Category Archives: Ramblings

A ramble through the week.

Perplexed

Let's celebrate!

I’ve always been a cheerful sort of chappy.

Genesis 21-22

1 Corinthians 2:9-10

Romans 10:8-10

Hebrews 11: 17-40 (ESVUK)

39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

So God asks Abraham to sacrifice- to kill- his child as a test of obedience. God in other places commands genocide despite also commanding that we are not to kill. Without the blinkers of a blind or indifferent faith this is, in the face of it, simply, very perplexing. It is hard to reconcile.

God reveals himself to be a God whose character and nature forbid child sacrifice and the taking of life, yet we are to commend those who do, for their obedience to the God who commands it.

There is another story aside from Abraham’s that is similar – the taking of the life of Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11). Read it and don’t duck the fact that at the end of the Bible his actions are commended as faith (Hebrews 11).

It’s all very perplexing when we would like it all to be made right and somehow sorted by the apostles. It is not.

Are we to gloss over these stories? Are we, in our fervor, to miss them out? The whole of the scripture does not allow us to with integrity. Some scholars try to let us off the hook; convinced that God would not command child sacrifice they propose that the sacrifice is figurative and the sacrifice was the daughter’s life as a woman, represented as death. But this Jephthah, in his fallibility, is a hero of the faith as is the lustful Samson and the power hungry, idolatrous Gideon.

If these are stories of faith- the faith we are called to, then in them there must be a disruptive purpose, calling us to a higher understanding of faith, or we might as well abandon faith as a futile fiction. Is their purpose to heighten our understanding of God or maybe to wrench us from our own understanding of God? You have to ask yourself why the Bible would in effect cause you to think the worse of God.

I can think of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman. Jesus responds to her in a way that would be expected of any Jewish man of his day, calling her a dog, but then grants her desire. Jesus would not be loving if he was an unkind bigot, so to call the woman a dog could not have been unkind. But he did. It sounds unkind. Jesus, through his life, taught the good news of salvation so my faith trusts there is a higher purpose in this story not a license for bigotry and unkindness.

Where do we go from here?

The Bible is God’s word. It is the written revelation of God himself and all we need to know for salvation. The words are the words of ordinary people in their times and it is their words that carry the Word of God, the essence of their encounter with the living God. The words are prophetic, speaking the stories of God’s communing with people, in their language, in their culture and in their time. Many of the writers are unknown and even the identity of the Christian writers uncertain, but Christians hold that the Bible preserves the prophetic writings of these people and is the word of God. Tradition says they are true and all else is measured against them.

Jesu did not write anything except in the shifting sand. And we don’t know what it said only that the words challenged the scribes.

Jesus, a man in his times, spoke without sin. He is God and in Jesus we see God himself. In his life, death and resurrection we encounter God himself.

In the light and knowledge of his death, Jesus reveals to some disciples on the road to Emmaus the meaning of scripture. This, with them only having heard a rumour of his resurrection. They heard with broken hearts and their perspective was changed. But the words Jesus spoke were not recorded not even in summary. From the story we only have an inspiration to read the scriptures as being fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus being the Word of God, the scriptures speak of him and we are left to have faith in this: we will find him in them.

We accept all scripture as prophetic. Prophecy is spoken by a person. When we read God said… or God told… the word was spoken to a person, who would comprehend and relay it as a person; a person in their times, in their language – living from their past and present. We are told that all prophecy is like a misty mirror. We look in to a mirror to see ourselves; so we too are part of the prophecy. When God spoke over Jesus some heard it as thunder. God turned Abraham from the sacrifice by speaking through an angel not directly to him. Is this significant?

Whatever, our hearing now, perfects the faith of the heroes of faith.

So we can read scripture prayerfully putting our self in the picture and exploring the simple meaning; study its origins and the variety of translations and interpretations and then explore and follow the passions aroused in us. We can practice coming to the scripture in peace, reading it, meditating upon it, praying into it and finally moving to silent contemplation, embodying it.

We come to a living God, and the scripture is dead if we do not act upon it- if it isn’t part of us.

But please do not sacrifice your children, become a bigot or consider genocide an option.

 

English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

Messed Up Church

Luke 4:16

English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.

 

01cfc8f82efd1976dcd8aee943b3e35109a5617ffeThis is part of the section of scripture we looked at in Chapel this morning. This was Jesus, in his home town doing what he usually did. And then the local builder claimed he was God!

What struck me was Jesus challenged them in the heart of what was normal; in his boyhood community.

God calls us to a special unity under him – a local community in Christ. Not a community of human traditions but a community where each part, each like a stone in the building , is a centre of unity in God- part of his purpose and will. God in Jesus is the foundation and the corner stone – the root and the apex.

But we are forever deflecting from this, building human kingdoms and systems not living temples. Why?

There will be a setting. There will be a gathering of people. There will be various functions or ministries cementing people together. Personalities and hierarchies sadly supplant God in these kingdoms. There is nothing usually inherently wrong but kingdoms of this world constantly arise in the heart of what we may call the church.

In  CCBS this morning I went on to hear Gareth McCormick preaching in part precisely on this through Nehemiah 13. These kingdoms are easy to recognise and work away at the integrity of the Temple which in our context is us- the people of God gathered in Christ.

Worldly religion in Christianity is a many headed beast. However the beauty of the true church is there is only one head – Christ. Each part works under his grace. Christ is the one source of life. The true church has one head.

This is the space for self examination. God’s church exists where there are no weekly organised meetings, no governing bodies, no outward props – it exists in the twos or threes gathered together. It points to the twos or threes – in simple meals, walks, accountability, teaching and prayer. Maybe that is why the church is able to thrive in austerity and persecution because the life is in relationships not organisations.

The test is whether what is inevitably built survives when everything of potential pride is removed – when a leader leaves, a building is removed or families depart. Where the spirit of Christ is, where his message runs deep, there is freedom and forgiveness – life and growth.

I am thinking of a new movement called the Messed up Church where messed up people who have been scarred by the many headed beast can get their wounds healed. Where they can find their unity in Christ in twos and threes.

To form it, the established church will have to change its name to the Get out of the Doors Church where the members become the seed of community actually in their communities, becoming relevant by being there where people are, not just organising themselves, exhausting themselves serving a many headed beast.  We are to be scattered liberally just in case there is good soil and there are ears to hear and eyes to see. We are to be like yeast in bread, tiny but bringing life to the whole loaf.

The local church there by is a resource, a sending community, not a centre of human growth but a constantly pulsing, sacrificial centre of kingdom growth.

English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

Reflection from a Week in April 2016

I have written, thought and spoken a lot of my belief in God’s gift to us of a sovereign will. I think I believe it is this free gift to us – God’s grace to us – that makes us humans in the image of God. Our sovereign free will is God’s image in us, a principal of grace. God has perfect free will. What we contend for and call our free will is truly slavery; slavery to guilt and shame; slavery to the drives of our lusts and desires.

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Audley End Hot House Display

It has been said that joy craves eternity and others say that eternity is to be found in the moment, living the moment to the full. I am sure there is some truth in this. This is always expressed in the context of our ability to choose. But how do we effect this choice. Is the fact of our faith in our own will in reality binding us to a law, and this in fact is the source of our sin in turning from the grace set in each of us. We are not who we are created to be; sin then is not living as those who are sovereign by God’s will but by a principle of law, the knowledge of good and evil.

Is the existence of law the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Law is the masking of our created godliness; a denying of the gift of grace within all of us. What does it mean in Genesis 3:22…”The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat and live for ever.” And in Genesis 11:6… “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them”

Is God jealous for his deity? Why then had he made man in his own image? Isn’t becoming more like God progress?

I wonder if, given that God is supremely good and named as Love, it’s the truth that the sovereignty of our own will is only evil if it is not the perfect expression of the perfect will of God. It is a grasping of who we are made to be in our own will on our own terms.

Adam’s grasping after and taking of the apple asserted his will, not the will of God. Adam creates a morality not inherent in the grace of human sovereignty but in knowledge; in the death and curse of the law, creating a law; in judgement: this is good- this is evil. It is this principle of death Christ destroys, crushing under his foot.

Could it be that in Christ, the exact image and revelation of God, we see the law and its curse nailed to a Cross, the awful expression of Jesus’ living the life expressing, “Your will, not mine” to God his Father? The Cross is a powerful undoing of the power of the law, redeeming the grace within us.

I wonder if the story of the Bible is God’s revelation of the absolute value of his image in us. We measure our freedom in our ability to choose, but could it be that God is leading us to a place where we live from that inner place of sovereign grace.

I return again to the absurdity of this story. It begins in the very act of creation where we measure our being by the ultimate Being, God, and in the despair of sin we cry out, “Why did you create me for such suffering? Is that Justice?” Through Noah we see God’s commitment to humanity; to bear the pain of creation.

It continues in Abraham where God’s promised one is demanded as a sacrifice – a call from God to break all laws. A Call from God to have faith in God to be a god who he is not – a child killer – demanding what he has himself forbidden. Is the deep lesson here that all morality is within us and is perfected in trusting in the grace within us – our only source of Joy and Delight is being in communion with God’s perfect will? Is God saying in this that there is a higher purpose, a higher calling that we are to realise; that which is within us, beyond what we can conceive as being good and evil, beyond what we can conceive as being God.

By pushing beyond our own judgement, we become who we are created to be; who Abraham is – our father in faith – and discover who God is. God is revealed. And then the incarnation, life and death of Christ – God on the cross with all its manifold meaning presents itself. What is the outcome? We stand in the presence of the living God and partake in his deity, living in communion with the Spirit through grace.

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Audley End a Riot of Tulips

 

It is a strange place to be where our high conception of God’s sovereignty makes God less than he is. We come to believe that God has destined everyone’s ultimate destiny and created us either for damnation or glory as an act of his sovereign will. Our freedom is to choose the course of our lives which in some mysterious way only confirms God’s un-resistible grace choice of us. We proclaim God to have known us from the beginning, conceived us in love and given us sanctity by knitting us together in our mother’s womb but, for the praise of his glory, he has created some whose unchangeable destiny is to suffer eternal conscious torment.

Anyone who counters this doctrine is called filthy and described as baying like animals.

But this idea of being destined for eternal punishment is abhorrent. For people who come to know God but accept this theory, they become what they dismiss – Universalists, believing all are saved- all are created for glory and in their heart of hearts they believe this but speak something else. We all deserve eternal punishment but some are chosen not by merit but for the glory of God’s grace.  In believing this I confess one thing with my mouth and hope the contrary becoming double minded and ineffective in proclaiming Christ as good news. When this movement of thought focusses on mission and service, it somehow grasps at assurance through works; the very works it denies are effective. God is truly only satisfied in Christ – his whole delight in humanity is not in works but in faith. So faith transforms itself into works that give us the solace, that we are elect.

For me the error is in trying to understand the Cross from the perspective of judgement and not on the realisation of grace, resurrecting the very principle the Cross destroys. Our election in Christ is because of our original grace. Our alienation from God, from the beginning, is because we choose law and reject grace, preferring a principle of morality over the work of grace of the indwelling Spirit.

Any reading of the Bible calls us to intimacy with God, not the comfort of our own theories. By appealing to God as a judge we make God unjust and, in our hearts, fear his justice, secretly denying God the power to judge, if we think it through. This idol of our theory of God’s sovereignty saps our humanity and our very words are tinged with a monstrous intent. We become a mouthpiece of a god who is not God. We do not find Christ in the Bible. We cry out to the god of our own conceiving, “Where is the justice!” We have made an attribute of God our idol.

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Audley End Potting Shed

I heard a thing that was strange to me – the idea that on the cross we see that violence does not succeed. The cross says to the principalities and powers, all your vengeance, all your cruelty, all your measure for measure is defeated. Your vindictive acts – your solutions to all problems, killing, maiming, shaming – are defeated. The hypocrisy of the accusers and cruelty of the oppressors are exposed and defeated. Nothing separates us from the love of God, because on the cross, Father, Son and Spirit defeat death and even the wrath of God- his judgement on sin doesn’t extinguish the light of life.

I realised the urgency of Paul in his letters. I became aware that his message was to persevere in the face of accusation and oppression because of the cross and, no, you are not defeated! All because of your faith in the Cross… In all circumstances believe and hold to the Way and trust in Christ’s righteousness as your righteousness.

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Audley End Hot House Furnace

We live in a universe of time, gravity, chance and attrition. The light of life pierces this darkness. Light and life are attributes of our God, creator of a system where everything decays, where entropy dissipates and light brings new life into a system.

None of this has a moral character but God is God and he knows good and evil we are told. Our existence as bearers of God’s sovereign image, and in some way, the principalities and powers, makes the universe a moral universe. We are created from the beginning to walk with God, to know his voice and to serve in light and life, stewarding the gift of creation. And it was good – it is very good. This is our original blessing.

The revelation of God in the Bible is our Ararat, our Moriah, our Red Sea, the Incarnation, the Transfiguration, Calvary, Ascension and Pentecost – all beautiful. Personal.

Suffering is with us as is sovereignty and we are called to trust, to realise the original blessing in faith and know the sovereign power of our creation – to heal the sick, raise the dead and live free.

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Audley End Cloud Hedge

When Jesus declares the blessing, “Blessed are the poor in spirit… “ I wonder if we are slightly bemused – being poor in any way is not a blessing.

I wonder if the message is a glimpse of God’s view of suffering. We are all blessed. We are blessed in our being and God’s assured blessing works through all these troubles. Truly in creation we are good – God knows us from the beginning. Those who would marginalise and reject the lowly, the mourning, the peace makers, basically the losers in society, need to hear and see that all bear God’s blessing. The beginning is God’s blessing.

We are created in the image of God and in Christ we see the exact image of God though human like us. Christ is God and God is Father, Spirit and Son. God draws us into himself so that we know him because we are like him. Jesus humbled himself on the Cross and our troubled circumstances are given meaning in his suffering.

God himself takes the wrath and curse upon himself and dies in our place. Our faith is that his victory over death- his suffering and death – brings victory in our lives as he walks free from the last and greatest enemy, death. We follow and are made free to live, alive in the image of God, Father, Son and Spirit, dwelling in us- abiding within us – enabling us to live the good and perfect will of the Father. This is freewill in deed, to know and live from the perfect will of God; Christ within is our hope of glory.

God wants us to break through – he wants us to realise the blessing of creation – we are good. We are very good. God empowers us to put down sin and put on his righteousness turning away from our wilfulness and with Jesus, proclaim the Way, Truth and Life of Jesus; Father! Your will not mine!

We do well to study this, meditate upon this and listen to God in prayer. To pray at all times and in every way so that we can know and live the perfect will of the Father.

This is how we stand assured before the unapproachable light of God. This is how our weakness becomes strength. Truly, truly, truly, we are blessed.

Behold Behemoth!

photo (2)

The wounded healer is a book written by Henri JM Nouwen. The cover states, “In our woundedness, we can become a source of life for others.” The book is part of Nouwen’s teaching on Ministry. He concludes in a chapter on Ministry for a Rootless Generation, that the man of prayer offers leadership as an articulator of inner events, compassion and as a contemplative.

I really get this; Jesus taught us to love others as we love ourselves; he wept at the death of Lazarus, had compassion on the widow whose son had died and raised them form death as he did the ruler’s little daughter. He also withdrew often to pray alone.

It is so important we grow to love ourselves and know our inner depths; to know and love ourselves as God loves us. In loving God, wells of living water flow from our hearts – we are enabled to love ourselves. This is a revelation from the mouth of Jesus, recalling the creational joy of God at creation and the foundation of the saving word he gave to his people through Moses.

In loving God and loving one another as ourselves, we are able to redeem our times through Jesus. Those who are able to dig deep and articulate this love in a place of engagement with people, are able to lead. God poured himself out for us; as we pour ourselves out, taking our woundedness and rootlessness and articulating the miracle of our own healing in Christ, we offer leadership to our contemporary culture.  Leaders need to engage with and articulate their redemption.

Stemming from this articulating of the good news of Jesus, is a genuine compassion that breaks down walls; removes barriers; refuses to act to separate people from people. The suffering of others is our suffering, as much as our own pain.

The pain and violence that God chose to endure through saving Noah and his family, has a purpose –God doesn’t give up on us! Job and has counsellors are wrong, God is not to be praised despite suffering, but God is glorified in creation and His joy at what He has made is set before us, which works its way out in us through works of compassion.

The danger, wildness and messiness of creation; the very forces of nature that destroyed Job’s world embody the message God has for him. The fearful creatures of Chaos reveal the nature of God; though He is not them, they are his works. Behold Behemoth…

Compassion is fulfilled on the cross as God takes all pain, violence and sin upon himself and sets us free in Christ. Leaders live this reality, transforming suffering into hope.

And finally, prayer: the contemplation of God, the Father Almighty Maker of heaven and of earth. In Him all things, live and move and have their being. God lives in unapproachable light and yet we stand assured in his presence because of Christ.

Leadership so often seems to be about being right. Righteous leadership is about knowing the Holy. Contemplation of God calls from the heart for God’s Kingdom to be on earth as it is in heaven, freedom from temptation and deliverance from evil.

Contemplation brings us to our knees in the knowledge that all our assertions about God’s nature and being are like arrogance and pride. Our words and theologies are sometimes a thin, self-important veil over confusion and fear, concealing anxiety and craving an identity which we then call god. We feel good because at least we are not as bad as them! True contemplation of God frees us from such delusions of grandeur and enables us to lead.

“Do you still want to argue with the Almighty?
You are God’s critic, but do you have the answers?
(Job 40:2 New Living Translation (NLT))

Poem: Railing

The sound of sheer silence

photoThis week gravitational waves were detected: a squashing of matter around the solidity of laser light. The reality described by deep mathematics and the intricate analysis of statistical probabilities yielded a truth of the cosmos.

In the same wonder, I have been wrestling ever so slightly with the idea of the Covenant of Redemption as being part of a Christian universe. It is saying that at the heart of who God is, the scripture reveals a redemptive covenant between the persons of God: Father, Son and Spirit. God in his foreknowledge of the fall of man, at his heart, in eternity, agrees to redeem mankind.

The consequence of having this faith is a reassurance that God isn’t reacting to a world gone wrong in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. But in his mercy and grace, his very nature and purpose is to redeem mankind from sin and death through the cross. This makes creation an act of supreme love. This gives us the basis for trust that, in all the creative chaos of the outworking of God’s Word, love triumphs; in all the pain and suffering, tragedy and hurt, all is well. That is not an easy thing to say.

In accepting God: Father, Son and Spirit, as he is, faith reveals the “very good” of his joy in creation. He is not a cruel God, but God who in and through the community of creation freely pours himself out to redeem humanity. This is our experience as Christians.

The love that expresses God is a revelation that demands devotion and trust in God in the confusion of circumstances. We only skim the surface of the depths of God when we speak of eternity and foreknowledge. Eternity, the place of God’s being, and foreknowledge, reveal his being. Even saying this seems to put at a distance the nearness of his Breath, the reassurance of his Word and the love of the Father we know, and brings us to sheer silence.

The challenge of the doctrine of original sin

Some are challenged by the doctrine of original sin, most live their lives in the mystery of the truth of their salvation in Christ. A doctrine is a statement of belief. It is the summing up of the evidence in Scripture based on faith- it is like a scientific theory which becomes orthodox with use and accumulated evidence gathered by deepening study of the text in the light of faith. Some will also allow the evidence of nature.

Orthodox Christian faith is that everything is created by God, One person, Lord of all, and that humanity is created in God’s image. All humanity is sinful and is subject to the futility of a creation compromised by sin. This came about because of the choice of an individual, Adam, the first human male. Adam was fully human. If he was around today he could drive a bus or, if he worked hard, gain a PhD in Astro Physics. The consequence of his sin, it is believed, is that people suffer death and live separated from God. Earth has been separated from Heaven, the dwelling place of God. The Garden of Eden was the place where God and Adam walked together, where Heaven and Earth intersected.

I believe that the Christian Bible is literal, except where it is clear from the context it is not meant to be taken as literal. Your world view will dictate the extent to which you consider parts of it not to be literal. Orthodox Christian tradition tends to the position that there was a literal Adam and that Adam was the first human. From the point of God breathing humanity into him he was made the whole of humanity.

Genesis is history, prophecy, law and parable. Its author is almost certainly mostly Moses. It tells the story in many layers of meaning of how God came to call out a people for himself through Moses. In Genesis we see from the beginning there is Law, the parable of the number and symbol for ten and a story of the history of mankind in the first ten generations.

When Jesus and the early Christians taught, the context was the culture of the religion that grew up around this story and the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. Some accepted prophets, histories and wisdom literature as part of this body of scripture and the early Christians taught from a Greek version that included apocryphal stories.

I don’t believe that fact of the Adam of the story is contradicted by science. I think nature would conclude that from Adam came the first Eve. We can argue about the details of how.

In Genesis we are given a message of hope we could not know except through faith in its message – all was created good, in fact, very good. It prophecies that creation is fecund and perfectible; to be subdued and stewarded for its Creator by humanity. In the text we are acquainted with the rationality of the Creation because of the personhood of God who from the beginning broods and delights, creating through time, orders creation and fills it. God spoke and it came to be and Creator God speaks to and walks with humanity in a relationship which Adam enjoys, revealing God’s holiness and parent heart. There is so much to contemplate and draw hope from in this biblical revelation.

But, in the story, darkness is also presented; disconnection from God, inhumanity, greed and lust enter the story with death and disease. Genesis explores the origins of this state of sin. Whatever our doctrine of original sin or not, the mystery revealed in Genesis is that the gift of free will given to Adam was used to disobey God and choose death. Our first ancestor chose to rebel and chose the path of independence from God and of sin and death. Christian faith says that all choose to be in Adam and all may choose to be in Christ and be redeemed and reformed. This is because, from the beginning all are made in the image of God and his light shines in all hearts. Being bought back and even recreated is possible because of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. It’s all about Jesus, Son of God. In him we get and become his holiness, just as in Adam we suffered the consequences of Adam’s rebellion.

Being “in Adam” or “in Christ” now describes our nature; our source of being. The early hearers would have known what the Christian writers meant. Being in Adam signals our being in a state of rebellion and being in Christ signals our being in a state of grace, our sins forgiven.

You can argue whether we are born in Adam or not; whether by nature we are born in Adam, full stop. That will be your doctrine of original sin or not, but, the fact is that according to the Bible we are all in Adam when it comes to the choice to sin. Creation is compromised by our sin. We are all sinners and need to be saved – being in Christ is the means and guarantee of salvation. The Bible only allows for this being our condition before God. Being in Christ is the means of salvation.

Be bold and pray this through in the confidence that God will speak peace and comfort to you. I think your reassurance will come in a word you cannot speak and certainly some will reject you as you confess your salvation.

Being in Christ is pure grace, not dependent on time or geography. The early Christian writers knew that the means of salvation, the way of answering the call of the light within, was a mystery. The good news was that the way back into Eden is the man Jesus; he is the ladder to heaven. By an accident of time or Geography we can know this, but this mystery was so from the beginning; we are doubly blessed as we see the revelation and we are able to worship God as He is, Father, Son and Spirit. It’s not our knowledge of the historical Jesus that saves us but the indwelling of the transcendent Jesus that shines a light into each person’s heart. God is a just and the whole of creation is birthed around the pouring out of love in the Godhead, Father, Son and Spirit.

Where love is, the pursuit of the light within and the knowledge of grace for repentance there is salvation. This knowledge is there for every person to know, however dimly it sometimes shines. Where the name of Jesus is known there is right worship and restoration of the dwelling place of God in the midst of his people.

I am reassured that nothing in science and nature contradicts what I have written and if it does, and at some stage I understand differently or have misunderstood, then God still loves me and the Bible is still true. The Bible is true whatever my faulty opinions or fragile understanding of the truth it reveals. My faith is that, communicated to ordinary humanity, the Christian Bible is the actual word of God and its progressive revelation was a sufficient and complete revelation of the message and means of salvation at the time it was spoken. There was never a time in history when God had not made plain what was necessary for salvation.

We live in times where so much damage has been done in the name of Christianity and around us we see the results of the abuses of the church, sometimes the reality of the gospel as set out in the Christian Bible is obscured, the advantage seemingly lost, but to the praise of Christ’s glorious name he is merciful and just. It’s our choices that sear our consciences, not accidents of history or experience.

I am convinced that salvation is not in the gift of men; their systems or words. Salvation is assured by the indwelling of the Spirit, bringing a knowledge of the holiness of God and our call by grace to be holy as he is holy. This call is in the hearts of all people and is not dependent on time or geography. The revelation of this mystery in Christ is the foundation of true worship. As Christians we are assured of this worship in spirit and truth as an ever flowing reality, knowing adoption into the family of God where the fullness of the flowing love between Father, Son and Spirit flows to us in Christ.

This is the gospel from the beginning, the good news: within you something humbly cries out for righteousness; hungers and thirsts for righteousness, is meek and knows poverty of spirit, mourns, is merciful, is pure and seeks peace – pursue it, trust it and you are blessed and rewarded in heaven. Here your identity in God is revealed, the mystery displayed: you are in Christ. Living in this light and becoming its bearer may bring persecution but we are to rejoice gladly and worship Jesus in spirit and truth, our only hope and the way to the Father. The man Jesus is the way, the truth and the life of this cosmic gospel not a well worded doctrine, however helpful it may be.

 

Poems this year

I am not sure they really are poems, but they are certainly lines of prose gathered to express my heart. This year I have published four so far on http://therubberdinghy.blogspot.co.uk/ 

  • Prayer
  • Railing
  • Wide open spaces
  • Salvation

Wide open spaces was written whilst on a trip in the summer back to my parents in Cardigan, West Wales where I woke up with a feeling a walk confirmed. Salvation was written on the train back to Bishops Stortford. I’ve worked a little on both but feel my inadequacy.

Prayer and Railing were actually written in the previous summer and came out of a short time spent at Lee Abbey listening to a study of Job.

One, two; one, two, three; one, two, three, four…

How often are we told that the hope of the world is to be found in the local church? Bill Hybels is a proponent of this view and as an idea it’s become currency certainly in the church I attend. For me its is true when Christ is found in its midst and people encounter God not in the words but in the everyday lives of those gathered – people see that the church isn’t out there but in their back yard – local.

When I recently heard the idea at the church I attend I had to pause as I didn’t feel the gathering I was in was very local to me. It certainly was a church gathering I am a member of – I was connected to the people in worship and the town is admirably served by the church members. I reasoned that maybe the village I lived in, the people I worked with and the places I walked came to encounter hope because through me they might come to be in this gathering and experience the various ministries offered.

Looking at myself, I saw how in the fragmented society we live in- the age of the nuclear family and ease of travel, I had selected a church I felt comfortable in without thinking about its locality. Its teaching was largely sound, its works were wholesome and its worship was usually to my taste. To begin with it was also important that our children were served. The decisive factor though was that many of our closest friends were part of the community. But is my attendance rebellious and self serving? The teaching’s effect on me was to make me feel disconnected.

The reason I was being challenged in the first place was because the teaching was about discipline and how some avoid this by flitting from gathering to gathering and not committing to the local church. It was used again to justify where my money should be going. Written here that looks awful; it makes the church out to be a place of control that wants your money. It was actually  advocating that people are able within the safety of a well ordered church to form relationships that matter and to which we are able to be accountable within a framework where individuals are released financially to serve.

I see this but is it a bit like the tail wagging the dog? Didn’t I often see poisonous relationships you couldn’t walk away from because they were institutionalised and money being squandered propping up dubious ministries.

The place I have seen growth in my life has been in the free relationships I have formed not bound by the church I go to, the meals I have shared and the frank discussions I have had whilst on walks with people committed to seeing me prosper as a person in God. I have seen growth in my faith through the relationships where I have been able to express frustration and commit to change; where I have known encouragement and the speaking of truths.

The medium this message was being carried in- the organised church, I have to say doesn’t ring true. I wonder if the organisation of the church is a wrong framing of the  truth of the hope the church offers and inappropriate.

Surely the medium of Jesus’ message was in himself, the three or four disciples he was close to, the Apostles and in the fact he sent out all those gathered to him in twos. Jesus says where two or three are gathered then he is present. This is the unit of the local church, like the tissues of a body, made of individuals who are the cells, whose DNA is Christ, each individual being the dwelling place of God.

Each person embodies God and in twos and threes present Christ in their midst through love. We need to have confidence that an encounter with God and an infilling of the Holy Spirit equips the individual to be a seed of hope, a focus for growth like yeast in  dough. In a body, cells form tissues, tissues form organs and organs form the body -each distinct.

I do worry that maybe we have lost sight of the fact that Jesus entrusted his presence to the twos and threes. Surely the glory of the gathered church is in the quality of the individual relationships within it and this is what makes the wider church winsome. The winsomeness of friendship in Christ is at the centre of the local church not its size or organisation. The health of the body depends on the health of each distinct member.

For me the church has come to be focused in the gatherings of the two or three in Jesus name and not an institution whilst remaining embedded in an institutionalised church. The seed of growth and renewal is in the twos and threes where life in Christ is evident in the love and draws others to it and then…

1,2
1,2,3
1,2,3,4
1,2; 1,2
1,2,3; 1,2,3
1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4
1,2; 1,2; 1,2; 1,2
1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3
1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4
1,2; 1,2; 1,2; 1,2; 1,2; 12; 1,2; 1,2
1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3;
1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4;

Intentional

Having visited Lee Abbey for a holiday on a number of occasions now, I have become aware of the appeal of an intentional community. Becoming the body of Christ, each member valued, is purposeful.

How though can being a body be achieved when people are gathered to communities that are so apart? People rarely engage with one another and certainly, in the church I am part of, small communities are secondary to the vision of the whole church and a main meeting.

This suits a lot of people and they are very blessed by it. They are able to be effective in their settings and carry an energy that certainly appears to be fulfilling. Church communities are formed around ministries, such as leadership, worship, social enterprise or youth. The momentum is through the task or sometimes a particular type of meeting. But this is not what I want.

Some people are able to function by networking within their work place where Christians gather. Others find involvement in a hobby, sports club or Gym satisfies. Interests such as running, cycling or bird watching have a draw as does support for a sports team. Surprisingly, need or disaffection can be a seed for community. This again is not what I want.

Deep down I have a need to grow spiritually and to be active in society as a whole. In my heart I need a source for being that starts with God but ends up blessing my neighbour. At Takeley Chapel I have seen the beginnings of how this might be achieved. I hope and pray that one day I might see it fulfilled. Currently we meet for breakfast and prayer on a Sunday morning; I would like to see the Sunday evening cafe meeting flourish and a monthly Friday evening community supper added.

The spiritual aspect I will come to, but practically what we could have is a menu of activities based around sharing meal times. These are natural breaks; breakfast sets us up for the day, coffee for the evening and Friday supper ends a work week. All these meetings should have an all age focus where children are able to participate and there are no restrictions on who might participate; all learning styles should be encompassed. There should not be a burden of preparation only inspiration

Children can be involved with adults in craft activities without a great need to organise anything special. In fact there should be room for people to be outdoors or even break out in to other spaces. The purpose is to be friends and families together.

Time should be flexible with people being able to leave when they are ready. Of course where there are activities then people need to know when these are happening but they should not be at the start of any meeting, to allow for people to arrive when they are able and still be a part.

What I am envisioning is threefold:

  • A Sunday morning prayer group arranged around the materials provide by lyfe.org.uk; the pattern is to reflect on a spiritual discipline through a bible verse and various materials. Through prayer, reflection and as a result of the teaching, participants agree to explore spiritual challenges for the week. These challenges might result in poetry or song, art or craft which can be shared the next week so that each meeting is organic. People may then go home, go on to attend other church meetings or decide to engage in some kind of recreational activity.
  • During the week participants would also follow the New Daylight materials provided by brf.org.uk, journaling, sharing their insights when they can over refreshments on a Sunday evening. The benefits of this would be to have a sense that on each day, not only are we pursuing the weekly exercise from Sunday morning and growing in our Spiritual knowledge, but each of us is on a shared prayer journey based on scripture. The resource is convenient as each day has a printed version of the scripture, a comment and a reflection or prayer and an audio version is available.
  • Each month, on the first Friday, early in the evening, a simple supper could be shared where people bring contributions and there may be sung worship. Those who are gifted may be invited to preach; those with insight may share what they they believe God is showing them. Communion will be shared and after prayer ministry, any business could be discussed that needs to be decided ending with refreshments and recreational activities. The source of this inspiration would be intimate groups of two or three, maybe organised around the renovare resources or other ministries that participants felt met their needs, meeting weekly.

It is hoped that as  result of this intentional life together, members would be effective employees, engage in other communities and serve the society they are part of, effectively, from a heart grounded in God.

It would only take two or three people to commit to this community to make it work. From it we may renew the communities we are part of and revive the gospel witness in Takeley.

Grafted

When a branch is to be grafted in to the stump of a vine, the vine is cut back to a stump and left to bleed. After a number of days an incision is made into the stump and a fresh branch grafted in and bound. The graft takes its life from then on from the stump and in time the graft becomes part of the vine.
This is the illustration from nature that Jesus took to inform our imaginations of what being in him means. Being in Christ is a Christian’s idenity and through Jesus’ death and resurection we are in spirit and truth joined to the people of God. Being grafted in we draw our life from Christ and inherit his everflowing nature; one with the Son yet fully us. The promised flowing of life is God the Spirit.
There is an even deeper truth. It is God, the Father who is the gardener. It is the Father who cuts back the vine to a stump and it is his hand that makes the incision and graft. It is him also who tends the vine. He cuts back the branches so that they may fruit.
Fruit grows on new growth. This is a labour of love and it takes some years before a branch is allowed to fruit as the buds on the new graft are chosen to grow. From then on the pinching out of buds and the cutting back of the branch become part of the life of the branch. This is the picture Jesus chooses to show us what being alive in him is and how we relate to the Father and the Spirit.
As we feel ourselves pinched, cut back and we observe fruit, Jesus gives us the confidence and reassurance that we are grafted into the vine. His loving words reassure us because, if a branch is removed, it dies, it is not tended; a cut off branch is burned. It is the gardener who does this. If we have any sense of our need we know the Spirit’s life is in us and the Father will tend us to bring new life, growth and fruitfulness. If we were discarded we would not long for this as we would be dead. Being cut out is not a threat; Jesus tells us this so that we might be full of his joy and this joy might be active.
The promise is that as we draw life from Jesus and make our home in him, he makes his home in us. Because of the flow of life from the stump, we can ask for what we wish, and it will be done for us.
A fruitful vine brings glory to the vine dresser. If we draw life from Jesus’ words we will know our need and we will ask. In asking we abide; we draw life from the Son. So the heart’s longing is the sign of life and we can trust the good work of the gardener, our Father in Heaven, to make us fruitful and give us what we need.

John 15:1-11