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July 18, 2012 / nickpark

Church of God General Assembly Agenda 2012 – Item 18

Next week in Orlando, Church of God members from all over the world will be attending the biennial General Assembly.  It’s a time of fellowship, worship and also debate and discussion.  Over the next few days I intend to contribute some thoughts and ideas with regards to the issues under debate.
Let’s start with Item Number 18:

18. RESPONSIBLE USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA
We recommend:
That we amend pages 156, 157, S63. GENERAL INSTRUCTIONS FOR MINISTERS, by adding the following:
10. Responsible Use of Social Media
Christians are exhorted by Scripture to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), to provide things honest in the sight of
all persons (Romans 12:17), and to do all things for the edification of others (Romans 15:2). The use of social media (such as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, websites, and so forth) by believers should conform to these and other biblical standards.
Church of God ministers, as examples of believers in speech, life, faith, and purity (1 Timothy 4:12), shall at all times agree:
a. To write and post only under their own name.
b. To not attack fellow ministers or members of the Church of God. One may disagree with others, provided the tone is respectful and does not become a personal attack.
c. To not disclose any sensitive, confidential, or financial information about the church, its ministers, or its members, other than what is publically available.
d. To not post any material that is defamatory, libelous, threatening, harassing, abusive, or embarrassing to any person or entity.
e. To uphold the doctrine of the Church of God by not writing or posting anything contrary to the accepted doctrine of the Church of God.
Failure to follow these guidelines on the use of social media shall result in the offending minister being subject to discipline

 
At first glance, there’s a lot here to agree with.  Christian ministers should be careful how they express themselves in public, and that includes the internet and social media.  I’ve had to warn teenagers in our church to pause to think before they post everything they might think or feel on Facebook for the world to view.  How much more embarrassing when pastors start squabbling and griping on the internet as if they were six-year-olds.

It should go without saying that Christian ministers should refrain from being abusive to others – whether online, when writing letters, or in verbal speech.  And there is something particularly repugnant and cowardly about attacking another human being while hiding behind the anonymity of a pen-name.

Jesus gave us guidelines in Scripture about how we should resolve conflicts with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Such resolution starts with face-to-face discussion.  But that becomes impossible when one party hides behind anonymity in the electronic version of a poison pen letter.  Two years ago, I made a public speech advocating the full participation of women in all aspects of ministry in the Church of God.  Within hours I was attacked on the internet, including some untruthful and personal remarks about myself.

One of those who attacked me did so under his real name.  I was able to take steps to contact this brother directly, arrange a face-to-face meeting (over a fine breakfast) and we resolved our differences.  We still agreed to disagree on certain issues, but we did so with love and mutual respect.  However, such biblical resolution was impossible with those peop[le who attacked me while remaining anonymous.  It is sometimes claimed that the use of pen-names is through the fear of retribution.  In this case that was most certainly not applicable.  I have no political clout or power in the Church of God to harm any of these people – and there should be no physical fear since it is over 30 years since I injured anyone badly enough for them to need hospitallisation.  No, it was simple cowardice and lack of integrity that allowed others to attack me in a way that rendered it impossible for us to pursue any kind of biblical conflict resolution.

So, having said all of that, I should be in favour of Item 18 – yes?

But, in fact, I see more problems with this measure than any good that it might achieve.

1.  First of all, it will be embarrassing to put wording such as this into the Church of God Minutes for future generations.  In ten years it is quite possible that MySpace and Facebook will have gone the way of audio cassettes and the Osmonds.  It’s like reading rules about people who operate ‘moving picture shows’ or condemning coca-cola, chewing gum and bobbed hair (whatever that is).  All it will do is shout to future generations that we are culturally trapped in the past.

2. Secondly, and much more  importantly, trying to legislate for every eventuality leads to Pharisaism.  The most important issues are to do with the heart – and in this case we already have the words of Scripture that our words should be ‘yes’ or ‘no’ without dishonest equivocation.

Pharisaism is often well meaning, but it ends up straining at gnats and swallowing camels.  Already our Church of God minutes sanction the removal of a minister’s license if he smokes a cigar, but provides no penalty if the same minister harbours racist hatred in his heart.  Is smoking a cigar worse than racism?  Of course not.  But it is easier to legislate against – and so such pieces of legislation distract us with minutae while we neglect weightier matters.

Wouldn’t it be better to train our ministers more effectively, so that they have courage and integrity, rather than trying to legislate rules for every new technology or form of communication that might arise?

3.  Thirdly, there are entirely legitimate reasons why people might sometimes use pen-names.  For example, I have on occasion solicited prayer on an internet forum for visits I was making to ‘closed’ countries where believers face persecution.  If I had made these prayer requests under my own name then I would have exposed myself to the risk of arrest, and possibly caused the torture and death of those to whom I was seeking to minister.  If Item 18 passes then I will have to refrain from seeking such prayer in such a forum. or face the penalty of losing my ministerial credentials.

4. Fourthly, how can we have discussions about doctrine if it is forbidden to question existing ‘accepted doctrine’?  If the early Methodists or holiness movement had an Item 18 then would the modern day Pentecostal movement even exist today?

For these reasons I will be voting against Item 18.  I believe it was framed with the best of intentions, but we don’t need more legislation on this issue – we need to start shaping up and living according to the words of Jesus.

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March 22, 2012 / nickpark

A Free Sample Chapter from “Faith – The Real Thing”

Back in 1999 I published a book called “Faith – The Real Thing: A Practical Commentary on Hebrews 11”.  Although out of print for some years, it is being reprinted next month by Success Services Ireland.  It is already available on the Amazon Kindle and, to celebrate, Amazon are GIVING it away free for the next two days (up to 7am GMT Sat 24th March).  After that it will cost $9.99.  Kindle files can also be downloaded with the Kindle app onto PCs, Laptops, iPhones, Blackberries, Android phones etc.

Here’s a free sample Chapter.

FAITH – THE REAL THING – LOOKS FOR POTENTIAL, NOT PROBLEMS

By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. (verse 11:23)

The King of Egypt had commanded that all male Hebrew children must be thrown into the River Nile (Exodus 1:22), but Moses’ parents defied the king’s command and hid Moses for three months.  They did this because they realised that this baby was ‘no ordinary child.’  Their awareness of the potential that lay within that baby was stronger than any fear that the king’s command may have been able to create.

Babies are, by their very nature, noisy and inconvenient.  For three whole months Moses’ parents lived under constant threat of arrest and execution.  Every time the baby Moses cried, it could have been enough to cause someone to inform on them, to attract the Egyptian soldiers.  But they reckoned the potential in the baby to be greater than the threat of arrest.  This shows us another characteristic of Hebrews 11 faith.  Real faith looks for, and recognises, the potential in people, rather than trying to find fault with them.

Words have a power all of their own.  With words we can build, affirm and encourage.  With words we can destroy, demolish and discourage.  It is significant that, when God saw men building the idolatrous Tower of Babel, He said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them” (Genesis 11:6).  The answer?  Simple, just confuse their speech.

It is always easier to destroy, demolish and discourage than it is to build, affirm and encourage.  Any fool can kick a window in, but it takes a craftsman to re-glaze it.  Anyone can criticise or run somebody else down, but it takes a person of faith to see potential in someone and to speak the words that can help unlock that potential.

Kids all over the world grow up discouraged and demotivated, making easy meat for Satan, because they have been bombarded by negative words.  From before they can walk or talk, they are told that they are stupid, that they will never amount to anything.  They grow up believing this.

I heard a story about two fish, a pike and a stickleback.  The pike is not only a big fish, he is also a hungry fish.  Apparently the pike is always hungry, even just after a meal!  Some researchers put the pike and the stickleback in opposite ends of a big long fish tank, and then put a sheet of glass across the middle of the tank.

The pike looked down the tank, saw a smaller fish that would obviously make a nice mouthful, and swam towards the stickleback as fast as he would go.  Wham!  His nose hit that sheet of glass.  So round he swam and tried again.  Wham!  He kept on trying.  The first day, that pike bumped his nose off that glass several hundred times.  The second day, he hit it a few times less.  The third day, even less, and so on.  A fish doesn’t have much brains, but even a fish gets tired of bashing his nose.  After several weeks the pike had given up going for the stickleback altogether.  That was the point where the sheet of glass was taken out.  The pike and the stickleback continued to co-exist quite happily in the same tank for several weeks.  Even though the barrier was now gone, the pike’s painful experience stopped him from trying to eat the smaller fish.

The world, and particularly the Church, is full of people like that pike.  The reasons for past hurts are long gone, but they can’t move on because the painful memories still hold them back.

It never ceases to amaze me that some Christians seem to feel that God has appointed them to heap more negativity onto people already broken by the words of others.  Their so-called ‘evangelism’ consists of abusing people and telling them how bad they are.  Then they wonder why no-one seems to be responding to their offer of the ‘good’ news.

Next they get angry at people for rejecting their message.  Their anger makes them more abusive, and makes their ‘Gospel’ even more a message of condemnation.  This creates a vicious circle with the ‘evangelist’ getting more judgmental, cranky and thoroughly unattractive, while the people he is trying to evangelise get more and more turned off any mention of Jesus Christ.

I have to confess that I got caught in such a vicious circle.  I was a young pastor, just out of Bible College and ready to save the world.  I really did want to reach people with the wonderful life-changing message of Jesus Christ.  The only problem was that I had decided that people who didn’t know Christ were proud, needed to be taken down a peg or two, and were trying to earn their way into heaven through good works.  So I began going round each evening, knocking on people’s doors, telling them what sinners they were, and how stupid and pointless it is to try to work your way into heaven.  Not surprisingly, no-one responded to my message, so I became more and more extreme, more and more judgmental, and more and more ineffective.

One day I was reading my Bible and I came across the verse that says, “whatever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).  The Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, “That’s your problem.  Your evangelism is nothing but sin.”

I was horrified and began to protest, “But Lord, how can evangelism be sin?  Anyway, I’m doing this because of my faith.  How can You say it is not of faith?”

The Holy Spirit replied with a simple question, “When you knock on someone’s door, are you expecting them to get saved?”  For a long while I just sat there, overwhelmed by a realisation of my own faithlessness and stupidity.  I had long ago stopped expecting people to get saved.  What I had may have looked like faith, may have sounded like faith, may even have smelled like faith, but it wasn’t the real thing.

That day God changed my whole approach to sharing the Gospel.  I began to listen to people, to talk with them instead of talking at them.  I came to realise that most people are not proud, but are crushed by guilt and condemnation.  Most people are not trying to work their way to heaven, they are rather so aware of their sin and inadequacy that they find it difficult to accept the Gospel message that God would ever want them in heaven.  I began to concentrate on releasing people’s potential, rather than hammering home their problems.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m no Billy Graham.  My primary ministry is that of a teacher rather than an evangelist.  But, from that day onward, I began to have the joy, on a weekly basis, of leading people to faith in Jesus Christ.

We need to do the same within the Body of Christ.  When you look at other Christians, do not be looking for problems.  Look for the glorious potential that God has placed within each believer.  Each time I preach to a congregation, I am aware of the enormous reservoir of gifts and blessings that are gathered before me.  Faith – the real thing – the Hebrews 11 kind, looks for that potential rather than focussing on problems.  We are to develop and release that potential, for we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.

March 2, 2012 / nickpark

Prophecy & Bowel Movements

Before you get mad about the title of today’s blog entry, please take the time to real down to the bottom of the page.

In recent weeks we’ve been studying the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit at the Solid Rock Church in Drogheda.  We’ve looked at many of the gifts listed in 1 Corinthians Chapter 12, and we see that not everybody operates in each ministry gift.  Yet there is a sense in which every Spirit-filled believer can move in a manifestation of that gift.  So, for example, not every Christian is a Prophet.  Yet there is a sense in which every one of us can be prophetic.  So what would it mean for a church to truly be a Prophetic People?

Last Sunday we began by looking at the Old Testament:

So Moses went out and told the people what the Lord had said. He brought together seventy of their elders and had them stand around the tent.  Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and He took some of the power of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied – but did not do so again. However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp.  They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the tent.  Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp.   

A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 
Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!”
But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!”  Then Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp. (Numbers 11:24-30)
Joshua’s reaction is like that of many leaders in the Church today.  He wanted to limit the exercise of spiritual gifts and power to a limited few, and under circumstances where it could be easily controlled.  We often like things to be neat and orderly, never surprising or discomfiting us. Moses, however, yearned for something that would be undoubtedly messier, but ultimately more empowering.  He wanted all God’s people to prophesy.
So, once again, what would a church look like if it was filled with genuinely prophetic people?  We have to remember that prophecy is not so much foretelling the future as it is forth-telling the mind and heart of God.  So what would a church look like if it adequately reflected what God thinks and says about the world around us and our place in it?
Perhaps it would be better if we started by saying what prophecy is not.  Unfortunately the word ‘prophetic’ has sometimes been hijacked by a small group of crazies.  So let’s begin by popping a few balloons and getting rid of some wrong ideas about prophecy.
1.  Prophecy is not a way of adding legitimacy to your own thoughts, agendas and desires.  The Old Testament speaks scathingly of those who prophesied their own thoughts (Ezekiel 13:1-4;  Jeremiah 23:16).  Sometimes we all want something so much, or are so keen for others to agree with us, that we tack ‘God says’ on to our thoughts.  This, or so we think, adds authority to our words and makes it less likely that others will question us.  After alll, people don’t want to argue with God, do they?  Sometimes the results of this are just plain funny, as when a young man who fancied a girl walked up to her and said, “Thus saith the Lord – you will marry me!”  At other times the results have been tragic as God people have been abused and hurt, then left confused because that ‘Word from God’ turned out to be untrue.
2.  Prophecy is not riding a hobby horse.  Some people think that being ‘prophetic’ means that you always harp on about the one subject – which is usually something to do with Israel or else details of the Second Coming of Christ.  Don’t get me wrong, it is good to pray for the peace of Israel, but therte are some Christians who never talk about anything else.  They try to make themselves sound more spiritual by calling Jesus ‘Yeshua’ and throwing the occasional Hebrew word into conversations.  I get a bit worried about these people.  The New Testament tellls us that the presence of God in our lives should be so evident as to provoke the Jews to jealousy (Romans 11:11).  So why do seem Christians seem to be the ones that are jealous of the Jews, always wishing that the Church would be as spiritual as Judaism?  Something is back to front with that attitude!  The same applies to the Second Coming.  The Return of Christ is key doctrine of the Christian Church, but some believers are so keen to be ‘prophetic’ that they spend their entire lives obsessing over the details of the Great Tribulation or the identity of the AntiChrist.  Ultimately, the people who obsess over such things are the least useful members of a church.  They never seem to be there when there is actual work to be done such as serving one another in love.
3.  Prophecy is not comfortable.  A lot of modern day prophecy is designed to leave us feeling warm and fuzzy inside.  I’ve heard so many ‘prophecies’ that basically just said, “God loves you so much.  He’s so pleased with you as His child.  He wants you to be happy.  If He could, He’d pick you up and give you a big cuddle.”  Now, of course God loves us, but, when I turn to Scripture, I never see biblical prophecy being used as a comfort blanket for God’s people.  Propecy is uncomfortable!  It challenges the status quo, shakes us up when we are complacent, and stretches us to think and do new things!
4.  Prophecy is not destructive.  Sometimes we swing from one extreme to another.  We stop being comfortable and start prophesying doom and gloom over each other, the world, and the Church.  Yet one characteristic of biblical prophecy is that it is redemptive.  God never points out our failings just so as to leave us a quivering mess of shame and regret.  He always points past judgment to repentance, mercy and restoration.  If a so-called ‘prophecy’ just condemns you, without pointing the way to a better future, then it isn’t of God.
So, if that’s what prophecy is not – then how do we recognise the real thing?  What is real prophecy?  What would that church full of prophetic people look like?
First off, prophecy is about knowing the mind of God.  So we need to spend time with Him, hearing His voice so that we will never mistake it for another.
“The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.  The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.  But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognise a stranger’s voice.” (John 10:2-5)
I don’t know how true this is, but I’ve heard that some banks train their staff to spot counterfeit banknotes by making sure they handle as many real banknotes as possible.  The more the staff handle the real thing, the quicker they will be to notice something is wrong as soon as a fake banknote passes through their hands.  Something about it just feels wrong!
Have you ever puzzled over how to distinguish between the voice of God and other voices?  Have you ever felt a prompting to do something and then wondered if that was just you or was it the Holy Spirit?  Of course one way to test any ‘voice’ is to check whether it matches up with Scripture.  But another way is to spend so much time in God’s presence that His voice becomes familiar to you – that way you won’t be fooled by a different voice.  Reading the Bible helps us to recognise God’s voice.  So does prayer.  Not just the kind of prayer where we ask for one thing after another as with a shopping list – but the kind of prayer where we spend time in His presence, worshipping and listening.
Another key to being prophetic is to feel the heart of God.  We need to rejoice at what gladdens His heart, and be angry or grieved at the things that offend Him.  And this is where the bowel movements of our title come into the conversation.
There are times when I am glad that our modern Bible translations use idioms and equivalent phrases (what theologians call ‘dynamic equivalence’) rather than translating word-for-word from the Greek and Hebrew.
The NIV renders Isaiah 16:11 as “My heart laments for Moab like a harp,  my inmost being for Kir Hareseth.”  But the Hebrew word is may-aw which literally means ‘bowels’ rather than ‘heart’.  The KJV translate it more literally (and farcically) as “my bowels shall sound like an harp for Moab” which is a very unfortunate turn of phrase indeed.
Also in the New Testament, it is said on a number of occasions that Jesus was “moved with compassion”.  The Greek word here is splagchnos – which means ‘bowels’ or ‘intestines’.  I appreciate that this language makes some people rather uncomfortable – indeed there was one heretical group in the Early Church (the Docetists) who were so uncomfortable with the idea of Jesus having bowels that they taught that He didn’t produce excrement like normal people, but rather had a magical process by which His bodily waste dissolved through His skin as an odourless vapour!  But let’s face up to what the Bible says – Jesus was moved with compassion to such a depth and extent that it produced a sensation akin to that which precedes a bowel movement!
Have you ever felt something which such an emotional intensity that it produces a cramping contraction deep inside you?  I remember vividly the day that my youngest daughter died.  As my wife told me what had happened I doubled over in physical pain asmy insides seemed to lurch uncontrollably.  That’s the kind of gut-wrenching intensity that characterises the compassion of God.
As we spend time in God’s presence, we learn to love others with that intensity.  We identify with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and with the weak and defenceless in society, to such an extent that it physically pains us to hear of their suffering.  Our bowels truly are moved with compassion.  And that’s when we begin to step into the prophetic.  If we haven’t learned to love each other in that way then we forfeit the right to stand up and pontificate about what we think the Lord is, or is not, saying.  It is in loving people as God loves them that we start to become a prophetic people.
And that is why, despite what you might have thought when you first read the title of this blog entry, that Prophecy and Bowel Movements are inextricably linked.
February 3, 2012 / nickpark

Statement on the Deaths of Rudo Mawere & Jason Dube

This week all of Ireland has been shocked at the murder of Rudo Mawere, a young Malawian woman whose body was found abandoned in a holdall bag.  Her boyfriend, Jason Dube from Zimbabwe, was being sought by the the police as the primary person of interest in the case, but he was found hanged in some woods in England a few days later.

Both Jason and Rudo had been attending the Solid Rock Church in Dublin for several weeks but were not members of the Church.  Like everybody else, our Pastor in Dublin, Emmanuel Might, and the members of the Dublin branch of the Solid Rock, are shocked beyond words by these recent events.  They have been voluntarily assisting the police in their enquiries by sharing as much information as they possess about this couple, and we hope that a fuller picture will emerge as to what exactly happened.

Today two families and friends of the deceased, at home and abroad, are seriously hurting and from the Solid Rock Church of God we send our heartfelt condolences, our word of encouragement, our support and prayers to the bereaved families. For now we will be joining hands together with the Malawian community to pay our respect to the late Ms Mawere until her body is laid to rest or flown home for burial.

Nick Park

Senior Pastor of Solid Rock Church, Drogheda

December 11, 2011 / nickpark

Ad for Vox Magazine

Here is the Ad we are running in the next addition of Vox magazine.  The book is now available to order online at http://www.nickpark.ie or from Amazon.

 

October 24, 2011 / nickpark

A Sneak Preview of My Book – “From Touching Rock Bottom to Touching the Nations”

At every opportunity I had been drinking heavily.  The escape and oblivion that came from alcohol was something that I increasingly craved.  The time when I was sober was spent looking forward to my next drink.  The only problem, as I saw it, was that money was short, thus limiting my drinking.  So I found a much cheaper way of reaching oblivion.  I began sniffing solvents.

 Carbon tetrachloride is a common chemical used for stain removal or stripping polish and varnish from surfaces.  I discovered that I could buy a bottle for less than a pound (that’s less than $2 US dollars), pour a few drops onto a cloth, and then place the cloth over my nose and mouth.  One bottle could keep me intoxicated for an entire day.  Solvent abuse is incredibly dangerous, each episode causes hallucinations that culminate in a juddering shock to the body that makes you feel as if your heart is bursting out of your chest.  Sometimes I could hear my heart stop beating, and in my befuddled state I would wonder whether this was the time I would die or whether I would come back to full consciousness again.

For the next two or three months I spent most of my waking time either high on solvents or drunk.  At fifteen years of age I was too young to claim welfare payments legally, so I did so under a false name.  This was before the computer age, and I figured that by the time the welfare office could receive all the relevant paperwork from Belfast, I would have moved on to another district of London.  So I used the name and date of birth of an older boy at school who had once bullied me.  I don’t know if the term ‘identity theft’ had been coined in 1978, but that is what it was.  In a grim act of revenge I used his name to collect welfare payments and build up a substantial criminal record of petty theft, public order offences, bad loans and unpaid fines.

Occasionally I would earn a few pounds working as a roadie for bands, carrying their equipment into venues and setting everything up.  The band I was living with was never successful enough to pay roadies.  Although musically challenged, they tried to gain notoriety by courting controversy.  They were called ‘The Raped’ and released a record called ‘Pretty Paedophiles.’  Every now and again a letter would appear in the music press expressing disgust at them – but in fact these letters were written by their manager in an attempt to generate publicity.  They weren’t even significant enough to cause genuine offence to anyone.

Eventually my craving for solvents and alcohol became so all-consuming that I had no money left for food or rent.  My weight began to drop alarmingly, and I ended up being evicted from my room in the house at Hendon.  I wandered the streets of London for a few days, sleeping at night in shop doorways.  When the weather turned wet I would shelter during the daytime in public libraries.

Even though my life was sliding downhill on an ever accelerating track to destruction, there was still a stubborn irrational glimmer of hope within me that things could be better.  My fascination with other countries continued to grow.  I would read books in the library that introduced me to the great writers of other nations’ literature.

One day I felt as if I had touched rock bottom.  In fact I still had further to fall, but this day still represented a new low for me.  I sat on the pavement of Tottenham Court Road and begged for coins.  I wasn’t seeking to get food, or even alcohol.  I just wanted enough coins to buy a bottle of solvent so I could put a rag over my face and inhale some oblivion.  As I sat begging, with a piece of card in front of me bearing some hastily scrawled lie of a sob-story, I was two-thirds of the way through reading a book that I had stolen from a library.  A well-dressed man stopped in front of me with a kindly expression on his face.  I looked up and tried to appear needy and pathetic.

“What’s that book you’re reading?” he asked.  I showed him the book cover.  It was ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  He shook his head in amazement.  “There probably aren’t even twenty young men your age in this entire city who have an interest in reading that kind of literature.  Yet you’re begging on the street.  Don’t you know that God could do so much more with your life?”

“I’m an atheist.” I replied, “There is no God.”  For a moment I thought I had offended him, stopping him from giving to me.  But he still dropped a few coins into the box in front of me.  I remained begging on the pavement on Tottenham Court Road until I had finished my book, but I didn’t follow through with my plan to straight away buy a bottle of solvent.  Instead I retraced my steps to the library from which I had stolen that book, and I put it back on its shelf alongside Dostoyevsky’s other novels.

Then I went to another shelf and pulled down a big illustrated atlas.  I opened it up at a map of the world, and one-by-one I began to touch the outlines of the different countries.  “One day,” I whispered to myself, “I’m going to touch the nations!”

The Print Version of “From Touching Rock Bottom to Touching the Nations” will be available in approx 3 weeks time.  But the e-book version (for Kindles, iPads, or any other e-Reader) is already for sale at amazon.com     Just search for ‘Nick Park’ in the Kindle Store section.

September 10, 2011 / nickpark

Racism and the Church in Ireland

This is an Article that has also appeared in Vox Magazine, and has been circulated by Evangellical Alliance Ireland as part of a campaign to encourage church leaders of different racial backgrounds to work and pray together:

I had popped into my office to finish some outstanding paperwork after our Monday night Prayer Meeting. Some of our church members had stayed behind after the Prayer Meeting to fellowship.

On this occasion I left my office about 11pm. The last two stragglers from the Prayer Meeting had gone out a few seconds ahead of me. As I was locking the door I heard shouting coming from the front of the Church.

The two ladies were standing by their vehicles in the car park. Two young men on the street outside were screaming abuse at them. It was a particularly offensive form of racial abuse, full of liberal use of the ‘N’ word and threats of violence.

Racist abuse

The men saw me and, being brave specimens of manhood, quickly retreated to the other side of the street at the sight of a middle-aged white-haired overweight pastor. I moved quickly to stand between them and our two ladies – and, although there were no more threats of violence, they continued to spew forth racist abuse.

Our two ladies left, and the loudmouthed racists carried on down the street. Now, here’s the weird thing. The young men were white. I’m white. And the two Church ladies are white. Yet these men were screaming hatred purely because of our Church’s reputation as a multicultural and multiethnic Church.

Driving home I confess that I struggled to stay sanctified. Part of me really wanted to turn the car around, to confront those young men and to administer the sorely-needed clip round the ear that their mothers evidently neglected to give them. But I kept on driving. After all, pastors beating up young men on the street doesn’t generally bring good publicity to a Church.

But I found it difficult to sleep that night. I’ve been subjected to abuse before, but somehow racism has a viciousness that disturbs my spirit. Then a sobering realisation sank into my heart. If racist abuse has such an impact, even when it’s from a white person directed at other whites, then how must it affect the black members of our Church?

A few evenings later I was in another prayer meeting with about a dozen black friends from our Church. I shared what had happened. I began to say, “I’m sure this is nothing new. Some of you have probably faced worse abuse sometimes…”

Every single day

I got no further. One guy just about exploded. He said, “Pastor! Not just ‘sometimes’ – make that ‘every day’!” He related how, as a bus driver, he had been subjected to racist abuse every single day of his working life in Dublin.

One day, the abuse was so nasty and vindictive that my friend’s patience snapped. He started shouting back at his tormentor. As a result he has now lost his job.

My friend is a large imposing man. And I’m sure his outburst was upsetting for some passengers. But as I listened to him I realised that a whole section of our Church is experiencing stuff of which I have little or no concept.

I’ve recently been reading “Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America” by sociologist Michael Emerson. It has almost become a cliché that 11am on a Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in American society.

But, more disturbingly, studies reveal that Evangelical Christians’ attitudes tend to perpetuate rather than to diminish racial divisions and injustices. It’s not that they are overtly racist – but their worldview leads them to ignore inequalities in society.

So, are we headed towards a similar scenario in Ireland? Is the future of Evangelical Christianity in this land to be one of white Churches and black Churches with little interaction and little understanding of the problems each other face?

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not so naïve as to imagine that every Church should be multicultural and multiethnic. Our histories and different people’s preferences in worship and preaching style mean we will always have white-majority Churches, Churches composed predominantly of immigrants and every conceivable mixture in-between. 


Part of the problem or part of the solution?

But, and this is a huge ‘but’, studies from the US also demonstrate that where black and white Christians form relationships with each other, then Evangelical Christians become part of the solution to racial tension rather than being part of the problem.

Evangelical Alliance Ireland is moving to address this by promoting an event called “If My People” on the November 11 2011. Pastors from diverse backgrounds will be planning prayer events all over Ireland with a view to building relationships with one another and between their congregations.

Let’s join together and set an example in the Church that can show the way ahead for our nation.

To find out how you and your Church can be part of this initiative then please contact Mary Dwyer at EAI networking@evangelical.ie