Lechlade

Breakfast is served a couple of steps away across a stone-paved courtyard.

DailyToast

Lechlade is a delightful Cotswold town on the River Thames; in fact, it sits close to the highest navigable point and the Thames and Severn Canal joins the Thames at Inglesham Lock, just slightly further upstream.

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We stayed in a tiny apartment called ‘The Hayloft‘. Downstairs contains a double bed and an easy chair, upstairs has a loo, hand basin and a shower. Simple and very, very tiny, but really all you need if you’re planning to be out all day as we were. Breakfast is included in the price (we had two nights) and is served in ‘Vera’s Kitchen‘ a couple of steps away across a stone-paved courtyard. The food was lovely; I chose their ‘Cotswold Full English’ which was delicious and kept me going all day. They offer plenty of lighter alternatives.

The photo above is a typical scene, the living green of trees and gardens contrasting with the honey and brick of the buildings and also with the modern traffic in the old streets. We enjoyed our stay in this hospitable little corner of the Cotswolds. There are pleasant walks, pub lawns running down to the river, and some nice places to eat.

Keeping up the momentum

There’s a real need to put what you are learning into practice. It needs to move from being head knowledge to being something you do.

JDMC

This post is the latest in a series of extracts from Jesus, Disiple, Mission, Church (JDMC).

Don’t lose what you have discovered [about discipeship] in this part of the guide. Spend time praying about how you should respond (Matthew 6:6-8); listen to the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). Write down what you hear from him and record any significant thoughts, ideas or plans you have. And spread the benefits; if you found this session useful, encourage others to try it too.

As with every section of this guide, there’s a real need to put what you are learning into practice. It needs to move from being head knowledge to being something you do. In fact, it will work much better the other way round; begin with some doing and the head knowledge will gradually crystallise.

So don’t spend too much time theorising and planning. Make some simple choices and get started. There are some ideas in the notes [in JDMC], but often, the most relevant ideas may be those you think up for yourselves.

Discuss – Is anything holding you back? If so identify it and deal with it. If not, go and make a start on the activities you decided on!

(Extract from JDMC, Two – Becoming disciples)

Further thoughts – Overthinking can be a real sticking point. I know because I do this myself all the time. If you do something simple but practical to go deeper as a disciple and to start others on the discipleship journey, you will feel encouraged and empowered to do more. If you just think about it today, you’ll just think about it again tomorrow, and the day after; you’ll become discouraged and less likely to make a start.

The essence of discipleship is to become, little by little, more like Jesus. A disciple is a person in the process of being conformed into the image of Christ. This is a challenge, but it’s an exciting challenge. It’s a journey towards a goal and it’s a journey with a purpose. If I am becoming more Christlike, I am helping the people I interact with every day grasp something of his nature. And engaging people in that way opens many opportunities for conversation and mission. Isn’t that exactly how Jesus reached and touched people?

Bad Shepherds

We have been lost sheep, our shepherds have led us astray, our shepherds caused us to … wander, to forget our own resting place

FaithOrKnowledge

What do you think of when you read the words ‘bad shepherds’? Perhaps you imagine a man with a crook lying asleep in the shade while the sheep wander off. Or you might think of a man with a dog, hitting the sheep with a long stick to make them go in the right direction.

Bad shepherds are mentioned in Jeremiah 50 beginning at verse 6. Yahweh, the mighty Lord of Israel is speaking to the prophet Jeremiah and he says,

My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray and caused them to roam on the mountains. They wandered over mountain and hill and forgot their own resting place. Whoever found them devoured them; their enemies said, ‘We are not guilty, for they sinned against Yahweh, their verdant pasture, Yahweh, the hope of their ancestors’.

Shepherd(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The people had been in captivity in Babylon when Jeremiah heard this message, and out of that terrible situation they would cry tearfully to Yahweh; and these verses were part of his response. Israel had begun very much in Yahweh’s presence, they were his chosen people. But they had done so much wrong that he had expelled them from the land and sent them into captivity. When Paul wrote in Colossians 1:27, ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’ (and it’s a plural ‘you’), he was repurposing a Jewish prayer. The Jews of his day were praying for the Shekinah glory of the Presence of Yahweh to return to the Holy place in the Jerusalem Temple. This was ‘the hope of glory’ that Paul refers to. But the glory would no longer rest in the Holy place in the Temple, from now on it would rest in the ekklesia, the church.

The church began really well and will end well, she is the wife, the Bride of the Lamb (Revelation 21:1-4). She is chosen, not just as individuals but as a body, all of us together. Do you think the church has also been sent into captivity? What is our ‘Babylon’? Just think, what began as a joyful, exuberant, free, living expression of new life in Christ has so often become solemn, restrained, enslaved to ritual and tradition and seemingly dry and dead. We have become fractured into many denominations so are no longer ‘one body’.

The solution for the church today is the same as the solution for Israel in Jeremiah’s day. We must ‘go in tears to seek’ Jesus our Lord and King (Jeremiah 50:4). We must ask the way back and turn our faces towards it; we must come and  renew the bond we have to him and not forget (verse 5).

We have been lost sheep, our shepherds have led us astray, our shepherds caused us to roam on the mountains, to wander, to forget our own resting place (verse 6). It’s time to turn back to Jesus alone, to follow him, to hear his voice and do his bidding. There is a reason that he said, ‘I am the good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. I know my sheep and my sheep know me’ (John 10:11, 14).

But please don’t hear what I am not saying. I am not saying there is no place in church for leaders, just that there is no place for bad shepherds. And I’m not saying that that we should fill in the structural cracks of denominationalism in our own strength, instead we should all make sure we’re connected with the Head so that through him we will all be part of one network. He has a plan for the church that will work, I don’t and neither do you. He said, ‘I will build my church’; and he will!

A Royal Scarecrow

The inhabitants of Thorganby knew that Her Majesty would be amused.

DailyToast

Just over a month ago I was in the North Yorkshire village of Thorganby; it was during the celebrations for the Queen’s 90th birthday and many of the gardens had been decorated with scarecrows on this theme. There were some great examples, this one is not necessarily the best but it is certainly typical.

Scarecrow

It seems to me that royal scarecrows display the British at their very best. There’s something self-deprecatingly UK about the royal scarecrows. Try this in almost any other country (substitute President for Queen if required) and it might be regarded as offensive, disloyal, and even a crime.

But the inhabitants of Thorganby knew that Her Majesty would be amused by their scarecrows. It’s just so very British  to mix fun and occasion in ways that other nations tend not to do. Do you remember the start of the 2012 Olympic Games in London? If not, see the highlights again on YouTube, or even the entire thing if you like.

Maybe now, in this time of change and uncertainty following a referendum vote to leave the EU, we can just stop for a moment and remember that there’s plenty of good stuff going on as well. If you live in these islands where Royal scarecrows are an example of our unique quirkiness, smile! If you live elsewhere but love this aspect of our culture, smile! And if you think we’re just plain mad, you are entitled to your opinion. We’d probably use the word ‘bonkers’ for that.

(You can see earlier ‘Daily Toast’ articles at toast.scilla.org.uk)

 

Be active from the start and stay active

Get stuck right in with the business of making disciples and growing in discipleship.

JDMC

This post is the latest in a series of extracts from Jesus, Disiple, Mission, Church (JDMC). Find earlier posts at jdmc.scilla.org.uk.

Get stuck right in with the business of making disciples and growing in discipleship. (Acts 14:21-22) Don’t wait. Be active right from the start. Then reflect together, pray together and celebrate what Jesus is doing amongst you and around you. What went well? What might have been done better? What can you learn?

Keep going around this loop – action, reflection – action, reflection – do and grow. This can be very helpful, giving people a chance to experiment and learn about strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Coaching can steer you through the process. It’s much like sports coaching. Coaches should aim to empower, equip and energise Christ-like growth. You might need help to find or train suitable coaches, but it will be worthwhile.

Discuss – Do you see the value of reflecting on your successes and failures? Have you started doing this yet?

(Extract from JDMC, Two – Becoming disciples)

Further thoughts – Sometimes making disciples may be a one-to-one affair, sometimes it might be part of a journey with a group of people. You are likely to find that opportunities will present themselves and it’s just a matter of recognising them and taking a step in faith. As you encourage others to walk this path with Jesus, you will find yourself growing too.

The sticking point for many is likely to be right at the beginning – making a start.

Faith or knowledge?

If the Universe was brought into being by a deliberate creative act, then the nature of of the Creator will have left its stamp on what he made.

FaithOrKnowledge

There’s a big question out there, and it’s a question many are afraid to ask. Is scientific knowledge subject to faith, or is faith subject to knowledge? I put the question that way because few people seem to think they are compatible, let alone complementary.

Putting faith ahead of knowledge results in claims that evolution is false because it runs counter to the teaching of the Bible. And we can replace ‘evolution’ in that statement with ‘cosmology’, ‘geology’ and other scientific disciplines. But starting with scientific knowledge also results in difficulties, some scientists claim that atheism is an essential conclusion and there is no need to think in terms of a Creator.

Instead, let’s accept that there are organisations like the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion in Cambridge, England that represent the views of many scientists who are also Christians. The two need not be in opposition at all. What follows is my own, personal view and perhaps a way forward.

The Universe tells us about the Creator – Let’s begin by considering that if the Universe was brought into being by a deliberate creative act, then the nature of of the Creator will have left its stamp on what he made. It’s easy to see this is true for creative people. Whether we consider prose, poetry, painting, film directing, musical composition, musical performance, photography, architecture or design of physical products, we can often identify the person behind the work because their personality and style are there for all to see. Most of us could look at three paintings, one by Renoir, one by Constable and one by Picasso, and immediately say which artist created which work. A skilled and experienced art critic could make far finer judgements, not only about an artist’s identity but probably his approximate age at the time the work was produced.

In the same way, Papa’s hand and style are very much present in what he has made. For example, the Universe contains many events that are random and unpredictable. Given twenty atoms of a radioactive isotope, nobody can tell in advance the  sequence in which those atoms will decay. But the Universe also follows patterns or rules. If we know which isotope we are dealing with we can predict roughly how long it will take for ten to decay, and that it will be about the same amount of time again until there are only five remaining. The Universe is full of unpredictability on the one hand and predictability on the other. It has rules, yet chance events play an important role as well.

Science is the best way we have of discovering the rules that govern our Universe. Maths and science also allow us to understand the uncertainties it contains.So people who believe in a Creator (as I do) can conclude that he uses both randomness and rules to build the natural world and either finds them useful features or perhaps even essential. So surely we should use science to better understand the nature of the One who is behind everything. Alongside all of this, the Bible brings information about his spiritual nature – that he is holy, invisible, powerful, omnipresent. And above all, the Bible tells us that he is defined primarily by his love.

Faith and knowledge – I hope you will agree that if we are to fully appreciate and understand the Almighty, we must draw from both faith and knowledge. Our understanding of the Universe does not depend on the Bible, it depends on what we see all around us. And our understanding of the Bible doesn’t depend on our understanding of the Universe, but on a hard-to-define spiritual awareness that is available to everyone who will search for it.

There are two potential errors here for the unwary; both are serious and both are common.

  1. We should not try to predetermine what the Universe will tell us by studying the Bible.
  2. We should not limit the spiritual truth of the Bible by invoking science.

For the fullest understanding of the nature of the the Almighty (and of ourselves), we must draw from the Bible for spiritual truth and from science for physical truth.

Essential kenosis – A recent book by Thomas Jay Oord explores the Creator’s nature in depth and is well-argued and very readable. If you want to go deeper with this topic I heartily recommend his work, ‘The Uncontrolling Love of God‘. He argues strongly for what he calls ‘essential kenosis’, and the idea that love is Papa’s most fundamental characteristic while his power comes second. And this explains a lot about pain and suffering, evil, and Father’s apparent inability or unwillingness to prevent bad things happening.