10 June 2013

Five colours of the rainbow

Ephesians describes a five-fold ministry based on spiritual gifts. But using only one of the five is like looking through coloured glass, everything becomes the same colour and essential information is lost. Is this what the church has done with the so-called APEST gifts?

A red postbox through green glasses
Ephesians 4:11-13 describes the so-called 'five-fold-ministry'. This is sometimes abbreviated APEST or APEPT, that is Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds (or Pastors) and Teachers.

There are many other gifts of the Spirit mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament, but the verses in Ephesians make it clear that these five are specifically 'to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up'.

There's evidence that the early church employed them all just as Paul describes.

Separation - Yet in the traditional western church apostles and prophets were not recognised for hundreds of years, evangelists were hived off into mission organisations, teachers were often found only in places of learning and training, and only shepherds (or pastors) remained to equip church members.

This crippled the church and made her ineffective in many ways.

Colours - Lets assign a colour to each gift and consider church in terms of light. How would that work?

  • Apostle - Red
  • Prophet - Orange
  • Evangelist - Yellow
  • Shepherd (Pastor) - Green
  • Teacher - Blue
With the exception of indigo and violet, these are the standard colours of the rainbow. When all five colours are present we see something quite close to white light. Now, Jesus is the Light, he illuminates everything with the pure white beam of his glory. In the Light of Jesus (the Light sent to reveal the Truth) we can see everything clearly.

But with red and yellow sidelined as being unnecessary, with yellow moved off to the mission field, and with teachers moved out into seminaries, only the green light of the shepherd (pastor) remains. This makes life very difficult for the church as green objects appear green but all other colours appear in shades of green too.

A blind church - Such a partially blind church cannot function as she was intended to. Only by bringing back all five gifts can we benefit from white Light where Jesus is central and objects all appear in their true colours. And then the church will again be equipped for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.

Isn't this what we all really want? It should be! Green may be an appropriate colour for a shepherd, but we need more than a shepherd if we are to see everything clearly.


Questions:

  • Can you imagine a world in which everything appears green?
  • How might this affect your driving? (Think about red lights.)
  • How much do you know about the gifts other than shepherd/pastor?
  • How can you expand your knowledge? Hint, try some of the links below.

See also:

05 June 2013

Writing to Philemon

Paul's letter to Philemon throws light on slavery in the Roman world. It also shows how Paul taught, not by demanding certain behaviour and instilling knowledge but by applying principles and illustrating them by living them out in his own actions and thoughts, setting a good example.

Roman slaves filling bowls with wine
When Paul wrote his letter to Philemon he was appealing to him as a fellow believer on behalf of a runaway slave. I've just read Steve Addison's take on this in chapter 16 of his book, 'What Jesus Started'.

The book is an excellent read, by the way. I'd recommend it to anyone wanting an introduction to life in Israel and the Greco-Roman world of the first century.

Steve describes the life of Jesus and the disciples, and the beginnings of church as the early believers were scattered. He also covers the life and work of Saul (Paul to the Greeks) and how this continues in us, today. He brings it all to life and makes it seem very real. It's both interesting and challenging; it's an accessible glimpse into the lives of real people lived two thousand years ago.

Here's a brief extract...

Paul spent about a quarter of his ministry under arrest. On one occasion Paul was under house arrest, probably in Rome awaiting trial, when a runaway slave came looking for him.

Onesimus was a slave in the household of Philemon, a friend of Paul's. Onesimus must have known something of the gospel, as Philemon was a Christian in whose home the church gathered. Onesimus had fled after he wronged his master in some way. Under Roman law a master had the right to hunt down and brutally punish an escaped slave, and anyone harboring an escaped slave was liable to pay the owner for compensation. Onesimus may have hoped Paul would mediate between him and his master.

Through Paul, Onesimus became a believer. Paul loved him as a father loves his son and came to rely on his help during his imprisonment. Paul wanted to reconcile Philemon and Onesimus, so Paul wrote a short note for Onesimus to take back to Philemon.

The letter to Philemon gives us an idea of how Paul trained disciples to follow Christ in a world corrupted by sin. Paul wanted Philemon to see how Christ could transform his social relationships. Onesimus was still a slave under the law, but he should no longer be treated as one because he was now a brother in Christ. Paul reminded Philemon that both slaves and masters are servants of Christ and members of the one household of faith. Philemon, Onesimus's master, himself had a master in heaven. Paul could have ordered Philemon to act in a particular way; instead he appealed to the truth of the gospel and its implications for how Philemon should treat a brother in Christ who happened to be a slave.

Paul offered to repay any wrong Onesimus had done, but because Philemon had found Christ through Paul, he owed Paul a greater debt than Onesimus owed him.

The shortest letter Paul wrote, Philemon is a window into how Paul trained disciples. Both Philemon and Onesimus came to know Christ through Paul. Having shared the gospel of God's grace with them, Paul was now, from prison, teaching them to live out the gospel's implications. He was not laying down a new law; he was teaching disciples to follow Christ.

Let's look again at the points Steve makes here; they are essential for our lives in Christ as believers and followers. Further into the chapter, Steve explains that Paul regularly uses the same structure in his letters and in his recorded conversations in Acts.

He begins by setting out the basic truth of the gospel and then, using that as a launchpad, he appeals to people to have attitudes and lives that are modelled on that gospel and on Jesus himself. So all of the things that the Bible teaches us about grace and forgiveness, love, caring for the weak and the sick, generosity, holiness and all the rest, all of the things expressed in the life of Jesus, these things become challenges to us to live and think the same way.

He does it here twice in this very short letter. He has evidently persuaded Onesimus to return with the letter, showing by his own life and imprisonment that obedience to Jesus is necessary regardless of the cost. In the same way, Onesimus should show obedience to Philemon.

Paul opens his letter by mentioning Philemon's love for all the believers. His appeal is based on the love that Jesus showed, paying our great debt and forgiving us out of his pure love for the lost. In Christ we are all sinners rescued by grace because of love and Philemon should continue to imitate Jesus in this.

But above all, Paul shows us that we should be especially slow to judge one another, slow to criticise, and avoid telling one another how to behave. Instead we should ourselves behave in ways that are full of love and grace and are worthy of following; then we will demonstrate the way to others just as Paul himself did, and just as Jesus did.

Questions:

  • Do you know people who are imitators of Christ?
  • What advantages do you see to modelling Jesus in your daily life? (First for yourself, then for those who watch you.)
  • There's an old proverb, 'Actions speak louder than words'. Is it true? Why, or why not?

See also:

28 May 2013

Islam and peace

The murder of a British soldier is just another example of violence between different groups of people. What is the greatest religious divide in our day? It may not be what you think or expect. But what we have in common far outweighs any of the differences we focus on so often.

Simulated image of the Earth
Following recent events in Woolwich, I want to write down my thoughts about the greatest religious divide of our time.

Just a week ago a British serviceman was brutally murdered by two men who justified the act by saying that British forces were killing Muslims.

The great divide - So what is that divide? You might pick something different, but for me the greatest religious divide is between violent fundamentalists on the one hand and everyone else on the other. Seen in that way, the great majority of Muslims are on the same side as the great majority of Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists and the rest.

Violent fundamentalists of any faith are a small minority, they always were and always will be. Most people are caring, kind, and want nothing more than to live peacefully and in safety. Fundamentalists are zealous and uncompromising about their beliefs, but only a few would say that violence is justifiable or necessary. And of those that say violence is justifiable, only a few would actually commit a murder. So the men who murdered the soldier are a minority of a minority of a minority. Islam has no monopoly on violent fundamentalism. We see it amongst Christians, Hindus, Jews, and even Buddhists.

Standing together - The vast majority of people in this world of any faith and of none must stand together. We must continue to declare peace to one another, to bless one another, and to recognise that all violence is wrong. We must make it clear that we do not accept violence as a way of solving problems and we oppose any person or organisation that does.

It's also important to remember that there may be many reasons for committing a violent act, not all of them are based on strongly held religious views. There are also political reasons, personal reasons, mental illness reasons and many more. Perhaps political reasons are the most common.

The brutal murder of an off-duty British soldier by driving a car into him and then hacking him to death causes fear amongst ordinary people. On the one hand the fear of Islamic fundamentalism is ramped up, and on the other hand the fear of reprisals against Muslims is also ramped up. It's a double whammy. It's likely that the motive, at least in part, was to raise tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims. We must make sure those tensions are quickly calmed.

Peace and vision - To any Muslim in the UK reading this I say 'Assalamu alaikum', 'Peace to you'. I understand that you may be afraid of retaliation, under the circumstances that is natural. It's up to all of us to draw closer to one another, not just within our communities but between them too. Talk to your neighbours of other faiths and of none, understand that they may be just as anxious as you are.

I condemn all violence and threat of violence, regardless of who is responsible for it, who it may be aimed at, and whatever reason may be given for it. There can be no justification for one human being injuring or murdering another. Nor can there be any justification for damage to property, for threats, or for any kind of intimidation. Violence and destruction simply cannot be right.

Instead we need a vision for cooperation, peace and love. Here's a great, international demonstration of peaceful cooperation, the song 'We don't need no more trouble'. This wonderful video will give you a better sense of the spirit of cooperation and fun that is available to us if only we will accept one another - not as black or white, male or female, wealthy or poor, Muslim or Christian or Hindu, but as people. How hard can that be?

Yes, but - Oh - I should have mentioned something else.

There is a cost to the goal of accepting one another in love. There is always a cost. The cost is that we (I, you) must make the first move. No matter the injustice or issue between us, we must forgive and move forward - for all our sakes.

Let's remember, whatever our differences we are one people, all of us are related, one family, living on one Earth. Nothing should cause us to destroy one another. Nothing.

Questions:

  • In what ways can you, personally, reach across a divide in your own, local community?
  • Have you been unjustly treated, hurt, ignored, overlooked, or picked upon?
  • Why do you think it's so hard to make the first move in reconciliation?
  • What will happen if nobody makes the first move?

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:

23 May 2013

Sandy Millar at Moggerhanger

Sandy Millar came as the guest speaker to the Great Ouse Filling Station. Interesting and engaging, he read Ezekiel 37:1-14 and reminded us of the need to be prayerfully active in reaching people with the good news. Making disciples is an essential part of following Jesus - after all, he told us to do it.

The F alt=Sandy Millar spoke at the Filling Station at Moggerhanger on Monday.

Let's break that sentence down into its component parts.

Sandy Millar... - Sandy is an interesting man. He is a great speaker, very engaging, relaxed enough to  include plenty of stories and asides, yet focussed on the particular theme he wants to get across.

Retired now, he began his career as a barrister and ended as an Anglican bishop.

At one time he was the vicar of Holy Trinity, Brompton where he was largely responsible for the development of the Alpha Course and, later, the Marriage Course.

...spoke... - Past tense, you missed it. But it was good.

Sandy spoke about Jesus' instructions to 'go and make disciples'. He read one of my all time favourite Bible passages, Ezekiel 37:1-14. Speaking life into dry bones is another way of thinking about disciple making.

Sandy suggested that making disciples should be our main focus, it is our mission. Here are his five main points.

  1. Recover a new understanding of the lostness of the world. It will help us see our neighbours in a different light.
  2. Develop a new confidence in the gospel. Recognise that Jesus does have the necessary power.
  3. Find a new understanding of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. He rose from the dead!
  4. We also need a new understanding of the urgency of evangelisation. We need to do good, we need to speak with people and pray for them. Pray over the dry bones.
  5. We need a fresh experience of the Holy Spirit.

...at the Filling Station... - Filling Station? What is that? Filling Station is a parachurch organisation that runs local meetings to build and strengthen local church. It involves a time of singing and praise followed by an address by a guest speaker. Most Filling Stations meet once a month.

The idea began in the West Country and has spread across the entire UK. Recently it has moved into Europe too.

...at Moggerhanger... - Weird name! Moggerhanger is a village east of Bedford, on the edge of the village is Moggerhanger Park where our local Filling Station meetings are held. We don't meet in the old house itself, but in the Garden Room, a separate meeting space in the grounds.

...on Monday - Just the day of the week. The meeting was on Monday 20th May.


Questions:

  • Are you aware of a Filling Station meeting near you?
  • Do you have a sense of urgency about making disciples?
  • What are you doing to make disciples amongst the people you know?
  • Look at Sandy's five points again. What do they say to you, personally? How will you respond? 

See also:

22 May 2013

Share resources

Choudhrie's steps, Part 4 of 21
< Small and informal | Series index | Eat together >

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 | Eat together >

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