Monday, 17 March 2014

Same fire, same story!

The big story of the Temple is another tale which spans the bible narrative from Eden to Revelation. Whispers of a temple, the unadulterated place of God's presence amongst his friends, can be found in the first garden before sin spoiled choices closed the gates. It reappears later in Moses' burning bush and dramatically in the Tent of Meeting where the face to face time with God was intimate friendship under canvas. Even as Solomon dedicated his permanent structure, he knew something of the inadequacy of a mere building to try to house God. You see, the promise from the beginning was that the presence of God in men and women made in his image would spread and fill the whole planet, not just inhabit a building!

Jesus, makes the story his own, personifying old prophetic yearnings of a more glorious house, and declaring that the more glorious temple is in fact a person. 'These stones will be torn down and rebuilt in three days', he told his slow to understand disciples. Only after his three day death and resurrection did it begin to dawn on them that a once and for all temple sacrifice had taken place. No wonder he had the nerve to say 'Come to me, don't go to the temple'. One greater than the temple had come - The word made flesh, the temple on the streets, a new kind of order, for which the old bricks and mortar temple is relegated to the role of signpost.

Pentecost becomes a new temple kind of moment. The same fire that Moses and Solomon saw, now breaking out from the confines of a building and filling ordinary men and women, who in turn fill the streets and fill the city.

Even the non Jews get to enter Gods temple as the goalposts appear to shift into line with the original Eden intent for the presence of God to be carried by men to the nations. Those who were not allowed in the temple, who could not come near to the inner courts, who were forever kept apart from a knowledge of God - now welcomed and received into his presence. Witness Peter at the house of Cornelius.

While Peter is still speaking the Holy Spirit falls on Gentiles in the same way as Jews. No difference. The same fire, the same cloud, the same anointing. Who said they couldn't join the temple club? Not Jesus. He opens the door, changes the entry requirements, dress code and the menu - he wants men everywhere to know his presence and no walls or boundaries will stop that plan. No wonder Paul declares later to the Ephesian church that in Jesus the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. That in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit. This is temple language, worked out in our corporate flesh so vividly that Peter gasps, 'These stones have come alive!'

No more special places, special buildings, special cities or even special days of the week - this thinking is too limiting - The promise is here and spreading out until Spirit filled communities are alight in every far flung corner of the planet. This too is our story, living stones, living temples, living not for ourselves but for a greater prize - longing for the day when heaven comes down to earth and the whole redeemed planet becomes the eternal place of his presence.

Monday, 10 March 2014

The story we find ourselves in.....

What's so amazing about the big story of the bible, is that ordinary people like you and me get to play our part in it. It's as though we actually get written into the script, finding our lives caught up in the grand narrative sweep that stretches like an epic novel from the beginning of time, way ahead into an infinite future hope.

The Apostle Paul put it well in his letter to the Ephesian church when he said that we are now heirs, sharers together with Israel in the promise of Christ Jesus. In other words, it's no longer just someone else's story, we have been scripted in, we get to play our part.

In the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C S Lewis gives us a similar insight. Edmund, Lucy, and their annoying cousin Eustace are drawn into the Narnian world through a picture of a ship at sea. The picture itself tells a story, but it's as though it becomes alive as they look at it, becoming so real, that they are pulled from their world into a greater reality, a new world. They land in the ocean near the boat and are taken aboard by the new King of Narnia, Caspian. The unfolding of the story finds them dragged from their present state into the service of a King on a mission, in a world which seemed far off or even unreal to them not long before.

I don't know of any better description of what ought to happen to us when we respond to the gospel and begin to follow Jesus. So many recognise that their sins have been forgiven, but fail to see the bigger narrative of God's mission in the world. So we continue in our own small stories, caught up in little more than individual self help plans and missing the grand adventure and purpose that God has intended we participate in.

If Paul is right that we are sharers in the promise of Jesus Christ, then we too must feel the pull of the new Kingdom. We too must allow ourselves to respond to the gravitational current of a greater reality, the call to service on the Kings mission and purpose. Ordinary believers like us must jump into a new world, one which may seem distant and unreal, but nothing less vital than the big story of God's redemptive plan for planet earth. Why waste your life on your own small story, when one so significant is waiting for you to participate?

Monday, 3 March 2014

Firm foundations & lazy longitude

Our individual lives and our church communities can be built on all kinds of foundations. In our preferences we can run after many things, many good things - but not always the main thing!

Sometimes in church life you will observe that an overly pastoral foundation has been laid. A very caring church which meets many needs and offers much in the way of support, but still manages to miss the main purpose. If the main thing is the mission of God into the broken world around us, then any over emphasis, pastoral, teaching, activist, or otherwise in the foundations of a local church can leave us shaping lives that lean away from the bright sun of our main purpose.

Elsewhere you see churches more shaped by the ever shifting preferences of our culture. It's not that surprising when we consider that our churches are made up of ordinary people like us, bringing our imperfections, our personal world views and unstable foundations into the new community. Our lives are not neutral when we come to Christ. All of the old ways of thinking need renewing, digging out and replacing with biblical foundations if we are to build well individually and corporately.

So whether it's culture, pastoral preference, binding family traditions, sinful attitudes - whatever fundamentally affects church life can knock us significantly off the course of what the New Testament considers to be recognisable and healthy foundations for a church. Where a church is way off the graph at one extreme, this is what we call a cult. Even if you hear yourself saying that this is the way we have always done things in our church - if you can't find it in the bible, it's likely that you have evolved into something that is more shaped by preference and culture. This is not just potentially harmful for individual lives, but it hugely diminishes the mission - Remember the main thing we were talking about? It's so easily forgotten!

To a lesser extreme, we can find ourselves gradually losing focus. Making lesser things the main thing, and so over a generation we become the very opposite of the people that God called us to be on this planet. We may have started out on the journey very close to the plan, but with the passing of time, and the blurred fuzziness of confused purpose, we become something very different.

In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed from Europe for Asia. He was heading for Japan, but because he was just a few degrees out in his longitude calculations, Columbus actually hit land in the Bahamas. We don't have to be far out of line in laying key foundations in church life. Just a few degrees over the first few miles at sea makes little difference to your general direction, but by the time you have sailed long enough, you are an entire continent apart!

Healthy churches then will heed the warning of Columbus and his dubious mapping, and search the scriptures in order to realign, recalibrate, even relay foundations. The right biblical latitude and longitude is so important, because the main thing (remember that?) is at stake. We can't afford to sail unthinkingly towards the wrong destination as so many have done before.