started in Chapter 1 by looking at some of the problems around us that need solving. After that came a look at what the church as individuals and as a community could be doing to solve those problems.
The process of making a fresh start
All the way through this book, you have heard about how there is a lot of work for the church to do in terms of serving the community and how it has resources that it is not using. There is a well-known story in the Bible that tells us how God responds to those who have resources and uses resources to satisfy their own desires rather than for His purposes. We know it as one that explains what happens to those who don’t do things God’s way and think that this just means those who are outside the church and need to find their way in. What if it applied to anyone who did not do what God wanted them to do.
It is a story that could easily be applied to me. I have had my own desires and expectations of how I should live my life. Some of which I believed were in line with God’s desires and purposes. I found myself in an incredibly tough place and did not know how to escape. It was only what I call my catalytic scream that changed the situation. That was what started this lost daughter on the journey towards God and in His mercy he met me and helped me move forwards.
Have you misused the resources you have been given?
You are not alone so did the prodigal son[i]. Most of the time when we think of this story we concentrate on the welcome home. Yet it also shows how God responds when we squander the resources He gives us.
The resources we have were free to us but not necessarily without cost. In the story the younger son demanded his share of his inheritance. The way I read the story the father was a farmer. He gave his younger son a share of the land. The father would have suffered as a result of giving away some of his land. He would not have had as great a harvest and therefore less of an income.
The younger son would have been able to gain an income from the land. He could have stayed where he was and farmed the land and do things his way. Yet it appears that he liquidated his assets. In other words he sold the land that he could use to gain an income. He was so determined to do things his own way that he sold everything. He was not going to do things the way his father wanted.
His father knew that if he had land and farmed it then he would be a producer. The farm would produce food that he could sell to raise money to support his family. Other people who needed food would be able to buy it from them.
The son had other ideas. He did not want to be a producer. He wanted to be a consumer. He sold the land and took the money and spent it on things that made him happy for a season. We see them as things that produce a temporary sense of well-being but do not produce a long term benefit.
The problem was that as he was no longer replacing the money he was spending it would not last. If he had gone away and bought land in a far place he could have used that to start his own farm and had an income. You see a farm is like any other business it is rewarded for meeting the needs of others. Grow food to feed others and your own needs are met by the people who buy the food from you.
In a church context this is go out and meet the needs of the community and God will make sure that you are rewarded with all the things that you need. Remember it is the churches that serve their local community that thrive and prosper. They use what they have and they are given more resources simply because they have used what they had been given wisely. Remember the parable of the talents[ii].
Once the money did run out the son had to find a job. The problem was that it was the worst possible job. Even that was not enough to ensure that all his needs were met. He was in a desperate situation.
How many churches are struggling to maintain the building? The heating fails and they have no reserves to replace the boiler. The electrical circuits are condemned so they cannot use part of the building. They then have to run a variety of fundraising activities to get the repairs done. How acceptable this is depends on the church. Some throw their hands up in horror about having to do that. Others say they could not cope otherwise so just get on and do it. Their needs in terms of maintaining the building they have are not being met. I am not saying that this is always the case but it is an interesting co-relation.
It is not just that though is it. I heard of one church that had four remaining members. One ran a business on behalf of someone else and the other party decided that they no long wanted to have a branch in that area. They had come to the area specially to run that business and once it was closed they moved away so they could be closer to their family. One became ill and died. Another gave up their job to become the main carer for their parents and struggled to attend church. They and the remaining member then decided to close the church and join another one nearby.
They had struggled on for years and there simply had not been enough new people coming in to replace those who had left. If it is God who draws people to a particular church then something must have happened to seriously reduce the number of people He encouraged to join that church.
The road back
The first thing the son had to do was recognise that something had to change. I know from experience that this can be easier said than done. He then had to realise that if something was going to change he had to do something to make things change. No one else was going to make it happen he was the one that had to do something. He had to take responsibility to make sure that things changed.
The lost son had to make the decision to leave the place where he was and start the journey back to this father’s house. He had to travel the road back but as those familiar with the story know the father was out there looking for him ready to welcome him home. It was a case of making an effort and making a start and the father ran out and welcomed him home.
Think about this though the father ran. It is tough in the natural restoring family relationships after things have gone wrong. Ask anyone who has been through the process. It takes a lot of love to welcome someone back who has hurt you badly. It takes both parties to make an effort for it to work. We are told God is love[iii]. We are also told that our ability to love other people is the result of Him loving us[iv]. How then can we ever love in the same way that God does? No wonder He comes running towards us when He sees our attempts at reconciliation.
We so easily preach this story at others and forget it can apply to ourselves in ways as well. Even at times to a whole church. It sounds good when it applies to them as we want them to change and they are the ones making the effort. It does not sound quite so good when we realise that we are the ones who need to change.
What do we do next?
That is up to us. I believe that it is appropriate to throw ourselves on the mercy of God and say show us where our wrong thinking is stopping the things that you want to happen from happening.
It is time to search our hearts as individuals and even as communities. We imperfect human beings can do better. We need to ask forgiveness for not being where we should be. Forgiveness from God of course but maybe forgiveness from each other in a community and possibly even self-forgiveness.
Forgiveness is strange. It can actually change the way we see things. We recognise our mistakes and become determined not to repeat them and it is as if we have retrained our brain.
Once we can see more clearly we can then chase after Him even more to get a better indication of what we should be doing. Notice I say more clearly. Think of the man who was prayed for and asked what can you see now. His response made it obvious that his sight had improved but it could still be better[v].
The lost son made all sorts of mistakes because he could not see things the way the father did. He went his own way. He is proof that there is a way back not just for those individuals that we want to understand they are far away and that there is a welcome home.
Things do not always happen immediately. There are times when a merciful God deals with situations layer by layer. There is only so much that we can cope with at one time. The important thing is to keep on stepping forwards. Yes it may look as though you are coming back to the same issue some time later but you will be at a more advanced level.
If all else fails there is always the cry of the father of the demon possessed boy[vi]. I believe but help my unbelief. In other words I want to go as far as I can with you but I am not strong enough to go all the way so will you help me. God always answers cries for help like that! Well He has for me!
The next step
The more I read and heard then cogitated upon the more things I wanted include in The Manifesto that is NOT for Wimps. It grew from a short booklet to a doorstep of a book. I looked at it one day and said that is too big for anyone to pick up and read. Now what do I do. The answer was to split it up into two books.
The Challenge that is NOT for Wimps.
This started life as the second part of this book. Rather than concentrating on what should be done it looks at why it is so hard to actually get on and do something. It looks at things like the beams we have in our eyes and the fences we put up to protect ourselves.
Setting up Safe Haven
The subtitle is “Lessons learned from setting up a church-based community project that uses crafts to engage with people with learning difficulties and their carers”
This is the story of what happened when we set up a prototype community project. It was a prototype that served a number of purposes and one that taught those involved many lessons.
[i] Luke chapter 15 verses 11 to 32
[ii] Matthew chapter 25 verses 13 to 30
[iii] 1John chapter 4 verse 8
[iv] 1John chapter 4 verse 19
[v] Mark chapter 8 verse 24
[vi] Mark chapter 9 verses 23 to 25