Showing posts with label Thought. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Thought. Show all posts

10 August 2012

What's in a name? (Repost)

This is a repost of an article originally published two years ago. I think it's worth raising this subject again now because I'm still looking for an answer.

I'll be honest with you - this is something that's been bugging me for a long, long time. Those of us who follow Jesus often refer to ourselves as 'Christians' or 'the Church', or in more specific cases we use the name of a particular organisation - 'I'm a member of the such-and-such church'.

An Escher print of endlessly connected fishThis troubles me because I really don't want to make any distinctions of this sort. We are all one in Christ, though we may have different gifts and abilities (Eph 4:1-7). We are one body and we should learn to see ourselves that way, not merely in terms of the Church Universal (although that is true and important) but in practical terms, in our daily lives and thinking.

The Bible recognises one church in different locations, it does not recognise different churches. Paul is emphatic on this point (1 Cor 1:12-14). The New Testament distinguishes church by province, city, and meeting place. We read of the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria, the church in Ephesus, the church that meets at the house of Priscilla and Aquila. The idea of distinguishing churches on the basis of leaders, doctrines or traditions is completely alien to the writers of the New Testament. In fact they always opposed any such move very strongly.

I am entirely happy to be known simply as someone who follows Jesus and is part of the church in Europe, the UK, England, the East of England, Cambridgeshire, St Neots, or Eaton Ford. I'm happy to be regarded as part of the church meeting in my house, or Jim's house, or Sean's house.

But there is a practical issue when a name is needed in, for example, a list. What I would prefer is to state that I'm a follower of Yahshua (Jesus) in St Neots. And if there's room, that might be acceptable but it will be confusing. So in a list like 'Eynesbury Methodist, Open Door, River Church, St Mary's Eaton Socon' what should I write?

Currently I use terms like 'organic church', 'house church', or 'simple church'. But these are not accurate or complete and they act to divide - which is the very thing I want to avoid! I'd like to write 'the church in St Neots' but that will not be understood.

Suggestions are welcome. Does anyone else worry about these things?

There doesn't seem to be a satisfactory answer. I don't want to be seen as set apart, I want to be seen as I see myself, part of the one body of Christ here in the town where I live. But there doesn't seem to be a word or simple phrase for that!

Perhaps it's better to avoid being listed and just get on with living as a follower of the King. The very existence of a list implies that the items on it can be distinguished in some way.

Some new thoughts - It occurs to me that the early believers referred to their faith and practice as 'The Way'. The term 'Christian' means 'little Christs' and was applied by others in a derogatory sense.

Do you think it would be a good idea to talk about 'The Way' again? Or perhaps 'The Path', or 'The Road'. Or it could be expanded to 'The Narrow Way'. Should we refer to ourselves as followers of The Way?

How would that affect how we see ourselves? How would it affect how others see us? Think about the views of other believers and of non-believers.

How do you suggest we tackle this naming problem?

14 February 2012

Has the Bible been modified?

If we are to trust the Bible we need to know that it faithfully reproduces what was written by the original authors almost two thousand years ago, or earlier. It turns out that the Bible stands up to scrutiny better than any other ancient book.

Damaged papyrus of Matthew's gospelThe Bible is not really a book in the normal sense, rather it is a library of books written at different times and by different authors. Some versions of the Bible may include or exclude particular books for a variety of reasons.

But what can we say of the accuracy by which the books have been copied over the years and centuries since they were originally written? And how do the books of the Bible compare in terms of reliability with, say, Plato or Aristotle, Caesar or Cicero?

Surprisingly, we have a great deal of evidence for the reliability of both Old and New Testament books. Far more than we do for any of those other ancient books.

This is well-summarised in a web document by Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM).  Here's a claim made on that web page. Take a look at the page itself for the supporting argument.
The New Testament documents are better-preserved and more numerous than any other ancient writings. Because they are so numerous, they can be cross checked for accuracy... and they are very consistent.
Notice especially the table that shows how other respected ancient documents don't even come close in terms of early copies.

This section from an article on Wikipedia supports the accuracy of the New Testament, while another article, Textual variants in the New Testament, actually lists them for us. The majority are very minor indeed.

Whatever we may say about the comparisons to be made between the Bible and other ancient books, we may be quite certain that the Bible we read today has been faithfully copied. The New Testament we can buy and read today is very, very close to the original works written almost 2000 years ago. For the vast majority of the text (99.5%) the match is perfect across all copies.

Translation - Doesn't translation affect the meaning of the text, changing it from the originally intended sense? The purpose of good translation should always be to render the original meaning in a different language as accurately as possible. Many of the Bible translators have gone to extreme lengths in research, learned debate, discussion, checking, inviting critical comment, reviewing and revising. All this before they even consider printing a new version.

A far greater danger would be lack of translation, with less knowledgeable people trying to understand the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek and probably making mistakes.

Paraphrase versions, like the Living Bible and idiomatic translations like The Message do their best to make the text more readable. These are not intended to replace the formal equivalence of more typical translations, but they can be an excellent way to introduce the Bible, making it more accessible and providing impact and immediacy.

Study aids - For serious study I recommend reading several modern translations along with Hebrew or Greek interlinears, good commentaries and Bible dictionaries (giving the range of meanings of the Hebrew and Greek words). There are excellent tools online, take a look at Bible Gateway and Biblos, but there are others out there. Try some out and bookmark those you find most useful.

And rest assured, the source material you are using (directly or indirectly) is of high quality and pretty much identical with what was originally written.

(Check linked articles on other blogs - please explore!)

21 January 2012

Circles of friends

Help doesn't always come from the places we expect. Community may not be the shape we design it to be. Church structure is better recognised than defined. Practice and experience are very likely to differ from theory.

Mallow on the beach, messy but vibrantAll of us need a little help from time to time, or someone to listen or encourage. And if we're involved in local church life we expect to find that support from church friends as well as from family members and others. In particular, if we are in a cell or home group we expect the members to provide the help we need. It's often claimed to be one of several reasons for meeting in smaller, more intimate groups.

But what happens in practice?

When a friend recently told me that he was not getting the help he needed from his home group, I was able to identify a number of people who were providing help. It was coming from a rich combination of close friends, some involved in other home groups, some in entirely different churches. Most of these people had not been 'designated' as his close church family, yet they were there when he needed them.

And this made me wonder whether we have things 'back to front' in some sense.

Rather than organise people into groups, why not recognise that most people already have circles of friends around them? Does it matter if these circles overlap with one another and don't fit into a tidy pattern?

As usual, organic life is messy but vibrant and abundant. Let it be what it is. If I can see vibrant and abundant I'm willing to overlook messy, or even rejoice over messy! Far better messy, abundant life than organised sterility. Yahshua said, 'I came so they may have life, and have it more abundantly.' (John 10:10)

So may I suggest that the people Father has placed around us are more likely to be there when we need them than the people that even the best organised church has defined as 'our' group? (The two are not mutually exclusive, or course.)

The corollary of this is that 'church'  is a shifting network of unique yet overlapping circles around all the individuals. True community comes, not from human-defined groups, but from the Father himself guiding his people in loving one another. And if we saw church in this way we would lose our need to identify ourselves as members of this fellowship or that denomination. We would let all the buildings and programs go (we wouldn't need them any more) and we could focus on life as the church that meets at Jane and John's house or the church in St Neots. Wouldn't that be grand!

04 January 2012

The dry bones of church will live

Part 10 of a series - 'The valley of dry bones'
< An overwhelming army | Index | No later items >

Once again Yahweh speaks, this time in explanation and application. He spoke to Israel but through them he is also speaking to us. He can reach us wherever we are and he can transform us from death to life, from dry and scattered bones to a mighty army.

A small groupAnd now that the work is complete and the army restored, Yahweh speaks once more. This time it's by way of explanation as to the meaning of the valley of dry bones vis-a-vis Israel.

Yahweh speaks - And then he told me: 'Son of man, the bones are the Israelites. They say, "Our bones are dry, we have no hope and are disconnected." So speak to them and say: "This is what Almighty Yahweh says: my people, I shall open your graves and raise you up. I'll put my Spirit into you, you'll live, and I'll return you to your land. Then you'll understand that I, Yahweh spoke and did it, says Yahweh,' (Ezekiel 37:11-14)

Everything that happened in the vision and every word that Yahweh spoke applies to Israel in captivity. But like all biblical prophecy it applies again to the church as well - it applies to us. We'll come back to that.

Israel - First of all - the bones are the Israelites. This is presented as background information for Ezekiel, it is not something he is told to speak over the people. The Israelites had been carried off from the promised land as slaves. They felt they had no hope, they were literally disconnected from the land, from Jerusalem and from the Temple.

For the Jews in captivity this would have been very significant. For most of them the thought would be that Yahweh's Presence was in the Holy Place in the innermost part of the Temple in Jerusalem in Israel. They were hundreds of miles away in Babylon therefore they were hundreds of miles away from Yahweh. There was no hope of help!

But he can reach them where they are and he has more words for Ezekiel to give them. He says that he'll open their graves and raise them up into new life! He will put his Spirit into them and return them to Israel. And then they'll understand the inconceivable - Yahweh can reach them, will reach them, and has given his word! He has spoken and is responsible for achieving it.

The church - So how does this apply to us today, also his people, also broken and ineffective. Just look at the history of the church and the state of the church in the West today. Riven by schisms and disagreements over doctrine and practice. Separated into denominations and streams. It would be easy to write out a long list of problems and issues. We usually gather with others who are like-minded and this undoubtedly isolates us from some of the differences.

Notice that the rest of the chapter (Ezekiel 37:15-28) follows right on from the valley of dry bones and covers the important matter of unity. This is not a coincidence.

The Spirit of Christ has been drawing his people together, little by little. All down the ages he's dealt with one issue after another. Much has been done, beginning with doctrinal essentials like grace in the 16th century and going right on to a pouring out of the Holy Spirit in the 20th century. But our response has often been to leave the old and start something new.

In our own day we are seeing a lot of rearranging - the bones are being fitted together. Thousands and thousands of family-sized groups have already formed, people who will love one another and love those around them. Some of these are house churches, some are small groups in the larger churches, some are CUs in colleges and workplaces. There is great variety.

Flesh and skin are covering these bodies. All they need now is refilling with breath, to stand up, and to be united into a single army under Christ as head and commander. It will not be easy, in fact it's far beyond our ability to do, our King and Commander Yahshua will have to do the work. We will need to listen and watch and do what his Spirit tells us and shows us - no more - but no less.

Like Israel in Ezekiel's day, he can reach us, he will reach us, and he's given his word. He has spoken and is responsible for achieving it.

< An overwhelming army | Index | No later items >

02 January 2012

An overwhelming army

Part 9 of a series - 'The valley of dry bones'
< Prophecy to the breath | Index | The dry bones of church will live >

Ezekiel speaks to the breath, calling it to fill the slain bodies so that they may come alive. We need breath (that is, the Holy Spirit) if the church is to be filled, come alive and function properly.

The Chinese 'Terracotta Army'Once again Ezekiel is called to speak, this time to the reconstructed bodies. They are now complete and perfect in every way yet they are still not alive. He speaks and what happens must have stunned him, even if he was expecting it!

Ezekiel speaks - 'So I spoke out as he required of me, and breath came into them, they began to live and they rose up on their feet. They were an overwhelming army!' (Ezekiel 37:10)

As usual there are a number of things we should notice. Some of them are hugely important but easily overlooked.

First, we see again Ezekiel's obedience. Yahweh has said he is to speak some particular words over the dead bodies and he does it. No argument this time, no hesitation, just obedience. Listen and obey. If only we would always do that!

Breath enters - Although he doesn't tell us explicitly, the sense is that breath comes into them immediately, perhaps even while Ezekiel is still speaking. Breath (or Spirit) is the one thing they had been missing. It is necessary that the structure of church is as the Lord requires it. But if we have the right structure yet are not alive we cannot do the work intended for us. Yahshua builds his church, yet if we don't have his Spirit within us we are not alive. This final step is essential.

We can ask what would happen if the Spirit enters an incorrectly structured church. Thinking in terms of a lifeless body will help us address this question. What would happen if an incorrectly structured body was brought to life? Either such a creation would live in pain, crippled and unable to walk or speak or see. Or else it would survive only for a short time because of serious faults in essential systems like the lungs, heart or liver.

I believe there really is an example of this in recent church history. The Holy Spirit was poured out in a major way during the 1960s and 70s. But there was something wrong with the structure of church at that time so what came to life was unable to function properly.

Why was this structure incorrect? I lived through that time and I believe we could have made ourselves available as living stones and watched Christ build his church the way he wanted it - and it would have been amazing. But instead we built church the way we wanted it and this thing that was at first so full of life deteriorated and died in paroxysms of anguish and pain.

A better structure - But today I think we have seen new bodies built to a better design and when these bodies are ready the breath of the Spirit of Christ will bring them to an abundance of life.

But Ezekiel has more to tell us, 'They rose up on their feet.' This also seems to have happened immediately. From dead bodies to living bodies. And now to upright, standing bodies. We don't stand up in order to live, we will stand up because we live.

'They were an overwhelming army.' Not just standing bodies, but a body of standing bodies, a great and mighty army. There is a oneness that transcends our oneness in the local church. There is the oneness of the church worldwide, all the local churches working and cooperating together. The army has a single commander - Yahshua (Jesus)!

What a vision Ezekiel has received. It's a vision we sorely need to understand today.

< Prophecy to the breath | Index | The dry bones of church will live >

30 December 2011

Prophecy to the breath

Part 8 of a series - 'The valley of dry bones'
< Sinew, muscle and skin | Index | An overwhelming army >

And now Ezekiel is commanded to pray to the breath, calling it to fill the slain bodies so that they may come alive. We need breath (that is, the Holy Spirit) if the church is to be filled, come alive and function properly.

The power of the wind
Ezekiel stands and marvels over the bodies lying around him (bodies which so recently had been no more than dry and jumbled bones). And  Yahweh commands him to prophecy again.

Then he told me, 'Speak to the breath, son of man, tell it prophetically, "Here's what Yahweh Almighty says - come, breath, come from the four winds and breath into these dead bodies so they can come alive."' (Ezekiel 37:9)

So what is going on here? Let's take it step by step and notice the details. It is absolutely fascinating.

Yahweh speaks to a man (Ezekiel) and commands him to speak to the breath (or spirit, or wind, or life). He is not called to speak to the bodies, he is called to speak to the breath.

Breath, spirit, wind and life are closely connected in Hebrew thinking. Breath and spirit are the same word - 'ruach', and anything with breath/spirit has life. Whatever does not have breath/spirit is dead. When we breathe we create a feeble wind, while the winds that can bend trees and raise dust from the ground are clearly far more powerful.

There is an underlying thought here that the winds can provide the necessary breath/spirit to fill these bodies and bring them to life. And the breath comes 'from the four winds'. In other words it comes from anywhere and everywhere. We cannot pin the Holy Spirit down, he comes and goes as he chooses.

The church in our day seems often to be limp and lifeless. At least in the West we are not seeing great, sweeping moves of new believers. It is happening in some eastern lands just as it happened in Jerusalem after Pentecost when three thousand were baptised and added in a single day. (Acts 2:41)

Why are we in the west left out? Perhaps it's because the churches are at best like dead bodies, and the people at worst like dry scattered bones. We need to plead with the Lord to renew us by sending his Spirit to transform us and reinvigorate us. The church in the West needs an Ezekiel to hear Yahweh and to obey him in calling the Life and Spirit of Christ to re-enter the scattered bodies.

We should all be calling out to our Father in heaven to send an Ezekiel (or even a band of Ezekiels) to call the life and breath of his Spirit to return in power and to fill us so that we begin to live again.

Why is it necessary to speak to the Spirit rather than to the churches? Might it be because the churches are dead?  Earlier in the chapter Ezekiel spoke to the dry bones, they were dead too. So what was the difference? Notice that both times Ezekiel spoke as he was commanded by Yahweh - and that is the key.

Our primary duty will always be to listen and do what we are told, to watch and do what we are shown. This is how Jesus himself lived while he was here in the world, he knows how hard it can be and how effective it is. And he called us to follow him.

< Sinew, muscle and skin | Index | An overwhelming army >

21 December 2011

Hearing from the Spirit in Coventry

< Coventry Cathedral | Index | The centrality of Christ >

Sometimes the Holy Spirit pours his truth into our lives like a flowing stream. That's exactly what happened to me recently as I visited Coventry. I went because he told me to go and said that he would speak to me there. But he did even more than he promised. Isn't that just typical of his grace?

The remains of the old visible through the newAs I was preparing to visit Coventry, the Holy Spirit began surprising me with thoughts and I started to write them down. There was more revelation as I visited the old and new cathedrals; much that I saw prompted further thoughts. And finally, after I arrived home there was a third flow of spiritual truth.

The major themes I have identified are...

  • The centrality of Christ, his majesty and glory.
  • Oneness with Jesus and in church life, reconciliation.
  • New and old in terms of church. They are connected. We need to remember the old but live in the new.
  • The old was brought down by intense fire.
  • The new is a different kind of structure.
  • Jesus expresses himself through the new.
  • The new touches the world and should transform it.

What follows is taken from the notes I made on the day. The notes themselves are in italics, the rest is comment added later. I have not expanded all of the notes, there is simply too much for one article. I may revisit these notes, perhaps under the seven headings listed above.

Before the journey to Coventry

The contribution you can make to one church is to encourage people in having good, welcoming attitudes to all believers.

The idea that there is only one church has been much on my mind, and it was immensely helpful to have this guidance. It's not for me to demand or build unity. Instead, I must encourage everyone to accept others with different understandings and vision. Oneness is not about everyone being the same, it's about hearts of love touching through the differences.

Remind them that we're all brothers and sisters.

The 'wheel' emblemEven the emblem I gave you speaks of unity. There's a centre where all the spokes meet, and the periphery is held in place by every spoke. I AM the centre. My people are the spokes, each of them in contact with me. The periphery is out there in the world, far from me, their only connection to the centre is through you. Pray that they, too, will become spokes.

Read more about the 'wheel' emblem and its origin. There's a call to prayer here too; that's something I must not ignore or forget.  Father, remind me - often.

My expectation had been clear. The Lord would speak to me when I reached Coventry, but at this point I was still at home and he was already pouring out so much. I was astonished!

In the old cathedral

The old still remains, but it's empty.

The pillars have all gone.

There is no roof, no protection.

The windows are empty.

This is a place of memories, but few people are here to remember. Most of them are here to look.

The architect says that the new should grow out of the old.

In the new cathedral

A canopy connects the old and the new.

The new west front reflects the old cathedral in its expanse of glass.

The old is clearly visible throughout the new, it is not forgettable and not forgotten.

The view is very different depending whether you are looking towards me or away from me.

I am far more weighty than you might think.

The cathedral has an enormous tapestry portraying Christ, it is so large that it weighs more than a tonne. It's hard to imagine a tapestry being so heavy, and it is even harder to imagine the full majesty and glory of Christ himself. I think he wants me to focus both on his nature and on my inability to comprehend his nature.

This building speaks of life, a progression from the cradle. It's all about reconciliation and has contributions from people of all faiths.

This is an echo of what he showed me before I left home. Reconciliation is a prerequisite for unity. Jesus is our reconciliation, not only with the Father but also with one another. Oneness with the Most High and oneness with one another both depend on the reconciliation that only Jesus can bring. We cannot do without Christ, yet we need nothing more.

Back at home

The old building was brought down by the intense heat of the fire. It cracked and flaked stone, melted lead and glass, and consumed timber.

Fragments of the old stained glass remain.

The old and familiar, the very things we lean upon and think we need, these are all burned up by the intense fire of the Spirit. The old must make way for the new. Yet the old is still more than just a memory. Parts of it remain lest we forget.

Everywhere in the new are expressions of his love, glory, grace, peace, presence, and oneness.

There's a strong theme of reconciliation throughout both old and new.

Old and new are intimately connected.

These seem to be important ideas and should not be forgotten.

The old was brought down by an act of war, but the war was external - it was not a war between old and new.

The inner roof is not attached to the walls.

The technologies of old and new are quite different.

The builders of the old would have found the new literally incredible.

They would have been astonished and unable to comprehend how it could have been achieved.

There's an emphasis in some of the memorials on working selflessly together for a greater good.

There is a swastika on the bronze effigy. See how visitors have polished the swastika and the nose by touching them. Touch is so important.

Touch is transforming, turning dullness to brilliance. We need to touch Christ, we also need to touch one another.

The old cathedral is part of an old town and an old society, now gone apart from a few buildings. The new cathedral is part of a new town and a new city - the university, the shopping centre and so on.

The new fabric is already showing evidence of decay and shabbiness - especially outside.

Although there is a new move of the Spirit coming in church life, the new will go the way of the old unless there is maintenance and repair. It will be needed continuously.

< Coventry Cathedral | Index | The centrality of Christ >

16 December 2011

We bless you from... here!

Part 8 of a series - 'The Grace Outpouring'
< A pattern of blessing | Index | The abundant results of prayer >

This time we hear how the community at Ffald-y-Brenin eased into a habit and pattern of blessing the whole area around them. They asked the Lord to share out his abundant life more widely.

Blessing the land and its inhabitantsIn part 7 we heard more from Roy on the importance of letting the Lord himself work in people. And a new pattern developed of looking outward from Ffald-y-Brenin and blessing those in the wider community. In this part he elaborates on that.
Gradually a structure emerged as we continued in our new tradition of blessing prayer and we now pray in that pattern as a matter of course. We pray for people and we pray for households. We speak into every household, blessing it in the name of Jesus. We're not interceding; we're speaking to them in the name of Jesus.

The phrase 'We bless you from Zion' captures a biblical attitude to prayer that we wanted to apply to our context when we used the words, 'We bless you from Ffald-y-Brenin, this place where God's presence is being poured out. We speak to you in his name, and we bless you.'

So we bless every household, we bless every marriage, we bless the relationship between family members of different generations and we bless their health and we bless their wealth. We bless the work of their hands. We bless every wholesome enterprise they're involved with, that they may prosper.

Because we're an agricultural community, we bless the flocks and the herds, and we bless the grass so that it will be nutritious in winter - which it wouldn't normally be - and will not need to be supplemented in order to strengthen the animals.

We bless supportive networks of friendship that run through the community, because they're a sign of the kingdom. We bless the pupils of our rural school and ask God to aid their learning. We bless the teachers and pray that school may be a safe and wholesome place, where simple childlike trust and belief in God and in Jesus can be comfortably maintained.

We pray for both places of worship in the valley, that the word of God and the Spirit of God may flow out from both.

Then we speak to the hearts of all the people who are in the community. We bless them to be safe and to be softened, so they may become more and more responsive to the voice of God. We bless them with the overspill of the kingdom of heaven being made manifest here in Ffald-y-Brenin.*

Are you in a place of blessing in your own life and circumstances? Is there a 'Zion' or a 'Ffald-y-Brenin' that you inhabit? Is Father's presence being poured out where you are?

We're not all living in the style of a Ffald-y-Brenin but we do all have much blessing in our lives and the occasional mountain-top experience too. A glorious sunset, the sound of the waves on a pebbly shore, something truly delicious to eat or drink, watching a small child play, enjoying good conversation, the astonishing colours of a bird's plumage or of flowers in a garden or a field - all these things can help to lift us up into the Lord's presence.

So what is stopping us blessing those around us out of our own places of fullness and blessing? We can say with Roy and Daphne Godwin, 'We bless you with the overspill of the kingdom of heaven being made manifest here in {...}  Go ahead, fill in those dots - and pray! If you're not sure what to ask, adapt some of Roy's words above. Bless the people and their families, the shops and homes and industrial units and businesses. Bless the schools and the hospitals and the dentists. Bless the parks, the fields and the gardens.

And give the King (the Lord of heaven and earth) all the glory, for ever and ever and ever. Amen!

Here's an exercise for you. Go back to the image at the top of this article and click on it for a larger view. Count how many things you can see to bless just in that one photo. Now go and look out of the nearest window wherever you happen to be as you read this. What and who can you see there to bless? So what are you waiting for?

Read a brief review of the book (includes several ways to buy a copy).

*Copyright 2008 Roy Godwin, Dave Roberts. The Grace Outpouring published by David C Cook. Publisher permission required to reproduce. All rights reserved.

< A pattern of blessing | Index | The abundant results of prayer >

15 December 2011

Sinew, muscle and skin

Part 7 of a series - 'The valley of dry bones'
< The bones come together | Index | Prophecy to the breath >

Ezekiel watches as sinew, muscle and skin transform the newly organised bones into complete bodies. What might be the sinew, muscle and skin of church and are these sufficient?

Complete bodies
Now the bones are all in order and correctly arranged, the stage is set for the next steps. Ezekiel is still watching and he tells us what he sees.

'Before my very eyes sinew and muscle appeared on them and skin covered them, but they weren't breathing.' (Ezekiel 37:8)

Ezekiel has seen a remarkable change! What began with dry, dusty bones has now become dead bodies. Although there is no life, the structure has changed. Lets see what we can tease out of this.

First we need to remember that the bones form the framework of a body, the first thing that happened was that the framework was restored to the way it needed to be.

This is no small matter! If we apply this idea to the church, can we say what the framework might be? What is a right framework? May I suggest that a suitable framework for church is what we often call organic church? It's family-sized groups living in close community. This framework is made, not of bones, but of people. Dry and dusty people who are in disarray or in isolation, such people are not a suitable framework for church life!

People who are correctly arranged, connected together and in right relationship are the basic requirement for something that will have the shape of church about it.

Then the sinews are added. In the body, sinews or tendons connect bones to muscles and sometimes attach two bones together (in the knee for example). All these tendons must be attached if the muscles are to make the framework move.

So perhaps the sinews say something to us about frameworks that are ready for movement. There is so far nothing to cause the movement, but the bones are now suitably equipped. So what might sinews suggest about church? Assuming the framework is in good shape, what might prepare it for movement? I would suggest there are many mechanisms that will do this. Prayer, Bible study, CO2, seven signs in John, eating together regularly, helping one another, spiritual songs. I'm sure you can think of more.

We can now imagine a good church framework (people connected correctly) well-equipped for movement (some good mechanisms, tools and habits). But more is needed, much more.

We need some muscle! Muscles (flesh) turn chemical energy into movement and warmth. What does church need for movement and warmth? Here I'm going to suggest spiritual fruit and in particular love - the Lord's love for us, our love for him, and our love for one another. 'Christ's love compels us', writes Paul (2 Corinthians 5:13-15). If we have love we are driven, but without love we will remain indifferent.

We need love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. This fruit will direct our energies into the mechanics of prayer and Bible study and the rest in ways that are useful. Now we're in pretty good shape - a framework of people in community, prepared with good mechanisms, and with the means to turn energy into movement and warmth.

And skin, so important but often overlooked. Skin provides the senses of touch, hot and cold, texture and so much more. What is the overlooked, protective boundary of church? It's so overlooked that we may not ever think about it, we are just aware of who is part of church and who is outside. We rejoice when someone is transferred from outside to inside, but how do we know? Might it be faith? Why did Paul and Peter both refer to faith as a 'great shield'? (Ephesians 6:16, 1 Peter 1:5) It is faith that defines our boundary, inside there is faith but outside there is not.

So Ezekiel has prophesied and the bones are now bodies that are complete in every way, yet are not breathing. And if this is where things had remained, over time these bodies would have decayed and  become dry bones again.

'Before my very eyes sinew and muscle appeared on them and skin covered them, but they weren't breathing.' (Ezekiel 37:8)

< The bones come together | Index | Prophecy to the breath >

11 December 2011

The way forward

Something is going on, tectonic activity in the foundations of church. Yahshua is moving his people into something new again. He is leading me, I think, to collect material, collate it and make it available.

A new day dawningFor some time I've been aware of the Holy Spirit nudging me in a particular direction. It's as if he's been urging me to move but I haven't always known what to do about it. But now things are becoming clearer for me and I feel I can share them a little more widely.

Back in the late summer, Tony and Felicity Dale were visiting Nettle Hill in the UK (see also the afternoon session and a meeting in Coventry). I contacted them beforehand to see if we could meet up and we were able to spend an afternoon together in the Cotswolds. We had a pub lunch and spent some time chatting.

I explained what I was experiencing. I told them that I felt there was a new move of the Holy Spirit coming, that we were at the beginning of a new phase. Over the last decade or so there's been a great move towards simplicity and organic growth in the church. In particular the CO2 and Luke 10:2 ideas, and a sense of the value of listening and hearing seem to be centrally important. Also I have felt more and more convinced that there'll be a major return of the gifts and fruit of the Spirit in every aspect of church life.

I was encouraged and excited to discover that they felt much the same. I don't mean to put words into their mouths, and they will speak for themselves, but I can tell you what I am hearing from the Lord.

After they returned to the USA I've had some correspondence, mainly with Felicity. They have been led to prayerfully examine the book of Haggai, and Felicity has blogged on that topic several times. I have been feeling the need to delve into Ezekiel. All three of us have been impacted by Roy Godwin's book The Grace Outpouring - the publishers have kindly allowed me to publish extracts from the first chapter.

One need I feel acutely is to create a space on the web for discussion around these things. I set up Organic Wine, a wiki, for that purpose. But it has never felt quite the right thing. And just a few days ago I visited Coventry Cathedral and the Spirit poured out more for me to ponder.

My mind is more settled now, things are becoming clearer. It's like a new day dawning out of the mist. Partly as a result of Coventry I now think that Organic Wine is not the way forward. Instead I'm going to move that information here, onto All About Jesus. It won't be open to editing here, but it will form a repository of material on the internet that I believe will be fundamental and important.

There are other voices saying similar or related things and I'll point you to them whenever I can. The discussion will take place, not on a special wiki site, but in the to and fro of comments on many of the blogs out there, at meetings, and via other internet facilities. This is already happening and I don't think another website is either necessary or helpful at this stage.

The next step (at least for me) is to reorganise the CO2 tab on this blog so that it becomes much wider and more general in nature. Watch this space!

09 December 2011

Coventry Cathedral

< No earlier items | Index | Hearing from the Spirit in Coventry >

On a trip to Coventry today, I visited the old and new cathedrals, expecting to hear from the Holy Spirit while I was there. But he began pouring out thoughts before I left and continued after I arrived home. He delights in abundance!

Remains of stained glassI spent much of today in Coventry, visiting the Cathedral. There are actually two buildings, the old cathedral and the new cathedral, they stand side by side linked by a canopy. The old one is a ruin, destroyed by fire during a night of German bombing in World War II. The new one is the replacement built in the 1950s and 60s. My reason for going was that I have felt for a few weeks that Father wanted me to visit and that he would speak to me while I was there. And he did.

This was the first day that has been both free in my diary and forecast to be sunny. It seemed important to go on a sunny day.

I parked the car in a rather scruffy area marked as the Cathedral Car Park, walked past a university hall of residence and then turned left. I spotted the Cathedral immediately. I remember coming here with my parents to see the building progress so I recognised the scene right away. There's a lot that I could say about the day. Unexpectedly, I began hearing from the Spirit while I was preparing to set out, then again while I was in Coventry,  and yet again in the evening after returning home.

But I'll save that for another time. Tonight I want to leave you with some words of Simon Barrington-Ward, offered as part of his enthronement speech when he became Bishop of Coventry in 1986.
Coventry Cathedral itself offers us a wonderful picture of what Christ's love could do in us. On the night after the bombing when the roof had gone and all those matchless pillars, arcades and clerestories lay on the ground in broken heaps, it took the eye of faith to see what yet could be....Out of the sole sore loss and brokeness was fashioned a new harmony, a new richness, the sign of a healing and reconciling influence was to reach out all over the world.

That is what God's new love in Christ can do in us if only we will yield ourselves to him. The ruins of our very gifts and failure can be made new and brought into a greater pattern.
Yes, exactly! 'The ruins of our very gifts and failure.' I found those words tonight in a little guide book, 'Coventry Cathedral after the flames'.

'The ruins of our very gifts and failure.' It's true, isn't it? I can wield my gifts like weapons to cut down those who see things differently. I've been guilty of precisely that. And that is why the fruit of the Spirit is more fundamental than the gifts of the same Holy Spirit. A gift can be mishandled, misused, misapplied. It's not possible to do that with the fruit. (Galatians 5:13-26)

See also: Coventry pilgrimage

< No earlier items | Index | Hearing from the Spirit in Coventry >

08 December 2011

The broken pot

A broken pot made me think about the church. Repairing the pot was tricky, but putting together the fragmented Humpty-Dumpty church in St Neots would be far, far harder.

A couple of weeks ago we had a bad storm during the night. In the morning one of the patio pots had blown over and the bay tree it contained was sprawled out horizontally. The bay was soon rescued and planted in the garden, but the pot was badly broken.

Normally I would have disposed of the pot and bought a new one. But this pot was rather special.

When Donna and I were married in 1998, our friends Tony and Faith ordered it as a wedding present. Not only was it made specially, it has our names and the date fired into the hand-decorated surface.

The pot just had to be rescued, so out came the Araldite and I spent some time yesterday glueing the shards back together. I learned a lot while doing the work.

For a start, you can't put the pieces together in a random sequence. Experiment (without glue) showed it would be easy to stick one piece back only to make it impossible to fit the next one. Also, it took gentle persuasion to get a snug fit. And I discovered that the adhesive itself takes a certain amount of space, only a little perhaps, but it mounts up and is significant towards the end.

The photos show some of my progress. The pot is now complete once more although the cracks are clearly visible. With some careful use of terracotta filler I hope to make them a lot less noticeable.

This process got me thinking about the church (something that has been on my mind a great deal recently). You see, the church is shattered and needs mending - just like our poor pot. The pieces need to be carefully fitted together. Like the pot, the church is something rather special, Jesus is not going to merely dispose of us and replace us.

Here in St Neots it's not easy even to make a proper catalogue of the pieces. There are three Anglican churches (all called St Marys just to catch the unwary). The Baptists, two Methodist congregations, Roman Catholic, the Evangelical church, United Reformed, and at least two independent groups - Open Door and River Church. Then there are the various little groups I'm involved with and very likely others I'm not aware of. And finally there will be some people who are part of a church meeting in Bedford or Cambridge or Peterborough. I know several of these but surely not all.

How can I put these parts together? I can't even draw up a full and consistent list! What would be the correct sequence? What would I use as adhesive?

Frankly, if the church in St Neots is to be mended it will take someone far, far wiser and more knowledgeable than me. Surely Jesus is the only one capable of such work? And even if I could manage to repair the church in St Neots, what about all the other towns and cities around the world, let alone the millions of small villages?

So at least we know who to look to for the answer.

I do have a sense that he has already begun this most difficult task and that he will not rest until it is completed. Wherever you live and whatever your style of church, are you ready to respond to him? Will you allow him to use you in his work of restoration?

See also:

06 December 2011

Be like your Father

< A pottery lesson | No later items >

I think it will be useful to share the words of another Fisherfolk song, this one from 1979. The track (and the album) is called 'Be like your Father' and it's always been one of my favourites.

Part of the LP cover for 'Be like your Father'It's so easy to live my life with 'me' at the centre. It's called being self-centred and it's not a good thing, not a good thing at all. Yahshua calls us to be other-centred, not self-centred. In fact, I need to live a life focussed first on Father, and then on all those around me. That includes my enemies. What a challenge!

'Be like your Father' is based on Yahshua's own words as reported by Matthew (chapter 5:43-48)

So here are the words of the song. The image shows the album cover.
But I say unto you...

Love your enemies and pray for those who hurt you.
Give to those who ask, don't turn away. And

Refrain:
Be like your Father in heaven above
Who causes his sun to shine on evil and good,
And sends down his rain to quench all men's thirst.
In him we live and move and have our being.

If you forgive your brother so will God forgive you
Do not judge lest you be judged yourselves. And

Refrain

When you see the hungry, feed them from your table.
For the poor and weary be their watering place. And

Refrain

Love your enemies and pray for those who hurt you.
Give to those who ask don't turn away. And

Refrain (x 2)
Thanks go to the Community of Celebration for permission to reproduce the lyrics. The CD is still available from their online store.

I don't have permission to share the music with you, in any case I only have a scratchy copy on an ancient vinyl disc. But perhaps I can offer you a small snippet to give you a feel for it and encourage you to splash out on the CD (crackle free)!

Hmm... I think I've just persuaded myself to buy a fresh copy on CD.

< A pottery lesson | No later items >

05 December 2011

The bones come together

Part 6 of a series - 'The valley of dry bones'
< The word of Yahweh | Index | Sinew, muscle and skin >

Ezekiel begins speaking to the bones and the effect is immediate. There's a clear pattern of actions in a logical sequence; the preliminary need is met as Ezekiel speaks.

Bones in right relationship
'So I prophesied as I'd been told. As I spoke there was a rattling noise and the bones moved together and connected.' (Ezekiel 37:7)

There's a lot of important material for us in just these few words. Let's begin by noting that Ezekiel was obedient. He had been told to speak to the bones and he'd been given the words to say. And now, in obedience, he speaks them out.

Let's remind ourselves of what he was told to say. 'This is what the Lord Yahweh tells these bones: "I'll cause breath to come into you and you'll come alive. I'll attach tendons, cause flesh to appear on you and cover you over with skin. I'll put breath into you and you'll live - then you'll know that I'm Yahweh."'

Notice the repetition, a form of emphasis. First we have breath-life. Then the repetition which also provides more detail, tendons-flesh-skin-breath-life-know. The breath and life are central, the tendons, flesh and skin are necessary enablers, and know is the purpose. 'Know that I'm Yahweh' or 'Know Yahweh' if we follow Sean's suggestion (check the comments in the previous part).

But what happens when Ezekiel pronounces these words of prophecy over the bones? None of the above! What does happen is immediate, however, and implied. In order for Yahweh to attach tendons, first he must move the bones together. They cannot move themselves for they are dead.

So when the dry and dusty bones of church as we see it hear the Word (who is Jesus) we can expect that those bones will move together into right relationship. We can also expect it to be a noisy process, anyone nearby will know about it. And then they will be in the right places for sinew and muscle and skin to cover them over, and spiritual life to fill them until they know him. And then he will have church as he sees it and expects it and can use it.

Ezekiel's obedient pronouncement was prophetic over scattered, broken, captive Israel. They were about to be brought together in Jerusalem and become once more a living nation. They would rebuild the Temple so they might again know Yahweh and have him living amongst them.

But those same words are prophetic over the scattered, broken, captive people who together make up the church in our day. We too need to move together into right relationship with one another. We need the Creator King to bind us together with sinew and muscle and skin.

Writing to the Ephesians, Paul puts it like this: '...we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.' (Ephesians 4:15-16)

We need to be filled with the abundant life of the Spirit of Christ until we truly know him. Then we will be the new Temple built of living stones,  his body here on Earth, a mighty army.

Let the import of that glorious and astonishing destiny fill your heart with hope and expectation. It will happen! These words have been spoken over us by someone greater than Ezekiel, by Christ himself. He has said it. He will do it!

I must now point out the disjointed and broken nature of church as we see it today. Everywhere we see denominations, streams, grouping of all kinds. We see house churches and mega churches and in between churches. These are all dry bones. But the body of Christ as he intends it (and will have it) is one body, a living and breathing body.

All of the parts are involved. Here's the mystery - the denominational and other dry bones will be hidden from view, bound together in right relationship and covered over with flesh and skin.

I suggest you read Ephesians 4:1-16 in full at this point. What will Paul's words say to you about all this?

< The word of Yahweh | Index | Sinew, muscle and skin >

03 December 2011

The word of Yahweh

Part 5 of a series - 'The valley of dry bones'
< Speak to the bones | Index | The bones come together >

Now we come to the heart of the matter, here's the message that Ezekiel is to speak over the dry bones. They are to come to life!

A derelict church in Turkey
Before we look at the words themselves, let's briefly recap on what we've discovered so far.

The Israelites are in captivity in a foreign land and so is Ezekiel; we can see this as applying to the church as well. The world we live in is foreign and often at odds with the Kingdom of heaven.

Yahweh leads Ezekiel into a valley and shows him a lot of scattered bones, the remains of what was once alive. Ezekiel and the Almighty look at the bones very thoroughly. We need to go with Jesus and examine the state of the church carefully in just the same way; will we find life or dryness? And, like Ezekiel, we need to believe that Father can and will put back life into what has become dead. Recognising deadness and believing he will restore life are essential, not optional.

And now we must command what is dead, command the bones to hear what the Master says to them. 'Hear what the Lord says.' This is not only a command, it's also a declaration that the words we speak are indeed his words not our own. With that as background let's consider the words themselves.

'This is what the Lord Yahweh tells these bones: "I'll cause breath to come into you and you'll come alive. I'll attach tendons, cause flesh to appear on you and cover you over with skin. I'll put breath into you and you'll live - then you'll know that I'm Yahweh."' (Ezekiel 37:5-6)

It seems that one of the reasons Israel hadn't been treating Yahweh correctly was that they had not known him. Perhaps it was the overriding reason. You can almost hear the distress mingled with hope in the Lord's heart - 'Then you'll know that I'm Yahweh'. He wants a people who are not dry, scattered bones. He wants a people who know who he is and love him and treat him accordingly.

We need a right view of the Lord's power and authority and glory. We need a right view of his Father heart. We need to grasp the depth and height and breadth of his love for us. It was just the same in the time of Haggai. They had returned to the land of Israel at that time but they still didn't understand that their priority should be the Lord's well-being, not their own. If they had truly loved him they would have built his house. The problem is not the lack of building, but the lack of love that would have provoked building.

The word translated 'breath' is important. It is 'ruach' in Hebrew and it also means 'spirit'. He wants to fill us with breath so that we will live again. Or, he wants to fill us with his Spirit so that we will live again.

I believe that Father has a great volume of blessing and authority and effectiveness stored and ready to pour out on his people. But to some degree we will affect the timing. It will be poured out when we, the church, are ready. The question is - are we ready? And if not, is there anything we can do to come into that place of being ready?

< Speak to the bones | Index | The bones come together >

02 December 2011

Doctors and patients, a lesson for the church?

Watch and listen as Abraham Verghese shares some thoughts on doctors, patients, and the relationship between the two. Could there be a valuable lesson here for the church?

Abraham VergheseI have just watched a TED Talk by Abraham Verghese; it was an experience to remember. In eighteen minutes of deeply significant sharing, Professor Verghese conveys the basis of an excellent relationship between doctor and patient. In his opinion it's a relationship at risk. I think he's right.

I must say that I was deeply struck by some parallels between how medicine is practiced and how we do church. It really was one of those precious 'Aha' moments that we all have from time to time.

I suggest you watch the video first and then take a look at the questions I've added below. While watching, if you follow Jesus, please bear in mind how you relate to those who do not. Otherwise, just enjoy the talk for whatever good things you may draw from it.



(If the video doesn't appear you can try this link.)

Now for those questions.
  • Can you think of attributes of doctors and patients that might be relevant as we seek to introduce people to Jesus?
  • Touch is an important aspect of the doctor/patient relationship. What might be equivalent to touch in the spiritual realm?
  • Trust is another critical factor. How can a physician build a patient's trust? Is this relevant spiritually?
  • What might be the spiritual equivalent of technical medical equipment?
  • Any other thoughts?
Please comment and include your answers to these questions. I will revisit this topic again in a few days time but hopefully we can have a useful discussion here first.

28 November 2011

What is the Spirit saying to the church?

The Spirit is speaking to the church, but are we listening? And are we ready to live daily for Jesus with him front and centre in our lives and in our hearts and minds?

A graft unionSpirit and breath are the same word in both Hebrew and Greek. So when, in Old or New Testament writings, you read 'spirit' you might also read 'breath' and vice versa.

The Holy Spirit is the Breath of Truth (John 15:26), the Breath of Power (2 Timothy 1:7), but above all the Breath of Christ (Romans 8:9).

The Holy Spirit is always speaking to the church. How could it be otherwise?

The church is the body of Christ, the Bride of Christ. How could the breath not fill the body? How could Christ's Spirit not speak to Christ's Bride?

A new thing - We are at a time when the Spirit is again speaking to the church. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say we are at a time when the church is again listening to the Spirit. Don't misunderstand me, there are always those in the church who are listening raptly to the Spirit of Christ, but sometimes there is a wider, wholesale hearing that changes all our preconceived ideas and sets the church on a new track. I believe this is such a time.

There are a number of voices now speaking about different aspects of this new thing, and a number of people beginning to see some common themes. What it will become we do not know, but we will know.

Perhaps the central theme is that the Father and the Son and the Spirit matter, that they have a significance we can't overstate. Everyone will say, 'But we already know that!' Well, yes we do, but sometimes we know it in our minds without being driven by it in our hearts.

We know that without him we are nothing, yet without us he is still everything and will, if necessary, raise up the stones to worship him. We know that Jesus said, 'Apart from me you can do nothing' (John 15:5). We know that he said he does only what he sees the Father do (John 5:19), and says only what he hears the Father say (John 12:49-50). We know all these things but we still don't always live them out day by day.

It's all about him first, not us. It's about being in his presence, not being busy with our own stuff. It's really about knowing him, having a close and personal relationship with him - individually and as the church (his Bride).

Bullet points - Having said all that, here's a list of eight aspects that have come to my attention over the last few years. There may be more than this, of course. I've added a reference or two after each one, these are books, articles, or quotes that expand on the topic.
At first I thought it would be useful to put them in some kind of meaningful sequence, but I couldn't get that to work. I think the reason is that all eight need to be in parallel, not in sequence. In fact they are so intertwined and interdependent that any kind of structure seems to do violence to the underlying truth.

I need to shout this from the rooftops...

Focus ever more fully on Jesus!

Everything we are and everything we do needs to stem from having him full and central in our hearts and minds every day, every minute. Isn't that what it means to be 'grafted in' to Jesus? He is the vine, his Father is the gardener, and we are grafted-in shoots.

25 November 2011

Speak to the bones

Part 4 of a series - 'The valley of dry bones'
< Taking a good look | Index | The word of Yahweh >

Now Yahweh says something strange to Ezekiel. He tells Ezekiel to speak to the bones, to prophecy to them. Is there any point in speaking to what is dead?

The complex structure of the ear
Let's look carefully at Ezekiel 37:4.

Then he told me, 'Prophecy to these bones. Tell them, "Dry bones! Hear Yahweh's word."'

There are several important points to notice. If Ezekiel hadn't understood these points the amazing things that are about to happen would not have happened. At least, they wouldn't have happened through Ezekiel.

Yahweh would have found another way, another person to serve him. Ezekiel would have missed out. Hearing is important, and the mechanism for hearing is complex.

Listen and speak - Yahweh spoke to Ezekiel. Ezekiel listened so that he could pass on what he had received. This is the place where we often go wrong. We see a need and we act to meet it, we say what we think best, we do what we think best.

It's good that we want to communicate and act, but it's not good that we decide what to say and what to do. Even Yahshua didn't do this, he set us a good example, he said only what he heard the Father say (John 12:49-50), he did only what he saw the Father do (John 5:19).

If we don't get this first step right we become unusable, no good for the eternal purposes of the Most High. Listen first. That's what Ezekiel did and so should we.

It may not make much sense - 'Prophecy to these bones', says Yahweh. Put yourself in Ezekiel's place, try to imagine it. Bones are not animate objects. At one time they were but now they are not. Here's a conversation that didn't take place - but it might have done. If Ezekiel had been like me it probably would have gone something along these lines...

Yahweh: 'Listen to me carefully.' - Ezekiel: 'Yes, Lord. I'm listening.'

Yahweh: 'I want you to talk to those bones over there, I want you to tell them that..' - Ezekiel: 'Wait, wait, wait. I must be hearing wrong, Lord. You want me to talk to who?'

Yahweh: 'Not who, what. I want you to talk to the bones'. - Ezekiel: 'No, Lord.'

Yahweh: 'No? What do you mean - no?' - Ezekiel: 'Er.. No ears, Lord. I mean the bones can't hear, they have no ears. They won't hear me.'

Yahweh: 'I'll deal with that, you just get on and prophecy, OK?' - Ezekiel: 'But my friends will think I'm stupid.' - Yahweh: 'And your point is?'

Yahweh: 'You're wasting time here, Ezekiel. I need a job done and I need it to be done right away. I'll find someone else.' - Ezekiel: 'No, no. I'll do it. I'll talk to the bones. Can I use a really quiet voice, Lord?'

Yahweh: 'I need a very loud voice for this job. If you're speaking to dry bones you have to speak up.' - Ezekiel: 'But, Lord, I have no idea what to say.'

Yahweh: 'Might that be because I haven' t told you yet? Hmm? You must command them to hear me, even though they have no ears.' - Ezekiel: 'OK-a-a-a-a-y'

Yahweh: 'Tell them, "Dry bones! Hear Yahweh's word."'

Hear his word! - Before Ezekiel can give the message to the bones, he must command them to hear. Assuming we can get past steps 1 and 2, this third step is something we often miss out. Before giving the message we need to command the deaf to hear.

This is a step of preparation. It may require months or even years of prayer. It may mean demanding to be heard over and over and over again. It may mean criticism and derision and even facing serious abuse. But it needs to be done.

There are no short cuts in hearing and speaking, seeing and doing.

Will we be like Ezekiel? Will we be unwavering in our obedience even if we appear foolish or unpopular or at risk?

And is it worthwhile speaking to something that's dead? Yes! Lazarus was dead, Yahshua spoke to him, and he came out of the grave.

< Taking a good look | Index | The word of Yahweh >

19 November 2011

Taking a good look

Part 3 of a series - 'The valley of dry bones'
< Dry bones in the valley | Index | Speak to the bones >

Ezekiel has been brought into the middle of the valley and the Mighty One has a question for him. Ezekiel answers far more wisely than I would have done!

Scattered bones'He guided me back and forth amongst them and I saw a huge number of bones lying on the ground in the valley - very dry bones indeed. He asked me: "Son of man, is it possible for these bones to be alive?" I answered: "Yahweh Almighty, only you know".' (Ezekiel 37:2-3)

Take a really good look - So Ezekiel is there in the valley and Yahweh leads him about amongst the bones. This is not just a casual look, it's a really thorough examination of the situation. Notice how Ezekiel is guided back and forth, this is not 'Go and look and I'll wait here' on Yahweh's part. It's an intimate togetherness in which they both go, we can almost imagine Ezekiel as a child hand-in-hand with a parent.

I should warn you that the rest of this article might seem very gloomy. But please remember, this is a low point in a deep valley and things get better - much better!

For Ezekiel this is all about Israel in captivity under Babylon. For us it should also speak about the church in captivity under the thinking and dictates of the world. We can no more shake ourselves free from the influence of the world than Israel could have shaken herself free from Babylon. Yet we need to be free.

Because we are in the world it is very, very natural to apply processes like planning, teaching, organising and structuring, hierarchies, leadership, and Power Point. There is nothing wrong with these methods in themselves, but they do have the sneaky potential to replace an intimate walk with Papa day by day. Methods alone are death, Jesus alone is life. Where would you rather be? If you choose both, be aware there will be conflict and don't say I didn't warn you.

We can learn from Ezekiel's thorough examination of the bones. We really do need to be 'guided back and forth' amongst the remains of church. It's time to examine the situation very, very carefully and thoroughly. A casual glance is not going to be enough. Father's guidance is essential, not optional. The good news is that there are people being guided back and forth today. I am aware of some of them but I'm certain there are many more I'm not aware of. This is not something we initiate. It's something Father is initiating; guiding us to become aware of the situation.

Dry as a bone - Ezekiel sees that there are huge numbers of these bones. But he also notices that they are very dry indeed. This is significant too. These are not the remains of something that was recently alive. Think about the process of decay - the muscle and other soft tissue is the first to go, skin and hair takes much longer, sinew and cartilage require even longer, and to get to the stage where the bones are disarticulated and scattered and powder dry takes a very long time indeed.

This is true of the church too. Don't miss the point, I'm not saying that individual believers are dead or dry, this is about how we are fitted together and active together - church. What should be a mighty army is dead, dry and scattered; church has been in that state for a long, long time.

So here is Ezekiel arm in arm with the Great One, checking over the state of the remains. And Yahweh looks at Ezekiel and asks: 'Can these bones live?' Only a wise person would answer this correctly. Reason tells us dry, scattered bones cannot live - ever. They have already had their chance. But Ezekiel says: 'You tell me, Lord!'

If only we would stop talking to one another and begin listening to Father together instead. If only!

Death is in the world but life is in Christ. If careful inspection shows dry bones then we need to know that Jesus is our only hope. Every time we have come off the church rails it's because we've turned away from Christ and trusted instead in mission, or training, or... fill in the blanks. We do not need a new programme, we need a new vision of Christ!

When we examine the state of the church and how it needs to change, are we walking arm-in-arm with the King or are we going on our own, for our own ends, in our own wisdom and strength?

< Dry bones in the valley | Index | Speak to the bones >

18 November 2011

About us

Is it possible to write a short statement that captures who we are in Christ? It will need to describe much more than what we believe; instead it should outline our attitudes and behaviour in our day to day living.

An early creed
There are plenty of creeds out there, statements of what we believe. A creed tries to crystallise the main, significant and essential points of our faith. But faith is only part of the story, just as important are the attitudes and actions of our daily lives - the practical outworkings of our faith.

This is a first attempt to write out such a statement. It's not so much a statement of faith, more a statement of intended living.

I wrote a first draft some months ago, but I was encouraged to revise it and publish it by Ross Rohde's recent article on 'Viral Jesus'.

One of the problems with any written creed, and perhaps a potential problem with this statement too, is that agreeing to it or even saying it can become more important than following Jesus. Mere words can never be more important than a person, and no other person can be as important as Jesus.

Here's the current version; it would be good to have some comments. What do you think of the statement as it stands? Can you suggest improvements? Do the two main points (unity in the body and activity in the world) come over as clearly as they should? Are there other things that should be included? Would you feel able to use this statement or a similar one to describe your own life and witness?
We follow Jesus, meeting locally in a number of different places, and we recognise that we are each part of the Church in the places where we live. As far as Christ is concerned, his people are one people in every village, town, city or nation and we choose to have that same perspective because he is the Head and we are his body.
For this reason we recognise as our brothers and sisters all who have turned away from sin, believe in Jesus Christ as King, and intend to put him ahead of everything else in life. For our part we do not want matters of doctrine, tradition, understanding, personality, language, race, status or indeed anything at all to come between us and any other part of the local Church.
In following Jesus daily we want to bless the communities where we live. We wish to grow in grace and in love for one another, for our neighbours, and even for those who may oppose us. Our love compels us to share the good news about Jesus whenever we can, not only in words but also by the way we live our lives.

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