Friday, 27 July 2012

Bad Fruit, Good Fruit

Having talked of Hope Shaped Pears last time, there is one more bit of juicy fruit to recognise in this story of Israel.

Israel establishes its nationhood through the exodus event - the people are liberated from slavery from a tyrant Pharaoh who oppressed them mercilessly. The first part of Exodus documents the hardness of Pharoah's heart, heightening the sense of glorious victory brought about by God on behalf of the people. In many ways it is straightforward good vs evil stuff, with God winning through against the ungodly ruler. It makes for clear imagery:
  • Israel - on God's side = good
  • Pharaoh - non-Israelite who sets himself up as god = bad
On that level, easy to understand, easy to tell and explain to your children or grandchildren.

Now figure the events of 2 Chronicles 36 (and Ezra/Nehemiah). There is hope, there is restoration brought about by God for His people. As in the previous post Israel as a people can resume with God's presence. The oppression by the nasty Babylonians/Persians will subside.

Yet notice that this time God works through and with non-Israelite ruler Cyrus. Now our simple categories above no longer work. God works through those on the outside. Aren't they supposed to be the baddies, pure and simple?

There is even acknowledgement by Cyrus that God is God! In other words that original global mission purpose which underlies the whole Israelite project seems to have yielded some fruit - indeed surprisingly good fruit that seeds new life back into the Israelites themselves.

If one just stuck with the simple categories above, this would not be possible. But God's ways are greater than that.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Hope Shaped Pears

After the corporate high of building the temple, over the generations things go bad, from bad to worse, and worse to down right pear shaped.

Read either Kings or Chronicles, and you will see the slippery slide. The mission dream made possible by the exodus event seems to be totally in tatters. The thought of a lasting kingdom is now a joke or by-word for onlooking nations. Its not a good story. It doesn't make for good mission.

Yet even as the Chronicler looks back on the whole sorry story, and rounds it off in 2 Chronicles 36, the closing deal is one of hope. Hope that one day God will again be with His people, signified by a rebuilt temple.

Yes even after several iterations of ignored warnings, and the often predicted result of Judah & Israel going into total ruin, God has not finished with them. His covenant love is still to be re-kindled. It is total ruin, but not everlasting ruin. The pear-shaped situation becomes injected with a hope that only God can bring.

The final verse of Chronicles is hope shaped pears: God's purposes can, and will, be worked out.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Worlds Apart

Check out this video by someone who loves God, loves his local church, and also loves friends at his local cricket club. Its an honest reflection by someone who wants to lead his friends to Christ, but wonders whether they would ever want to come to his church.

Now at least this person is entertaining the possibility of inviting friends to church. I've met many who simply don't (or won't) even bother for a variety of reasons (and most of the reasons seem not that good to me!). Yet isn't there a real issue in that church itself can be a culture/experience that is simply too foreign to drop someone into?

Are we not better off finding ways to bridge out to where people are and help them discover Christ 'out there' somewhere? After all, Jesus preached the Kingdom of God rather than the 're-culturing' of people. This is not to throw out church, but to remember that 'church' is the body of people (or perhaps assembly of people) and not necessarily the 'body of people with all kinds of trappings and cultural expectations'.

Maybe there is a church waiting to be planted at the cricket club. As long as it doesn't itself become introverted, and recognises its own God given calling to send out cross-cultural missionaries, why should we be against it?

Monday, 9 July 2012

Heaven touching Earth

Solomon gets to build the temple anticipated by David. Its fantastic! 2 Chronicles spells it out (as does 1 Kings), devoting several chapters to the undertaking. Its grand scale national and corporate 'Woot Woot!', all in celebration of and dedicated to God and His goodness.

But Solomon is also realistic. He realises that no structure, no matter how magnificent, can ever contain God (see 2:5-6). Yet despite this obvious limitation the temple was going to be seen as having a very special purpose. David said it back in 1 Chronicles 28:2 - a place 'for the footstool of our God'. In other words whilst God obviously resides elsewhere, the temple will be a place where heaven touches earth, where God's reign is clearly visible in the world.

Yet Isaiah (66:1) saw a bigger picture, where the whole earth would be the footstool. A theme taken up by Jesus and then again by New Testament writers. Jesus replaces the temple, symbolic reign of God is exchanged for actual reign through the Lord Jesus. A reign that can now be extended across the whole globe.

I've recently started using the phrase 'missional edge', by which I mean any place where the Kingdom of God might come in contact with people or structures that as yet know little of God's goodness or Jesus as Lord. Its the places where potentially we might see heaven touching earth, as the Kingdom of God is manifest in a variety of possible ways.

It might be in a group or activity within our church buildings, or it might be out there in unlikely places, but wherever it is, it is has the potential to be filled with the magnificence of God.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Apostles: Sent, or called to release and send others?

Acts 1:8 defines what the disciples will be: "you will be my witnesses to Jerusalem ... Samaria ... the ends of the earth". Note the certainty. Its not 'might be', or 'hopefully will be'.

Yet among that early band of disciples, were they? Did they live up to the spec?

We have to wait until chapter 8 until we clearly get beyond Jerusalem, and at that point it is not necessarily the apostles spear-heading the outward movement. It is other arguably less experienced servants like Philip who are thrust out into the forefront. To some extent the apostles are effectively playing 'catch up'. Furthermore the activity is generated by a displacement event: persecution (8:1) with the apostles somehow or for some reason staying behind.

I believe in pioneer leadership. Yet it seems to me that there are times when those in the 'top leadership positions', with all the experience and maturity rightfully recognised in them, need to wise up and see how the next move of the Spirit will be to send out those younger or less experienced out into the wild, pioneering situations.

Should it take a displacement event to do that? Well perhaps sometimes that is even necessary.