Wednesday, 22 December 2010
It seems obvious that God is looking for people, especially 'His people', to ensure this justice happens, i.e. to work for a just & fair society. Of course in many cases in the Old Testament the issue is highlighted because that is precisely what His people were not doing.
Isaiah 59 is no exception. Look at v15-16. There was no justice, and no-one to intervene.
So what does God do? He steps in and intervenes Himself.
Note the choice of words (at least in the NIV): 'achieved salvation for him'. The concept of salvation is tightly coupled to the whole deal of justice, and thus presumably social justice across society.
Begs the question: how narrow have we made 'salvation' in our understanding?
Another interesting snippet: 'his own righteousness sustained him'. God had to intervene and go it alone. One can infer, from this, that God had originally expected a community of people (who could encourage and help sustain each other) to be working justice at street level.
Monday, 20 December 2010
Now go to the following BBC News web page and watch the video clip there: BBC News Video
Did you catch that last line? "All of our rights as passengers seem to have been disregarded because of the weather".
That just about sums it up for me. We believe that we have the right to travel wherever we want, whenever we want, regardless. Full stop.
Interesting that the headline is 'passengers describe themselves as homeless'. Try living in Haiti.
I sympathise with travellers left stranded, those who have had their holiday plans messed. I have friends who are affected - I hope they do manage to get away on the holiday they deserve. And maybe there is culpability on the part of the airlines etc.
Yet surely we must remember that we are 'guests' on this planet, entrusted to steward its resources. From time to time conditions may remind us that life cannot always be lived at the pace we have got used to.
Saturday, 11 December 2010
Amongst it all is a 'valid' non-violent protest. The problem is, to me the validity of the student protest is not as clear cut as it would seem. Not because there are no issues with the government plan, and not because I think the students should simply lump it. There are pros & cons to the plan, and how education is funded needs to be carefully thought through to enable it to be accessible and not simply the privilege of the already over-privileged.
Yet underneath it all I think another voice needs to be heard: 'we simply cannot go on living like the way we used to'.
Our Western lifestyle have led us to expect certain things in life (healthcare, education, endless supplies of energy, food, cheap commodities etc.). This is simply un-affordable, by us and by planet earth. Something has got to give in the system somewhere.
The over-spill of public mood into violence has been repeated in other European cities (Ireland, France, Spain, Greece ...). The presenting causes have been different, but I believe the underlying sentiment is probably the same 'we believe we have the right to go on living it up as consumerists'.
I said last time that our biggest enemy is consumerism. These demonstrations are another aspect to the same equation. It has become a deep seated part of people's psyche.
Yes it is complicated - we are talking about welfare, help for some legitimately in need. I am not advocating any simple solution. Yet now fly to much of Africa, South-East Asia, the flood-displaced of Pakistan, or those still camping in Haiti, and tell them you believe you (yourself) have the right to x, y or z.
How can that work?
Tuesday, 30 November 2010
You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.
Of course its not just the Irish, but basically all the Western economies. The fact is, we (including myself) are locked into a way of life defined by consumption, which dooms us to making things, consuming them, yet always wanting more. The bottom line is that it does not satisfy, yet (it seems) that is all we know.
I am convinced that the biggest 'enemy' of Christian faith in the West is not other faiths (though they pose real issues), nor is it even hard secularism, but it is actually consumerism - a life defined by consumption.
Friday, 26 November 2010
Then I was at a Community Mission day seminar in London, where there were 40 to 45 Christians across the age and denomination spectra who were obviously all getting stuck in to a range of mission initiatives in their areas.
Numerically it might seem small, but God can do alot with the few. Maybe there is hope for us yet.
Wednesday, 24 November 2010
At the ceremony I had to do a short talk about the project. I took the opportunity to have a (somewhat tongue in cheek) dig at David Cameron's Big Society. Here is the text of that part of my speech:
"Whilst there is much talk of the 'Big Society', I would like to suggest an alternative, the 'Small Society', demonstrated by the work of our community association. You see the association represents the little people, the people who (let's be honest) most of society would prefer to pretend don't actually exist, investing their time and energy for the benefit of their fellow residents. Those same little people having a vision for their area (an area seen by many as insignificant and of no value) that says this area is a place to value, a place that despite its problems is one where things can get better, things can change.
Maybe if we all did that in our small societies, it would add up to something truly Big"
Now read The Magnificat, Luke 2:46 - 55, especially v52.
Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Surely this kind view should be held up as religious discrimination. Maybe it should be countered with the suggestion that atheists or even ardent agnostics should similarly be seen as unsuitable, since they may well 'indoctrinate' the adopted child with an atheistic position.
So a Christian adopter may well want to take the child to a Sunday worship service? Indeed, just as an atheist might well take a child on a Sunday to a car boot sale, or worse, to a cathedral of materialism (shopping centre) for a regular dose of consumerist type worship.
I wonder, which is ultimately more harmful to the child, and to society as a whole?
Monday, 15 November 2010
When Daniel interprets it for him, Nebuchadnezzar falls prostrate and acknowledges God (v47). Now lets be clear, Neb was a mean dude with a style of leadership akin to a Vogon (see Vogons in The Hitchikers' Guide to the Galaxy). Just check out the beginning of Daniel 2 to get what I mean.
Yet isn't it interesting how God both speaks truth through and elicits homage from this rather nasty pagan king? Its a reminder that Christians don't have the monopoly on God acting and speaking.
What we can say, though, is that the dream without the interpretation would have not got very far (or worse, would have led to a lot of needless deaths!). Daniel had a role to play, mediating between God and the king. In effect, he acted as salt which brought out the full flavour of God's activity in the king's life.
A new angle on being salt and light perhaps?
Sunday, 7 November 2010
It is an excellent article, highlighting how technology designed to be our helper has in fact become our slave driver. The ubiquitous mobile phone, small enough to fit in your pocket, calls for our attention, our desire, our life, leaving us short when it comes to living real life.
Tim is absolutely right to point out that it is not the technology itself that is bad, just the way we relate to it. He does not advocate a mass trashing of mobiles, but says that ultimately we must be self-disciplined in our usage.
Paul talks in Romans of slavery. It forms a strong image of how we can become tied up, unable to break free. Paul goes on to explain that in Christ we can be set free, things can be restored to their proper role, their correct perspectives. From then on, it becomes a question of who or what we give ourselves to.
Maybe, from a mission perspective, mobiles thus become useful again: as an illustration of how easily we humans can become snared in something which, in theory at least, should have been be all good.
Tuesday, 2 November 2010
The funny thing is that many people now seem surprised when the actual weather doesn't match the Internet projections. Has weather forecasting ever been that accurate (especially in the UK)? So why should it be any better just because it is available online?
It demonstrates the principle that our perception of truth is tied to the delivery medium rather than purely the facts themselves. For all our enlightenment, rationalism, and modernist way of working from objective data alone, we still evaluate things based on a variety of parameters. What is in front of us is simply not the full story. All kinds of other things factor into plausibility.
And so it is with belief in God: people choose to believe what they like, based on all kinds of ingredients. Our mission task, therefore, must bear this in mind.
Friday, 22 October 2010
So that leads to a question: why didn't the gospel writers include more of the explanations? Only a few of the parables are expanded out for us to benefit, for the rest we have to go figure!
It seems the gospel writers adopted the same approach as Jesus. Perhaps they too realised the power of story, that such a technique could work far more effectively than trying to lay down cold facts or propositions. Maybe they reckoned that their readers needed to be subject to the same 'filter' that they and the crowds had been (the kind alluded to in 4:10-13).
Sunday, 17 October 2010
For a view of Islam that is fair and balanced yet without ignoring the reality of what goes on across the world, this is a great book.
The story sets the scene for the authors to issue four key challenges to Christians, especially us in the West:
- Do we view Muslims as enemies? Or are we seeking to win them for Christ?
- Are we going to seek revenge when attacked? Should we not offer forgiveness instead?
- What would happen if we accepted the challenge of Islam by striving as Christians to imitate Christ?
- Are really convinced we are in a spiritual war? If so, shouldn't we commit to a life of prayer?
The stakes are certainly high - we are surely called to rise to the challenge.
Friday, 15 October 2010
Here Jesus makes himself vulnerable and dependant on another person (and a somewhat questionable other person at that). It is a powerful moment. It prepares the way for her salvation and salvation potential for the whole neighbourhood.
Many people around the world today are also asking 'can I have a drink of water?'. For them the need is acute, access to clean water being a daily struggle. The simple liquid that is a necessity of life can actually be quite difficult to obtain. For those of us who have the means, how are we responding to their request?
I am told that today is 'Blog Action Day' with a theme of 'water', hence this post. It makes sense for us all to concentrate some thoughts on such a basic substance, since after all, we all need water each and every day. It is thus a uniting substance for humanity (and indeed all life).
So whoever we meet, be they friend or foe, someone you would want to associate with, or someone you would rather not, perhaps consider getting started with the question 'can I have a drink of water?', and see where it leads.
Wednesday, 13 October 2010
During this time a vertical escape shaft has been carefully drilled, eventually allowing an escape capsule to be lowered into the pocket where the men are gathered. After some testing of the mechanisms, a veteran rescue expert was lowered down to assist the men into the capsule and enable them to be lifted to freedom.
Extraordinary measures have been taken to reach these men, culminating in sending a man down to effect the rescue. That man, whoever he was, became the saviour of the miners. Thanks to him, the miners are re-united with their families.
Each of us finds ourselves trapped by our own wrongdoing, life choices and attitudes. We may realise this is the case, but it is no use, since there is no way out. Somehow we manage to eek out an existence, but the reality is that on our own we are doomed. Hope of ever being re-united seems lost.
Yet God will go to great lengths to enable us to be saved. He will create a way, and send a man to come down to rescue us. That man must be prepared to descend to the very bottom of the pit of humanity in order to reach us, but that is exactly what he does when he allows himself to go to the cross.
I'm sure various lessons will be learned from the Chilean mining disaster and the subsequent rescue. Perhaps it also gives something of an illustration of how the cross works, some kind of language to try to express the atonement.
Friday, 8 October 2010
1Kings 18:1 says 'After a long time ...'. Somewhere between two and three years he had to wait, apparently. Did he stay with the widow of Zarephath (and her son) all that time? What did he do while the pause button was pressed?
From a ministry point of view, it all seems very unproductive. Surely there were campaigns to be staged, urgency of God's message to be proclaimed and all that?
Of course I am deliberately being somewhat tongue in cheek. There is an urgency to the Gospel, and Western Christians can be quite good at sitting around letting the world go by instead of finding & doing their part in the overall work. Yet we can lose sight of God's timing, which may in fact seem to have long stretches of apparent non-productivity ...
... until its time to climb up Mt Carmel, of course!
Tuesday, 5 October 2010
Yet whilst much of speech concerns the Israelites, it is not limited to them. In v41 he goes global in the hope that foreigners from distant lands will seek God out as well. This is not just for the few, but ultimately 'so that all the peoples of the earth may know'. It is also generous: 'do whatever the foreigners ask of you'. In other words, rather than adding to the greatness of the Israelites and their achievements, it opens the possibility for God to touch the lives of others across the world freely and graciously.
Mission does well to focus on the local context, but always has global possibilities.
Wednesday, 29 September 2010
But no, that is obviously way too risky!
Now as an engineer I understand that technically there is a risk (albeit very small), which could put us or some other member of the public in jeopardy. But this kind of thing just epitomises to me the ridiculously risk-averse culture we now live in.
The problem is that this risk-averse behaviour has affected our faith and our churches too, with negative consequences for mission. Last week at Community Connect, a new group I am working with at Shinfield Baptist Church, we looked at Jn 1 and God moving into our neighbourhood. Two keywords we drew out were that such a venture involved great risk and vulnerability. Quite incompatible with today's attitude to risk, but necessary for the powerful mission of God to unfold.
As Christians are we prepared to accept a degree of risk, especially as God calls us out from the safety of our Christian gatherings? Or do we judge that it is better to un-plug ourselves from the power of God's mission?
Monday, 27 September 2010
The first thing to know about this book is that the authors deliberately avoid defining 'Missional Church'. Whilst that may seem a tad frustrating at first, they do carefully explain why they do not define it, and in the process give the reader a better insight into their thinking.
A key aspect of this is developing what they call 'Missional Imagination', breaking out of our standard forms of thinking to allow the Spirit to lead us into new possibilities. This makes it a fruitful read that will challenge and stretch your thinking.
The book is open-ended, so do not expect to have all the answers wrapped up by the end. Its an informative read, but perhaps a very risky one if you think of starting to apply some of the principles to your own church ...
Friday, 24 September 2010
Certainly the beginning of the passage looks that way, but the more I think about it I wonder. You see it goes on to talk of valleys being raised and mountains made low and so on. Now I know with modern day engineering its kind of possible. Our roads & railways cut a relatively straight and level path through undulating terrain, but I don't think that is what Isaiah or John had in mind!
Perhaps we should realise that God is going to do this earth moving, major-change, levelling kind of stuff. Perhaps our role therefore is to get on board with it. The change doesn't depend on us, He has it in mind to do it anyway, but we have the responsibility to align ourselves with His purposes.
So 'prepare the way' becomes 'wise up and join in' ... for the glory of the Lord will be revealed, at some point one way or another everyone is going to see it.
Tuesday, 21 September 2010
He devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from him
This is such a golden nugget! Here we have a story of rape, disgrace, murder, and estrangement (all within the family, just like any modern day TV soap series!). Its messy all over, with side orders of mess and mess sauce on top. But within it is a fundamental truth about God: that God does not desire such everlasting strife, but will rather find some way to bring someone back.
Lost coin, lost sheep, lost son - its right here in the Old Testament. Two Samuel, chapter fourteen, verse fourteen.
Sunday, 12 September 2010
Perhaps a clue lies in the extraordinary episode recorded in 1 Sam 19:20 - 24. Saul sends his men to capture David, but they end up prophesying rather than laying hands on David. This in fact happens three times, and then culminates with Saul going down and finding himself prophesying as well!
The story seems to reinforce the fact that God will have his way and that people, despite their plans, will have to knuckle down and get on board with them. The men get to declare God's words/wonders, presumably whether they like it or not.
As we follow God in His mission, there will be times when people are simply swept off their feet, as it were, and caught up in Gods words & wonders. I guess such moments are hints of the ultimate moment when all & everything is similarly swept up, much as Paul wrote about to the Philippians.
[Note an interesting aside here: we typically teach that people who prophesy remain in full control, and yet here it seems like it could be involuntary, especially when we get to Saul going naked in v24. However, this does seem to be very unusual circumstances rather than your average church meeting!].
Sunday, 5 September 2010
In the West we typically consume way more than we need, with the regular supermarket shop being something of a cornerstone to this state of affairs. How much do pack our fridge, our freezer and our cupboards each week, pushing existing stuff to the back to be forgotten and probably eventually wasted?
So here's a whacky idea. How about every seven weeks deliberately not doing a supermarket shop, and instead try to live off what is already in the fridge, freezer and cupboards? I'll call it the 'Supermarket Sabbath' - for some it will be a challenge. Can we get through the week? Perhaps it will make us think more about our food provision and consumption. Maybe it will make us think more about God's provision.
So start counting the weeks, and in 6 weeks time declare a Supermarket Sabbath!
Saturday, 4 September 2010
Without understanding all the physics his argument can still be undermined, for example is the 'nothing' in the newspaper reports of his book really 'nothing', or was it an amount of energy or the collapse of a previous universe? And why the law of gravity in the first place? All these questions immediately make room for God because they imply a prior 'something'.
But Christians don't believe on the cosmological argument alone. They believe because of experience in their own lives of something beyond ourselves, beyond the mere physical ... and thus out of reach of physics altogether.
Science and religion do not have to be ever in conflict. We just have to recognize the merits and limits of each, and then go forward with the combination that seems to provide the best explanation. As Christian we seek to do just that, and we can encourage others to do so as well.
Thursday, 2 September 2010
Yet coming back to God for more of His presence should not be down-played or written off as eccentric. I know of some modern day missionaries who are seeing extraordinary works of God in their field who also talk of the need to keep going back to God and being in His presence. They seem un-ashamed to admit that they hunger and thirst for it.
In Ex 24 Moses and his leadership team have an experience of God. Then Moses goes further on up the mountain at God's bidding. Moses had to wait around up there a whole six days before he could enter the cloud.
It seems to me it was worth the climb, and worth waiting for. In fact even sticking around in the desert and only going with God's leading was much better than just ploughing on regardless. God's presence and its effects cannot be under-estimated. Perhaps we should all be Presence junkies?
Saturday, 21 August 2010
but I will not go with youThis is tragic - sure they get to live in the land of milk and honey, but without the abiding presence of God. Bad deal!
Yet Moses appeals to God once again. He can see that this is no good. Look at 33:16 - to be without God's presence is no good for themselves as a people, but it is also no good for the mission! Once again the mission purpose over-rides. The people need to go on up but they need God with them, otherwise it all makes no sense.
Thursday, 19 August 2010
But Moses was sharp. He could see a problem with this approach. The Egyptians would get to hear of the wipe-out and draw their own conclusions - which would be the opposite of what they should be understanding about God. In short, the mission would suffer a serious set back!
Moses strengthens his case appealing to the foundational covenant of God with Abraham, but note that if God had started over through Moses the original promise to Abraham would still have been fulfilled (albeit with another several hundred years re-population process!).
So the mission purpose of the Exodus journey over-rides quick and instant judgement, even though such a wipe-out was justifiable.
Therefore we see God entertaining and journeying with the Israelites in the messiness of their unbelief and idolatry. Of course their behaviour is not to be condoned, but it is instructive for us today how it appears (at least to some degree) to be tolerated, with the mission purpose being the over-riding factor.
Monday, 16 August 2010
Not that I am against campaigning. This weekend I was reminded of the importance and success of FairTrade campaigning with the examples of Cadbury and Mars standing prominently. Speaking out on such causes I would say is part of our duty as Christians, part of our mission.
But defending God's honour, I am really not so sure. There is an interesting episode in Judges, verses 6:28 - 32 where the people were (naturally) upset with Gideon for going against their Baal worship in such a direct way. They wanted his blood, to take action into their own hands in the cause of Baal. Here's the rub, Joash in v31 realised that if Baal is a god, he can fight for himself in such a matter - they don't need to do it for him.
Surely it is the same with God (who really is God)? We don't need to take up arms on God's behalf in this kind of way - God can fight His own battles (much more successfully!).
Now it may be that God directs us to take action (Gideon acted on the Lord's command, v25), but we don't need to fight for God as if he was our little brother who needs us to stand up for him.
Friday, 13 August 2010
Interestingly she made a number of instant assumptions about me: that I was a man of considerable faith, that belief came easily to me, that I had a clear purpose. All that came from just the fact that I worked with the church. We all make assumptions about those we meet, just from the first few exchanges - first impressions do indeed count.
Being someone who tries to practice what I preach, I put my L-S-P thing into gear. That gave me better insight and prevented me from making potentially false assumptions as she snipped away. Finding out that she was up for reading a book or two, I made some recommendations.
And now I pray. My hair is now cut so the moment has been and gone, and hopefully I have contributed my piece to her journey effectively and faithfully. I may never know if that haircut was really significant for her, but I do know the ingredients are simple: time available to chat, to be open, to ask one or two light-yet-key questions, and being ready for whatever emerges.
Wednesday, 21 July 2010
The interesting thing is that while she cites the mullahs as a prime example (and illustrates this with some of their bizarre pronouncements made in her lifetime), she postulates that any religious leader can fall into the same trap be they Muslim, Buddhist, or Christian. Its the dogmatism thats the problem, not the religious badge being carried.
Zarah is clearly a spiritual woman. Her mother was in fact Zoroastrian, her father Muslim, and her writing demonstrates a spiritual side to her, embracing aspects of both faiths and a basic belief in some kind of God. Coupled with that she has a zest for life (which incidentally was trashed by her prison experience). What is repugnant to her is mindless rules and regulations, especially on trivial detail, that in any case often betrays the proponents as hypocrites. That kind of resonates with Jesus' skirmishes with the Pharisees doesn't it?
There is a lesson in there for Christian mission. Are we showing the Zarah's of this world just another set of dogmas, or how their zest for life can truly find fulfillment?
Thursday, 8 July 2010
Matt 24:36 through to 25:46 seems to weigh in here.
- Faithful & wise servants will get on with their assigned tasks and not squander/mis-use their resources or time
- A call for readiness, being prepared for that end-time moment
- Proper investment action rather than static preservation
- The caring for the needy
- Stick to the task throughout the waiting ...
- because you need to be ready when the right time comes ...
- a readiness demonstrated by what you have done ...
- with the investment currency being work amongst the poor
Friday, 25 June 2010
Is it possible that this passage might speak into some of our situations of seemingly low harvest yield in our outreach initiatives, i.e. with very few people coming to faith?
If it does, then I'm sure the answer is not necessarily to build yet more church buildings and just expect people to come. No, there is surely a deeper principle at work here.
The temple was a spiritual focus and centre of worship for the Israelites. Whilst worship did continue in the ruined premises left by the Babylonians, it would appear that the returning exiles were more concerned with getting their own houses in order than their depth of worship together. The physical buildings and quality of their restoration (or lack thereof) was an outward sign of deeper spiritual realities.
So as a community of faithful, hoping to serve God's Kingdom purposes out in the world, we must not neglect our gathering together for worship - coming afresh before God to exalt Him, re-assert our dependence on Him, and receive anew from the riches of His grace. We need to put the necessary work in to make this a fitting and genuine experience. Not to the exclusion of our outward mission (so many congregations seem to make that mistake ...), but integral to it.
Haggai goes on to talk of 'shaking the nations' in his second chapter. This link with acceptable and worthy worship of the community of faithful continues through the book therefore, with the full potential of far reaching consequences.
Friday, 4 June 2010
I am the way, and the truth, and the life. The only way to the Father is through me.It's a knock-out verse isn't it? For anyone who does not agree that Jesus is the only way, then we can quote Jn 14:6 and we are done. Surely a slam dunk. It enables us to be assertive, it gives us Christians power ...
Except that 'the way' of Jesus was one of self-limiting, giving up of power, laying down his life. So, it seems to me, that 'the way, the truth, the life' that Jesus speaks of asserts completely differently to our normal expectations.
There is still an assertion to be made, but the power dynamic is quite odd compared to our normal worldly way of thinking. We can assert that no-one comes to the Father except by Jesus, but in so doing we must de-assert our standard assumptions of worldly power. Otherwise, we are not continuing in The Way, and thus not coming to the Father by Jesus ourselves.
Friday, 28 May 2010
A great aspect of the conference was that it was held in an interesting multi-cultural urban area, with all kinds of 'stuff' going on around it, rather than some detached nice conference venue somewhere. This made our discussions feel all the more acute.
Planning decisions, how people are housed, provision of amenities all factor into the equation. Yet we must not look in pure human terms, but seek God for insight into the 'behind the scenes' goings on. There is a curious interaction between human interactions and our decisions and the spiritual realm in all aspects of life.
It is not all gloom and doom, nor need we think there is a demon lurking within every building. We have Good News to share, and hope in God who redeems. Structural problems need not remain bad forever - confronted by the power of God even the most difficult of situations can experience grace and renewal.
We are not left without alternatives - Christ is risen!
Thursday, 13 May 2010
I don't care about my own life. The most important thing is that I complete my mission, the work that the Lord Jesus gave me - to tell people the Good News about God's grace.It seems to me that Paul has resolved the same as his Lord, to do the will of the Father (see John 4:34). From that he derives his worth, nothing else.
Note that does not prescribe exactly how it should be played out. Paul could presumably have even a secular job, or any one of a range of possible earthly titles or labels, but within that still go about the Father's business of telling the Good News. Such jobs or positions would not give him his worth - that would come from his ability to pursue God's purposes.
So it should be for us. Does the organisation or 'system' you are in right now expect or presume certain things for you? What is the expectation of your friends? Does that seem to predicate you reaching or obtaining a certain status?
If so, consider thinking again. Your worth is not ultimately to be found there, but in God's purposes that may lie within it, or in some cases, may not.
Monday, 26 April 2010
Hmm, the encouragement is starting to run a bit thin.
Ah, but its okay, it is to be done in the power of God...
But its a bit unclear. Is the power of God to help us once we are suffering, or is it actually leading to the suffering? You see the whole thing is connected in v9 with our salvation, and that salvation is 'by His purpose and grace', not just an accident.
The salvation and the purpose seem tightly connected, but so does the suffering.
So it seems that there is some kind of salvation/purpose/suffering triangle going on here - the three come together.
Want to take mission seriously? Better get to grips with all three aspects.
Friday, 9 April 2010
A key point made by Martin is that whilst we should certain long for conversion and discipleship, we should serve without expecting or demanding it. As a minister in a charity himself, he prefers to concentrate on individuals one by one rather than trying to play a numbers game.
I think he makes a good point. He is not arguing for a purely social gospel or liberal approach. Surely it is just part of the principle 'seek first the Kingdom, and the rest will be added'?
The problem out there is the sea (ocean) of need - where would one start. How do we balance resources. Thats where discernment is needed as ever, making it most certainly a spiritual exercise rather than a merely practical one or a task of human endeavor.
Monday, 29 March 2010
Rather than quitting my mail-tool, I decided to set it to not check my email automatically, so it would sit there quiet. Radical!
During the day I worked away, and got curious as to why I had no emails - forgetting that I had disabled its checking! Ah but what bliss to be able to work without the distractions. Eventually near the end of the day I re-enabled, and got hit with over ten messages.
We need God's focus for our mission efforts. There's lots of possibility, but many of them are just noise. Do we have the discipline to 'turn off' the potential distractions so that we can get on with what God is calling us to do? The flip-side is being open to the Spirit to lead us into the unexpected rather than sticking with the programmed, but some clarity and focus is more often than not what is needed.
Sunday, 14 March 2010
This is the first time I can recall hearing a 'big platform speaker' highlight the shortcomings of our typical preaching. It has been bugging me for a while now that we have been selling short in this way. Indeed I must confess also to be guilty of this myself - something I have been recently trying to correct.
Peter's well known call in Acts 2 for the crowd to 'repent and be baptised' was for them to 'save themselves from this corrupt generation', a generation that should have been at the centre of God's mission purposes. By repenting and getting back on track, they would experience salvation for themselves, but also become once again a mission people for God.
In our UK culture of today, which knows nothing of God's mission purposes and wants individualistic blessing parceled out in nice neat packaging, we would do well to give appropriate time in our message to spelling out the bigger picture.
Monday, 8 March 2010
Note that the main battle is with principalities and powers, dark forces, rather than flesh and blood (v11-12). So the trajectory of mission that I contend is in this letter leads us to an interesting point: mission is about confronting the dark powers that operate in any society, rather than people per se.
Don't get me wrong, I am convinced that in the main mission is all about people, yet there is something about these verses that means we have to contend with what is going on behind the scenes. I am not convinced that what we are talking here is just some spiritual-block that seems to stop ordinary people believing and accepting the gospel.
I think Paul is onto controlling behaviours, societal hegemony that keeps people locked into ways of living that are not of God. Whether it is 'structural sin', unjust practices, things that keep people in slavery, they are to be confronted, calling for reform, calling for salvation in the broad sense.
That will provoke a reaction - against which we need as Christians to stand firm in the face of the confrontation. For that, we need the armour.
Friday, 5 March 2010
Whats it all about?
From last time we looked at contrast society and differentiated lifestyles. A big chunk of this is how we relate to each other. Thats important, because the world does notice these things.
So whilst drilling into detail can be instructive, I rather think we are now outworking the trajectory I have talked about (ad nauseum) before - that this letter is reminding the Ephesians of their God given call to be his people of light (5:7-9) to the world. That light shines through the way we relate as much as in other ways.
5:19-20 tells us we are literally to speak life to each other. Not necessarily by appearing super-spiritual as these verses first appear, but surely in the outworking of our natural relationships, hence 5:21 to 6:9 and its three example scenarios.
And the summary of those situations - enable the other person to flourish. Make it so they can be the person God is calling them to be. That requires inter-dependence, a recognising that we are what we are as a function of other people as well as other things (thats 'Ubuntu', in African languages).
Not easy to do, but enormously powerful.
Sunday, 28 February 2010
So its our lifestyle choices (e.g. pension fund allocation), and a whole lot more. There's a whole new way of thinking to take on board here.
But before we reach for the 'bullet-list' button on this blogging tool to create a list of cans & can'ts, lets remember what Paul is on about and why.
The point is that God is calling people to be a contrast-society (Lohfink, 'Jesus and Community' is helpful here). Not withdrawing from society but staying within it while maintaining the contrast. This maintains the trajectory we saw earlier, being holy and blameless from way back in 1:4. This is going to affect the way we relate to each other (we will return to this in the future), our diligence, what we do and what we say.
The point is, as in 5:1 to be imitators of God, living a life of love. And of course that continues this trajectory of mission once again, since God is a God of mission, not just a holy club.
Friday, 26 February 2010
No, not to depress yourself about how poorly they are performing (that seems 'guaranteed' these days!), but to see what ethical investment options are available.
It came to my mind since one of my myriad pension providers sent their annual ethical investment newsletter. They also annually survey, to see what the ethical issues really our in our minds, not just what they think they should be. Sounds quite good practice really.
Many of us with pensions in a portfolio of funds have flexibility to move our pot of gold around between different funds. We should use that luxury to favour ethical investments where we can, or at least take the option seriously.
To not do this is surely another example of talking about loving our neighbour, but not actually doing anything about it. Okay we probably can't be completely clean with our money (just about everything is tainted, it would seem), but maybe there are steps we can take, as part of 'living a life worthy of your calling'.
Wednesday, 24 February 2010
I suggest reading the full article, but the two salient points are:
- A proper confidence in the gospel - as the 'event' of Jesus Christ that is inherently social and political as well as just being individual. This is a movement of God in society we are talking here, not just a proposition for people's personal beliefs.
- The doctrine of election - echoing the 'people for a purpose' seen in the trajectory in Ephesians I have been harping on about recently.
To say more would detract from the original article, except to point to the concluding paragraph:
... the missionary task lies at the very heart and purpose of what it means to be Church
Sunday, 21 February 2010
Well you can argue that as much as you like. Many commentators at least start with the foundational aspects of apostles and then prophets, with Eph 2:20 providing good support for the argument. Thing is, if you follow the logic of that implied order then you are led to conclude that pastors & teachers are at the bottom of the list.
So if such an ordering was Paul's intention, then it would seem by today's church standards that he holds a minority viewpoint!
Looking across the church in the UK, at staff positions, vacancy lists and team profiles (both with stipends and volunteer), one might be forgiven for thinking that the prevailing consensus is that the priority order is the other way round. And thats even before you factor in bishops and their free-church equivalents.
Just food for thought ...
Thursday, 18 February 2010
The thing is, in the past I have always interpreted that to be a grasping for one's self benefit. If only we could know Christ's love better, then how much better our walk with God would be. Sounds like a perfectly good prayer for Paul to pray.
But I am now persuaded that Paul had a bigger goal in mind. If we would only grasp Christ's love better, we would be better equipped in our mission. Such a grasping would challenge us of the limits and boundaries we have erected around Christ's love, calling us to go beyond them.
This fits with the trajectory of Ephesians I have already charted. Guder, in his 'Continuing Conversion of the Church' , claims we as Christians need this ongoing challenge. I agree with his claim.
Too often we think we know it all, and thus who needs what. These verses trash that, with Paul praying we grasp Christ's love better, and this love will surpass such knowledge. The boundaries we thought were correct, will have to come down.
 Guder, The Continuing Conversion of the Church, (Erdmans 2000)
Sunday, 14 February 2010
First off, the way of love spelt out here is not your average gushing fluff, with pink wrappings and Fairtrade chocs. Its hard. Try applying the following to everything you do, to every person you meet:
- being prepared to wait (even when it is clearly your turn ...)
- always looking for the best (even when clearly the other person gets it all wrong ...)
- not being envious (even when the other person is getting it all their way ...)
- not puffing up yourself, nor pointing to yourself
- being well-mannered, not going off on one
Exhausted? Well there is more: now try seeking out the truth in all situations (and not just the convenient truths), seeking to protect, and conveying trust and hope even when these seem to gain little ground.
So thats the spec. Remember that this kind of behavior is not just for when interacting with other Christians, but when dealing with everyone. Paul always has witness to the world in view.
Friday, 12 February 2010
Well I would like to start considering mission by turning to a part of the Bible that may surprise you - to what many consider a 'pastoral' epistle, i.e. Ephesians.
How can that be?
Well to get my point, you have to come with me on what I see as a trajectory through Ephesians. We'll start here with the first three chapters.
Chapter 1 talks about a 'chosen people', why is that? Its part of a plan to bring all things together under Christ (see v10), ultimately for His praise & glory (v12). There is a power at work here which Paul hopes we can know better (v15).
This plan, amazingly, is seen in constrasts. See chapter 2 and the contrast of what people are saved from, from being lost to God's riches ... to do God's work. That 'to do ...' is all important! Continue the chapter, you have contrast of former hostility to todays reconciliation made possible in Christ. Its stirring stuff!
Whats it all for? Well in chapter 3 we see God's wisdom purposes. You might argue that v1-9 is a bit of self-qualification for Paul, but it soon leads back to the wider people through whom God's wisdom is revealed. Those same people chosen back in chapter 1, having transitioned through the contrasts of chapter 2 are those in which the power of God is now at work (see v20-21). This is God at work, through His people, for all to see, not just those on the 'inside'.
Chapter 4 goes on to talk about living up to this calling, but more on that later. There's something big going on here - God, people, revealing, transformation ... to bring all things in heaven & earth together under one head, Jesus Christ.
Thursday, 11 February 2010
Now dealing with youth and young adults, that L-S-P thing of mine comes into play. Lets listen to what our young people are saying, and hear where they are coming from, rather than assuming we know whats best and simply try to download.
From this conversation there will be wisdom, resources and good places we can usefully sign-post people towards to help them on their journey, and engage meaningfully in the Christian Way.
And such dialogue will inform our prayers for our younger colleagues, so we are not praying for cloning, but for the Spirit to release the emerging generation into a hurting world in ways that we are simply not equipped to imagine.
Monday, 8 February 2010
If we take on board our calling to share God's love, and tell people about that love, I wonder if we then find ourselves thinking that to do that properly we would need to become some kind of super hero? A person who has all the answers, all the Bible knowledge with verse references ready to hand, and the ability to boldly proclaim where no-one has proclaimed before ...
Now it might sound strange, but the Bible doesn't actually call us to be any of that. It simply requires us to be ourselves – the person God has made us to be, the person now in Christ. Now that doesn't necessarily mean that we don't have to change, but the change required is more along the lines of our willingness to share than what we perceive as our ability. 1Peter 3:15 exhorts us to be ready (and therefore willing) to explain the hope that we now have in God, and equally reminds us to do that gently and in a way that respects the enquirer.
Perhaps our starting point should therefore be 'Here I am Lord', rather than 'Here's what I can do, Lord', or even 'Here's what I think I've been told to do, Lord'. Being ready and willing then allows God to present the situations so that we can act appropriately when they arise. I'm confident that as each of us presents ourselves to God with a simple prayer like 'Here I am Lord, help me to be ready and able' will end up working itself out in all kinds of situations in what we pray, what we say, and what we do.
Sunday, 7 February 2010
Ask a group of Christians about sharing their faith with others, and the chances are that there will be comeback in several areas. Of those, the three most typical are the following: that you will be faced with questions you can't answer, that people will judge you, and that you will somehow blow the friendship.
These are natural enough. Very few of us want to stand out unusually in the crowd, risking the prospect of looking silly, or having people thinking of you as somehow different. And of course none of us wants to lose friends, or offend in any way.
It is a mistake, however, to assume that sharing your faith must always involve these outcomes. For a start, if someone does ask a tricky question then why not simply say 'I don't know the answer to that – that's a good question to be explored'. You will be surprised to find how relieved people are when they realise that us Christians don't have all the answers. It also paves the way to explore the question together, for more discussion and dialogue.
Secondly it helps others in the long run if we make ourselves vulnerable, and admit that actually we do make mistakes and get things wrong, even as Christians. Its about being real with one another, not needing to project some image of ourselves that is in fact to be found wanting. Now if we are open and honest in this way, I cannot guarantee that there will not be some who judge you. Yet if we are real with people, and they still want to judge and pick fault with us, then that is their prerogative. It will be hard for us, perhaps quite painful to face, but ultimately we must give people space and freedom to disagree, even if their accusation seems unfounded.
Finally such openness ought to imply that there will be moments where we honestly and straight-forwardly indicate that we have faith in Christ. That need not mean that we insist our friends to instantly follow Christ themselves, still less become exactly like us in our life choices and what we do on a Sunday. It is important that we give our friends permission and space to be our friends even if they don't believe the same as us.
Bearing all this in mind, sharing our faith with our friends and the people we meet need not be such a fearful experience. It is about being open, and so yes it is about being vulnerable, but coupled with a respect for the other person and a desire for the best for them.
Wednesday, 3 February 2010
Yet these questions are likely the same questions that our friends, our colleagues, those we chat to occasionally when our paths cross, are asking. Deep down, perhaps we are all wondering simply how to get through life?.
Jesus commissioned us to make disciples as you go (Matt 28:16-20). Note the 'as you go' - in other words as we ourselves walk a path of discipleship: following and learning from Jesus. He didn't say 'work out all the answers, then get cracking', but rather 'learn on the job'. All sound too daunting? Remember that in the same instructions He said 'I am with you always' - we don't have to do this alone!
So with our friends, where should we start? How about doing some serious Listening. What are people really asking, what are the real questions below the surface? God works with people where they are at, so try to understand where that place is.
Everyone likes a little bit of help to point them in the right direction, so be ready to do a bit of Sign-posting. That's dropping hints, laying down markers, that give others a chance to see a different way of thinking. Remember, we are all free to heed this advice or not, so give people the space to do that.
Finally Pray: ask God to reveal Himself, and do His work of convincing people. Don't be easily discouraged - remember that God probably had to do quite a persisting for you to start following!
So its L-S-P, not as easy as A-B-C, but Jesus never promised it would be easy. As we follow, we find Him to be trustworthy, which gives us good reason - when we hear of our mates struggles - to give pointers to something more, and to talk in faith to Him who travels with us.
Monday, 1 February 2010
But for relationships we need a scarce commodity - time.
Spending quality time together is going to figure highly. Sorry, no quick fixes here. In fact there really is no substitute. In practice there are many ways of doing this: nowadays a natural setting is the coffee shop, but equally talking over a pint can be effective. For some, doing an activity together might make more sense, and on occasions going with someone through a specific difficulty may be required. In all cases the key is being in an environment where you can touch on and share in each other's worlds. The ability to understand what makes someone tick, and what their typical week involves, opens the way to be able to ask the question 'Where does God fit in all this?'.
From that one short question, all kinds of possibilities can crop up ...
Sunday, 31 January 2010
Well I've been putting off blogging for ages, but finally succumbed.
My plan is to air at least some of my thoughts on church life and mission in the UK context in the 21st Century. I can't promise to not be controversial, and occasionally my personal mood will mix in with the context. I don't plan to just say 'I did this, or yesterday I did that', however. There are tools like Facebook for that!