Saturday, 29 June 2013

How Good Is That?

Is forgiveness the message that we really need to proclaim above all other in these days?  I think it might be.  It so often seems that we live in a blame culture.  We are always looking for somebody whose fault it is and what we can get out of them by way of compensation.  Forgiveness is counter-cultural, but at the heart of our faith.  David Stevens, a former leader of the Corrymeela Community, has said this: “The gospel offers us an alternative reality to fearful, frozen and defensive living.  It invites us to imagine ourselves and our world differently.  Reconciliation in Christ takes us to a new place – the house of Christ – where we think, speak and act in his way, where fear becomes trust and hurt permits healing.  Christ breaks down the middle wall of partition and invites us all into a space created by him to find people who were previously our enemies.”[1]

This, in turn, allows us to go further and to recognise that God will heal.  Healing means wholeness.  God will make things whole, that is as they should be.  One of the great things we discover as we follow God’s way is just how great God’s love is and what that means in terms of things being as they should be.  God’s love is immense.  As Desmond Tutu has it in his book ‘No Future Without Forgiveness’ – “Someone has said there is nothing I can do to make God love me more, for God loves me perfectly already.  And wonderfully, there is nothing I can do to make God love me less.  God loves me as I am.”[2]  As my kids might say to me – how good is that?  I am not going to pretend that things never get messed up.  That is patently untrue.  We live in a chaotic world and we often find ourselves having to cope with some of the struggles and problems which that produces.  But somewhere in there, always, is God’s love.  Somewhere, always, too, is the call to be God’s people.

[1] ‘The Land of Unlikeness’, p. 51.
[2] ‘No Future Without Forgiveness’, p. 75.

Monday, 17 June 2013


Water is key and crucial to life.  It also plays a massive role in our Christian faith and its stories.  Water is used in baptism.  At Cana it is turned into wine.  Moses strikes a rock to produce water.  Earlier he had turned water into blood.  With Noah we struggle against the flood waters.  There are many references. 

Sister Vandana, in her fascinating little commentary on John so rooted in the Indian context ("Waters of Fire", Amity House, 1988) explores this theme: "Water!  An ordinary, everyday, familiar thing, usually taken for granted and unnoticed - except when found absent and needed.  God often uses very ordinary things and lets his glory shine out through them.  One is tempted perhaps to call water God's favourite creation!" (p. 20). 

Sister Vandana goes on to look at the special nature of water as parallel to how human beings are.  She makes a specific comparison with Mary - "Mary, like water, was creature - ordinary, unnoticed, quiet, serviceable, lovely, and previous" (p. 22).

Is there something to ponder there about how we see others?

Friday, 14 June 2013

Third Space Evangelism

Paul Weston (in "The Word's Out: Speaking the Gospel Today", BRF, 2013) commends the idea of what he calls third space evangelism.  We have tended to engage in first space evangelism.  We are in the church and we wait for people to come to us.  It's what we might call a 'come and see' approach.  Sometimes we press things a little further and emphasise the need to go out as per the great commission.  We recognise the need to go and meet people where they are.  That going out is second space evangelism.  However, Weston suggests that what is likely to be most effective is what he describes as third space evangelism.  "Third space evangelism is a movement away from ourselves towards others, and then a movement with others towards something that is new for both of us."

We are good at introducing people to church as we know it - when God maybe wants them to be in a different kind of church.

"This may mean that the form of church that we know is not as central to God's plans as we thought it was, or at least not in the form it presently takes.  The church is not the mover and shaker in mission: God is."

Sunday, 9 June 2013

The Door

The door - or sometimes the gate - is one of the great images that John quotes in his Gospel to help us understand what Jesus is like.  The specific door (or gate) to which Jesus refers is one on a sheepfold and so it is to do with taking care of the sheep.  The door is vitally important because we need to go through it in order to get where we need to be.  Sometimes we need to be outside, and at other times inside - but going through the door is needed to get us to the other side.

Stephen Verney (in "Water into Wine", Fount, 1985) recognises the important role of the door - "A door has two sides, an inside and an outside.  In the figure of speech Jesus has used, one side of the door is the courtyard of the sheepfold and the other side is the open country.  In our own houses, one side of the front door is home and the other side is the street.  The truth of I AM is also a door with two sides - one side is a man on earth and the other side is God in heaven, and through that door of I AM the love of the human race goes up to God, and the Love of God comes down on the human race" (p. 104).

Similarly Lesslie Newbigin says (in "The Light Has Come" Eerdmans, 1982), "The door is a universally evocative symbol.  It is the way of access from one world to another and therefore also the way by which the reality of that world may be communicated to this" (p. 127). 

The idea of the door thus takes us into the realms of communication and relationship.  If we are to be God's people, we need to be that.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

In God's Slipstream

Another thought from David Male and Paul Weston's "The Word's Out: Speaking the Gospel Today" - there will probably be a few more to come.

Telling the Good News is obviously one of the key things in which we should be engaged.  However, one of the risks is that we think we need to create the opportunities for this.  We are reminded: "Rather, the sharing of the good news by believers is part of God's wider evangelistic enterprise, which takes in the whole of the created order and in which God himself is the primary agent.  In this context, what we do is secondary and dependent on what he is doing in and through us.  We are not alone.  Evangelism is slipstreaming in God's own witness to himself."

What a tremendous definition of evangelism - "slipstreaming in God's own witness to himself" - and how helpful to remember what can be put in other ways but is so important: mission is God's, and it is dependent on God, not on us.  Our task is just to join in - and the easy way to do that is to get in to the slipstream of what God is doing.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Outside-in or Inside-out?

I'm reading David Male and Paul Weston's "The Word's Out: Speaking the Gospel Today" (BRF, 2013) which has some interesting ideas.  I was particularly struck by Paul Weston's thoughts around whether evangelism should be outside-in or inside-out.

He points to how Jesus did evangelism which tended to be by telling stories, suggesting that one of the problems we have with evangelism is that we come it from the outside.  We use an approach that tries to justify, or explain, what we are saying.  He suggests that if we were to use the gospel's stories as the response to people's interest and questions that might be far more effective.

The suggestion is that when someone asks a question, instead of trying to give an answer that starts from the premise of what we think, we take an approach that links the question to something that Jesus said or did,  He comments that this will help us to "cut straight to the chase" as it focuses thought and conversation on Jesus.  It doesn't mean that further comment won't be needed, but it does give us the right starting point.

Weston suggests that if we are always asking ourselves how Jesus responded when faced with similar questions to the ones we face, that will help us to be centred on the gospel, and so to be working from the inside out.  "Our evangelism courses training courses would be considerably enhanced (and far more productive) if we were to take the issues that have arisen in our own lives and those of our friends or colleagues and ask how Jesus addressed them."

Sunday, 2 June 2013

More than a Dove

I have just finished reading Kirsteen Kim's "The Holy Spirit in the World" (SPCK/Orbis, 2007) in which she offers a fascinating exploration of the engagement of the Holy Spirit in the world and how that enables mission.  As the book comes to its conclusion, she turns to the image of the dove, so often used to portray the Holy Spirit, but suggests that we need something more.

"The dove is very white and sometimes comes close to looking like the fat turkey of consumerism, or else it resembles the eagle of empire.  In the scriptures, the peace that comes in Jesus Christ is not a blanket of snow that covers over everything and makes the world colourless, nor is it the kind of absence of activity that makes the waters still.  It is represented by the colourful community of believers striving to live together in the Spirit of Christ, and experiencing reconciliation as the result of deep prayer life, strenuous activity, fearless witness, agonizing suffering, sacrificial sharing and living together .....  The dove seems hardly compatible with the raw power and vibrant colour of the Spirit, who brooded over the creation, inspired the prophets, propelled the infant church into mission, transformed lives and freed people from all kinds of bondage."  (p. 180).

Stirring stuff!  She goes on to talk about the fire-bird "in all its brilliant and varied hues" and draws a link with the rainbow.  My own preferred image of the Holy Spirit is that of the wild goose.  I certainly think we need to see the Spirit as a turbulent disturber, but I can also happily accept Kirsteen Kim's picture of vibrant colour.  Mission takes us all sorts of places.  Are we ready to go?

I like also the suggestion that the model of liberation, that has been around for a while, has been replaced by a model of reconciliation.  "Agents of reconciliation need to be as innocent as doves but also as wise as serpents" (p. 181, and cf. Matt. 10:16-20).

Saturday, 1 June 2013


One of the great Biblical phrases is the phrase ‘I am’.  It is quoted in Exodus 3:14 when God uses the phrase to respond to Moses’ question about a name.  God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’

It also occurs frequently in John’s Gospel when Jesus uses the phrase as he tries to explain who he is.  I am the light of the world.  I am the bread of life.  I am the true vine.

I am currently reading Stephen Verney’s book “Water into Wine”  (Fount, 1985) in which he reflects on John’s Gospel.  Verney reminds us that we tend to be focussed on ‘I’ and are left needing the transformation into ‘I am’ that will get us following Jesus.  Verney reminds us that this concept in John is not restricted to the famous ‘I am’ sayings.  Talking to the Samaritan woman by the well Jesus comments: “I am he, the one who is speaking to you” (John 4:26).  Similarly, when the disciples are caught in a storm on Lake Galilee, they are terrified when they see Jesus walking on the water – but Jesus calms them with the words, “It is I; do not be afraid” (John 6:20 – and note that the New Revised Standard Version offers a footnote to explain that the Greek is ‘I am’).

Verney comments on the first of these – “I AM is a dialogue between God and human beings which sets free the flow of the Spirit”.  He further comments on the second – “I AM is the truth at the centre of the storm and in the hearts of the disciples which says, “Stop being afraid now.””  (p. 92). 

God’s transforming presence makes so much possible.  So Verney says this of Jesus: “He is not saying I AM God walking about on earth.  He is saying I AM human being-God, God-human being walking about on earth.  Of myself I can do nothing, but the Father has revealed everything to me, and given me the authority.”  (p. 94).