21 September 2017

“Onwards & Upwards”

“Onwards and upwards” – a favourite phrase of mine that I tend to use rather frequently, particularly when confronted with challenging and difficult situations.

UNPRECEDENTED TIMES

I think it is true to say that we are living in unprecedented times when national confidence is at an all-time low, where our economy is struggling, where the profile on personal integrity is at a premium and where many are asking searching questions.

This all came sharply into focus for me in the summer of last year when the riots on the streets in the West Midlands – literally a few miles away from my home – served to send a stark signal as to where our society is heading – not to mention mindless vandalism, shootings and what appears to be an area of Birmingham teetering on the brink of lawlessness. People responded with a cocktail of emotion. Fright, despair, dismay, anger, apathy – even depression, and a continuing stream of reminiscences in the local press as to how we have come to such a state of affairs. Maybe this is mirrored in the community where you live, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that the sense of hopelessness has also invaded your thinking and overview as we look to the future.

But there is an alternative strategy. Our authorities have realised that you can’t use elastoplasts to cover deep wounds, and there is a realisation that unless there is a discovery of fulfilment and purpose in life, then there is no possible recovery for the redemption of time and substance that the locusts have eaten. So the injunction “to move onwards and upwards”, from a Christian perspective, is fundamental to our not being swept away in the current of social and economic malaise – as tough as that is. I confess to being saddened by the slow response and lack of engagement from the “national church” in these times, but I have also been heartened with the response by Christian individuals, and indeed by the seeking out by the media of those who are connected with the reality that although they have a home in heaven, there is still a lot to do on earth.

I wrote a leading article for the local newspaper in the summer of last year when all of the unrest was bubbling. Circulation is the largest in the country for a regional publication, and it was published within two days. The comment, connections and reaction were amazing, leading on to a wider opportunity for salt and light to be spread and shed, and I was only sharing that which is at the very heart of understanding what is wrong in our society and what contribution faith has to make.

Other opportunities have rolled in, and it only underlines to me that closet Christians need to come out and engage at some level or another – Parent/Teacher Associations, mentoring, Neighbourhood Watch, Community Associations, where the “language of Zion” is not the currency used in dialogue and debate.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

I am not demeaning the priority of worship, services, meetings, festivals, fellowship times etc., but I have a nagging feeling that we have got the balance wrong. And of course, we are not all gifted in the same way … but writing a letter to our M.P. or local newspaper, making renewed prayer initiatives or trying to encourage new perspectives in our churches by lobbying those who make decisions is not out of our mere mortal reach.

And so for me that phrase, “onwards and upwards”, has almost become a rallying call. As a Christian, there is no place for the notion that you cannot make a difference. In fact, you can’t even stand still because still water stagnates, and inactive Christians can become really difficult for any Pastor to cope with! “Where there is no vision, the people perish” – and where we plough the same furrows, discuss the same issues, major on the minors, and allow ourselves to become settled in maintenance mode, the church will stagnate and its effectiveness will be anaemic.

After many years in the forefront of ministry opportunity, heading up major Christian initiatives, I decided to make sure that my future days are invested in making a difference. How easy it is to become engaged in the routines and rituals without being effective.

But again I need to be careful. I honour the priority of worship in the Christian culture, but worship without work makes flabby Christians and I do wonder if this is all part of the devil’s strategy for keeping Christian witness as a faint shadow on society’s radar?

SALT AND LIGHT

My current ministry is supported by a small charitable foundation – namely the Flame Trust. I established it when I was heading up Saltmine. I am now giving a lot of time to the education sector, helping to develop a Christian ethos in a local Academy and this has been so fulfilling. I am convincedthat more salt and light in schools is where the Christian community can make a very big difference.

“Onwards and upwards” – so what about you? Easy to nod in agreement as you read words on the printed page, but God is blessed when we change our attitudes and our mindset, and actually see the world around us through a different window.

What about that letter to the local M.P. or local Councillor (with commendation as well as criticism), communication with our local school, support at all levels for Christian initiatives that really do scratch where people itch and don’t just provide oil for machinery that should have been scrapped years ago?

As I conclude, I have to confess that one of my favourite Biblical characters is Moses. He had all of the excuses as to why God could not use him to take the Children of Israel “onwards and upwards”, and although he did not ultimately see the Promised Land, he did walk God’s ordained pathway – “onwards and upwards.” He learned many new things in his senior years and engaged in renewed opportunity, being energised with renewed vision and commitment. It wasn’t an easy journey – but I suspect he arrived at Heaven’s portal with a big smile on his face! May that be our experience in these challenging but vital days.

Dave Pope

For further information on Dave’s wider ministry, please visit www. flametrust.org or contact him via the Flame Office as below:

Flame Trust Ltd/ St James House/ Trinity Road/ Dudley DY1 1JB/ Tel: 01384 232786/ office@flametrust.org