Thursday, 31 May 2012

Next To Me

I used this song for Communion a few weeks back.

I used it to consider how God has promised to always be with us.  In the act of Communion God meets with us by His Spirit and Jesus' Story becomes our story.  We encounter God and His eternal promise 'I am with you' is truth and life for us.

'So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.' Isaiah 41:10
'And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.' Matthew 28:20

Some words from the song,

'When the money's spent and all my friends have vanished
And I can't seem to find no help or love for free
I know there's no need for me to panic
Cos I'll find him, I'll find him next to me.

...When all I need's a hand to stop the tears from falling
I will find him, I'll find him next to me.'

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Did God Create Himself?

'Did God create Himself?' was the question my five year old daughter Grace asked me the other day.

I think this is a great question, especially because she is only five years old.

I love this question because she is thinking for herself, pushing and questioning the faith that she has and sees in Sarah and I.

It is a question that is asking who God is and what he is all about.  And I am going to encourage Grace to keep asking, keep questioning and keep thinking for herself.

After she asked me I asked her what she thought.  She sat quiet for a while and then said, 'I'm not sure. I think God made the whole of everything...'  Then she went quiet again as we drove past a cemetery. 'I'm going to put you there dad when you die.'  And the conversation moved on!

I left the question in the air and have not given her any answer as to what I think.  I think it is such a good question that it deserves to hang in the air blowing gently like a whisper and forcefully like a shout.

I know what my short answer to her question is, but I didn't want to just say that to her, partly because I wanted to think about it some more.  It made me think about time, origins, beginnings and endings, creation and who God is.  It is a question that reveals more than just one question, it taps into mystery; beautiful, challenging mystery.  I hope she always asks those kind of questions.

In light of all this mystery, I certain of one thing though...

She has my funeral all sorted!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Don't Lie to Your Children

The other day on BBC 2 the animated film The Prince of Egypt was on.  It is a re-telling of the story of Moses taken in part from the book of Exodus and artistically adapted for the cinema.

Grace and I started to watch it together and something happened that completely threw me.

It got to the part in the story when Moses kills the Egyptian.  The Bible says, 'One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his people were and watched them at their hard labour.  He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people.  Glancing this way and that and seeing no-one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.'  Exodus 2:11-12

When Grace watched this part of the film she became absolutely distraught.  She cried and cried, filled with fear.

I managed to calm her down, we talked it through and as the day went on she stopped thinking about it.

But I haven't stopped thinking about it.

For a while now I have been considering the way in which we share the Biblical story with our children.  Time and time again we treat our children with no respect because we feed them lies and half truths about the reality of the Biblical story.

The story of Noah is a nice little boat trip, the Exodus is a few insect inconveniences, David and Goliath have a little spat, Jesus has a lovely little birth, says some nice stories and give lots of hugs.

Not only do we share the same stories over and over again, missing out massive chunks of Scripture, but the stories we tell are not even the reality of how the Bible portrays them.  No wonder our children grow up and walk away from the church.  The get to an age where they realise that we haven't been telling them the truth, where we haven't shared with them the whole sweep of Scripture and where we have avoided the hard and messy parts of the Biblical story.  When life gets messy for our children they should find comfort and hope and challenges in God's Great Story, but because we have painted a picture where everything is always lovely and easy, they seriously don't not think our faith has anything to say.

Grace's reaction to The Prince of Egypt helped me realise again that the Christian faith is filled with stories that are painful, difficult and scary.  But if we want our children to explore, wrestle and grapple with being a follower of Jesus then we have to be honest and share the reality of these stories.  Then with integrity they and we can journey together.  If they decide that they do not want to be a part of this then at least we know that it is out of a truthful reality and wrestling.

Let us stop lying to our children and ducking the hard questions that the Bible throws us and start to all be challenged by what God has said and is saying to us through the whole narrative of Scripture.  Don't avoid these stories because you're scared and uncomfortable of them.  When was being a follower of Jesus ever comfortable?

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Marking the Jubilee

'It is time to separate the civil function of the monarch which relates to all UK (and some Commonwealth) citizens from any religious functions which are recognised only by some of them. To come clean, the Queen is not, never was and never will be a sacred figure for me or for people like me. I see no biblical or theological justification to support this, and indeed, have never seen any offered. The Queen is a civil power and as such worthy of respect and prayer, but not a religious one in any other sense than that as a devout and dutiful Christian (for which much thanks) she is a fellow-member of Christ's church. Granted that some Anglicans may have difficulty recognising in Charles (or William?) a similarly sacred figure, the issues are actually much larger. A head of state needs to be a focus of unity. While an explicit denominational religious loyalty is integral to the monarchy as currently understood the religious dimensions of that role militate against the civil ones... The inclusion of the religious dimension in the coronation has constituted a kind of English imperialism. Even within England, historic Nonconformity has always expressly denied a religious function to the monarch, although generally supportive of the civil aspects of monarchy. And in an increasingly religiously diverse and secular country, the religious dimensions of monarchy are not exactly relevant.'

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Church and 'Doing Stuff'

There seems to be something about 'doing stuff' that is deeply addictive within the life of our churches.

Without doubt it is also a cultural thing where we want to prove our worth by how much we work and do.  We think doing stuff is the most important thing.

Within church life it can mean the end of community.

Churches can have meeting after meeting to talk and plan the stuff they want to do.  And the stuff we do can very easily become the thing that defines us so that the church that does the most stuff is seen as the church who is getting the important stuff done.

We believe we are finally a success.

We come to believe our own self importance as church and see the relentless meetings as a sign of our success.  And the meetings become a place of business, a place to decide how the stuff is done properly.

Then the power games begin.  The ones who do the most stuff make a challenge to become the top dog, the power player, the one who decides how the stuff is done.

It all gets dressed up in religious and spiritual language, yet it is no different to a business meeting in any secular organisation.  Worse than that, the stuff we do becomes the god of our lives and church, the thing we bow down and worship.

I was reading about when Moses struck the rock in Meribah and water poured out from it.  Moses is chastised by God for not trusting him.  God tells Moses to speak to the rock and water will gush out, yet Moses strikes the rock twice with his staff.  Water still flows, yet Moses has done it his way rather than God's way.

Moses did not trust God enough.  Moses wanted to do stuff to get the water.  God simply wanted Moses to pray.  And Moses suffered the consequences of his disobedience by not entering the Promised Land.

Doing stuff might well get good things done, things that bless our community and people in need.  God is a good God and desires to rescue, redeem and raise up the poor, oppressed and abused.  And praise God when he uses the efforts of our churches to do that.  But in our desire to do stuff we may well suffer the consequences.

In our desire to always be doing stuff we may well forget how to trust God.  We may well see prayer as obsolete or an after thought.  We may well come to believe that God only acts when we do stuff.

The consequences may well be that we lose our love and intimacy with God.  We may well find ourselves trusting in what we do than the One who as done it all.  God may become an after thought to the work of our hands.

What good is it to gain the whole world yet forfeit our soul?

It is important that we serve God in action, in practical ways to see lives changed and communities transformed.  But that transformation comes from God, not us.  And only God can do the stuff whereby real change and redemption happens.  So the Church is first and foremost called to pray.  And out of that place of prayer we go and act in ways that God calls us to.

If we believe the lie that as churches we should be really busy doing lots if stuff, then we will become proud, no longer trusting in God.

And if we believe that God will only do something if we 'strike the rock' rather than 'just' praying, then maybe God is challenging us to think again...