Monthly Archives: January 2006

Disillusionment?

Emerging Grace: Disillusionment Can Be Good I hope this title is correct. Right now I am struggling a bit. I am not sure why God has called us here. I don’t sit easy with my denomination – to survive I sit as loose as possible to the structures. Admittedly I am the sort of person for whom the glass is habitually half-empty. But I pray God will use this experience for good.

Hat tip to Randy McRoberts for the link.

20 Ways To Maintain A Healthy Level Of Insanity

This made me LOL:

20 Ways To Maintain A Healthy Level Of Insanity: Ian’s Messy Desk

Hat tip to Richard Hall for recommending this blog.

Selwyn Hughes

Author and preacher Selwyn Hughes died on Monday. His is a sad loss to the Christian community. When I left my last appointment I was given his autobiography as a leaving present by two dear friends. For a man who has achieved as much as him, it could have been an autohagiography (I’ll invent that word if it doesn’t exist). But it is far from that. It is one of the most humble autobiographies I have ever read. Full of sel-examination and frank admission where mistakes were made or pride got in the way, the tone of his writing says as much as the content.

Rest in peace, Selwyn: while you know of many lives you touched, there are thousands and millions you haven’t a clue you affected.

Reopening A Refurbished Church Building

My main church in my new appointment was in the midst of a building refurbishment when I arrived. I have just written the following for our February newsletter, Topic. I am seeking to address in brief form the problem of becoming building-centric.
 

Dear Friends

 

It was an unexpected early Christmas present. There we were, holding our communion service on Christmas Eve in the refurbished worship area. I had not expected to be in there until Christmas Day. So much hard work by church members, friends and contractors, and there we were. Phew!

 

OK, so there are some furnishings still to come and a bit more fundraising to do, but it’s tempting to breathe a huge sigh of relief that the project has basically been concluded.

 

You’ll notice I used the word ‘tempting’. That was a deliberate choice of word. We would fall into temptation if we think the project has finished. It would be the same error that an engaged couple would make if they planned only for their wedding day and not for their marriage. We have not reached the end, only the end of the beginning.

 

As David Hodgkinson rightly reminds us elsewhere in this issue of Topic, our purposes were not only to have premises fit for the twenty-first century; they were also to be for the sake of fulfilling ‘Our Calling’ in Broomfield.

 

In other words, if we think the refurbishment has been for ourselves (rather like a redecoration of our own homes) we are off target. Archbishop William Temple once said that the church was the only organisation that existed for the benefit of those who did not belong to it. And Emil Brunner wrote, “The church exists by mission as fire exists by burning.”

 

So our focus has to shift to mission: to sharing Jesus Christ in word and deed. Our much-improved premises will be a resource for that, and they will also be a base from which we go out into the community.

 

Exactly how? I have to be honest and say I don’t know. And that’s good. Because it means that our call now is a call to prayer. We don’t know, but Someone does.

 

And it is not the only sign that we are being called to prayer. Those who came to the open Church Council meeting about children’s ministry in December heard calls for a new dependence upon prayer.

 

Which makes it a twin focus, then: mission and prayer. And the two go together.

 

One of my Christmas presents was the book ‘Red Moon Rising’, the story of the 24-7 Prayer Movement. The leaders of 24-7 practise this twin focus: they call it intimacy and involvement. Intimacy with God (prayer) and involvement with his world (mission).

 

Who will answer the call? Will we? Will you? Will I?

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My Little Heresy

Last night I was preparing my order of service for this Sunday’s Covenant Service. At the end I put down ‘Blessing, Dismissal’. It’s what I’ve written for years. This morning it doesn’t look too good in black and white. ‘Blessing’ – I have no problem with that. It’s that word ‘dismissal’. It makes it sound like church is over for another week, and that’s where I think I’ve slipped into heresy.
 
The trouble is, that is how we have conceived of church for far too long. It’s a certain wooden take on the Greek word that the New Testament translates as ‘church’, ekklesia. Ekklesia was the word used for the assembly. So the notion goes that church exists when we assemble together.
 
But I can’t see church that way any more. It has to be more. More literally ekklesia refers to those who have been ‘called out’ – it denotes the holy calling of God’s people. This calling doesn’t just exist for an hour or two on Sunday morning. It exists all the time. I rather like the notion of the Australian church leader James Thwaites in his book The Church Beyond The Congregation that Scripture has in view both the ‘church gathered’ and the ‘church dispersed’. When I say, ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord’ and the congregation replies, ‘In the name of Christ. Amen’, I am not dismissing church, I am commissioning church.
 
In the early nineties one of my ecumenical colleagues was a URC minister called Jeanne Ennals. I once took a service at ‘her’ church. She gave me a draft order of service. I remember she never called it the ‘dismissal’: It was a ‘word of mission’.
 
The challenge comes, then, in so reorientating our thinking as church leaders and the congregations we service to embrace church dispersed as well as church gathered, to move from dismissal to commission and mission. This little episode has been an uncomfortable reminder of how far my practice has to catch up with my theory.
 
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Proving Jesus Exists

According to Technorati the most-discussed news story right now is the one where the Italian Catholic priest Father Enrico Righi has been taken to court by Luigi Cascioli, his former school friend, an atheist, and is having to prove that Jesus existed. The atheist won’t allow the New Testament as evidence, nor other writers who lived later than Jesus. Rather slanting the evidence, you would have to say.
 
One of the curious things about this is to see this as an essentially modernist issue. This is a debate about ‘objective’ evidence. For all the importance that Christians happily swimming in the postmodern world put on an apologetics of lifestyle (the best argument for our faith is the transforming effect it has on our lives and how that benefits others) this debate is framed in such a way that it is no surprise to find respondents to the story at Think Christian promoting books such as Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands A Verdict and Lee Strobel’s The Case For Christ.
 
It thus serves as a wake-up call to much postmodern Christianity that the old modernism hasn’t completely gone away. Of course responsible postmodern Christian commentators know and acknowledge this, but it can sometimes be overlooked in the emerging rush. Maybe we need both kinds of apologetics.
 
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Come, Holy People

Since we moved here in August I’ve been looking for a decent record shop. There is an HMV, but the other day I discovered an independent shop that had advertised in Mojo magazine. It was called Slipped Discs II. When I found it, it looked like a dodgy old dive from the outside: tattoo parlour upstairs, some distasteful dolls linked to rather, er, Gothic movies in the window. A group of rather bohemian people were exiting as I arrived. One politely held the door for me.
 
As I wandered in, my first realisation was that although this was a dark place in more than one sense, I liked their selection of music – not least the CD reissues of old seventies titles I’d loved on vinyl. The surroundings and style might not be what I liked as a Christian, but the music made me feel at home.
 
But then I had a second experience. Jesus was there. He felt at home. There was that sense of inner spiritual peace that you cannot logically argue, but you know the source.
 
This went hand in hand with a book I am currently reading: Red Moon Rising by Pete Greig and Dave Roberts – the account of the 24-7 Prayer movement. Here is a quote from page 230 of the book. Greig is quoting a man called Ian Nicholson:
 

For 30 years … the church has been gathering to say “Come, Holy Spirit”, and in his grace he has come. But perhaps the tables are turning. Perhaps it is now the Holy Spirit’s turn, and he is saying to us, “Come, holy people.” Perhaps the Holy Spirit is waiting for us to attend his meetings in some surprising places.

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New Year Resolutions?

There are all sorts of Christian blogs on new year resolutions – e.g., here and here by Maggi Dawn. I’m not one for resolutions, they always seem a bit too legalistic for me. I prefer the notion of the Methodist Covenant Service at the beginning of the year, where we make solemn promises and commitments to God, but all in the light of his grace and unwavering love.
 
However my daily Bible reading yesterday (I use Scripture Union’s Encounter With God notes) was deeply challenging. The passage was Matthew 4:18-25. Simon and Andrew leave their nets to follow Jesus, James and John leave their boat to do the same. The notes (by John Grayston) included the following. It leaves me with questions about what it would really mean for me to get out of the ‘boat’ I am in as a Methodist minister, where a lot of people want the ‘safe’ option, the temptation is to give precisely that, and the system adds pressures in that direction, too.

The call is to leave all that is familiar, that makes sense of life and provides security … How is it that to follow Jesus has become, for so many, too easy? … What demands has our faith made of us? … Instantly, the early followers are plunged into a community where they see God at work in new ways. They live on the edge, not only in terms of the sacrifice they have made but also in the way they experience God.

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