The words of Jesus continue to resound down through the ages, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that whoever believes in him may not perish but have life everlasting”; much quoted by Christians everywhere, sadly sometimes to bible-bash their sincerely held but insensitive views.
What does it really mean for us in our day-to-day lives. When I was a young, enthusiastic Minister it seemed to me that my only purpose in life was to build up the Church; i.e. get more and more people in for the services. `bums on pews` mentality. I was successful if I could only fill up the Church with more and more people either on a Sunday or in a mid-week praise service. Consequently, there were highs and lows throughout those early years allied with frustration, disappointment and anger that other people couldn`t see it my way.
Now, however, I`ve come to a point of realising that it’s not the Church that matters but trying to bless people, communities and trying to introduce them to my friend Jesus in a culturally sensitive way. Whilst at one time I had no qualms about dangling them over the pit of Hell, now I realise that heaven is so much more attractive because it speaks of an eternal relationship with Jesus. I also realise that many are already on that journey and they simply need someone alongside them to help them on their way.
I think of someone I knew many years ago. C used to let his wife and children attend my church and he would often pop in for coffee afterwards when coming to collect them. In conversation with C I discovered that he knew his scriptures well and could argue the case for accuracy of scripture better than I could. One day I visited him and as no one else was there we began to get down to the heart of the matter and he said something along these lines, “I don`t have a problem with Jesus, in fact I quite like him, but I can`t stand his Church”
C`s issue was more with the structure of Church than with the love of Jesus; the politics of the tea-towel rota blocked his view of Jesus; the deeply held views re. the liturgy which scared him and the sense of one-style-fits-all mentality of the Church. Now, I think C was hiding behind all these excuses to a certain extent but the fact remains that the credibility issue of Jesus is more the Church. The trouble is “the church” is you and I, and so we must ask ourselves whether or not we`re getting in the road of other people coming to know Jesus by demanding they fit into our style of worship, our style of churchmanship and our perceived way of doing things as the only way.
Jesus ordained Peter by declaring “upon this rock I will build my Church”. The Church of Jesus is surely contained in his people rather than in the bricks and stones of temples or churches or cathedrals, and his people ought to be reflections of his love for others.
This week can you or I truly be such a reflection ?
A broken ornament
This was the scene in one of my local Chapels lately. As we prepared to worship someone brushed against a shelf containing a lovely white ceramic figure of a girl dancing. About one and a half-foot high it came crashing onto the hard church floor with such a noise and broken pieces everywhere and far to many to piece it back together again !
Brokenness is something that affects so many people as they go through life. Thankfully many are able to be `put together` again but sadly many are not. People are broken through many things, depression, illness, hurtful words, adultery, slander, self-centredness, selfishness, lies, bullying and so the list goes on and on. quite often, I think, some of the brokenness is caused by either thoughtlessness or outright bullying from the point of view that the accuser is right and the other wrong.
And yet most brokenness can be sorted out in some way, albeit over a period of time. I`m thinking of the need in some cases for forgiveness. We take sides over issues when forgiveness is required; we assume the full story when we simply need to hold someone; we back off from a situation under the excuse of not knowing what to say, when nothing needs to be said but presence is merely required; we hold someone else in contempt because of committed sin and ignore our own committed sins as if they are lesser (log in eye syndrome).
Why do we insist on being so judgemental ? Jesus said whilst hanging from the cross “Father, forgive them……….” but often we fail to do so and therefore inhibit the possibility of healing of relationships and our moving on in a situation. For that’s what happens when forgiveness is denied-the relationship between people remains fractured and our own spiritual journey remains out of tune with God. I`ve known some situations where I believe that God has forgiven long before human beings have, for God is pure love.
Jesus said “If you have a grievance with your brother, lay your gift down and seek out your brother, resolve the grievance and then come back and present the gift” Matthew 5:23-24. Here Jesus is looking for reconciliation between people. It’s not just about an attitude shift but it’s about forgiveness being spoken and enacted in the removal of whatever the grievance was about. We can’t do that if we insist on being judgemental; we can`t heal if we don`t forgive; we can`t deal with brokenness unless we are actively seeking to mend.
The challenge for me today is, what do I need to put right and when can I start ?
It’s now two weeks since I returned from the Holy Land and its taken me this long to deal with everything that was waiting for me at home, but also to begin to get my head around what has been a truly amazing experience.
Firstly, a short account of our last day. Setting off from Tiberius at the usual early morning start we headed for Caesarea Maritima, recorded as one of the great cities of Herod’s building passion. It was almost certain that it was here that Paul was to set sail for Rome. Fascinating area to explore, a 30 mile Roman aqueduct to bring water into the city, the Mediterranean sea-shore, the remains of Herod’s palace, the amphitheatre where stage productions are still held, and the chariot arena. Add to this a 30 minute film show about the history of the city and you begin to realise what a fascinating day it was and perhaps a fitting conclusion to our Holy Land adventure.
Then it was back to Tel Aviv, via dinner in Jaffa, and flight home, arriving back in Burton at 2.00 pm in the morning (ready for a Circuit Leadership meeting at 9.30 a.m. !)
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
What to make of it all ? Too much information to remember although some of it slowly trickles back into the mind and into conversation; moving experience which brought both inspiration and challenge in roughly equal measure; theology and churchmanship to the fore of my thinking; greater understanding of the Jewish and also the Muslim thinking; sadness over the deep divisions in the land; joy over the deep Christian sharing of Rami our tour guide.
Alison and I set out thinking it would be our only opportunity to ever get to the Holy Land, but we returned thinking about how we need to return to experience more and enlarge our vision still further; great saving will ensue I think.
I hope you`ve enjoyed following my blog and my experience; thankyou for sharing in it and for those who responded either on here or via FaceBook; it helped to make it even more special. When I can I intend to keep posting photos onto the Holy Land part of this blog.