Monday, September 29, 2003

Mad month

What a mad month. I've been away from home for nine nights and eaten more conference food than I wish to remember. That said it's been a fantastic time of new beginnings. It's been great to start to get to know Surrey CU, particularly with their Cell weekend which we've just had. A real focus on building community and being evangelistic. My session was on honesty & openness, titled not about sex... and it wasn't. Meanwhile Reading start back this week and with the FE Colleges in the area also up and running I'll be all over the place trying to show people how wonderful Jesus is, from the Bible.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Not about sex

Ephesians 2v11-22
There are no strangers in the new humanity created by Jesus blood (11-19a)

Image 1. A new Humanity
Jesus’ triumph at the cross means…
All the divisions have gone
Access all areas for everyone

In what ways do we discriminate between each other? (be honest!) How will you treat everyone equally in your cell? We’re all sinners which means failure is ok. How can you create an environment where there is “permission to fail” in cell? What will you do to ensure that God’s abundant grace flows in your cell? How will we grow from being strangers to being open with each other? God’s glory inhabits the new house when it is built on the gospel & the Bible (19b-22)

Image 2. Inhabited House
The inhabited house is built on 2 foundations… “Jesus blood” & “The Apostles” –
i.e. The Gospel, The Bible Get those in place and God moves in! In what ways are our individual lives built on these foundations? How can we build these foundations in cell? “Being Jesus-centred means being Bible-centred”. Discuss. What will it look like to have your cell inhabited by the glory of God, i.e. to be a Spirit-filled cell community?

Newsnight reported last week that the government are trying, and failing, to build 250K houses a year – but the population’s not growing that fast? Roads are gridlocked twice a day with cars each of which only have one passenger. On the bus we fill up the sits one person per two person seat – and then we stand… before we’ll finally sit next to some one. We’re disconnecting from each others. Douglas Coupland wrote over a decade ago of the cult of aloneness. Aloneness. Total disconnection.

It’s nothing new to Christians – we know that humanity has disconnected from God, and from each other and from our environment and the affects are becoming increasingly clear. We’re in a global village where I’m more connected to someone 100 miles away via MSN than I am to my next door neighbour.

As Christians we suffer this disease as much as those around us –we’re immersed in this disconnected culture but it does not have to be this way.

Ephesians 2v11-21. (READ IT)

The passage breaks down into two sections – two main themes centred round two images.
FIRST – A NEW HUMANITY
SECOND – AN INHABITED HOUSE
Let me read you a quote from Jeff Lucas: And then there is the way we greet, or don’t greet each other. We are fairly gifted in the art of totally ignoring strangers… this is not just a secular problem…. I occasionally like to catch people’s eyes and then offer a warm, “Good Morning”. The response or lack of it can be astounding…. Totally stared down and coldly ignored… Lucas on Life 2. p24-25

Humanity stands divided. Because of the cross a new humanity is being created – the weird and the wonderful united by Jesus and in Jesus. Can you see the implications? There is a real bond between Christians and you can’t deny it. We do, but how can we… Remember in Neighbours – all those scenes in the Coffee Shop where the cast live out their lives whilst in the background hundreds of wannabe actors try to make a living by prentending to drink coffee – extras – disconnected from the story and looked through as if they weren’t really there at all.

We treat those we don’t know like extras in the story of our lives – people we ignore and treat as part of the scenery. Just occasionally we get to know such people – sometimes they’ve been part of the backdrop for years and we’ve never given them the time of day – never given them the kind of respect God gives them. My best man and I were interviewed on the same day at Bath University in December 1996. We were in the same group tour around the campus. And yet I know we never spoke – probably we deliberately avoided eye contact… because that’s what we Brits love to do. And it is horrific. A film of my life would have featured him as an extra in 1996, and yet within a year we became the best of friends and have been each other’s best man… We live miles away from each other and only see each other infrequently but we’re united. We’re not strangers – and there is no place for being strangers amongst God’s people. It just makes no sense.

From God’s eye view we are all miserable sinners but also all incredibly loved – and it’s time we made the connection. God loves you, and me – but do you & I love each other? ALL THE DIVISIONS ARE GONE. AND second… EVERYONE HAS AN ACCESS ALL AREAS PASS WITH GOD. The world is full of off limits areas. Locked doors and seats in first class. Last year I was on the Spring Harvest Team – and that means you get to go into the “Team Lounge”. Having the right colour wristband grants access to the holy of holies on the Butlins site… trust me, it’s nothing special in there but the point is that there are no “team wristbands” with God. Now I’m not saying that a refuge for team members isn’t helpful at Spring Harvest, it was – giving out all day it is nice to have a place to collapse BUT with God it isn’t like that.

If you’re part of this new humanity then you have an ACCESS ALL AREAS pass which gives you entry into his presence – to the most holy place. Every Christian has this – this means there are no priests. Mike Pilavachi helpfully pointed out at the Alpha for Students conference that: “there is only one way into the presence of God and it’s the cross not worship” You and I do not get access to God via a worship leader. And what a relief…. I often led worship when I was a student and that would have been way to big a responsibility…

Lucas again: God is the champion who chooses the awkward, gangly-limed players for his soccer team, and gives them equal honour to the Beckhams…. [he] insists on utilizing ordinary people for his purposes and blessing them in the process. One reason for his heart for the ordinary is simple – ultimately, we all are. Ordinary. But much loved. Lucas on Life 2. p23

But what does this mean for us? All the divisions gone Access all areas. It means that you and your fellow Christians have a bond between you – a unity that is in Jesus. You have a lot of other common ground, like bein a student at Surrey, your age etc. But above and beyond that you have the bond that is the gospel – Jesus Christ who has loved you both. There can be no more strangers –

You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family. Problem is that CHRISTIAN FRIENDS are family. You can’t discriminate and choose who you want, not really… we need to open up to God’s people – we can’t have strangers in the new humanity if we’re to be united. And everyone having equal access to God means we are equal. No one is better than anyone else. We stand reunited with God and each other.

Implications?? If God has removed the barriers between us – so should we. Lets be open with each other – we’re not better than others. And nor do we need to pretend we are. If you’re in the new humanity then it means you know you’re a sinner – it means you know you’re a failure. It means we need to have a Permission To Fail Culture. It is ok to be wrong. It is ok to struggle with things. None of us is the finished article. Progress is a good thing to but you don’t need to be perfect yet. Forgiveness needs to be the context – a place of grace, a place where no one gets laughed at for a stupid question, or a stupid answer – but a place where we learn and grow together. John’s gospel views the cross through the eyes of the prophet Zechariah – Jesus death causes fountains of cleansing to flow – grace flows abundantly to us as Christians…

We’ll think in groups about how that might work in practice soon – how we can live out being this NEW HUMANITY. Paul’s second image. A GOD INHABITED HOUSE. Paul takes his images from daily life. Sometimes the army, sometimes farming, sometimes athletics, sometimes building… Paul imagines God’s brave new world as being like a house – like the temple where God had dwelt and he’s leaving this behind and saying that God is building a new house. Any house has to have foundations otherwise it will fall down. God’s house is the same.

There are two here. First the cornerstone, the stone that everything rests on – it’s Jesus, and earlier in the passage we saw that it was Jesus blood that is the key – his death for us is the cornerstone on which everything else is built. Second – the house is built on the apostles teaching – that is to say, the Bible, the New Testament of their writings and the Old Testament they taught. To make life easier – the subject of these texts is Jesus and his death for us. And so it’s the gospel that this house is built on. And this foundation needs to be kept in place otherwise the house will not be safe to live in. And who is to live in the house – GOD – we are his house, individually and corporately and he is to dwell with us. The Message translation of John 1 speaks of how…

Jesus moved into the neighbourhood …when he became a man. For us the Spirit will come and inhabit – dwell in – the house that is God’s people. God’s glory will manifest itself amongst us when we’re built on the right foundations. God will move into our neighbourhood again!
FIRST GOD DWELT WITH ADAM IN THE GARDEN
THEN GOD DWELT WITH ISRAEL IN THE TEMPLE
THEN GOD DWELT WITH THE APOSTLES IN JESUS
AND NOW WITH US – BY HIS SPIRIT!

We’ll need to think about How we make sure we’re building on the right foundations and we’ll do that in groups too. Are we letting grace flow in our cells – being open and honest with each other because we’re united in Christ? Are we building on God’s word in the Bible and on the message and affects of the gospel?

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Student Alpha Conference

Alpha Conference was great. Very challenging afternoon session on Worship, Evangelism & Justice by Mike Pilavachi. Some strong challenges - first to see the connection between Worship & Evangelism (a point i've longed to see made for four years - on which see my article on Acts 17v16ff), but then to consider whether our lives are truly worshipful lives - do we live justly, mercifully and humbly - like Christ? I suspect we don't. And grace abounds from Jesus, who is all those things but it never absolves us of living in right response to the gift we've recieved from God. I know I need to think over this more and more than that to begin to act more justly, mercifully and humbly. The other big challenge for me was a seminar by Danny Brierley of Oasis to think about community - what impact am I having on the communities that I'm a part of - that then points to the sphere in which my life is to be led in justice, mercy and humility.

Monday, September 15, 2003

The Distress of Idolatry to the heart of the worshipper

If we profess to be serious about God - if we consider his name and his glory to be the most important things and indeed the things for which we were created then this will impact our lives. Driven by this as we meet together we will proclaim this in songs of great joy and truth. And we'll do it in the preaching of the Word of God faithfully. And it will impact our lives, it will be applied.

"Worship which does not beget mission is hypocrisy.
We cannot acclaim the worth of God if we have no desire to proclaim it" (Stott, 1967)

A great example for apologetics (or at least that is how it is used) is found in Acts 17 but so often we miss the backdrop of this great triumph of cross-cultural evangelism. What was it that drove Paul? In v16 we see him enter and observe the city of Athens and he is found to be greatly distressed at the idolatry he sees - men worship anything and everything - even unknown gods, but they do not honour the true Sovereign God. And so, he takes the gospel to them.

And now also our mandate is the same. We were created by God to glorify him and to bring others to glorify him. His glory is why we remain on earth. If not for the advancing of that then we should surely find it of greater worth for us to be with Christ. But there is a task to be completed. Driven by love and a passion for the glory of God we must find ways of connecting with our world and confronting them to leave their futile idolatry and come to worship God. Compelled by Christ's love for us that is displayed at the cross this is our task.

To shirk this is to leave our acclamation of him as mere hypocrisy. This task is not easy and there may be no one size fits all solution but it must be done. To innovatively and strike out and faithfully make known the gospel of Christ is to glorify God truly by calling many to come and worship him.
Day off work to rest and recuperate after the FORUM conference. Fantastic to see over 400 students getting a vision for the good news about Jesus and looking to tell their fellow students about it, with the aid of the new Life resources. Off to the Alpha for Students conference tomorrow and then on to meeting with students on campus

My job is to meet with students and study the Bible with them, the aim of this is to see them gain in confidence and joy in Jesus' good news, and so to push forward the witnessing communities of students (CU's) on campus as they seek to take that good news to students. This is a genius way to work - sending 18 year old Christian missionaries from across the world into the student world as students to take the good news of Jesus to students. These missionaries work for three years in the most transient population in the country whilst they study, getting to the heart of student culture and speaking about Jesus.