Showing posts with label church. Show all posts
Showing posts with label church. Show all posts

16 February 2016

Shoals and flocks, church works like this

Jesus often used biological systems to illustrate the kingdom of heaven - yeast, seeds, fruit, trees, weeds. He didn't say so much about church, only in Matthew's gospel is the Greek word 'ekklesia' used, and in Matthew 16:18 he tells us that he will build his church. What can we learn about church from living systems?

Swarming robots
Swarming robots
Everything else about the church is found, not in the gospels, but in the remainder of the New Testament. It's worth noting though, that Jesus did teach his disciples to love, respect and serve one another. He pointed out that if he, their master and teacher, served them, so should they serve one another (John 13:12-17). And he made it very clear that they were not to rule over one another like the Gentiles did (Matthew 20:25-28, Mark 10:42-45).

So then, how are leading and following supposed to work in the church? Peter Farmer posted recently and pointed out that new forms of organisation might be like the flocking of birds or the shoaling of fish. If he is right (and I believe he is) then the normal ideas of leader and follower don't make much sense. Tell me, where in a flock of birds or a shoal of fish will you find the leader? One possible answer might be 'the one at the front', but this doesn't work. You don't have to watch a flock or a shoal for very long to see constant changing of position. There is not one identifiable leader. There is a great deal of coming and going, twisting and turning, and the flock or shoal as a whole seems to move purposefully - but how?

Studies of flocks, shoals and herds, swarms of bees and gnats, and foraging ants all show the same thing. Each individual is making its own choices of speed and direction independently of the flock. The individuals respond to certain cues, tending to keep the same distance from their neighbours and heading in more or less the same direction. There may be other cues; bees communicate direction and distance by special movements, ants leave trails of pheromones.

Simple robots (virtual or physical) can be programmed to do much the same. Give them just a few very simple rules and they will form swarms and move together.

In church life, we too follow some very simple rules. Here are some examples, perhaps you can think of more. (Leave a comment below if you can.)

  • We focus on Jesus and do our best to follow him
  • We pay attention to the promptings of the Holy Spirit
  • We meet one another often
  • We encourage one another
  • We love one another
  • We pay attention the gifts we see in one another
  • We ask one another for help when we need it
  • We pray
  • We share food together
  • We show the world that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Taking these together and integrating them, I suggest we can see Jesus at the centre, discipleship, outreach, APEST leadership, an organic and living church, and an exciting journey together. If this sounds familiar - it should! For more, check out Jesus, Disciple, Mission, Church (JDMC). Notice the light touch of the APEST form of leading one another. We are all gifted and there are times for each one to contribute something that the others need to hear, see, understand or do.

I have a strong sense that as we keep these simple rules we will find we are living and moving in unison. Like the birds, fish and other animals mentioned above, we make constant adjustments to our course, but nobody commands us (other than the Spirit of Christ).

Not only do we not need leaders in the normal sense of that word, they will rather quickly take us way off track. If you think that is not the case just look at church history. If you like, look also at the history of Israel in the Old Testament. Open your eyes, see what human leadership has done over and over again. Church is a shoal in many ways and the right course is a course of togetherness, guided by those very simple rules.

Peter Farmer uses some interesting words as he considers a murmuration (flock) of starlings. These are trust, humility, unity and diversity. Do you recognise these in the list of simple rules above? He adds that the murmuration is highly adaptive, flexible, intuitive, constantly changing, everyone plays an important part and it's characterised by flow. All of these are attributes we would like to see in church life. Do you see them in the traditional denominations? Do you see them fully anywhere? Is there a sense of direction here.

How can we rethink human leadership to set the church free to flow and turn as it is intended to do? Christ's body should surely be nimble, athletic, fit and healthy. She should be adaptive, flexible, intuitive, constantly changing, everyone playing a part, and flowing.

I believe we face an important choice. Will we continue to control ourselves to a standstill? Or will we let go of all that holds us back and go with the flow of the Holy Spirit, living moment by moment by the simplest of rules? In the end, they really distill down to love.

29 April 2015

Love and forgive, or forgive and love?

It's impossible to love someone you have not yet forgiven. Or, to put it another way, if you truly love a person you will certainly forgive them. So we cannot say which comes first, love or forgiveness. We must conclude that they arrive together, as a package. Love and forgiveness cannot be separated, if you have one you also have the other.

Reaching to touch
Reaching to touch
It's the same with the Father's love towards us. If he says he loves us - and he does - then he also forgives us. And if he forgives us, we know that we are already loved by him.

But beware, for hatred and condemnation (or judgement) go together in just the same way. Do not hate/condemn anyone.

We can't take any of this for granted. Remember that love and forgiveness must be received as well as given, and receiving requires repentance as the first step. We should be constantly grateful to Papa for his love/forgiveness and for sending his Son into this broken world to demonstrate that love/forgiveness. And we should also be grateful to our friends who show us the love/forgiveness we so badly need from them, a pale image of the love/forgiveness of the Father.

So praise you Father for everything you have done for us, praise you Jesus for coming into our world, and praise you Holy Spirit for remaining in us as a deposit of what we will inherit.

And thank you to all my friends (who are many) for everything you have done for me. Thank you for reminding me by your gifts of love, of that greater, heavenly gift of love that we all share.

And remember that this is also the root of mission. How can I receive this great gift without wanting to share it with everyone who will listen? It's just a matter of reaching out to people in ways that will touch them and cause them to search for spiritual truth and discover that Jesus loves/forgives them too.

13 December 2014

Every chapter is necessary

The recently published book, Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity, contains twenty-six chapters. Each one discusses a positive aspect of church, something that is an essential part of the whole. Reading from the book last night I was deeply impacted by Chapter 22 from Kathy Escobar; the chapter is entitled A church that restores dignity where it's been lost.

She writes
Jesus calls [Lazarus] out of the tomb, but then he looks to the people around him - his community, friends, and advocates - and says to them 'unbind him'. Unbind him. Unwrap him. Take off his graveclothes.

I think God calls us to participate in this uncovering-unwrapping-unbinding with each other through healing community.
Kathy Escobar's chapter
Kathy Escobar's chapter
And it struck me that although church is much more than the sum of its parts, all of the parts need to be actively present. There is a synergy, a sparking of abundant life that comes from the interdependence of the parts. Church is a person, the Bride of Christ.

Like all people, you and I are much more than the sum of hands, ears, spleen, heart, lungs and all the rest. But if any of these were missing we would either die or be unable to fully function. And it's just the same with the church.

Just consider some of the other chapter themes. The church cherishes Jesus Christ, exhibits personal holiness, counts every member as key, assembles for mutual edification, and knows eternal life is free. Imagine all of those being true in a church that fails to restore dignity where it's been lost. It would be a church without the active compassion necessary to unbind those who so desperately need it.

Or consider a church that clings to scriptural truth, is most notable for its love and is united in Christ but doesn't follow the lead of the Holy Spirit. This would be a church that failed to hear where to go and what to do and did everything in its own strength.

Or what about a church that was composed of peacemakers, viewed itself as a people, restored dignity but failed to proclaim the gospel clearly?

The chapters of this book all stand alone and can be read alone. But they often overlap so that there are echoes and glimpses of them in one another. Yet taken together, with no part missing or inactive, they describe a holistic church, a wholesome church and a church that is alive and active and effective in the world. There are other aspects that are not explicitly covered in the book, prayer for example. But these are implied throughout in a variety of ways.

Church is as complex as any living organism, and just like a living organism it is not only complex but also multi-faceted, and astonishingly well constructed. The church is also alive with the life of Christ. And every part contributes!

01 December 2014

Simple Church is now available

The twenty-four author, collaborative book Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity is now available to buy online and in bookshops. You can buy it direct from the publisher, Redeeming Press, or you can order it online from Amazon in both the USA and the UK. I was given the opportunity to write the third chapter, A Church That Follows the Lead of the Holy Spirit.


Simple Church, the paperback
Simple Church, the paperback
Here's a review I wrote for Amazon.

What has one purpose, but twenty-four authors

This book does!

The editor, Eric Carpenter, has put together contributions from around the globe; and every single chapter describes an aspect of church life seen from the perspective of oneness and harmony. The book succeeds in its stated aim of filling a much-needed gap, expressing what the authors believe church can be, and doing so in a wholly positive way.

I am one of the authors, writing chapter three on following the lead of the Holy Spirit. But I have to tell you that I am blown away by the scope, insight and depth of the other twenty-three chapters that I did not write. The book contains sections on glorifying and enjoying the One we worship, living radically, building the body, impacting the world and proclaiming salvation. The focus throughout is on inclusive, positive and straightforward ways of living out what we believe. If you're looking for an uplifting read that will challenge and encourage you, this could be just the book for you.

It's refreshing to read a book so empty of criticism, yet full of insights and passion. Turn these pages and you will find personal stories, good analysis, and original thoughts. Expect to be changed and encouraged as you read, be prepared to laugh in some places, to cry in others, and to come away with fresh understandings and a determination to live more completely in the unity that is already ours in Christ.

Read this book, I don't think you will regret it.

And here's another review, this time from Jeremy Myers.

Lots of Christians talk about church unity, but usually what they mean is, "If you believe like we do and act like we do, then we can be unified."

This book seeks to look at several things that all people of all (almost all, anyway) forms of church can be unified about. Though most of the 24 authors of this book practice various "simple" or "missional" forms of church, this book is not for those sorts of Christians only, but for everybody who hopes and prays along with Jesus "That they may be one..."

The book is divided into 5 areas in which Christians can be unified: (1) Glorying and Enjoying God, (2) Living Radically as followers of Jesus, (3) Building up the Body of Christ, (4) Impacting the World through missions and service, and (5) Proclaiming the freeness of salvation.

The 24 authors of this book come from a variety of backgrounds and church experiences, with many of them coming from or currently serving on the mission field overseas. Several of the authors have published other books, and almost all of them have blogs about church, theology, missions, and following Jesus. By way of full disclosure, I am one of the contributors to this book, but have been challenged and blessed by every chapter in it.

If you buy the book and review it for us on Amazon, you will receive the unified and most heartfelt gratitude of twenty-four authors. With most books you'd do well to get the gratitude of more than one!

06 November 2014

Simple Church (the book)

There's a new book ready for publication, pre-orders are now being accepted by Redeeming Press and Amazon. It's called Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity.

Front cover
Front cover
Why all the excitement? This is a book with a difference, it aims to show how we can be one even though we are many. Unity doesn't mean uniformity, it means togetherness despite the differences. Indeed, the differences between us should be seen as a great strength. There is balance in diversity; it's a wonderful guard against the propagation of errors.

I'm including a preview of the book cover (click the image for a larger view) and an extract from Chapter Four, A Church that follows the lead of The Holy Spirit in all things. I was delighted to have the opportunity to contribute this chapter to the book and grateful to the editor, Eric Carpenter, for entrusting it to me.

You can also read the blurb from the back cover (again, click the image to enlarge it).
Back cover blurb
Back cover blurb
The Holy Spirit teaches us to be more like Christ. His fruit builds in our lives over time. He equips us by pouring out His gifts as and when they are needed. He builds us in relationship. The Holy Spirit sends us out on mission. He want us to live in the world as a blessing and a challenge. He is always doing new things. When we meet, the Spirit meets with us. After all, Jesus lives in each one of us and the Holy Spirit fills us to overflowing. Usually that overflowing serves to inform our meetings, guide our thoughts, lift our hearts into the presence of the Most High and speak to us moment by moment in our lives.

What would church be like without the Spirit? It’s quite hard to imagine. I wonder if it could even be called ‘church’ at all! Church without the Spirit of Christ? I don’t think so!

21 January 2014

More soup and bread

Visiting Huntingdon with soup again, we are astonished at the way Father is leading us. We spent several hours walking and meeting people, but nobody needed or wanted soup. But just as we were about to leave we met a man on a mobility scooter and everything changed.

In Huntingdon
In Huntingdon
Following the first soup run to Huntingdon, we have repeated the exercise twice more.

On 12th January Sean went on his own as Matt and I were at Open Door in St Neots. And on 19th Matt, Kevin and I visited Huntingdon with flasks of Donna's tomato soup.

I'd better backtrack a little. Kevin is a friend from Caffè Nero in St Neots. He's part of a group of local people I've got to know quite well by visiting Nero's between 15:00 and 16:00 several times a week. With a swollen ankle and visitors over the Christmas period it's been quite a while since I was there.

Meeting on the street - I had met a group of the Nero guys in town. They were chatting in the street and I stopped to join the conversation. It crossed my mind to invite Kevin to join us on 19th, and I was amazed by his enthusiasm to come along and help with the soup run. Matt and I loaded the soup, rolls and paper cups into the car and collected Kevin from Nero's. John and Gordon were there as well and they were very supportive of Kevin.

When we arrived in Huntingdon we spent some time walking, chatting with people who were willing to talk (and a few who were not), and offering soup. We visited the river bank, a play area, the bus station, the High Street, and other parts of town. But we failed to give away a single cup of soup.

A special encounter - We sat by the fountain, warmed up our hands with some of our own cups of soup, and chatted. Just as we were considering leaving, we were making our way along the High Street and saw a man sitting on a disability scooter. Kevin was very clear and definite at this point, walking right up to the man and offering him soup [Tweet it!]. After a few moments he said he would like soup and Kevin gave him some from one of our paper cups.

Soon we began chatting about football and other things. Gerald told us a bit about himself and explained that he was waiting for his wife who was in one of the shops nearby. When she returned we chatted briefly with her too, and then I asked Gerald if we could bless him. He agreed, so we prayed a short prayer for him and for his wife before saying goodbye and heading home. Gerald wanted to shake us all by the hand before we left, there was a real connection between us.

All three of us felt we were in Huntingdon that morning specifically to meet Gerald and his wife. It's not that the walking and talking in and around the town centre wasn't good. It was good but it wasn't special. Meeting Gerald was special, and we knew it.

We don't know what will come of this. We don't know if we'll meet Gerald again. We will continue to pray for him and for his wife. And we are excited about what is happening in Huntingdon!

Questions:

  • What makes a meeting special? Is it about us, or about the person we meet, or about the Almighty who arranges our day if we are following him?
  • Matt and I almost passed by the one person we were supposed to meet in Huntingdon. But Kevin's eyes, mind and heart were wide open. What might you miss in your own life if you are not fully awake and open?

See also:


14 January 2014

Come to the mountain

What are the basic rhythms of our lives as followers of Jesus? They involve coming into his presence and going in his Name, and that, really, is all there is to it. Following Jesus is not complex or hard; he says it is easy and that his burden is light and comfortable.

The view towards Coniston
The view towards Coniston
I was at a church meeting recently and The Holy Spirit gave me the words 'Come to the mountain'.

I knew that if I began by speaking these words out, the rest of the prophecy would follow, but I didn't feel it would be acceptable to just speak, and I knew that if I'd gone to the front and asked to share it, the moment would have gone and I'd have lost the flow.

There's an immediacy about prophecy that will not be denied. So I borrowed a pen and jotted the words down as they came. Here they are.

Come to the mountain. Come!

From the mountain comes your salvation.
From the mountain comes your holiness.
From the mountain comes your light.
From the mountain comes purpose, grace, glory, power, peace, love, honour, authority and hope.

Come to the mountain.

I AM that Mountain.
I AM the Rock of your salvation.
I AM dependable.
Now I say to you, go in my Name,
Go in the authority, grace, love and peace that I have poured out upon you.
Go into the world, for I AM with you.

I don't know that these would have been the words I would have spoken; they are almost certainly not. But the gist of the message is probably the same.

Coming and going - And it seems to me that coming to the Mountain and going into the world are at the heart of all that we do. Jesus says, 'Come to me everyone who is tired and struggling, I'm gentle and I'll give you rest. My load is light, the weight I lay on your shoulders is manageable and comfortable' (Matthew 11:28-30).

In coming to him we will also be gathering together. When we are where he is, we will inevitably find his other followers in that same place. We don't gather because we decide to be together, we gather around him. Moths don't gather as a cloud because they want to be together but because they are drawn to the light.

Does he send us out together? Yes he does. Jesus taught his followers to go out in twos (Luke 10:1-2). We are to go, not as a cloud around the Light who is Jesus, but in smaller groups. We do not go alone, we go in company, but we go in the company of a few.

So if we are attracted to him, we will be among many. But if we are obedient to him we will be among a few. And because we need to do both, sometimes we'll gather together and sometimes we'll go out with a few.

Basic rhythms of life - Coming into the Light and going in his Name are the basic rhythms of following Jesus [Tweet it!], they are the pattern of discipleship and missional living. These were the rhythms when he walked the dusty roads and hills of Galilee and Judaea with his followers, they were the same rhythms during the time of the early church, they are the basis of life for his persecuted people in China and Pakistan and Indonesia and many other places, and they are the same rhythms of discipleship and mission that the church in the West is beginning to rediscover.

So the call to all his people is twofold. 'Come to the Mountain' and 'Go into the world'. We are not truly following Jesus unless we are doing both. Come into his presence singing, 'Jesus is Lord'. Go into the world sharing in practical ways the good news that he is the Lord of love and of forgiveness and of freedom.

And rejoice! Again I say, rejoice!

Note: The photo was taken from near the top of Coniston Old Man, a mountain in the English Lake District. The view shows Coniston Water and the lovely little town of Coniston. Click the image for a larger view.

Questions:

  • Are you gathering around the Light? Are you going into the world? Consider if and how you do these things.
  • Is there anything you should change about your gathering and going? Pray about it.
  • When you are on a mountain you can see the country below laid out like a tapestry, you see it as a whole in a way you cannot do when you are in it. Is this significant for discipleship and mission? In what way?

See also:

12 January 2014

Sharing soup with strangers

Here's what happened when we took some tentative first steps in reaching out in Huntingdon. We enjoyed good soup, met interesting people, had some great conversations, and found that Jesus was with us and took us straight to the right places and people.


Huntingdon town centre
Huntingdon town centre
Back in December Sean told me that he wanted to do something positive for people on the streets.

Reading Chris Duffett's blog I'd found a story about Louise Frood, a young Baptist pioneer who had taken soup and bread onto the High Street looking for people who are hungry, lonely or willing to talk.

Sean had taken this very much to heart and wanted to do something similar. We decided there and then to put 5th January into our diaries and make a start.

Giving it a try - On Sunday 5th I drove over to Sean's with two large vacuum flasks and a pile of paper cups. Sean was already making leek and potato soup when I arrived and we filled the flasks, drove to Huntingdon, and set out to walk the streets from about ten o'clock.

It was a fresh morning, the shops were not yet open, and there were only a few people around. We walked down the High Street, looped around the back and returned. Then Sean suggested another street where he thought there would be someone selling the Big Issue and, sure enough, there was. We poured out some soup and sat on the pavement to talk, soon getting to know Richard a little and having some good conversation. We were with Richard for quite some time; when we decided to move on again he suggested we try the bus station.

Sure enough, the bus station is a warm place to go when the streets are cold and there we found Paul and Matt. Sean spent some time chatting with Paul, while I sat next to Matt and quickly discovered we had a lot in common. Matt has recently lost his job and has nowhere to live at the moment. He follows Jesus and has a similar understanding about church to Sean and me. All three of us have a strong sense that we are supposed to meet again; we are waiting to see where the Holy Spirit will lead us.

The results - Now, just a week later, Matt is using the spare room in my house and Sean is out on the soup run again. I can't make it today, but plan to be back in Huntingdon with him again next Sunday. Watch this space!

For me, the take-home message is that on our first day of obedience in taking soup to Huntingdon, Sean and I found three interesting people. A tiny amount of obedience led immediately to a remarkable result [Tweet it!]. Neither of us had the faith to expect such an outcome, both of us know we must continue whether or not amazing things like this happen every time.

In the end the outcome is not in our hands, but in Jesus' hands. He provides, he leads, he sends us but he also accompanies us. Who could want a greater guide and friend than that?

Questions: 
  • Are you willing to take a risk with your time, your money or your reputation?
  • Have you ever tried reaching people you don't already know?
  • What could you do to open up possibilities for conversation? How will you make significant contact?

See also:


22 November 2013

Prayer, Bible study, story telling

Here's an opportunity for some free online training. Steve Addison presents a session on following Jesus and making disciples. It's no substitute for face-to-face contact with a trainer, but it's invaluable as a taster. If you get the chance to meet Steve, take it. But watch this and read the books anyway.

Steve Addison's website
Steve Addison's website
Steve Addison is an Australian with a calling, in his own words, to 'spark church planting movements, everywhere'.

He has written some great books, 'Movements that change the world' and 'What Jesus Started' are particular favourites on my electronic bookshelf.

Steve also runs courses all over the world and is coming to Nottingham next week for the Newforms National Gathering 2013. I'll be there, and I'm greatly looking forward to hearing him.

Recently, Steve Addison released an online training video available to watch live or for download. It is an excellent starter for anyone wanting to get out amongst local people and reach them with the best news in the known universe. It focusses on prayer, simple discovery Bible study and story telling.

Read his two books mentioned above as well, you will not be disappointed by either the style or the content. They are very readable but at the same time, challenging.

Questions:

  • Watch the video. Do you think you will approach people differently from now on?
  • What single thing that you have learned will most affect the way you think and behave in future?
  • Have you ever wondered what Jesus' daily life was like? Read 'What Jesus Started' and find out. [Tweet it!]

See also:

21 September 2013

Cruising the gospel

Alan Hirsch urges us to cycle through the gospels as one way of keeping Jesus central in our hearts, thoughts, words and deeds. It's good advice and I've been trying it out online. Consider joining me in a trip through Matthew. After that we'll move on to Mark.

Cruising the Gospel
Cruising the Gospel
For the last couple of months I've been busy with a new project, Cruising the Gospel.

It's one of the reasons there have been so few posts on Journeys of Heart and Mind recently. So here's what I've been doing and why.

Cruising the Gospel sprang from a desire to focus more on the person, words and actions of Jesus. To this end I've been reading a short passage every day and writing some notes on what I'm discovering.

If you'd like to join me why not read along and leave comments with your own thoughts?

Forgotten Ways - Alan Hirsch in The Forgotten Ways tells us that making Jesus the centre of all we are and do is an essential element for rapid and spontaneous church growth. This is not just a matter of studying his life, it's not enough to know about him; we need to live him and breathe him and be deeply affected by him from moment to moment.

Not only that, Alan has concluded that having Christ at the centre is just one of six essential strands that we in the West have forgotten (although they remain latent in all of us and can be reactivated).

For each of the six he suggests things that we can do to influence our thinking in useful ways. Cycling through the gospels is one of these.

Come and join us. Let us know what you think. Visit Cruising the Gospelsign up for the emails, or grab the RSS or Atom feed for your favourite news reader. Join in the fun.

Questions:

  • If you don't have Christ at the heart of everything, how can you even be a disciple?
  • Other than cycling through the gospels, what else might you do to keep Jesus central?
  • Why not take a trial run in Matthew 16:13-28?

See also:

24 June 2013

Those beatitudes

The beatitudes are well known and much loved by many. We try looking at the opposites of those who are blessed to see if we can throw more light on the meaning of these eight statements. If we take them seriously and personally there are some real challenges to all of us in these beatitudes.

A peaceful river scene
A peaceful river scene
Let's look at the beatitudes in a little more detail. I mentioned them in my last post and wrote that I'd revisit them in a bit more detail. And I linked to an older post that I'd now like to expand on.

The beatitudes are presented in Matthew 5:1-12, but my earlier post reversed them, stating what is not blessed as a way of better understanding the meaning.

Here are the beatitude statements again (NIV version), with the opposites that can't be blessed in italics, followed by some thoughts about the meaning.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
The opposite that cannot be blessed - The super spiritual.

The kingdom of heaven is simply not open to the super spiritual. This is astounding, most of us, most of the time, would say that to be worthy of the kingdom one would need to be very, very spiritual. But no! The kingdom is in fact open to those who are spiritually weak and lacking. Not only is it open to them, it is theirs, in some sense they inherit it and therefore own it.

Why is this so counter intuitive? It's because we don't inherit the kingdom of heaven by means of our own spiritual power and authority. Instead we need to understand our desperate lack, turn to Jesus, and receive from him the right to enter in as a gift of grace and love.

If I think I am spiritually rich and self-sufficient I will not (cannot) make the grade. It needs humility and dependence, not arrogant self-sufficiency.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted
The opposite that cannot be blessed - The ones who think everything's fine.

Mourning is not possible unless we are grieving about someone or something. If instead we think all is well, how can we be blessed? This may not refer to those mourning about the dead, but about those mourning over their own worthlessness and sin and that of those they love (the spiritually dead).

Yet in Christ there is no fear of any such thing. Perfect love casts out fear, and his love for us is indeed perfect. He is willing to comfort us in our shame and sorrow, but how can the happy and content be comforted?

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth
The opposite that cannot be blessed - The arrogant.

At face value this one seems simple, even obvious. But it's not. Look a little deeper. Very often it seems that the arrogant are the ones who inherit the earth. In their cocky, self-confident way they trample over others to get exactly what they want. It seems to be a dog-eat-dog world.

In fact, it's the meek who will inherit the earth. Why? The arrogant who think and say and do whatever they like will get what they want in this world - but no more. In their haste to have and consume they will forget that there is a King of Kings, the Prince of Peace who will have his way in the end.

The earth and everything in it belongs to the Almighty who will see justice done. The kingdom of heaven is not just in heaven, heaven rules over earth too. The kingdom is coming, is already here, and nothing is not under the King's lordship and rule. The arrogant need to be careful, someone more powerful is saying, 'Enough! I recognise neither you nor your authority'.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled
The opposite that cannot be blessed - Those who have no appetite for righteousness.

If you have no appetite you will not eat or drink, so how can you ever be filled? We need to be zealous for righteousness. We need to be like a starving person who will seek out food wherever it can be found, or a thirsty person who will drink whatever is available, even water from a river or a puddle. If you drink nothing you will die of thirst.

If you are hungry and thirsty for righteousness you will find it at any cost. You will find it in Jesus no matter what you must give up to receive it. You will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy
The opposite that cannot be blessed - The merciless

Forgive, and you will be forgiven (Matthew 6:14). Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us (Matthew 6:12). The parable of the wicked servant (Matthew 18:21-35).

There's a simple principle at work here, as far as mercy and forgiveness are concerned expect to receive what you mete out to others.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God
The opposite that cannot be blessed - The impure in heart

Impurity gets in the way. The Almighty is holy, so to stand in his presence we must be holy. We must be set apart for his use and his use alone. If there is anything impure in my heart, part of my heart is not available for his use. Therefore I am not holy. So I cannot stand in his presence. I cannot see him.

We don't have pure hearts through our own efforts of will. It's just not possible for fallen people living in a fallen world. So what hope do we have? Why, every hope in Christ who not only cleanses us but also gives us new hearts, new life and a new future with him.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God
The opposite that cannot be blessed - The peace destroyers

We usually think in terms of peace makers and peace keepers, but rarely if ever of peace destroyers. If those who make peace will be called 'children of the Most High', perhaps those who destroy it will be called children of the 'most low'. And who is the lowest? The enemy, the one who fell from heaven, who creeps along the ground on his belly.

But to fully understand we need to know what peace is. It is not just quiet and absence of conflict. Peace in Hebraic thinking is wholeness, completeness, it is health of body, mind and spirit, utter wellness. It is blessing. We could rewrite this beatitude, 'Blessed are those who create holistic blessing because they will be recognised as the children of the Most High'.

Because the Father blesses, his children will bless also. The nature of the Father is in his children and we will be named with his name. If we cannot or will not bless, if we are not peacemakers, we have no part in him.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
The opposite that cannot be blessed - Those who are not righteous enough to attract persecution

Have you been persecuted yet? If not, why not? If you are righteous you will be persecuted by almost everyone.

You will be criticised by church leaders who fear you may undermine them. You will certainly be persecuted by the enemy who knows you speak the truth and fears it spreading. In some countries you will be persecuted by the civil authorities who think you will cause social unrest or spark religious violence.

John the Baptist was executed, John was exiled on an island, Paul was hounded out of Ephesus. And Jesus himself was arrested and executed because of his life and teachings. Religious and civil authorities will fear the things you do and say and the light you shine into places they might prefer to remain dark. If you are righteous, persecution is inevitable.

Questions:

  • Which of the beatitudes is your favourite? Why?
  • Do you find the reversals useful in understanding the meaning?
  • Have you been persecuted, even in subtle ways? Be prepared to share your story with others.
  • What does it mean to you, personally, to be a peacemaker?

See also:

24 May 2013

A chat at Nero's

Discussion at the cafe today turned towards need and resources, and how churches and governments in particular might help when people are facing difficulty. We decided that they don't always do all they should. When that happens should we agitate for them to do better or just step in to fill the gap?

Inside the cathedral in Mexico City
I've been spending more time at Caffè Nero during the last few weeks. It's been good to get to know some of the guys there, there's a real social buzz about the place.

Today there was some conversation about the need to help people in difficulty, we considered that traditional church has considerable resources that could be mobilised to help.

I was reminded of a story my old work colleague, Phil, used to tell.

Phil and his intrepid travelling companion Tony have covered a lot of ground together. They spent weeks and weeks in India one year, travelling light, depending on local hospitality, shunning the tourist scene and hotels, getting to know the people and experiencing India as it really is.

Trip to Mexico - They did a similar trip to Mexico, and it was here that the story was based. One day they were in a square in Mexico City (I think). There was a cathedral in the square and they went inside to take a look. It was full of gold, expensive vessels, gilded statues, rich needlework and carved stone and wood.

As they left the building they noticed a beggar who was not allowed inside. The cathedral was for rich people only, particularly tourists. The beggar was hungry, dressed in filthy rags, crippled, and needing help. The contrast between the beggar and the riches inside the cathedral was extreme.

Phil and Tony walked away angry that such a situation existed and in deep sorrow. I can't even begin to describe the way they must have felt about church. Would you rather be the beggar or the bishop who manages the cathedral?

Dealing with injustice - The world is full of injustice. We discussed some aspects of this at Nero's, but we can't change other people and we can't change the church, or the government, or the wealthy. We might have some influence with our vote, we can express an opinion, we can write to our MP, but those may make little difference and they certainly won't meet today's need - even if they might improve things a little in the long run. (But don't hold your breath.)

It seems to me that each one of us is responsible for loving the people we see around us. Jesus didn't lobby the Sanhedrin or the Roman governor to do more - he just healed the sick, cast out demons, touched lepers, fed the hungry, and made extra wine for a wedding.

I don't think the way forward is to criticise the government, the church, or the wealthy. I must do whatever I can to help anyone in need (whether that's for food, for a roof, or just for a friendly smile and a kind word). If we all did our bit, nobody would go short. Everyone can do something. It's not about resources, it's mostly about noticing and willingness to get involved. So the question is, what am I going to do about it and what are you going to do about it?

We will all have to give an account of the way we have lived. When that time comes would you rather be the beggar or the bishop who manages the cathedral?

Questions:

  • How many ways can you think of helping someone in need - assuming you have no resources? (There are plenty of ways, here are a few to get you started. Talk to people, listen, smile.)
  • How much influence do you have over organisations? Most of us have very little.
  • Is complaining ever a useful thing to do? If so, explain why and how.
  • What are the main barriers to helping people you don't know?

See also:

22 May 2013

Share resources

Choudhrie's steps, Part 4 of 21
< Small and informal | Series index | No later items >

Victor Choudhrie asks us to share all we have. The Old Testament tithe is neither necessary nor sufficient, everything we have is to be at the disposal of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Indeed, we need to reach out beyond even this and care sacrificially for the community in which we live.

People in community
In his fourth step for transforming church, Victor Choudhrie suggests we drop the notion of tithing and begin to share all we have together.

Replace Mosaic tithing with Christian sharing, thereby harnessing the enormous, financial resources, hospitality and goodwill available in Christian homes. 
Believe that God is going to work a work among the nations through you, which will leave you utterly amazed, and also provide resources for it. Deuteronomy 8:17-18; Acts 5:32-34; Habbakuk 1:5

If we've followed the first three steps we will already be meeting informally at home, and we are now being called to share everything in common.

Practical caring - This may seem like another huge step, and in some ways it is, but the blow is softened a little when we realise that the little group of believers meeting at home is already very like a family unit. In our family lives do we hesitate to share what we have with one another? No! This one's lack is met by that one's sufficiency, what could be better or more natural?

If a mother or father is willing to spend whatever they have for a son or daughter, or a son or daughter is willing to care for an elderly parent, why would a small gathering of believers be any different?

It happens entirely without planning or weighing up whether or not to help or how much to help. Where there is need it will be met as long as there are resources to meet it. If the resources run out the family suffers the shortage together. So it must be in local ekklesia (church). We are family.

Mosaic tithing - Under the law, the people were required to support the Levites and priests who had no land allocation in Israel. They would collect a portion of their harvest and animals and give them as an offering so that the temple worship could continue.

We can legitimately argue that tithing is part of the old covenant, so if we disregard other old covenant laws concerning circumcision, not eating pork, ritual cleansing, why do we insist on retaining tithing?

Just as the temple sacrifices have been met in full by Jesus' death so that we can now give ourselves as living sacrifices, and just as ritual cleansing has been met in full by Jesus' provision of living water, so too the tithe requirements have been fully met in Jesus who requires all we possess to support the royal priesthood of all believers.

We really can't have it both ways. Either we are required to give a fixed percentage or we are called to give everything. Which will it be? Before answering that question consider very carefully whether you want to take responsibility for your own future or whether you prefer to cast yourself on Jesus' mercy  and and his call to enter his kingdom here on Earth.

Will you take the route of law or of grace? Is tithing law or grace? Is spending whatever you have to meet the needs of your brother or sister law or grace? Now make that choice - fixed percentage or all you have. The challenge will be to live by your choice.

As it was at the beginning - In the earliest days of the church it's clear that everything was shared in common, at least in Jerusalem (Acts 2:44).

This works well where everything is very informal. This is certainly the case for your family and it should also be the same in the local church. In places where there is oppression, persecution and danger it is the only way that works.

Here in the West, however, church has often been modelled on business. Money is required for buildings, staff, equipment and programmes; funds are raised to support these things. We spend most of these resources on ourselves and the remainder goes on missions and helping the local community.

We really need to turn this around so that the entire church becomes missional in nature, the mission is mostly local, and needs are met as they arise by everyone helping one another and sharing this kind of love more widely to friends, neighbours and colleagues.

Probable responses - How will we feel about freely giving to those who need it?
  1. People may feel anxious that they won't have enough remaining resources for their own needs.
  2. There may be a belief that it's the church's 'job' to collect funds and administer them and that it's wrong to give directly into a need. But what does the New Testament say about that?
  3. Some of us might worry that others would take advantage of our kind heartedness. How should we respond to this fear?

Questions:

  • Are you willing to offer your time and your money to meet the needs of your brothers and sisters?
  • Are you willing to offer your time and money to meet the needs of your neighbours?
  • Are you prepared to divert funds from current church buildings, staff, equipment and programmes in order to meet the needs of those around you?

See also:


< Small and informal | Series index | No later items >

08 May 2013

Jesus in proper context

In their book, 'The Shaping of Things to Come', Frost and Hirsch point to Jesus' Jewish background as key to understanding his life, death and his mission. Any attempt to understand him based on Romano/Greek culture or 21st century western culture will cause distortions to the truth.

The Shaping of Things to Come
I'm currently reading The Shaping of Things to Come by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch.

Here's a brief quote from Chapter 7.

...the Jewish heritage is the primordial matrix out of which Christianity was birthed, and which we would argue is the only matrix out of which it could be organically understood in its fullness. Except for Luke's writings (he was in all likelihood a proselyte of Judaism), the New Testament is a document written by Jews. Therefore biblical Christianity's 'genetic code', its kinships, its plausibility structures, its genius, are all Hebraic to the core and back.

The point is this. Because Jesus is a Jew, rooted in Jewish society two thousand years ago, if we want to truly understand him we need to view him, read him, hear him and watch him in action from a Jewish perspective.

Not to do so is to risk misunderstanding much that he said and did. And what is true for Jesus is also true for his church; this comes out clearly in the extract above.

Have we missed something? - Perhaps this is something the church has overlooked over the centuries. We have often tried to understand Jesus in terms of the Romano/Greek culture of his day or in terms of today's western culture. But neither of these is appropriate and both may mislead us.

How are we going to tackle the task of refocussing and recalibrating? A good place to begin is by reading and re-reading the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Perhaps a rhythm in which these books are read regularly might help us.

The Shaping of Things to Come is a good book, even a great book. It examines the phenomenon of church in a new light and shows the developing western model of the past 1700 years to have been missing the mark. It's accessible, enjoyable to read, and should provoke much thought.

The book was published in 2003 but a new edition is now available.

Questions:

  • How often do you cover the gospels in your Bible reading?
  • What might the effects be of taking Jesus out of his historical context?
  • Have you read 'The Shaping of Things to Come'?
  • If so, would you leave a comment sharing your thoughts about it?

See also:

05 May 2013

John the Baptist

Leaders in the church, Part 8
< To Egypt and back | Index | Jesus is tempted >

John the Baptist came to prepare the way. We can learn about the purpose and right mode of leading from John. Like him we are to prepare the way for Jesus, encouraging people to see their need of cleansing and purity. Like John we must go first and when Jesus comes we do whatever he tells us.

Headwaters of the JordanIn Matthew 3 we read about John the Baptist.

John was a relative of Jesus' and he came to prepare the way for the coming Messiah.

He lived an unusual life out in the wilds, told anyone who would listen that they needed to turn away from every bad thing in their lives, and washed them in the River Jordan to make them pure.

He told the religious leaders that they should not make assumptions about their purity but must instead demonstrate it by producing good fruit in their lives. He explained that a greater one was coming and would separate the valuable crop from the worthless waste.

So when Jesus arrived and asked to be washed, John objected at first. When he did baptise Jesus the Spirit of the Most High rested on him and a voice said, 'This my Son whom I love, I'm very pleased with him'.

Leading people - So what is going on here, and what can we learn about leadership? John prepared the way and led people to a place where they were able to respond to Jesus. This should be the goal of everyone who leads. John's example shows us that we need to draw people from where they are now to a place where they can respond to Jesus and be made pure.

This is just as true for believers as it is for people who have not yet met Jesus. No matter how far we have come there is always the potential to take another step forward. If anyone wants to lead, that person should prepare the way for Jesus. Smooth the way, straighten out the lumps and bumps so that there will be fewer obstructions that might prevent a person coming closer into his presence.

It's not our place to do Jesus' work, it is our place to prepare people, to show them that they are not in a good place, to let them know that someone is coming who will sort out the good from the bad, the spiritually profitable from the unprofitable, the harvest from the waste.

Our job is to point to Jesus as the coming King and then to get out of the way so that everyone can hear and see the Light of the world for themselves. One of the most powerful ways we can do this is by becoming living examples, showing people the way and not merely telling them. This is the real meaning of the word 'leading', it's a matter of going ahead so others can follow.

Choosing or chosen? - John did not choose or select those who came in repentance and for washing. They chose and selected themselves. He baptised the humble folk and the distinguished leaders alike. Neither are we to pick and choose those we come into contact with, we must be willing to share the good news with anyone and everyone.

John did object to washing Jesus because he knew that he was already pure. But when it was clear that this was Jesus' purpose, John relented. Once again, John sets us a good example. If Jesus shows you clearly to do this or avoid that then you had better hear him and obey!

If anyone chooses to follow Jesus we must accept them joyfully and baptise them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Spirit.

If we are to lead we must do it in utter humility just as John did. We don't dress in fine or important clothes, we have no position or authoritative power. We eat the lowliest of food and live in the simplest of homes.

We meet people where they are and we tell them that Jesus is for them and loves them and wants to know them and spend time with them. We bless them and we leave them in his capable hands. We pray for them, we visit them, we encourage and help them and the little seed of new life within them begins to grow and flourish.

Questions:

  • Do you think people learn more deeply from instructions or demonstrations?
  • Why? Justify your answer to the first question.
  • John used both words and actions. Can you identify examples in Matthew 3?
  • You can plant a seed and water it. But can you cause a seed to grow?

See also:


< To Egypt and back | Index | Jesus is tempted >

23 April 2013

To Egypt and back

Leaders in the church, Part 7
< Herod and the astrologers | Index | John the Baptist >

Joseph takes his family to Egypt to escape from Herod, and later they return and head for Galilee. This shows us how important it is to lead from obedience. But what do we do when the information is incomplete? And what does this say about leaders and about followers?

A painting of the escape to Egypt
When I began my trawl through the New Testament for information on leadership, I had no idea that by the seventh article I'd still be in the second chapter of Matthew!

But that is right where we are, looking at Joseph and Mary's escape to Egypt and then their decision to settle in Nazareth in Galilee. (Matthew 2:13-23)

Once again, dreams are an important feature. I've occasionally been guided by dreams in the past, I wonder if you have too? This time, the angel in Joseph's dream instructs him to take his family to Egypt because Herod is going to hunt down the baby to kill him. As before, Joseph was obedient, he got up and set off in the night for Egypt.

Later, when Herod was dead, he was told to return to Israel (again by an angel in a dream) and was finally guided (in another dream) to settle in Galilee in the town of Nazareth.

Leadership - What can we learn from this about leadership? Right away we  can see the importance of acting on what we hear from the Father.

Leading is not about following our own plans and visions, it's about following the Father's plans and visions. In other words, leading is about obedience. It's not about my wisdom, it's about Father's wisdom expressed in whatever way he chooses.

In Joseph's case the Almighty's will was expressed in dreams, it may sometimes be the same for us. However, the Holy Spirit may choose to speak in many different ways. It's up to us to be alert and notice his communication - whatever form it takes.

Acting on incomplete information - Something else we can glean from this story is that leading through obedience is not always easy.

'Escape to Egypt and stay there until I tell you' meant that Joseph's obedience would be open-ended. Not only would they go to Egypt, they would stay there for an unknown period of time. Presumably he would have found work as a carpenter and there was a large ex-pat Jewish community in cities like Alexandria. Should they settle, build a house and set up a business? Or would it be better to do contract jobs and find temporary lodgings?

Similarly, 'Go to Israel' is incomplete information; apparently Joseph was not told what part of Israel to choose or how long to remain there. Guidance and obedience don't always result in the clarity we might like.

There's also the important matter of using our own brains, wisdom and experience. When guidance lacks detail we may need to depend on our own resources to fill the gaps. Joseph decided for himself that it was unwise to go to Judaea. In a further dream he was warned again and decided to settle in Galilee in the small town of Nazareth. He worked the rest of his life and died in Nazareth without seeing what Jesus would eventually do. We rarely see the end from the beginning.

For us and for others - Leading implies followers. We have responsibilities to others and to our heavenly Father. Here is Joseph having to make decisions that also affect Mary and the infant Jesus. Here's the One who has come as Emmanuel ('Elohim with us') placing his safety in the hands of a carpenter! Even those with great authority (even Jesus) must learn to put their trust in the hands of other leaders.

This is true in the church, isn't it? Christ himself is the head of the church yet he has entrusted his body to the leading of ordinary men and women, not because he needs to but because he chooses to. And it's the same for us.

One of the primary ways leaders come off the rails is when they begin to think people should follow them. Demanding to be followed will never be effective because true authority is always given freely, not demanded. If people don't want to follow you no amount of cajoling or threatening or persuading will change their minds. But if you are worthy of respect and trust they will follow you without hesitation, even without conscious thought.

Joseph was followed into Egypt, back to Israel and on to Galilee because Mary respected and trusted and loved him. And the infant Jesus, the fullness of the Most High in tiny, helpless, human form was also entrusted to his care and to that of Mary. Have you ever thought how truly awesome that is?

And have you ever thought how awesome it is that the Father trusts us to lead one another? Jesus lives in every believer, he has planted his Holy Spirit and nature in us individually. If you lead you are leading people who are filled with the presence of the King of Kings! So be very careful and ever so humble in all you say and do and think.

This is why we are told that few should teach (James 3:1) and none should be called Teacher (Matthew 23:8). And it's why Paul wanted the churches to recognise elders who would be true and faithful (Titus 1:5-9). Much depended on it. Much depends on it still.

Leading by doing - Notice how an angel was sent repeatedly to show Joseph what to do next. He was given dreams that showed him the need to journey and provided clear destinations. There's a clue for us here if we are willing to see it.

If anyone aspires to lead the body of Christ they must lead by their actions, not merely by talking. If the lesson is to love one another then leading will involve practical and sacrificial loving. Isn't that how Jesus did it? If the lesson is sharing the good news in every day life then leading will involve inventive ways of sharing it daily.

Unlike Father, we can't insert a dream into a sleeping person's mind. However, we can insert a dream by demonstrating it in our own lives, by acting it out. In the church we are, I think, surrounded by many, many sleeping people (certainly in Western society). So go and show them the dream, reveal it to them by your actions. You are a leader, in many ways we all are. So get to it!

Questions:

  • What would have happened if Joseph had ignored the dreams in his leading?
  • Can you think of examples of local leaders in your own life who show the way?
  • How might you lead, or lead more effectively?
  • Had you considered that when you lead you are leading people who contain Christ?

See also:


< Herod and the astrologers | Index | John the Baptist >

21 April 2013

A walk along the river

A walk along the riverbank and a sight of the old castle mound spoke to me about church. We consider the story of the castle and what it tells us, how church can go bad, and some pointers as to how it might be redeemed. There's a useful list of links at the end.

Castle Hills in Eaton Socon
Yesterday morning Mo and I went for a walk. I headed across to his place, we had a coffee and chatted.

Then, as it was a beautiful morning, we walked down to the river, crossed over, headed upstream to the Rivermill pub, then back to Mo's for a second coffee and a bit more conversation.

On the way we had a great view of Castle Hills and it struck me that this place has much to say about the church. I've seen this view of the old castle site in Eaton Socon many, many times, but never before have I sensed that it was a powerful illustration of some spiritual principles.

The history of the castle - First I need to give you a bit of background information. The land around the river is very flat. It's flood meadow, there's a deep layer of river gravel covered by rich soil, and the river itself would have moved slowly back and forth across this flat area over the ten thousand years since the last ice-age ended. The higher ground you see in the photo is man made.

There is a story, perhaps true, that the castle mound was constructed and a wooden castle built on it
during the Norman period. But the nobleman who built it didn't ask for the king's permission, and he was later commanded to pull it down again.

Certainly there is no castle there now.

How does this apply to the church? - Just consider that the church is a holy temple built of living stones. We, the people of Christ the King, are those living stones.

In 1 Corinthians 3:8-17 Paul writes that the foundation of the church is Jesus Christ, but whether the building survives or falls also depends on whether it's built of the right materials and how skillful the builders are.

The castle was built on its mound by a Norman nobleman. But it was built of wood, not stone, and it was built unwisely because it was built without the king's permission.

How about the local church where you live? Has it been built with or without the permission of King Jesus? Was it built at his command? And is it made of materials that will last? We need to ask ourselves what other foundations and materials might sometimes be erroneously used.

It might seem strange to suggest that we need permission from Jesus to begin church. But remember, he said, 'I will build my church'. In everything we need to listen to the Holy Spirit and do what he calls us to do. If I branch out on my own I may come unstuck.

As a general rule it's OK to just meet together because we are his people, that is always a good thing. But what is not necessarily right is to create structures to manage and control the direction, the finances, the policies, and the work of the local body. For those we most certainly do need to hear and obey the King. That's what I mean by 'build' in the context of church life.

Clearly, if a local expression of church is built without the King's permission it is not built on the foundation of Christ. It might instead be built on greed, for example, created to turn in a tidy sum in offerings with the intention of creaming some off into someone's pockets. We have seen this with some TV ministries over the years. Or it might be built on business management principles leaving no room for the Holy Spirit to guide the work. Or perhaps it might be built on faulty doctrine or wrong practice.

And what about the materials used, the living stones? Even if constructed on the true foundation of Christ, a church might still be at risk if the people lack wisdom, or the ability to hear the Spirit well, if there is wrong teaching or unforgiveness or a clinging to materialism.

But perhaps the most dangerous situation of all is one where the church is led in a way that doesn't encourage active participation, where people expect to be 'fed' instead of coming to feed one another.

The way forward - There are many potential pitfalls, but beginning in simple ways and  making it difficult for people to be mere pew sitters will always help. Transforming a situation steeped in traditional ways is much more difficult, but by no means impossible.

Material designed to help church grow in healthy, Christ-centred, missional and loving ways is produced abundantly by people and organisations like Neil Cole (Church Multiplication Associates), Alan Hirsch (Forge Mission Training Network), Tony and Felicity Dale (House2House), Steve Addison (Movements that Change the World) and, here in the UK, Peter Farmer (NewForms Resources).

There are also many, many other sources of inspiration, information, ideas, and good teaching - far too many to list here. Consider Paul Young, Lyfe, Austin-Sparks.net, Nomad Podcast, Olive Tree, Be the Light.

Questions:

  • What is good about your local church environment?
  • What is less good?
  • Are there ways you could help to improve things?
  • Are you reaching others, encouraging the church family, loving those around you?

See also:

17 April 2013

Five ideas about stories

Josh Reeves shares some great ideas about 'knowing the story'. The idea is to make us more effective in what we already do, not add extra stuff to our schedule. In a fuller article at Soma, Josh provides more of these useful lists of ideas in other important activities.

Josh Reeves writing on VergeJosh Reeves, writing at The Verge Network, considers 'Five Practical Ideas to Know the Story'.

He explains, 'Much of what we do is not meant to add things to the schedule, but bring intentionality to the things we are already doing'. And then he provides a list of practical ideas.

  1. Practice telling the story to your kids and spouse
  2. Listen to others tell the story
  3. Have a night where each person shares their story in 10 minutes.
  4. Identify and write down the 4 major stories you see people believing.
  5. Host a get to know your neighbors party - with artifacts.
He suggests we consider these short extracts from the Bible... Genesis 1:1-2, John 1:1, Psalm 1 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Josh also provides links to some very helpful resources. Don't miss out on these, read his article and follow the links.

In his Verge post, Josh is summarising part of a fuller article on Soma's website. If you want to know more I recommend you take the time to read that. In it he offers five practical ideas for a whole range of other activities - to help us listen, celebrate and suffer, bless, eat, rest and work.

Maybe you could consider working through Josh's lists with a group of friends?


Questions:

  • Jesus often used parables - why?
  • Why do you think telling stories is so powerful?

See also:

15 April 2013

What if ... creation was a myth?

April's Synchroblog asks how we'd be affected if part (or all) of the Bible was myth. I chose to consider the creation accounts in Genesis. Whether these are myth or true history does matter, but perhaps it doesn't matter as much as the division it sometimes causes in the church.

Created or evolved?
This month's Synchroblog invites us to speculate. (Other contributions to this month's Synchroblog are listed at the bottom of this post.)

Here's an extract from the instructions...

Try to imagine that some or all of the Bible narrative is not necessarily true history, but is myth of one sort or another. What sort of effect would that knowledge have on your faith? What effect might it have on the larger church? How would it change you? Would it change you and how you view the world?

Of course, a great deal depends on what part of the Bible I select. Assuming that the visit of the magi to Jesus' birthplace is a myth would make relatively little difference, but assuming that the birth of Jesus is a myth would change things rather dramatically.

I'm going to choose the creation accounts in Genesis. Let's suppose these are myths. How would it change things? I'll follow through with the questions from the Synchroblog. But first, let's have bit of a think about the idea of a myth. What do we mean by 'myth'?

Myths - Perhaps we think of anything mythical or mythological as false. A myth is an invention, imagined creatures in an imagined land - isn't that myth?

Well, no, not necessarily. Imagined creatures in an imagined land are fiction, like 'The Lord of the Rings' or 'The Narnia Chronicles'. Bear in mind that those stories contain a great deal of truth even though they are not true. But myth is more than fiction. To be precise, traditional fiction with a meaning is not a myth but a fable.

We'd do better to think of the Greek legends, the Norse sagas, or the Irish ballads. These are truly mythical. Rather than fiction they are meaningful and explanatory stories based (probably) on real events far back in time before anyone could remember and passed from generation to generation. They have, no doubt, grown considerably in the telling.

So now to the creation accounts in Genesis.

What would be the effect on my faith? - Zero, nada, zilch. There are a number of reasons for this. Perhaps the major one is that I do regard the creation story to be myth. But I'm confident it's myth with a clear purpose. I was trained in biology and for many years worked as a professional biologist. I'm no more inclined to accept the creation stories as history than I am to accept that the Moon is made of cheese.

Let me distinguish between creation and the Biblical accounts of creation. I accept that the Almighty created the universe. It's really hard to think that the universe just is, that it sprang out of nothing all by itself. I am sure that it was somehow caused. It's here because it was intended and spoken into existence.

On the other hand the biblical accounts of how that happened and in what order make little sense to me. What I mean is that they make little sense as history, as an account of the process that took place. As myth, as allegory, as a description of truth, they make perfect sense. The truth is that the Almighty is the ultimate cause of the universe, he is holy, pure and powerful, his original purpose for us is that we would be in community with him, but we are weak, willful and sinful and threw away that opportunity for community.

My opinion that the creation stories are myths doesn't affect my faith in any way. I believe in the Creator, that the universe came into existence because Yahweh spoke, Jesus acted, and the Spirit hovered. The power of the Presence of the three-in-one was enough, a baby universe was born and has flourished ever since. I know that I have a sinful nature, I know that the Son came and by his death paid the price and opened the way for freedom. I know there is a place waiting for me in his kingdom, that my name is written in the Lamb's book of life and on the palm of Papa's hand.

What effect does it have on the wider church? - Now things get more serious. Part of the church thinks it makes little difference whether the creation accounts are factual or mythical. Part of it cares enough to fight a civil war over the issue. And this is a serious problem.

You see, the church that Jesus commanded, 'Love one another as I have loved you', should never, ever be at war with itself. The problem is not that I or anyone else has this or that opinion about the creation stories in Genesis, the problem is that we cannot bear for there to be more than one such opinion.

Some say 'Myth with a message' and others say 'Historical record of real events' and we think that endless argument and dispute is a suitable way to resolve it. Or rather, that our need to be proved 'right' is sometimes stronger than our urge to follow Jesus' command to accept and love.

In a bleeding, dying world we don't have time to fight a civil war. Not only that, we risk bringing the name of Jesus into disrepute. So love one another, love your neighbour, and love your enemy.

In Egypt, the traditional and non-traditional believers are fervently praying together for revival instead of discussing who is right about their many differences of interpretation. If you are an Egyptian and you believe in Jesus you are a brother or a sister. It's that simple. But don't take my word for it - watch the video.

What is the lesson here for us? The issue need not be the creation accounts, it might be ... (fill in the blank for yourself). The church is divided over many, many issues when love should surely conquer all of them.

How would it change me? - If I'm willing to avoid the divisions outlined above, then would my understanding of the mechanics of creation make any difference to me? I don't think so. Whichever way I view the creation accounts I can believe Jesus and follow him. I have a new and fuller life in him now. I have eternity in his presence. I can love my brothers and sisters fully and freely and allow them to understand creation in whatever way they see fit.

The nature of creation is only an issue if I allow it to become one in my own heart. The universe exists! The Almighty brought it into being and holds it in existence. Without him it would all vanish. What more do I really need to know?

Would it change you and how you view the world? - This is an 'over to you' question, is it not? How do you stand on this matter? And whatever you may believe, are you willing to allow it to separate you from your brothers and sisters in Jesus?

Questions:

  • How do you, personally, deal with conflicts of understanding?
  • Is truth more important than accepting one another? Always? Sometimes? Never?
  • For you, is being right essential or just 'nice to have'?

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