Thursday, May 25, 2006

funeral spirituality

I went to a funeral yesterday. These can be sad events, particularly when you are a close friend or family member and you feel the death has been an untimely one. I don't want to minimise the grief at a funeral in this posting. But in the last six months I have been to three funerals where something else happens. I find that I walk away with my life renewed with hope and a kind of destiny. These three funerals celebrated the lives of saints who lived their lives fully for Jesus.

As I drove home, I asked myself what it is in a funeral that finds me responding like this. Here is what I have come up with so far...

(a) Ecclesiastes 7:2 is right - "It IS better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting" - because a funeral makes me pause and think about life, while a party makes me rush and forget about life. A funeral works for me like a spiritual retreat does for others. I find I recalibrate my life at the funeral of a saint.

(b) The eyes well-up and overflow at funerals - repeatedly. My heart gets so soft. I love it! Soft hearts are good hearts. They can be remoulded. It is the hard, stony heart - the one that remains unmoved at the funeral of a saint - where the real sadness lies. So yes - I have in mind a grandchild giving a tribute OR the spouse anticipating loneliness ... but I also find myself softened by words which describe the person's enduring commitment to Jesus through the obstacles that life brings. It makes me more determined to follow their example. So I guess it softens my heart and steels my mind at the same time.

(c) I love 'eulogies' - those 'good words' about the person. I love hearing about what made a person tick. Their priorities? Their loves? Their joys? Their dreams? Their struggles? Their idiosyncracies? It may sound a bit self-absorbed, but I do find that I encourage younger people to live their lives with the eulogy at their own funeral in mind. Make it their objective to live such a godly life that there is too much to say at the funeral. I say this to myself as well...

(d) I love the hymns that get sung at funerals. They contain a theology that we do not tend to sing about today ... and as we tend to get our theology from what we sing, they reflect themes that are missing in the life of the church today. Hope? Suffering? Second Coming? Shall I go on....???? Our singing today tends to be so escapist and so full of over-hyped statements of our committment to God. There is a brand of hymns - often those sung at funerals of saints - that are so engaged and so full of God's commitment to us. Yesterday it was "It is well with my soul". I consider it a scandal that we do not sing more of these hymns in the church today. We are such chronological snobs - so besotted with the contemporary and the new. (I feel another blog posting coming on with this one...)

Yes, I believe in a funeral spirituality. I believe in taking every opportunity to attend the funeral of a saint, opening up my life to their life and allowing God to speak to me.

For the record I'd like to thank the families of Jack (JP) Turner (whose funeral was on his 90th birthday!); May Conway; and then just yesterday, Doug Hewlett (whose funeral was on his 66th birthday!). Their lives have impacted me for good and for God.

nice chatting

Paul

Sunday, May 21, 2006

? and !

I notice that the response to The Da Vinci Code seems to focus on the 'fact OR fiction' choice. I remain unconvinced that this is the core issue. Some is fact. Some is fiction. But like the movie JFK, the difficulty is not that some is fact and some is fiction but in knowing which is which. The line between the two is difficult to draw as there is this seamless movement between the two. And so what happens is that a cloud of uncertainty settles in over everything - even the facts! The really real begins to be doubted. The truly true begins to crumble. People begin to hold their convictions like they are holding fog.
I see this all the time. People have heaps of questions. That's good. Creating a safe place to ask hard questions is an essential feature of Christian community today. The ?s must not be dismissed...
However, something must keep flowing alongside the ?s. These are the affirmations, the things we know for sure. The !s... I am alarmed by how much conversation among Christians focuses on what we do not know, rather than on what we do know.

Here are three ways in which I like to respond to this:
(a) I like the content and structure of a hymn. Each verse opens up with 'I cannot tell' (or, 'I don't understand') ... but then further down, half way through each verse comes the same response each time: 'But this I know' (or, 'I am sure'; 'I rest my life on this'; 'I am convinced of this'). This mirrors life. Up front there are so many things that we just don't know (the ?s), but deeper than these things - every single time - are things we do know (the !s). This is how life needs to be lived. We recognise that these two coexist - but we learn to live with one deeper down than the other.
(b) I like to keep an eye out for the things that the Bible tells us that 'we know'. I save these passages and go over them again and again. Here are a few for the eager among you: Deuteronomy 7:7-9; Psalm 100 and Psalm 139; Isaiah 40 (particularly the closing verses); Job 19:25-27; Jeremiah 29:10-14; Ecclesiastes 11; all of John's gospel and all of 1 John (they are full of things we know to be true); Romans 5:1-5; 8:18-39; 1 Corinthians 13:8-13; 15:58; 2 Corinthians 5:1-11; 8:9; Ephesians 1:15-23; 2 Timothy 1:12...
(c) Always remember that the 'magic' in the Christian life begins not so much with the fact that I can know God, but that I am known by God.

We need to let these !s be an antidote to the ?s which things like the Da Vinci Code spark and spread through our lives.

nice chatting

Paul

Monday, May 15, 2006

40 Days of P...

I'd love to see every devotee of the 40 Days of Purpose resource move on to a 40 Days of Pluralism resource (which does not yet exist, as far as I know!). This is the P-word where the biggest challenge lies for followers of Jesus today. Pluralism considers that there are multiple roads up the mountain to God and no one road has the 'right of way'... and certainly not Christianity!!
With new religions in our schools, new ethnicites in our suburbs, new spiritualities in our cafes and that old tolerance rated as the highest virtue in the land ... articulating a case for the uniqueness of Jesus' person and the sufficiency of Jesus' work on the cross is an ability that every follower of Jesus needs to have. However my sense is that churches are filling the 'too-hard' basket with this stuff and just ignoring this the biggest challenge of all.

Let me try and make a start. Here is an outline of my first 4 Days of Pluralism:

Day One: live the tension
Jesus is described as being 'full of grace and full of truth'. This is something at which we aim. Gracious, always gracious with people (like Jesus) ... but not always gracious with people's ideas (like Jesus) - because we are committed to truth. All human beings can be equally valuable without all human ideas being equally valid. A follower of Jesus in a pluralist world will find that an occasional gracious intolerance must mark their lives.

Day Two: switch the lens
We all live with a worldview, a way of looking at the world. This worldview operates a bit like a lens as it shades all that we see. A lens is something we look 'through', not something we look 'at'. Pluralism provides such a lens for people - and so does the Bible (see my earlier blog on 'the chairs'). Whatever it is in which we soak our lives, that is what will tend to provide our lens on life. I submit to you that the vast majority of followers of Jesus are soaking more in a world drenched with pluralism than they are in a world absorbed with the Bible and the Jesus it reveals. In other words, they are looking 'through' pluralism 'at' the Bible. They need to switch lenses and look 'through' the Bible 'at' pluralism. How do you do this, you may ask? Don't get me started!! Systematic biblical preaching & serious theological training is where it starts with this one...

Day Three: sow the seed
We need to go on the offensive a bit. It is not just about that more defensive "always give a reason for the hope that you have (1Peter3:15)" approach. There is also the more offensive "prepare your minds for action (1Peter1:13)" approach. The key to this offense? Ask questions from the couch; don't make exclamations from the soap box. Sow seeds of doubt. Probe for weaknesses in the pluralist's approach. There are many. What are they? Maybe you can suggest some... Some of those most intolerant people of all are the defenders of tolerance!

Day Four: fly the flag
I fear that followers of Jesus are too burdened by this challenge. The intellectual stuff is beyond us, so we hibernate. The intimidation stuff is too scary for us, so we freeze. No! No! No! Pluralism makes a space for Christianity. Its kinda like the Blossom Festival in Alexandra each year. We have our own float in the parade of religions. We need to fill that space, adorn that float, with all that we are. Fly the flag! Get the focus on Jesus (not religion, or church, or Christianity) and then boldly bear witness to him in the best way we can. With our mouths. With our choices. With our attitudes. The Spirit can do the rest. Our job is primarily to witness, not to win. We can all bear witness. And if people think it is foolishness or it is offensive OR we suffer a bit for doing so - so be it! The New Testament teaches us to expect that response.

There you go - 36 more days to go! With your help, maybe it will be a best-seller!

nice chatting

Paul

Thursday, May 04, 2006

... and chairs

The Bible is a remarkable book. Written by dozens of authors. Utilising heaps of different genre(narrative, letters, proverbs...). And the writing takes place over hundreds of years. So diverse!BUT the story from Genesis to Revelation is just the one story. It is God's story. It is God's way of making sense of the world. It provides 'the true story of the whole world' (Tom Wright). It is God's worldview. It is a view of the world which we need to grow into sharing with him. It needs to become the lens through which we live all of life.

My final message with these young adults over Easter raised this issue of worldview. Following a few paragraphs in a book by John Stott, I suggested that this diverse, but single, story we know as the Bible can be summed up in four words: the good, the bad, the new, the perfect. The story has four chapters...

The 'good' captures all the richness of Genesis 1 & 2. Design. Order. Purpose. The relationships: within the Godhead, God and humans, male and female, humanity and world... The Image of God. It is a couple of chapters packed with concentrated truths all pointing towards the goodness of the original design.

The 'bad' captures Gen 3 and beyond (right into the present day, in fact) and the stain of sin. Human beings make bad choices: 'those made by God like God and for God, begin to live without God.' Evil. Guilt. Death. Suffering. Alienation. Confusion. Meaninglessness. 'Groaning' of creation. The relationships are broken. Everything gets 'out of sync'. The Old Testament is full of contracts being made between God and humans - but none of them can do the job.

The 'new' is needed. It arrives in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. The restoration begins! New birth. New covenant. New people. New creation. The impact of the bad is reversed through the work of the cross: reconciling, justifying, redeeming, cleansing ... (on and on the rich vocabulary flows). With Jesus' ascension to heaven, the Spirit is left behind to continue this work.

But what has already begun in Christ does not come fully until the 'perfect' comes. This is our certain hope. A time of no tears, no death, no pain, no decay, no brokenness ... This is what keeps us longing and waiting and trusting and groaning and thirsting. Jesus will return to judge the world and restore creation.

That is the true story of the world. This is the gospel. It is God's worldview! It needs to be one we share. I like to use four chairs to illustrate this. Each named with one of the four words. Take any issue you like (for example, self-esteem) - you can go and sit and linger in each chair, considering the issue from each chair's perspective. Then when the chairs are taken together we get close to God's full perspective on the issue - and the one we need to have: a biblical worldview.

I like to play a few games with the chairs. For example, taking individual chairs away - each one in turn. How are these 'three-chaired' stories inadequate? Where are they present among young adults today? Or, the danger of getting stuck in one chair... Or, in which directions do the chairs face in relation to each other...


Anyhow - that is a longish (sorry!) summary of my burden for Jesus-following young adults today. They face such massive challenges...
ONE door: my burden for their accurate understanding of salvation and conversion. TWO axes: my burden which longs to see them keep tensions alive as they live for Jesus in this world. THREE medicine balls (or really the genius of the triangle): my burden associated with the way they form their identity - 'you do not know who you are until you know Whose you are'. FOUR chairs: my burden to see them live life through a distinctively biblical worldview, thereby sharing with God (their Maker and Redeemer, afterall!!) his way of making sense of the world.

nice chatting

Paul