the baby and the bathwater


History or Hope
October 20, 2009, 8:08 am
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I love reading church history. The fact that I didn’t do a theology degree means I missed out on all of that, and am now only beginning to catch up.

But whereas I want to read it, and understand it, and learn from it, I will run into trouble if I ever start to live in it.

I want to learn from History, but more than that I want to live in Hope.

I want to learn from the way Acts 2 church happened, but more than that I want to live in the hope of Revelation 21 church. I want to learn from the historic traditions of church worship down the centuries, but I want to sing the songs of  New Creation worship.

One of our interns recounted a dream that one of her friends had recently. In that dream, her friend – a worship leader and songwriter – found himself in heaven worshipping, and as they worshipped they began to sing a song he had composed some time before.  Incredibly excited, the worship leader went up to one of the angels and said ‘wow – you are singing one of my songs – that’s amazing’.

To which the angel replied, ‘No – that song you wrote – that was one of our songs that we let you use on Earth’

So what drives you – history, or hope?



Acts 2 Church
October 15, 2009, 8:35 pm
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Acts 2 church

It’s one of those buzz-phrases isn’t it?

An Acts 2 church.

We hear it all the time.

It’s the basis for home groups, small groups, meeting-in-homes-church, doing-church-the-down-to-earth-and-real-way-type-of-church.

Loads of churches around the world call themselves it.

An Acts 2 church.

“The big gathering is dead. Old. Pre-modern in a post-modern world” we hear the emerging church voices cry.

“Mega church models are dead”, say the prophets of big-church-doom in loud-voiced-boom.

‘Small’ is the new ‘big’ they say.

Acts 2 church is where it’s at.

But hang on a minute.

Yes, the people of God had central worship times, in the big gathering, in the temple, in the synagogue before Acts 2. But the new Christians continue to meet in the Temple after Act 2, and only stopped when the persecution starts (understandably). Then in Paul’s travels he goes to the Synagogs, the meeting places, to preach and teach and share the Gospel. Then in his teaching in his letters to the churches that were the truly emerging churches, he speaks about worship primarily in terms of bigger church gatherings.

And when we get to Revelation we find our eternal destiny is in the company of people from all tribes and all nations.

Angels.

Loads of them.

Nations.

Every one.

Tribes.

None missing.

So really, shouldn’t the new ‘big’ really be ‘bigger’?

In fact isn’t there more evidence Biblically for the big church gathering than the small group gathering?

Of course I totally believe in the concept of relationship, and smaller groups of people who support and care for each other, and who cook meals for each other, and who are accountable to each other.

Totally understand all of that.

It’s crucial to life.

But my question is this: do we really want church to stay in Acts 2 when it’s Revelation 21 that we’re heading for?

Shouldn’t we pause before we belittle big.

Because if John’s dream is anything to go by, it seems that big is beautiful and big is here to stay.



Stewardship (2)
October 10, 2009, 6:28 pm
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The last post on stewardship obviously resonated with many people – both on-line and off-line. Thanks to those who pointed out my error in that stewardship does exists in the King James Version in Luke 16. I stand corrected (and corrected my original post as such). However, this does refer to purposeful theft.

I want to follow up that post with some more thoughts.

First – on Language
Language is so very important, and language changes over time. For example, not so many years ago, the word gay meant ‘bright and happy’, whereas now it almost always refers to sexual orientation. The word stewardship, whilst may have one day meant a lot more, has become pretty much synonymous with finances in recent years – so we have ‘stewardship Sunday’ which tends to be about giving money, or saving money, or cost control, and so on.

This means that when I challenge the use of the word stewardship, it is not me just trying to be clever. It is recognising that, in order to re-establish the core values behind a subject, we either need to reclaim the language that has been lost, or try and use other language. So when I want to stop using the word stewardship and instead talk about my desire to treasure the things that God gives us, I am merely trying to use different language that doesn’t bring with it a whole lot of unhelpful baggage.

Second – on Perspective
The Bible talks a lot about money, and of course it talks a lot about the love of money, and the dangers that brings. It talks about being honest in financial dealings. It talks about the need for contentment in what we have or don’t have, and it talks about the need to trust God for what we need. I am sure you know such passages off by heart.

The Bible also talks about investment in the things of the Kingdom (Matthew 25). Many quote this passage when they talk finances, but for me the issues here are far, far more profound and deep than purely finances. They involve everything that we give ourselves to in the Kingdom.

The Bible talks about us looking after the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4). Again people quote this on finances, but this seems to be about the things of the Kingdom that we have been entrusted with and not being arrogant or boastful because of it.

The Bible also talks about the dangers of being accurate with giving, whilst missing the bigger issues of justice, mercy and faithfulness (Matthew 23). WOW. I haven’t really thought about this before. It says that we could be getting money ‘right’ and still be missing out on the real issues!

I don’t know if you know that illustration about the ‘big stones’ and the ‘little stones’. You know, the one where you have this empty jar, and put the little stones in first, and then find that you can’t get the big stones in – whereas if you put the big stones in first, the little stones tend to fit all around them and everything fits in the jar together.

Well I think of it like this: the things of the Kingdom – The Honour of God, the People of God, the Reputation of the Church, The Vision/Mission of God, the Earth we live in. These are the big stones.

Finance is a little stone.  We need to keep our perspective.

Thirdly – on Values
Our family is currently trying to move. And as we consider where we will move to  (incidentally we are staying on the same estate…no big news here!) we are considering what will best make this our home above what will get us a better asset. Of course we need to be fully aware of the financial implications of what we are doing as much as we can. But we value home above asset.

And do you remember the story of David bringing the ark to Jerusalem. He valued the honour of God and obedience to God above financial prudence and personal reputation.

Comments always appreciated.  But please don’t show me any more pictures of iPhones. It will only rub in my current sence of inferiority.



Get a Grip
October 8, 2009, 9:24 am
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Apparently soon there will be a dumbing down of comedy on our TV’s. In an attempt to eradicate  genuinely distasteful episodes like the Ross/Brand phone calls, it seems that political correctness has kicked in again at the BBC. New rules would mean that comedy scenes like ‘The Germans’ from Fawlty Towers would not be allowed any more, and shows like Have I got News for You would all have their wings clipped to such an extent that they would not be worth making. Characters like Basil Fawlty would cease to exist and people like Ian Hislop would be banished from providing all of us who are bored and frustrated with the political correctness of our nation with a well needed bout of laughter at the weekend. Stephen Fry wouldn’t even get a look in.

In another report today, a teacher with 38 years experience took a child by the scruff of the neck and put him in a cupboard for apparently telling a racist joke repeatedly in class. Good on him (the teacher) I say. However, the teacher has now been convicted of assault. When I was young, bad behaviour was treated with a ruler rapped across the knuckles, or a slipper whacked across the backside. I wonder what treatment that would have got in the courts these days.

It’s crazy.

In fact, maybe it’s the BBC that should be in the dock, not the teacher.

Rather than curtail all our fun and stop great comedians providing colour and richness and laughter to our world, maybe the best thing would be that if they do occasionally cross the line, we should just take them by the scruff of the neck and chuck them in a cupboard for a few hours. The thought of Basil Fawlty and Stephen Fry having ‘cupboard time’ is quite amusing in itself. Maybe they would come up with a few more jokes whilst they were in there.

Come on the UK. Get a grip.



Dreamer
October 4, 2009, 8:00 pm
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My name is Neil Bennetts and I am a dreamer.

It feel like something I am confessing something in front of a group of other such dreamers, as though it is something that I need to overcome, deal with, get over, and if I confess it long and hard enough and process it fully and openly with others then eventually I will become a fully paid up non-dreamer, more at ease with myself, more capable of facing the world and all that it has for me.

Funny, but I am also an INTJ. And for the uninitiated in personality type tests, the T means that I think through everything in a logical and timely fashion, and the J means that I have a strong sense of internal values by which I make decisions.

Hardly the qualifications of a dreamer.

But a dreamer I am, and happy to declare it. And happy to remain as one.

I am not one of those I-have-ten-dreams-every-minute type of people. You know, the type who seem to have a dream for every life situation, a dream for every day, a dream for every person. I don’t have loads of prophetic words and pictures every time I pray. In fact I probably only have one significant prophetic word every year.  I am also not one of those amazing-angelic-off-your-face-always-something-with-rivers-or-streams sort of dreamers like John with that Patmos thing.

I am more of your Joseph type dreamer. You know, having a-major-dream-for-your-life-and-mission-which-you-keep-coming-back-to-over-many-years type of dreamer.

I remember having a conversation some 25 years ago with a friend Dave Elkington who was the chaplain at the university I was at in Norwich. I told him that I felt God was calling me into full time ministry – which of course in those days meant ordained vicar-hood. He spoke a dream into my life by suggesting it would be full time worship ministry. Of course 25 years ago, that was almost entirely unheard of, so it felt a bit far fetched. Sort of prophetic really. That dream stayed with me for many, many years. Some 10 years later I moved to Cheltenham and became a worship leader. Another 6 years later and I was in full time ministry. Over the years, that dream has been refined, surrendered and re-surrendered, shining brightly at time, and shining dim at other times. But the dream has stayed with me.

And I am living it still.

When we arrived in Cheltenham 15 years ago, the dream grew within many of us, of a large, vibrant, growing church which would significantly impact the town, region, country and beyond with the Kingdom of God. Over the years that dream has sometimes been faint, sometimes been strong. At various times we have had to surrender big parts of it, and it has been moulded and re-shaped by God time and time again. Three years ago we had to surrender the part of the dream that had us in a big warehouse type building, and we are now re-furbishing our original church building. But the dream still survives, probably stronger, with different flavours and different colours than it originally had.

But we are still living it.

I have given my life to this dream. My family has given up many things, many riches along the way. But the dream still burns strong within this dreamer, and I just can’t stop living it.

The language of dreams and dreamers is a big part of the language of the Bible (unlike the language of stewardship…). Along my journey, many times my dreams have felt like they are being suffocated, and at times I have felt like I am holding onto them by a thread. But hang on to the them I will. Invest in them I will. Put my energy into them I will.

Because for me, the dream is for living.

And live it, I intend to do.

Because my name is Neil Bennetts, and I am a dreamer.