Sunday, January 15, 2006

New Year listening

Check out the new Strokes album - First Impressions of Earth - you won't be sorry (if you like this kind of thing).

It's taken a bit of a mauling from the critics but it strikes me it's everything we want from the Strokes - world-weary, guitar-dueling rock from the spiritual heirs of the great Television.

One track in particular struck me as I was preparing a sermon on 'the God who's speaking' last week. Called Ask me anything, it contains the wonderful line 'don't be a coconut/God is trying to talk to you/we could drag it out/but that's for other bands to do...' Singer, Julian Casablancas, going on to protest 'I've got nothing to say'

Great riffs and theological eloquence as well - what more could you ask?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Seeking our city's welfare

Just back from the Mainstream Conference. Good time.

In particular, Glen Marshall's Bible readings in Jeremiah were spot on. He dealt with chapters 1 and 29 and both studies were full of insight and wisdom.

Jeremiah 29:7 was a significant verse calling me into ministry when I was a student almost 30 years ago. It's surfaced at crucial times over the intervening years. This week, longing for a word from God, I was once again forcefully reminded how God has linked our shalom with the shalom of our neighbours.

For me, it means that my focus needs to be outside the church not inside. No change there, then. But Jeremiah's letter to the exiles contains some home truths we don't really like. For starters, he said the exile was to last their whole lives - that's the import of 70 years (v10). What about us? If it's true that the church in the UK is in a time of exile, how long will it last? Will we never see the end of it? Sobering thought.

Those exiles, said Jeremiah, need to settle into their new situation and seek God's shalom for the Babylonians. This was outrageous advice. Babylon had defeated Judah and carted half the population into exile. It was still menacing the remaining people. In just a few short years, its forces would crush Judah's rebellion, level Jerusalem and destroy the temple.

And yet... Jeremiah says seek the shalom of these people in their homeland. What are the implications of that advice for us in the secular, faith-ambivalent UK? What does it mean to seek the shalom of our post-Christendom, consumer culture?

Jeremiah 29:11, a favourite OT verse because of its promise, is closely linked to verse 7: God wants to bless us with his shalom. That's his plan for us. How will it happen? He's told us already. It'll happen as we seek the shalom of the city where we've been sent into exile. On top of that, shalom will come as we seek God in the midst of exile (v12-14). For Jeremiah's first readers this was confirmation that they can find God in Babylon and not just in the temple in Jerusalem. For us, it means that we can and should expect to meet God in the city whose shalom we're seeking, where we've been exiled.

Tough? Exciting?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Happy birthday

Hey, my blog's a whole year old...

happy birthday and blow out your candles nicely...

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year

Well, it's 2006. This blog is nearly a year old - amazing!

Happy New Year to all of you who read it. May God be more real and active in your lives this year than last.

I've had a quiet Christmas - except for the day at the Ikea sale (if ever you need a metaphor for eternal punishment....!)

I have also been writing some of the book on Galatians that I need to finish by the end of February - four sections in two days (not bad going).

The more I read and wrestle with Galatians, the more I love it - it's raw emotion, creative thinking, incredible grasp of the implications of the life, faithfulness and death of Jesus, its sheer radical take on what it means to be a Christian. Sometimes I read Galatians and then I look at the church and I wonder where the connection is.

I've also been finishing off a workbook for our major New Year series - What Christians Believe - without finding a snappier title for it. Perhaps I should call it the full Monty or true spirituality (but those titles have gone). I've been trying to capture the fact that the Christian faith is a relationship with God that's open to examination and explanation because God has spoken to us through his Word in both the Bible and in Jesus and he still speaks as his Spirit interprets his word to us in our daily lives.

For this reason, Christianity is less a religion and more a spirituality - and thus very trendy, according to the sociologists! But it's far more than that. If Jesus is God incarnate and if we can meet him in the power of his Spirit, then the Christian faith is a relationship that should lead to personal and social revolution.

So maybe our new year's resolution should be to get into this Christian faith so that we and our neighbourhoods are turned upside down.

Happy 2006.