Jul 01

Deacon Richard Beckett“God delights in diversity”

Jonathan Sacks, in his book “The Great Partnership” writes the line above and goes on to explain that there are, for example, forty thousand different varieties of beetle.

The writer of the Psalms rejoices in the variety that God creates too as we can read in Psalm 104:24-25

“Lord, you have made so many things! How wisely you made them all! The earth is filled with your creatures. There is the ocean, large and wide, where countless creatures live, large and small alike…”

But coming back to Jonathan Sacks book again, his opening line is actually taken from a chapter which is about Darwin and the whole book is about the way in which Sacks sees the need for science and religion to work together rather than what seems to be the usual approach which brings these two into opposition in the ‘Science verses religion’ debate.

This approach tends to compartmentalise science and religion and treat them as separate worlds and ignores the view that science and religion speak about different ways of looking at and exploring the world which says that ‘Science is about the world that is and religion is about the world that ought to be’

I get really excited though at the point where Jonathan Sacks book stops and that is where I begin to explore God’s delight in diversity from a Christian viewpoint. For one of the criticisms I have heard levelled at Christians (or perhaps more accurately levelled at the church) is that the aim is to make a people who are uniform, where all Christians have the same belief structure, bound by the same rules and think the same thing.

In reality though, if we explore the Bible we find that Jesus’ approach was very different. Rather than encouraging those things which bind, oppress and restrict, he set out to free people from them.

Take for example the man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-15) bed-ridden by an infirmity for thirty eight years, waiting for someone to lower him into the healing waters. A word from Jesus and the man was made well. Or what of Blind Bartimaeus, (defined by his blindness) and Jesus healing words “Go your faith has made you well” which sets Bartimaeus free to be the individual God wants him to be.

The much discussed verse in the Old Testament (Genesis 1:27) seems to have something to say about diversity too:  “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

Amongst other things I believe that verse teaches that all people are created with the Godly characteristics which the Holy Spirit reveals such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, and so on.

If God ‘delights in diversity’, that image which he creates us in is not a restricting image but one which frees us to live and rejoice in the difference and individuality which God longs for in you and in me.

Deacon Richard Beckett – July 2015

written by Park Avenue Methodist Church

Jun 05

Phil-Snelson-June-2015When it comes to preaching or teaching about Pentecost, I’ve found that people either try to explain away the supernatural signs – the rushing wind, tongues of fire, speaking in other languages – or more often, ignore them altogether and focus on other aspects of the story e.g. as the beginning of the Church.

Pentecost was a wonderful event, a time when God came to people in a whole new way, something to really celebrate. The difficulty with Pentecost is that it is all a bit supernatural and kind of tricky to explain and – let’s be honest – makes some of us a bit nervous. So how do we handle it? Is it better to focus on other things in the story? I don’t think so!

When we see signs of the Holy Spirit’s presence we need to celebrate, even if it “throws” us for a moment and it isn’t quite what we had planned. We need to celebrate not so much the signs themselves, but that God is here with us and powerfully at work for good.

I know that by the time you read this Pentecost may well have already passed but I hope you are still thinking very much about the Holy Spirit, particularly His involvement in the mission of the early Church.

In the days and weeks that followed Pentecost the Church grew rapidly.

Several times it is reported that ‘the Lord added to their number, those who were being saved’. One of the most important things for us to remember is what Jesus said to the disciples before he left: they needed to wait for the Holy Spirit to empower them to be witnesses. I don’t think they knew much about evangelism programmes or techniques, important and helpful as these can be. The early church simply knew that they were dependent on

God to bring new people into faith in Christ and so we find them very often at prayer seeking God’s help and leading.

It is really important to review our mission and outreach plans: I’m not “knocking” that at all. We really need to ensure that mission, evangelism and making disciples are high priority in what we do and plan as Church.

A church without mission at its heart would be like Coca-Cola deciding that their only aim is to run the cleanest, most perfectly tuned factory and forget that the purpose of the factory is to produce fizzy drinks; a church with no evangelism is like Northampton Saints management team focussing all their effort into running a nice club-house and forget all about their true purpose to be the best rugby team playing the most entertaining rugby.

It’s also vital that we remember, like the early Church, that we depend on God to touch people’s lives. We need to pray asking for His help and trusting in Him, being careful not to put our faith solely in any the latest technique, or a “tried and trusted” method i.e. human effort alone.

Remember that it is the Lord who adds to our number ‘those who are being saved’. When we pray for God’s help and leading in outreach, and step out as his witnesses, He opens up opportunities in which we can simply share our faith. Our role as witnesses is more to “midwife” people another step or two further along the way of faith toward new birth in Christ, and that’s where our training and mission strategy plans etc. come in.

So I invite you, encourage you, challenge you, particularly as we move on from Pentecost to pray more, to seek more of the working of the Holy Spirit, especially in our mission and outreach as churches and to be open to receive, to go with and to celebrate whatever the Holy Spirit is doing…

Yours in Christ,

philsig

written by Park Avenue Methodist Church