The Stranger & The Outcast

Sheep blog

Do you want to be more like Jesus? Part of being more like Jesus means extending the same treatment, the same hospitality to the ‘alien’, the stranger and the outcast that Jesus would extend towards them. That’s a big challenge when you realise how Jesus treated them! (If you don’t know, have a rummage through the Gospel of John Chapter 9 or take a look at Luke 4:18-19)

Some of the religious leaders of the time were scandalised by Jesus and pointed to their books of rules saying ‘this is not how it should be done.’ I wonder whether we ever get so hung up on dotting every doctrinal ‘i’ and crossing every religious ’t’ that we actually miss out on becoming more like Jesus…and miss out on the whole point of what it means to be church?

When we look at people, do we see them simply as they are and have been, or do we see them with the eyes of Christ…..as those to whom Jesus offers a hope and a future?

I’ve always been interested in words, what they mean and where they come from. One of the words I looked up a while ago was “hostility.” I found out that the Latin root of that word is hostis which means “enemy.” Our Christian task is to turn the stranger (the hostis) who is perceived as an enemy into a hospes, which is the Latin word for “guest” (and from which our English word “hospitality” is derived.)

Our Christian task it to turn the hostis into a hospes….the stranger into a guest.

Biblical hospitality doesn’t just mean sharing food with someone…though food is definitely good. I like food.

Rather, Biblical hospitality involves an enounter with God as we encounter the stranger. 

I have had the privilege of meeting a very wide range of people through my work life ….whether they be homeless people, prostitutes, addicts, refugees, younger people, older people, poorer people, richer people, people with disabilities, gay people, people of other nationalities, cultures and faiths. I have grown so much through people who are not like me…..through “the other!” What’s more, I have found that I don’t necessarily have to condone their actions or beliefs in order to learn from them.

In fact, I think that the stranger can be sent by God to open up new windows in our thinking that help move us towards a greater wholeness as human beings. Maybe God wants to challenge our perceptions…perhaps he wants us to grow in grace ? Maybe He wants to lead us to prayerful intercession? Maybe it is something else?

Just a final thought….for years the church has prayed for chances to evangelise and disciple the nations. For years God’s response has been to send people overseas to do just that. Today, that prayer is being answered in a new way….

the nations are coming to us. What a massive God given Gospel opportunity!

One that should certainly affect our church prayer life!

So….how can we become a people who look for the image of God in one another; people who look for what they can affirm in one another, not what they can disagree on or tear down; people who seek to offer the stranger and outcast a hope and future because of Jesus Christ?

How can we become people who turn the hostis into the hospes…the enemy to the guest?
How can we become a people who in welcoming the stranger, find that we just might have a fresh encounter with the risen Lord Jesus? – An encounter that will help us become more like Jesus.

And we do want to become more like Jesus don’t we?

 

*Image courtesy of Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Jibing At Sea…

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Monique is an accomplished sailor from Brittany. She set out from the Canary Islands over 2 years ago and has since been sailing around the world. She has called in at various ports along the way and during this time has, amongst other things, learned to surf, skateboard and sledge.

The world has too few well known female rôle models, so I am pleased to be able to say that I am in awe of Monique.

I am particularly in awe of her because people said that it wouldn’t work out. After all, she started her journey as an inexperienced sailor on a 39 foot yacht heading out into the vast unknown! People said that she just wasn’t cut out for that sort of journey or that sort of life. They said that she would find it far too stressful and that she would be much better off spending her life doing something ‘normal’ and more in line with her natural talents and abilities.

I know they say that you should never meet your heroes, but I would like to meet Monique…..

because Monique is a chicken…a hero chicken….

….a hero chicken who has been travelling round the world with a human called Guirée Soudée. Soudée has found, contrary to many peoples expectations, that Monique has been the ideal sailor companion for him. Whilst only eating rice and corn (plus the odd fish) she actually provides him with freshly laid eggs at sea. In addition to this, Monique provides him with company, entertainment and, says Soudée, ‘Compared with people, she doesn’t complain at all.’

Sometimes, we box ourselves in. We tell God that he can’t use us in this or that way because we are just not cut out for it. Perhaps we think that we are not experienced enough, gifted enough, eloquent enough, knowledgeable enough, old enough, young enough or whatever. Maybe we think that we are just too shy or perhaps too mouthy!

God can work in and through anyone in any way he likes!

God may assign us a task that is far beyond our power or resources to accomplish. Perhaps only then will we turn to him for the power, the knowledge, the skill and the resources that we need. Let’s stop focusing on our talents, abilities and interests to determine God’s will. Instead, why not seek God himself and just watch and wait as he equips us for whatever assignment He is wanting to accomplish in and through us.

When we tell God what we can’t do, we are actually saying more about our faith in God (or lack of it) than we are about our own abilities. Either God is all powerful or he isn’t. If He is all powerful, then we do not need to question our ability, strength or resources to complete His assignments. He will equip us to accomplish all He calls us to do.

Be like Monique…….I’m sure she never questions the call on her life or her abilities to fulfil the task.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-36475672

*Tacking more than 180 degrees to avoid a jibe (usually in harsh conditions) is sometimes referred to as a ‘chicken jibe.’

Part 2- Scribbles from my journal way back when…

Photo on 07-06-2016 at 14.37

In my last blog, I explained that I would be posting some thoughts from some old journals that predated my training as a Baptist minister. The journals were written at a time when God was turning my understanding of what faith was, what ministry could be and who I was upside down. They are nothing particularly clever or even original, but just thoughts that seemed worth thinking at the time, that challenge me afresh every time I read them and that might be helpful pondering fuel for someone else.

So, here is the second set of musings, this time from my old red journal. And yes, I am currently imbibing another lovely cup of coffee!

  • ‘A missionary model of church calls us to move from understanding church as institution to movement, from structures that invite people into sacred space to a contagious spirituality that ‘invades secular space.’

How can we cultivate such a contagious spirituality? What will that mean for us in terms of our discipleship, holiness and ethics? Why do we so often separate disciplehip/holiness and mission…and at what cost?

  • How might church leaders (and how might I) develop a deeper understanding of society so that we can better develop skills that will enable us to develop a genuinely missional engagement with society?’ 

 

Scribbles from my journal way back when…

 

Photo on 31-05-2016 at 10.50

I was imbibing a lovely cup of tea on Mersea Island yesterday whilst browsing through an old personal journal. The journal predated ministerial training and at the time that I wrote my musings I had no idea that one day I would end up as a Baptist Minister. As a woman in an F.I.E.C church at the time, no one had ever suggested it, or most probably even thought about it! As I read these journal ramblings with hindsight however, they remind me precisely why some form of church related ministry was perhaps inevitable and why being a faithful minister was never going to be an easy ride….

I plan to post a few more quotes from old journals over the next week or so. These will primarily be a reminder to myself of the way I sense that God has been leading me over the years and remind me why I do what I do. If they are helpful ‘pondering fuel’ for anyone else, then that’s great too. They are nothing particularly clever or even original, but just thoughts that seemed worth thinking at the time.

So, here are the first three of my musings from just a couple of pages from a journal way back when….

  • ‘What could God do if all who occupied leadership positions empowered others as their primary calling rather than simply exercising their own gifts?’ (If I were writing this today, I would write exactly the same, except that I would stress that a leaders primary calling, even before empowering others, is to worship God!’

 

  •  ‘I want to be a permission giver. Permission givers are ambitious for those working around them and are not intimidated by those more able than themselves. What will that require of me?’

 

  • ‘How can I empower emerging leaders and be ambitious for them? Can mentoring play a rôle? What does that look like in my secular context? What might that look like in a church context? 

The Answer Is Blowing In The Wind

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And the question???

How should God’s people understand mission?

If we are going to be serious as God’s people about being who is calling us to be and doing what he is calling us to do (which we are aren’t we?), we must get our heads around this question! It is not something just for the academics.  It is for practitioners like you and me!

The Brazilian missiologist Steuernagel (1993) tells us that the answer is ‘blowing in the wind’……..Well actually, he says it somewhat more academically. He says that mission should be understood pneumatologically. (Pneuma is Ancient Greek for breath, wind or spirit.) Steuernagel writes…

‘It is first to perceive the blowing of the Spirit and the direction from which it comes. And then it is to run in the same direction to which the Spirit is blowing.’

My concern is that whilst local, national and international Church structures do many good things, they can also serve to hinder responsiveness to the Spirit.

Men like John Wesley and Count Zinzendorf were prepared to let go of old church structures and adopt new structures for mission precisely because they were better suited to supporting the movement of the Spirit.

If a church is going to be more open to the work of the Holy Spirit, it needs to be shaped around mission. This means that its’ ecclesiology, structures and rules must all serve to support, rather than potentially to hinder the missionary nature and purpose of the church.

Ecclesiology is to missiology a bit like scaffolding is to a building. The scaffolding is there to support what is being built, but it must not determine what can be built. That’s not what scaffolding is for! As soon as the scaffolding starts to hinder progress on the building, the scaffolding must be quickly dismantled and reconfigured so that it can continue to support the ongoing building project. I hope that you get my drift….

To address this controversial issue within our churches will however require courageous, innovative thinking and effective leadership. Many both within and outside our congregations/denominations will not understand and of course we must be sensitive, wise and discerning, but ways must be found to ensure that churches ‘shape up’ for God’s mission. If this ‘nettle is not grasped,’ the consequences will be enormous – the church will be denied from being true to her sent out nature and she (like ancient Israel) may find herself inadvertently hindering God’s purposes to bless all nations.

If the local church is to be faithful to her calling, church leaders and congregations clearly have important decisions to make…

Please Lord, give us wisdom, discernment, sensitivity, the hide of a rhinoceros, courage and tenacity! Help us to keep step with your Spirit so that as this generation of believers we can be ‘your people’ for this generation.  

Just So Irresponsible..

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I’ve upped and left….got into the car and driven off into the sunset…no laptop, no iPad. It’s all very irresponsible (or is it?) but I did it anyway….and I’m glad that I did.

Sometimes life gets in the way of spending quality time with my closest, most amazing friend. I don’t skip time with him intentionally-it sort of just happens. So I consciously try to make time for us to have a chat and spend time together. It feels naughty-as if I’m sneaking away with an illicit boyfriend or something, but how did it ever become that way??!

Society tells me that ‘busy, busy, busy’ is what it’s all about. The often conflicting demands of ministry makes me feel that if I’m not ‘there’ that something bad will happen…and to be honest it often does….but even so, does that make it right to deny ‘The Lord and Saviour’ of my time?

He doesn’t actually need me in order to survive, (as if?!) but nonetheless he wants me to ‘hang out’ with him 100% of the time.

Conversely, I can’t actually survive without Him, but do I actually want to hang out with him 100% of the time? I like to think that I do, but an honest assessment of my ‘to do’ list suggests that may not always be the case.

Quoting from a conversation I had with my friend earlier today…

‘I’m sorry Lord. I know that we don’t get enough time alone together. I guess I’m coping OK with the externals, but my interior life is in perpetual danger of crumbling! Without your breath, I am nothing. Enthuse, inspire and enliven every part of me with your Holy Sprit – so that I rise or fall to be no more and no less than you have created me to be.’

I’ll leave the rest of the day’s events between me and my friend. Too much self-disclosure on-line is seldom a pretty thing! However, it maybe that my words to my friend might offer you the words that you need to say to him today.

Written whilst on retreat April 2016…

Just So Irresponsible…

I’ve upped and left….got into the car and driven off into the sunset…no laptop, no iPad. It’s all very irresponsible (or is it?) but I did it anyway….and I’m glad that I did.

Sometimes life gets in the way of spending quality time with my closest, most amazing friend. I don’t skip time with him intentionally-it sort of just happens. So I consciously try to diarise time for us to have a chat and spend time together. It feels naughty-as if I’m sneaking away with an illicit boyfriend or something, but how did it ever become that way??!

Society tells me that ‘busy, busy, busy’ is what it’s all about. The often conflicting demands of ministry makes me feel that if I’m not ‘there’ that something bad will happen…and to be honest it often does….but even so, does that make it right to cheat my Lord and Saviour of my time?

He doesn’t actually need me in order to survive, (as if?!) but nonetheless he wants me to ‘hang out’ with him 100% of the time.

Conversely, I can’t actually survive without Him, but do I actually want to hang out with him 100% of the time? I like to think that I do, but an honest assessment of my ‘to do’ list suggests that may not always be the case.

Quoting from a conversation I had with my friend earlier today…

‘I’m sorry Lord. I know that we don’t get enough time alone together. I guess I’m coping OK with the externals, but my interior life is in perpetual danger of crumbling! Without your breath, I am nothing. Enthuse, inspire and enliven every part of me with your Holy Sprit – so that I rise or fall to be no more and no less than you have created me to be.’

I’ll leave the rest of the day’s events between me and my friend. Too much self-disclosure on-line is seldom a pretty thing! However, it maybe that my words to my friend might offer you the words that you need to say to him today.

Written whilst on retreat April 2016…

CRAZY PAVING!

As an eighteen month old baby, I remember sitting in the back of the car whilst my Mum collected some large flagstones from a man called Mr Greene, had them put in the boot and then drove home. I don’t remember anything else from that far back, but for some reason I do remember that.

I don’t however remember the next bit, but my family tell the story more or less as follows:

‘All was quiet and still as dawn broke in the little village where the little house was where ‘The Shaw’ family lived. Suddenly the silence was shattered by a crash, bang and a wallop! Daddy and Mummy Shaw arose to find little Lindsay with hammer raised high above her head delivering another blow to the newly laid hearth stones. The beautiful 2 piece hearth-stone now resembled crazy paving and a couple of the stones waiting to be built into a fire place lay in pieces!

Dad and Mum must have been quite upset at the time. I had certainly ruined all their careful handiwork. I think they must have felt a sense of horror combined with laughter as they saw me ‘trying to help.’

They painstakingly cemented each bit together until the hearth and fireplace were  complete again…. Flawed, yet complete.

As I grew up, I never once heard them moan about it. It’s a part of my family story and it worked perfectly well for decades!!

Fireplace image

N.B The hearth has now been replaced, but this is the fireplace. Note some of the small fragments of stone. These are the product of my handiwork.

As a child of God, there are times when I have wrongly tried to ‘help His plans along; there are times when I have made wrong choices and times when I have tripped and stumbled because I’ve still been toddling in some areas of my life. He knows and yet, like the perfect loving Father, he graciously picks me up when I run to him and he helps me to begin afresh.

Even when I have wilfully chosen a course of action that was not God’s way, He has sent his Spirit to call me out, but not so that He can throw me ‘into the fireplace of life’, but so that The Master Craftsman can work with me to painstakingly restore me bringing each piece together until my life resembles a beautiful and complete crazy paving!

God is the expert at creating beauty from brokenness….

Easter Poem

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The Word gave up his majesty

To show us true humility

To dwell amongst humanity

And die upon a tree

His death that seemed a tragedy

It broke the chains and set me free

He took the blame instead of me

With what can I repay?

~~

Buried to bring new creation

Rising to grant full salvation

Binding he that brings temptation

And trampling death and hell.

My heart cries out in jubilation

To Christ who is my vindication

To Christ who’s made my reparation

There’s nothing left to pay!

~~~~

(Lindsay Caplen 2016)

Darkness cannot drive out darkness-Be The Light!

Based on a Sermon on 22nd November at South Woodham Evangelical Church.IMG_0839

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:19-21

This morning after a time of silence in our worship, we read ‘Blessed Be the Lord for he has shown me his love in a besieged city.’ (Psalm 32:21) It makes me think about the wonderful way that many have chosen to respond to the Paris attacks, not by retreating in fear, but by extending a welcome to the stranger who may be sad, lonely and dispossessed.

It has been sad on the other hand to see people stirring up fear, Islamophobia and even xenophobia in the wake of the attacks. I do understand that fear and I do understand those feelings. ….But we must never play into the hands of terror….of hate and of evil.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam all look back to Abraham for the origins of their faith. They are known as the Abrahamic faiths and are all monotheistic (that is they believe in one God).

Abraham lived amongst people whose faith, ethics and practices were alien to his own. Yet he did not go around smashing idols. He did not impose his faith on others. He did not hold people of other beliefs to the same standards of ethics or holiness that he felt called to observe. Yes, he held them to account for seizing his well, but that’s a common ‘moral’ law issue, not directly related to religious ethics or faith.

Abraham’s nephew Lot moved to a place called Sodom. According to Genesis 13, the people of Sodom were wicked and sinned greatly against the Lord and yet Abraham is not once mentioned as having criticised or condemned them. In fact when he heard that a severe punishment was headed their way, Abraham pleaded one of the boldest prayers in the Bible by calling upon God to spare the people.

His contemporaries sense that there is something special, perhaps even godly about him. Melchizedek, king of Salem, salutes him with the words ‘Blessed be Abram by God most high, Creator of Heaven and Earth (Genesis 14:9). The Hittites say ‘You are a Prince of God among us.’ (Genesis 23:6.)

These men did not know God the way Abraham did and yet Abraham gained their respect by the way he lived, not the way he forced, or even urged others to live. He sought to be true to his faith whilst being a blessing to others regardless of their faith.

This deep love between Abraham and God has in various ways inspired Jews, Christians and Muslims to see themselves as Abraham’s rightful heirs.

Surely then, all who embrace Abraham as their father must aspire to live like Abraham. Could anything be more foreign to the spirit of Abrahamic monotheism than what is happening today in the name of jihad?!

The brutal murder of the innocent. The cold, brutal killing of those with whom you do not agree. The pursuit of domination in the name of empire (or caliphate) and the idea that you can impose truth by force. These are pagan ideas and must have no place in the life or faith of anyone who is a true heir of Abraham.

Let’s have some hubris here. The Christian faith has not been immune to imposing its’ views on others. Christianity was certainly not above reproach during aspects of The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Reformation and whilst burning witches! We may well say….yes, but that wasn’t proper Christianity. Scripture was misinterpreted for political ends…for power! Can the same not be said for this extreme form of Islam?….For the beliefs and practices of ISIS or Da’esh – that few Muslims would recognise as being Orthodox Islam? Let’s remember that by far the greatest loss of life amidst the current atrocities has been amongst Muslims themselves…Muslims who do not agree with ‘them’.

There are difficult texts in the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Qur’an and the Hadith. Applied directly without careful interpretation…some of the texts from all of these faiths can and have and will do great harm! The advent of the internet and social media permits extreme interpretations to rapidly gain adherents! This is particularly true for Islam, though fundamentalist and extreme christian views are also getting far more publicity than they should. Westboro Baptist church for example is a church that many of us would struggle to recognise as Christian.

Psalm 24:1 ‘The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it. The world and all its’ people belong to him.’

Everything – the land, its’ produce, its’ power, its’ people and life itself. They all belong to the Lord. We may possess the land, but we do not own it. Human beings are stewards called to act on God’s behalf. ISIS and other similar extremist organisations-they’re not acting as stewards. They have declared that they want restoration of the Caliphate and the application of their twisted form of Islamic law in all the lands where Islam once held power from Israel through to Spain. These are political objectives. They have nothing to do with the God of Abraham. The God of Abraham does not accept human sacrifice. When religion turns men into murderers, God replies as he did to Cain ‘The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.’

As Christians, I believe that we need to remember the values within our own faith that make true Abrahamic monotheism the humanising force it can and should be. These include the sanctity of life; the dignity of personhood, the upholding of justice and mercy, the responsibility of the rich for the poor, the commands to love the stranger and the insistence on genuine listening. With these values perhaps the church can be the salt and light in this situation that the she is called to be.

The use of religious language by any faith to justify the current wave of heinous terror crimes is not faith, but imperialism.

Unless we are careful, the victims of terror will not just be the dead and maimed, but also the values upon which a free society is built. Trust, security, civil liberty, tolerance, the willingness of a country to open its’ doors to the stranger. We must not let those values be eroded! True faith never needs terror to make its’ voice heard!

The God of Abraham has the power to rescue the powerless. God Almighty turns his face and inclines his ear to the poor, the lonely, the marginalised, the refugee, the one who has no earthly might. Above the noise of war and hate, God hears their strained cry……. and so, if we follow him, must we.

In the Middle East, the advent season has already started and in just one week we too will be looking forward to the coming of Emmanuel, God with us.

God who came to be with us in a way that was so mind blowingly unexpected.

The one who was all powerful who

‘made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness and then who being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!
(Philippians 2)

Jesus – God squeezed into human flesh, entered into a hostile world…an illegitimate baby who whilst still a toddler had to flee a murderous political-religious regime and become a refugee in a foreign land.

What a contrast between the way that God came down to establish his Kingdom on earth and the way that King Herod sought to establish his earthly Kingdom! God turns our understanding of power on its’ head….and that same subversion of power continued through Jesus’ life….and continues today.

When Jesus became a man instead of taking the lives of those who didn’t agree with him, he died in their place at the cross of Calvary! But we know more of that story don’t we……..?

…..We know that because of his birth, his life, his death and his resurrection that His love can not only overcome, it can counter savage cruelty, assault, murder, rape, persecution, genocide, injustice, slaughter and hate at their very source – the human heart.

God’s love through Christ can change hearts in a way that no other force can. God’s love alone can stop the cycle of violence…

Of course we must resist evil. Of course we must protect victims of violence. But love alone must shape the heart attitudes from which we respond. If fear and hate shapes our heart attitudes more than does the love of God, then terror will have won a victory in our lives too.

‘Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’ (Martin Luther King)

Let us like Abraham win the respect of others by the way we live our lives, not by the way we force, or even urge others to live…and then maybe ‘the other’ will see something godly about us.

Surely that it what it means to be a light in the darkness – A light that is extinguished if we compromise our faith by fighting hate with hate; by fighting human power with human power instead of allowing God’s power to be released.

This advent ask Christ to let his image burn so brightly inside your life that it will consume the fear, the hate and the darkness within your own heart so that we his church can carry the light wherever we go! The Church of Jesus Christ fully alive to his life transforming power is the hope of this world.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not and will not overcome it! We are the light of the world!