30 April 2010

MISSION - The Kingdom

This evening we watched the DVD of Wolfgang Simson speaking to the House2House Conference in September 2008. An imperial crownHis theme was the Kingdom of Heaven, and how we can't live in the Kingdom without obeying the King.

We discussed what this means to us. The Kingdom stuff surely can't be ignored - are we going to live as people under the King's command or are we going to do our own thing? Only obedience brings blessing!

We thought that next week we should spend our time in prayer and listening.

Offord - Chosen and loved

We met at Roger's again this week, but ate lunch indoors this time as it was too cold in the garden. Tar on the groundWe met before lunch, and then Ruth joined us for the meal.

We all shared CO2 first, this is a really good way to get the ball rolling. It quickly brings us up-to-date with one another's heart feelings and significant events in life, and it's good to share what we each feel the Lord has been saying to us.

As we continued in worship and prayer, Paul had a word for us, 'God says he doesn't need us, but he wants us.' I prayed for more labourers for the harvest, both in the Offords and in connection with Paul's youth work. Paul prayed that we'd hear Jesus and accept the changes that we find hard. He also mentioned the need to forgive people who may hurt us sometimes.

I had a picture of someone watering a pot plant, but to my surprise I quickly saw that they were pouring out hot, sticky tar - not cool, fresh water! It wouldn't work, of course. The plant would die. And I understood that we need to give people the rivers of living water that come from Yahshua. If we give them something other than living water they will be unable to grow.

Roger read Ephesians 6:10-13, how we need to stand and live fully in the light! And finally Paul read Ephesians 3:14-19 about the width, length, height and depth of God's love over us. We can be filled, not according to our way of measuring full, but according to his measurement of full (far, far exceeding our own)!

29 April 2010

RESPONSE - The dirt on organic leadership

Brian Hofmeister has tried organic church and found it difficult. Acorns and oak leavesHe writes about his experiences in a report in Christianity Today - Leadership. Brian's conclusion is that leading organic church was just too onerous, and was not achievable without some degree of professional input.

However, this has not been my experience, nor that of many others. And I don't believe it was the experience of the early church either. There's little evidence of paid leadership in the New Testament.

So what went wrong for Brian and the people he met with? To answer that we need to go right back to define what is and is not organic church. The word 'organic' implies an organism, whereas much of our experience of church comes from organisations. An organisation usually has a top-down management structure and a hierarchical authority structure. Something which is organic begins from a seed and grows until it reaches maturity and produces more seeds which grow in their turn.

In this way, one tiny seed may produce not just a tree, but an entire forest. It takes a certain amount of time, but it speeds up dramatically with each generation and will eventually fill the space available. Trees and forests can be managed, but they don't have to be. There were very successful forests in many parts of the world before human explorers arrrived to manage them!

I think that Brian simply tried too hard to manage and guide and educate and persuade. But that's not organic. The seed that germinates and grows amongst a small group of people is the expectation that Yahshua himself will do the managing, guiding, educating, and persuading. He said, 'I will build my church.' And he really meant it! He is the only one who truly knows how to do it.

Church is a community of people who love one another because Christ has first loved them. When we come together to meet it's just the tip of a giant, hidden core of fellowship and community. When we meet, Yahshua is there at the centre. He is with us because we are his and he loves to bless us and guide us. But he's also with us day by day as we live our lives, he is with us in defeat and in victory, in sorrow and in joy.

A group of new believers, if they focus on Jesus, will help one another along the road to maturity. The wiser and more mature will look out for the others. There will be problems, but rather than training programmes and theological studies the believers need to discover how to be disciples. They need to be walking with the Lord, listening to what he says and watching what he does. Reading the Bible together will provide a lot of useful guidance. Eating together when possible, helping one another with practical things, and having good, family fun together will help too. Encouraging one another, praying for one another, all these things help to build community.

But the key is listening to the Lord and doing what he says. Out of this will come mission, church growth, and all the rest.

Brian tried an alternative model of church and found it wanting. But it wasn't really organic church. My advice to him would be try again but to do a whole lot less while expecting Yahshua to do a whole lot more!

For some practical advice, browse through the 'Useful links' in the right hand sidebar, these will lead to other useful material - books, mp3s, DVDs, videos and more. But above all pray and ask Jesus himself to guide you, he won't let you down.

28 April 2010

NEWS - Latest newsletters

This week there are two really encouraging newsletter updates out there. The logos of Harvest Now! and House2HouseI encourage you to read them both. What is the Spirit saying to you as you pay attention to the stories and thoughts in these newsletters?

Harvest Now - Steve and Marilyn Hill report on the violent change in government in Kyrgyzstan and the possibility that the new interim leader follows Jesus. This is very rare in a predominantly Muslim society.

In neighbouring Tajikistan they write, 'A new follower of Jesus tells her story how she was visiting family when they began to talk to her about Jesus. She was frightened that they should pray to any one than Allah but their story of freedom caught her attention. She says that while listening "I felt immediately pain in my kidneys and fell down...' (visit their article to read the rest of this wonderfully encouraging story).

House2House - Tony and Felicity Dale write about getting stranded in the UK because of volcanic dust, and then share some great thoughts about spiritual warfare, recognising that the battle is already won, and standing firm.

They share some useful links and then ask their readers to consider the house church conference in September. I joined last year's conference and highly recommend it. If anyone is reading this and thinking of going, please get in touch with me (chris@scilla.org.uk).

27 April 2010

Eaton Ford - Salt and light

We chatted over tea and coffee for a while until Jim took us right into spiritual matters with the question, 'What does it mean to be salt and light?' (Matthew 5:13-16) Various kinds of fruitIt's clear that these terms refer to making a difference, but Jim wanted to go deeper.

Acts 1:8 shows us that the Holy Spirit comes so that we can be witnesses. Are we really witnessing with 'fire in our bellies' as we should?

Sean had been thinking about the fruit of the Spirit and realised that these fruits are like food for people. We all agreed, it's not about mission fields or saying particular things to particular people - it's about the fruit, grace in our daily lives, joy, kindness etc.

I sensed that in order to be victorious in this spiritual Kngdom we must first be utterly defeated. To succeed we must first fail. Unless our human weaknesses are overcome, we will be unable to be living witnesses of the kind we need to be.

Sean prayed for the fire to burn up everything worthless, but he's afraid there'll be nothing left, nothing will remain. I had a word from the Lord about this, 'A seed will remain, and it's a seed that will grow.' Although we will lose ourselves, we will also begin to gain our real selves in the process. And it will be the beginning of real growth.

25 April 2010

Science and faith - war or peace?

The origin of the universe, the origin of life, evolution - these are some of the topics that seem to be endlessly debated across the science/faith divide. Molecules of lifeWhy does this happen, what are the root causes of the sometimes strongly-worded arguments? Perhaps it's time to take a fresh look.

Science is based on such things as reason, deduction, inference, and testing by experiment. At the most fundamental level science is simply a formal way of observing how things are. And it has an excellent track-record. We depend daily on the technologies that science has made possible. We drive our cars, watch TV, depend on medical help when we are sick or injured. All of these things and many more are rooted in generations of observation, hypothesis, and testing.

On the other hand faith is not based on observation and experiment but on assertion, often about matters that are untestable and are unknowable in the scientific sense. The existence of a powerful personality outside the universe and this personality's influence within it are not things science can investigate. Science doesn't reject faith (indeed it might investigate faith as a phenomenon) but it does not (and cannot) investigate the claims of faith.

There is therefore no reason for science and faith to do battle with one another, but historically this has happened repeatedly. An example of past 'warfare' concerns whether the earth or the sun is the centre of the solar system, one current skirmish centres on the origin of life and on evolution, another one on theories about the origin of the universe.

The usual pattern is that science draws a conclusion that offends people of faith in some way. Instead of understanding the scientific arguments and accommodating them within the framework of faith, believers often try to find holes in the science. Scientists continually refine our understanding in a formal way, believers sometimes lash out at new ideas they don't like.

How can we take this forward? Here is some advice for scientists and believers who have become embroiled in debates of this sort.

Scientists - Don't become angry, recognise that if the science is sound you have demonstrable facts on your side. State these straightforwardly and point detractors to the evidence calmly. If you are vilified and your integrity is questioned, recognise that these are the actions of desperate people who have not yet understood that facts are a form of truth. The battle will rarely centre on those facts, instead it will usually focus on attempts to discredit the people involved. Don't engage with these attempts.

Believers - Don't interpret statements from scientists as provocation, they are simply sharing factual information. Respect the people even if you don't like their thinking. Christ called you to love so speak in love, not in anger. Look at the scientific claims calmly, facts about the world cannot possibly contradict truth. Look for ways of accepting the science within your framework of faith. Remember the battles about the place of the earth in astronomy, why is that no longer an issue? Understand that if the Almighty exists, scientific and spiritual truth will be able to coexist, because he is the author of both.

Where there appear to be contradictions there is an opportunity for mutual understanding. Science deals with the realm of materials and energy, faith deals with the realm of the spirit. There is no overlap in subject matter and there is no clash of ideas that can't be accommodated.

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