the parable of the wall

Outside the church is a wall. It separates the church from the street. It’s a low wall, just the right height for sitting on. It’s a convenient wall. Passers-by will sit on the wall in order to make a phone call, to eat an ice cream (in the summer) and to wait for someone. And the nearby traders use it as somewhere to sit when they take a cigarette break.

The Minister of the church doesn’t approve of smoking. It’s unhealthy. The smoke is unpleasant for those around. It’s not the right image the church wants to project to the community. And even though there is a rubbish bin nearby, the traders tend to flick their cigarette butts into the flowerbeds behind the wall, which irritates the Minister.

people-sitting-on-a-quay-amst-1562809 (2)

One day the Minister was passing by the wall and saw one of the traders sitting on the wall, smoking, as usual. The trader finished her cigarette, stubbed it out on the wall and flicked the butt into the flowerbed…

Scenario 1

The Minister was incensed: didn’t they have any respect?

“Excuse me,” said the Minister as the trader made her way back to her shop, “Is our wall comfortable?”

The trader sensed possible sarcasm and wasn’t sure what to say. The Minister took her silence as an admission of guilt.

“I noticed that you were sitting on our church wall while you smoked your cigarette and then flicked the cigarette butt into our flowerbed,” the Minister continued. “We don’t approve of smoking – it’s unhealthy and the smoke is off-putting so in future please don’t sit on our wall, smoking, and please don’t flick your cigarette butts into our garden.”

The trader mumbled an apology and went back to her shop. The Minister went into the church feeling pleased at having made a point, and ordered a ‘no smoking’ sign to be attached to the wall. It wasn’t long before no traders sat on the wall, no cigarette butts were flicked into the flowerbeds and the Minister felt vindicated.

Scenario 2

The Minister was incensed: didn’t they have any respect?

“Excuse me,” said the Minister as the trader made her way back to her shop, “Is our wall comfortable?”

The trader sensed possible sarcasm and wasn’t sure what to say. The Minister continued: “It’s just that I have noticed that you sit on our wall a lot and I was hoping it was comfortable.”

The trader grinned. “It’s a wall innit?” she said. “I aint expectin’ cushions!”

It wasn’t long before the Minister started joining the traders on the wall for a chat from time to time. The Minister still didn’t like the smoke, and cigarette butts were still flicked into the flowerbeds but the traders felt welcome.

Questions to inspire you:

This parable is based on real events – one of the scenarios happened.

What are the ‘walls’ and ‘cigarettes’ for you and your church?

How could you respond in missional ways?

What might we need to lay aside in order to take the opportunities that God might be giving us?

What small changes in attitude could make a big difference to the people you meet?

Be blessed, be a blessing

face-planting in the highest

If you are a dog owner you will probably know how dogs like to find the smelliest, muddiest, sludgiest places in which to wallow and roll. And they then come back to you wagging their tails, feeling very proud of themselves.

I have a feeling that they think that they are doing something nice for you, their human. They like how it feels / smells and assume that you will be equally happy with their new odour, texture and colour – especially if they can spread it all over your car, house or clothes.

It’s a bit like cats who bring into the house rodents and birds they have caught. I think they especially like it if they can bring these animals into the house while they are still alive. They bring them as a present for you – after all, cats enjoy playing with mice and birds, so why wouldn’t you, their human, be equally happy?

They just don’t understand.

jesus weptThere’s an occasion in the gospels when Jesus’ followers come to him with a similar approach – look what we’ve done for you, aren’t you proud of us – when in fact I think Jesus would have responded with a face-plant that is hidden behind the text.

“Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”

“Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”

(Luke 9:49-50)

They just didn’t understand.

They thought there were doing something he would approve of, but they got it wrong. They didn’t understand just how wide God’s grace is. They were judging other people who were not ‘in’ and excluding them, whereas Jesus’ approach seems to have been more about including people who were ‘out’.

I am fairly confident that there are plenty of other occasions in the gospels where there is a sub-textual face plant by Jesus when his followers get it wrong.

And I am fairly confident that I have been the cause of quite a few divine face-plants.

And I suspect, when Christians are being judgemental, critical, unpleasant, rude, exclusive, and condemnatory there are plenty of divine face-plants. Have a look at what some Christians are posting every day on social media and tell me I’m wrong because they show that the ‘he is not one of us’ attitude is sadly alive and well.

It may be well-meaning, with the intention of pleasing Jesus, but we might as well roll in some stinky, slimy mud or bring him some rodents or birds we have caught if we think that attitude pleases him.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

learning (from) the trades

toolsIt’s been all go here recently. There have been a lot of workmen coming and going for different tasks that needed doing inside and outside our house – and the conversion of the garage to a study has not yet happened.

I have been fascinated by the approach of different ‘trades’ who have been approached to do the work. For some of them the jobs have been too small and they have not been interested. Others have been too busy or too inefficient and have not bothered responding. Some have come back with ridiculously high quotes for the work. And others have been extremely personable, efficient, and give confidence in their ability. Needless to say it is the latter group that we have contracted to do the jobs.

It does not take much to make that difference: a smile, a warm handshake, a friendly conversation, interest in what I need, using my name, being able to talk knowledgeably about the subject all go a long way to giving that sense of confidence.

And it made me wonder about churches. How many of those attributes in the previous paragraph do we give to those who come to our church (literally or metaphorically)? I am not just talking about those who come into our services on Sundays, by the way, but all contact with our churches. And I am not just talking about our premises (if we have them) either. Church, in my view, is the collective noun for Christians – like a pride of lions or a parliament of rooks or a murder of crows (yes, really!). So the contact with church happens wherever we (Christians) happen to be. For a few short hours in the week we are gathered together as church but for the rest of the time we are dispersed together across our community – being free samples of Jesus.

Hold on, did I just type ‘dispersed together’? Yes, I did. Because even though we are dispersed we don’t stop being church. Even though we are not physically in the same location we are church together and can be praying for one another and encouraging one another (text messages are brilliant for this) even when we are not in each others’ presence. This means that church is present in your workplace, your home, your health club, at the school gate, in your University, in the supermarket where you shop and so on.

So I return to the list I made earlier. How many of those attributes in italics does the church demonstrate through you? And how can you improve on those things if they are lacking? Some of them require an attitude shift – God’s Spirit is good at helping us with those if we want him to and ask him. Some of them require a bit of thoughtfulness – praying beforehand helps us keep those things in our mind. And some of them require a bit of practice and study – that’s what churches can help with when gathered together. All of them for churches have God’s love as the motivation and foundation.

I wonder what people think of churches when they walk past the buildings: old-fashioned? cold? unwelcoming? fresh? vibrant? open? I wonder if they think differently of churches when they meet us and discover that the buildings are not the real church? Will a greater awareness of God’s love begin to make a difference?

Be blessed, be a blessing