Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Lord’s Prayer at Celebration

Last weekend I went to the celebration event of our group of churches. Nettes & I volunteered to help with the 7-10s and so were with them most of the time. Our focus was producing a sort of frieze on large sheets of paper consisting of the words of the Lord’s Prayer that the kids decorated - in the tradition of the illuminated writing of the monks, I suppose, but using felts and glitter instead.

The kids recieved a variety of teaching methods moving round different activities. So when they came to us we were chatting about what the words meant to them or what they had learnt through the other activities as they decorated the letters. One activity I liked was when the children were given a prayer cube that they used both as a learning aid and then to pray with. And they could take these home at the end.

In the final meeting the kids presented what they had learnt and we held up the frieze and to finish off everyone at the celebration reciting the Lord’s Prayer with us.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

is it really time for more “ministry prayer”?

Across the world we may be due another wave of what is sometimes called “ministry prayer”. Last year such a move was sparked off as the ministry of Todd Bentley was publicised across the internet. And now Todd has a new website and appears to be getting ready for a comeback. There was a wane in these times across the world following news that Todd had fallen into an affair. So might Todd’s comeback reverse this trend? I sincerely hope not!

So what's the problem?

Is it Todd's recent divorce and remarriage? Well actually Todd is now going through a time of "restoration". He has made himself accountable to Rick Joyner. This is documented in videos on his new site. Of course falling as Todd did is a very human failing. We can and should learn to rebuild our trust of him in this area.

No, I have a different concern – the whipping up audiences especially using exaggerated claims. Todd claimed some incredible miracles. News media such as ABC's Nightline broadcast concluded that not one of these could be independently verified. Nevertheless his staff worked overtime collating testimonies and medical reports. So what are we to think? I am sure that some people were really touched but also I think there was a lot of hype.

Don't get me wrong. I am a great believer in prayer and I look for God to heal today. But observing the way that phenomena such as this spread makes me wonder to what extent human psychology is involved. And in fact whenever I see people called forward after hearing a motivational message I wonder how much of what follows is due to suggestion. I'm not saying that the emotional manipulation is always intentional. But when the focus is on an individual and their needs people tend to get over emotional. Those that do respond in this way may even start to get dependant on this emotional experience.

In our church we are careful not to make claims we can’t back up and not to whip up emotions. Times of “ministry prayer” are thankfully rare and, when they do occur, often the meeting is formerly closed so that we can get a coffee if we prefer, which I do. But I long for more of God and I feel that sometimes it would be good to respond to him with a physical act but, to be honest, for all the above reasons most of these "appeals" give me the willies.

So what are the alternatives? Well I think we can be more creative. Why can't we have activities in which we can all take part if we want to – not just those “in need of prayer”? Let's not be so intense about it.

On occasions in our worship we have been encouraged write or draw something to give thanks for and bring that forward to be displayed. Once during our Time With God we wrote down things that we were praying for God to get rid of such as debt or injustices and dropped them into a litter bin. I saw a number of activities like this at Prayer House at Spring Harvest this year. And in previous years I have seen many ideas in worship sessions at Greenbelt. On my bookshelf I have a series of books with many innovative multi-sensory ideas by Sue Wallace. The list could go on. I’m sure we can think of more of these ourselves and use them as ways to respond in our services.

More “ministry prayer”? No thanks!

But I would love to see more of these creative and relaxed ways for us all to respond to God. Come on! Let’s go for it!

For a related article by a friend of mine see Catching Men by David Matthew.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Reflections on the Community Fun Day

I have now added a set of photos on flickr for yesterday’s Community Fun Day.

Instead of meeting on Sunday our church threw itself into supporting this event and many of us came as volunteers. This was our worship. A few helped with the set up and stewarding, Heather & Roo did face painting, I was involved with a team from our church in organising a prayer tent and my wife Nettes ran the bric-a-brac stall. The day was initiated by Karis Neighbour Scheme and lots of local organisations got together to arrange it. Everyone worked very hard. Apologies to any I have missed.

In the prayer tent we offered prayer including prayer for healing and laying on of hands. A few completed prayer-cards and posted them in the box. We had a good time praying with these cards at the end of the day. And we prayed with a few in person, anointing at least a couple of people with oil. It was good being a listening ear. People also took away some of the free resources. There were some booklets, we had printed some of Stephanie's poems on card and printed these downloads on how to pray from an excellent website called rejesus.

It was a steep learning curve for me. I'd never really done anything like this before. But I knew that a few from our church had run a prayer tent last year. So I was very greatful to have people around me who knew what they were doing. It is a lot harder than I realised to put up signs on a tent. And one problem with being in a tent is that your papers tend to blow around. It was very quiet at first and I thought that we might have no vistors. But in the end we were encouraged and felt that all who came to the tent received a blessing.

Across the site some good relationships were built with people in the community. For example, both Nettes and I had a chat with the people from our local LETS. I also met Karis's Jude Greenwood, for the first time, who among other things is an associate of Spring To Life specialising in life coaching. And through this event I met Gwen the minister of the Church of the Redeemer who mentioned that her church was starting a Messy Church.

All in all it was a great day. A special thanks to Annabel from Karis for getting this off the ground!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Prayer Tent at Community Fun Day

On Saturday a few of us from our church will be running a Prayer Tent at a local Community Fun Day.

We will offer to pray for people in person or give them the opportunity to jot down a prayer or request on a card and post it in a box. We will pray with these cards when we open the box at the end of the day. We will have some other free resources on the stall and trust that people will come along and be blessed.

The other week I was invited to a planning meeting for the event at Karis Neighbour Scheme and it looks like this is now going to be a regular event.

Please pray that this goes well.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Ramblings on The Shack

I’ve just been reading through this novel for a second time. I started it last year but only got half way through despite it being a slim book. The controversy The Shack is now generating prompted me to finish it, read it through again and to blog these thoughts. I considered putting a review on Amazon, giving it 4 out of 5 stars, but then realised how many reviews were already there. William Young’s book has been a runaway bestseller for over a year now - not bad for a self-published Christian book. The chances are you know someone who has already read it.

The Shack tells the story of one man’s experience God - how this has been affected by a tragedy in his life that has left to him living with depression and a love/hate relationship with the Almighty. This relationship takes an unexpected turn when the protagonist Mack receives an invitation – apparently from God – to spend the weekend together at an old abandoned shack.

The narrative in the book starts off being realistic. At first I thought the book was going to be mainly a detective novel. But then the snowy world around the shack suddenly changes into spring and Mack meets manifestations of the Trinity. Jesus is, as you would expect, a carpenter from the Middle East but Father is portrayed as a black woman called Papa and Holy Spirit as an oriental woman Sarayu. God appearing as female may shock some but Young quickly clarifies that the purpose of this is to challenge religious stereotypes. As the story progresses we are left wondering if Mack is lying unconscious in the shack dreaming or having visions or that perhaps he has died and this is the afterlife. I couldn’t help thinking of parallels to the TV series’ Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes where the heroes’ adventures take place in a dream world while in a coma.

The bulk of the novel is about Mack’s conversations with the Trinity. And there are some moving descriptions of how the three characters relate to each other and to Mack. Unfortunately, Young also tries to explain some of his own theory of the Trinity. It was here that I initially got stuck. It is difficult when discussing the Trinity to avoid the accusations of heresy unless you are a theological scholar, which Young is not. But I didn’t immediately jump on Young’s ideas as error as some have. The first time through I just got bored. It wasn’t until I got past this section and realised the novel isn’t about the Trinity per se but about how we can relate to God in tragedy then the whole thing took off for me again.

The Shack challenges the traditional view of God as distant and judgemental emphasising instead his loving relational nature. This is controversial for some and clich├ęd for others. However the message of the book clearly comes through: everyone is special to God, he cares, he is not the cause of our pain and we can run to him for comfort. This is not just intellectually argued but depicted in an emotionally powerful way that many have testified has touched them deeply.

The plot works well. The conversations climax as Mack realises how much he blames God for his plight. The dialogue with each member of the Trinity then sensitively unravels this. I loved it, in one of these chats, when Jesus points out that New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation doesn’t refer to heaven but to the church. The description of the church Young offers is not one of an institution but of a community built on the sort of relationships modelled in Papa, Jesus and Sarayu. As Larry Crabb would say, we join in the dance of the Trinity. Papa condemns religion as man-made deception. And I am still trying to get my head around some of the discussions of law and grace and about how God wants to set us free from the expectations of others.

The Shack has produced heated debates across the internet. Some love it and want the world to read it. Others condemn it as heresy. I agree it is a good book and I’m glad I finished it. I must confess to a few reservations but I would not say it’s heretical.

If you want to read more about this book I recommend fellow blogger Scott Lencke’s lengthy three-part post that looks at some of the main criticism.

Part One summarises the plot and looks at how The Shack stops short of the universalism and does in fact honour scripture.

Part Two defends Young’s description of a non-judgemental God but finds Young’s view of God’s sovereignty lacking and criticises his position on Open Theism.

Part Three concludes that The Shack does not teach heretical views on the Trinity - such as Modalism - but says that Young has not always chosen his words well. It also discusses the reasons for God appearing female.

Also two books published February 2009 discuss the theology of the Shack. Confusingly they are both called ‘Finding God In The Shack’ - one by Randal Rauser and one by Roger E Olson. Skimming the reviews there doesn’t seem much to choose between them but the one by Olson looks a little more critical of Young’s ideas.

I hope you’ve found these ramblings helpful. In the end, whatever we think of this novel, my prayer is that we all learn something about the nature of God revealed in The Shack. I trust we will learn to run to him in times of trouble and not away.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Future of New Frontiers

Last year I blogged about Mark Driscoll's prophecy to New Frontiers encouraging them to seek God for a successor to Terry Virgo. So, in the latest post on Terry’s blog, I found it interesting to see him now carefully weighing Mark’s prophecy.

Terry’s thoughts are outlined in the video embedded in that post. Although it was helpful to receive a wake up call in the way that he did, Terry explains, it is unhelpful to think of one person succeeding him as the new leader. Instead he sees the way forward is to acknowledge a number of emerging apostles. In the video Terry also teaches on the role of apostles today and what he calls 'apostolic spheres'.

Terry names John Kpikpi in West-Africa author of God’s New Tribe and Edward Buria in Kenya as a couple of examples of these new emerging apostles. Whether these new ministries will continue to work together under the title of New Frontiers or not only time will tell. But I get the impression that Terry Virgo intends to stay around for at least a few more years.