I mentioned to you before a book that was recommended to me: “The Way of The Dragon or The Way of The Lamb?” by Jamin Coggin and Kyle Strobel. I recommended it on the basis of reading one chapter! My mind on steroids makes concentration difficult; it always seems to be wanting to rush to the next sentence before I have had time to absorb the one I am reading. However today, I picked up the book again and found I was able to read it for a couple of hours. Somehow it was so interesting that it overcame the steroidal effect, which was both unusual and encouraging! Not sure what that says about other books I have tried to read recently….
The subtitle of the book is “Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church that has Abandoned it.” You can probably predict or work out that its main theme is that Jesus’ path of power is the path of weakness; a path that is not always or obviously embraced or modelled within the church in the developed world. I have noticed for example that when I speak in a blog about the Kingdom of God having a bias towards the poor that some object and immediately respond by saying that every sector of society, every social class or division needs the gospel, not just poorer communities. Well, I confess I wonder how folk can read a post and not read it but instead allow a self created over sensitive trigger to set off the blue touch paper of their anger or hobbyhorse. Obviously every sector of society needs the gospel! That goes without saying. However those considered comfortable or rich by the world’s reckoning of things, need to realise that it is a Kingdom that flourishes in its truest form amongst the poor and the weak. Oh, already I can hear, “Kenny, there are other forms of poverty other than material poverty you know!” Actually if you say that, I want to say, “ Believe it or not I actually know that,” but I also find I am asking “How thick can a person be and yet still be breathing?” (Yes, wee smiling Kenny can have such thoughts!)
It may make you feel uncomfortable, and go all defensive for yourself or your church, but accept it! Jesus taught it. The gospel is Good News to all, but primarily to the economically poor. Why? Because it tells us that God’s Kingdom is interested in justice and fairness and opportunity which the poor are often denied, and it also bestows a worth on those considered of no worth in a material sense or in terms of a certain type of achievement or success valued and rewarded, sought after and applauded by the world. It seems to me that Justice and Resurrection are the two prime evidences of the arrival of the Kingdom of God, not some of the lesser signs much favoured in charismatic circles, though they matter too and according to Jesus are indeed signs of God’s Kingdom in the midst of us. We seem to go round and round the roundabout of healing continually as one renewal centre or church reaches ascendancy for a few years only to go into the shadows in the emerging bright blaze of the next band wagon. Perhaps one day we will show we are beginning to understand the Kingdom when we go by the thousands to conferences organised by churches that have been channels of justice for the poor, or who have a good track record at raising the dead.
One of the things I confess I find difficult in the increasing middle class dominance of church life (and I speak as a middle class type of person) is when people within churches are effectively valued according to their usefulness to the cause, valued for their gifting, valued for what they can contribute, valued for how they can expand the business and the share of the spiritual market. This reeks of worldliness. “Are you saying that it is wrong to be gifted or for folk to use their gifts in the service of Christ?” Again, wee smiling Kenny is thinking, “How thick can a person be etc….?” I am saying that this is how we know we know we have got hold of the love of Christ and the values of the Kingdom of God: we treasure the treasure the world might overlook or perhaps never see in a person.
In the book I referred to above, Coggin and Strobel paid a visit to James Houston one of the founding fathers of Regent College. James Houston’s wife, at the time of the interview, was suffering from dementia. It was at a stage where sometimes it was not obvious and sometimes it was. Towards the end of the interview/visit, James Houston was asked this: “Where have you learned most significantly that strength really does come in weakness?” Just as he was about to answer, Rita said quietly under her breath, “I could tell you after a few years.” Then James, looking over at his bride, said this: “You see Rita is worried that as she loses her memory, she will forget Jesus.” Then James turned to his interviewers, but continued to talk to Rita: “So I remind her, what matters is not that you remember him but that he remembers you.”
Already over the last year, I have had time to test a thought that has come to me quite often since retirement on health grounds: will I still be looked on as being as valuable to the church of Christ as I was in days when health allowed me to preach every week and speak at conferences and retreats in many settings? Am I as valued now that I cannot necessarily guarantee I will turn up at the engagements I agree to? Just being honest: I have had cause to wonder and be uncertain… the jury is still out… I say this not for the sake of pity, nor am I looking for sack-loads or an “Inbox” full of affirmation! Nor do I need preached at that my security should be in the love of God. I know that, and it is!
As I bring this already over long blog to a close, I am thinking about the increasing number of people who are afflicted with mental illness of one form or another, the increasing number who will suffer from dementia, Alzheimers etc. Do we still believe they have treasure to offer to the church and to bring forth from the church? In church circles which treasure doctrinal allegiance, do we believe that a person who can no longer seem to believe, or remember what to believe, or a person who has perhaps never even had the capacity to believe in Jesus show more clearly than a person abounding in health, strength and giftedness, the revolutionary message of the love of God in Christ?
“He remembers you!” Should the day come when His Name means nothing to someone you know and is no longer the sweetest Name they know, hold on to that, as one day someone else may hold on to it for some of us reading this blog right now. “Remembering” is a loaded word in the bible. It is a word that finds its meaning in “covenant.” God remembers those He has entered into covenant with in Christ Jesus. He never withdraws the “I will” promises He has made, sealed by sacrifice and remembered in the covenant meal.
This brought me great comfort today as I thought about a dear member of my former congregation, Holy Trinity Church, Wester Hailes. The last time I saw Alisdair, he could not remember the church, the Praise Band that he loved, the tambourine he loved to play, the bible verses He had memorised, the concepts that were precious to him. He was still being faithfully visited by a few people from the church. The most distressing thing to me was that he did not particularly seem to remember his Christian faith or at least not always consistently or obviously. Mention of it seemed to bring a blank look more often than light across his child like countenance. It is wonderful to know that even if it is as I at times feared or suspected, Jesus remembers him. He has lost no value in the Kingdom of God. He is a living embodiment of what matters most; Not our health, not the operation of our gifts, our ability to contribute practically and physically or emotionally, financially or prayerfully to a vision or a mission or a church project or venture; but rather, above all other things, that we are remembered by Jesus, by a covenant making and keeping God, who values what the world and even the church may overlook and fail to see. His memory for remembering sins we have confessed is appalling. He just cannot remember, just cannot do it. His memory for those with whom He has made a covenant is astounding. It simply never falters.