Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The City

What do you love about your city? What makes you weep for your city?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What's On Your Mind? | Facebook Jesus

What’s on your mind?
That is the first question. That is the first question that is asked of us when we log into facebook. A daily (or perhaps more frequent) prompt.

What’s on your mind?
That is the first question, the question that takes its place before all other questions. Jesus comes over the horizon and declares,
“The time has come. The kingdom of God has come very close. Repent and believe the good news!”
(Mark 1:15)

You see, the thing that is of utmost importance to Jesus is what is on our mind. To repent means to change ones’ mind; and to believe means to act consistently with our mind.

Our mind is where we process the information that comes to us through our senses – what we see, hear, touch, taste, smell; through our emotions – what we feel; through our past experiences and acquired knowledge – what we have learnt. Our mind makes sense of the information available to us, and then we act according to what our mind has decided is the best course of action. That is why when we can’t make up our mind we are paralysed: we don’t know what to do and end up doing nothing.

What Jesus is saying is there is an earthly perspective on life, and a heavenly one. They see things very differently – they have access to different information - and as a result cause us to act in very different ways. And from this moment, the heavenly perspective has come so close that it is available to you. So in the light of this new information, your mind can arrive at a different conclusion, and you can act in a different way.

In the Gospels, we see Jesus regularly asking the question, what’s on your mind? Sometimes he teases what is on someone’s mind out of them. So, Jesus has been teaching a large crowd of people, who have followed him out to a remote place, for a long time, and asks his disciples, “How are we going to feed all these?” What’s on your mind? Aren’t you thinking to yourself that very question? Doesn’t your mind tell you that we couldn’t afford to buy enough bread even if there was anywhere near enough by to do so? Haven’t you decided, on the basis of that conclusion, that the best course of action would be to send them home, hopefully soon enough that people don’t faint from hunger before they get back there?

Jesus sees the situation from a different perspective; has arrived at a different conclusion in his mind; and therefore will pursue a different course of action. But he wants to take his disciples on the process that changes their mind too. Jesus gathers what food there is – enough for one person – and multiplies the resources to feed more than 5,000 (perhaps closer to double that), with twelve baskets left over.

Again and again, Jesus sees things from a different perspective, arrives at a different conclusion in his mind, and acts differently to everyone else. Where the mourners are wailing at the death of a young girl, he claims that she is only sleeping before raising her from the dead. From an earthly perspective, death has the final word. From a heavenly perspective, it doesn’t.

So. What’s on your mind?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Updated Book Preview

Blurb have improved their book preview options, so now you can preview every page of my book (until now, it was just the first 15 pages). Link below:

By Andrew C Dowsett

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Home Is?

Where did Jesus live? I don’t mean, what part of the world did he live in, but, under what roof did he live? Where would you go if invited to spend the day with Jesus at home?

It is a question we tend not to ask. Once, Jesus tested the sincerity of someone who professed the desire to follow him by saying that foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man – one of his favourite self-descriptions – had no place to lay his head. We tend to take that verse out of context, and think of Jesus as being someone who didn’t have a home. Certainly, we are familiar with stories of Jesus as guest in other peoples’ homes. And certainly, as he moved around from place to place he stayed wherever he was made welcome. But perhaps we think of Jesus as neither having nor needing a home.

But if we think about it, he obviously lived somewhere. We know he was born in Bethlehem, and can be fairly confident that he lived there – and not in a stable or cave – until around the age of two, the cut-off limit for Herod’s massacre of the infants. We know that Joseph took Mary and Jesus down to Egypt for some time, and though we aren’t told in the Gospels it is most probable that they found a home among the Jewish diaspora in Alexandria, the Jewish community that migrated there during the Hellenistic invasion of Judea. After the death of Herod, Joseph brought his family back from Egypt; but, discovering that Bethlehem might still not be safe, kept heading north to Nazareth in Galilee, where Joseph and Mary had lived before Jesus’ birth. Again, there would have been a home. We can confidently assume that Jesus was apprenticed to Joseph as a builder, more than likely working together on the new town of Seppharis. And at some point, still working as a builder and possibly the head of the family following Joseph’s death, we find Jesus based in Capernaum, on Lake Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee), hometown of Simon and Andrew, James and John.

Given how important a home is to our wellbeing; given that Jesus was a house builder; and given that on the night he was betrayed he told his disciples that he was going to his Father’s house to add rooms for them; isn’t it odd that we assume Jesus neither had nor needed a home?

Largely obscured by translation into English (by translators who assumed that Jesus was homeless) Mark’s Gospel strongly suggests that Jesus owned a home in Capernaum, and that, for the first part of his ministry at least, it was the base of his ministry. [Thanks to my former lecturer Elizabeth Fisher for these insights.]

Mark chapter 2 begins, ‘A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home...’ Come home. Not, was staying there (i.e. in the town) or had returned to someone else’s home (we have already seen him visit the home of Simon and Andrew). Home. That is an emotive word. Jesus’ home, in Capernaum. Jesus’ home, where so many people gathered that four friends carrying their paralytic friend could not get in. Jesus’ home they climbed onto the flat roof of and dismantled the structure so they could lower their friend into the house from above...Don’t worry: Jesus was a builder; he rebuilt it.

The very next scene, Jesus is entertaining Levi. English translations make Levi the host (‘While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house’); but the Greek simply says ‘While Jesus was having dinner with Levi in the house...’ Whose house? Jesus’ house? Well, isn’t that where we last saw him?

And again, in chapter 3, we find Jesus having entered ‘a house,’ or, ‘the house’ – a house in which we expect Jesus and his disciples to eat, but they can’t because so many others have turned up hearing Jesus was in, was at home. A house where his family – his mother and brothers and sisters – feel they have a right to have a say in what goes on there. Jesus’ house. The house where his family lived.

And this house is full. Full of people who want to hear what Jesus has to say, because his words are life-giving. Full of people hoping to be healed, or delivered from demonisation. Full of the kind of people ‘good people’ would never welcome into their home, there as Jesus’ guests. And full, even, of people who want to hear what Jesus has to say, or do, because they are looking for a reason to condemn him, to discredit him: these, too, are as welcome as everyone else.

And a house so full the people who live there feel they can no longer be at home in their own home, because they see it as a retreat from ministry and not a base for ministry.

Home is?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Luke 18:35-19:10 | Part 2

Luke 18:35-19:10 | Part 1

God is for you, not against you:

People might be against you. Circumstances might be against you. But God is for you.

That is the message that people need to hear, regardless of their background. That is the good news for communities living without hope.

We have been brought into God’s family:

The blind beggar and the tax collector were both excluded by the crowd. The beggar recognises that Jesus is the Son of David: the one who will restore the fortunes of God’s people. By calling the tax collector a son of Abraham, Jesus pushes-out the boundaries: for though the people traced their ancestry back to Abraham, Abraham was called by God to be father of many nations. By calling himself the Son of Man – Adam’s son, or Human Being [Luke’s genealogy of Jesus ends ‘...the son of Adam, the son of God.’ Lk 3:38] – Jesus pushes-out the boundaries even more: we are all children of Adam.

God’s family embraces everyone.

Jesus is passing through:

The crowd are also part of God’s family, but for them Jesus passes through and they miss the moment. He is on his way to Jerusalem, to die, and (though that is not the end of the story) he never passes through Jericho again. The crowd were part of God’s family, but were missing out on the implications of that privilege, the rights and responsibilities. But two men want to see Jesus, and both respond: the beggar who receives his sight praises God, and as a result others join in; the tax collector radically downsizes, in order to meet the needs of others. The beggar follows Jesus on the road; the tax collector hosts him in the heat of the day. For each, their response has a consequence that will take them out of their comfort zone.

Jesus is passing through. Passing through the neighbourhood. Passing through our services on a Sunday. Passing through. So how will you respond?

Three Sides To Every Story

Elijah starts pre-school next week, and we have to supply the school with a photo...

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Prioritising Rest

Luke 4:40-44
When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them. Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Christ.
At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

In our society, we measure the day officially from midnight to midnight, and in practice from the time we wake up in the morning to the time we go to bed at night. That is, the day runs from morning through evening; our ‘standard’ working day being 9am-5pm.

In the biblical worldview, the day runs from evening through morning, each new day beginning at around 6pm. The story of creation, in Genesis chapter 1, is recorded in the pattern: “God created x; and it was evening, and it was morning: the first day. God created y; and it was evening, and it was morning: the second day. God created z; and it was evening, and it was morning: the third day...” That is, the act of creating each new thing, of giving light or earth or plants or animals permission to flourish, begins in the evening.

Each day begins in the evening, and we see in Genesis chapter 3 that, for the man and the woman, each day began with time spent just hanging out with God, walking together in the cool of the day; followed by sleep; and only then, the work of caring for the garden in which they had been placed.

That is why the Jewish Sabbath, even to this day, begins at around 6pm on Friday evening, and ends at around 6pm on Saturday evening.

The events of Luke 4:40-44 begin with the start of a new day – “when the sun was setting” – the day following the Sabbath. And people who had been brought up being told that it was not permissible to heal on the Sabbath (though Jesus himself ignored that human rule), now that the Sabbath was over, felt free to come to Jesus for healing.

It is the start of a new day, and, for the first time since Adam and Eve in the garden, people get to start their day walking with God, person-to-person (because Jesus is fully God, as well as fully human). Jesus is reversing the curse of separation between humanity and God. And as he does so, the consequences of that curse begin to be reversed too, as people are healed of illness, set free from demonic oppression.

The next thing that happens (implied, not stated) is that Jesus (who is fully human, as well as fully God) sleeps. We need to sleep for about 8 hours in 24, or a third of the day. Jesus spent a third of his ministry asleep. If the traditional calculations are correct in saying that Jesus’ earthly ministry lasted 3 years, then he spent a year of that time sleeping. And although that is mostly implied, we do have one story of Jesus sleeping, in a boat in a storm.

Only “at daybreak,” after starting the day by resting – God walking with people; sleeping – is Jesus ready to do the thing for which he was sent, to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God.

Biblically, work flows from rest. For God, the ‘work’ of creation flows out of the ‘rest’ of eternity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit spending time in each other’s company. For humanity – made to be in unbroken relationship with God - the ‘work’ of stewarding creation for God flows out of the ‘rest’ of spending time ‘hanging out with’ God.

Interestingly, if we get the priority of rest right, if we place rest before work, then the kingdom of God is revealed through our resting as much as it is revealed through our working. You see, God holds the two in perfect paradox: it is true to say of God that he is always at work (John 5:17), and it is true to say of God that he is always at rest (Hebrews 4:3). So the consequence of Jesus walking with people in the cool of the day is healing and deliverance; so the consequence of Jesus sleeping in the boat is that the storm, despite appearances, was never going to overwhelm the boat.

If, on the other hand, we save ‘rest’ until ‘work’ is done, we discover that work is never done, and, un-rested, the return on our labours grows less and less; our lives become decreasingly fruitful.

If I want to be fruitful, I must prioritise rest.

How do I spend my evenings?
Are they filled with doing things for God, or just spending time in his presence?

If we want to introduce people to God, do we take them to meetings, or invite them to hang out with us?

Am I getting enough sleep?