Honouring the stranger

There is a lot of talk about immigration, and it will be a major factor in next year’s general election. I find the rhetoric, that we hear from the politicians from all sides and most of the media, very disturbing. No doubt the election in Rochester this week will be partly decided with this issue in the forefront.  In the Observer this last Sunday a survey by the thinktank British Future, speaks that there is more openness towards the stranger, “rather than being overwhelmingly hostile to immigration and immigrants. Most people appear to hold far more nuanced views.” If this is true, thank goodness. Yet what we hear often is such a hardened view.

So what should be a Christian view towards the strangers and those who come into our midst? Have we something positive to add to this debate? In the Old Testament we get some commands from God himself who in my understanding should not be messed with! In Leviticus 19 it says that we should treat the foreigner as if they were a native born Israelite, and love them as we love ourselves.  It also says in Deuteronomy, “you shall love the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” And in the New Testament St Paul in Romans speaks about extending “hospitality to strangers”. And of course, Jesus, as well as many other Biblical heroes, was a refugee, displaced and living in exile.

I wouldn’t want to be a politician, what a nightmare job, but it does seem clear to me that treating immigration with a hardened heart, indifference and resentment is not the way forward. There does needs to be fairness for all, and understanding that is peppered with a great deal more compassion.

The rhetoric such as ‘let’s get tough…’ and a hardened attitude I feel is motivated out of fear. For when we are fearful, walls go up, our lives shrink in every way and we become less open to those around us. Someone said that “fear is the darkroom where Satan develops our negatives” and the media feeds our fears until there is no room left to welcome the stranger. St John reminds us in his letter it is that perfect love that casts out fear. We live by a different attitude.

So Christians have a prophetic voice, a different message to what we are reading in our newspapers. A message that is based on fairness and compassion but also honours the stranger among us. I wonder what honouring the stranger would look like in our churches and communities?

Not that we have got it sorted here at Scargill, far from it, we are a work in progress. Our Community Promises say, that with the help of God, and with the guidance and encouragement from one another we will try our very best “to welcome the stranger as we would welcome Jesus himself, putting their needs before ours and treating each one as a royal guest.” It is deeply challenging!

St Paul puts it succinctly again in Romans – “Welcome one another, then, just as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God”. Christians are working from a different script from the loud, fearful rhetoric that we often hear around us.

Let’s talk about Water – from Blog to Bog

This week, in what has been a mini heat wave at Scargill, we encountered a six foot Bore (tidal wave), which came down the River Wharfe, the aftermath of an old dam bursting up near Great Whernside. It actually made the local news!

At the time we were pumping water from our spring, which runs close to the river, and this swept into our water supply making it undrinkable. We had brown water with bits in – not nice. And, of course, we then had the challenge of having no drinking water for 70 people. It made me realise just how dependent we are on water, this life giving stuff, and we soon found ourselves down in Skipton buying out all the 5 litre bottles of water. We got through 40 of these in one day. We take clean water for granted but, of course, for many in our world it is not so easily available.

On the Wateraid website it says that “every minute, every day, people suffer and lives are lost needlessly because of a lack of safe water and sanitation. This daily reality is for 748 million people.”

One of the things we did at Scargill during our Summerfest programme last year, which was great fun, was to raise money to twin our toilets to provide safe and clean loos across the world (see http://www.toilettwinning.org).

One of our pathway promises is about speaking out for those without a voice ‘ will you speak up bravely for people who are rarely heard, helping our heavenly Father to fulfil his dream of seeing the hungry fed, the sick looked after the naked clothed and victims of injustice release from their chains.’

This week made me think that perhaps there is more we can do to help our brothers and sisters across the world. Wouldn’t it be good if we all twinned our toilets? It only costs £60 and it would make a real difference.

Back to our water. The Estate Team worked hard pumping out our reservoir – cleaning it out. Today our water is running nice and clean, and tomorrow we will be able to start drinking it again.

We love our Estate Team, and we also love our spring water – and we are grateful to God for it.

When I was thinking about all this, I was reminded of Jesus’ words from Matthew 10 v 42 ’And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.’

Not a bad incentive!

Hey I’m back !

Hey I’m back! In fact we have been back just over a month from our travels to Australia and New Zealand. You will be hearing about our trip –  plenty of interesting things to talk about.  But those who have been following my blog will realise that it was no mean feat that we managed to get on the right plane on the right day at the right time!

Back at Scargill , we have just said goodbye to our Easter houseparty. An amazing week where we journeyed with Jesus through Holy Week to the joy of Easter Sunday.

One of the things that struck me is how Jesus went out of his way to show people who he was through his actions. A good example of this is Palm Sunday where Jesus rode in to Jerusalem on a donkey, and the significance of entering the city from the Mount of Olives.  Jesus didn’t speak a word yet he was saying so much through his actions. He was saying, ‘Look, I’m your King!’. And, of course, the Resurrection is the amazing sign of who Jesus is and what he came to do, but yet even though some his closest friends didn’t get it. Just look at Luke 24 and the story on the road to Emmaus.

So some of the questions I have been asking myself are, “how do I recognise Jesus today?” and “is my life dulled to the presence of Jesus or preoccupied with self-interest ?”

On another point on the same subject, I challenged the Community recently to think how people could recognise Jesus just through our actions, through the way we treat and serve people? Loving actions, a welcoming smile, to be kind, a willingness to say ‘yes’, to go the extra mile can say much more about God’s love than words that are divorced from action. And, of course, Jesus longs to show his love through us even though we are weak and fragile. St Paul reminds us:  ‘But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.’ 2 Corinthians 4: 7

I heard a lovely story about Rowan Williams when after they had walked the stations of the cross he rhetorically asked the question, ‘Why is there no stations of the resurrection?’,  which he answered, ‘we are the living stations of the resurrection’.

So, how do people recognise Jesus? Through you and me.

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Go on being filled…

Well we have made it safely to Australia. – no dramas. We managed to get on the right jets at the right time in the right place. Thanks for asking (if you do not understand read my last post).

So this January we are concerned about having enough sun screen rather than thinking of shovelling snow which has been our usual occupation at Scargill. It is nice and warm in Brisbane, and tomorrow we travel down to Sydney for a week. Such hardship!

With more time to reflect, one question I have been asking is how thirsty am I for God? King David has such a desire to know more of God in his life and in Psalm 63 he speaks of this yearning.

“God – you’re my God! I can’t get enough of you! I’ve worked up such hunger and thirst for God” (The Message)

Can’t quite remember when I last felt like that. One thing for sure though is that I would like to have David’s desire. The sentiment “I still haven’t found what I am looking for” resounds often deeply within me. St Paul in Ephesians 5:18 speaks about go on being filled with the Holy Spirit. It is constant asking and probably should be a daily discipline. For without the Holy Spirit I am stuffed (hope you like my profound theological vocabulary). How can I know Jesus, how can I have a blazing love for him? How can I be inwardly transformed and therefore a lively witness to all that Jesus is and all he has done in my life? Where do I get the desire to read scripture and hopefully make sense of it? Through the grace and love of God, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Simon Ponsonby, who recently spoke at Scargill, speaks of how we settle for less, when there is so much more to experience and know of God. He quotes Billy Graham who says “the desperate need of the nation today is that men and women who profess Jesus be filled with the Spirit.”

Jesus says “let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.  As scripture has said, ‘out of the believers heart shall flow rivers of living waters.'” (John 7)

Come Lord Jesus pour out your Spirit on us today

There and back again…

Not sure how this happened but this blog has gone missing – so here it is again….

Traveling can be bit of an ordeal. Di and I are on sabbatical, having a break from Scargill, and today we were hoping and expecting to fly to Australia only to find we had got to the airport a day early. Oh yes! I’m obviously not that good with dates…And not only being a day early, I thought I had lost my wallet only to find that I had left it in my daughter’s car back in Milton Keynes. It had all the usual cards which, without, would have made traveling very difficult. All a bit stressful, particularly to my long suffering wife.

What I have achieved today is to be an embarrassment to my daughter and caused a lot of laughter and head shaking. But no harm done, we will try again tomorrow with tickets checked and wallet safe.

Traveling though can be exhausting even straightforward trips. The bible are full of journeys many that are very hazardous.The Israelites in the Old Testament journeyed for forty years in the wilderness, full of trails and difficulties, learning huge life lessons on the way. In the New Testament we read of the the holy family’s trip to Bethlehem, (Mary on a donkey = virgin on the ridiculous. You can thank Adrian Plass for that!). A couple of years later fleeing for their lives as refugees to Egypt, an enforced journey. Jesus identifies with refugees and we keep in our prayers all who find themselves along way from home. Their plight makes my experiences insignificant and yes, ridiculous.

Yet the “inward” journey is also never straightforward, far from it. Christians, often speak of their walk with God, or their desire to discover God, with phrases such as a desert experience or walking through a valley, or mountain top experience. The inward journey for the majority of us is exhausting and hazardous. St Augustine wrote in one of his prayers, “our hearts are restless until they rest in you”. Very true. This is the journey which will bring life, love and hope, and like the younger son in his parable, we stumble along in the hope of coming home to the unconditional love and welcome of our Heavenly Father. The road can seem long and tough but let us not be discouraged, as Jesus promises to journey with us, speaking to us, and that “if we listen carefully we discover we are already home while on the way” (Henri Nouwen).

Will I make it to Australia, will I journey more into the love of God? Both journeys are keenly on my agenda – I’ll let you know.

What if healing comes through tears…?

Aside

This last week we have had a lovely time at Scargill. We have had a Community retreat, which was led by good friends of Scargill – Ken and Liz Whiteway. They were very gentle, warming and encouraging of us.

It is lovely when we have people who know us well and come with love and blessing. And talking of blessing, they shared that often blessing does not come through life being easy or our prayers being answered in the way we would hope. There was a wonderful song from Laura Story called ‘Blessings’, which they shared with us. The chorus is:

‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise’

There are a lot of ‘what if’s” in the chorus, and the song is asking the question, does God bless us through the disappointments and difficulties of life?’

Many guests who visit us at Scargill are living with very hard and stressful situations, and it is difficult to see where God is in it all, but what if that somewhere, somehow, in the darkness our compassionate God wants to bless us with His love? I wonder if Romans 5 v 3-5 echo something of what this song is saying?

‘And not only that, but we also boasting our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.’

Just what if?

Laura Story: Link to the explanation and link to the song itself on YouTube

Home from home

Thank you very much to those of you who take the time to read my blog over the last year, and I am sorry that I haven’t written anything for a while. Life here has been hectic and I have been waiting for some inspiration to encourage the perspiration to write. Now I’m back!

Someone, after their second visit to Scargill, said that it was like coming home. We often hear that from people, when referring to their visits. I love it and I am very appreciative that people feel this way about Scargill.

I love the bit from the ‘Last Battle’, the final book of the Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis,  when the Unicorn cries, “I have come home at last, this is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I’ve been looking for all my life.” Not everybody feels as over the top as this when they visit Scargill, but for many it does feel like Home.

I was questioned recently, ‘Are you a Christian hotel?’ I was surprised by my strong reaction to that question. “No way!”. Of course we have many marks of a hotel (food cooked, bedrooms prepared) but we are definitely not a hotel! I have been to some fine hotels, some of them Christian ones, and they are very different from Scargill. You sit and have your meal, not usually with other people, and you don’t have prolonged conversation and share your lives with the staff, however nice they seem to be. And that raises the first big difference between Scargill and a hotel: we don’t have staff, we are a community. That means that we have a very different model of hospitality. We eat on shared tables where Community serve and eat with guests. We have conversations and relationships that at times go deeper than superficial. Scargill Community are very much about inviting people into our home. It’s a hospitality that is relational and can be transformative in a deep way.

Scargill at its heart is ‘lives shared – lives transformed’, with Jesus at the centre. So Scargill is a place of sharing, mutual laughter, a place where we are encouraged to be open to one another and particularly to those who may be very different from us. A safe place where people can meet and be open to the love of God through His Holy Spirit.

Every week we welcome another group of guests, some of them come on their own and by the end of the week we have grown into a community of mutual respect and love. At our best (and of course we are not always at our best) the words of Jesus have a truth and reality, ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.’ John 13 v 35

J.R.R. Tolkien describes Rivendell in ‘The Hobbit’ as the ‘last homely house, which is a sanctuary and refuge for the weary.’ Not a bad description of Scargill.

Scargill Community June 2013