Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Wisdom from the wise

Photo by eyebiz (stock.xchng)Last night we had our Regional Leaders meeting which is a kind of Jedi council (but no-one there has green skin) in which the leaders responsible for our local congregation and communities gather to discuss progress, chew the cud and seek wisdom from God. I love it and always find it strengthening.

Topics for discussion will vary from practical “nuts and bolts” to more theoretical or even theological themes. Last night, one of the matters we considered was the very dilemma I wrote about in my last post – the balance between “grace and truth”: how to find the way of wisdom when dealing with “wrongdoing” of various kinds in the flock.

Many of our wisest sages contributed reflections. And these are some of the things they said:

Seek advice from trusted brethren – “in the multitude of counsellors there is safety” – but be wary of mere “public opinion”.

The aim is to help people grow in the grace they have received, and to find more grace; to help them find more fear of the Lord.

Explain your reasoning so that people can see where you’re coming from (even if they disagree!)

Grace and truth are like the love and justice that meet at the cross – not a contradiction, but a paradox. We must be clear about boundaries – this is gracious; we must love people – this is truth.

Know yourself – if you’re inclined to be a “man pleaser” distrust your inclination to “smooth it all over”; if you’re inclined to be confrontational distrust your inclination to “have it out there and then”. Rather than automatically trusting your reaction, find wisdom.

However – remember that God has given you the grace for those you are pastorally responsible for: so love bravely, have confidence and know that God can use even your mistakes.

Grace has big ears; truth has big eyes. So listen kindly and seek to understand, but look out for manipulation and don’t be na├»ve.

“Better is open rebuke than hidden love.” Grace can be in the rebuke.

If there is a heart issue in someone, it will come up again and again until it is tackled. Knowing this can take off some of the pressure (of public opinion?) to deal with it all “now!” Wait and learn and the next time it comes up, you can deal with it in wisdom.

“Grace trains us”. “See to it that no-one fails to obtain the grace of God”.

The basic pattern of a person’s moral growth is from law, to social cohesion, to personal integrity. Seek to lead them along this path.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Grace and truth

Jesus was 'full of grace and truth'.

Been thinking a bit about the delicate balance between what you might call grace (patience, give-and-take, over-looking wrong) and truth (dicipline, challenging and correcting wrong behaviour, gripping looseness when it rears its head in church life).

Yes, it's come about because of one or two or five situations where, as a leader, I face the dilemma of how to deal with 'less than holy' behaviour and choices from some of those I lead. One the one hand, 'love is kind' and I must (and want to) bear with people. On the other hand, there are times when drift and compromise need challenging - if nothing else for the sake of others who need the security of a clear example...

I was thinking about Jesus who was 'full of grace and truth'.

Full of grace and truth, all the time. Always full of grace without thereby losing truth. Always full of truth without thereby losing grace. All His grace was utterly truthful - no hint of compromise with darkness or sin; all His truth was utterly gracious - no hint of harshness or blank condemnation.

Me? Sometimes I'm full of grace (just about). Sometimes I'm full of truth (more or less). But somehow, I stuggle to be both - and at once! My 'grace' is often tainted with something suspiciously like fear of confrontation. My 'truth' is often polluted with something alarmingly like anger and frustration.

But the reality is that grace and truth are not opposites. It is possible to be always full of both.


Well, I guess I'd better get a little closer to Jesus and see how He does it...

Monday, July 02, 2007

Community debate

Someone commented on my last, somewhat provocative, post on Facebook:

Interesting note.. where does Jesus say we should hate money. Where does the parable of the servants and the talents fit into this.

I assume you are promoting a Christian community as opposed to a mixture of Christians and non Christians living together, surely this leads to "holy huddles", what better way of evangelising, particularly as young single adults, than to live with non Christians.. to be in the world but not of it, and to share our lives with them that they may see salt and light, because we are called to love more than just those who love us.

Living in community isn't impossible.. and if it was you imply God only does miracles in the lives of non Christians which isnt true.

True we will live in community when Jesus returns but now is the "day of salvation".. now is our chance to briing more people into the kingdom, surely this is greatly hindered if those who see the most of us, our housemates are already on board so to speak.

What number of possesions we have or shouldnt have shouldnt force our hand in our lving arrangements, buy a smaller fridge, go to a laundrette and use the bus or bike or get lifts with a friend from work.

as far as discipleship and love not the world go, discipleship means maturity and maturity comes best in going on mission, mission is our life and so if we can include living with non Christians than our maturity will grow as we witness to them.

so far as you can guess i have riled against the idea of Christians aiming to live with other Christians, as it is next year I am lving with 3 other Christians, however this should not be the case for everyone nor all the time... and the year after that i will be living again with non Christians.

i guess i dont have anything against living in community yet i dont see anything wrong with living on your own as a married couple or even as a single person- though with house prices today many single people live with friends.

Jesus can receive our offerings without us selling everything, Jesus never said we shouldnt live in our home as long as we give generously and dont idolatrise our money...and surely true brotherhood comes from being born into the family of Christ... anything else is superfluous.

sorry if this sounds like a rant i am just trying to think through what you wrote.. some of which i definitely do agree with! out of interest do you live in community?

God bless

So I thought I'd respond:

Thanks for your comments, Larry, I'm chuffed you took the time and effort.

I'll try and respond to some of the questions you raise as best I can, in roughly the order that you raise them...

Jesus said 'No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.' (Matt.6:24, Luke 16:13) The clear implication is that loving God will mean hate for money. (Not that that necessarily means refusing to even touch it - like the early Friars for instance! - but it certainly demonds a radical response - such as sharing it all in common like the first church in Acts 2).

I don't think the first church in Acts was a 'holy huddle'! Yet they 'were all together and had all things in common' (Acts 2:44, 4:32). You're absolutely right that we should avoid being a Christian ghetto! But a people who are clearly loving one another in a radical way are very attractive and demonstrate God's kingdom - Jesus called this 'a city on a hill which cannot be hidden' (try being a city on your own!..)

When I said 'living in community is impossible' I was being provocative. I live in community (to answer your later question) so I clearly don't think it can't be done - but it can't be done without God's grace - oh believe me, this is true ;)

Laundrettes aren't a bad way to share resources - but Christian community as a whole lifestyle commends itself in other ways than just the environmental which is only part of the picture. But, sure, use the laundrette!

'Mission is our life' - right! I'm with you there. And as I said above, I totally agree that we must reach out to people. Christian students have a unique opportunity to reach their peers and I'm not knocking that. It's just a very sad that after three or four years of that, most of them get a comfortable job, move to suburbia and are never heard of again - 'where are the radicals?' I ask myself...

'Living on your own as a married couple or even as a single person' is a very Western abberation. In most cultures across the world people live in extended families with a strong sense of social togetherness. I think the Church of Jesus should at least equal this level of togetherness - or better it! (I'm not saying it's wrong for people to live on their own or with a partner, just that I think a community arrangeement is better and more true to the New Testament).

'Jesus can receive our offerings without us selling everything'. What do make of Jesus' saying 'Sell your possessions and give to the poor' (Matt.19:21, Luke 12:33) and the fact that the first church did just that (Acts 2:45)?

Sorry if my reply to your 'rant' also sounds like a rant! I feel passionately that the church in the UK is largely lost in a sea of mundanity. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to air some of my passion!

I do live in a Christian community on Leamington Rd in Coventry, down the road from Warwick Uni. There are 15 adult Christians who live together with a common bank account, sharing all things (apart from personal items like toothbrushes and - that sort of thing!) One of those is my wife and we have two small children - 17 of us altogether. And the house is often packed with visitors - so I don't think we're a ghetto!

By the way, just to be clear, we don't believe that you 'have to live in community to be a Christian' or anything like that - it's just that we think it's an exceellent way of putting Jesus' teaching into practice and being authentic church in today's UK.

Call in some time - you'd be welcome! And you can ask as many awkward questions as you like - we love 'em!

Phew! Let the debate continue!