12 April 2012

Small group, seven signs

The Seven Signs in John are a perfect basis for drawing people into relationship with Jesus. But they are also well worth the attention of those who already know him and walk with him every day. They are eye opening and mind expanding.

The purpose of JohnThe Seven Signs in John are a great way to investigate Jesus with people who don't yet follow him. When someone is interested enough to want to know more, rather than 'teach' them about Jesus it may be better to help them discover Jesus for themselves by reading and unwrapping the seven signs.

Briefly, in John 20:30-31, John explains that of the many signs Jesus performed, he has chosen to write down just seven 'so that you may believe'. The first two signs take place in the village of Cana in Galilee where Jesus turns water into wine (John 2:1-12), and later heals the son of a royal official (John 4:46-54). The other signs are listed by Neil Cole on the CMA Resources website. I encourage everyone to read that article and also listen to Neil speaking about the seven signs.

Clearly, these signs are written for unbelievers so that they can come to faith in Jesus and receive new life. But can these passages from the book of John be of value to those who already believe? Yes, they can. Discussing the first two signs with a group of friends who are already fully involved in church life has been an interesting experience for me.

As we discussed the passages I noticed a growing awareness of the power and depth of John's words. The four questions suggested by Neil brought this out very clearly for my friends. They quickly understood the value of using the passages to see that people are just the same today as they were 2000 years ago and that Jesus is approachable and able to help ordinary men and women. They could also see how the passages demand a response and recognized that others need to hear these accounts of the signs for themselves.

Based on this experience I would say that believers benefit from the seven signs in a variety of ways.

  • Recognising that the people in the Bible are 'just like us'. The Bible thus becomes more immediately relevant; it's no longer a book of merely historical and spiritual significance, but a book in which  the Father and the Son deal with ordinary people in very practical ways.
  • Seeing Christ himself in the pages of the Bible. Jesus, as described by John, is deeply relevant to us and to the people around us.
  • Understanding the need to get people thinking for themselves. The best approach involves reading the verses together and asking questions.
  • Viewing outreach as something we can all do. The seven signs are a very easy way to get started, either one to one or with a small group of interested people.

There is one caveat, however. There is a real danger that people who already follow Jesus may see the signs as a handy teaching technique. This misses the point. The whole idea is to encourage everyone to think for themselves. We don't need to teach people about Jesus, they will draw their own conclusions if we encourage them to read the passages and ask the right questions.

This fundamental shift in approach is something that may not come easily. But one way is to look at the way Jesus interacted with the people he met. And one way to do that is to try the seven signs for yourself, preferably as a group but if necessary on your own.

08 April 2012

Collared doves - IMAGE

(Click the photo for a larger view)

Collared dove chicks in the nest - Photo taken 8th April 2012
These young collared doves have been amusing us for a week or so. The parents built a nest in a jasmine plant just under the eaves of our house and we've watched as the chicks have grown. Now they look much like the adults and will leave the nest very soon.

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

03 April 2012

Are we joyful enough?

[ No earlier items | Chain Index | Fruit of the Spirit ]

Defining joy is not easy, but it's well worth a try. It is an internal thing, yet it can have great external effects in the lives of those who have it.

Beethoven used the 'Joy Theme' in his 9th SymphonyOne of the things I remember about church from my childhood days is that it seemed dull. Church was a chore. We had to get dressed in our best clothes, we had to be quiet, we couldn't read a book or play with toys, we had to stand up and sit down at the relevant times and say words we didn't really understand when everyone else said them. Oh, and we had to listen to a man in strange clothes talk about things that didn't engage us and that we'd soon forget.

Church even smelled boring! The combination of ancient, polished timber, the cool humidity of the massive stonework even in the hot summer sunshine, and the leathery, musty paper of well-worn hymnbooks spelled dullness. I was always glad to get home and change into ordinary clothes. Then I could read books, ride my trike in the garden, or play with toys on the sitting room floor.

And later, as a young adult with children of my own, church was still relatively sombre and heavy. It was a serious matter and laughter was out of place except, perhaps, over a cup of tea after the service.

Where was the joy? What is joy anyway? What good is it and why do I need it?

Joy is listed by Paul as part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) yet it's not something we often study. We know the importance of love and peace, of patience, kindness and the rest. But joy? It seems to be an inner thing, not affecting those around us. It's like an inner smile, a peaceful sense that all is well, a deep gratitude that Jesus has saved us. But where is the fizz, the bounce, the excitement, the celebration?

In his autobiographical book 'Surprised by Joy', CS Lewis describes joy as an intense longing for something good. And described in those terms, surely joy is not only an inner smile, but also a sturdy force driving us to touch the hearts of others so they, too, may find joy in their inner being. Here's an extract from his preface.
How far the story matters to anyone but myself depends on the degree to which others have experienced what I call 'joy'. If it is at all common, a more detailed treatment of it than has (I believe) been attempted before may be of some use. I have been emboldened to write of it because I notice that a man seldom mentions what he had supposed to be his most idiosyncratic sensations without receiving from at least one (often more) of those present the reply, 'What! Have you felt that too? I always thought I was the only one.'
Joy is a tricky word to define. In some ways it suggests the opposite of dull and boring. The word also conveys a sort of inner energy, a hopefulness, and a patience in difficult circumstances. Yet it means more than that.

My friend Jenny, writing about anxiety in the Stamford Free Church newsletter for April 2012, puts it like this.
Lately I have been thinking about what we mean by worry and how we use that word when we mean all kinds of different emotions and feelings. Very often, when we say that we are worried about people, especially family members, what we mean is that we feel compassionate and have empathy with their problems and difficulties ... those sort of feelings are quite legitimate and show that we care.
Jenny goes on to describe other kinds of worry caused by financial difficulty, health issues, ageing and problems with relationships. She also mentions how negative reporting by the media may make us anxious about things we cannot influence. But then she reminds us...
Jesus told his disciples many times not to worry or be afraid and that he would give them peace, so let's give all the personal 'worries' to him, let's try to make prayer our first response instead of our last and as for the other things that the media would like us to take on board - why worry?
So perhaps it's fair to say that joy is also an absence of anxiety.

For Jesus, joy is a powerful and substantial motive force that enables him to endure. See, for example, Hebrews 12:2, 'For the joy set before him [he] endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.'

On the face of it, joy is a personal and private inner thing, a component of the fruit of the Spirit that is not visible externally (like the stone inside a peach). Yet it has great power, just like the stone that contains a seed capable of generating a whole new peach tree.

So joy, although it is internal, has the power to achieve much. Perhaps it's easier to say what it is not  rather than what it is. Joy is not dull or boring, it does not leave room in my heart for worry or anxiety to take root, and it strengthens me for greater endurance in love, peace, patience, kindness and the rest.

Only love comes ahead of joy in Paul's list in Galatians. And for good reason. Without love and joy the other aspects of the fruit might not even be possible. Along with peace these two are internal parts of the fruit. The other six are the active outward expression of the love, joy and peace within.

This article is part of a chain blog on 'Spiritual fruit'. If you want to write the next article in the chain please check the chain index for details.

[ No earlier items | Chain Index | Fruit of the Spirit ]

31 March 2012

Conquering the fear of failure

The paralysing fear of failure is the biggest block to action. You belong to the King, don't let fear stop you from doing the King's work!

DARPA HeadquartersHere's a great TED Talk by Regina Dugan. She asks, 'What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?' Her talk draws on her experience at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in the USA.

It's worth posing the question again, in bigger letters.

What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?

Regina Dugan points out that fear of failure is what prevents people from trying what seems impossible. She is right. But as a follower of Jesus I should know that I cannot fail providing I'm obedient to him.

When I am afraid, am I afraid of appearing foolish, of pain, of death, of letting others down, or just of lack of faith? Or am I simply afraid of failure?

John writes, 'Perfect love drives out fear' (1 John 4:15-18). So we can do all things in Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13).

With life in Christ in mind, here are a few more quotes from the TED Talk. In some places I have replaced 'scientists and engineers' with [followers of Jesus].
  • [Followers of Jesus] change the world.
  • [Followers of Jesus] defy the impossible and refuse to fear failure.
  • When you remove the fear of failure, impossible things suddenly become possible.
  • The fear of failure constrains you, it keeps [you] from attempting great things.
  • Testing [is] an appropriate part of achieving something great.
  • To fly faster and further we have to believe in impossible things and refuse to fear failure.
  • You can't learn to fly unless you fly.
  • Failure is part of creating new and amazing things
Are you fearless? Are you a hero? Will you defy the impossible? Are you willing to be unafraid of failure? Are you as fearless as a little child? Do you believe in impossible things? Were you born to change the world? What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail? Will you help others believe?

These are the things Jesus did. These are the things the disciples did. Will you?

29 March 2012

Weeds in my garden

Weeds are unsightly and a nuisance in the garden. How do they get there? And what can we learn about our lives by analogy with garden weeds?

I sent a tweet yesterday, 'Weeds keep growing in my garden. There's a spiritual lesson in that, somewhere...'.

Plants and weeds growing togetherThinking about this later I realised there was an entire blog post just waiting to be written around the topic of gardens and weeds.

It is remarkable how weeds spring up, and looking at the horticultural aspects of this simple fact opens up many parallels with spiritual life. So let's consider where weeds come from and what they can tell us about our personal journeys with Jesus.

Any patch of bare soil tends to be invaded by thousands of baby weeds within a week or two (a day or two in warm weather). Where do weeds come from?
  1. Weeds can grow from small pieces of root or stem left in the ground. For some weeds with creeping roots, rhizomes or bulbs, this is a very common mechanism.
  2. Weeds can spring up from seeds that have been dormant in the soil.
  3. They can also grow from seeds carried in by the wind or by birds or mammals.
If I am following Jesus there should be signs of this in my life, there should be some results, some evidence. This evidence is called the fruit of the Spirit. If there are other, unwanted things in my life (such as anger, or unkindness, or a gloomy attitude, or unfaithfulness) there is a problem. Such things are like weeds. They grow where they are don't belong. The plan for the garden does not include them. They need to be removed. They come from the same sources as weeds in my garden.
  1. Small pieces of root or stem left in the ground. These are pieces of weed that are not visible, left in the ground by mistake. When there is an unhealthy attribute like anger, it's essential to do more than suppress the visible effects. If the cause is not dealt with, the visible effects will break through again and again.
  2. Seeds that lie dormant in the soil. These are too small to see and cannot be removed. The only way to control hidden seeds is to wait until they start to grow. The garden needs to be checked continuously and germinating seeds hoed out while they are still small. If they are left until they are large they will become unsightly problems and removing them may then leave fragments of root leading right back to problem 1.
  3. Seeds carried in. This will happen in our lives from time to time. Fresh sources of trouble will arise and the solution is the same as for problem 2, regular checking.
But there's a more fundamental truth here. It's self-evident that a garden can't weed itself. It's necessary for the gardener to intervene. It is action by the gardener that can dig out roots thoroughly. The plants in the garden will grow if there is sunshine and rain, but weeds will grow too. They need to be thoroughly removed and the garden regularly checked for new weeds.

Unlike a garden, I am capable of resisting the attentions of the gardener. I need to allow him access and accept the disturbance caused in my life by his action in dealing with the weeds.

Father, you are the Gardener in my life. You grafted me in to the true vine of your Son. You are the one who can remove the weeds - wherever they may have come from. Please deal with the weeds in my life, please reveal them and take them away so that I may remain clean and live according to your plan for me.

And guess what? A garden that is regularly weeded over a long period will eventually become completely free of sources 1 and 2. Once in this condition there is much less growth of weeds and the garden becomes far easier to maintain. This is the state of a mature garden. It is also the state of a mature life in Christ. Father, may I become ever more mature as you work in my life.

22 March 2012

Like a big chicken

We often do things in our own strength and then blame ourselves when we fail. But there is a much better way; listen to Jesus and do what he says.

A big chicken?It's easy to make a decision, set off with great intentions, and then beat ourselves up when it doesn't work out. How many times have I resolved to speak to a particular person about Jesus and then chickened out? I can't count them!

But Jesus didn't work like that. Neither did Paul. Why not?

It's because they were tuned in to the continuous flow of the Father's plan, saying what they heard him say and doing what they saw him do - every moment.

Jesus did it perfectly, Paul less so, he made some mistakes. But he learned from them.

When I determine to do something for Jesus and then fail I beat myself up. Yet all the time I should not have been doing something for him, instead I should have been listening and obeying. So simple, but oh so hard!

This is something I must grapple with daily, we all must. No to deciding and doing. Yes to hearing and obeying. When the first method works (and sometimes it does work) some of the glory comes to me. But in the second method he gets all the glory!

So what am I saying? I'm saying that we all have good intentions rapidly followed by great failures, but really we do better when we do what Jesus did.

How can we help and encourage one another to fly with Jesus? Flying is easy for birds but impossible for people. I can run along the ground flapping my arms furiously like a big chicken but I can't get off the ground. Flying with Jesus is like walking on water. Peter could not have done it using any kind of technique. He could only do it by obeying Jesus.

When we listen and obey we can fly and walk on water with him. He enables us and arranges everything for us. He doesn't enable us by giving us a new skill or ability. He enables us by calling us, by commanding us. The doing is all in our obedience, not in our ability.

If we need one thing in order to do the work of the kingdom it's not training, or skill, or experience - it's hearing followed immediately by obedience. If you want to practice anything, practice listening, hearing, and obeying. We need to say what Jesus says and do what he does - no more - no less. Aim high. And always remember that his ways are higher than ours.

But please don't hear what I'm not saying. Training, skill, experience, planning, and intentional activity are all things Father will use in us. If we are listening the Spirit will show us when and how to obediently apply them. Just don't expect them to enable you to fly or walk on water.

Oh - one more thing. Why does the photo show a baby chick rather than a great big mother hen?

It's because Jesus looked at disobedient Jerusalem and said he felt like a mother hen that wanted to gather her chicks under her wings, but they would not (Matthew 23:37). Let's not be like Jerusalem in the time of Jesus, let's willingly gather under his wings. As a lonely little chick I am vulnerable and cold and must work everything out for myself. I need to be willing to be gathered into his presence - for safety, for warmth, but most of all for obedience and effectiveness.

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