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

Tag Archives: experience

For Christians Only

For over 2000 years, the Jesus story has inspired people, spilling over into art, culture, music and many of our institutions, but today’s culture sees it only as part of our history, something to be escaped from, not part of our present to be embraced.

Our job as contemporary Jesus followers is to re-imagine, re-paint, re-compose, re-inspire the next generation by not only describing but displaying the complete and concrete relevance that this story still holds.

It’s time to re-tell the Jesus story in language that today’s ‘post-Christian’, ‘developed west’ can understand as original and vibrant, without allowing it to slip into just another self-help or health & wealth corporate branding message.

The question is how?

The future of our churches is held not just in the hands of the current generation of believers, but also those of the young people who grow up in contact with those believers, be that in our homes, in our youth programmes or just in our neighbourhoods – young people who are exposed to the goodness of Jesus by the things that we do.

One of the problems is that the young people of today are very different to the young people of 30 years ago and vastly different from the young people of 60 years ago.
Not only can this lead to differences of opinion and conflict but, more fundamentally, it gives rise to a completely different perspective and worldview.

Today’s young people are brought up on (sometimes even by) technology. We think nothing of seeing a 2-year-old successfully navigating their way round an iPad, iPhone, ‘cbeebies’ or ‘milkshake’!
The young people of 30 years ago are the ones that watched the workstation become a personal computer and begin its inexorable march into our homes and take its vice-like grip on our lives.
The young people of 60 years ago are mostly still trying to understand which button to press to answer the mobile phone or why the page on the computer screen they were looking at has suddenly disappeared, seemingly for no reason.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many iPad grannies around and plenty of tech-savvy over 70s along with innovative and progressive over 40s, but the mindset of today’s young people, broadly speaking, differs immensely.

I thoroughly recommend Shane Hipps‘ books “The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture” and “Flickering Pixels” if you want to understand the changing face of media, just how much media has shaped our lives and how electronic media is shaping the lives of our young people. I would also recommend Gerard Kelly‘s book “Get a Grip on the Future without Losing Your Hold on the Past” as a really good rounded view of changing cultures.

My point is that if, as followers of Jesus, we don’t adapt and change and constantly re-imagine the way we share the incredible, impactful message of God’s love, our churches will wither and die, not because the underlying message is changing but because the ‘same-old, same-old’ approach that today’s young people view as archaic and irrelevant is inaccessible and uninspiring.

That isn’t to say that today’s young people are not passionate about things, it would be wrong to say that today’s young people are not engaged in or concerned with social justice, poverty relief, overcoming injustice and freeing the oppressed (incidentally all the things that Jesus was passionate about and got killed for, see Luke 4:18-19). These problems are close to many young people’s hearts, only, over many years, they haven’t seen enough of the people in the church(es) going about acting this out significantly.

Today’s young people are less interested in what the people in the church say they believe and more interested in observing how the people in the church behave.

They are interested in seeing people who say they are ‘followers’ of Jesus actually following Jesus, i.e. living in a way that honours him and displays him to others.

“Indeed, a quick glance around this broken world makes it painfully obvious that we don’t need more arguments on behalf of God; we need more people who live as if they are in covenant with Unconditional Love, which is our best definition of God.”
Robin R. Meyers, from ‘Saving Jesus from the Church’

There’s always been a lot of talk in the church (take that to encompass any denomination, sect and community) but there hasn’t always been a lot of action, reaffirming people’s underlying view that the church is often no different from the world – just a place for empty rhetoric and endless flavours of ‘church’ to sample to see if it suits me. It ends up catering for consumer Christians, but we don’t need more consumers:

“This is a world long on options, short on substance, offering an unprecedented array of goods & experiences but little that is rooted in the permanent or meaningful”
(Gerard Kelly – ‘Get a grip on the future without losing hold of your past’)

Unfortunately, churches have, in the past, and probably to some extent now, constantly talked about “God’s coming Kingdom”, “Heaven”, “the Kingdom of God”, “the Kingdom of Heaven” or “eternal life”, however you understand it, whatever you want to call it, unfortunately, there’s not been enough practical demonstration of that concept it has generally all been intellectual exploration.

“Eternal life is not just what we’re waiting for – it is not simply a description of the age to come. It is what we live now, when faith and the resurrection power of Christ are at work in us.”
(Gerard Kelly)

So what are we to do?

Firstly, ground our response in scripture:

Galatians 5:6
“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

Start with Loving people, in the way Jesus did, then introduce people to him.

If your devotion to God makes the needs of the world seem more distant, you are in danger that you are expressing escapism, not faith.
(Gerard Kelly – ‘Get a grip on the future without losing hold of your past’)

Taking up the challenge of expressing your faith through love and fulfilling God’s purpose for your life means pursuing your neighbour’s wellbeing in the same way you are pursuing your own wellbeing.

Feeding the poor, playing football, leading worship events, putting on plays, creating art, shopping for old folk, campaigning for justice, creating and using wealth, skateboarding, dancing, writing, recording, singing, clubbing… All these can and do have their legitimate place in God’s purposes. They are transformed into a valid re-imagined way of spreading the Jesus story and taking part in God’s mission when they are done in response to God’s word and in obedience to the guidance of his spirit.

There are and will be many expressions and nuances of this new re-painting of Jesus incredible story for our current generation and we must hold them with open hands as we pass on the baton to the next generation.
I encourage you to share your ideas and expressions of new ways to share the living Jesus in the comments section, here are a couple to go along with.

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The TV Remote

eugene-polley-remote(Credit: AP Photo/LG Electronics)

On 22 May 2012, Eugene Polley, the inventor of the TV remote control died.

Eugene Polley(Photo: http://www.gizmodo.com.au/)

I imagine, like myself, not many people knew this man’s name and yet, for all those people who own a television (99% of the US population and Probably a similar amount in th UK, bearing in mind that 84% of britons receive digital TV) the remote control has profoundly and quietly moulded your life and habits.

Back in 1955, we had far less channels to watch, yet now, the constant channel flipping in any household is pretty much taken as normal.

How has it changed us? Well, if you want more, deeper detail on the mechanics, have a look at a previous series on this blog about ‘Message and Media’, however, to put it succinctly; the ability to change TV channel without needing to get up from our comfortable armchair or sofa has, in the words of Zoe Williams, Guardian Columnist, on the today programme on BBC Radio 4 Wednesday 23 May 2012 (feature from 1:41.58), has turned us into ‘attention deficit, sensation seeking watchers’.

Zoe went on to state that the TV remote has changed our behaviour and attitude to television and in response to the new way we view television, the medium itself had altered, programming now panders to impatient people wanting immediate gratification and simple points. We can’t settle on anything any more especially if we don’t like / can’t cope with what we are watching, if it is too challenging, we can flip channels until we can rest on something more comfortable.

Has that affected our spirituality? I imagine so. Not only has the medium of TV become a shaper and non-neutral purveyor of the messages it transmits, but the way we use TV with a remote control has shaped the way TV is delivered and our approach to endlessly seeking something new and fresh, whilst often only being truly content with old and comfortable programmes.

Are we, in our spiritual journeys constantly in search of new and fresh, yet having great difficulty letting go of the old and ‘comfortable’?

Are we having great difficulty in settling on the truths that God has laid out for us and the experiences of that truth which he invites us into? Do we constantly search for something different when we are not entirely comfortable with or are overly challenged with the things that God is laying in front of us?
Do we seek to twist and wrench scripture to our own ideas, asking God to make it a bit more palatable to us, rather than saying “This [the bible] is what is true and if there’s a difference between this and me, I’m the one who has to move”? {Quote From Gerard Kelly}

What influence does TV, the TV remote, and the adaptation of both media to each other and so to us have on your life, your spiritual journey, your relationship with God?

You can answer the question, or hop channels, flip over to another blog! ;P

Message & Media (part 5) – Postmodern Trends

The current trend in our postmodern culture is toward image based communication.

Just think about any major company or product. Most of them don’t show the whole name of the company, they either have a few letters or just a logo – an image, see the image below as an example. Most major brands we can identify by their logo or first letter due to the font / style.

corporation-logos

However, in this prevailing image culture, this changes our thinking, images aren’t good at articulating arguments, categories or abstract ideas. They present concrete realities (regardless of how much they have been airbrushed!)

Images can speak louder than words

The Words ‘Poverty’s Child’ are Propositional & Sequential, Rational and linear (L brain), It is Abstraction without Experience.
The picture below is Presentational & Holistic, It is Intuitive & Non-linear (R brain), It shows us a Concrete representation of experience.

poverty

Another example would be the new (imported) concept in UK of the televised political debate. – The local government candidates are voted upon not on their merits or policy pledges, but more on how well the leader of their party – broadly not voted for directly by the voter – comes across as a public debater & arguer! It’s becoming a subjective, intuitive evaluation of the image we see of the person as opposed to careful, left-brain analysis and evaluation of what they are putting across.

I believe in the future, this will be remembered the age of electronic culture, the age of the image and of technology. The overwhealming likelihood is that the display screen will become the ultimate relic of the electronic age. We can’t get away from them, they invade our homes, cars, pockets. We are addicted to the flickering pixels of the backlit or projected computer display screen.

So, what are the lasting effects of electronic culture?

Lets examine it with the McLuhan analysis tool.

What does electronic culture enhance?

Intensifies ‘right brain’ encounter with God, encourages a corporate approach to faith, increases reliance on intuition and experience in ‘knowing God’

What does electronic culture reverse into?

Relativism, reverses capacity for abstract thought and critical reasoning.

What does electronic culture retrieve?

Eastern orthodox & Catholic spirituality – contemplative icons & the ‘story’ aspect of the Gospel. Jesus’ centrality to faith.

What does electronic culture obsolesce?

Belief in metanarrative, belief in conversion being a one-time event, the role of abstract propositional faith and the full impact of Paul’s letters.

Clearly here we are not saying that electronic culture removes completely the impact of Paul’s letters, more that it changes our perception of the meaning / use / importance of the letters.

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 communal, experiential concept again.

How do we feel about the possibility of our methods and thus our message changing due to this paradime shift in thinking as a result of the postmodern, image-based, electronic, technological culture in which we are living and our children are growing up accustomed to?

Comments on the above question please!

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.

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