27 May 2012

Oundle - Meeting at Rupert and Uli's

< 11th January 2012 | Index | 8th January 2013 >

Do we over design and structure our meetings? Should we simply let Jesus take full control? Can we trust him in this or do we think we can do a better job than he can?

Sitting at a table in the shadeSean, Melissa and I visited Rupert and Uli and their family on Sunday. Justine was there too though some others were unable to make it.

It was a lovely time of simple sharing. We sat in the shade of a big, old tree and talked about life. Jesus was never far from our hearts and thoughts. We talked about Ffald-y-Brenin and our visit there last year. We talked about people we know and where they are on their journeys. Later, Rupert suggested we dip into the Bible and we read and prayed and listened together. There was no agenda, no plan, just us and Jesus.

As we ate together the conversation continued and he was still right there with us. This was such a blessing to us and a contrast with the planned and structured times we sometimes experience when we meet.

Jesus is looking for a place where he can rest and be at peace. During his life on Earth 2000 years ago, the place he found was in Bethany, at the house of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Looking back it strikes me that this meeting at Rupert and Uli's had the same flavour to it, the same aroma. Jesus was here and he was relaxing with us, chipping in from time to time, listening, enjoying our company and blessing us with his presence.

Shouldn't all our times of meeting be like this? Why are they not? Could it be that when he said, 'I will build my church', he really meant it? Should we stop trying to build? Should we simply behave like bricks and let him place us in his body and cement us together in love?

How does a brick behave? It does... nothing!

How, then, should a living stone behave?

If we don't - he will. If we do - perhaps he can't. Is that how it is?

What do you think? Comments please, they will be very welcome.

< 11th January 2012 | Index | 8th January 2013 >

23 May 2012

Little and large

We live in exciting times. In every part of the world Jesus is building his church in ways that are appropriate to local circumstances. For example house church networks are growing explosively in countries where there is persecution.

Cooperative handshakeIn the west, evidence is building that Jesus is moving small, organic groups and the more established church organisations to engage with one another in mutually helpful ways.

It has been all too easy to see the small and the large as somehow on opposite 'sides'. But they are not. Cooperation is both possible and essential. We should seek and embrace it.

I was prompted to write about this after a brief conversation with Donna and our friend Ash, and a comment on Neil Cole's blog this morning.

A conversation - Donna was talking about a series of meetings at the Kings Arms in Bedford (The 'Heaven Touches Earth' Conference), and was thinking she might book to attend some of the sessions. Ash expressed some interest too, but I was less enthusiastic. Then the conversation moved on to the need for structure and organisation for managing larger sizes of church or meetings like those in Bedford. On the other hand, really small groups can meet with little or no planning, just listening and responding to the Holy Spirit in the moment.

A blog article and a comment - In September 2011, Neil Cole posted an article about his forthcoming book, 'Church Transfusion'.  Here's his first paragraph.

My newest project is called Church Transfusion: Releasing Organic Life into Established Churches. We are offering a two day training, much like our Greenhouse, for those who lead an established church but would like to see more vital health and reproduction from organic church principles. There will also be a book forthcoming, published by Jossey-Bass in the Leadership Network series written by myself and Phil Helfer.

On 22nd May 2012 Kathleen wrote a comment.

I'm really excited to find a reference to your new book, "Church Transfusion", coming out later this year. I am currently writing a similar book, called "Church in a Circle." Of course, I don't know if they are similar at all - but my husband and I are passionate about seeing elements of organic church move into the established church, and change it from within.

Why does this excite me? - It's exciting because this is so much what Father has been showing me recently. I kicked over the traces of 'big church' back in the late 1970s. I wasn't always wise or careful in the way I went about it. For much of my life I was in or out of small meetings, but always wishing to be in. Sometimes there was no opportunity.

In 1998 I joined Open Door Church here in St Neots where we live. I joined because I thought it was a good idea, not because Father led me to do so. That was a mistake and a few years later I had to ask to be released (which the leaders graciously did).

Today I am glad to be part of Donna's Small Group, itself a part of Open Door. But I am not officially a member of the church and I'm still much involved with others following Jesus in the area where we live.

Here are some other articles from my blog that relate to this.


Some of those links cover several articles. Even so, it's not an exhaustive list and you will find many older articles here on related themes, oneness in the body has long been a central hunger in my heart.

Let me share a heart-warming story from the House2House conference in 2009. Just before the conference was to start, the person responsible for the audio and video equipment was called away for the unexpectedly premature birth of his child. How was the gap to be filled?

A local megachurch heard about the problem and sent their audio-visual unit with all the necessary equipment and the people to operate it, all at no cost to House2House. This is love at work. This is cooperation at its finest. The small has good things to offer the large - and vice versa.

Loving one another - In the end, it all boils down to love. The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father. We are drawn into their love and become part of their community. We are the body of Christ!

Therefore it follows (and Jesus commands) that we love the Father, we love one another, we love the lost and those who suffer and struggle, and we even love our enemies.

So reach out across the divide in your own town or city. You may have much to offer to your brothers and sisters who are doing things differently.

14 May 2012

Translate the articles on this site

Use the translation feature to display 'Journeys of heart and mind' in more than fifty other languages. If English is difficult for you to read, automatic translation may be very useful to you.

The distribution of systems of writingUnless you are an inveterate explorer and fiddler there may be some useful things you don't know about this blog. I plan to highlight some of these for you from time to time.

Today's highlight is the translation tool. You can choose to read the blog in dozens of different languages. If your first language is not English you may find this feature useful. Here's how to use it.

Scroll down and look in the right-hand column. You'll notice that it begins as a single column but then splits into two narrower columns. The translation button is at the top of the narrow columns, on the right. Found it?

Click the 'Select Language' button and choose one of the options - there are 53 languages to choose from (at the time of writing). There will be a pause before your chosen language kicks in, please be patient.

Once you have the page in the language of your choice you can just browse as normal. If you visit another web site translation will stop, but as long as you remain on 'Journeys of heart and mind' translation will continue (after a short pause).

The translation is done in real time using the Google Translate engine. The translated text will not be as good as a human translator would achieve. However, you can hover over text to highlight it in the original, English version. If you can read a little English, hovering may help you sort out any confusing sections.

Other issues are that much of the paragraph structure is lost in the translated version (though the text should still be readable), and that the 'Browse' button leads only to English versions of the text.

Despite these issues, we hope you may find the 'Select Language' button useful.

10 May 2012

Groups of two or three

< Church is a network | Index | Groups of six to twenty >

Groups of just two or three have benefits and limitations. They are the smallest possible forms of church life and may develop spontaneously. They are powerful in communicating.

Groups of two or threeLast time we saw that there's only one church and it consists of a web of rich, multiple connections. At the smaller, local scale we are typically involved mostly with a particular group of some size.

If you are part of a larger church group I strongly recommend you also consider meeting regularly on a much smaller scale with no more than one or two others. If this is new to you, you'll find the dynamics and depth of sharing completely different.

The new partner (or partners) don't need to come from your larger circle such as a cell group or local congregation. In many ways it's better if they don't. If you are a Baptist why not meet with an Anglican and someone from a home church? All of you will broaden your horizons. Information will begin to flow through you between those larger groups which might otherwise have little or no interaction. These are significant benefits.

Another advantage of such small groups is that it's possible to meet daily. If you choose to try this you might like to keep the meetings very brief. Church of Two (CO2) is one suitable pattern for groups of two or three and requires about five minutes per person.

There's really only one important requirement, and it's this - the people in your group of two or three must be friends. Either you will start meeting with an existing friend or two, or you will need to become good friends.

What happens if a fourth person wants to join, or a fifth or sixth? The level of intimacy is eroded and the dynamics of the group will change. But there's a very simple way to avoid this. Instead of creating a group of four, one of the original three can help the newcomer by forming another group of two. When a third member is added, the helper returns to their original group. Alternatively the helper might become temporarily or permanently part of both groups.

Groups of two or three often form naturally. Let me tell you a story from my own life.

Ten or eleven years ago I began meeting at home with my sister and one or two other friends. Sometimes there would be just two of us, other times as many as six or seven. Gradually, as others joined us, we began to meet as two separate groups in different towns as this reduces our travelling needs.

Later, I was temporarily part of a small evangelical fellowship that was considering its future. In the end the decision was made to close down. As a result of meeting with them I became friendly with  Jim. Jim invited me to his home where he was regularly meeting with Sean one evening each week, we would chat about life, read and discuss the Bible, and pray together. We still meet like this, we are church expressed as a group of three men. A while later, Jim joined River Church in the town, but the three of us continued meeting as before.

I have also been meeting with Paul and Roger once a week during the daytime. at first for CO2, these days more for Bible study.  And I meet regularly with Sean, just the two of us. We have focussed at different times on hearing the Lord, outreach, and much more.

A couple of years ago I began going along to my wife's small group, part of Open Door. I'm not a member of Open Door but I'm very involved with the small group, it currently has around a dozen people each week.

Because I am part of all these groups I have connections through them to Open Door, River Church and more. I enjoy meeting in all these ways but the deepest and most intimate times are usually with the very small groups - just two or three.

Here are some questions
  1. How well connected are you within your church?
  2. How well connected are you with people in other churches?
  3. What differences do you see between connecting individuals and connecting churches?
Please leave a comment - http://jhm-old.scilla.org.uk/2012/05/groups-of-two-or-three.html#disqus_thread so far.

< Church is a network | Index | Groups of six to twenty >

09 May 2012

Drawn to the light

< On a spiritual journey? | Index | We've run out of wine >

Most people don't need to be told that there's more to life than the familiar material and emotional aspects. Our lives are enriched by spiritual yearning, a light that comes from beyond the place where reason fails.

Grey above and below, light in the distanceThere's something deep in human nature that makes us spiritually aware. Most of us know that in all the rich experiences of life, there is a need for something more. Even a wealthy person, in good health, with friends, fulfilling work, a loving family and a safe place to live - even such a person knows there's more. Perhaps much more.

What is the meaning of existence? How can I connect with the spiritual side of my life? When a person dies, does anything remain? Everybody ponders these questions at some time in life. Throughout the generations men and women have grappled with thoughts like these.

The great religions past and present have all tried to fill this human need for something other, something beyond. Perhaps you follow one of them. Or perhaps you find your spiritual energy in some other way.

When life treats us badly there are additional reasons to struggle with spiritual things. Maybe you have lost your home, or your partner. Maybe a loved one is ill, maybe you are ill yourself or there has been a death in the family. It can be hard to go on hoping. It can be hard to go on living.

I am willing to listen if you want to tell me your story, if you wish to do that you will find a way. But all I can do in the space of one blog post is tell you something of my own story.

My first wife, Judy, died when we were both forty-seven. Our teenage daughters were still in full-time education, Debbie at university and Beth soon to start. Judy and I had begun meeting regularly with two other couples, old friends on the same spiritual journey that we were on. And considering the difficulties and issues of Judy's illness they were absurdly happy times for her and for me too.

We lived day to day, immersed in each precious moment. The Spirit of Christ was alive in our hearts and he was with us in those moments too. The unbearable became easy. Or rather, there no longer was anything unbearable. When we met with our friends all of us were caught up into an amazing place, we were no longer just people in a room, we were in the presence of a spiritual power and presence that simply would not be denied.

We had been following Jesus for many years, but he was more alive within us now than at any time before. We had peace, and joy, and utter delight in knowing him together.

You can imagine I am sure, that having tasted such things, I really want to share them with other people whenever possible. This is good news - that Jesus can reach into our human distress and turn despair into blessing.

He saw us through everything and, if you ask him, he will see you through your troubles too. He will do it because he can, because he wants to, and because he loves you. If you don't already know this Jesus, then you need to know he is there and ready to listen. If you will allow him, he will make his home in your heart. Search for him and you will find him.

See the 'About' page and contact me if you want to ask questions or tell me about your own life issues. I will listen. Or read the Index page for the topic 'Spiritual Journey' for more details.

Questions:

  • What have you struggled with in your life?
  • Have you prayed about it?

See also:


< On a spiritual journey? | Index | We've run out of wine >

05 May 2012

Church is a network

< No earlier items | Index | Groups of two or three >

Church is a typical network structure with rich connections at multiple levels, just like the internet. There are many connections and many clusters but only one internet. Church is just the same, lots of connections but only one church.

Diagram of part of the internetHow many churches are there in the world? We don't know, but it must be a very large number. How many in England? I have no idea. How many in the town of St Neots in Cambridgeshire where I live? Ten or eleven?

It's a trick question. Jesus really did not intend to start more than one church.

We have divided what was intended to be one. The church is his bride, a living temple built of living stones. One bride, one temple, one head who is Christ, one church.

Certainly Paul writes of 'our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae' or, 'Greet Priscilla and Aquila [and] the church that meets at their house'. And he writes of  'the church at Ephesus' or 'at Corinth'.

Surely this suggests multiple churches? I don't think so, rather the sense is of one church in multiple places. How can this work? And how are we to get back to such a state of affairs? The answer to both those questions lies in understanding the nature and function of networks.

A well-connected network will have many local clusters internally linked, and wider links connecting across greater distances between clusters. This kind of linking pattern is very familiar, it's typical of the internet, road systems, and electronic devices. In fact it's typical of most network structures that connect multiple points at a range of distances.

Let's see how this works in church life, every member is connected to the head, to Jesus. Taking that as a given we can move on to consider connections between individuals. Jesus said that where two or three gathered he would be there amongst them.

Two or three is clearly the smallest possible size for church. One person is not church. Every believer should be part of a group of two or three, it's the fundamental level of connection, it is the most intimate level and this intimacy is extremely valuable.

We'll look at groups of two or three in more detail in a future post.

Please leave a comment.

Questions:

  • Does the network principle help us understand the nature of connections in the church? 
  • What value do you see in meeting on the micro scale (twos or threes)?
  • Do you have personal experiences with groups this size that you'd be willing to share?
  • Are there any disadvantages of such micro communities?

See also:



< No earlier items | Index | Groups of two or three >

04 May 2012

Changes to the blog

There are a few changes to the blog that you should know about. There's a name change, an attempt to reach spiritual seekers who know little or nothing about Jesus, and a reduced focus on meetings.

The old version of the blogI'm making a few changes to the blog that will, I hope, make it more useful. I would like to reach the spiritually hungry with the good news that Jesus is alive with a life he really wants to share.

Name - The name of the blog is changing from 'All about Jesus' to 'Journeys of heart and mind'. Apart from that and the new label 'SpJ' (stands for 'Spiritual Journey') everything will look and work much as before.

Spiritual Journey - The 'SpJ' label displays what I hope will become a series of articles to help and encourage spiritual seekers of all kinds. The idea is to offer information that will stimulate thought and provide some useful resources.

Business cardPlease pray for a right attitude and boldness on my part. I feel Father wants me to make an effort to reach those people who are searching for spiritual truth and are open, but have not so far had the opportunity to meet Jesus as he really is.

I've also made myself a simple business card to hand out locally whenever I'm prompted to do so. Here's a picture of it, just a little teaser with a web address on it. I hope to use that to start conversations and make it possible for people to contact me later.

Meetings - There is one further change. I can no longer make even a token attempt at publishing notes on all the meetings I take part in locally. Instead I will write notes on meetings from time to time when it seems especially useful. The main change is that the 'Meetings' tab will now only list meetings that have notes, it will no longer include those that go unreported.

03 May 2012

On a spiritual journey?

< No earlier items | Index | Drawn to the light >

A picture of a lake and a clearing sky sparks some thought about the spiritual aspects of life. Everyone has views on spiritual things, everybody believes something and pictures like this can help us explore our own hearts and spiritual awareness.

Everyone is on a spiritual journeyFrom time to time I'll try to post something here that will appeal to people on spiritual journeys. This is the first of them.

See all these articles

Everyone is on a spiritual journey, though not all of us realise it.

We may follow any religion or none, we may call ourselves Buddhist or Hindu or Muslim or Christian or Atheist, or (add your own) but we all hold something to be true and have understandings and motivations seated deep in our nature - deeper than the intellect, deeper than emotions.

I'd like to spend a few moments drawing some thoughts from the picture above (click on it to see a more detailed version).

There has been a storm but the dark clouds are clearing and the glorious blue sky is beginning to take charge again. The water below speaks of peace and cool freshness. The sunlight shining on the face of the water reminds us that we need light to live, it speaks of seeing and warmth and comfort.

The earth is dark and shadowy, it speaks of everyday living, of things that are hidden from us, and of mystery, of things present that we can't discern, perhaps of trouble and toil and anxiety.

The far distance speaks to us about places we have not seen and can hardly imagine, it's an invitation to explore. The haziness causes it to merge imperceptibly into the sky above. Sky and earth are connected, but they are connected through a veil.

Which part of the picture speaks to you most strongly? What is it saying to you? Where are you in your spiritual journey? Maybe you can leave a comment and share something of your story.

Where you are coming from isn't important. But where are you going next in your journey?

What are your greatest hopes and deepest fears?

Whoever you are, whatever you believe, may you be greatly and unexpectedly blessed in your life, today and always.

If you like what you read here and want to make contact check out the 'About' tab under the page banner.

< No earlier items | Index | Drawn to the light >

02 May 2012

Understanding the Almighty

Augustine comes as close as anyone in writing down what the Almighty is really like. This is not a trivial task! Read this extract from his 'Confessions' and see how he uses paradoxes to crack open our minds to see.

Portrait of AugustineJob found it was hard to truly know Yahweh. How can anyone know the creator of the universe? We can't - unless he reveals himself.

'Then Yahweh spoke to Job out of the storm. He said, "Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer. Where were you when I laid the Earth's foundation? Tell me if you understand..."' (Job 38:1-41:34)

The following text is a translation from Augustine of Hippo. It was written at or just before the year 400 AD when Augustine was in his mid forties; he manages to convey something of the nature of the Almighty. It's the first chapter from Augustine's 'Confessions' and has the title 'Confession of the Greatness of God'.

I have based it on 'The Confessions of St Augustine: Modern English Version'*, rewritten as a light paraphrase in my own words. I hope it will be easy to read and understand.

As you read it, notice the way Augustine uses phrases like 'always busy but always at rest' or 'you pay debts when you owe nothing but in paying them you lose nothing'. By hinting at Yahweh's impossible behaviours he opens our minds to the flavour and aroma of his nature.

You are incomparable Yahweh!

So our praise of you has to be higher than our human nature.

Your power is magnificent.

Your wisdom is limitless.

We, such lowly beings, want to praise you. What is a human being, just a tiny speck of the universe you made. Every one of us contains the evidence of approaching death. Our short lifespans speak of our sinfulness and spell out to creation that you reject pride.

But although we are so lowly we desire to praise you, even though we are just a minute fragment of this universe. You arouse in us delight in your praise. You created us for yourself and our heart can't rest except in you.

Please, Lord. Let us know what comes first. Is it that we must cry out to you first before we can praise you? Must we call out to you before we can comprehend you? But who can call on you without knowing you first? If I don't know you I might not understand who you are.

Or, do we call on you in order to know you? Romans 10:14 says, 'How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone telling them?'

So we know those that search for the Lord will praise him because those who search will find him and those who find will praise him. I'll seek you by calling out to you. I'll call on you with faith that really knows you, because you've been explained to me. My faith will call on you, Lord, the faith you gave to me. You breathed life into me by faith through the birth of your Son and his word as the One who explains you.

Who is Yahweh but Yahweh?

Who is Elohim but Elohim?

The Most High, the best, the most powerful and omnipotent, merciful but just, hidden yet present with us, most beautiful yet also most strong.

You're still - but you're incomprehensibly active. You can't change - but you change everything. You're never new but you're never old. You make everything new but defeat the proud with old age, even before they see it coming. You are always busy but always at rest. You continue to gather although you don't need a thing! You support, fill and spread. You create, feed and bring maturity. You go on searching although you already have everything.

Your love is not yearning, your jealousy is not bitter, you regret with us but don't reproach yourself, in your anger you remain calm.

Everyone else fails to complete their plans but your purpose is steady. You receive what you found but hadn't lost. You have no needs but rejoice in what you gain. You're not grasping but you require excessive payments so that you can be in debt. But there's nothing we can give that isn't already yours! You pay debts when you owe nothing but in paying them you lose nothing.

What have I managed to say, my Mighty One, my life, my holy joy? What can any mere human say about you? But woe to anyone who doesn't speak because silence is very eloquent.

I want to rest in you. I want you to come into my heart like strong wine so that I forget all my anxiety and fully accept you, the only good in my life.

What do you mean to me? Help me out in expressing it. What must I mean to you that you require my love so much that you become angry and threaten utter misery if I don't give it? It's so painful not to love you.

So be merciful to me and explain, Lord, what you are to me. Tell me, 'I am your salvation' and tell me loudly enough that I will hear. Look, Lord, my heart is open before you. Open the ears of my heart and tell me, 'I am your salvation'.

And after you speak, let me take hold of you quickly. Don't hide your face from me. Let me die in order that I won't just die. But let me see your face.


*New Spire edition, 2008, ISBN 978-0-8007-8762-2

Church as network - INDEX

(See indexes on other topics)

Networks are good for connection and communication. Examples include the internet and the road system (sometimes actually called 'the road network'). Connection and communication go hand in hand, network connections are the channels and network communications are the messages.

This index lists articles on aspects of church as a network.
    Awesome beauty and peace
  1. Church is a network - Rich connections at multiple levels
  2. Groups of two or three - These may develop spontaneously
  3. Groups of six to twenty - Rather like a family
  4. Groups of sixty to eighty - Workshops
  5. Dunbar and 130-160 - Maximum social connections

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