Thursday, 26 May 2011

The end of the world - but not as we know it

So the 'end of the world' came and went on Saturday without even a tremor - except for the volcano in Iceland. Harold Camping, the American pastor, is apologetic for getting his sums wrong and leading many people to spend their life savings in preparing for the Rapture.

This is nothing new. Ever since the time of St Paul people have been expecting the imminent return of the Lord Jesus. Paul had to write to the church in Thessalonica that the 'day of the Lord' would come unexpectedly, so they had better just get on with life as normal in a state of preparation. It seems that some in that church had decided to give up work as they expected the Lord to come there and then.

The Anabaptists in the 17th century had several episodes of 'Rapture panic', and it has continued ever since wherever people get hold of the bible and start interpreting it as a hidden code full of 'ancient mysteries' (to use Dan Brown's phrase in 'The Lost Symbol').

The bible is not a code book that has to be interpreted by careful calculation. Rather it is, inspired by the Holy Spirit, the way we hear the living voice of God day by day. I'm afraid Harold Camping is barking very much up the wrong tree. He - and his followers even more so - needs to heed the words of Deuteronomy 18:22 - If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That propet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

New Wine Leaders' Conference

I've just got back from a two-and-a-half day church leaders conference in Ealing, organised by New Wine. The keynote speaker was Dave Workman, the senior pastor on Cincinnati Vineyard Church. As usual with these conferences you come back, head crammed full of new ideas, good ideas, challenging ideas. But what will stay with me, and what will be good for the church?

The first talk by John Coles, Director of New Wine, was one that has stuck with me. He looked at Ezekiel's vision of the river of God flowing from the temple in Jerusalem. Nothing new there, but it just seemed to speak to me for our church at this time. A picture of a river ankle deep, knee deep, waist deep, then deep enough to swim in. It's a river that brings life to the nations. And I have been asking myself, at what depth are we ready to enter the river, and will we go deeper. It's a river that is not just for the church, but for the world.

I was challenged in the whole area of mission which is one where I think we have been weak. There are some individuals who have a heart for mission, but the theme of this conference was that the whole church needs to be outward looking. Mission among families, and to men: here are 2 areas I believe we should be investing in. Statistics show that if you get men converted, then in 95% of times, their families will follow. If you get women first, then it's 30%, and if you get children then it's 3%. So, in terms of mission, where should we start? It's obvious. But we've hardly begun.

Dave Workman's church in the USA is built on the model of servant evangelism - that is sharing the gospel by serving the community. So I ask the question, what can we do to serve the community of Old Coulsdon? Where are the needs? How can we help to meet them? David Cameron may have coined the term 'Big Society' but Jesus was teaching it 2000 years ago - and not to win votes, either! On the surface we are not a 'needy' area, but actually you don't have to look very far to find a lot of needs.

Here's a challenge in relation to finance: 'not equal giving, but equal sacrifice.' We could wipe out our deficit by everyone giving an extra £2.50 a week for the next 5 years. But the biblical and spiritual approach is to ask God, "What sacrifice can I make in my giving?" That forces us to listen to God, and to be serious in giving.

Going to these big conferences means you can enjoy the 'big worship' experience: a professional band and hundreds of people engaged in heartfelt worship. Then you come home and... But we have musicians here and I think it's going to be a priority to get them together and begin to build a regular worship band. The aim of worship is not to become like another big church with a flashy band, but to help people - inside and not-yet-inside the church - engage with God. Worship should be passionate whatever the style, because God passionately loves us.

I have a picture of that river in Ezekiel flowing through the church here at St John's and out into the neighbourhood bringing life to all that the water touches. We can all enter the river at different depths, but it's a flowing river - it doesn't stay still. The Bishop of London said to Prince William and Kate on their wedding day, 'Be the people that God wants you to be and you can set the world alight.' The same can be said of the church. it's time to discover what sort of church God wants us to be, and then to BE it. Who knows what could happen then.