Monday, August 13, 2012

Did He Die for This?

In my last blog post I mentioned the delight of time away on a retreat for some rest and restoration. The place in which I took the retreat is actually the home for a community of people whom I got to meet whilst on the trip. I shared meals with some precious old men and women who were in the latter years of a life committed to serving the Lord in various capacities. Before I share some reflective concerns from being within this community for a time I want to reiterate what precious individuals these people were - their kindness and openness to me was richly warming. But there were two things that concerned me, upon reflection, with their ideology and general ethos.

Firstly, there was a total embracing of inter-faith relations that seemed in its outworking to form a Christian faith that had lost its fundamental identity. There is absolutely nothing wrong with relating to people of other faiths - in fact in postmodern Europe there is almost not the possibility of a working life without it. The idea of 'being missional' in its very essence demands that it is people of all race, religion etc. with whom we are to form authentic relationship. This inter-faith relation that received such significance in this community appeared something else all together. The upshot of it all, as it appeared to me at least, was a conclusion that Christ's sole purpose was to bring peace, any element of vicarious sacrifice in order to turn away the righteous wrath of God seemed necessarily absent or at the very least inconsequential. This concerns me. The bible does not merely intimate but portrays overtly that we are enemies of God at a 'DNA' level. The peace we need is - yes with each other - but primarily and essentially with the God of heaven. If your faith is one that denies that God the Father of Jesus Christ, his eternally begotten, co-divine, exact radiant image, is God then the peace that ultimately must be sought is with Him; and that is ONLY through FAITH in the gospel of Jesus Christ and submission to His lordship.

My second concern, which may simply be symptomatic of the first, but not necessarily so, was that the result of the transformative work of the Holy Spirit was niceness. The conversation that surrounded me at meal times and at other moments smacked of those who perhaps had settled for an understanding that "Jesus died to make us nice;" not radical, not zealous, certainly not 'non-pc' or offensive, but "nice." May I place it on record now that Christ did not endure all that he endured to make us nice - we can make ourselves nice! Christ died to transform our very nature and to make us loving but loving and nice are not synonymous, be absolutely certain you understand that. I am exceedingly offensive to a secular-humanist who believes he is God and the centre of the universe when I tell Him he is not and that He desperately needs to encounter the real God and become nothing in order to become something. Just concerns really but things that simply do not match up to biblically-rooted gospel truth.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Retreat yourself!

Had the great delight of a time away on retreat last week simply to rest, read the Scriptures and to pray about all the things on the heart. It is something I recommend to anyone, if possible, once a year. It's a case of prioritizing it, perhaps asking another (wife does it one time,and husband takes the next, or family friends) to look after the children, scheduling it, and booking it in, nothing too spiritual about that just a matter of seeing its importance and choosing to do it. Of course, if you've not got children and/or if you're single this is something easier for you to work into an annual routine. The time was certainly rewarding even if merely for the fruit of 'stopping' for a moment and sensing your body's response to just catch up on rest. The wonder of the time for me was knowing that all of the time set aside for that 48 hours was to rest, pray, and read. What I mean is that it was fantastic to know that I wasn't not doing something else, or skipping on another responsibility in order to 'seize' some time with God, that was precisely what ALL that time was for. Many of the spiritual disciplines that marked notable men and women of God of the past can be embraced on a retreat in a way that becomes seemingly impossible in the hustle and bustle of the 21st Century hectic lifestyle. Solitude, silence, fasting, biblical meditation and other 'disciplines' are more than achievable for a short space of time. If there is the slightest chance of you embarking on an opportunity as that which I've described I would certainly say retreat yourself. Simon

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

'Consuming Religion' A Taste

I've remarked to numerous people about my reading of a book called Consuming Religion by a Catholic Scholar Vincent J. Miller. I've tweeted several times some of the arresting one-liners that regularly raise their heads within this extremely insightful read. I thought it may be helpful to give a brief 'taste' of the book with a quote here within the blog.
The context of the quote is Miller's discussion of the fundamental importance of 'desire' to the Christian faith but how the very form of that desire is reshaped negatively by the commodification of culture which is the process undergirding the flourishing of our consumer society. Miller here is stating how the commitment to life-long discipleship within "location and the lived structure of temporality" (two things vital for discipleship in Miller's thought) are undermined in contemporary consumer society.
He writes:

"Because of the misdirection by advertising of needs and desires towards consumption, our more profound desires [For God/Spiritual Growth] are focused on the moment of decision. We are looking to choose the ideal vision, synthesis, or vocation that will bring everything together for us. Commitment becomes a momentary action of self-disposition, not a long-term process of self-transformation. The practice we are engaging is consumption. Thus, it is hard for us to move on to the transformative practices of the tradition we choose. When we do manage to commit ourselves to the rigours of long-term disciplines, we do so increasingly as isolated individuals who encounter traditions in the abstract, not as part of a particular community. We live our spiritualities dispersed in the micro-monasteries of single-family homes."

Note the sections in bold as they cut to the heart of issues radically affecting the life of the local church, and exacerbating the eternal-immaturity of contemporary Christians like a surgeon's scalpel.



August is what we hope as a leadership at X1 will be 'rest' month.
We are seeking to pull back a number of things in order to know somewhat more of a restful season because, firstly, it is very good for us, and, secondly, it will hopefully enable us to be full of energy to move forward with renewed vigour and focus in the ministry life of X1 as the summer ends.
We as the LJ family are really going to try and make this work for ourselves and I am sincerely hopeful that, even as we still offer ministry and celebration times together as a church this summer, many of the X1ers will find time to enter "sabbath," the rest of God.

I pulled out an old quote from Eugene Peterson's, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places and some thoughts upon that to reinforce the idea, and importance, of rest:

"Most of us have a difficult time understanding history with God as the major and definitive presence. We have grown up getting our sense of history from so-called historians, scholars, and journalists for whom God is not germane or present in what they study and write. We are thoroughly trained by our schools, daily papers, and telecasts to read history solely in terms of politics and economics, human interest and environmental conditions, military operations and diplomatic intrigue. If we have a mind for it, we can go ahead and fit God in somewhere or other. But the biblical writers do it the other way around; they fit us into the history in which God is the primary reality."- Eugene Peterson

One of the things most 'reassuring' in the above insight by Peterson is the reminder he gives that God is fully at work in our every-day run of the mill lives. God does not need to work distinct from our reality He loves to be fully alive in us as we do whatever we do for most of the day.
The powerful words I have quoted above are a poignant challenge to not only secular society, but to Christians who are being won over by the views of said secular society.
Here is the call folks: If we are immersed in the information overload offered by those who will not include God (and I assure you He is not awaiting an invitation He is everywhere present) we will lose sight of God for ourselves.

Peterson calls believers to return the notion of sabbath, to rest in awe and wonder at the person of God and His work in creation. We must remove ourselves from 'history' sometimes and look fully and humbly at all that God is and has done. When we do not do this, when we do not stop and wonder, we will lose our connection to God, we will forget Him and be defined by secularity.

His word, silent meditation, and getting away to a place where we are confronted by the naked beauty of God's creation shouting forth the glory of God are all means of seeing God again, feeling Him, loving Him, dreaming Him, knowing Him and above all worshiping Him.
Please let us not be defined by those who for now have removed God from 'history' because at the end of this season of 'history' they too will bow the knee and confess that "Jesus is King" and it is actually His Story after all!


Saturday, July 21, 2012

As we REALLY should be.

Surely the role of a church leader must be to orchestrate, to guide, to lovingly lead a people who as a whole reflect the life and love of Jesus -simple hey? NOT! It is obviously lifelong, perhaps even unattainable in this life, but, that said, it is our goal. It is certainly my goal.
There are obviously a myriad of things that hinder such 'reflection' (this is a pivotal idea/word for the Theological Aesthetics that I believe is becoming the essential Theological stance I am drawn to take - Led there primarily by Jonathan Edwards and Hans Urs von Balthasar).
One major hindrance is what I will term 'absorption'. It is really a term to denote the osmotic process of Christian people adapting to and living by the values and ethics of the culture in which they live. There is no malevolent ambition behind this it is simply an adapting or a giving over of the radical ethical values of New Testament Christianity to those which are far easier to live by.
One small section of scripture is perhaps sufficient to expose the ease with which 'absorption' redefines our essence as the people of God and stains or muddies our reflection of Christ.

It is from Ephesians Chapter 5 and is the third & fourth verse:

"...sexual immorality, and all uncleanness, or greediness, must not even be named among you (as is fitting for saints), and obscenity, and foolish talk, or coarse jesting..."

What Paul is here impressing upon us as a model of living would, I absolutely assure you, be laughed down and cast out as a model of life for the majority of believers whom I lead and with whom I interact. Hey let me say it more effectively: it is a model of life I, yes 'Pastor' me, would say is not REALLY one by which we are meant to live today. I've said from our pulpit that I am stunned at some of the DVDs in the collections of X1ers; John Piper, speaking to aspiring Pastors, highlights that he could never ever watch many of the films those listening to him speak would consider entertainment.

I know!

Absorption has certainly drawn me away from the biblical model of life. It is the power of the Spirit, not renewed striving that will draw me - any of us - back to that lifestyle which Paul intimates here.