[un]conscious-stream[ing]

Psalm 144:4 Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow.

Category Archives: spirit filled living

Move over Tycho Brahe, Shaun Groves is my new hero

He may not be a world renowned astronomer, he may not wear a false copper-alloy nose, he probably doesn’t own an alcoholic elk, and I’m darn sure he doesn’t have a clairvoyant dwarf to entertain his dinner guests, but Shaun Groves is alive now and he has just released what I personally would describe as one of the most important albums of all time!!

If that sounds pretty extravagant in praise, you haven’t hear the album yet, nor do you know all the background behind it.
If you want to get the low-down on why and how this album was ‘squeezed out’ of Shaun, you really should trawl through the last few years of his blog. Not only is his music fantastic, but the thought processes behind it, the stories that have shaped it, the heart he pours into it are admirable, laudable and inspirational!

If you are a Christian, you need to hear this album because it will remind you of the kind of bible-based life you promised to lead when you said you would follow Christ.

If you are a non-Christian, you need to hear this album because it speaks the very heart of the Christian message in a way that cuts through all the rubbish that we Christians have piled up against it for centuries.

This album is beautiful, compelling, challenging, convicting and frankly AWESOME.

It’s easily worth several times more than it costs, which incidentally is another reason why I chose discretion over business acumen and avoided putting an affiliate link to it on my blog!

I’m going to review it in full over the next few days / weeks and post my praise of this piece of musical genius that I have not been able to get out of my head nor stop listening to for over a week now since it arrived on my door mat.

Oh, did I mention… I really like Shaun Groves’ new album!??! You really should go and buy yourself a copy.

You can find Shaun Groves on twitter @shaungroves or facebook/shaungroves too.

p.s. No, I didn’t get paid to write this, I just really love the album.

Inspire

Having been disappointed and depressed by the rioting, I’m sure that you would appreciate something inspiring and uplifting.

Not all the world is bad, mad or sad and it was incredible to see the community spirit of Manchester as hundreds of people, all ages, shapes, sizes, religions, races, colours, political views etc. got involved in the clean-up operation. Of course, it happened in all the other major cities as well, but I’m generally most concerned about my local news so I’m not going to link them all!

In the big clean-up, we have seen that there are plenty of young people that are willing to live sensibly and honestly, be good citizens and work as volunteers for the good of the whole.
Interestingly, the word volunteer comes from the Latin ‘voluntarius’, which has the root concept of ‘willingness’ or ‘of one’s free will’. In France, the word ‘volonté’ means willingness, which describes to me a level or joyful participation in an activity as opposed to having your arm twisted behind your back and even more apt is the French word for ‘gladly’ – which is ‘volontiers’.

Lastly, not wanting to be smug or blow our own trumpet, but I was really impressed by my Kids over the last few weeks of their school term.
Kate had a letter from UNICEF asking for support for their mosquito net programme to prevent malaria in Mozambique.
Jacob asked her what it was about and since finding out, he and Lily have been feverishly making Hama bead mats and selling them at school, at church, to grandma and anyone else they can find, to raise money for mosquito nets.
So far they have raised over £90 which I think is really great and as you can probably tell, I’m pretty proud of them for it.
It has also led to the most amusing quote of the year from one of Lily’s school friends.

Child: “Mum, can I have £500”
Mum: “What? Why do you want £500”
Child: “Well, Jacob has made these mats that kill flies in Africa and I want to buy some to help out!”
Mum: “What? I don’t understand.”
Child: “or £1?”

The innocence of children!

That inspired me to run my ‘Birthday for a cause‘ again and plenty of people have been really generous. I’ll be closing the ’cause’ on the 20th August so there’s still some time to give if you missed me mentioning it elsewhere.

Let’s be inspired by these young people and children to leave the world a better place than when we got here.

Riot

I had sincerely hoped I would never need to write this post. On Monday and Tuesday, I was (prematurely and inaccurately) heartened that Manchester had not fallen into the same disorder and desperate, woeful state that parts London, Birmingham and Liverpool had.

It doesn’t even make me angry any more, it makes me desperately sad.

I’ve read a lot already on this and some very insightful people have posted some apposite and informed views. (see The competing arguments used to explain the riots, Rosamicula and Kester Brewin.

It seems to me that we are all to blame in some respect. And in all the different areas of trouble, the variety of those people rioting and looting is astonishing, see the Guardian’s article on who took part.

Yesterday, listening to a BBC correspondent who had spent the day in a magistrate’s court hearing those arrested and charged from some of the London rioting, I was somewhat surprised to hear there were a lot of young professionals involved in the looting. A graphic designer, a care worker, someone who had just joined up for the army. Not all of them were from the local area, many had driven in, taken part and then, to quote the correspondent: ‘driven off to the next location to cause trouble in their Golf GTIs’.

Last night’s trouble in Manchester is also not all from some kind of ‘underclass’ there seemed to be plenty kids from ‘middle class’ families looting for all they were worth. Kids as young as 9 (estimated) were seen in gangs, separating in two, one group to divert the police while another group smashed in and looted a shop.

I think there are many, many different and complex reasons for this upheaval but it is endemic of a society that has lost it’s way.

Maybe we all need to take a step back and have a long look at ourselves.

Why are we all so interested in the news about the riots? Is it perhaps because somewhere within us there is a deep need to acknowledge that this kind of behaviour is the kind of behaviour that we are capable of? Is it that by reading and watching about it, in a voyeuristic way, we can somehow, exorcise it from ourselves? Are we somehow connecting with it for cathartic reasons, in that were it not for other people committing these acts now, we indeed could or maybe would?

At a push, maybe I could loot somewhere to provide for my family if things got really bad. And scenes like we saw last night are just a couple of rungs down the moral ladder.

In an interview with Jane Clayson of the CBS Early Show on September 13, 2001, Billy Graham’s daughter Anne Graham Lotz commented on the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 and I think that much of what she said is relevant here in the UK at this time. (I have yet to find a full transcript of the interview but you might be familiar with the paraphrasing.)

“I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we’ve been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has
calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?”

What we see may be the result of many things building up to a flashpoint, but the one single common factor is the fact that by and large our country has turned it’s back on the values of true Christianity. The church is as guilty as the rest and I’m surely just as culpable.

We have turned our backs on God, we have not been careful about what we have let into our hearts and we have reaped the consequences.

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
Luke 6:45

For ‘mouth speaks’ read also ‘hands do’ or ‘feet follow’.

“You are what you eat” is the other phrase that comes to mind, and the diet that we feed our hearts and minds on surely impacts the actions we end up taking.

I am reminded of a story by Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek:

A man thinks he is a grain of seed. He is promptly taken to the mental institution where the doctors eventually convince him that he is not a grain of seed but a man. But, just when he’s apparently cured – convinced that he is not a grain of seed but a man—and permitted to leave the hospital, he comes back instantly, trembling with fear: his next door neighbour has just started keeping chickens and he is afraid the chickens are going to eat him. “Come now,” says the doctor, “you know full well that you are not a grain of seed but a man.” “You and I know that,” the patient says, “but do the chickens know?”

The point is, that most of us don’t need convincing that a new car or bigger house, pair of fancy trainers, plasma tv or a diamond ring will not make us happier or more fulfilled, it’s the structure around us, the magazines and tv programmes, the society we live in and participate in that needs convincing of these things.
For me that’s what church is about, creating an alternative structure that then convinces the chickens because of the way it operates.

Churches need to be alternative communities, places that poke holes in the lies of the world and say “that’s not true, and you know it’s not true” and through our relationships, through our living together in this alternative way, we can encourage each other to live a different way to the way the world pushes us.
We need to be careful we aren’t laughing at the materialistic consumerist society, condemning those chasing it, whilst at the same time fully participating in it, because people won’t listen to us if our lives don’t match up to what we say we believe. (I preached on this earlier in the year)

Now is the time for Christians in Manchester (and London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Bristol, etc. etc.) to kneel in prayer, for forgiveness that we haven’t yet enabled God to use us powerfully enough to prevent these dreadful things happening, for the wisdom to know what is right and the courage to do it.

We must pray that we can be seen to be instruments of God’s love. Conduits of God’s grace. Bringers of God’s restoration, renewal, and revival.

And lets, wherever we can get involved in the clean-up, not just of the cities, but also the minds and lives of the people who are so misguided and misled that they rampage through the shops looting things that perish and spoil.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.
Matthew 6:19-20

Murder

At 21:40 on Tuesday, Half a mile away from my front door, in a florist shop, on Shrewsbury Street, Old Trafford, a robber was stabbed and died shortly after.

You may find it shocking, scary, paralysing…

You might find it more shocking that I don’t feel any of those things.

When something like this happens, I’m not scared, I’m not petrified or shocked, I’m not paralysed by fear or worried to go out of my front door, but I am saddened.

This is my community and I love it.

I am saddened for two reasons:

  1. That there are people that want to steal from others
  2. That people still believe the myth of redemptive violence

Now, I’m not getting all ‘holy’ on you, I have no idea how I would react if someone came in to my clinic waving a gun around and trying to get my hard-earned cash from me, (I don’t have a knife in the place to stab them but who knows what else I might end up doing?) but if your first reaction to someone threatening you is to attack them, surely, somewhere down the line, something has gone wrong.

So what can we do about it?

Firstly, will you all pray for Old Trafford. As the Rector of St Brides said, “this place is really resilient”, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see consequences and repercussions in the coming weeks and months.

I can’t predict what will happen, but I can ask you to pray that all the churches, the mosques, the Hindu temples and other places of worship will find ways to connect with the local population to bring the peace and intimacy of God into their lives.

Moreover, I will ask that you petition our magnificent creator and loving, compassionate God to find ways to powerfully act through the Christian congregations and the individual Jesus followers in our neighbourhood to discover new and compelling ways to open people’s hearts to Christ.

There’s no way that we can alter the saddening and tragic loss of life that we have experienced this week, but there is a way that we can work to attempt to prevent this happening again.

Pray with me that we, as a community of believers at the bethel and as a wider community of believers in all the churches of Old Trafford, will be able to connect with and genuinely speak the words of Paul:

I have become [the Church’s] servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness – the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.
To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.
Colossians 1:25-29

Let us be Christ-centred, Bible based and Active-in-love, open to the movement of the spirit of God among us, filled with the nature and person of Christ as he lives in us as believers (Romans 8:9), so that we can improve people’s lives by introducing them to Jesus, the way, the truth and the life.

May Jesus work in us and through us, may people see his face in ours as we see Him in their faces and love them the same way we would love Him.

“In another’s eyes I see my plea for forgiveness, and in a hardened frown I see my refusal. When someone murders, I know that I too could have done that, and when someone gives birth, I know that I am capable of that as well. In the depths of my being, I meet my fellow humans with whom I share love and have life and death.”

– Henri Nouwen, from With Open Hands

Moving

Our neighbours (from one side) are moving.

We’re very sad because they have been the most wonderful neighbours that we could have ever imagined. They are (were) both chaplains at the university and that in itself led to lots of great deep spiritual and philosophical discussions. They are considerate, kind, generous, patient, quiet, friendly, loving and caring to name but a few of their qualities.
Also, they have a daughter the same age as our daughter, and they go to school together and really love each other and get along incredibly well.

We’re really going to miss them.

Last week we had takeout from Yakisoba together and shared a wonderful evening (without the kids interrupting) and wondered why we hadn’t made more effort to do that before. Why is it that when you know time is limited you make more of an effort to do special things together and spend quality, quantity time together?

But then we would never have expected just how lovely our neighbours would be and we couldn’t have anticipated they would be as great as our previous neighbours who were quiet and kind and friendly and generally lovely.

So, whilst we love our neighbours dearly and we will miss them a lot, for their company, for shared faith, for shared tastes (in beer, food, activities etc…) we release them to their new work for God where they are moving to. We pray that God will continue to work powerfully through them that they can be a blessing to their new neighbours as much as they have been to us. That they will be a blessing to their new churches in their new jobs and that God’s spirit will continue to move in all our lives to His greater glory.

Nathan & Claire, Mahalia & Elise, we’ll miss you, we’ll pray for you, we’ll not forget just how great it has been to have you as next-door neighbours.

God bless your continued journey.

Message & Media (part 10) – Workshop Summary 3

I believe that culture and the way people receive messages is changing, the trend from the onset of modernity – the age of the printing press – was from an experiential, visual, communal, holistic model to an individualistic, highly rational concept of the gospel. With the continual march into and through post-modernity, we are seeing the trend reverse towards a much more visual, communal, experiential model again.

Personally, I think that’s fine, I believe that some of our methods and thus our message should change as part of God’s ongoing creation, revelation to and relationship with God’s people. That change need not be feared, Jesus himself modelled this same approach.

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
Matt 9:16-17

Jesus understood the intimate connection of medium and message, container and content.
Jesus came proclaiming a new message, not just new methods, he says “you have heard that it was said… but I tell you…” 10 times in Matthew.

God invites us into the dynamic unfolding of His drama in which He is working to bring the world back into a reconciled relationship with himself. It’s the story of God and God’s people at work in the world, not a set of static propositions or set of ideas to assent to.

Yes, indeed, we need to be careful not to adopt our culture’s methods, norms and goals wholesale, If we do, we can put our light under a bowl and loose our saltiness, regardless that it may have stemmed from a legitimate desire to be relevant and contextual.

But the message of the gospel is bound to shift and change as God’s spirit moves in this world. If we claim the message is unchanging, we risk boasting of a kind of omniscience in which we presume we know the totality of God’s plan and inexaustible mysteries. In that kind of setup, the ongoing work of God through his spirit becomes no more of a ‘dashboard ornament’ – if we presume we have discovered the one, simple and unchanging message for all times and all places. Our posture should be humility and discovery. Remaining faithful to scripture does not mean doggedly holding on to some fixed and permanent idea of right doctrine until our knuckles turn white and our fingers drop off. We should be trying to develop a communal sense of patience to discover the gospel, God’s current plans and works, the courage to name them and the humility to hold them in open hands to allow it to be touched by God’s voice in scripture and the breath of God moving among us.
(Paraphrasing Shane Hipps)

If we continue to remember that we are the best medium and the message, and the way we live our lives, as God lives in us, both individually and corporately as Christ’s body – the Church, then we will be able to deal with the changing media and cultural landscape God’s way.

Church (part 10) – Epilogue

I’m wrapping up here! Everything I couldn’t fit into the other posts because they were either too long or it didn’t fit quite right.

We are planning to use a song that we’ve not had at the fellowship weekend before, a song by Christy Nockels called Hosanna.
I think it really encapsulates all we’re trying to achieve, all the motivation behind it, Tim’s points, and a lot of what I’ve been writing about in this series.

As you listen to the song on the video above, have a look again at Tim’s points

The general approach being to show how Jesus used a community outreach approach to preaching bringing out the following principles:

  1. Committed to growth
  2. Touch and teach
  3. God in control
  4. Need for labourers using their God given skill
  5. Single clear message – ‘The Good News of the Kingdom of God’
  6. Cast your net on the other side – do things differently
  7. Diverse approach for diverse market
  8. Long term plan – 3 1/2 years for Jesus

The parts of the song that stand out most for me are verse 2 and the bridge.

“I see a generation
Rising up to take their place
With selfless faith – with selfless faith
I see a new revival
Stirring as we pray and seek
We’re on our knees – we’re on our knees

Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like you have loved me
Break my heart for what breaks yours
Everything I am for your kingdom’s cause
As I walk from earth into eternity.”

For me it encapsulates the vision I hold of this life being important because of what God has done for us and continues to do with us and how that stimulates our joy which triggers a worshipful, active and gospel-displaying response in the way we live.

It’s a vision of ‘resurrection living’ as I’ve shared before from Rob Bell:

“Resurrection announces that God has not given up on the world
because this world matters
this world that we call home
dirt and blood and sweat and skin and light and water
this world that God is redeeming and restoring and renewing

greed and violence and abuse they are not right
and they cannot last
they belong to death and death does not belong

resurrection says that what we do with our lives matters
in this body
the one that we inhabit right now
every act of compassion matters
every work of art that celebrates the good and the true matters
every fair and honest act of business and trade
every kind word
they all belong and they will all go on in God’s good world
nothing will be forgotten
nothing will be wasted
it all has it’s place

everybody believes something
everybody believes somebody
Jesus invites us to trust resurrection
that every glimmer of good
every hint of hope
every impulse that elevates the soul
is a sign, a taste, a glimpse
of how things actually are
and how things will ultimately be
resurrection affirms this life and the next
as a seamless reality
embraced
graced
and saved by God”

(Rob Bell)

That’s the way I view the underlying drive as to why we are even thinking about ‘outreach’.

The weekend verse is 1 John 1v2

“The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.”

I think that ties into this song really well

“I see a generation
Rising up to take their place
With selfless faith”

That speaks to me of a relational approach, founded on intimacy with God “We’re on our knees”.

I think this bit of the Song also picks up on points 2 and 4 in Tim’s outline.

Point 2 I think can be a 2 way point – ‘touch and teach’ is also, at least in my mind possible to look at in a ‘I have been touched by this and so I will teach’ kind of way as per the song bridge:

“Show me how to love like you have loved me
Break my heart for what breaks yours
Everything I am for your kingdom’s cause”

The last line again, Tim’s point 4

And then

“As I walk from earth into eternity.”

I don’t think Tim is specifically referring to God’s long-term plan in point 8, but it also fits with that angle. Our walk with God is a current reality, not a future possibility.  It’s an ongoing, present-tense journey, which also kind of picks up on Tim’s point 1.

The song as a whole for me proclaims Tim’s Point 5 – Single clear message – ‘The Good News of the Kingdom of God’.

In Revelation 21 the Apostle John hears the words declared from heaven ‘behold, I am making all things new’.
His vision seems to be of future events, yet the voice speaks in the present tense – and is set in the context of prophetic imagery drawn from the past, from the proclamations of Daniel, Isaiah and Ezekiel.
Past, present and future merge in a dramatic declaration of the purposes of God.
Not only does John’s vision give us insight into what God has done and is doing in the world, it also models how we are to answer the question ‘what is God doing right now’?
In any given time and setting, John implies, the events we see unfolding before us can be ‘read’ against two horizons – the horizon of all that God has done and spoken in the past, and the horizon of all He has promised for the future.
The purposes of God are like an underground river, flowing invisibly beneath the events of history.
Rooted in the world’s in-God beginnings and moving towards its promised in-God end, these purposes are always consistent with God’s character.
The best way to fully understand the present is to have God’s perspective on the past and future. From the ‘it was very good’ of Genesis 1 to the ‘all things new’ of Revelation 21, visible history is a reflection of God’s unseen plans, and can only truly be interpreted by their light.
(Gerard Kelly)

To really finish this series off, Rob Bell has some interesting thoughts in his book ‘Velvet Elvis‘ which I agree with and thoroughly recommend as a great and challenging read!

“I believe being generous is a better way to live.
I believe forgiving people and not carrying around bitterness is a better way to live.
I believe having compassion is a better way to live.
I believe pursuing peace in every situation is a better way to live.
I believe listening to the wisdom of others is a better way to to live.
I believe being honest with people is a better way to live.”

I would go on to say personally, that I believe affirming truth where there is truth, is a better way to live.

All of the above are ways to live in love, ways to respond to God and to the incredible love and grace he has for us.
And that is how I understand church, the purpose and mission of the church:

Church is a movement of people, intent on existing to bless the world by acting like Christ to the world.
It is a body of believers that live selflessly, for others, displaying to others the love that has been shown to us.

It is openly embracing, fully engaging, equally contributory, committed to community, centred on Jesus and a shared journey to explore the message of the bible and remain open to the movement of God’s spirit among us.

Different congregations will look different as they work out their communal path together but God loves diversity as much as he loves people.

I pray that all our churches will be places that grow both in number and in faith and shine like beacons of love in the neighbourhoods they exist, both physically as meeting places and for each individual member.

God’s way is infinitely attractive, it is irresistibly beautiful, I pray our churches will be the same.

Church (part 9) – Outreach – A natural response

‘Outreach’ or ‘Preaching’ can mean many things to many people, from the ‘manic street preacher’ that you might see on a Saturday on Market Street M1, to a discussion with a friend over a coffee, from a ‘public address’ to meeting a private need.

Preaching or outreach is not ever, never, never is it about telling someone / some people “This is what I believe and you should believe it too”.  
It should always be a case of “I can hear music, it makes me want to dance, can I share this music with you, maybe you will hear it and want to join in the dance.  Maybe your dance will look different to mine and that’s ok, but I really want to dance with you and learn with you and learn from you and hope that you also will learn from me and together we can discover more about the source of the music.”

Preaching or outreach isn’t always going to be easy, in fact it’s rarely going to be easy to ‘preach’, be it in our churches or individually.  The encouragement we are aiming to give people at the fellowship weekend 2011 is hopefully going to ignite some passion, but it’s likely that it will fade over time, and that’s completely normal.  

Preaching cannot always be an easy, joyful, reflex response to the love God has shown us, and in the same way that there are times when we have to choose to praise, there will be times we will have to choose to preach and it won’t feel like the natural thing to do or what we particularly want to do at the time.  

Hopefully there will be more times when it’s a natural response to God rather than a conscious choice, but we can’t ignore that at times it will be hard.  

Last year, we ran the Bethel Festival and are planning to run it again this year.

After the Bethel Festival last year, someone commented to Kate (my wife) that they went away over-faced – thinking “I’ll never be able to do anything that big with the person-power we don’t have at our church”. They were paralysed by the bigness of it and were disheartened that their church wouldn’t be able to match up to something like that.
When people go home from the weekend, it is entrirely possible that they might feel they don’t have the manpower, impetus, momentum or possibly even desire to do big things like that and there will probably be some times when it’s a plain old slog and you meet a large amount of resistance from within the church as well as possibly from without.

Lets be honest, if it wasn’t for all the people at the fellowship weekend last year, The Bethel wouldn’t have been able to run the festival at all! On any normal day, week, month, that’s way bigger than anything we’d ever even conceive of doing as a church.

None of our ‘outreach’ at The Bethel is motivated by “doing something big to be seen” In fact, no ‘outreach’ should be about focussing on doing ‘big’ or ‘great’ things.  Everything is about building relationships, bringing God into the small things, showing the love of God in the way we act & interact. If God is living in us, that should be evident and his love will be spilling out.

“We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love.
It is not how much you do, but how much Love you put into the doing that matters”
(Mother Teresa of Calcutta)

The practical application of that is probably going to look pretty different, depending on the people in the congregation, the surrounding community, how much the church is a commuter church as opposed to a community church and how much it is a consumer church as opposed to a contributory church, how much the church has managed to engage and embrace as opposed to exclude and entertain.

However, doing ‘small things with great love’ must be the motivator and aim. Without love, it’s all meaningless.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
(1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Shane Claiborne (founder of “the simple way“) has a notice above the inside of their door. It reads:

“Small things with great love or don’t answer the door.”

The foundation understanding for the statement is that ‘if you aren’t prepared to see the face of Christ in the person that is knocking on your door and therefore be prepared to act like Christ would towards them, then you are better off giving yourself a break and letting someone else open the door.’

The most important {commandment},” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
(Mark 12:28-34)

Love God
Love People
Small things with great Love

Do everything in love. (1 Corinthians 16:14)

What is the background to our outreach?
Hopefully, the kind of church that we are inviting people into is:  Strong at the centre, Open at the edges.  Diverse and yet still united, unity is not the same as uniformity. A Church that is contributory, embracing, engaging and community focussed, community rooted.

‘Preaching’ and ‘Outreach’ is more about how we live than what we say. It’s about ‘living the Resurrection’.

“resurrection says that what we do with our lives matters
in this body
the one that we inhabit right now
every act of compassion matters
every work of art that celebrates the good and the true matters
every fair and honest act of business and trade
every kind word
they all belong and they will all go on in God’s good world
nothing will be forgotten
nothing will be wasted
it all has it’s place”
(Rob Bell)

God is preparing a banquet, everybody is invited. How can we not want to spread that invitation to everybody we meet? An ‘all-nighter’ party, well, more of an ‘all-eternity-er’ of joy, peace, fulfilment and intimacy with the creator who is so deeply in love with His creation that He showed us Himself through His Son, and underlined it by allowing people like us to kill him, so that he could win a great victory over our flawed and hopeless selfishness.

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
(1 Corinthians 15:57)

And when it feels hard or you think you can’t do it or you think it’s too big or too much, remember to take one small step at a time, that small things with great love is the way to go, and take some comfort from One of my favourite poems from one of my favourite poets: “I see a new city” by Gerard Kelly.


Here’s the last verse

“And though I wait
And though I long
And though the sacred city may seem slow,
Still I will hope,
Still I will pray,
Still I will, today,
Rise up and build.”

It may seem like we are having to choose against the odds to live a life that reaches out, and we might feel like nothing we are doing is making any difference and it might be that we don’t ever see the harvest from the seeds we sow, but because of God’s great love for us, we continue to work with Him, let him work through us to build His new city.

Church (part 8) – Inclusion Overview

Lets put the models of church Inclusion together.

Church-Inclusion-Models

I think they speak for themselves, clearly, the direction of the red arrow is the direction I believe all churches would do well to take. I’ve explored the models in detail in the last two posts, and I think it ties in very closely with ‘what is church for?‘ I don’t think it is worth going over it all again.

But What does inclusion and engagement look like in reality, in concrete terms, ‘where the rubber hits the road’?

Here’s what I understand the ultimate vision of a contributory, engaging, embracing, community church congregation looks like.

God is planning a banquet, a big party and he has invited everybody.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins
“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
Matthew 25:1-13

I love Robert Capon’s commentary on this passage.

“Watch therefore,” Jesus says at the end of the parable, “for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
When all is said and done — when we have scared ourselves silly with the now-or never urgency of faith and the once-and-always finality of judgement — we need to take a deep breath and let it out with a laugh.

Because what we are watching for is a party.

And that party is not just down the street making up its mind when to come to us.
It is already hiding in our basement, banging on our steam pipes, and laughing its way up our cellar stairs.
The unknown day and hour of its finally bursting into the kitchen and roistering its way through the whole house is not dreadful; it is all put of the divine lark of grace.

God is not our mother-in-law, coming to see whether her wedding-present china has been chipped.

He is a funny Old Uncle with a salami under one arm and a bottle of wine under the other.

We do indeed need to watch for him; but only because it would be such a pity to miss all the fun.

(Robert Capon – Kingdom, grace, judgment: paradox, outrage, and vindication in the parables of Jesus)

I believe there is room in God’s grace for a lot of us, I believe many surprising people will be there in God’s great big party in the same way that I believe I will be there. Should we not focus on inviting more people to listen to the music and hope they want to dance with us, regardless that their dance may be a little semantically or interpretationally different to ours?

The trouble is as humans we like to prosthelytise – we are uncomfortable if anyone holds a view that is different to our own. And that’s difficult when we encounter grace. I imagine God’s grace is bigger than mine which is always going to make me uncomfortable if someone doesn’t agree with me, yet I have to believe that God can find a pace for the genuine seeking heart in his ocean of grace.

If I fail to personally put God’s grace into practice, that limits the envelope of my embrace, it chokes the eagerness of my engagement, it stifles the character of my contribution and it can divide the core of our community.

God invites us all into the dynamic unfolding of His drama in which He is working to bring the world back into a reconciled relationship with himself. It’s the story of God and God’s people at work in the world, restoring, redeeming, refreshing, renewing, not a list of static propositions or set of ideas to assent to. The immediate message and outworking of the gospel is bound to shift and change as God’s spirit moves in this world.

If we claim the message {or indeed medium} is unchanging, we risk boasting of a kind of omniscience in which we presume we know the totality of God’s plan and inexaustible mysteries. In that kind of setup, the spirit becomes no more of a ‘dashboard ornament’ – if we presume we have discovered the one, simple and unchanging message for all times and all places.
Our posture should be humility and discovery.
(Shane Hipps – The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture) {the brackets are mine}

Remaining faithful to scripture does not mean doggedly holding on to some fixed and permanent idea of right doctrine until our knuckles turn white and our fingers drop off.
Remaining faithful to scripture does not mean casting out people that don’t look like us.
Remaining faithful to scripture does not mean forcing conformity and uniformity and restricting ideas, questioning or debate.
Remaining faithful to scripture does not mean seeing the rest of ‘the world’ as a Godless, sinful, depraved place and ‘the church’ as a place of solace to escape to.

We should be trying to develop a communal sense of patience to discover the gospel, God’s current plans and works, the courage to name them and the humility to hold them in open hands to allow it to be touched by God’s voice in scripture and the breath of God’s spirit moving among us.
(Shane Hipps – The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture)

The more we are inclusive, the more we look like Jesus. Remember, it was Jesus who told off the religious leaders, the ‘church people’, the people ‘in-the-know’ time and time again and never scolded a ‘sinner’ seeking him, forgiveness or help.

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.
(Matthew 21:31)

I don’t feel I can end this post on inclusion without sharing this anonymous quote. It’s beautiful and compelling, it’s thought-provoking and from what I can read, study and understand, I think it’s completely true.

It drives down at one of the core practices and reasons that we congregate to form churches at all, the centrepoint and turning point of God’s story: The sacrifice of Christ remembered in The Breaking of Bread / Communion / The Lord’s Supper / The Sacraments / Divine Liturgy / The Eucharist

This is the table, not of the church, but of Jesus Christ.
It is made ready for those who love him
and who want to love him more.
So come, you who have much faith
and you who have little,
you who have been here often
and you who have not been for a long time,
you who have tried to follow and you who have failed.
Come, not because it is we who invite you:
Come because it is Christ who invites you to meet him here.

Church (part 7) – Exclusive or Embracing

God has a party planned. He has invited everyone. Who are we inviting?

How does the church as a whole and members as individual representatives of Christ and his body in this world interact with the people that come in through the door?

The Exclusive Church
Only shows warmth to people that are like the existing members, people that don’t fit the mold feel intrusive.
The church congregation is like a clique and works as a private club, not the open arms of Jesus.
Little time or space is made to cater for the needs of the needy, charitable giving may be present but it is always anonymous,not personal or intimate.
The exclusive church tends to look after it’s own but not others so much.
The tendency of the exclusive church is to put up barriers to people coming in or joining, even though they might publicise their activities. Everything must be done on their terms, and there is little leeway given for different points of view or opinion, if you don’t ‘fit in’ you are likely to be shunned or ignored.
You have to look right, act right and say the right things before you can be considered suitable for acceptance or membership.

The Embracing Church
Welcoming to all people from all walks of life regardless how messy that ends up becoming. The Church congregation makes space for the
rejected and outcast from society. Being bold enough to reach out and love people of every shape, size, colour, etc. People are taken ‘as-is’
not expected to change to ‘fit the mold’ before they can be accepted / integrated.
The underlying understanding is that God is judge, not man and that ‘right behaviour’ may not be something that a person can begin with but that it will follow eventually as a response to God’s love shown through his church.
The overriding experience of the person encountering this kind of community is that they are being invited into a family where the door is always open.

What kind of church community is yours?

I know it is very difficult when I meet or have conversations with people who’s views aren’t exactly aligned to my own. I know that it is hard when I think something I do or say is right or something someone else does or says is wrong, but that shouldn’t make me reject them. It shouldn’t make me put barriers in the way of relationship with them or with God.

In the church congregation setting, it makes sense in a pastoral way to have a general agreement on the fundamental things that we believe. If someone comes in believing something that is clearly going to clash with the majority of people, it is not going to encourage harmony or unity for them to remain within that group. That doesn’t mean they should be rejected or treated badly, they should be loved and accepted and together either work out a way to get along or help them to find a group of believers where they can find their spiritual home, unity and accord.

On more minor things, I think we should just show a bit more humility and grace (me especially). God accepted and continues to accept people ‘just as they are’:

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
1 John 1:9

God is doing the purification, from the heart outwards, not us from forced conforming behaviour inwards.

The church as the body of Christ needs to be embracing and open-armed, not cliquey and exclusive.

Rather beautifully, the fellowship weekend theme has captured the essence that it’s about love coming to town, genuine love (in the 1 Corinthians 13 sense) displayed in our relationships.  Lives lived displaying this love are lives that are beautiful, lives that can touch other people, lives that are healing and restorative, refreshing and redeeming which is what God is trying to do through is in his good world as we journey together towards a new heavens and a new earth.

The love we reflect from God, the love that God pours into us and then out from us towards others is the love that creates an embracing church community.

One of the things I really love about The Bethel is that most members share Sunday lunch together most weeks at the building. It’s a fantastic way of getting to know each other, developing deep ties and friendships, learning to serve each other in preparing food and clearing up afterwards. There are a number of members that we now have that were attracted to this family way of loving and living first of all and their faith grew from that. Faith grew from seeing people love other people, be honest and open and share themselves, their time, food etc.

Embracing people is what God is all about.
Everybody knows the verse:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
(John 3:16)

If that isn’t the most inclusive, embracing invitation then I don’t know what is.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
(2 Peter3:9)

God holds the doors open to everybody and the verse above tells us that he is going to wait a whole lot longer propping those doors open than anybody else ever would.

The final picture of the embracing God that I believe we need to emulate in our collective journey and existence as a church is from Isaiah 40:11

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

God carries us close to his heart.

God’s arms are broad and strong, they reach far and wide and his hands softly beckon to us to climb into his embrace.

My prayer is that as the body of Christ, as the people that make up the movement and action that is the church, will replicate the open arms of God and willingness to stretch out to and embrace every broken and imperfect sinner, all the rest of those wicked and fallen people that are actually no different to you and me.

The only difference is that we are yet to wrap our communal arms around them to tell them just how loved and forgiven they are.

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