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

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Averting the Apocalypse

Image used without permission but Attributes to http://www.silverpetticoatreview.com/I am a staunch Dr Who fan.

Episode 13 in season 1 of the ‘re-boot’ with Christopher Ecclestone and Billie Piper contains a scene in which, Rose Tyler (Piper) breaks open the heart of the TARDIS in an attempt to save The Doctor (Ecclestone). Rose looks into the heart of the TARDIS and it changes her. There’s a pretty low-resolution 4 minute version of it here.

When she arrives and saves The Doctor, he asks: “What did you do?” and Rose replies: (watch it here)

“I looked into the TARDIS and the TARDIS looked into me”.

It transpires after that point that Rose has special abilities, she destroys the daleks, she is able to bring back to life Captain Jack Harkness who has just been exterminated.

Once Rose looked into the heart of the TARDIS, she was completely changed by what she saw. She could not un-see, she couldn’t let go of what she had seen and could not be unchanged from how it had changed her.

I would argue that this works as a lovely illustration of when we truly see the heart of God. When we look into God’s heart and see the depths of his love and the extent he has gone to display that love to us, we can’t help but be changed. And if we truly connect and really see the heart of God, we cannot unsee, we cannot be changed back, we can’t ever return to what we were before.

In an address to students at Harvard university in 2008, JK Rowling said:

“we do not need magic to transform our world; we carry all the power we need inside of ourselves.”

And in many ways, she is right because of the promise of Jesus in John 14:11-21

Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

The root of this concept is stated in 1 John 4:9

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

This is the message of God through Jesus: Just as Rose was changed by viewing the heart of the TARDIS, we are changed when we see the heart of God and it changes us to be more like Him. He promises to live in us.

We can’t sit around inert, expecting God to step in and save us all from either our current situation or the problems we find ourselves surrounded by in this world.

Make no mistake: He Will.

One day, God Will complete the process of redeeming and restoring this planet, creating a place where everything is, once again, returned to a condition where all the earth continually sings His praises.

But while we wait for that inevitability, it is the job of believers to be the hands and the feet of God in this world.

It starts within our homes and our church family.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:35

It’s not radical, it’s not new, its not easy but it is vital and mandatory.

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

1 John 4:12

When we look ‘into the heart of the TARDIS’, when we gaze into the heart of God and God gazes into our hearts, we become changed, we become the agents of Gods’ love, the vehicles of his power at work in the world and that love is good news to the people around us. It is a life that displays “the gospel”.

Think of the tangible benefit to us personally and our communities if we were to take on Jesus’ example and embrace the counter-cultural world of Matthew 25 – a life lived as if God is not coming to mend all our brokenness and it is our job to put in the leg-work.

I am a great fan of Mother Teresa of Calcutta who’s words speak into this approach to faith and life.

“You can do no great things in this life, only small things with great love”

Mother Teresa of Calcutta

I believe that when God works in the world, he works through people. You and I are the people of God and we are the ones to push through the expectation of some supernatural intervention and demonstrate the ‘love beyond magic‘ that Kester Brewin talks about in his book.

It is only through love that we can achieve godliness. It is only through love that we can slowly, carefully redeem and restore this world. It is that same sacrificial love that we see demonstrated on the cross that gives us the example to do likewise.

Whoever loves God is known by God.

1 Corinthians 8:3

1 John 4:8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1 John 4:8

If anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever says that he lives in God must live as Jesus lived.

1 John 2:5-6

This is our call to arms as believers. We can revert the apocalypse, we provide the hope to the hopeless, we demonstrate the love of God and provide the care of God’s hands, we can be the support for others in the way we have been taught by God.

I realise that I am suggesting we live with the paradox of living as if God will not fully and finally step in whilst knowing full well that he will because that’s what he has promised us he will do. Sometimes we have to hold this tension.

Are you, like me, feeling sand, angry, disgusted, enraged, compassionate about the situation in Syria?

Now is your chance to step in. And don’t leave it at that, live your ability to demonstrate God’s love into every single apocalyptic moment or situation that you see.

But what hope is there if you are feeling hopeless? Are you someone who’s life is fractured and broken? Do you wake up and see an endless black hole of depression? Are you at the bottom of the pit without a ladder, struggling to make ends meet, desperate to find some way to put food on the table or clothes on the children.

Are you feeling like you are unable to pick up the weight of the responsibility that comes with being a follower of Jesus?

Firstly, rely on your church family. That’s really kind of the point: We connect to each other and to God through our shared brokenness, not through our personal victories, strengths and accomplishments or some supernatural magic. Our church family will be the arms that God will wrap around you. They will make sure that God’s promise to provide is not an empty one. They will be the people that will carry you close to their hearts until you can soar like an eagle again.

If you aren’t a believer, but feel like you want the world to stop so you can get off or facing any or all of the hopelessness and pain that I outlined above; go and search for a community of people that will provide the love and support that I’ve just suggested should be present in a church family.

Hopefully you will find it in a group of Jesus followers. You may find that it is displayed better in a smaller group / church, a house group or you may find that one of these new fangled ‘worship centres’ or ‘life churches’ can provide the love, care and support that shows the life of Jesus and the love of God.

Secondly, I have seen what happens after Revelation 20. After the metaphor that describes every struggle, every challenge, every war, conflict, oppression, famine and disaster, man-made or natural that has torn at our hearts and bodies in recorded history…

There is still hope.

God does step in to make all things new. So hold on to that hope, the hope for the hopeless, the salvation for the un-saveable, the great love for the unloved.

I heard a great voice, coming from the throne.

See, the home of God is with His people.
    He will live among them;
    They will be His people,
    And God Himself will be with them.

    He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
    Death will be no more;
    Mourning no more, crying no more, pain no more,
    For the first things have gone away.

Revelation 21 v 3-4

Read the rest of Revelation 21

Church (part 11) – Postscript

I just thought it worthwhile to note the following:

I’ve come up with these models, thoughts and ideas based on listening to a lot of material, reading a lot of stuff, conversations with many people, observations on and my own experiences in various church congregations and settings, studying scripture and praying.

I might have some of it wrong.

I might have it all wrong.

It may be that the church you are part of fits into one or a number of the categories perfectly or that it seems to transcend a number of categories. It might be that your church community has picked up bits of various different parts of the models and seems to work well.

I don’t want to be critical, I don’t want to be perceived to be critical or disparaging about anybody, any community, any church group, that’s not the point of any of this.

My aim is to inspire and to spark debate and discussion.

My wish is that you will challenge me, correct me if you think I am in error, offer a different or better way or idea.

My desire is for this to be an ongoing dialogue, a journey that we can discover together.

I value your ideas, input and comments because that improves me, rounds my ideas, gives me a better overall picture and perspective.

Please share with me your experiences and ideas so we can wrestle with making our church communities more appealing to people that have rejected church because of the ways it has been done badly and more faithful to God and His word.

Lets make much of God together, and praise him in all his fullness as he lives in our church communities, as he dwells in the ‘body of Christ’.

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
(John 14:23)

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 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.

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