It is perhaps a wee bit late to wish you a Happy New Year, and I have already seen many of you anyway. However, as this is the first issue of the Torch for 2020 I want to pause to reflect on the year behind us, and the year ahead. Last year was a very difficult year for us with a congregation with the loss of so many of our members and also a number of serious illnesses and other pastoral issues. As a family we had the joy of celebrating Anna and Matthew’s wedding in August, followed 7 weeks later by the death of my father.
It was so wonderful that he was able to take part in the marriage service and that we have such happy memories. Over the years I have found it a great privilege as a minister to share with other people in both their joys and sorrows. Last year I was overwhelmed by the love and support as both congregations shared in mine.
As we move forward into 2020 we do face very challenging and uncertain times. Our situation with the Presbytery Plan is very unsettling. We are not alone in that. The same issues are affecting congregations throughout our Presbytery and throughout Scotland. Over the years I have tried to prepare us for this focusing very much on times of uncertainty and challenge in the history of Israel such as the exodus and the exile. These were in many ways terrible times for the people living through them – “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.” (Psalm 137). And yet God used these times to remould his people.
The prophet Malachi wrote: “But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.” (Mal 3:2,3) I believe that in these days God is putting his church through the refining fire.
What informs our thinking? I came across the following article:
Rumours spread through social media have become so ubiquitous, that even city officials have propagated them--despite a lack of actual corroborating evidence. Baltimore mayor Bernard “Jack” Young said in a local TV interview. “Don’t park near a white van. Make sure you keep your cell phone in case somebody tries to abduct you.” When asked for the source of his intel, Young admitted that it had not come from law enforcement, but that “it was all over Facebook.”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson said the Baltimore Police Department is aware of the posts, but had received no actual reports involving white vans. Similar unsubstantiated claims have sparked a widespread fear of white vans. (see https://edition.cnn.com/2019/12/04/tech/facebook-white-vans/index.html) Detroit handyman Marcel Jackson has repeatedly faced harassment travelling from job sites in his white van; he’s become exasperated by the attention. Jackson said repeatedly, “It’s not me. It’s not me with the sex trafficking.”
As part of their effort to combat misinformation, Facebook partners with a third party called Lead Stories to fact-check popular stories. In late November, Lead Stories posted a clarification about vans with external locks, which were said online to be telltale signs of abduction or trafficking. On the contrary, such locks are often used on construction sites to secure expensive tools.
While thanking the public for their vigilant diligence, police in Newnan, Georgia made a simple plea. "If you do see white vans or someone acting suspiciously. Don't post it on Facebook; [just] call the police.”
I’m not sure whether I should find that amusing or frightening. It certainly doesn’t surprise me. I’ve seen how gullible many people are in believing and sharing what they read on social media. But it does raise questions about who or what informs our thinking, our attitudes, our understanding of morality, our behaviour. Is it social media? The news? The TV soaps? Popular culture? Pressure Groups pursuing their own agenda?
At Acts 17:11 we read, “The Bereans… received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul was saying was true.” We do live in challenging and uncertain times. The only way that we can safely navigate our way through is to stand firm on the word of God. Like the Bereans we need to examine the Scriptures every day to see if the things we are hearing are true. If we don’t do that we risk being burnt up in the refiner’s fire. If we do we will be purified like silver and gold.
May God bless you as you seek to centre your life on his word!
Colin A. Strong