Saturday, October 30, 2010

All Saints Day - Remembrance, encouragement and challenge

This weekend its Halloween, as I’m sure many of you know. Time for dressing up, trick or treating, having parties and watching scary films. To be honest, I’ve never really seen the point in Halloween. I guess, being a church-goer my whole life, its never really meant anything to me.

But then I found out the real meaning of this day.

It’s All Saints Day.

All Saints Day has been celebrated for centuries. Its a day when, essentially, Christians remember all of those who have gone before. Now it would be easy to say its all about those who we would traditionally call ‘saints’ - St Peter, St Paul, and modern ‘official’ saints like the last Pope and Mother Theresa.

We get those people being called saints don’t we? After the lives they led, what they endured for their faith, the sacrifices they made and devotion to God, they somehow seem to ‘deserve’ that status don’t they?

Well at least, that’s the general understanding of it.

The problem with this understanding is that it implies that somehow God loves and blesses these people more than He does everyone else. That there’s this scale with God, this measure of how worthy you are of His blessing, and that only special people get this blessing.

Its kind of like saying some people are specially qualified for God’s special blessing.

Now I’m not for one minute saying that the people I’ve mentioned aren’t outstanding examples of disciples of Jesus. They are all great role models for us, they have all shaped our faith in one way or another, they show us what is possible and their example challenges us to live a more Christ-like life - or it should. 

It’s important that we take time out to remember these kind of people, to remember the freedoms they fought for that allow us to express our faith openly and freely in this country without persecution, the people who gave their lives to bring the message of Jesus to the world, those who carried on this message despite enduring immense persecution and suffering. 

Its absolutely right that we remember and give thanks for those people.

What I am saying though is that calling some people saints and saying others aren’t isn’t actually accurate. In fact, its an absolving of responsibility. 

The truth is that anyone who calls themselves a follower of Jesus is in fact a saint.

That’s right, we are all saints.

God’s blessing, invitation and love aren’t just available for special people. It’s not just special people who are able to be used by God. 

God’s blessing, His love, His invitation and His call are for all of us. 

All of us are welcome, no matter who we are, what we’ve done, what we have or haven’t achieved, no matter what our status or wealth.

We are all welcome.

The invitation to be saints is one for us all.

But there is a challenge here too. 

Being a saint isn’t just about believing. Its about being a disciple, a true follower of Jesus, its about living the life that God calls us to, ordering our lives around the way of Jesus. Beginning everything with Jesus and ordering everything else around that, building our whole lifestyle around that.

It’s about being Jesus to those around us. 

God isn’t calling all of us to be missionaries, and not everyone is going to be Pope or Mother Theresa. 

But God isn’t asking that of us. Let me explain.

How many of you have had people in your life who have, at a moment where you’ve been confused, lost, struggling, had someone speak some truth, love or encouragement in your life? Or someone who when you were seeking, or when you were feeling lost and abandoned came alongside you and loved you? How many of you remember the person who talked to you about Jesus or invited you to church for the first time? 

Not a leader, not someone up front. But someone in the background, someone who maybe you haven’t really spoken to for a long time or you don’t really remember too much about, but you remember what they did?

There are many people like that. I’ve heard stories of people who have took time out to speak to people I know at the back of church sitting on their own, and they came back, became Christians and gone on to do amazing things for God in their lives since, which have impacted hundreds of people for Jesus.

But none of that would have happened without that person who spoke to them at the back one evening.

It wouldn’t have happened without that person accepting the call of Jesus to be like Him.

You see, that’s being a saint just as much as living a life like Mother Theresa’s. Doing something small for someone to help them when they need it, doing something good for someone without them, without anyone, even knowing it. 

That’s being a saint too. That’s something we can all do. Furthermore, its something Jesus challenges us all to do, and wants us to do.

Being a saint is about being human in the way we were originally made to be, about living the way of Jesus in our everyday, with the people around us, both in the small things and the big things, both in our church context and out.

Now, in reality, we don’t get it right all the time. We all make mistakes, we all don’t do things we should do or do things we shouldn’t do, no matter how mature a faith we have.

However, God isn’t expecting us to get it right all the time.

It’s our hearts God wants. He wants us to be seeking, hungering and thirsting to be more like Him, to be true disciples, to follow Him and become more like Him. If we’re doing that, then even if we screw up, we are still headed in the right direction.

In reality, God loves us all the same, even if we’re not seeking Him. He loves the people who don’t know Him at all just the same as He does those who have been Christians their entire lives, and His grace and blessing is available to all of us equally.

So if we do screw up, God isn’t suddenly going to stop blessing us. That idea is based on this conditional blessing, which comes from a view of the world where you have to earn everything, where everything has to be deserved.

That is totally contrary to grace. 

Grace is getting something we don’t deserve. Its available to all of us.

That’s why jealousy is so contrary to the way of Jesus, because it comes from a merit-based view of God, and God isn’t like that. God has grace, for all of us.

Which brings me back to my point. That although there is a challenge for us all to be saints, all to be disciples, all to live a Christ-centred life, that if we get it wrong on occasion God isn’t going to punish us, or condemn us, or stop loving or blessing us. We can trust that His love, forgiveness and grace is sufficient, no matter how much we screw up.

So on All Saints Day, don’t just remember the well-known saints, remember and be thankful for all those people who’ve been Jesus to you, in the subtle, little ways. The people who’ve made a big difference in your life through what they’ve said or done for you, how they’ve loved and served you. 

Recognise that you are a saint, that all of us are saints, but that the call to us as saints is to be saints to those around us. 

The challenge of All Saints Day is for us to try to be Jesus to all of those around us, both in the big things and the small things, in the choices we make, in how we treat people. To be true disciples of Jesus - knowing that even if we don’t get it right all the time, that we are still loved, accepted and welcomed by God just as we are.

All Saints Day is a day to celebrate the saints that have gone before, be encouraged that no matter who we are or what we’ve done or how many times we screw up, that the invitation to be a saint is open to us all, and to accept the challenge to be a disciple of Jesus.

In one sense, the entire Christian faith summed up in one Christian festival.

Posted via email from James Prescott

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Time out with God

Tonight I’ve had a little time on my own with God, reflecting, listening, worshipping and thinking about what He wants for me and what’s next in my life. I think its always good to do these once in a while, to reassess what God wants in my life and what His priorities and plans for me are.

It’s been great just to get some down time with God and to really take stock of where I am, where I’m going and what I’m doing and map out - in pencil, because making too many plans of our own as a Christian isn’t really a good idea - what I’m going to be doing in the next few months, how I’m going to grow, what I want to achieve and how I’m going to do that.

Inevitably some of that involves this blog. This is a big part of how I express my faith, and I love the evolving church title and concept, because for me it represents so much of how I view my faith. Its always changing & adapting to new circumstances, maturing, growing and essentially evolving, though it never loses its heart, its essential DNA. 

But one thing I think I’m really passionate about is being authentic, being true and honest with myself, with others and in how I live out and express my faith. I think I’ve tried to do that with this blog but I think there’s an area in my writing where I really need to allow myself more freedom, allow myself to be more honest and at the same time go deeper theologically. I’m passionate about communicating in a way people can connect with and which isn’t bound up with religious or jargon-based language, a way that’s accessible to more people, which can explain complex ideas simply and faithfully. I also want to do this in as creative a way as possible, not for the sake of it, but really when I have a message communicating it in a way which suits the message, and not being afraid to try different things.

So hopefully over the next few months I’ll be able to explore some of these things, and hopefully develop and mature in my writing but also try to be more authentic and honest about what God has been doing in me and how that’s changing me

I always get excited when God starts to speak fresh words to me, and gives me more things to share and ideas to express, and I already have some ideas that I’m looking forward to sharing with you.

I think too that part of that may be changing the look of the site, so I’m now looking at templates with a view to changing the view of the site. I actually like the one I have, but it feels like it might be time to freshen things up a bit, and so I’m going to take some time and have a ponder on it - it may be God tells me simply to stick with this, but I really sense that it might be a good time to change it. 

Feel free to let me know your thoughts or suggestions on this, it would be great to hear them. 

One thing I would encourage you all in though is to make sure that you’re taking time out with God, and really evaluating where you are, what your gifts are and what God is leading you towards in the next stage of your life. Spend time listening to Him, and reflecting on what you hear, and make some decisions. It makes a world of difference and really helps focus your mind and your heart on where you going. It allows you to say no to certain things, and to make decisions to go for it in areas that you might not have done before.

It can be a scary thing to do, but God tells us not to be afraid. We can trust Him and He is faithful, and always has our best at heart. When you get that clarity from God on these things in your life, it refreshes your soul, it gives you new energy and focus, it really is life-changing. 

Don’t be afraid. Go for it with God, He’s waiting for you to engage with Him.

Posted via email from James Prescott

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Know your Sabbath, know yourself

I watched the film ‘The Social Network’ last night, a film which tells the story of the early years of Facebook, how and why it came about and how as things developed it affected the relationship of the two guys who began it. Its a brilliant film and I’d recommend it to all of you. 

However, I came away from the film so fired up. I guess the sheer creativity and genius behind the idea of Facebook and how it almost started from nothing to a site with over 500 million members kind of blew me away.

I realised then something that I’d been feeling for a while. This was feeding my soul. This was like a Sabbath.

Watching other’s people’s creativity - both the film itself and the story told in the film - stirred my own creative juices and got me thinking in new directions, I felt alive coming out of that film.

I realised this is something that happens whenever I go see a show, go to a gallery, watch a good, innovative or thought-provoking film, or see anything which we traditionally call ‘creative’ which is fresh, inspiring and is of good quality. 

This is what feeds my soul.

Doing this is clearly part of what Sabbath needs to be for me.

But it also told me something about myself. Now I consider myself to be pretty intelligent, I enjoy academic books and blogs and understand them very well, I’ve always been an academic kind of guy.

However, I’ve always been more interested in the creative side of it. Rather than being interested in examining and discussing topics and using all the technical terms and language - all of which I understand - I’m more interested in exploring those concepts and then communicating them creatively, whether its through writing or some other means.

There are people who are ‘professional academics’, people who do Phd’s, who do doctorates, loads and loads of research and produce academic papers.

But that’s not me.

Now of course I do a lot of study, a lot of research and a lot of reading. I want to learn more and get a good grounding in my faith, and there’s always new things I want to learn. I might even do some kind of theology diploma training one day. 

However, my way of expressing that knowledge is not in academic circles, in academic ways.

I want to communicate that knowledge in fresh, innovative and creative ways which people who aren’t academics can engage with, understand and connect with.

I am passionate about helping people understand and explore the way of Jesus in a way that’s authentic, that sticks to the basic principles of our faith, but is fresh, innovative and creative and uses language and methods people can understand to do that. I can feel even as I’m writing this that the adrenaline is pumping, because this is what I’m so passionate about.

To me the way of Jesus doesn’t need to be separated off into a corner, it needs to be on the same table as all the other world views, part of the bigger conversation about life. Perceptions of what the way of Jesus and church is all about, and what it really is, in the eyes of the majority need to be changed and people need to have their eyes opened to what church really is, and the way of Jesus is really all about - that it’s not a religion, but its a way of life, its the best way to live, that its about bringing a new creation right in the midst of this one.

I know part of my role in that is writing and creating things which help people understand that, and that talking about it to people, and in my role in my own church I can do that to a degree as well, as a leader and someone in ministry who speaks occasionally leads the occasional meeting. I am sure my role in that will evolve and change over time, and grow.

But how does this relate to you, I hear you ask.

Well the point is that whatever you do on your sabbath, it needs to open your eyes to who you are.

As we try and figure out what is our Sabbath - what we need to do to feed our soul, to make us feel fresh and inspired, to give ourselves peace, rest and refreshment - we also have to figure out what it is that isn’t our Sabbath.

Sabbath needs to be a break from whatever we do for the rest of the week, a break from how we create, what we do for work, what we give our energies to for the rest of the week.

So in order to figure out what we do for a break, we need to be sure of what we’re doing the rest of the week.

Sabbath compels us to re-examine our lives and see what we’re doing with them, it compels us to look at what we’re giving our lives to and see if that is what we were made to do, if that’s the work that God wants for us.  When we are planning for Sabbath - and in Jewish culture they plan the whole week around it and spend all week preparing for it - then we need to know what are lives are really about, who we’re living for, what matters most to us.

Once we’ve done that, we need to make sure we’re doing it, so that we can then take a proper Sabbath which really refreshes us and makes us alive again.

So, ultimately, knowing our Sabbath helps us to know and find ourselves.

What are you giving your energies to?

Is it what you were made for?

Does it make you feel alive? 

Do you believe there’s something more you could be doing?

The Bible tells us to constantly examine ourselves, and in Genesis we’re given a pattern for living - 6 days work, a day’s rest - which is declared Holy. So we need to get our patterns right, and we need to examine ourselves to ensure the story we’re living, the rhythm of our lives, is the one God planned for us.

Its one of the most important things we can ever do.

Posted via email from James Prescott

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Sabbath & creativity

Last week I wrote about the link between the idea of Sabbath/rest and discipleship. As I was writing that piece I began to realise there is a link between Sabbath and creativity as well. 

In fact, to be honest, Sabbath at its best is at the heart of what it is to follow Jesus, and effects every area of our life. Sabbath is part of a rhythm of life that God designed for us, which is about, as we see in Genesis, creating and resting. Which brings me to the dimension of creativity in relation to Sabbath.

In Genesis 1 & 2 God creates for six days, and then rests. When the Bible talks about what God defines as work, its talking about creativity.

You see, as I have written elsewhere before, creativity is not just about art, design and music. 

Its about bringing something new into the world. 

Its what we do every day.

Every piece of work we produce, whatever our job, whatever we do during the day which brings something new into the world, then we are essentially creating.

Writing letters, doing presentations, solving crimes, treating sickness, putting out fires - they all bring something new and good into the world. Something that wouldn’t happen or exist if they weren’t there. Stopping a crime. Saving a life. Doing someone’s accounts, working in a bank and taking care of people’s money, working in a shop and providing people with a service and serving people, writing books or articles. 

All of it is creative. All of it brings something into the world that wasn’t there without us. And you can say ‘well if I didn’t do it someone else would’. But the thing is that if everyone said that no one would do anything. If you don’t do what you do then something is lost to the world. 

All of us have a role to play in the Kingdom. All of us are in one sense being creative when we work, we are bringing something new into the world. In the world God intended, God creates a world that isn’t perfect.

Yep, it wasn’t perfect. That’s not the word the Bible uses, that’s not what God says.

Perfect would imply static, that it can’t change, grow, that nothing further can happen. It means plants can’t grow, life can’t happen. Nothing can change. 

Creation isn’t static. It’s not perfect. Maybe it was without sin, but not perfect. 

There’s a big difference.

It was good.

God said it was good. He made the world and made each thing with the potential to make more of itself, each plant, each animal and us humans. He made everything to develop and grow and to create more. He creates everything with the ability to go on creating, with the ability, in one sense, to evolve and grow and make more, to almost join Him in the work of creation, in the context of what He has made and how He’s made it, within the boundaries that He has made.

This changes everything. When you look at it from this perspective, then God’s invitation through the cross is not to join His religion, but to be come a participator and co-creator with Him, in bringing His kingdom back to this world, in what He calls the restoration of all things - which, when used in the New Testament, usually means literally, all things.

Its no surprise that at the end of the Bible when Jesus comes back, He doesn’t come to take us anywhere else. 

He comes back here. 

And its a city He brings back, which, of course is the natural progression and development of what we had right at the beginning - a garden.

So where does this fit in with Sabbath?

Well Sabbath is where we take a break from our work, our creativity. Sabbath is where we reconnect with God and with the creation, and enjoy it. We recharge our batteries, we feed our souls.

I’m only beginning to figure out what this means for me. I think, for me, it means engaging with what we normally call ‘creative arts’. It means going to a gallery, watching a play or performance of some kind, going to a gig, watching a film, looking at books on art and design, or maybe finding some resources online on creativity. Maybe it means going to the country and engaging with creation, going for a walk (not that I can do that very often, but nevertheless, I know it works).

Those things, I have found, feed my soul. They inspire me, they take my mind in different directions, they give me fresh energy and inspiration, and I enjoy them all. 

One other thing I’ve noticed about Sabbath and creativity, is what we often do when we talk about taking a break, getting away, having fun.

Does it often involve staying in our homes, shutting all the windows & slumming it all day?

No, we usually go somewhere outside. We like to go to the country, or go somewhere where we can sit outside in the sun, or we go skiing, or just plain go out somewhere. We talk about wanting to ‘get some fresh air’ or ‘get out in the open air’.

When we want a break, it often seems natural to us to reconnect with creation.

Is that a coincidence?

I don’t think it is. Its because when we want to take a break from what we’re doing, to get some space, we’re designed to want to go back to where we came from. Often, by reconnecting with nature, I think we are obeying a primal impulse that wants us to reconnect with God. And its amazing how often we so much better for it, and it gives us fresh energy for the rest of life.

We are all creative beings, and we are designed to need rest, to model what God did in the initial creation. Part of that I believe that when we do take this rest, and when we reconnect with our creator, even on a very primal, basic level, then it can give us fresh inspiration & energy for us to take into the rest of our daily lives. 

Of course, its important to spend specific time devoted to silence, reflection and prayer in our Sabbath, and to spend more focussed time with God.

But the point is that Sabbath is meant to reconnect us to our creator, in whatever way we do that - and that it can be done through engaging with His creation. 

Then, we ourselves have more energy and inspiration, and a deeper connection with God. This allows us to play our role in the restoration of the world to how God intended it, and part of that is through our work, our creativity, through bringing something new into the world. The scriptures say said that ‘whatever you do, do it in the name of Jesus Christ’, which essentially is saying that every act is an act of service to Christ, everything we do is a sacred, spiritual thing. 

We need to look at work in a new way. We need to see it not just as work, that thing we do to get money. We need to see it as our way of bringing something new into the world, our role in remaking the world, our part in bringing God’s kingdom back, as part of an ongoing relationship with God. We need to get away from this idea that only church leaders are ‘in ministry’, and that we somehow need to use Christian jargon to serve God or do ministry, or have the right theological qualifications.

We’re all ministers, we are all serving God and being His representatives wherever we are, and we are all charged as followers of Jesus with bringing the kingdom back, playing our role in the restoration of all things.

We do that in our work, and in doing that we are essentially bringing something new into the world that wasn’t there before, and we’re being creative.

Sabbath is the way then that we reconnect with God in whatever way works for us, to give us the energy, inspiration and motivation for the rest of life, to do our work well and to be a minister of the gospel wherever we work in whatever we do.

Creativity and sabbath, together with work and discipleship, are all inexorably linked. They are all part of the rhythm of life for which God designed us.

In a consumer society where the pace of life moves so fast and we are always so busy, do we ever take the time to just rest and enjoy creation?

Do we ever create space just for God?

Do we allow ourselves a break to reconnect with God and creation?

If we don’t, it’s going to be much harder to be able to create, to work well, and to be able to live the full life that God wants for us.

In such a busy world with so much busyness and stress, Sabbath, surely, is needed more than ever.

Posted via email from James Prescott

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Discipleship & Sabbath - Two sides of the same coin?

The more I think and research the idea and concept of sabbath, the art of rest, how we need to get rhythms in our lives in order to be fully productive and properly rested human beings, the more I am beginning to see there is a bigger story at work here. I guess I should have realised this at the beginning, but God has been taking me on a journey and only now am I beginning to see where this is going and what it means.

You see, the art of rest and sabbath, and the rhythms of our lives, are inexorably linked to being a disciple. 

Its that simple.

You may already have recognised this, but its taken me a few weeks researching this to realise just how close these are - in fact, they may well be two sides of the same coin. Because to live a life where we are fully rested, where we always have enough energy for life and where we have a good pattern at work in our lives, it means we need to be orientating our whole lives rightly.

Church itself can become an excuse not to rest. We think that we're doing something for the kingdom, something good and so therefore its allowed. And because its much harder to be silent and disconnect, then we go for the thing that will keep us busy, make us feel good and which actually comes more naturally to us.

I have found trying to create a space for silence and really listen to God is one of the most challenging things I have ever done. I find it very difficult at times to be patient in silence.

There is so much noise in the world around us, that we often don't realise how much we like it. Even if its background noise, noise we can ignore, we still feel safer and more comfortable if there is some kind of noise going on, something to stop us having to think, engage with ourselves, face up to reality, or remind us of what we're really feeling deep down inside.

Those are the things God really wants to deal with, and out of fear, impatience and busyness we just plain ignore them. 

Not only this, but our bodies get used to this too. Our bodies get used to needing noise to feel comfortable, so even on a very subconscious level we are uncomfortable in silence. 

But its something we need to do.

Its something we were designed to do - and designed to need.

There is a way of being human which Jesus came to show us, an original design for us, an original routine. The Bible emphasises this right from the beginning. There are two accounts of creation, and the first one is more of a symbolic one, one with deeper metaphorical and symbolic meaning, as opposed to the second which follows more practical and logical order - and in the culture in which it was written, order is important. The writer is saying that while the account of creation as it happened is important, but that the bigger story is more important. And the first story shows us there is a rhythm, a cadence, a routine, a pattern to life which God models - He creates, and rests. He works and rests. In fact He takes a whole day off at the end - and its so important He declares it Holy. In fact, the day of rest, the period of time set aside to recharge and reconnect - is the first thing to be declared Holy in the Bible.

Rest is that important to God.

He wants us to work, but He also wants us to fully rest. He wants us to set aside a day to disconnect, to recharge, to reconnect with Him and be reminded of what's all around us, to enjoy life, to celebrate, to feed our souls.

How often do we really do this? 

I know I don't do this nearly often enough. I find it so hard to turn off my phone, not check my e-mails and not go on any social network site for a whole day. I think many of us do.

Have you ever tried it? 
Do you think you could do it?
What questions does it immediately, instinctively raise when I suggest that?

'But if I do that I.....(add your own comment here).

But really, is it not possible to do that at all? 

But it shouldn't be that hard, it really shouldn't. 

We got along for centuries without these things, and ultimately we should be able to go a day without them. We might have to plan it, to tell people in advance so they know not to contact us that day, and ultimately to leave some way open to contact us in case of emergency, but it shouldn't be the mission that I know it could feel like for many.

Now one other thing, let me get this straight. 

God does want us to work. 

Sorry people, just because I said God wants us to rest doesn't mean us taking loads of days of work doing nothing! Seriously though, when talking about rest a lot it can lead us to think rest is all that matters, but that's not the case. God wants us to work, He designed us to work, to create, to bring new things into the world, to contribute to the world, to build His kingdom here. 

But He doesn't want it to become our life. Just like He doesn't want rest to be our entire life.

Either end of that spectrum is bad, God wants us to get what we would call a 'work-life balance' in today's culture. 

He wants us to use what He has given us to contribute to the world and build His kingdom here. But He also wants to rest, recharge, reconnect with Him, remember what's important and remember that the world doesn't depend on us. The ultimately, its all in His control not ours. Its almost an act of faith, and an act of great humility to take a sabbath, because we're recognising that the world can go on without us, that its God that sustains the world not us.

I have more to share with you on this topic and I'm excited by where this is going, and I hope to share something else on it with you this week.

I still have lots more study and research to do before I get anywhere near where I want to be, this is essentially a journey I'm on, and I'm still very much on the theory and the initial discovery. But it excites me, because God is clearly doing something with this and I am interested to see where this goes. I hope you will continue on this journey of discovery with me.

Next time, I'll be exploring something I touched on briefly in this piece. The link between rest/sabbath and creativity, what that looks like, where it comes from and how it impacts us.



Posted via email from James Prescott