Friday, 26 September 2008

Kingdom people!

I've just spent the afternoon with 25 very noisy children. They are full of energy, full of fun, but sometimes they go just a bit too far, as children are wont to do. It was a Rock Solid afternoon. We played football; we tried to play Chinese whispers; we got them to draw a self-portrait; we are teaching them about prayer. The focus of the afternoon was a DVD story about David and how he was chosen to be king, that God looked at his heart rather than the outside. (You can read the story for yourself in 1 Samuel 16; it is a fascinating story!) We talked about being special in God's eyes and that it is important to be the right kind of people on the inside.

Some of these children come to our Church on a Sunday as well. Some go to other Churches in the city. Some don't go to any Church at all. Very few people have started coming to our Church as a result of Rock Solid. So what are we achieving?

At the very least, we are giving these children a positive memory of Church. That might seem to be a very low aim, but in today's Scotland, that in itself is important. So many people have a very low opinion of the Church, a poor view, that to give a new generation of Scots a positive memory of Church is a good thing.

We are also introducing the children to people of faith. We have told them stories of Jesus in the past and this term it is the story of David and his faith that they are hearing. For some of them, this is the only place where that will happen. They also rub up against people of faith when they meet us; something of who and what we are will inevitably rub off on them, though how that works is impossible to analyse.

Rock Solid is exciting for all kinds of reasons. It is good fun (most of the time) to have these energetic, enthusiastic children around. God is at work in the lives of these children in ways that we cannot yet see and can only begin to imagine. It is a new kind of Church for children, allowing them to discover for themselves something of God in a different kind of setting.

Here's the crunch though and this is the huge challenge for us, of which Rock Solid is but one example. Are we people whose values are centred on Church and its success or are we people who see kingdom values? As Church people, we will measure success by the number of people who come to our church as a result of our activities; as kingdom people, we will rejoice that God is at work and His grace is touching people's lives.

Howard Snyder is an American theologian working in Canada; he wrote this in 1983: "Kingdom people seek first the Kingdom of God and its justice; church people often put church work above concerns of justice, mercy and truth. Church people think about how to get people into the church; Kingdom people think about how to get the church into the world. Church people worry that the world might change the church; Kingdom people work to see the Church change the world."

Are you a church person or a kingdom person? I want to be a kingdom person and am getting there, but it is very hard to shake off the church person in me! And I wish I had the energy of the children...!

Friday, 19 September 2008

Where's the good news?

I've been longing for some good news this week. My laptop crashed on Sunday afternoon and refused to start up again - had to go and buy a new one! The village shop announced that it will close after the papers are sold on Sunday afternoon - I will have to walk further for my paper in the morning, or worse take the car to Colinton!! There is a rat in our garden and the family of, what we thought were mice, now appear to be baby rats! Then, there's HBOS & there would have been a time when that just passed my by since I'm not a shareholder; my money's there, but safe; but now I have a family member whose job is on a shaky nail! And so it goes on...

What have you had to deal with this week? Come back and tell me that some of these concerns are trivial (I will insist that you exclude Sara's job from that; that's far from a trivial thing for anyone!) because you are facing bigger issues: someone has died, someone is in hospital, someone is in need; someone has moved into care; someone has other needs. I will agree with you.

My point is this: how do we deal with bad news? Have you noticed that it is like Lothian Buses at the moment; bad news never comes alone; there always seems to be 3 or 4 of them at a time. There are several reactions:
  • we can pretend it hasn't happened and avoid talking about it - that's never a very good strategy; it didn't seem to do the ostrich very much good to sink its head in the sand;
  • we can blame God for it all, as if it is all His fault - there is a Gary Larson cartoon from the Far Side books that shows God's finger over the smite button as a man walks under the piano; I find it funny because I don't believe God is like that.
  • we can become depressed and angry as if we are being singled out for bad treatment from the 'source of all bad news' whatever that may be, taking it all personally; that is an understandable reaction when there are 3 or 4 bits at a time; we can deal with these things much more easily if there were only 1 of them.
Sometimes, however, the deep theological perspective on life is that 'life stinks'. God is not to blame; we are not the target, but life just stinks. We can become angry about it; not a bad thing at times just to vent your anger and let off steam as long as you don't become violent.

I was at a meeting in the Church Offices this morning and the convenor of the group read from the prologue to John's gospel in the version called The Message. It says there, of Jesus, that "the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood." (John 1:14) OK, it is a bit American, but I think that brings something to this debate. When Jesus came, God moved into my neighbourhood! If that means anything, it means this: God knows the bad news as well as the good; God knows our frustrations and anger and understands our feelings and sympathises with us; God understands when we vent that anger at Him and doesn't condemn us for it; God knows our fears and anxieties and offers us grace to help us.

Good news: there were visitors in Church last Sunday who thought the experience was great; someone offered to change their diary to accommodate a meeting I was trying to organise!!

Friday, 12 September 2008

Being comfortable!

On Tuesday evening I was in Greenside Church. I was there for a meeting of Edinburgh Presbytery because Andrew Anderson, the most gracious minister of Greenside is Moderator of Presbytery for this year. The building is on Royal Terrace and the congregation is based in and around the top of Leith Walk and the Calton Hill area of town. Andrew told us a little of Greenside's past, especially its connection with the Stevenson family who built lighthouses and Robert Louis who wrote books.

The building is different from ours in a host of ways: the pews are laid out differently, the gallery is probably bigger, the halls are downstairs. The way they do things is different: part of the meeting was a communion service and it was done differently from the way we celebrate communion in Juniper Green. Andrew's style of ministry, whilst holding to many of the principles I hold dear, is different from mine.

Do you go to Church when you're on holiday? You should, because it does you good. Variety is the spice of life, after all.

Visiting other Churches can do one of two things: either, it will convince you that the way your own church does things is far better than anything you see anywhere else, or you will leave thinking 'why can we not do that too?' There are dangers in both attitudes: if we are convinced that we are the best, there is a huge risk of becoming complacent, thinking that we have nothing to learn from anyone, and that we have no room for improvement! Simply not true! On the other hand, there is an equally huge risk that we become dissatisfied and disillusioned with our Church because we are not doing things in the way we see other churches do them.

We can be like that as individuals as well. The whole advertising industry is built around making us feel dissatisfied with the way we look or the things we possess. Being dissatisfied, we want to look like the model and the clothes she wears, or we want to have the newest car or latest gadget to keep up to date.

A few years ago, I developed the phrase with one of our students on a training placement: 'be comfortable in your own skin'. In other words, be yourself, but be the best that you can be. Ministry students don't come to Juniper Green to be made into clones of Jim Dewar, but to learn to be the best they can be for themselves. Every Church has its own unique history that has shaped it into the church it now is; every church has its own unique community to serve, its unique opportunities and challenges. Every one of us is unique, with a unique experience of life and faith, with our own skills and abilities, with our individual phobias and anxieties.

We cannot wish that our Church were like the other church we have just visited; we cannot go through life wishing that we were George Clooney or Gwynneth Paltrow. We have to learn from other churches and other people, taking some of the best from other places and people and learning from them, but not then going through life permanently disillusioned with Church or permanently dissatisfied with yourself.

What we can do is make sure that our Church is the best that we can be, in our place, meeting our challenges in the best way, and most of all in the way that God wants. We can make sure that we are the best people that we can be, not longing to be someone else, but the best 'me' I can be as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

That's enough to be going on with!