Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Spirit of Rehoboam: We've forgotten our heritage

It will disappoint many Mackems (Sunderland people*) to know that the real city crest is not made up of vertical red and white stripes and black cats.  This is what it really looks like.  If you don't believe me, look up high on the wall of the city library on Fawcett Street.

Whoever thought up that Latin motto didn't realise how timely these words would be in the early 21st Century.  The small remnant of believing Christians in the city need to shake off despair and honour the God who saved them.

A A Boddy
A hundred years ago, Sunderland was the biggest shipbuilding port in the world.  Also, it was well known by Christians too.  Alexander Boddy, the Vicar of a Parish church in Roker, has the reputation of being the founder of Pentecostalism in the UK.  Not only did he do the Sunday Services, parish visiting, Baptisms, Marriages and funerals that any good parish priest would.  He also held yearly Pentecostal conferences in his church!  The leading lights in the 20th Century
Pentecostal movement such as Smith Wigglesworth and the Jeffries brothers came, along with others from throughout Europe and North America.  In addition, he edited and distributed 'Confidence', the earliest magazine of the British pentecostal movement.

Graham Scroggie
A the same time, Graham Scroggie preached at Bethesda Baptist church.  Scroggie was known nationally for his Bible correspondence courses and was one of the best known preachers at that time, going on later to minister at Charlotte Chapel and Spurgeon's Metropolitan Tabernacle in London.  Among Scroggie's books was 'The Baptism of the Spirit and Speaking with Tongues' in which he took an opposite view to his Anglican contemporary north of the River Wear.  However, it appears that there was some mutual respect between the two, as Scroggie delivered a series of Sermons at Boddy's parish church in 1909.  Bethesda Church went on to produce numerous leaders, evangelists and missionaries over the following century.  It remains to this day and is still one of the more effective churches in Sunderland.

This is not to mention, of course, the Methodist camp meetings in Sunderland and Seaham and the great impact of the Salvation Army in the 19th Century - before which William and Catherine Booth ran their 'Converting Shop' in Gateshead - a very successful church linked to the Methodists before the Army was founded.

So, why all this nostalgia?

I put to you that I'm not being nostalgic!

Let me quote you a scripture:

The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, “O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father's house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” Now I was cupbearer to the king. (Nehemiah 1 ESV)

Now let me ask you a question.  When Nehemiah prayed that prayer and resolved to restore the walls of Jerusalem, how long ago had the city been destroyed?  Five years?  Ten years?  Twenty or thirty perhaps?

Nope.  150 years - yes one hundred and fifty!

Like Nehemiah, we should look back, and then grieve over what has happened to our city.  Then we should be crying out to him to forgive the city of its' sins and visit Sunderland powerfully again.  Nehemiah was just one man.  But he left his secure, prestigious job to make it his business to do his part in restoring Jerusalem with a small remnant of people.  Can some of us follow his example?

*A Mackem is a native of Sunderland.  The phrase "Mak 'em and tak 'em" (the Wearside pronunciation of "Make them and take them") probably refers to the ships that were manufactured here.  A Geordie, in contrast is from Tyneside or Newcastle further North.  'Geordie' is a Scottish nickname for a man named George.  The folks of Newcastle were staunch supporters of King George II during the Jacobite rebellion in 1745, and the term stuck.

Monday, 3 November 2014

The Spirit of Rehoboam: Marginalising the Old Folks

Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king.  And as soon as Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard of it (for he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), then Jeroboam returned from Egypt.  And they sent and called him, and Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and said to Rehoboam,  “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you.”  He said to them, “Go away for three days, then come again to me.” So the people went away.Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he was yet alive, saying, “How do you advise me to answer this people?”  And they said to him, “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants for ever.”  But he abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him.  And he said to them, “What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, ‘Lighten the yoke that your father put on us’?”  And the young men who had grown up with him said to him, “Thus shall you speak to this people who said to you, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you lighten it for us’, thus shall you say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father's thighs. And now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’”....
And when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, “What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Look now to your own house, David.” So Israel went to their tents.  But Rehoboam reigned over the people of Israel who lived in the cities of Judah.  Then King Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was taskmaster over the forced labour, and all Israel stoned him to death with stones. And King Rehoboam hurried to mount his chariot to flee to Jerusalem.  So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.  And when all Israel heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. There was none that followed the house of David but the tribe of Judah only.1Kings 12:1-11, 16-20

We need to stop marginalising and ignoring the old folks in our churches.  I'm not trying to be sympathetic.  I'm simply being practical.  Why wouldn't you take advantage of such a tremendous resource?  On average, they pray more than our young folk.  They have more experience and wisdom.  They've seen more.  They have a more rounded view of life, including our mortality and the brevity of this life.  They have practical skills and the time to use them.  I even think that on average they have more evangelistic zeal and are more willing to go into the streets with the Gospel.

A healthy church has a good range of ages, I think.  So why do so many churches do what Rehoboam did and focus almost entirely on the 'Yoof'?

  • Is it because the church is in the world?  Money-centred and image-conscious marketing people and employers are interested in young people, and we can easily absorb these attitudes.
  • Is it because young people like louder, trendier music and we're not prepared to turn the sound down?
  • Is it because younger people as a generation are more self-absorbed than ever before and we don't even think of what it's like to be over 30 or 40?
  • Is it because our society divides families up by age group?  The old folks stay in homes, the little children go to nursery, twenty-somethings live together and few households have more than 2 generations living in them?  So even Christians don't know how to co-exist with older folks?
  • Is it because they have illnesses and die more often, and we don't want to be reminded that this body is a temporary one?
  • Has it got something to do with the overall decline in respect for the elderly in our society?
  • Is it because a generation of young leaders want to experiment with the latest fad, or do what they want to do and they don't want advice?
  • Is it because young people are easier for leaders to manipulate, ask fewer questions and do what we want them to do?
I fear for churches that, maybe even unwittingly, overlook those with more experience in life.  I don't think I have ever heard anyone in church quote the scripture below:

You shall stand up before the grey head and honour the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
Leviticus 19:32

Is that because it speaks of something so foreign to our present culture?  I believe the commandment:

“Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
Exodus 20:12

Doesn't just refer to to our natural parents.  Surely it also refers to our fathers and mothers in the faith.  I honestly believe that our trendy mono-generational churches are doomed to be a flash in the pan.  We need to welcome and involve our older folks.