The Real Divide?

I read a brief summary this week of journalists reporting of the debate in France as to whether abandoned churches should be turned into mosques.  The idea was raised by the rector of the Great Mosque of Paris and quickly shouted down by ‘Islamophobes’ according to one paper.  I think it’s a really interesting question as to how church buildings should be used in the sad situation that their congregation has depleted.  It raises a host of questions about the sanctity of space and the relationship between the spiritual and physical locations. But that’s not what struck me about this story.  It wasn’t so much the issue at hand, but how it was reported that make me sit up straight.

According to the featured journalists, the issue is a practical one: the church is declining, church buildings are empty, whilst Islam is growing and Muslims need somewhere to pray.  This seems a purely reasonable solution, and indeed it may be.  But here’s the final line of the summary:

Wouldn’t they [right-winger opponents of the idea] rather see churches serve a religious purpose, than be turned into shops and markets? A bit of “pragmatism” would be a fine thing.

What’s your reaction to that?

I’d genuinely like to know!  For me one thing stands out above anything else: the phrasing of the question shows where this journalist sees the real divide – not between Christianity and Islam, but between Religious and Commercial.  In this phrasing of the issue Christianity and Islam are not two different conceptions of the world, reality, and the meaning of life, but are rather two residents of the compartment of public life known as ‘Religious.’  They’re not claims to truth, but life-style choices or community groups.  To me this is a natural piece of logic from a secular standpoint.

Now, just to be clear, I’m not having a go at the journalist; this is not a judgement, it’s an observation.  It’s similar to the visitor to our church recently who described themselves as a ‘mongrel’ and said (in an friendly, not critical way) that all religions should be mongrel.  The assumption being that they all serve the same God so should just share from one another.  It’s a naturally secular view, one that’s incredibly common in our pluralist society.  In fact, perhaps the majority of people I meet as a church leader who are not yet Christian have an interest in God or the spiritual but don’t want to be, nor see the need to be, tied down to one specific religion.  Afterall, aren’t all religions part of the same category just like Superdrug, John Lewis, and Tesco are all part of the category called ‘Commerce’?  Can’t we just be pragmatic about this?

Yet if Christian beliefs about the existence of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the creation of everything and the reality of sin; the salvation of Jesus through his death, resurrection and ascension; the reality of the Kingdom of God on earth right now; and the surety of Jesus coming back; are all true then these are claims that radically shape the nature of reality.  Christians don’t have a different hobby, we live in a different world.  The question for us is this: have we lost our confidence that what we believe may actually be true and do we live like it is?

The real divide is not between Religion and Commerce, but what world we think we live in.  What do you think?

What are you living for?

Everything has changed…at least that’s what it feels like.  In the last two months I’ve moved house, changed jobs, and had my first child.  And the crazy thing is, I never planned any of it…

Since I can remember I felt a sense of call to church ministry that was gradually combined with a passion for theological education.  Three times I applied for a PhD, three times I asked God to close the door if it wasn’t right, and three times the door slammed shut.  Then, just over a year ago, when I’d parked that idea for twenty years from now, God brought it up again.  This time the door flew open with an offer of housing and income for a full year.

Then the fun started.

We knew that come June 2015 my income would stop, housing would stop, and, as we found out in comical timing, we’d also be expecting our first child.  What do you do in those moments?  It’s not easy.  We had no way to work it out on our own: no savings for a house deposit, no clear way to find income without leaving the very place and work we felt called to be in.  What do you do?

Be faithful.  Falteringly, with a great deal of trepidation, and in need of a great deal of encouragement from trusted friends, we decided to keep going in the direction we felt God leading, not knowing the whole path but taking the next step we did know.

He is so faithful.  To cut a long story short, over the last year we had a house deposit provided from totally unexpected quarters, a job offer come in that covered exactly the shortfall in our income after mortgage payments and fitted perfectly with all God had been speaking for this next season.  We had unexpected extensions of payment, anonymous gifts, and a small army of people coming to make our new house a home just in time for our first baby to arrive.

He is so kind, so creative, so beautiful in the way He works.  Woven into the mix of answers to the headline prayers are the intricate connections that have His fingerprints all over.  Like the person we bought our house from just happened to be a member of a mother and toddlers group run by a local church.  The first prayer she allowed someone to pray for her was for her house to be sold…and that week we put our offer in.  God answered our prayer by using us to answer someone else’s…how good is that?

Why I am telling you this?  He’s the same God for you as for me.

I’m not the only one with stories like these – they’re everywhere!  I didn’t do everything right – far from it!  I’m not yet at the end – there’s so much more to go!  You don’t have to be perfect, just open.  You don’t have to know the whole story, just the next step.  It won’t always be easy, but He is always good.

You’re made for a purpose.  Maybe you know what it is but you’re standing back, perhaps just on the brink, not yet taking that step.  Maybe you’ve stepped off and you’re wondering where you’re going to end up.  Maybe you’ve never stopped to ask if you’re where God wants you to be.  This story is for you.  My prayer is that it can be the nudge to get you moving, the encouragement to keep you going, and the pause to get you listening.

If you’ve got a similar story of God’s faithfulness when you stepped out…share the love in the comments below!