Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Leftovers after Christmas

How was your Christmas? Was it a time filled with joy which advertisers want us to believe is the way to do it or was it a time of stress during the preparation or on the day in an attempt to get that ultimate Christmas this year? Okay you can hear the cynic in me. My personal experience when younger is that Christmas was largely a pressure cooker of relationships where people were forced together to enjoy a day that I never really understood and understand even less now as a follower of Jesus. Tonya is still working on changing my experience which I'm pleased to report is slowly happening and learning its more about people getting together enjoying a meal than anything.

I still don't really get the bells and whistles of Christmas as a religious event including carols where I feel like I'm singing happy birthday to Jesus even though really it's not His birthday. The short story around Christmas is that it originally was a time when Romans worshiped the sun god (obviously not called Christmas), after Constantine 'converted' to Christianity. He wanted to combine the worship of the pagan god and Christ which the church accepted. Christians prior to Constantine had always been stripping pagan festivals to find elements that point to Jesus, which we are still doing today. So Christmas as we see it now is a mixture of secular and Christians attempt to take or create elements that point to Jesus.

Recently I was in my local supermarket listening to the Salvation Army. It reminds me of Christmas Eve when I lived near Durham as a child. They played Christmas carols outside to our next door neighbour which was very loud. Yet the noise wasn't important because I thought how lovely of them to play to the neighbour as he was unwell and his family had requested for them to go around to spread joy. William and Catherine Booth the founders of The Salvation Army in 1865 spent a lot of time telling people about Jesus and ministering to the homeless outside of the church building. 

During one particular Salvation meeting William Booth heard Charles Fry and his three sons play at a meeting. Instantly William looking for ways to engage local people with the Gospel message, could see this as a tool to evangelise. The first ever Salvation Army Corp Band was formed in County Durham in December 1879. So even in the 19th century they were looking at innovative ways to meet with people, yet some 140 years later we are still met with these bands at our local supermarket.
On the news yesterday I watched a story about Euston Station, opening up for Christmas Day to serve homeless people with a Christmas meal supported by local businesses. The manager from the station talked about homeless people being very much apart of the local community on a daily basis and they just wanted to ensure they were safe on Christmas day. Practically the people who came were handed out walm clothing and sleeping bags. A community church in Middlesbrough, put on meals for people who were lonely or in need on Christmas day, as a way for people to spend time with others. We hear about foodbanks and other local churches providing support to people who need it. These are brilliant stories of our local community serving each other and without necessarily the bells and whistles of Christmas being central to the day.

Christmas day morning I received a message from Ned Lunn, a Vicar  (@NedLunn), which read, "We often think of darkness as a scary absence but darkness is also a creative place where new life is born. Creation was carefully crafted in the dark and, for Christians, so too the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection. The mystery manifested in Mary’s womb, the tender secret of Christ’s tomb went without witness, shrouded in a holy darkness. Whatever darkness you are walking through, to you a great light is given, on you a light has shined and he is called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of peace. The enduring comfort of God be yours this Christmas. Ned"

Are you in the darkness of Christmas sorting through the leftovers, thinking there has to be more than this? Maybe following Jesus, 'Christmas' is not that important, but knowing that God is with us everyday is important. Christmas can just be another day where we can show and experience God's love and His light in our families and local community.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

First term over - Cranmer Hall

So the first term is over at Cranmer Hall and I survived with my faith intact.There have been various challenges faced but God has resolved them at each stage.
It's been an interesting term understanding the various denominations within the Christian church and where they stand in their beliefs dependent on their tradition from Anglican high church with bells and smells to low church with their freer view on worship. Throw into that pot people from the free church including Baptist, Kings, Community, Vineyard and others there is an interesting dynamic in beliefs, opinions, experiences and backgrounds. I suppose if it wasn't for Jesus we certainly wouldn't be at a theology college in Durham together. That's the great thing that Jesus has put us together. Jeremiah 29:11, "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." It's going to be interesting to see what God does over the next couple of years.

😀

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Clickerty Clique or exclusion by a group

According to Cambridge Online Dictionary a clique is a small group of people who spend their time together and do not welcome other people into the group. I would like to add to this definition if I may, or are perceived to be unwelcoming to others.

You may have experienced this starting a new job, school or taking up a new hobby or sport with others and felt unwelcomed by the group. Sometimes this can be unintentional, for example when we meet up with a group of close friends we haven't seen for a week, naturally we want to catch up on the latest news, but without realising it we have made others wanting to join in feel excluded. There is also another side where we intentionally exclude people. It could be because we feel threatened, hurt or upset by an individual or a group of people. We then start to build a group who feel the same way as we do, who are allies and anyone who thinks differently to the group are excluded, with some of the worst being bullying as a form of exclusion which I and many others have experienced.

These cliques tend to be safe places for the group of individuals, but are unsafe places for people outside of it, having a huge impact on ‘outsiders’ and creating that feeling of exclusion and loneliness yet to often seen in our communities. These cliques when apart of a larger group can create tension and division. Where discrimination is prevalent and exclusion is part of the culture. If you are in the ‘in crowd’ then we are ‘alright mate’. When this happens in church the culture becomes no different to the world people have come from who are seeking to know Jesus.

In James 2:1-13 we are challenged about cliques by the analogy of a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothes (smelling wonderful) or someone wearing shabby clothing (a bit smelly). Who are we most likely to gravitate towards. In an ideal world I would like to say someone wearing shabby clothing, but I'm not so sure. It’s understandable that we gravitate towards the people who we are most comfortable with OR who may share our thinking, but is this at the exclusion of others. Finally we are challenged, “Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? ...” Could these ‘poor’ just be the people we have excluded from our group?

Monday, 13 November 2017

Church what's it all about

What's the difference between the 'real' world and church. Assuming of course you are coming from the angle that church is a group of people gathering and not a building? In which case if you are coming from the latter you are probably better comparing it against a housing estate. Well I'm coming from the people angle comparing people with people. Actually people in both cases whether 'real' world or chuch, have to deal with the same issues financial, relational, health, unemployment and lots more. Both groups are still find their place in community, learning to be in a relationship with others. Still messing up and dealing with the consequences of that.

What's the difference between the 'real" world and church. It's an obvious answer, Jesus. You would be quite right in saying, "Andy, but it doesn't feel like that sometimes". Consider this, that the church is the 'real' world with all the mess with Jesus amongst it all. Tim Watson, Beatliturgist wrote a poem called Church Without Love, in which he says, "church without love is just a meeting about a bloke". 
This love is described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 , Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.

Could the church without love be the 'real' world without Jesus?