Monday, November 17, 2014

Things that have gone out of fashion in the Evangelical world (part 3) - Fasting

In the final post in this series, I come to something that is truly a weakness in Western Christianity, and it is also a weakness for me.  I have never heard a sermon on fasting,I have never preached a sermon on fasting. 

We live in a culture that demands that its appetites be satisfied. Whether this is food, alcohol, sex or rest, we see it almost as a human right that we get what we want. Even the Rolling Stones questioned that! To go hungry is something to be avoided and the nearest thing we get to it in this culture is to "detox".

But why fast? Is it simply to show God how pious we are? Isaiah 58:6-8 makes clear what our fast should be like. 

"Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free And break every yoke? "Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh? "Then your light will break out like the dawn, And your recovery will speedily spring forth; And your righteousness will go before you; The glory of the LORD will be your rear guard."

Friday, November 14, 2014

Things that have gone out of fashion in the Evangelical world (part 2) - Confessing Sin to one another

This certainly seems to have gone out of fashion in the Christian world! 

We live in a world where politicians who cheat on their expenses and when they are found out say the they had "made a mistake" or "it was an error of judgement". What they certainly do not say is "I did wrong and I am sorry". Banks rig the interest rates, bankers rig the markets and there are no consequences.

Confession of sin is an important part of being a Christian. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his wonderful little book, Life Together, speaks of the importance of confession to one another. He says that confession to God is important but confession to one another means that we can receive explicit absolution. Sin is always against another person and so against God, so absolution from a person who represents the community is important both for the individual Christian and for the Christian community. 

Receiving forgiveness is a wonderful gift and to give forgiveness is a release from rancor.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Things that have gone out of fashion in the Evangelical world (part 1) - Memorizing Scripture

Now this series of posts could come to sound like and old-man rant. It probably will and it probably is, however, I hope these post will also prompt us to think of what we may have lost. 

In Argentina, there are "days" for almost everything and everyone. There is, like in most places, Father's Day and Mother's Day but there is also Children's day, friend's day and Grandma and Grandpa's days. One very important day in Argentina is Teacher's Day (11/9 commemorating the death of the great Argentine educator Domingo Faustino Sarmiento).

One year on this day (which fell upon a Sunday), during the church service, we shared together what we had appreciated about our Sunday School teachers. I remember Rene Padilla (a well-known theologian) shared that he had appreciated the way in which his Sunday School teacher had taught him to memorize Bible verses. 

So this is my first "things that have gone out of fashion": Scripture memorization. The question is though, why do it? We can look up a verse on our iPhones in seconds: why commit the Bible to memory? Einstein actually said that he didn't remember anything he could write down. So, why use up valuable disk space in our brains on something you can look up?

I think my answer would be that word for word memory is probably not as important as knowing that certain scriptural truths are there and where to find them. Jesus clearly had memorized Scripture; demonstrated by his ability to quote it at the Devil in the temptations (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:9-20 and Luke 4:1-13) and to the traders in the Temple (Matthew 21:13-17, Mark 11:15-19, Luke 19:45-48 and John 2:12-25). That Jesus did it should be some encouragement.

I think the most important thing that Scripture memorization does though is to change our way of thinking. Memorizing Scripture is a stage in the process of helping the believer see the world through God's eyes. Famously, C. S. Lewis said "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." This is also true of the Bible, I believe it no only because I see it but rather that I see everything else by it. This surely aids our discipleship.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Micro and macro thinking

Some of you will be familiar with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator test (MBTI). Some love it and treat as a key to understanding everybody. Others detest it and see it as useful as a Buzzfeed test! Whatever you think about it, it does highlight the ways in which people see the world. I am especially thinking about those people who who see detail but tend not to appreciate the bigger picture. This would by the "S" in the MBTI. Others see the big picture but struggle to see detail. These, according to MBTI are "Ns".( I don't score anything on the "S" or detailed side of things!) The "S" sees the micro and the "N" sees the macro.

In mission studies there is a need for seeing both micro and macro thinking. I tend towards the macro, seeing the big picture of God's mission in this world. There is a need, however, for the micro thinking of how to actually achieve effective participation in that divine mission. Others tend to the "how to" of mission but fail to "look up" to see if they are still heading in the same direction as God. 

How do we maintain that balance? 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Is Whitchurch really in heaven?

My dad told me that when he was a kid he believed that God lived in Whitchurch (a village south-east of Bristol) and his name was Harold! He thought that the first line of the Lord's prayer was giving God's address and the second line was his name!

Our Father, Whitchurch, in Heaven
Harold be thy name.

However nice Whitchurch may be, it could hardly be described in any shape or form as being Heaven!

So many of us trot off the Lord's prayer without realising that the key to the mission of the Church nestles there in the lines after those first two sections. Jesus encourages his disciples (and us) to pray

Your kingdom come, 
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 

If Jesus wants us to pray for this to happen, then surely he also wants us to work to being it about. In this way of thinking, mission is less, trying to convince people to have faith and go to heaven and more bringing heaven down to earth.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Remember, remember...John 17:20-23

Not a very snappy title but one which expresses something that is important to remember. Division in the church is not only a domestic problem internal to the church but is a disaster for the world.

Reformation Day (31/10) and Guy Fawkes Night (5/11) come so close together, it always makes me reflect sadly on division. On the 31st October 1517, Martin Luther nailed 95 thesis to the door of Wittenburg Cathedral sparking what has come to be known as the Protestant Reformation. On the 5th November, 1605 a group of Roman Catholic dissidents wanted to kill King James and set up his daughter Elizabeth as a Catholic Queen by blowing up Parliament. Now it is clear that Luther did not want to start a separate church but the result was another split in an already divided church. The gunpowder plot was a symptom of that division and its consequences. 

We live in a world wracked by division. Racial divisions, social divisions, religious and philosophical divisions lead to violence and war all around the world. More than ever before our world needs to hear a message of reconciliation, but more than hear it they need to see it. 

When Jesus prayed for us in John 17 he linked the unity of believers to belief in him. Unity is linked with mission. If God's ultimate purpose is, as Paul expresses it in Ephesians 1:10, to bring all things in heaven and on earth under Christ, then if the church is divided then the world does not have a model of what "all things under Christ" looks like. There is a very close link between church unity and universal reconciliation. 

So, what to do about it?