Category: church


candle

It was the smallest of deals, it was quite possibly the biggest of deals.

This morning i’d been asked to share a little about church at a house church meeting of a friend of mine – never met the group before and only knew the leader through a camp i spoke on last year for his youth.

But i’d also spent the last few days feeling very challenged by the tragic events in Charleston and using my social media avenues to share a number of powerful thoughts i had read and to challenge leaders of churches across Americaland to PLEASE give the incident some focus in their meetings.

As i prepared to lead a meeting of my own i thought it would be very hypocritical if i didn’t do the same and so in a middle to wealthy group of white home church goers i invited them to close their eyes while we took a few minutes to remember the people on this list of nine names. People who we hadn’t known personally, but as members of the body of Christ, their loss was our loss and the pain of their family members and friends needed to be our pain as well:

Cynthia Hurd [54]

Tywanza Sanders [26]

Sharonda Singleton [45]

Myra Thompson [59]

Ethel Lance [70]

Susie Jackson [87]

DePayne Doctor [49]

Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr [74]

Rev. Clementa Pinckney [41]

i read out the ages as well cos that felt strangely significant to me – i had read that it was a prayer meeting and it was no surprise to me that the majority of members there were older folks as around the world, they seem to be the ones to fill up our corporate times of prayer in the most faithful of ways.

We took a moment to remember the incident as an isolated moment of tragedy. Then we took a moment to remember the incident as just one in a much bigger question and ongoing story that feels like one of the most important things Americaland needs to be facing right now. We prayed that the white church leaders of Americaland would realise how important it was for them to be part of this mourning, conversation and journey, both now and into the future. That black voices won’t feel alone and isolated and abandoned once more, as if this is simply their thing they need to face.

We invited power and love and strength and grace and healing. We were still.

It was not a big deal. But it felt significant. It felt necessary. It felt important. And perhaps it was the biggest deal of every part of our gathering this morning.

Were you part of a group or gathering that gave Charleston any mention or focus today? i would LOVE to hear about it in the comments.

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[For some helpful thoughts & pictures on Charleston from other people with wise voices, click here]

In Acts 7 in the bible, we read about the stoning of Stephen.

Does anyone know what role Stephen had in the early church?

Let me give you a clue: In Acts 6.5 we see him described as “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit”.

So what did he do? Are we thinking pastor? Elder? Worship leader?

Let me give you another clue: In Acts 6.8 we read that Stephen was “a man full of God’s grace and power”.

If you think of someone like that in your church, what is their role? Any closer to figuring out Stephen’s?

stephen

STEPHEN WAS THE FOOD GUY

So at the beginning of Acts chapter 6 we read how the twelve disciples chose seven men ‘known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom’ to take over the work of the daily distribution of food [a move that was done because a certain group of widows was being neglected and they wanted to make sure it wasn’t so].

And Stephen, who went on to be martyred, and who saw heaven opened and witnessed the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand side of God [Acts 7.56] was one of those seven. His role in the church was to make sure that food was handed out.

BE THE CHURCH BE THE CHURCH BE THE CHURCH

As i have been having intimate book launches and creating space for people to ask any questions they might have about church and God and following Jesus, i am becoming more and more convinced that the church is meant to be so much more of an identity than it is an experience.

This does not appear to be the most popular of opinions. There is a loud and insistent clamouring for church to need to be identified as ‘local church’ and a strong focus on the meeting at the particular place with that certain group of people.

i’m not suggesting for a second that local church is wrong, or bad, or should be stopped or left or run away from. At all.

But we are called the bride of Christ. We are described as the body of Christ. Both identity labels. Sure there is doing attached to both of those, but more importantly there is being. Who we are. Not just on Sundays, in the building. But always, everywhere.

It’s not even as if Sunday is the most authentic picture of who we are – we tend to dress up in a way we seldom dress during the week – portray a persona unlike the reality of what is really going on in our lives [So we don’t get to see people struggling with life or relationships or work or issues – every marriage looks perfect, every individual looks like they have it together] – and go through the religious ritual singing words of songs we often either don’t believe or pay attention to, prayers which sound nice and sermons which are too often comfortable and confirming of where we are rather than challenging where we should be being.

Jesus

i’m kinda tired of feeling like i have to defend my position on this. It feels like too many people have settled for the image of Jesus on the left and far too few are broken before the much closer image on the right.

i believe that being a part of the church means being infused with the D.N.A. of Jesus through the very fact of having His Holy Spirit in us and that it was always meant to be a description of who we are seven days a week, not just one.

It should rally us to social and societal justice, cause us to be more genuinely loving and affected people, move us to use our time, money and skills in the pursuit of the kingdom [not just 10% of them], help us to be more real in our relationships, challenge us towards forgiveness [of EVERYONE who has hurt us in any way] and spur us on to be salt and light and the fragrance of Christ amidst those who are perishing.

While local church is not a bad thing, what i am talking about feels so much bigger. It can be ‘Local Church Plus…’ for sure. And the benefits of community and accountability and teaching and combined worship and sharing of resources should be obvious.

12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. [Romans 12]

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

[Matthew 28]

21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
    your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
    I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream!

[Amos 5]

So today, don’t give up on gathering, but let it be real. Let it be transformative. Let it be spirit-enthusing. And above all let it inform the rest of your week as you leave the building and continue to be the church day in and day out.

legchurch

[To read some more about the book i wrote on church, called ‘i, church’, and how to get hold of it, click here]

This year, the book i wrote, ‘i, church’ was published and you can read more about that over here.

But being Sunday where many people around the world will be using that somewhat confusing statement of ‘going to church’ i thought it would be a good idea to post an extract from my book, particularly one aimed at all of the people who think church may be dying or already dead.

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SEARCHING FOR THE PULSE OF THE CHURCH

There are many people who believe that the church is dead. Or at
their most optimistic, that it is dying.

Instead of trying to convince you that it is not, let me share
something that should inject some hope into that scenario. In many
ways, a little bit of death in some cases is not the worst thing if it
means that there will be space created for new life to emerge. When
we have been caught up in doing things in unhelpful and even at
times harmful ways in the church, then maybe death is just what we
need to be inviting.

Sexism in the church. Racism in the church. Classism or
wealthism where those who have are given preferential treatment
over those who do not have as much. These are just some examples
of things in the church that need to die.

But if the church itself, the worldwide institution and family, the
body of Christ, was ever to be pronounced dead, then instead of
fear and panic, this stunningly powerful image in Ezekiel 37 would
be a good one to keep in mind.

37 The hand of the LORD was on me, and he brought me out by the
Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of
bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many
bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me,
“Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know”.

4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry
bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to
these bones: I will make breath[a] enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I
will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you
with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will
know that I am the LORD”.

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there
was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I
looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but
there was no breath in them.

9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man,
and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, breath, from
the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live’. 10 So I
prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to
life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel.
They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut
off’. 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the
Sovereign LORD says: My people, I am going to open your graves and
bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of
Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open
your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you
and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will
know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD”.

So, if you are someone who has lost hope in the current state of
the church in any way, know that this God who we serve is able to
breathe life into even the deadest of things and spark them into
life. Yes, deadest!

To those of you who believe the church may be dead or dying,
let me remind you of this: Resurrection from the dead just happens
to be God’s speciality.

[For a brief teaser of an overall idea of what the book is more about, click here]

Jesusfem

Sarah Bessey is one of my favourite people on the Twitterer.

She is a Canadian who loves Jesus and pretty much any time i have read one of her blog pieces i resonate deeply with it and really feel that she writes both truthfully but also lovingly [often a tough mix to get just right] and so she is one of the few go-to blog people i have. Others being Nate Pyle in a similar way [truth and humility, far  too rare in a Christian leader] and then also Jamie the Very Worst Missionary [who i don’t always agree with, although i mostly do and when i do it is usually with loud cheering and huge smiles cos of her in-your-face presentation].

So i was super excited to FINALLY get hold of her book, Jesus Feminist, which i’d been wanting to read for years but never made any steps towards until my sister came to visit from the States and  suggested it as a gift she might want to bring me.

Jesusfem3

In chapter 1 as Sarah explains part of her journey, she writes:

‘At the core, feminism simply consists of the radical notion that women are people, too. Feminism only means we champion the dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of women as equal in importance – not greater than, but certainly not less than – to those of men, and we refuse discrimination against women.

Several years ago, when I began to refer to myself as a feminist, a few Christians raised their eyebrows and asked, “What kind of feminist exactly?” Off the top of my head, I laughed and said, “Oh, a Jesus feminist!” It stuck, in a cheeky sort of way, and now I call myself a Jesus feminist because to me, the qualifier means I am a feminist precisely because of my life-long commitment to Jesus and His Way.’

And a few pages later she nails home the point:

‘After years of reading the Gospel and the full canon of Scripture, here is, very simply, what I learned about Jesus and the ladies. He loves us.

He loves us. On our own terms. He treats us as equals to the men around Him; He listens; He does not belittle; He honours us; He challenges us; He teaches us; He includes us – calls us all beloved. Gloriously, this flies in the face of the cultural expectations of His time – and even our own time. Scholar David Joel Hamilton calls Jesus’ words and actions towards women “controversial, provocative, even revolutionary.”

Jesus loves us.

In a time when women were almost silent or invisible in literature, Scripture affirms and celebrates woman. Women were a part of Jesus’ teaching, part of His life. Women were there for all of it.’

Jesusfemquote2

i completely resonate with the heart and message of the book, which might be why i was a little bit disappointed with it. Which is a hard and horrible thing to say about the book of someone i admire and respect so much [believe me, having just written a book, it really does feel in some ways like putting your baby out there for everyone to comment on, or not].

BUT, i think i know why.

THIS BOOK WILL BE INCREDIBLE IN THE RIGHT HANDS

i have identified two reasons why i may not have enjoyed ‘Jesus Feminist’ as much as i hoped to and none of them have anything to do with it not being a good book.

# The one reason is that i already think so much of what Sarah is talking about in the book whereas for people who still think in outdated, patriarchal-society-enhanced ways this will either be a breath of fresh air [women] or a hugely challenging read [men] but really good for both of them. i didn’t need any convincing and yet i think the book does really well if you are stuck in a mindset that believes that in the church men are more important than women or should have higher status.

# The main reason though is what i would call the Terry Pratchett syndrome. i love Terry Pratchett and he is my favourite read-for-entertainment author. i was fortunate enough to start with ‘The Colour of Magic’ which is his first Discworld novel and read them largely in order and then suddenly, around the time of ‘Guards Guards!’, ‘Moving Pictures’ and ‘Pyramids’ [all three of which i read close together] he suddenly jumped to another level and just got increasingly better and better. Then one day i reread ‘The Colour of Magic’ and it seemed so bad in comparison, just because Pratchett had gotten so good.

That’s what i feel with Sarah Bessey. It is not that anything is particularly wrong with ‘Jesus Feminist’. But it’s just that i discovered her through her writing after that, and it has been a couple of years and she has just gotten so much better.

Jesusfemquote

So for any women out there who are feeling ‘less than’ or ‘insignificant’ in the church, this is a great book for you to be reading. If you know someone who struggles with that, then buy them a copy and stick it in their hands – it might very well be life-changing. But if you are someone who is on the same page with that conversation then i would highly recommend following Sarah on the Twitterer which you can do @sarahbessey or bookmarking her blog over here as one worth visiting regularly. In a world with so many voices and people and posts and too little time, Sarah Bessey is someone who, at the moment, is one of my favourite people to watch and listen to and learn from.

i have a bunch of turned over pages in her book and so i imagine, when i get a chance, i’ll be sharing a few more extracts, cos there really was some great stuff in it…

[For a passage by Sarah Bessey on Unwelcome Questions & What Happens after you Crash?, click here]

durbanichurch

This was the 4th book launch i have done for ‘i, church’ and the first one in Durban. And what another incredible evening it was.

Firstly, we decided to do a small change with this one and focus on the Q & A aspect of the evening which was a highlight for me from each of the previous launches. And as a bonus, i got the chance to preach at 3 Westville Baptist church services on the Sunday before the Q & A slash launch so people got a direct invitation to the launch after hearing some of the heart of the book in my preach.

Once again thankx to a bunch of my friends largely including staff and congregants of Westville Baptist church, especially Rebecca Benn who spearheaded the thing while i was still in Cape Town and got balls rolling, the church for letting me use their hall and Debbie and Baz and some of the youth and young adults who got involved. And then my good friend Sammi Taylor who womanned one of the book tables:

One aspect that was different from the Cape Town launches was the addition of two poems from my friend Michael Toy’s poetry book [for the recovering evangelical] titled ‘Blame it on the HueHuetenango’ which i felt fit in strongly with the theme of the book.

My good friends Debbie and Baz did an intro and then hosted the Q & A using a mix of live questions and sms questions that people texted to Barry’s phone while the session was on – definitely stretched me to some deeper levels with some of the questions that were posed at this particular launch.

This was the best mix of people we have had generationally with some youth and young adults stretched out on bean bags and then a range of older people all the way to some seniors who were on chairs and couches and just such an incredible time of engagement and then conversation as i tried to speedily sign some books afterwards as well. Cape Town friends and friends from October Leadership camp 13 years ago and from Baptist Summer Camp many years ago as well as an uncle-in-law all made it a very special occasion.

i am glad we sold some books, but i am more excited about the opportunity to challenge and inspire people about church and possibly seeing and experiencing church as something that is even bigger than the people in the building who meet on that particular day of the week. And also getting a chance to challenge the church [as in those who were present] about the absolute priority that we need to have in matters of race and reconciliation and unity and speaking and acting and listening into areas of pain and hurt and fear and disappointment that exist in our country.

It really was another incredible night of connecting with God’s people and speaking about God’s stuff in love [which sounds very similar to what my definition of church is]…

And of course the world’s most famous stuffed dolphin, No_bob, was on hand to bring his own special brand of protection to the books that were on sale…

For anyone who was interested in coming and maybe missed out, i will be leaving a stash of books with Debbie and Baz from Westville Baptist church and so you can get hold of a copy from them for R100 or as always it is available online at Amazon.

No_bob

[For a glimpse of the teaser including a short extract from ‘i, church’, click here]

Well, today is book launch day.

realbooks

This has been a long time coming. And then suddenly over the last few months and then especially the last four weeks, someone cranked up the speed and there was a loud WHOOSH and now it is here.

And tonite i will get to celebrate with largely friends and family [and perhaps some new friends i haven’t met yet]

Today is not really the moment-of-truth day – people who love you will buy and read your book. That’s the easy part. It’s getting people who don’t know you and love you to decide that they want to read your book that is the real challenge.

But tonight is largely about celebrating, and it feels in some way like the build up to a wedding – far too many people i want to get to hang with [Dreadlock Mike is coming! All the way from Durban! Super stoked!] all in a room for far too short a time and probably just enough time for a lot of hugs. And some reflection and sharing and introducing my ‘baby’ to the room.

In a room full of legends tonight, four people stand out for special mention in terms of helping get this ‘baby’ happening:

Kirsten Sims: My old friend, who is not actually old, jumped in during one of the most busiest thesis-finishing degree-completing times of her life to produce this more than incredible book cover which people are in love with and which really just adds some heart and soul and simplicity [which is what the book is all about] to ‘i, church’ – i cannot thank her enough but you can take a look at her site and some more of her incredible artwork and show all your friends: http://kirstensims.blogspot.com

Linda Martindale: An older friend in terms of how long i have known her, Linda was one of the two women [Heather Bailey in the UK who i know would be here if she could] who said to me, “Let’s do this thing!” and actually meant it. Linda is one of the most passionate and authentic people i know, with a huge heart for reconciliation and kingdom and without her jumping in i don’t know how this whole process would have gotten started. She has edited me for many years for Closer to God publications and did a final read through and helped catch a lot of stuff as we got closer to B day.

Susan Minne [nee Anderson]: It is such a bonus for me to have my older secret sister [as in most of my friends in Cape Town knew my younger sister Dawn growing up, but Sue left early and was often a cause for “Oh, i didn’t know you had an older sister” when i mentioned her] at the book launch during her short visit from Texas where she and her family live. Sue jumped in at close to the last minute, when a proofreader pulled out, to help with the final edit and proofread and after a speed course in ‘Understanding Fishwrite’ where she learnt the difference between intentional and unintentional mauling of the English language, she dived in and worked some hard and quick hours to make the book you are going to read a lot better and tighter than the one i gave her.

Finally, and by no means leastly, tbV, the beautiful Val, my wife and life companion who was insistent on creating space for me both before we left for Americaland and since coming back to get this thing finished and out there. She has also largely been the driving force for how tonight is going to look and feel and i am very excited to see and experience all of that. i love that i have a wife that thinks about things eeply, that wrestles with the kind of easy answers that are often spewed out and who is up to fighting for things that are real and count and will make a difference. i am proud that she will be standing alongside me tonite.

There are definitely many more legends who will be in the room tonite, but these are four that deserved special mention. It seriously does take a village to raise a book and from people who gave me quotes about church, to people who journeyed with me through different expressions and understandings of church, to the many people who volunteered to read and comment on early drafts of ‘i, church’ and everyone who is helping out with today, Saturday and Tuesday [and any book launches that may follow] i am so very grateful.

Thank you for allowing this to happen. My prayer is that the words of this book will make a difference. Will cause people to think more deeply and challenge inherited understandings and practices, and more than anything to chase after being the kind of church that God calls us to be. Which is a body of people who are used in transforming the world through lived out love.

Let the games begin…

valbook

[For more information about the various book launches that we have going in the next few days, click here]

So the books have arrived and with one week to go [well three days] until launch number 1 [which is totally FULL UP], i thought i would give a more sizeable taste of what you can expect.

One of the chapters in the book is titled, ‘6 passages the church needs to take more seriously’ and while i do believe the church needs to take the whole bible seriously, these were 6 particular passages that stand out to me, that we REALLY need to start getting more right more frequently.

And this is the first of those:

[#] Matthew 22.34-40:

”Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested Him
with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’. This is the first and greatest
commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself’. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments”.

This is the whole Bible summed up in four words for me – Love
God, Love people. Whenever it gets confusing or complicated or
whatever, i think it is good to head back to this foundation of the
church and be reminded of what it is all about.

What i’ve noticed about this passage is that it seems like a
contradiction if we approach it mathematically. If you love God
with ALL your heart, soul and mind then you actually have nothing
left to do any more loving with, because you’ve used it all up
already, right? i mean, that’s what ALL means surely?

Unless you realise that the two commandments are not to be taken
separately at all. As we “love your neighbour as yourself” so we are
demonstrating our loving of God with all our heart, soul, mind.

Loving God means doing His will and His will is that we love other
people and so by loving others, we demonstrate our love of God.

So it is more a two part commandment than two different rules
for living. If we love God with everything, then it will naturally
pour out into loving people around us. And as we love the people
around us, so we are demonstrating love for God because we are
obeying His command.

The second thing to note is Jesus’ little p.s., “All the Law and the
Prophets hang on these two commandments”.

What were the Law and the Prophets? It was Jesus’ Bible. It was
the Jewish scripture and if we continue the metaphor on to us
today now that the New Testament has been written we can take it
to mean that the whole of scripture hangs on those two simple
commands. Love God, love people. Simple in understanding but
not so simple when we try and live them out all the time.

If the church could keep on coming back to this passage when
things get tough or complicated, we would cover a multitude of
sins and confusions and unnecessary conflicts. When we have a
denominational issue, when someone in leadership is caught in
sin, when we are deciding how to use the budget, when there is a
public debate on abortion or homosexuality, do we approach it
from the point of view of, “Is this loving God?” and “Is this loving
people?”

This is the foundation – everything hangs on these two ideas.

We need to keep on going back there and holding firmly to
them. And if anything we are doing or saying or getting involved
in is ever contrary to either of them, then we need to really
rethink and replan and do things differently.

As one rabbi said, “Love God, love people, all the rest is
commentary”. If Jesus says this is the most important thing, how
dare we ever make anything else the most important thing?

To find out what the other 5 passages are, you’re just going to have to get the book… [or ask me what the other five passage are – either way.] 

[To see where the venues are for the book launches and to read a little more what it’s about, click here]

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