Friday, 21 January 2011

Meeting places

Where do you go to meet your friends? The answer to that may depend on to which generation you belong: 50 years ago, it was to the dancing that people would go to meet their friends; now it is Starbucks that for many people is the place where friends meet.

Or is it a virtual meeting place? Do you meet your friends on Facebook? The meeting may not be physical, but an enormous amount of information is shared every day across cyberspace.

Will I see you tomorrow at the Juniper Green Farmers' Market? That has become a bit of a social focus for the community because people meet there and chat. Some Saturdays it has taken us ages to get home because we keep meeting people to talk to; it's great.

In the communities of Juniper Green and Baberton Mains, the snow did us a bit of a favour. Ok, it brought a lot of disruption, caused some to fall and hurt themselves, but there was another side. People were out clearing snow from their paths, or from the roads themselves. Guess what, they began to talk to one another in a way that during 'normal times' just doesn't happen. There is no meeting place in Baberton Mains, other than for parents at the school gate, or if you go to visit a friend.

Church as a meeting place? Here are two thoughts from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's little book Life Together which is all about community, one a positive comment and the other a little bit of a challenge. Positively he says about us as Christians: "Our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us." We share so much in common by virtue of the work God has done for and in both of us.

Secondly:"If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if, on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ."

See you tomorrow?

Friday, 14 January 2011

australian floods - another angle

You will have seen this video clip on the News perhaps; watch it again on YouTube:

This is Toowoomba, Queensland and the video was shot by the Scripture Union worker from the SU office in the town. It now has more that 3 million hits on Youtube!

Emlyn Williams is the Director of SU England and Wales and yesterday I heard him speak about this disaster in Australia as well as other places across the world. Cote D'Ivoire is facing political upheaval and an uncertain future; Myanmar is a country whose future is also uncertain, given the recent release of Aung San Suu Kyi. SU is involved in work in all of these places: there are 500 school chaplains in Queensland, employed by SU Australia, people who will have a significant role in the aftermath of these horrific floods; SU has good people working in Cote D'ivoire as in most African nations and there is even a piece of work being done in Myanmar.

Emlyn's point was to challenge us to think of the news through SU's eyes and remember that there is an SU presence in most countries of the world. Let me broaden that challenge: when we pray for disaster areas, remember that there will probably be Christians there, praying for their own situation, trying to help others, looking to solve the problems they face. They are people just like us; pray for them.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Thorns in the straw

Thorns in the straw is the title of a song by Graham Kendrick. It is about the birth of Jesus and has the picture of the manger at its heart. But there is a twist: Mary sees a thorn in the straw by her baby's head and smells myrrh in the air, the fragrance of suffering.

I have been at Crieff Hydro this week for a minsters' conference. We meet every year just after New Year, a gathering of friends more than anything else. We always have a speaker and this year Sinclair Ferguson, one-time minister of St George's Tron in Glasgow and now living and working in the USA, came to speak. He taught us Philippians in 4 sessions and it was very good.

Philippians chapter 2, Sinclair says, is all about the gospel mindset, how we think as a result of the gospel. Paul tells us about the mind of Christ and how Jesus obeyed His Father by going to the cross. Our view of life, the way we think about God, other people and ourselves, has to be shaped by the cross-centred gospel. But that's not terribly popular, even in Churches.

It never has been. He quoted the great Roman orator Cicero: "Not only let the cross be absent from the person of Roman citizens, but its very name from their thoughts, eyes and ears." Phillipi was "Rome in miniature", a Roman colony; what Roman society liked today Philippi would like tomorrow; what Roman society hated, Philippi would despise. So the cross was abhorrent to Roman citizens.

Yet, says Paul, the Christians are to have their whole way of thinking shaped by the cross.

People love Christmas; but Easter... not so easy to love! Yet, Graham Kendrick sees something important: they are totally and completely connected. And, our view of life is to be shaped by the cross. We love the God who sent His Son; we trust a Saviour who was crucified for us; we rejoice in the love of God, demonstrated on the cross; we count others as more important than ourselves because that's what Jesus did.

Our society doesn't get the cross very easily; neither sometimes does the Church. We have to get the cross; otherwise we have nothing.