Monday, February 28, 2011

born again

Last night we had a lovely service here at St Catherine's. We worshipped God in song and word and prayer. The format of our evening service is kind of vaguely based around the CofE's Evening Prayer, but I do mean vaguely, with quite a lot of contemporary worship songs and the odd hymn thrown in, and in keeping with the size of the congregation we are usually led by a single guitar or keyboard.

I preached on Revelations 4, and picked a verse in particular that I used to show how God reveals himself as the God who keeps his promises, who honours the humble, who never forgets, and I took stuff from Genesis, Exodus and Isaiah along the way to help us see how the picture was built up. We worshipped Jesus. It was gentle but rather moving.

There was a visitor present. Someone I did not know. I spoke to him afterwards. He came from another church, and having seen us worship together, having prayed with us and dwelt with us in God's presence, and having heard me preach, he asked me:

"Are you born again?"
I kind of wanted to ask where had had been for the last hour and a half. What he had heard. What he had seen. But I was quietened by a gentle voice in my ear, so I simply smiled and said, "Yes". He pressed me - he wanted a testimony, the story of my conversion. I told him of how I was invited to the school CU by a friend, and how that lunchtime changed my life. This satisfied him. I passed the test - I had the right language, I said the right things.

O God, how terrible we are. We all do it. We see others and point the finger, but we all do it. Right now, the blogosphere and twitter are filled with people passing comment on Rob Bell's new book, Love Wins. Is it going to be the best thing ever, or total heresy? Respectable writers have trashed Rob Bell without having read a word of the book. Rob is here in the UK in April, and I hope to hear him speak on the book. I look forwards to reading it, and to his views on what the Bible says about heaven and hell. I have no idea whether I will agree or not! But I look forwards to listening.

Last year, I was told I was to hear one of the top ten preachers in the US, and rolled my eyes. Then I rolled up to chapel at Asbury Seminary with little expectation, and found myself moved and deeply struck by the words of Tom Long. He has recently published a book on funerals. Accompany Them With Singing is simply brilliant. Phenomenally Christian, well written and with a profound sense of resurrection godliness, this is an essential book for anyone who takes funerals. I wish I had had it fifteen years ago.

Why do we judge others so quickly when God has made us all so wonderfully? Just a little time, and a bit more grace... We might discover that the words we use, the code we demand, the lenses through which we delight to see this world are not the only God-given gifts. And don't get uppity with me; if anyone of you for a moment is thinking "but I see the world through Scriptural lenses" the problem is - that man who came to St Catherine's last night does too. But couldn't see Jesus all around him. The Bible is too big for my eyes to see through all of it at once; kindness allows that my neighbour may also have Scripture vision - though from a different page. And rolling with the kindness, well, it may take us places where we end up shaking our heads; or it may bless us beyond.


Joyce said...

The presence of God was in worship and the word in a gentle and warm way. I think being open to all the very different ways the services lead us is why I look forward in anticipation to where and what God is saying to us. The simple Guitar or piano or whatever is always pleasing and perfect for our worship and praise to Jesus......joyce

wondering aloud said...

gotta buy that book then

why do we do it? the judgements? the witholding of fellowship just in case? the taint testing? and oh yes and i am just as guilty as anyone else....

i think that i do it when i think that maybe God isn't quite up to being God. i think that maybe i do it when it can't quite Trust God, to be God. i think that maybe deep down, i think that God is incomplete without my help

God help us all....and mercifully he does

Anonymous said...

everyone that comes to a church has different experiences not every church or every pastor has the same outlook on the bible, how does one teaching compare to another on the same bit of scripture? where someone is on their life with God is more important i think than whether you're in the right place in a church. A church is meant to be a family but if we all judge everyone that makes it through our door aren't we guilty of being the man/woman who needs to take plank of wood out of our own eye? sharon