Category Archives: Jesus

Be the change

I arrived for a meeting today that didn’t happen. Probably my mistake – somehow I had in my diary to be at the Corn Exchange in Lewes for a review of the ‘Thrive’ programme – which is the remodelled work with children, young people and families for East Sussex County Council – the need for the phrase is to improve services and see a more empowered, better informed workforce. Well, I don’t work for the local authority but, as a voluntary sector rep I have been invited to be part of the change process, witness the learning taking place and input a voluntary sector perspective along the way.

Well, I think the meeting has been postponed – nobody there and local Lewes staff didn’t have anything in the diary either. Three hours I was not expecting – I didn’t dash back to the office, I wondered what it might be to meander for a bit and think about stuff.

Sometimes we have to make the most of the thinking time when it arrives (especially if we find it hard to naturally plan that time into our diaries in the first place).

What better time to do that than today, Ash Wednesday. I was ‘ashed’ this morning and then dashed back into the office (ash then dash!) . . . Much to do, especially as I had this afternoon meeting coming up . . .

I have also noticed today, and in the time building up to Lent a whole bunch of blogs, tweets, emails etc that have encouraged me to ‘be the change I want to see’. The whole Thrive project is about change and change management, things are going to be different stuff has to change – we have to be proactive in changing our work habits to bring it about etc.

I work for the Diocese of Chichester and if there has been a constant over the last seven years it has been ‘change’.

My children are changing – at a crazy speed, my pre-school children are now both at school, one in juniors the other in reception. We get used to one pattern of clubs, groups and learning topics and a set of clothes our children look gorgeous in – only for all that to change within a term, every single term, no let up – constant change.

I am also approaching 45, as I scarily noted in a jokey tweet (to hide my fear and shock) I am only 5 years away from going on a SAGA holiday! Everything for ‘over 50s’ seem to have grey haired, old men in weird jumpers – no, this is a change to far!!

Anyway, the phrase ‘Be the change’, as I have sat here, on Ash Wednesday, I have appreciated this unexpected window of calm. I think for this Lenten season, rather than ‘change’ (getting old, getting my head round yet another way of thinking about my work, in the midst of the change I cannot do anything with but . . . Go with it) I want to concentrate on the first word in that statement ‘be the change’. I want to just ‘be’.

I want to ‘be’ secure in the midst of all this change by trusting in the changeless one – Jesus.
I want to ‘be’ able to take these moments of calm and appreciate them without guilt about my to do list or email inbox.
I want to ‘be’ with those who matter most in my life – and truly be with them, being fully present in those precious times.

Change is part of life; who I choose to be in the midst of that change (and taking the time to notice) is how I want to ‘be’ during lent rather than something else that I have to ‘do’.

Does that make sense?

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We are One – Reflections from “The Word Made Flesh”, Eugene Peterson [Review]

Amidst a torrent of Christian books it can be a challenge to find stuff worth reading that will challenge, inspire and encourage the reader to scurry back to the scriptures and reflect on what God is saying and doing . . . in “The Word Made Flesh”, Peterson has written a small book of genius . . . reflecting on the stories Jesus told and the prayers Jesus prayed it is powerful, intimate and full of insight.

Some well trodden passages are explored in a fresh way . . . my absolute favourite in all scripture is explored in this book, John 17 . . . and, just to give you a glimpse of how much is here (270 pages is pretty sparce for Peterson) . . . I will give you some excellent stuff from the man himself . . .

There is nothing quite a destructive to the gospel of Jesus Christ as the use of language that dismisses the way Jesus talks and prays and takes up insted the rhetoric of smiling salesman or vicious invective.  If, in the name of Jesus, truth is eviscerated into facts, salvation depersonalised into a strategy, or love abstracted into a slogan or principle, the gospel is blasphemed.”  (page 220)

Don’t miss this: Father, Son and every last one of us by the prayer and the cross of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit are made one.” (page 223)

For the Church (and by that, at this point, I mean the Anglican Church at this juncture in our history) the following words need to be read and thought of carefully before General Synod next year . . . if anyone reads these words, do pass this on!

Peterson comments on the constant refrain throughout the prayer that, “they may be one, even as we are one.”

He says this,

The repetitive urgency with which Jesus prays that we may be one, just as he is one with the Father, throws deliberate acts of schism into sharp relief as acts of insurrection, an erruption of violent willfulness in the very presence of the one who is interceding for our relational unity with one another according to the unity of the Trinity.  The frequency of this violence done to the body of Christ, a violence justified by rationalisations without end, is nothing less than astonishing.  Defying Jesus in the cause of Jesus. A huge scandal.” (page 224)

What scandal is being enacted if . . . people who are currently part of the Church of England feel they can be no longer?

I am an egalitarian.  However, I have brothers and sisters in Christ who are not.  We are one not because of our agreements or disagreements, not because of our theology or doctrine or practice – but because we confess Christ, and in and through the Spirit – we are one.

Peterson goes on to say,

When Peter discovered a man of faith in the secularised city of Caesarea in the unlikely person of a Roman soldier, Cornelius, he said, “I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.” (Acts 10:34).  Is it permissible to add to Peter’s sentance “or of churches?” I think so.” (page 225)

As Peterson identifies when he talks about the unity in the Trinity – it is not something that can be copied – as we look at God, we cannot “copy” a model. 

It is a Trinitarian relationship – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – of reciprocity to be entered.” (page 227)

Even as our Diocese’ finish voting on Women Bishops, and we move towards next year . . . do we need to enter this prayer of Jesus (and we need to remember, this is Jesus’ prayer, he is taking the responsibility!) . . . I do not want to see people leave the Church of England . . . but, whatever happens, I am comforted as I recognised that it is not the Church of England that Jesus is praying for . . . and, to finish with this thought from Peterson,

The unity for which Jesus prays is articulated exclusively in the language of  personal relationship and willing participation.  An imposed unity is no part of Jesus.  All of us today who are baptised and named Christian are being prayed into maturity in the company of “the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.”” (page 229)

A Culture of Adaption or Survival?

The writer of Ephesians wrote his words “in chains” . . . he told people – if you plan to follow Jesus, you are in for a real fight!

This quote got me thinking in relation to the above . . .

Our hunch is that . . . Ephesians 6, telling Christians to prepare for battle, means more to some younger Christians than to older Christians because of a difference between the generations.  Most of us who are white and over thirty were raised in a Church where the main agenda of the church was to help Christians adapt to the world as it is.  Yet, we are meeting young Christians who are looking for a church where the agenda is how to help people survive as Christians.”

“Resident Aliens”, Hauwerwas and Willimon, page 150

Neither what we tend to do “adapt and assimilate” nor “hide and survive” are the answer.  We somehow need to equip this rising generation on how to thrive as distinctive and “stand out” followers of Jesus . . . but we have a problem, if we have not done this ourselves – how do we hope to raise a generation that will?

With humility, with a re-discovery of our “first love”, with a complete reliance on the Holy Spirit to guide us into (unfortunately) the uncharted waters of following in the footsteps of Jesus – who did not adapt, or hide, but through a life of love and self-giving, sought to transform those around Him – a work that took on cosmic proportions on the cross – we are called to be like Him . . . what a scary, exciting challenge for 2011.

21st Century CHRISTIAN

21st Century Evangelicals21st Century Evangelicals – A Snapshot of the beliefs and habits of evangelical Christians in the UK.

This is my reflection on the above named report just published by the EA – get your own copy here.

I have to be honest and start by saying that I struggle with the term “evangelical” . . . not because I am not one, but because I am not necessarily perceived as one by everyone in the evangelical wing of the Church.  I work to serve the whole Church in my Diocese . . . and this can sometimes be a challenge – in my role as adviser for work with children and young people, I find that the next generation of leaders (our young people) are largely the same across the churches . . . many of them would find themselves during the week rubbing shoulders with “Christians” from other denominations and other streams . . . often in a way that their parents, and adults in the church at large never do.  They share life together. 

The other dynamic that is interesting in actually “being” in an evangelical church (both growing up in one and working in one for 7 years) is how little that term is used to describe the church . . . paradoxically, I was in a couple of churches that routinely referred to themselves as “charismatic” but you would not know that from a Sunday morning service!

labels are notoriously slippy things . . . but as I have got older, I have felt far more comfortable with calling myself a “follower of Jesus”, than identifying myself with a particular stream . . . this might be because I do not believe that the Church that Jesus sees is an evangelical one . . . the Church that Jesus sees is the one church, one faith, one Lord type . . . which (incredibly) almost every different kind of church will refer to without irony . . . yet in towns across Sussex there are “Churches Together” groups which only seem to welcome and accept “particular” churches . . . based on whether they are consider evangelical “enough” . . .

Young people do not care about these differences and quibbles.  This, sadly, is not new . . I say sadly – because division in the church whether across gender divides / churchmanship divides / protestant catholic etc . . . is not new.  Back in the 1950s, an excellent book by JB Philips called “New Testament Christianity” referred to young peoples annoyance at the lack of unity in the church . .

“I find that there is a definite movement towards a united Church, and a very deep desire to see the end of “our unhappy divisions”. I have found this strongly marked desire in all denominations, including my own, and for myself I would say that unless a man is completely blind and bigoted, he could scarcely deny that the living Spirit of God is using gentle but considerable pres­sures to bring all Christians together. Young Christians particularly, many of whom are in daily contact in office, garage, factory, and workshop with ardent young Communists, find the tragedy of a divided Christendom a painful obstacle to their witness. As has been brought home to me so many times, the points of agreement among the Christian denominations are so very much larger than the points of disagreement that, surrounded as we are by a largely pagan world, it is the height of folly to say or do anything which postpones the process of unity or perpetuates our differences. Prayer is prob­ably the best weapon here, since a real influx of the living Spirit into existing denominations would quickly expose the stupidity and sin of maintaining denominational bar­riers of which, be it firmly said, many keen young Chris­tians are not even aware.”

JB Phillips, New Testament Christianity (Hodder & Stoughton, 1956)

And so to the research from the EA . . . in particular, the trend among 16-25s (titled in the research “The Future of Evangelical Christianity”) to not call themselves “evangelical” . . or, to be unsure . . . at a young age then, the figures in the report would suggest to me an openness and a lack of concern about defining what it means to be a follower of Jesus . . . it is disturbing to me that (apparently) the older people get the more we are hammered into submission when it comes to denominational affiliation or being required to take a particular stance – the most worrying aspect of what Phillips writes is that those young idealists he talks about, who were young people in the church in the 1950s, grew up and reinforced the differences that existed in the church just as the generations before them had done so . . .

Unity, at least according to Christ, revolves around Him . . . (see John 17) rather than a particular doctrine / theology / churchmanship – young people in the Church, I believe, love Jesus – but have no time for the additional labels other than Christian (Christ follower, Jesus follower) . . . do we need to “re-define” evangelicalism or do we need to ask them, with humility, what they think it means to be, simply, a follower of Jesus? 

We might be suprised by their answer.  At some point, one of the next generations that comes along . . . (Gen Xers have not been allowed to) need to be given the space to shape the future of the church . . . rather than those of us who are older (who have presided over a shrinking Church in this country) to presume we need to tweak our language, but essentially ensure “evangelicalism” continues . . . is the gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed, and Jesus Himself is glorifed . . . and there begins to be a greater movement towards an ecumenism without “denominational” or “stream” bias, and “evangelical” disappears from our vocabularly . . . does it matter? 

Ultimately, what is more important?  Andy Frost, commenting on the report says that evangelicalism needs to be redefined as “grace and truth” . . . JESUS is grace and truth – do we need to make it more complicated.  Grace and Truth are found in a CATHOLIC Eucharist an EVANGELICAL preach and a CHARISMATIC worship service . . . if Christ is the centre of our worship it is time we properly acknowledged Him as Head of our Church . . . all of it.

The gift of a child

I have two daughters, amazing gifts from God.  Hannah is five, Ellie was two earlier this month!  They are a constant delight (and occasionally, challenge)!  The gift of children though, is not just for me and my wife to enjoy.  Our children have doting grandparents, cousins, uncles, aunts, godparents etc.  Children are as much a gift to the community of faith as to individual parents.

As we are approaching the final day of advent, my children have been building an advent calendar with shepherds, angels, wise men etc – all gathering around the manger . . . ready for the 24th when Jesus will be placed in his crib (I know, a day early) . . . we nothing more after the nativity accounts in the gospels about the shepherds or the wise men (once they avoid Herod and head home) . . . but, what was a private journey to Bethlehem to a place where there was no room . . . those who came and worshipped found room for the Christ child in their hearts . . . the shepherds could not wait to share the news and the family celebration became a community event!

There is an old African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child”.  In the same way, it takes the community of faith to help children grow – to feel that they belong as part of that community, and the faith expressed and shared becomes their faith too.  This activity, spiritual formation, preparation for life etc – is not the preserve of a couple of over burdened volunteers, nor an “expert” salaried children’s worker (though volunteers to be involved in ministry with children, and, where required, salaried children’s workers create an invaluable “dynamic” for life and faith in Church that compliment the role of parents).

I will return to this theme in the New Year, but leave you (my last post before the New Year) with a thought from Jurgen Moltmann,

“The messiah can be born in every child.” says a Jewish proverb, and Christians celebrate Christmas as the feast of the birth of the divine redeemer in the baby in the manger.  We encounter the all-powerful God in a little, dependent, and helpless child.  The creator of heaven and earth divests God-self and becomes lowly in the “Christ child” or the so-called “baby-Jesus.”  The grand theology of the ancient church called this mystery the humanisation of god” or the “Incarnation of the logos.” but it begins very simply, in a manner intelligible to every child, by God becoming a child and in this childs redemptive reign of peace.  What a mystery a child is.  [The good news for children marks the entire story of Jesus]  “Whoever welcomes such a child in my name welcomes me” . . .  “Child and Childhood as Metaphors of Hope, Jurgen Moltmann

Will we orientate ourselves this Christmas time, as Moltmann puts it, “towards the child of promise and peace?”

nativity reality check

Quote:

It is this Jesus who was born in a stank manger in the middle of a genocide.  This is the God we are just as likely to find in the streets as in the sanctuary, who can redeem revolutionaries and tax collectors, the oppressed and the oppressors . . . a God who is saving some of us from the ghettos of poverty, and some of us from the ghettos of wealth.”

Shane Claiborne

This is just a stand out quote that sums up the impact of the incarnation – Jesus coming turned the world upside down.