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

Tag Archives: God

It’s all about Rescue – Part 2

I have already discussed that though ‘The Exodus’- the account of the people of Israel (Jacob’s changed name) being rescued from Egypt by God may have been the first ‘corporate rescue event’, and the first genuine introduction of the hebrew people to the character of God, it is by no means the first rescue.

There is a rescue in the beginning of that story, before it even really begins.

Moses is rescued from Pharaoh’s cull of baby boys as his mother places him in a basket made of reeds and puts him in the river. He is rescued from this basket by Pharaoh’s daughter, who brings him up as her son.
Moses sees the anguish and suffering of his people and wants to rescue them, starting off by murdering an Egyptian slave-master to rescue a fellow hebrew. (see Exodus 2:11+12)

Rescue, rescue, rescue… You must be getting the picture by now.

But track back again to before the story of the Exodus and, having already looked briefly at Cain & Abel and Noah, the chronologically next most well-known rescue is probaly that of Abram (Later Abraham) & Lot (Genesis 12 and Genesis 18), both these men were being called away from places that were either wicked or would not do them any good long-term. Abram even negotiates more rescue from God in Genesis 18, a story that eventually culminates in the exodus of Lot from Soddom in Genesis 19. At least that’s what it seems like.

Have a closer look at that ‘rescue’ negotiated by Abram. The story unfolds with the back and forth bargaining from verse 22 to 33, and then, the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah is stayed for four people. That is less than half of Abram’s final bargaining point. Clearly, God is more forgiving and gracious than Abram, God rescues a whole city for four people. (Yes, the next two chapters are fairly unsavoury and eventually, only three of the people get away before the place is then destroyed.

God it seems is teaching Abram about rescue and about grace. We often view the story as Abram convincing God not to decimate a place, but Abram stops asking at a point before God stops rescuing.

We’re barely out of Exodus – the second book of the bible and we have come a cross a lot of rescue stories already!

Did I say “It’s all about rescue”? There is going to have to be a part 3, maybe more.

Mercy Seat

I was reading the story of the wilderness journey and the construction of the tabernacle and it made me think about the ‘Ark of the Covenant’.

Whilst initially, the construction of the gold-covered wooden box with cherubim either side might look like Israel’s version of an idol, this building directive is in stark contrast to the culture around them at the time, a culture of images / idols carved out of wood or cast from precious metals.

The difference that drew my attention was this:

Then make a mercy-seat from pure gold, two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. Make two cherubim out of beaten gold. Make them at the two ends of the mercy-seat. Make one cherub on one end and one cherub on the other end. Make the top of the mercy-seat, with the cherubim at each end, of one piece. The wings of the cherubim should spread up over the mercy-seat. Their faces should be toward each other, and toward the mercy-seat. Put the mercy-seat on top of the box. Put the Law which I will give you into the box. I will meet with you there. Between the two cherubim which are upon the special box of the Law, I will speak to you about all the Laws I will give you for the people of Israel.

Exodus 25:17-22 (New Life Version)

God requested a seat to be made for him to come and meet with the representative of the people. (at this stage it was spoken to Moses but later on it would be the high priest).

God didn’t want anything to be made to represent Him, or something that could be worshipped in itself, he wanted somewhere to ‘sit’ while he talked with the people.

It’s fully in keeping with both the God who says ‘make no image‘ and also the God who comes to live in and with us, first through the person of Jesus (John 10:38 / John 14:10+11) and then for those that choose to have relationship with Christ, in and through us (John 14:20 / John 17:21).

The box is not the important bit, nor is the ‘mercy seat’, but the one who comes to sit on it and be with his people.

It reminded me of a ‘voice of the day’ from the ‘God’s Politics’ Sojourners web site.

The resurrection of Jesus was simply God’s unwillingness to take our ‘no’ for an answer. He raised Jesus, not as an invitation to us to come to heaven when we die, but as a declaration that he himself has now established permanent, eternal residence here on earth. He is standing beside us, strengthening us in this life. The good news of the resurrection of Jesus is not that we shall die and go home to be with him, but that he has risen and comes home with us, bringing all his hungry, naked, thirsty, sick prisoner brothers with him.

Clarence Jordan

God came to be with the people of Israel as he sat on the ‘mercy seat’ (mercy being a good word worth looking up yourself), in amongst the grime and muck of a wilderness nomadic community.

God sent His only Son, who emptied himself (Philippians 2:7) of himself and filled himself up with his Father, into a world full of the grime and muck that came with roman occupation, torture, military dictatorship etc.

God promises to come to the earth again (Revelation 21), (not that he has ever left – “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” – Ephesians 4:6) not to whisk people away to somewhere else, but to live with them and be their God in and amongst them, initially at least – in and with the grime and muck of the 21st century, in all the mess that we have allowed our world and lives to get into.

That’s a pretty significant forward-looking symbol in just a wooden seat covered in gold!

Worship

I have heard so many times, increasingly more recently “letʼs worship together” or “weʼre going to have a time of worship”, before a congregation sings together and the term ʻworship setʼ used to refer to the songs that are going to be sung.
It seems there is a narrowing of the scope of ʻworshipʼ, there seems to be an idea creeping in to Christian consciousness that worship = singing; and only that.
It may just be lazy use of words or sloppy terminology, but if we arenʼt careful, we will start forgetting the importance of ʻworshipʼ being a way of living, not just the songs we sing together.

The first use of the word ʻworshipʼ in the bible is in Genesis 22, verse 5, when Abraham “said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
This is before the ʻsacrificeʼ of Isaac, I donʼt imagine Abraham was referring to him and Isaac going off and singing a hymn together, there is more evidence that Abraham was referring to the act of sacrifice he was about to undertake.

The second use of the word is in Genesis 24, it is used in response to generosity from Rebekah to Isaacʼs servant. It says in verse 26 & 27: “Then the man bowed down and worshiped the LORD, saying, “Praise be to the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the LORD has led me on the journey to the house of my masterʼs relatives.”

This is very clearly a prayer, a prayer of spoken worship.

Through the Exodus story, Moses constantly asks Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go (out of Egypt) so they could ‘worship God’. Clearly this is more than just singing, they could easily do that in Egypt. The worship was going to be a complete separation of the people from their oppressors and the toxic culture of Egypt, a time to truly worship God. The worship was to include sacrifice and burnt offerings to God (Exodus 10:25) and maybe other things, even Moses says to Pharaoh in v 26 “until we get there we will not know what we are to use to worship the LORD”.

Many of the references to worship in Genesis and Exodus include ʻbowing downʼ, a symbol consistently used to show reverence and deference to someone of higher authority or to indicate humility.

It is very rare in the scriptures that the word ʻworshipʼ is coupled with singing, not that I am saying that singing isnʼt worship, only Iʼm advocating a much wider use of the word than the narrow term that it seems to be becoming.

Worship breaks down to ʻworthʼ ʻshipʼ – the act of giving something ʻworthʼ, holding something in high esteem or honour and most of the references in the Old Testament refer to one Hebrew word ʻshachahʼ – meaning to bow / fall down / reverence / stoop. It has a wide range of possible meanings but all seem to point to putting yourself in a humble position and lifting up someone or something else. Incidentally, the other word that only occurs in Daniel, translated as worship (KJV) is ʻcgidʼ and has a very specific meaning – to ʻfall down / prostrate yourselfʼ.

The Old Testament definition of worship seems to be completely tied up in, putting something or somebody else above yourself and sometimes above anything else.

Obviously this is relevant and appropriate when thinking about our relationship with God but not always with other things.
The most common Greek word in the New Testament for worship is ʻproskuneoʼ, meaning reverance, to adore, to fall prostrate before, followed by less frequent but still very common ʻsebomaiʼ – to be devout and ʻdoxaʼ, meaning glory, honour or praise.
Again, no mention of singing in any of these uses. Donʼt get me wrong, Iʼm all in favour of singing, I think itʼs an important part of worship, but it doesnʼt seem sensible to refer to worship exclusively as singing when biblically, worship seems to be about a whole way of living and an attitude or posture toward God (when spoken of positively) or other things (when warned against).

Someone once said: “everything is an act of worship, you just choose what you are worshipping”.

I think thatʼs broadly true, we make choices daily what we are holding up as most important. It changes throughout the day and in different seasons of life, for some of us, most of the time itʼs God, and for some others, God gets worshipped very infrequently, perhaps only one day a week when we join others to worship.

Of course, Iʼm no better than anyone else, I need to point the finger at myself more than anyone else. I often worship myself above God – looking after my own needs, desires, vanity before I look to God. I often put technology in a position higher than God, preferring to answer emails or do other things on the computer / phone than focus on my Father in heaven. Some of us put our health or appearance up as an object of worship, some of us houses or cars, holidays, other humans… the list could go on and on.

I think that it is really significant that an act of sacrifice was the first event referred to as worship in the Bible.
Abraham was asked to worship God by sacrificing the thing most precious to him, the thing he had invested everything in, his son Isaac. What is more, it is crucial that we see how Abraham was absolutely prepared to go through with it. God said to him “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore… …and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me”. For believing God, and that being credited to him as righteousness, Abraham was known as a friend of God.

Could I, in the same way, be classed as Godʼs friend? I know I would have failed Abrahamʼs test, I canʼt imagine ever being able to get even close to agreeing to deliberately harm my son or daughter. However, we are called to make sacrifices, we are called to put nothing above God in the things we give worth to, the things we worship. More than that, worship really needs to be a whole approach to life, not just the singing we do together when we meet.

Romans 12:1-2 says it all, more succinctly than I could.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of Godʼs mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what Godʼs will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Live life in a way that puts God at the top in every thought, word and action, thatʼs a life where your whole body is a ʻliving sacrificeʼ, thatʼs a life dedicated to loving God with ʻall your heart, soul, mind and strengthʼ.

Colossians 3:23-24 puts the idea of ʻlife as an act of worshipʼ into context for us: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

For me, too much of the time it is purely aspirational, but through Godʼs grace and the power of His spirit working in us, we can slowly move towards that idea for it to become more of a reality.

Life is an act of worship, not just singing. It might include a fair bit of singing, but please, lets not allow it to stop there and lets not make the mistake of subconsciously accepting that by using lazy language.

This first appeared as an article in the Endeavour Magazine December 2012 Edition (though the language was ancientified by the editor)

Blessed are those who mourn

I love the Beatitudes, partly because they are a bit confusing, but mainly because Jesus is announcing something new and fresh and we are often too dull, even now, to fully grasp the newness and freshness of Jesus’ words.

But this one…

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted
Matthew 5:4

Sorry, mourning? Just say that again Jesus, I’m blessed when I am mourning? Just what about mourning am I supposed to be feeling good about, what is there about mourning that is a blessing?

It wasn’t until recently that I really understood this beatitude.

I’ve spent parts of the summer in mourning for various reasons. All of them trite and shallow so don’t get thinking that there’s anything to worry about.
I have been in a minor state of mourning because

  1. The Olympics ended
  2. The Paralympics ended
  3. We didn’t have a proper summer

I told you they were inconsequential! However, there is a serious point to this. As I blogged last month, somehow, I came over all tribal and patriotic, weeping at the slightest thing (if you call other people contesting and receiving medals the slightest things). And then when it was all over, I felt profoundly depressed for a while, until the Paralympics, which elicited the same leaking eye symptoms at every TeamGB success. Of course, once again, when it all ended, the blues returned, only allayed by that spectacular US Open win by Andy Murray. Gosh I must sound shallow and vapid, having my whole emotional stability propped up by British sporting achievement.

Anyway, back to the topic. To a certain extent, the ‘comfort’ from mourning came from new, exciting things, fresh success, new records, boundaries pushed, but because they were temporary, because that feeling was based on transient moments and memories, they faded and I was left with the feeling that something was missing once the events were over. Incidentally, there was a very interesting interview with Victoria Pendleton on BBC Radio 5 where she described the same sort of thing for athletes, even after winning Gold or a world championship, they often experience a profound low patch.

I use these fairly light examples to introduce the concept because my journey to truly understanding the beatitude “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” is a much deeper, more personal voyage.

I find the re-worded version by Don Davis more helpful to me personally as I can make more practical sense of it based on my own experiences.

Fortunate are those who’s hearts are completely broken over loss, because God Himself will carry their load.

I think perhaps that it is only once you have experienced this that you really understand it, much the same as many other spiritual and relational concepts.

Being comforted and having the pain of loss taken away is not the same thing. Feeling comforted, cared for, held securely in the arms of a loving God does not necessarily mean you will suddenly find all the emotion, heartache, disappointment and sadness disappears.
Being held close to the heart of the divine comforter brings the appreciation of God’s presence with you in the pain and sorrow and God’s presence in the middle of your disquiet brings a profound sense of shalom.

I use the word shalom because, though the literal translation of it is ‘peace’, it means so much more than just ‘peace’. Shalom peace is more than the absence of noise, it is more than calm, it is more than space and shelter, it conveys the distinct sense of everything being in the process of being made right and at one with God, the feeling of comfort, contentment and completeness even in the storm of our own troubles. Shalom is the sensation of wholeness and harmony, homeostasis and symbiosis as God comes to live with and in his good world, this world, the one He is interested in, the one He has been restoring and redeeming and renewing from the beginning.

It was not only on looking back on how God had carried us and our turmoil of emotions, anxiety, feelings of loss and raw, deep, aching heartbreak that we felt His shalom but also at times within the whirlwind. Between 2009 and 2011, we experienced four consecutive miscarriages and within that period there were unmistakable times that the peace of God broke through and it genuinely was like sitting in the eye of a hurricane. Life, life’s problems, life’s emotions and experiences were whirling around on the outside, but the peace of God brought contentment, courage, strength, energy and purpose. Knowing we were not abandoned, but rather, carried, gave us the will to carry on and the desire to choose to live in a way that was not made bitter by our anguish but made better in our response to God’s love and care.

Unfortunately, well meaning and with the best of intentions though they were, lovely, caring people reminding us that ‘at least we had two healthy children’ was not what brought us comfort. The pain of loss in this situation was not reduced in being reminded of what we had and whilst that might sound ungrateful, it really isn’t, it’s just the truth of the raw feelings that we experienced.
There were many wonderful and supportive friends and family that committed to emailing and texting words of gentle encouragement and others that were just there for us, sat with us, cried with us and it was in these moments, we felt the touch of the divine.
When God works in the world He most often works through people and that is our experience, a God who was hurting with us and holding us close to Him, making his presence felt through the people that propped us up and clung on to us to make sure we didn’t fall.

Being comforted in mourning and therefore blessed, being fortunate when our hearts were completely broken over loss, because God carried our load and brought us shalom, was an experience I wouldn’t change for anything despite the pain and tears, maybe even because of what I learned through the agony and weeping.

My main reason for writing this is not to open wounds or start a dialogue about our past but in knowing that there are bound to be many people in many and various situations, going through many trials, sorrows, excruciating pain, loss, relationship issues etc. Much of the time, when you are in the middle of it, you can’t see the end, you can’t see a way out, you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel and even if you can, you suspect it is a train approaching in the opposite direction. But my point is that you can get through it, it will be ok, when everything seems lost and broken, lying shattered on the floor around your feet, God is still God and God is still Good and He will find a way to redeem you and your situation however bad it may seem.
It may take some time, it may take many different things, maybe even including; counselling, swallowing your pride, seeking or offering forgiveness, reaching out in utter, helpless desperation or just surrendering everything into the hands of the one who promises to “never leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6), but somehow, some way, it will be alright. I can speak from experience, even after the fourth miscarriage and rather scary aftermath, it was ok, God made sure we were still ok, it wasn’t what we planned, it wasn’t what we wanted, our hopes and dreams were in tatters, but still, God was still with us and even in mourning, we felt that comfort, we felt fortunate that God carried our load. Without that, what hope could we have had?

Perhaps strangely, the passage that gave me most comfort was from Daniel. In Daniel 3, Daniel’s friends are told to worship the image that king Nebuchadnezzar had made or face being thrown into the furnace. When they don’t worship the image, the king threatens them with the furnace again and their response is this:

“King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and He will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if He does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Daniel 3:16-18

Daniel’s friends choose to worship God because they believed that their circumstances don’t change who or what God is. Worshipping isn’t always a reaction, a heartfelt response or an emotional connection, sometimes it is a choice. In the middle of the sadness and despair that we faced between 2009 and 2011, we chose still to worship God because we understand that what happens to us doesn’t change who and what God is. God is still God. God is still Good. Bad things, unpleasant things, unplanned things, painful things may happen to us, but that doesn’t change who God is.
In those years of uncertainty and sadness, we learned to personalise and pray the prayer of Daniel’s friends:

“The God we serve is able to deliver us from our situations, able to take away the pain and tears, able to ‘fix’ everything for us and make it all the way we want it… but even if He doesn’t, we will still worship Him.”

So take heart, during and after all sorts of troubles and difficulties in life, it can be alright and it will be alright.
I’m not pretending it is easy, as I already said, the pain continues to be very real and very obvious, but we found that even in the thickest fog of despair, the deepest chasm of sorrow, the murkiest waters of upturned aspirations, you are still loved by God. You are, by His grace and sometimes only by His people, still held close to the steady, rhythmical beat of His heart and offered access to an endless peace, serenity and comfort. Trust God, be open to His presence and the work of His spirit in your life, and you will feel the shalom that He brings.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Fortunate are those who’s hearts are completely broken over loss, because God Himself will carry their load.

Third World Symphony

Shaun-Groves-Third-World-Symphony-iTunes-banner-728x90

Before 16th September 2011, I had never heard any music by Shaun Groves!
However, I have been a regular reader of his blog for several years.
In the process of releasing his latest album, Shaun had released various pre-mastered, development versions of his song “All is Grace“, none of which I listened to, yet I still bought the album. In fact, I pre-ordered the album and then I bought it on iTunes too.

Before you think I’m completely mad doing this, there are two reasons why I chose to do this.

  1. I wanted to listen to the album in its entirety without any previous Shaun Groves music experience so I could write as objective a review as possible.
  2. I bought into the reasons Shaun was writing the music, I resonate completely with the way he lives and the principals he subscribes to and the background to why he wrote the album.

The reason I went “crazy” not only contributing to the ‘Kickstarter’ project to raise money for Shaun to record in the first place and pre-ordering the CD, but also buying the digital version was that I believe in what Shaun was doing / trying to do / is doing.

So Here goes.

Since I bought it, I’ve listened to almost nothing else on my iPod (save for a couple of Mars Hill / Gerard Kelly podcasts). Because the album is that good.

The album as a whole is ‘bite-sized’, it takes just over 37 minutes to listen to which is, I think comparatively short in album terms. That’s no criticism, I like how you can listen to the whole thing fairly quickly and have a really nice overview of the music and lyrics.

The things that most struck me about the album as a whole are the clarity of Shaun’s voice and the excellent instrumental balance throughout. I really love the mandolin and banjo in there and the rhythm section discreetly sets the whole thing off very well.
Somehow, though it’s all new music, new songs, new words, none of which I’d heard before, the album immediately had a familiarity which I can only attribute to the fantastic ability of the profoundly gifted songwriter and musically mature creative spirit that Shaun shows himself to be in this album.

The only drawback for me, which is purely a personal preference is the flute on some of the tracks. Possibly because it seems from the credits that it must have been a synthesized flute not a real one (I might need to be corrected by Shaun on that?) but possibly because I have an incomprehensible, inexplicable dislike of the flute.

Initially I thought that there were too many ‘2 bars intro then add the vocals’ type of tracks, but the more I listen to it, the less that strikes me and I think the balance of differing styles of the songs fit really neatly together.

On to the individual tracks. All lyrics can be found at the Third World Symphony lyrics page.

  1. All Is Grace
    What an opener! (aside of my mild annoyance at the flute bit) Every time I listen to this track, I get shivers down my spine. The clear tone of Shaun’s voice, coupled with the lovely jangle of the mandolin makes a beautiful rolling, building song that naturally climaxes through the choruses and the unresolved ending is so completely fitting. Leaving the end of the song on an unresolved chord immediately gives me images of this ongoing journey, echoing the sentiments of the lyrics that “You have loved us all so We love all”, It’s not a process that is finished, It’s something that continues daily, hourly, remembering the Love God has for us, evoking our response to love others as part of our expression of love for God.
    My lovely wife was slightly confused by the breathy way that Shaun sings “All” for “All is grace”, making it sound a bit like “Hall is grace”. For me, I quite like it but then I knew the title and the lyrics and she didn’t when she first heard it.
  2. Come By Here
    Another ripsnorter of a song, it’s catchy it sticks in your head, the words again are delicately sung and right ‘on the button’: a plea for God to bring his Kingdom here on earth sooner, not for selfish reasons or personal gain, but for the good of the world, especially the downtrodden and rejected.
    I particularly love the tinglefactor that I get from the combination of the musical pause and Shaun’s impassioned “come and meet us here” at the beginning of the final chorus.
  3. Kingdom Coming
    With similar sentiments to the previous song, I might have put this song much later in the album, maybe even at the end, not just because of that, but also because of the cascading, more fully orchestral-style climax of the song, which lends it to be a bit of a ‘showstopper’ or finale piece. Once again, I like the open, unresolved chord that it ends on, musically creating the expectation, the anticipation and eagerness for God’s Kingdom to come fully as well as the ongoing call for it to come through us in the way we live.
  4. Sing
    Another solid, catchy melody. I like the song, I don’t have a lot else to say about it!
  5. Awake My Soul
    Shaun has infused this song with ‘essence of good quality indy-brit-pop’ and reminded me of all the bits of Radiohead that I really enjoyed. The feeling of the chord sequences took me back to (weirdly enough) “Karma Police” from “OK Computer” though quite different in content! The other song it brought back to me was “True Love” by “Phil Wickham” which is probably a more flattering comparison.
    Similarities to other songs to one side, I love this song, the haunting tune and guitar with plenty of reverb on it give it the feeling of a passionate appeal to the apathetic heart of middle-class, wealthy, comfortable Christianity to really respond to the longing love call of our intimate God.
  6. I’ve Got You
    I think this song is lovely. Shaun wrote a blog post about what inspired him to write that track and reading it, combined with the simple beauty of this song, both musically and lyrically, never ceases to soften my hard, cold, cynical heart.
    As soon as I get a link to the original post (because it has disappeared!) I’ll stick it in here, it’s worth reading.
  7. Enough
    This song is fantastic in every way even though the upbeat, bouncy tune seems to be slightly out of keeping with the subject material in my mind. First time I heard it, it made me think of Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago” (also a fabulous track).
    The theology behind the song is so right and yet so far from the experience of so many western Christians and more to the point non-Christian observers. Which is a shame but also the very reason EVERYBODY needs to listen to this album. Shaun Writes here and here about ‘Enough’ (and in plenty of other places in his blog). Shaun is a man that lives what he believes and it’s a fantastic way to show the Gospel – your life displays the Gospel of Jesus when it looks like good news for other people, not just yourself.
  8. No Better
    This might be my least favourite song on the album, (despite the great mandolin work) though I do still like it. Partly because I’ve never really got into country or bluegrass and partly because I guess it speaks most revealingly to my own vulnerabilities, sins and shortcomings. When a song like this shines it’s spotlight on your life, it gets pretty uncomfortable. For me, it’s a timely reminder not to judge others, because as Shaun says “I’m no better”.
    That said, the chorus is pretty catchy and sticks in the head. One other thing… it seems to end a bit abruptly.
  9. Down Here
    Listening to ‘Down Here’ always brings a lump to my throat and I’ve been pretty close to tears a few times. It’ beautiful and compelling, music fits the words like a glove and the symphonic nature of the climactic second chorus is something of a musical masterpiece.
    The epilogue section of the song really rounds it off to be filled with truth and hope, the kind of hope that speaks to the heart of all people that ‘death does not have the last word’ because we believe in resurrection and in the words of Rob Bell, “resurrection announces that God has not given up on the world”.
  10. Just as I am
    Shaun added this traditional song at the end of the album for some very good reasons. And I won’t steal his words so you can read them for yourselves here and here.
    I really love this version of the song with Shaun’s extra words.

I mentioned my lovely wife earlier, and she’s generally not a massive fan of music that isn’t classical in genre, being a very talented lady with an honours degree in music, but she really liked the album too. A definite sign it’s really, really, really good.

You really should buy this album, from iTunes, or Amazon or Direct.
I Promise, Promise Promise I’m not getting any commission. Shaun doesn’t even know me, but You Have to hear it, buy it, support it. And if you like, Go sponsor a child too, it’s a really good and fun thing to do.

Listen to the album below.
Third World Symphony by shaungroves

Beauty, Tragedy and Horror

The beauty of the cross is that if I was the only person to have existed on earth, Jesus would still have chosen to die for me.

The tragedy of the cross is that if I was the only person to have existed on earth, Jesus would still have needed to die for me.

The horror of the cross is that if I was the only person to have existed on earth, I would have been the one hammering the nails through his hands and hoisting him up to his death.

Beauty, Tragedy, Horror wrapped up together in one act of selfless love.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8

Prayer of Love

Oh God.
Some sought from you this world and you gave it to them.
Others sought from you the next world and you satisfied them.
But I ask of you, neither for this world nor for the next but only for the increase of love for you in my heart.
(Islamic Prayer)

I think we can learn a lot from other traditions, this prayer speaks to the heart of my faith. My desire is for God, not what He can or may give to me.

I think often we forget that the reward for developing a relationship with God, is a relationship with God – an intimate, passionate love relationship shared with our creator.

When we focus only on what God has ‘blessed’ us with materially or what He promises to us in His future kingdom on earth, we are entirely missing the blessing of God.

Being with God, encountering and experiencing God in whatever situation we find ourselves in is more of a blessing than anything materially, and in this, sharing life with God, we are preparing for what will come in the future. If we aren’t getting to know God now and falling in love with Him now, then how are we aver going to be in tune with Him when His kingdom comes in its completeness, when the world is completely redeemed and restored, refreshed and renewed?

Partnering with God now in his restoration and redemption of this planet, falling in love with Him, is the kind of aim that is worth living with and for.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
Mark 12:30

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.

Message & Media (part 9) – Workshop Summary 2

We are, inexorably and undeniably in the age of electronic culture.

We explored what media choices are now available and drew a ‘Media Web’, exploring briefly the different media and all their links!

With this available ‘Media Web’ in mind, we then looked at some other key questions to ask before we jump in to using any form of media.

Who are we trying to reach?

Do we understand our ‘target audience’?
Remember, people may not use or interact with a media form in the same way you do!
Do we need to find a member of the target audience that shares our passion for the message to advise us on how to best utilise the medium?

Are we, like Jesus finding a way to connect with the people that are searching, the hopeless, the unreached.

If we understand who the message is for what would that do to the way we do things?

Remember, Marketing is not the same as Outreach. But they need to go hand in hand.

At this point in the workshop, there was complete freedom to choose to explore any media type in greater depth and as a kind of case-study for the McLuhan analysis tool, ‘twitter‘ was chosen by the group.

Here’s what the group came up with (for an explanation of how the tool works, have a look at Part 3).

Twitter-Analysis

At The Bethel, we use twitter to publicise the podcast, notify people of what is happening with various activities and provide occasional, possibly even irregular, apposite quotes and bible passages that we feel moved to share. The podcast notifications are set up to be automatically tweeted when the podcast file is uploaded and the rest of it takes very little, if any time or effort. For The Bethel, twitter is a small tool and very low maintenance, it’s used more as a publicity or broadcast medium than a conversational or engagement medium.

Next Post will wrap up the rest of the workshop and then I’ll do a post detailing use of display screen projection as I think it deserves a post of its own.

Message & Media (part 8) – Workshop Summary 1

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will
Romans 12:2

With respect to media there is a very real sense that we can easily be ‘conforming to the patterns of this world’ if we fail to understand our media & media choices.

Media is not just a neutral conduit through which information passes, we have looked at this earlier in the series.
The media changes the message. Or as McLuhan said

“The Media is the Message”

If the media is conflicting or inappropriate to the message, the message changes into something we don’t want it to be or is lost completely.

Our current media landscape is like our cultural landscape it is in a constant state of flux. Always changing, always developing.
How prepared are we to put God’s message into the places where people are now searching, the places that perhaps didn’t exist before?

We then looked into what media forms we currently used as a group, at a personal level and a church level.

I took a moment at this point to emphasize the message that Tim Genders was making in his talks at the wekend, that the most important, oldest, most reliable, most tried & trusted, most effective, best possible media form is YOU (or me – it is the human being).

This is bourne out in Jesus being God’s medium and message.

‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’
John 1:14

So individually and more importantly, corporately as part of the church, as members of Christ’s body, we are now God’s medium and message in the world.

The scriptural vision of the church is one in which individuals exist for the sake of the community and the community exists for Gods mission in the world. God chose the church, in all its various and disparate, both sometimes flawed and sometimes beautiful ways, not just individual Christians as the medium for his ongoing mission.

We are the medium, individually, but, more importantly: corporately. How this looks in reality will vary from congregation to congregation but the experience within our churches should be one of a foretaste of Gods kingdom as we hold faithfully to God’s agenda and try to live his message.

So if what we do doesn’t look like Jesus, it’s not the right message, whatever we are saying. If the whole picture of the medium of us in our churches doesn’t look like Jesus did, it won’t matter what we say or preach, the message is not coming across right, we are living a paradox.

We have the ability as God’s current medium in the world to enhance his message or to undermine it by how we behave.

With us being the medium and the message, it is through relationships that we spread God’s message. That’s the way God did it, if we are to reflect God’s methods, then relationship is the way to use our medium to show God’s message.

Outreach or preaching is best and most effectively carried out through relationship. Real, face-to-face interactions with real people, which can then be carried on and forwarded and maintained through other forms of media or technology.

We briefly looked then at the second most common media form that has shaped the world we live in to date, It has influenced the whole of current society, how we learn, work, live, everything: Print as I expanded in part 4 – ‘Modern Relics’.

The printed page is the ultimate relic of the modern age and the printing press.
It creates the perception, as letters and words follow a sequential pattern on a page that we can be completely logical, rational, sequential, objective. It also reinforces private learning and individualism.

How relevant is print today? In the world of church, in the area of preaching and sharing God’s message. Does the way we are affected by print change the way we view and interact with and share God’s message?

We discussed some very real examples of how print media has been good (Newbury placing an advert in a local circular and having a great response to a kids summer club, and some kids keeping coming afterwards) but also examples of how recent print media has been of little or no value (Handing out foreign language flyers in Bulgaria, with little or no uptake / 20,000 flyer drop in Manchester with a return of [if we are very generous] 0.0015%).

A Quick run through of Print options (add anything in comments if you have more to add to this):

  • Poster / Billboard / A-board – Useful, static info, portable info for events.
  • Invitations – Only really good if personally handed to people you have a relationship with.
  • Newsletter – Could it be electronic or opt-in?
  • Booklets / Pamphlets – Could they be moved to be Web based?
  • Leaflets / Flyers / ‘Bills’ – Very low return on High financial & time investment.

We also touched on making sure that if we move things towards electronic medium, we are careful not to then leave out a generation that are not connected electronically.

I’ll cover the rest of the workshop in the next post, that’s more than enough for this one!

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