Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Cultural Translation

One of the questions that we must keep returning to is this: 'What words and images can we use to effectively communicate the message of Jesus, the cross and the resurrection to today's people?'. Given that culture, language and its idioms constantly change, are we updating ourselves adequately to continue reaching people?

Note that this is not about re-thinking the theology of the cross, about abandoning previous understandings or thirsting for new models of the atonement. It is ensuring that we use words, expressions and forms that speak into people's own worldviews in ways that they can understand, so that their eyes are lifted God-ward in Christ. We don't want our message of the cross to effectively be like Japanese to the English speakers of today or tomorrow!

Thankfully we do not necessarily have to be deeply studied theologians to assist this task - we just need the Spirit to be at work and to take notice. I read yesterday that a young person had had their attention caught by Christ and wrote this to Christian leaders by way of their own thankyou: ".. Jesus was put on the cross for us so we don't have to put the blade to our own skin ...".

Brilliant - straight to the point and right there in the vernacular of current youth culture.

One sad characteristic of current youth culture is surely the number (near epidemic proportions?) of people self-harming, somehow caught up in a belief that harming (typically cutting) oneself will cover mistakes, or feeling of 'bad inside', or senses of loneliness or emptiness - as if the cut(s) will somehow atone for and remove them. Of course, as each person discovers, it is a fleeting feeling and only hours or days later proves to be a hollow relief - those negative feelings return all too quickly.

Somehow in our 'enlightened society' something (spiritual?) has convinced people to turn on themselves. In religious terms it is no better than the primitive behaviour of the prophets of Baal who slashed themselves (see 1 Kings 18) to invoke or please their (false) god.

Yet this young person has realised all this is false and because of Christ is unnecessary. Whatever may make us think we have to turn on ourselves is wrong ... because Jesus has suffered enough already, in our place. Our mistakes: dealt with by Him; our 'bad inside': probably quite real, but in any case dealt with by Him; our loneliness and emptiness: met by Him who has suffered to take and resolve it all.

We do not have to be cut ... because He has been cut for us. No more need for our own blades.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

From Angst towards Kingdom Best

We can all suffer from angst. Any single day in ministry can present us with a shed-load of angst inducing items be they small or large, and worse still these accumulate day on day.

The writer to the Hebrews says we 'do not see everything subject to them' (Hebrews 2 verse 8), i.e. we do not see everything as it should be. Those of us in ministry would want to shout out 'you can say that again - what we see is trouble and obstacle here there and everywhere!'.

Thankfully the same writer bids us to look up. 'But we see Jesus' follows in verse 9. He is crowned with glory in the heavenlies, a place we are invited to. A place where God's purposes find their completion.

So this week, with our list of angst seemingly running at a seasonal high, I hit on a spiritual exercise with my most valued partner in ministry. We decided to list out each angst, and against each one we then expressed what the 'Kingdom Best' might look like relating to that scenario. Some were niggly, e.g. 'that people reply to emails in a timely fashion to enable ministry plans to be well-made', others were bigger - 'that reconciliation might be possible between such and such people'. We then methodically prayed through each one: as we looked to Jesus, risen and glorified, we voiced the Kingdom Best for each scenario, a process that helped us let go of the angst, or at least see it in a new perspective.

Somehow the next day our mountain of angst didn't seem to be quite so large!

Monday, 13 August 2018

Grace Shadows

In Acts chapter 5 things rise to such a point that merely the shadow of Peter has to fall on someone for them to have the possibility of healing (see verse 15). Crowds gathered and pressed in to be part of the action, resembling the times when Jesus moved among the crowds and ministry took place.

An interesting feature of these episodes (both with Jesus and with Peter / the apostles) is that the healing / relief / comfort brought came liberally, seemingly with little head-knowledge interaction or stated belief. And with virtually zero doctrinal formula (except, when Peter did speak, the words 'In the name of Jesus ...').

So where was the repentance on the part of the recipient? Where was their prayer of commitment? In these incidents they seem to be missing.

Instead we see grace simply swiping across people, much as a shadow might swipe over someone as a person passes by. That is enough! God is at work, grace is being marvellously and liberally poured out.

The grace comes first ... things change ... living in a new way (lifestyle changes) hopefully come later (but note it is not guaranteed).

The religious establishment - the guardians of orthodoxy and 'correct' interpretation of scripture - couldn't seem to get their heads round these events. Their reaction was jealousy and (foolish) attempts to curtail.

Foolish because - as we all know - you simply cannot grasp hold of a shadow!

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Rain, Wells and Springing Up

The recent weather has made us sit up and take notice. Yes we do depend on the weather, and so yes we do depend on God - His grace and provision. It is not simply a case of continuing on as normal.

Promises in scripture suggest the same might be true of salvation - that is of seeing whole waves of people discovering the grace of God. Isaiah 12:3 talks of our joy of drawing water from the wells of salvation. This comes in the middle of a song celebrating God's ability to save - something to be made known to all the world.

Just as we have longed for a relief in the hot weather and particularly for rains, let us long for God to open new wells of salvation that we may be able to draw up from in our mission contexts.

Later in Isaiah 45:8 it says 'heavens above rain down my righteousness ... let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up'. A bit more of a curious passage here, since God says he will use a foreign king to advance his purposes. Yet again in the middle is this marvellous promise that with God showering His righteousness, it will be like salvation simply springing up from the ground. In other words popping up here and there without much intervention from us!

Let us wait on God, looking for another new wave where His work enables salvation to occur around us. Let us revel in the unpredictability of it - for it will be His doing rather than our programme.

Lord God, may you open new wells of salvation. May we see it spring up from the ground!

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Staying True to What the Father is Doing

Early in the ministry of Jesus as recorded by John there is a dispute with leaders who questioned what Jesus was up to. Jesus' reply holds a deep truth: 'The Son can do nothing by himself, He can only do what he sees his Father doing' (John 5:19).

Friday, 29 June 2018

Christian Mission in a Secular State

In his collection of essays 'God for a Secular Society', theologian J├╝rgen Moltmann argues that a 'secular' state with full freedom religion is the logical consequence of Christians calling for religious liberty. That liberty must be granted to those of other faiths and none, if it is to be enjoyed for yourself in your own faith. Moltmann goes as far as claiming it as a 'religious achievement', not an 'irreligious evil' (page 212).

The early baptists understood this principle, and in England petitioned the king on the subject in the early 1600s. As well as calling for freedom for themselves (which at they time they did not enjoy), they recognised it must be afforded to those of other faiths.

The principle is surely a Christian one, since for God to be love must allow for those who will reject and go their own way, however sad and painful that may be. On several occasions the gospels record people turning or drifting away from Jesus. They were not forced to remain.

The irony in this freedom is that over time the free/secular state may shift to a point where it starts passing laws that threaten to undermine the very religious freedom it eventually granted. Many would argue that this phenomena is happening today, and claim that the UK is now effectively 'moving backwards' in regard to freedom.

That may sadly prove to be true, but it nevertheless does not change the fundamental task of Christian mission that has hopefully remained the same throughout: namely to preach Christ crucified, raised as Lord, and His Kingdom. For whatever the politics or prevailing cultural winds, this call to life in God made possible by Jesus, to see God's kingdom 'on earth as it is in heaven', is the universal call whatever the nation or prevailing earthly ideaology.

Moltmann asserts this call to the Kingdom as the church's universal interest (p220). The church is not there for its own sake, but for the Kingdom. Voices from the church into public debate must therefore be careful not to simply appear to be clinging to power for the church as an institution, because in Kingdom terms it should never have had such power in the first place!

The missional-prophetic cry into the public arena will therefore be a nuanced voice that argues positively for what releases life in Christ, and give reasoned warnings against things that would otherwise undermine such life.

Monday, 25 June 2018

When God Gives a Vision

When God gives a vision, a natural momentum builds.

When God gives a vision, He will see it take shape, grow and flourish.

When God gives a vision, He will provide the resources, be they financial, people with skills and gifts, or whatever other form required for the vision to move forward.

When God gives a vision, our job is to discern, wait on Him, and go with it as He determines and sets the progress.

When God gives a vision, impossible things become possible ...

We go about our myriad regular tasks for mission: doing the routine, the normal, the textbook, the 'seems sensible and right for now in our context' ... all this is valid and right to do.

But let us also keep an ear open for when God simply gives a vision, out of the blue, out of the ordinary, the not so obvious. For when God does that, and we learn to humbly go with it ... its like a whole different gearing system has been found in the mechanics.

That was the experience of a friend of mine who some 15 years ago felt God give a vision of a Christian Healing centre in her home town. Starting from nothing she set about praying, waiting, and acting which led to seeing God work. Now today the ministry is running in a permanent purposely adapted building near the centre of town. God is at work healing people, with Kingdom works drawing people to faith in Him. Many obstacles have been overcome, including considerable financial ones.

It all started with God giving a vision, and led to God making impossible things become possible.

The Well Healing Centre - Leamingon Spa