Catching up with Easter

As often happens, I only really get the opportunity to reflect on Christmas or Easter a few days after the ‘main thing.’  You may or may not realise, but a lot of your pastors’ minds are fixed on making sure that you have the opportunity to really share in the fulness of these seasons, and with the transforming message of the gospel.  At least, that’s what is on my mind…maybe I can’t really speak for others! For me, to nurture people into deep reflection on the significance of the passion and the resurrection is such an important task.  And, if that means that my own experience takes a back seat for a while, then so be it.  However, Eastertide continues for the 50 day period and although some churches are very quick to move on, it is so important that we linger on resurrection hope even beyond the 50 days…in fact, moving towards Pentecost should then inspire us so deeply that there is nothing else in the bigger scheme of things that should loom so large in our lives than the cause of Christ and our mission.

This is why I will never understand an expression of Christian faith that remains unmoved, uninspired or unchanged by walking through the Christians seasons which, although invite us to go deep, also invite us to considerable joy.  As I’ve said before, I know all the reasons that get in the way of discipleship and people’s spiritual development, but I’ll never understand it.  How can anything be more important than our being in Christ, our discipleship and our engagement in his cause?

Jesus is everything to me.  Even in my imperfect moments, my low moments, and even when I’m somewhat distracted by ‘stuff,’ the Spirit in me just doesn’t let me stray far from Christ…I’m continually drawn back.  Most folks in ministry deal with some pretty difficult stuff from time to time, but it all pales into insignificance when even one person responds to Christ in a new way, when faith grows and he becomes more real.

Incidentally, I’m glad I responded as fully as I did to the call to take Lent really seriously this year.  I was strongly drawn to it with a sense that God was going to do something in me and he did.  I feel fortified in almost every way.  I’ve had some amazing encounters with Jesus over this lenten season, and he’s spoken profound things into the depths of my being and I feel different about several things because of that.

Sitting here, this side of Easter, I hear the call to being strongly resolute in my commitment to Christ in new ways and, like Paul, to seek the strength from God’s Spirit to ‘proclaim the gospel clearly as I should.’  It is such a huge story and I’m deeply saddened to be in touch with communities which would seek to ‘explain away’ God’s work in and through Jesus to the point where its potency is lost, greatly diminished or reduced to ‘moral therapeutic deism’ (i.e. have your own sky god who panders to your needs, and demands nothing but you behave yourself).  Some of the stuff I hear round and about is so alien to the gospel found in the Scriptures and in the tradition of 2000 years of the church that it isn’t recognisable, and impossible to get to without dismissing significant chunks of the biblical narrative.  It is just modern versions of all the councils of the church met to deal with – heresies galore.  The mind boggles.  This deconstruction work simply doesn’t ‘work’ because Christianity is not just giving assent to a set of theological ideas, but is a radical commitment to the way of Jesus and an openness to do what he commands.

So, I’m filled with both hope and despair, to be honest.  Hope that Christ is still risen, but despair that we spend so much time missing the point….still.  However, there is no place I’d rather be than with the community of Christ however it expresses itself.  For me, disengagement with ‘the church’ is not an option, even if it would sometimes be a preference!  He is in the resurrection business and if he can invade, save and resurrect my life, he can do it anywhere.  This is the power of the resurrection….Christ in us, the hope of glory.  I still have it in me to believe that another church is possible, that another vision is still within reach…but I’m also realistic enough to know that no expression of church will ever be perfect. We must continue, however, to aspire to greater things…the resurrection demands it.  Why?  Because there is a world who still need to hear the message and the church is the light of the world following THE Light of the World.

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Give it up

Jesus:  Give it up!

Disciple:  No Lord, let me do this instead.

Jesus:  That’s not how it works.

We come to Jesus, more or less, on our own terms.  We come with our houses, cars, abundant possessions that no sensible person needs, and with our leisure, pleasure and all the rest.  We come with the last bit of us to be sanctified, our wallets.  And we worship Jesus, seek our blessings and peace, and slip back into our own lives in our own little kingdoms where we rule supreme.

Who am I talking about?  Well, I’m talking about me, but if you see yourself in there, know you’re not alone.  And you know what?  I hate it.  But there are so many times I rehearse the conversation above.  The two words, ‘No’ and ‘Lord’, cancel themselves out.  If he’s Lord, no isn’t something to say to him.

When I sense God call me up on my attitude towards ‘stuff’ or ‘comfort’ I start along the lines of self-justification…oh Lord, what harm does having [enter thing] do?  I mean, surely Jesus doesn’t mean us all to give our stuff up?  Surely that’s not sensible?  No, I’ll keep hanging on to my stuff and assume that it was ‘that guy’ who had the problem and not me.

And God says ‘are you joking?’

And I’m like ‘No, Lord’ (again).

And God says ‘Nah. You’re wakko-dakko-cock-a-loop.’

And I’m like ‘what?! Lord, don’t you realise what I’ve done for you, what I’ve given up for you, how many times I’ve moved for you and…’

And he looks at me.  ‘Are you serious?’

I say nothing.

I know that even although I’m not rich in comparison to others in my city, when it comes to the world I’m in the top bunch of per cent.  I’ve a (large) roof, two cars, tonnes of mod cons, comfy bed, regular income, full cupboards and fridge, electricity, couple of holidays a year, expendable income for coffee and books and….

…and I tell myself that it’s all ok because its all a blessing from God that he wants me to enjoy, and I’m thankful, and he has blessed me with comfort and stuff.  And Jesus says ‘the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.  Take up your cross, consider it all loss.  Give up what you have, sell it and give to the poor, for what you do for the least of these you do for me.’

And I’m like ‘really?’

And he’s like….

And I’m like…

The sensibilities of the world tell us that following Jesus can’t really be a radical thing.  That’s too extreme.  But honestly, am I not even willing to hear the question even if that’s not even what he is asking of me?  Am I willing to persist along my shaky ‘no Lord because…’ line of defense?  If the LORD says ‘Pack up and go here’ and I say ‘No Lord, not again because I have to [insert excuse]’ how open am I to the possibility that he’d ask me to cross the street let alone cross the nations?

It wouldn’t be so bad if all the Lord’s questions to me were just hypothetical tests.  There have been things that he has screamed through every possible communication medium this week and I’m like….

‘really?

And he says, ‘really.’

 

Foundations

cropped-cropped-img_3136.jpgA frequent reflection of mine over the years has been about the foundations of our Christian life and discipleship.  One of those foundations is the Bible; it is there we find much of the information that we build our faith experience on; and, it is there we find a full revelation of Jesus, who his, himself, a full revelation of who God is.  That’s the premise I’m starting on here.

So, if you were to follow my claim that the Bible should first come to us as a foundation, how then do we start laying it?  Quite simple:  by getting to know it.  Start to learn its content like you would do your favourite novel.  Search it like you would a piece of historical writing.  Reflect on it like you would do a piece of philosophy or poetry.  Sit with is as a biography of the character of God and watch man’s understanding of him change and develop over time as fuller revelation comes.

What I would say is build up your knowledge of the book.  Get to know it, be familiar with it.  Read it in chunks before getting into any nitty-gritty.  And, having laid that foundation, so you can better begin to explore the contours of shape and design of the interpretation you’ll arrive at.  The alternative is to read your worldview into the bible and stop it saying the things your don’t like.  This is no easy task.  The bible is no was book and as you read you will find the need to take on the advice of ‘wise guides’ who know a bit more stuff about the innards of it that we currently do.  These can act as sign-posts along the way.

I realise I am speaking simply on a complicated matter but I do so for one reason alone:  it is very, very easy to spot when someone speaks of the bible without any real clue of its contents, its purpose and its context, whether they are speaking as ‘fundamentalists’ or as ‘liberals’.  To me, to have such a firm view of a subject without a nuanced and considered knowledge is just very dissatisfactory and its then very difficult to have any real conversation about aspects of its message.

Sometimes I feel like I’m attending a book club with folks who haven’t read the book and are just going with what everyone else is saying about the characters, or some quote about it they’ve picked up of the back of a bus.

I have a strong hunch, based on nearly 17 years in full-time ministry: people in our churches are not reading the Bible.  I know that is a generalisation, but I think it is generally true.  I have several pieces of evidence gathered over the years that have led me to that conclusion.  And here’s the thing:  if you’re a person who thinks they do have a problem with bits of the bible, then all the more important to delve deeper rather than just cut bits out coz you don’t fancy it.  I think there is a lot of convenient laziness around.  Evangelicals, however, are NOT exempt.  There are still views that persist that need challenging in evangelical circles just the same.  Thing is, folks, we can’t have the discussion without reading the thing.

So, I’m not dismissing the discussion of ideas, the working out of application or the questions that rise from it.  But I am saying that discipleship, of whatever shape, must have the bible as its foundation – not because its ‘the Bible’, but because our ultimate focus is  THE WORD, even Jesus Christ himself.  It is the biggest source on him we have and if we’re going to follow him, we have to know his story a lot more than we do.  Don’t let yourself off with half-baked excuses for not engaging with it.  How about it?

Pressing on

prayer1We’re more or less into the last week of Lent now, give or take a few days, and I feel very intensely the ways in which the time has redirected my focus.  I’ve laughed, I’ve wept, I’ve mourned, I’ve been hopeful, I’ve been empty, I’ve been full.  More than all of that, Jesus has drawn near and his presence has shattered illusionary visions of both myself and the ministry to which he has called me.  And I don’t feel exhausted by all of that…I feel alive, renewed and ‘vital’!

As I’ve stripped pieces of life, lifestyle, preferences and choices away, the Lord has become more central and less obscured.  As I’ve laid down my ‘new arguments’, his eternal truth has illuminated all the more the riches of his grace.  As I’ve sought him and him alone the self-occupying burdens of my heart have melted away.  I’m resting in a deeper peace that has been only tentative in recent years.

And now, there are responses to be made.  Things to be worked out.  Challenges to be faced.  Paths to realign with.

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.  I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”  Phil 3: 7 – 12