desired life is given and received, and growth is made.
 
GUIDANCE.
Acts I5: 28a says: 'It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us….’. That the Holy Spirit is mentioned first; seems to indicate a divine guidance that was perceived; agreed-to; and followed by the disciples. How often do we seek such agreement-in-the-Spirit, as our guide in various matters: and how often do we, instead, simply get on with what seems to be good to us?
     Many Christians seek guidance in ways that confuse the issue, rather than help resolve it. They have a good idea of God's will in a particular matter; broadly know the right thing to do, but want to be as certain as possible; so they pray for guidance. And here is where the confusion can arise. They tend to lay several options before God: "Lord, shall I do this thing, or that, or the other thing?". Each option is likely to contain questions that need to be answered; which, if answered, are likely to raise up further options; making the whole thing very muddled. Unsure of what to do, such Christians can become unsettled and inactive for long periods; believing that they must keep all options open until God says 'Yes!' to one of them.
     In some cases, that may be the right way to tackle things; but there is a simpler and less-confusing way of getting guidance through prayer. Instead of asking the Lord to say Yes!' to one of several options; the simpler way is to ask him to say 'No!' to just one of them; should it be the wrong choice.
         Most Christians have a basic understanding of the right thing to do in a given situation. Out of the various alternatives that might present themselves, they then choose the option that seems most right to them, and prayerfully concentrate on that one thing. From honest hearts which chose the best that they knew; and from honest minds freed from confusion, they can pray: "Lord, unless you say a clear 'No!' to this thing; then this is what I’m going to do".
 
HEALING AND WHOLENESS.
 
The understanding contained within the following statement, is offered as the base upon which we can build our discussions, and from which, it is hoped, we can make further progress.
 
"In physical medicine, healing is a mysterious process that man does not bring about, but with which he co-operates. All that doctors and their associates can do is to create the hygienic context which most helps and promotes the natural healing. In what we might call 'spiritual medicine', healing is a mysterious process that man does not bring about, but with which he co-operates. All that 'healers' can do is to create the spiritually-hygienic context which most helps to promote supernatural healing". 
 
·      In worldly usage, 'supernatural' is usually linked to occult practice. For our present purpose, the word is to be taken to mean the manifestation of the presence and power of God, over and above our usual, 'natural' expectation and experience.
·      Our God cannot be contained or restrained; and may sometimes act in ways that are not allowed for; even in our most carefully worked out statements as to our understanding of healing.
·      There is a certain, limited extent to which healing may be likened to angling. When the fish are biting; then they get caught: and when they are not biting; then all the rest is preparation and waiting. So, perhaps: with the aspects of healing; now to be discussed. When God is busy healing; then people get healed: and when he is not busy; then all the rest is preparation and waiting. This particular image may be looked at in this presentation.
 
Before moving on, here are some brief points to be made:
 
A definition of the source of healing. To speak of faith healing, is to use a term that is too wide and general; as the faith in question could be vested in things; systems and rituals, in people and their organizations. Spiritual healing is also too wide and general; for it can, and does, include occult practice. If we speak of divine healing, we have a clear and unassailable piece of ground, upon which to stand: for we are looking to God, and to him alone, as source and provider.
 
Our modern, English word 'heal' is rooted in the Old English word 'haelan', from which the other modern-English words and concepts have evolved:  hale...heal (as above)...healing  health...healthy...whole...wholeness.
 
No real division between divine healing and medical healing is discernible; or reckoned to exist at all; by the most reliable of the Christian practitioners at work in Britain and the U.S.A. today. 
 
In support of the statement that: "all that 'healers can do is to create the spiritually hygienic context which most helps to promote super-natural healing"; and in support of the statement immediately above; the following scripture is offered. It is taken from The Apochrypha', and the text is Ecclesiasticus (sometimes called: The Book of Sirach) at chapter 38; and verses 1-15.
 
"Honour the physician with the honour due to him, according to your need of him, for the Lord created him; for healing comes from the Most High, and he will receive a gift from the king. The skill of a physician lifts up his head, and in the presence of great men he is admired. The Lord created medicines from the earth, and a sensible man will not despise them. Was not water made sweet with a tree in order that his power may be known? (Exodus 15:23-25)  And he gave skill to men that he might be glorified in his marvellous works. By them he heals, and takes away pain; the pharmacist makes of them a compound. His works will never be finished; and from him is health upon the face of the earth.
 
"My son, when you are sick, do not be negligent, but pray to the Lord, and he will heal you. Give up your faults, and direct your hands aright, and cleanse your heart from all sin. Offer a sweet-smelling sacrifice, and a memorial portion of fine flour, and pour oil on your offering, as much as you can afford. And give the pharmacist his place, for the Lord created him; let him not leave you, for there is need of him. There is a time when success lies in the hands of physicians, for they too will pray to the Lord that he should grant them success in diagnosis and in healing, for the sake of preserving life. He who sins before his maker, may he fall into the care of a physician".
 
In this text, God and medicine; doctors and prayer; pharmacists and repentance; skill and forgiveness; medical healing and divine healing; are so very closely intertwined as to make it impossible to separate the one form of healing from the other. This text, perhaps more than any other in the accepted scriptures within the Christian faith, demonstrates that all true healing is from God, and that each aspect of it complements all other aspects of it.
 
In the 'angling' image touched on earlier, the statement is made that, when fish are biting, they get caught; and when God is healing, people get healed; and all else is preparation and waiting. Without making too much of a point from a single text, it can be said that even Jesus sometimes had to 'prepare and wait', for this is clearly implied in the statement, found in the story of the famous healing of the paralytic, at Luke 5:17b. ''And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick', with the obvious inference that; sometimes; the power was not there.
 
For the purposes of our discussions; these 'times of preparation and waiting' should be seen within the 'spiritually hygienic' context of the underlying principles of healing touched upon in Ecclesiasticus 38.
 
Both the context of the scripture, and the principles of healing within it, can be divided into two, roughly equal parts. The first consists of the sovereign, creative and expressive acts of God touched on in the text. They are sovereign because the decision to act lay with God alone; as a matter of his will: they are creative in that God brought into being healing agencies (medicines and skills) and healing agents (pharmacists and physicians) and they are expressive in that God expresses his love towards mankind, through acts that are good, and which do good.
 
The second part consists of the response of mankind to the sovereign, creative and expressive acts of God. The response itself consists of turning to God; and the act of turning to God creates the spiritually hygienic context which most helps to promote the supernatural healing act, or process. The 'turning to God' is, itself, made up of several parts: contrition which promotes desire to turn to God; repentance, which is the desire translated into the action of turning; confession, which is the giving-up, and handing-over of the sins, faults and failures to the Lord; forgiveness, as God accepts what is offered; amendment of life towards Godliness; the sacrifice or dedication of that amended life to God; prayer, asking that all that has been done, and offered shall be received and maintained by the Lord, and recourse to healing, now that the principles of it have been recognized, and the context of its best application has been created.
 
As said above, God cannot be contained or restrained; and he will sometimes act in ways that are not allowed for, even in most carefully worked out statements, as to our understanding of divine healing, and how it works. All of the above, and what follows, is offered as helps towards discussion and understanding, and not as authoritative, let alone definitive statements about healing.
 
Other points for discussion, thought and prayer are:
 
Whenever a 'healing-evangelist' visits an area, his or her visit is, largely, a witness to the failure of the local churches to recognize healing as being part of the regular and ongoing life and ministry of the Church.
 
It is assumed that faith, on the part of the one receiving healing, is essential. This is not necessarily so. For example, a sick baby cannot be expected to have faith; nor can anyone unconscious at the time, be said to be demonstrating faith.
 
Just as in psychosomatic medicine, the sick mind can debilitate the body and spirit, and drag them downwards; so, in divine healing, the healthy spirit can enliven the sick mind and body, and lift them upwards.
 
Christ's true healing work began, not so much with the miracles performed at Jerusalem and Galilee, but more in what he did and achieved at the cross.
 
Those whose experience of, and views about, divine healing are to be trusted; make cohesive statements along these lines: Whenever a healing evangelist works on his or her own (now matter how supported by a team, and by prayer) on an itinerant basis, then the ratio of healings to prayers is unlikely to exceed the 18% - 20% mark. But, when a local church comes alive to the reality of God's healing power, demonstrated through Christ; and begins to move into healing ministries; the ratio of healings to prayers increases; but no church has so far claimed to have moved beyond the 75% mark.
 
The above statements should encourage us to see that the Church in general, and the local church in particular, is the true context of healing; and the place in which we are most likely to discover and receive it; and minister it to each other; and from which, we can reach out to the world immediately around us, and encourage people to move into the healing love of God.
 
The Lord's Supper/Holy Communion/Eucharist/Mass/Breaking Bread is not only central to the Church's life; but is also the central place from which to ask the Lord for healing; and within which to offer, and practice, healing ministries.
 
The injunction at James 5:14+15, does not limit healing ministries to the 'elders of the church'; but it is to say that, when the church leadership itself actually takes a lead, then blessing follows.
 
The use of oil is not essential to the healing ministry; but it can be a very helpful part of it all, especially as it is so clearly scriptural. Our term 'unction oil', which is sometimes used; though more commonly in the Roman Catholic church; is taken from a Latin word meaning 'anoint(ing) oil'. So, the word 'unction' relates more to the mode of the oil's application, than to its inherent qualities.
 
The 'laying on of hands' is, again, not essential; but it can be an especially helpful part of it all, because the Lord himself often did things in that way. In our case, we must always take great care to be wise and discreet, in the matter of where we place our hands.
 
Divine healing, in relation to God-given release from spiritualist and demonic practices, is a subject to be considered, and a ministry to be undertaken, quite separately from the other ministries touched upon above.
 
***
 ·    Why are we interested in 'divine healing'?  It is a more complex question  
       than may appear at first sight; and several different and almost opposite 
       answers can be found even within a small group.
 
·      Why are we attending this meeting today?  This may appear to be the same question as above, but rephrased. However, this is not really so. There is a subtle but important difference that, it is hoped, each of us will explore.
 
·      Have you ever attended a 'Healing Rally'?  If so, were you impressed by what went on? If so: then by what things in particular? If not, then why? 
 
·      If you have been impressed by healing ministries observed or experienced elsewhere; did you think: "Oh! If only our church did things like that?" If you did think along those lines, how did you express your thoughts to others; and did you approach your church leaders, to discuss matters with them?
 
·      If you did not express your "Oh! If only..." thoughts to the church leadership, then in what ways did you hope that any good and desired change in local-church practice would come about?
 
·      St. Augustine said: "All that evil needs to succeed, is that good men do nothing". Put the other way around, this statement could be made: "All that goodness needs to succeed, is that good men and women say and do all that is needful".
 
·      Jesus Christ exercised wide-ranging, far-reaching ministries. He undertook them because he loved people, and had compassion with them. However, part of the reason why people flocked to him may have been the great attraction of his healing ministries: which drew them to him, and placed them in the position where they could then hear the powerful 'Word'. Could it be said, today, that those churches which are growing and effective; are so because they offer the powerful 'Word' within the context of powerful ministries?
 
·      What would you like to see happening, and being brought about, in your home church?  And in what ways do you hope that you might be able to help bring these things about?
 
·      In the light of Ecclesiasticus 38: 1-15 (above) do you agree that no real division is discernible between 'medical healing' and 'divine healing'? If not, then could you say why?
 
No matter how the individual believer, or his or her local church, may 'come alive' to healing; we will never, in this state or realm of being, be fully healed (that awaits us in our 'with the Lord' state or realm of being, in the future). However, until that day, we are called of Christ to serve as 'wounded healers'. Do we agree?                                      

HOLDING ON IN FAITH.
Many years ago, there were reports of a man going over the Niagara Falls in a barrel. Admittedly, it was a very special kind of barrel, purpose-made, with handholds and lots of protective padding, but a barrel nonetheless.
     Just before he set off down river; he was ‘plagued’ by several newspaper reporters. They kept asking: “How are you going to do it?” until he got rather cross with them, and said. “That’s a stupid question. What can I do? Once I have been put in the barrel, and the barrel has been put into the water, and let go of; all that I can possibly do is to hold on tight, and trust. I will not be able to manoeuvre the barrel, or help myself in any way at all. I will go over the edge at anything up to forty miles an hour; fall about one hundred and sixty feet, and land with a mighty wallop. All that I can do is to hold on tight, and trust that the man who made the barrel, knew exactly what he was doing”.
 
It is something like that with Christians, confronted by spiritual problems that are beyond personal resolution. At a certain point, they realize that there is nothing for them to do but to let go of trying to achieve things for themselves, and to hold on tight to the promises of God; trusting that he utterly meant them when he made them; and that he will carry things through.
 
 
THE CHANGING NATURE OF HOME MISSIONS. 
 
During the last thirty years or so, we have been made aware that political, social and economic factors have made great changes in the Church’s work of Overseas Missions. However, we may not be quite so aware that those same factors have brought about equally great changes in ‘Home Missions’. The pattern of the work is so different from what it was a generation or so ago: and here are some aspects of ‘The Changing Nature of Home Missions’
 
Fifty years ago, Britain had a huge merchant navy, and various churches undertook special ‘Missions to Seamen’. In those days, the ships were comparatively small, with cramped and often rather bad accommodation. Despite the fact that many of the sailings were to very distant lands, and the crews were away for long periods of time; most of the ships did short journeys around our own coasts, or to Europe, and the sailors were seldom away for much more than a month. In those days, Britain had huge ports, such as the London Docks; and the Seamen’s Hostels and Missions had fairly regular contact with large numbers of British or foreign sailors.
     Now almost all of the London docks are closed, and new, specialized ones, such as the huge oil terminal at Fawley, near Southampton, have been built; and very few of them have any hostel accommodation, or ‘Mission’ facilities. The ships themselves have changed greatly; and there are far fewer of them required. Today’s tankers and bulk-carriers need only a small crew. Recently: a sailor told me something about the ship that he was then serving on. He said that it was an 80,000-ton vessel: with a crew of around a dozen. He went on to say that the accommodation on the newest of the ships is usually equal to that of a middle-weight hotel, and regular, short-haul trips are not so common now; many ships having a roving commission all over the world, with the crew sometimes away from their home base for over a year at a time. Because of this, ‘Missions to Seamen’ is very much of a diminishing area of church activity, and likely to remain so.
 
Fifty years ago, The Wesley Deaconess Order was a large and flourishing part of the Home Missions scene. Today, there are only 268 members of the Order, of whom about two-thirds are retired, or, for some other reason, no longer caught up in the active work. There are now only four student-deaconesses in training at the Birmingham headquarters, and candidates are no longer being accepted; at least for a while. This is just another part of the changing pattern.
 
On the other hand, this last fifty years has brought with it missionary opportunities which did not exist before. One such is a number of new towns that are being built: Milton Keynes for example. Some of them will, eventually, have large populations with, it is hoped, no dyed-in-the-wool traditions to be reckoned with, and overcome; but, instead, be open to new ventures in taking the gospel to the people.
 
Another such opportunity is the increasing use of mass media, especially radio and television, through which huge numbers of people with no obvious church connection may be reached. As one vicar put it: “If my parish church was filled to capacity with different people, morning and evening, Sunday after Sunday, it would take about 120 years to reach all of those who can now be reached at any one time through the medium of just one, televised Sunday service”. To give some idea of the importance that Methodism attaches to the use of radio and television as a means of communicating the gospel, the Rev. Frank Topping, a Methodist Minister, is assigned to the B.B.C. on a full-time basis. Among many other things, he helped plan the series of ‘Lenten Lectures’ which have been broadcast over B.B.C. Radio-Medway, and in which some of us have been taking part.
 
Lots of changes are going on in the missionary activities of the Church in this country, and here are touches on a few more of them.
 
One of the largest and most costly aspects of Home Missions endeavour: is the selection and training of candidates for the ordained ministry within the Methodist Church. This year, there are about 165 full-time, Methodist students in our residential colleges; and the cost of their training is currently running at well over £600,000 per year. Some people claim that, by the end of the century, residential training in our own colleges will be a thing of the past - we simply will not be able to afford it any more. There are already non-residential schemes of training in operation, though on a limited scale at the moment; and Methodism is moving more and more into the shared use of colleges and training facilities. For example, the Queens College at Edgbaston, Birmingham, had, in 1975, students from seventeen countries, representing eleven Christian denominations. If rising training-costs continue to force denominations to share buildings and facilities; and if the increasing ‘ecumenical climate’ continues to encourage togetherness; then old-fashioned training procedures will become the exception, rather than the norm; yet another ‘different stitch’ in the pattern of this aspect of the work of Home Missions.
 
Another change, which came about some six years ago: the ordination of women within the Methodist Church; is already altering the pattern. At the moment, roughly one in six of the students within our theological colleges is a woman. What was unthinkable, fifty years ago; and a rejected proposition at Conference, just twenty-five years ago, is now a part of normal training procedures within Methodism; and the numbers of female candidates will almost certainly continue to rise, until something of a balance is achieved.
 
Some changes in the pattern of Home Missions seem to be inevitable; but others may be said to come about by default. Methodism, along with various other denominations, seems to have allowed the Free Church Federal Council to fall into decay. At the height of its influence, the F.C.F.C. was a national body, with an influential ‘voice’ at all levels. Because of this, the Council was invited to put forward a certain number of Christian nominations for magistracies; school governorships, and places on the Education Committees of Local Education Authorities. However; the diminishing influence of the F.C.F.C. over many years; has resulted in fewer public positions being set aside for occupancy by Christians. This particular change has reduced the Church’s influence and input in particular areas of public life. However, as the saying puts it: ‘As one door closes; another opens’.
 
One such ‘door’ that seems to be opening in many parts of the country, is within what has come to be called ‘psychosomatic medicine’, where various aspects of stress produce the symptoms of physical illness. Many doctors, weighed down with a large work-load, and increasing amounts of administrative paperwork, simply have not got the time to sit and listen to the long and involved stories told by many patients; which stories, were they to be listened to carefully, may well be found to contain the reasons for the apparent illness.
 
An impressive number of doctors, tired of prescribing tranquilliser tablets, which do little or nothing to get at the root of the trouble, are turning to their local clergy, and saying something along these lines: ‘This appears to be more your province than mine. I’ve had a word with Mr A, or Mrs B, and they agree to see you rather than me, in the hope that you will be able to help them to get to grips with their situations, and to find a way through’.
 
 
A similar ‘door’, and another opportunity open to the remedial and healing aspects of the work of Home Missions, is the setting up of social agencies such as ‘The Samaritans’, and ‘The Marriage Guidance Council’. Many such agencies are, largely, staffed by Christians, who feel able to help in particular ways.
 
Yet another change in the pattern of the work of Home Missions, is the ‘Shared Use of Church Buildings Act’ of 1969, which has made possible such schemes as the one that is now well-established at Hamstreet. One of the most interesting, and even exciting, things about the Hamstreet scheme, and others like it; is that, when two and two are added together, they make five or six. When the Anglicans or the Methodists met on their own, in their separate buildings, it was unusual for either of them to have a congregation exceeding twenty-five, at ordinary services of worship. Since the Hamstreet scheme began, two years ago, it is not unusual for the joint congregation to number seventy or eighty, with the highest number so far registered being one hundred and four people, on the 21st. of January, this year.
     The ‘early days’ of a united witness in Hamstreet, are already showing worthwhile and encouraging results. There are seventeen such Local Ecumenical Projects in our London South-East District, and more than a hundred of them throughout the country. This important change to the once-established pattern of Home Missions, shows every sign of continuing to widen out.
 
One immediate outcome of the Hamstreet scheme, (and something completely impossible only a few years before) was the Joint Confirmation Service which took place last October, where eight youngsters, and two adults, were confirmed into both the Church of England and Methodist communions, by Richard Third, the Bishop of Dover, and Norman Dawson, the Chairman of the London South-East District of Methodism. Another likely outcome is that, in the not-too-distant future, there will be only one ordained incumbent in that shared church, either an Anglican or a Methodist, and probably in office on a five-year, alternating basis. Such situations already exist in some of the new towns, especially in Swindon, which has doubled its population over the last twenty years, and expects to double it again during the next fifteen years. In some of those new areas being built, denominational boundaries are becoming very blurred, and the clergy are working together as a team. Such places are called ‘Areas of Ecumenical Experiment’, and it seems to be likely that today’s experiments will gradually become tomorrow’s established practice, in many places. This, too, is part of the changing pattern of Home Missions.
 
As we know, from our own experience, the Church is obliged to give close attention to the cost-effectiveness of the various things that it undertakes. Here is an example of a situation that created great cost, at very little effectiveness. Two years ago this month, there was a special one-day Ministerial Synod, with no other major brief than to examine two candidates for possible training in the ordained ministry. At the last moment, one of the candidates fell sick, and, by the end of the day, the other one had been turned down. There were almost a hundred ministers in attendance; gathered from South-East London, Kent, and parts of Sussex. One minister took the trouble to estimate the cost of the venture, which he reckoned to be about £750, for travel costs alone.
 
Cost-effectiveness is now a very serious consideration at Westminster, in the Districts, and in the Circuits. One likely outcome of studies and reports on the subject; is that the ‘Invitation System’, as it presently exists, will cease to operate. At the present, it is quite possible for a minister from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to exchange with one from Brighton; and a minister from Carlisle to change places with one from Hastings. Each of those four men would travel some 350 miles, making about 1,400 miles-worth of cost, relating to petrol, oil and depreciation. Because of the return-empty journeys, the four furniture vans would do some 2,800 miles between them. At today’s prices, the cost of moving ministers in that way: would be around £1,500. Had the Newcastle and Carlisle men swapped places up north, and the Brighton and Hastings men swapped places down south, the costs would probably be a bit less than half of what was actually paid out. It is already being suggested that a minister on the move should stay within his own District in future or, if he insisted on going elsewhere, he would pay the difference in costs.
 
If ministers are appointed to one District, and expected to stay within it, that would mark a further significant change in the pattern of Home Missions; as also would be the appointment of a Local Preacher to the pastoral charge of one or more churches, as is being suggested in some quarters.
 
Fifty years ago, there was little in the way of public concern about aspects of conservation. Now all that has been changed. There is a growing concern, and the Church has not been slow to get caught up in it. The Rev. Jesse Sage, a Church of England priest, has recently been appointed as the ‘Chaplain to Agriculture and Rural Society in Kent’, on a full-time basis. In November of last year, he held a Forum at Wye Agricultural College, on the subject of ‘Countryside Care - Does the farmer really know best?’ Similarly, Methodism’s Industrial College at Luton holds conferences on various aspects of Home Mission, as it relates to trade and industry; during which it is becoming more clearly seen that political, social and economic factors are playing an increasingly large part in changing the pattern of Home Missions.
 
Religious plays, especially what we now call ‘The Passion Plays’, were a great feature of church life from the early Middle Ages to the 18th Century; when the theatre fell almost entirely into the hands of secular agencies. Now, with the huge success of such modern productions as ‘Jesus Christ, Superstar’, the Church is realizing that Christian plays and musicals can, once again, become an important part of mission to the uncommitted. Methodism has a theatre unit called ‘Epworth Productions’, and something like 200,000 people have seen the plays about the life of Wesley; the meaning of Good Friday, and so on. Similarly, Christian singers and recording companies are producing records with sales totalling many millions, and vast numbers of teenagers are hearing the challenge of the gospel, presented in a manner attractive to them.
     I have touched on several changes that have taken place in the last fifty years or so, which affect the way in which Christian outreach is undertaken, and there are others. Political, social and economic factors are highly likely to continue to produce yet more changes in the pattern of Home Missions. Simply to resist change is not enough, because so much of what is happening lies entirely outside of the control or influence of the Church. All that the Church can really do, is to keep a sharp look-out on what is happening all over our nation and, wherever an opportunity exists, or can be created; to promote the cause of the gospel, in the midst of changing circumstances. As the old saying has it: ‘Queen Anne is dead’; there is a new situation. It is no good so repining the passing of yesterday; that we fail to see, and respond to, the opportunities offered by today.
 
Most of what has so far been said, relates to the national scene. Locally, in Kent, and in our own Methodist Circuit, many good things have been brought out of change, such things as:-
 
Chaplaincies to hospitals, army camps and prisons where, at the beginning of this century, only Church of England ministers would have been allowed to work. Industrial chaplaincies, such as the construction-site of the Atomic Power Station ‘B’, at Dungeness, with its 2,000-plus workmen on site; are now open to Methodist chaplains. The sharing of church premises, such as already indicated at Hamstreet, where the cold print of legal agreement, under an Act of Parliament, is moving towards the warmth of a united congregation. Joint confirmation services: with the con-celebration of the sacraments, by ministers of various traditions. The acceptance of Methodist local preachers in Anglican churches, and of Anglican lay readers in Methodist churches. The effective use of radio; television, drama and recording: (there’s a Christian record company locally, at Ashford). United missions: to towns and villages. These, and similar things, are most encouraging. The times are changing, certainly; but they are also interesting, challenging and even exciting times, filled with potential for good.                                                         
 
End of these notes.
 
 
 
ILLUSIONS.
When we sit in a moving railway carriage, and watch another train overtaking us, close alongside; our own train can appear to change direction. As the illusion becomes established, we appear to be going backwards in relation to the train that we are watching. It is only as the other train passes by completely, and our vision extends to the countryside beyond, that the illusion ceases, and we can see in which direction we are actually travelling.
     Suppose that the other train was infinitely long, and that it never passed our carriage completely, but continued alongside, blotting out all other vision. If we stared at that other train long enough for the illusion to set in, and did not remove our gaze, we would believe ourselves to be heading one way, but, instead, were going in the opposite direction.
     Something like this can happen to the Christian, whose attention is not so much held by God's will; but more by his or her own interests, running close alongside. Their gaze can become so fixed, as to lose sight of what is right or wrong in any situation. The New Testament's wider view of the things of God, directs our vision beyond the limitations of the immediate, and helps prevent illusions setting in. Even so, we must remain very prayerful, and very careful.
 
IMPRESSIONS. 
Just as true respect is never given without, first, being earned: so true impressions are not arrived at without, first, being given. Very often, the world looks at the Church, and then arrives at an impression of it. What sort of impression is the church to which we belong, giving to the world all around? Because each such local church is made up of individual believers, with all sorts of social contacts beyond its walls, each of us can ask ourselves: “What sort of impression am I giving?”
 
INVOLVEMENT.
One Sunday afternoon, in the summer of 1977, a farmer and his wife invited me to tea at their farmhouse near Smarden, in Kent; after which, we would go to the evening service at the Methodist church at Pluckley, where they were members of the congregation; and I would preach. The farmer suggested that I should take a gentle walk, while the food was being prepared. As I passed through fields and orchards, I noticed several ponds, and I sat down by the most interesting-looking one of them, which was within a ‘Tea’s ready!’ call of the house. As I watched some of the water insects going about their business, it struck me that two kinds of them, together, formed a living illustration for a sermon on involvement, in the life of the Church.
     The insects concerned were water-skates, and water beetles. Water-skates live entirely on the surface of the pond. Water is, for them, a hostile element; so they have long, thin legs to keep their bodies well clear of contact, and specially adapted feet, which enable them to skim around on the water, without breaking the surface tension of it. If, for some reason, the water-skate falls over, it has great difficulty in getting the right way up once again. Very likely, it will sink, and drown. On windy days, the water-skates will hide away in the vegetation at the edge of the pond, or even climb up and away from the water altogether; for the going has got too rough for them.
     Many Christians can become something like that; skating around on the surface of life; seldom getting deep down into things; not really involved in what is going on. Perhaps, like water-skates, they are afraid of getting tipped over, and sinking; so, when the going gets a bit rough, they hide away at the edge of the situation or event, until they feel that it is safe to come out of hiding once more.
     The water beetle is very different. For it, too, the water is a hostile element, in which it can drown. However, the water beetle has been equipped to cope with, and overcome, the dangers. From below, it swims up to the surface of the pond; and there, with a kicking movement, as it turns to go down once more; it creates a bubble of air. Grasping the bubble between its back legs, and thus provided with life-sustaining air to breathe; the water beetle can safely plunge down into the depths of the pond, there to get on with whatever it is that such beetles do.
     Our Lord Jesus does not want his followers to ‘skate around’ on the surface of life. Instead, he wants them to be fully involved; plunging into the depths of it; there to get on with whatever it is that the Lord gives them to do. Just as the water beetle has its bubble of air to sustain it, in a hostile and dangerous element; so the Christian has the life-giving, life-sustaining Spirit of Christ to sustain him, or her, in the, often, hostile and dangerous world. Just as the water beetle has continual access to the air above, to replenish its bubble, so the Christian has continual access to the mercy, love and grace of God, in Christ.

JARGON.
If we cannot speak about matters of our Christian faith in simple, straight-forward language; it may well be because we don't have a simple, straight-forward understanding of them.
 
JESUS AT THE POOL OF BETHESDA.
Jesus put a question to the man at the Pool. He asked: 'Do you want to be healed?' This may sound an inappropriate question. The man had already complained that there was no-one to help him down into the Pool, when the waters were troubled by the angel; and that he had waited for years for the chance to be healed; then along comes Jesus and asks: 'Do you want to be healed?' But behind the question asked, are a whole lot of implications.
     Those who were crippled did not come under the full weight of the Jewish Law, because allowances were made for those suffering from various conditions. As a known beggar, he received a certain amount of charity; enough to meet his needs, obviously, as he had been living like that for thirty-eight years. What Jesus was really asking was this: 'Do you want to be healed, and then have to take the consequences; such as having to earn your own living for the first time in many years; and coming under the full weight of the Jewish Law with no more excuses and allowances made for you; as they are now. Do you want all of the commitment and responsibility that a healing will place upon you? The man's answer must have been 'Yes!' because we read that he was healed.
     So it is with us. If we are aware of spiritual sickness, or of particular qualities lacking in our lives; then do we really want to be healed of deep-seated troubles; because there will be no more allowances made for us, if we become spiritually well and whole; for we will then come under Christ’s saying: 'Unto him whom much is given, much will be required'.
 
JOURNEYING.
Many writers and poets have expressed ordinary human life, in terms of a journey; and so with the Christian life of faith and hope.
     Consider a ride on an underground train in London. Most of the journey is undertaken in darkness: because, in the tunnels, there is no light; save that which is within the train. Every now and again, the train arrives at a station, which has its own light, and a name that can easily be read. We can look at the map inside the carriage, and see that we are going in the right direction; and know that, with due alertness, we will eventually arrive where we want to go.
     So it is with faith and hope, in the journey of life. To a large extent, the way ahead is unknown and, in terms of the image, rather dark. We have no light, save the light of truth, which we carry with us. Every now and again; like the stations on the underground railway; there is an event, experience, or relationship that brings its own light to bear on our situation; and gives us encouragement that we are going in the right direction. We can confirm this, through reference to the 'maps' of the Bible, and the historical beliefs and teaching of the Church, and know that, with continued spiritual alertness, we will eventually arrive where we want to go.
JOY.
An evangelist spent a minute or so looking around at the large congregation, and then said: "The joy that you have, must be deep, deep down in your hearts; because there is little sign of it on your faces".
 
JUSTIFY.
There is a very big difference between the everyday use of the word 'justify', and its theological meaning where, to 'justify', is to absolve, to vindicate to set right, and to make valid again. Christians are not expected to do this for themselves because, as St. Paul wrote, at Romans 8:33: 'It is God who justifies', who absolves, vindicates, sets right and makes valid once more.
     Outside of its Christian usage, the word can have a very different meaning. For example, an employer might angrily demand that one of his staff should justify a course of action. The demand would be along the lines of 'explain yourself, and the employer’s voice, and attitude, might imply: '...and I probably won't accept your explanation’. In this way, the meaning of ‘justify' changes from rightness, validity and acceptance; to wrongness, explanation and possible rejection. The onus, too, shifts; from being justified by someone else's love and acceptance; to justifying one's self, through explanation.
     This common and worldly understanding of ‘Justify', can lead us to miss a great deal of the power of the word, as used by St. Paul.  Justification is an act of God: something that he decides to do, of himself, for his own reasons, which are beyond our full understanding. God justifies us through Christ, who has fulfilled all of the requirements of the law, on our behalf. Because God has decided to act, the onus lies wholly with him. Our shoulders have no burden to bear in this matter. Because God acts, there is no explaining to be done on our part, and, therefore, no risk of rejection.
 
KNOWING  OURSELVES.
We can say this, of the ‘Woman at the Well’ (John 4: 1-26) that she could not recognize Jesus, for who he was; in relation to her; until, first, he had brought her to realize who she was, in relation to him.
 
So it is with the Christian life. We can never come to see Jesus Christ, as our Lord and Saviour; until, first, we see ourselves as sinners, in need of a Saviour: whom we are fully prepared to accept as Lord. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin. Then, in order to turn to Jesus; we must come to see our unrighteousness, in relation to his righteousness. So, the Holy Spirit guides our thinking: links our imperfection with the Lord’s perfection: and then convicts us of sin and righteousness.
 
We need to be taken a step further; in order to see that; of itself; our unrighteousness is worthy of death; under the law of God: and that, unless something is done about our state of sin; we will be brought under divine judgement. So, the Holy Spirit goes on to convict us of sin, of righteousness, and of judgement: then he goes yet further, and points to Jesus, as the answer to our predicament. The answer is spelled out to us: that our sins will be fully forgiven by the Lord; if we truly confess our need of cleansing: that his righteousness will be counted to us; and that; in Christ; we are fully justified in the sight of God; and, therefore; do not come under judgement.
 
 
THE LECTIONARY AND WORSHIP.
 Our English word 'lectionary' is based on a Latin root which means 'reading', because a lectionary is a book containing a list of portions of scripture that are appointed to be read at services of worship. The use of the lectionary, prevents churches and preachers sticking to favourite themes only; and it guides worshippers through all of the major parts of the Church's year, and all of the major points of the Church’s beliefs and doctrines
     The Church’s 'Lectionary Year' begins with the 9th Sunday before Christmas when; for five Sundays; we consider such basic matters as 'Creation' and 'The Fall. The Church’s ‘Liturgical Year’ begins with the First Sunday in Advent which, itself, is that Sunday nearest the Feast of St. Andrew (November 30th). Our English word 'liturgy' is based on a Greek word meaning ‘public worship'. Although, throughout the Christian Church, the essential elements of faith are the same, there are, of course, differences in emphasis and expression, in faith and worship. Therefore, there is no 'standard liturgy' throughout the whole of the Church, and each denomination sets out its own liturgical formularies of worship. Our Methodist liturgy, is best expressed by 'The Sunday Service', which is the whole of Section 'B' in ‘The Methodist Service Book’, and ’The Sunday Service' itself, is given a week-by-week direction and emphasis, through the use of the lectionary. So, the 'Liturgical Year', commencing with the First Sunday in Advent, guides us through the year, and encourages us to consider various aspects of our faith that, otherwise, might get overlooked.
 
In the December/January edition of  ‘Outreach’, we have made a beginning, with regard to listing the lectionary themes for the month of publication, and for the following month. This enables us, in our homes, to look up the readings for any particular Sunday and, having read the suggested texts, go to the service of worship, informed and prepared. Each week there is a text set in bold type. This is commonly known as 'the controlling lesson', because it is that piece of scripture that most clearly sets out the teaching within a particular theme. Where the preacher does use the lectionary, the 'controlling lesson' is the one suggested as the base for the sermon. However, even where preachers do not use the set themes and lessons, the lectionary still has its use, in our personal 'quiet-times' of prayer, study and devotional reading.
     Apart from anything else that we may do, in terms of fellowship and sharing, the use of the lectionary, both in our ‘quiet-times' and in our Sunday worship, can be a means of binding us together in faith and practice. The lectionary has, for many centuries, stood the test of time and use. May we, in our day, prove for ourselves the value of it, and share the good coming out of it.                                                                                                                                                                           
 
 
LIFE.
Part of an old prayer, often used at funerals, says: 'In the midst of life, we are in death'. We understand the intention of these words, touching as they do upon human frailty and mortality; but there is a very real sense in which the believer can disagree with what they say. This is because the statement cuts against the grain of some other, and more important, words, of Jesus, where he says: 'I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word, and believes him who sent me, has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life'.
      'In the midst of life, we are in death’, are the words of man, as he tries to explain his situation; and they are basically negative; offering little hope and comfort. In sharp contrast, the words of Christ are positive, and vibrantly alive. They give trusting faith a strong base upon which to stand; and are the root from which hope stems and flowers.
     'I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word, and believes him who sent me, has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over-from death to life'. As with many other parts of his teaching, these words of Christ are an indication that eternal life does not begin with the shedding of the body at the moment of physical death; but begins when, still in the flesh, new and spiritual life in Christ is both given and received. For this reason, Christians can look at the old, familiar words from the funeral service: 'In the midst of life; we are in death’; turn them around; and radically change their meaning, to: 'In the midst of death; we who believe are, already, in eternal life’.
LIGHT.
The nearer that we approach a source of light: the stronger and brighter the light will be; and the deeper the shadows that it casts. So it is in the Christian life. We need not feel despondent when the 'shadows' of our faults, failings and sins, appear to be of increasing intensity; but, instead, be glad that such increase proves our nearer approach to God.
 
 
LOVE IS THE ‘FRUIT’ OF OBEDIENCE.
Some words confirming this approach to the nature of love:
taken from the Book of Deuteronomy.
 
“Hear 0 Israel: The Lord our God is One Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart  ... and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way ... and when you lie down, and when you rise’ (6:4ff).
 
‘And now, Israel. what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God ... to walk in all his ways ... to love him…to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul ... and to keep the commands and statutes of the Lord, which I command you this day for your own good.  (10:12ff).
 
Some words of Jesus; taken from the Gospel according to John; again, where love is commanded as an obedience.
 
'A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you; that you also love one another... By this all men will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another....
 
‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love; just as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love .....
 
This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you ...
‘You did not choose me, but I chose you; and appointed you; that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, He may give it to you ...
 
‘This I command you; to love one another’.
 
LOVE.
The love of God can never be achieved - only received.
 
Love must find expression, if it is not to fade, and die away.
 
A Christian cannot place his or her faith in a false religion, a sinful practice, and so much else. The same with hope. A Christian cannot place his or her hopes in yesterday, nor, as St. Paul says, can he or she hope for something that is already possessed. Both faith and hope are limited in scope and application. Not so with agape love. Unrestrained goodwill, continually offered, come what may, has no limit, as Christ's teachings and example prove.
 
Ordinary worldly love may be said to be selective, separative and sequential. It works along these lines: "I don't know that man, but if I do get to know him, I might get to like him. If my liking for him develops; I may even get to love him”.
 
Worldly love is 'selective' because it always reserves the right to choose who to get to know in the first place: and whether or not to allow things to develop beyond mere acquaintance. It is 'separative' for the same reason; in that it actually applies choice, and gives the stamp of approval to the selected few; providing that they continue to match up to expectations. It is 'sequential', because it insists that a step-by-step process of development is the only way of arriving at an anticipated or desired outcome.
 
Although agape under-girds, strengthens, and gives deeper meaning to all other forms of God-given love; there is a sense in which it stands contrary to ordinary human experiences, and expectations, of love. The existence and expression of agape, is not dependent upon emotions and feelings, as other loves are. It has nothing to do with knowing or not knowing; or with liking or not liking things, situations or people. It does not come into being through a gradual, step-by-step process; but exists in its fullness from the beginning. Free from all limitations and restraints, agape gets on with expressing itself. True to its own nature, this highest form of love cannot be selective or separative; and sequence has to do only with one application of love leading to another.
 
At what moment was Jesus nearest to the heart of the Father? Surely, when our Lord felt the farthest removed from him: at the moment when he cried out: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? And so it is with us. We are nearest the heart of our Heavenly Father, and at the very centre of his loving concern, at moments when we feel farthest from him, and almost bereft of his presence.
 
The father of the ‘Prodigal Son’; loved him enough to let him go.
 
MEANING.
It is quite possible to read the Bible as narrative: to develop a good knowledge of the Who? What? Where? When? record of events, that is found in its pages, and yet to miss a great deal of the meaning offered.
     Obviously, some of the meaning is right there, in the narrative itself; but much of it has to be searched for. The search is effective, and meaning received: through moving beyond the Who? What? Where? When? of the narrative: and into the Why? and How? of honest enquiry; and on again into the Yes! of trusting acceptance, as the meaning is discovered.
 
 
MEDICINE.
An old lady lived on one side of a village green. On the opposite side, lived the village doctor, whose surgery was built onto his house. The old lady was chronically ill. Nothing very serious, but chronic, in that her bad leg always ached, or that her 'funny elbow' always troubled her, and so on.
     It might be said that she wore a little path across the green, in her regular visits to the doctor. Almost always, the doctor would write a prescription and she would say "Thank you very much, doctor", and then have the prescription made up. However, after a dose or two of the medicine, or after having had the recommended number of tablets, for a day or two, she would put the bottle or packet away in a corner cupboard, and leave it there, untouched. Before very long, she would complain that she did not feel better, and to say that she might as well have saved herself the trouble of going over to the doctor’s surgery.
     Christians can be a bit like that. We have the ‘medicine’ of the Bible, whose word is life and health to us. We might say "Thank you very much" to God for the ‘prescription', and take a ‘dose’ or two of the 'medicine' and then put it away on a shelf. Before long, we might begin to complain that we don't really feel any better, and ......
 
MEETING NEEDS?
One Sunday, at a church in a small market town in Kent, the evening service was over; most of the congregation had gone home; and the stewards were busy putting books away, and counting the offering, in the vestry. Suddenly, a woman rushed into the church shouting and weeping. She had a problem that she could no longer contain, on her own; so she ran out of her house, along the street, and into the nearest church.
     The few members of the congregation still in the building, and the stewards, all hurried into the church hall, and huddled in the kitchen; leaving the minister to deal with the situation. Afterwards, one of the church stewards said ‘Wasn't it a good thing that the service was over, when she rushed in like that?’ The minister asked ‘Why? Why was it a good thing?’
 
 
MESSAGE.
In the ordinary course of affairs, a messenger seldom knows the content of the message that he carries. In such case, he is not expected to respond to the message, or do anything at all except to deliver it. It is then up to the person for whom the message is intended, to accept it, and to respond and act as required.
     Not so with the Christian messenger. The message is firstly to him, to be responded to, and then passed on to others. It is said of St. Paul that his faith began in his head; moved on down to his heart, and then on down again to his feet. So it must be with the Christian. When the message first comes to us, it is received in our minds. When its impact is borne in upon us, we respond with our hearts. That may be enough for us, and for our own, personal salvation, but it is not enough, if we are to deliver the message entrusted to us. God desires in us, not only willing minds and hearts, but also willing feet.
 
 
MIDDLE POSITIONS DON'T COUNT.
 In the 'Parable of the Talents' (Matthew 25:14-30) the third servant failed to use the talent entrusted to him. He was rejected as a servant, and thrown out of his master's household. He had failed to do what was expected of him, because he acted according to his own ideas. He had got things worked out to his own satisfaction, but not, as things turned out, to the satisfaction of his master.
     With a desire to be fair, we may think that, even if the servant didn't put the single talent to good use, at least he didn't waste it, or lose it. To think like this, is to miss the point. The servant was, and remained, disobedient. If we still argue, that the servant was not a 'winner' through investment, nor a 'loser' through waste, therefore he must occupy some sort of middle position; we once again miss the point. The Bible knows nothing of 'middle positions'; nothing of grey areas between the black and white of life, and nothing of a middle area between obedience and disobedience.
     In the 'Letter to the Church at Laodicea’ (Rev.3:14-22) Jesus said that the church was neither ‘hot’ where he could honour it, nor ‘cold’, where he could forgive it. Instead, it occupied some sort of 'lukewarm’ middle position of its own making, that Christ would not recognise as being valid. In this case, it was the disobedient servant-church that was rejected, and spat out.
     In ordinary human concourse, a 'middle position' is usually taken to be a safe position; with a view to a decision, one way or the other, being taken in due course. According to the Bible's teaching, a 'middle position’ would seem to be anything but safe; being the place of loss, rejection and of 'throwing out' and ‘spitting out'. Today, we do not like that sort of thinking. We shy away from it, and attempt to discover, or even to create, an acceptable-to-us 'middle position’ where things will, we hope, be all right after all - but they won't be, because Christ says that they won't be.
 
MINISTRY.
Quite often, otherwise good, sincere Christians waste a good deal of time, and opportunity, in wondering just what their particular 'ministry’ might be, or where their endeavours might best be applied; all the while ignoring needs and opportunities that are lying close to hand,
     At a prayer meeting, an obviously sincere young woman prayed that the Lord would ‘..bless all those who are house-bound and lonely’. After the meeting, she was asked whether she knew any such people in her own area, and she answered that she did. She was then asked whether she actually visited them, and she replied that she did not. It was then suggested that, if she called on those 'house-bound and lonely' people regularly, at least two things would happen. The people in question might still be housebound, but they would not be so lonely; and she would be the answer to her own prayer.
     The young woman was not at all pleased to be spoken to along those lines. She then said ‘I do not feel myself called to that particular ministry’. When asked to what ministry she did feel herself to be called, she replied ‘I really don't know, but I am praying about it’. A year or so later she was still 'praying about it', and still ignoring many close-to-hand things, which she could be doing.