Saturday, May 28, 2011

do we need a close circle of friends?

circle of friends by
 Jenser (Clasix-Design)
It is interesting to look at how Jesus related to people and see what we can learn about how we can relate to people today but I think we need to be careful about taking some aspects of this as being too prescriptive.

I have heard it pointed out on more than one occasion that Jesus had three circles of friendships. He had a large group who he related to more than just the crowds who followed him: the seventy two whom he sends out in Luke 10. He then had the twelve disciples with whom he developed deeper friendship. Finally he had were three closer more intimate friends Peter, James and John – his 'inner circle', so to speak.

I may be wrong but I wonder how much of that pattern is one that we should seek to copy and how much it reflects the culture of Jesus time. Jesus was a Rabi and this pattern of relationships could easily be following that social norm of the time.

In a more individualistic culture that we find ourselves in today many of us may struggle to identify our 12 or our 3 best friends. Those of us who have been through the University experience often found that we did develop close friendships then - particularly those of us who spent some time in a hall of residence. Some of these people we may have kept contact with over the years. But today how many close friends do we have? Perhaps we all think that other people have closer friends that we do.

It is perfectly natural for our closest friendships to be our household especially for those of us in a nuclear family unit. Groups of singles sharing houses may find the same thing. And looking at Jesus for our role model also raises questions about cross gender friendships as he also had close relationships with women such as Mary & Martha and Mary Magdalene.

There may be quite a variation in the number and depth of friendships we have and in what different groups may prefer to do together. We would do well to look beyond the stereotypes. In a recent men’s meeting we were discussing these issues and found that there were as many men who wouldn’t be interested in watching football together as there are who would be.

best friends by
It was also relief to many of us to hear that others too felt they had a larger circle whom they may feel that to some extent they can be fairly open and honest with but we may not have relationships with an inner circle as Jesus had. Yet we still agreed that on the importance of building friendships and relationships.

As Christians we believe that we cannot express our faith fully in isolation. The Bible refers to church as a community of people – the body of Christ. It also encourages us to reach out to those outside the faith and to seek to be a good influence to those around us. So taking steps to get to know people better is something to be encouraged.

For instance it is good that we should help each other with using our practical skills. If you enjoy doing DIY or gardening and others have jobs that need to be done then this could be a good way to help. There are character strengths that we can help each develop by being more open and honest in discussions within various groups in the church. And anyone in such groups can be seeking God as to the way forward for the group and sharing their insights with their group. And hopefully we have friends outside our local church from whom we can learn.

Yes, there are other places that we can turn to develop a skill or get help with a weakness. I am someone who benefits from reading books and information on the internet and doing courses. Also we may have networked with people through social media and use them to find out nuggets of information or advice that we need. But I do think it is important to find time to relate to people face to face.

Building good friendships both inside and outside of the church community is probably something we all need to work on. But I'm not sure that we should be too worried if we can’t identify that inner circle of a few close friends as long as we are still making an effort to reach out to people.

What do you think?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The End is Nigh? I think not!

It has just gone 6pm on May 21st 2011 and the world did not end! What on earth was that all that about? Loads of people were talking about a ridiculous prediction of a Christian broadcaster whom some would claim is really a cult leader.

Apparently Harold Camping who may or may not have some affiliation with the Latter Rain movement, who also quote this date, calculated that the end of the world would happen today, yes today 21st May 2011 at 6pm. Well, not actually the end of the world as such, but something called ‘the rapture’. All the Christians would disappear and the rest of the world goes through a really bad time called the tribulation, so he claimed.

Like most Christians, I do believe in the doctrine of the second coming – that somehow in the future Jesus returns to earth and everything changes. But I don't claim to fully understand what this means or how it is going to happen. And I wouldn’t say it’s something that could happen anytime soon. As I understand it, before Jesus returns there is a lot that has to happen. Basically God’s kingdom has to fill the earth. Ordinary Christians have to live for God so much that our cultures are transformed into God’s ideal.

A lot of the ideas associated with the rapture have been popularised in the Left Behind series of novels. The basic idea does come from the Bible. 1 Thessalonians 4 that says that when he comes we will be ‘caught up to meet him the air’. But those who believe premillennialism – especially those of a dispensationalist leaning - have added a detailed timetable to this. A number hold to the idea that this timetable may be kick-started at any moment. They even point to events in the world such as natural disasters and wars as indications that this moment is just around the corner. If you care to examine history you'll find it's an idea that only became popular a century or two ago.

The big problem I have with much of rapture theology is that it breeds an escape mentality. Instead of working for a better world today it implies that we should look forward to being taken of it. Any notion of improving our world by for example campaigning for social justice or the environment is undermined if we believe that it is all going to burn. Is it really worth transforming our culture if it will all be irrelevant soon anyway? All we can hope to do is to preach to people and convert them to our way of thinking before it is too late.

Of course most premillenialists don’t believe that they can predict the date of the rapture. Though some would say that it is likely to happen at any moment soon. It’s just one extremist that some how has gained the attention of the media that has stuck his neck out predicted the date. In fact I would suspect that most pre-millenialists would seek to distance themselves from this loan voice. No-one for one minute should begin to think that Harold Camping’s view was ever a legitimate interpretation of scripture.

If Harold Camping continues his ministry beyond today and his followers continue then they will need to work out some way of resolving the cognitive dissonance that will inevitably occur. Will he discover some miscalculation, as apparently he did after predicting the rapture as 1994? Or perhaps he will say that the end did happen in someway or that God has had mercy because of the efforts of the faithful and so extended the period. Who knows!

In the meantime I suggest that we carry on in our attempts to make the world a better place – as it is most definitely not going to end any time soon.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Is God really a Good Shepherd?

God wants you know that he will bless you and prosper you. He will lead you to good places to 'green pastures' and 'still waters'. He will lead to you places of peace. He will give you peace of mind and peace in your life. He will give you good things. This is because he is a good shepherd. Every thing he leads us into is good. He knows all our circumstances and is in control of everything in our lives.

But have you ever looked around at what is happening to you and wondered if this is really the case? Sometimes it looks like God has left us. Things go wrong in our life. Our plans don’t always succeed. We don’t always have enough money. We get sick. We get hurt. All this happens often through no fault of our own. We pray and our circumstances don’t miraculously change. They may even get worse. How do we reconcile this with God being our good shepherd? Can we reconcile it?

What is our reaction to disaster hitting? Are we angry at God? Do we wonder how God could let things happen? An old question comes to mind: if God is all powerful and all loving how can he allow anything bad to happen? Either he isn’t all powerful or he isn’t all loving. Of course there is a third option - that we don’t fully understand God. Though much about God has been revealed in the Bible we must never forget that we cannot fully understand him. Ultimately God is a mystery.

Psalm 23 is that is not just about the 'green pastures' and 'still waters'. One of the most wonderful parts of the psalm is that we can 'walk through the valley of the shadow of death' without fear. When the darkness closes in on us God is still there. He is with us in the difficulty. He is leading us through the problems. There is a blessing for us in the middle of the situation not just at the end. That is God being our good shepherd.

I believe in a God who heals. Miracles do happen today. But in my experience I don’t see that healing right away. When it does come it comes by natural means – a body repairing itself or the result of medical treatment. In some situations that healing does not come at all. I don’t know why. But that doesn’t stop me asking. I will still anoint with oil. I will still command a healing in Jesus name. That is what I see in the Bible. But I will also face the facts. There are no simple formulas.

When God does not appear to be answering my response is not to lose faith. It is not to blame God. As Job said, God is the one who gives and takes away. Whatever he chooses must be good by definition – even if in my mind I wouldn’t do it that way. I give thanks and praise to an all powerful, all loving God who knows exactly what he is doing. Yes, God is really a Good Shepherd even when it doesn’t look it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Callie’s Baptism

I am very pleased that my seven year old daughter Callie was baptised on Saturday. I captured the moment on this shaky video with my little camera.

Jess produced a much better video that she has put on facebook here and I have made some photos available here.

Some of you may be thinking that seven is much too young for a believer's baptism like this but Callie has clearly made her own decision to follow Jesus. She had been asking about baptism for some time. We talked with Steve and Helen who are leaders in our church and they very responded positively. In fact they were keen to get on with it. So we arranged a mutually convenient date on a Saturday afternoon so that members of our family could come and be part of the celebration. 

We believe in baptism by full immersion. But our church doesn’t have a building that is big enough for us all to meet in never mind one with a baptismal pool. For our meetings we usually hire a local community centre or gather in each other's homes. So whenever we want to baptise people we have to think carefully about how to do it. In the past we have borrowed other church’s facilities or hired a swimming pool. This time Steve and Helen offered to host Callie’s baptism at their home using their inflatable pool in their back garden. They have baptised adults in that pool before so they knew it would be big enough to baptise Callie in.

It was a great time with some of the church, some of our family and even neighbours all piled into Steve and Helen’s home. When the pool was ready we went out into the garden. We didn’t feel there was any need to make it into a service as such, so there wasn’t singing or anything like that. Steve just explained about baptism in literally two or three minutes. It was encouraging to hear Callie shouting her agreement: ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ We had decided that Helen, along with my wife Nettes, would do the honours. So they knelt down in the pool with Callie and immersed her with everyone looking on.

A big thank you to all who took part including my niece Hannah on towel duty and of course Danni Smith who made this cake.

I would best describe Danni as a cake artist. As you can see the cake also captured the moment. Thank you Jess for arranging this; it’s not something we would have considered. The cake made a great centre piece for our little buffet. As well as food we provided soft drinks for the children and bottles of wine for the adults.

Callie was also blessed with a number of presents. We had bought her a Bible but other people gave her cards and presents too including this wonderful bracelet that tells the story of Jesus.

Christ's Story Beaded Bracelet
It was great to finish the afternoon chilling with Steve and Helen in the conservatory with an incense stick burning.

Phew! What a day!

Monday, May 02, 2011

Celebrating The Royal Wedding

On Friday Britain has a day off for the Royal Wedding and though many might be cynical of the media hype most are grateful of the holiday and an excuse to party.

For me the whole affair was rather poignant, as the day before was something of a bad news day: two friends in our church both lost loved ones at tragically young ages. But still as my parents used to say ‘life must go on’.

Asbo Jesus 1009
One project that we are involved in our community is our local In Bloom and we had a launch party for it on that afternoon. There were a couple of tents out and Nettes ran a cake decorating stall. Their was some seed planting, balloon modelling, face-painting but the aim was to let people know about our local In Bloom later this year.

Of course this wasn’t the only party on the day. Outside Ladywood Health & Community Centre – the venue our church hires for its meetings – there were some tents, stalls and also bouncy castle. 

Round the back in the Ledbury Centre - our little church building – the folks in the Drop In where glad to find somewhere that they could chill out away from the wedding celebrations. The Drop In developed out of our ministry to the homeless and some homeless guys who regularly come to the Drop In were sifting through some clothes that had been donated while others were playing snooker.

Just down the road in the Methodist Church, the local Christian charity that we have ties with, Karis Neighbour Scheme, were having their party.

Karis Neighbour Scheme
Karis do a lot of work serving people in the community generally being good neighbours. This includes work with many refugee and asylum seeker families and it was good to see some of them there.

It was really glad that I popped in to get this picture of Roo as I also saw Phillipa from Karis’s Grow Well Programme - a project that encourages health through the therapeutic effects of gardening and making contact with the natural environment. It was fortunate that she found me as she had lots of free sun flower seeds for me to take to our In Bloom launch but couldn’t find us.

For us the celebrations didn’t finish on the Friday. On Saturday a lot of us from our church piled down to Jess’s to party in the evening with drinks and nibbles.

Then on Sunday our church had a Royal Tea Party for our next Family Church – our alternative style service with fun activities for all the family. We were making bunting, table decorations and colouring in a picture of a royal banquet while discussing the meaning of Jesus parable of the wedding banquet and how God invites us to be part of his kingdom. We even sung ‘I cannot come to the banquet’ before sitting down to our feast. 

And finally, today Alex and Ellen a couple from our church are getting married and I love this description of them as ‘kingdom royalty… surrounded and supported by God's royal priesthood’, which is not only apt for this weekend but also reminds us of the wonderful truths of the Kingdom of God. A pity I forgot to charge the camera for that one. Oh well - never mind!

Phew! What a weekend! I can identify with the verger in this viral video: