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?

07 August 2012

The river at Bedford - IMAGE

(Click the photo for a larger view)

A trip on the river - Photo taken 4th August 2012
The Embankment in Bedford takes in part of the River Great Ouse from the bridge at the town centre. There are great views of the town and the park. This family was enjoying the fine weather by hiring a boat and rowing up and down.

I was there with some friends on a photowalk. Great fun and very interesting. You can see some of the other photos I took in my Photowalk album.

What does this image say to you? There are no wrong answers. (Add a comment).

Click the 'image' label below to see other image posts.

05 August 2012

A story of encouragement

Are you an encourager? Has anyone ever encouraged you? If so, and especially if not, this is for you. We can all learn to encourage and it's probably more important than we realise. Here's a good story about encouragement.

A treasured piece of paperFloyd McClung posted a story on his blog this morning. He writes that he doesn't know if it's a true story, but it is a story of truth. He is right about that.

We are called to encourage one another. This story is about encouraging, how to encourage, what it takes to tend to a person's heart so that the growth that happens in them becomes permanent. It's a good story. We should all try to find ways to encourage those around us.

No doubt we'll all find different ways to do it, but the important thing is not how I encourage, it's that I do encourage, that I am an encourager, that I have a habit and a heart to encourage.

Here's the story...
One day a teacher asked her students to list the names of the other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space between each name.

Then she told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down.

It took the remainder of the class period to finish their assignment, and as the students left the room, each one handed in the papers.

That Saturday, the teacher wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper, and listed what everyone else had said about that individual

On Monday she gave each student his or her list. Before long, the entire class was smiling. ‘Really?’ she heard whispered. ‘I never knew that I meant anything to anyone!’ and, ‘I didn’t know others liked me so much,’ were most of the comments.

No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. She never knew if they discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn’t matter. The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another. That group of students moved on.

Several years later, one of the students was killed in Vietnam and his teacher attended the funeral of that special student. She had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin before. He looked so handsome, so mature.

The church was packed with his friends. One by one those who loved him took a last walk by the coffin. The teacher was the last one to bless the coffin.

As she stood there, one of the soldiers who acted as pallbearer came up to her. ‘Were you Mark’s math teacher?’ he asked. She nodded: ‘yes.’ Then he said: ‘Mark talked about you a lot.’

After the funeral, most of Mark’s former classmates went together to a luncheon. Mark’s mother and father were there, obviously waiting to speak with his teacher.

‘We want to show you something,’ his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket ‘They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it.’

Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded and refolded many times. The teacher knew without looking that the papers were the ones on which she had listed all the good things each of Mark’s classmates had said about him.

‘Thank you so much for doing that,’ Mark’s mother said. ‘As you can see, Mark treasured it.’

All of Mark’s former classmates started to gather around. Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, ‘I still have my list. It’s in the top drawer of my desk at home.’

Chuck’s wife said, ‘Chuck asked me to put his in our wedding album.’

‘I have mine too,’ Marilyn said. ‘It’s in my diary’

Then Vicki, another classmate, reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. ‘I carry this with me at all times,’ Vicki said and without batting an eyelash, she continued: ‘I think we all saved our lists’

That’s when the teacher finally sat down and cried. She cried for Mark and for all his friends who would never see him again.

The density of people in society is so thick that we forget that life will end one day. And we don’t know when that one day will be.

So please, tell the people you love and care for, that they are special and important. Tell them, before it is too late, tell them while you have time. Tell them in carefully crafted but simple, heartfelt words of love why you appreciate them, the good you see in them, the love and hope you carry in your heart for them.

04 August 2012

Renewing the temple

Two visions at a recent meeting have some encouraging things to say about the future of the church. Both of them speak of something that has been destroyed, both of them speak of recovery and renewal.

Broken masonry
Donna and I and some friends visited Faith Camp at the Peterborough showground on Wednesday 1st of August.

Colin Urquhart was speaking that night, a veteran from the old days of the Charismatic renewal in the 1960s and 70s. He's still as good as he ever was! He spoke about the seven 'I AM's in John.

During a time of individual reflection and prayer and focussing on holiness and love, the Spirit gave me two pictures. I'd like to share them here, they are about holiness and love and the future of the body of Christ which is the church.

A broken plant - I saw a plant with the leaves cut off at ground level, as if it had been carelessly run over by the lawnmower. There appeared to be nothing left, no hope of recovery, a total loss.

But then I saw that there was a deep root and a tuber that were intact and I knew that stems and leaves and flowers would spring up fresh and new. And the Spirit showed me that it needed only a little time (patience) and a little rain (refreshment).

The broken temple - A little later I saw the ruins of a stone building. Just some broken, low walls remained, and some scattered stones. I had no idea what it represented.

While I was looking at these and wondering what they meant, the Son of Man came and sat on the stonework, and somehow I knew that this was the Temple and he was sitting exactly where a throne had been. (Yes, I know, the temple in Jerusalem did not contain a throne. But this is what I saw. However, there was the mercy seat, the Ark of the Covenant. Remember, Yahshua is our King as well as our great High Priest as well as being the Son, one aspect of the Mighty One whose name is I AM.)

And as I watched the ruins were transformed into a complete building. Stone fitted against stone, timbers appeared, and the entire structure was covered in gold and fine jewels. Jesus continued to sit there throughout this process. Indeed, I realised that the transformation came about because he was sitting there.

A song - And then the words of an old song came into my mind...

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in his glorious face.
And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.

The meaning - I am convinced that the Spirit is saying that a time of revival and renewal is coming to the church, because Jesus is coming to the church in a fresh and extraordinary way.

I believe he is also saying that we will need to be patient, that the refreshing living water is a necessary resource first. Jesus needs to be sitting in his proper place amongst the ruins before any restructuring and renewing can begin.

He is already among us. He is going to sit amongst us in new ways. The church is not dead but it has been badly damaged. He is going to do a new thing (he always does a new thing).

The roots of the damaged plant are still there below the surface as are the foundations of the damaged temple as is the foundation stone of the church which is Christ.

So rejoice, be patient, and be full of expectation! This is a time for experiencing the Messiah's holiness and love. It is also a time for all of us - individually and together - to allow his holiness and love to pour out through us as a great flood. This flood from Jesus needs to flow between us one to another, and it will also flow out into the world.

Our response - Whether I have understood all this correctly and fully or not (probably not), it would be good to hear what others think.

What do these two pictures say to you? What have I missed or distorted? Have you or those you know had similar revelations and expectations? What do you think the Lord will do next amongst us? Do you see evidence for these changes in the world around you? In church life? In your own life?

See also: Another wave rolls in - from Felicity Dale's blog 'Simply Church'

03 August 2012

Curiosity reaches Mars

NASA's next attempt to land a rover on Mars will be made on 6th August. It's going to be a scary process but if it's successful the results will soon begin to stream home from Curiosity on the floor of Gale Crater.

Three generations of Mars rovers
In a few days time, at 05:31 UT on August 6th, NASA will attempt a landing on Mars. The Curiosity rover is the size of a small car and weighs nearly a tonne. The objective is to gently place it on the ground inside Gale Crater.

The image shows NASA staff with engineering versions of Curiosity (the large rover on the right) and two earlier generations, Opportunity on the left and little Sojourner at the bottom.

The journey from the top of the Martian atmosphere to the ground will take about seven minutes. During this time, the spacecraft has to decelerate from nearly 6 kilometres per second to zero and leave the rover in the right place and undamaged.

You can see how this is intended to work 1n the NASA video 'The Challenges of Getting to Mars'.

It may not work out well, although I hope and expect that it will. If so, we're in for a treat as the rover begins its prime mission, exploring the interior of Gale Crater in detail and looking for signs that the conditions might once have been suitable for life.

02 August 2012

The opposite of envy

A phone call sparked some thoughts about envy and its opposite. Envy is such a negative and destructive emotion. The opposite of envy is rejoicing with one another. We need to cultivate joy in our lives.

I had a lovely telephone chat with a friend yesterday. We've only met once, and briefly at that. But we've corresponded occasionally over the years on various topics around life in general and life with Jesus in particular.

One thing that we talked about today was the topic of envy. And as we talked I tried to work out what would be the opposite of envy. I decided it must be rejoicing with one another.

If I envy you for your car, your wife, your wealth or good health, your education or some other blessing in your life, I am saying that I would prefer to have that thing myself, I would like to be in your place.

But if I rejoice with you over your car, wife, wealth, good health, education, or other blessing, I'm expressing gladness that you have that thing.

The Bible has a good deal to say about envy. Old and New Testaments agree that envy is a very bad thing. Here are a few examples.

  • 'A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.' (Proverbs 13:40)
  • For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person. (Mark 7:21-23)
  • they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. (Romans 1:28-29)

The word 'envy' appears twenty times in the UK version of the NIV.

The value of joy - Let's think about rejoicing instead. Let's practice rejoicing with our brother or sister in the good things they have received. Even if I have little and you have much, why would I not rejoice with you, why would I be jealous instead?

Envy is a shrivelled, mean-hearted emotion, crabby and resentful. It drives people apart. But rejoicing with one another builds bonds of peace and closeness. Envy causes a souring of relationships and blocks communication. But rejoicing with one another causes relationships to flourish like well-watered gardens and opens new depths of rich communication. Rejoicing is good for the soul, good for the mind, good for our sense of well-being.

Rejoicing builds up where envy tears down. Rejoicing cements together where envy tears apart. So it's easy to see that rejoicing makes it easier for Jesus to build the church whereas envy makes it much harder. We are a temple built of living stones held together by bonds of peace; rejoicing and love are the two major bonding elements.

May I urge you, if there is any bitterness or envy or jealousy in your heart, pray for it to be replaced with joy. And wherever you detect bitterness or envy or jealousy in your brother or sister, pray for them that joy might grow in their hearts instead. And where possible, pour love and good things into their lives as these may help the process along.

Light is a good thing, darkness is disabling, but light banishes darkness. In the same way joy is a good thing, envy is disabling, but joy banishes envy. Our hearts should seek joy just as our eyes seek light. The heart that seeks joy will find it - first in Christ, then in his Spirit, then in all the good things of life, and finally even in facing hardships and difficulties and pain.

In the world of music - You might like to listen to Beethoven's famous 'Ode to Joy' theme from his ninth symphony.

Notice how quietly it begins as a simple melody, but then spreads eventually through the entire orchestra and grows in excitement eventually bringing in all the instruments and voices.

It's such a great illustration, joy may begin quietly but it's lively and thoroughly infectious.

The final word - Let's give Paul the final word on rejoicing.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

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