Tag Archives: worship

God said… Part 2

 

The opening of the meaning of scriptures is a spiritual event. We can devise all manner schemes to know the meaning of the words but only true insight is gained through knowing the Word, Jesus. It is right that we have sound doctrine but the message for life is in the whisper, as well as the whirlwind and thunder, and rooted in Jesus. For many this mindset is difficult as it seems to undermine our understanding of authority.

It is not clear on mount Sinai whether God spoke or thundered and Moses wrote. In both cases Moses was the mediator of the “voice” of God; the human who responded to God’s message. There is an ambiguity in the word. For the Jews, the tradition and the text become a means of encountering God because of this ambiguity. Study, doubt and debate about what happened on the mountain become an act of worship. In listening to one another, what God is saying or thundering becomes a living encounter.

Jesus enters this tradition. In his anguish, Jesus called out to his Father to glorify his name and God thundered. Some heard thunder and some an angel. Jesus heard, “I have glorified it and I will glorify it again.” The message to the people was, “Now is the judgement of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out…” Jesus interpreted the event and the message was mediated through him. The thunder became words.

God thunders and whispers in the scriptures and we are commanded by Jesus to respond in grace, mercy and peace with faith. Jesus is the fount of our understanding and without love our interpretations become a noise and a clang. Without love, we close-down the voice of God in others and stand between God and his children.

Basing our faith in Scripture commits us to perpetual reformation[1]. In scripture, Jesus teaches us that every jot and tittle of the scripture is to remain and points us to him being the accomplishing of it. He talks about the random distribution of the seed and its generous and wasteful throwing out, of sun and rain falling on all, of treasures old and new being brought out and of new wineskins and old wine. He speaks of a small seed becoming a tree and providing shelter, a miracle of faith we can only watch and wonder at. The seed of God’s word is planted and we watch and wonder as it grows into a tree. God provides the rain and the sun; mountains are moved.

John says no one has seen the Father except the Son and we are left to ponder the scriptures that say otherwise. Paul takes the roar and rumble of scripture and compiles them into meanings hard to follow but rooted in tradition not the scripture and makes them scripture with gay abandon. No word of scripture is to be abandoned, it is breathed by God for a reason. One of those reasons may be to challenge our mindset and perpetually renew our thinking.

The rigour of our mindset that brings us to a scientific understanding of everything is disrupted by the words of scripture. We approach them subjectively needing certainty and a firm foundation. Jesus says faith in him is the firm foundation. The very words we would set our foundation on, on the tongues of men, shift their meanings like sand. Some rail and rant at us and call us to abandon reason or what we feel to be true. They label us as filthy and baying wolves, dehumanise us, because we dare to question their precious tradition or interpretation.

The scriptures throw is into the arms of Jesus. In the roar and rush of life, the power-plays of humanity, Jesus pulls us up out of the anger and violence of humanity, into the embrace of the One who walks on water and stills the storm. We have one Mediator, the Holy One, Jesus Christ crucified.

We need to listen to the doctors and luminaries to hear the foolishness of the good news of Christ. We need to be those who are learning and are teachable. Our faith in scripture is because we see Jesus and are saved. In the preachers’ and teachers’ words we hear the truth and can be set free, because we know Jesus and are lead to worship him and him alone. Scripture and teaching digs the hole but the rock and foundation is Jesus.

It is faith in who Jesus is that is the rock on which the Church is built. Yes, our faith is in scripture, but only read through the eyes of the knowledge of the crucified Christ. Jesus sets the words on the page alight in a consuming fire burning up our pride and arrogance so that we can live forgiven and forgive and live generous lives full of hope and love. In Jesus, we are enabled to live life in its fullness without fear.
[1] The Crucified God, Jurgen Moltmann, SCM Press, 2015, page 118

Idolatry

Idolatry is a powerful and divisive force in the world – it is evil as it is the outworking and instigator of sin, taking away from the worship that is rightly only given to God, capturing the hearts of men which is the abiding place of God.

Jesus teaches that the way to glory is narrow and found by few while the way to destruction is wide. The narrow way is Christ, knowing no other and trusting no other. Few find it while many follow the crowd.

Idolatry and violence are the wide way; trusting in ways, powers and gifts, leads to disaster. We see this time and time gain – movements fail, nations falter and leaders bring disgrace – the poor and needy are trampled into the dust and kept from feeding on the truth because the truth is muddied by false teachers.

Followers of Christ inherit the promise of Abraham. We are a people of faith, adopted into the family of those who are children of God. We are a blessing to all and the healing of neighbourhoods and nations. We draw strength from God and God alone, drinking from the flowing water of the Spirit. In this knowledge, we read the scriptures, the times and the world around us. Each knows the voice of God by virtue of being in Christ. Any one who tries to take away that gift is an imposter.

In Genesis 1, the sun and moon are mere lights in the sky put in their place by God to govern times and seasons. They are not to be worshipped. In Exodus 20 the foundation of the commandments is love for God and no other gods and the forbidding of worship given to idols, the work of our hands. Our relationship with God is to be immediate. Proverbs 17:17-18 calls us to a narrow way naming pride as contrary to the true way. The letters of Paul tell us idols are not real and echo the prophets in a strong warning against the power of idolatry. Reading these scriptures in the light of the message of Jesus we see why; I am the way, the truth and the life he says – he sees that true worship is not to be confined by places, traditions and peoples but to be in Spirit and truth. The realisation of this truth is the revelation of Christ.

We must guard our hearts and test the spirits. We need to allow the light to discover the darkness in our hearts; the obscuring beam in or own eye.

I can be in the presence of great natural beauty; be struck by the awesomeness of the heavens, the sky by day and the sky by night. I can wonder at the power and beauty of creatures and maybe fear their potential to do me harm or maybe good, giving food or even companionship. I can wonder at the potency of cycle of nature and its life-giving efficiency. I can glory in the beauty and intellectual depth of music, art and poetry – the works of great craftsmen. I can revere great men, their legacy and memorials. There may be places and stones of significance that evoke a connection with their greatness. There may be possessions; a guitar or a handbag, that have come to represent the persona of celebrity and are valued.

To ascribe any of these feelings with spiritual value is wrong if we begin to think that by relating to them we can begin to absorb the essence of the owner. It’s an abomination to think we can come to God through such things. The only way to the Father is Jesus, every other way is pure fantasy, not real and evil.

Our hearts cry foul when we hear of the exchange of great sums of money for handbags, guitars and pieces of the cross, or bishops seated on relics to enhance their authority. Believing relics are powerful is an abhorrence and lie; the idea that their presence exudes holiness is anathema. We are ashamed when people claim vials of blood liquefy and candles burn perpetually, statues rock and virgins walk. We are not those who recognise power in springs and wells and hang out scraps of cloth for luck; we run from charms, symbols and incantations; horoscopes, Spiritism and divination. We are suspicious of the idea of thin places and that the merit of a place is anything but an imaginative engagement with a story. The power is not in the pilgrimage, periods of detachment or maze, it is in taking time to engage and reflect. A song is a song and a prayer is a means not an end. All things are good but not all things are helpful to everyone.

The human heart is a deep well of feelings and emotions, and knowledge of this should be a warning. The heart not bathed in the Spirit of God and washed clean, can easily be moulded by celebrity, fame and renown and be fickle in the midst of strong opinions and crowds – tossed and turned with every wave of excitement – hungry for a new thing, a new phenomenon, a fresh spectacle.

Even the scriptures can substitute for God, written in either words or pictures. Devotion to scripture or icons can easily slip into worship of the form and so become idolatry. We see this when people hang on to old translations, pictures, traditions and places. The consequences are obvious; wars, brawls and gossip. The way to destruction is wide and many find it. You are in a crushing crowd.

We are safe if we stick to the pure message of Jesus. Keep clear of thin places, grave soaking and supposed manifestations of glory in case your good character is ruined. Be more than sceptical, deny their power and in prayer speak to your heart and come fresh to the immediate presence of Christ.

Continue to meet in twos and threes with those whose lives match their words. Be wary of those who would control and shame and deny you liberty insisting that Christ is more present in larger gatherings. You will recognise them as they try to mould your thinking by attrition rather than encourage you to pray and reflect; they reveal themselves by insisting on their interpretation and aggressively deny you your understanding – by their actions they do not trust the power of God as much as their power of persuasion. They demand unity on their terms and lack accountability denying the authority of the gathering of the saints insisting on their own rights. People who stand against them are shamed and undermined, removed to the outside and excluded.

Detach yourselves from those whose thoughts are revealed as being impure in the words they choose and jokes they make. If someone invades your personal space and insists on secrecy or secret knowledge or denies your freedom, they are not of God. If your heart is troubled it is the voice of God. Listen to it. No one in Christ is bound to the power of another – Christianity is not established by compulsion or violence to the individual.

The kingdom of heaven is won by those who are prepared to aggressively stand up for right and by those who are prepared to stand firm in Christ alone,  by the Spirit and the whole of Scripture and endure for this cause. True followers won’t be popular but meek and winsome.

You have no need of a mediator as in Christ alone there is salvation, sanctification and glorification: the knowledge of the Holy is found in Christ.

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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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)

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.