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.
“Your name is Daniel? Are you a Christian?” That’s what the petrol station cashier asked me today as she looked at my FlyBuys card.
“You tell me what a Christian is and I’ll tell you if I’m that…” I teased back.
“A person who believes Jesus died for their sins?” she replied.
“…and?” I queried.
“That’s it isn’t it?” She finalised.
Depressingly, I can see why she said that. That’s the story most people know when it comes to this whole “Christian” thing. Let me explain.
In Mark 12:18-27 we find a terrific discussion to be able to eavesdrop on. Jesus is talking with a group called the Sadducees, and they are talking to him about the resurrection. This is interesting because the Sadducees don’t believe in the resurrection. (If you aren’t seeing how big of a deal this all is, it’s like a chef saying he doesn’t believe in onions.)
Jesus issues them a warning: “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God.” and after explaining a bit further, he issues this stern sign off: “He is the God of the living, not the dead. You have made a serious error.”
One: you don’t know the Story.
Two: you haven’t experienced the power of the God of this Story.
Three: you’re being muppets by not investigating this all further. Seriously.
And so, as I write this I am wondering something: are we modern day Sadducees? Have we really explored the Scriptures well enough to know the real Story – that our God is making all things new, and that the cross is a jaw-droppingly wonderful part of the story but not the climactic ending.
Why do we so often put a full stop at a “personal Saviour who died for me, me, me…” and not continue to the Cosmic Redeemer, busy restoring all of His creation and putting all things back to rights again? His power is such that He takes something that is dead, and raises it to life again.
The first century Church preached a Good News message of “Jesus, who rose from the dead.”* We modern day Westerners preach a message of “Jesus, who will forgive you.” We have let the big, bold Story become a bit smaller than our first-Century pioneers, a story which is quite a bit stingier to the original.
Rant concluded. My last word to the petrol cashier was this, and may you understand why: “I don’t believe the story ended on Friday, I believe it started on Sunday.”
*Read all of Acts, cover to cover, and you’ll see.
I’m an assistant pastor (insert my friend Sam’s joke that this actually means “assistant to the pastor”) which means I sit in a pretty privileged position of church leadership. I get to sit in the wonderful tension of being led by a great man of character, integrity and humility and hopefulIy I also get to be a leader of hopefully the same stuff.
It’s got me thinking this New Year: we all want a “good year” ahead. One of blessing, and good times. One of surviving it well and coming out on top. As a contrast, my list of New Year’s resolutions didn’t look like this:
- To become as shallow as possible
- To just scrape by
- To enjoy being isolated and alone
Yet, if we were to look at our list of goals and hopes for 2013, and then look at how we are going to outwork them, I wonder if this list I have jotted down is maybe more the reality?
The Bible speaks of doing life well. It speaks of being in a community of people who are wise and championing you on. It speaks of a group of people brought together to live the resurrected life now. It begs of you: will you do this life alone and accept mediocrity, or will you bring all that you are to the table and submit it for a real life.
Will you put a hand forward and be led by wisdom, and put a hand back and serve that same thing?
My New Year pondering is this: I am blessed to follow a great man as we both follow after Jesus together. My best learnings of 2012 happened under his wing, as he sharpened me up with his wisdom and insights. I would have had a year of shallowness, scraping by and being a little more alone if I hadn’t of been following him.
Who are you teaming up with and submitting yourself to this year, to both walk the journey of seeking first God’s Kingdom and seeing what happens? Because if you want that New Year’s list to become a bit of a reality, you can’t do it alone.
The fully alive human rejects isolation, so put a hand forward to be led, and one back to serve.
Our amateur in-house theologian, Tim Denne, spoke on Sunday night as part of our Fully Alive series journeying through Ephesians. Here’s two chunks he said which I thought was absolute gold to chew on. (Not that chewing on gold is ever a good idea…)
TIM SUMMING UP EPHESIANS 1-3 SO FAR:
“Thank you God. You and I have been chosen to be part of God’s people.
Your life used to have a small story: it was short and ended in death. But now I pray that you understand that you have become part of a big story that you share with the Jews: chosen from the beginning of time and looking forward to resurrection and being raised to be with God.
The response to life with a small story is self-centredness, but the response to life in a big story is outward looking, a life of good works.”
TIM’S CLOSING POINTS ON RESPONDING TO THIS NARRATIVE:
- Primarily our starting point is thankfulness. That God’s big plan involves us. And that he has found a way to involve us.
- It’s a corporate, or family, not individual thing. You are part of a transforming people blessing the world; not just an individual. Scripture knows nothing of the individual Christian doing it alone.
- That although we tend to think about the importance of what we believe, this book is full of God working with those who love him; We learn about God by reading about his interactions with real and deeply flawed people. And we hear his call to live differently, not to believe differently
- That God is not joining our story. We are joining his.
- That it’s all about Jesus; He’s the one that makes sense of the OT narrative – it all points towards him. He’s the one through whom we are able to join the story. And he’s the one that we look forward to being resurrected to be with.
A confession: I’m insecure. I might have a bunch of things on the outside that you see that look great and confident, but if you really got a glimpse in the cave of this soul of mine you might be pleasantly surprised. I say pleasantly, because I believe at the core of you is the exact same thing.
My wife gets a glimpse every now and then, though to be honest it’s probably not as much as I should let her see. And God gets a glimpse too. They both know I’m not the securest of people. They both know I have a desire to be needed. To have a thought heard, or a prayer prayed. To have my dreams unloaded and approved. To have my desires met.
And here’s the amazing thing: as a result of this insecurity, I need them.
If I’m completely secure, I don’t need my wife for any affirmation. I don’t need her smile. I don’t need her touch when we are driving and she holds my hand while I hold the gear shifter. I don’t need her telling me off when I have spoken out of turn, or hurt her, or we have been hurt by someone else. I don’t need her to tell me to forgive someone, or for her to hear me give her advice that I so desperately want heard. I don’t need her to remind me yet again that I have left buying her present for Valentines Day too late: but it’s OK. I can do better next time.
If I’m completely secure and locked up then I don’t need God for any hope, and the long list of things I could write here that I get from Him everyday. Hope, as a heading, will do for now.
Most importantly, if I’m completely secure then I don’t need their love. Why would love move in a place where there is no need for it? To be securely safe is to be loved and to be loved means filling gaps. So I must allow myself to be open to having gaps that need to be filled. I must become vulnerable.
In the opening story of the Bible, God makes a perfect creation. Several times he declares over his creation that “It is good.” There is however, one thing he declares isn’t good. Adam was alone. His loneliness isn’t good.
At the core of me is a desire to not be alone and here’s the greatest tragedy of thinking I have all the answers within myself:
when I won’t confess this divine insecurity,
when I won’t give up and say “Enough is enough. It’s there. I can’t deny it.”,
when I won’t let someone else help me grow,
when I won’t let someone fill the gaps,
when I won’t take the narrow path of vulnerability,
I am instead championing loneliness. And from the lips of God himself, loneliness isn’t good.
We’re journeying through the book of Ephesians at Harbour Vineyard, so I thought I would post my favourite sound bites from my messages as we go. Heres one from “A letter of hope from a place with none.“
Mention the word “saints” and I am sure all sorts of things are condured up.
For some, it might be heavenly beings. For others an American sports team. For some it might be a person like Mother Theresa. For some it might be all the dead heroes of the faith.
For some, it might be the pastor. The anointed guy, who has given up his life to do church as a pastor, meanwhile, the rest of us work normal jobs. The guy with heaps of miles under his belt. The guy who has all the exquisite answers to my sometimes stupid questions.
For some, it might condure up “us” and “them” images. The ones who “look right”. The superiors. The holy-than-thous. The ones without tattoos, or earrings, or who don’t drink, or swear. The ones who are the goodie-goods. They tithe and fast and say “Bless you” and “Praise God” all the time.
Refreshingly, Paul’s view of a “saint” isn’t so drearily stingy. There’s no one guy. There’s no “holier-than-us” or “we’re-better-than-them”. Simply, saints are those who follow Jesus. People who are aware of light rather than darkness, anyone who has snapped to attention regarding the resurrection. Paul seems to be using this word like we would use the word “Christian”, and we all know how good we are at being one of those…
C.S. Lewis says, “The stamp of the Saint is that he can waive his own rights and obey the Lord Jesus.”
N.T. Wright chimes in with, “In the New Testament every single Christian is referred to as a ‘saint’, including the muddled and sinful ones to whom Paul writes his letters. They are designated thus, not simply because they are living a holy life in the present, because they have left the realm of darkness and entered the kingdom of light.”
Here then are three truths about saints:
1. There are great saints and there are normal saints. (Guess which is the majority.)
2. We are united by our sin. (The sin problem still rears it’s ugly head)
3. We are united by our response to the gospel. (Our holiness comes through being in Christ, not the rules we keep.)
So what does it look like to live in a postion of being a “saint”? Maybe this will inspire you. Take it away, Mr Manning:
“The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation. Not to make people with better morals but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the centre of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the centre of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian.”
Grasping that is perhaps what makes normal saints, great saints. And the world could use some more great saints.