expending your energy

power buttonToday I had an email from our energy supplier to tell me that a new statement was available online. Earlier this year we changed from one of the main suppliers to a smaller one that seeks to use more renewable energy while at the same time actually being cheaper than some of the main ones. That seemed like a good deal.

I checked online and looked at our usage (partly estimated because we haven’t been with them a year) on a clever chart which showed how our Direct Debit related to our projected annual costs. At the moment, in the summer months, our energy usage is much lower than it will be in the winter. We use less gas because there is no need for the heating to be on. We use less electricity because it is lighter for longer.

At the moment we are in credit with the energy supplier (and they are paying good interest on that credit – better than my bank!). During the summer we will no doubt build up a lot of credit, which we will then use up in the winter. I am hoping that at the end of the year it will all balance out. It seems reminiscent to me of Joseph’s advice to Pharaoh in the Bible – to store up food in the years of plenty ready for the years of famine.

Our consumer culture seems to discourage that approach. If we have the resources then the ubiquitous advertisements will urge and entice us to spend it on newer versions of what we already have, or on new things that we don’t have. If we don’t have the resources then that’s okay, stick it on your credit card and pay it back later. If you can’t get a credit card or you have already maxed it out, no problem – take a so-called payday loan and repay it at iniquitous interest rates that bear no relation to the actual cost of borrowing.

Buy now, spend now, live for the moment – don’t worry about the future.

This is the moment where the preacher really lays into the culture. Get ready. Brace yourself…

Luke 12:16-21 New International Version – UK

16 And [Jesus] told them this parable: ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.”

18 ‘Then he said, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’”

Hold on, is Jesus actually endorsing the consumerist approach here? Is he really suggesting that saving and planning for the future is wrong and pointless?

Well, no.

He was actually parodying the ‘more, more, more’ mindset that is behind our consumerist lifestyle: the part of us that responds willing to the enticing adverts. I missed off the last line of what Jesus said in that parable – this is the actual ending:

 

20 ‘But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”

21 ‘This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich towards God.’

And a little later on Luke tells us that Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

It’s not that prudent planning for the future is wrong. What is wrong is a dependence on ourselves, our resources and our plans and a failure to recognise that there is a God-dimension to all of this. Our Father in heaven wants us to acknowledge and rely on him for our daily bread. He wants us to recognise how valuable we are to him and how much he is looking out for us. He wants us to realise that living a comfortable lifestyle is not the aim and purpose of life: he created us for eternity with him that will surpass anything we can imagine.

Saving and planning for the future is not bad. Living within our means is not wrong. In fact they are commendable and worthy approaches to life. But if that’s the limit of our forward thinking we are investing in the wrong things.

Be blessed, be a blessing

2020 vision

This bloggage is based on a leaflet that will be shared with our church this weekend.

2020 VISION LOGOOn 1st September I shared a 2020 vision in my sermon in the morning service. We are seeking to see clearly what God’s vision is for us as a church, and looking at 2020 as a point in the future towards which we can aim.

The key thought behind this 2020 vision is that God intends churches to grow. That is what we see in the New Testament, and it is inherent in many of Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom of God. God has not changed his mind about this and that he still intends churches to grow – including ours.

The growth that God intends has two dimensions. One is growing deeper in our relationshipinoutarrow with him. The second is growing in numbers because people are becoming followers of Jesus through us. Those dimensions are reflected in these arrows. There are two sets of arrows: each dependent on the other to exist. The white arrows pointing inwards (deeper) are defined by the red arrows pointing outwards (new Christians) and vice versa. If we are to grow as a church we need to think about both dimensions. It is important for us to remember that this is not something we can manufacture, and it is not a programme to be followed. It is our response to God’s initiative, empowered and encouraged by his Spirit: it is his work in which he invites us to participate, not our work that we ask him to bless.

In my sermon I mentioned the Engel Scale, which shows stages in a person’s journey of faith. (See earlier bloggage here). The Engel Scale helps us to consider how we are growing deeper in our own relationship with Jesus and also how we can help others to grow closer to him.

Growing Deeper

We need to consider the depth of our relationship with God. Our Membership Covenant encourages us to engage in personal prayer and Bible study, and also to support and encourage one another in this. Part of the 2020 vision will be a response to God’s love and seeking his Spirit’s help to walk closer to Jesus. God wants us to continue to grow deeper in our relationship with Jesus throughout our life.

If we are a fervently prayerful people we believe we will not only grow closer to Jesus, but we will also see spiritual fruit in the lives of others.

Growing Outwards

The challenge of a vision for growth through new Christians is that we may need to do things differently from the ways we have done them before. A number of big questions emerge:

We have a prime location in the middle of Colchester, a gift from God through our predecessors. How can we make better use of this location to share the Good News about Jesus with those who use these premises weekly, who live and work around us, and with those who pass by the premises?

What does the 2020 vision mean for the different activities we run at the church?

How can we use the opportunities that God gives us through those activities in order to help people in their journey of faith?

How can we make the most of opportunities that he gives us when we are not at church?

We need to be ready to respond to what God says to us, however challenging it may be.

We’d value your prayers!

Be blessed, be a blessing

a bloggage of biblical proportions

>holidays are coming....Picking up where I left off yesterday, what are some good questions to be asking about the Bible?

  • What sort of literature is this? The Bible contains all sorts of different types of literature: historical prose, poetry, songs, apocalyptic literature, commentary on events, letters, and so on. It helps to know what sort of literature you are reading – just as it helps you to understand if you are reading a biography, a newspaper article, an editorial or a science fiction book.
  • Why was it written? As well as attributing the initial inspiration and the content to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, there were also historical reasons why the different sections of the Bible were written down. Much of the Old Testament was written in order to preserve the story of God’s encounters with the Hebrew nation during the exile in Babylon when their culture and history were under threat. Luke wrote his gospel so that someone called Theophilus could be certain of the facts about Jesus. Paul wrote letters to some of the churches to correct some of their errors.
  • What is the context? At the vicar factory where I trained there was a mantra: “A text without a context is a pretext.” It is unwise to look at an individual passage in the Bible without being aware of what is happening around that passage. For example, you could take one of Jesus’ parables (fiction with a purpose) and if you started after the bit where the gospel writer tells us that Jesus is telling a parable and finish before he explains it (when he does) you might think it was an historical account.
  • What did the writer mean the readers to understand? It’s easy for us to jump straight to applying the text to us today. But if we understand a bit of what it meant for those who read it first it will give us a better understanding of what it might mean for us today. For example, in Jewish culture 120 people were needed to establish a self-governing synagogue. So when Luke tells us in Acts 1 that there were 120 believers he is telling the readers that the new church was a valid form of faith community.

These are just some examples of the sorts of question that can help when reading the Bible. At this stage you may be thinking that this is very complicated and wondering if you can do this. The answer is ‘yes’ and that there are lots of resources online and in books that can help. Having a Bible encyclopaedia or handbook next to your Bible will help you by providing many of the answers and background information that you need. There are Bibles with lots of help in them, even if yours doesn’t always consult the footnotes. There’s also help in the way that text is laid out in lots of Bibles. Look at the Psalms and then compare Genesis 1 with the rest of the text layout in Genesis. What might that tell you?

In our church, sometime probably after Easter, I want to run a series of sessions looking at the Bible – it’s history, geography, themes, how it came together, how we can interpret it and so on. If you are part of our church, watch this space. It might be that I could create another section on the blog and post the notes up there too.

In the meantime the best thing you can do is get reading the Bible and, if you get stuck, ask your Minister for some help (or post a question here and we’ll see what the collective wisdom is!).

Be blessed, be a blessing.

A young Man had just passed his driving test. He asked his father, who was a minister, if they could discuss the use of the car. His father took him to his study and said to him, “I’ll make a deal with you. You bring your grades up, study your Bible a little and get your hair cut and we’ll talk about it.”

After about a month the boy came back and again asked his father if they could discuss use of the car. They again went to the father’s study where his father said, “Son, I’ve been real proud of you. You have brought your grades up, you’ve studied your Bible diligently, but you didn’t get your hair cut!”

The young man waited a moment and replied, “You know Dad, I’ve been thinking about that. When I read my Bible I realised that Samson had long hair, Moses had long hair, Noah had long hair, and even Jesus had long hair….”

To which his father replied….”Yes, and they WALKED everywhere they went!”