20 June 2012

Belonging or activity?

Belonging and activity are both essential for healthy church life. As individuals we need to be widely connected and part of close family with Jesus. Belonging and activity are at the heart of all we are and do.

Belonging and activity
In the world of on line collaboration we can think in terms of social networks, like Facebook, and platforms for activity, like Wikipedia. Facebook connects people who know one another - family, work colleagues, neighbours. Wikipedia is a place where strangers collaborate on building an encyclopaedia.

Of course belonging and activity overlap to some extent, and relationships change. It's possible to make friends with others editing the same article on Wikipedia, and Facebook includes pages for people who share common interests.

But even if the distinction grows a little fuzzy in the middle, it's still a valid (and useful) distinction.

In terms of church life we see the same thing. Sometimes we have a sense of belonging, we see other believers as our church friends and family. Jesus tells us to love one another, we are called to care deeply. But we think in terms of activity when we work on projects of various kinds. We may do this alone or with others. Jesus tells us to feed the hungry, take in the homeless and give water to the thirsty.

If belonging becomes dominant in our thinking. If we think the purpose of the church family is solely to be together often for close community, for encouragement, and for worship we may miss opportunities for wider connection. One of the failures of church in our day is the silo mentality that fails to communicate across the divide - even in the same town. It's like family life becoming so important that we never speak to our neighbours! And we may also miss opportunities for practical action in our own district or worldwide.

But when activity looms too large we may focus so much on mission or helping the poor or praying for our nation that we have no time left for meaningful, local belonging. Either we feel we have no brothers and sisters or we abandon them through busyness.

We need both... belonging and activity... family and projects. One of the joys of a life following Jesus is that the two can (and should) be combined. But they are distinct.

Belonging and activity
The diagram (repeated here for convenience) shows the four possible combinations. At upper left are those who are well connected but don't do very much. Those of us in the lower right are actively and abundantly engaged in activity but have no roots in the church family. At greatest danger are those in the red area, loners who do little or nothing. And the best place to be is in the green zone, supporting and supported by close local church family and connected widely, but also busy with whatever tasks Papa has provided.

Pray for the right balance in your own life and in the lives of those around you. Encourage one another to move to or remain in the green zone, the place of healthy belonging and activity. Also pray that the places of belonging and the activities will be those chosen by the Father and revealed by the Spirit. Only by remaining in Papa's love and doing the things he shows us can we live in true peace and joy.

Note: I have made some changes in the light of Ashley's helpful comments (see below). The diagram shows that some people might be disconnected (ie alone, not in community) even though they may be active in prayer or other ways. Parts of the the text suggested otherwise.

15 June 2012

Accepting one another in love

All around us are people who seem to be difficult, unlovely, angry, and burdensome. If we follow Jesus we will find a way to love all these people. And the benefits of doing so are boundless.

The Henri Nouwen Society website
Showing is more powerful than telling. Doing and showing is how Yahshua often revealed the truth. That doesn't mean he didn't use words, but he did things like washing his follower's feet and then used words (if necessary) to clarify the meaning of the action.

To love or to judge? - A difficult situation arose amongst friends recently, and the Spirit of Christ showed me that the best way to resolve it will be to demonstrate love. Isn't this always the best way? I think so.

We are not called to put one another right. We are called to accept one another just as we are, to love the unlovable. If I cannot do this, how will I ever love anyone? And if those around me can't do this, how will I ever be loved? Papa loved us long before we began to love him. If I am truly made in his image I will love others before they love me. Sometimes this may be very hard - but it is also very necessary.

If I demonstrate love and others copy my example, great benefit and joy and peace will result! If I demonstrate judgement and others copy my example, great misery and shame and angst will result. Why do we find it so hard to go first in love? And why do we find it so easy to go first in judgement?

Henri Nouwen - understood these principles. The quote below is today's meditation from the Henri Nouwen Society website. You might consider signing up for these emails yourself, they are always helpful and always so gentle and wise.

Small Steps of Love - How can we choose love when we have experienced so little of it? We choose love by taking small steps of love every time there is an opportunity. A smile, a handshake, a word of encouragement, a phone call, a card, an embrace, a kind greeting, a gesture of support, a moment of attention, a helping hand, a present, a financial contribution, a visit ... all these are little steps toward love.

Each step is like a candle burning in the night. It does not take the darkness away, but it guides us through the darkness. When we look back after many small steps of love, we will discover that we have made a long and beautiful journey.

In the life of Jesus - Here are some other examples from the life of Jesus (there are many more, the gospels are full of them). Jesus was quick to feed the hungry crowd, speak to the woman at the well, call to Zacchaeus in the sycamore fig tree, die for our sin, release the woman caught in adultery, heal the sick, cast out demons, turn water to wine. In every case people were needy, inconvenient, sinful, unlovable, pressing in, without hope. In every case Jesus touched them in their need and error and unloveliness.

A challenge - Who will you find to love today? And how will you express that love?

13 June 2012

A letter from the heart

What follows is in the form of a letter - a letter from my heart to yours. It's a letter I imagine writing to people who will understand it and be excited by it. It's an invitation to experience Jesus more powerfully and to do so together, in community.

A letter to friends
Here's the letter. And yes, I have particular people in mind as I write.

In fact, I have in mind friends right here in and around St Neots. Are you one of them?

But wherever you live in the world, this letter is for you. This experience of Christ is your inheritance. It is your birthright. Don't let the world snatch it from you.


Dear brother/sister,

Have you ever been in a meeting where everyone loses themselves in Jesus and his Spirit soars and flows amongst us and around us? I love it when he has the opportunity to be really free amongst his people. It's what I have always wanted, but I've experienced it all too rarely over the years since I first tasted his overwhelming presence like this in the mid to late 1970s. Sometimes parts of meetings carry hints of that familiar aroma.

Why does this happen so rarely? I think that unless we can allow him the freedom to have his way we will miss the best he has for us. Nothing we can devise or arrange or intend can come close!

I'd love you to read this guest post by Steph. She captures the essence of life with the Spirit of Jesus far better than I can hope to do. See what you think.

I suppose I'm looking for people who might join me in the adventure of recapturing this life of community around the King. And as I grow older I'm looking for those to whom the torch can be passed. The church seems so needy and there is such treasure stored up ready for her - a mighty inheritance of everything that is Christ's - his intimate presence, his power, even his glory (John 17:20-22). He wants to restore things to be the way they began and should have remained. But to receive this we must let go of everything we have thought of as necessary. Structure, planning, goals, vision statements, all that hurly-burly of humanness has to be stripped away. It must be Christ and his bride without any interfering clutter. And that has been so hard to find all these years.

I am getting desperate! His call is so strong. Who will come with me? Or must I go alone? OK, not alone, Steph certainly understands. She is on the same journey but in a different continent :-) There are others here in the UK, too, who understand well. Father knows no boundaries.

But for those of you who live in or near St Neots, would you consider exploring these things with me? Maybe we can meet to talk about this and test it - what say you? I'm not suggesting leaving what you are already part of. I'm talking about exploring an extra dimension.

Grace, peace, blessings and abundant love in Christ,

Chris

PS - If this excites you please leave a comment below. This is a letter you can add to. Tell me about your own experiences of Jesus amongst his people. Or if something seems unclear, ask a question.

11 June 2012

Plucking blackberries

Some of us realise we're standing on holy ground, some just pick the blackberries. In looking for information about an author I stumbled across a verse by Elizabeth Browning - and it stopped me in my tracks.

Seeing the Creator in a brambleI've been chasing down a bit more information about Graham Buxton, mentioned in a recent 'Jesus Creed' piece.

My interest was piqued by the mention of dualism and the relationship between science and faith.

I haven't found any of Buxton's books for sale online so far, but I did find an interesting author profile. In it, he quotes Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Victorian verse...

… Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries …

I think that is so lovely! And so true. How delightful that such awesome and eternal truths can be contained in such ordinary, fleeting words. But that is our Father's nature really - the uncontainable Creator contained within the creations of his creatures. Truly we can know him.

How can we hold back from praising and worshipping and falling at his feet? And then we feel his hands on our arms, lifting us up so that he can embrace us as his children.

Father you are... unbelievable! But through your Son we believe. HalleluYah!

07 June 2012

Sheep, goats and judgement

What does it mean to be chosen? How will we be judged? What must I do to be saved? These questions and others like them are often answered with the advice, 'Believe in Jesus Christ, confess him as Lord and Saviour.' But is that the full answer?

A way up, and a way downThis article is based on a response I made on the Koinonia Life Discussion Forum.

There had been some discussion on the topic of  'unforgiveness' and this had brought us onto the related matter of judgement.

Here's what I contributed to the discussion, follwed by some further thoughts and Bible references.

What are your views on the topic? Perhaps things are not as clear cut as we sometimes think.

Leave a comment at the end of the article.

There's one place in particular where Jesus describes the judgement process - and it's not quite how most people imagine it.

Read Matthew 25:31-46, this is clearly about judgement.

Sheep and goats in Jesus' time looked pretty much alike. People who are 'in' and those who are 'out' look pretty much alike too. But, Good Shepherd that he is, Jesus separates and divides.

The interesting thing is that it has more to do with people's care for others than anything else. Had they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, invited in strangers? Of course, it's also about obedience - these are the very things we are commanded to do.

Verse 46 is pretty clear, our eternal destination depends on how much we cared for others.

Paul puts the emphasis on faith (eg Romans 3:22), and James on actions (James 2:14); though both agree that faith without actions is dead. Paul and Peter also agree that love is greater than faith (1 Corinthians 13:13, 1 Peter 4:8). John (1 John 4:8) tells us that the Almighty is love, and of course it's love that causes us to care for others.

Note that we can follow Jesus even if we don't know him. How can that be? Well, I think many who would not call themselves 'Christian' follow him by feeding the hungry, or inviting in strangers, for example. And we can fail to follow him even if we know him quite well. Are these the people who say 'Lord, Lord...' yet he says he doesn't know them?

And also note that it's what we did or did not do for the very least of these that is important here. We are called to have loving pity in our hearts for all who need, but especially for the weak, the helpless and the insignificant. We are called to be merciful. Read Matthew 5:3-12 because this passage is so closely related to the separation of the sheep and goats. 'Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.'

As I was writing I saw an opening like a trapdoor. And I realised that there's only one door through which we may go up or down. But there is no place 'in between'. If we are not in the Kingdom of Heaven we are in the place of punishment and vice versa. Heaven and hell are not places we go to from here. They are surely places we are already in right now. The prodigal son's older brother is a good example, all his life he had done everything a good son should do, yet his heart was full of jealous bitterness rather than welcoming love. And he refused to go in (Luke 15:28).

Jesus always knew what was in a person's heart (Mark 2:8, Luke 5:22). And that is why he was able to say, 'You are not far from the Kingdom of Heaven', or, 'Truly, today you will be with me in Paradise'.

Finally, remember the wealthy man who asked Jesus how to obtain eternal life (Matthew 19:16-22). Jesus told him, 'Go and sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and then follow me'.

You might also like to read an earlier article on sheep and goats.

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