Monday, January 22, 2007

What's cooler than a box of crayons?

If you're a "" user, you will recognise the question in the title of this post. I haven't investigated, but I guess it's got something to do with customising one's blog or the like. Anyway I was trying to think about what my answer would be to the question, and here's one possibility:
  • Being asked my opinion by my teenage daughter.
  • Listening to my teenage daughter talk about her desire to serve God and change the world.
  • Watching as she gets involved in studying the Bible for herself.
  • Listening to her talk about how things could be made better in church for her peer group, in a positive way.
  • Talking to her about preparing a talk for the Junior CU at her school.
Maybe having a teenage daughter isn't as bad as it sometimes looks.

What a strange weekend

I sometimes wonder what a normal weekend might look like. My usual weekends include the last minute preparations for Sunday, watching Bedford Athletic play rugby (when it's a home game), trying to spend time with Anne and Ally (since learning to swim, we've tried to go once over the weekend when we get the chance), and doing all the jobs that haven't been done so far that week.
Every second weekend we're now looking to do some form of outreach event in the context of servant evangelism and this coming weekend I've got a day away with the church leadership team.
So what was strange about this last weekend? Well, for the first time as far as I can remember I was asked to go and visit someone to tell them a relative of theirs was dying. The family wanted then to hear the news in person, not via the telephone and given the distance involved, they called me and asked me to visit and share the news. It's not an easy thing to do.
There is a real sense of privilege that goes with being asked to serve a family in this way. It's unnerving too, but to be trusted with such a task far outweighs the inconvenience of having to alter your schedule to make the visit.
So I drove the 6 miles and sat down and shared the news. I made a few calls on behalf of the person receiving the news and we talked. We chatted about the person who was dying, about memories and all sorts of stuff. On Sunday I went back to share the news that death had finally come and the waiting was over.
What other role could I play that would give me such access to the ordinary lives of ordinary people who need the touch of our extraordinary God?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Gaining clarity

Over at our church blog, I post outlines of Sunday's sermons. Recently we looked at our vision, it being the beginning of the year. If there's one truth about the church and vision that I need to keep in front of me it is that people forget. If I don't regularly remind myself and the congregation what our vision is, we go off course and lose our way.

But there was something different this year. I think we're reaching a point of clarity. A point derived from 5 years of work and reflection. This is, in outline, how I presented the vision this year:

What is our vision? It’s really important that we remember at all times that we are called both to be the people of God and to do the work of mission and ministry. It’s not an “either or” it is a “both and” situation. It’s “both and” because what we do arises out of who we are, and it should always be that way around. Let’s remind ourselves then what is at the core of being Cotton End Baptist Church.

#1 A people of values

We have agreed on these five core values:

A clear commitment to Christ
Genuine, authentic Christian lifestyle
Commitment to one another
Committed to serve and to reach our community
The centrality of prayer and worship in everything we do

#2 A people on a mission

Our mission statement is: To know God and to make God known

I can’t think of a simpler way of describing the mission of the church. When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was he responded with a well-known abbreviation of the Ten Commandments. Paraphrased we would probably answer that question like this: to love God wholeheartedly, to love others in the same way we want to be loved.For me, our mission statement defines our strategy.

#3 A people with a purpose

So, we have a mission and we have some values, but to what end? What’s our purpose?

Here’s a simple statement of our purpose: To love people into a deep and growing relationship with God.

Our mission, our values and our vision are all caught up in this single purpose. We are here that the world might believe in the one who came into the world and was not recognised by the world.This is why we reach out with God’s love and kindness through the car washes and the Christmas gifts. We want people to know that God loves them.

#4 A people of vision

We are a visionary people. Over the autumn we explored what it meant to be part of God’s big plan as we studied the early church in Acts. We saw how God moved his purposes forward step by step through the early church.

God has not stopped calling visionary people to take risks in his hands for the sake of the kingdom.

How would we define our vision?

Firstly, it’s not about building a big church, but a great church. A great church is one where we can believe together, belong together and build together. A great church is a church where relationships are deep not superficial, where broken lives find healing, where God is honoured and worshipped. A great church is a church that the community would miss if it were not there, a place where people come to find answers to life’s big and small questions. A great church will be a part of the DNA of the community that it serves.

Secondly, we would define our vision in terms of building a church within local communities. I’m thinking here about the opportunities in Cotton End, Shortstown and the Wixams.

#5 A people in partnership

1 Cor.12 paints a vivid picture of partnership. In the middle of his discussion about spiritual gifts, Paul presents us with this image of the church as the body of Christ. Everyone has a role to play, a gift to employ, a purpose to fulfil. We are all partners.

First we are partners with God. We are co-workers with the God who made it all, sustains it all, and will bring it all to completion. It’s his vineyard, his harvest-field, his kingdom, his call. He leads, we follow. Our question is simple: What are you doing Lord, how can I help?

Second, we are partners with each other. We have four things in common:

A shared vision
A shared set of values
A shared ministry
A shared mission

It seems to me that these 5 things are really important if we want to be clear about what we're doing, or "being" here. Perhaps the concept of partnership is less important than values, vision, mission and purpose, and maybe we'll rewrite this in the context of core convictions a la Saddleback. I don't know. What I do know is that this outline has helped me get clearer about what I'm doing in this place.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Wedges and sticks

I've just read an article in The Baptist Times which tries, reasonably successfully, to set out both sides of the protest or not protest argument. The problem is that it becomes a choice... in the blue corner we have the EA and in the red corner Faithworks.

Part of the EA argument is that this is the thin end of the wedge. What wedge is that? Is this a prophetic statement or the worried reaction of nervous Christians?

And what if it becomes costly to be a Christian? What if we might end up in prison for holding fast to our principles? It happens elsewhere in the world, why should we have such high expectations that we have some sort of right not to suffer?

I know that the main thrust of the argument is that the proposed law lacks clarity and there are fears that while it is supposed to "protect" the rights of faith groups, it is in fact far from clear how that will work in practice. But I can't help worrying about some of the interviews I've seen and heard with those who would protest.

A few years ago, when I was last on sabbatical (which reminds me that it's time I was again), I went to visit a good friend of mine who happens to be a single, male Methodist minister. As part of my visit we planned to go to Lindisfarne for a couple of nights. The only room available was a twin room. In the current climate, I wonder if the owners of a Christian guest house would turn my Methodist friend and myself away if we asked for a twin room for fear of what we might get up to?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

More on SOR's

Faithworks has a valuable statement on their website here.

Here's an extract:

Following Jesus’ example

We celebrate the different contributions and views of the whole Christian church to the issue of human sexuality. We believe that our approach to the SORs and to Equality & Diversity legislation, which focuses on human dignity and unconditional service, allows for distinctive Christian views of sexuality while encouraging unconditional love and service. This is the Jesus model.

Christians are called to follow Jesus’ example, and he says remarkably little about sexuality in scripture. Rather, he treats all people he comes across with love and acceptance, and does not refuse his service to anyone, even if he does not agree with their lifestyle.

We encourage our members, and all those of Christian faith, to follow Jesus’ example and to serve all people, regardless of their lifestyle, by expressing welcome and recognising the dignity of every human being. We believe that a strong sense of Christian identity and purpose enables the Church to provide goods and services in a non-discriminatory way, without that identity being diminished.

You may also want to look at the Evangleical Alliance website to read what they have to say. Their article is found here.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Why I'm not protesting

My mind has been turning over the issues relating to the proposed Sexual Orientation Regulations. I've had the usual flurry of emails exhorting me to sign this petition or write this letter. I've been told all about the potential threat to ministry and the possibility that I might be asked to do something which, in all good conscience, would run counter to the gospel itself.

But I'm bothered.

I'm bothered because when I preach, I preach a gospel of good news and a gospel of grace. I tell the congregation week after week that God loves them and longs to build a deepening relationship with them. I might even quote the old hymn Just as I am without one plea...

And therein lies my problem.

If I can come just as I am, why can't everyone else? Why should everyone else bend to my pattern first and come to Jesus second, when I came to Jesus first and then I started to work out how to behave.

When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he responded with what must have been a well-known abbreviation. He said, "Love God wholeheartedly and love everyone else like you want to be loved."

I want to be respected. I want other people to treat me well. I don't want to be rejected because of what I believe, or worse still, persecuted for it.

So I don't think I can sign a petition that calls for the law to protect my right to refuse to serve someone because I don't approve of their lifestyle choices. If I did that, I wouldn't do weddings for people who live together, I wouldn't do funerals for people who didn't believe, and I wouldn't care for people I don't like.

That's not my kind of faith. I think I'll find a different path through the moral and theological challenges.