Speaking Truthfully- thoughts on ‘salvation even in sin’

25 01 2007

Yesterday, I was reading an essay by Stanley Hauerwas entitled ‘salvation even in sin’ within this essay Hauerwas reflects upon Ephesians 4:25-5:2 and draws links between our ability to speak truthfully about our lives and our understanding of sin and grace.

The same day, I had the great privilege to be given a preview of the next fresh expressions DVD, which features talking heads with Graham Horsley, Graham Carter, and Martyn Atkins. I was struck by something Martyn said about our failure to effectively disciple people over past hundred years. ‘How is it’, he remonstrated, ‘that people can go to church their entire lives and the something happens and fifty years of discipleship goes out the window?’

I suspect we find part of the answer in Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2. Sadly, the church has become a place where people put up the barriers. Instead of being real about the struggles we have faced, we smile and say things like ‘I’m great thanks’ even when things have not been good at all. I guess sometimes this is because we are scared of being honest about our struggles; we are afraid of speaking truthfully about our lives, and when somebody does, very often they receive condemnation rather than grace.

I believe in holistic small groups not because small group discipleship is the flavour of the week but because it seems to be the starting place for learning to speak truthfully to one another, to radiate grace. Not the otherworldly grace, which knows no sin, but the real gritty grace illustrated most eloquently in the cross of Christ.

Heavenly Father,
Help us to speak more truthfully about ourselves,
And enable us to listen to one another with grace.
Let us be slow to anger but quick to forgive,
And surround us with your love.
Be with us now,
In the coming minutes,
And help us to know your will.
We ask this in the power of the Holy Spirit,
And trusting in the love of Christ,
Your Son, our Saviour.
Amen

* In work at the moment I’m organising a conference entitled, ‘Creating Effective Disciples; through small groups’ it is designed to resource and encourage churches and leaders with small group ministries. It will be run at High Leigh in Hertfordshire on the 13th and 14th March, for more information, send me an email by clicking here.
Thanks.
James

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Our Victory!!

22 01 2007

I was considering the significance of eschatology for Christian discipleship in the midst of a hostile secular society and I came across this story on the Ekklesia Project website:Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa was preaching in the cathedral in Capetown during the days of apartheid. Police and paramilitary lined the walls of the packed sanctuary, intimidating the congregation and recording everything that was said. Tutu preached prophetically of the coming day when the walls of apartheid would fall, and even though the armed might of the state was powerful, it was not God. “Indeed,” Tutu said to the police, “You have already lost.” He paused, flashed his famous smile, “So why don’t you join the winning side?” The crowd roared and everyone got up dancing.

I thank God that I was not born amidst racial hatred or communist dictatorships, that I know Christ and that I am free to worship Him without fear of persecution. I thank God that the victory is in Christ. I only ask that I would know more fully, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the implications of Christ’s victory for my life in Christian discipleship.Lord God teach me:
to turn the other cheek,
to act with meekness,
to renounce violence,
to forgive as you have forgiven,
to offer mercy,
to avoid retaliation,
to resist accommodation,
to live with integrity,
to honour You,
to the glory of Jesus Christ,
Amen





Ministerial Vocation

16 01 2007

Christian Hope

God is not finished with inherited churches yet. He is still calling, equipping, and sending but it may be time for the young to teach the old. A radical review of candidating, training, and deployment is necessary if the United Reformed Church/ Methodist Church is to position itself to ride the wave of God’s Spirit.

Current processes developed in a settled era of church history, they are modelled on the three-fold ministry of the Pastoral Epistles with moderators/chairs, ministers/presbyters, and church related community workers/ deacons.

Roles and Candidating

These models met the needs of an established church, however, they fail to meet the needs of a church within a changing paradigm- ok some will argue that the earlier five/four-fold ministry found in Ephesians (Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers) is reflected within the breadth of our current lay and ordained posts. However, this seems to be incidental rather than by design.

It is perhaps worth considering these roles in the light of the Everett Roger’s diffusion theory, which creates five categories of people from innovators to laggards. It seems that our candidating process militates against ‘innovators’ and ‘early adopters’ whose character traits are most likely to correspond with apostles, prophets, or evangelists. It is likely that these individuals are likely to be seen as dangerous risk takers, or aggressive reformers and therefore a challenge to the established way of doing things.

Training

I have known early adopters to drop out of the candidating process before reaching the training process, this may occur when a candidate no longer feels confident in the training being offered. In these situations, the candidate tends to take issue with the model of training offered; education for intellectual theoretical pastors/teachers, rather than training for vocational practical prophets/evangelists.

I think we should note the high input into initial college based teaching and low investment in ongoing church based training. In a rapidly changing culture, indeed paradigm, high input lower ongoing training means many ministers are unequipped for ministry in our post-modern world. Related research carried out by Christian Schwartz suggests formal theological training has a negative impact upon church growth, what is it about our theological colleges has this effect?

Deployment

In terms of deployment there are less problems, although more could be done to place innovative apostles/ prophets/ evangelists in churches/circuits in which will best release their potential. Ideally, the ministers would be involved in conversations with churches seeking to negotiate a shared appointment. However, there are many ministers, who may consider themselves innovators or early adopters, apostles or prophets who are not capable of filling these roles. It is therefore necessary to have a process of mutual discernment, open to scripture, tradition, reason, and experience exercised prayerfully in the power of the Holy Spirit.

All in All

In the midst of these thoughts, criticisms, and ideas about candidating, training, and deployment one truth can get lost: God remains faithful and for that we should all remain thankful.

In Christ,
James





An Agenda for Prayer

9 01 2007

This post sets down some significant challenges and opportunities facing Christianity in the United Kingdom. These concerns arose out of a prayer meeting on New Years eve, but highlight several areas importance for 2007.

External

Social

– Criticism of faith schools.
– Intolerance of religious symbolism *British Airways.
– War on Iraq *Clash of civilizations (Muslim vs. Christian) rhetoric.
+ Voices of Faith Politics:
Elizabeth Windsor
John Sentamu
Rowan Williams

Individual

– Consumerism no longer discussed just taken as a given for many.
– Pornography issues linked to availability via the web.
– Growing scepticism and hedonism among young people.
– Drugs and Alcohol fuels domestic violence, escapism with ambiguous relationship to real life.
– Family break down a mistrust of long term relationships

Internal

Artistic

– Pseudo-spiritual writings: like the Gnostic Gospels, the Gospel of Judas, Dan Brown’s novels, Phillip Pullman’s books, even the Harry Potter series.
– Suspicion of authority and thereby orthodoxy and organised religion.
+ Growing popularity of C.S. Lewis’ novels.

Scientific

– Richard Dawkins and Christians like Bishop Shelby Spong.
– Growth in militant Atheism
– The book The God Delusion.
– Creationism vs. the Big Bang theory argument
+ Alistair McGrath

Media
Internet
Personal phones
Mobile technology
Satellite TV – multiple channels

*Vicarious Living, seemingly without consequences is causing damage to the soul.

Church
It is not necessarily right for the Church to avoid the growing intolerance towards Christianity but neither should we seek to provoke secularists we must be prepared to answer them and we must continue speak truth, live justly, and love mercy. In the midst of all of this the Church must remain true to its own agenda and continue to be a light in dark times and places.

I invite fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to remember these issues in their prayers throughout the next year.

Yours in Christ,
James