“If we communicate only that part of the gospel which corresponds to people’s “felt needs” and “personal problems” (‘Are you lonely? Do you feel that you have failed? Do you need a friend? Then come to Jesus!’), while remaining silent on their relationship to their fellow men, on racism, exploitation and blatant injustice, we do not proclaim the gospel. This is the quintessence of what Bonhoeffer has called ‘cheap grace’. After all, ‘(God) is especially moved to wrath when his own people engage in such practices. It makes them disgusting in His sight, an offence to His nostrils; and in the face of this evil-doing He cannot stand their religious posturing. He cannot bear to hear their prayers; hates their festivals; is weary of their hypocritical sacrificings; views their faithful attendance at His house with loathing, as nothing more than an uncouth trampling of its precincts: “I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly”‘
For you, O Lord, see the tears of the widowed, the sobs that overtake them when the rest of us are not looking.
You see the disorientation in which so many people live every day—confusion borne of war, poverty, abuse, or chronic illness.
You see the people in dead-end jobs who trudge to work every day filled with so much despair that they can hardly breathe.
You see those who search a loved one’s eyes for traces of love but find only an empty stare. As Lord of the earth, you spy every instance of one person cutting another to the quick, every place where a child lives in fear, every bar where someone tries to drown their sorrows.
Yet you are our world’s every hope. You are tender enough to weep with those who weep and yet strong enough to lend comfort and not be consumed with the sorrows that overwhelm us.
You are discerning enough to see where our lives run off the rails and yet gracious enough to forgive our foolishness and open again the better path that leads into your kingdom.
You are the bright centre to all of life, O God! Your lordship helps us glimpse our future with you in your kingdom, even as it points the way home.
Make us into people of the ascension, Christ Jesus!
Make us your hands of mercy, your voice of grace, your presence of love.
Whatever we do, whether in word or deed; whatever we see, whether sinful or salacious; whatever we hear, whether uplifting or depressing; whatever we face in this world, help us to face it in your power and with the knowledge of your grace and goodness.
Help us to be gentle with prodigal children. Help us to be stalwart in the truth with people in love with lies. Help us to be radiant with hope with people who fear death.
Help us to be your people, Lord God.
For today, as always, this world needs your shalom-filled presence. Bring peace to war-torn places and help people everywhere to see in one another your image.
May those who delight in the paths of suicide and destruction be turned instead to delight in life and in mutual flourishing. End the terror in which so many live, and thwart the dreams of those who plot still more terror on the unsuspecting.
Where there is hunger, bring bread; where there is drought and thirst, send refreshing rains; where there is hatred, bring your peace; where there is greed, bring your own fullness and so turn appetites run amok away from short-term pleasures toward things that last and that foster richness and plenty for all.
We are the people of your ascension and reign, Holy Christ of God. Whatever we do, help us never to forget who we are, whose we are, and where true joy may be found.
In the power and blessing of your name we pray. Amen.
(I found this prayer somewhere on the internet. Used it to close out our Story telling nights last year but as usual forgot to note where I found it. But it is pasted to our fridge if that helps at all)
In my community there is a corner shop on… well every corner. If not quite every corner at least at the top or bottom of most streets there is a corner shop. They stay open late. They know your name. You know where to get your bread, milk, cigarettes or 2 litre coke. For some of them they have been in the area for generations, like the famous Mr Parkers on Roodebloem Road. For us, though, Mrs Cassiem’s house shop is our local. She knows my boys and they will run from our door all the way to her house before I have even gotten half way there. We normally chat about the weather, her plans to extend her shop, how big the boys are getting and lately she has even given us some good health care advice.
I cannot help but wonder if the church was more like a corner shop than the large franchise store in the main street. What if on every street there was a place where people knew Jesus followers lived? A place where they could find rest, help or prayer. A place where people laughed, cried, ate together and shared life. A place where kids were welcome. A place where people knew they were loved. A place where people knew they could go when they were desperate, when they had blown it or when they needed help. What if throughout the east city area there existed scattered communities of light and of life and of hope? What if on every street a home like this existed? What if more of us intentionally chose to be move in and to share our lives in order to be these kind of people?
This past weekend I went to a conference that in all honesty I would never have gone to a few years back. And if by some miracle of teleportation I had found myself there, I am sure I would have been incapable of learning from those whose stories are so different to my own. At times I suspect radically different. (I say suspect because that really was not the point of the conference and neither I nor they presumably felt the need to get into our differences) Perhaps even different to the extent of the basic tenets of the gospel different. But yet I must confess there was something vibrant, something alive about their faith and their spirituality, something deeply attractive. Something I wanted…
For all my good Bible teaching and wrestling with exegesis I suspect my life, my spirituality, my faith is often as dull, as rational, as safe and as attractive as a three-day old sandwich. You could eat it but given the choice you would probably choose not to. How can it be that having given years of my life to studying the biblical text, fine tuning my doctrine and training other to go and do likewise I can now find myself deeply attracted to the spirituality of those who I have regarded as having a “lesser theology”?
The obvious first point of examination must be the possibility that my theological convictions are wrong? I have tossed that idea around a bit lately and while I can conclude that I have moved on a few issues, it is more the moving of nuance than of relocating to a different theological neighbourhood altogether. Perhaps, I am being naive but I am not sure it is my theological convictions that need moving. It is my heart!
Please don’t misunderstand me. Doctrine matters! Right doctrine leads to right living – breaking down the walls of exclusion, eating together, loving one another, joy, hope, freedom and life. Bad doctrine leads to division, strife, confusion, bitterness and hatred, just read Galatians if you are not convinced.
If this is true, and I would stake my life on it being true, then how can it be that those whose of us who have spent most of our lives studying, teaching and contending for what I would regard as good doctrine have lives that are so profoundly mundane and unattractive?
I suspect that what we need is not more information but rather some deep contemplation, sustained meditation and some profound experiences of the Spirit as we seek to live the information that we already know. We have become drunk with our quest for more knowledge. Like giddy schoolgirls we flock to hear, download and read yet more and more information on our latest theological crush. And somehow as we “just teach the Bible” we expect that transformation will just magically happen.
What makes these “lesser theological lights” (by my tribe’s standards anyway) so effective and vibrant and attractive? Faith. They actually believe in a God who wants to redeem and restore all of creation. So much so that they actually act on it. They base their lives around it. Make intentional choices to be downwardly mobile, committed to prayer, reaching the lost in the toughest neighbourhoods, speaking out against injustice, racism and exploitation. When God says that money enslaves and that he who seeks to save his life will lose it, they listen, they obey and they build lives on the words of Jesus. Faith.
It is after all not Bible teaching that matters but Bible living. It matters not how well you exegete the text but how deeply the text exegetes you! Will you follow where the text leads you? Will you meditate deeply on the implications of the text for your life, your aspirations, your lifestyle, the lost and the broken or will it merely become another interesting sermon to be tucked away until next we meet? Will you follow the text to where it leads to the end of you and your resources? Will you follow the text where it leads to a deep dependence upon the Spirit to lead you, guide you and sustain you for mission and in fact for life?
Strangely, I remain committed to my tribe theologically. Some days I wish I was not so convinced. But yet I long for my tribe to do so much more than contend for, teach, exegete and understand the truth. I long for the days when evangelicals will be known for their spiritual vitality, their love for the poor, their stand for justice, their care for the planet, their love for homosexuals, their lives of simplicity and sustainability, their radical generosity, their fight against consumerism and wastefulness.
Not at the expense of the gospel proclaimed. But precisely because we have believed the gospel proclaimed we are no longer conformed to the standards (comforts, securities, importances) of this world but rather our minds are being renewed by that gospel. Precisely because we have believed the gospel we will give our lives away in service of the last, the least and the lost just as Jesus gave his life away for us. We intentionally join our small story with God’s Great Big Beautiful story of redemption, resurrection, restoration, hope and beauty.
A Prayer of Abundance
We know we are cared for by an abundant Provider Let us choose to be grateful and trusting.
We know that we have enough and that what we need will always be provided.
Let us choose to be content and generous.
We know that our choices matter for ourselves, for others and future generations
Help us to live consciously and creatively, celebrating the signs of your New Creation that is present and coming.
Creator, who made us to seek the greater good of your kingdom,
Guide us to spend our time, talents and resources on what matters most.
Teach us to be free,
to live without worry, fear or greed in the freedom of your abundance.
Give us our daily bread, as we share ours with the hungry.
We give thanks for the precious gift of life!
“The Gospel invites us into a life of radical contentment, generosity, gratitude, trust and simplicity. We can re-imagine our assumptions about time, money and material possessions to pursue a life of greater freedom, leveraging our time and resources towards what matters most.” (17)
This Easter we decided to try express the death and resurrection outside the walls of a church building or the confines of a church service.
It was a low-key time of meeting with brokenness and neglected people as we followed Gods spirit into the streets. We cleaned streets and parks as a sign of restoration and new life. We ate together as a sign of restored community. We walked the streets praying, listening to God and learning from those we met. We asked God to show us where to serve as we looked to the future. We learned fresh things from Scripture because of our experiences on the streets.
We discovered the mix of people in the East City area all over again. The division between races and classes. The hatred towards us cleaning the streets and the appreciation for us doing it. We saw the brokenness, the solidarity, the escapism, the hopelessness, the laughter and the lies. We saw our community with fresh eyes and listened with hopeful ears. We mapped the area and discovered more about what is happening – good and bad. We prayed for people and shared the Jesus who came to transform the mess in the world at Easter.
It was a good Easter.
A good place to start is to walk the streets with your eyes open. Jesus did not walk this world with his head in a hold shekinah cloud, but with his eyes peeled for opportunities to demonstrate and proclaim the gospel.
Jesus saw disciples in sinners: “After this he [Jesus] went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.” Luke 5:27
Jesus looked with compassion on the masses: “When he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19:41)
Jesus looked with compassion on individuals: “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” John 11:33
Jesus saw faith and responded to it: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2)
Jesus saw need and met it: “When Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him.”
Allow me to share a few stories that illustrate what walking the streets with open eyes meant for us in the early days of planting Hill City Church:
For over a year before we had even moved to the estate, my wife and I committed to prayer-walking the streets every Monday evening, whatever the weather. We did this with our spiritual eyes open. One evening we stumbled across a derelict playground that lay right at the centre of the estate. It had clearly been abandoned for years and served no purpose, apart from giving residents somewhere to dump rubbish. All that remained of the playground were two rusty metal benches that had been shoved so far into the ground that, to sit on them, meant sitting at ground level. However, we did just that, and as we gazed at shards of glass, the unwanted junk and the general desolation that surrounded us, we were led (by the Spirit) to pray that God would establish a place of worship here at the heart of the estate. After we’d prayed, we looked over our shoulders and saw a house of sale. To cut a long story short, several months later we bought that house, moved in and did exactly what we’d prayed about- we started a church in that house and established a place of worship there! The opportunities we’ve had to share the gospel purely by living in this part of the community are way too numerous (and sensitive) to write about here, but, suffice to say it was a God thing!
Furthermore, upon moving in, we made it our aim as a fledgling church to see the ruins rebuilt and this derelict playground restored, so that the local kids could have somewhere to play again. We believe firmly that Christians in broken communities should have a reputation as “the restorer of streets to dwell in” (Isaiah 58:12). So we prayed, got in touch with the council and started the ball rolling on a three year ₤250, 000 process that eventually led to the total restoration of the play area. Hill City Church was right at the heart of the project from the start, even sponsoring the mural on the wall. Our involvement has certainly opened doors for the gospel. However, none of this would have happened if we hadn’t walked the street with our eyes open all those years ago.
Another occasion when open eyes have led to opportunities to demonstrate the gospel came in the area of rubbish. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the fly-tipping and dumping of litter around where we live was one of the most dangerous and disgusting issues that we faced when we moved here. Coupled with the local youths’ habit of robbing wheelie-bins, surfing down the road on them, and then burning them out at the bottom, this had led to trash carnage. Sometimes my kids had to wade through used nappies just to get to the car. That really wound me up.
That was until I opened my eyes. Literally, one day God revealed to me that I should take responsibility for this rubbish. All of it! I was confronted with the perfect opportunity to demonstrate grace. So I started making phone calls and getting the council to sort things out. But I also went out myself with a litter picker and gloves, collecting it all up and putting it in my own bin. Why? Because, the more I thought about it, the more I saw this as a perfect platform to illustrate what Christ had done for us on the cross. He stepped into our mess, taking away our filth, for free, never to let it be seen again!
One of our most harrowing experiences took place on Christmas Day a few years ago. I was still awake at around 1am when I heard a noise outside. I looked out of my window to see a woman getting beaten senseless by a man, right outside my house. I ran out to intervene. By the time I got out there, he was kicking her in the face and stamping on her head. I shouted at him and he ran off. The women got up, swore at me and ran after him!
So was it a waste of my time to get involved? No. Firstly, because it was the right thing to do. Secondly, because over the days that followed, it became clear that there had been several other men who had witnessed the assault from their windows, yet had chosen to do nothing. The fact that I was the only neighbour to step in seemed to speak volumes about who I worship. I didn’t do it to be a hero. I did it because it wasn’t an option to turn a blind eye. But having open eyes can sometimes break your heart.
A gang of around twenty youths has decided to make the bus stop in front of my mate Jim’s house their new haunt. This involved drinking, noise, setting things on fire and relieving themselves in the street. I knew that Jim was praying about the situation, but it still bothered him.
As I left his house one morning, I saw a huge list of names sprawled all over his bus stop. And that’s when God opened my eyes. “Jim!” I shouted. “You’ve got a whole list of names to pray for here. You’ve got your own prayer-list.” It might sound stupid, but I’ve never walked past graffiti in the same way since. All around us in these estates are lists of names that represent real young people who are lost, broken and crying out for attention.”