The end.

This is my last post here on Not Just a Ticket To Heaven. I have started a new blog, which I would love you to follow here: www.tensionandcolour.com

Thanks for being on this journey, and here’s to the new one! 

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Brilliance and failure.

Both/And rather than Either/Or – my exploration of some of my favourite tensions in the Christian faith. Holding multiple things in tension is a good thing – hence why I am writing this blog series. I’d love to hear your thoughts, please comment below.

Jesus tells a fascinating story about a master and three men. The master gives these three men various amount of “talents” and the three men respond differently.

One man turns the investment of talents into more.

The next turns it into more.

The third buries it, and does nothing with it.

As a result, the master is ticked.

This story is brilliant. And here’s why – at the most basic level of our humanity is this truth: we are made in the image of a Creator God, and in being made in his image we are made to co-create with him. We are made to do something. Why is the master so ticked off? Because, at the most foundational level of our humanity we are made to do something with what we have been given. It’s a human thing – not an I’m-a-better-Christian thing. We have been made to make, and make things we must.

The Christian life is one of getting dirty hands from handling the tools of the Kingdom and doing the work of the Kingdom. It is one of everyone doing the work and making things. The most fully alive Christian community is one that is noisy, dusty and chaotic with the buzz of things being created. Dying Christian community is where one person, is doing the work. There’s not much “community” about that.

And this brings me to how we outwork all of this.

Some of us strive for brilliance – that God deserves our best. Some of us lay back and chill out, and try not to get too precious about things and become OK with failure-induced mediocrity.

Both of these worlds are to be held in tension. Scripture shows us that to do our best is important to God. There are plenty of Biblical examples of this – two I think of immediately are the entire book of Proverbs and the pleas of the prophets that God deserves our best efforts rather than the “she’ll be right” sacrifices. God indeed desires for us to be the best version of ourselves that we can be.

But, there is also a world of failure. Of trying, and not getting it right. Of giving things a go, and we didn’t “kill it” – in fact, we murdered it. There are plenty of Biblical examples of this too – Peter sinking, Judas betraying, Paul and Barnabas separating, churches mucking up what’s important… It seems for all of the brilliance we see, we also see failure.

We mustn’t become content with failure – we must remember that getting things wrong is indeed getting it wrong. But, we must be gracious and keep things where they need to be, after all, little things are little things and big things are big things. I view all of my activity – the things I say and do – through this lens of doing things with brilliance. But along the way things fail – sometimes because of me, and sometimes because of others. It takes loads of grace and lashings of wisdom to negotiate this well, but that is the joy of living in the tension of both of these realities: my plans get messed with, and that’s OK.

God’s story is one of invitation into his family to be part of his family and do as the family does. This requires giving the Kingdom life a go. There will be moments of brilliance as we do this, and there will be moments of failure.

Enjoy the tension of both, because here’s why both is important – and if there’s no tension, you’re probably either in a place of being so brilliant you’re not needing God, or in a place of being so blimmin’ useless he’s frustrated like the master in the story was.

“Without God we cannot – without us God will not.” – Augustine

The temple and the home.

Both/And rather than Either/Or – my exploration of some of my favourite tensions in the Christian faith. Holding multiple things in tension is a good thing – hence why I am writing this blog series. I’d love to hear your thoughts, please comment below.

Everyone’s a critic. You don’t have to attend church (or any gathering of people for that matter) long to realise a lot of people have lots of ideas about how best to do this thing we have called “church.” I have my critique too, as I believe critique can be good. What isn’t good is cynicism.

You know the kind I mean. The kind of critique that isn’t drenched in humility and grace, but instead pompous arrogance. The kind that says “I know how to fix this…but I won’t be.”

The critique that breaks my heart the most is the one about church gatherings. There seems to be a couple of camps on this one, but let’s put them into two major piles. There’s the crowd that’s all about the big church gathering on Sunday and then there’s the crowd who’s main thing is small gatherings in authentic community in homes or similar.

I’ve experience both of these wonderful worlds and I have experience dead and useless versions of them too. For every great church gathering I’ve seen some that have repulsed me and caused me to think “Is this really what Jesus had in mind?” I have also had wonderful times in great small groups and then tragic experiences sitting in what I can only label as some sort of “holy” grumbling group.

So which is it? The big, vibrant and raucous Sunday gathering – or the small, vulnerable and intimate gathering of just a few friends?

Wonderfully, the Bible paints a great picture of both. Jesus honoured the Temple and the home. The Apostles had time of being at the Temple and in homes. The church today must be a place of both the “temple” and the “home”.*

The temple is the big gathering where everyone comes together from their experiences of the week. A meeting place of life, colour and wonderful noise, where a large group of people can be together to love God and each other. A place where they can learn a bit. A place of experiencing difference existing within unity. You can hide in this gathering, you can be part of the crowd and that’s OK – because this is the place of the crowd after all.

The home is the smaller gathering where a small group of closer friends can gather. It’s more intimate, and perhaps more authentic. You can’t hide here, you’re guaranteed to be noticed. You’ll have to share, you’ll have to contribute and it will cost you. This is the place of less-is-more, a place that seeks out depth.

Here’s what’s amazing about the early church though – they loved both. They spent time at the Temple and they spent time in their homes. In fact, archeology shows us that they knocked out walls in their little homes so that they could squeeze in one, or two, or three more people. The home was important, but it was still a place of mission, and it was a place of growth. It didn’t just stay “them”.

Today I hear people all too often draw lines around either the big gathering, or the small gathering, and that’s that.

“I’m off to church.” Well, it’s ironic because the church has been you all along.

“You must invite your friends to church next week…” Interesting, because your dinner table could be a better start.

“I don’t like going to church, it’s too showy.” True, but that’s because it’s where the crowd and the raucous noise of resurrection people is meant to be. Maybe your cynicism has helped you forget that.

So, I hope you see that going to your Sunday gathering is about you taking your presence to be before God with others, and celebrating the new life a community of people who shouldn’t have anything in common now have – Jesus.

May you see that Sunday will never be enough, that at some point you will have to be exposed a little more and share your life humbly with others in some kind of smaller setting. It will cost you – true community always does.

May you have to knock out walls in your own home to fit in another one, or two, or three as you love God and love others, and then go to the Sunday gathering to celebrate that with all the others who have done the exact same thing.

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*I could list a bunch of Scriptures here – but I won’t. What I think you should really do is grab your Bible and read all of the book of Acts in one go. Go on.

Turning the volume down.

There’s so much noise around us, isn’t there? All kinds of hums, pops, clangs and clicks. All kinds of messages, ideas, assumptions and cynical comments. All this noise, and us – as the receptors – have to do “something” with it.

We can listen, or we can ignore.

We can absorb, or we can block.

We can be open, or we can shut up shop and close.

Noise floats around begging for a place to absorb, a place to land and be felt. And here am I, in the early stages of a week of prayer, figuring out what noise is doing what.

What’s God’s whisper, and what’s my mind wandering?

What’s a prophetic call, and what’s a great idea?

What’s an encouragement or conviction of the Spirit, and what’s judgmental and cynical me?

Here’s what I’ve learned so far in our week of prayer: I need to turn the volume down – and turn it down I am trying. How? Simple. By echoing the same question the disciples asked of Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

“Teach us to pray” means I stop and listen first. I set my mind, heart, body and soul on who God is. I become aware. I turn down the volume on the other noises.

Because when I don’t do this, I start asking God to bless my cynical-fueled grand idea. I ask Him to do things I want done. I ask Him to move “those people.”

In turning down the volume I allow God to move in me first – and if I’m not moved, am I really praying at all?

Jesus tells a story of two men praying: One man was awfully religious and pompous about it. The other man stood away from the religious space, beating his chest, and said to God “Have mercy on me, for I am a sinner.”

Something had moved in Him, and I long for that kind of movement to take place in me further as we pray this week.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

“Watch your step when you enter God’s house.

Enter to learn. That’s far better than mindlessly offering a sacrifice,

Doing more harm than good.

Don’t shoot off you mouth, or speak before you think.

Don’t be too quick to tell God what you think he wants to hear.

God’s in charge, not you – the less you speak, the better.”

Ecclesiastes 5:1-2, MSG

Loving the picture, rather than just looking at pixels.

Yesterday I finished my Bible reading goal for January. Simply, it was to read every Epistle (the letters in the New Testament) in the month, and I did it – but not in the normal reading plan kind of way. There was no “read this chapter, to this chapter” happening in my reading times, but instead something bigger and more panoramic.

There was also a good cup of coffee close to hand, but I digress.

Inspired by this N.T. Wright video, I wanted to sit down and read each letter in one big go. Sometimes, with the shorter ones, I read two.

How does it feel now coming out the other side?

It’s like I have “zoomed out” and sat back in my chair to behold the entire composition after intensely working on a piece of design with my nose against the glass of my computer, and suddenly I have realised what the pixels are all making. I’m loving the picture, rather than just looking at pixels.

I would highly recommend you try it. For February I am going to do the Torah and the Gospels – why not try it with me? As the Community Bible Experience posted on their Facebook page:

‎Would you watch only a handful of scenes (in random order, no less) from your favorite movie?

Would you read only one page from your favorite novel?

Would you listen to just one stanza of your favorite song?

So why read the Bible just one verse at a time? Read big. Read whole books.

Get your brush.

Summer holiday is over, 2013 is now go, and our office is back up and running. Conversations of how to “do church” are back on my lips, and dreams of what it could look like to have a vibrant, brilliant and passionate community of people who are changing the world by living in God’s story. The more I push and prod on what this community is meant to look like, the more I become inspired by what it’s meant to do. Reading entire letters from Paul to his various church communities over the summer break hasn’t helped.

In fact, it hasn’t just helped me. It has saved me.

For too long, most of my life actually, I have believed that church was a place with four walls. This thinking continually needs battering out of me.

Then, I clicked it was a group of people. But then that stopped cutting it for me, because really, groups of people exist in all kinds of shapes and forms. What made this one special?

Now, I see that it’s a gathering of artists with a canvas. And canvases shouldn’t stay blank; they need creating on. Let me explain my thought of it being a canvas:

“Church” is a gathering of people coming together, a group of people who embody the radical story of being a broken human being who is being made new by a loving God who’s in the restoration business, and as a community we celebrate that…

<insert tension of both of these things>

…and we look to what God is wanting to restore next. There’s a job to do. There’s things to make and get our hands dirty doing. Church as a canvas is about something happening and it takes everyone to help make it happen. It’s not just a group of people, it’s a group of creators who are creating with their God.

We paint with our prayers and with our songs.

We paint with our lunches and dinners.

We paint with our visits to hospitals for those who are sick, and cafes with ones in need of counsel.

We paint with our activity of stewarding the earth well, and we paint with our painting of a widow’s roof.

We paint by genuinely welcoming the stranger into our clique and allowing them to contribute.

We paint with our conversation over a good book of truth, and we paint with our delivering of a food parcel.

We paint with dropping off a cheque into a poor-student’s letter box, and we paint with giving our kids a hug after they have stuffed up again.

We paint with each other – we need each other to create this painting of goodness in the world, one person can not do it alone. The model of Jesus shows even Him inviting others to pick up the paint brush and slap on some paint.

So, what is it going to look like to “do church” at Shore Vineyards this year? Well, we aren’t going to labour in vain and we aren’t going to try and force things. This option exists and it’s important to remember how Jesus told Peter in Matthew 16:18 that He (Jesus) will build the church. But what we are going to do is call people to paint, to do their part of creating on this canvas, because there is plenty of labouring (read: creating) to do.

It’s going to look like everyone being present with their paint brush, because we can’t create this thing without anyone or it. It looks like you being present with yours. So, go get your brush.

We are the prayer meeting.

I’m currently preparing a week of prayer to kick off Shore Vineyard’s 2013, and I am having a crisis. How do you prepare a week of prayer meetings, when deep down, it’s not a week of prayer meetings you want?

I’ve spent my life going to prayer meetings, and my word, I have seen some doosies.

Some full of noise, some full of quiet.

Some where people walked around doing the prayer-while-fist-punching-into-their-other-palm, and some where people sat completely still.

Some had two people prayer-hogging, while the others just nodded and murmured.

Some where the Holy Spirit was invited to move, and some where the Holy Spirit was told what to do.

Some where personal wishes where laid out, and some where a cosmic hope was called to earth.

Some that ended late, and some which never really started.

Some where I wish I could leave, and some where I didn’t ever want to.

A prayer meeting is a beautiful and wonderful thing, but it does have one big problem: it ends. And prayer shouldn’t. Paul’s challenge to the various communities of people who were following the Jesus Way is that they should pray without limits and without ceasing.* How is this so? If he’s right, that’s an awfully large time commitment right there – one very long prayer meeting…

Perhaps that’s the problem – I am too quick to default to pining “prayer” to a “time” or “a devotional moment” or “a prayer walk” or “a meeting”. The first century Christian didn’t do this. To them it was all about becoming aware of the Divine. This isn’t so much about attending something – it’s about being opened up to it. And you can do this anywhere, anytime, anyplace and in a lot of ways. It would seem that we don’t just attend prayer meetings. We are the prayer meeting. Without us no prayer meeting ever takes place, it’s just God. Waiting. Stood up.

So in preparing a week of prayer for our church, it’s not a bunch of prayer meetings on a calendar I’m planning – no, it’s so much better than that. It’s a call to gather all of our individual prayer meetings together – people who arrive in a place already aware of the Divine and what He’s up to – and see what God might do with our awareness before Him. I can sense the Divine in those gatherings already.

If you’re a Shore Vineyard-ite, don’t miss Kick Off. It’s going to be a wonderful time of gathering together to see what God is leading us in for 2013, to pray for His Kingdom to come and His will to be done. Nothing could be better!

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*see any of these for a taster: Ephesians 6:18, Colossians 4:2, Philippians 4:6