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.

 

 

 

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Evangelicals and Moderates

The evangelical Calvinists who recognised the good old ways of the Reformers found themselves trapped between an increasingly rigid adherence to the Westminster Theology regularly identified as “gospel” by the “orthodox”, and a puritanised form of rationalistic Calvinism encased in a hard federal frame of thought which had become entrenched in the thinking of the Kirk and was endorsed by the General Assembly.

– Thomas F. Torrance, Scottish Theology, (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1996), 224.

Sound familiar? Well he’s referring to the situation on the Church of Scotland 300 years ago. This battle being fought is nothing new, let’s stop pretending.

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.

Anticipation and Advent

I love the build up to Christmas. The decorations, the mince pies, the snowfall. The transformation of the city with it’s lights and markets. I love the songs and carols that come in to use at this one time of year. I love the excitement and the anticipation that you can feel building as the days count down.

I’m thoroughly prepared for the day itself to not be quite as spectacular: presents, a nice lunch, the Queen and Doctor Who on the telly, don’t quite live up to all this hype. But there is something about this season of waiting that I think is wonderful.

We await the celebration of the coming of the King.

It’s like waiting for the bride to enter at a wedding, when you don’t know whether to focus on her and the dress or him and his face as he sees her. It’s like those days when everyone is talking about the arrival of the baby and “it’s just bound to be any day now”. You get restless, anxious in a good way. You can’t sit still or stop smiling. It’s so exciting!

It’s a time for joy because you absolutely know the miracle that is coming next.

It’s got me to thinking. What was the first advent like? Not even for Mary and Joseph (who I think spent most of it on a donkey) but for God?

Can you imagine Jesus in Heaven waiting for His time to come to earth? Can you imagine the Father’s excitement that soon it was going to be done once and for all, the way would be made? Or the Holy Spirit anticipating the power He was going to reveal?

Do you reckon God got antsy? Paced a little? Do you think there were moments when He just wanted to jump up and down?

If this is my excitement, how much greater God’s must have been!

And I don’t think it was just that one time. I think that every time God knows that one of His children is going to return to Him, He gets excited in the pursuit. Scripture says there’s a party for each and every lost sheep return home, so why not the time of eager anticipation too.

It astounds me to think that God was waiting for me. Knowing full well His plan, he was excited for its fulfillment. And He still waits, and He still hopes, and He is still excited over me and over you. Incredible.

I want to dwell in this period of anticipation. To savour it. To allow the excitement to seep down into my bones so that I can carry it all year, knowing this is the longing of God’s heart too. And so that the coming of Jesus is never ordinary. That the incarnation is as wonderful and mystical as the word itself sounds.

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.

Change

My theology has changed a lot in the two and a half years since I came to university. Some of it has changed a lot in the last six months. You may once have been able to fit me into a nice little labeled box but nowadays the “conservatives” could call me liberal and the “liberals” would call me conservative.

It hasn’t been an easy journey and it isn’t over yet but I am glad to have taken it. If there’s one thing this degree does, it’s to make me question what I’ve been told and figure out what I really believe. But the majority of my theology changing has taken place outside of the classroom, as I follow Jesus and experience God, meeting with Him in unexpected places and unexpected ways. I love that the Holy Spirit is inspiring me to seek Truth and I feel like I understand God better than ever before, whilst also comprehending just how much more there is that I will never fully know.

There’s been some discussion among my friends recently about a lack of objective fact being proclaimed in our church. Less “this is what you should believe” and more “this is what I think it says, go see for yourself”. But it’s precisely that “this is what you should believe” of my past that trips me up whenever I face a new understanding of the complexities of God. Every time I edge towards a change of opinion, I feel guilty. I fear being labelled as “unbiblical”. I expect accusations of “unGodliness”. And then I begin to believe those labels and accusations. This propositional model has lead to more crises of faith than it has prevented and I’ve waded through a lot of doctrine to find a simple faith in a living God.

When you have built a relationship with someone, have known them for a time, when you love them and care for them, when you understand their very character: a revelation about their actions or a change in one aspect of their being does not shatter the foundation that you have already. A change in your friends belief system doesn’t change how much you care about them. A change in you wife’s mental health doesn’t change how devoted you are to her. A revelation about your child’s sexual orientation doesn’t change how much you love them.

The Church should be a place for theological exploration. We should be willing to admit that we don’t have all the answers and that the majority of the ones we do have are probably wrong. And then we should search for them some more. Discovering the vast mysteries of God can be a  joy and not something which is feared.

I secretly love being un-label-able and certain that God is holding me in His, I’m able to hold my theology in a more open hand.

What Not to Say to a Single Woman in Your Church

Great post from Kevin De Young the other day about what we do not want to hear and yet, I’m pretty sure I’ve had every single one of these directed at me at some point.

“I keep praying for someone to come along for you.” Thanks for your prayers. I hope someone comes along too. Instead of praying for that, why don’t you pray that I would be growing in Christlikeness so that if Mr. Wonderful walks into my life, I would be better suited to be a helpmate for him.

Read all of them here: What Not to Say to a Single Woman in Your Church

SF2011: “I love you”

I feel like every other phrase spoken here on base is “I love you”.

We say it a lot.

We say it and we mean it.

In our first two weeks here we made the decision to be very vulnerable with each other. It’s something that I fear but something that I have learned a lot about this summer. I told these guys things about myself that I’ve never shared with another human being. We were open and honest about the difficulties of our past and our dreams for the future. Now we’ve lived together for almost 11 weeks; ate, slept and worked together almost 24hours a day for 73 days – we know each other. And we love one another.

Something else which I had to get used to was an atmosphere of encouragement and affirmation. Left, right and center people would be telling me things they saw in me, qualities they appreciated, things they were grateful that I’d done. I had to adjust to the positivity – there was a severe lack of sarcasm, mockery and derogatory comments. This loving generosity was not the stingy, satirical, scottishness I was used to. I soon found that as I became more comfortable with receiving encouragements, I became more comfortable with giving them. I was able to shirk off my good British reserve and speak truth to people without getting all self conscious or feeling like I was encroaching upon some unspoken personal boundary.

Another thing which arose very quickly after we arrived was talk of the “5 love languages“; and which one we each identified with. We would discuss at length whether we were “words of affirmation”, “quality time”, “receiving gifts”, “acts of service” or “physical touch” kind of people. I was pretty certain I was a service/gifts kind of girl but it turns out I’m as huggy as they come and if someone isn’t, I just don’t know how to relate or communicate affection to the point that it stresses me out. I’m a hugger. Y’all are going to have to deal with it.

So, we tell each other how much we love each other: a lot. And we mean it. We’re this dysfunctional little family that knows each other’s dirty laundry but also sees how beautiful and uniquely wonderful we each are and we’re not afraid to tell each other. And there are lots of hugs, for no apparent reason.

I’m going to attempt to bring this home. Less of the sarcasm, less of the cynicism and more willingness to affirm people and say nice things about them to them.

SF2011: Homeless Church

This morning Bethany and I went to the Homeless Church which meets at the Embarcadero by the Ferry Building. It started here in the city about 17 years ago and now has two services every sunday, with up to two hundred people meeting together.

It was wonderful to worship in the open air, singing old school songs and not ministering to those who are homeless but worshiping with them. It was interesting to be the one entering on to their territory where they, in reality, are the superior ones. But they were very welcoming and many people approached us to say hello and talk. The man who we met on Homeless Plunge, Mike, was there so we spent some time talking to him and made new friends in Rick, James and Meredith.

They start with a time of worship and then serve coffee with cake/cookies (translate: biscuits) before the sermon is preached (today’s involved a ventriloquist’s puppet – those things never fail to freak me out) and afterwards they have a pancake breakfast.

One of the girls who we spoke to said how much she loved it there because nobody judged one another. She suffers from depression and paranoia and spoke of how “normal” churches place labels on “people like her” and condemn them but at Homeless Church she is welcomed, loved and supported.

One of the leaders, Stephanie, spent some time speaking to us about the lack of services for women in the city and the desperate need for more shelters and safe houses for them. She has such a passion for seeing something like that realised in the city; it was lovely to be able to pray with her.

I can’t wait to go back next week and to start dreaming of how I can take it all home.

The Arrogance of Reason

The silliness of any of us thinking we’re an expert on Him. Our only hope is repeating what He reveals He is like.

The tone that we use . . . we have to guard ourselves against heartlessness, we’re talking about real people here, we can’t just have these theological discussions about a doctrine. We can’t be careless and just argue for our point of view, neglecting all the other elements . . . we have to present the evidence and allow a decision to be made.

The arrogance of people to think their reasoning is above God’s, who put God’s actions in submission to their reasoning.
“I wouldn’t believe in a God who would . . . ” – do you ever even consider the possibility that the creator’s sense of justice [enter any issue/topic/character trait here] is actually more developed than yours? That you could be the one who is flawed?

Does it even enter your mind that maybe He knows something you don’t?

Discuss with humility. Confess. Pray, fast and study diligently.

Francis might be talking about hell but I think the kind of attitude which he is encouraging us to have is good in any discussion, of any issue.

Particularly in the Church of Scotland in the past two years, as I’ve listened to people and partaken in discussions about the nature of scripture and what it has to say to those in same-sex relationships, I’ve noticed a serious lack of grace in our language. A lack of humility and an insensibility.
And I hear that phrase, in fact, I’ve used that phrase, “I wouldn’t believe in a God who would . . .” But actually, the God we want to believe in is not the one revealed in Scripture. The God of the Bible is the one who can and will do whatever He wants because His wisdom is greater than ours.

Also, somehow I missed that Francis had moved to San Francisco. Off to pack my stalking gear . . .

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.

Easter Vigil and High Mass

On Easter Sunday I went with a few friends to the 5am service at Old St.Paul’s, an Episcopal church here in Edinburgh.

From their website:

The service starts in quiet and darkness. A fire is lit, from which the great Easter candle – symbol of the light of the risen Christ – is lit and carried to its stand at the front of the church. An ancient hymn in praise of the Resurrection, the Exsultet, is sung, before we hear accounts from the Old Testament of God’s acts of salavation through history. The singing of the Gloria is greeted with a fanfare of bells and organ, and then we go the font where we renew the vows of our Baptism and are sprinkled with newly blessed baptismal water. The service continues with the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and ends with the joyous Easter form of the dismissal.

It was really quite something.

I’ve never attended a “high” anglican/episcopal service like that before and I thought it was just beautiful.

The solemnity and reverence for the occasion was infectious but it was still joy filled and hopeful.

I particularly liked it when the fire was lit at the back of the sanctuary and from that the Paschal candle was lit. Then, from that, some of the individual candles of the congregation were lit and we passed the flames between us, each person to their neighbour. I thought it was a brilliant image of the unity of the people there, of the manner in which the light of Christ can spread from person to person.

The first time we knelt, as the candle was processed, I was a bit like, “Oh, okay, this is odd…” but actually there’s a lot of power in that action and it quickly felt perfectly normal and appropriate. To kneel before the King on the day of his resurrection, to acknowledge his greatness and remind oneself of your humble position before him was really compelling.

I also liked the way that the readings began in Genesis and worked through the Scriptures, conveying God’s salvation history and plan for his people from the beginning.

After the readings and sermon we began the liturgy of Baptism where we remade our baptismal vows:

The Christian life means turning from evil and turning to Christ.

Standing  now with Christ, do you renounce evil?
I renounce evil.

Do you repent of sin?
I repent of sin.

Do you turn to Christ?
I turn to Christ.

Will you follow Christ?
I will follow Christ.

And renewed a commitment to the Christian life, which was very similar to the promises I made at my profession of faith:

As a disciple of Christ, will you continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers?
With the help of God, I will.

Will you proclaim the good news by word and deed, serving Christ in all people?
With the help of God, I will.

Will you work for justice and peace, honouring God in all creation?
With the help of God, I will.

After this the rector (vicar/priest guy) went through the church sprinkling everyone with water. I got a full facefull but I don’t think it quite counts as baptism number 3!

After this we partook of the Eucharist (aka. communion). It’s the first time I’ve ever approached an altar to receive it from a member of the clergy and, again, it was a little odd – I was certain I’d mess it up some how but it was fine and another beautifully reflective part of the service.

And to finish we sang Thine be the Glory, which I was especially pleased about because I’m not certain it’s ever really Easter without it.

I don’t think I could worship like this all the time. There’s a lot of theology behind it all that I don’t agree with: a lack of congregational participation for one thing. Some of the history and symbolism behind it all is, however, fascinating and it brought to life my liturgy and theology classes from earlier in the semester. I think I might return if in the mood for something more reflective or passive but you can’t just belt out a tune at the top of your lungs and jump around a little which I’d miss.

So, 5am next year anybody?