We all need to be nudists

The one thing that summarises Jesus, all his teaching and the way he responds to sinners and the non-religious is ‘grace’. Grace flows through him out into all those he met in large groups or one on one. It is this grace that flows from the Father and the Spirit that blows our minds when we realise how much grace, God has for each and every one of us. There is no place we can hide and no action too far from experiencing God’s grace.

As I’ve travelled around the country and even within my own church, I have been challenged by one line many Christians seem to say to me. I am looking for a ‘grace community’; a church that really embodies Jesus’s grace. Last year I heard of a church called Community of Grace that had split over an issue… the irony. I’ve recently heard this myself within our own community and it’s got me thinking. What do we really mean when we say we are looking to find a church that is a grace community.

In practice I think we are saying we are looking for a church that will accept all my failings and shortcomings, and allow me to still remain a fully committed member of this family. Wouldn’t we all say yes to that? Don’t we all need that?

The thing that I am coming to realise is that what we mean by a grace community isn’t necessarily what Jesus means by a grace community in the gospels. Often, we want a community that will allow all my shortcomings and failures to be swept under the carpet and never mentioned. We want a church that ignores our bad behaviour and pretends it never happened. Essentially a church where anything goes and no-one will ever comment. But if we think about it, this isn’t Jesus’s way either. Jesus always responds with grace but also responds with ‘sin no more’. Grace for Jesus was always hand in hand with repentance.

Paul writes that God’s grace is sufficient for us, his power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

For us to really be a grace community we need to start to recognise that our shortcomings and failures can be responded to with bucket loads of grace, but that there is also a time when we too as individuals need to respond by recognising our weakness.

Recently I have been a part of something that made me need to receive grace from someone else. To receive any grace from them, I first needed to acknowledge I had done the wrong thing. If I never admitted there was a problem with me, how could I ever receive their grace? We want to receive the grace without ever acknowledging our actions. We want a grace that paints over our failings without ever routing them out.

Grace never paints over our sin, it replaces it.

We all dream of a community of grace in which we can be fully accepted, a place where we can fall short and still be fully present in that community, but what we also need, therefore, is to be fully aware of our sin. Grace can only be lived out when our sin is out in the open and un-avoided. Essentially we all need to be nudists, living our lives fully in the open, our failings for the world to see; not hidden away but hanging out, warts and all.

Grace isn’t avoiding our sin, pretending it doesn’t exist or covering it up. Grace is being aware of our sin, sitting with it and allowing Jesus’s grace to become present to us. A community really can then be a community of grace. The question for us is, in wanting to receive grace, are we really willing to publicly hold up our hands and admit the problem? Are we, in wanting to receive grace, willing to give grace? If we want a community of nudists, all living in grace, we may need to be the first to take away the fig leaves.

Article originally posted on… http://www.threadsuk.com/we-all-need-to-be-nudists/


LORDS MANIFESTO

THE LORD’S MANIFESTO

For Jesus there was anther world that was possible. For Jesus this new world wasn’t somewhere else, it was right here in the mist of this one. Often when we pray our prayers, they can be about some form of mass evacuation… “Get me out of here!” Prayers about one day being somewhere else, a place where things are better.

For Jesus the Good News was always about this place. It was about dirt, dust, brick, stone, tower blocks and city landscapes.

Jesus had gathered his followers around himself when he teaches them about prayer. When we read the Lord’s Prayer it is possible for us to read it as some hyper spiritual transcendent prayer but for Jesus it was a prayer about the reality of life.

It was a prayer about blood, sweat and tears.

Imagine how rebellious it was to pray these words. Jesus and his followers were surrounded by the politics of Rome, the oppression of the Religious Empire in Jerusalem and the pagan world of the Greeks. This was a world all about oppression, exploitation and control.

Surrounded by the kingdoms of oppression, religion and politics Jesus teaches them to pray something far more rebellious.

“Our Father in the heavens, holy is your name. Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.

The Lord’s Prayer is a new Christian Manifesto. We are praying what God wants us to inspire to. It’s a prayer pledging allegiance to the Kingdom of God and not the kingdoms or cultures in this world. It is so easy for our primary commitment to be towards our culture, nation, or ethnical group but Jesus reminds us we have a commitment to another kingdom.

When Jesus is pushed on where his kingdom is by Pilot, he says “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18:36)

Jesus’ kingdom was of another place.

Often we make the Lord’s Prayer a prayer of resignation. We pray “Lord may your will be done’ with the attitude of what God’s going to do, God’s going to do. So we better get behind him or we will get left behind. It is possible to think that our thoughts no longer matter as we fall behind God and his desires in this world. We can think the Lord’s Prayer is about falling into line but it is much bigger than that.

Tom Wright says the Lord’s Prayer is a “risky, crazy prayer of submission and commission, or if you like the prayer of subversion and conversion. It is our way of signing on, in our turn, for the work of the kingdom. It is the way we take the medicine ourselves, so that we may be strong enough to administer it to others. It is the way we retune our instruments to play Gods Opera for the world to sing”.

So why is this a risky prayer?

Jesus tells us that when we pray we should pray, ‘Your Kingdom come on earth as in heaven’. Gods kingdom coming to earth is about the very ground we walk seeing change because the Kingdom of God is drawing near. The disciples knew that their citizenship was in the Empire of Rome, while they lived in the culture of the Jewish people of Jerusalem. But the Lord’s Prayer was to become a daily reminder that their true citizenship is not specifically in heaven but this heaven is coming on earth. Their citizenship was in fact in this Kingdom of God, which was stretching down to earth.

The Lord’s Prayer is a submission to another world, another kingdom and another power. It’s a prayer that doesn’t just point us to God, but points God’s will towards us, showing us we can be the answer to our prayers. It’s a prayer that makes us step up into this kingdom’s rule and reign but also calls this kingdom to come down in power. It’s a prayer that first gets us to submit to him and then be people who subvert.

IT’S A PRAYER OF KINGDOM INTENSITY AND REVOLUTINARY SUBORDINATION.

What do I mean by Revolutionary Subordination? It is possible to submit to the world around but also possible to subvert it. Jesus shows us the very act of submission is the thing that disarms the powers by making a sceptical of it. In other words we may pay our taxes to the government, we might pay our water rates and council tax: we might be people of the United Kingdom, but we pledge our allegiance to the Kingdom of God.

The Lord’s Prayer is to be a daily reminder of the Kingdom, which we sit under. It’s a prayer that we don’t just pray but we aspire to.

This prayer was never meant to be said with eye down low and voice repeating it at a whisper. It was meant to be a prayer cried out in pain and longing.

“Father, your Kingdom come”.

It’s a prayer crying out for more. In other worlds it’s a prayer that could read simply.

“Father, more”.

It’s a prayer beckoning in God’s kingdom. It’s a prayer crying out for a deeper heavenly reality on earth. If you have ever found yourself praying a prayer of “I’m not going to get through another day without something changing”, then this was the prayer Jesus gave and is the prayer we can now join in on.

The Lord’s Prayer isn’t a prayer of passivity, but a prayer of passionate intent to see more of God becoming a reality on earth. It’s a rebellious war cry making clear you want no more from the patterns of this world and you desperately need to see God cracking the darkness and oppression open.

This prayer was meant to be a rebellious, rousing prayer of Godly revolution.

So what did this prayer indicate the Kingdom would look like? The prayer says it will look like three things. Daily provision of bread from heaven, the practice of grace and people faithfully doing what is right because evil no longer makes sense.

The Lord’s Prayer is not a protective charm; it’s not about magic or voodoo. It’s about naming the concrete goodness of God, grace and discovering a gift of faith for that goodness, and then bringing that goodness into reality by the sheer desire to see God work it out through us.


Big deal if your a believer, Jesus is looking for Disciples

Believers or Disciples

I recently made a friend laugh when I said that Jesus had believers coming out of his ears. Its like these believers are ants crawling all over him. The reality is that Jesus has around 2,039 million people today who claim to be a Christian’s, that’s 33% of the world’s population. In many ways, if you were that way inclined, you could argue that we are winning. Islam adds up to 19% of the world and non-Religious making up 12%.

But the reality is were just not making the impact that we should be. Jesus has believers coming out of his ears and still the church is impotent.

The reality is many people claim to be believers but Jesus never asked for more believers but talked about ‘disciples’. In Matt 28 Jesus sends out his followers and tells them to make more disciples. Disciples making more disciples.

There is a significant difference between believers and disciples. Believers are those who have their golden ticket. They are saved and are now all set for the day they die and make their way on the heaven train. All these people are doing is sitting back, attending worship and waiting until the day they get to heaven.

But Jesus in Matt 28 he asked us to make disciples. A disciple was someone who wanted to follow his or her Rabbi so closely. They wanted to see how their Rabbi did it, they wanted to do the things their Rabbi did and they wanted to promote their Rabbi’s teaching and not their own. Disciples lived in the awareness of their own smallness, and they live in the awareness that things could be so different.

That there is another world possible in the midst of this one.

Disciples followed their Rabbi’s so closely that you never quite new where the Rabbi’s life started and where the disciple’s life ended.

Jesus has churches full of believers but what Jesus needs are disciples. People who are going to take his teaching to serve the last, least and the lost with their whole hearts seriously. People who are going to see themselves as Jesus’ tool in the world. The church isn’t an institution that holds people with religious views. Jesus is bigger than a religion, or all the trappings if a religion. The church is meant to be a counter cultural community asking the question what does a group of people look like in the world when they take Jesus’ command to make ‘disciples’ seriously. How would the church, before we even get to the world, be impacted if we took Jesus’ radical sermon on the mount seriously and we actually lived out his radical teaching?

Jesus never came to start a religion or an institution but a movement. A movement of people all choosing to be Jesus’ disciples. Leaving simple religious belief behind and join a movement of people all becoming disciples.

Until we move away from simply believing. Until we move away from religion and religious behaviour we will never be able to live the simple life of a disciple. The question to ask ourselves is what am I and what do I have in my hand.

Do I hold a ticket or a toolkit?

Because a disciple is someone who is worrying less about holding a ticket and worrying more about using his tool kit to beckon in Jesus’ kingdom.


LOGOS

Here’s an interesting thought on John 1:1

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”.

The term used here which we translate here as Word is in the Greek ‘logos’. The gospel writers never created new ideas they were always looking for things in the culture to take and re-use from. We see John as well as the others writers often use Greek pagan concepts, ideas and philosophies as an image or tool for a greater image they were trying to communicate.

The Greeks during Jesus’ time believed in multiple gods who were served by men and other angelic beings. These gods lived in a green room waiting until it was there turn to perform once again on the earth as if it was a stage for their divine performance. The philosophers believed that these gods communicated with those of the earth through an intermediary called the ‘logos’.

Logos meaning ‘word’ contains the mind and intention of divinity and sends these flowing down to earth. These Logos were the way the divine would communicate with the lowly human beings. The logo’s was the incarnation of the gods divine pronouncement, their reason and their ‘wisdom’.

Other lines of Greek thinking said that the logos were also there to keep the universe balanced and held together. Like the soul of the universe being held together by heavenly beings. These logos could let the world collapse whilst trying to hold apart the light and dark. The cult of Hermes made use of this idea to describe their Hermetic corpus (Gnostic writings) written about in the Poimandres:

“Poimandres fell into a deep and heavy sleep, in which there appeared to him a being who introduced himself as the Shepherd of Men, the Mind of Authority. The Shepherd then shows the mystic a vision, in which he sees a great light and a great darkness, respectively reality and matter. From the light comes a Holy Logos… the shining Son of God, who proceeds from Mind, the Universe itself”.

This ideas wasn’t totally alien to the Jews. Although they didn’t believe in many Gods but were monotheistic (believed in one God) they did believe this God did communicate with his creation. The Rabbis and sages had the idea of a pre-existent ‘Wisdom’ character mentioned in the book of Proverbs and Job. They believed that the Torah was the embodiment of this wisdom. The Rabbis had concluded that there was in fact a heavenly Torah, wisdom in person.

John takes this idea of a heavenly Torah, wisdom as a person and brings in the Greek idea of the logos and creates an opening verse the Jews would understand but also the Greek thinkers would recognise. But in Johns version there is no green room and there aren’t other gods waiting to speak but he proclaims that yes there is a logos, the word of God but this logos has always been and always will be and this logos is God himself. God the creator of all things, logos on earth walking among his creation. The God had left his heavenly green room and was walking amongst his people.


SHABBAT

A few reflections upon the Sabbath

Exodus 16:26 “Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day is the Sabbath. In it there shall be nothing none.”

I’ve been reading a few interesting books of late on the topic of Sabbath. There is one in particular which has really captured my imagination. ‘The Sabbath’ by Abraham Joshum Heschel is a great short book with some fantastic one-liners. For many of us Sabbath is very similar to any other day of the week. We are connected to the world by facebook and twitter, we check emails on our blackberries and still take phone calls from work colleagues. Sabbath is a day of rushing around, taking the kids to football and doing the weekly shop. For others it is the day they spend all their time in the church running services, leading worship or doing the washing up following the after service coffee.

The term Sabbath comes from the Hebrew ‘Shabbat’ which holds within it several ideas. Shabbat is the ceasing of any work but also the remaining and dwelling in a place of the divine. Some translators say it means to sit, remain or even to abide. Shabbat is the farewell to daily manual work and the process of coming to realise that the world will survive without your help.

Heschel says that “six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth, on the Shabbat we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone else”

Our souls belong to ‘Someone’ else. Shabbat is the reminder that the world does not own us and that our souls belong to something much bigger and beautiful. Heschel says that “six days a week we seek to dominate the world, on the seventh we seek to dominate the self”.

Shabbat is the seeking to dominate ourselves; it’s a day not for the sake of the world but for the sake of life. Many people say, I have a day off, which implies that the world is work and on this day they get to ‘not work’. Shabbat is not there for the sake of the work, in the hope that if you rest you will be able to work more, but in fact the weekdays are for the sake of Shabbat. Shabbat isn’t a break in the world or an interlude but is the climax of living.

Heschel says that ‘Shabbat is the love of man for what he and God have in common’.

Shabbat is the celebrating of creation and a reminder that there are two worlds, this word and the world to come. Shabbat is an example of the world to come. Shabbat should point to the world to come – Eternity.

So what is Shabbat? It isn’t just the absence of work; it’s also the celebration of creation. If you spend all week in an office cubical and then spend Shabbat in the shopping centre you really can’t claim to celebrate creation. If you spend the week behind the counter and then Sunday in a church, you can’t claim to celebrate creation. Shabbat is the connecting with the divine and the reminder that you’re a ‘human being not a human doing’ (quote from Rabbi Abraham Kook in ‘Shepherd Consciousness’).

The Rabbis taught that before God created there was Shabbat, it preceded the world and it also completed it. They also taught that it was the pinnacle of all creation, Shabbat was the last thing God created. They conclude that Heaven and Earth were created in 6 days and that when Shabbat came God created ‘Menuha’ and the universe was complete. Menuha is usually translated as ‘rest’ and the universe would be incomplete without it.

There is a danger that Shabbat becomes nothing more than a day we do the odd jobs, the day we finish off projects and cut the grass, wash the car. But Shabbat was created to complete not only the universe but also us.

“To set apart one day a week for freedom, a day on which we would not use the instruments which have been so easily turned into weapons of destruction, a day for being with ourselves, a day of detachment from the vulgar, of independence of external obligations, a day on which we stop worshiping idols or technical civilization, a day on which we use no money, a day of armistice in the economic struggle with our fellow men and the forces of nature – is there any situation that holds out a greater hope of man’s progress than the Shabbat?” Heschel

Shabbat can be translated as ‘remain’ or ‘dwell’. Shabbat is the art of sitting and dwelling and being happy in our own skin. Not needing to produce but chill with ourselves and be content with not having to do anything.

Deut 5:15 reads, “In it you shall not do any manner of work, neither your son, daughter, servants, ox, ass or any cattle. Neither a stranger in the gates”.

The Rabbis taught that it even was a sin to be sad on Shabbat.

The reality is our world just isn’t built in this way. We work and many get only one day off a week, some even less than that. Others may get the weekends but these get filled very quickly with people, places and the weekly shop. It’s like we work to just get to the weekend where we do the things that are left over.

Shabbat is the residing to the fact that things will not be finished, work is still to be done but our souls are more important.

The reality is we can come up with some wonderful excuses why we can’t stop. “There just simply isn’t enough time in the week!” But what if our world isn’t complete without rest. What if the rest is the very thing that completes and finishes what needs to be done. Often we live life in the rush to the next thing, but the best thing is to ‘Menuha’, rest.

Stop, sit, dwell and be happy in our own skin.

Be happy that the world will go on and that we aren’t the saviour of the world.

Shabbat is the reminder that one day the world will have to exist without us so it better start to learn now how to do that now.

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