Thursday, June 28, 2007

Sesame Street - Mahna Mahna

So, this is either:
a, a random moment to make your day brighter;
b, a profound comment on the way that some people will only accept our leadership as long as we do it their way;
or c, a trip down memory lane.

Take your pick.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Three voices are better than one

Last night I did something I hadn’t done before, it’s always a risky/fun/scary thing to do in church world.

I was on the preaching plan to speak in our current series on the Psalms, Songs of Experience. It’s a short series where we’re looking at a selected group of psalms that have a particular experience that they speak about. Last night was Psalm 139, a psalm that reflects on being known by God, and a little about knowing God too.

So far so normal. However, I’d had an idea that instead of doing a straightforward preach - something I love doing but suspect (no, am pretty convinced) has become increasingly culturally irrelevant as a means of either communication or as a learning experience – I would approach the text in a different way, by involving other people in a conversation / dialogue about the passage.

One of the delights of coming to a new place is the new friendships that develop, and especially those with people who have a heart to see God’s kingdom established. In the last few weeks I’ve been getting to know a couple who are involved in community development in Central Asia, sent as missionaries from here. They’re back home for a rest, and to reconnect a bit with the folks back here. They’re a delightful, generous, humble and open couple, and we hit it off as soon as we met. Last week we spent a couple of hours poring over the text, thinking of what it meant in both our contexts, sharing stories with each other of how these words were a reality for us, and for others we knew.

So, I began on Sunday night with a few introductory words, then picked up six key themes that I introduced, then the couple or I shared stories that illustrated each point in a real, practical and honest way.

It was a good way to get into the text, to free it from the confines of the page, and to get to know this couple and their work much better as they shared with us.

It might not be revolutionary to you, my guess is that folks have found how good this is and been doing it for ages, but I hadn’t and it came a fresh revelation of how teaching in church can encourage, educate and inspire.

At the end of our talking together we reflected on how the psalm can be either incredibly comforting and encouraging, or terrifying, depending on the hearer / reader’s understanding of God. If we have an image of God that is punitive and judgemental, never ceasing to find a reason to beat us with His big stick, the idea of being completely known can fill us with terror. The couple shared how this is a dominant view of God where they live and work. For the person with a view of God that is based on the love that is revealed in Romans 8, a love that cannot be broken by death, life, spiritual or earthly beings, that have been or will be, this sense of being known becomes a source of real, hope-filled comfort. There is freedom from our fears and darkness, because they are known, and we’re not alone.

We followed it with a Nooma DVD – Lump – that spoke of the reality of God’s unending and unchanging love for us “there’s nothing you can do to make me love you less”, a great moment.

I’d love to hear from people who have done a similar thing with the text in an otherwise traditional context. Did you carry on? Is it a part of what you do now regularly, or has it helped you transition into more contemporary ways of doing church?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Spirit-shoved Church part 2

Back at the start of March this year I blogged a little about a sermon I was preparing on the second half of Acts 11, suggesting it would be the first of many posts on the subject as I felt it was a passage that has some useful things to say to people in the emerging church context. Well, I’m sorry to keep you waiting if you have been…

In the passage (Acts 11:19-26) there are some things I want to flag up, about the relationship between the more established church and the church that was emerging in a different cultural context. The church in Jerusalem although it was in its infancy, was also the church of the beginning, and so could have considered itself normative. I find it interesting to see the response of the Jerusalem church to the news of many people becoming Jesus-followers in Antioch.

They send one of their own leadership to take a look and see. In many ways one might have expected them to send Peter, given his recent experience with God’s move amongst gentiles, but instead they send Barnabus, the son of encouragement that we have seen ministering so effectively, in his gentle, nurturing way, in the life of the early church.

Barnabus was trusted, considered wise, a leader, experienced. He looks at the situation, identifies what God is doing there and seeks to encourage that.

When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad; and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of Faith. (Acts 11:23, 24)

I wonder if we translate this to our contemporary situation whether the same could be said? Are churches releasing their wise, Spirit and faith filled, mature leaders to go and encourage what God is doing in different and emerging contexts? Is this a model we might want to look at? Often we consider the emerging church scene to belong to younger leaders. Maybe one of the keys to seeing real spiritual maturity in new expressions of church is for leaders from more established church to come and nurture and encourage, rather than stand at a distance and criticise.

Barnabus’ next act is to go and get Paul from Tarsus and spend a year with him in Antioch teaching and encouraging. Barnabus is prepared to consider what resources need to be diverted to the new church to ensure its growth and development. Are established churches looking to the most gifted and able people to move into emerging situations? In our own Baptist family it often seems that the most able ministers are in the strongest churches. There is undoubtedly a need for established churches to have good leadership, but it does strike me as a bit odd that the weakest of our churches are often only able to call upon the services of the weakest of our ministers, whilst many of our most talented ministers are working in churches that really don’t need them, churches could sustain ministry using their own resources and talents.

I’m sure there’s more to write (as dangerous as it is to write that, given the 3 month break between blogs on this subject) and so I’ll consider it again in the future. In the meantime, I’d really welcome comments on these two ideas – how well is the established church doing at encouraging rather than berating, and how might resources best be identified and used in emerging contexts?

Friday, June 01, 2007

Catching Up

I’ve just finished reading Rob Bell’s latest book, Sex God. It’s written in the same style as Velvet Elvis, with that mix of storytelling, exegesis, and one line statements and thoughts. One of the things I like about his books is that he writes pretty much as he speaks. If you hear his podcast, or watch a Nooma dvd or read his books, it’s the same style, and it’s a relaxed, informal yet informative style that I find draws me into his thinking and invites me to explore with him the topics he’s raising.

Sex God is his exploration of sexuality and spirituality. He argues that we are not to fall into an extreme idea of human identity with regards to sexuality, saying that these extremes are to think of ourselves either as angels (all spirit) or animals (only bodies), but that as embodied spiritual beings we are to exhibit the best of both of those. Sex, he says, is a spiritual act, that expresses the fulfilment of promise and commitment. He also claims that it is to be a foretaste of heaven. I encourage you to get a hold of the book, as I read I could see passages that would he helpful to some of the single people I know who are struggling with issues of not just loneliness (as hard as that is) but also sexual desire. There were sections that I think every married couple ought to read, and I imagine that it could be very difficult for some folks as they are challenged about the nature of their commitment to each other.

I’ve also just finished Michael Crichton’s novel State of Fear. It’s a polemic against the theory of global warming. I found it disingenuous and terribly written, which is a shame as I have enjoyed some of his other books where he has explored controversial ideas before.

Nigel Wright’s Free Church, Free State is heavier going but is helping me think through some issues around Baptist identity. I wonder to what extent new expressions of church that I might be involved in shaping will be distinctively Baptist, and how much of that will be intentional.

Today I took delivery of Robbers and Cowards the first CD by Cold War Kids. I heard it though once as I did some admin this morning, and loved it. I’m pretty sure the percussion included the clicking noise of someone backpeddling on a bike!

Last night was movie night and we watched A Night at the Roxbury (1998). Not only had I not seen it, I’d not even heard of it. And it was very funny, in an Anchorman way. It's from the Saturday Night Live stable, so, as one might expect it's a touch crude at times, but at other times very funny observational humour, as well as some slapstick and clever writing.

We also had a celebration of Hannah & Dift’s engagement. I love this group. Very caring of each other, able to have a lot of fun, and yet celebrate and mourn together too.

I realise, looking back over the blog, that I haven’t written more about Paul’s visit to Antioch, nor more about the Baptist Assembly. I’ll aim to do that this next week.