Monday, 24 January 2011

The last, the lost, the least!

At the end of the day, when all else is 'stripped away' I'm forced to ask myself important questions of identity, mission and purpose.  The truth is that God's call on my life hasn't altered.  My heart still aches to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.....I'm not one content to stay within the sound of chapel bells!  My heart is for the folks like those I chatted to last week, everyday working class folks, who don't think that church is for the likes of them.  I don't mind the gritty reality of a small gathering of Jesus followers and seekers in a tough place.

The church in Britain, England in particular I believe, has a great challenge in reaching beyond the respectable of our society.  The main reason for this is that the 'working class', whilst besotted with celebrity culture, soaps and having the latest stuff are still a people firmly rooted in a very real sense of authenticity.  The fascination with those outward thing is, I believe, a form of escapism from the reality.  However, this transparency often means that when it comes to church, folks have little time for religious games.

If you come from a cut and thrust world of Britains council estates, you just don't invest your life in something that appears to be namby-pamby.  There is, quite honestly, too much at stake.  No, this God thing has to be real, gritty, honest, transparent and quite frankly, it has to work.   Its perfectly possible to experience more 'community' in my mother's front lounge than in your average church.  See, when you visit my mothers, the front and back doors to the house are often open and there are often people coming in and out through the day for coffee, for the loan of some sugar or a quick £20.  If you've had a bad day, you come in and you talk about it with no appointment necessary.  If you need help you ask and you usually get it if it is there to be provided.

I read this today, and there is a lot of truth in it for any situation, but is particularly true and pertinent to the shape and character of any new urban church in post-Christendom:
"Small is not necessarily a virtue on its own. But in Christian community smallness enables participation - and that is crucial if people are to shape and be shaped by their following of Christ in their own setting. Smallness enables real transformations, authentic relationships and gritty engagements with the world." - CMS

Key words for me in that quote are  'participation,'  'their own setting', 'real transformation', 'authentic' and 'gritty engagements.'    I firmly believe that the church of Jesus Christ was actually hard coded to function like this in a whole variety of settings to be at its best.  For Britain, religious shows won't cut the mustard.  We'd rather watch the telly - and vast swathes of our population do just that rather than bother with church!

It was Catherine Booth that said
‘Show the world a real, living, self-sacrificing, hard-working, toiling, triumphing religion and the world will be influenced by it. But anything short of that and they will turn around and spit on it.'
 It is prophetically true. 

Don't get me wrong - everyone needs the gospel, we all need Jesus.  However, I think that when it comes to function, community and authenticity, we see it best amongst people for whom following Jesus isn't a social opportunity but a life necessity.  The more middle-class, educated, privileged I become due to the 'natural' prosperity of being a life transformed with Christ (the elevator effect) the more I actually feel I need to connect with my roots to learn something of the sacrament that is called 'life'.
"Some wish to live within the sound of Church or Chapel bell;
I want to run a Rescue Shop within a yard of hell."
- C.T. Studd.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Lord of the Sabbath – Mark 2:23 – 3:6


(Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Gosforth - 23 Jan 11)

“Shame! That’s forbidden! Disgraceful!  Law-breaker!  Jesus, you are just showing that you’re no better than gentile scum.  Who do you think you are?  Call yourself a Jew? Call yourself a Rabbi, do you?”   And so the accusations came hurtling towards Jesus as his disciples broke the third of the 39 laws of the Sabbath. 

Jesus is committing the 21st century equivalent of going to Tesco on a Sunday afternoon.   That might not sound bad to you, in fact I committed the same heinous crime myself last Sunday afternoon, but for years, there has been a school of thought particularly fussy about the Sabbath and there is even an organisation called The Lord’s Day Observation Society made up of well meaning folks trying to uphold what they perceive to be God’s laws.

Afterall, back in Exodus 20:8-11 -     
8-11 Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don't do any work etc etc

You yourself may have been brought up with things that were and weren’t acceptable on a Sunday, all based on the concept that Christians are bound to the old covenant idea of a Sabbath Day, on a Sunday, inspite of the fact that the Sabbath is a Saturday and inspite of the fact that for the first 400 years of Christian faith, yes the believers met early to worship on Sunday, the Lord’s day, but spent the rest of the going about their normal business afterwards.

So what on earth is Jesus doing allowing an intentional break in this law?  Not just is he allowing a break in the law by picking corn, but they’re walking more than the distance they’re allowed to on the Sabbath.  Even more so he goes and heals someone.  Can you get a more blatant disregard for the Law of God?

Friends, if Jesus, the Son of God, God made flesh appears to be doing something that is a direct contravention of what God has said previously, that is an invitation for us to plunge into the experience and see what is happening here.   It is another case of new wine in new wineskins.

The issue of Sabbath is something that as a Christian community we need to reflect on and work through because beneath the statement of fact, there is a gift of a principle for us for living full lives in Christ.

1.  Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath

The first thing I want to bring out here is that Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath.  In Jesus’ acts in this passage, he is pointing people towards a greater truth that was still sinking in and still to be revealed in its fullness: the fact that the Old Covenant Sabbath given by God through Moses was a shadow, a picture of Jesus who is to come.  Jesus is not just Lord of the Sabbath, but he is our Sabbath rest.  There is a fundamental difference between enjoying Christ as our rest and being a slave to the Sabbath – this is what Jesus actions here are saying to us.  Let me explain.

Listen to Paul in Colossians 2:16-17, the Message paraphrase:

 16-17So don't put up with anyone pressuring you in details of diet, worship services, or a Sabbath day. All those things are mere shadows cast before what was to come; the substance and the reality is Christ.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 3:17, there is freedom.  Freedom from sin, and the law, and instead abundant grace.

So addressing Jewish believers, he is saying that in Christ the fullness of the law is there.  In Jesus Christ there is freedom because HE is where our righteousness comes from, not through keeping laws.  As Gentiles, we were never  asked to keep the law anyway! 

For us, in Christ, the fullness of the Sabbath principle is not in keeping a strict day of religious observance, but resting in Christ every day.  Our whole lives, everything, is a spiritual act of worship (Romans 12).  We are the temple’s of God’s Holy Spirit, he inhabits our every moment.
We see that being a follower of Jesus requires a radical new of thinking and acting because:
  1. Jesus does not fit into the old way of thinking, structures, laws and traditions.  New wine needs new wineskins.
  2. We cannot just take Jesus and add him into our busy lives.
  3. We cannot add Jesus into our way of thinking, our beliefs or our traditions.
  4. Jesus doesn’t fit into the pluralistic, materialist, or me-centred world views that are prevalent today.
Jesus shows us here a new way that IS NOT:
  • living a life of rules
  • adding extra bits and pieces to the Bible
  • being hard hearted
  • being stubborn
  • living in fear
  • lacking love for others
The Sabbath, and all the law, points us towards a greater reality – the person of Jesus Christ and the life, the sanctity and preciousness of life that we can have in him.  If you hear anything this morning, please hear that and drink deep.   So what does that mean for us?  Does it mean that the Sabbath idea has no place in our lives whatever?

2.  Sabbath is made for man, not man for the sabbath

It absolutely has something for us today – and the principle is contained in Jesus words in v27 of chapter 2:  The Sabbath was made for man, anot man for the Sabbath.”   Whilst the bigger picture thing is about living a life in Christ, being indwelled by him and saturated by him each and every moment, there is a very practical element to “Sabbath.”  Following Jesus isn’t all work and no play.  The kids showed us earlier – you can’t keep going without breathing!

God has designed us to need rest, refreshment, restoration – time we need to replenish our souls.  All those wonderful ‘re-‘ words remind us that God the giver delights to “Lead us by still waters and restore our soul” (Psalm 23).  In the hustle and bustle of life in the 21st century we must, must, as Christian people teach the world what it means to take time out.  As they say, no man or woman lying on their death-bed ever says “I wish I spent more time at the office.” 

In the craziness of life, we would do well to take refreshing days either by ourselves, or with our families in recreation.  Also, time to focus on Jesus, prayer, in his Word.   Not days bound by some religious nonsense about what thou must and thou musn’t do, but to enjoy the richeness and fullness of life. 

Listen to what one writer says about the principle of Sabbath:
I decided to start taking one day a week to cease from work. And what I discovered is that I couldn’t even do it at first.   I would go into depression.  By the afternoon I would be so . . . low.
“I realized that my life was all about keeping the adrenaline buzz going and that I was only really happy when I was going all the time.  When I stopped to spend a day to remember that I am loved just because I exist, I found out how much of my efforts were about earning something I already have.
“Sabbath is taking a day a week to remind myself that I did not make the world and that it will continue to exist without my efforts.  Sabbath is a day when my work is done, even if it isn’t.  Sabbath is a day when my job is to enjoy. Period.    Sabbath is a day when I am fully available to myself and those I love most.  Sabbath is a day when I remember that when God made the world, he saw that it was good. 
“Sabbath is a day when I remind myself that I am not a machine.  Sabbath is a day when at the end I say, “I didn’t do anything today,” and I don’t add, “And I feel so guilty.”  Sabbath is a day when my phone is turned off, I don’t check my email, and you can’t get ahold of me.
“Jesus wants to heal our souls, wants to give us the shalom of God. And so we have to stop. We have to slow down. We have to sit still and stare out the window and let the engine come to an idle. We have to listen to what our inner voice is saying.”  (Rob Bell in ‘Velvet Elvis’)
Does that sound like something you need?  I do.
 3.  So, what is lawful to do on the Sabbath?

Jesus finishes his encounter by pointing out the profound answer to the question, ‘what is lawful to do on the Sabbath?’  by his actions.  He says it is good to do good, not evil.  This points us to the fact, not only of being free from pharisaical law and restriction, but to the fact that good servant stuff, getting involved in the work of the Kingdom too, is good for the soul, good Sabbath stuff. 

Now, I’m not talking about church council, manning the welcome desk, admin,  or all the other things we often mistake for deep spiritual ministry. Yes, practical tasks need doing – we should see them as our necessary work.  But  I’m talking about blessing others from the abundance of our own life in Christ.  Ministering to one another in prayer, worship, the sacrament of conversation and service one to another.   Jesus healing on the Sabbath as a deep act of ministering the peace, the shalom of God into the life of an individual.  This is how we carry Sabbath into our day to day – by ministering the grace of God.

Let me finish with a story.

There was an old Rabbi, in his 80s, a father to his religious community.  After Sabbath service each Saturday morning they noticed that the Rabbi would often slip out from the conversation and disappear somewhere.  Now, this Rabbi was known for being very close to God.  The rumour started to spread that on the Sabbath afternoon, the Rabbi would go out and he would be taken up to heaven to sit in God’s presence.

One day, the elders of the synagogue decided to find out what he did on the Sabbath and so sent someone to follow him.  The young man followed the old Rabbi through the streets of the city and watched him enter the home of an elderly couple of the synagogue.  From the window, he watched the elderly Rabbi prepare meals, sweep the floor, puff up the pillows of the elderly couple and kiss them both sweetly on the forehead before leaving for home.

The next week the others gathered round the young man, anxious to find out what happened to the Rabbi on the Sabbath afternoon.  “Does he go up to heaven?” they asked excitedly.

The young man says:  “oh no, no.  He goes much higher than that!”

In Conclusion...
Jesus is the one who IS our Sabbath rest.  Live and dwell in Him.  Receive from him the rest for your soul in the very day of life.  From that place of overflow in the presence of your Lord, go then and do what is lawful to do on the Sabbath.  Then you will know what it is to live life in fullness and blessing so abundant.   But it all starts with Jesus...

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Brothers, Sisters and Distant Cousins.

One of the thing that happens when you become a part of the living body of Christ is that you inherit brothers and sisters in the Lord.  Some of them are even akin to fathers and mothers due to their maturity in the Lord and the way they nuture us, but they remain, in essence, brothers and sisters.  There is a phrase 'blood is thicker than water' - I'm not sure if thats a Scottish saying or if is wider than that, but it usually references the fact that those who are united by blood, blood relatives, stick closer than others.  As brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are indeed united through his blood.  There is a unity, a oneness to be had that is beyond any fleshly link.

There is an insipid concept in Christian circles and it goes by the name of 'fellowship.'  Its often relegated to a cup of watery coffee after a 'service' where we've sat staring at the back of our brother or sisters head.  We can have intimate knowledge of the rears of our church folks because in some settings its what we see most of.  I'm waiting for the day when I have to say "will you just turn your back to me, to see if I can remember you."

Friends, this isn't fellowship.  This is being a audience in an auditorium.  We often respond to our brothers and sisters like they are distant cousins...not even that!   Man, I have natural 2nd cousins twice removed that I have a deeper relationship with that some of the 'brothers and sisters' in the Lord that I come across from time to time.  Why does the church have such an aversion to intimacy with one another?

The word 'allelon' in the Greek, which means 'one another' appears loads and loads of times in the New Testament.  Our existence as brothers and sisters is to 'one another' each other.  We enter into a life in Christ which is not alone, because it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in US.  Not us individually, although he is within is, but he is MANIFEST in us as a body together.

Friends, this impinges on so much of our experience and faith.  It affects our discipleship if we aren't learning in the context of community.  If affects the extent to which we are being pastorally encouraged - this is why I have such an aversion to the 'pastor-sheep' set up because no one brother or sister can be the sole 'cure' to hundreds of others.  It affects our effectiveness in missional living if we aren't engaged with one another.  Jesus is revealed more fully and diversely in the context of brothers and sisters together.  Many a Christian has fizzled out - not through sin, letheragy, doubt, fear or persecution, but through lack of a brother.  Loneliness is the curse of humanity. God said 'it is not good for man to be alone' not only, I don't think, in relation to man and wife relationship but as a whole.  It is GOD'S desire to have fellowship with his creation, his people made in his image.  How much more, then, do we need fellowship in Christ with one another?

I want to encourage you to look around you and ask questions of the relationships you have with your brother and sisters in Jesus.  Are there those who you'd trust your life to?  Are there those you are holding out on?  Are there issues in your own life that prevent you from opening up your life to your brothers or sisters? Or maybe this - maybe you just haven't had the revelation in your life of all Jesus wants to build in you through fellowship with your brothers and sisters through Him, that you might be built up together in Him?

You know, I don't want friends, acquaintances...I want brothers and sisters - lots of em. To share a common life centred around Jesus Christ, manifesting and sharing his presence. I think that is perhaps one of the best definitions of 'church' we can find.  Are we up for it?

 

Monday, 3 January 2011

Books 2010



As is my blogging custom at this time of the year, here is a list of books I've read during 2010! Here goes....in no particular order....(ahem...some of these should come with a health warning!)  (And in case you are interested, a link to 2009's books: here)

 

- Brafman, O.  "The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless   Organisations"

- Viola, F  &  Barna, G    "Pagan Christianity:  Exploring the Roots of our Church Practices"

- Viola, F & Sweet, L "Jesus Manifesto"

- Viola, F, "Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity"




- Viola, F.  "The Untold Story of the New Testament Church: An Extraordinary Guide to Understanding the New Testament"

- Viola, F "Finding Organic Church


- Hirsch, A . "The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church"

- Hirsch, A.  "The Forgotten Ways Handbook: A Practical Guide for Developing Missional Churches"

- Hirsch, A. "Untamed: Reactivating a Missional Form of Discipleship"


- Claiborne, S & Perkins, J.  "Follow Me to Freedom: Leading as an Ordinary Radical"

- Eastman & Latham, "The Urban Church: A Practitioners Resource Book."

- Boren, M.S. "Missional Small Groups: Becoming a Community that makes a different in the world"


- Cole, N. "Organic Leadership:  Leading Naturally Right Where You Are"

- Cole, N.   "Church 3.0: Upgrades for the Future of the Church"

- Murray, S.  "The Naked Anabaptist"

- Stibbe, M & Williams, A. "Breakout"

- Freeman, A & Greig, P . "Punk Monk: New Monasticism and the Ancient Art of Breathing"

- Jamison, C  "Finding Sanctuary:  Monastic Steps for Everyday Life"

- McClung, F "You See Bones - I see an Army:  Changing the Way we Do Church"

- Bessenecker, S "The New Frairs: The Emerging Movement Serving the World's Poor"

- Wilson-Heartgrove, J  "New Monasticism: What it has to say to today's Church"

- Bonnhoeffer, D  "Life Together"

- Bishop, G. "Darkest England and the Way Back In"

- Wilson, M "Eden: Called to the Streets"

- Yancey, P  "What's So Amazing About Grace?"

(PS....I do read non-Christian stuff too lest you think I'm too boring.  Outstanding one this year was 'Band of Brothers' by Stephen Ambrose)


 

Sunday, 2 January 2011

2010 blog review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here's a  summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads 'This blog is on fire!'

Crunchy numbers




Featured image

A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by your stats.


A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 3,900 times in 2010. That's about 9 full 747s.

 

In 2010, there were 30 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 9 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 2mb. That's about a picture per month.

The busiest day of the year was June 10th with 183 views. The most popular post that day was Welcome to Kingdom Conspiracy.

Where did they come from?


The top referring sites in 2010 were armyrenewal.blogspot.com, facebook.com, onlywithchrist.blogspot.com, twitter.com, and pillcorps.blogspot.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for kingdom conspiracy, "frank viola", shema spirituality, here i am send me revival, and singleness.

Attractions in 2010


These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.
1

Welcome to Kingdom Conspiracy June 2010
5 comments
2

About Andrew Clark June 2010
1 comment
3

Doing it by the Book? November 2010
5 comments
4

About Kingdom Conspiracy June 2010
5

Stepping Down October 2010
3 comments