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:

12 September 2013

Steve Addison in Nottingham

Don't miss the opportunity of hearing Steve Addison speak at the Newforms Gathering in Nottingham, 29th November to 1st December 2013. It's not too late to book, though places are going quickly.

Steve writes and speaks on missional movements, his books What Jesus Started and Movements that Change the World are excellent and have made quite an impact.

Here's what Martin Robinson (director of Together in Mission, UK) has to say about Movements that Change the World...

Steve has been tantalizing me with tales of this book for years. He has talked to me about the content on numerous occasions. The chapters are distilled from years of experience and thought, and the final product has not disappointed. Practitioners and thinkers with a passion for mission will want to read and reread this book.

Here are some things you can do right away

See you there!

06 August 2013

Gifts, prayer and needs

Leaders in the church, Part 13
< Some issues to grapple with | Index | No later items >

As we grow in living the way Jesus calls us to, we become examples for those around us, those coming next. If we live wrongly and make bad choices we will mislead others and that would be a fearful thing.

Bread of life
Bread of life
It's becoming clear to me that everything in Matthew's Gospel is of value to all believers and also to all leaders. In other words there is nothing here so far that applies only to leaders or only to followers.

Instead, the pattern is a progression, from new believer to disciple and from disciple to leader. As we learn and grow we should all aspire to guide and encourage and build those around us. Even at the earliest disciple stage we can do what Jesus' followers did; bring more people to Jesus.

We need to learn to exercise ourselves in these activities, bringing people into Jesus' presence, helping them to grow as disciples, and continuing to grow in the process ourselves. In a sense there is no distinction between leader and follower; we are, without exception, called to be both.

Giving and praying - So here in Matthew 6:1-4 we see Jesus speaking about giving to those who have insufficient and doing it secretly without show or boasting. And in Matthew 6:5-15 he tells them that it's the same for prayer. Pray privately, just between yourself and the Father. Nor is it about fancy words, the most striking thing about the prayer Jesus taught them is its simplicity. Even so, each of those simple words is loaded with meaning and significance. This is not a prayer for those who do not mean business!

Again, fasting is not for show but to be done secretly (Matthew 6:16-18).

Focussing on heaven - Matthew 6:19-24 shows how Jesus wants us to focus on heaven, not earth; to be full of light, not darkness; and to serve the Almighty, not material things.

And we are not to be anxious about food, drink, clothes or time (Matthew 6:25-34). Instead we must search for the kingdom of the Most High and for his righteousness.

By doing all these things we will become living books that people can safely follow. 'Do what I do' needs to consistently bring people right into the places where Jesus is present.

Questions:

  • If I do not give to those in need or those who ask, how will this affect my friends' understanding of Jesus?
  • Can you list some ways in which secret prayer is better than public prayer?
  • Now list the ways in which public prayer is better than secret prayer.
  • How will this affect the way you pray in future?

See also:


< Some issues to grapple with | Index | No later items >

11 July 2013

Familiar strangers

We're all aware of people we know by sight but not by name. This happens when we repeatedly see the same face in a certain context - travelling to work, having a coffee while shopping. Research shows how widespread this is; can the church make use of this idea as a missional resource?

Will I recognise anyone here?
Will I recognise anyone here?
Recent research shows that people are regularly in the same place at the same time with others they don't know.

This seems to happen because we're creatures of habit, using the same bus at the same time every day, visiting the coffee shop at the same time, using favourite shops over and over again.

Such patterns of behaviour mean that faces may become familiar to us, even if we don't know a person's name, even if we've never spoken to them. It would be easy to start a conversation with such people; if I recognise their faces they will most likely recognise mine too.

Opportunity for mission - This opens up some interesting possibilities for mission.

I'm going to try deliberately noting people that I see regularly and initiating conversations. Hopefully I can widen the circle of people I know in that way. It's going to be important to be intentionally observant so that I can find people who will feel I'm already familiar.

I'm going to pray about it and ask Father to show me the right people and guide me in the conversations. It'll be very interesting to see how this works out. This is related to the idea of a third place and using such a place as an opening for community and mission.

I don't plan to have religious conversations, just conversations about everyday things at first. As I get to know some of these people better I hope to be able to share the good news that they are loved and special in Father's sight.

Questions:

  • What places do you visit regularly? What are your daily patterns and habits?
  • Can you identify people that you see regularly?
  • Are you willing to try talking to these people?

See also:

10 July 2013

Some issues to grapple with

Leaders in the church, Part 12
< Back to front truth | Index | Gifts, prayer and needs >

Speaking to his disciples, Jesus stresses the importance of avoiding anger, lust, divorce and swearing; he also tells them how important it is to be selfless. He was speaking to leaders in training and it's important that we understand these things are especially significant when we lead.

An angry man
An angry man
Matthew 5:21-42 records some of Jesus' teaching about negative things - anger, lust, swearing oaths and retaliation. After these are dealt with he continues with some positive essentials.

As we pay attention to what he says about both negative and positive, we should bear in mind that he is speaking here to leaders in training, the followers he will later send out to work on their own.

This stuff applies to everyone, but it applies especially to anyone who leads. And if we are truly following Jesus we will do what he does (and that includes leading others into the truth).

The highest standards are demanded of people who lead others. We need to be very serious in understanding the harm that we can do, and we need to accept that we are held accountable by Jesus himself.

Anger - In Matthew 5:21-26 Jesus explains that murder is illegal and will be judged. But then he says something quite astonishing. He tells us that anger, insults and even calling someone stupid will be judged equally seriously.

He tells his apprentices that even if they're in the middle of an important and public religious act at the Temple, if it occurs to them that they've wronged someone in any way they should drop what they're doing and go and put things right straight away.

Or, if someone has a legal case against you, come to an agreement with them before the court appearance. It's just common sense really. But it's an illustration of spiritual common-sense too. We are called to love one another, and amongst other things that means keeping our relationships with one another healthy. If we let anger, differences, grudges or hostility creep in we are failing in love. That is a more serious matter than we may realise and it goes against the new, great commandment to 'love one another as I have loved you'.

Lust - Once again, Jesus' standards exceed those of the law. Even looking is condemned as adultery. It is the heart that counts, not just the actions of the body.

Jesus presses this message home by using a Hebraic figure of speech, absurd exaggeration. Hopefully nobody will take these remarks about gouging out an eye or cutting off a hand literally! But the point about lust is important enough to warrant such words.

Truly loving other people is the key to resolving this issue, as with anger. We cannot hurt those we truly love.

We don't need to list recent examples of sexual misconduct in church circles. It happens more often than we like to think. It's usually well hidden for as long as possible and it's always shocking when the truth comes out.

Divorce - Once again, Yahshua insists that the parting of husband and wife is more serious than many assume. The paper certificate is not the issue here. As with anger and lust we need to see that love will prevent this. But we'd better not mix up the different kinds of love in our minds, I don't mean romantic love here, I mean the kind of love Jesus himself calls for, sacrificial and compassionate.

Swearing - Yes or no is enough. Does this apply only to everyday conversation or does it also apply in a court of law? It applies in both cases. When asked to swear in a court of law, find out if there's an option to affirm that you will tell the truth instead. Such an option exists in both UK and USA law.

Whether or not you consider yourself a leader, remember that you are setting an example that others may follow. In this sense whenever we speak or act we are leading those who are watching and listening.

Selflessness - We must be humble, accepting injustices and giving over and above what is asked of us. This, too, is Christlike. He went to the cross without complaint and neither should we complain when harmed or taken advantage of.

We are to love our enemies. This is an astonishing statement! We are to pray for them. What is this all about? It's a matter of being like our Father who is perfect. The more we are like him the better. Jesus told his disciples that if we have seen him we have seen the Father. So it's just the same as saying we are to be like Jesus.

This is what leadership is all about, becoming daily more like Jesus. Jesus is on a mission and we must follow him in that. And out of mission will come discipleship. Others will follow us as we follow Jesus - that's what it means to 'make disciples'. Jesus reveals the Father to us and we must reveal Jesus to those around us.

We can do nothing greater then lead; we dare do nothing less. All of us. And we can copy Jesus in one more thing. If we remember that he was speaking here to trainee leaders we should understand that we, too, need to be training leaders. It is the most important and effective thing we can do.

Questions:


  • Can you think of some ways in which you could become more like Jesus in thought and deed?
  • In what situations have you led others by your actions or words this week?
  • Which of the negatives and positives above do you find most problematic?
  • Are there strategies you could use to better deal with those problem areas?
See also:


< Back to front truth | Index | Gifts, prayer and needs >

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:

Copyright

Creative Commons Licence

© 2002-2017, Chris J Jefferies

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. A link to the relevant article on this site is sufficient attribution. If you print the material please include the URL. Thanks! Click through photos for larger versions. Images from Wikimedia Commons will then display the original copyright information.
Real Time Web Analytics