13 January 2013

Meet in houses

Choudhrie's steps, Part 2 of 21
< Clergy and laity | Series index | Small and informal >

For the second step in transforming church life, Victor Choudhrie urges us to meet in a different place. Instead of 'temples made by human hands' he recommends 'houses of peace'. What does he mean by this? How do we find 'houses of peace'?

Is there a house of peace here?This is Victor Choudhrie's second step for transforming the life of the church.

Move from meeting in temples to gathering in 'houses of peace'. 'God does not dwell in temples made by human hands'; rather He dwells in human hearts. For we are the mobile walking and talking temples of the living God, with a maximum of organism and a minimum of organization. Luke 10:5-9; Matthew 10:11-13; Acts 7:48-49; 2 Corinthians 6:16


As with step 1 there's a lot to digest. Once again, step 2 assumes the reader is part of a typical western church. We are comfortable with the idea of meeting as a large group in a spacious building, But Victor Choudhrie challenges us to read the New Testament with fresh eyes and open minds and calls us to meet somewhere entirely different. Let's unpack this a little.

Temple or house of peace? - Are we 'dwell[ing] in temples made by human hands'? Surely not! The Temple was in Jerusalem, not here in my town. Why does he say we are meeting in 'temples'?

What is the essence of a temple? It's a special place where people come to worship their chosen god. Is that what we do on a Sunday morning? Well, yes, in a way it is exactly what we do. We all know that the place where we meet is not special, yet we treat it reverentially. Or, if we hire a building once a week, although the building is ordinary we regard the gathering itself to be special in some way.

And what is a 'house of peace'? Reading the Luke and Matthew passages it's clear that travelling is involved here. When we arrive in a new place we're to search for a home where we will be made welcome. So rather than meeting in a special place, we might consider meeting in any home that will welcome us. That implies smaller numbers (200 people won't fit in a typical house) and it implies lack of organisation (no worship band, no pulpit, no rows of seats).

There are at least two ways of looking at this.

Mission or community? - The first one involves going out to find people of peace, spending time with them sharing the good news of Jesus, asking them to gather their close friends and family in their home, coaching them to lead the new house church so created and teaching them to repeat the process themselves. That's one view. This is what the disciples and early church did. Meeting as part of a small community in a home means you are part of a network of such meetings and actively planting out new ones.

The second way of looking at it is that the small meeting at home is a family, a stable group of people that love and care for one another, help one another out, build one another up, and encourage one another.

In practice, most home-based churches will have elements of both viral spread and family group. The proportion of the mix depends on environment. Where there is a large harvest in the local area the missional aspect may be the major one, where there are already many believers, the community aspect may the most widely expressed.

This second step requires additional, fundamental change of a most demanding kind. In the first step we lost our leaders, now we are losing our building!

How many conventional churches would be willing to take such a major and seemingly foolhardy step? Perhaps not many. And what sort church would do so? Perhaps the answer to that is one who's members are looking to follow Jesus closely and are paying attention to what he says.

Releasing resources - How much money and time does it take to manage church in 'temple' mode? Add up the cost of a building, either rented weekly or purchased outright, and the expenses involved in staff salaries, office space and equipment, lighting, heating and other running costs and the annual bill for just one church is very large. Now factor in the time people spend supporting all of this church infrastructure. The time and money absorbed by non-essential activities is immense.

Now multiply that by the number of churches (over a dozen in St Neots where I live) and you can begin to comprehend the resources that would be released if we all met in homes. Most of those resources could be used to support mission work, to help one another, and meet everyday needs in the community.

It's not that conventional churches don't spend time and money on the community or on mission, some make considerable efforts in that regard. But how much more could we do?

And here's the main point. How often do we stop and ask the Spirit of Christ to guide us in these things? If we asked him, what would he say to us? Would he command us, 'Go and make bricks and build a physical structure for me'? Probably not, that's what Pharaoh commanded the Israelites.

No, he is much more inclined to tell his people, 'Go in my name and feed the hungry, heal the sick, share the good news, look for the house of peace and the person of peace and allow me to build my church there, a body made of living stones'.

Probable responses - How will traditional churches receive the suggestion to move out of a 'temple' and into 'houses of peace'? As with step one there are three possibilities.
  1. Some may reject the step out of hand because it goes against church tradition and destroys what we have been accustomed to. Many may feel it's an unsafe and unwise move, a step into the unknown.
  2. Others may try to adjust what they already have. For example, they may stress the value of home groups and reduce the importance of the Sunday service in a large, central location. This meeting may become a celebration held once every month or two.
  3. And some might take hold of step two enthusiastically, replacing the main location altogether and focussing all their resources on growing healthy gatherings in homes.

Questions:
  • What arguments do you foresee being used to retain the use of a large meeting place?
  • Small and large meetings both have advantages and disadvantages, how many you can list?
  • What does Choudhrie mean by a 'maximum of organism and minimum of organisation'?

See also:


< Clergy and laity | Series index | Small and informal >

12 January 2013

Words - a poem

Here's a poem by Phil Groom, it's called 'Words'. He wrote it in 2009 but it was especially appropriate in an online discussion a few days ago. 'Words' is eloquent about the damage that words can do when they're used as weapons.

A brick and broken glass
This is a poem written by Phil Groom in 2009.

Just a few days ago he dropped it into a debate that had turned a bit nasty. It didn't seem to register in the debate but I read it and thought how appropriate is was, and what a wonderful bit of creative poetry it is.

It speaks of the damage words can do, and how they come back to haunt us.

We can put words out there by what we say and what we write, but we can never take them back once they've been heard or read.

Jesus made this point when he told the Pharisees that it's not what goes into a person that makes them unclean, but what comes out. The Jews had strict food laws, but it's not wrong food that defiles us, it's wrong words (Matthew 15:11).

Phil graciously said I might reproduce his poem here. But you can also to see it in it's original context on Phil's boring blog (which is not boring at all).

Words

I threw a brick
through a window last night.
The brick just laughed
while the window cried -
bits of broken glass lying bleeding on the floor,
no one picked them up:
no one knew what they were for.

Throwing bricks
through the windows
of other people’s lives
leaving jagged edges jutting
out at us like sharpened knives:
we think we are so clever
with the careful words we choose
and we feel so much better
when they leave a nasty bruise.

Words are free —
but we’ll pay the price,
Words are weapons —
but we’d best think twice
before we draw them
to join in the fight —
will we speak in love
or will we speak in spite?

Did no one ever tell you
that a word is like a sword?
Good for slashing,
good for stabbing,
and it brings its own reward
as the blood flows freely down the polished blade
to leave your best friend reeling with the mess you’ve made…

Words are like a rainbow,
dancing in the sky,
filled with golden promises
that hide behind a lie:
for when the storm is over
the rainbow can’t be found
and the pot of gold
it promised you
is gone,
without a sound.

WORDS!
They can pick you up
or they can knock you down,
they can creep like mice
or they can dance like clowns,
tumbling like an avalanche
to bury me alive,
whirling like a boomerang,
there’s nowhere left to hide,
coming back to haunt me:
like a brick between the eyes.


Questions:

  • How often have you said something in haste and later wished you hadn't?
  • Can you think of times when words ('mere' words) have deeply hurt you?
  • Have you forgiven the people who spoke those words?
  • Do you stop to think before speaking?

See also:

11 January 2013

In the beginning

The universe, Part 3
< How does science work?Series index | From the beginning to atoms >

The beginning of the universe is hidden from us although we know it's about 13.75 billion years old. We can theorise about it using mathematical tools, but we can't see it and we can't measure it. Everything began at that point - space, energy, even time itself.

Maths is an essential tool
We can't see the beginning itself. People sometimes talk about the Big Bang and they imagine a huge explosion crashing out into an empty expanse of endless space.

But that's not right. If you see it in that way you are really not seeing it at all!

Nothing existed before the Big Bang. At least no physical thing that we can see or know inside this universe existed.

There was a singularity, though it's difficult to imagine one of those or what it implies.

  • Time began at the beginning, so before the beginning is meaningless.
  • Space began at the beginning, until then there had been no room in which anything could have existed. There was nowhere to explode into.
  • Energy began then too, beforehand there was no energy.
  • And there was no matter because matter is just condensed energy.
  • Even the laws of physics began at the beginning

Time, space, energy and physics all had their origins at the beginning, and we can't investigate that extraordinary phenomenon - the beginning. We can't see it, we can't visit it, we can't measure it, we can't really imagine it. Not only is it far more extraordinary than we think, it is far more extraordinary than we are able to think.

And perhaps the most amazing thing about the beginning is that eventually we came from it; we are here and are able to think about how extraordinary it all is.

Theoretical problems - It's almost as if the universe doesn't want us to understand its origin. Our best models for the earliest moments of the universe are mathematical. OK, really our only models for this are mathematical.

However there's a serious issue, even with that. If at the beginning the universe was infinitely small then some of the numbers in the models become zero, or they become infinite. Not only does the universe seem to explode, so does the maths.

Maths doesn't always handle zeros and infinities especially well, they can be a problem. It makes mathematical models difficult as we try to apply them closer and closer to the beginning. This is driving some mathematicians and cosmologists to think that there may not be a beginning at all, just a certain minimum size and maximum density before which the universe was larger and, perhaps, time ran the other way. Or something.

Is there room for intelligence? - We can only think about it because we are here. There are no other animals on this planet that even know there was a beginning. We are unique on Earth.

I imagine there must be many other intelligent minds in the universe and it's likely that all of them give some thought to the beginning. Each in their own, unique way no doubt. The fact that there is a beginning is one of the reasons I believe in an even greater intelligence that caused the universe to begin. What is certain is that intelligence is almost inevitable given the properties of the universe, but it couldn't appear until a lot of other things were in place.

But for a moment, let's consider the alternative that the universe has always existed and will always exist with new energy and matter appearing to 'fill the gaps' as it expands. In the 1950s and 60s many cosmologists argued this was the case, it was called the 'Steady State Theory'. But it's since been shown to be incorrect.

But if it was correct I would still feel the need for a first cause, a greater power and intelligence to make it exist. So whether there was a beginning or not, I will still believe in a Creator.

What is the alternative? It's all just causeless?

After the beginning? - But there was a beginning, and we can understand some of the things that happened soon afterwards when the universe, time, space, energy and physics were all very new. And you'll be astounded to learn that we understand some things about it even a tiny fraction of a second after the beginning. A much tinier fraction than you think (unless you're a cosmologist).

It all began roughly 13.75 billion years ago. Our Solar System and this Earth are around 4.5 billion years old or about a third of the age of the universe. The universe was smaller then too.

If you made it this far, congratulations! After this things get easier as the universe grows bigger, older and more familiar. Next time we'll pick up the story at that point where we think we know something, and we'll find out just how awesomely near the beginning that is.


Questions:

  • How comfy are you with the idea of a creative intelligence causing this universe?
  • How comfy are you with the idea of the absence of any such creative intelligence?
  • Does your head hurt yet? Go and get a cup of tea, or coffee, or a glass of wine.

See also:


< How does science work?Series index | From the beginning to atoms >

08 January 2013

Cornerstone - Prayer for St Neots

< 27th May 2012 | Index | 15th January 2013 >

Two of us met at Cornerstone to talk about a Ffald-y-Brenin style house of prayer in St Neots. That's not going to work well with just the two of us so we're interested to meet anyone else who is like-minded. Meanwhile we plan to meet weekly to talk and pray further.

Part of the river front in St Neots
A friend (another Chris) and I met at Cornerstone for coffee yesterday to consider the way forward for a house of prayer for the town. We've discussed this before, last time we met at Costa some weeks before Christmas.

Chris feels quite strongly drawn to the Ffald-y-Brenin approach to the house of prayer, I'm feeling that I'd like to be involved but can't offer a large amount of time as I'm already so busy. We agreed to meet weekly for a time and see how it goes. Today we spent quite a while chatting about the situation and finding out a bit more about one another's views.

We prayed specifically that Father would send workers into the harvest here in St Neots and the area around it. In particular we asked for more people to be sent initially to join us in prayer. We also prayed for blessing on our local area and for protection for Cornerstone in the midst of some difficulties they've faced recently, for the manager Paul and his wife Michelle, for the staff and the volunteers, and for the customers.

Others in the area - If you're reading this, and you live in or near St Neots, and you feel called to pray for the town, please drop me an email - chris@scilla.org.uk . We'd love to meet you!

We also thought about visiting other groups of believers around the town, the Baptists, The River, Open Door, and two of the three Anglican congregations got a mention. I'd like to visit every group in the town. There are at least a dozen of them.

Chris and I plan to meet in Cornerstone again next week, and after that we'll probably decide what to do as we go along. It's going to be an interesting journey of discovery in praying for St Neots.

Questions:

  • Have you read the book about Ffald-y-Brenin ('The Grace Outpouring', link below)?
  • Are you involved in praying for the area where you live?
  • Can you pray out of blessing and call blessing down on those around you?
  • Are you in touch with other groups of believers in your area?

See also:



< 27th May 2012 | Index | 15th January 2013 >

A light on the path

It's important that we serve the community around us, this is how we show people in the world that they are loved. The basis for that loving service is that Christ first loved me, but beyond that he also goes with me and shows me who to speak to, who to bless, and how and when to do it.

A light on the pathJanuary's Synchroblog invitation reads in part as follows.

New Year’s Resolutions are usually somewhat self-serving. But is there a way you can serve others in 2013? Are there homeless people in your community? Maybe you could bring some food to them on a regular basis this year. Are there single mothers? How about coming alongside them to babysit their kids while they go shopping, or maybe you could change the oil in their car or mow their lawn. Do you know any alcoholics or addicts? What can you do to show them love and care this year? Are there elderly shut-ins in your neighborhood? How about running errands for them or going over to their place to play cards, read to them, or just talk?

Serving others - Works of service are important. We are here to serve one another, to serve those around us and to serve the Messiah first and foremost. The people around me can only know that they are loved if they are loved. So yes, I do want to serve the community where I live during the coming year.

But I believe the basis for service is critically important, so rather than resolve here and now what my service will be I plan to write about the basis for serving and how we can consider that and respond to it.

A New Year's resolution by any other name is still a New Year's resolution. And if I resolve to do something, it had better be the right something! All of the suggestions in the Synchroblog notes are great, but doing good things is not sufficient as an end in itself. So what should be the foundation?

Love - The immediate foundation is, I believe, love. If I don't have love, then my actions will be empty at best, or merely for show at worst. I need to step in to help when I see weakness, helplessness, hunger, thirst, injustice, sickness, imprisonment. My heart needs to go out on a daily, even an hourly, basis so that I will respond out of love as and when I witness the need. Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 again. Whatever I do without love is void.

Obedience - But there is something else, a deeper foundation that underpins even acts of love. And that is obedience. Love and obedience are intertwined. I will meet the needs I see because I love the needy. And I will obey Jesus because I love him. I love him because he first loved me.

So he is the source, and the effect he works is in me and through me. First to love him and obey him, secondly to love those around me and serve them. So we really do need to consider obedience as well as love. If I am to serve those around me most effectively I need to love them but I also need to hear what Jesus is saying to me through his Spirit and act obediently. Not only that, but Jesus prepares the way for us. He leads us to people he has already made ready.

Obedience is a moment by moment affair. The Spirit whispers quietly to me, 'This is the way, walk in it. Go here, do that, speak to that person trusting that I will give you the words as you need them, go to such and such a place where someone needs your help. Sit here, watch, and see what I will show you.'

Now, I'm not saying it always works that way for me - but sometimes it does. When I am listening and trusting it always does.

Know Jesus and listen - So I encourage everyone, get to know Jesus if you don't already. He is Love, Peace, Power, Life, the Way, Light in the darkness. Believing in him is a good start but it's not enough - know him, walk with him, speak to him, listen to him. It's what his first followers did, and you can too.

Learn to focus more on listening than on speaking. We are told we should pray every day and read the Bible every day; and they are great habits to have. But above all, before even prayer and reading, listen. Be attentive. Be still and quiet and hear what the Spirit of Christ is saying to you. And obey him.

And then you will have the best and most helpful opportunities to serve those around you. Guided in the moment in all you do and say by the One who can shine real light on your path.

So if we resolve anything in this new year of 2013, let's resolve to know him, pay attention to him, hear him and obey him in all we do. And to do it more fully than in any previous year. Will you join me in that resolution?

Practical details - But the synchroblog asked for specifics.

For the January 2013 synchroblog, we invite you to share some of the tangible needs in your neighborhood or community you will seek to meet this year. Be concrete. Where, when, how, and to whom will you be the hands and feet of Jesus? As you think and write about this, it will not only encourage you to follow Jesus into the world this year, but will also provide the rest of us with some suggestions for how we can serve others in our own communities.

I don't yet know, in detail. But one thing I feel he is already urging me to do is print off a bunch of my photos in a reasonable size, perhaps A5, and sit in the market square with a spare chair beside me offering them free to anyone who will sit, choose a photo, and tell me what they see in it. I must get those photos organised right away!

People have physical needs, but they also have emotional needs and spiritual needs. Perhaps this will be an opportunity to reach hungry and lost hearts. Chris Duffett does things like this to great effect and you'll find abundant ideas on his website.

My wife is keen to find a community project of some kind to help people in practical ways and I might join her in that. She's a member of Open Door, a local New Frontiers church. It's likely the initiative will come through Open Door.

In the past I've helped a variety of people in little ways but was specifically led into each situation. Kid's camps; a couple, both seriously ill, with children at home and needing help with gardening; a couple suffering serious physical abuse from young people in the area; a friend needing company and occasional practical help; a conversation with a stranger on a train; serving Christmas dinner to lonely people.

I'm expecting more of the same in the year ahead - I just can't tell you what it will be yet!

Questions:

  • What do you find to be the most effective ways of listening, spiritually?
  • Is it better to do nothing, to do something unguided, or to do what you are told?
  • Do you agree with me that action and obedience are both rooted in love?

See also:


Other posts in this synchroblog:

07 January 2013

The climate in 2012 and 2013

Global warming is real and is coming to a country near you. In fact it's coming everywhere and the effects will be very serious. Here's a report on some of the main points as discussed in a recent series of New Zealand radio shows. What can you do about it? Try to make more people aware of the facts.

A frosty scene in EnglandA series of ten minute slots in a New Zealand radio show provide a useful climate update. Listen to Glenn Williams discussing the climate with Gareth Renowden.

They review some of the worst weather events in 2012 including Hurricane Sandy, and look to the coming year for hints of what to expect next.

The stunning lack of official action to reduce our impact on climate also gets a mention.

We're now in a place where we must expect a severely changed planet, perhaps four or even six degrees celsius warmer than it is right now. Carbon dioxide levels are continuing to rise and are likely to top 400 ppm in 2013. The consequences involve considerable sea level rises, ocean acidification, serious ocean ecosystem damage and further loss of Arctic sea ice.

My own conclusion is that we are doing nowhere near enough to limit our carbon dioxide output at a time when the pace of change is proving to be far faster than we expected just a few years ago.

There's much more detail about all these matters at the Skeptical Science website.

Oh, and if you don't live in New Zealand don't think you don't need to listen. You do. You really, really do. We all need to listen.

Questions:

  • Is there anything you can do to help make more people aware of the facts?
  • What do you think will happen if we do nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
  • On present showing, do you think humans are looking after the Earth well?

See also:

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