Tag Archives: spirit

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.

Authentic

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Matthew 7:12-27

Jesus calls us to judge ourselves and others by what we do and not by what we say. Even more, he teaches that he does not judge by what is done through us by God; Father, Son and Spirit who we worship as One – God is concerned with our authenticity. It is not our kingdom works but who we are that brings us in to the kingdom; in to his ever-flowing presence where heaven, the dwelling place of God, and earth are made one.

It is a mystery that in Jesus Christ, the kingdom is so present that it is revealed with a word. Many works of the Spirit may be performed, but the speaker who does not do the will of the Father is guilty of lawlessness. The question is; is our identity in speaking authentic? What is it based on?

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Straw Dogs; Thoughts on Humans and other Animals, by John Gray

Puppy

Our guide dog puppy Riley

The thesis of this book is that we are all suffering, cruel animals and humans are bent on destroying their environment with technology. Pretty gloomy stuff but very well written. To be honest, I am not qualified to critique the book but I did read it.

Gray presses home his argument with shocking examples of humans behaving badly. He really despises humanism’s hope that things are getting better, and sees secular humanism as an empty philosophy worse than Christianity, because it does not face up to the facts as he sees them. They, ‘…have given up an irrational belief in God for an irrational faith in mankind.’ (Gray, 2003, p.38) Morality does not exist, there is no self and he ventures that what distinguishes us from animals is we, ‘…have learnt to cling more abjectly to life.’ (Gray, 2003, p.131)

Strangely I found his shocking examples rather tame compared to the cruelty and depravity in the bible. Even his thesis is biblical, though he wouldn’t acknowledge it. He reads like the Preacher in Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes 3:16-22 ). Indeed Gray writes in the tradition of Wisdom Literature.

Gray’s assessment is unashamedly Godless. He espouses Buddhist awareness and reflection as the answer to human rapacity. Death is the release, and we are burdened by our awareness of time in waiting for it. He concludes,

‘ Other animals do not need a purpose in life. A contradiction to itself, the human animal cannot do without one. Can we not think of the aim of life as being simply to see?’ (Gray, 2003, p.199)

I must admit I found this book made me laugh, as it was so earnest and self reflectively serious. The illustrations made me want to cry, but the bible had hardened me to the depravity of mankind and the destiny of creation. Gray’s whole argument makes sense; it has to, I offer, or faith would have no meaning. I wouldn’t put my trust in them though as someone clever will rip his ideas to shreds one day.

In the bible, God does not prove himself; argue for his own existence, he reveals himself. The sun, the moon and the whole realm of nature are as much bleak as they are inspirational. Nature is as cruel and chaotic as it is rational. God speaks into this.

Yes the bible supports the idea that we are all animals, but take Gray’s advice, look within. There you will find an inner land to explore; there God will reveal himself. Yes, to live is to suffer, but to see, to seek, is to find God and his Image in you.

I have deliberately not given detailed quotes to support my biblical insertions because I want you to read the scriptures and find out if I am right. I’m not sure what merit there is in reading this book, except that it lays bare secular humanists and updates you with examples of the depravity of man.

Reference

Gray, J. 2003 Straw Dogs. London: Granta Books 2003.

Putting grace to the test

Hatfield Heath

Hatfield Heath

 

Roman’s 12:2 says that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Now what does this mean? In the context of the scripture and because of what Paul has just spoken of about grace; that’s what the “therefore…” is there for; it’s speaking of grace transforming our lives by transforming our minds, and this being tested.

We are to be active in this, doing what is right and not being conformed, or moulded by and formed by the world’s ways, but by grace. The goal is knowing what is good, acceptable and perfect.

Can we make it also mean that we are to believe what God has done in our lives, ignore the evidence to the contrary, and wait for the reality in our lives to catch up with the reality of what God has done? No. Not in morality, not in health and not in wealth. This is empty headed, over-spiritualizing intellectualism that ignores the visceral reality of the scripture. We are called to live right (Ephesians 4:17-24). Associating this scripture with the process of healing diminishes its power.

The scripture is talking about the realities of living in the world. It’s talking about doing the right thing despite the pressures around us to do otherwise; despite what we think. That is, not gossiping, not slandering, not telling lies, not getting angry, not being bitter, not being proud… things that start in our minds and destroy the work of grace.

Romans 12 to 15 let us know what we are to do as a result of receiving grace. Not if we like, or as the Spirit leads: we are to allow grace to transform our minds so that the realities of the life in Christ we live are pure. Romans 12:2 is not an excuse to wait for our minds to be transformed before we do right. It’s not an encouragement to believe in a healing that has not happened.

Paul’s call for us to renew our minds in Romans 12 prefaces 3 chapters of dos and don’ts. It’s an invitation to the hard work of living by grace, actively casting off and putting on, because we are founded in grace. Grace takes us to painful places and much of the battle is in our minds which need to go through the pain of transformation through testing.

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
(Hebrews 12:11-10 ESV)

Sovereign

One of my key beliefs is in the sovereignty of the human will (Genesis 1:27).

I believe in the sovereignty of God; he is all powerful and holds the whole creation together. God is good.

I see in the act of creation, the incarnation and salvation sovereign acts of self limitation (Philippians 2:1-11). I strongly feel that God has limited himself for the glory of his wonderful grace and that all our wills are created sovereign. This is one way I understand being made in the image of God.

God’s will is supremely free. His will is not bound. To exercise free will, our sovereign wills  bind to his sovereign will. Free will does not mean we exercise our will outside the will of God. Our will is only free, I believe, when the will of God is sovereignly our will. This is how I understand the mystery of God, creator and God made flesh.

The futility of sin is the fact that our wills are no longer free but bound by the slavery of selfishness and disobedience to the call of God. Our concept of self determination cloaks free will with the idea that we are free to sin. We are not free when we sin, we are made free in Christ so that we do not sin.

Jesus sets people free and commands them to go on their way and sin no more. While we are still sinners and bound by sin, we are forgiven and our experience of love and acceptance illuminates our life so that we have the hope of salvation. Sin no more, is a command to us based on the grace of forgiveness(1 John 3:1-10). But God does not take away the gift of our sovereign wills, we still need to turn to him.

Believing in Christ, we never lose the promise of salvation as we struggle with sin. Belief in Christ is a moment of peace and joy, an experience that sets us on the way to be imitators of Jesus; to be holy as he is holy. Believing in Christ is the creation of a new identity from which our sovereign identity grows. It is a decision to follow Christ, to be faithful to him (John 3:16-18). The battle begins as our character and circumstances are challenged and the gift is, our hearts are turned from stone to flesh. We hear the perpetual call, Go, and sin no more.

This is a simple command; go, and sin no more (John 8:11); be holy as I am holy (1 Peter 1:13-16). It is a call to imitation, to realise the divine image within all of us. Jesus’ teaching is easy and its outworking light.  Jesus says, love God with every fibre of your being and love everyone else (Mark12:30-31).

It is a true metaphor that speaks of arming ourselves for this life. Life is not easy but Jesus’ message is (Romans 13:12). We need every defence and weapon available, as, for some of us, we meet failure after failure and despair upon despair. Some struggle against circumstances and suffer. Others, if not all, struggle with the heavy burden of self. Our hurts and disappointments and the hidden world of our experience crowd in on the truth of who we are in Christ as we stumble and stumble again. For some of us, that one word of belief, that single word of freedom, is all we have in the struggle. But it is enough; it is the seed planted in good soil which is not strangled.

Our confidence is in God, as in Christ we are new creations hidden in him. As we set our hearts to forgive and be kind, yet feel nothing; as we seek to serve others and only feel failure, we know that, even so, in Christ we are saved. God may invade us with supernatural revelation but he will not take control and enslave us to it. He may reveal himself through miracles and supernatural encounters but he will not take away grace and bind us to the repeat of transient experiences. God limits his sovereignty for the glory of his wonderful grace so that we might freely bind ourselves to his will.

When everything else falls around our ears, the word of faith; the still, small, quiet voice, speaks, …My burden is easy and my yoke is light. He does not say pull yourself together and cheer up he says, …Come to me (Matthew 11:28-30). He knows your heart; it is his new creation and he will never let go (John 10:27-30).

This is love, that I am free to love. This is power that I am free to take up my cross and follow Christ. This is grace that I am freed to live in Christ.

Provocations

Kierkegaard made an art of writing short provocative parables designed to shake us out of our comfort zone. He is often quoted, but not much read. To download a book for free visit Plough Books. From him you will gain the insight that,

There are people who handle the ideas they pick up from oth­ers so frivolously and disgracefully that they ought to be pros­ecuted for illegal exchange in lost and found property.

And so in the fear of prosecution I will share the words of others on two of Jesus’ parables; the treasure found in the field, reburied, everything sold, and the field scurrilously bought to obtain the treasure and the pearl of great price, which the merchant sold everything to obtain. (Matthew 13:44-46)

Nouwen notes in The Inner Voice of Love that having found the treasure and experienced its value you have to leave it and sell everything to obtain it;

You can only seek God when you have already found God. The desire for God’s unconditional love is the fruit of having been touched by that love.

Bonhoffer writes,

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods.

Ortiz in his book Disciple combines this teaching with Matthew 16:24-25 to teach that we get to keep everything but now it is radically under the ownership of Christ.

Rollins in the Orthodox Heretic says that Kierkegaart reflected that if you have sold everything to obtain the treasure you now have nothing, as the pearl only has value if you sell it, the one thing you are bound not to do. Having obtained the pearl you are now materially destitute whilst possessing something really precious.

Sometimes we run away from simple meaning and construct a wall between us and the message…

Whoever loses his life for my sake shall find it. (Matthew 16:25)

Kierkegaard writes;

All our Bible learning has become nothing but a fortress of excuses and escapes. When it comes to existence, to obedience there is always something else we have to first take care of. We live under the illusion that we must first have the interpretation right or the
belief in perfect form before we can begin to live – that is, we never get around to doing what the Word says.

Egg McMuffin

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Grapes in my garden

Woke early this morning, early enough to walk out into the countryside before going to church. What a wonderful morning; the leaves just turning and the hedgerows bright with berries. The dew was heavy and the sun shine was fresh and clean.

We walked towards the airport and breakfasted at McDonalds. Conversation turned towards thorny issues and the mess that is life. I had read Psalm 55 before heading out and I mused on the idea of being taken up on the wings of a dove and escaping into the peace and silence of the wilderness; the place of reflection and reforming (Psalm 55:6-8).

Walking back, anticipating going to church and our particular form of worship, I reflected on how worship is called out of that place of beauty and peace,  a place of grace where we know God. Luther taught that our righteousness does not do God’s work but God’s righteousness brings forth the fruit that is God’s work. Put simply he said it is the tree that swells the fruit. Jesus taught he was the Way, the Truth and the Life and that we are to worship in Spirit and in Truth.

We are in the time when we are called to worship where we are, from who we are in God. The tree is not the institution we attend it is the heart we bring with us. What a privilege it is that we can look within and explore our Inner Land and cry, beautiful! because of the work of Christ. All hearts strive for this peace; this light, and it is found in Jesus.

As I walked up the road, a cyclist came towards me, sat up on his bike, freewheeling, and cried, lovely! Let worship begin.

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)