2 Chron 36:14-23; Eph 2:4-10 & John 6:4-15

What does Mercy look like to you. Do you have an image of what mercy entails? What do we mean and expect from God when we say in our Liturgy “Lord Have Mercy Upon Us?” How would you define mercy? The dictionary defines mercy as having compassion or forgiveness toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.

 

The misconception is that to show mercy is passive only. That it is a THOUGHT – a mental ascent – I will forgive / have compassion on someone.

 

That is not a biblical understanding of mercy. Mercy is not about being passive. In fact, with God, it’s just the opposite – God’s mercy is about action – and sometimes intense action.

 

Our reading from 2 Chronicles is an example of this. Israel is God’s chosen people; the people through whom the promise of God will come to all humanity. Yet his people have walked away from the ways of God. Being God’s people is more than a status – it is more than just being THE PEOPLE – it requires obedience – an obedience to God’s ways, no more and no less. So God, in his mercy, sends messenger after messenger to his people – prophet after prophet – to tell the people to change  – to turn back to him.

 

My first encouragement to you this morning is that God’s mercy is patient.

 

How patient is he with us? How patient is he with his church? Outrageously patient. Our reading from 2 Chronicles shows us how restrained God is. The religious leaders of Israel, the priests and the officers were unfaithful to God and this has meant that the people are also unfaithful. The nation from the top down had turned away from the creator God. They had not just turned away from God – they had begun to follow all the abominations of the nations.

 

How patient has God been with you and I – when we get it wrong when we ignore him, when we fail to do the things he has asked of us? Infinitely. He has not judged us as we deserve time and time again.

 

One of the prophets sent to tell the Israelites to return to God is Jeremiah. He becomes a lone voice – a minority against the huge majority who are defying God.

 

To be in the majority does not mean you are right your thinking or position  – the majority can be wrong – just as being in a minority does not mean you are wrong or mis-guided. A minority in scripture often has another name – a remnant; God’s people who stood against the tide of unfaithfulness to him.

 

God is patient.

 

But God’s mercy does not remain patient.

 

The people do not listen. What a dangerous place to put oneself – ignoring the words, the commands, the pleading and the petition of the living God.

 

The consequence is that God sends Babylon against Israel. Jerusalem is destroyed and the people of God sent into exile for a generation – 70 years.

 

Has God’s mercy ended?

 

No. But how can sending an army to destroy the nation of Israel and send them into exile be merciful?

 

When we persistently ignore God he will get our attention – and that may sometimes require what we would consider extreme action. God’s judges Israel for it’s rebellion but his judgment is NEVER, NEVER devoid of mercy in scripture. Even in God’s judgment there is mercy and that is shown by the fact that Israel survives. Psalm 137 –  By the rivers of Babylon

 

God’s mercy is active.

 

God actively gets Israel’s attention.

 

God’s active mercy is both physical and spiritual. We see in our Gospel reading physical mercy – the crowd is hungry and from the other gospels we know Jesus had compassion on them and he tells his disciples to feed them. The disciples see no way that they could feed a crowd this size, but Jesus takes what is available and miraculously feeds them all.

 

Jesus’ healing are physical acts of mercy.

 

Our Epistle reading shows us God’s active mercy spiritually. Paul says that God is rich in his mercy – and that is shown in the incredible verse that says even when we were dead in our trespasses made us alive together with Christ.

 

In other words God’s mercy takes the initiative. He makes it possible for us to be reconciled with him. And He does that through judgment – judging his son, Jesus Christ, in our place, that his mercy may be made available – and through the resurrection of Jesus Christ making us alive spiritually and physically.

 

 

So, God’s mercy is firstly patient and secondly it is active.

 

Thirdly, God’s mercy is also available – to absolutely anyone. Paul says that the life given through Christ happened while we were still dead in our sins.

 

This mercy has nothing to do with us – whether we are nice people, or whether we are from good homes or not, or whether we have tried to be moral or not – it has absolutely nothing to do with these things – it comes down to one thing – do you believe what God has said and done in and through Jesus Christ is absolutely true? If yes then the mercy of God is poured out upon you.

 

All that is required to receive God’s mercy is to ask him for it.

 

Psalm 31:22: I had said in my alarm, “I am cut off from your sight.” But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help

 

Psalm 116:1 says I  love the Lord, because he has  heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.

 

Proverbs 28:13 says Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper,

but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.

 

And finally just hear the words of Isaiah, 30:18 Therefore the Lord  waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he  exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him

 

What a fantastic image – the Lord God – the creator of the universe waits to be gracious to US. He is waiting to show us mercy. He says this morning to each of us “I want to be gracious to you, I am available – come on Andy, come on Prince George, I am waiting.”

 

And his showing mercy to us glorifies his name. We should want him to show us mercy because it glorifies him – his name is made great when we come to him asking for his mercy.

 

God’s mercy is patient; God’s mercy is active; God’s mercy is available now, and finally God’s mercy is eternal.

 

Paul tells us a wonderful truth in our epistle reading – that when we come to know the living God – being saved by grace alone God raises us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places.

 

When we believe and accept Jesus as Lord and savior we enter into his death, resurrection AND ascension. Our place is with Jesus for eternity – that is assured – it is guaranteed to all who follow Christ. Of course we are not perfect yet – we struggle, we still do the things we do not want to do – we are not yet without our bad tempers, or bad thoughts, or bad words, or bad actions –  but the right to receive it fully has been secured and the new life has already begun here on earth. We are being governed by heavenly standards and motivated by heavenly impulses. Its power, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, enables us to be more than conquerors.

 

In view of God’s mercy, his patient, active, available and eternal mercy, where are we with God this morning? Is God being patient with us right now? Are we separated from him, doing our own thing, ignoring the ‘prophets’ who are sent to us to say ‘come to God – give your life to him – he loves you and he wants you to be in his kingdom.’

 

Or maybe is he actively showing his mercy to some of us right now. Maybe things are tough in life – is God trying to get our attention? Is he beckoning us to come to him and allow him into our life? Maybe we are already walking in God’s mercy right now – is God’s name being glorified in our lives? Or do we need to hear this morning that God’s mercy is available – its available to you  I regardless of what we have done, or where we have been in life – he is waiting to be gracious to you, he is waiting to pour his mercy on us and we have nothing to bring to God for this – just our yes Lord – we believe and we are yours forever. Or maybe some of us are praising God because we know this morning that the Mercy of God in our life is eternal – and we are rejoicing and glorifying his name – and so Sunday morning’s is about the joy of praising his name.

 

Wherever we are let us cry out to him this morning asking for his holy spirit to fill us. As we come forward to share communion together ask God to meet with you in a powerful way. If necessary ask someone to pray with you after the service – speak to someone if you need to speak with someone. But please do not delay – God’s mercy is available this morning – he is patient, he is active and it is eternal. Receive it – and receive it fully.

 

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

 

AMEN. 

Still Not Used To It…

We had a Tornado Watch today. A big thunderstorm rolled in from the West and all of a sudden at about 6:30pm warnings were displayed on the TV screen. It’s normal for this area, and for this time of year – but I am still not used to it.

Don’t Fish For Compliments by Andy Morgan

“Don’t fish for compliments, lest you defy God while you are applauded. “If I yet pleased men” Paul says “I should not be the servant of Christ.” He stopped pleasing men when he became Christ’s servant. For Christ’s soldiers march on through good talk on the right hand and evil talk on the left. No praise excites them. No criticism crushes them.” Jerome (347-420 AD)

 

As we begin the season of Lent, I am drawn to this quote by Jerome. How many of us fish for compliments? Our natures eagerly feed off compliments like a hungry animal. Yet Jerome encourages us not to fish for compliments “lest you defy God while you are applauded.” What does this mean? Being complimented can lead us into danger. We can become so enamored with compliments that our diligence to following the commands of our God can wane in favor of trying please others. This is because compliments usually lead us to want to please men rather than God.

 

The pleasing of men is the positive side of the more negative saying, the fear of men. Do we want to please men or God? That is Jerome’s point and challenge to us. The question seems simple, but the reality is that many of us struggle – our heads tell us to please God and yet our hearts are drawn to pleasing men, or being concerned about what men (people) think of us.

 

How releasing – how powerful – how wonderful it would be to say with Jerome that no praise excites us and no criticism crushes us. To reach this point requires us to be honest with ourselves – honest about whether the fear of men or the pleasing of men dominates our thinking and actions – and then to come to God and ask him to change our hearts so that we would be more concerned about what God thinks.

 

Maybe we might want to put Jerome’s quote in a prominent place this Lent to remind us that we should not be trying to please, or pacify people. Instead we should look to the living God. To Him only should we want to please, serve, worship and obey and to him only should we bring our concerns. And alongside Jerome, why not put Proverb 27:21 which says:  “The crucible for silver, and the furnace for gold, but a man is tested by the praise he receives”

Obedience by Andy Morgan

Thomas a Kempis once said that Instant obedience is the only kind of obedience there is; delayed obedience is disobedience.

We can know this to be true in our own lives. Kitty can ask me to do something and I’ll say yes I’ll do it but in my own mind there is no set time. Kitty will come back 20 minutes later and see that the thing she asked me to do has not been done and she will then vigorously encourage me to do it right now. For Kitty, when I said yes I’ll do it she expected me to get up and do it. Instant obedience; I am learning.

There is a story of parents who would always say to their son, “please go and tidy your room NOW.” The son would always agree to tidy up, but then wouldn’t follow through. After high school the young man joined the Marine Corps. When he came home for leave after basic training, his father asked him what he had learned in the service.

“Dad,” he said. “I learned what ‘now’ means.”

Ananias is an unsung hero of scripture. We know nothing else about this man except what we read in Acts 9, but what we do learn is that this is a faithful, obedient servant of God.

He was a man who knew the voice of God. God calls him and he says “yes Lord, here I am”. The fact that God called upon Ananias shows not only that he was a man of faith, but that he could be trusted. Yet God’s command to Ananias must have made him very afraid – go to Straight Street and seek out Saul of Tarsus.

Ananias response tells us a number of things. Firstly, it tells us that word of Saul’s mission had reached the Christians of Damascus. In fact, Ananias was relatively safe from Saul.  Saul had extradition papers to capture Christians from Jerusalem, who had fled, and bring them back for trial, and Ananias was a Damascene Christian.

Secondly  It would appear that Ananias was not aware of what had happened to Saul and his encounter with the risen Lord.

Neil Marten, a member of the British Parliament, was once giving a group of his constituents a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament. During the course of the visit, the group happened to meet Lord Hailsham, then Lord Chancellor, wearing all the regalia of his office. Hailsham recognized Marten among the group and cried, “Neil!” Not daring to question or disobey the “command,” the entire band of visitors promptly fell to their knees!

Saul experienced something which instinctively made him fall to the ground asking the question, “who are you LORD!”

 

 Having  expected to enter Damascus in the fullness of his pride and power, as a self confident opponent of Jesus Christ was instead led into the city, humbled and blinded, himself captured by the very one had stood against. Ananias also feels that he needs to remind God exactly who Saul of Tarsus was – as if God might have forgotten – this was the man intent on destroying the church; imprisoning Christians – threatening any who followed Christ. Going, willingly, to a man who had approved of the killing of Stephen would seem foolish in anyone’s eyes.

But God tells Ananias to go.

And so Ananias goes.

He was obedient to the call of God and he goes to Straight Street (a street which is still there in Damascus today) to lay hands on Saul.

Now Saul, by this time had been blind for a number of days. I wonder what went through Saul’s head when he heard and saw Jesus standing before him on the road. Jesus’ words are very powerful – “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?” – in other words, to persecute the church was to persecute Christ himself.

Saul now discovers that this Christ was indeed the Messiah – risen and alive.

This was the beginning of a total conversion for Saul – a conversion of will, intellect and emotion which now set his life upon the purpose and direction of being obedient to Christ. Saul / Paul’s obedience begins here – when while blind begins to pray and seek after God.

And finally these two men come together – the faithful obedient disciple Ananias and the newly born, newly obedient servant Saul – Ananias lays hands upon Saul and his blindness leaves him and he is baptized.

Obedience is not always the easy road. Ananias went to Straight Street, not knowing what would happen to him or what he would find but in full obedience, trust and faith in his God.

Saul’s new life of obedience to God was about to begin – a life which we know would involve suffering for the name of Christ. We also know that Saul, Paul, embraces it not just willingly but joyfully.

A life of obedience to God is not always the easy road, but it is always the fruitful one, form only when we are obedient to Christ in our personal lives and corporate lives can we do anything of value.

 This is what Jesus’ disciples learnt. The disciples spent three incredible years with Jesus – seeing and experiencing things beyond their imagination.

Yet after Jesus is crucified the disciples go back to Galilee and become fishermen again. They return to what they thought they knew best. The problem is that what they know best is just not working for them. When Jesus first met Peter, he said that he would become a fisher of men.  Jesus changed his job description. That was their life and their task now and they were not doing anything about it. The fact they caught nothing (John 21 – not a good thing for supposedly professional fisherman!) is a kind of metaphor that they will not catch anything when they are fishing in the wrong place – they can do nothing, nor achieve anything without Christ.

Jesus appears on the bank and cries out “children, have you caught anything yet?” The sentence structure demands a negative!

Just like a parable, Jesus tells them to put their nets over the other side – it is not a suggestion but a command and instantly the nets fill with fish. Even as the resurrected Lord Jesus is teaching his disciples to do what they must do –   they haven’t caught anything because they are not fishing were they should be fishing – in the towns and cities of Israel. Fish when, where and how Jesus tells us to and we will have the harvest!

Ananias, Saul, Peter and the six disciples, you and I are called to be obedient to Christ BECAUSE apart from Christ we can do nothing and achieve nothing of value.

It is the first step of our calling as believers, followers and worshippers of Christ.

That Christ is the center of our obedience is shown in the book of Revelation. It says in Chapter 5 ; “Between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a lamb standing, as though it had been slain…” The lamb is the central figure in heaven – on whom all the attention is focused – a lamb that bears the marks of violent death because he was obedient to his Father – but yet standing, alive, not dead.

Is the lamb the central place in our lives? Is he what moulds us and directs us and inspires us?

And here is the main point – the lamb – Christ – is worthy because he is the model of obedience – he is worthy because he laid his life down for every tribe, tongue and nation. He came and did the fathers will – “Not my will be done but yours”.

He is worthy to be worshipped – to be honored – to be praised because he too was obedient, even to death. How much more should we also be obedient as believers.

Somebody once said, “The first duty of every soul is to find not its freedom but its Master”.

 

IS CHRIST OUR MASTER TODAY?

The Paradox Of A Divided Church Called To Be Reconcilers To The World by Andy Morgan

Introduction

 

“The greatest barrier to the gospel in contemporary western culture is the church,” or so says New Zealand Theologian Mike Riddell. It is quite ironic that the very message, entrusted to us by Jesus, is in danger by the body created by Jesus to spread it. But what does Riddell mean? We call the church ‘a family’ and yet, if the church were to go into therapy, it would be considered severely dysfunctional, un-communicative and often abusive.

 

Our congregations…function as conglomerations of committed individuals, little different from a bowling club or a Rotary club group. Most Western Christians regard even major life decisions as their private arena and would never contemplate opening the process to fellow Christians.

 

The church has become an impersonal club – a place where you go to once a week and then leave to go back to normal life. Those with needs or problems are seen as a burden because they disrupt the ‘normal’ functional life of the church which is about the Sunday service going smoothly and uninterrupted.

 

Jurgen Moltmann also raises this problem. He ponders on Romans 15:7 Receive one another, then, just as Christ also received you, to God’s glory…(New English Translation) and writes;

 

Accept one another. Even in Church what hurts most is our lack of human relationships. The worship services in which we participate every Sunday morning themselves remain devoid of genuine human contact. We scarcely know each other with any genuine mutuality. We do not even consider it very valuable to create community with each other. ..

 

Of course we ‘have’ acquaintances with people within our churches, but these relationships tend to cease once we leave the service or meeting and go home. What is the reason for this alienation? For Moltmann the issue is that we only accept people on our own turf and view them only with our preconceptions. The conclusion of this attitude is that we do not at all seek the other but only ourselves in the other . In other words, we only seek out the things in a person which we like or agree with or that are like us. The bits we dislike or disagree with or are not like us are ignored, dismissed and avoided. This seems to affirm Aristotle’s famous words ‘birds of a feather flock together.’ Yet it was not always like this in the church.

 

The New Testament Church had no buildings, it had no clergy, it had no money and it had no authority. People relied upon each other. To be a Christian was to go completely against the social and economic stream of the day. You would have stood out. You would have been different. People met in other peoples houses. No neutral, cold, impersonal buildings, but somebody’s private living space. Yes they had faced persecution, and they would again. You did not make the decision to become a Christian lightly. Decisions were made as a community and life was lived in the context of community. And the community of believers crossed the divides of social and economic status.

 

The Joining of the State and the Church

 

So what went wrong? All this changed with Constantine. Christianity became vogue. Very soon it was given money and lands, a status which it had never before had. The rich began worshipping this Christian God, and appropriate people had to help them. A hierarchy soon developed. The Church became institutionalised.

 

Whether you think Constantine was good or bad for Christianity is a matter of debate. What I would suggest is that this institutionalisation was the beginning of the dysfunctional church. It made the church respectable – and that was not the function of the Church. Dare I say it, but Constantine let the wrong sort of people into the church!

 

This is not about never letting the rich, respectable and powerful into the church. The Church should cross social, economic, gender and racial divides However as mentioned above, the decision to follow Christ would not have been taken lightly in the first century. You risked losing everything. You risked being an outcast. Your commitment would have to be total. This is seen in the early churches practise of taking those who were interested in joining the church and putting them through a three year course which ended in baptism. This was not a decision to take lightly or flippantly.

 

Constantine effectively took this away. It became fashionable to join the church. It became respectable and wealthy. Constantine began the process of the church and state coming together. Because of Constantine the church would experience incredible influence and power in society. Today, I believe we live with this legacy and for over 2000 years we have tried to untangle ourselves from the influence of Constantine.

 

We have lost that radicalness of what it means to be a follower of Christ. Few of us have to lose our families, our jobs, our status, our positions and our reputations when we become believers (there are people today who do risk losing these things when they follow Jesus). No longer do we live or work out our life decisions within the context of the faith community;

 

If the church is essentially the community of God’s people rather than an institution then it is through the church as people that God is accomplishing his cosmic plan – not in the first place through organisation and institutions, though these may be useful tools .

 

The dividing line between seeing the institutional church as a useful tool and the church as essentially the community of God’s people accomplishing his cosmic plan has been lost. And this has had a serious repercussion on the church. Because the church needed to maintain an institution the focus of the church shifted towards power and authority. In order for an organisation to run well it requires good, strong structures which are maintained and upheld.

 

Focusing On Our Actions

 

I would suggest that whatever our focus is that will be how we act – the church’s focus has been in holding onto power and influence and so that is how it has acted. The church, over the previous centuries, has been used to wielding great authority in the affairs of the world. The ecclesiastical institution has not taken kindly to being pushed to the margins. But the church is a canny player. If power could not be exercised within the society at large, it could at least be maintained within the church. How was this power maintained? Through the establishment of strong leadership and authority, and this was built upon knowledge. Theological and doctrinal emphasis grew. Those with knowledge were powerful. This has meant that now the pinnacle of the Christian life is to become a leader. Almost everything we do within church is to ‘train’ others in order to create leaders. This is vital in order to maintain a hierarchical structure. So, a judgment is made of you. You are either leadership material, or your not. If you are, an investment of time, energy and sometimes money is made into your life in order to develop you towards leadership. If you are judged not to be leadership material, then you are asked to simply ‘serve in the body.’ No investment of time and energy is made other than weekly preaching and small group gatherings. The result of this is that some members of the community of Christ became valued over other members.

 

This is one of the foundational reasons for the divided church; an institutional focused church goes against Jesus’ teaching that life in the kingdom of God in inextricably linked with the welfare of one’s neighbour, (John 13:34, Matthew 16:24 & John 13:14).

 

Much of the church today is not in love with its neighbour, but with words, doctrines, rational arguments and statements about faith. Alongside the need for power and control, for many, church life has been an experience of abuse. Abusive when people are told to accept the word of those in authority and to question those in authority is an affront to God. Abusive when any person or groups of person claims to speak the word of God and that claim is not subject to discernment by the wider community of believers. Abusive when decisions are made in secret by a small group of power holders, and such hierarchical rule is interpreted as being Christian. Abusive when difference is demonised, and when departure from a prescribed moralistic lifestyle is portrayed as either sinful or evil. Abusive when control is exercised to ensure the maintenance of the institution.

 

Abuse, be it physical, sexual or spiritual abuse, takes place when we refuse to accept another person as Christ accepted us, but rather use them for our own purposes. This has been the legacy of church for too long.

 

Moltmann’s suggestion is that Romans 15:7, ‘Accept one another as Christ has accepted you’ needs to become a new orientation in our lives, breaking through our limitations so that we can, to use his words, ‘spring over our narrow shadows.’ Indeed, this verse has incredible repercussions within the church. The church has simply not accepted people as Christ accepted us. It has not just disobeyed this verse, but it has put into practise throughout church history many plans to actively not accept certain people in to the church. In this respect much of the church has failed. And how would we fair, if we judged ourselves the same way that we judge others? Maybe we would reject ourselves and fail our own criteria. If Christ accepts us while still his enemies (Romans 5:10) then what theological excuse can be mustered that we continue to not accept others?

 

One of the most powerful examples comes from a book by Alan Jamieson called A Churchless faith – Faith Journeys Beyond the Churches. Jamieson explores the faith of those who have left the church. He discovers a number of things which surprises him; that many who leave the church are those who have held some form of leadership and often been faithful members of their churches for between 10-15 years; that their faith is not just maintained but actually develops and grows once they have left the church; that the decision to leave the church community was a major, long thought through process. He discusses the fact that in 99% of the cases, the pastors interviewed never once thought that the problem for an established member of a church to leave was on their side. The responses were that those who left were backsliders (which defied the evidence), unstable or just trouble makers. He quotes one senior pastor as saying:

 

Every church needs a soundproof room where a pastor can take certain people and head butt them. Of course this would be followed by prayer….

 

A joke maybe, but it hides the more sinister side of the church. The church which is called to be a peacemaker, a reconciler to the world, to love its neighbour, cannot bring peace to itself, both internally and between different churches. Further more, many leaders do not have a clue how to lead, manage and pastor people effectively. And a large part of the reason for this is how the church views ‘leadership.’

 

Embracing Powerlessness

 

Mike Riddell suggests that it may be necessary for much of the formal structure of western Christianity to ‘fall into the ground and die’ (John 12:24), in order for new shoots of faith to arise. A total shift in focus is vital for the church; the shift away from power and authority to embracing powerlessness. Henri Nouwen writes that:

 

“[Christian leadership in the future] is not a leadership of power and control but a leadership of powerlessness and humility in which the suffering servant of God, Jesus Christ, is made manifest…I am speaking of a leadership in which power is constantly abandoned in favour of love. It is a true spiritual leadership. Powerlessness and humility in the spiritual life do not refer to people who have no spine.”

 

Indeed, powerlessness requires a tremendous amount of courage and faith in God. There is nothing to prove to anyone. I call it the John the Baptist principle. John the Baptist had a tremendous ministry. People flocked to hear him and be baptised. Then Jesus comes along. In John 3, we have the disciples of John concerned for his ministry. They say to him in v26, look, that guy you baptised is also baptising and everyone is flocking to him! And John’s response? Does he increase his ‘baptism’ times, or try and maintain his ground? No, he says He must become more important while I become less important. (v30). Other translations says He must become greater and I must become less!

 

The goal of ministry is not church growth but Kingdom growth. Or even better, the goal of ministry is to become less while Christ becomes greater. It is from this place that we can again begin to be a peacemaking church, a church who brings reconciliation, because we bring only Christ, not our authority, or power or influence. Just as Christ emptied himself of his divinity, humbling himself, so we too empty ourselves of everything in order to bring Christ. If this was the principle upon which leaders operated, there would be greater unity within churches, and between churches.

 

What Is Our Attitude?

 

Philippians 2:5 begins with Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…. and goes on to talk of Jesus making himself nothing; taking the very nature of a servant; humbled himself; became obedient to death.

 

This should be our attitude, yet our courses for training ‘leaders’ today do not include classes on ‘making yourself nothing’ or ‘taking the nature of a servant’ or ‘humility’ or ‘how to humble yourself to the point of death.’

 

This is because within the church the word for ‘leader’ is associated with power and authority; that leadership is the goal and aim for a Christian in church life. My suggestion is that we cannot create leaders – leaders are called. So often we have made a person a leader because they are gifted in communication, or are charismatic in their personality or are great motivators. All these gifts are valuable but they do not make you a leader. These gifts need to be developed and encouraged in creating disciples, but leadership is a calling upon a life which comes from God. Leonard Sweet, author of Summoned to Lead says that “the church has it all wrong. It is trying to train leaders. Instead it ought to train everyone to listen and develop their own soundtrack.” We can stop putting leadership upon the pedestal of authority. Indeed, we should now remove it completely from the pedestal.

 

The power based leadership is the cause of the divided church. The desire to protect and maintain authority among the congregation, causes people to be neglected or used; It results in dealing suspiciously with anyone who might challenge the leadership, especially other leaders from other churches. Hence, a protective cocoon develops around the leader and the church, and anyone who tries or is perceived as trying to break into or through the cocoon is a threat and needs to be dealt with.

 

New Model of Leadership

 

Henri Nouwen calls for a whole new type of leadership, free from the model of power games and focusing on the servant leader, Jesus . We need to recapture something of the attitude and spirit of the early church which had servant hood, peacemaking and loving your enemies at the core of their thinking. Yet, over a period of time talk went from the converting of weapons into plough shares, spears into farmers hooks (Justin Martyr) to picking up the ploughshare and converting it back into a sword (Augustine).

 

How seriously do we take the call of Jesus to love our enemy; to turn the other cheek? Surely, the argument goes, Jesus does not want us to be weak. Surely this teaching is figurative, not literal! We try and do creative accounting with the gospel – we need to make the Gospel back our ideas for how we deal with people – we need to use violence, or be aggressive towards others so how can the gospel help us. Oh yes, Jesus showed anger in the temple, he used a whip, he drove people out. This is a whip moment – this is us imitating Christ in the temple. Many times I have heard the argument from Pastors that anger is acceptable because Jesus got angry, and then preceded to act in horrendous ways towards people.

 

This does not mean we avoid conflict – on the contrary, as Lederach has said regarding Matthew 18, we must embrace conflict; church does not have enough conflict in it. We must stop avoiding issues, or ignoring them and hoping they will go away, but instead move towards conflict. But so often, the conflict step within churches, the conflict begins from someone in the congregation approaching a minister and expressing their problem. The pastor sees a threat and immediately entrenches himself in order to protect his authority. The battle lines are drawn. Pastors need to stop entrenching themselves and immediately ask the question of themselves, ‘Am I at fault?’ ‘Is this a fair or true reflection of my actions?’ The congregation member may be wrong. But currently, the power model, dismisses any possible fault with the minister.

 

Jesus’ motive within conflict is not to establish power but to bring peace and reconciliation, reconciliation to himself and the father. Should not this be our focus as well? Larry Crabb, the well known Christian writer had a vision of this, which changed his entire outlook and ministry. His book, Connecting: Healing For ourselves And Our Relationships describes his journey. He writes:

 

The most powerful thing we can do to help someone change is to offer them a rich taste of God’s incredible goodness in the New Covenant. He looks at us with eyes of delight, with eyes that see a goodness beneath the mess, with a heart that beats wildly with excitement over who we are and who we will become. And sometimes he exposes what we are convinced that it would make him turn away in disgust in order to amaze us with his grace. That’s connecting .

 

Moving from a power and authority based leadership model to one which embraces powerlessness and a servant outlook will not be easy. Alan Krieder is right to say that we live in an environment that is not conducive to good conflict or peacemaking. As Christian’s we have lived within a worldview of adversarial and combative thinking. It has been so ingrained within us that to move away from it will take time, education and example.

 

I tend to agree with Mike Riddell that it may be necessary for much of the formal structure of western Christianity to fall into the ground and die in order for new shoots of faith to arise. This cannot be a change which happens over months and years, but rather decades. Even so, that does not mean that we cannot begin to model the example now.

 

What does embracing powerlessness as a leader look like? It looks like Jesus. It does not do ‘things’ in order to gain status or recognition. Henri Nouwen captures the essence of this when he says;

 

I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. This is the way Jesus came to reveal God’s love. The great message that we have to carry, as ministers of God’s word and followers of Jesus, is that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us in love and has chosen us to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life.

 

If Jesus emptied himself of his divinity, humbled himself and took the role of a servant, why should a follower and a leader of the people of Jesus be any different? Maybe it is because too many leaders do not how to exercise healthy, intimate relationships. They have become empire builders who are unable to give and receive love. This brings me again to my suggestion that too many leaders have been created in stead of being called.

 

As Jesus dies on the cross, the temple curtain was ripped from top to bottom revealing the holy of holies . It was symbolic. God declared in a very powerful way that no longer was access to him done through the ‘professional’ priest who restricted access to God. God is available to all. Yet the institutionalised Church has, for the last 1500 years, been trying to sow that curtain up again.

 

Conclusion

 

If the church is to become a reconciler, a peacemaker, then we need to re-think how we exist as believers. Alan Krieder gives four attitudes and four skills of a peacemaker. The attitudes are; humility, commitment to the safety of others, acceptance of conflict and hope. The four skills are; truthful speech, expectant listening, alertness to community and good process (making decisions which are truthful, just and corporate.) While these skills and attitudes can be taught they need to be lived. They must become apart of the DNA of the Church Leader. Powerlessness, brokenness and servanthood are resident within these skills and attitudes.

 

But fundamentally, this change needs to happen in the places where leaders are trained. There needs to be a complete re-working of what we teach and how we teach people in seminaries and colleges. For Nouwen, while powerlessness is a key to the leader of the future, the leadership of the future must also be a theological leadership. Nouwen says:

 

Thinking about the future of Christian leadership, I am convinced that it needs a theological leadership. For this to come about much, very much, has to happen in seminaries and divinity schools. They have to become centres where people are trained in true discernment of the signs of the time. This cannot be just an intellectual training. It requires a deep spiritual formation involving the whole person – body, mind and heart. I think we are only half aware of how secular even theological schools have become. Formation in the mind of Christ, who did not cling to power but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, is not what most seminaries are about. Everything in our competitive and ambitious world militates against it. But to the degree that such formation is being sought for and realised, there is hope for the church of the next century.

 

Nouwen is saying that theological leadership needs to be reclaimed. In the past theological knowledge was used to establish authority and power over people, creating a separation between leaders and the community; the new model of leadership takes theology and helps leaders to close the gap. Theology is not about knowledge and the mind, but about the whole person. True theological knowledge leads us to taking on the mind of Christ who emptied himself of the privileges of his divinity. True theology should lead us to powerlessness, peacemaking and reconciliation, formation in the mind of Christ. And while our seminaries and leadership schools are not teaching this at the moment, we need to continue to teach this message so that future seminary leaders can begin to teach spiritual formation in its wholeness. 

The Moon Shines Down by Margaret Wise Brown; Illustrated by Linda Bleck

51bea6lbo3l_bo2204203200_pisitb-sticker-arrow-clicktopright35-76_aa240_sh20_ou01_I received this book in the post from Thomas Nelson publishers for a review. I have never read a Margaret Wise Brown book before. Author of over 100 children’s stories, including Goodnight Moon Margaret Wise Brown died very young in 1952 at the age of 42. This story was found in an old trunk held together by rusty paper clips. 

I read this book to my five year old son Sam one evening for bed. The story is based on an old New England prayer God bless the moon and God bless me. The style is in a rhyming prose and begins in Holland with The Moon shines down and shed its beams, on a house with a stork where a dutch boy dreams, of tulip fields by quiet streams, in his flat Dutch land of cheese and creams. The book then goes around the world, to Switzerland, Asia, Mexico, France, Australia, Africa, England and Israel (the moon shone down on the Christ child). 

It was easy and fun to read, although once or twice the rhyming did not quite fit. However, Sam really enjoyed it and we used the story to pray for the children in all the countries mentioned. The illustrations are bright and vivid and fun and really enjoyable to look at. 

This is a fun and useful book to read to your child at night.

Christianity In Crisis 21st Century by Hank Hanegraaff

51p8s7hlzl_sl500_aa240_I chose this book to review for Thomas Nelson primarily because of the title. I had not heard of Hank Hanegraaff before but the title caught my eye and I was curious in what way did Hanegraaff believe Christianity was in Crisis.

 

Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, John Hagee, TD Jakes and others are all very familiar names on Christian television. They appear to have very successful ministries. But what about their theology? What do they actually BELIEVE, and what message are they preaching.

 

Hank Hanegraaff has combed through the theology, talks and beliefs of these preachers and has exposed what they truly belief – and it is not orthodox, biblical understanding of God. In fact, much of what they believe and preach will shock you.

 

In one way this book made me frustrated and angry. Frustrated that such preachers are given such exposure and angry that so many people are being led by them.

 

Hanegraaf’s research is heavily footnoted this supporting what he is writing not as hearsay but as documented and on the record. Such as Joel Osteen’s belief that Jesus did NOT finish the work of redemption on the cross – in fact Osteen says it is far from finished; or John Hagee’s belief that Jesus wore designer clothes, “Jesus had a seamless robe so valuable that Roman soldiers gambled for it at the cross. It was a designer robe”; or Joyce Meyer who says that Jesus, having spent 3 days being tormented in hell by demons, is resurrected as the ‘first born-again man’; or finally TD Jakes who encourage people to raise their wallets up to heaven and pray that God will heal their money.

 

These are but a few of the many examples Hanegraaf refers to in this book showing the lack of basic, foundational theological understanding.

 

This book does not focus just on the bad – the last section of the book outlines  a strong, basic understanding of faith and Christianity – called Back To Basics, which balances and provides the plumb line of foundational belief.

 

If you are, or have been involved in the Faith Movement then this book will be of help to you. If you are wondering what the Faith Movement is, or you have heard of TD Jakes, Benny Hinn et-al and wanted to know more – this book is also for you.

 

Much of the book will shock you and even make you depressed. But it is important to understand what these preachers and teachers are truly saying to so many people.