Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Coming and going

Nigel Pollock, TSCF director, NZ, writes in the annual report:

Paul presents the Romans with a missional model in Romans 10:
How can they respond if they do not believe?
How can they believe if they have not heard?
How can they hear unless someone communicates the good news?
How will they preach unless they are sent?

We often try to run an attractional model:
How will they respond unless they hear?
How will they hear unless they come?
How will they come unless something great is put on to draw them?
How will something great be put on unless someone organizes it?

Please do not mishear me here. I believe that the gathered community of God’s people committed to biblical teaching, prayer, the breaking of bread and to living sacrificially and generously together is absolutely crucial. I have no doubt that events, courses and programmes have a vital part to play in the mission of the church. But this must happen within the framework of the great commission where evangelism is about going to where people are and taking the good news to them. If our events do not happen within a missional model we will wind up devoting much of our time, talents, energies and resources to the running of programmes which can turn us into managers rather than missionaries.

One of the things that has encouraged me most this year is seeing some of our student leaders commitment to true witness, not just as organizers of meetings but as a heart value which shapes the way they relate to their friends and pursue their studies. It is also heartening to see graduates seeing their workplace and community as places they have been sent to be salt and light.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Hearts are trumps

Bish is at it again - a brilliant post on how to do unity in a Christian Union in practice followed a clear how to do unity in a Christian Union in principle. Well worth a read.

Suspect innovation

I've been working on a seminar track for a conference coming up, and while being thankful for this work, which I love, and for sitting in a comfy chair with my laptop, the warm weather, a breeze blowing through from the garden, white tea in a china mug and the strains of the Korngold violin concerto, found myself frustrated that most of the work for this seminar had been done before, by someone else - I'm mostly copying, with a few variations in style. All that I would want in the seminar, even the ways I'd express things: it's all there.

Why would I be frustrated by that? What desires are being frustrated? I've no need to prove myself: I'm in Christ. I've no need for innovation: truth is old, and I've no desire but than to reflect what God has revealed. Our culture currently seems to have a love affair with the new: if you have nothing new to say... But we are called to pass on the good news which was decided and put into place before the beginning of time - not to fanfare my own new invention. I don't need to be the one even seeing this truth for the first time, or describing it with particularly aplomb. I just need to be faithful in serving others with the truth of God's word - and if in that I find I'm relying on someone else's work, that's fine. After all, I'm not autonomous or independent: we're created dependent on God and each other. And thus faced with the truth, the idols come tumbling down. They always look so silly when the light of truth shines on them, like grotesque statues which my heart was courting prettily, thinking them captivating. Ha! They no longer have power to frustrate - the light of Christ shines and my desires reorient on Him.

What a joy and privilege to be reminded of this by God's word: that he doesn't leave us to our foolishness, but rebukes, corrects, teaches and trains in righteousness, until we will see Christ as he is... and that'll really show up those old lying idols!

What a privilege also that my work involves doing a seminar on this very topic. Yes, it was in preparing a seminar on addressing the heart with the truth, that I found myself going after lies. The heart is deceitful above all things... but God's grace in Christ is greater: praise Him!
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. [2 Peter 1.3-12]

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Ascending and descending

The orchestra in which I play, South Birmingham Sinfonia, recently gave our usual pair of July concerts. This programme was all Vaughan Williams, as many orchestras are doing in this 50th anniversary of his death: Folk Dances, The Lark Ascending, and Job: a masque for dancing. For our second concert, our soloist, a conservatoire student, was taken ill, and Michael Bochmann agreed to play with us instead. Now in youth orchestras I've played many concerti, and I've heard the Lark many times: but this was something else. Breathtaking, and so very beautiful. The depth of tone and the soul of the piece made me want to cry. At various points in the piece, strings have sustained pianissimo on one paused note while the solo climbs and circles ever upwards. I was so captivated by Michael's solo, that at one such time I glanced down at my violin, to see that the bow I was drawing so lightly across the string to sustain the note, wasn't actually touching the string at all, which is stretching pianissimo slightly! Pure joy.

As for the Job, Blake had got hold of the Biblical book and made some engravings with Biblical texts as commentary. As he stated in another work, "I must Create a System, or be enslav'd by another Man's/ I will not Reason & Compare: my business is to Create," so it's not surprising that his work on Job was rather a reinterpretation. Blake's beefs with the church were much about self-righteousness and hypocrisy, so we have Job at the start as self-righteous, not (as God declares him), righteous; his friends as hypocrites, and in the end he is humbled. So when Vaughan Williams was commissioned to take Blake's engravings and compose a ballet, the ballet directions are strikingly different at several key points to the book of Job. We performed the piece in its orchestral format, without ballet, so added a narration based on these directions and Blake's supply of texts, and I don't think that the orchestra member who worked on the composition of the narrative was quite sympathetic with the original book either!

So we had a stunning musical score, but a plot in which God hands Job over completely to Satan, deserts His throne, Satan sits on it instead, Job's friends are sent by Satan and are entirely hypocritical in their sympathy, and Job does in fact curse God. God gives him a second chance, completely unjustly casts Satan to hell, and rewards Job - for having been humbled. It was disturbing to have this completely distorted retelling of Job performed, with narration announced from the pulpit of the church building in which we played, as if it were what the Bible says. It led to some good discussions with fellow orchestra members who were intrigued or disturbed by the picture presented, but it bothers me that so many will have the impression that the Bible reveals God in this way. I wanted to give everyone the text of the book of Job. But strangely, it's not produced as a separate evangelistic booklet as are the gospels.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

How great I am!

The sick song of the human heart, which so often sings this under its breath. Not that anyone hears the tune, but the effects can usually be seen. How humbling it is to ask, "Why did I just say that? Why did I just do Y?" So often the answer is "Worship." But not as we'd like to profess:

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Long days and always Christ

Yesterday I:
travelled for 14.5 hours;
had my purse stolen on a bus in Athens, within 15min of leaving the house;
had a 2.5h delay for my plane;
added 2h time change;
finished 2.5 books (Les Grand Meaulnes, Trueman's Minority Report, Grisham's A time to kill)
took 2.5h to get from London to Birmingham due to an earlier train taking down overhead lines;
missed my church members' meeting :(

I'm thankful that:
My strength is Christ;
I'm back in the cold UK, away from oppressive Greek heat;
My treasure is Christ;
I had everything I needed to get back home despite the purse being stolen;
My glory is Christ;
The church members' meeting ran late so timing it just right that I got a lift from the station on arriving exhausted;
My rest is Christ.

'Parachurch' that loves the local church

While I was away on a Greek island on a UCCF summer team, I pondered our relation to the local church. We were seeking to witness to students, both from Greece (mainly Athens) and all over the world. There are 2 local evangelical English-speaking churches on Paros, but none of the students live on the island. We spoke to them of church where they came from for following up their interest, as well as recommending reading the Bible. Mostly, we spoke of Jesus. As a team, Jonathan Clark led us one morning in considering world mission through Ephesians 3.10: God's plan that through the church His manifold wisdom might be made universally known. I pondered that this could be neglected, with a tip-of-the-hat to the effect that 'we're all part of the universal church', or it could be overstretched as the single interpretative lens, so anything not exclusively the ministry / mission of one local church becomes suspect. And I return home to find that, as usual, Bish is thinking and expressing these things much better than me :) See his post, 'Parachurch' that loves the local church - and love your church!