Friday, April 30, 2010

iPastor update

I sent some feedback to the developers about this app and got a reply very quickly. Apparently the thing with the review sorting on the first item in a list only is a bug that they hadn't picked up before. So I guess we can expect a fix when they can resolve the problem.

This just goes to show that it's worth the effort of letting someone know, just in case it's not meant to work that way!!


iPastor is another little app that comes from the same stable as Prayer Journal. It is designed to be a simple way of recording and tracking ministry needs. The basic idea is good and the interface very simple to use, but it does suffer from one or two minor limitations.

There is something GTD-like (Getting Things Done) about the organisational structure of iPastor. You can assign both a situation (health crisis, grief, chemical dependency etc.) to a need and also a care strategy. Then, when you review the needs, you can do so by strategy or situation. You can also delegate care and review by delegate too. All very useful.

Recording a ministry needs allows for a fair amount of detail. You have space for name, address details, contact numbers, email etc. There's one interesting box 'connections' that allows you to select from a short list of things like small group member, church member, family or friend, prospect and referral.

But this is where the application begins to let itself down. The lists are a little restrictive and there appears to be no way to edit them or add to them. Maybe you don't want too many categories, but it would be nice to be able to make a few personalised adjustments.

Another improvement would be in the way the reviewing process works. As far as I can tell, fields such as 'situation' and 'care strategy' are sorted on the basis of the first item you choose. So, for example, if yo choose "send a card" and "home visit" for your strategy, when you review by strategy it will only show up under "card". That means you have to be careful to check each recorded need for any additional data.

Hopefully these are just minor things that can be fixed or will be fixed as the product develops. I still think I'll persevere with it for a while, just to see how helpful it can be.

One last thing. When you're filling in the details of a particular person and their need, it would be great if it could use your contacts to grab information. I know very little about the internal workings of the basic  architecture of the operating system, but if this can be done easily, it would speed up data entry, at least for some people. Thinking about, being able to add them to my contact list would be good too, rather like you can when you get a 'phone call or message from someone who isn't yet in your address book.

Phil. 4:19

And my God shall meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

I have no problem with the veracity of this verse, I just struggle to work out what my real needs might be! In the story of Job, everything we might consider important is stripped away from his life. He sits in the dust, scraping his sores and grieving his losses.

You would think at that point that Job just needed a bit of encouragement, a sign that things would improve. In fact his greatest need turns out to be the strength and courage to hold on to his faith. In the end of course we know that God blesses Job with an abundance of flocks and family once again. But in the midst of all the bad times, it was faith and trust that carried Job through.

Perhaps our greatest need, a need that can only be met through Jesus, is the need for the faithfulness to hang in there. To hang in there when prayers don't seem to be answered, when encouragement seems far away and when the future looks far from bright.

Paul was in prison, how certain he was that it would end in his death we don't really know. Isn't it a challenge that a man in prison can describe himself as being poured out like an offering and yet in the same letter he can talk about joy fourteen times! Perhaps joy, like contentment is a rare and precious jewel found in the glorious riches of God.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Phil. 4:18

I have received full payment and even more

It's clear from all that Paul has said in his letter that when he talks about payment he is not thinking about financial gain. He is grateful naturally, for the generous care and support the Philippians have show to him.  But Paul's focus is always on the kingdom of God and the purposes of God being worked out. He is now amply supplied and living in plenty, but that doesn't matter. In fact, Paul says, their gift is to the credit of the Philippians not to him.

In our compensation and "I know my rights" culture, we are not predisposed to consider ourselves rewarded unless we can see some material benefit accrued. Paul's contentment allows him to see a reward that comes from God's own hand. It is the upward call that he talked about earlier, the running of the race, the living of a life worthy of the gospel, the pouring out of oneself in the cause of the kingdom. All these things contribute to the real reward.

Tim Chester on Understanding your neighbourhood

This is a great post from Tim Chester about neighbourhoods. In it he asks some key questions under the headings of when, where and what. In essence, understanding our community requires us to understand when, where and how they experience community in order to join them there rather than expect them to come to our expression of community in church. I hesitate to call these "the" crucial questions, but they are certainly some of the key questions that we need to think about from the when, where and what of being church.

Where: Where should you be to have missional opportunities?

When: When should you be available to have missional opportunities?

What: What will church look like for people in this neighbourhood?

The longer we continue to define and describe church in terms of how we want it to look, the further we will find ourselves from the very people we are trying to reach.

Read the whole post (and the previous one) to get the bigger picture.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Phil. 4:11

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

The Puritans used to call contentment a rare jewel. Rare indeed! How many of us can truly say that we have learned contentment whatever the circumstances? We can be content under certain circumstances, but "whatever the circumstances". Well that's a little more demanding.

There's a clue to Paul's solution when he says, "I can do all this through Christ who gives me strength." Paul has made a decision that he will view his life only from the context of serving God. He looks to Jesus Christ for his contentment. In Acts 20 he declares that his life is worth nothing unless he completes the work God has called him to do. In Philippians he speaks about counting all as a loss, of death as gain and service as continued joy. His perspective is crucial to his contentment.

So how content are we? Do we drift through life and think we're content, or do we strive for more things in order to feel better about ourselves? Neither is right. Paul held nothing back, he went after the things of God with passion. He never drifted. Don't mistake apathy or inaction for contentment.

An American president was once asked, "How much money is enough?" He replied, "Just a little bit more." If your contentment comes through gaining that little bit more, you will be disappointed. But if you invest your life fully in the purposes and mission of God, then contentment will surely come as you find your fulfilment in serving God wholeheartedly.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Prayer Journal for iPhone

A few weeks ago I came across this app for my iPhone. It works on iPod Touch too, so don't worry, you don't have to get the phone to get the app!

At £0.59 it won't break the bank and it might just inspire you to pray a little more often.

The interface is simple and easy to use. Simply add prayer requests as you go and then choose how you want to pray. There is the option to go through the whole list, a specific person, or a portion of the list.

It is a really helpful and simple application that can only get better. But then again there's not much I would change, except maybe the ability to group items in some way. And maybe a desktop version with synching would be nice but not a reason not to try this app out.

Phil. 4:9

Whatever you have learned or received from me, or seen in me–put it into practice.

I remember a conversation with a would-be housegroup leader many years ago. We were talking about their desire to start a new group and about how willing they were to take on the challenge of hosting and leading this new venture. They had great plans. They had a curriculum set out for the group to follow, and they had identified potential group members.

And then they used an interesting phrase. "When I do the teaching part of the meeting" was the phrase they used. Interesting I thought. This group, even before it began, had a clearly defined leader and clearly defined set of roles and people to fill those roles. The would-be group leader was setting themselves up as the authority who would keep the group on track and teach them what they needed to know.

I don't think they saw it this way and I'm certainly not suggesting that they had any desire to be seen as the source of all knowledge in the group. I suspect they were simply building on a model that they'd experienced themselves over many years of small groups in church. They were following the teach and learn part of Paul's injunction.

But what about the modelling part of what Paul has to say? We love to pass on our wisdom and knowledge, but how ready are we for others to follow our pattern? Do we have a pattern worth following! And what if we built our small groups around the principle of doing life together and learning from one another's examples?

I worry sometimes that we've turned following Jesus into an intellectual exercise that focusses on building up a great body of understanding that produces little life-change. Churches all over the country cry out for more teaching when what they actually need  are more opportunities to experience God's amazing grace and to share that grace with others.

Perhpas then we will have an example worth calling others to follow.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Phil. 4:8

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

So how is your thought life? Would you say that your thoughts generally and consistently turn towards the noble, pure, right, lovely and admirable things in life, or do they drift in another direction? Bombarded as we are with all sorts of images that are less than noble, far from pure and often not praiseworthy, it is a challenge, but to which we can surely rise.

Jesus said that when the Spirit of God comes he would guide us into truth. Paul reminds us in Romans that our goal is simply to remain in step with the Spirit as he leads us through life. I'm glad that there is not a one size fits all pattern of how to do this. You must find you own rhythm of life, but there are things that help. Paul's injunction to focus our thoughts on good things is one of those things.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Why I like John Piper's prayer

I blogged Piper's prayer earlier this morning. But I've been thinking about it in the last half hour and wondering what it was about the prayer that drew me to it. As I thought about it, I began to understand why I liked it.

Firstly, it's not about what needs fixing. I've heard a lot of prayers for the local church over the years. A lot of them go something like this: "Oh God how long do I have to put up with this?" They are not always put so starkly, but the underlying theme is not far from this model. Whether it's consumerism or just plain human frailty, church gets the short end of the stick a lot of the time.

Secondly, Piper's prayer doesn't focus on the ministries of the church. In fact it doesn't focus on the ministry of the church at all when you think about it. The focus is upon the work of God. It isn't a prayer asking God to bless what we are doing, rather it's a prayer asking God to do what he alone can do.

Thirdly, there's an element of self-realisation. In other words, when he prays for change in the life of the disciple, he prays things that affect us all. We all all want to be more bold in our witness, more fervent in our prayers, more diligent and engaged in our personal Bible reading.

And fourthly, while it has this element of self in it, it remains a prayer of blessing on the whole church. What better way to pray for the church of which you are a part than to bless it. Even when it's a struggle, there is no excuse for not blessing the church that bears the name of Jesus.

Daily prayers

Some time ago I began to write down a list of things for which I seek to pray daily in the life of our church. If you are looking for a daily prayer to pray for your church then you could try a variation of John Piper's prayer as he begins his eight month leave of absence.

Would you pray with me for a great awakening that results in hundreds coming to Christ, marriages being reconciled and renewed, wayward children coming home, long-standing slavery to sin being conquered, spiritual dullness being replaced by vibrant joy, weak faith being replaced by bold witness, disinterest in prayer being replaced by fervent intercession, boring Bible reading being replaced by passion for God’s word, and lukewarm worship being replaced by zeal for the greatness of God’s glory?

I will pray for you every day to this end . . . and more. Lord, open the heavens while I am gone.

You can read the whole letter he has written the church here.

Phil. 4:7

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Having encouraged his readers to pray about everything and worry about nothing, Paul offers them the peace of God as the positive outcome of choosing to pray rather than worry. Peace is something for which many of us long, but that seems to elude us for some reason.

The problem is like this: I pray about the things that are concerning me (a euphemism for worry), and then after I've prayed I tend to continue to worry! Okay, so sometimes I have a wonderful sense of the peace of God, but often times it's simply not that easy. I cannot get the peace of God via some mystical vending machine. Prayer in, peace out.

If all I do is to present God with a long and lengthening list of things, and if I fail to remind myself in prayer about the the ways in which God cares for me and loves me and has my best interests at heart, in other words his faithfulness, then I just return to worrying about things. I lay my burdens down only to pick them up again.

So how can I know the peace of God? It's not a complete answer, but one of the keys for me is trust. Do I trust God enough to believe that he has everything under control. When Daniel's friends stood in front of the furnace they made a statement of faith, a statement of trust. "Even if God doesn't rescue us, we will still trust him. Nothing changes," they might have said.

Peace, it seems, comes through trust, more so that it does through outcomes.

A talking donkey

Jeff Noble has posted some notes from a talk at a conference he's attending. It's a reflection on the story of Balaam and his donkey. Having just read the story in our Old Testament history reading plan that Anne and I are doing together, it was good to read these reflections.

One of the tough parts of the story is that God tells Balaam to go and then stands in his way. At face value it seems rather odd, very much like an earlier story in Exodus about Moses and God's attempt to take his life.

Mark Batteson, who gave the talk, makes the following helpful observation:

Some times God gets in our way to show us his way.

I also like the alternative moral to the story, but you'll have to visit Jeff's blog to read that for yourself!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Phil. 4:5

Let your gentleness be evident to all

Have you ever stopped to think about what gentleness might actually be, or have you been lulled into to thinking it has to do with fabric conditioners and washing-up liquids! I wonder what we'd use to describe the opposite of gentleness? Rough, coarse, abrasive.

In our modern-day self-interest driven society, the gentle people get pushed aside, overlooked and generally trampled on by others. At least that's what we are lead to believe. I'm not so sure that our society is any more self-centred than it once was. We give more, care more about the poorest people in the world, are more aware of the disparities that exist. Sometimes I think we just don't have the time to be anything other than selfish. We have to get to work, we have to get things done, we can't afford to hold the door open for the next person because it will cost us time, time we can ill afford to waste on such courtesies.

But the problem with gentleness is trying to define it. Paul qualifies gentleness with kindness, compassion and patience in Colossians 3, and with godliness, righteousness, faith, love and endurance in 1 Timothy. The one thing that must be said is that gentleness does equal niceness.

Gentleness may need to take a firm hand, it may need to be assertive, but it never forces or drives its point home. The gentle person pursues the truth whatever the cost rather than trying always to be liked.

So don't confuse Paul's challenge to let your gentleness be evident to all with the desire not to upset anyone and always to be thought of well.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Phil. 4:6

Do not be anxious about anything

When it comes to favourite passages in the Bible, this ought to rat in everyone’s top ten at the very least. Not so much because of the comfort it brings, or the truth it tells, or the lifestyle it inspires, but because of the simple challenge it present to us.

In its context, Paul presents us with a simple principle for life.

Don’t worry about anything, pray about everything.

Simple. Really simple. In fact it’s so simple even we could probably manage it if we had the determination.

So how about it? How about putting this principle into action right now. Today and every day. The very next time you find yourself worrying about something stop. Stop and pray about it instead. Make that conscious choice to pray instead of panic.

I wonder what difference it might make.

To see the Kingdom

A simple prayer for this week: "Lord, open my eyes so that I might see the signs of the Kingdom."

As I spent my time this morning praying for all sorts of situations and people and other things to do with the life of the church, I found myself asking God to show me the signs of the kingdom, signs I so easily miss when I'm consumed with my own needs and desires.

When I think about encouragement, it's seeing God at work that gives me the most joy.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Phil. 3:20-21

And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

To our ears there is little that is controversial in Paul's declaration of Jesus as Lord and Saviour, nor indeed in the previous statement about our citizenship. But to first century readers in a Roman colony of Philippi's standing, a veritable hornet's nest is provoked by these words.

For the followers of Jesus, the governing authority in their lives is not the colony but heaven itself. This does not promote civil disobedience as the normal way of life for Christians, Paul makes that clear enough in Romans 13. That's not his point. His point is that we belong to a different kingdom with different standards and different expectations of its citizens.

And now Paul makes a stronger assertion by using language typically used of Caesar to describe the role fulfilled by Jesus. He is "Saviour and Lord", Roman terminology used for Caesar. Having restored order throughout the empire, Augustus was declared to be "saviour of the world" and the sovereign ruler of it. Paul, in contrast, now tells the church that they have another saviour and another lord. Our Saviour is not in Rome but in heaven.

Our hope and expectation rests not on what a man, or woman, in government might do for us, but on all that Jesus has done for us.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Phil. 3:20

our citizenship is in heaven

I like this perspective. It reminds me that what I see is what is in front of me, but it's not necessarily the same view as it is from heaven. In Ephesians Paul talks about our being seated with him in heavenly places as he talks about the risen Jesus. It changes your perspective when you try to view things from a heavenly rather than a earthy perspective.

For example, you stop thinking about the short term 5, 10 or 50 year plan and start to think about eternity. You stop expecting God to fix everything now because you know you've got a long way to go. The focus of what is urgent and what is not shifts too. Suddenly you realise that there is much to be done this side of heaven.

But being a citizen of heaven also makes us an ambassador of heaven. We represent the king of kings to the world. We are expected to live like citizens if we are citizens. It's not easy I know. Take for instance the person who offered me their car park ticket because there was still an hour left on it. They were most confused when I said no thank you. It may be a small thing, but we all know that those tickets say "Not transferable" on them. We justify accepting one because we think we're not harming anyone, but in truth we simply ought not to do it. If the law forbids it why would we think it's not dishonouring to God to take it? As citizens of heaven we are expected to act with honour and in righteousness. You get the point.

There are so many things to consider, the list I think is probably quite long. I've chosen to hide one friend's status on a social networking site because their language has become offensive and dishonouring of God. They are not a good ambassador at the moment.

My most regular question is: How will this action honour or dishonour God. And then I choose. I often fail, but I have no excuse.

How are you living as a citizen of heaven? Does you language, you attitude, your lifestyle make heaven a place others would want to spend eternity?

Prime-time debates

I didn't see all of last night's "ground-breaking" first in British politics, but I saw enough. Personally, I didn't like the format. What I saw seemed at times to be just another rehash of the adversarial way we do things in politics and in law and even talent shows. The arguments appeared to be that a Labour government will spend money it hasn't got, a Conservative government will save money the average person cal ill afford and the Liberal Democrats are offering a choice not enough people will be brave enough to make.

My personal experience of politics has been a 13 year Labour government preceded by 18 years of Conservative government, preceded by a series of much shorter exchanges of power through the 60's and 70's. I wonder if our voting has become more selfish over those years. Perhaps it's more that the main stream parties have fought it out on near identical ground. It's like the boat race, with the Lib-dems shouting, "Move apart" as oars clash over the same water.

Maybe there's room for some radical thinking. Maybe someone might point out that the reason you save is in order to provide for yourself in retirement and not to ensure the next generation has a deposit for a house.  Maybe it's time for some radical thinking about what basic healthcare means in the face of ever advancing treatments and costs.

Perhaps there's room for real debate rather than the sometimes vacuous sniping that suggests that the biggest fear in politics today is an unfortunate sound-byte or actually appearing to answer the question.

What I am glad about is that once the dust settles after this election, there's a band of MP's that will go about the business of seeking to do the best they can to serve the people who elected them. I still believe that, even though the evidence sometimes suggests otherwise.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Phil. 3:12-14

I press on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of me

In Acts 20 Paul declares that his life is worth nothing unless he completes the work into which he has been called by God. We see the same resolute commitment to the the purposes of god in his reflections here. Paul talk a bout pressing on, about taking hold. Previously Paul had been motivated by religious zeal, now he is motivated by grce and the gospel of grace. Knowing that his justification doesn’t come from himself and his own efforts, Paul is now free to purse the life-giving purposes of God, the “upward call” to heaven.

Perhaps, if Paul had the opportunity to watch the occasional film, he might have quoted Galaxy Quest at this point: Never give up, never surrender! Not in an arrogant way but in a determined way, a way that refuses to be deflected from the purposes of God. discerning those purposes is another matter, but the whole-hearted commitment required to follow them through is beyond question.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Phil. 3:8-9

that I may gain Christ and be found in him

This little phrase is tucked away in a much larger and possibly more grand statement by Paul. But it seems oh so significant to me. As Paul presses on and fights the fight, as he contends for the gospel and faces hostility and rejection, his sole purpose, his only goal is not selfish ambition, but a desire to connect more deeply with Christ. To "gain Christ, and to be found in him". What greater passion could we possibly have?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Phil. 3:7

But what ever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ

How do you view your life? It's a more difficult question than some of us imagine. It's easy to think less of yourself, to belittle one's own abilities and gifts. There's nothing wrong with confidence unless it is totally misplaced.

But Paul is not talking about self-confidence or personal financial profit. Paul was a Pharisee. He knew about profit and loss from the perspective of keeping the rules and regulations of religious faith. He knew too that grace sets you free from a balance sheet mentality about faith. Paul would have agreed with the simple statement that Christ and the cause of Christ is the only thing worthy of full devotion.

The balance sheet approach to the Christian life asks, "How much is enough?" It is more concerned with knowing if 75% commitment is enough to pass, or if 65% will do. The fully devoted life, by contrast, asks, "How can I serve Christ more effectively in every situation?"

Look at the questions you ask, and then ask yourself if you are more concerned with having done enough or if you are more concerned with doing everything you can for the glory of God.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Salt in the wound?

Is it me, or does this seem crazy to you too?

Expenses MPs to receive legal aid

Perhaps we should have a caption competition! Make a sentence reflecting your view of this headline from the following words:

biscuit, takes, just, now, about, that, the.

Seriously, don't they get it? Don't they realise that faith in politicians has been seriously undermined and this just adds insult to injury. And they will probably win their cases, and then go after the newspapers for damages or write a book about it all.

I know this might sound odd for a man to say, but if it were not for the suffragets and the things they endured to win the right to vote, I'm not sure I'd bother on May 6th.

Phil. 3:2

watch out for those dogs

Even in Paul's day there were those who would distract the church, who would fail to fully understand the implications of grace. It wasn't their fault, I don't think they set out to undermine the gospel. They had grown up with the Law and the demands of the system. Grace must have appeared to break all the rules. It still does.

If the truth be told, we find it hard to not have rules. We find it hard not to have a measure against which we an assess the spiritual position of others. So we add to grace. We make behaviour more important than believing and as a result we make belonging exclusive to those who believe what we believe, do what we do, read what we read. When anyone comes along who does not fit our model, we exclude them because they are dangerous or because they just don't fit.

But grace demands more of us than does legalism.

Grace demands that we are inclusive rather than exclusive. It demands that we accept others before we judge them. And I can already hear the questions. Questions I too would want to ask. I remain fully committed to personal salvation through a relationship of faith with Jesus, just in case you were thinking I'd become rather liberal! Inclusive is not the same as universalist. But that's actually not the issue here.

The issue is about the things we might do or expect that make us more like the folk of Paul's day that demanded that the Gentiles become Jews to be part of the new community of faith. Every time we hear the distant echo of "become like me" we should also hear the alarm bells ringing. This is not our goal, and grace helps us keep that perspective.

So look to be full of grace and not full of rules and regulations. Be generous with encouragement and let God do the work of transforming lives.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Prayer labyrinth

The labyrinth was built using three gazebos set out to provide the path that ended at the cross and the empty tomb. There were 12 stops to make, each one had a text to read, an object to look at and an opportunity to respond.

Here are a couple of pictures:

Phil. 3:1

Finally, brother and sisters, rejoice in the Lord.

Easier said than done for most of us! We're not naturally given over to rejoicing, or so it seems. I remember being sent on a problem-solving course when I used to work in R&D. Now in research you have to have a fairly positive attitude towards problem solving. It is, after all, part of the staple diet of research. And it seems to me that in order to be truly creative about solutions, you have to be able to see the good in even the most absurd suggestion because you never know where it might lead you.

Maybe the solution to the problem of rejoicing is to be found in the ability always to see the hand of God at work. Paul certainly had enough evidence to the contrary. He was in prison, he had been beaten, his fellow Jews had tried to murder him on more than one occasion. His closest friends had abandoned him, his co-worker had been so ill they had nearly died, and those are just the things I can think of at this moment!

And yet Paul goes on about joy in this letter to the Philippians. fourteen times, as I recall, he mentions joy in some way or another. I don't think Paul was given to superficial optimism, I just think he had a perspective that allowed him to see God at work where others might not.

If you struggle to rejoice, to see even a glimmer of hope that God might be at work in your situation, then perhaps you need to learn to begin your prayers with a little thanksgiving. Give thanks to God who he is (just as Jesus taught us to pray), give thanks that you are not defined by any situation but by the grace and mercy you've received form the God who loved you enough to die on your behalf.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Phil. 2:21

For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

Paul talks about Timothy as someone who genuinely cares about the church. "There's no one quite like Timothy", Paul says. He is an example of all the things about which Paul has just been speaking. He shares the same attitude as Jesus, he cares about the interests of others (2:4) and just about himself.

Of course it's not just about putting others before self. Paul now introduces a higher calling, the interests of Jesus Christ. What matter most to Jesus? It's a question that deserves an answer.

For a long time it seems that we've thought that what matters most to Jesus is the purity if the church, the quality of the worship, the narrowness of doctrine. There is a church in America that has come to the public platform because of its extreme views. They reach a vitriolic message of hatred towards the world. It is far from pleasant and certainly not honouring of God.

They may be extreme, but even in our mild-mannered moments we are prone think that God is more concerned with judgement than he is with grace, with sound doctrine than he is with abundant life.

It seems to me that what matters most to Jesus is grace. He does not long to judge but to embrace. The thought of judgement makes him weep, the offer of grace exacted a higher price that he was willing to pay.

Family of fortress?

Here is a very helpful and thought provoking article about the church. In it the author, Jonathan Dobson, identifies what I think is a core challenge that we face. Maybe always have faced. It's the challenge to be the church rather than just doing church. It's the kind of language we hear a lot these days, and for good reason. The church has wandered so far from its intended pattern that I sometimes wonder if the New Testament people would even recognise it as the church anymore.

It is of course much more difficult and much demanding to be the church than it is to do church. Being church takes time and energy as we seek to live as a community, a family and not just an organisation.

In the article three types of church are described:

  • The fortress church, where the goal is doctrinal conformity and mission is about tossing grenades of judgement into society.
  • The shopping mall church, full of sales-people and consumers.
  • The cemetery church, lost in time, lifeless and irrelevant.

All three lack the essential characteristic of church. Community. But community is costly, it's hard to achieve. It is so much easier to walk the old paths of doctrinal security and consumer Christianity. It's so much easier to criticise from the comfort of the pew or chair than it is to become something other, to become a family.

The article is well worth a read, so please do go and check it out.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Phil. 2:15

shine like stars

We "shine like stars" as we "hold out the word of life" according to Paul here in Philippians 2. How we "hold out the word of life" may be different for one person than it is for another, but I suspect there are some common elements.

Being a person of grace would be one of them. Grace is, or should be, the cornerstone of our experience of God. If you've not experienced grace or are not experiencing grace, then maybe you need to sort a few things out! Our ability to share grace is directly proportional to our ability to receive it.

A second common element would probably be blessing. Are we able to bless those who criticism or reject or hurt us?

Apparently I achieved a first on Good Friday. I was the first person ever at the celebration in the park to get heckled. I don't think it was personal, I just happened to be the person speaking, actually praying at the time. I'm not about to hold myself up as a great example of how to respond, but in that moment I had a choice. I could have chosen to ignore what happened, or I could have chosen to make a joke or retaliated. I chose instead to pray for them, to ask God to bless them in every possible way.

Another time I might have responded differently, but I believe that God prompted me to respond with a blessing not a curse.

So we are to shine like stars. Shine by being full of grace and overflowing with blessing, It's not a bad place to start.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Good Friday labyrinth

I'm sitting in the church hall watching as people slowly make their way through the labyrinth. It is very moving.

My prayer is that through this simple presentation folk will find a moment of profound connection with the Easter story.

As I sit looking at the cross and the empty tomb I feel a great sense of gratitude to God for all that he has done for me.

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It's Friday but...

I remember Tony Campolo telling the story of a preaching competition. An odd concept to a get one's head around. He talked about his contribution and then he told the story of the preacher that followed him.

His message was simple, it had to be because time was limited. He kept returning to a simple phrase as he spoke. "It's Friday," he would say, "but Sunday's coming!"

I can't think about Good Friday without thinking about Easter Sunday. And I'm not in the mood to think otherwise! with all our traditions we  might just be in danger of forgetting that Friday can only make sense in the light of Sunday. Resurrection is the vindication of the message of the cross. Jesus did not die for political or religious reasons, he died for eternal reasons. Our faith is a 'both and' faith, the cross and the resurrection.

So today, I will celebrate both these things. If Jesus had not died, there would be no forgiveness of sin, if he were not raised then there would be no hope of new beginnings.