Tag Archives: church

The Bound Lamb: Violence

01b555eb613f0f3ee24d6d5c99a34e26c23254d399Do we see the sacrifice of Jesus as an act of violence on the part of God? To describe Christ as being a sacrifice, to our sensibilities is offensive. We do not live in the West in a culture where blood sacrifice is part of our mental framework. We are, for example, removed from the daily animal slaughter made on our behalf so that we can enjoy a Burger. We would not see the taking of these lives as of religious significance though we do care about cruelty.

What did the people hear in the time of the early church when Jesus was described as a blood sacrifice? Their mental framework included, whether Jew or Gentile, animal slaughter as a religious act. For the Jews they had been taught that they were to bring an offering to the Temple to give thanks and atone for their wrong doing. For those with means it would be the best of their flocks or the first fruits of the harvest. For others it would have meant the lives of turtle doves or bringing a couple of cakes. All had the same value and each was a sacrifice signalling to God their need and their obedience to God. They had a need for forgiveness to be at one with God and they had gratitude for God’s provision.

We need forgiveness as the condition of our hearts is that we are wilful and proud. Before God we are broken and poor in spirit. Each day brings troubles. Each day we infringe God’s blessing and other’s freedom. We know suffering in ourselves and compassion draws us out and we feel the suffering of others. We are subject to change and chance and we know pain and guilt. It is so clear that we live under a cloud of self-inflicted harm in what we do and what we don’t do; the way we treat our planet and the people around us. This is our context- we miss the target of the good we know. The prevailing wind in our times is helplessness and anger. We spend our energy on trying to control and effect our own happiness as nations and as individuals. In so doing, as often as not, we do harm and violence.

In our hearts we know the measure of our actions and reverence law and pursue duty. We try our best. But to be happy and to become our best selves we need to be at one with the reality of our sin and can’t brush it under the carpet. We also know that in our struggles we have much to be grateful for. But we need peace. The peace we seek needs to go beyond our everyday experience; beyond our understanding, as the issues are so complex.

The state of goodness- to know peace- is at our hearts. It is our wills in harmony with God’s will. All is well. It is this peace that Christ gives. It is this peace that Christ breathes into us through the Holy Spirit. It has always been so.

The violent sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross achieves this peace. This is the mystery at the heart of Christianity. Jesus is fully human; fully submitted to the will of the Father. Grace teaches that what he has achieved has been achieved for us. The sacrifice of his life on the Cross brings us peace. Jesus giving his life up willingly on the Cross is the offering brought by Jesus on our behalves to God. In Jesus, God himself offers himself as an atoning sacrifice for humanity; being fully human he transforms the violence of the principalities and powers against his body into a sacrifice that reveals God and brings peace to the creation. Through his submission and death, all wrath is stilled and calmed and peace is victorious. The silence of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, in the face of death silences the Law: the goodness that is God’s alone brings peace so that the Law is fulfilled and brought to its end, perfected, in Christ’s obedience to the Father.

The Law and the consequences of the Law- the wrath of God- were visited on Jesus by the principalities and powers. They met pure goodness. A fully human will, at one with the will of God, endured forsakenness and death, the sting of the Law. Such love! A love that knows and trusts the faithfulness of God and embraces God’s will, triumphs in God’s wrath and brings peace where there is violence.

The wrath of God is his justice and mercy, brought to its fullness in the sacrifice of Jesus. To take a human life is pure evil. The judgement on the murderer is death. The taking of life demands the loss of life. This is the wrath of God. Through the agency of creation the wrath of God against all un-holiness is worked out.

Jesus did not deserve the wrath of God- he was sinless. Even though he was fully God he did not grasp at equality but, fully human, was born, suffered and died a cruel death, a death because of our wilfulness we deserve. Being fully God the mystery is that he bore the fullness of God’s wrath as, in his humanity, at the hands of the principalities and powers, he was slaughtered. The mystery is that in Jesus, God grafts humanity into himself and the power of Jesus’ actual death is that it pays the price of all God’s wrath for all sin. Death is the price of the just and merciful wrath of God against all sin.

The mystery is that Jesus defeated death and rose to new life, the first fruits of all humanity who by faith, receive forgiveness for their sins because of the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus Christ’s victory is made our victory by faith! We are given new life in him and, through the Holy Spirit, a taste of eternity’s blessing; peace and reconciliation to God.

As the Church we are the elect, chosen to bring the blessing of the peace of Christ to the world. The church stands as a lamp that cannot be hidden; a city on a hill. We are the salt that brings savour to the creation. This is our privilege, the treasure found in heaven- the seed sown in eternity. We are those who follow Christ, a harvest, the first fruits of which is Christ. We make our election sure as we bring Christ’s blessing in to the world. We are to bless those around us, a remnant of the blessing that was for all humanity. Restored to this blessing and forgiven we know new life and become the life that blesses the world. Elect for God’s purpose- in Christ we are redeemed to that original blessing God purposes in his creating. We are those who bring peace even in persecution, even in our own suffering and death. We are those who persevere in love in the face of continuing wrath, safe in the victory over wrath won on the Cross of Christ.

Yes, Christ is the fulfilment of the sacrificial system- God offering himself to himself so that in Christ we can offer an acceptable sacrifice of praise. His goodness becomes our goodness. Truly the pure in heart see God and know his tender mercies. The wrath of God is turned away and transformed to peace in Christ. The Lord is good to all! In this life and in the next, Christ has the victory. His mercies never end and great is our reward in his presence. There is no condemnation in him and he will not abandon us to the gates of hell. Nothing can separate us from the love of God- wrath will not prevail. We are blessed. We are blessed. We are blessed.

All nations will bow the knee as Christ comes again in victory- some will suffer loss but Christ has set a limit to the suffering for the sake of the elect we are told. This is God’s heart revealed in this world. When heaven and earth are made one, there will be no pain or hurt, all tears will be wiped away, as all creation is redeemed in Christ it is written. Will all people be saved?

God has the power to save all people and on the Cross all sin is dealt with. His love has no end, but there is a lake of fire for the final destruction of the principalities and powers. Will those conformed to the principalities and powers follow them to destruction? The truth is that in our wilfulness this is where we start and we need to offer a sacrifice of praise for the provision for forgiveness in Christ and, through faith in his having made the final sacrifice for sin, we can offer our lives as a sacrifice to God.

We cry, your will be done oh Father! You turn mourning into dancing.

 

 

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;

Out there.

Jesus teaches that it is better that he leaves the disciples, enabling the Holy Spirit to come (John 16: 4 – 15). He proclaims a time when worship will be true because it is in spirit and truth not in Jerusalem (John 4).

And this freedom came 50 days after Jesus’ death. His followers received the Holy Spirit on the Day of Jesus’ resurrection (John 20:19 – 23). Jesus had prepared them for the coming of the Holy Spirit in his teaching and, after a time of revelation and healing, on the day of his ascension, he spoke to his friends, ordering them to wait for an immersion and washing in the Holy Spirit they had received (Acts 1). I believe, just as the baptism of John prepared the disciples for the ministry of Jesus, his ministry had been preparing them for this outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The waiting ended on the morning of Pentecost.

Pentecost (Shavuot) is part of the Jewish Feast of Weeks (Deuteronomy 16:10). They count up to it from Passover and eagerly anticipate the day, staying up all night to pray and study the scripture on its eve. Shavuot is the day Jews celebrate becoming a nation, a nation revealed to Abraham that would bless the nations, All night the friends of Jesus would have been studying the Law, but on the day, as the ritual waiting ended, the morning was lifted to a new level of fulfilment and the Holy Spirit came in power (Acts 2).  The significance and true meaning of Shavuot was revealed on that morning.

Is the message too simple? Christ is very near because of this momentous gift; God is present in each believer, no longer in one place at one time but wherever those who love and obey him are. Every person may die to self and rise in him, proclaiming the good news: in Christ we are saved, made right with God and are freed to become what he made each of us to be (John 1:9). By being together, Jesus is present and because of him we are enabled to live lives of virtue, drawing more people into this freedom.

The everflowing truth is that God is not over there, up above or down below, but so near, heaven touches the everyday of our lives; our hearts, lips and minds. In Christ, by the Holy Spirit, Heaven touches Earth through ordinary lives.

Together, we can move on, not locating God in movements, men and places but we may grasp the reality that through immersion in the Holy Spirit, God is as near to us as our breath and pours out of us like a gushing stream or a quietly bubbling spring, fresh and lively. This water, restores, revives and refreshes all who drink it and it never disappoints or ends.

God is near to us, not out there on a stage, an event, directed by the words of men and expectations of the crowd; not out there in the lives and successes of others but in our own brokenness and healing; our own stories of death to sin with him, rising again to new life and fulfilling the promise of lives made whole, which proclaim this good news.

The crowd at Pentecost received the same good news. The blessing came as each heard the news in their own languages. People then gathered frequently to hear the teaching of the apostles and shared their homes and their means to further the cause of their message.

From an abiding flow the growth comes in those who listen and obey, as promised by Jesus. From an outpouring of living water the thirst for good is quenched and each is nourished for the troubles of the day.

Don’t settle for Christ out there.Don’t shrink the Church to a weekly event. Don’t judge the Church by its events, buildings and institutions. Christ is amongst us as we gather in his name as twos or threes and Jesus is revealed by the love between us.

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.

Should Christians buy Apple products?

Apple EEEK!

Now that’s a thought for the day. Stephen Foley writing in the i, (p.4, 14/02/2012) leads with, ‘Thousands of Chinese factory workers will be given the chance to detail the punishing conditions on assembly lines producing Apple iPads and iPhones…’ We also learn that workers typically earn 30p an hour, working 10 hour shifts with only one break. In 2010 in one factory there was a spate of 13 suicides or attempted suicides.

It’s a difficult one but, whatever you think, how has this made you feel? Threatened? It’s surprising how wedded we are to our technology. Dismissive? It’s not my problem and there are many other equally difficult questions to avoid each day, and I don’t need something else to feel guilty about. They work and they look good; what’s your problem? (Genesis 3:6)

Apple are incredibly brand aware. They ferociously protect their brand image and defend their product integrity. At present they are fighting to ban Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus smart phone in the US because it looks and behaves like an iPhone. An illustration used recently at our church noted how Steve Jobs insisted that every part of an Apple product conformed to his design ideals, even the parts you couldn’t see. You can see the parallel aspiration in the life of the church.

What is the Christian brand and how far do we go to protect it?

Luke 4:17-22

If you get a chance read this comments on the i news story. The comments make fascinating reading. I have highlighted Apple but, it has to be said, they have owned up and are trying to do something about it.

Principle and Method

The fountain at Cambridge Botanical Gardens

The church is a work of the Holy Spirit, who works creatively and deeply in the hearts of people to bring glory to Christ in his church. The principle is that the church is his work and he blows through the church like a wind, illusive yet manifest (John 3:8). We do not have control of how the Spirit works in the church and those born of the Spirit are similarly free.

How do you recognise a work of the Spirit in the church? Well it has the character of the Spirit: The Spirit is not bound in a method or a form though he might inhabit it. Living a Spirit filled life is being open to the breath of the Spirit blowing into every part of your life. Your concern is not in its location in any form, practice or discipline but in its call to worship and transformative effect.

The work God does in our heart, works its way out, effectively achieving its purpose, love. We are called to obedience to this principle, that we speak from the truth of the Spirit and not  from the pain of our anxiety and ambition. We cannot bypass the deep work of the heart as it is God’s promise to us (Ezekiel 36:25;27). We are called to trust God who is faithful to achieve this purpose in whatever way he chooses, in Christ, and who cannot be confined by walls or methods. Any other way is not the work of the Spirit (John 3:6;8).

The church is a called people formed by the hand of a good and loving God. He will build his church; we will hear his call safe in our identity as children of God. (1 John 3:1;3)