Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Redemptive hope

Today as I sit in my office it strikes me that it’s the 11th of September or 9/11 if you live in America. I still remember that day 13 years ago. It was a day where the fa├žade of peace and security in the West fell away. It was a day where we realised that we had misplaced our hopes in our own superiority and strength. It was also a day where we came face-to-face with a violent hatred that left the Western world reeling with surprise and pain. The world changed on this day 13 years ago.

I don’t want to use this terrible day to pontificate or use someone else’s grief to come up with some nice platitudes about how we should live. That wouldn’t be fair, and in many ways it would demean the grief and what that day means.

But I think it helps me keep in mind the type of world we live in as we wonder where God is leading our church. It’s been part of my role to think about discipleship and evangelism during the strategic planning. And the question that springs to my mind today is how can we be disciples of Jesus and how can we spread the love of God in a post 9/11 world? God calls us to be his redemptive presence—his presence that brings peace, reconciliation, hope, forgiveness and restoration. Let’s be Jesus’ hands and feet. Let’s wrestle together about how we can be the salt and light in our world. Let’s pray that the Spirit of God goes with us. And that’s essentially what discipleship and evangelism is.

Originally penned for East Taieri Church bulletin

Not the way it's supposed to be

There was once a rich lawyer who found himself stranded when his car broke down in the middle of a rough neighbourhood—you know one of those neighbourhoods where there is constant gang warfare and the law of ‘who-holds-the-biggest-stick’ is in play. As the lawyer waited for his tow truck to arrive, five teenagers approached his car and started harassing him. Just before the incident could get too serious, the tow truck driver arrived. He took the leader of these teenagers aside and said, ‘Man, the world ain’t supposed to work like this. Maybe you don’t know that, but this ain’t the way it’s supposed to be’ (Not the Way it's Supposed to be, 7).

And I think that’s a good way to understand sin and the state of our world. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be. We see so much sadness and pain, brokenness and war. It’s just not the way it’s supposed to be.

After journeying through Martin’s excellent series on ‘Making Space for the Gospel’, I have been wondering, ‘Well what is the gospel?’ ‘Gospel,’ quite simply means ‘good news.’ And the good news is that even though the world isn’t the way it’s supposed to be, God is making it right again. The good news is salvation for those who are dying, social justice for those who are mistreated, hope for those who have lost hope, beauty in a world that is marred by brokenness, peace to those who have only known violence. This is what God is doing in our world. And God calls all of us to join him in brining hope, peace, joy, beauty and salvation to our world. To make right that which is not the way it’s supposed to be. To make space for the gospel in our lives.

Originally penned for East Taieri Church bulletin

To be a Christ-centred Church

At FUEL this term, we are looking at what it means to be a Christ-centred church. We will be journeying through 1 Corinthians together to see what it says about church, what practices the Bible is calling us to adopt and how we can be God’s church in the world.

Often times, church feels like an event to me. We plan a church service adding in the things that we feel are relevant for that day. And then we execute that plan. And that’s necessary. We need to have well-thought out services that lead us to worship God together and cause us to stop and listen to what God is saying to us today. However, the question that every new generation needs to ask is how can we be the church? Church is not just an event on a Sunday morning, but it’s the people of God called by God and brought together by God to be his hands and feet in the places that we find ourselves in: our home spaces, our work places, our recreational spaces.

At FUEL, we want to go on the journey together to ask these questions and contribute to this conversation. But it’s something that we all should be asking. How can we be the church in our day and age and place? How can we be Christ’s redeeming presence? But perhaps the first question to ask is why do we need to be the church? I invite you all to share in this conversation, and ask and pray what God is calling us to do as his church, his people.

Originally penned for East Taieri Church bulletin

The interfering God

As a pastor, I like to preach and pray with people. I also like planning church services which help bring people closer to God. And sometimes that works out as I hope but often it doesn’t. And occasionally God encounters people in ways that are completely unexpected.

Last Sunday night, Brad Thorn came to speak. That, as well as having Brooke Hooper’s baptism, attracted a number of people from Taieri College who wouldn’t otherwise darken the doorsteps of a church. The baptism was a wonderful event as was the baptisms of Ruth, Rachel and Sarah Baines that morning. And Brad shared some great insights. Jeremy glued the night together well, and Gareth Bruce wrapped up brilliantly at the end.

But since that night we have heard a number of stories. Stories of people finding God in some way. And those stories planted little seeds into the hearts and minds of others. There is something in that that makes me stop and wonder. I wonder what God is up to in our world. I wonder how God is encountering different people—in big ways and small ways. I wonder how God is shaping and changing and transforming people in ways that we can’t plan for or imagine.

That causes me to thank God for being a God who can’t be controlled or won’t be controlled. He is a God that reaches out in surprising and wonderful ways. Sometimes he chooses to use us through our plans. But often times he chooses to use us despite our carefully laid plans. And when he does, all I can do is stop and watch him as he works within our world.

Originally penned for East Taieri Church bulletin

Christ and Culture

Over the past 2,000 years Christians have tried to answer the question of how we should most faithfully engage with the culture we live in. There is a huge array of answers that have emerged throughout church history. Some have attempted to assimilate culture into Christianity. Some have tried to force Christianity onto culture even under the threat of death. Some have responded by saying that Jesus transforms culture. Still others have tried to escape culture by running away and living in the desert.

Three things spring to my mind to aid in answering the question of how Christians should engage with the culture we live in. First, it's important to understand the context we live in. How we respond will differ based on whether we live in a Christian nation like the Roman Empire of the 4th Century AD or whether we live in 21st Century Sudan where Christians are heavily persecuted.

Secondly, there is a tension between God as Creator and human fallenness. God is the one who created cultures, languages, etc., but we are broken people who always make mistakes and sin. So all culture is good, but humans twist culture to meet our own sinful and broken ends.

Thirdly, what does the Bible say to us today? How does Scripture shape our thinking and practices? Is that counter to our culture? Or is it in line with what God wants from us?

This term we are attempting to engage with the topic of Christ and Culture at Fuel. What is our culture? What are our cultural assumptions? What does Jesus have to say about it? These are questions we want to discuss. Feel free to come along and join in the conversation!

Originally penned for East Taieri Church bulletin

Audacious love

In 1 John 3:16, the beloved disciple writes this, 'This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another.' Chick flicks and other romance movies tell us one story about love. But 1 John tells us a different story. Love is a journey of laying down our lives for others. Love is courageous, love is daring. It has the audacity to look for the best for the other and say, 'I want that for you.' Love is reaching out to a world that is broken, hurting and sinful. Love is surprising.

As we think about Good Friday, we remember the path that Jesus walked toward the cross. He had opportunities to run. Instead, Jesus' love and sense of compassion for the people compelled him to carry on walking this path.

But as we think about Easter, we remember that Jesus burst forth from the grave. We remember that he defeated the forces of sin and death. And so our walk toward the cross is not simply a depressing walk to a sad, unpleasant end. It's a journey filled with joy and hope. It's a journey toward a victorious end.

As we reflect on Good Friday and Easter this year, my hope is that we will remember the call of Jesus to follow him on this journey of love—our own walk to our own crosses. But may we also remember that it's a privilege and a joy because our God who died rose again on the third day. May we be inspired this Eater by Jesus' death and resurrection, and may we be compelled by love to share in this wonderful story—the good news of Jesus Christ.

Originally penned for East Taieri Church bulletin

Running after Jesus...kind of

A young man walked up to Jesus and asked, 'Good teacher, what does God require me to do to be saved?' Jesus says, 'Well, don't murder anyone, make sure that you are faithful to your wife, don't lie, make sure you steal from no one, respect your parents and love the people around you!'

The rich man quickly puffed his chest out and said, 'I've done all these things. Is there anything else?' The man expected Jesus to pat him on the head and say, 'Well done, son. You are the best!'

Instead, Jesus replied, 'Go and sell all the stuff you have and give it to the poor. Then you will be worthy to come and follow me.' The young man's chest deflated and he was left bitterly disappointed.

Now we can easily explain this text (Matthew 19:16-30) away, 'That was only for that one man, Jesus doesn't mean that for us!' But I don't think that does justice to the text. This young man was prepared to do anything to follow Jesus but give up his wealth.

And that makes me wonder whether we sometimes say, 'Jesus I surrender my all to you, except this thing here.'

As disciples, we are seeking to run after Jesus. But what are things in our life that hold us back from following him like this young man? What keeps us from deciding to take up our cross and follow Jesus? Maybe it's worth spending some time in prayer this week and naming those things that Jesus is asking us to surrender to him so that we may be freed to run—hard and fast—after Jesus in obedience and hope.

Originally penned for East Taieri Church bulletin

Looking for the next small thing

Father Henri Nouwen was surprised one day by a request he received. He was asked to speak at a conference on Christian Leadership in the 21st Century. Surprise quickly gave way to perplexity. It was the late 1980's. The world was in a state of constant change. How can one predict what the 21st Century will be like? No one could have imagined in the 1950's what it would be like in 20 years time!

But recent experience proved that much could be said on the topic. Nouwen was a revered Professor in Pastoral Practice. He had written a stack load of books and taught large numbers of students. He effectively influenced a generation in how they thought about Christian ministry. Then, quite unexpectedly, Nouwen was called to L'Arche, a community for people with mental disabilities. He swapped the prestigious halls of Harvard University for a simple life among simple people; the grandeur of professorship and fame for a simple ministry amongst people who didn't know or care about his accolades.

What Nouwen shared from that experience is helpful for us all. There are three major temptations we face: to be relevant, to be spectacular and to be powerful. Christian ministry is none of those things. The challenge for us isn't to be the next Billy Graham or Benny Hinn. The challenge is to serve faithfully—even if it means serving someone who isn't exactly going to raise our profile. I wonder how often we need to stop looking at Harvard University and, instead, seek to serve at L'Arche.

Originally penned for East Taieri Church bulletin.