7 Reasons Church isn’t for You

To the heart of the matter…

The Millennial Pastor

church-clip-art-2As a Pastor, a lot of people tell me their thoughts about church. My parishioners, my friends, my family, strangers, young, old and everyone in between. People tell me what they like and what they don’t like. People tell my what should be changed and how to do things differently. They tell me what they are looking for when they ‘church shop’. People tell me why they aren’t attending as often and when they plan to get back in the habit.

Like just about everything else in world, Christians and non-Christians are consuming church. More and more, churches and pastors feel pressured to attract and captivate people – code language for entertain the people into the pews.

Well… maybe I am the first to say, out loud, what a lot of pastors would like to say:

Church isn’t for you.

Here are 7 reasons why church isn’t for you:

  1. The…

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Just forgiving

2 Corinthians 1.23-2.11

Matthew 18.21-35

 

Last week I was quoting Winston Churchill. And there is no doubt that he was an absolute past master at the put down. To prove my point let me give you a few examples which are often quoted. For he once said – An empty taxi arrived at 10 Downing Street, and when the door was opened, Atlee got out.  Of Lord Reith of BBC fame, he remarked – there he stalks, that wuthering height.

On Neville chamberlain he quipped –

He looked at foreign affairs through the wrong end of a municipal drainpipe.

 

More famously still was the exchange between Lady Astor to Churchill: “Winston, if you were my husband I would flavour your coffee with poison”

Churchill: “Madam, if I were your husband, I should drink it.”

Surpassing that in familiarity has to be his verbal battle with Labour MP Bessie Braddock which started with her saying “Winston, you’re drunk!”

Churchill: “Bessie, you’re ugly, but tomorrow morning I shall be sober”

 

Well such jests are all good fun I am sure. Certainly, the ability to think on your feet is at the heart of great oratory and low stand-up comedy. Since each must cope with the heckler, the offside remark and the attempt to wound.

Moreover, if you are like me you would give your eye teeth to have this ability. Because time and time again after receiving some barbed comment, I fail to get my own back. Even more galling is that hours later I think out what I should have said to deliver the knockout blow.

Needless to say, even later, I realise that I have been given a great non gift – the inability to verbally swing back.

Paul however I suspect was not so ungifted. I believe he was pretty nifty at getting the oratorical blows in. Similarly, he knew how to demolish an argument and an arguer on paper. For there are times when his pen did not take prisoners.

And that brings us to this morning’s portion from his second letter to the Corinthians. Now obviously he is under attack from a heckler or vocal opponent. He has already made one visit to Corinth that did not go well. So understandably he was not keen on a repeat experience. Thus the temptation to take his adversary out on paper – more correctly papyrus – must have been almost overwhelming. Yet he did not. Instead he stated his sense of hurt and then offers and counsels forgiveness. Put simply, he chose to walk in the way of Christ.

Yet we could ask what was going on in the Corinthian church?

Well we really don’t have the facts of the case before us. But we do know that an individual has in some way transgressed against congregational discipline and been admonished. As a result, he has repented and sought forgiveness. This however was not forthcoming and the miscreant was still under a cloud. Paul requested clemency but was roundly and vocally rebuffed.

 

Here then is a pretty universal situation in Christian fellowships and the wider world as well. Since it seems in any group, the desire to ladle out justice is greater than to eke out redemption.  Or as it has been said – love without justice is sentimentality – justice without love is abusive harshness. What better time to review in our own minds the words of Jesus when asked that question by Peter? What better time to think of seventy times seven as the number of stars in the universe or the sand grains on the shore. What better time to think ourselves as the servant and not the master?

 

Yet how does Paul’s concept of forgiveness and justice, working hand in hand, play out in practice? Is there an example that can instruct us from our today? More to the point, why does the idea of justice and forgiveness, wrapped inside each other, please God?

 

Alan Greaves was a church organist. On Christmas eve of 2012, he was on his way to play at a midnight service in Sheffield. He never arrived, for he was set upon and battered to death with a pick axe handle. Throughout his murderers’ trial, his wife astounded the nation by finding forgiveness for her husband’s killers. Or as she explained at a memorial service the following Christmas Eve:

“I can’t bear the thought of remembering Alan walking in the darkness alone last Christmas Eve, so having as many people present with me will be a great comfort.

“Celebrating the light of Christ at Christmas time was what Alan was intending to do last year, but never made it. This year we can do that for him.

“As we celebrate light at Christmas, I’ve asked that we also pray for Jonathan and Ashley, who killed my husband.

“I want them to know that light will always overcome darkness and to find that light for themselves”.

Here then is the reason we need to follow Paul with our own life decisions and in our insistent calling out to the world around us. Since it was his way to follow Christ’s way. That meant not responding in kind but seeking forgiveness in justice.  That meant his guided the Corinthians back to God’s grace for themselves and the transgressor. That indeed meant light overcoming the darkness.

 

And so Christ’s way should be our way as well. For, it is our practicing justice within forgiveness that prevents a souring bitterness which will overwhelm our very beings. It is our seeking of forgiveness and justice that offers the only way towards Christ’s mediation which heals even the most grievous wounds. Above even these is our need to laud to the world the scales of justice and mercy. Since to do so it not to put Jesus’ kingdom in the balance. Rather we make it God’s most gracious reply.

 

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Land of Miracles

Stephen L Hufman

Mount Rainier-Berkeley Park Berkeley Park, Mount Rainier National Park

Berkeley Park is a place of flowers and mist, a peaceful place for healing of the soul.

Have you ever prayed for healing? This appeal to God is little scary for me. It is even scarier when the prayer is for a child with a life threatening illness. I am scared because I don’t know if my faith measures up to what is required. Can I muster the faith required, or will one little deviation, one little doubt, one little slip cause the miracle to crumble? That is what one father worried about when he asked Jesus to heal his son.

“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”                Mark 9:17-24

This man knew the faith needed to heal his…

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Leading Quiet Lives

The Life Project

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

1Thessalonians 4:11-12

What great advice! Paul’s instructions here need little amplification from me or anyone else, but I might just add this…

Leading quiet lives is out of fashion these days with tweets, texts and people sounding off all the time.  I used to tell my kids that their friends don’t need to know about every little thought that passes their consciousness.  Of course teenagers tend to think their parents don’t know anything and they texted or posted or spoke frequently, and frequently got a face full in return… Hardly an example of leading a quiet life.

Back in Paul’s time, working with your hands would…

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The Spirit is willing!

Acts 2.1-13; 1 Cor 12.1-11

 

We talk about the gift’s given by God in rather a strange way. We say someone is a gifted musician or artist. We say to a friend – you have the gift of listening. We even say sarcastically – someone thinks they are God’s gift too – well you can pick your arena of life to complete that sentence.

 

Yet in each case we seem praise the recipient for the gift’s receipt. And so to be gifted is to be lauded. To gifted is to be honoured. To be gifted is to have a born-with ability turned into an accolade.

 

Why is that? I ask that since the very word ‘gift’ dictates that this inherent capability comes from without. The personal merit therefore lies in the hard work, dedication and determination in using the talent given rather than the giving itself. For whether developed or not, the gift is still there.

 

Here then is a good starting point to re-examine the gift of the Holy Spirit we celebrate today. For there is no indication that the disciples in any way deserved the receipt of the fiery tongues of God. They had no specific worth to be given the wind of change in Jesus Christ. They may not even have particularly wanted the Spirit that sees, challenges and demands at every moment. Indeed, their lives would probably have been much more settled if they hadn’t had the Spirit bestowed.

 

But, receive it they did. And as a result they were changed from fumbling disciples to wise apostles. They changed from followers to leaders. They changed from dimly seeing to being fully clued up; from the tongue tied to outstanding orators and from being becalmed in mediocrity to riding fearlessly the winds of transformation.

 

Let us then acknowledge our own gift of the Spirit as externally given. Let us give thanks for our own gift of the tongues of fire as the source of personal inspiration. Let us just be grateful for our own gift of the gale of compulsion to make the gospel live, speak and make changes – changes both within ourselves and in those around us.

 

However, is that the sermon done then?

 

More positively, where do we go from this simple acknowledge?

 

For that we need to look at Paul’s advice to the Christians at the Greek port of Corinth. For here maybe like today was a church very much in need of the new fruits of the Holy Spirit.

 

Since we see within the gift of the Spirit there are many qualities, many abilities and many facets. Paul indeed points out some of them in his epistle. For he talks of wisdom, knowledge, faith and more enigmatically, speaking in tongues. And by that, he is reminding we are all gifted in different and maybe not obvious ways.

 

However, the more important point he then makes is how we use our gifts. And so he takes us back to our merit being in the hard work and determination needed to exploit any gift rather than in the bestowal of the gift itself. Back to how we should make use of all that we have been given towards being apostles, leaders and game changers. Back indeed to how we use all that we are to build the church as a harmonious, living and Christ fulfilling community. Back ultimately as to how we fit snuggly into the jigsaw of God’s plan. For all gifts are provided for the one purpose and that is to work together. Because, as Paul proclaims, they are all given by one unifying Spirit.

 

Yet despite hearing this, we can still feel our skills and talents and abilities are our own. We regard them as hard won gold to be spent as we would wish. We still see ourselves as masters of our own destinies and captains of our own souls without need of the help or challenge of the Spirit.

 

Why then bother to seek to be part the Pentecost’s team?

 

A little girl was visiting her grandmother one beautiful spring morning. They walked out into the old woman’s garden. As the grandmother was inspecting the progress of her flowers the little girl decided to try to open a rosebud with her own two hands. But no luck! As she would pull the petals open, they would tear or bruise or wilt or break off completely. Finally, in frustration, she said, “Gramma, I just don’t understand it at all. When God opens a flower, it looks so beautiful but when I try, it just comes apart.” “Well, honey,” Grandmother answered, “There’s a good reason for that. God is able to do it because He works from the inside out!”

 

This simple story has a simple message for this Pentecost. Since God today has given each and every one of us a gift. It is freely given for our use and purposes.

 

Yet if we really want to see it blossom then we must apply it with determination, effort and enthusiasm. We must deploy it with the benefit of our faith, community and world in mind. But above all we need to offer all its capabilities, fruits and possibilities up to the giver. Since then we will not just build afresh but also fulfil ourselves afresh. Because the Spirit opens our treasure’s flower not from the outside but from the inside and as a result we are infinitely more beautiful.

 

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angry Prayers

This is really worth reading….

Real as the Streets

stars in space
They say to pray hardest when it is hardest to pray. So I decided to give that a try. I prayed my first angry prayer a few days ago… It wasn’t easy.

I feared that an angry prayer would anger God. Then I learned something. I had finally reached a point in my faith where I trusted Him enough to handle me at my worst.

The delusion God couldn’t, or wouldn’t, deal with an angry person was no longer an obstacle standing in the way of my relationship with Him.

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Real Soul Talk

1 Corinthians 15.1-7: 15.12-26

 

We are passing through a particularly active political period in our national life at the moment. But when politicians speak I am always reminded of President Bartlett in The West Wing.  For, in that American political drama, he utters a particularly memorable line during a presidential election debate.  And it is – it is not the first question but the next question and the next that is important.  Since our various real life political hacks have a habit of giving open ended answers to posed questions. Then by their manner suggest that if you don’t see the whole picture you are uncommonly thick or particularly naive or just being perverse. So we don’t ask the next question. As a result, they remain free of any concrete proposals.

 

Well we cannot accuse Paul of that duplicity.  Since he seems to throw the whole theological kitchen sink at answering whatever he had been asked. And what was he being asked?

Well to find some solution to that we need to enter the spiritual thinking of the ancient world. For that task, we are tempted to remember the Greek and Roman fables from school days. And very entertaining they were too. Gods descending from Olympus intent on very human no good.  People turned into stags and other happenings that would make even the Sun newspaper blanche – well probably not. But these were really only the urban myths of the hobble-de-hoy of the Roman Empire. Most educated people looked beyond these fairy stories to eternal sources of divinity who did not embrace human flesh and blood. Indeed, these gods’ very eternal nature dictated against involvement with the material world. In turn, this type of thinking led to many believing the spiritual world was good and the material world was flawed, badly made and generally an unsolvable mess.

 

In actual fact, these philosophies are still around today. Since, if go to the average university campus, for example, you will see posters for soul talk events which espouse this type of thinking which is called Gnosticism.

 

Hopefully however, you are seeing where this is going. For if the touchable is to be rejected and the physical unredeemable then what was Christ doing being incarnated as a body made up of bones, cells and blood? The answer that may have arisen in the Corinthian Church was that Jesus only adopted a physical appearance but remained a spirit all the time. And it was this wrong thinking that Paul was roundly rejecting in his First Letter to this Christian community

 

Since the problem here is if Jesus was stuck in the spirit world the whole time he seemed to be on earth, how could he know the pains and joys of being human, how could he empathise with our woes and difficulties and ultimately how could he offer any form of salvation?

 

Well Paul rebuts the Corinthians false beliefs by making clear that Jesus was born as a human being, lived as one and was crucified as tortured flesh and spilled blood. He stated that such a full incarnation alone would offer redemption. Moreover, Paul confirms that Christ returned not as a ghost but as the same physical person he had been. God then does not reject the physical world. Instead, he embraces it, redeems it and perfects it. Put in simple terms, He is Lord of creation and proud master of his creatures. More personally, he embraces, celebrates and revels in the unique beauty he has made in the unique you and me.

 

At this point we could say – all this is very interesting but I don’t live in the ancient world, I am a citizen of the 21st century. I am not encumbered by the gnostic thinking that rejected the material world some 2000 years ago.

 

True – but there are parallels here and now. Since militant atheists will say there are universal scientific laws which impartially run the universe. Humans too act only through psychological and sociological principles.  Earth’s problems then lie in human errors, animal instincts, statistical aberrations and local exceptions. Put bleakly, cosmology, biology and quantum physics are blind to life either human or otherwise. The material world then is not so much a bad place as just a coldly dispassionate one.

 

Yet the very outcome of this way of thinking is that our sense of self – our sense of consciousness – our very sense of the spiritual can be seen as but a trick of the electrons in our brain cells.  Here then is a form of Gnosticism brought bang up to date.

 

That is why Paul’s continuing argument is so important to us as latter day Christians.  For he talks less for the need for faith than the fruit of that faith. He is basically saying if you propose that the resurrection of Jesus was no more than a cosmic conjuring trick then you must reject the same possibility is open for yourself.  However, if God can truly make eternal the physical and spiritual nature of Jesus, he will do it for you. In other words, our maker does not shelter behind the laws of science but can alter the future so that we have a future: a future not as some shade like entity or non-entity but as ourselves physically and spiritually able to know each other. In fact, in Christ we have a forever future as more perfect beings in a more perfect domain.

 

This then is the essence of our faith which we must work at daily by feeling alive in body, mind and spirit. This is the fruits of our belief which we can live in fearlessly with our bodies, minds and souls. This indeed is our whole life’s spiritual journey and hoped for physical destination.

 

Let us then say Yes to God in Jesus Christ and accept faithfully God’s Yes to us in Jesus Christ.

 

Let us go and be alive.

Let us go and grapple with the whole picture physical and spiritual.

 

Let us go and strive daily towards the words of Danny Deaube when he wrote – “As a Christian, our existence here on earth is but a sliver of the eternal pie. Our focus however should be on the whole pie, and not the sliver.”

 

Amen