God-orientated

This is the first in a series of bloggages where I will have a look at our church’s newly adopted values, which you can read here.

So, my first question was whether it’s ‘oriented’ or ‘orientated’. We ‘orientate’ something, so my instinct is to add a ‘d’, but it seems that either is acceptable and ‘orientated’ may be something more common in UK than in other English-speaking countries. So there’s an extra ‘ta’, which is nice. Ta.

We explain what we mean by ‘God-orientated’ as: ‘Like Jesus: a prayerful God-focused people who seek and celebrate God whether we are gathered together or dispersed; doing everything to honour and worship God; listening to God through the Bible; and responding to the innovative prompting of the Spirit of God.’

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

There’s a LOT to unpack here, isn’t there. The first thing is that our prime example of each value is Jesus of Nazareth. If we want to know what it looks like we can see it in him. He was, undoubtedly, prayerful. As well as recording the (pattern for) prayer he taught his followers to use, often in the Gospel narratives of his life we read of him heading off on his own to pray. And when he was facing his ultimate challenge, his impending arrest, trial and execution, he literally sweated blood in prayer.

That’s quite a challenge. In our own individual following of Jesus we know we could be more prayerful. And together as churches my experience is that church prayer meetings are often the least-well attended corporate gatherings. Of course, prayer happens in many other occasions and in many different groups, but I wonder whether we have reduced prayer to such an apparently mundane activity that it doesn’t energise or excite people to gather. Or by defining a meeting as a ‘prayer meeting’, have we reduced its scope from what God would like to do? I don’t have a definitive answer, just some ponderings.

Being God-orientated, or God-focused, means that we recognise that God wants to be involved in our whole life. The Hebrew word, Avodah, is apparently both the word for ‘work’ and ‘worship’, which to me gives an idea of the scope of this concept. Everything has the potential to be an act of worship to God if we want it to be and are willing to shape it accordingly. And then, together or on our own, we offer all we have to him and seek to include him in it all. It means that we attempt to be conscious of God through the day (which is something the Spirit helps us with) and intentionally do things with God in mind.

Listening to your Bible won’t usually provide you with much audio stimulation (aside from, perhaps, some rustling of paper). But we use the image of listening because we experience God ‘speaking’ through the Bible. When we read it, the same Spirit who inspired it to be written (and translated) applies the words to us in a real and living way. For Christians the Bible is not an instruction manual, it’s the prime means of communication between the Creator and the created. It’s both a written document and a living encounter. It shapes our thinking and actions and is God-inspired. But Christians disagree about some bits that are in there. How is that possible if we are all listening to the same Spirit who inspired the writing?

I came across this recently, and it ‘spoke’ to me in a new way:

Romans 14:1 – “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.”

Paul, who wrote the letter to the church in Rome to help them out with a number of issues with which they were struggling, recognised that there are some aspects of faith about which it was possible to disagree! If you read on in the chapter you see that disputes existed over what could be eaten, and which days were holy. They were not primary issues, they were secondary issues over which Christians could disagree and on which the best thing that could be said is that we should be gracious and gentle with people who have a different view on those issues – not falling out with them. Not insisting that we are right and that they have to agree with us or be ostracised as heretics. The primary issues are about who Jesus is, what he taught and did – they are not up for discussion, but there can be (and perhaps always will be) ‘disputable matters’. I wonder how different church history (and present) would be if we paid more attention to this?

Be blessed, be a blessing

Fresh values

As mentioned in the last bloggage, at Mutley Baptist Church we have adopted a new set of values. We discerned them after an exercise I call ‘The Ideal Church Exhibition’. We got into groups of different ages around tables, were given a big sheet of paper and some pens, and were asked to draw the ideal church. There were no limits on what could be drawn (except the size of the paper) and no financial or planning constraints.

What the church came up with was a wide range of different drawings, words, diagrams and concepts. And what we find, as we look at them, is that behind the images are values. For example: a drawing of a church with a big cross shows that we want Jesus to be at the centre of things; a community space shows that we want to serve the people around us.

From those drawings we discerned six values, which we then adopted at our next Church Meeting:

Jesus calls us to love God and love people, and to be a community of his followers who are:

God orientated

Like Jesus: a prayerful God-focused people who seek and celebrate God whether we are gathered together or dispersed; doing everything to honour and worship God; listening to God through the Bible; and responding to the innovative prompting of the Spirit of God.

Lovingly inclusive

Like Jesus: celebrating and affirming every person and refusing to discriminate; valuing everyone and being accessible to all; ensuring everyone has a safe place in God’s family; and especially caring for and welcoming those who have been marginalised.

Ethically motivated

Like Jesus: unashamedly and relevantly speaking God’s truth, striving for justice, caring for the environment and actively challenging the abuse of power, wealth, status and privilege.

Generously big-hearted

Like Jesus: becoming vulnerable in serving others, and generously reflecting the generosity of God – giving our time, gifts, expertise and resources to serve God and others.

People focused

Like Jesus: caring for and loving people of all ages, from the youngest to the oldest; through our words and actions embodying and bringing the transforming love of God to our local community in Mutley, to Plymouth, the UK and the wider world.

Playfully creative

Like Jesus: enjoying and appreciating life in all its fullness, using our God-given talents to express ourselves and to communicate his truth, and looking imaginatively with the eyes of faith to discern and follow God’s will.

We seek God’s Spirit’s help for us to embody these values, and humbly we seek and offer forgiveness for the times when we fail to do so.

It may be worth pointing out a couple of things. First of all, our overarching aim as a church is to love God and love people. That may be simplistic, but it’s a succinct summary of what the Bible teaches us about what Jesus-followers should be doing.

Secondly, each value is focused on Jesus. When you look at him in the Bible you see him showing and teaching these values, and we want to be like him as a church family. He is both our example, our guide, our teacher, our friend and our Lord (to use a Bible word). As his followers, we seek to be more like him, as his Spirit helps us.

And that’s point 3 – we can’t do this on our own. We need God’s Spirit’s help to change and embody these values, and also we need to recognise before God and with each other that there have been, are, and will be times when we fail to live up to them. At those times humility, forgiveness and reconciliation are essential.

I’ll probably unpack these over the next few weeks.

I wonder what your values are – as an individual and as a church (if you are part of one).

Be blessed, be a blessing

dustbin days

One of the things I remember from my days at Bible College is that it is important to have ‘dustbin days’ from time to time. These are days when you have a clear out. You sort through the pile that has overwhelmed your in-tray. You clear the stuff that has accumulated on your desk and remind yourself what colour the desk actually is. You throw out the bits and pieces that you have kept ‘because they might come in handy’. And you go through your email inbox and answer / delete the emails (my target is single figures).

I do this from time to time and find myself feeling quite virtuous afterwards. I cherish the tidy desk, the empty in-tray, the single-figure email inbox and the sense of order that accompany them.

2014-03-13 12.49.56Last time I did this I came across this object, which has sat on my desk for as long as I can remember. I had no recollection about its origin, but thought that it might have been something I had made on a retreat sometime. I didn’t use it, it was taking up space (not much, it’s 8cm in diameter) and it looked a bit shabby.

I picked it up and moved towards my rubbish bin, ready to dispose of this shabby unwanted piece of hardened clay and chipped paint. Just before I threw it away something prompted me to look underneath it. This is what I saw.2014-03-13 12.50.08

You may be able to make out the feint writing that is etched into the bottom of the clay. It says: “Thomas ’97”.

It had been made by my son at preschool. Suddenly this changed my perspective. Now it was something invaluable. Now it was impossible to throw away.

How often do we do that with people? How often do we judge people by outward appearances without looking deeper and seeing their true value. A person’s value is not determined by what they look like, their financial status, their health or any of the other shallow indicators that are used to define people in our culture. Their value is determined by who made them.

Sadly sometimes people have received the message from churches that we think everyone is a worthless sinner. Richard Dawkins recently posted a disingenuous piece of propaganda with a picture of a child holding a list that said that “According to religion I am broken, flawed, sinful, dumb, weak, nothing.” Have a look at Krish Kandiah’s response to this, which I think is brilliant.

You are someone who is ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ in the likeness of your Creator. You are someone whose is loved beyond all loves by your heavenly Father so much that he gave up Jesus so that whoever believes in him can inherit eternal life. You are brilliant. You are amazing. You are spectacular. You are unique.

And so is everyone else whom you will meet.

Let’s challenge the politics and politicians, the social trends and the economic structures that seek to discard anyone in the pursuit of tidiness, popularity or expediency.

Be blessed, be a blessing