An Ironic Interruption

At church a couple of weeks ago, instead of a sermon, some people were invited to take part in a kind of interview about their lives, their involvement in the church and what God has been teaching them. I was one of those who got to join our pastor on the sofa before the congregation and attempt to condense into ten brief minutes simple questions about how my time the US has impacted me and what my hopes for the future of the church are.

Colin had sent me the questions he planned to ask earlier in the week so I had a rough idea what I would talk about. I wanted to attempt to explain that it was the people in San Francisco – the outcast, broken, lost and forgotten – who had transformed my understanding of so much, not least that we are all outcast, lost and broken but never forgotten by the Lord. I wanted to convey that the “us” and “them” attitude of the world was irrelevant and that breaking it down had brought freedom and new understanding. How ironic it would be, I thought, if one of “them” was to come to church that day. Wouldn’t it be just my luck.

I was the last person to be interviewed. Everyone else had done a fantastic job and shared wonderfully. It was all going very smoothly. But, in the thirty seconds that it took for me to walk from the sound desk at the back of the hall to the sofa on the stage at the front, a man came in and sat down in the back. I didn’t notice, I hadn’t seen him, not until I began to speak and he began to shout over me.

I was trying to explain the work I had been doing in San Francisco and he was trying to explain that “those people” lived real close by too. Some people from the congregation moved pretty quickly to try and get him to be quiet. I froze. I was torn between wanting to continue speaking and realising this as an opportunity to practice what I was talking about. I wanted to engage with him; I wanted to hear what he had to say and show him that someone was willing to listen. My pastor, sat beside me, said to keep going. So I did.

Afterwards, people kept coming to tell me that I had done well despite the heckling. I wanted to shout that this heckler had a name and a story and wan’t someone we should just try to quiet down.
I went and spoke to him. He actually apologised for interrupting me before going on to say that if “those” people were to come into the church there would be a divide, like the red sea, between “us” and “them”. He said that unless you had a degree in anthropology (his actual words, I promise) you couldn’t fit in at CCE. He said we were too comfortable and afraid of having that comfort disturbed.

The whole experience really got to me. A week and half later and I still can’t quite believe that he came in at that moment in that service. And I can’t shake off what he said either because I’m inclined to believe him.
Some of what I shared that morning were plans that we have in the pipeline to engage the church in more work with those in particularly difficult physical/practical circumstances near by. My dream, our dream, is that these practical measures will lead to discipleship relationships within the church community. I wonder if this encounter was a reminder that that is going to be no easy task, on either side. That it is going to be messy; that we’re going to get it wrong; and that it’s perhaps going to bring more change than we are currently okay with.

 

 

 

24-7 Prayer (2012)

This past week we had another time of 24-7 prayer at church.

24 hours a day for a week there was someone in our prayer room, keeping watch like the watchmen of Jerusalem, worshiping and interceding without ceasing. (Well, almost. I think we lost a few hours on Tuesday afternoon, but, you know, near enough).

The week arrived at the perfect time for me. There’s been all sorts going on in my head and my heart in the past month but it’s been one of those situations where it just seems to big to actually pray about, when you don’t know where to start. So to have a week where I was “forced” to come before God with it all was amazing.

Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.
(Exodus 33:11 ESV)

The week was like a crazy journey for me. Every time I went in to the room it felt like God was showing me the next step along the way.

It started with just seeking Him, asking that He would meet us all like He met Moses. Then I spent a couple of hours reading through Song of Songs and just catching something of God’s love for the church and for me individually.

You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride;
you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes,
with one jewel of your necklace.
How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride!
(Song of Solomon 4:9-10 ESV)

Then I was drawn to consider the person of Jesus and his work on the cross. I’ve been struggling with this for some time, wrestling with what precisely took place there, what it achieved and how. I looked particularly at the sacrificial practices of the Old Testament and the language used around Christ in the book of Hebrews, then to the more well known passages in Paul’s writings. It was good just to sit with these things for a while, to let the scripture settle in my head and grasp something of it all just a little more firmly.

My next slot focused more on how I see myself, how God sees me and the discrepancy between the two. But then on Thursday, I realised how much my prayers and my whole God focus had been about me in the past few months. Even when I had been trying to focus on God it had been for my satisfaction, understanding and fulfillment. It was time to return to intercession, to standing in the gap, to praying on behalf of others, because in that place we gain a unique understanding of who God is.

If we fully comprehend who God is, intercession and asking Him for things will be our natural response. When we realise that His character is not a static one, that He is more than power and glory, that He is also love and justice, that He is active, we should no longer only want to praise His divine attributes but should also feel compelled to ask Him for change and transformation. As we do so, because intercession is not one way but changes us too, we understand more of who God is and praise Him all the more for it!

To finish our week we went up to the Crags (the cliffs that over look the city) and prayed for it all. I wondered as we walked up there how many others had gone before us. How many thousands of people, in hundreds of years, have climbed that hill and prayed over our city? What a mighty cloud of witnesses! And we continue to build on their work, in prayer and action.

I’m sad that the week is over, but excited to see where the fruits of it lead us as a church in the coming months. God is on the move.

One Weekend in Moffat

This past weekend was my church’s student weekend away and we all toddled on down to Moffat for a wonderful couple of days.

It wasn’t the intense experience of last year where God turned yet more stuff upside down, but more of a peaceful time of rest in His presence. I think, after a pretty tough semester, it was what we all needed.

I found it brilliant to be back in that kind of community living, even if only for a short time. To be eating with thirty other people again and have roommates once more was soothing for me. Being surrounded by the hustle and bustle, always having something to do and someone to talk to brought a comfort I’ve missed over the past few months.

It was also a blessing to have a slightly smaller group this year (35 compared to last year’s 55), almost all of whom I knew already. It meant there was a cosy, family atmosphere to the whole thing with no cliquey-ness. I really appreciated getting to know some folks a lot better and having quality time to spend with them.

We were working through a couple of chapters of Philippians in our meetings. Philippians has been instrumental in my journey of faith, being the book that was studied at the Holiday Club where it all began, so I was really looking forward to going back to it in depth once more. I’ve read it so many times and underlined almost every verse but it never fails to get me:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

(Philippians 2:5-10 ESV)

Amazing!

Also got some good time in to chat with our on of the church leaders who came away as well. He was very encouraging about everything that I posted about the other day (Change) and had some good advise about how to deal with the issues these changes throw up.

The highlight of the weekend was probably the huge game of Capture the Flag which we had on Saturday afternoon. Using all three stories of this massive house, about twenty of us battled it out. With socks in our back pocket so we could obviously catch each other, it became a lot like a game of full contact tag rugby. I’m going to have bruises for quite some time, my team’s pride probably the most bruised of all as we lost without even discovering where their flag was!

I love being a part of this community and am so grateful to God for all that he is doing in them and through them.

Christocentric

Cracking good sermon at CCE this morning.

You should soon be able to listen to it or read it on the CCE Website.

Colin started out with what could be some slightly controversial stuff. I’m not going to give an opinion on it because I haven’t quite formed one yet but let me give you the gist:
We, as a community are bible-rooted, not bible-centred. We can’t live just as they did in the bible in non-biblical times but we interpret scripture for our time. Evangelicals have often described the bible as their anchor but our anchor should be Jesus Christ. The Scriptures are his servant and the Spirit his interpretor. We are centred on Christ.

Huge questions going on there, fun stuff to wrestle with but let me get to the really wonderfully important bit.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

(Colossians 1:15-23 ESV)

Jesus is the centre of who we are and what we do.

This Jesus is not an ethic, a doctrine or a memory. He is a living person whom we enter into relationship with. He is God with us, the embodiment of the Trinity. He calls us to follow his very self. Just being in his presence can transform us.

It’s not enough to imitate him. It’s not enough to move in his general direction. You have to know him. And I mean know him; an intimate, espoused love (Philippians 3:10).

We love to talk about kingdom but we can’t have a kingdom without a King. And our King has direct rule: no more devolution or intermediaries but a King amongst his people. And when we pray for his Kingship we’re not praying for a system, we’re praying for more of the God-man himself.

Without him we don’t have access to the Father and the Holy Spirit cannot be sent. We can’t understand the Father’s love or the Spirit’s power without Jesus to model it for us. We need a God with skin on.

Our lives aren’t about church or doctrine or programmes or systems. It’s not ethics or lifestyle or scripture or philosophy. Its not even the Father or the Holy Spirit. It’s JESUS.

It’s about knowing, loving, following, trusting, obsessing over and being consumed by Jesus. His name should continually be on our lips. His words ringing in our ears. His Spirit beating in our hearts.

It’s Jesus.

Can I buy a banana?

I went to a church cell group for the first time the other night. Every third week someone in the group brings an issue they’s like to discuss and this week it was consumerism. I fear I may have scared them a little with my outspokenness; you know how my rants can usually go!

We simplified it a little by taking the case of a banana.

A banana which must be flown a few thousand miles around the earth for us to eat (creating lots of global warming causing carbon dioxide); which was likely produced using lots of chemical fertilisers and on a patch of ground which had been deforested (more environment issues there); the person who grew it probably endures difficult working conditions and is paid less than we would consider a living wage (humanitarian issues arise here).

The simple answer would appear to be: lets just not eat bananas. However, if we do that we’re removing an important, if meagre, income from the lives of a number of people. Those at the bottom of the consumer chain are in need of the little wages they do make to survive, can we really just cut that off?

So should we then just buy Fairtrade? This is a tricky one I’m going to need to look in to more because, depending on who you talk to, Fairtrade apparently isn’t always as fair as you would think.

The solution then . . . well, we didn’t have one.

I think it’s important for everyone, and especially Christians to be aware of what and where they are buying. We ought to be ethically minded; the difficulty comes when we appear to have to prioritise ethical issues.

The main point that was made was that if we adjust our lifestyle to be more ethical, do we do it from the point of “this is what I want, how can I get it more ethically” or “this is what I can get, so this is what I’ll have”?

My answer would be option two. I’m still more than up for complete self sufficiency. Ashley and I are going to plant kiwi trees (don’t ask). I’m aware it doesn’t have all the answers but it also means I can produce no more than I need, in an organic and ethical fashion.

A liturgy of sorts

Based on the idea that newness of life is possible in Christ and a few verses from Romans 8, I wrote this in the prayer room at church this evening. (In a group, the bold would be said by everyone, the not bold by the leader)

Christ is risen

Hallelujah!

Christ is risen

Hallelujah!

Risen that we may live

Hallelujah!

Risen that we may have life

Hallelujah!

Christ is risen

He is risen indeed

In Him new life is found

He makes all things new

We live in Him

We live in Him

Who releases us from sin

We live in Him

Who makes hearts new

We live in Him

Who heals our wounds

We live in Him

Who wipes away our tears

We live in Him

Who controls all things

We live in Him

Who works best through weakness

We live in Him

Who who’s love we can’t escape

We live in Him

Who call us His children

The spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you

You did not receive the Spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

Abba! Father!

We cry to you:

Renew us we pray

Abba! Father!

We cry to you:

Fill us with your Spirit

Abba! Father!

We cry to you:

Set us free

Abba! Father!

We live by you

Christ is risen

We rise with Him

Christ is risen

Hallelujah!

I found me a church

Hello everybody!!!

Apologies for my almost month(!!) of silence – there’s been a lot happening here in Edinburgh and time has had to be devoted to other things.

Possibly the most important and exciting piece of news that I should have filled people in on is that I’ve finally settled in a church here.

*enter crazy dance of celebration here*

Thank you to everyone who has been praying about this for me, God came up trumps as per usual.

So I’m going here:

It’s called Community Church Edinburgh and I love it!!

There are quite a few students but still a good mix of folk in the congregation (there seems to be quite a baby boom at the moment too!) and for some reason there’s relatively large number of divinity students about the place.

It’s a little more charismatic than church at home but has a similar family feel and plenty of ways I can be involved and supported. We’re having a week of 24-7 prayer in two weeks and I’m helping to organise it a little.

The sermon series of the past few weeks has been Sex and Sexuality and I’d realy recommend listening to Rupert’s talks if you have the time (though I will warn you they’re usually an hour long – a little different to the 20 minutes I’m used to at home!).

I’m really excited to be a part of this community and find out what God’s got planned for me here, just wish I’d made up my mind a little sooner!!