Archive for September, 2015

Know. Do. Be.

Posted: September 29, 2015 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

Here at Revive, we are embarking on a new series thinking about what it means to be mature Christians. We started two weeks ago with an activity to get us thinking about what we as a community think a mature Christian should know and do and be, and then on Sunday night I shared a brief personal reflection on the idea of maturity and a bit of a response to that activity.

This promises to be an exciting journey, and it would be great to have you along, whether you can join us on Sundays or not. Hopefully this blog will be a good way of keeping us all on the same path, so to start us off, here is my reflection from Sunday night in blog form.

I was a very studious child, and so for a long time my faith was mostly about knowing stuff. I knew the Bible stories, and I knew the creeds and the prayers, and I knew what I was meant to do and be, even if actually doing and being was really just a case of ticking the right boxes.

The first problem with that was that my faith only really existed at one level. It was the level I functioned at most of the time, so it was a significant part of my life, but I treated it like an academic exercise which had some practical application, and it would have been all too easy for me to have kept it in a notebook labelled ‘God stuff’ and only referred to it when it was easy or convenient.

The second problem was that because my faith depended on answers, I was wary of asking too many questions. That might sound paradoxical, but I liked knowing stuff and so easy answers were more comfortable than difficult questions. And so I coasted through my faith in a way that prevented both it and me from growing.

Fortunately life shocked me out of that kind of faith, and growing in maturity has so far for me been an exercise in humility and authenticity, learning the limits of what I know, understanding the importance of what I do and be, and realising that there is an important balance between them which needs to be held in check in order that I can grow a faith which is not twisted or stunted but healthy and mature.

We all have different stories, but I think there can be something really valuable in sharing them, as we can hold one another accountable and encourage one another and learn from one another, so I’m sharing a bit of my story in the hope that you will also share yours.

And if I sound remarkably self aware here, please don’t be fooled. It’s only because I’ve thought these things through as I’ve been preparing this, but then that’s why these kinds of exercises are so important.

Jesus called us to love God with all our heart and all our soul and all our strength and all our mind. If heart and soul are about being, and strength is about doing, and mind is about knowing, we actually have a biblical model for the activity we began with.

That means it is helpful for us to think about what we know and do and be as separate categories, because they represent important aspects of ourselves, but it also means that we must think about them together, because they are all united by the single purpose of loving God.

That in turn leads us on to another couple of points, which I think are particularly important to the whole idea of maturity, with its related ideas of wholeness and growth. Faith involves our entire person, and so it must be worked out as it is lived out or we become disconnected from it, and it must grow as we grow and change as we change or it becomes too small to fill our whole lives.

To take it back to Jesus’s words, loving God with all my mind looks very different now to how it looked when I was seven, because I have a greater capacity to wrestle with complex thoughts as well as a greater willingness to accept the impenetrable strangeness of the world.

In the same way, loving God with all my strength has changed, as I have developed new strengths and found new opportunities to use then.

And loving God with all my heart and soul becomes a fuller and richer experience as I become a more rounded and developed person.<

It's a cliche, but becoming a mature Christian really is a journey. And like any journey, it is one which is made easier by having some idea of what the destination looks like, and what will help us along the way. That’s why we are starting on this path together.

I don’t want to spoiler the rest of the series, but I do want to spend a moment or two reflecting on a few things that came out of our activity.

The three ideas that most jumped out at me were knowing that God is love, doing prayer, and being engaged in social action.

In some ways, knowing that God is love is a lot about ourselves, as the understanding we have of God acts like a filter which colours the way we see the world and our place in it. If we believe God is love, we will know that we are loved as the whole of creation is loved, and so we will act with love towards ourselves and the world around us. Although of course it is very easy to say that God is love, but not always so easy to believe it or to feel it, and sometimes we need to wrestle with our image and experience of him.

Doing prayer is a lot about God, as it is how we build an active and creative relationship with him. The more time we spend with God, the more we find ourselves living in step with him, rather than always feeling like we are running to catch up. It is interesting though that prayer was not the only word that was used, and there were other ideas of experience and communication, which remind us that it is not just about the words we say.

And being engaged in social action is about the world, as it calls us to do our bit to make things better, not just for ourselves but for everyone. Opening ourselves to live with and for others can make us vulnerable but it also keeps us connected and invigorated. Again though, there were other associated ideas to do with being loving and building good relationships, which act as a reminder that this is about genuine encounters not simple charity.

Of course these ideas don’t cover everything, and there were plenty of other really interesting and important ideas that we came up with, but I think there is a valuable tension between these three, as they concentrate our focus inwards and ‘upwards’ and outwards. I talked earlier about balancing knowing and doing and being, and so I wonder if knowing love and doing prayer and being engaged might provide a helpful structure that we can build around. Of course there will be many other ways to approach this, so I'll leave that one with you, and I'd love to know what you think.

One final thought, because maturing in faith is a never ending process, and it should be one which enthuses us with possibilities, rather than one which taunts us with shortcomings.

As part of the activity we engaged in, we thought about the things we most struggled with, and it's really important that we do that so that we can work on them, but sometimes we need to balance that with a little encouragement.

And so I shared a word of encouragement on Sunday night, because I saw something of the marks of maturity I have focused on here when Revive prayed for a member of the community, after they shared something they had been reflecting on during Lectio Divina.*

It may have seemed like the obvious thing to do, but I have been in other communities where it wouldn't have been, where prayer wouldn't have been offered unless it was asked for.

That prayerful response seemed to come from an inner compulsion rather than an instruction, and that spoke to me of an understanding of God's love that goes deeper than simple knowledge, as well as a desire to bring God into every situation that is not mere ritual, and a heart for others that is compassionate and authentic.

So I wanted to encourage the community to keep growing those things, because you can never know too much of God's love or pray too much or care for others too much, but know that God is already at work bringing them to flourishing.

That's only one example, and we will each have our own areas of particular maturity, but I hope it shows the importance of recognising where there is good strong growth in our lives, so that we can celebrate and nurture what God has begun, as we learn to know and do and be in him.

*Lectio Divina is a contemplative reading of the Bible. If you would like to know more, just leave a message in the comments.

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Revive and the student life

Posted: September 25, 2015 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

If you are a new student, welcome to Leeds! And if you are a returning student, welcome back! This is a great city and we hope it will be a wonderful home for you over the next few years.

Last year we asked Clare, a recent graduate, to say something about how Revive works for students. We’re not really a ‘student church’ but we are based in Hyde Park, and students have found a home with us throughout our life. As the university year gets into full swing, we thought this was a good opportunity to repost her thoughts.

Revive is a community of people supporting each other. We meet in each other’s homes to discuss books, pray, watch films, listen to speakers, make music – previously Revive produced a few albums. Technically a Baptist church and having grown out of a youth group, it now consists mainly of families but a fair few 20s/30s too.

Although Revive has had many incarnations over the years, I hazard that its essential character hasn’t changed much. It has remarkably flat leadership with stuff only happening if people do it. People can disagree and that’s ok. You can be open about your mistakes and issues; any question you ask will be considered. We’ve explored things like Jesus’ humanness, truth, new monasticism, sexuality/orientation, socio-economics, feminism, what is the Bible?  Many Revive people are dedicating their lives’ work to being creative and pursuing social justice in Leeds. Examples of stuff Revive has got behind include The Narnia Experience, Left Bank, & Joanna Project.

I might describe Revive as the somewhat funny-looking little toe of the church body – it doesn’t suit everyone. For me, Revive became my spiritual home because it was the only place that could embrace and handle my long-repressed questioning nature while showing me something real. I appreciated the lack of pretence and performance: it is – sometimes uncomfortably – personal. Revive could be a good place for you to grow if you are an artist, you are thoughtful, you don’t like hierarchies, you have an idea, you like being outside the student bubble, you like Jesus but aren’t too sure about church…

If you’d like to know more, email reviveleeds@gmail.com, call 07973756440, or find us at http://www.facebook.com/reviveleeds.

See? I am doing a new thing!

Posted: September 24, 2015 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

A quick introduction before I begin. My name is Leigh and I have just joined Revive as the new minister in training. This has meant moving to a new house in a new city to start a new course with a new college as well as a new job with a new church, so I’ve been thinking about new starts rather a lot lately. As the new academic year gets going I’m probably not alone, so the whole idea of new things seems a good topic for my first proper blog post.

The Christian faith is built on the promise that we can become a new creation in Christ, that because of the example of his life and the power of his death, it’s never too late to start over and do better. That promise might depend on Jesus, but it is the coming together of promises God has been making from the very beginning, and the scriptures are full of the God of new things.

In Isaiah 43:19, God says “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” I love the sense of excitement in these words. God sounds like an excitable child, dragging us by the hand, saying “Look at this! Look what I’m doing! Can’t you see it? Isn’t it amazing?”

But he isn’t just excited, he wants us to be excited too. He wants us to see the world as he sees it, full of potential waiting to burst out.

I think we get something of the same giddy pleasure at the endless possibilities in the gospels, as Jesus talks about the kingdom, which is the language he uses for God’s new work, as a seed hidden in the earth until it is ready to spring into marvellous new life.

And not just marvellous new life but miraculous new life. God promises water in the wilderness, so there is something surprising about what he is doing. He will do the impossible, the unthinkable, the never-imaginable. We won’t be able to predict what God will do next and that is why we need to keep our eyes and our hearts open all the time.

You see, God is working on new things all around us. Some of them are still silently and secretly planting the deep roots that will sustain them. Some are just beginning to break through the soil and put out tender shoots. Some are growing strong branches which bear much fruit and are a nesting place for many birds. Others are already withering but dropping the seeds which will give rise to more new life as they do.

These past few weeks have seen mass movements of people seeking to welcome and support refugees. That’s a new thing springing up.

The Labour leadership election saw thousands of young people who had previously been disaffected starting to believe they had a voice that counted in their society. That’s a new thing springing up.

Mozambique has just been declared the first country to be completely cleared of landmines. That’s a new thing springing up.

The news can make things seem pretty hopeless at times, and I would never want to undermine the horror of what is happening in so many places and to so many people, but there is good news too. Everywhere there are new things springing up and God is calling us to see them and rejoice in them..

But God doesn’t just want us to see and rejoice, he wants us to join in. If we carry on reading a little, we see that in Isaiah 43:22 God says “yet you have not called on me, Jacob, you have not wearied yourselves for me, Israel”, and I think there is a deep sadness here that we haven’t accepted God’s invitation to join him in creating new things.

If we want to see new things happening, we need to get involved in making them happen. We need to pray for them, we need to encourage them, we need to roll up our sleeves and get on with them. God is doing this new thing but he cannot do it without us. Not because he’s not powerful enough but because that’s not how he works.

God made the animals but he let Adam name them. Jesus prayed over the loaves and fishes but he left the disciples to distribute them. God wants us to partner with him and so he will only do so much before it is our turn to take over. That’s why Pope Francis has said “You pray for the hungry then you share your bread with the poor. This is how prayer works.” In the same way, we pray “your kingdom come” then we go out and bring the kingdom in.

Now this does all come with something of a health warning. In Isaiah 43:2 God says “when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned”, and I think that when we read those verses in the light of what follows, there is a sense that God is telling us new things may mean trials, but he will protect us through them.

If we want to see new things happening, we need to be prepared for all that comes with them. We follow a divine troublemaker and that might mean making some trouble for ourselves, but when we see the waters in the wilderness we will know it was worth it.

New things are clearly on God’s heart because it’s a theme he quickly returns to. In Isaiah 65:17-18, he talks of a new heaven and a new earth, and when he does he speaks of delight and joy. I think we can start to see here why he is so excited. The new thing he is speaking of is a great work of creation. Or perhaps rather recreation.

He is working to rediscover the pleasure he took in his perfect creation, but the great news is that he isn’t doing that by screwing everything up and starting again with something completely different. Instead he is making a new heaven and a new earth. He is making heaven and earth new again. He is improving and restoring what he has already made.

God loves us so deeply and has so much faith in our capacity for redemption, that there will be a continuity in this renewal. That applies on a global scale, as God talks of a new earth, but it also applies on a personal scale, as he talks of his people.

I think it also applies on a corporate level, as we are not only God’s people as individuals, but we are also God’s people as a community. If God wants to improve and restore both our world and our selves, he also wants to improve and restore our systems and our societies, using the best of the old to create the best of the new. He wants to transform the way we do politics, the way we do social justice, the way we do church. That might mean making radical decisions, always remembering that we worship a God of radical love.

A few verses on, in Isaiah 65:20-23, God starts to describe a vision of his new creation. There will be no infant mortality, no early death, no theft, no corruption, no misfortune…

It’s easy to assume that God is talking about the new heaven here, but this heaven sounds a lot like earth. This is a vision of a place where people are born and people die, where people plant trees and people build houses. So then God must be talking about the new earth, but this earth also sounds a lot like heaven. This is a vision of a society that gives opportunity and justice to everyone, in a world which is physically and spiritually healthy.

When Jesus speaks of the kingdom of heaven in the gospels, there is a sense in which that kingdom is both now and not yet. It has already arrived here but it has yet to be fulfilled elsewhere. I think there is a similar sense of overlapping realities in this passage, as earth becomes like heaven or heaven becomes like or earth or the two melt into one.

I don’t know if the vision we are given in this passage is God’s promise of eternity or his hope for the future, or if that future will shade into eternity so that we won’t know where one ends and the other begins. There are too many questions there that I don’t feel I need the answer to just yet. But I do believe that the vision we are given here should be our manifesto and a rallying cry for all those who want to get in on the new thing God is doing.

Because this is the kind of world God is seeking to build with our help. A world where, as the prophet Amos put it, people “act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with their God”.

And if God can only build that kind of world with our help, then he is more than willing to do his bit to aid communication and cooperation, as he promises in Isaiah 65:24 that he will hear his people before they call and answer while they are still speaking. The level of intimacy here is incredible. He will know us so well that he will know what we need before we even tell him, and he will be so keen to respond to us that he will jump in before we’ve even finished.

Do you get the sense that God is excited about working with us? That he wants to get going on this great project and he doesn’t want to waste any time about it? We too need to get that excited. We too need to get going and stop wasting time. After all, heaven and earth depend on it.

I think this post is plenty long enough by now, so I will finish with a few verses from the Message interpretation of Isaiah.

Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands…All the earlier troubles, chaos, and pain are things of the past, to be forgotten. Look ahead with joy. Anticipate what I’m creating.

REVIVE-ing the blog!

Posted: September 23, 2015 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

I apologise for the terrible pun in the title, but it just had to be done.

The blog has been quiet for a little while now, but we’re bringing it back to life, and making a few tweaks to the rest of the site while we’re at it.

We hope you like it and watch this space for more…