28 February 2013

Don't miss the dawn

Words from a few years ago now seem to be relevant. These words may be for you, if they are you will know because they will resonate for you. They are words from the Light about the Light. These are words about a journey, about an announcement, and about the glory of the coming day.

Like a new day dawning
Here's something I was given and wrote down a few years ago, but I sense that now is the right time to share it.

If this is for you I'm sure you'll recognise it.

There is a new light shining in the eyes of everyone who is looking for it. It's a new dawn, a new day, a new light yet it's the oldest light in existence, older even than the universe itself. It's the light of Christ shining into a dark world.

But I tell you, unless your eyes are open you will not see this light clearly. Unless you are looking for it you will see dimly and overlook the truth. Here is what the Lord says.

'A new thing is coming but not all will walk through it with me. The light of revival is already glimmering like a new dawn in the hearts of those who've been praying for it and searching for it and hoping for it.'

'Get up now while it's still dark, prepare yourself for a journey, light a lamp so you can see to make a meal and tidy up your affairs, set out the clothes you will wear on the road, get dressed, wash your face, and put on a warm coat. Then put out your lamp, step outside and close the door and begin walking to the place where the sky is bright and the sun is about to rise. Listen, the birds are already singing for the dawn.'

'Many of your neighbours are asleep in bed, they will awake to the full light of day. But you will have experienced the dawning and will be ready to call out as you journey, "Wake up, rise up, come outside for the Light is shining and the darkness is gone. Come out, come and feel the radiance and the warmth, come outside and see the glory of the day."'

'The day is short and there is far to travel.'


Questions:

  • Does this speak to your heart? If so, what is the Spirit saying to you?
  • Can you share this with others who might need to see it?
  • You may have more to add, if so would you be willing to make a comment?

See also:

27 February 2013

Robots dancing

Bruno's dancing robots are beautiful to watch, but what they do and the feelings they convey come through the robots from Bruno. They have no life or emotion of their own, but they almost convince us that they have. Does this tell us anything about our relationship with our Creator?

Robots dancing on stage
I simply had to share a recent TED Talk with you.

Bruno Maisonnier's demonstration of robot choreography and dance is really quite beautiful. He titles it 'Dance, tiny robots!'

Of course, the beauty and emotive content in the dance all comes from Bruno's heart and mind and is just expressed through the robots much as a musician expresses emotion through an instrument or a painter through brushstrokes. But it is exquisite to watch.

The robots don't have emotions, Bruno does. But because the robots dance, the feelings aroused in us, the audience, are strangely transferred from the man to the mechanical. This isn't surprising, when we are moved by music or art we may not even know who produced it.

But when the medium is a group of mechanisms that make human-like movements we can almost believe they are alive and have feelings.

What is it that is expressed in us? Is it the presence of the Creator in the created? We are not robots, but is he far beyond us in the same way Bruno is far beyond those dancing robots? If robots can move in ways that hint at their programmer's emotions, what do humans hint at about the Most High?




Questions:

  • Did you enjoy the performance?
  • How long do you suppose it took Bruno Maisonnier to program the dance?
  • What does this say to you about creators and the things they create?

See also:

25 February 2013

Simple church with children

Donna lives in Nottingham and is meeting children on the streets and simply involving them in church life. There is a pattern to what she is doing, a simple process at work. Watch the video and see for yourself. This is exciting. This is church at its simplest and best. This is Jesus doing his stuff.


My friend Donna is doing simple, organic church with children from her area.

You can watch a video of her with three of them and hear what she has to say about it.

Watch below or on the Simple Stories website. Either way be sure to visit the Simple Stories homepage afterwards, there is much more there to see and read.

Come back here after you've seen the video and let's think about this for a moment. There's a very simple process at work here, can you spot it? It has nothing to do with taking children to church. It has everything to do with being church. And it has a lot to do with making disciples just as Jesus told us to do (Matthew 28:18-20).

The Pattern - Here's an outline of the simple process Donna is following.
  1. Donna has met children on the street near her home.
  2. She has told them the good news that Jesus loves them.
  3. She is meeting with them regularly and showing them that they can pray for one another and have a lot of fun together and read the Bible together.
  4. She is getting to know the parents as well.
  5. She's encouraging the children to pray for their friends and to start their own, new simple churches with them.
These children are doing much more than most of us adults ever do. They are planting churches!


Papa, bless Donna and the children in Nottingham as well as their friends and families. Keep them close to you, Jesus. Help them walk with you every day and listen to what you are saying to them.

Oh, and teach us to be obedient just like they are!

Go! Go! Donna!

Thank you, Jesus. HalleluYah!


Questions:

  • Do you see how easy this is? Anyone could do it!
  • Can you see how you could use the same approach with the people you meet in daily life?
  • What is stopping you making a start today?

See also:

24 February 2013

On the Market Square

We offer 'Free Hugs' in St Neots Market Square and get a variety of responses from the local people. Along with those who disregard us and won't engage there are some who want a hug and others who want a conversation as well. One conversation went considerably deeper. Hearts were touched.

Cold day on the Market Square
Yesterday I met Mark and then Tendai for coffee and prayer at Cornerstone. We were joined briefly by Steve from New Street Baptist Church before heading out to the Market Square to offer 'Free Hugs'.

I quickly discovered that there are two kinds of people on the streets. There are those that behave as if you are completely invisible. And there are others who smile, engage in a brief conversation (or even a lengthy one) and sometimes accept the offer of a hug.

Some people want to know why we are offering hugs, or what the catch is. Some are not especially interested in those questions. Some accept a brief prayer or a blessing as well.

Relatively few younger people are interested in hugs, many seem quite embarrassed by the idea (perhaps because we are older than they are or their mates are watching). But there was one notable exception.

A guy was approaching on a skateboard and I waved my 'Free Hugs' sign and smiled at him. He jumped off his skateboard, beamed at me and said, 'Why not?' I had perhaps the warmest hug I got all day and he enthusiastically told me I'd made his day. 'More people should do this sort of thing', he said, jumping back on his board and heading off to the local skate park.

Good conversation - Towards the end of our time in the Market Square I had a long and lovely conversation with a local trader. She told me some things about her life, how she sometimes knows about things before they happen, and how she'd once been told by a pastor that she was cursed. Why do people say unkind things like that?

As we were about to leave I asked her if I could pray for her and bless her. She was OK with that and accepted a hug as well. I thought I detected tears in her eyes afterwards, unless it was just the bitter wind.

But it's not just the wind that can bring tears to our eyes. Bitter events in our lives can bring tears within our hearts as well. They blur our spiritual vision and prevent us from seeing what is right before us. We all need to know we are loved by a Father in heaven who truly cares about us.

Giving people a hug is always a good thing. But Papa can give us all the inner, spiritual hugs that we so desperately need, even though we sometimes don't know it.

Questions:

  • Are you connecting with people in the area where you live?
  • If so, how? Tell us about it, leave a comment.
  • Take a look at Chris Duffet's website, are there ideas here you could use?
  • Can you think of similar ideas for engaging people? Leave a comment to share them.

See also:

23 February 2013

The Ugandan bill

Legislation in Uganda is set to increase the penalties for homosexuality, possibly even to introduce the death sentence. How should believers and followers of Jesus respond? What does the Bible say about sin? What does it tell us about love? And how might we respond to the Ugandan bill?

The Ugandan flag
David Bahati, a Ugandan Member of Parliament (MP), submitted a private member's bill in October 2009.

Nothing unusual in that, you might think, just an everyday part of political life in Uganda. Except that in this case the bill, if passed, will change Ugandan law concerning homosexuality and has resulted in a great deal of strong, international criticism.

Current legislation in many African nations, including Uganda, makes same sex relationships illegal with severe penalties of up to 14 years imprisonment. The new bill proposes to significantly increase these to include the death penalty in some instances.

The situation is extremely complex involving widespread anti-gay public feeling within Uganda, criminal damage and even murder, international civil liberties and gay rights protests, and interference by certain religious people. As a result there has been a delay while a Ugandan parliamentary commission investigates the circumstances and implications of the bill.

But now the political process is moving again and the bill is being debated once more.

With that backdrop, how should we respond as followers of Jesus? I think there are two things we need to be very clear about. Two things that should underpin our responses. What does the Bible say about sin? And what does the Bible say about attitudes to others?

All have sinned - So what does the Bible say about sin? First of all we should recognise that all of us have sinned, there are no exceptions (Romans 3:23). But let's read the next verse too (Romans 3:24). All have sinned, but all have been justified by grace through Christ. Does this justification require anything from us? Yes. The sacrifice of Jesus requires my faith in order to apply to me (Romans 3:25).

There are many different ways to sin, but they are all equally effective in cutting me off from spiritual life with Papa. I have a very simple choice. I can continue in my sin, or I can turn away from it and receive spiritual life through faith in Christ.

Sin comes in many varieties. Murder, lying, theft, anything dishonourable or false. There are no severe sins, no minor and insignificant sins. Anything that breaches the standards set by the Almighty is sinful. We all fall equally short, murder is not worse than a tiny white lie because both are offensive to him. One kind of sin mentioned with others in the New Testament is sex between two men (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) This is not my opinion, it is right there in the Bible. If you disagree with this statement it's no good discussing it with me, you need to discuss it with Jesus.

I need to add one more point. It is not my place to judge others. It is not my task to punish people for sin. Whatever you may have done, I am just as guilty as you are and deserve exactly the same punishment. Only grace can save us, and as we have seen, grace comes through faith in Jesus.

How to treat others - What does the Bible say about attitudes to others? The ground rule that trumps everything else is love. (Luke 10:27, Matthew 5:43-45) We are called to love, not just some people but everybody. We are to love those who love us and those who do not. We are to love those who agree with us and those who oppose us.

What follows from this is very simple. Killing people (for whatever reason) is wrong because it is unloving. Therefore the death penalty is wrong, regardless of the crime.

Applying this to the Ugandan bill - The Ugandan government is democratically elected and is free to do whatever it wishes within its international obligations, and whatever it considers to be the will of the Ugandan people.

People who follow Jesus are free to love others, irrespective of their thoughts, words and actions. Love is not easy, sometimes it is very hard indeed. But there is no room for believers to hate others. Anyone who feels or expresses hatred towards other people has no part in Christ.

That leaves us to wonder about any religious people who would encourage legislation like this Ugandan bill. Are they really motivated by love? I don't think so. Are they even on the same side as Jesus? Are they following  him? Clearly not regarding this particular issue. What will they say to him when they have to account for their actions?

Protesters are free to openly discuss any issue that troubles them and to attempt to persuade others to join them in discussing and protesting. Christians who protest should do so in law abiding and loving ways. Non-believers who protest are not so restricted but will do well to understand that the most effective way to win hearts and minds is by being polite, kind and gentle. Anger, hatred and violence however expressed tend to make co-operation less likely and conflict more probable.

Please consider adding your name to a petition against the Ugandan bill. There are many other ways to  register your views, but you need to act quickly. Time is very short and every additional name counts.

Questions:

  • Do you know any people that you are unable to love? Does Jesus love them?
  • How do you think believers should approach politics?
  • What sins do you regard as most serious, and which as least serious?
  • Do we have the right to try to influence foreign governments?

See also:

21 February 2013

Follow my leader

Leaders in the church, Part 2
< Leadership and the New Testament | Index | A joy, not a burden >

We take apart the first section of Hebrews 13:17 and put it together again, examining each word and the range of possible meanings before writing out the sense in English. There are cultural, historical and political reasons for the standard translations of this verse, but the verse is capable of different treatment.

Change of direction, change of leader
Before beginning a trawl through the New Testament to study church leadership, I'd like to take a look at the verse in Hebrews that Donna and I discussed recently. Also, to set the scene, there's a basic point to make first.

As I mentioned in that previous post, any attempt at translation from one language to another will be informed by the translator's existing understanding of the subject matter.

When the translation is from New Testament Koine Greek to modern English, this understanding must be based on the flavour of the the rest of the New Testament. In particular, translating a verse about leadership will depend in part on how we understand leadership in the life of the church.

My understanding of this is that Jesus is head of the church (Colossians 1:18), that none of us should be called 'Rabbi', 'Master' or 'Teacher' (Matthew 23:8), that few should teach (James 3:1), that we are to edify and encourage one another (2 Corinthians 13:11), and that the church is built by Jesus himself (Matthew 16:18) as every part works together (Ephesians 4:15-16). As I work through the series of articles that will be my default position.

Analysing the verse - So now let's look at Hebrews 13:17. We'll take it word by word and then put the words together. I'm going to use the Biblos parallel versions to see how the verse is usually translated, and the Biblos Greek interlinear as a starting point for understanding the Greek. These are convenient as you can click through to check them yourselves.

(Notice that there is no word for 'authority' in the Greek. This was added to the NIV by the translators. Check other translations, the word is simply not there.)

πείθεσθε - This is the first Greek word in the verse, it's pronounced 'peithesthe' and is usually translated 'obey'. This is the only time the verb is used in this form in the entire New Testament but including other forms the verb occurs 53 times. The Strong's number is 3982.

'Obey' is by no means the necessary sense, the core meaning is 'persuade', 'urge' or 'have confidence in' and the root is from 'pistis' (πίστις) meaning 'faith'.  See, for example, Matthew 27:20 in the sense 'persuaded', Galatians 1:10 in the sense 'seek favour or persuade', Romans 8:38 'persuaded' or 'convinced' and 2 Corinthians 2:3 'having confidence' or 'trusting'.

When Paul wrote 2 Corinthians 2:3 he did not mean 'I obey all of you' but 'I have confidence in all of you'.

τοῖς - A form of the Greek definite article, meaning 'the' and applying to the next word, 'leaders'.

ἡγουμένοις - This is pronounced 'hēgoumenois' and is usually translated 'leaders'. Once again the word is only found once in this particular form but there are 28 uses of the word including other forms. The Strong's number is 2233.

The range of possible meanings include someone who leads, thinks, has an opinion, supposes or considers. And we need to be careful here because the English word 'lead' has at least two senses. It may mean 'to be ahead' (like someone running a race), or it may mean 'to manage' or 'control' (like a company CEO or a Prime Minister).

Other forms of this word are used to mean 'regard', 'think' or 'esteem' (Philippians 2:6, 2 Corinthians 9:5) and 'leader' or 'chief' (Luke 22:26). The verse in Luke is telling, because Jesus is saying that if you are going to be a leader you should behave much more like a servant.

ὑμῶν, καὶ - These words are the pronoun 'your' (modifying the previous word, so 'your leaders') and the connecting word 'and'.

ὑπείκετε - This word is a Greek verb, it's pronounced 'hypeikete' and the common translation is 'submit'. This is the only time it appears in the New Testament, the Strong's number is 5226 and it means 'retire', 'withdraw' or 'submit'.

The sense is not necessarily submit as in submitting to the law or surrendering in battle. It is just as likely that it suggests giving way, holding back or making space.

How can we assemble this? - Although we haven't examined the rest of the verse yet, we have enough to put the first part into everyday English. So here's my first stab at it.

'Trust those who lead the way for you and don't get in their way.'

But any translation must fit its context, so now let's take a look at that. The writer wants to make some final remarks as he reaches the end of his letter. My friend Sean pointed out that the leaders are also mentioned in Hebrews 13:7 . They spoke Christ (the Word of the Most High) and the writer urges his readers to consider the results of the way they live and also to imitate their faith.

This suggests that these leaders are indeed leading by example, not by command. Just like the cloud of witnesses in chapter 11 and the beginning of chapter 12, these are living witnesses to the right way to live and the right way to believe. 'Trust those who lead the way for you and don't get in their way' Don't interrupt them, don't argue with them, hear them out when they speak in a meeting, live the same way they do, believe the same way they do.

Why the normal translation? - All of this leaves a question hanging. Why are these Greek words assigned the meanings 'obey', 'leaders' and 'submit' in most translations? We have seen that they just as naturally suggest 'trust', 'those who lead the way' and 'giving way'.

The answer, I believe, is that we are used to the standard translation. Early English Bibles were intended to support the clergy/laity system and also the rule of the king as head of the Church of England. The Wycliffe translation makes this very clear - 'Obey ye to your sovereigns, and be ye subject to them' - a strongly political statement! Because we are used to the idea of hierarchical church leadership of one form or another we are rarely free to translate this passage differently.

But the Holy Spirit is always leading us on into fresh pastures. Perhaps the old way of viewing this verse is not in line with what he is saying to the church today.

'The Message' puts it much better, 'Be responsive to your pastoral leaders. Listen to their counsel.'

That's it for now, this blog article is already long. Next time we'll work through the rest of verse 17 and try to put the entire thing together.

Questions:

  • Should we translate the Bible according to tradition or according to Holy Spirit guidance?
  • If we are being shown something new about church life, should we re-examine passages that no longer seem to fit?
  • What are the dangers in making changes to the standard translations?
  • What are the dangers in not making such changes?

See also: (Note I added these links after writing my article. My purpose is to uncover the meaning of the verse for myself and then check it later against what others have written.)


< Leadership and the New Testament | Index | A joy, not a burden >

17 February 2013

Leadership and the New Testament

Leaders in the church, Part 1
< No earlier items | Index | Follow my leader >

How should we manage and govern our meetings? How is church to be led? Everything changed in the 1960s and 70s as the Holy Spirit swept into the denominational church. Existing churches were impacted, the house church movement began, and new streams of church sprang up.

Leading and following
My wife and I have a long-standing difference of opinion about church leadership. Let me explain.

Donna is a member of Open Door Church, part of New Frontiers, one of the new streams of churches that, like others, has its roots in the Charismatic Movement of the 1960s and 70s.

The bursting out of the new wine of the Holy Spirit wasn't easily retained by the old wineskins of denominational church. What was known as the British house church movement began at that time.

New Frontiers and the other streams of the time were based on the view that new organisations were needed. Of course, some Anglican, Catholic and non-conformist churches did embrace the fresh outpouring of spiritual gifts. The pentecostal denominations were already active in that way. But there were many 'refugees' from old fashioned denominationalism and also many new believers who had never tasted a particular form of church. The new streams aimed to cater for both groups.

Staying small and open - But there were many others (of whom I am one) who felt that the new streams of church life took on far too much from the old ways. Having a leadership structure and meeting in a large building were the most obvious of these old ways (though there are many others). Used as we were to meeting at home without leaders, sharing meals together, and giving the Spirit complete freedom to lead us in praise and worship, we were quite unable to feel comfortable with any kind of organisation.

And that's the basis on which Donna and I have different views. She is very much at home in an organisation with a structure, a building, and management. I am at home as part of an organism with very little structure, no building, and managed and directed by the Spirit of Christ alone.

Another kind of small group - We do overlap in one important way. She is one of three leaders of an Open Door Small Group that meets every Tuesday evening, and I am glad to be part of that group. The meetings are in some ways rather like organic church. We meet in homes, we usually start with a shared meal, there is plenty of opportunity to chip in with a thought, a prophecy, a tongue, a vision or a prayer.

On the other hand the meetings are structured around three main elements and are managed hierarchically. Meetings normally begin with a meal, then worship led by a member of the group, next questions and a discussion based on the previous Sunday's 'preach', and finally a time of prayer on topics raised by those present. The Small Group leaders report to neighbourhood leaders who in turn are responsible to the elders of Open Door and in particular to the lead elder.

Donna is comfortable with these arrangements, I am less so. But we both enjoy the meetings and are grateful to be able to share in them regularly together.

The role of the Spirit - But it's not just a matter of how meetings are organised. There is also plenty of evidence that the Holy Spirit fills every available gap that we concede to him. I have a great deal of experience of this going back many years and also in recent times. Meetings that are completely open, not planned or governed by us in any way, are little pockets of time and space that he joyfully, even gleefully inhabits. Many times I have witnessed him working amongst us in amazing and unexpected ways, but always when he is given the freedom to do it.

It takes courage to attempt this. Things can go wrong. People can get in the way. We cannot come to this place without taking risks. But when we are prepared to step aside and let the Spirit of Christ move among us freely, he will fill the place. The more space and time we give him, the more present he becomes.

And I am convinced that out of such a place of blessing we are better equipped to go out and, in our going, to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).

Profitless discussion - A couple of days ago Donna and I had a rather profitless discussion about church leadership. (I take full responsibility for my unhelpful attitude.) I'm going to outline it here because it pinpoints the issues, points to a way forward and may be helpful to others thinking these issues through. Here's how it happened.

We were about to begin reading James together when Donna spotted Hebrews 13:17 on the opposite page. She asked me a direct question, 'How do you explain this verse if you don't think the church should have leaders?'

Indeed the church does have leaders. But they are understated and not people who rule or manage. They are recognised by those around them, not appointed by other leaders or by a committee.

But instead of saying this I responded to Donna's question by digging into the Greek and pointing out that you must translate any passage in sympathy with the general thrust of the entire New Testament. What Jesus did and said and what we read in the other letters must inform and guide us. Translation is not an exact art. The flavour of the English words we select to represent the meaning of the Greek must depend partly on that wider context. So we talked about the text rather than the concept of leadership.

The discussion went pear-shaped and we never did make it as far as reading James that evening. Partly because of this I feel the time has come to study church leadership in more detail and to be clearer in my own mind about the biblical background and the practicalities.

There are other associated issues and I think I need to look at them as a whole, not piecemeal. So I plan to come back to this topic from time to time as I make progress with the study.

Meanwhile, I would be very grateful for any thoughts or feedback you might have on the different approaches to church leadership and church government. Please leave a comment.

Questions:

  • Have you had similar or related experiences? Please consider sharing them in a comment.
  • What are your views on the Holy Spirit's involvement in your meetings? Is he fully present? Is he fully visible and audible?
  • If you could change one thing about your meetings, what would it be?

Challenge:

  • Try this at home. Meet with some close friends with no agenda and no preparation of any kind. Share a meal gratefully remembering Jesus' presence with you. After the meal sit in a comfortable place together and focus on Jesus. Don't mind silences, but share together anything  the Spirit shows you, including pictures, words, prophecy, Bible passages, persistent thoughts and more. What happened? Report back here with a comment.

See also:


< No earlier items | Index | Follow my leader >

15 February 2013

Noted from the web (1 - Feb 2013)

The blogosphere is full of interesting things to read. Here are some items I spotted recently that are well worth passing on. Chris writes about not compromising, Jim about organic church, and Kelly about kindness in love. Three great writers, three great topics, three great articles.


It's not always about finding the middle ground - Here's a great article from 'Life with Da Man CD' in which he explains that finding holy ground and finding middle ground are by no means compatible.

Da Man CD (aka Chris Dryden) suggests that compromise is not always the way to go. He points out that society approves of compromise until its assumptions are challenged (a very good point and one worth remembering).

But in following Jesus we go way beyond any middle ground! By living the truth in love we challenge society in ways it cannot accept or tolerate.

Read the original article...


Finding organic health - Jim Wright at 'Crossroad Junction' has posted an excellent article about the current state of organic church in the West. In my view he expresses it just right.

He says organic church is beginning to come out of a time of serious difficulty and is catching up with the rest of the world. He adds that we are leaving behind some really weird stuff that was unhealthy and that we are networking better than before. There is much about good, local, unpretentious leadership, and much about community, fellowship and accountability. All Jim's observations are helpful and he is encouraged by what he sees as a growing outward focus, touching and learning from one another.

Read the original article...


Why good enough love is better than amazing love - Kelly Flanagan writes at 'UnTangled' and wrote about the need to accept one another without expecting perfection. Real love accepts me just as I am.

He uses Valentine's Day as a springboard to get us thinking about the bondage of expectation from others and the freedom of acceptance. As he says, somewhere inside we all know that we fall short, we all know we are broken.

To be accepted, brokenness and all, by those who love us is therefore a great gift. Pressure to be amazing will only damage us, but permission to be broken releases us.
Kelly focusses on acceptance within marriage, but the principle applies across every aspect of life and relationship.

Read the original article...

14 February 2013

Leaders in the church - INDEX

(See indexes on other topics)

Change of direction, change of leaderThis is the index to a series of articles on leaders and leadership in church life.

The first part is an overview and explains how the idea for the series came about. The second post examines part of a verse in Hebrews, often quoted to support hierarchical, structural, appointed leaders.

The plan for later posts is to work systematically through the New Testament.

  1. Leadership and the New Testament - How should we manage and govern our meetings?
  2. Follow my leader - We take apart the first section of Hebrews 13:17
  3. A joy, not a burden - Completing Hebrews 13:17
  4. Leading, Matthew 1:1-17 - The basis for leadership
  5. Miriam and Yoseph - Matthew 1:18-25 on leading by hearing and obeying
  6. Herod and the astrologers - Matthew 2:1-12, who would you follow?
  7. To Egypt and back - Matthew 2:13-23, leading from obedience
  8. John the Baptist - Matthew 3, John shows us how to lead
  9. Jesus is tempted - Matthew 4:1-11, temptations in the Judaean desert
  10. Jesus makes a start - Matthew 4:12-25, beginning his ministry in Galilee
  11. Back to front truth - Matthew 5:1-20, teaching the disciples
  12. Some issues to grapple with - Matthew 5:21-42, error and selflessness
  13. Gifts, prayer and needs - Matthew 6, as we grow we become examples

13 February 2013

Cross Roads

William P Young's latest book is good, very good. 'Cross Roads' follows the events in... Hmm. I'm not going to tell you any more; that might spoil the story. Once again the author manages to write something that reveals the heart of a loving and purposeful Creator.

'Cross Roads' by William Paul YoungI've just finished reading Paul Young's latest book, 'Cross Roads'.

I read his first book, 'The Shack', before it was published in the UK (I had to order copies direct from North America). Donna and I thought it was such a wonderful book that we wanted to give copies away and bought considerable numbers for exactly that purpose.

I must say that 'Cross Roads' did not disappoint, in some ways I think it's even better than 'The Shack'. Words like awesome don't even come close. Paul Young's latest book is almost literally a gentle and profound stroll arm in arm with the Most High, yet at the same time an emotion-yanking roller coaster ride with the characters it portrays.

How he writes like this is an utter mystery, but like all such mysteries the roots go deep into relationship and love. This book is another gift, from Papa to Paul, from Paul to Papa, and from them both to every reader with a heart to feel truth and see life and love in action.

I hope many, many people will read the book, I shall give some copies away for sure - as Papa leads. Meanwhile, here's a taster from the beginning of the book. At least you can decide if you like the writing style.

Some extracts

Some years in Portland, Oregon, winter is a bully, spitting sleet and spewing snow in fits and starts as it violently wrestles days from spring, claiming some archaic right to remain king of the seasons - ultimately the vain attempt of another pretender. This year was not like that. Winter simply bowed out like a broken woman, leaving head down in tattered garments of dirty whites and browns with barely a whimper or promise of return. The difference between her presence and absence was scarcely discernible.

Anthony Spencer didn't care either way. Winter was a nuisance and spring not much better. Given the power he would remove both from the calendar along with the wet and rainy part of autumn. A five-month year would be just about right, certainly preferable to lingering periods of uncertainty. Every cusp of spring he wondered why he stayed in the Northwest, but each year found him again asking the same question.

And here are some brief quotes from other parts of the book; these little nuggets impressed me.

  • Pain, loss, and finally abandonment are each a hard taskmaster, but combined they become a desolation almost unbearable.
  • ...hell is believing and living in the real when it is not the truth.
  • Let me see if I can answer the question you meant and not just the one you asked.
  • You are asking me something where the knowing is in the experiencing.
  • Ah, there's the real miracle ... Somehow the pain, the losses, the hurt, the bad, God is able to transform these into something they could have never been, icons and monuments of grace and love.
  • There has to be a tearing down for the real and right and good and true to be built. There has to be a judgement and a dismantling. It is not only important, it is essential.
  • ...boundaries mark the most beautiful of places, between the ocean and the shore, between the mountains and the plains, where the canyon meets the river.


Questions:

  • Did you read 'The Shack'? It's not too late!
  • Which of the quotes above do you like most? Consider leaving a comment to explain why.
  • The book portrays the Mighty One as loving and understanding yet insisting on truth. Do you see him in that way?
  • If you have read 'Cross Roads' maybe you could tell us how you feel about it.

See also:

11 February 2013

Freedom in Christ

Freedom in Christ is a course to help believers grow in maturity and fruitfulness. A set of DVDs and a workbook cover a series of thirteen sessions. The material can take new believers on to a deeper life in Jesus, or it might be used as a spiritual health-check for the more mature.

For some weeks now, Roger and I have been meeting to work through the 'Freedom in Christ' (FIC) course together. This is the British version of the course originally developed in the USA by Neil Anderson. You can also view the US website or the international page.

Steve Goss
The course is not affiliated to a particular denomination in any way. It consists of a series of DVD presentations and a small book, the 'Participant's Guide'.

According to the back cover of the guide, the objective of the course is 'To help every Christian become a fruitful disciple*.'

Roger has been through the material several times already so he is leading and guiding the process. I'm a newbie. We're about half way through the material which is sound, helpful, and well produced. I'd recommend it to anyone. Although Roger and I are working as a twosome, FIC is often presented to a group, just like the sessions on the DVDs.

Here are the session headings together with brief content; each of the thirteen sessions is designed to take a week, perhaps an hour together and then whatever time you feel you need on your own.

If you want to get a feel for the style you can try the free sample material offered on the website.

The sessions - These fall into an introduction and four parts, listed below.

0 - Introduction - The reason for the course, content, reliability of the Bible, church growth.

Part A - Key truths
1 - Where did I come from? - Spiritual life and death, the fall, Jesus' mission, acceptance.
2 - Who am I now? - Saint or sinner, forgiven and new, already pleasing to the Lord.
3 - Choosing to believe the truth - Faith and belief, growing in faith, trouble, action.

Part B - The world, the flesh and the devil
4 - The world's view of truth - Understanding the world, worldviews, the Bible.
5 - Our daily choice - Flesh and sin not gone, natural, spiritual, fleshly, choosing.
6 - Demolishing strongholds - Nature and effect of strongholds, demolition.
7 - The battle for our minds - Satan and how he works, our resources, the light.

Part C - Breaking the hold of the past
8 - Handling emotions well - Feelings and belief, handling emotion, past trauma.
9 - Forgiving from the heart - Forgiving and freedom, from the heart, not forgetting.

Part D - Growing as disciples
10 - Walking in freedom every day - Keys to maturity, dealing with lies, good and evil.
11 - Relating to others - Grace, responsibility, awareness, discipline, authority.
12 - Where are you heading? - Feelings, responses, goals, difficulties, love.
13 - Staying on the right path - Live, believe, goals, time, fulfillment, serving.

Week by week - Each of the numbered sessions above comes with a DVD presentation and a chapter in the guidebook. The sessions are exploratory and explanatory and have pauses for thought that require action to restart the DVD each time. This means there's always enough time to deal with questions as necessary.

Feedback from the studio audience is helpful as are brief interviews with people saying what they found particularly useful.

Having completed Parts A and B so far, I think it's fair to say there's been nothing that is new to me, but several times an idea has been presented in a new way or seen in a new light. It does cover everything systematically so will fill any gaps in understanding that people might have.

Conclusions - Freedom in Christ is sound and likely to be useful to any follower of the Way of Jesus. It might be particularly helpful to newer believers (for example, those who have completed an Alpha Course, have faith in Christ and want to go further). But it will also be valuable as a check-up and reminder for those who, like me, have been on the journey a long time.

It is also worth considering for anyone who is not yet convinced about faith but is seriously interested. This is not its intended purpose, but thinking everything through systematically, as it does, could make all the difference for some.

(*Freedom in Christ uses the term 'disciple' in a different way than is normal on this blog. Rather than the sense of a person who follows Jesus into the harvest to make disciples, FIC uses the word to mean a person with maturity in Christ. The two are not incompatible, but they are not quite the same thing.)


Questions:

  • Do you think a structured course like this could help you in your personal journey?
  • What advantages can you see to a structured and tested course like this?
  • Do you foresee any disadvantages or dangers here?
  • Do you have friends that might benefit from Freedom in Christ?

See also:

10 February 2013

Sixteen years climate myth

For some decades there have been constant disputes between climate scientists and those who deny that humanity is causing global temperatures to increase. This article presents a video made by Skeptical Science to show that one of the more recent claims by the deniers is wrong.

The Skeptical Science website
Skeptical Science is dedicated to debunking arguments that deny burning fossil fuels causes climate change.

One of these arguments is that there has been no detectable warming during the last sixteen years and Skeptical Science made a video (below) to show why this is false. It's well worth watching whatever your views on the science.

More detail about the 16-year claim is available on the Skeptical Science website.

No room for doubt - The temperature trends are very clear and the rate of fossil fuel burning is still rising year on year. Some countries are reducing their output already, but most are not. It's already far too late to prevent serious effects, but these will become even worse if we just carry on as we are.

Global warming sceptics have repeatedly clutched at every straw they can. Again and again they have attempted to find fault with the measurements, the reasoning or the conclusions and every time the scientists have show that the sceptics are the ones with the faulty reasoning. The 16-years argument is one of the most recent of these insubstantial straws.



Take a look at Skeptical Science's website for more information on all aspects of the data and discussions. It's also worth referring to the Wikipedia article on the continuing controversy. The great majority of climate scientists agree that global warming is happening and is caused by human activity.

Questions:

  • Who will best understand global warming data, professional climate scientists or the media?
  • Climate warming may be severe, is it wiser to make cuts or just carry on as usual?
  • Are there simple things you could do to reduce your own, personal energy use?

See also:

07 February 2013

Best of both

We take a look at the risks and likely benefits of platonic friendships between men and women. How acceptable is it for believers to have close friends of the opposite sex? And even if it's acceptable, how useful is it? Perhaps the benefits outweigh the difficulties, at least sometimes.

Childhood friends
This post is part of the February Synchroblog 'Cross Gender Friendships'. Links to all the contributions are listed at the end of this post.

Cross-gender relationships of any kind (except for romantic love and marriage) have long been regarded as 'dodgy' in church circles. There is, of course, the potential for inappropriate romantic feelings to develop and that's something to be aware of, but is that risk a valid reason to avoid such friendships altogether? I think not.

Platonic friendships have long been regarded as not only possible, but potentially valuable. If we avoid them out of fear or anxiety are we missing an important aspect of human social interaction?

I have a wide circle of male and female acquaintances of all ages as well as a smaller number of close friends, again both men and women. Some of my close friends live nearby and we meet more or less regularly. Some live far away and we meet very rarely.

Rather than try to analyse this topic I'm just going to share some personal experiences and observations. Read on and see what you think.

Relationship, energy and danger - I'll begin by telling you that I am a man (in case you haven't already worked that out). I generally find friendships with women go deeper than those with men. For one thing women tend to be more relational and less superficial. Let me point out right away that I'm generalising here - there are plenty of exceptions to what sounds like a general rule. It's no such thing. Don't be fooled for a moment!

I have something of a shepherd's heart and like to encourage and build up. So I get a lot of energy from conversations and relationships where I can listen and respond, but very little from talking about football or fishing. I find women are more likely to engage in ways I can relate to.

Turning to the dangers of relationships becoming more than platonic in nature, in my experience I can honestly say this has never been an issue. It seems to me that most women are quite unwilling to allow a friendship to develop unless and until they are sure it will not go in an inappropriate direction.

What I have valued most in cross-gender friendship has been the opportunity to learn and grow in understanding and mutual respect. I've had many rich conversations on a host of topics, the benefit of peaceful and thoughtful insight, shared appreciation of music and literature and the natural world, and a great deal of wisdom and sound advice.

A balanced life - I am blessed by good balance in my friends. Here's a diary of my current week; it's as good an example as any.

  • On Monday mornings I meet with Paul for coffee, a chat, and some Bible study. We are currently working through John's gospel together.
  • On Monday evenings I meet Sean at his house to chat, read the Bible, pray, and listen. We watched a DVD of Victor Choudhrie.
  • On Tuesday I meet my friend Chris for a coffee in town and we'll talk and pray about a house of prayer for St Neots and the area around. He is very keen on following up the Ffald-y-Brenin approach to local prayer and blessing.
  • Later on Tuesday I met Megan for coffee and a chat at Caffe Nero's.
  • In the evening Donna* and I joined her Open Door Small Group in a nearby village. We ate a meal together and spent time in prayer and praise and discussion.
  • On Wednesdays I usually meet with Roger, but not this week. We are working through 'Freedom in Christ' together. 
  • At lunchtime on Wednesday I visited Jody to catch up and hear news about the meetings she and Peter host at their home every week.
  • On Thursday evenings Jim, Sean and I usually meet to chat and pray.

That's a grand total of four men and two women (*Donna is my wife) that I have spent one on one time with this week. All of them are friends, all are valued, all bring something special and unique to my life. In addition there'll be others, men and women that I will meet singly or in groups, and others that I'll contact by email, text, phone or on Google+. They are all special and they all contribute something valuable and irreplaceable.

What I'd miss - I would miss any of these people if they were removed from my life. Without them I would not be me. Or at least I would be a different me, a poorer me. What would life be without the richness of community? Our communities are not islands, they overlap in significant ways. Important lines of communication go out joining communities into a single, huge, world-wide network.

I can hardly imagine what life would be like if I had only male friends. It would be greatly impoverished. My advice to anyone without cross-gender friends is to be wise and careful, but to certainly consider broadening your range of friends. A friend cannot be manufactured artificially. But as friendships develop naturally around shared interests and ideas, don't say 'No' merely on the basis of gender. Far more important is to hear what the Spirit of Christ is telling you. Pray about it and be guided by what he shows you.

Another observation that I can share is that, in friendship as in marriage, the different approaches of men and women to so many things in life are complementary and have a counterbalancing effect. We have to pay attention to one another to benefit from this; we have to listen and watch and learn. But friends are usually pretty good at doing that and do it very naturally.

Here's one final point. Amongst my closest friends have been two married couples. Perhaps this is where the greatest freedom in friendship may be found. In my experience there can be no closer togetherness than a group of four or six consisting of happily married couples. As in any kind of friendship there will sometimes be fallings out and misunderstandings, disappointments and confusions. But there's real joy in it too. If such a thing happens in your life it may turn out to be truly blessed, and very, very special.


Questions:

  • Have you limited your friendships due to a fear of disapproval by others?
  • Jesus related well with both men and women. Did he follow the social norms of his day?
  • Can you leave a comment to share your own experiences of cross-gender friendships?

See also:


Synchroblog links:

06 February 2013

Small and informal

Choudhrie's steps, Part 3 of 21
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This is Victor Choudhrie's third step in transforming church life. The idea is that we meet in quite small numbers and don't attempt anything like a traditional church service. Instead we meet very informally, much more like a family than a congregation.

Meet informally, like a familyIn step three, Victor Choudhrie suggests we keep our meetings very small and informal, not replicating the idea of a church service, but letting the Holy Spirit lead moment by unplanned moment.

Phase out programmed Sunday ‘services’ while implementing informal, small gatherings. The Bride of Christ must have intimacy with her Lord every day, not only for a couple of hours a week, lest she become unfaithful. However, discourage cross-gender disciple-making, lest chemistry foul things up. Acts 2:46-47; Hebrews 3:13

In step one we dispensed with the pastor, in step two we lost the building, so on the face of it there seems little option but to meet at home in an informal way. But our habits and traditions might lead us in other directions.

The danger of tradition - For one thing, we might feel a need for direction and look to leaders to provide it. Even if we really, really intend to follow Jesus we may still fear we won't hear him well, or we won't understand what he tells us. We may want an 'expert' to guide us. We might also feel that we are too exposed with only a few people meeting in someone's home, larger numbers are safer and a sign of success - aren't they?

But Jesus says, 'Come to me and I will give you rest', 'I will build my church', 'Where two or three are gathered in my name, I will be right there amongst them.' So how can we doubt? He is our security. He is our guide. We are safe in his hands!

Opening ourselves to the new - I think Choudhrie's main point is that we need to avoid programmed, organised, structured meetings and instead allow The Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Christ) to lead us moment by moment as we meet together. If we organise the meeting we will get a meeting designed and built by humans. If Jesus organises the meeting we will get a meeting designed and built by the One who said, 'I will build my church'. Which do you prefer? Go ahead, choose.

Choudhrie also reminds us that we should be meeting daily, not just once or twice a week. That would not be practical at all if we had to arrange everything ourselves. But if we just turn up ready to accept what Yahshua has prepared we will feast on truth and wisdom and encouragement and healing and power and joy and peace every day of every week. Do you want this? Do you want it enough to do it?

But be careful - Ideas like 'Church of two' (CO2) and 'Life transformation groups' (LTGs) may help with this, but even these should be considered carefully and prayerfully. It may be better to let the Spirit lead us day by day in a completely unstructured format. Don't be afraid to take things that work for you and adapt them or employ them for a season. But whatever you do, don't become married to a method.

I would recommend taking the warning against cross-gender discipling with a pinch of salt too. It's right to be cautious and aware of potential difficulties, and it might be right to avoid such situations most of the time. But there is always a danger of ruling out what the Spirit is showing us to do. Be careful and be wise, but remember it is also unwise to quench the Spirit - even in order to be careful.

Body life! - What are the advantages of meeting informally without making prior arrangements?

Spontaneity is essential if Jesus is to have his way in our meetings. His presence and his guiding hand are huge advantages, advantages we can never exaggerate or over-emphasise.

The Holy Spirit is gentle like a dove. He will fly up and perch in the rafters if we are not patient, quiet and expectant; he will look on from a distance if we insist on doing things our way. But with him in control our times together can take us to places we cannot imagine. Freedom to use gifts like tongues and interpretation, prophecy, healing, knowledge and the rest, freedom to sing as and when each one is led, freedom to share a Bible text, a picture, a prayer, freedom to teach, to share a problem, to encourage, to weigh what is said, to build one another up - these are the freedoms we need. Mostly we need them far more than we think!

If we meet like this we will find ourselves doing what Paul describes, building one another up in love as each plays their part.

This is body life. This is body ministry. This is Christ at work amongst his people. This is a hint of the Bride growing into maturity.

The value of the small - Small groups have the potential to be much more intimate than large gatherings. There is a place for larger groups, but intimacy with one another enables intimacy with the Spirit too. And for most of the time this is what we need, times where we can be close and personal, where we can share our hearts and Jesus' heart. These are the conditions that allow one anothering to flourish and all our needs to be met as the body of Christ.

Probable responses - How will people receive the suggestion to meet simply and in small groups?
  1. It seems safe to be in an audience, but risky to speak out. Fear of the unknown and fear of failure will cause some to reject the idea of unplanned meetings. But Jesus says that love rejects fear. The answer to fear and doubt is to love him and love one another enough to give it a try.
  2. Some people might choose to add in elements of freedom but keep a planned framework for times together. But the more we plan, the less space we leave for the Holy Spirit. It may seem safer, but it restricts and controls, limiting what is possible.
  3. Others will seize hold of unplanned and intimate meetings with joy. They will experience great rewards for their bravery and boldness and willingness to take a risk.

Questions:

  • Have you ever been in a meeting that was unplanned and open? Consider trying it some time with a small group of friends.
  • How much planning goes into conversations with your parents, your children, or your friends?
  • Can we trust the Holy Spirit? Do we know him? Is he welcome among us?

See also:


< Meet in houses | Series index | Share resources >

03 February 2013

Adam and Eve in Genesis

Adam and Eve appear in Genesis 2, but there's a different account of creation in chapter 1. Does it make sense to take the first man and woman literally? Is there some other way of reading these chapters? What is the underlying message? What is Genesis telling us?

Adam and Eve
Some believers (Jews, those who follow Jesus, and Muslims) take the early chapters of Genesis literally and therefore hold that Adam and Eve were real people, created at the same time as the world itself, the stars and planets, and other forms of life. There are, however, many others who hold that the creation stories are not intended as history but have some deeper purpose.

An overwhelming majority of scientists on the other hand see Adam and Eve as mythical figures. But sometimes we hear them speak of 'Mitochondrial Eve' and 'Y-chromosomal Adam'. What do they mean by those terms? Is there scientific evidence for a first man and a first woman?

We will try to understand the story of Adam and Eve from the beginning. We'll look at the views of faith in this post and science in a later one and we'll see if they can be reconciled in some way.

Two accounts - This is based mainly on the Hebrew writings known as the Tanakh, what Christians call the Old Testament. The main place where origins are mentioned is in the early part of the book of Genesis. There are many references to Adam and Eve elsewhere in both Old and New Testaments and those generally support what we find in Genesis.

Genesis describes the creation of the universe as known at the time of writing, it includes the origin of the stars, the sun and moon, the earth itself, all living things, and the first man and woman. This article ignores much of that and focusses solely on Adam and Eve.

There are two passages that deal with the first people, Genesis 1:26-28 and Genesis 2:7-25.

In the first account plants are created first (Genesis 1:11-13), then the Sun, Moon and stars (Genesis 1:14-19), birds and fish (Genesis 1:20-23),  land animals (Genesis 1:24-25) and finally mankind (Genesis 1:26-28). There is no mention of Adam and Eve here, instead the collective word for mankind is used, people are created but the number is unspecified.

In the second account the order is significantly different. This time Adam is created first (Genesis 2:7), then the trees (Genesis 2:8-17), then the land animals and birds (Genesis 2:19-20) and finally Eve (Genesis 2:21-22). This time there are only two people.

Since the two accounts follow different sequences it is a logical necessity that they cannot both be historically correct. Either of them might be correct, or neither, but both is not possible. Therefore the only conclusion that can be defended is that either or both of these accounts were written for some purpose other than history.

The real purpose - What might that other purpose be?

I would strongly suggest that the purpose of Genesis chapters 1 and 2 is exactly the same as that of the rest of the Bible.

  • It is to reveal something of the nature of the power behind the universe.
  • It explains our broken relationship with him.
  • And it points to the reconnection that became possible in Christ.

Genesis 1 and 2 tell us there's a creator who brought the universe into being. This creating power is not part of the universe.

Relationship, not history - The original intention was that we should have freedom of will and freedom of action to use in honouring the Creator, but instead we abused our freedom. Initially we had a close relationship with our Maker (walking together in the garden with our Father). Our significance, worth, security and identity were found in our love relationship with him. But after our revolt for independence we found ourselves... independent! And it was not a good place.

Woman now looked to man for her significance, worth, security and identity. And man looked to the ground to provide these things, through the work of his hands raising crops. This remains true today; women tend to look to a relationship, men to their own ability. That's a generalisation but it contains the essence of a deep truth.

In Christ we have the relationship restored and with it the opportunity to walk again with the Creator in the garden and find our significance, worth, security and identity in the right place once more.

This is the meaning of Genesis 1 and 2 in a nutshell. It is far, far more significant and important than any element of history that might be contained in those chapters. The order in which things were made is of no significance at all. We sometimes miss the wood for the trees! We build up the importance of the unimportant and run the risk of overlooking the real nuggets of gold placed here for our benefit.

Adam and Eve represent the first humans (and indeed all of us), of that there is no doubt. But that is as far as I'm able to go. Others will, of course, hold different views and that is fine by me. We can share an understanding of the spiritual truth without agreeing on the historicity of Genesis 1 and 2.


Questions:

  • How do you reconcile the accounts of creation in Genesis 1 and 2?
  • Does the sequence of creation make any difference to the underlying spiritual truth?
  • Can we love one another despite our sometimes wide diversities of understanding?

See also:

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