16 February 2016

Swimming in harmony

Make no mistake - Jesus will have his way with his people. A time is coming when we will live as one body and we will experience the rule of the head - one Lord over all and in all. Jesus himself is at work. If we are to experience this we must understand the principle that all of us be willing to follow and all of us be willing to lead.

Swimming as one
Swimming as one
I began to follow Jesus in a serious way in my early twenties, beginning by reading through the Bible several times and realising that nobody I knew was taking the implications seriously.

Indeed, it seemed to me that almost all Christian scholars and leaders were blind to the deepest and simplest truths while picking over many tiny yet barely relevant details. As an example, there were entire books on the finer points of Hebrew and Koine Greek grammar, yet there were many denominations that at best ignored one another or at worst argued bitterly or had even fought wars over doctrine - yet Jesus clearly calls us to be one 'as I and the Father are one'. Not only that, he points out that the Pharisees swallow camels while taking issue with gnats, or attempt to remove specks from other's eyes while having planks in their own.

I was deeply troubled, especially by divisions in the church. I could do nothing to bring together Catholic and Brethren, or Baptist and Anglican. Neither could any conceivable ecumenical movement. In the end I realised that mending what was so broken could only come through direct intervention by the Almighty himself. It would have to be Father's move, not merely a human movement. And I would have to be patient.

When I discovered the Charismatic Movement my hopes rose as I met with believers from widely differing backgrounds. We found unity and wholeness in simple praise and community around Jesus; he confirmed it all by the abundant pouring out of his Holy Spirit. Mind you, it all fell apart soon enough, though I've never forgotten the flavour and the sheer excitement of those times!

Thinking back there are two aspects of this that have remained very strong in my heart and in my aspirations. There is a powerful sense that there was no leader at work other than Jesus himself through his Holy Spirit. All of us were followers together. And the other aspect was the opposite, that every one of us had the responsibility of leading and guiding the others. There was no tension between these 'opposites' of following and leading. We all entered into the practicalities of this, we were always eager to see and hear what the others would bring, and we had a sense of responsibility to share whatever was revealed to us because we knew the others needed it. Sometimes we got it wrong, but we forgave one another quickly and knew that Jesus, too, forgave us. And he always put us back on track. The sense of one people and one Lord was palpable; we all knew it in our hearts.

How did this work in practice? What were the unspoken rules of engagement? There were just the two already mentioned, lead and follow, follow and lead. We trusted one another, we encouraged one another, we were not afraid to correct one another when necessary, we sensed the responsibility of leading when we were called to do that, and we also understood the value of following. This was never a matter of authority and obedience. There were no individuals 'in authority' over others. But we recognised wisdom, grace, gifting and truth in one another and we knew in our hearts that we were truly one body and there was only one head. We loved one another. Think of a shoal of fish. How do they stay together? Which is the lead fish?

Today, I sense a return of this kind of oneness. It's happening in many places and in many ways. It's another move at grass roots level. But this time there is a deeper understanding developing too. Where will Jesus take us next? What are the mechanisms at work here? I plan to return to this topic in another post. Meanwhile, read Peter Farmer's post New forms of organisation, if you haven't already done so.

09 February 2016

Here be giants

A few days ago I watched a Louie Giglio presentation at a friend's home. He was talking about 'giants' in people's lives, issues that they struggle with but have not been able to completely subdue. Louie Giglio used Goliath to teach that 'giants must fall', but I think there's a much deeper meaning in the David and Goliath story.

Dwarfs and giants are real, by the way. Not so often today because of hormonal treatments that can control a person's growth. The photo shows Robert Wadlow (right) and his father (left). Robert reached almost nine feet in height; he was immensely strong and was still growing until his death in 1940.

Robert Wadlow
Robert Wadlow
Personal or corporate? - At first sight it seems that Goliath, slain by David, is a great illustration of the personal battles we face as individuals. And we heard that David represents Jesus so, like the Israelite army, I am not the one who defeats my giant - Jesus is. I'm sure Giglio is right to point this out, but I am equally sure that Goliath represents a giant that threatens, not just individuals, but the entire church.

Goliath (and several other giants in the same period) did not come to defeat individual Israelite soldiers. Goliath came to defeat the entire army and, indeed, the whole nation. He shouted defiance against Yahweh (the god of Israel) and he threatened the gathered people of Israel. I suggest that there are giants defying the Most High in our day, and threatening the church. And just as David won the entire war by defeating Goliath (1 Samuel 17:9), so will Jesus have a mighty victory when he brings down the defiant, threatening giants of our day. Let's unwrap this a bit more.

The giants - Let's think about these giants. They are very big issues that the church has developed during her long history, they mislead us and are strong and powerful, difficult to identify and shake off. The people are afraid to tackle them; these giants defy the Almighty and they cause confusion and doubt. Can we identify any of these giants? I have some preliminary ideas that I will share, but there are likely to be others I haven't identified.

The leadership giant - I believe one such giant is our great misunderstanding of church leadership. I am not referring to people here, but to an idea. The giant is not a bad church leader, he is a wrong view of what it means to lead in church. Jesus clearly said that he is the only teacher and master we need, and that we are to be absolutely humble and loving (Matthew 23:8-12, John 13:1-17, John 17:21). Yet the church is full of many leaders - bishops, elders, pastors, vicars, priests, deacons, apostles, evangelists and so forth. The problem is that we have forgotten that we have one head, Christ himself, and we are not to rule over one another. To look to others to lead us is to defy the will of the Father expressed in and through the Son. There are leaders in church life, but they don't look like the leaders I'm referring to here. For more on leaders, see Jesus, Disciple, Mission, Church (JDMC), especially the sections on The APEST gifts and Other leaders.

The denominational giant - Another giant opposing the will of the Most High regarding church is the dreadfully divided state we are in. Paul criticised the Corinthians for being divided (1 Corinthians 3), and as the centuries have passed things have just gone from bad to worse. Denominations sometimes cooperate with one another, and that's great as far as it goes, but it's not the same as being one. Jesus calls us to be one 'as I and the Father are one' (John 17:20-23), Think about that for a moment. Can it be said to be true for the church today? If not, surely we're guilty of disobedience? Paul writes about one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism (Ephesians 4:1-6). Some denominations even regard themselves as the one true church. If this is so, what do they think about all the others?

Wrong thinking about mission - Mostly, the church focuses on evangelism. When we think about outreach we think about sharing the gospel. But read Jesus' words in Matthew 28:18-20. Where does he mention the gospel or evangelism? He does, however, say that he has all power and authority, that we should make disciples everywhere and that he will be with us as we do it. The evangelism giant prevents us from doing what we have been clearly told. Let's try being and making disciples as Jesus commands, evangelism will happen along the way. (See the JDMC section on Becoming Disciples.)

Other giants - Are there more giants than these three? Undoubtedly, though three is probably more than enough to consider right now. The great difficulty with these giants is that we are so used to them that we no longer really see them. These giants are almost invisible, or we are so nearly blind and deaf that we neither see Goliath nor hear his daily challenge to us.

We need to ask our 'David', who is the same Jesus who said, 'Go in my name, make disciples, and I'll be with you', to demolish these giants for us.

Perhaps it's significant that David felled Goliath with a smooth river pebble. Jesus is more than a pebble, he is the very bedrock on which his church is built. And it's worth mentioning that he doesn't call us to build it. He did tell us that he would build it.

24 November 2015

Science and religion

I've written on this topic before, but I want to write again following a meeting last night arranged in Cambridge by the Faraday Institute. It was their annual reception and the first time I have taken part in a meeting. I plan to go to some of the public lectures as well.

The Faraday Institute Website
The Faraday Institute Website
The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion was created ten years ago to facilitate study and
discussion about science and religion.

It has an interdisciplinary, academic research program, but it also offers courses, lectures, seminars and conferences. Much of the material is online, available free of charge.

Last night's meeting began with something to eat and drink and a chance to circulate and chat. Then we heard Sir Colin John Humphreys, a physicist and Director of Research at Cambridge University, speaking on aspects of life as both a scientist and a Christian. He reminded us that it's important to read the Bible and pray.

Finally we had group discussions. Groups had been chosen so that people with similar scientific interests were gathered together. so my group was broadly biological.

The discussion was very helpful. We talked about the questions that people ask us, we discussed how to approach conversations rationally and non-confrontationally (being confrontational is a particular weakness of mine). And we considered the difficulties of a busy career in science and finding time for Christian actvities in the midst of it all. I was able to point out the dangers of dualism in our lives and how it's not about the proportion of our time that we spend on this activity or that, but whether we are kind to the person working beside us. In other words, do we reveal the fruit of the Spirit in every part of life; Christian ways of being and living should fill all that we do.

We heard about the opportunities the Faraday Institute has in British schools, answering questions that most concern young people. Our group's moderator was Lizzie Coyle who is the Institute's Youth and Schools Outreach Officer; she told us that the commonest questions she hears include  'Why is there so much suffering in the world', and the usual questions about evolution.

It was a great evening and I met some really good people. I would like to revisit the work of the Faraday Institute again on this blog; perhaps next time I can introduce some of the good thinking from lectures and seminars.

Useful link - The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion

14 October 2015

Stone Ivy

What an astonishing process has brought this image to your screen. Just think of the steps involved. From ivy to carved stone to an electronic array in my camera to the internet to your screen. Here it is in a little more detail:

Ivy carved in stone
Ivy carved in stone
  • The ivy grew from an ivy seed at a time and place long lost in the past.
  • Sunlight illuminated the ivy and some of the reflected rays entered the eyes of a stone carver, living in a different age than ours.
  • The patterns of light in the mason's eyes allowed the neurons in his brain to interpret and comprehend the delicate shapes of the ivy stems, leaves and fruit.
  • The mason's brain coordinated the movements of his hands holding chisel and mallet as he worked.
  • A representation of the ivy was unmasked in the block of stone by the skillful mason.
  • Sunlight illuminated the carved stone and some of the reflected rays entered the lens of my camera.
  • The colours and intensities were recorded as patterns of data in a memory card.
  • The patterns were stored again in the memory in my laptop.
  • These same patterns were transmitted across the internet to you.
  • The patterns of light were reconstructed on your screen.
  • Some of the reconstructed light entered your eyes.
  • The patterns of light in your eyes allowed the neurons in your brain to interpret and comprehend the delicate shapes of the ivy stems, leaves and fruit.
If this is not miracle layered upon miracle - then what is it?

29 April 2015

Love and forgive, or forgive and love?

It's impossible to love someone you have not yet forgiven. Or, to put it another way, if you truly love a person you will certainly forgive them. So we cannot say which comes first, love or forgiveness. We must conclude that they arrive together, as a package. Love and forgiveness cannot be separated, if you have one you also have the other.

Reaching to touch
Reaching to touch
It's the same with the Father's love towards us. If he says he loves us - and he does - then he also forgives us. And if he forgives us, we know that we are already loved by him.

But beware, for hatred and condemnation (or judgement) go together in just the same way. Do not hate/condemn anyone.

We can't take any of this for granted. Remember that love and forgiveness must be received as well as given, and receiving requires repentance as the first step. We should be constantly grateful to Papa for his love/forgiveness and for sending his Son into this broken world to demonstrate that love/forgiveness. And we should also be grateful to our friends who show us the love/forgiveness we so badly need from them, a pale image of the love/forgiveness of the Father.

So praise you Father for everything you have done for us, praise you Jesus for coming into our world, and praise you Holy Spirit for remaining in us as a deposit of what we will inherit.

And thank you to all my friends (who are many) for everything you have done for me. Thank you for reminding me by your gifts of love, of that greater, heavenly gift of love that we all share.

And remember that this is also the root of mission. How can I receive this great gift without wanting to share it with everyone who will listen? It's just a matter of reaching out to people in ways that will touch them and cause them to search for spiritual truth and discover that Jesus loves/forgives them too.

28 March 2015

Watching the potter

Watching a potter at work can be very interesting. You will see a creator at work, a process of making, and you may see much more than that. If your eyes and ears and mind are fully open, who knows what you might see? So read on and pay attention.

Theaster Gates
Theaster Gates
Yahweh told Jeremiah to go to the potter's house and watch him at work, and that he would speak to him while he was there. Read about this in Jeremiah 18:1-6.

Sometimes, seeing something acted out makes it very much clearer than just hearing the message. For Jeremiah, seeing the pot crumple and the potter start the making process all over again spoke volumes about Israel's future.

We can (and should) also apply this to our own lives as individuals. We are jars of clay intended to hold a precious treasure (2 Corinthians 4:7). But Father will mould us and remould us as he sees fit, until we are suitable for his purpose.

In the words of an old song
Go down to the house of the potter
Watch him work the clay
Listen to what I say as you watch him

Go down to the house of the potter
Watch him turn the wheel
Know that's how I feel as I'm working.
Having said all that, I'd now like you to watch a video of Theaster Gates (a potter by trade) as he transforms more than a lump of wet clay. He takes what he's learned about making and moulding and transforms an entire city district. It's a work of redemption.

Jesus is the great Redeemer, he remoulds and remodels as necessary. We are made in his image, and we are learning to walk as he walks (we are his disciples). As you watch the video consider how it feels to be a redeemer, how it affects places and people. And ask yourself an important question:

What can I redeem? What places and people can I rescue, encourage, bring new life to? It's not likely to begin with an entire city block, but it might begin small and grow. Who knows where it will end?

It's easier than you think. Be brave, be very bold. Go and redeem something. Don't wait. Begin now, today! And as you begin, let Jesus lead you.

Here's the video...

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