Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Revelation - a great place to start...

A while back I volunteered to read and blog about Richard Bauckham's book 'The Theology of the Book of Revelation'. The time has come to get started.....

Let me first declare my starting position. Revelation scares me. I don't mean that the prospect of being judged before God when end times come scares me - I mean that the complex imagery and overall different-ness of the Book of Revelation scares me. It's just not like the rest of the New Testament. I can get to the bottom of the Gospels. I'm right there with the Epistles, and hold Paul as my NT author of choice. But Revelation... a whole new ball game.

I'm not alone in this. Only last Sunday, our Pastor referred to Revelation briefly in his message, with the rider 'If you've not studied Revelation, don't worry - the important thing to know is that God wins'. Well that's good, but lets' go a little deeper....

I feel that Bauckham wrote this book for folks like me. I have to confess I haven't read any of his other work (something I intend to correct). But I like the way this book is written. The series is scholarly, but not too scholarly. It's well-referenced, both to other works and to scripture. It assumes an amount of familiarity with an academic approach to study of the Bible, but it's very accessible and shouldn't scare off the serious reader.

So I'm learning about Revelation as I go along - and my hope is that by the end of this journey it will be less scary for me and for other readers.

So where should we start? The beginning.....

Bauckham kicks off with a good exegetical analysis of Revelation. 'What kind of a book is Revelation?', he asks. This piece shouldn't be skipped - before we can determine what Revelation means for us, it's imperative we understand as closely as possible what it meant to the writer and the readers he intended it for. As with much of Revelation, this isn't as straightforward as with other parts of the New Testament. Revelation has the characteristics of three distinct kinds of books - an apocalypse (an ancient genre of revelatory literature with a narrative structure), a prophecy (the word of God as told to and revealed via a prophet, often delivered orally) and a circular letter to outposts of the early Church, much like Paul's letters. Bauckham's analysis requires us to consider Revelation as each of these forms in turn - something which informs later chapters of the book.

Revelation is a work of intense and meticulously-worded literary imagery. John, the Revelation author, is obviously a scholarly writer and his literary style shines through the whole book. His language leads us in to the miracles and revelations he describes, as it must have done for the 1st-century readers. There are themes and patterns running through the book which would have excercised early Christian scholars just as much as they do us.

Those early scholars would have spent much time relating what John writes in Revelation to the writings of the Old Testament prophets. John's prophecies build greatly on what went before, and many of his revelations fulfil or mimic the OT. He is staking his claim to be considered alongside his predecessors, whilst addressing the contemporary Church. He brings the Old Testament prophecies up to date and makes them relevant in a Christian context - a great basis for continuing the story to its conclusion.

There we are - chapter 1 of Bauckham dealt with. It would be great to hear what you think. Don't forget there are, at current count, three other participants in this blogging exercise - now I've written this first post, I'm off to read what they've been writing and will follow up after that. You'll find their blogs here:

- Jeremy Myers
- Anthony Ehrhardt
- Mike Beidler

Feel free to comment here, or over on Google+. Links to followup postings will appear here, too.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Food, Glorious Food - if you have enough...

So many things I could write on the subject of food... but it would be a wasted opportunity if I didn't write about something close to my heart.

What comes immediately to mind when you think of when I write 'hunger'?

There's a good chance it's an image of a child in a third-world country, whose family don't have enough to eat  through economic deprivation or dispossession through war. We've all seen these images on the TV over the years, and many of us have been moved to help in one way or another - the Live Aid campaign in 1985 was probably the first occasion that deprivation in African countries was brought to the world's attention in such a high-profile way, and many millions of pounds were given in aid as a result.

But I want to write about hunger closer to home.

Did you know that 13 million people live below the poverty line in the UK? (Source: Families, often through no fault of their own, live with their finances on a knife-edge, and it takes no more than a sudden bill or small crisis, an unexpected cold spell or relationship breakdown to throw things completely off-balance and leave them struggling to buy food.

These people are not scratching a living in fields in a foreign country. They're on our doorstep.

These families are not a few thousand miles away in an arid desert, plagued by mosquitoes. They're living in our towns and cities, their children go to the same schools as ours, they shop in the same supermarkets.

At least, they do when they have the money.

Often, all that's needed is a short-term helping hand. A few days' supplies can bridge the gap until the next wage packet or benefit payment; can keep things going until more permanent help can be arranged.

There's an organisation in the UK which has a mission to help these people. The Trussell Trust runs a scheme called Foodbank. Replicated in around 100 sites around the country, Foodbanks are run by groups of local volunteers, usually based in churches. They receive and store donations of non-perishable food, and make them available in 3-day parcels for needy families in crisis who are referred to them by other local agencies. Recipients of the parcels also receive advice and signposting to agencies who can provide more systemic aid and help them get back on their feet.

In 2010, over 60 thousand people were helped by Foodbank. That's 60 thousand people who were helped through a hunger crisis. People who live in our towns and cities.

The Foodbank centres rely on one thing - food. Everything they give is donated, mostly by individuals and families who put a few extra cans and jars in their weekly or monthly shopping and drop them off at the Foodbank centre.

So here's my challenge for Blog Action Day - could you afford to buy an extra can of mince, a packet of rice, some tinned fruit or a bag of pasta? If so, could you do this every week? Why not find your nearest Foodbank on the Trussell Trust website, drop in or give them a call to find out what they're most in need of right now, and start helping those close by.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Halloween: A bit less 'Bah Humbug' and a bit more witness

Contents of the Bag of Hope
I've always been a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to Halloween. After all, it's the remnants of a pagan festival which had all-but died out in the UK, revived by a combination of imported US TV and Wal-Mart's acquisition of Asda ten years ago. There's no historical or cultural tradition in the UK for celebrating it the way we do today, and the lesson it gives the children about many subjects from spirituality through to stranger-danger is highly suspect.

My normal way of dealing with it is to try to ignore it - grudgingly give out sweets to those local kids who don't already know the lecture they're likely to get at our front door.

But that's not a very Christian attitude, so this year we've decided to do something positive.

A while back we heard UCB Radio advertising their 'Bag of Hope'. It's a collection of resources for both children and adults, in a handy bag to which you can add sweets or whatever else you decide. UCB send them out free (you pay the postage). Ours arrived last week.

So this year, the lucky first 20 groups of kids who ring our doorbell on October 31st will get:

  • 'Your book of hope' - a 32-page workbook which explains the story of Jesus for primary-school ages
  • The latest quarterly instalment of Bob Gass's 'The Word for Today' for the adults
  • A card promoting and the UCB Prayerline
  • A call to action by way of a URL promoting a prize draw and soliciting feedback
  • Some sweets and church contact details

Now I'm fairly sure we'll get some funny looks. Maybe even some bad reactions. But I see it like this - not only are we giving the kids the sweets they were expecting, but something which could turn out to be immeasurably more valuable.

What's the worst that could happen? We can wash eggs off the car. If just one kid reads through the workbook, does some of the puzzles and asks questions, it's been more than worthwhile. If just one parent looks through the Word for Today and wants to hear more, that's a major win.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Willow Creek comes to town

Our church, Kerith Community Church in Bracknell, turns into one of many satellites of Willow Creek this weekend as the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit comes to town.

Not the real conference, of course – that was back in August and wasn’t without controversy – Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz was forced to step down from an engagement to speak because of an anti-gay protest – this is a video re-run over two days which is doing a world tour.

I’m a big fan of the Senior Pastor at Willow Creek, Bill Hybels. He is a consummate communicator, dedicated evangelist and an inspirational church leader. I’ve read a number of his books, and I particularly recommend ‘Holy Discontent’, which describes Bill’s view of how each of us can discern and answer our individual calling to make a difference in the world.

Willow Creek started the Leadership Summit series back in 1995 with a mission to inspire local church leaders to build on their leadership gifts. It’s now a worldwide event with over 100,000 attendees in over 70 countries. Which is quite some achievement.

I’m delighted that the GLS is coming to our church. And even more delighted that I have the chance to attend. With 2 days in church listening to inspirational leaders, both church and secular, who knows how God will speak to me – I just hope I’ll be ready to respond.