Tag Archives: church

‘Honour the emperor’

It is easy for me to write this as a middle class, white Brit for whom oppression is not something I’ve ever directly had to put up with. My response is therefore more theoretical than what faces people who are already reporting the sorts of post-Brexit hate we had here. I hope I would always seek solidarity, not safety.

Prayer

We spent last night at Central London Vineyard in solid prayer, bothering God about the state of the world.
 
It was challenging. Challenging to reflect on our own divided country as well as the one across the Atlantic. Challenging to think that most of the world’s desperate people don’t care who’s in the White House or what the EU looks like. And very challenging to hear first hand testimony of recent events in Calais and the treatment of those unaccompanied children who had found some small refuge in the Jungle.
 
And in all of that it was challenging to respond to the words of Jesus:
‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.’
So much of what I’ve found difficult about 2016’s politics has come from the rejection and fear of ‘the other’. And yet I’ve probably responded to people with whom I have a fundamental difference of position by reflecting a similar level of antipathy (or worse) about them as people, as well as their ideology.

Challenge

On Tuesday evening our Croydon Vineyard small group were picking over the second half of 1 Peter 2. It talks about submitting to authority, even (and especially) if it oppresses you. It even includes the three words ‘honour the emperor’.
 
Reading that the other day wasn’t easy; returning to it last night after Donald Trumps’s victory was even harder. But there was something very powerful (and even hope filled) in wrestling with what it means for God to desire relationship with Donald the man, just as much as he does with me, and you.
 
When you get down to it, the ground is flat at the foot of the cross – there is no hierarchy of sin, no category of holier, no singling out as worst. Of course it offends us to think that there’s no difference between me and him but the message at the heart of what I believe is to love the person I’d not even consider worth acknowledgement, and to love them sacrificially.
 
Last night someone used a turn of phrase that stuck with me: ‘Love never changes. Love always wins. Love looks the same today as it did yesterday, and will do tomorrow’.
 
As individuals that’s an important attitude of the heart and it’s important that we live it out in our relationships with others. But in the midst of everything it’s pretty overwhelming to think about how broken the world is, how frightening particular politics are, and how little we can do by ourselves.
 
Which is why God invites us to be part of The Church so that with him, and each other, we can be a movement seeking God’s kingdom on earth – not to build a theocracy but to be united in pursuing justice and mercy with a loving humility that’s backed by our trust in God as Sovereign.

Response 

None of us know what the next few years will bring. There is plenty to fear. But fear is the currency of oppression. I’m choosing hope over fear, light over darkness, love over hate, action over apathy. But right now, I’m going back to the source and looking to God for this to be recognisable  for everyone, everywhere:
 
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

My worlds collide

When I first wrote this it was relevant but I got overtaken by other events. Still, whilst it’s old news there’s no point it staying sat in my drafts.

There is no single theme for my blog. Most of the time there’s very little overlap so maybe I should be more focused and write in different places for different content. Irrespective of that, today is a bit different.

In the aftermath of this story I’ve read a lot and heard a lot of bluster in various media. As I’m a Christian who works in local government and have family connections to church in Bideford this particular story couldn’t be more relevant. Continue reading My worlds collide

>Reinventing the wheel

>Sunday evening took this passage from Acts as its backdrop.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved…All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.”
Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-37

That’s a revolutionary expression of community. That model of fellowship without borders was the hallmark of Jesus’ relationships. Not just with his disciples but with those society wouldn’t touch. The church of Acts are living with that same authenticity, vulnerability and generosity. They live grace, they are church. Those words aren’t theological constructs, they’re dynamic adjectives.

Their faith changed the world. Theirs a religion built around the service and love of those around them. Theirs a fundamentally relational pursuit of Jesus. Somewhere in the annals of history we dropped the ball. Religion became a dirty word bound up in ritual and show, dominated by fear, judgement and hypocrisy, not synonymous with the Gospel of ‘good news’ but seen to be something manipulative and controlling.

That’s not the true story. When the Archbishop of York was asked about his thoughts on Big Society he claimed the idea as a rebranding of what the church has been doing since its birth. For Sentamu (whose full article is well worth a read), Big Society’s just another name for the wheels which the church, alongside others, has consistently been involved with oiling for the last couple of thousand years.

Following the Spending Review the state is going to shrink, and there will be a reduction in services. There will be increasing needs and the church has the infrastructure, human resources and experience to contribute to finding solutions – the Church of England provides 23.2 million hours of voluntary service per month (and that’s just one chunk of The Church). More specific is Acts 4:35 an initiative of Archbishop Sentamu that provides a mechanism for giving money directly to others for specific purposes (in many ways it’s a local version of Kiva).

That’s great, as is our local commitment to The Besom. But we are absolutely wrong if we think that we’re the only people who care about kindling community and getting involved with transforming the lives around us. I might not enjoy the political rhetoric and cost-cutting reality that surrounds us at the moment but I do love the fact that there are lots of people who are exploring opportunities and experimenting with technology to give voice to the voiceless and support those who might otherwise fall through the gaps.

Sadly God’s hands and feet are conspicuous in their absence. This just doesn’t make sense. I can’t get my head around why we’re not round those tables, entering those debates and talking about the kind of compassion that hurts. The Acts model of community was radical 2,000 years ago and nothing has changed. What are we waiting for?

If it’s permission we’re looking for then the irony is that Acts 2 models of community are being spoken about and developed, probably by people completely oblivious to what’s written in the New Testament. Maybe it’s time we twigged that there’s universality to the wheel? God doesn’t always need us to start something, or for it to wear his brand or come under his ‘ownership’ for it to bring him glory and transform lives.

Is the Acts 2 challenge too hard given the busyness of life? I hear that, my daily commute sees me out of York for 12 hours a day. How do I foster meaningful community with those around me?Well, perhaps these four things which are already set up and focused on building relationship, fostering community and living generously can provide us with a platform inside church but also in dismantling the walls around our worshipping community.

The Big Lunch began life at The Eden Project a couple of years ago and encourages neighbours to spend the day with one another through street parties. Christine and I hosted one for our street in 2008 and it was brilliant (sadly we were both out of the country this year), instead of church on June 5th 2011 why don’t we shut up St Mike’s and break bread with our neighbours?

Flock Local was born at Glasgow’s Social Innovation Camp last June. The premise is pretty simple – directing the energy of a flash mob into an activity with a social purpose. The website provides a front end for listing local events and a mechanism for people to register, communicate and pitch in.

Street Bank exists to help people share what they’ve got with people in their locality. Sign up, list the skills you can offer your neighbours or the things you’ve got to lend or give away and see what happens.

Street Club overlaps the others and is a sophisticated approach to providing digital foundations to a local community. It’s designed to be a private online members club that revolves around ten key words – discuss, volunteer, ask, share, recommend, give, trade, play, save and party. There is something daunting about a resource this comprehensive but then it isn’t a website designed for individuals is it?

This week Conversations starts life in its latest venue (upstairs in The Graduate, formerly Varsity). I’m (justifiably) proud to belong to a community that hopefully looks like that early church. I hope we’re not just a community for ourselves but one that is committed to getting stuck into the world around us. We’re here to follow Jesus and that means pouring ourselves out for the people of York, til it hurts. Maybe signing up to a few websites can help?

Crowd Sourced Church

Last week was a bad week at work. The bid process for the fourth and final placement of the graduate scheme did not result in the outcome I had hoped for. And the circumstances surrounding that had left me both depressed and despondent.

On Sunday evening, church turned that on its head.
Earlier in the week there had been a slightly cryptic message sent into the Twitterverse
As Al started the service he said something along these lines and it started to make sense

We don’t really have a plan, there are going to be some songs, we’ll commission St Barnabas and Ursula will preach but we want to get you contributing to the service. So, tag your tweets #smlb and text your thoughts to this number or just come to the front and share

And what that resulted in was a wonderfully diverse, and rich, stream of contributions flashed up on the screens. There were texts, there were a lot of tweets and from the front there were the voices of those sharing stories without the anonymity and complexity of technology.
A church like ours is full of talented people and is incredibly well resourced in terms of preaching and leadership. That makes for a very polished experience (even when it doesn’t finish at 8.30 on the dot) but there is a certain inevitability to our slipping into being consumers and sitting passively, waiting to be entertained and edified.
The leaders of this service have a difficult task in striking the right balance and on Sunday the crowd sourced approach really worked. It did mean that things were unpredictable but it gave God the opportunity to use a variety of channels and a number of different people to be his mouthpiece.
The whole God speaking thing is one of those things that makes Christians sound mental. The kind of suggestion that gets us thrown funny looks and underlines the delusional nature of our very existence. But nevertheless, bear with me (if you’re still reading), Sunday was a wonderful example of knowing that it’s more than just coincidence. It was one of those evenings where seemingly random activity looked, and felt, very much like the well orchestrated action of a loving saviour.
The very nature of the service – built up round a sermon on forgiveness (Ursula Simpson on top form) – addressed the stuff I had gone through last week. Dealt with it and moved on. From beginning to end the service could not have been better designed if I had sat down and thought about what I needed to hear. And it wasn’t in individual songs, or words, or music, or tweets but it was in the presence of God and the answers to prayer that was evident as a product of the whole.
The service came together from the contributions of the people in the pews but there was no mistaking a common thread running through it, a singular inspiration working through more than just those labelled ‘leader’.
We believe in a priesthood of all believers but often it’s hard to get people out of the pews. Did Sunday see the first shoots of something significant? It was certainly a great experience of being, not just doing, church.
I hope this isn’t just a random experiment but is something that can become a really important source of encouragement, praise and worship from day to day, not just on a Sunday. I think there’s a lot of mileage in exploring how some of the emerging trends in communication can work in a church context. It will be interesting to see if that’s true.