Monday, 5 November 2012

Essential

So yes, I started out on what I felt was akin to 'churchy detox' back in 2010...maybe before that.   At the height of it I think I was almost an iconoclast 100%.  I came to feel that the thing I was in no real way resembled the movement that Jesus began.  I still think that, to be honest, but having got some things out of my system   I've been holding the reins lightly on a whole range of things and issues in an attempt to explore something of the essence of the true essentials.  Here are some of the things I'm picking up and running with these days:

1.  The Lordship of Jesus.  Fundamental to those essentials is the Lordship of Jesus over everything, especially over the movement he began.  Thats easy to say, but not so easy to work out in the context of the 'stuff' of denominations.  This means a determination to seek to build everything on his life, teaching and example.  The source and inspiration for mission, discipleship, worship and ministry.

2.  The radical call to discipleship.  It flows that if Jesus is Lord, then discipleship is the only natural consequence.  He demands our all, he will not be compartmentalised.  The call to follow is a call to the cross.  Its a call to follow the extravagant God of grace so wonderfully expressed in Jesus...the live we are called to live should be stunning, astounding even.

3.  The coherency of the movement.  Whilst I believe that the movement that Jesus started is radically inclusive, I do believe there are central things to be build on.  For example, I believe ministry should be build on the Ephesians 4 ministries resulting in a more fully rounded ministry and that no one gift should be valued above another because all are necessary.  These are the foundations that Jesus himself laid and we need to explore how that works itself out.  'True doctrine' comes out of this apostolically based context...and there are key things that are central to coherent faith.

4.  Commitment to mission.  I believe that 1 - 3 will make this so much more natural than it currently is.  A people on mission will always have a ministry.  Mission always leads to ministry because we work in a broken world with broken people.  Christendom model of 'church' has marginalised mission.  Astoundingly, God is like the landowner who continues to go to the market place to look for new workers....I am sure that he wants us to join him in that.

5.  Commitment to community.  Now, community is not the end result.  Community is a means to an end, but its a crucial means.  Jesus following is a team sport.  We're family.  Community is the prophetic antedote to our Western consumeristic, 'I-centred' society.  'None of us lives for ourselves' declares Paul writing to the Roman church.   I believe, however, that I've never really experienced community properly in 'church'...not to the extent that it has began to resemble communitas (communitas being the description of the new dimension communities take on when consumed by a particular task or mission).

Those, for me, are the essentials.






Saturday, 3 November 2012

Jesus the Grinner

Every have those days when you're sorely tempted to be so hard on yourself?  Hmm.  You see, the thing about living a covenant or a 'rule' or a 'way of life' like the ones I've always commitment myself to is that as well as giving direction, they also give you a good talking to.  That, in a sense, is their value and purpose.  At the moment, I'm pretty rubbish at all three of the points (authentic, relational, missional).

My struggle in particular at the moment (as always) is the whole question of authenticity.   The first pointer on my current rule is to be 'Authentic:  true to Christ.'  Jesus and I have this thing going on just now.  Its like this:  I'm out there doing the regular stuff...you know, being the 'pastor' type figure at Trinity, and Jesus is there sorta 'grinning' at me...a sort of 'knowing look'.  Hilarious!  I think he finds it quite amusing.  I find it quite amusing too.  Ok...maybe its a private joke!

But more seriously, this thing has been teaching me something quite important.  Its teaching me that the church in general takes itself much to seriously, and those of us leading them sometimes do too.  Of course, our mission is of utmost importance, without a doubt....but then, you see, there are all the other things we've made it.  Don't get me wrong, Trinity is an amazing place to be and my love for the people there grows daily, but like most other folks, we have our 'stuff'.  So, Jesus and I grin quite a lot.  I recommend it as a prayer exercise!

Back in early 2010, I had hit a massive submission moment in my life...a moment which lead to a whole load of other stuff happening.  But it was a commitment to be true to Jesus above everything else.   In the holiness movement, we'd call it a crisis moment that leads to a deeper consecration and commitment to the life of holiness.  To regular joes, basically it was a whole notch up on my Jesus following compared to that point.  I'd been following before, but there were things getting in the way.  My desire was that he'd be the closer focus.  I hope that its obvious that I've sought to be true to that.  I've been seeking to be very much all about Jesus.  The learning curve since then has been about evaluating what is necessary and which is expendable in the life of discipleship and maybe even leadership.  

And he grins because I think the process has honoured him, but I also think there are some things that he has shown me that I've yet to have the courage to act upon or work out into doing.  Some of those are really simple things.  Others are fundamentally challenging and which I've actually shrunk back from dealing with.  And that is the crux of inauthenticity.

So, I note this stuff down and we work on it together.  Moving hopefully towards a new shade of authenticity all the whilst trying to keep the balance like the fiddler on the roof.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Alternative

Another area in which we need to discover what allegiance to Jesus means is in the thing we've called the church, especially if we've named it as a particular brand of church.  Now, I don't think there is anything particularly wrong about a people having a particular charism that lights them up, an aspect of Jesus following which shines more brightly for a community.  This is where the variety and broad spectrum of the 'church' serves us well.  But we need to keep watch.

I've quietly observed (and sometimes not so quietly observed) that the thing we call church is horrible when it goes wrong.  When a movement settles into a Constantinian ecclesiology where order, human tradition and human partisan identity are valued over and above the movement of the Spirit, the Word of God and the mission of Jesus, we're in difficult ground.  I say that confidently as one who has previously lived in that trap.


I watched just a short video by the profound theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, this evening and spent a bit  of time thinking through the challenge it presented.  Hauerwas basically makes the point that to follow the Way of Jesus should "scare the hell out of us".  It is something that is going to make our life and existence awkward both in relation to 'the world', in which we are resident aliens, and to an extent, in the institution of the church which has taken the Way of Jesus and made isms out of it.  He says that going to a church is something we should do because we're fleeing to the safety of like minds....the following of Jesus can only be done in community in which we are part of an ongoing story, history, that we don't get to make up.  The Way of Jesus involves a cross before it involves glory, this is what we have received.


Basically, Jesus comes to end religion, dogma and any system that sets itself up in opposition to him.  It can be so easy to accommodate so much stuff out there.  Anything that sets itself up against the Lordship of Jesus is an impostor and simply not true to who he is and the Way he establishes.  As followers of Jesus, the challenge is for us to continue to embrace the heretical imperative, the embrace the disfunctional life of being a 'fiddler on the roof' as we walk he path of radical obedience whilst the world and even the church looks on.


Kingdom life is life in the upside down Kingdom.  It is alternative because it is not 'of' or 'rising out of' this world...in fact, its a Kingdom which is the perfect encapsulation of all that  God wants to do and which he invites us to pray 'Your Kingdom come, your will be done!'  None of the normal earthly kingdom rules apply.


This is especially so in the realms of leadership.  At one point, Jesus says to his disciples in Matt 20:


“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”


He means what he says.  Our pattern is different because its not how things are done in Heaven but yet we find it so difficult to see beyond.  To embrace the Way of Jesus is to call to account all that we are, to submit it before him and others and to lead from the place of humility instead of confidence in our own systems.


To take Jesus at his word here, and to live it, is a call to transformation.


NB No denominations were harmed or injured in the writing of this post, but we may just have to put them down.



Monday, 22 October 2012

Remembrance, War and Conflict

“My kingdom,” said Jesus, “doesn’t consist of what you see around you. If it did, my followers would fight so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. But I’m not that kind of king, not the world’s kind of king.”  - John 18:36 


We're coming up to a time when we remember the casualties of war.  Remembrance Day.  I will be involved in the marking of that (especially as a Chaplain in the Air Cadet Organisation, linked to the Royal Air Force), but I do so in a particular way and from a particular perspective.


Every time I get the chance, I make mention of the fact that Jesus claims our allegiance.  This is relatively new language for me, but it is language I find myself using a lot for a variety of reasons.  Giving our allegiance makes demands upon us.  It requires active participation or our allegiance means nothing.


I think there are some pretty strong implications for our allegiance to Jesus in lots of ways, but here are our thoughts about our relationship to the state, conflict and war:


1.  That we are continually resident aliens in any nation of the world.  Whilst we might want to seek God's blessing and shalom for our surroundings, our ultimate allegiance is to Jesus and His Kingdom.  And so I even hold 'being Scottish' much more lightly than I hold the supreme importance of being an ambassador of the true King.  Being an ambassador of the Kingdom of God means that we join with a multi-national non-geographic people, brought together under the Kingship of Jesus.  In every place where we are, we represent him.


2.  We are, as resident aliens, subject to the state.  The state has its role, as Paul outlines in Romans 13: 1 - 7   Such as:  raising taxes, wielding the sword (as agents of God!....more on that later) etc etc.  So, as we reside in the state, we do what the state requires like if we were visiting America or France on an extended visit and did some work there, we'd expect to pay taxes and make a positive contribution to society.

3.  Yet, we are to hold 1 and 2 together.  Bruxy Cavey, an anabaptist leader, states that if you were visiting another nation and that nation declared war, you wouldn't automatically go to war with it.  If you were required to sign up, you'd automatically say 'woah, wait a minute, I'm just a visitor.'

Take a look at the text at the head of the blog.  Jesus, having been arrested and falsely accused, defends his Kingdom and his Kingship before Pilate.  He brings out the stark contrast between a worldly kingdom, a 'secular state', and God's Kingdom.  Maybe this is where Paul gets his comments in Romans 12 and 13.

In Romans 12 he paints the call of the Kingdom.  In Romans 13, he paints the call of the state.  Now, is it possible to take of your Kingdom hat and put on a State hat in these things?  Jesus says that his followers belong to a different Kingdom and so aren't going to take up the sword in his defence or in anything.    


Thinking about war and conflict, I believe it is not the business of the followers of Jesus to be wielding the sword of the State.  That is the State's role and privilege.  This is the challenge that the political, geographical, social and religious entity called 'Christendom' was never able to resolve.  Thus, in our day we have a long history in the church of sanctifying war.


That is not to say that there must never be war, I don't think pacifism is always about that (although I'd often challenge the assumptions upon which wars are entered and conducted).  I've already said that Romans make the role of the State clear.  Its just the case that war is not 'our Way'.  It is alien to our Kingdom.  It is not the Way of Jesus.


So, as I come to Remembrance Day, I don't want to glorify war.  Neither do I want to buy in to the glorification of the war dead, which is becoming a real feature of our culture.  There is a difference between honour, respect and glorification.  I do, however, 
want to mark with others the lives of those that are lost to conflict, whether it is deemed right or wrong.  Soldiers are men and women who are carrying out the functions of state and in doing so sadly lose their lives.  This is something to be remembered.  I believe the followers of Jesus should be there to help our communities mourn this fact.

Yet, I think we need to go the step beyond.  'Pasifism' can never be purely reactive, passive.  Its not passive, and thats where the term is misleading.  Someone else has coined the phrase 'Shalom Activist.'  This is to recognise that as ambassadors of a different Kingdom, our agenda in the world is different.  We want to see the peace of God, the values and standards of the Kingdom touching all people everywhere.  A pledge of allegiance to Jesus is a commitment to the Way of Peace and of peacemaking.

I seek, as in all things, to hold these things in creative tension, yet seeking to honour Jesus in all things whilst ministering compassion and the ministry of reconciliation he gives to his people.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

17th October

The Mercy Seat
The 17th October has been a special day for the last 17 years.  At 6.50pm on a Sunday evening in 1995 in The Salvation Army hall in Irvine, my home town, I knelt at the 'mercy seat.'

I had been moving towards this point for around 8 or so months, having been searching seriously for God.  He had placed some human saviours into my life, some of his own people, and now I had to find him for myself.

The major finished his sermon and gave the altar call.  I knew it was my moment.

I knelt and Billy, the Sergeant-Major, came and spoke with me, acting as the spiritual midwife for all that was about to take place.  He reminded me of God's love for me, God's delight that I'd come to this point.  He invited me simply to make a confession of sin and a statement of trust.  He didn't say it for me, this was my dealing, my conversation.

At first I felt sorrow, a heaviness.  My life had only been 15 years long thus far but there was plenty to weigh me down.  I laid it all out before God and wept over it.  I gave Jesus my all.

I arose from that bench with one thought on my heart:  God, I need this to be real.  You have to be there.  That night, I went home and knew I'd have to tell my parents the next day who had actually forbidden me to go to The Army...I'd been sneaking there with stolen money.  Ironic.

I lay on my bed before God.  I was pleading with him, asking him if what had happened that evening had meant anything.  God, if you are there, show me.

In those moments, God came in power.  His presence came upon me powerfully, I could feel a warming, tingling sensation.  I could hear music, music like nothing else.  It lasted for some time, I couldn't tell how long.  God had heard and responded.  He has been very real to me ever since.

The next morning I shared my faith trembling, but with boldness and determination.  I wouldn't be turning my back on Jesus.  There was trouble at home in the months to come, but there was no turning back.

17 years on I'm daily amazed at God's amazing faithfulness and goodness.   When I think of the adventure, I'm just utterly overwhelmed.  He has my whole life, my whole allegiance.  We move at his command.  Jesus is the Lord.

The invitation is the same to you as it was to me:  follow Jesus, give your life into his hands.  He will make all things new.  Don't delay, its the best thing you'll ever do.


Monday, 15 October 2012

Companions of the Heart?

I've been giving thought to the 'construct' of my spiritual life post-Army.  You may or may not know that Salvationists live by what you'd call a set of vows, a covenant.  As a former officer, I'd been living by the 'Soldier's Covenant' as well as the 'Officer's Covenant'.    The first of those is a generic set of commitments, the officers covenant is a bit more specific to the officer's ministry.

I didn't make either of these covenants lightly, but some aspects of them don't make sense outside The Salvation Army, so I'm looking at them again.  As well as all that, there have been some other useful Kingdom influences informing my discipleship and formation in recent years, so I'm looking at those too.  I've learned that I want to have a framework which isn't dependent on my relationship with any particular denomination...it has to transcend and be complimentary to any of that.

You might wonder why someone would have these covenants/rule of life/vows.  Quite simply they're a framework that I can use to invite others speak into my life constructively.  They function as a 'vision/mission statement' for me as a follower of Jesus.  They also potentially have the value of being something that others may join you in and so just building in that 'accountability' that can helpfully come from mutual relationships.

As I said earlier, I'm looking for some 'Companions of the Heart'....that being a translation of the Old Celtic word Cymbrogi which carries the connotations of covenanted brothers/sisters working together in a particular cause.  Here's what I've written about it so far...maybe it speaks to you...maybe you'd like to join with me in this simple 'rule'? Its not cluttered and 




The Rule of the Companions of the Heart is a simple rule, built upon the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36 – 40)  and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20).
1.  Authentic:  true to Christ
We are called to love and serve him supremely all of our days.  Jesus is the pattern for life, worship, discipleship and mission.
2.  Relational:  loving our neighbour
We are called to care for the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, love the unlovable, and befriend those who have no friends.  'None of us lives for ourselves' (Ro 14:7)
3.  Missional:  taking the gospel to the nations
We are called to live to spread the fame of Jesus, sharing the Good News of the Kingdom with all peoples.
Living the Questions:
As a dispersed community (if anyone wants to join with me) we might simply live this rule, but continue to inspire each other by saying 'what is God saying to you?', 'what are you going to do about it?' 'How can we help you?'  If people are nearby, maybe opportunities for the occasional gathering...who knows?
There may also be some specific spiritual practices that can be shared...we'll see.  Get in touch privately if you are interested.