Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A story of two gardens

I've been thinking recently that the story of the bible is in many ways a story of two gardens.

In the first garden (Genesis 3) we find a man and a woman playing the blame game and going through the pain of dislocation from the one who gives meaning to their lives. They are sent out of the garden disgraced and disillusioned.

In the second garden (John 20) we find a man and a woman. But this man treats the woman very differently. He wipes away her tears, removes her shame and restores her to her purpose. She is sent from the garden rejoicing. Go and tell of the victory... sing Miriam sing... God has made a way through the sea, the time of slavery is over!

It's not surprising that the apostle Paul calls this man in the second garden the 'last Adam'.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Soul Survivor or Body Believer?

Its relatively easy for most people to accept that they have a soul that will survive death and go to heaven - who wouldn't want to believe that? And after all, the animating energy of life itself is a great mystery that keeps us guessing about where it comes from and where it goes when glowing flesh becomes rotting corpse. But for the evangelist concerned with communicating the original Christian hope (rather than its modern Gnostic variant) it's a hard sell to persuade people that our present bodies will at some unknown future moment be reconstituted to enjoy a new eternal life in a renewed cosmos. Perhaps that's why I don't think I've ever, in 30 years of being around a whole range of church meetings and evangelistic events, heard an evangelist promise resurrection. Yet I hear them promise eternity in heaven all the time.
Related to this I wonder if hope may instead be found in the practice of full immersion baptism. Above all else it's a statement about the death, burial and resurrection of the whole body. Let's get real, if we believed that the body is just a temporary shell we could indicate the presence of a soul waiting for collection in other ways, such as a sign on the forehead, a cross would be appropriate. But the authentic Christian hope is not that we will be soul survivors, rather the body is of great and lasting value in God's eternal order. But like I say, it's a hard sell.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Forrest Gump Christianity

Forrest Gump was an endearing character and when the film came out in 1994 it took the world by storm. It won 6 oscars (nominated for 13), it had a top selling soundtrack, it tapped into something. Yes, he was slow, simple and made sense of the world around him through his mothers childish proverbs. But as Forrest Gump blundered through life amazing things happened to him and he did amazing things.
And that touches us deep inside.
Because we yearn for simplicity in a complicated world.
We shrink from the responsibility of being grown up.
It’s comforting to believe that we’re OK as we are, that we don’t need to change, that good things will happen to us because we’re good people.
And so we can make a nice comfortable theology for ourselves by plucking verses from here and there; that we don’t need to worry because God clothes the flowers of the field, or that we must simply come to him as little children, or that his house has many rooms and one day he’ll come and take us there… but who are we trying to kid? Jesus did not live a Forrest Gump style existence! Neither did he appear on the earth as a finished product - an all-knowing rugrat revealing universal mysteries at the Bethlehem mums and tots group. He needed to grow into all his human potential just like we do. The bible says that he, "grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men." (Luke 2:52) Later it says that "in all things" we need to "grow up into him". (Ephesians 4:15)
No matter how much we want our growing pains to come to an end we should just think first what it really means to stop growing... it means we start dying.

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Anatomy of a Stronghold

It started with a thought.
'We can change it.'
It became an atmosphere of optimism.
'You know what, maybe it will happen soon?'
It took on a focus.
'If we can do it there it will prove it to everyone!'
It turned into action.
July 4th 1789, The Bastille, Paris. The epitome of absolute royal power.

2 Corinthians 10:4-5 "The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."

We're often faced with full blown strongholds in life but how often do we pay attention to a stronghold under construction? If we look carefully at the words of the apostle Paul we can see that he gives us all the phases of the building process from start to finish. First there is the thought. The thought is processed into a pretension. The pretension is augmented into an argument. The argument solidifies into a stronghold. A stronghold is nothing more and nothing less than an entrenched belief that 'This is the way it is and it could never be different.' But like a mathematical equation that negative principle works out in its the positive too. All it takes to overthrow that stronghold is a thought. A thought that spreads an atmosphere. An atmosphere that finds a focus. A focus that inspires action. Action that proves, 'Oh yes it can!'

For more on this subject I recommend Paul Scanlon's Anatomy of a Stronghold audio series.

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Friday, September 07, 2007

Vive la Revolution

History is one of those subjects that is very dependent on a good narrator. One guy who fits into that category is the comedian Mark Steel. I just read his book Vive La Revolution and as well as making me laugh lots it also made me think too - especially about church. You see, around 200 years ago when the revolution was gaining momentum as a movement, groups, caucuses and personalities began to emerge who would shape the future of the French nation and indeed of the world (if you consider the French Revolution to be the paradigm of all modern revolutions). The thing I consider to be significant is that none of these political groups set out with a vision of what their particular club ought to look like. They were all far more concerned with giving their attention to higher things, namely the new world order which they believed could be created and was worth fighting for. And this is where church leaders ought to pay attention. Growing their membership was not the aim. Neither were their activities an exercise in proving the primacy of their pattern of belief over the other variants on offer. For them recruitment was just a necessary step towards their goal of social transformation. Similarly, fulfillment for an individual member was not found in convincing another individual to believe and join the group, it was that they would draw all those around them suffering the same oppression into the action of removing the old order to establish a new world built on a totally different set of values.

I really think we should be spending less time thinking about church growth as an end in itself and more time devoted to sharing with people the amazing Christian vision of what life would be like if the kingdoms of this world became the kingdoms of our Lord.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Me and my shadow

I don't know if it's just part of being human, or of being thirtysomething, or simply being me, but introspection seems to take up a lot of emotional energy. I seem to be forever self-examining and self-critiqueing. If this sounds a bit familiar to you too then you'll know that the tendency is not to dwell on your good points but your bad points. Why is that the default setting? I was just considering this and began thinking of it as a fascination, or even an obsession, with my own shadow. How weird would that be? But then I thought - shadows get bigger the further you are from the source of light. Maybe if I could concentrate on getting myself closer to that light I wouldn't have as much shadow to explore.

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