PREPARING FOR COMMUNION

This term we’re exploring the meaning of Communion in the gatherings of the church.

In our first message on this we considered the way we should prepare for this meal, whether in our Sunday Gatherings or Community Groups.

In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 Paul charges the Corinthians church that their approach to Communion is “for the worse” rather than “for the better.” He offers guidance as to how we can prepare.

Stuart’s message can be streamed or downloaded here. 

(Image from Redeemer Central Belfast)

FINDING MEANING IN OUR WORK

For most of the week we spend most of our waking hours at work. What’s it for?

There are many things we could say about the meaning, purpose and value of our 9-5 work and our wider participation in the life of our city. Here are a couple of insights, whether you’re working at the University, the Met Office, the RD&E, the council, at a school, home, office or shop,  doing things that seem meaningful or menial…

Joseph Sunde and Abraham Kuyper write on loving the hunt of scholarship:

“A real student does not make any progress until the study itself gives him pleasure. Wherever we are, and however we spend our days toiling, serving, innovating, loving, learning, and simply beholding, Christians are called not just to search in the service of finding, but to love and cherish the search itself. Whether professors or students, masons or farmhands, painters or poets, husbands or wives, fathers or daughters, let us learn to love the hunt, and love it so that we might glorify God and one day rejoice in its fruits.”

Sunde again writes, quoting from Stephen Williams on finding meaning and beauty as a fast food worker:

This is not what I thought I’d be doing at twenty-seven… The thought hits me again, but with a far different force than before. It is humbling to work here, but not in the way that implies shame. Who am I to so readily dismiss a job where I witness the entire spectrum of human emotion during the course of a single shift? Who am I to think ill of this chance to observe – over and over again – the miracle of childhood and the poignancy of prayer? Who am I to think that the transcendent things that happen every night in a southern Virginia fast food joint are in any way of lesser importance than those that happen elsewhere? …the beauty you seek is not elsewhere, bro…Keep your eyes open. It’s often right in front of you.”

Have a good day at work.

Image – Amanda Dias – Creative Commons

RAISING CHILDREN

On Sunday 17th April we gave thanks for the births of Mia, Jakob and Emma, among the many children within the Grace Church Exeter family.

You can download Stuart’s message on ‘Raising Children’ from our sermons page.

NOT ONE BLADE OF GRASS

Jesus teaches us to pray ‘Your Kingdom Come’. He’s the King of his Kingdom – he says it’s near, tells to pray for its coming and in the end will deliver his kingdom to his Father when his kingdom fills the world.

What’s the kingdom like? At the very least, like the resurrected king.  Not a state of ethereal, disembodied spirituality.  But rather, bodily,  located, eating, with colour and music: substantial.  Christian faith isn’t against such things or separated from them.

C.S. Lewis explores this in his book ‘The Great Divorce: A Dream’ where he imagines tourists on a bus trip from a hellish place of judgement, Grey Town, a colourless place, where people live further and further away from one another, lacking vibrancy, lacking relationship… And then the they travel to the renewed creation… a place so teeming with life, so substantial, that a drop of water could kill you, that a blade of grass, hard as a diamond, would pass through your ghostly foot as a tourist from this life

If there’s nothing ahead then it probably doesn’t matter what we do today…

If there’s only ‘heaven’ ahead then the blood and guts of life in this world must be unspiritual… the assumption that religion should be like this surely lies behind the common critiques that faith should keep away from having a view on sexuality and other bodily things…

But the Christian faith is too substantial, too physical for that. Resurrection says there’s a substantial future to come, a renewal of all things.  And so you can begin to taste something of that now.

Charles Spurgeon called those who belong to Christ, “the happy children of the resurrection.” People who participate in life here. Rather than a “spiritual” detachment from life, there is a thoroughly spiritual physical participation in life to discover. Take the words of two believers in centuries past:

Martin Luther says that you’re barely human if you can’t enjoy music.

Can you stop and listen? 

John Calvin said that there is not one blade of grass, not one colour, that is not intended to give you joy.

Can you stop and look, and behold and delight?

Can you stop striving and take in a little of what’s here? To say YES to life here?  Our desire for more isn’t entirely misplaced… our appetites aren’t inherently unspiritual – they may at times be misdirected and too easily pleased, but we are sensory, bodily beings in a world intended for our joy.

[We run the For the life of the world course – if you’d like to participate in this with some friends do get in touch.]

Yet, also things are incomplete. The story not yet finished. There is tension. There is mess. There is death. There is betrayal. There is injustice.  In the end God will give his “no” to this way of death, and so to pray and live ‘your kingdom come’ includes saying “no” as well as “no”.

I was with a Community Group last month. They make time to talk about issues group members are passionate about, so that evening we were reflecting on food waste in our culture. Institutionally and individually.  It’s overwhelming. It’s wrong. It’s destructive. I felt convicted. I’m starting to do things differently as a result. But, we simply cannot do everything about it – which is not to say we can’t do something. And the resurrection of Jesus tells me that bodies, and this world, and food, and people matter.

Could you step into a wider, deeper, more far reaching faith? Embrace a richer, more colourful life, to become more engaged with the pain and reality of life, more hopeful, more tearful? Alexander Schmemann said – the tone of life belonging to Christ is both sad brightness and bright sadness. Not blindly optimistic, nor bleakly pessimistic.

In the Bible’s storyline, Jesus is the spark that lights the touch-paper, the first one who gets up to dance, the needle who pierces the cloth, the promise of what’s to come, the firstfruits of resurrection for you.

Image – Creative Commons – Rebecca Krebs

WE’RE LEARNING TO PRAY

We recently held a Week of Prayer where our aim was to learn to experience God in prayer.

We used three tools to help us.

1. Mike Reeves’ book Enjoy your prayer life. We bought nearly 300 copies to give to those in the Grace Church family, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive about this short and accessible book. We still have some spare copies so if you’d like one get in touch.

2. The Prayer Course. This free online course by Pete Greig and Jonny Hughes helped us as we watch from home, or gathered over breakfast at the church office. Each session walks through a line of The Lord’s Prayer. The session on unanswered prayer was particularly beneficial. Available at www.prayercourse.org

3. A prayer diary.  We simply wrote down what we prayed for and then wrote down when things were answered. Call it coincidence but things many asked for were granted by a generous God who loves to be asked of – though this is held in tension with the reality of unanswered prayer.

If you participated in this week we’d love to hear about how you learned to experience God in prayer. 

FAITH AT WORK

In the last week or so I’ve spent some time with an artist, in a Community Group discussing the ethical challenges of a member working on the UK’s nuclear deterrent, and with students looking for motivation and purpose to their studies.

[We run the For the life of the world course – get in touch if you and some friends would be interested in participating in this]

What can we say?

We live in a culture that argues for faith to be expressed in private, but who could maintain interest in a faith that says nothing to most of life… and in any case, we’re all shaped by the things we believe about life, whatever our outlook on life.

The Christian story is one in which humanity works not as insignificant parts of a machine but as a movement to form and fill, to cultivate and civilise every part of this world.

The beginnings of an answer might say at least…

Firstly, work matters. The Christian faith says it’s good to work. With a few limits, it’s good to do the work in front of us. Work, paid or unpaid, in home, workplace or commuity, isn’t to be an inconvenience or a hassle but is the ordinary stuff of life. In a fallen world this may be hard and present tensions and  difficulties which we can’t resolve, but it’s what we’re here to do.

Ask: What is in front of me to do?

Secondly, growing matters. The Christian faith claims that the whole world is shaped to be formed and filled, it is a work unfinished – and that includes us. It’s good to stretch ourselves, to be formed as people and participants in society… though it’s tempting to not bother or to pursue my own greatness instead of the good of others.

Ask: What could I learn to do?

Thirdly, ability matters. The Christian faith commends our abilities as gifts. Do what you can do! We all have limits in life that mean we can’t do all we might have wanted to do… and might not want to do what we can.

Ask: What can I do? What can’t I do?

Fourth, interest matters. The Christian faith argues for a meaningful, colourful, fascinating world.  What interests me may not interest others. And if I’m not interested, can I learn to love it and see its value?

Ask: What do I love? What can I learn to love?

In following Jesus there’s frequent need to repent – to turn from serving myself to know him and serve others. Why should my work be off limits for that?

More: The Everything Conference | Jon Tyson – Faith at Work (video)

Image – Creative Commons clement 127

MINISTRY INTERNSHIPS

Applications close – February 20th 2016.

COULD YOU JOIN OUR TEAM?

What is the aim of this role?

This role will strengthen and replicate our discipleship through our Community Group model. People will be helped in their faith and life with God (UP). They will be equipped to love and serve one another within their Groups (IN). They will be inspired to make a difference by words and deeds in Exeter (OUT). This role will enable new Community Groups to be established as well as developing the ministry and teaching of the intern to “test” calling for full time ministry.

What does the role involve?

This role includes working with our Senior Leadership Team and staff to support, safeguard, train and develop our volunteers who are:

• Starting new Community Groups

• Leading existing Community Groups

• Leading activities within our Community Groups

• Leading initiatives to benefit our local communities

It will also include teaching and equipping others through Sunday teaching opportunities.

Who are we looking for?

The ideal candidate will be able to demonstrate:

• A passion for church and ministry

• A personal example in the aims of this particular role

• An understanding and/or willingness to learn Grace Church philosophy and theology

• A servant heart

• An ability to communicate publicly

Hours

16 hours per week.

How to apply

For further information please email Ben Homer to express your interest. office@gracechurchexeter.org Further details regarding the application process will then be provided, if required. Successful applicants will be invited to interview Feb / March.

Thank you for your interest.

CHRISTIAN FOUNDATIONS

At Grace Church we recognise that we’re all somewhere along our journey of faith, we’re all exploring.

Along the way we find it helpful to get clear on the basics of Christian faith so we offer a Christian Foundations course including who is God, what’s our life in this world for, what’s baptism, what’s communion.

Expect video-based teaching, discussion and space to ask any questions.

Next Course Dates

7.45pm-9.00pm, Sundays, Church Office

February 14th, 21st, 28th, March 6th.

Contact dave@gracechurchexeter.org for more information.

SURPASSING ALL OTHERS

One of our four priorities this year is a review of the place of Communion in church life.

Throughout church life we want to help you think through what place and significance breaking bread and drinking wine together should.

Here’s perspective from the 19th Century preacher Charles Spurgeon. We want to keep the good news of Jesus at the heart of Grace Church, Spurgeon says;

“I have had my Master’s presence there’ he said, ‘though, perhaps, scarcely two of us belong to any one church or denomination.’

“Here in the common reception of one loaf, we bear witness that we are one… all differences pass away, and “we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members of one another.”

At the heart of Grace Church is the good news of Jesus, Spurgeon agrees:

“I need to be reminded, forcibly reminded, of my dear Lord and Master very often…”

He looks back to the thoughts on 17th Century leader John Owen:

“John Owen argued regarding the Supper, “(O)f this blessed, intimate communion with Christ, and participation of him in the divine institution of worship, believers have experience unto their satisfaction and ineffable joy. They find him to be the spiritual food for their souls, by which they are nourished unto eternal life by a spiritual incorporation with him. They discern the truth of this mystery, and have experience of its power.”

We believe that Christ comes to us by his Spirit as we gather to his table. For many of us other things have been mountain peaks in our spiritual life, worship, spiritual gifts, the Bible, prayer. We treasure the varied ways that God meets with us. Now, Spurgeon invites us to look to a higher peak:

“The ordinance of the Lord’s Supper sets forth a way which surpasses’ all other means to meeting with God.” This was because it was a, ‘receiving of Christ into our souls.’

Stop and let the paint dry on that for a moment.

Here in bread and wine:

“We believe that Jesus Christ spiritually comes to us and refreshes us.”

Whatever our stories, backgrounds, preferences, styles, the table offers the basis of our unity:

“I have had my Master’s presence there though, perhaps, scarcely two of us belong to any one church or denomination. Here in the common reception of one loaf, we bear witness that we are one… all differences pass away, and “we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members of one another.”

Our Senior Team, Trustees and Staff have decisions to make about how we’ll practically incoprorate this into our Sunday Gatherings over the coming weeks. Our April 2016 preaching series will aim to persuade you and build your expectation that what’s happening as we receive bread and wine is not mere remembrance of Christ but receiving him by his Spirit.

FOCUS ON COMMUNION

Why are you focusing on Communion at Grace Church?

At Grace Church we are spending time as a team, and a Church considering how and why we do Communion. Here are 5 reasons for this exploration.

1)      Our basis for unity

Whilst we appreciate our history as a local Church, we are increasingly becoming a ‘multi – denominational’ church. Understanding the basis and depth of our unity is therefore increasingly important to us. There are many things as Christians we have different views on. Beneath everything else we are as a church family, the foundational thing we have in common is the good news of Jesus Christ.

2)      Worship for all

One of the reasons we love Communion is because it enables anybody to participate in worship. Whether you are up or down, suffering or rejoicing, introvert or extrovert, communion is an invitation to come and receive. You don’t need to subscribe to our worship style, you don’t need to have or be able to bring any spiritual gifts. We are all invited and we can all receive.

3)      The promise of presence

Exactly how God is ‘present’ through the breaking of bread has been an issue of great debate. We are inspired by the experience of the disciples who reflect, ‘He was known to them in the breaking of bread.’ We expect that as we receive the bread and wine with faith, the Spirit of God will enable a special experience for His people.

4)      The centrality of the cross

Jesus gives us the ‘breaking of bread’, which the early disciples were ‘devoted to’ as a reminder of Jesus’ love for us through the cross. It reminds us of our need for him and his love for us. This is central to the Christian faith and we believe that communion is given to help us remember this. It is through participation in this act, that we ‘proclaim his death, until he comes’.

5)      The physical / spiritual dynamic of faith

The Christian faith promises a physical transformation. The story ends with a tangible feast through which the Spirit enables us to experience God fully. Communion helps to remind us that we are not trying to ‘escape the world in worship’ but rather we are looking to enjoy God through a physical reality which will one day be experienced fully.

Please join us at Church Together, 7.30pm-9.00pm on Wednesday 1st December at Ryan House, The Maynard School where we’ll spend an evening exploring this together as a church family.