Monday, 3 March 2014

Worthy to be Found

So it's Shrove Tuesday tomorrow, with all its pancake traditions. My favourite toping is of course, ice cream! Then it's on to Lent, 40 days of preparation before the cross of Good Friday. If your'e wondering about the tradition, and no. of days etc, the 40 is chosen from Jesus' time in the wilderness immediately after his baptism at the start of his ministry. AS the early Christians didn't fast on a sabbath, that meant slightly longer than 6 weeks, hence it starting on a Wednesday! Are you doing anything special? We're asking people to do the Lent Prayer Challenge, which is to choose 3 people or situations that need God or a breakthrough, and to commit to pray for them to change every day. Let us know how you get on - it's good practice to keep on keeping on praying ...

I was listening to one of my favourite preachers the other day, Hugh Halter. He'd been recounting some stories of people coming to faith and asking him about God all over the place, and had experienced the natural "Oh that always happens to you" jealous complaint from a friend. But he graciously described a pattern of living that naturally produced those type of encounters. I'm gonna borrow them completely, so all credit to Hugh, from the Verge conference 2013 which we have legit recordings of (let me know if you want to borrow). They are 3 types o association - or hanging out.
  1. We begin by associating with the Father, God - in every way we can, learning his ways, his voice, his heart, seeing and hearing what he's doing, and so, like Jesus did, getting involved with the things he wants.
  2. Associating with other disciples. We can't do it on our own and were never meant to. We need other disciples and its good to spend our time with them ... but not all our time!
  3. Because the 3rd association is with the "worthy to be found". I love this phrase - and of course, before you complain of favouritism - it means everybody, but it also places everybody firmly in that category.
Most churches do the 1st and 2nd reasonably well, but often spend so much time working on this that there isn't much left for the 3rd. Jesus did all 3 well. We too can work on the balance. It's why as a church we're trying not to cram the diary with events and training etc. goodness, life is busy enough without church for most in the SE of England. So if we trim our church diaries, and free up some time, we can begin to invest time into relationships outside the church or Christian bubble. It means having free evenings that sometimes or often stay free, so that when f fiend or neighbour either needs help or asks you to do something together, your'e actually free to join them.

The more time we spend with people outside the church, the more the likelihood we get conversations like the ones Hugh gets. Jesus had some pretty amazing encounters with unlikely people too - because he hung out with them. Yes he went to the synagogue and engaged in formal teaching, but he also partied with the "worthy to be found" - a great phrase that i just love. In fact, he did this so much that he was accused of being a "drunkard and glutton". Yep can you believe it? Today the words or phrase would probably be "party animal". Why? Because he chose to be friends with people who got drunk, and ate a lot, there was often food and wine available.You see, if you hang out with people who are lost, the religious onlookers are afraid and think you are either becoming like those you're trying to love, or by being with them, you're somehow condoning what they do. Religion has always tried to control God, and the life of Jesus proves that, and proves it is wrong too. Jesus hung out with the rejected, the lowest life (not in his eyes but in the eyes of the culture), tax collectors, lepers, prostitutes. By being with them he was conveying love and building a bridge for them to cross over to God, not condoning what they do. Neither did he embrace their values or practices. But to show love to someone, you have to step into their world, sit on their chairs, enters their doors, join their clubs. Trouble is, the modern church is often so busy with all of its programmes that it doesn't have time to do that - or fears what people might think of them if they made friends with 'sinners'. Of course everyone's forgotten we're all sinners anyway. Someone once said, evangelism is one beggar showing another where to get food. [My old pastor John MacSporran in Newcastle said that but i don't know where he got it]

You know the Christian life is simple really isn't it? It's all about showing love and sharing God, and serving people. Simple. Not complicated. You don't need a degree ...

... and yet ... it's really hard isn't it? Simple but hard. In once sense easy, in another quite costly, quite sacrificial. Starting with our diaries. I know i need to work on this 3rd association, what about you? Simple but hard. But in the end, to say "it's worth it" doesn't even scratch the surface!
Enjoy those pancakes and get praying.

[PS health warning though: other Christians might accuse you of the same thing that Jesus got: guilty by association - post any stories of guilt by association here if you can.]