Archive for the “worship” Category

spill beans 8 coverThe new edition of Spill the Beans is out and the material starts from Trinity Sunday (26 May) and goes through to Pentecost 14 (25 August).  As usual there are great resources from a hugely talented team for children and young people and those who lead and enable worship.

You can download a free sample if you want to try before you buy.

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A reflection on Passover the Exodus…

 

a promise

a people

a promise to a people

a people of promise

 

a people who cried out together

a promise made by god

to a people chosen by god

 

a long time in the making

the promise

or was it the people?

 

through the escape

through the sea

through the wilderness

to a home

 

a long time in the making

the promise

or was it the people?

 

through the straying

through the arguing

through the harsh new reality

to a new set of rules, and new promise

 

a long time in the making

the promise

or was it the people?

 

through the hunger

through the thirst

through the heat of the day and the freezing nights

to a daily provision of bread

 

a long time in the making

the promise

or was it the people?

 

through the hope

through the doubt

through the threshold

to the fulfilment of a promise

 

but what was the promise?

 

was it the escape?

was it the place?

was it hope?

 

was it a promise to the people?

was it the promise of the people?

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Spill-Issue-7-Cover-460

It has been quite some feat by the Spill the Beans Team to pull this off over the festive season, but after a crazy deadline of 31 December for all the writing, the next issue of Spill the Beans is now beautifully formed and available for download. This is the Lent to Pentecost edition that sees us from 17 February all the way to 19 May 2013! And this edition is not limited just to Sundays, you also get ideas for each day of Holy Week too. It is a large issue.

Inside you will find worship ideas and resources, including Bible notes, stories, prayers, reflections, music suggestions, and more, and for age groups you will find suggestions for activities, crafts, games and teen discussion resources.

If you have already used Spill the Beans, you will know what a great resource this is, created by folks here in Scotland. If you haven’t, but are intrigued, have a look at this sample.

If you’d like to download a full copy of Issue 7 for use in your church or personally, then click the button below. It is a positive steal at only £12. You can make a secure payment via PayPal and then an email with secure link to the download should wing its way to you.

Please follow the instructions carefully. The Adobe pdf file is approximately 4 MB.

Buy Now and Download

You can also get involved in feedback and discussion on the Spill the Beans blog, where we try to put up weekly PowerPoint backgrounds too.

If you would like a print copy of Spill the Beans, Issue 6, then this can be arranged. The cost is £20+P&P and these can be arranged directly with the office at Lanark Greyfriars Church. Each issue is in full colour and comb bound for ease of use. We have had to raise the costs of the print copy from our initial issues as we have found the original costs were not covering the costs of producing the copies.

If you would like to order copies (which are all printed to order so there may be a few days to wait before you receive yours) then you can email office [at] lanarkgreyfriars [dot] com with your order details. An invoice will be issued after dispatch of your order. If you prefer you can contact Greyfriars Church Office on 01555 661510 and place your order over the phone.

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Incarnation.  Taking on flesh.  God slipping into skin.  Or that wonderful image from John’s Gospel of the Word moving into the neighbourhood.

What a amazing image.  Isn’t it?

It’s hard to get your head around it though, that God would bother.  That God would be so vulnerable, so tiny, so frail, so dependant.

There are so many other ways that God could have chosen to sort the world out.  He could have become a king, an emperor, a Caesar and ruled over all the world with power and military might.

But that’s not what God chose.

God chose the least.  The very least. A poor, unmarried teenager.  Most of us wouldn’t trust a teenager with a doll… but God isn’t most of us.  Mary said ‘yes’.  That was good enough for God to trust her with everything.

Luke is so matter of fact about it all…

“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”

God chose the very least of places.  Jerusalem is just up the road.  The capital.  The city on a hill.  The shining heart of a religious kingdom.  The Temple, the Holy of Holies… but God chose somewhere else.  Bethlehem.  Even the prophet Micha calls Bethlehem the runt of the litter.

What a place to start something new.

What a place to change everything.

We often talk about doing what Jesus would do or trying to work out what God’s priorities are, but we should know.  Our problem isn’t that God hasn’t spelt it out for us.  Our problem is that we so often try our best to avoid the hard bits, the difficult places and the awkward situations where we come face to face with the least.  We avoid those moments that make us think about how we live and what our priorities are.

What makes this story even more remarkable is that it didn’t just start in a nice house in Bethlehem.  It started in a stable, a barn, a cave out the back.  That makes no sense.  Jews are honour bound to provide hospitality, especially to family.  Joseph is returning to Bethlehem because that’s where he is from.  It is his city.  So why does he have nowhere to go?  Why does Joseph have no family they can stay with?  No floor they can sleep on?

It’s a question we never ask, but was Joseph an outsider too?  Was he the strange cousin that left Bethlehem for Nazareth?  It’s hardly moving up in the world so why go?  What was it that made Joseph leave in the first place?  This wasn’t really a time when the population was mobile like today.  Carpentry is the family trade so why would Joseph leave?  And why wasn’t he welcome when he went home?

Perhaps because now he turns up with his pregnant teenage bride to be…

I wonder how many people said ‘No!’.  I wonder how many people thought first of the shame and dishonour taking in these distant relatives would bring before they even saw a woman in the first stages of labour?  That strong system of honour, bound up in religious laws, was a difficult thing to break.

So Mary and Joseph they end up in with the animals in the muck and the stink because a stranger saw their need and said ‘Yes!’.

And there, almost literally outside, Jesus was born.  God slipped into skin.  Fragile, tiny, shivering, girning skin and lived among us.

Even the prophets didn’t really get that bit, did they?  They foretold a great king of David’s line.  David was the shepherd boy who became Israel’s greatest ever king, the unlikely hero whom God raised up.

This child would renew the line.  He would bring peace, unite the kingdoms for good, rule justly and honourably.

But that’s not what God had in mind.

God chose the least as witnesses.  Not courtiers, not noblemen and women.  Shepherds were the first to know.

Shepherds?  Could there be a more inappropriate bunch to visit God?

Shepherds were the outsiders, the least religious of their time.  Their job meant that they were out in the fields or on the hills with the sheep.  They never went to church.  They couldn’t maintain the strict purity laws and ritual washing.  They were literally and metaphorically unclean.  Perfect.

There was no big show at the Temple.  No announcement at the Synagogue.  Instead there were angels on a hillside singing of God’s glory to those who were supposedly cut off from it by the religious authorities.

And the shepherds say ‘Yes!’.  They leave their sheep and rush to see what God is doing.

The story of the incarnation, the story of God taking on skin, is a story which points us firmly towards God’s priorities.  This is a story which starts in a stable, travels through the back end of nowhere, collects the waifs and strays along the way and ends up with an execution on a rubbish dump.  If we need to ask where God wants us to be this Christmas after reading that story then the only problem is us.

So, the waiting is almost over, the tree is trimmed, the parcels wrapped, well some of them are… food preparations are underway.

 

For some, Christmas brings a rush of activity to get all the last minute tasks done.

For others, Christmas brings a calm approach as they quietly prepare to welcome the Christ child again.

And for others, still, Christmas brings a desperate struggle just to survive another day.

 

Because it’s Christmas…

means little to the homeless young woman sheltering under the railway bridge, trying to keep her Christmas box wrappings dry so that she can sleep under them another night.

Because it’s Christmas…

has no impact on the heroin addict wandering the High Street checking out “opportunities” for his next fix.

Because it’s Christmas…

brings no comfort to the young parent trying to do the best for their children while sick with worry about their partner off fighting in Afghanistan.

Because it’s Christmas…

will not change a thing unless we allow the baby God to leave the swaddling behind, unless we embody Christ in our lives and work to bring peace and hope and light into all the darkness of today’s world.

Because it’s Christmas…

will not change a thing unless we allow the God of Christmas to be born in our hearts and lives this day and every day, because it’s Christmas.

God chose the least.

God chose Mary and Joseph, a stable in Bethlehem, shepherds and outcasts… and moved into their neighborhood.

And trusted them with Jesus, His only Son.  Amen

 

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What’s missing today is a high-quality discourse on rethinking the design and evolution of the entire system from scratch.

The quality of the results produced by any system depends on the quality of awareness from which the people in the system operate.

(Otto Scharmer)

Since writing the first batch of posts on Missing Generations I’ve been lucky enough to be part of two events and several conversations which have expanded my thinking on some of the topics I raised.  I think those events and conversations have at least begun to produce a quality of awareness…

 

The Church is perfectly designed to achieve what we are currently achieving. (Alan Hirsch)

Those were the opening words of Alan Hirsch at a recent conference, The Shaping of Things To Come… in Scotland.  He and Michael Frost were talking through some of the thoughts from the book of the same name (The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church) and Hirsch was basically saying that our focus on pastor/ teacher leads to a focus on an intellectual style of engagement.  We have pretty much ignored other forms of ministry like apostle, prophet and evangelist.  That means we skew our thinking in one direction and that has led to the church we have today.

That analysis would certainly explain our present forms of worship and even our liking of austere buildings.  We could trace that back to the reformation and tie it to the Enlightenment but it also chimes with a second conversation I was part of with Brian McLaren.  The link below is Brian’s podcast at a recent conference and he was saying the same thing at the event I was at.

Brian McLaren at children,youth and a new kind of Christianity  http://www.woodlakebooks.com/files/CYNKC-Brian%20McLaren-Christian%20Faith%20and%20the%20Next%20Generation.mp3

His assertion is that we are telling the wrong story, or at least telling the story in the wrong way.  That stems from even further back than the reformation and Brian blames those pesky Greco-Romans and their philosophy.  He says that the story we tell is transposed onto Plato’s ‘Cave’.

greek philosophy diagram

So our version is:

christianity diagram

McLaren’s assertion is that our story is something very different.  Our story begins with the Exile.  That cycle of exile, rediscovering a relationship with God, returning and forgetting again.  Genesis is the prequel and the sequel is Isaiah and his vision of the kingdom which leads us to Jesus and the incarnation.

One of Hirsch and Frost’s thoughts is that we focus too much on one particular end of the story of Jesus.  We focus on the cross, resurrection and the return.  We forget the incarnation.  We forget an amazing and hugely significant part of the story, the life of Jesus, here on Earth.

Michael Frost talked about ‘excarnation’, the opposite of ‘incarnation’.  Excarnation means stripping away flesh.  I wonder if that’s what we have done in the way that we tell the story of Jesus, or in how we behave as Christians?  It would seem that rather than being an incarnational community, a community in the flesh, we have become in many ways an excarnational community, a community of thought.

If that is true then it has some serious implications for us.  We are, again, telling the wrong story.

And that leads to us doing the wrong things.  We focus on learning rather than sharing, study rather than community and maintaining an institution rather than participating in a movement.

Hirsch asked the question: Did you get into this to run a club or build a kingdom?  Why do we spend all our energy doing the former and not the latter?

I’ve come across this video in a couple of places now.  I think part of the trap of the club is that we are stuck in a cycle of property ownership and wages.  What if money was no object?  What would you do?

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Is the Church, all wretch and no vomit?

A final thought for now:

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Einstein

 

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How people learn has changed.

I talked about learning preferences in part 1.  This video shows just how much teaching and learning has moved on since I was at school.

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I wonder how much church has recognised and embraced these changes?  Or, if the church has actually been at the forefront of them?

I see live streaming of services, websites, video in worship and even some mobile phone apps but these changes in learning are not just about embracing the technology.  For the most part churches are using tech to produce a new shiny version of what they have always done.  It’s just about better visuals.  And that’s good.  Production value is important.  But…

The ‘flipped’ learning model in the video gives an illusion of control to the learner.  They can learn whenever they want, in a way they want… but the teacher still sets the agenda.  There are things that have to be learned… and tested.  All that has happened is that the instructional part of the class is delivered on video so replaces the homework bit.

That in itself is interesting.  What if church had stuff to watch, read or listen to before you showed up?  What if the sermon or teaching was delivered via video so you could watch when you want, read up a bit, think it over so that on Sunday you came with your questions?  Instead of 5 hymns, 3 prayers, a children’s talk and a sermon we could actually talk about what the passage means to us, what we think about it and how it might impact how we live.  Would that work?

Perhaps the real revolution needed in church learning isn’t shown in the film above.  The real learning revolution is something deeper.  And the church should be at the very heart of it.  After all, we started it.

Jesus came to set us free.  But how?  From what?

We could say that it is freedom from sin.  OK.  That would be good because I think that freedom is as much about freedom from the political structures and expectations of the world, the exercising of power over another, the need for wealth and status and the exploitation of others it is about anything else.

The Brazilian educationalist and theologian Paulo Freire talks about “the practice of freedom”.  Why?  Because education and freedom are so closely linked that it’s hard to imagine one without the other.  But education is politically loaded.

Knowledge is power.

I often wonder how much the church’s insistence on a professionalised, theologically trained (look up the meaning of that word) ministry has led to the liberation of people through education, or if it has led to a dependency on ‘the educated’?

Institutions maintain culture.  It’s what they are for.

We use all kinds of things to maintain power.  We dream up systems of governance that require large majorities or complex procedures to make change.  We load decision making bodies with experts because they know best.

What a church looks like where the minister, the teaching elder, was tasked with enabling the discovery of knowledge, not by telling people what things mean but by pointing people in the right direction, assisting in their search, asking good questions, building confidence and empowering people… and the people wanted to learn?

That requires a certain level of self-confidence, to lay down your position, your status and your power.  But then I’m fairly sure that’s what Jesus did.

How many questions did Jesus answer with a straight answer?  How many questions did he answer with another question?  Or with a story?

I think our role is to help people discover what they already know.  To share the God they bring with them, not to tell them that their God should be the same as the one we brought.

But, here’s the problem… people don’t like this.  It’s too hard.  It takes lots of time and commitment.  People also buy into the systems that control and dominate them.

This kind of learning community will challenge everything about who we are, what we do and why.

But it works.

And it’s worth it.

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What spiritual practices do you do?

Eh?  What’s a spiritual practice?

I wrote in my chapter of Inside Verdict that the church isn’t very good at helping members keep the promises they make.  I promised to read the Bible, to pray and to join with other believers in worship.

Reading the Bible is difficult.  So it’s nice that someone explains it for 15 minutes once a week.

Praying is hard.  So it’s nice that the same person prays on my behalf for a few minutes once a week.

Joining other believers in worship is ok.  So long as I’m able to get there at 11am on a Sunday and I’m ok with ‘joining’ meaning sitting in rows looking at the back of someone’s head (if it’s busy enough that there is someone sitting in front of me).

It’s easy to criticise, but I think one of the most profound failings of the church with all age groups is our failure to help people develop spiritual practices.

Most people reading this won’t know what I’m talking about.  We don’t even use the phrase in our churches.

Christianity has a rich tradition of spiritual practice.  Prayer is one of them.  Meditation.  Fasting.  Walking the labyrinth.  Prayer beads.  Retreats. Lectio divina.  And yet we don’t talk about them, much less promote and practice them.

In fact, the very opposite is sometimes true.  We are suspicious of spiritual practices.  They are things that other religions do.

We have been shaped by the Enlightenment to such an extent that we now have an almost entirely cerebral faith.  God lives in our heads, not our hearts.  Except that’s not really anyone’s experience of God, is it?  We feel God.

I quoted a passage from Alice Walker’s book The Color Purple on Sunday:

Shug Avery asks ‘Celie, tell the truth, have you ever found God in church?’

Celie’s answers ‘I never did.  I just found a bunch of folks hoping for him to show.  Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me.  And I think all the other folks did too.  They come to share God, not find God.’

God doesn’t live in church.  God lives in everything.  We say it, but if we really believe that then how do we equip people to see God in everything and meet God everywhere rather than coming to church expecting to find God there and leaving disappointed?

Spiritual practices are a key to helping us have a deeper faith (and better mental health!).

The reason the Enlightenment left us with a cerebral faith was literacy.  People can read.  The church is only just catching up with this remarkable development.  Before mass literacy (that’s not a theological pun!) people needed someone to read to them and explain what things meant because they had no access to books.  That has changed.  Completely.  Our style of worship hasn’t.

So, what is worship for?

Someone once told me it is how we show God his worth.  I like that answer but it lays down a challenge.  If God means everything to us then shouldn’t worship be about everything we are and all that God means?

I think at some level worship needs to do three things; connect, engage, inspire.

Connect

Worship has to connect with people.  Deeply.  It has to help people connect with themselves, each other and God.  A sermon can do that.  Singing can do that.  Prayers can do that.  But so can other things.  Connection is one of the things Xers and Yers need.

Engage

Worship has to be engaging.  It has to draw people in and create a space where people feel able to engage without fear.  But it also has to engage with the world.  Worship can’t be a nice, safe spiritual bubble.  It has to reflect the joys and the struggles.

Inspire

Worship has to inspire change.  I’m fed up being told I fall short.  I know.  I get it.  Help me to be better.  Inspire me, don’t blame me.  We talk about forgiveness but it feels like someone keeps a list, and the list gets added to each week.  Worship needs to encourage us to be more and to make a difference in the world.

I keep returning to these arrows.

The balance and focus of spiritual practice and of worship is vital.  These are like chair legs.  The story is the floor (backwards and forwards).  If we neglect ourselves (inward), our church/fellow travellers (together), our community and world (outwards) or God (upwards) then we end up on a chair with uneven legs and we spend all of our time wondering why it is so hard to balance.

So, what spiritual practices are you engaging with?  What is worship for?  What should it look like?  And who should do it?

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