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Archive for September, 2014

Faith under fire in Bethlehem: Mitri Raheb’s FAITH IN THE FACE OF EMPIRE

Food for thought as ever from Mark…

Quaerentia

At last year’s launch of veteran travel writer Dervla Murphy’s remarkable book, A Month by the Sea – Encounters in Gaza, she made a simple but telling point. “The Palestinians’ predicament is that they are the victims’ victims”. Of course, in Faith in the Face of Empire, an equally remarkable book by a Palestinian Christian pastor, victimhood (despite its postmodern attractions) is a dangerous mantle.

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NO Excuses

The National Domestic Violence helpline number is 0808 2000 247.

Rev'd Claire

taken from Restored's website taken from Restored’s website

The National Domestic Violence helpline number is 0808 2000 247.

I’ve been thinking a fair bit about domestic violence and domestic abuse this week, particularly after an interesting day’s training with Restored. One of the things which really made me ponder was the notion of excuses. I have always assumed that men don’t hit women for the fun of it. I may be wrong.

Notice he doesn’t start hitting six foot blokes in the pub when he gets drunk, he waits till he gets home. It’s a choice.

Notice most men don’t hit women when there isn’t enough money in the household. It’s a choice.

Notice lots of men with anger management issues get help. It’s a choice.

Notice the vast majority of men prefer sex to be consensual. It’s a choice.

(And for the person who thought that ministry was particularly pressured and so…

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Be You, Bravely

Food for thought from one of my Partakers support team, Jess

Joyfully After All

Be You Bravely is the 2014-2015 MOPS theme. It talks about living with courage. I first read about the theme a few weeks ago on the MOPS International website. The theme, the meanings and the action behind these 3 words have all been floating through my brain since I first read it. Bravery, courage, a willingness to do something in the face of fear, it is a timely topic in my life.

I have never considered myself a very brave person. When I was a teen at summer camp 2 friends and I climbed a little rock to sit up there and chat, it was our little quiet place in the midst of the craziness of camp and being surrounded 24/7 by 60 other kids. I did fine climbing up, but I was paralyzed with fear climbing down, and at the point I got stuck, I was about 3 feet…

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Issues – Materialism

Issues

Materialism

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1 John 2:15-17, the Apostle John writing: “Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world-wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important-has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out-but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity. “

I wonder what you think is quite possibly one of the greatest challenges to the Christian Disciple standing alone and being faithful to God in the twenty first century? I want to propose to you that this threat is the temptation of materialism, or to be materialistic. This is where following Jesus’ command to follow Him, take up the cross for ourselves becomes practical. This is where loving God and loving others becomes difficult. Materialism grips both the Church community and also Christian Disciples if it is allowed. Eschewing and casting off materialism will see Christian Disciples who are radical by the very society, which we are trying to win for Jesus.

What is materialism?

Every person has in differing quantities: possessions and money. These things, in and of themselves, are not evil. It is however our reaction and attitudes toward them that causes us to be seduced in this area. Materialism is a reliance on possessions, money people or even the church, as our ultimate objects of trust, instead of God. The Apostle John writing in 1 John 2v16 gives a very accurate picture of materialism: “lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life.” That, brother and sisters, is materialism!

A Particular Sin

If there were to be a particular sin that marks our generation, especially in the West, then it would be this sin of materialism and the worship of money, objects and people. Every day hundreds of thousands of people die from lack of food, water, clothing and shelter. For each of us in the West, these things are taken for granted. When we feel like a change of house or location, we just move. The whole Christian community is one that reflects the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit. The Church is to be a community where the strongest members support the weakest members. Where one member of the Christian community suffers and hurts, the whole Christian community suffers and hurts! This applies not only to the local church in a local community context, but also to the universal Church and therefore has a national and international context as well. Too often as Christians we are found turning a blind eye to the suffering of others where the bare necessities of life are in sparse existence. Too often we gather possessions and people, instead of giving up our time and money generously to help the poor and needy of both our local and global communities. When one member of the universal body of Christ is hurting, the whole body hurts!

So what?

As Christian Disciples living in the world of the twenty first century, where wealth is seen as a sign of success, the cult of celebrity is rife and where family, morals, ethics, community and God have taken a back seat, how should a Christian Disciple respond to materialism? A lot of Churches measure their success solely by the number of members in the congregations or by how much money goes into the offering pot each week. However, not just good things grow. Islam measures its success on the so-called growth in those who would consider themselves a Muslim. It is probably the fastest growing religion in Australia. However, every gardener will tell you that even weeds grow! So counting numbers is not the best way to measure success.

The measure of a successful Christian Disciple can be seen in thee verses from 1 John 2:15-17. The Apostle John writing: “Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world-wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important-has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out-but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity. “

Also in Matthew 22v37-40: where Jesus is saying: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”

Action Stations!

By doing these two things, we show we trust in God and not in anything or anybody else. By exhibiting these commands, we cast off materialism and any thought of materialism from our lives. By doing those two things, both as a Church and as individual Christian Disciples, society will see we are neither dangerous nor deluded. To Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and his aficionados who think all religion is pure evil, based on delusion and that religion has never done a good thing in history to benefit humanity, it will help show the folly and irrationality of their thinking. If Church communities and Christian Disciples make radical steps such as eschewing materialism, both in being and making Disciples, I think the Church and Christian Disciples would no longer be seen as evil, deluded and irrelevant. Rather they would be seen as a thriving community of people, resulting in Jesus being glorified and holy transformation sought. After all, Jesus is to be the master of those who would call themselves a Christian Disciple and the Head of the Church.

As a Christian Disciple and the church as a whole, you and I are to eschew materialism, cast it off and live a life worthy of our God, living in total obedience to Him and reflected in the love we display for both our local and global communities.

For more to think about, please do read for yourself Matthew 22:37-40. Ask yourself the following questions, writing them down if you can, and see how you respond or react to them. Then why not share your answers with your spouse or a close friend, so that you can pray over any issues together.

Q1 – As a Christian Disciple, in what ways am I being seduced by materialism and the gathering of possessions, people and power?

Q2 – What things can I do, not do or give up in order to aid the weakest members of my community – local, national and global?

Q3 – How can I better use my “passion, prayer and intelligence” this week for the glory and honour of God?

Thank you!

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Washing Up – after the Bread and Wine

Rev'd Claire

IMG_2937My sense of vocation to priesthood is so bound up with the Sacrament of Holy Communion that to say I love presiding seems as daft as saying I love breathing. It is a necessary part of who I am. But different parts of the service continue to delight and surprise me – whether that most holy of connections of handing someone bread at the altar, the joy of praising God with outstretched arms, or the ablutions. Yes, the washing up afterwards.

Today, I was thinking as I went through my own Post Communion routine of pouring the water on to the patten (plate where bread was) and tipping it from patten to chalice, drinking it and wiping up afterwards.  I wondered who washed up after the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday, after that eventful Passover meal where Judas had slipped away, after Jesus had broken bread, and passed the cup…

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Issues – Individualism

 Partake - Issues

Individualism

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The Apostle Paul writing in Philippians 2v3-4 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

And finally, the Apostle Peter writing in 1 Peter 5v5-6 “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

Individualism

Contrast those values to those of the twenty first century society, where morality can be summed up in this kind of attitude: “The more you care for others, the more they will care for you.” So look after the interests of others and you will also be looked after. In other words everyone is on level parity and there is total equality within society. In some of the more narcissistic and cynical parts of society, there is no other, the order is “me, me and more me and I am far more important and higher than anyone else”. Individualism is where the individual’s importance is placed higher than all others and is imbued with self-reliance and personal independence. Even when help and compassion are offered, so often there are strings attached and hoops to be jumped through. If you do this, we will do this for you. And sadly, it is not just within society that this exists, but also within the church and amongst Christians.

It is as if we are denying the basic rule of compassion and mercy, which dictates that we are to be serving others, because they are also humans created in the image of God, loved by God and so should be loved unconditionally by those who proclaim to be God’s people – the Church. Denying that basic need to others is pure unadulterated selfishness and places others below our own selves. Individualism within the church, lends itself to hypocritical behaviour and attitudes, which are inconsistent with Scripture and behaviour. Individualism, where you as an individual are placed at the front of the queue, is not loving others and not considering others higher than yourself. It certainly could not be construed as serving other people to always place your own desires above all others. There is an old acronym JOY – Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last.

Relationship

The basic aspect of love is that it involves relationship, so therefore there must be more than one person involved. God is love, and is a trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If God were not Trinity then God could not also be love. The church community is meant to be a radical community of service and love, which is a reflection of the Trinitarian God. Being part of a radical community of service and love would mean the Church going back to basics. The Church needs individuals to be living radical lifestyles of devotion to Jesus Christ, engaging with the culture, counting the cost of discipleship and reflecting true humanity. But being an individual in community involves much more than merely being an individual in isolation. Christians are to be involved within communities, and not as isolationists. So what does a radical Christian community of individuals look like?

Creative Community

Firstly, the church needs to be a community that is seen to be radical by the surrounding society. At Pentecost, the church began when the Holy Spirit filled the Disciples (Acts 2v4). This momentous occasion started the Discipleship process of how Christians were to live as God’s people. The hallmarks of this community were commitment and transformation. This community was radical. It was where people’s lives were being changed as the Holy Spirit filled them. Instead of being a withdrawn people filled with fear of retribution from the Roman government and Jewish leaders, they became a people filled with boldness and joy. The New Testament church grew by being a radical community imbued with radical individuals engaging with others. The very existence of the church today is proof that Jesus Christ really did rise from the dead, for if He did not, those who were His disciples would have disbanded and gone back to their old lifestyle and the Holy Spirit would not have come.

Creatively Radical

If we want the church of today to grow then we need to be building a strong community of faith. A community, which involves joining together isolated and solitary individuals and where people are imbued with love, valued and are showing care to each other, in particular the frail, elderly and young, with what the theologian Jürgen Moltmann calls a “creative passion for the impossible.” An inherent human need is the need to belong, and by fulfilling relational needs, the radical Church community will become relevant to the people within it. It will then also become relevant to those who are on the outside and looking in. For example, by using virtual reality, digital space and social networks, the housebound and geographically isolated peoples can also be included and cared for.

This involves improving present societal conditions, rather than remaining a conservative community, which merely repairs the status quo. In doing this, today’s church will be emulating characteristics of the early church (Acts 2v44-45). As individuals Christians were added to the church, discipline helped ensure that the community was being seen as a holy community. We see in the early church as recorded in the Book of Acts, that to be excommunicated from the community for gross sin, was a severe punishment. However church discipline is not primarily about punishment, but rather a formative and corrective service as part of Discipleship. Church community discipline is foundational to the making of Christian Disciples, because it concerns the community’s spiritual health, and strengthens the bonds with the local community.

Committed Community

The church must be a community of committed individual Christians, willing to radically follow God in lifestyle and behaviour. Being holy for the Christian means radically exhibiting love for God and others. It is by being seen as different from the surrounding society, that the church community will grow. Often when prayers are said, it is within the perception of the individual pray-er of what the answer to that prayer will be! It is as if the answer is there, we are just waiting for God to confirm our presupposition. When, in fact, prayer is to be where God is answering the prayers in His own way and timing – often unexpectantly! By the church community and Christian individuals thinking and acting creatively, many more people would be seeing God in action. Instead of independence, one of the prime hallmarks of being a follower of Jesus Christ is the need to be dependent on others as well as being dependable. This is imbued within the story of Jesus Christ washing His disciples feet.

Transformed Community

The Church community is to be actively engaged in radically helping people to be transformed and not merely happy. Transformation is a powerful witness to the power of God and shows the relevancy of God and His people. The best way to show this transformation is for the Church leadership to set the example, and show a way forward. Good leadership has good accountability to each other and to the whole Church community. If the church leaders are displaying a transparent life of creatively loving God and others, then the individual Christians within those churches will also seek to be transparently loving God and other people. The media love to report when a Church and/or Church leader has done something inherently wrong

Finally, Jesus recommends that those who follow Him be wise like serpents and innocent as doves (Matthew 10v16b). This means that we are to be skilful and shrewd in making decisions that are characterised by intelligence, patience and shrewdness. Additionally, we are to be gentle and harmless, like doves. This would make our church leaders and us accountable to live a life of integrity worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1v27). This is a life, which is seen to be as holy and blameless. In order to do this, we need to depend on the Holy Spirit for strength and caring for others is a vital necessity for you and I. By relying on the Holy Spirit who indwells us, we are therefore perpetually connected to Jesus Christ, who is after all, the Head of the church community who are His bride.

The antidote to individualism is the continual creation of radical communities of transformed individual Christians, willing to be totally devoted to God, and each other and being sustained by the Holy Spirit who indwells, empowers, comforts, transforms, sustains and guides! By being radical communities thinking and acting creatively, we will be reflecting a creative Trinitarian God, and the Church will fulfil her bridal mandate of faithfully serving Jesus Christ, in submission to God the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus in Matthew 5v43-45 gloriously explains how to do this: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” And then to verse 48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” Now that is the key to radically transformed communities and the antidote to individualism!

For more to think about please do ask yourself the following questions, writing them down if you can, and see how you respond or react to them. Then why not share your answers with your spouse or a close friend, so that you can pray over any issues together.

Q1. What in my life could I change, so that the focus is away from myself and onto helping others?

Q2. How can my church and I reflect the Trinitarian God by being creatively loving, transforming and serving?

Q3. How can I help my church be more relevant in the community where it is located?

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Nurturing faith with young people…

Dan Crouch

As a youth worker in the Church of England I was very interested to read the ‘from anecdote to evidence’ report that was published in January this year – not only because I had an MA deadline on the subject of fresh expressions less than a week later!

In the report we read the following:

“There is an urgent need to focus on children, young people and their parents and a challenge to identify how the church can best invest in people, programmes and strategies which will encourage young people actively to continue exploring faith.” (From anecdote to evidence report, 2014)

Any work we do which encourages ‘young people actively to continue exploring faith’ is hugely important. But what factors are key to nurturing faith in young people (and indeed to an extent ourselves)?

Here I offer eight suggestions to provoke our thinking…

  1. Relationships – good youth work…

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