Wednesday, December 31, 2008

So, farewell 2008



For the last few years I've used a montage to help churches reflect on the year past, and here is this year's.

It's an easier one than in years gone by, the stories this year seem to have been written in marker pen on billboards, rather than in pencil in the margins.

A small prize to the first person to corectly identify each person or story here.

My prayer for you in this year ahead is that you'd know true prosperity; that you'd have enough to meet your needs, and the needs of those God puts in your way.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

In the midst of the darkness

Our prayer for last night's midnight service, as we watched and waited for the light to break forth in darkness:

We pray with and for those who this night await the Saviour of the world to be revealed.

Lord, in the midst of the darkness, Let your light shine.

We pray for the children who will be born this night, in conditions that are hostile, inhospitable, uncomfortable and temporary.

We pray for the women and men, whose children will be born in an alien land, in a place they seek refuge, hope, peace.

Lord, in the midst of the darkness, Let your light shine.

We pray for those who this night undertake jobs unseen by others, who in the midst of their toil and labour, in the humdrum of their everyday life, need a revelation of the divine, and an assurance that they are not forgotten, not overlooked.

We pray for those who have no work, who face redundancy, or whose work and financial future seem uncertain and insecure.

Lord, in the midst of the darkness, Let your light shine.

We pray for those who hold authority to govern and judge, and for the police forces who enforce the laws of the land, who seek to keep peace.

We pray for those who are tempted to use their authority, power and influence to abuse others, or promote themselves. We pray for people who are victims of the wilful neglect or persecution of hostile governments.

Lord, in the midst of the darkness, Let your light shine.

We pray for people of other faiths, remembering that you spoke to star-gazers, and revealed the birth of your son to them. We pray that they may find the true light that gives light to all men, and come to worship him.

Lord, in the midst of the darkness, Let your light shine.

Lord we pray for ourselves, sometimes confused, often conflicted and seemingly too content. As we wait for a fresh revelation of Jesus to ignite faith in our hearts, and to reawaken passion in our mission.

Lord, in the midst of the darkness, Let your light shine.

Monday, December 22, 2008

For whose benefit?

John & Olive on 2churchmice's blog posted a thought provoking article today. Some readers may know that churches are now required to register as charitees (something many of us have not needed to do until now) and the Charity Commissioners are working aplan to get all churches registered by 2012 (starting with those who have an income of over £100,000 and then working down).

One of the areas of concern for many churches has been the need to demonstrate that they have some public benefit, a necessary condition for charitable status.

Well, the Commission has published its report into the matter and you can download the .pdf here.

John & Olive write (in the midst of a longer and brilliant post):
Now the report is out, it looks as if the Charity Commission has more confidence in the transformational power of the Gospel than some Christians, as they clearly state that ‘Charities whose aims include advancing religion do not have to undertake secular activities in addition to their religious activities in order to meet the public-benefit requirement’.

More interesting still is the fact that missional activities are specifically singled out as a key way in which Christians might demonstrate their care for their fellow citizens – by reaching out to others and sharing the good news.

I posted the comment below, and I'd be interested to hear your views:

I can’t really begin to count the number of times I’ve been encouraged to write, pray, complain, or be fearful about some piece of government legislation or other that was going to restrict the Church’s ability to be the kind of Christ-centred, loving, missional and generous community we’re called to be.

I wonder if we need to feel targetted and oppressed, as this gives us an excuse for not living up to the freedom that is, in reality, ours?

If we shrink away, and proclaim that we’re not actually doing that badly given all the oppression we’re under, and that it’s no wonder we’re in decline with the government, the culture, the media and everyone against us, then we have a ready explanation for the decline we experience.

If we come face to face with the reality that we are free, that society doesn’t hate us, that faith is not only welcome but encouraged in our culture, then we have to ask some very scary questions about what we’re doing. Challenging-everything kinda scary. Questioning what pastors have been doing scary. Shining a light on where we use resources kinda scary. And questioning the validity or understanding of most people’s faith kinda scary.

Far easier to hide under this oppressive rock…Don’t shine the light…

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

stuff

So, it's been a while since I posted (holidays, church and advent busyness etc.), so today I'll post twice.

Below is the results of a couple of evening services reflecting on Habakkuk, and here I'll bring you up to speed with a few things.

I have finally got around to watching "Constantine", the Keanu Reeves movie. I thought it was fun, some cool ideas and reflections on heaven, hell, the nature of angelic creatures (Gabriel was brilliantly re-imagined). Keanu is Keanu, he only has one style, but it really did suit this film I thought. I disagree with just about all the theology in it, but love the way that faith stories and ideas can be fodder for a mainstream movie, that there was a lot of theology in it at all was a cool thing.

I watched that film on my iPod, the first time I have, and it worked well, I watched it over the space of a couple of days, wherever I could catch 5-10 mins, so in coffee times and those occasional slack moments. The screen amazed my with the sharpness of the image, so much so that I am currently downloading Hellboy to watch next.

I also read Toby Young's "How to lose Friends and Alienate People" (yes I know with both of these I am a few years behind..) and thought it was an excellent holiday read, even if he does cop out by giving himself a happy ending. Lot's of bad language in it thought that felt quite unnecessary to the telling of an already quite funny story.

Amongst other things I'm reading now is Nigel Wright's book "A Theology of the Dark Side - putting evil in its place" I'm doing this alongside a couple of other pastors in the city, and we'll join together in January/February next year to discuss what the book is saying to us in our situations. It's interesting to read his thoughts whilst newspaper headlines are full of people being described as "pure evil".

I've been delighted to discover that John and Olive Drane have started blogging, you can find them over on 2churchmice's blog. These are two wise, inspiring and gentle people who have shaped my thinking about church, family and mission greatly.

As a family we're continuing to explore and get to know this new city, ministry in the church seems well appreciated, and we can see the signs of deeper levels of commitment from the existing church folk, as well as a visitors staying, and old friends returning.

A Habakkuk Psalm

A few weeks ago I led a 2-part series on Habakkuk in our evening services. The first week was a kind of bird's eye view, looking at the setting in the minor prophets - what they were, why they're often ignored, and why it's important to grapple with them - the situation Habakkuk was writing into, and a brief overview of the book. In the second week we looked at how Habakkuk raises questions about God's compassion, his presence and his judgement. And we saw how God dealt with these questions. Habakkuk's response to the situation he saw with his own eyes, and the conversation he has with God is to write an outpouring of praise, a psalm, meant to be read with passion.

Our response to the message, as a congreagation, was to write our won psalm, with people being invited to submit a line, or comment, or scripture. What follows below is a copy of those comments, arranged a little, and is the reult of our reflection on Habakkuk, the world we find ourselves in, and what we perceive of God's ministry in our lives.

Lord, you are the creator of all things, you hold the universe in your hands, thank you that you care for me

I know you hold the future, because you have held it in the past

Even if you slay me I will still trust you

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my saviour

I will lean not on my own understanding for your thoughts are not my thoughts

Lord, I stand in awe of you when I consider what you have done for me

The mystery of the Lord is a wonderful thing. His ways are not of this world, hallelujah!

I cast all my care on you for you care for me

Speak O Lord, I long to hear, your words that take away my fear. Those words that speak to me of love and lead me to my home above.

Lord, how marvellous are your works, continue to work in your people

Lord, I rejoice in your love me, bring the prodigals I know and love back into that place of joy, back to the place of joyful obedience to you.

Looking at the world, it is hard, but that thank you that Jesus came to heal and save, help me to trust more and rejoice

Although I am low, I will rejoice

You have come that I might have life, and have it in all fullness

Woe to my work colleagues, who trust only in their own strength, yet may they hear of your fame and trust in your Son

Open my eyes that I might see beyond the limits of human sight – give me the eyes of faith

O Lord my God, though many have turned away. Give me strength that I may hold on to you and walk in your ways

What I can't see, what I don't know, what I can't change, what I can't do: these O Lord where I trust in you

You are so faithful, your love never changes.