Showing posts with label Effectiveness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Effectiveness. Show all posts

03 October 2012

Surprises open us to change

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Here is a second set of answers to some questions about how Papa is dealing with his people in our generation. You might like to consider your own answers which may be quite different from mine. See what you think.

Full of surprisesThis is part two of of a series in which I'm sharing my answers to some questions posted on the 'Missional Challenge' blog. See the first part for the background.

Here are the next three questions, then we'll work through them one at a time.

  • How is God coming to this generation?
  • How is that different than any other generation?
  • Are you under God’s authority? How do you know?

How is God coming to this generation? - That is a huge question, and the answers we find are going to be game changing. If we get this wrong we will constantly struggle because we'll be working against the grain of everything he is doing. If we get it right we will be in tune with his purpose and swept along effortlessly by the wide, deep river of living water.

Also, it would be foolish to think we will all hear the same thing from him. It's entirely possible I might be right for myself but wrong for you. Caveat emptor! It's also possible I might be wrong for you and wrong for myself.

But here's my best effort to express the way I see this right now. I think he's coming to this generation in ways far outside our normal expectations. He is blessing people from every kind of church background - whether you're Catholic or Orthodox, Baptist or Anglican, Messianic Jew or Lutheran. I'd go further. He's blessing Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons and Christian Scientists. He's blessing Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, even Agnostics and Atheists. His heart is always to bless and the Holy Spirit needs only the tiniest crack of obedience to begin his work.

I just don't think we can overestimate his grace and willingness to overlook error. Let's face it, if he didn't come to find lost sheep, we would all be permanently... well, lost!

We'd better begin to expect the unexpected, because he is always full of surprises. That is how he is coming to this generation.

How is that different than any other generation? - I don't think it is. He's always surprised us. He surprised Abraham and Sarah with Isaac. (He surprised Abraham with Isaac twice. Think about it). He surprised Jacob's sons with Joseph. He surprised Jacob with a dislocated hip, Moses with a burning bush, a divided sea, manna and quails. He surprised Saul with David and Solomon with wisdom... Need I go on? He surprised Saul on the way to Damascus. We should never be surprised to be surprised!

All of that means that any rules I come up, methods, structures, hierarchies may at best be rendered inappropriate by the next surprise to come my way. And at worst they were already inappropriate. Nothing I plan or design or set in motion is of any real kingdom value. Only the things that the Father, Son and Spirit plan, design and set in motion are of real use. Doing it my way can only make things worse.

I think the church at large has so far failed to grasp this simple but fundamental truth. To that extent, how he is coming to this generation may be different. I have the sense that he's sowing the seeds of this understanding in the hearts of people here and there, and that the growth these seeds produce will change much in the way we are and in what we do (and don't do).

Sometimes we think in terms of modernism, post-modernism and so forth. I dare say Papa deals with us differently according to our thinking and culture, but what I wrote above remains true. He will always find ways to surprise us. I think he likes to catch us off guard. Perhaps he can better reach us when we're a little off balance.

Are you under God’s authority? How do you know? - Sometimes, yes. Often, no. I have the opportunity to be under his authority at all times. But sometimes I allow myself to fall under the authority of others, or worse I seize the reins myself. I think I'm (very gradually) getting better at it. I sense that I notice more quickly when I do come off the rails. I'm more aware of the dangers and more eager to avoid them.

When I'm in the right place I'm usually aware of it - he shows me things - he speaks with me - I can walk in silence with him - there is a deep peace in my heart - I'm untroubled by problems and issues.

But I'm rarely (if ever) aware of the many times I do it my way. Sometimes I spend days, weeks or months, even years struggling along before it dawns on me that I'm alone. He's still at the centre of his purpose, I've wandered off on some side-mission of my own devising. When I do realise my mistake it's most often because I suddenly realise he's not there. I don't mean he abandons me, but he's far off because I've abandoned him. I think he comes to find me and I think 'Why am I struggling with this when the King is here?'

I hope this answers the 'how do I know' question as well.

Were these the sort of answers you expected to read? If not, why not?

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30 September 2012

Where he treads I must follow

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We take a look at three questions about mission and our lives in Christ. Do we know what he is doing in us and around us? Are we playing our part in the things he is doing? How can we find out? How can we begin to do better?

A mediaeval baker and apprenticeIn his 'Missional Challenge' blog, Dave DeVries reposts some questions posed originally by Don Snell. The questions are intended for coaching. In particular the aim is to help people 'align [their lives] with Jesus' disciplemaking mission'.

I think these questions are so good that I've decided to take them a few at a time and  share my answers, at least in outline form. Here are the first three.

  • What is God doing right now?
  • Are you aware of what God is doing?
  • How are you part of what God is doing?

Notice first that the old English word 'disciple' has the sense of  'apprentice'. It's about learning by working alongside an expert. Jesus is the expert. 

What is God doing right now? - The simple answer is 'many things'! But for this question to help me align my life I will need to consider what he is doing in my own life and in the area where I live and among the people I might be called to influence.

We might usefully ask whether Jesus has any other mission or agenda than making disciples. My answer is that making disciples covers it pretty well. If Jesus intends to heal the sick he will do it through his followers. If he wants to teach us, or guide us, or encourage us he will do so through our brothers and sisters who are his followers. He told the Twelve to 'make followers of all nations' and to 'teach them all the things I have taught you' (Matthew 28:18-20). And that includes making disciples.

So what is he doing in me right now? I think he's showing me that his way is very simple, so simple a small child could do it. It involves listening to what he says and doing it. It involves loving the Father, loving his other followers, loving my neighbours, and loving my enemies. That'll be love everyone then! He's showing me that it's not about learning methods but about moment by moment obedience. It's not a matter of authority but of humility.

And what is he doing around me? He is preparing people to hear, to ask questions, to respond to him. He is trying to reach everyone. Not everyone is ready to listen - yet. I need to know the difference.

Are you aware of what God is doing? - Sometimes. I try to be, but I'm not always hearing and seeing. Often I'm just too dim-witted to understand what he's doing while he's doing it. Later it dawns on me, 'That was Jesus at work', 'Father had a hand in that', 'The Holy Spirit showed me that for a reason'.

Sometimes I manage, somehow, to cooperate with him. Sometimes he works through me and in me even while I don't realise it.

I'm simple and foolish; he is all wise, all knowing, and very, very capable of getting over, under or around my mistakes.

How are you part of what God is doing? -  Mostly by accident, it seems. But in truth it's by his design. He is not accident-prone even though I am.

And I know he wants me to be part of what he is doing. He doesn't need me, but it's his delight to involve me; what a priviledge! I certainly have to become a better and more constant listener and responder. I am part of what he is doing when I'm obedient.

He uses me to begin conversations with people who don't yet know him. He also uses me to encourage others who are on this journey with me. And he uses me on this blog, to touch people in a variety of ways. He uses me to care for others like a shepherd, guiding them to places where there is spiritual refreshment and nourishment. He gave me Isaiah 61 as a description of some of the things he wants me to do - proclaiming good news, binding up the broken hearted, speaking of freedom, light and his favour. There's a lot more in that chapter and it was all fulfilled in Jesus. But he wants to engage me in some of those activities with him, using me as his hands and feet and voice.

I did not choose to be part of this; he chose me!

And what about you? - How would you answer these three questions? We're all different and father has unique plans for each of us. Your answers may be very different from mine.

Do you find the questions useful? What is he doing in and around your life? How is he using you in his work? 

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23 June 2010

THOUGHT - What is a church?

I've been reading Neil Cole's book 'Organic Church' and enjoying it enormously. It was published way back in 2005 but has lasting value. In it, Neil poses a question. He tells us that when he was a seminary student he was given the following five characteristics of church.He often asks groups what is missing from the definition.
  • A group of believers gathered together regularly...
  • That considers itself a church...
  • That has qualified elders present...
  • That regularly practices the ordinances of baptism and communion as well as church discipline...
  • And that has an agreed-on set of doctrinal beliefs.
Neil agrees that these are good qualities for any church to have and that most would meet these standards. A lamp distributing lightBut his answer is that Jesus is missing!

The New Testament Greek word usually translated church is 'ekklesia'. What does this word really mean? Literally, 'ekklesia' means 'called out' and this is probably how the early church would have thought of themselves - those called out from the world, called by Jesus.

If we scrapped the term 'church' and replaced it with the literal translation our view of what church is might change. For example, when Peter recognises Jesus as the Son he is told, 'on this rock I will build those I call out' (Matthew 16:16-18). In other words, if you understand who he is you will also be built by him as part of his called-out community.

If we habitually thought in terms of 'called out' or 'called ones', maybe we'd live more closely in the way Jesus really wanted! Because the English word 'church' has no real underlying meaning for me, I can effectively make it mean whatever I wish. But if I have in mind the true sense of the Greek I see that I'm called along with others and that we are together built by the Messiah himself on the basis of knowing who he is.

Revelation uses the term 'lampstand' for the seven 'called-out communities' (Revelation 1:20). 'To the messenger of the called in Ephesus write...' and so on for all seven 'lampstands'. (The messenger would have been the courier who carried the letter to the called out community. The word 'angel' means, literally, messenger.)

Each called-out community is referred to as a lampstand. What is the function of a lampstand? To hold the Lamp! Can a lampstand provide light? No! But if the Lamp, the Light of the World, is held in his rightful place he will provide light - it's what he came to do.

So each of these communities of people called-out from the world has the function of holding the Light in a place where he can illuminate the area all around. So where there is a called-out community there will be a pool of brightness in which the world can see.

Read the letters to the called-out in Revelation 2 and 3 and understand that a lampstand can be removed if it does not perform its task (holding up the Light so that he shines out). And remember that a lampstand is a 'church'. A removed lampstand is a removed church! We have a function and there's a cost associated with failure. I live in a town called St Neots, if the called-out in St Neots fail to display the Light we may lose our place!

This isn't some sort of angry threat from the Lord, it's the inevitable effect of failure to be a lampstand. It has happened historically on a large scale, think of all the lands in the Middle East and in North Africa where Islam swept away the Roman and Greek churches in the later centuries of the first millenium. It will happen everywhere the Light of the World is not held high by his called-out people. It can happen where I live. It can happen where you live.

But the Light has overcome the darkness. So live your life as a called-out member of your local called-out community and let the Light of the world shine around. Then the place where you live will have a future and your called-out community will truly be a lampstand. See Isaiah 9:2, John 1:5, Ephesians 5:8.

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