Church, Mission, Mission Shaped Church, Repentance

“Does the future have a Church?” A conversation withTaxi Driver.

I was in a taxi today and the driver (a Muslim) asked me on my thoughts on the future of the Christian Church in England. A good question, he was a nice guy I liked him, but he clearly thought we as the Church are loosing the battle of the hearts and minds of ordinary people, especially young people.

I said that I wasn’t too pessimistic about the future, and dis still believe that Christianity, and in particular Christ himself, were as captivating as they have ever been, and although the world is pretty crazy but I still reckon people are searching for real and authentic answers for those big questions of life.

His next comment was interesting… If you want to get young people are you going to water down your message –again not being rude- and I said “no I wasn’t”. And what I should have said (but didn’t) is I don’t think people want us to sell out, people long for authenticity and integrity and look for leaders who are prepared to stand for something rather than constantly courting popularity like some fading reality TV star.

Yet the message of the cross has never been popular:
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor.18) & “… “but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1Cor.23).

At the heart of our faith has God himself suffering and dying in agony upon a cross, and as the Easter Hymn puts it “and we believe it was for us he hung and suffered there”.

It is not a popular message, the call to repentance is an uncomfortable, even the band blue reminded us that “sorry is the hardest word”.

Again, as I reflected further on my conversation with the cabby, I should have said something about the character of God, God who is at his heart is Missional, a God reaching out to his beloved creation.

Jesus saw his mission as being like “the good shepherd (Luke 15)” who would seek and save the lost.

The Holy Spirit whose job in the world is to bring us to Jesus Christ is also the Spirit of all truth, convicting the world of sin and pointing them to the solution.

Jesus’ own description of God was “of the a Running Father” (Luke 15) seeking out the lost, leaving behind his dignity and taking on his sinful sons shame..

I was reminded that “it’s not the Church that has the mission of God, but rather the missionary God who has a Church”, the future is not entirely down to us but actually rests in the hands of a God who does not give up on his creation easily, a God who doesn’t leave himself without a witness, a God who doesn’t desert his bride, even when she’s frail and fragile.

So, although there are plenty of challenges when we think of the Churches future, even so I believe that God will be faithful to his Church, his bride which he is coming back for.

I will close with a prayer from St. Paul.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20&21).

Repentance, Sorry

The hardest word…

One of the most challenging verses I find is “when you go to offer your gift at the altar and you know your brother or sister has something against you, first go and be reconciled before offering your gift”. These come from the lips of Jesus himself.

Do people have something against you? (Very different from you justifying your own conduct to yourself).  Is there someone, or a group of people, who maybe you need to offer out a hand of friendship and reconciliation to? Perhaps people are missing from our fellowships because of things we have said or done?  Is their hurt or damage that needs (as far as you are able) to be repaired and restored?   Maybe at Christmas write a note within a Christmas card to mend areas that have been broken? Perhaps too let’s go the extra mile offering a hug, or a present to show the sincerity of our apology and desire to see the family United.

The hardest word is to say the word sorry to one another, yet we confess together each Sunday in our liturgy, yet I do wonder sometimes whether deep down we actually believe we ourselves are sinful. Jesus wants his Church to seek first the Kingdom of God and to be “one as you and I are one” –unified- and this was the prayer of Christ, sweating blood at the Garden of Gethsemene.

Sometimes pain can leave us deadlocked, two people or groups have a blind spot unable to see the others point of view, maybe in that horrible and messy situation you need to be the bigger and better person and reach out? It’s a risky thing as although Christians should want to be reconciled with one another sadly the fallen-ness of this world and our on fractured humanity means it doesn’t always happen as it should.  Yet forgiveness is so important not just because it pleases God, but also because unforgiveness literally eats us up inside.

Scripture says “by this all people will know you are my disciples that you love one another”, as we think of Jesus the very embodiment and personification of love, love with skin on.

A challenge for 2017 is for us all to be more like Christ; to be that community that looks like him, that acts like him, that welcomes like him, that is generous like him, that speaks like him in love, truth and kindness, that goes the extra mile, and does so with a smile.

Repentance, Salvation, sin

The “S” Word.

I’ve noticed that I am hearing less and less in our Churches about sin and repentance, although the cross maybe lit up behind us in Neon lights, how often does Christ’s death, sacrifice or the atonement actually get mentioned.

I praise God that as Church we are grasping what it means to live ethically and sustainably, I love the renewed passion for justice that liberation theology has brought us, I want to “be Mission Shaped”, “Grow Leaders” and “make authentic indigenous disciples” -all the Church is rightly talking about, yet I wonder if we inadvertently think we have moved on from talking about the cross of our redemption.

I have talked a lot about ‘keeping the most important thing the most important thing’, for Paul the most important thing was “proclaim Christ, and him Crucified”.

The Cross is at the heart of Paul’s writings, at the heart of the Gospels (Mark spends the majority of his gospel on the crucifixion) and I believe at the heart of the whole of scripture, the Old Testament hinting and giving glimpses towards Good Friday.

The Cross ought to be at the centre of our lives, our hearts and our minds.

Yet for me, I think I need to think about the cross daily, because I know I sin daily, I know my need of a Saviour, my need of forgiveness, I know that sin still hovers at my door and can so easily entangle, I need to encounter the cross and the blood daily. I thought that by now, 21 years of following Christ, I’d have this Holiness thing sorted, and I do praise God that he has changed, moulded and shaped me, but I do now that I am not by a long way a finished product… more over I think it is scary how easily I could, can and sometimes do slip back into sin and old habits.

The problem is we become more secretive about our failings which causes shame that destroys us internally and the charge of hypocrisy that destroys us externally.

That is why James writes “Confess your sins to one another so you maybe healed” -all of us remember those occasions when we have shared something with someone else, brought it into the light, and felt God set us free.

To be honest with God and ourselves is the best thing we can do instead too often we get better at justifying ourselves and appeasing our consciences.

I’m not saying this to ‘air my dirty laundry’ but rather that I think we need to have the honesty, vulnerability, integrity and self awareness to admit that although we are beloved children of God, we are also sinners in need of a Saviour.

To often we make repentance something we did when we come to faith, rather than something we need to do all the time.

In my home Church growing up sin, the cross was mentioned all the time and sometimes it didn’t always feel like it was good news, and it is good news… but to understand the extent of the good news of redemptive love, we need to know that bad news of our inability to save ourselves, when we realise our inability to pay, that the cost was beyond us, that enables us to grasp a little of something of the enormity of what Christ has done.

People have accused me of being very condemning, and saying this idea will make us constantly feel bad about ourselves. I don’t agree, I believe that having a right understanding of sin, and a cruciform theology, actually keeps us perpetually being reminded of God’s love for us, his grace and his mercy, as well as his power to live our lives his way.

When we encounter the crucified one, we cannot escape encountering the risen one too.

It’s real to be aware of our sin, it’s counter cultural to apologise, even the boy band blue told us that “Sorry is the hardest word”.

In our world nobody admits they are wrong, nobody takes the blame and so often apologies come with a whole lengthy speech on why they were right and you were wrong it little speech, lets be people that are prepared to hold our hands up and be honest as to our failings. It will shock people, they wont get it, they may take advantage and it might annoy your boss, but I believe it will be something deeply challenging that I doubt they will forget in a hurry.

The less we confess our sins and make restitution the more it eats us up inside (as does unforgiveness which is another blog for another day), the more we are Christians try and make everything okay and go with the flow of the culture the less and less we talk about the need for forgiveness.

I remember at college a friend of mine had quite a liberal theological upbringing, but was a Christian, at a talk by Graham Cray on the cross (one which didnt pull its punches) he was in tears at the front of the crowd on his knees… and afterwards he said “that was the first time I felt forgiven”…

My challenge is does our Christian life and our Christian thinking drift away from the cross?

Lets be people who share the fullness of the message so the extent of the good news can be grasped.