Friday, March 24, 2006

Another quote from Jim Elliot

Be on guard, my soul, of complicating your environment so that you have neither time nor room for growth.

Shadow of the Almighty p137

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

What kind of place is my soul?

This year is the 50th anniversary of the deaths of Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, Roger Youderian and Nate Saint. In case you don't know the story, these five set out to make contact with an isolated tribe in the Ecuadorian jungle. Their desire and determination to reach these people with the good news of Jesus Christ cost them their lives.
I decided it was time I read Shadow of the Almighty a biography of Jim Elliot by his wife Elisabeth. I've had a copy of the book for years, but never read it through. Now seemed like the right time.
This is a quote from the book:
Strange place, this soul of mine. I think it is more place than person. It rings with whatever enters, be it high thoughts of the seated Christ or idle rhymes from any poet. The soul does not seem to mind what it is occupied with, but only cares that it be kept occupied. It is passive as to choice. I choose, my soul responds, with ringing laughter, emotion, or pure worship. It is a tool, not a craftsman, and must be controlled... The choice is mine.
Shadow of the Almighty p109
What do I allow to occupy my soul?
It is my heart's desire to make God smile, but I wonder how much time my soul is occupied with other things, other less important things than this. This isn't about feeling guilty, it's more to do with a simple question of alignment. In the book Out of their faces and into their shoes, John Kramp explores the concept of lostness. He says: Lost is life's default mode. In other words, do nothing and you usually end up lost. It takes effort of some kind to not be lost. And it surely takes effort to occupy the soul with thoughts of making God smile.
It certainly doesn't come naturally.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Is everyone welcome here?

I was wandering around the internet this morning and came across a poll on a well known Christian website. The question was very simple: "Would you welcome a sex worker in your church?" Thankfully 79% (when I looked) said yes and only 9% said no. I'm pleased that we're finally learning how to live graciously. But it did make me wonder.
Of the 9% who said no was that because of fears of corruption, or maybe they thought it was as a staff position! Are we so afraid of being influenced that we're unable to allow people to come into church and explore our faith? Songs of Praise recently had an ex-prostitute tell her story of how Jesus had transformed her life. How big a risk is it to open our doors to anyone who needs this kind of transformation?
One of my favourite title for Jesus is not Messiah or Lord. It isn't Son of Man or Son of God. It's "Friend of sinners". Of course the people who gave him this name disapproved of the people with whom he spent timea lot of his. But Jesus didn't seem to mind.
Perhaps it would be a good thing for the church to become known as a safe place for sinners, a place where they could find friends. Friends who would love them, accept them, and challenge them, but neither judge nor condemn them.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Living generously

I took another little step in my desire to live generously again yesterday. It's not much but it was a little more risky than anything else so far.
We have a new housing development in the village and I was wondering how we might serve these new houses in the name of Jesus-no strings attached. The obvious way is with some sort of welcome pack (I was thinking tea, coffee, biscuits, that kind of thing). Then I thought, what about the sales people? Why not give them a welcome gift too? So yesterday I wandered into the sales office with two small jars of coffee (one ordinary and one decaf), some tea bags and some biscuits.
For some reason I worry about what people will think, but I'm learning that gifts are welcome and well received more often than not.
So why did I worry? Probably because doing something like this is higher risk that pushing stamps through doors or even washing cars.
I wonder when I'll feel brave enough to risk paying for someone's coffee at Starbucks or Costa?

Friday, March 17, 2006

Little steps

Last week we took our second step in serving our community through acts of kindness.
This is the story.
On Saturday March 11th we took our first step into the unknown of free car washing! The stamps for Christmas was very low risk because we were going to our community. The car wash was an invitation for them to come to us. We've got a great position on the main road with a large car parking area that just cries out to be used creatively like this.

So, on Saturday morning, buckets and sponges in hand, we waited for customers. Everyone on the team had been briefed: don't accept money, don't try to engage people in deep spiritual conversations, just remember that we're here to serve them in the name of Jesus—no strings attached.

At the briefing I said that 10 cars would be a great event, no cars a real disappointment, and somewhere in between would be okay. In the end we lost count. We were so busy and we were having so much fun, I forgot to video or photograph anything! Although it was very quiet for the first half an hour or so, suddenly cars started to pull in. We probably washed at least 10 in the hour or so we'd allocated. The whole event was a real success and everyone is excited about the next time.

We opened up our hall next to the car park and served tea and coffee to people as they waited for their cars. Conversations were light, but as you'd expect everyone was amazed that we were doing this for free. I wonder what they said when they got home.

Okay, so it's not rocket science and someone is bound to wonder if this is real evangelism. But I wonder if the view others hold of the church changes when they see us doing something for free. It bothers me that we talk about grace as a free gift, but almost everything costs money. I grew up through an era of thermometers outside churches to show how much money had been raised for the roof repairs. If Abraham was blessed to be a blessing, then how can we bless those around us?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Stamps for Christmas

During the autumn of last year I decided that it was time that I figured out what was wrong with the traditional ways we do evangelism in the church and to make it easier. I read a whole lot of books including AKA Lost by Jim Henderson and Conspiracy of Kindness by Steve Sjogren.
The nett result of this was a challenge to the church of which I'm part, to find new ways to connect with our community.
This is what happened.
At a leaders day at the beginning of December we were taking our first steps towards engaging in servant evangelism. I’d been reading and studying and this was the day to ask my core leaders what they thought about the idea.
They responded enthusiastically and we began to bounce around some ideas about the things we could do. The ideas came quite quickly and then all of a sudden one of the leaders said, “Stamps. We could give everyone in the village some stamps. It’s nearly Christmas and everyone needs stamps.”
So we did. We bought enough stamps to deliver six second-class stamps to each of the 287 homes in our village. With a contact card two of us spent just over an hour going to each house and putting the stamps through the doors. We didn’t know what to expect.
I think I can honestly say that the response was truly amazing. We didn’t do it to get a response; we did it simply to demonstrate God’s love in a simple practical act of kindness. But people responded. I’ve had cards, letters, telephone calls and comments from across the community. Everyone I’ve spoken with was impacted by this simple act of kindness. We always invite our community to join us at Christmas. The difference was that this year they came. We had more visitors at our Carol Service that I think we’ve had in the previous four years. I don’t know if it was the stamps, but it certainly didn’t do any harm!