Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Limping over the line

In 1992 Derek Redmond pulled up in the Olympic Semi-Finals of the 400m, eventually carried over the line by his father. It's one of the most iconic sporting moments, not of joy but of anguish. A million miles from a Usain Bolt decelerating to a 100m world record, for example. Which is more glorious?

As 2011 comes to its close I feel myself limping over the line. By the grace of God I'm alive. I'm welcome in the family of the Triune God.

I'm still doing a job I love and I've received some brilliant support and training in the last year which has increased both my knowledge of God and of myself.  I've has the privilege of working as a Bible teacher and Evangelist in a wide range of contexts, opportunities I feel very thankful to have received. I'm probably playing to my strengths more than before, because I feel like I know what some of them might be now. And at home, we've received the gift of a second son and seen our first son turn into a full-blown toddler.

In many ways its been a great year, but it's also been hard.We're in the fog of sleep-deprivation. I'm not complaining. I have. I do. I've ranted. I've grumbled. Today I just identify the hardness of it and accept it. Tomorrow I might well grumble about it. Learning to repent quicker is part of maturity. I've been wrong. I am wrong. Will you forgive me?

The fog is a weakness that is a side-effect of one of the best of blessings. And becoming a Dad has done wonders for a lots of things in my life. Additionally, we went through a few months early in the year in which it seemed like everything we owned went wrong at substantial cost. It was relentless and a big portion of the money we'd put aside to pay the mortgage during maternity leave ended up being used to pay for other things....    Etc.

All of which is context to an evening at the end of June when I sat in a CU meeting and heard the word of God. The letter to the Laodiceans (Revelation 3) was preached, of those who would say: I need nothing.
And it pierced my heart, how readily I like to be self-sufficient; how much I liked to think I could handle my life. How I'd portray our circumstances as OK; how I'm reluctant to ask for help, preferring to fix things myself. This has it's advantages - driving me to achieve and accomplish things. But there are times when I'm never going to press through. My response such struggles in the past has been to bury my head in the sand rather than asking for help - when I struggled at University I didn't talk to my tutor, I stopped going to tutorials. Evidence that I'm a sinful idiot abounds when I'm prepared to admit it.

Jacob spent his years acquiring, taking, winning. Until on the edge of the land (in Genesis 32) he spent a night clinging on to the LORD and came away limping. And had to limp back into the promised land. And he was richer for it. He and I limp into our inheritance following our wounded Saviour. Ours is the God who shows his power not in displays of grandeur but in the naked vulnerability of becoming a baby.

Its easy to be confident and come across better than others. God has blessed me a lot and I take a lot of it for granted. I'm learning (I want to say 'I've learned' but that's the thing...), I'm learning that I have need and I have weakness and that the outworking of the gospel of Jesus in need and weakness is important.

Marcus posted: "I vividly recall a leader of a large ministry saying to me “you guys always criticise what I do and my Bible teaching but you never offer to come and help me improve. Wouldn’t that be the better thing to do?” He was right. I was chastened. I think my answer to Paul’s concern would be to say to a UCCF team leader whose team was clearly overbalanced one way or the other “can we work with you to help lift you up in the areas you are weak at the moment.” It is hard to see how that isn’t a win/win situation." 

Going into 2012 I desire to be more ready to receive the help of people who can lift me, and I think more prepared to go and ask them for help in the first place. I need my Heavenly Father to carry me over the line. And I need his people to carry me too. I don't want to live in Laodicea in 2012. The more of Christ I have the less I can possibly say 'I need nothing'.

So, when you see me in my weakness - whether via what I write here, or more likely as you're on the end of 'gospel ministry' from me, or just in conversation and everyday situations of life in which I'm sinful, weak and stupid. Please don't criticise me - though it'd be understandable for you to do so - please instead come and help me. I should have asked for your help in the first place. Please offer your strengths to help me in my weaknesses. Come share life with me. Put yourself in the line of fire. Help me with grace and encouragement and practical assistance, so that I would see my Christ more clearly and know his loving embrace more deeply.

I like to think the glory is in winning... but with Jesus there might just be more glory in limping home, carried by the Generous Father who gives himself to me.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Praise be to Woody Allen Zombie Jesus

Tim Minchin wrote a song for Jonathan Ross's Christmas show about Jesus. And the ITV bigwigs cut it. That's the story. The assumption being that the song is considered to be offensive, presumably to people like... who knows really. What's true can handle a little satire. You can't watch it on ITV but it's on Youtube (see below).

Minchin likens Jesus to Woody Allen, Derren Brown, a Zombie, Superman and other stories and references in our culture.The story of Jesus is very like all our stories. Stories that speak of the need for a Saviour, even a suffering Saviour, that recognise we can't save ourselves.

None of them as audacious as the story of Jesus, of a Triune God, one who is self-giving love, who comes enters into our flesh to put it death and create a whole new humanity who will be filled up with God and who will fill up God with his people.

Some will say Christianity is just a derivative story among many stories, but perhaps it is the original story - and all the other stories we love are just like the Jesus story. Tim Minchin wrote in the New Statesman:
"Our lives would be empty without stories, and the story of this Jesus character is quite a nice one. One that – in theory, and sometimes even in practise – promotes compassion and humility and wisdom and peace. Jesus is real… in the imaginary world. A five year old could tell you that."
The Jesus story persists because its the greatest of stories. The question is does the story exist in the world of imagination, or is this as JRR Tolkien argued to CS Lewis, this is the Myth that came true. The story captivates us and is echoed in all the stories we love even today... the question is is there truth in the claims about Jesus. Is Jesus just a myth or a true myth? That's a question open to study of historical evidence.
CS Lewis in Myth became Fact wrote:
"but Christians also need to be reminded . . . that what became Fact was a Myth, that it carries with it into the world of Fact all the properties of a myth. God is more than a god, not less; Christ is more than Balder, not less. We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology. . . . We must not, in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome. If God chooses to be mythopoeic . . . shall we refuse to be mythopathic? For this is the marriage of heaven and earth: Perfect Myth and Perfect Fact: claiming not only our love and our obedience, but also our wonder and delight..."
Watch the Tim Minchin video here.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Podcasting is not Pastoring

There is more to pastoral leadership than a podcast. This is my own reflection on Trevin Wax's thoughts

In recent weeks my pastor has been able to observe a behaviour in my life and offer quite specific correction and instruction, he's been able to deliver me specific and detailed encouragement about my own service of the church, he's preached God's word for me to hear as I've sat with the rest of the church at our church weekend away. He's prayed and prophesied and strengthened our faith.

He has prayed for me, and my family during a difficult week - which I know because he told me. He's probably also prayed for me and not told me about that.

I've sat with him and other young men as he's shared his dreams and ideas and taken feedback. I've taken a train journey with him. We've talked and prayed and eaten around the same table.We learned together in the on-the-job training course we're doing. I've observed him with his wife and his children. I've seen the tiredness on his face because his kids haven't slept well. I've seen him laugh at himself. I've sought to learn from him as he's interacted with other Dads at the Father's Group we attend.

I recognise that as a leader in the church myself I've probably had slightly more access to my pastor than might be the case for everyone in our church - but as he pastors us in our situations we're better able to pastor the rest of the church with him.

The point is, if pastoring was *just* preaching I could just download his podcast, because in my view he's one of the best young preachers around. And preaching is a massive part of pastoring - leaders are meant to speak the word of God to their people. But there is more to being a pastor, and I'm very thankful for that. Paul and his team shared his life and gospel with the Thessalonians, and as he mentored Timothy it was both Paul's doctrine and example that had helped Timothy to grow in Christ.

The same is true more broadly - strangely to me there are lots of people who read this blog. Some of them I know, some I don't. And I appreciate the opportunity to serve the church on a broad scale through social media, along with conferences and books etc... but nothing beats the opportunities for life-on-life-on-mission with my family, my home group, others from church and my team and others. These are people who know my faults and foibles, the people I sin against and have to ask forgiveness from. People who "gospel" me and whom I can "gospel".

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

All that I have I share with you!

We enjoyed witnessing the beginning of the marriage of Harri and Chris on Saturday, it was great to share their wedding day with them. Our friend Mike led the service, his rich and booming voice relishing the opportunity to have Christ proclaimed through the vows and commitments of a wedding.

It was particularly poignant to be reminded that when a couple make their vows to one another its like the commitment Christ makes with his church, it's like when someone becomes a Christian - to take all that is ours, and give us all that he is. And you can bet he makes that vow with even more joy than a couple of their wedding. Not to mention that the proclamation that no man put this union asunder is another way of saying, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.

That we can be wed to our Saviour is unspeakably beautiful, to enter into such a union as to make us one with our Saviour, and to know that union leads to a very real and experiential communion with him. Vivid reminder of the gospel reminds me to be attentive to my Saviour to entrust myself to him, opening my heart to him as Jeremiah Burroughs notes: "One converted to God lets out his heart into God in a fuller manner than any creature can do to another." 

When I entrust myself to my Saviour, letting out my heart to him, then I truly love him, honour and worship him. The brides submission is her entrusting of herself to her husband, and in that she knows most truly his love. She will no longer have doubt or insecurity that he will cast her aside, for she knows him. And as we entrust ourselves to him, so: "Christ rejoices, and his very heart even springs forth, to present his church to his Father. He says, “Father, behold my spouse that I have married to myself.”"

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas: Always Scrooge and Never Kirstie?

I love our church. I love the opportunity to be with God's people who are our family, and when we gather (and when we're scattered) to find ways to serve one another in drawing near to Christ. It was my privilege to serve our church by preaching.
My text was Genesis 3:15 asking What's Christmas About? You can listen here:  
Download mp3 - "Always Scrooge and Never Kirstie" (30mins) (low quality recording taken on my phone on the lectern behind me - hopefuly the church website will have a better version soon)

I attempted to dig into some of the common views of Christmas, where there is much to affirm and console, and also to explore how those resonate and point towards the hope of The Promised Son.
  • Beginning with Scrooge's misery - which is both justified and overly morbid, we see there really is war and evil in the world, and yet we long for hope of victory - why is that?
  • Considering the festivities offered by a Kirstie's Handmade Christmas we saw that it's good to have a holiday, but you need 'salvation' to celebrate truly... which is what's wrong in Narnia where it is Always Winter and Never Christmas, until finally it is 'Winter Passed and Guilt Forgiven' (as Lewis' poem summarises)... you need something to happen to make that possible.
  • And we considered the nitpicking leery vision of Santa, everything that the Triune God isn't... and so that leads us to look for the Christ... one who can overcome evil and give us cause to celebrate - truly, without it depending on whether we've been naughty or nice.
We need the promised son who will both suffer with and for us, and win for us and come to us. When God shows up he's not aloof and clean and making 3pm speeches... he's naked and weak and vulnerable and in the line of fire. He suffers with us, and for us. God is a victim. And God wins - slays the giant, puts a tentpeg through the head of the enemy, takes the sting out of death. He wins and begins a whole new human race who aren't condemned to the curse of Scrooge, Kirstie or Santa but live in his blessing with his Holy Spirit.

Christmas invites you to ask is the baby whose birth we're remembering the long promised Christ? Is this Jesus that Christ?
Download mp3 - "Always Scrooge and Never Kirstie" (30mins) 

I preached without notes but I had this outline in my back pocket in case I bottled it. Many thanks to Glen Scrivener who helped my thinking a lot as I prepared. And huge thanks to my pastor for his detailed encouragement this afternoon.
More on the imagination of Lewis in Michael Ward's Planet Narnia

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Everyday Church MP3s (Steve Timmis)

As a gospel principle my desire is not to hold on tight to God's gracious gifts, but to share them as widely as I can.
I think Marcus Honeysett taught me that.
When I managed to persuade Steve Timmis to to spend 48 hours with the UCCF South West team that meant looking for ways to open our doors.

Steve spent four sessions (including Q&A) with us as a team along with a number of guests. Additionally we were able to open our doors for an evening event for the Exeter CU and other members of local churches, and a breakfast for local church leaders. We recorded the sessions and I'm posting them here for your encouragement - find yourself over 8.5 hours to listen in. I'm deeply challenged and looking forward to implementing ideas that flow from Steve's rich Ecclesiocentric gospel theology.

Session 1 (80mins)
Session 2 (84mins)
Session 3 (90mins)
Everyday Church Evening Talk (53mins)
Everyday Church Evening Q&A (30mins)
Church Leaders Breakfast - Talk and Q&A  (94mins)
Session 4 (90mins)

There were great moments about forgiving because we're forgiven, welcoming because we're welcome, finding your true rest in Jesus not in your home. How to gospel one another. I love that gospel community is a phenomenon, inexplicable without the gospel of Jesus, where you find yourself doing things you don't like with people you don't like.... and the thought that The New Creation is The Church.

Steve Timmis is involved in leading The Crowded House churches in Sheffield, and is the director of Acts 29 in Western Europe, in addition to being the co-author (with Tim Chester) of Total Church and Everyday Church.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Hugo: If you ever wonder where your dreams come from

Yesterday I took my wife to see Hugo 3D. I can't remember what the last film we saw at the cinema was, possibly Inception more than a year ago. Hugo is a wonderful fantastical story set in a Paris station in the 1930s. It's about machines and dreams, about finding purpose.

Hugo says: "I'd imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured, if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn't be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason."

Which might all sound a little mechanisic and predestinary but really its about imagination and knowing you have a part of play in the world, however seemingly small. It's a Martin Scorsese film about film and the way the big screen unleashes the imagination. It's about adventures and about love. Dashed and recovered dreams and  boys who live in the walls of stations.

Based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Monday, December 05, 2011

Think: Did Humanity fall on Day 6?

A month ago I received some excellent training on Genesis 1-11 that helped us understand different view points and engage with different questions that people might have. Our speaker was aimed to make us agnostic about these chapters, or at least to not make any particular reading a necessary thing for someone to be a Christian.

Some approaches major on fitting the text with scientific approaches, others lean more to a literary approach to the text with less concern for fit with science. There are choices to make. Sometimes not much is at stake... sometimes a lot is at stake.

What follows is an argument I heard from a theology student last week, from the more literary approach to the text, approaching the question of when the fall of man happened.
The events of Genesis 2 occur in "the day" that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens (Gen 2:4). You could say thats some period of time, but what if a day is just a day. And if finished means completed then we can speak of what is finsihed on that day, 2v1.
When was this? Genesis 1 says the work of creation was completed on Day 6.  There is evening and there is morning, man is created. Animals are named. Woman is created. As that day comes to its close, The Word of the LORD prepares to come and walk in the garden, in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8) before the beginning of the seventh day. But when he comes, man is hiding in shame... the fall has happened...

Why? Could it be that the serpent turns from God and strikes at humanity out of jealousy that man, God's image bearer, is receiving the love of God and ruling over the world.

And so it still remains for man to enter into God's seventh day, through Christ. And so to walk with God. 
Its good to have been able to wrestle with the text a little further. It's a challenge to interpret a text well but far from impossible - and its useful to remember what's at stake in an interpretation. The same student also put forward something like this argument that Melchizedek is Shem. and several other tasty morsels from the Pentateuch... thoughts to ponder, what do you think?