Monday, 28 October 2013

How awesome is this place!

Genesis 28:17 - Jacob was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place!  This is none other then the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.  This passage - Genesis 28:10-17 - gives the account of Jacob's dream at Bethel in which he sees angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven.  It is a passage that is about connecting to, and with, God, something that we all need to do.  It also reminds us that such connection is possible - or a better word might be 'available'. 

There are places which especially remind us of God, and that's great - we should enjoy them.  But we should never forget that God is there for us in the unexpected place where we most need to find God.  HOW AWESOME IS THIS PLACE - THIS IS NONE OTHER THAN THE HOUSE OF GOD!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

What Would Jesus Do?

Yesterday I wrote about the role and importance of the Bible.  The Bible is crucial and has been, and is, a guide for us, as it has been down the centuries.  However, alongside that, it is important to recognise that our essential relationship is not with a document, however inspired and valued, but with a person.

I was reminded of that this morning when I was reading the end of John Dominic Crossan's book, “The Greatest Prayer”, in which he reflects on the Lord's Prayer.  Near the end of the book he says:

“We are not the People of the Book; we are the People with the Book.  The gospel of John does not say, “God so loved the world that he gave us” a book (3:16).  The Revelation of John does not say that we are saved “by the ink of the lamb” (12:11).  For over a hundred years Christians have asked WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) and not WWBS?  (What Would the Bible say?)  If Christ is the norm of the gospel, then he is also the norm of the New Testament, and of the entire Christian Bible.  That, of course, is why we are called Christ-ians and not Bible-ians.”

How true it is that our relationship with Jesus needs to be that which drives, challenges, inspires and encourages us!  The question is good - what would Jesus do?

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Conversing with the Bible

We are people of the Word.  One of the main things we seek to do is to engage with the Bible.  We want the Bible to speak to us and to guide us.  If we take the Bible seriously, it will speak in to the way we live.  As Marcus Borg has it in Speaking Christian:

"To be Christian means to live within a community that accepts the Bible as its authoritative scripture. To be Christian involves a continuing conversation with the Bible as the foundation of Christianity. If that dialogue were to cease, we would cease to be Christians. The Bible is constitutive of Christian life and identity."

This doesn't mean that we have got an easy list of things to do, or not do.  That kind of approach won't get us where we need to be.  However, it does mean that we can identify points of engagement and consideration.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Living with Jesus at the Centre

I have started reading Henri Nouwen's Letters to Marc about Jesus (DLT, 1987) in which he seeks to explore the essentials of the Christian faith in a series of seven letters to his nephew Marc.

In the first letter he says something about spirituality and the way it impacts people.  It is certainly true that spirituality is big in our society.  Many who turn from the church look for spiritual fulfilment in other places.  In many ways I think our essential task is to discover how we can speak in to that gap that people recognise and look to fill.  Nouwen describes the essence of his spirituality as 'living with Jesus at the centre'.

That's what we need to be doing - and, if we are, the doing will keep us on track.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Fighters & Irritants

We are all called to ministry.  And, just maybe, we are called to be fighters and irritants.  Putting it another way, we are called to be counter-cultural.  We are called to demonstrate an alternative way.  Writing about the rise of the early church, Nick Page says: “The church grew strong because it was constantly swimming against the tide.  The church stood out because it was visibly different.  The kingdom of fools grew, because the kingdom of the world seemed so foolish by comparison.” 
Genesis 32 describes a fascinating moment in the story of Jacob.  Jacob was, to be blunt, a rather dodgy character.  From his early life, he was a trickster, devising schemes to make himself come out on top.  He swindled his brother out of his rightful inheritance.  He nearly met his match with his uncle Laban, but managed to twist things to his economic advantage.  After a long absence, he is returning home and preparing to meet his estranged and defrauded brother Esau.  And he encounters God.  God does not come to him as some sweet, forgiving presence, but as a rather mysterious adversary.  Jacob is engaged, rather surprisingly for an encounter with God, in a lengthy and inconclusive wrestling match.  He hangs on, refusing to let go without a blessing and, as well as the blessing, receives a new name, Israel – the one who strives with God.  And he is left with a limp.  As the theologian Walter Brueggemann points out: “On the one hand, Jacob/Israel soars to bold heights.  … But then, he is corrected by a limp, affirming that only God is God.  On the other hand, Jacob is a cripple with a blessing.  (He) must wonder how it is that blessings are given and at what cost.”  Brueggemann adds: “This same theology of weakness in power and power in weakness turns this text towards the New Testament and the gospel of the cross.” 
If we are going to engage in effective ministry, we need to encounter God.  We need to get God’s call first-hand.  Another scholar, Richard Hays, comments: “Those called to the work of ministry will emerge from such an encounter limping and chastened, knowing that our words are inadequate, that we are not sufficient for these things.  But we also will know that the God whom we serve, the God who has graciously and inexplicably called and blessed us, is wonderful beyond all telling.”  Putting it bluntly, ministry is not an easy ride.  At least, if you find it so, you have probably got it wrong.  It tends to leave us exhausted and wounded.  But it’s worth it!  And God’ll be with us.
So this Old Testament passage depicts God as the God with whom we need to struggle.  But then let’s look at Luke 18 (v. 1-8) for another surprise.  We knew that Jesus was a teacher, a healer, a preacher, a man of prayer.  But what does this story think it’s doing?  We didn’t know that Jesus was also a comedian.  This story is so ridiculous – and we might expect it to leave Jesus’ listeners laughing.  A woman keeps knocking on the door of a corrupt politician until he gets so fed up that he promises to give her what she wants, if she will only shut up. 
The people knew characters like these – the woman who has nothing, no husband, no inheritance, no social standing – and the politician who is only in it to make the deals that will advance his career, but who gets so annoyed that he ends up doing something good in spite of himself. 
It is actually a good story, and it’s OK because Jesus insists that God is nothing like this unjust judge.  But perhaps the point of the story for us is this – that we are that woman.  We are awkward.  We are annoying.  We keep trying to get what we think we should have – we keep trying to go where we think we should be – and it is just not happening.  I am not sure how we minister to stacks of persistent widows – but I know that we have got to try. 
Jesus told good stories, sometimes even funny ones, but a really good comedian shows profound understanding of how things are in the humour.  Effective ministry requires us to engage with the persistent widows and to help them find the things that God wants us all to keep hammering away at. 
This woman will not be silenced.  She challenges the abuse of power.  She sees what is wrong with the system.  She strikes a blow for freedom, true freedom.  Doing all that, and helping others with it.  That’s ministry!

Monday, 14 October 2013


Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. In their book “Multi-Voiced Church” Sian and Stuart Murray Williams point out that we are not to be lone pilgrims. Rather we are to be companions on the journey. And they explore this idea by talking about “the many ‘one another’ or ‘each other’ texts in the New Testament.

It has been well said that the church is perhaps the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of those outside it. In saying that we remind ourselves that the essential task of the church is the task of mission. That is true, but it is also true that we are in it together. It is not insignificant that Jesus sent the disciples out two by two – Luke 10, verse 1. We are told to love one another, to greet one another, to encourage one another, to forgive one another. We are to bear one another’s burdens, to live in peace with each other, to agree with one another, to accept one another. We are to serve one another, to honour one another. And so on. The New Testament has much to say about our partnership, and the clear inference is that, if we can’t sort that out, then we will be falling short on our call.

Of course, there is the recognition that perfection is still some way off. Yes, we are to get on with being the church together – but the fact that there was a need to also tell the early Christians not to grumble against one another, not to lie to one another, not to provoke one another is a recognition of their being far from perfect and in need of a bit of a challenge. The Williams talk about churches needing “leaders who can broker and encourage ‘one-anothering’.”

I wonder what would have been Jesus’ mission statement, had He established one thing He said as the key summary message of His life. Of course, there are plenty of things that Jesus said that we could suggest as leading candidates for a Jesus mission statement short list. But perhaps we can do no better than suggest it might come from this Gospel passage.

John 15, verses 12 This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you. There’s the mission statement. And we might support and explain it by drawing on verse 16 - You did not choose me, but I chose you and I appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. We are empowered. We are commanded. We are sent. And we are sent to bear fruit.

According to verse 14, we are to be friends of Jesus – You are my friends if you do what I command you. But this is not a friendship of domination and servitude. Sometimes children, frustrated by a friend’s refusal to do just what they want, will declare: you’re not my friend. That’s not how it is with God. We are friends of God because we have communion, communication. A couple of verses earlier, verse 9, we are told: abide in my love. If we do that, then all the possibilities of God’s love spill out into the community around us.

What this is really about is partnership. We would tend to think it politically incorrect to suggest that anyone was a servant and, worse still, that that was a good thing. What about our rights? What about our position? It was, of course, far more part of life in New Testament times. In fact, for many it was worse still. They were slaves. We don’t really need to worry about being servants though really. After all, Jesus Himself is the Servant King. But look at what is going on here. The servant is lifted up to the status of friend. The warmth of friendship implies a sharing which creates equality and breaks down the barriers. The greatest example of ‘one-anothering’ comes from Jesus himself.

And it is in such commitment to others that we will bear fruit. It is in such commitment to others that we will engage in Christian solidarity. It is in such commitment to others that we will get things done. Love one another, and so you will bear fruit. We have moved from free gifts to freely giving – and, on the way, have we not summed up the Gospel?