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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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.