Don’t get drunk on wine….?

Matt Barlow - 23 November 2022

1. You’re not allowed to dance merengue or salsa

2. Women aren’t allowed to wear trousers

3. You can’t go to the cinema

4. You aren’t allowed to drink alcohol.... 

No, this isn't a new set of Ten Commandments, it's just some of the confusing list of things that greeted Josie and I as to what Christians are and aren’t allowed to do when we arrived in the Dominican Republic back in 1995. We had come to spend two years there and we looked on in slight bemusement as we tried to get our heads around these laws and prohibitions that surrounded how Dominican Christians expressed their faith. Whilst we tried to be respectful, it was quite unlikely that this young, fairly newly converted 22 year old was going to toe the line.

What Christians should and shouldn’t do, in terms of lifestyle, is not a new thing, you only have to read Romans 14 to know these discussions have been going on for centuries. I'm writing this blog now to communicate our view on alcohol; aware we have a few social events coming up and so that all those new to our church (and the UK) continue to feel welcomed and included in all we do, aware that other cultures often take different approaches.

Firstly, surely, we need to ask the question - ‘What does the bible say?’ - about drinking alcohol?The bible includes scripture where the drinking of alcohol is not only permitted, but included as a celebrated part of culture; at other times it gives clear warning against it. This link would take you to a bunch of verses where it appears that alcohol is fine by God and other places where maybe not, and also some verses about how Christians should handle these issues of the conscience.

It seems clear that Jesus had no problem with the concept of drinking some alcohol. His first ever miracle (John 2) was creating wine out of water, and not only did he create loads of it, it would appear he did it ‘after the guests have had too much to drink.(v10)’ At the other end of his ministry, he took the cup of wine and instructed his followers to drink it in remembrance of him. These and other verses suggest Jesus was ok with some form of drinking.

What the bible is VERY clear on, in my opinion, is the inappropriateness and unhealthiness of drunkenness. Paul urges the church in Ephesus to not get drunk (Eph 5:18) and he regularly lists drunkenness along with other really obvious sins such as extreme sexual promiscuity such as orgies, lust and debauchery, which of course drunkenness can lead to. (1Pet4:3; Gal5:21).

As such, in my experience, it seems that UK Christians tend to take a theological approach that drinking alcohol is not wrong, but getting drunk is not something that honours God as it can easily lead to compromised decision making. That would seem to be the majority, though there would still be some Christians who would think it wrong to even drink, and others who think it fine to have a few too many.

As a leadership team we are happy to take this approach, which has been the approach since Light church started. However, we tend to only include alcohol at certain events, such as Christmas parties, World Cup games, weekends away. We choose to allow alcohol alongside the provision of soft drinks, trusting that people will drink wisely and sensibly. We also hope that as new Christians come in they can see a different behaviour modelled - a people who have enough self control to enjoy a drink, without getting drunk and making fools of themselves.

However, without doubt we remain aware that this can present a challenge for all those who have alcohol issues, be they Christians and part of our church or on their way into the family of God. We are aware that the nature of this struggle can often go unseen and we know this could apply to those new to our community that have engaged with us through one of our outreach programmes, and also to those who have been part of our church family for a long time. If this is you we would like to open a conversation with you so we can help you get the support you need; rather than banning alcohol from all our events. Whilst there is an argument that we should all abstain for the sake of the few, our sense has been over the years, and continues to be that we would rather support those individuals to be in an environment with alcohol and to stay strong, so that when they are maybe not around church family, that strength will carry them through. If we are aware it is an issue for someone, we will often talk to them individually prior to an event and discuss how they might navigate the event well, and if they want to check in during the event. This then also gives the majority who don’t have a problem, the chance to enjoy what is a real social norm in our culture but in a healthy, respectful, God honouring way.

I hope this helps give some theological context and also some pastoral insight into the decisions we make and especially those who are maybe coming from another culture where seeing the pastor enjoy a beer was reason to go and find another church. Often moving cultural settings causes us to analyse the ‘why’ we do things a certain way in our culture, and hopefully make thoughtful, prayerful decisions based on the bible and experience of other Christians.

If you think you might have a problem with alcohol, please speak to us, we won't judge and we are here to support you into freedom. Please feel free to ask any questions of any of the leaders if anything I’ve written causes you concern. Now…..anyone for a Christmas party????? See you Friday 2nd December!!!


How deep is my love?

Matt Barlow - 01 April 2022

I love you more than this time last year

This weekend I’m going away for a couple of nights with Josie to celebrate her birthday (believe it or not, this is part of my leaving gift from CAP - it’s been quite a two years!) Because it’s her birthday I’ll also write her a card, a nice card, full of lovely words that seek to convey how much I love her. I might write something like: ‘I love you more and more every year’ in fact I probably will, but then the rationalist in my head will interrupt with: ‘How do you know? Can you measure your love? How do you know it isn’t just the same as it was a year ago, or maybe a bit less?’ Seriously, it can be hard for us overly rational thinkers to be romantic at times!! I’ll write it anyway, because, well I still definitely love her just as much, and maybe it’s more, and if I write anything else the card won’t be the success I want it to be. Lol.

How do I know if I love God?

It’s also similarly impossible to measure our love for God, like seriously, where do you begin?? Is it with your feelings, is it in your actions, in your thought life? Next to impossible isn’t it? Which is why I want to reiterate that the recent discipleship framework survey is not a ‘How much do you love God?’ survey. Nor is the discipleship framework an attempt to judge or even measure anyone’s love relationship with Jesus, or with the Father or with Holy Spirit.

Questions help

However, going back to the marriage analogy, if I want to know if I love Josie and if we have a healthy marriage, there are some questions that someone could ask that might help us to analyse whether or not we do or don’t. Such as: ‘Do you enjoy spending time with each other?’ Along with ‘Do you regularly spend time just as a couple?’ 'Do you have many arguments?' Etc etc. Whilst there would be no science to it, we know there is no ideal amount of time any couple should spend together, of course it varies. But it would get us thinking, and not only that, it would hopefully point us in the right direction of what we needed to do if we wanted to improve our relationship. The very essence of things such as the marriage course - they give you a ‘healthy marriage framework.'

The discipleship framework seeks to do exactly that. It isn’t a long legalistic list of dos and dont's. It definitely is not a list of ‘Do enough of this enough of the time and God will love you more’ - 100% not. It’s a framework, distilled down from two millennia of Christian thought that basically says: 
1. These are the some of the ways that you develop an intimate spiritual relationship with Jesus; (Be with Jesus)
2. This is some of what it looks like to become more and more the person God wants you to be; (Become like Jesus) 
3. These are some of the sort of things Jesus wanted his followers to go and do, not to earn his love, but in response to it. (Do like Jesus)

If it's off track - work at it

If my relationship with Josie was suffering, I’d want to be able work out why and also know what I could do to get it back on track, and not just back on track, but maybe to love her more in a year’s time than I do now.

In the same way, we want to help every person who calls the Light Church home to be able to say they love Jesus more in one year’s time than they do now. The framework is not the goal - the goal is intimacy with Jesus, leading to changed hearts and active Kingdom building lives. The framework simply helps us get there.

This relationship is worth fighting for

So if filling in that survey in any way felt a bit judgy, a bit weird even supposedly analysing your relationship with Jesus, please know that wasn’t the intention. As people responsible for this bit of the bride of Christ, we simply wanted to know collectively how are we doing in loving our Groom Jesus, and living in close, transforming relationship with him. We know one survey will never ever capture the depth and mystery of a walk of faith, we know that this all needs to be worked through in prayer, conversation and community, that’s why we’ve been promoting it for discussion in Home Churches. However, we are committed - we want this marriage to work, so stopping, thinking and adjusting will hopefully mean we grow stronger and stronger in love with Jesus. That’s worth it. I hope you agree.

People moving on…...

Matt Barlow - 18 March 2022

It was just 82 seconds into the penultimate game of the Six Nations when England had a man sent off. That wasn’t good, especially not against an Ireland side who are more than a match for England. I’ll admit, the bit of hope I had for us winning the match was fading. I was only saved by my Dad who was even more pessimistic than me! He started saying things like: ‘right that’s it, it’s not even worth watching,’ he even said ‘I should have watched the Scotland v Italy game instead!’ I know!
But sometimes your greatest setback can be your biggest gift. I reckon that 14 man England team played with more passion and fight than they would have with 15 players on the pitch. Sure, they eventually lost, but it was their best performance since the incredible defeat of New Zealand in the World Cup Semi final back in 2019.

Similarly, losing good people from our church can really hurt, but we have a choice, to either decide that ‘that’s it, it’s barely worth turning up’ or like that England team let it fire us up in our resolve to see His Kingdom come through our church, to be family and to make disciples. Even though we may well feel the pain and the aches of the extra effort required and the people who we sorely miss, I’m gonna follow the example of those rugby heroes, and more importantly the heroes of the early church (who lost brothers and sisters to lions, rather than to another church!)

Now….onto the original blog I wrote prior to the rugby at the weekend!

Just because something hurts, doesn't mean it isn't right. In fact there's a pretty strong biblical case that if life doesn't ever hurt, you probably aren't doing it right.

This is especially true when it comes to people moving on from the Light Church, definitely if you are the leader, and especially true if they are your close friends. It can hurt and it can be painful, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t right.

The reality is when I stepped into this role it was because I very clearly felt the call of God to build a family. That’s partly why I don't have a vision for a huge church, because I think it gets really hard to be family when it gets too big. So when you are building family and people want to leave, it carries that extra bit of sadness, a sadness that it is right to feel because you see everyone as brother or sister, being knit together by God into a family, a community.

As a leader you have to strongly guard your heart not to take it personally, nor to make it all about yourself. Whilst at the same time being open to God if there is anything he wants to teach you, or correct you re how you have led the church that has caused people to leave. That’s true of me as senior leader, our leadership team and our home church leaders etc. It’s also true of all of us, as we journey the disappointment of people moving on. It's not an easy journey to navigate, and I'll be honest it's probably one of the hardest bits of the role I have encountered so far.

But, just because it hurts doesn't mean it isn't right. Of course there is a great place for longevity and loyalty in our church commitment, to show the fruit of ‘faithfulness’ ‘to bear with one another in love’ so that we can show the world what loving each other well looks like. But staying somewhere when you know God is stirring you and leading you to a new pasture, then prolonged loyalty may not be something God is asking of you. God regularly has new adventures for people, a new place of discovery, a new set of people to build family with and form new friendships. We celebrate that, it's not a bad thing, let's face it, many of us were once those people moving on from a former church and are now finding that new discovery and new family right here in the Light Church.

What really matters are two things: 1. How we are when we are here; and 2. How we leave. Whilst we are here, have we given ourselves to building the family and serving God where he has placed us? When we leave, do we leave well, having healthy open conversations and leaving with good and thankful hearts and spirits towards the family being left behind?

We want to help people leave well and we would never want anyone to feel ignored, 
criticised or even ostracised. That is heart breaking when that happens to people. This is why I intend to do my very best to make a fuss of people when they choose to move on. To thank them, to honour them and to let them know they will always have a place in the hearts of this family, and always be welcome back to visit or even return. I believe this is God honouring transition, all part of our Becoming Like Jesus and represents our Kingdom heart to recognise we are all part of the one church in Bradford.

Because even though it does hurt and feel painful when people move on, it hurts a lot less for them and for us when we choose to love them well. Because by doing that we avoid the pain of broken relationships, and just as importantly we make our father in heaven smile as we choose to love well.

All of this to say, we have recently said goodbyes to some really amazing members of our family with wonderful servant hearts. Difficult goodbyes, but goodbyes that I believe have mostly been handled well. I'm hoping that whenever people move on who have played a significant part in making the Light Church family be all God wants it to be, that we will find a moment to thank them in person.

Our recent goodbyes have included the Haldane family, who have been with us since the start. Chris especially has contributed so much to the life of the church through music, tech, leadership and other areas of creativity. Anna has helped make all those hours Chris sowed in happen, as well as serving, herself, in many areas such as Job Club and Creche. We already miss you guys!
Sarah and Danny Bullen have recently decided to move on. It was a lovely email to get from them (as well as sad) as they talked about the many friendships made at TLC as well as meeting here. They’ve both served loads, especially in youth, Sarah having done 5 years working for the church. 
Amy and Shaun McGrail are also some incredibly servant hearted people, who have served mostly in Worship & AV Team. Amy having done ten years in the team and Shaun being so valuable behind the sound desk. 
Alex Wong also recently moved on, although he hasn’t been around as long as some of those above, he contributed to youth and worship in more recent times, as well as being a faithful part of YA and his Home Church.
We’ve also just heard from Caroline Allen and Danny Barker that they sense a new chapter elsewhere.

I know, when you read it all in one place, it’s not happy reading is it? But God is good, and we love these guys and only want God’s best for them. We intend to use some of our '4th Sunday' family meal meetings to welcome them back to say thanks and pray for them. Though not everyone wants a fuss to be made and we respect that as well.

All of these people leave big holes in our hearts and also in our serving teams. Join us as we trust God to meet all of our needs, both relationally and practically. And let’s journey this well together, being full of grace to everyone in all we say and do.

It’s a real time of change, as you'll have noticed God has also been adding in equal measure to our church family. His blessing is on us and with us, providing incredibly for the building, 3 people have recently become Christians and so many areas of church life are flourishing. I guess church life is just like normal life, and we echo the words of Job - ‘The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord!’

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