Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The Problem with Street Preachers

I was driving to a meeting yesterday when I stopped at a traffic light behind a man on a bike.  On the back of his bike he had a huge sign that had some kind of message about Jesus and a bible verse.  I didn't take too much notice to be honest because I find this kind of thing ridiculous.  

I've had conversations before with people about street preachers.  Most people find the whole thing strange and thoroughly off-putting. But I do meet the odd person who loves the idea of street preaching and thinks that Christians should be doing more of it.

There is good reason why Christians need to stop street preaching.

Street preaching really finds its root in the belief that everyone has the ability to understand the bible and 'make up their own minds' as to whether the gospel is true or not. It is the belief that if the preacher just tells everyone that God made the heavens and the earth then people will use their common sense and realise that what the preacher is saying is true.  It is the belief that if the preacher just tells you 'this' or 'that' about the bible then people will understand the text and then 'make a decision'.

The massive problem with all of this is that the street preacher is completely oblivious to the truth that Scripture is a text for the church community that is read and heard in the context of church community, where people are being transformed, where there is confession and forgiveness and where the Bible is understood through the life of community.

The Beatitudes for instance only make sense within the church community in that together we see that God has brought together into the church peacemakers, the poor, the meek and the persecuted. 

Jesus' call to love one another as he has loves us only makes sense when you know how Jesus has loved us.  And you only know how Jesus has loved us when you become his disciple and daily walk with him and see your own life in the shadow of his cross.

The street preacher does not realise that they are simply turning the bible into another rule book with a tick box of beliefs.  They turn grace into law and deny the very gospel they think they are preaching.

Scripture only makes sense within the life of the Church and the history of God's people.

That is why the street preacher and the militant atheist are so similar to each other and have so much in common.  They create a god in their own image that bears no resemblance to the God revealed in Jesus Christ.  Scripture is like a machine gun that they use to kill the god they have made in their own image. They go on and on about what the bible apparently says without any clue as to what the bible actually says.

When you see how much the street preacher and militant atheist have in common you realise how the bible belongs to the Church and the Church to the bible.

To See

'To see the world as it should be seen, and to see the true glory of God reflected in it requires the cultivation of charity, of an eye rendered limpid by love...the Christian should see two realities at once, one world (as it were) within another: one the world as we know it, in all its beauty and terror, grandeur and dreariness, delight and anguish; and the other the world in its first and ultimate truth, not simply 'nature' but 'creation', and endless sea of glory, radiant with the beauty of God in every part, innocent of all violence. To see in this way is to rejoice and mourn at once, to regard the world as a mirror of infinite beauty, but as glimpsed through the veil of death; it is to see creation in chains, but beautiful as in the beginning of days.'  Hart 2005, 60-61

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Where Are You God?

I've been reading an article on the 'hiddenness' of God.

'But I cry to you for help, Lord;
    in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 Why, Lord, do you reject me
    and hide your face from me?'

Psalm 88:13-14

It is a discussion Tom and I have had many times.  Tom has often spoke about the silence of God and God's hiddenness.  Tom decided that God was so hidden that God actually couldn't exist and so gave up altogether.  Many atheist's would say that there is no evidence of God's existence.

Christian's know only to well how distant God can seem.  Indeed, throughout the Story of God with us people have called out to God imploring him to answer prayers, make himself known and to draw near in comfort.  Above we hear the psalmist's cry of desperation, 'Why, LORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me?'

I am sure many have prayed this prayer or something similar.

Interwoven throughout this question of God's hiddenness is the question of suffering.  For throughout the history of humanity suffering has been a very real part of our story.  Many have looked at the suffering they see and know and have decided that there is no God.

'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'  Mark 15:34

In the depth of his suffering, Jesus felt abandoned and deserted by His Father.  Alone, suffering in the darkness.

Jesus bears the mark of his crucifixion into all eternity, a sign that his suffering is a very part of who he is but that he has ultimately redeemed the whole cosmos through his suffering.  We are included within that work of redemption and are beckoned to be shaped into His image.  For that shaping to happen we too will suffer and share in the suffering's of Jesus.  Humanity has a goal.  It is to be shaped into the image of the Son of God.

Sometimes we suffer in order to discover who we truly are, that we might more and more become who we are called to be, that we might become more like Jesus.

That is not to make light of suffering, it is actually to see it in light of Jesus' suffering and therefore realise that he knows us in our suffering and will be with us in the midst of it. 

When we cry out 'Where are you God?' it is merely an echo of Jesus' own cry on the cross.

Which brings us back to God's hiddenness.

At his death Jesus was taken down from the cross by friends.  It is the hands and compassion of friends that placed him in the tomb.  They had no idea, but they helped prepare the way for the resurrection.  God was at work through them.

When the church is truly the church, we encounter a God who is preparing the way of the new heavens and earth through one another, by the Spirit.  In the midst of our suffering and seeming silence of God we encounter God through one another.  It is the hands and compassion of God through the church that carry us through the darkness preparing us for the dawn of hope.  God is present in us and seeks to minister his love, grace and forgiveness through his people and to his people.

I know that church can be a place of pain, unforgiveness and hypocrisy.  I know that people have left the Christian faith altogether because of this.  And I'm sorry about this, I truly am.
But I also know that there are wonderful followers of Jesus who are daily stretching out their arms in acts of love and compassion, forgiveness and accountability, truthfully and authentically declaring that God has not forgotten the world, that God is present and is with us.

In the midst of the seeming silence and hiddenness you are not hidden from God, he has heard your prayer and maybe today you will encounter him through the hands and compassion of his people, those people being shaped into the image of His Son.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Security

Security is the great idol of our day.

So we build bigger houses, try to earn more money, try to put more money into savings, try to win the lottery, try to keep the wolves from the door...try, try, try...

Then we are told that dropping bombs on other countries is for our own security.

We need to get rid of 'evil people', protect our citizens from terrorists, wage war to get peace, overthrow the tyrants.

And if we believe the newspapers and the government then you've most likely got a terrorist, rapist, murderer or some other demon living in your street ready to hurt you.


All this, the need for more money and things, the need to protect the country and your home from evil people, are lies.

We have become obsessed with security as if security was the most important thing.

Rather than live by faith, trusting God with our lives, living the Way of Jesus, forsaking violence and the love of money, we would rather try to establish our lives on crumbling foundations.

God doesn't call us to a life of security but a life of faithfulness and truthfulness.

The church is not called to make people fell a little bit better about themselves and to live a bit less miserably.  The church is called to help people live truthfully and to see clearly.

Jesus is the ultimate antidote to security and sentimentality.

Read the gospels and see for yourself.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Living Well

Living in a society where people feel that one of the few ways 'of self-transcendence is orgasm, we Christians are going to have a tough time convincing people that it would be nicer if they would not be promiscuous.' Sex often is used simply as a way of covering up a growing sense of emptiness and the meaningless 'one thing after another' routine of their lives. When it comes to figuring out what is 'right' or 'wrong', people often use the 'I'm an individual and can do what I want' line or 'As long as it feels right to me' line. People have become very detached from each other believing that the best way to live is to be be 'free' from traditions, living however you see fit. Community often looks like a group of people who look the same and sound the same and deal with their detachment from others by joining with others who are just like them. You then get dangerous groups who become very ideological, zealous and with high ego's talking about the world and the way it should be. Capitalism and cooporations wants you to feel lonely, empty and detached so they can feed you the lie that money and possessions, power and fame will fill the void. They want you to be detached so that you will be at their beck and call. The danger for the church is to respond by giving people a list of rules to follow. Or it says that the most important thing is for people to belong. So we end up continuing to feed the desire to fill the void of our lives with just another thing. The Way of Jesus is about living faithfully to the story he has called us to follow in and to live out. We are called to be a gospel people who's lives are shaped by living faithfully to God, following Jesus in his radical call of discipleship. This is where community is found. Living faithfully to Jesus is our highest goal and where we discover our true selves. In relationship with the living God our lives rightly shaped and lived. Resident Aiens is an amazing book. It is from this book that these thoughts have sprung. Buy it and read it if you can...