Last week, I went to a party celebrating that this year will be the 5th year of @40Acts, which has grown from a handful of people to, last year, 45,000 people joining in – with hopes of even more this year. A simple act of generosity every day – check out @40Acts.
Spring Harvest is a teaching and worship event for everybody. It’s a unique break for all the family: holiday, festival, conference, and an encounter with God.
In 2015 Spring Harvest will be looking at Ephesians 3:20-21, and exploring the potential of a God of immeasurably more. God is immeasurably greater than we think. To a dehydrated church he offers life, power, hope and transformation. He calls us to a radical, empowered life that we could never achieve in our own strength.
I’m speaking at Minehead 2, with Krish Kandiah, in the ‘Chew More’ sessions
(or watch the longer video)
Kids love Spring Harvest!
Whether your kids are 3 months or 18 years old, there’s a programme perfect for them. The groups run at the same time as the adult morning sessions and evening celebrations, so you can relax and enjoy yourself knowing your children are learning and having fun. On top of the daily groups, you can join together as a family at The Big Start and All-age Celebrations.
It’s great for teenagers too! There are two age-related programmes for young people at Spring Harvest, Distinctive and iScape. Superb speakers and worship leaders will help you encounter God and uncover his plans for you. It’s relaxed, varied and, above all, fun.
The speaking and worship line-up
From early morning to late night Spring Harvest offers a great programme with fantastic Bible teaching and times of worship.
Paula Gooder, Bible Society’s Theologian in Residence, Peter Williams, Warden at Tyndale House, Malcolm Duncan, Lead Pastor of Gold Hill Baptist Church and Jo Bailey Wells, Chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury, will lead our Bible teaching each morning on this incredible passage of scripture where Paul prays for the Ephesian church; Ephesians 3: 14-21.
Worship Central, Pete James & Sarah Bird, Graham Kendrick & Luke Bacon, and Nick Herbert & Ben Cantelon will lead our worship each day in the main celebration.
Easter fun at Minehead Two
Make Easter the best holiday of the year and join us at Minehead Two for a bumper weekend of family fun! Extra special Easter events include Good Friday reflective and interactive activities for all ages, plus on Easter Sunday there’s a Sonrise service, afternoon bonanza and an Easter egg hunt for everyone to join in. You’ll also enjoy loads of extra fun stuff for kids, teens, families, and a special stream for singles.
Butlins, the perfect hosts
With multi-million pound facilities on offer at Butlins, Spring Harvest is more than a conference: Splash Waterworld, family fairground, Go Karts, high ropes, playgrounds, adventure golf, bowling and more! Many of the activates and facilities are FREE, so you can enjoy a great holiday without extra costs.
We return today to another Old Testament figure, with quite a depressing tale, in which “the dice are loaded” in days which cycle through themselves. He talks of living a half-life – half-Hebrew (by nature) and half-Egyptian (by nurture), and how difficult this has made things – and why he lashed out when he saw ‘his people’ being mistreated.
“Today”, however, he has made a decision to move forward. The past cannot be changed, but the way that he moves forward can be. As he faces the Burning Bush, and is given his ‘commission’, he questions his qualifications (or lack of them). As he looks at the bush, he thinks of the passions that have consumed him in the past, and how they have almost devoured him. He thinks of the future and questions when they’ll be another “from the depths of someone ordinary like me who is also able to say yes to God” (Mary, no, I think Jesus?). “He will be salvation.”
The final email from Brian offers a call to be ‘in the present':
Of course, we are celebrating this week the coming of the Word-made-flesh, for whom this, here, was the only place he was prepared to be – on Earth, with us, one of us. Fully present, wherever he found himself. Can you imagine Jesus complaining – for a second – about where he’d ended up?
How much time have we spent wishing we were elsewhere? Can we put that energy to better use – and – focus on the positives in our lives?
Having seen the key characters in the drama, we look back to a prophetic figure, Isaiah, who prophesied the birth of Jesus. At a time when many were sacrificing to God, he shared the despair of God, calling the people to wash the blood from their hands and get active:
… remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
Isaiah talks about having come to know about light and darkness, how sometimes they can be the same thing, and in the times of greatest darkness, you will see yourself as you really are? We get a sense of God’s anger against those who ignore injustices… and how we will be burned up like stubble in a field (gives a sense of urgency!). As he speaks of the future coming he says
It wasn’t a messenger or even an angel that saved them, but his presence. In his love and pity, God redeemed them himself; he visited his people, he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.
We forgot the past and rebelled against God in the past, will we do so again?
We get a sense of Mary, a woman who has been well-prepared for a role as homemaker by her mother. She is a woman who loves the world, loves life, and can see God in every part of it. Her parents thought that she would find it difficult to find a husband as she was too ‘headstrong’, but
I just wanted a strong love and a deep passion, and a way to channel this energy and faith and knowledge of God which was boiling inside me.
She describes herself as having a tremendous presence of God, the beliefs infusing everything that she’s doing, although they sometimes frighten her
I simply believe in God like I believe in the flowers and the trees and the birds and the seasons. God is there, with me and for me.
“God is not a thing… God is the lens through which I look upon everything and receive everything.” She suspects that others see her as mad, holy or deeply religious, but indicates that she’s simply a girl who wants to “seize hold of life and all its benefits”, living every moment as if its the only one she’ll ever have. We get a sense of the confusion as she takes in the import of the words, especially understanding how she can be with child as a virgin… it’s all too big to take in, but “it is as if heavy has reached down to earth, and touched me.”
This chapter is interwoven with lines from Christmas carols, as Mary seeks to understand, thinks how she’ll explain to Joseph, how the world will perceive what is happening, but the words of the angel she holds onto “nothing is impossible with God”.
Just picking the bit I love from Brian’s reflections from today – how are we being shaped by this journey:
Let your ‘inner quality of aliveness’ burn, like a candle.
Go with the waxing and waning of the spiritual life.
Celebrate beauty in a myriad shades and textures (it’s not all back and white!).
Hope, don’t keep wishing.
Nurture patience, and be ripened like a fruit
Today we meet with Elizabeth, who has spent too long saying ‘if only’, and wishing for a child. She is disappointed that everyone assumed that it was her fault that there were no children (I have friends who have experienced this false assumption!), with the baby causing an emptiness between them, and a feeling of emptiness in her own life. For those who desire children, this is a sad state to be in, and there must be ways to find a better resolution – shame she didn’t have Sheridan Voysey’s book Broken Dreams to read.
Having sought to be supportive of friends who have got pregnant, she is overjoyed (but confused at the timing) once she is pregnant. Her husband, Zechariah, she describes as unsurprisingly full of doubt and fear (as age/disappointment have made them cynical), and therefore didn’t believe the angelic messenger – and so was struck dumb until the birth of John – who would come to share the good news of Jesus.
As her cousin Mary visits, she sees the life, joy and vitality in the young women. As the children in their wombs jump towards each other, Elizabeth feels that she has been reborn, losing all the bitterness of past years. She sees that her child will point the way to Mary’s child.
Brian reflected today on the juxtaposition he felt yesterday in watching the school nativity play, after the news of the Pakistan school shootings – this sentence stood out:
“This is a universe at war,” wrote CS Lewis, once upon a time. And Christmas was a key battle in it – not some soft-focused winter pick-me-up, but a cosmic fight-back. As John Eldredge reminds us, “The coming of Jesus was a dangerous mission, a great invasion a daring raid into enemy territory.” He would get himself killed, lest we forget.
I also really appreciated being given a free download of this book by Phil.
Today we look at what happens in ‘The Christmas Story’ from the perspective of Joseph. Joseph is ‘a practical man’ who makes things (a carpenter) – unlike those who work in the ‘learned’ sector, he finds true satisfaction in getting something ‘done’ and there being no question that it is ‘done’. This does not stop him dreaming, however (named after ‘the most famous dreamer in history’)…
He speaks of the joy of meeting Mary, so full of hope, expectation and zest, who re-awoke his dreaming in the full. He describes this not as love in the sense that many would think of it, but of love as the ‘accumulation of shared memories… the weaving together of separate stories into this story’, maturing slowly amongst commitment and ‘determined choosing’ (not so much the words we hear about with ‘romantic love’.
We see the tough, real emotions, the doubts that fill his mind as he looks at the pregnant Mary, and thinks of the times that others call him a fool … but, as a deeply religious man, a dream from God has given him the confidence to stand by her, and once the decision was made, he got on with things. He loves the Mary that is not a weak woman but ‘a force of joy and energy and life’, although he wonders that God could not have chosen someone better prepared.
Familiar with a wide range of trees/woods, Joseph finds it hard to see the bigger picture, but knows that the sturdy trees started out as but a seed. Unlike the trees, we long to be someone or something else…
Idolatry was always our greatest failing – making God out of wood, rather than seeing God in the wood itself.
Cottrell finishes, putting thoughts into Joseph’s mind as to what the future will be for this baby? Will it bring something refreshing, or will he be a barren tree on a lonely hill?
And the piece I liked from Brian Draper today:
Try to notice the times when you are seeking to impress others, today. Stop and ask yourself, how can I act differently, lovingly – in order to give something, instead of trying to get something, out of the situation.
Always gracefully challenging us!
Martha is the name given the Innkeeper’s wife in this version of the story. She’s a rather cynical woman who’s done her fair share of midwifery, and, clearly feels she’s been taken advantage of frequently, so is quite tough with a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude. She saw both desperation and dignity in Joseph and Mary, however, and so took pity on them. She gives a clear impression of just how dirty and dingy the space was, with straw full of excrement, probably not refreshed for several days (due to lack of time), with a trough (manger) provided for the forthcoming baby. We get a sense of just how scary this was for Mary – she’s young, and not experienced giving birth before… she goes through the full painful process.. and then engages in some ostentatious breastfeeding! Martha doesn’t understand it all, but feels that there is something different .. likening it to a new fire being kindled…
Brian thinks about those who make such a big effort for Christmas, and questions what elements of Christmas we should really/truly be making an effort for:
But it matters that we try. I mean, what was it about Christmas itself that proved so powerful that the guns fell silent, albeit briefly, in December 1914?
If Jesus was born as a child, what else is possible for us to achieve?
Today, we’re looking at the events of that first Christmas through the eyes of ‘David’, a shepherd. We are often given a ‘romantic’ view of the shepherds, but Cottrell makes it clear that these were crude, vulgar men, used to a hard lifestyle, enjoying women and drink. Alongside, they were gentle (but pragmatic), as they cared for their animals (with fore-echoes of Jesus’ coming as look at ‘the lamb’s blood shed’, and questioning whether there’s a higher purpose to that. Unlike the Magi, his eyes are focused on the ground, as he needs to pay attention to the sheep – stupid, mindless, and silly… When the angels appeared, fear filled the shepherds, but also a calm as they basked in the glory. An ordinary man, he stated that “normal will never be the same again”. They were so excited/convinced, that they left the sheep behind, raucously entered Bethlehem, then sat in calm silence admiring Jesus, unable to understand why God would visit ‘such a dismal place‘, but filled with something that overflowed so that they had to tell everyone that they met.
As Brian looks back to 1914, when the ‘light’ of humanity broke through the fighting in that ‘simple’ football match on the front at World War 1, he suggests:
Try this! Put down your weapons, today. Look for the good in someone else. Especially in your enemy, or someone you really don’t like. Watch for goodness breaking out in difficult conditions, and celebrate it. Gossip about it, thank people, and report the good news within the RSVPs! Try to rise up beyond your own entrenched position, and see what happens when you do.
Today, we have the story of one of the Magi, a man who had planned journeys for many others based upon the stars, but (according to this interpretation), this was the first time he’d felt the need to follow a star himself (a chance to ‘awaken the dream inside’).
Better to keep looking upwards, to chase after dreams and stumble, than only ever see the few steps in front of you and spend a lifetime going round in circles, getting nowhere fast.
He talks of the experience of travelling strange lands, meeting Herod (a mistake where they took their eyes from the stars, and focused upon maps), a man who “only wanted to hear what he needed in order to subvert and control”. As he met with the other wise men along the journey, he gives a sense of how, although they had faith in what they followed, they didn’t have certainty as to what they would find, describing them as ‘wise men behaving like fools’. What they found, a babe in a manger, was not what they expected from a King … but was “better” than what they expected
We were part of a drama so much bigger than ourselves; something we would probably never understand properly. We simply had to carry on faithfully playing our part.
As he questioned what ‘true wisdom’ was, he
… wondered if true wisdom might be this: to know what matters, and to rest secure in the peaceful affirmations of loving and of being loved.
Having met Jesus “the whole direction of our lives was changed”. As they left, rather than an ending, Casper felt that this was the beginning of something new.
#Advent20: Day 8
Advent is a time of waiting. Brian asks us what is the difference between waiting and wishing. If we wish that we could ‘magically escape’ our current situations, we may miss the opportunity to be present in the present moment. We typically dream of a ‘make-believe future where everything is all right’, or rosily remember a time in the past when all things were good… and then forget what’s good about here and now.
If we are ‘wishing’ for something, can we think about how we could turn that into something more hopeful (and active).
“Yes, my soul, find rest in God; for my hope comes from him”
#Advent20: Day 9
Again, on the theme of waiting – how can we be thankful that God is more patient than we are, and think how long he waits for us, and for so many aspects of his creation:
‘Our impatient age,’ says Bonhoeffer, ‘wants to break open the ripe fruit when it has hardly finished planting the shoot. Whoever does not know the austere blessedness of waiting – that is, of hopefully doing without – will never experience the full blessing of fulfilment.
‘For the greatest, most profound, tenderest things in the world, we must wait. It happens not here in a storm but according to the divine laws of sprouting, growing and becoming.’
Practically, we are encouraged to think those times where we are impatient (in queues), etc and seek a way to turn that time into something hopeful, restful and/or productive.
Brian today encourages us to look at the colours around us, in the sky, on the ground – an infinite range of colours, with subtle shifts and tonal changes. It’s so easy to look at our spiritual journey in black and white terms (I’m thinking what did I do/not do, have I developed or not?), but the reality of our lives is more subtle and nuanced, as these colours demonstrate, as the light reflects from white to black …
As we wait in the ‘now and not yet’, we are in a rich place – artistically, spiritually, practically, and with space to explore, without necessarily knowing what the full picture is. We are challenged to sit and watch a scene, and see how the colours subtly change, and recognise that within ourselves.
P.S. I properly looked at the full moon last night = fabulous!
I was given Fathomless Riches: Or how I went from Pop to Pulpit at the Church and Media Network Conference earlier this year (even got a signed copy!). I read it last week, splitting it over about 4 evenings. Here’s a handful of sections that I grabbed screenshots of:
The unwisdom of loving a particular institution, whether that be the BBC or the Church of England:
Hah, everyone thinks they are going to be found at at some point! (Imposter syndrome – acknowledge it and move on)
A modern day take on the story of the Samaritans – beautiful:
And this piece on the care that must be taken re: how we know each other (also possible re e.g. support groups!)
Thank you Richard, I enjoyed it, and recommend it to other people – it’s a real. honest account of a life lived in the spotlight in different ways, and in continuing on the discipleship journey, as we all are – just some do it more publicly than others!
So, under Herod the Great, we’ve already seen how ‘The Slaughter of the Innocents” affected the mothers (and presumably fathers), so let’s have a look inside Herod’s head!
Placed against the harrowing story of Rachel and her ‘grief to the bowels’, it’s quite a shock to come to the end of this chapter from Herod, and realise that he killed all the first sons under 2 years old for expediency, to ensure that he wouldn’t miss out killing Jesus, the threat that the Magi and the prophets had alerted him to (although as I understand it, he didn’t live to see Jesus’ ministry anyway). Herod believed that his power was threatened, that he had such a tenuous hold on power, that any threats needed to be stamped on quickly and comprehensively.
Herod was power-crazy, power-hungry, a megalomaniac, yes? A term that’s still applied to those in politics and other forms of power today. As Herod indicates, it’s a lonely place to be, and you take the responsibility for the decisions that you make when you don’t include others. When he welcomed the Magi, feasted them – Herod believed that he was using drink/food to loosen their tongues, but if we believe the prophets, this was how it was all meant to be (still an uncomfortable thought if leads to the slaughter), and the Magi, warned once they left, didn’t return to pass on further information. Herod’s problem here, was that he felt that he’d shown up publicly, in front of his people “made to look stupid, made to look weak”, and that “one painful cull and the problem solved”. There were fears about what the prophets had foretold, but ultimately, Herod believed that all these people were gullible, and therefore it was better to deal with “the problem” at the beginning (although clearly believing that it was a real enough problem that such drastic measures were needed).
One of those uncomfortable passages in the Bible “The Slaughter of the Innocents“, which is very uncomfortable to read, and even more so through the voice of Rachel, who graphically watches her 10 month old son’s throat slit in front of here because of Herod’s fear of Jesus as a challenger to his throne. Rachel indicates that she wishes no harm to Jesus, but wishes he hadn’t been born:
I stare, silently raging against the gathering blackness of the night. My light has gone out.
There’s a definite theme of light and darkness coming through here … can surely be few things as dark as watching the child you’ve given birth to murdered. Sometimes, we need a gentle light to come back in and help us contemplate:
From yesterday’s #Advent20 with Brian Draper (which makes me think of the candle we used the other week at retreats to signal that we were sitting down to eat, to focus on the beautiful food we were eating):
It gives, she says, of the materials of its outer form in order to release the heat and fragrance held within it. That’s when we see what a candle really is: ‘its outer life is tallow and wick; its inner life is flame.’ God, through Jesus, is surely our shining example: giving of himself, selflessly, luminously, to light the way.
In today’s email, Brian draws our attention to an article by Barbara Brown Taylor ‘In Praise of Darkness’, in which she highlights that she feels her life is more like the waxing and waning of the moon, rather than the steady light of the sun. We are often afraid of the (real and metaphorical) dark but:
Instead, I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.
We live in a world, however, where we seek to be distracted from the dark, learning from “gurus” how to be happy, how to eat/buy, etc. in order to shut out the darkness, rather than learning the lessons that it has to teach us. Taylor also indicates that there are theological problems with seeking to polarise light and dark (as most church liturgy does), identifying God with the sunny side of life, and leaving you on your own in the difficult times… tucking away those things out of sight, rather than dealing with (e.g. depression) in any meaningful sort of way. Such positive churches are brilliantly life-affirming when all is going well, but when things go wrong, you’ll be told “God won’t give you more than you can handle“, etc., and church won’t seem to be a place of refuge.
“The term pneumatology comes from two Greek words, namely, pneuma meaning “wind,” “breath,” or “spirit” (used of the Holy Spirit) and logos meaning “word,” “matter,” or “thing.” As it is used in Christian systematic theology, “pneumatology” refers to the study of the biblical doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Generally this includes such topics as the personality of the Spirit, the deity of the Spirit, and the work of the Spirit throughout Scripture.” https://bible.org/seriespage/4-pneumatology-holy-spirit
Pinnock, Clark. Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit.
Understandingthe anointing of the spirit is more central than much theological study makes it. The Spirit was visible in all of Jesus’ life and mission – he was anointed, and a man of the Spirit.
Logos Christology has ‘towered’ over other interpretations, the divine word became flesh.
Spirit Christology – views Christ as an aspect of the Spirit’s mission, rather than the Spirit as part of Christs.
“The Almighty has inserted himself into history and humanity in Jesus – as weak, powerless and dependent on the Spirit – in order to become what we were meant to be, the communion of God and humanity. By the Spirit he has also become through resurrection the first fruits of the new humanity.” (p81)
Jesus coming opened a dfoor for humanity to enter God’s presence – transformed and glorified – unity with God, which is the destiny of creation
The Spirit is not subordinate to the Son, the two are partners in the redemptive process.
Luke, in describing the birth of Jesus, describes the Spirit of God hovering over Mary – reminders of the Spirit brooding over the waters of creation. (Lk 1:35). The Spirit has aways been present/working in the world. Jesus offered the same grace that has always been there, but is being explicitly offered – unambiguously.
Creator Spirit? Brought forth intelligenct creations for communication and fellowship with God – capable of appreciating more dimensions of the sound. The Spirit is working to orient people towards the ‘mystery of divine love’.
(p84) As shown in the story of the prodical son. “Love is not forced on the beloved, who is allowed freedom to make his own choices, even if it means siding with the darkness.” In having ;allowed’ evil, God made salvation available, creating hope, reissuring an invitation to glory. We can see evidence of the Spirit in the Old Testament – rescuing Israel from danger and distress again and again. Jesus in coming to earth made himself as dependent on the Spirit as everyone that he was living with[and us].
Jesus rarely spoke about the Spirit, but demonstrated its reality (rather than developing a doctrine). The conception of Jesus was an act of new creation. There is a fresh start for humanity, restored into communion with God.
Baptism of the Spirit in water … baptism … Noah and Jesus’ anointing – see the spiritual and the physical flowing together. Jesus’ time of temptation – the Spirit led him down the path of suffering, as with us, not “let” to avoid it. Jesus was only able to resist temptation because of his dependency on the Holy Spirit (was not play-acting, or living as a God = fully human) – modelling a lifestuyle of faith and trust for us all. Defining Kenosis: “He emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.”.
The Spirit enabled Jesus to live within the limits of human nature – to be ‘truly human’, rather than drawing on divine attributes. The Spirit was clearly with Jesus in his Ministry – providing healting – “a God who wills human wholeness”, setting people frree from entrapment, bringing hope, and liberating relationships. Because the relationship between the Spirit and Jesus is so critical, those who dismiss/discredit it (or see it as Satanic) are judged harshly. Miracles, etc. were not performed to impress, but for salvation of the body and soul – demonstrating the entrance of the Kingdom into the present. Jesus’ activities of liberation were powerful, but a threat to the status quo – leading to the Cross, where Jesus had to rely on the Spirit to get him through, and the Spriit enabled the Resurrection.
Spirit/Logo Christology are complementary, not antiethical. Logos = the Person, Spirit = his work. Neither are subordinate to the other, but reciprocal.
Why did the outpouring of the Spirit/Pentecost wait until Jesus’ death? “End time salvation could not come into play until this mission was completed and this representation had taken place.” Salvation == becoming one person with Christ, dying with him to sin and sharing the promise of his resurrection. Jesus’ death was an act of atonement that includes us (not excludes) rather than replaces us. “Christ became what we are in order that we might become what he is.” It can hard to grasp that Christ came to stand alongside us, as we tend towards individualistic thinking. Others act on our behalf all the time – e.g. govt leaders.
Soteriology is the study of the doctrine of salvation. Soteriology discusses how Christ’s death secures the salvation of those who believe. It helps us to understand the doctrines of redemption, justification, sanctification, propitiation, and the substitutionary atonement. http://www.gotquestions.org/Soteriology.html#ixzz3L1QCYiYB
Theologically – “once we grasp the fact that we are saved by Christ’s life, we may be open to fresh thinking about how we are saved by his death.” (p99). Too much theology focuses on the idea that we are saved byChrist’s DEATH on the Cross, whereas it’s his resurrection that saves us… his power OVER death. Both sin and death are problems for humankind, because death entered the world with sin. The RESURRECTION is not just proof of God’s divinity, but cause for salvation and transformation as we share life with him.
“We were created in the image of God, with a view to growing into the likeness of God”. Lost with Adam, Christ restores this likeness., is our representative on the journey.
(p101) “Humans are open to the future. They make plans and strive to realize goals. But we are mortal, and ultimately the future lies in God’s hands.”
Representation/solidarity – God entered deeply into the human situation to overcome all our alienation. Spirit Christology – centralises resurrection – conceptulise the cross as recapitulation, and give the Spirit back the world of atonement.
Popular view sees Father as Judge and Son as victim, rather than understanding that this was a united action.. the enemy defeated by an act of defenceless love. Jesus did not give himself as an appeasement, but surrendered himself to God on our behalf. C.S. Lewis spoke of Christ as the carrier of good infection – we need to get close enough to catch the virus of new life. Delicate topic = “divine wrath” – but Christ was both victim and victor on the Cross. Strange theologically as grace then appears conditional upon penal satisfaction… but it was the Father who took the initiative in reconciling the world. Jesus was not the solitary victim but representative of the whole of Adam’s race.
Vindictive anger … no … God’s saving action = serving grace. The Cross and resurrection is a trinitatarian event. Doesn’t discount http://www.theopedia.com/Penal_substitutionary_atonement, but wants to raise the question of a judge that loves us and desires our friendship – the two can work together.
Fee, Gordon D. Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God. (Chapter 2 ‘ God Revisits his People.’
[Interesting in a digital age] – presence (what people miss, and what cannot be taken place by any form of media (phone calls, photos, etc) – for shared life, loved ones need to be present. God made us in his own image because he is a personal, relationship being – we have lost our vision of God, and therefore our relationship with God. For Paul – the coming of Christ/the Spirit changed this forever. The Spirit represents both continuity and discontinuity between the old and new covenants. The Bible focuses a lot on Presence – from Genesis to Revelation – The Israelites saw themselves as a people of Presence, among whom God had chosen to dwell on earth. Old Testament = Tabernacle/Temple = where God is seen as most Present. The Fall of Jerusalem – lost the presence of God in their midst. For Paul it was important that this was seen as the Holy Spirit.
If people reject Paul’s call to holy living, they are essentially rejecting the Holy Spirit in the New Testament – as this is where the New Covenant is. .. the Holy Spirit will indwell in individuals – who are the new temple(s)? The gathered/corporate church is God’s temple in the community = incredibly important.
Hellenistic dualism – understanding amongst the Corinthians about the distinctions between physical, material reality and the immaterial, invisible realm – the human spirit not affected by what is happening with the body. God, however, created us in his image – in body as well as spriit. We have been purchased by God, and therefore minds/bodies are not their own to do with as they please. The Spirit filled life is not just contemplation, but the ethical life that the Spirit produces. The Spirit has removed the veil – between us and God, so that we can face the glory of God in full. We are in the image of God in the ‘now but not yet”.
The Spirit is not an impersonal force or influence or power – it is the fulfilment of the promise that God would once again be present with his people. Do we therefore need to downplay the impersonal images of wind & fire, etc and think instead of the Spirit as the personal presence of the eternal God.
Session 5.1: The Spirit in the Gospels
Jesus doesn’t have a God-switch to turn on e.g. miracles – he does his works through the Holy Spirit as he is fully man. Jesus wants us to know that it’s to our advantage to go away… if we wanted to meet him face-to-face we may be able to meet with him once in our lifetime, queing with billions of others – because the Holy Spirit means that He lives in each of us individually.
Session 5.2: The Holy Spirit Given
We will go on to be God’s representatives within the world – looking at various readings from Acts to show how the Holy Spirit of God can be received by all.
Session 5:3: The Spirit’s Love Gifts
Some of the gifts include actual people? (Ephesians) These people are sent to help equip us and train us to represent God. Ministries (1 Cor), Spirit’s graces (Romans). The Holy Spirit characters – love above all (1 Cor) and fruits of the spirit (Galations). If not giving to the poor/information/knowledge, etc. but if it’s not done through love, it’s pointless. Fruits of the Spirit are more than ‘emotions’. The character of Christ imparted to us as we grow – so we can deal with those we don’t like, want to hit, etc. but still deal gently and lovingly with them.
Session 5.4: The Spirit in Luke and Paul
We are given the Holy Spirit at conversation as a gift of the New Covenant, (baptismal) although Pentecostals would note a ‘second blessing’ for those who were already believers. The Holy Spirit as character, but also ‘being filled with’ (is it given, came upon, them, received it, , etc.) .
Session 5.5: The Spirit and Christian Identity
The Nicene Creed – we believe in the Holy Spirit (the triune God). In some churches known as a troublemaker, in heaven he’s known as God. When I’m praying, am I praying as me, or is the Spirit praying – once we can’t tell, that’s a good place to be. Is our flesh in communion with God’s spirit, or in communion with the world? We have each been anointed, and have the teacher within us… relationship not mediated through the Bible, priests, etc (which may help), but within you. 1 John 2 – identifying discernment. There are Christians or false prophets – as all Christians have the prophetic Christian spirit within them.
Today’s email has a call to be vulnerable, to be fully incarnate (part of the world) …
When the Word becomes flesh and lives among us, we see this in action, in the practical wonder of Incarnation. God is willing not just to touch but to be touched by humanity. Cradled, nurtured, raised. He will laugh, and weep; love, and be scarred. Heal.
Being part of this may not be easy … but head out and look at the moon – it’s the same moon that Jesus looked at..
I love the way this first chapter has been written, as a life story (and I’m always a bit of a sucker for those), knowing that ‘today’ she has met the Light of the World.
Anna, an old lady, widowed early, who sits in the Temple day and night (seen as a bit of a ‘crazy’), waiting for ‘the light’ to reach her – initially the sunlight, for which she waits, allowing herself to bathe in its presence … but she knows that she is waiting for something larger.
She sees that many come to the Temple seeing it as the destination, but she dreams that they will understand (or simply remember) that it was built to point to something greater, and not for its own sake.
She speaks of ‘today’, an ordinary day, in which a tired looking couple come in to have their firstborn male brought for the purification ritual. Simeon, who has been waiting for the fulfilment of a prophecy, now knows that his wait is over – he has seen the salvation of God, and the fulfilment of God’s promises to the whole world.
Jesus is described as the light – burning more brightly than the sun, which won’t burn us but kindle the fire in our hearts “a light that warms and consoles, illuminates and cheers” .. defeating all darkness… shining within us and revealing everything.
Anna sees what is to come for Jesus, the sorrows and the shadows, but she grieves that although many see her as the mad old woman shouting praises to God, that they won’t see the miracle in front of them. She talks of hurts and regrets remaining, but that they have been “illuminated, integrated and healed.” After such a meeting, the days following cannot be the same…
Brian Draper, on his #advent20 course, is also dealing with questions of dark and light, although with a particular encouragement to become comfortable with the dark (which Anna did in the Temple at night) – with a challenge to remove as much artificial light as possible and see what we notice, also noticing that in difficult circumstances (e.g. grief), the light that does shine through is even more powerful.
I can remember once, in prayer, soon after being diagnosed with depression, seeing a black night sky, in which one lone star twinkled as if this was the hope to cling on to… faith small as a mustard seed is enough.
Brian describes how we often view the dark as ‘bad’, but the light as ‘good’, but:
We need darkness. Imagine if there were no sunsets, no chance to see the last colours of the afternoon flare and fade, or to feel the first cool breeze of the evening after a hot day, or to see the first star glimmering, or to sink into the luxurious depths of pitch-dark sleep.
He then goes on to talk about Moses meeting God on Mount Sinai, when a dark cloud envelops the mountain, obscuring the presence of God, because he’s too much for us to see uncovered. The photo above was taken on Christmas Morning, from the top of Mount Sinai (which I’d climbed over night), as the sun rise … a special experience .. but we’d had to “stumble” through the dark first .. but with our guides leading the way (they seemed to know the uncrowded, but potentially slightly more difficult route).
Also – look out for opportunities for #GivingTuesday (doesn’t need to be cash, suggestions include hugs, encouragements, etc.)
Also checking out @love_theology.
If you’ve never joined an online book club, well, there’s still time. Pam Webster has pulled together material for #adventbookclub, drawing on Stephen Cottrell’s Walking Backwards to Christmas, published by SPCK.
I have written in the diary to read a chapter every couple of days, but last night I read the introduction. Recently I went to see Simon Callow in That Man Jesus, a one man play that uses the voices of those associated with Jesus to tell the story of Jesus. This was the first thought that came to mind as Stephen Cottrell mentioned that he wanted to retell the Christmas story, telling the story ‘backwards’, through the voices of the different characters involved in the drama of that day.
We become so familiar with “The Christmas story”, that we forget what it’s all about, so I’m hoping with this book to be challenged into seeing the story afresh (in both its light and dark elements) as we move through Advent, and love the promise that we’ll get ‘underneath the skin’ of the story and begin to see ourselves in it.
Meantime, daily, I will be also be reading Brian Draper’s Advent 20, which today encourages us 2-3 times per day to:
1. Stop. Bring yourself to a halt. A proper one. Be still.
2. Relax. Notice if you’ve any physical tension, and let your body relax.
3. Breathe. A little more slowly and deeply. It will reconnect you.
4. Smile. This is a good and important thing you’re doing.
Today we’re encouraged to take some time to ‘be in the dark’ (if possible getting away from light pollution), as we await the light.