sitting on a sofa in the middle of the street

The churches in Colchester and the surrounding area are in the middle of a fortnight of focused mission activity.

For us it began with a community barbecue on our forecourt on Saturday – 500+ burgers given away, live music, face painting for children, a couple of talks, me doing some magic tricks (why did it only rain when I came out to do my illusions? And why did so many of them go wrong, I felt like Tommy Cooper!), lots of conversation, a good day. Thank you again to everyone who took part.

Couch 1

We have also got a couple of sofas which we are putting outside the church on the streetfront each lunchtime, with a sign: “We’re listening.” That sign might seem creepy outside GCHQ but outside our church it has led some people to come and share what is burdening them.

 

There are other activities throughout the week – some involving our own groups and some jointly arranged with other churches. There is a team of people working with the churches in the area to help us in the different activities and they have been a joy to work alongside.

This increased activity is alongside the ‘normal’ activity of being a church. That’s one reason why bloggages might be a bit more intermittent this week. It’s not that I have stopped reflecting, I am just struggling to find the time to share those reflections with you.

My reflection so far is that when we offer things that are rich in God’s grace and gently offer to be there for them people respond warmly and positively. They ask us ‘why’ we are doing things and we can engage in a conversation. By contrast there are other approaches that make people feel guilty and inadequate and they walk away – we probably all have enough guilt of our own, after all. I have seen some people walk past ‘street preachers’ and physically cower away from them as they are told that they are ‘sinners in need of salvation’.

Which would you choose? Which is more like Jesus?

Be blessed, be a blessing

unwelcome guests

We have recently had a lodger with us. They have not been paying anything for the privilege, and indeed made a bit of a mess. So we had to evict them. That was easier said than done.

The lodger was a mouse. Most of the time the only evidence of his/her stay with us was the nibbling that we found. When that nibbling appeared in our daughter’s bedroom Sally decided to investigate and discovered the lodger in her wardrobe. We bought a humane trap with the aim of getting rid of the mouse away from our house, but the mouse decided it did not want to go into the trap (have they been taking lessons in trap avoidance?).

So Sally gently took out most of the contents of the bottom of the wardrobe and the mouse hid itself under the remaining box. At this point I was drafted in to help and we barricaded the mouse in with a large picture frame that we could reach over. We left the trap in there in case the mouse decided that this was the best place to go and, plastic pots in hand, removed the box to reveal the mouse.

There followed a relatively frantic game of Mousie Mousie that the mouse was winning for a while, but eventually I caught it under my pot. The problem was that we had not thought about what to do when we caught the mouse. It was clear he/she was not going to sit quietly in the pot if we turned it the right way up, and there was no way I was going to put my hand in there. Eventually we found a plastic clip board and I gently slid that under the pot and the mouse and, clamping it firmly, got into the car.

Sally drove the three of us to a nearby nature reserve where I carried out a mini re-enactment of the scene at the end of Born Free where Elsa the Lion is released into the wildlife park. There was no touching moment when the mouse looked back at us, it simply fled as fast as its little legs could carry it. I hope it takes the hint and does not try to come back.

So, I hear you think (yes, I know what you are thinking, bwah hah hah haaah), what is the lesson we are supposed to learn from this episode?

Good question. If I am totally honest, right now as I type I am not sure.

[reflects]

Lesson the first – if there is something in our life that shouldn’t be there we should do all we can to get rid of it. Pray, act, change behaviour, ask for help, don’t give up.

Lesson the second – in a grace-rich environment (see yesterday’s bloggage) compassion should extend even to those who cause us harm.

Lesson the third – sometimes people aren’t aware that you are trying to help them and may do all they can to avoid the help. But that does not mean we should not persevere.

Lesson the fourth – you never know when the skills you learn in playing children’s games will come in handy.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

a new catchphrase

I have a new catchphrase. No, not ‘Nice to see you, to see you… nice’ or ‘Just like that’. It sits alongside a phrase I tend to use a lot, which I coined back in 2010. Regular bloggites will already know what it is:

MicrophoneWe are called to be ‘free samples of Jesus’.

If we are all trying to be free samples of Jesus to our colleagues, friends, family and companions on the journey of life we would make a significant difference to those around us.

The new catchphrase came to me in a conversation with another Baptist Minister as we were discussing how sometimes churches can turn people away because of their lifestyle, the way they dress or the way they act and in doing so turn them away from seeking Jesus. That seems so counter to the way that Jesus responded to people, welcoming those who were ostracised by everyone else, embracing those who were considered untouchable and giving status to those who were ignored and neglected.

What if our churches were ‘grace-rich environments’? Wouldn’t that be amazing! People who came to us would find generosity and welcome instead of suspicion and fear. On Sunday evening I sneaked into our church building shortly after the service had started (it was a special Harvest / Flower Festival / Songs of Praise that I did not want to miss). On the way in I could hear someone shouting in the street. They sounded a bit drunk but they were ranting at how a church had rejected them and how could they call themselves Christian. I don’t know what was going on, but I hope it was not that this person had tried to attend a church and had been refused entry. That’s not grace-rich.

Of course a grace-rich environment is going to be messy. It’s not going to be neat and tidy all the time because we will be adapting to enable others to be a part of us. It’s not going to be theologically perfect because we will be accepting of people whose lifestyle seems contrary to God’s standards (but we recognise that none of us are perfect). It’s not going to be comfortable sometimes because we will be leaving our comfort zones in order to help others. It’s not going to be easy because we will need wisdom and discernment to respond in the right way. It’s going to open us up to criticism because we will be seen to be approving of ‘sin’ by welcoming ‘sinners’.

But (and here’s the thing I like about it) a grace-rich environment is one in which we are best able to be free samples of Jesus. If ever there was a grace-rich environment on this planet it would have been the area around Jesus, perhaps within earshot, perhaps within his eyesight.

Look at the lifestyles of those who were welcomed by Jesus. Look at their backgrounds. Look at how he loved them. He did not condone sin. But he did not allow it to be a barrier to people finding God’s love, grace and forgiveness. I love Luke 15. It’s one of my favourite chapters in the Bible. We get three brilliant parables for the price of one – a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son. But Jesus told those parables to the religious elite who were criticising him for welcoming ‘sinners’ and eating with them. The older brother in the third parable represents the attitude that was being expressed – that those who have fallen short of God’s standards don’t deserve his grace.

Heaven help us from if we ever start being older brothers.

Please God make our churches ‘grace-rich environments’.