Thursday, April 3, 2014

I'm reading through Judges at the minute for my daily (or occasional - depending on mood, discipline, distractions, business etc) devotions. I'm reading without commentary or explanatory notes, just pausing when something strikes me.

Today I read Judges Chapter 17 and paused on v.6 'in those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.' 

Now Chapter 17 of Judges is a curious chapter. After the narratives about the exploits of Samson and before him various characters, there is a stand alone story about a man called Micah. He appears to hold no leadership function in Israel, he's not a judge or King, just some random bloke who thinks that by paying for some ministry he will live in health and happiness. (v.10-13) 

I'm struck by the sense that all too often in my experience God's people continue to operate in a worryingly similar way. A faith that, on the surface at least, can often be expressed in a quasi-superstitious way where quid pro quo trumps the concept of faith believing in extravagant grace. All too often I've heard people justify their 'faith' in terms of how much money they have given to the church, or those who see the favour of God present, or future hope, as a reward for church attendance, faithful service or other good works. Surely such an outlook is at best faith mixed with superstition (I.e unless I do 'x' why will happen etc) or at worst heresy. 

For me, the clue to Micah's curious outlook on faith/life is found in the afore-mentioned verse 6. 
'In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.'
Without godly leadership to gently guide or steer God's people it is so easy to miss the mark and wander astray. Good leadership is never oppressive, manipulative or domineering, but it does set a path for people to follow and calls them to maintain on a straightish road of discipleship in the midst of distractions and challenges. In my own UK Methodist tradition, we are increasingly re-discovering that one of the roles of the ordained person is to lead. There are many ways of expressing godly leadership, but it's vital to understand that the absence of leadership only leads to calamity, however naively it was pursued, or innocently it was embarked upon. 

'Good leadership is never oppressive, manipulative or domineering...'
To lead well, then may not be all about 'success' as the modern church all to often views, with pass/fail criteria largely based upon the building of bigger churches, but the test of leading well is surely to assess, what is passed on to others, an authentic Gospel secure in faith/grace partnership or a deviation from the wonderful story of God's grace which is always to sell people short of all that is on offer

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Covenant for 2013...

Today, Tuesday January 1st, 2013 I covenant myself again to the God who created me, forms me and to whom I owe my life. As I reflect on another year passed, I'm struck by the comfort I've eased into. I'm very much aware that my commitment to God sounds great from my mouth, but looks all so different in the choices I make and the energies that I exert. This is no guilt trip but a chance to commit myself to live as best as I know how for the pleasure and glory of King Jesus in 2013.

In the tradition that I've come from the place to do this liturgically would be at the end of a celebration where prayer and encouragement are offered once one has stood, or 'come forward' as a sign of movement in the soul.

I have no celebration here tonight, I have no prayer team or band playing Christian mood music, but in some small way, this is my public response to the altar call in my heart, which beckons me again, to live the dream of a life after God.

A few updates may follow at some stage, but I'm already excited to be following a bit more deliberately tonight and for the year ahead after Jesus. Anyone want to join me at the front?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Successful evangelism?

Reading today about the wealth and wisdom of Solomon in 2 Chronicles 9 and the visit of the Queen of Sheba. A few things began to bubble away in my head...

1) Solomon is successful. He is wealthy and impressive, the repeated phrase that never had such things been seen in Judah, shows that he was remarkably successful. Because of his success, he is sought out by the Queen of Sheba.

I've been wondering a fair bit lately about whether 'successful' large, slick, modern, churches are what God wants. Is this a representation of the Kingdom that is seen in mustard seed and yeast? But equally am aware that in a culture that is so aware of 'image' that to be impressive and successful and be seen to be full of life and making a real difference and impact can draw people to you to pick your brains or seek your input. This is what is happening here. Solomon's reputation goes before him and is therefore attractive to the seeker - in this case the Queen of Sheba. So maybe being impressive isn't so bad after all.

Except that...

2) Nothing changes in the life of the Queen of Sheba. She is impressed, she receives help it seems. She goes on her merry way, but there is nothing to suggest a challenge to transforming life and becoming a follower of the Lord, in contrast to other 'foreign' monarchs who acknowledge the power and goodness of God in thew OT. Is there not a danger in 'impressive churches' of being caught up in the 'impressive' and missing the real Kingdom moment of transformation? Isn't it so easy to consume and consume the great 'product' of a modern, slick church, and pass away without anyone noticing that nothing in you has been challenged or changed? Is the potential pitfall that people are impressed and even attracted but the presentation softens the hard Gospel call?

These are just questions which i have no answers to and am just posing really, but are worth considering. As a minister in a medium sized but growing church I am well aware of my ambitious streak which is very keen to impress and be noticed, but sense, for me anyway, the nagging voice of the Spirit challenging me to help shape communities that represent God's Kingdom and not human empires.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The crucial 'if'...

Continuing our travels through Scripture brings us into 2 Chronicles with a couple of things worth noting today.

1) the frequent refrain ' He is good and His love endures forever' appears a few times in the back end of 1 Chronicles and now in the early chapters of 2 Chronicles as well. Seems to be a regular liturgical refrain used by the people to acknowledge the goodness and faithfulness of God.

2) More famously perhaps is the verse from 2 Chronicles 7:14 "...if my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

Struck me afresh as i read this morning the power of the word 'if'. With all the means of grace we have , scripture, prayer, communion, fellowship - the onus is on us to take hold of that which is freely offered. It seems as I read this vesrse again that there is a longing in the voice of God, so desperate for His people to take up the opportunity that He gives.

This verse appears in the midst of Solomon dedicating the Temple and God warning Solomon and the people about the consequences of abandoning Him. Just because there is a temple doesnt mean the people will always be under God's favour - a lesson for us building-worshipping Methodists out there. In the midst of warnings of judgement comes a powerful 'get out clause' allowing God's people to draw on His grace and mercy rather than His judgement. But the key thing is it's up to us. If only we would appreciate all that is on offer for us. If only we would rediscover the power of prayer, if only our eyes would be opened again to the Might of our God, if, if, if,. If only, God's people would seek Him out for renewal and restoration, if only....

Thursday, November 17, 2011

1 Chronicles...

After eventually catching up on my reading plan and finding myself where i should be on the set day, here are some thoughts of mine from 1 Chronicles mid way through.

1 Chr 13:4 - David is discussing with the people whether to bring the ark of the covenant, the precious symbol of God's presence back to Jerusalem. Instead of ploughing ahead regardless, the community discuss and ponder and because "it seemed right to all the people" they press ahead. Surely this is one of the many forerunners of the Wesleyan tradition that we discern God's will in the community of God's people. If God is leading us such a way, we trust that the spirits of the saints, witness with what we are suggesting, or have a sense of a similar direction. The key of course is people, listening to the Lord when engaging in such a process.

1 Chr 13:10 - the anger of the Lord burning against Uzzah for seeking to steady the ark. On one hand it re-enforces the sacredness and pure holiness of God and the one thing that symbolises His presence that a mere mortal cannot just touch His holy ark, but on the other, Uzzah is only wanting to stop the ark from crashing to the ground - surely far more shameful??

1 Chr 15:13 perhaps sheds some more light on the above - David and the people did not enquire of the Lord for directions for how to move the ark. A sobering warning to churches and Christian people everywhere, what harm is there in enquiring of the Lord in even the most mundane of decisions or processes?

1 Chr 15:29 - Michal doesn't take to David's celebrating and dancing. So often the case that those who are hard hearted are unable to embrace the joy of others so much so that it turns to resentment. This is seen in local churches up and down the land every week! Does a heart really given over to the Lord have the ability to embrace joyous celebration of God's goodness even if it isn't their style? I think so! Any Michal's in my church, watch out!

1 Chr 16 - great prayer of praise and celebration. Inspired me to preach a series - 'great prayers of the Bible'. Should tie in next summer nicely with our District's year of prayer.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Some musings from Judges

So we are nearly a quarter of the way through the year of Bible reading although my little gold ribbon doesn't seem to reflect this as it marks of the number of pages read, but this week we passed through the whole book of Judges which was a fairly tumultuous time in the history of God's people.

Already posted some thoughts on Gideon, but the next main character to arrive on the scene is Samson. Love reference in Judges 13:25 where 'the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him...' Reminded me of time when as a child we visited someone or other and there was a huge dog lying in front of the fire asleep. I remember being intimidated by the size of this beast, but reassured when he seemed deeply asleep. I remember the sense of fear and apprehension i felt as it began to stir a while later and recall anticipating with frazzled fear the sense of being at the mercy of this powerful dog as it burst into action. Love that sense of Samson's power and strength beginning to be awakened by the Spirit of God. Love seeing that in people - particularly young, passionate men who are sold out for our King, when God seems to grab hold of their life and something powerful, even intimidating begins to stir as they begin to get ready for action.

Challenged and inspired by this one little verse.

What follows is some pretty horrific treatment of women as no more than sex slaves as Samson's wife is given to whoever at the party wants her and then another unrelated story of the abominable treatment of a young woman who is raped and murdered brutally. It is some small mercy that the shocking nature of her death serves as a warning and a challenge to Israel.

Sandwiched between these to women accounts is the curious narrative about Micah and his priest who installs gods for good fortune in his house and then employs a Levite to be his personal priest to the gods. [I cheekily wondered whether this is where the tradition of Bishop's chaplain's came from!!!!] But the point is, and still remains today how strong the pull of superstition and charms for good fortune remain on people, despite the clear biblical mandate to be rid of such things and trust fully in the ways of the Lord.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Memorial plaques

Gideon is a hero in the eyes of Israel. He has won an incredible and most unlikely victory and been Israel's shepherd and leader for a number of years. Yet his fame goes to his head because not content with the knowledge of pleasing the Lord, Gideon demands goes about making an ephod from gold - a lasting symbol of his achievements, and surprise surprise all Israel falls down before it worshipping the gold object and forgetting the Lord who won the victories in the first place.

Got me thinking though about memorials that occupy church buildings. Things that are put up or are given in memory of something with good intentions but become to quote Judges 8 'a snare to all the people'. A plaque marked on a certain chair, which binds the congregation from ever being creative with seating arrangements because one chair is 'my Ron's chair', or communion kneelers so inappropriate and uncomfortable for the congregation but cant be replaced because Ethel left them to the church... its surprisingly easy how these little mementos, or reminders of individuals end up becoming, well worshipped, to some degree or another and certainly restrict progress.

I wonder whether in a community where our giving should be so humble and quiet that one hand doesn't know what the other is doing, whether memorial stones/plaques are ever appropriate in churches? I feel not really, because however, unintentionally, people end up repeating the mistakes of the Israelites in Gideon's time. These things become a snare, even an idol and distract from the One who should be the focus of the communities worship and decision making.