Thursday, December 21, 2006

Caption competition #3

(Taken last night on a Jesus Army holy rampage through Coventry...)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Hearth felt warmth

Last night, about fifty people crammed into one of our country community houses’ lounge. It was a special night of vision for New Creation Christian Community.

We sang the songs of Zion, some brothers shared Kingdom of God teaching, we listened to some community-inspired poetry read aloud – and finished with soup, hot crusty bread and gingerbread men round the open fire.


Friday, December 15, 2006

Unrighteous mammon

Just written some of our church’s weekly bible study. Here’s an extract. I’m writing about Luke 16:

Having dealt thoroughly with the Pharisees’ self-righteous contempt for sinners (ch.15), Jesus now deals with their own abiding sin: love of money (v.14). He uses the story of a worldly-wise manager who gets himself out of a tight hole by dodgy dealing. Jesus’ point is this: if worldly people use their heads to get by in their generation (that is, in this world), then the sons of light ought to use their wealth in a way that invests in eternity (v.8-9). Worldly people know how to look after themselves in this life; Christ’s people ought to know how to store up treasure in heaven (Matt.6:20) – principally, by sharing their money within the brotherhood (v.9, 12:32-33, Acts 2:45).

Predictably, the worldly Pharisees sneer at this (v.14). Jesus responds with a powerful story illustrating God’s favour towards the poor and His judgement of the rich [v.19-31].

At death, all wealth will fail (v.9 – the Greek word means ‘an eclipse’. Death blots out wealth like an eclipse. See 1 Tim.6:6-10, 17-19): we can’t take money with us when we die!

I then pose this question:

How do you invest your money in eternity?..

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Zion revisited

Since I wrote the last post, there’s been a certain amount of discussion about the term “Zion”.

On the one hand, it’s a term that is charged with a certain amount of vision and emotion for many in my church (as I explained in the last post).

On the other hand, as a word in its own right, it clearly has some much less positive associations – like blowing up Palestinians in the Middle East, for instance.

(And for some it’s that place in The Matrix...)

In other words, it’s a loaded word. And it’s also rather fuzzy – what exactly does it mean (even to members of the Jesus Army who tend to use it, rather loosely to mean “us”)?

Scripturally, it’s fairly clear. “Zion” is a frequently-used Old Testament word. Strictly it is the name of the fortress in Jerusalem, but it became synonymous with Israel as a whole. This is the way we find the word used in the Psalms and the Prophets.

In the New Testament, it seems clear that the word “Zion” (along with words like “Israel”, “kingdom”, “nation” and “Jerusalem”) came to denote the church as well as the literal, physical nation of Israel or city of Jerusalem.

Galatians 4:26, 6:16; Hebrews 12:22; 1 Peter 2:5-10; Revelation 1:6 etc. etc.

Such words sometimes took on a spiritual meaning and applied to the church and sometimes still referred to the earthly or natural city/nation. (At times, it can be a tad difficult to distinguish with certainty which is which, especially in “difficult” bits like the book of Revelation...)
Perhaps the part of the point of the word “Zion” is that it is mysterious – and highly-charged (it wasn’t for nothing that the writers of The Matrix called their city of freedom “Zion”). Zion is an ideal. It is the vision of the kingdom coming in. A taste of heaven on the earth. Reaching out for a better society, a Utopia... the kingdom of heaven.

We can’t fully have it this side of eternity. But nor should we just sit about waiting for “pie in the sky when we die”. We live in the creative tension between “now” and “not yet”.

When we speak of Zion, we should do so with care. We’re really not into blowing up Palestinians (or anyone) – but we do want to press into the kingdom of God as much as possible and live the prayer:
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The songs of Zion

Last night, one of our brothers got us singing Zion songs before dinner. Songs like:

Zion, dwelling of God.
Zion, rich brotherhood.
My heart loves to belong
Joined to the stong
Nothing shall break
Nothing shall shake
This bond of love.

Zion is a very special word for us. Used in the Bible to designate the people of God, for us it’s become almost a family name, an identity. We are Zion. A people for God, a people devoted to King Jesus (just as the inhabitants of Old Testament Zion were devoted to David), a shining city on a hill.

While we were singing, I became filled with what I can only describe as impossible joy.

My heart loves to belong. Here’s another Zion song we sing:

My heart is held and planted in Zion
And world and death and sorrow
Can never part this bond we have.

Almighty King to You alone be given
The worship of this people.
Purchased by blood and grateful.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Philosophically speaking

Someone posted a message on a religious debate forum about the soul - what is it? they asked. Anything at all?

Various people responded: most were pooh-poohing the whole notion of a soul, saying it was just Christian mumbo-jumbo to make them feel better about dying. Which may sometimes be true, but that's certainly not all that can be said. So I wrote this. If you're philosophically-minded at all, you may want to check it out.

It is worth noting that the idea of "the soul" is not just a Christian one.

Plato taught that human beings have a soul which he saw as a spark of the divine world of ideal forms within each individual. (Eastern philosophy often teaches similar ideas, but let's stick to the West for now). Aristotle followed Plato in the belief in a soul, but linked it far more closely to the body. Humans, he taught, are an embodied soul or a souled body.

Hebrew thought saw humans as having souls and this belief arose from the Hebrew understanding of how humans were created by God (who is spirit) out of physical stuff (dust or earth). Thus man has a physical, tangible existence (body) and an invisible, immaterial part (spirit) which are fused in one human being (soul).

Christian thinking on the soul has been largely formed as an amalgum of Greek and Hebrew thought. Augustine, the ancient theologian/philosopher based his thinking on the Bible (Hebrew) and Plato (Greek). Aquinas, the medieval theologian/philosopher based his thinking on the Bible (Hebrew) and Aristotle (Greek).

Before atheistic materialists rush to say that there is no such thing as a soul (and this view also has very ancient credentials - Greek philosophers Democritus and Epicurus believed that existence is nothing but uncuttable little bits of matter - atoms - flying through empty space or void), they need to think through some other questions:

What is love? (Are they really happy to conclude that their feelings for their lovers and children are merely chemicals in the brain - which, in turn, are merely atoms and molecules flying randomly through the void?)

What is thought or intelligence? (When an atheistic materialist decides that the universe is merely atoms, what actually is it that decides that the universe is merely atoms - can atoms decide that they are merely atoms?)

Do they ever actually make decisions (or is it all the result of a pre-determined machine - the universe - that came about by chance?)

The soul, as properly conceived by Christians (and others), is not simply a woolly and sentimental wish for an afterlife. It is a serious and reasonable explanation for the data of human existence as we all experience it.

(Next time, I'll post something down to earth - about chocolate cake or something - I promise...)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Through the wardrobe

Again, I feel a post coming on inspired by a comment on a previous one:

I assume that you are using Narnia as an example of dreaming of the kingdom....

Well... yes and no. I mean, yes, obviously. I dream of the kingdom: it’s a dream that fills my days, “a dream that will take all the love you can give” as the Reverend Mother sings in The Sound of Music. And, yes, Narnia is a picture of the kingdom, in a way: a place of beauty and magic and – Aslan.

And yet, no. I was dreaming of Narnia! As we drove along the M1 that morning, I glanced out at a beautiful belt of pine trees and my heart yearned. Have you ever felt that strange longing, that aching desire inside for beauty, for peace, for adventure, for something somehow magical. Well that’s how I felt.

CS Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia calls this yearning feeling “joy”. This may sound odd – we tend to think of joy as a kind of extreme happiness. But he meant the longing within us, the hunger for the eternal. “God has put eternity in the hearts of men” it says in the book of Ecclesiastes.

Or as another author, GK Chesterton put it more bluntly:

Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.

Sounds outrageous? What Chesterton meant is that we all have a desire within us: Lewis’s “joy”, the Bible’s “eternity in our hearts”, the Reverend Mother’s “dream that will take all the love we can give”. We may look in all the wrong places – like a brothel, for instance – to quench that desire. (Desire can certainly “give birth to sin” (James 1:15), but that is a perversion, a twisting of its proper purpose.) Yet the longing remains, panting and pointing to something. To something or Someone we desperately want.

And that’s where the kingdom comes in. We’re really hungry for God and for Zion whether or not we quite know it.

One day Christians will receive the kingdom in all its fullness, though I’m inclined to believe that even when we see God “face to face” we will still forever journey deeper into Him together.

In the meantime, we “know in part”. We glimpse the kingdom through worship, through brotherhood in community, through the shared mission of church.

And I dare to say that things which stir our desire for eternal beauty can be helpful in this. I’m not advocating visiting brothels or some kind of existential selfishness. But that doesn't mean that wholesome things which stir our imagination and cause our hearts to yearn, cannot help us on our way to God.

I’ve written a lot (again). But I don’t think I’ve said all that can be said on this one. Far from it. So maybe I’ll do a part two some time... In the meantime, I’ll let Lewis have the final word:

All joy...emphasizes our pilgrim status; always reminds, beckons, awakens desire. Our best havings are wantings.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Killer, killer night

Comment on my last post (from someone, rather unnervingly, called “Killer”):

I've noticed that your last 3 blog entries have been about things that are about to happen but you haven't done a follow up entry to say how things went . . .

So, in honour of Killer...

The married and parent’s meeting went fairly well with some hearty sharing of heart and vision, although attendance was disappointing. (No doubt all these radical kingdom marrieds were looking after tots or having a cosy evening in. Or perhaps they were at the cinema. Because it’s important to have time together you know...)

The school assembly seemed to be received positively, although I have made a mental note to do something which doesn’t just involve a “talking head” next time.

The Sheffield Praise Day was an excellent day. Not without certain technical hitches (such as poor PA in one quarter of the hall and a lengthy and fairly important video which suffered from very poor dubbing). And yet the word of God shouted and vision was caught hold of.

Lastly, a word about last night (which I haven’t mentioned yet – but it has happened, Killer). Last night, was what we call “Elisha band” which is where pastors in the church (Elijahs) get together with their flock (Elishas). I was with eight sisters of varying ages. We spent most of the evening reflecting on Mary, the mother of Christ.

I’m tempted to leave it there and worry all my more vigorously Protestant friends. But I’d better explain.

(If Roman Catholics can sometimes give the impression that the entire New Testament is about Mary, Protestants, equally, can give the impression she isn’t mentioned there at all...)

Taking Mary as an (the?) example of godly womanhood, I taught through seven points about her from the New Testament and the sisters shared with each other in pairs in response to each point.

One: her name, “Mary”, means bitter. She was born in an oppressed people (which probably explains why there are so many Marys in the New Testament), acquainted with grief. Yet she responded with purity of heart (ironically, she was not bitter)...
Two: she said yes to God. “Let it be to me according to your word”. This radical obedience led to the salvation of the world.
Three: She rejoiced in God from her spirit.
Four: She treasured up things (bitter and sweet) and pondered them in her heart, becoming spiritually rich as a result.
Five: A “sword pierced her soul”. She was cut away from natural affection by the kingdom sword her own son brought. He rejected her in favour of God’s work. And she watched him die.
Six: she became mother to an apostle – honoured in the church. Spiritual motherhood is a high calling.
Seven: last mentioned in Acts 1, she “disappears” into the Body of Christ. True godly womanhood, spiritually rich and richly humble.

I think the sisters found Mary inspiring. I certainly did.

Friday, November 24, 2006

All singing, all dancing

Tomorrow is a huge church knees-up in Sheffield called the Praise Day. It’s going to be quite something. When the Jesus Army all get together we can make some noise.

But not just noise (I hope). There’ll be challenge, worship, brotherhood, direction. It’s an important day for us.

I’ve been working on a few items which will feature in the multi-media parts of the day: a dramatic poem with music, light-show, video and dance; a demo about finding your place in God’s kingdom and losing the old labels; a drama about fathers and sons; a big ‘Mardi Gras’ style demo, challenging people to consider joining New Creation Christian Community involving hundreds of metres of blue ribbon; and a few talky bits...

Can’t wait.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Back to school

I’m taking a school assembly tomorrow at the school I used to teach at. I’ve taken dozens before.

But I’m strangely nervous. It’s been a while since I’ve been there. It was a place I was totally part of and now – I’m a… visitor. A visiting speaker. How strange.

I’ve decided to read a few extracts from this blog, which is either hopelessly self-indulgent or (I hope) interesting, given that people from the old job often ask me about the new one.
Hope you're listening at the back!
And it gives me a chance to share some of the thoughts I’ve had about God. Which is really rather the point of an assembly, isn’t it?

I hope it goes well. 200 teenagers? Easy peasy.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Kingdom Marriage: to have and to hold (but not to grasp)

Not!We’ve got a meeting tonight. Nothing unusual about that you may think, especially if you know anything much about the Jesus Fellowship.

But this one’s a little unusual and we only meet in such a way twice a year – it’s a meeting specifically for married people and parents.

The last couple of times we got together, we had some wise instruction from two formidable parents with plenty of experience under their belt. It was excellent stuff. However, this time, it’s been decided that we’ll concentrate on marriage rather than parenthood.

In one sense, there’s nothing extraordinarily strange about a bunch of married people getting together to talk about marriage. Marriage guidance, self-help groups and such like abound (Americans, particularly love that kind of thing and if we Brits are little more private on the whole – my Mum would shudder at the thought of a group where you open up in such a public way – nevertheless, they’re hardly unheard of).

And yet – in our church, we have something of an ideal when it comes to marriage: it’s an ideal which we sometimes describe as ‘kingdom marriage’.

‘Kingdom marriage’ is a marriage entered into not for its own sake alone, not simply because of love or companionship or even the raising of a family – but marriage which is seen as a ministry partnership, something to enhance both husband and wife’s ability to give themselves effectively to the work of the kingdom of God.

We want to take seriously the challenge of Jesus to ‘forsake all’ in order to be His disciple – including a nice, cosy marriage. It was Jesus who said ‘hate your wife and... even your own life’ in order to follow Him. It was Paul who said ‘from now on those who are married should live as though they are not’.

I’d better be clear, here (these particular verses of the New Testament take a little explaining – but not explaining away!) This doesn’t mean neglecting the necessary love and care that your spouse is entitled to, not does it mean that marriage deserves no energy putting into it – perhaps more than most relationships, it takes an investment of time and care... but in a kingdom marriage, the ultimate motivation is to ‘secure an undivided devotion to the Lord’.

That last quote (also from Paul) is often taken to refer to those who have made the decision to stay single for the kingdom. And rightly so, in the context of the chapter it is in (in which Paul strongly urges the reader to consider staying single in order to serve God more freely). Yet the quote applies as much to those who chose to marry – they ought to do so in a way which secures their service for God.

Now there’s a sense in which celibacy is in its native territory in the kingdom of God (Matthew 22:30). It fits easily with the spiritual mind and the freedom in which the kingdom can be given priority (Matthew 19:10-12). Marriage, on the other hand, is of the old order, that which is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:31). It is fundamentally natural and of necessity has an inclination to multiply this life’s cares (1 Corinthians 7:28). This is why entering into a kingdom marriage is such a radical thing. It means entering into a complex, rich, hard-work, rewarding partnership in which the priority is living effectively for the kingdom.

Our life in community is particularly suited to such a pursuit. Let me illustrate:

Monday evening: usually some kind of leader’s meeting or discipleship group.
Tuesday evening: Agape (household covenant meal).
Wednesday evening: Cell group – out and about winning people for Jesus.
Thursday evening: Friendship meal at the community house – a houseful.
Friday evening: Evangelism and/or networking with friends.
Saturday evening: House group.
Sunday... well, you can imagine.

So... not a lot of time for romantic candlelit meals for two is there?

Sometimes I get people (in a horrified or – worse – deeply concerned tone of voice) saying things like, ‘Make sure you and your wife get some time together – some “you time”.' They’ve missed the point. Ours is a given marriage. We’ve sacked the world’s concern for a marriage that’s ‘nice for us’. We’re living ‘as though we are not’.

Ironically, I reckon that means our marriage has got a better chance of surviving – and thriving – than a marriage based on ‘being nice’. I mean – what do people who get married because it’s nice do when it stops being nice and becomes hard work? (Well, you know what they do – the divorce stats are clear about that...) A marriage that is rich and fulfilling is one in which both partners are living for something far bigger than the marriage alone. Bigger even than the family that may come from the marriage – based on the kingdom that does not pass away.

No, my wife and I – together with other brave adventurers – are living for the kingdom.

I’m not going to put in a little safety paragraph about how important it is that we do invest in our relationship, and how intimacy, communication, and all that is important in a marriage. Yes, yes, yes. We know all that. It’s all we ever hear.

When is someone going to say that the best kind of marriage is one lived with all the blazing passion and radical givenness possible? That from now on those who are married should live as though they are - not.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Walking on water

Big bearWe’ve been attempting to get a cell group going at a local university campus recently and it’s proven to have a few false starts.

I was given a list of email addresses before the beginning of the term of students who had signed up as interested in getting involved in a Christian cell (at summer hols Christian knees-ups they get the chance to sign up for such things). So, I emailed the lot and we set off to the campus, accompanied by a large teddy bear to mark us out (it seemed the right balance of easy to spot and not too threatening), and sat around in a coffee shop.

One student turned up.

Which was fine. He even turned up the next week (back in the coffee shop with Big Bear). He was a jolly nice chap and even let us meet up in his student room the following week. We almost has a cell group – but then he decided that he’d rather ‘do’ the Christian Union (which was fair enough really, given that he was the only true bona fide university student in the group!)

It’s felt like walking on water (will we sink next step? Yes – no, we’re still going – just!)

Our next approach is to meet fortnightly in the chapel in the university chaplaincy - we’re going to invite some old student friends along – they’ve been going along to a different church, but one of them let slip that she could do with a bit more fellowship – which may be where the Jesus Fellowship comes in!). In the in-between weeks, we’ll get round the campus and see who we meet – and gossip the gospel.

Why are we so keen to reach out to students?

Well – it’s something like this: when I walk around the campus of a university and see young men and women, full of potential, full of skills and intelligence, there’s something within me that protests against the fact that they’re all being trained to use those skills for the world. By the world, I mean the fallen system, which for all its light, half-light and darkness is basically fallen: a cul-de-sac.

There’s a kingdom, there’s a cause, there’s a need of leaders for the purposes of God. Now I know that leaders will often come not from those the world regards as highly educated or privileged (God seems to delight in choosing and using those who the world would want to dismiss as no-hopers). But nevertheless – I want some young people with the stability and acumen to lend their weight to the advance of the cause of Jesus.

One senior leader in our church made the observation that students are difficult to attract to a radical church like ours because they are basically set on an agenda of self-improvement and upward-mobility that means they can ‘smell commitment a mile off – and avoid it like the plague’.

Well, that may be, but there must be some young dreamers out there, some searchers looking for something of eternal worth. And I want to find them. So we’re not giving up on the uni cell just yet.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

God without Jesus

Rowan WilliamsListening to John Humphrys Radio 4 conversation with the Archbishop of Canterbury a week ago (Humphrys In Search of God), I found myself frustrated.

I have a lot of respect for Rowan Williams who strikes me, on the whole, as a compassionate and thoughtful man - indeed this is how he came over in the programme.

And yet - there was Humphrys asking very pointed and heartfelt questions about how there could be a God given all the suffering in the world. Williams did his best to answer, in a philosphical way, how he could still ('just') believe in God given human suffering. BUT HE DIDN'T MENTION JESUS CHRIST ONCE! (Well, ok, he made a passing mention of Jesus not performing many miracles in his home town.) Surely, the incarnation and suffering of the Son of God are central and vital to any Christian response to the pained question of human suffering.

God has not merely sat 'up there' (behind a cloud somewhere) and let us get on with a life of pain, injustice and lostness. He sent his Son. His Son entered into the very depths of human suffering (and it's ultimate cause - human sin). On the cross, Jesus bore the brunt.

Maybe here isn't the time to explore the depths of the theological ramifications of this - but I wish Rowan Williams had done so. (To be sure, the Muslim and Jewish leaders that Humphrys is to interview will not, even if their philosophical defenses of God match those of Williams...)John Humphrys

God made man, God acting decisively through the death of Jesus to remove human sin and through the resurrection of Jesus to give a solid hope for humanity. Rowan! - Why oh why didn't you speak about those things?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Beat Selfishness Week!

This week is ‘Beat Selfishness Week’ at White Stone. I launched this (slightly New Labour sounding?) campaign last Saturday. The idea is that we take a week to quite deliberately focus on what it means practically to ‘lay down our lives for our brothers’, to ‘deny ourselves’ and ‘lose our lives in order to find them’, to ‘look not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others’ (and so on and on and on – the New Testament is full of beating selfishness...)

On Saturday night, we explored a few areas of life in which we have the choice to serve our own ends or serve others. Washing up – do we leave cups about thoughtlessly or wash them lovingly? Noise – do we announce our presence with metaphorical trumpets or are we content to go unnoticed? Awareness – do we know where others are at or does our universe go no further than the end of our nose? Words – are we bitches or builders? Emotions – do we use them to justify our worst behaviour or to have compassion on others? Mess – is a room tidier or messier when we leave it?

We spent almost an hour talking these things through on Saturday. There’s been quite a bit of selfishness around our house; despite the fact that we claim to follow the Jesus, central to whom’s teaching was the command to ‘lose your life’. (It’s all too easy to sing songs decorating Him with titles and ignore what He said.)

So – down with selfishness! Long live brotherhood love! Long live the kingdom of Jesus...

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Aslan speaks...

'You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,' said Aslan. 'And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor in earth.'

- from Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Granny Insightful

One day, even those of my generation (who are just starting to see the summit of the hill emerging through the mists of youth) will be old. One day we'll be gone.

And then it will be up to the generation we have discipled to do the business, to maintain the day. And in their turn, they too will age and pass on the torch. Untill the Lord comes. Here's a little picture to provide a glimpse of that future generation!..

Yes, it's Granny 'Insightful' - destined to be a torch-bearer.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Downwards promotion

Last night I was commissioned to a new level of leadership in the church. Twenty-five senior leaders gathered round me, hands were laid on me, prophetic words were spoken. It was awesome and I felt humbled and privileged and scared and full of faith. It brought to mind the commissioning of Timothy that Paul mentions in the New Testament:

Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. (1 Timothy 4:14)

This means more mopping (see the blog title and post on August 1st this year). Leadership in the Church of Jesus is about serving; about relinquishing rights not accruing them. Jesus made this clear: He Himself came to ‘serve and to give His life as a ransom for many’ - and ‘no servant is above his master’.

Last night, one apostolic leader spoke of me being like an elastic band – to be stretched! But the result of this stretching and the necessary tension this would produce in me would be that people were bound together: joined, gathered, tied, connected.

In fact, the tone of the whole evening had been along such lines, with prophetic teaching about how the pressures and strains upon our crackpot-frail humanity reveal the glory of God. In our weaknesses we are strong. In our struggles, it becomes clear to all that our strength comes from God and not from us.

I want to be a faithful servant. I want to run with perseverance the race that has been marked out for me. I want to fight the good fight of faith and hear my Master say one day, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’.

Pray for me.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Caption competition #2

Those who know these two fine men may find this easier... but then, possibily it will be easier if you don't...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Has he finally lost it?

I'm going to a University tonight. And I'm taking an enormous teddy bear with me. Intriguing, eh?..

Friday, October 06, 2006

Prayer and prayerlessness

This morning I arrived ten minutes late for our Friday morning prayer time (my alarm went off ten minutes later than I set it for, for some bizarre reason – no, honest, it really did!)

Every Friday morning at seven, a few of us aim to get together and pray: for our disciples, for each other and for – whatever seems good. Sometimes, not many of us make it (sometimes it’s just one faithful sister, bless her soul).

Not wanting to get over-heavy about this, but perhaps this is a symptom of what someone described (rather over-heavily?) on the Jesus Army forum today as “the sin of prayerlessness”. Perhaps such a phrase is overdoing it, but the comment on the forum was well worth reading: thought-provoking stuff. (Check it out.)

I particularly liked this quote:

“Prayer occurs when you depend on God. Prayerlessness occurs when you depend on yourself.”

I know that I ought to spend more time in “deliberate” prayer. But as I've grown as a Christian and taken on increasing pastoral responsibility for others, I've found something new and rather exciting has happened in my prayer life. You could call it – “accidental” prayer. That is, as I carry people on my heart, in my mind and thoughts and love - they pop up all the time and find myself praying for them. Very often it's just a very brief, "arrow" prayer shot at God; sometimes it grows into something more and I have to go off and pace up and down and pray, or find someone to pray with.

But I realise that they come from something that's going on in my spirit at a deeper level. I'm carrying these people. They're there all the time. And occasionally they erupt, often silently or in a whispered prayer.

I think this is something approaching what the apostle meant by "unceasing prayer". This doesn't undo the call to “deliberate” prayer for certain set times and the call to pray together, agreeing in faith and so on. But it undergirds the whole thing and makes prayer a state of being rather than something to be done.

Let's keep talking about prayer! And let's keep praying.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Making disciplers [sic]

We’ve been hearing the challenge to ‘make disciplers’ recently. That is, to look ahead, to see the next wave of people coming to us who need to be shown the ropes in so many ways, and to expect our present newer disciples to be playing their part in that.

As one of our leaders pointed out last night: yes, Jesus’ commission was to ‘make disciples’ – but who did He address this command to? Those who He has already made disciples of Himself. In other words, following the example of Jesus, we ought to make disciples who we can then teach to be disciplers of others.

(Oh, and by the way, hope you like the ‘sic’ in the title. I didn’t want anyone to think the ‘r’ was just a typo and thus miss the entire point of the post. There are various theories about what exactly ‘sic’ means: sometimes it is thought to be an abbreviation of ‘spelling is correct’, ‘same in copy‘, ‘spelled incorrectly’, ‘spelling incompetent’, ‘said in context’, ‘stupid in context’, ‘stand incorrect’, or ‘spelling intentionally changed’. But I’m afraid the correct meaning is also the most boring – ‘sic’ is Latin for ‘just so’. So – we’re going to make disciplers – yes, that’s right: disciplers - just so.)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Please yourself?

People are all different aren’t they? It’s one of the things that make living in community so fascinating, unpredictable, mind-bogglingly difficult, and wonderful.

Take last night.

We had a great time, on the whole. Some loved the strawberries... but others, I sensed, were worried about gluttonous tendencies surfacing in the household. Some loved it when we spoke words of encouragement to each other... but others hid their faces and found it all a bit much. Some loved the film about Earth... others found it all a bit over their head.

It has been said: ‘You can please some of the people all of the time, or all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.’

I’m glad that last night all of the people were pleased... some of the time.

And as we all grow towards maturity, we will find that our preoccupation is not whether or not we are pleased – but whether or not our brother is. That is love.

Monday, October 02, 2006


Tonight is our ‘House Family’ night. Those who live at White Stone get together for an evening of – well... being together.

The point is that, even though we live in community together, quality time can be eclipsed by the never-ending roundelay of busyness. So every so often, we carve out an evening to redress the balance; have a long, drawn-out, unrushed meal together; enjoy one another; ‘be’.

Last time, we gave interesting and meaningful present to each other (see July 11).

Tonight, after dinner, we’re going to settle back in our armchairs and watch a film called ‘The Privileged Planet’. It’s a documentary (with some seriously breathtaking space photography) about Earth: in particular, some of the astonishing, little-known ways in which it is precisely attuned to support life such as homo sapiens. Tiny changes in Earth’s distance from the Sun, or position in the Milky Way, or size of moon, and so on (and on and on) would make Earth an uninhabitable desert or a frozen rock.

Bravo God, I say. (The film doesn’t go quite that far, though God is mentioned towards the end.)

Should be inspiring. And relaxing. And after that, there’s that other great communal act of togetherness – the washing-up.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

He breaks the power of cancelled sin

Wondering through London last Thursday, I pondered purity of heart.

Sitting in Green Park, I began to read some of a sermon by John Wesley on the text ‘Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God’. (Then a bloke came along and told me it would cost a pound to sit there, so I moved on to a less privatised seat and continued.) Bits of it made me pray out loud to God. Bits like:

And "blessed are" they who are thus "pure in heart; for they shall see God." He will "manifest himself unto them," not only "as he doth not unto the world," but as he doth not always to his own children. He will bless them with the clearest communications of his Spirit, the most intimate "fellowship with the Father and with the Son." He will cause his presence to go continually before them, and the light of his countenance to shine upon them. It is the ceaseless prayer of their heart, "I beseech thee, show me thy glory."

Surely, purity of heart has got to be the most awesomely desirable thing that there can possibly be.

Later, in Regents Park (God is often to be found there, I’ve found) I thought about sin and how it still tangles around my heart – my thoughts and words and actions. I read a bit more Wesley in which he argued (fairly inescapably) that it was possible and should be expected that a Christian should have not just forgiveness, but power over sin.

It may sound over-dramatic (but I’ll risk it) – I felt like I was peering over the edge of damnation. ‘I write this to you so that you will not sin’ wrote the Apostle John (so it has to be a possibility...) I gasped out for God to have mercy on me and heard the Holy Spirit say, ‘Read the next verse’. I looked it up and it said, ‘But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence— Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.’ And it may sound over-dramatic a second time (but I’ll risk it a second time) – I felt like I’d been saved all over again. And purity seemed a possibility - because when you're forgiven much, you love much.

He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean;
His blood availed for
- Charles Wesley

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Four Fathers

Tonight I’m going to London. The reason I’m going to London is to spend some time with two of my fathers. I’ve actually got four fathers. And my father died five years ago.

Sorry for my riddling. On Thursday I’m going to spend the day walking in Regents Park, praying and listening to God – that’s father number one. I’m staying with my father-in-law – that’s father number two – and on Friday we’re going for a walk together in Epping Forest. Father number three is my pastor in Coventry – a spiritual dad. And father number four is Dad – who died in 2001.

This year I’ve been reflecting a lot on fathers: reading, pondering, thinking through the implications for my own life – and, of course, I’ve been being a dad to my own daughter and son.

There’s a lot to consider. A lot of the thoughts I’ve arrived at are really rather obvious – but that doesn’t mean they’re not overlooked.

Like: sons need their dads. They need them to teach them how to be a man. Not a woman, not a mouse, nor an ogre – a man. With all the strength and compassion that being a man ought to involve. But fathers are often absent (physically or emotionally), sometimes very imperfect, never perfect. So men everywhere grow up with what some writers call ‘the father-wound’ – the result of an ultimately unfulfilled longing for a true father-son bond.

Sometimes the father-wound results in feminisation; sometimes in aggression (the number of ‘bad’ fathers who were badly fathered...); sometimes in homosexuality; sometimes in heterosexual promiscuity; but probably most often in an ill-defined but deep-seated general insecurity.

The answer? Well, it can’t be a pat answer, but the answer is Father God. It is in relationship with Father God that men begin to find healing form the father-wound. And in relationship with Elder Brother Jesus (and His Spirit who teaches us to call God ‘Abba Father’) that they learn how to be a true son.

Yet it goes wider than that. Fathered by God, men come to know their need of real relationships with other men. Not beery joviality. Not going fishing and sitting in gloomy (but at least male) silence. But brotherhood. And with brotherhood comes fatherhood – men, in the church of Jesus are fathered by one another. It starts with knowing God as Father (and Jesus insists we must replace Him in that role with no man – Matthew 23:9) but it grows from this to (usually older) men in the church fathering other (usually younger) ones. And so Paul called Timothy his ‘dear son’ and John writes to ‘fathers’ and the ‘young men’ they father in his letter.

I had a relationship with my Dad which was full of longing which was rarely (not never) fulfilled. He found it difficult to connect emotionally largely because of a difficult relationship with his dad. When I came to know Father God, aged 16, He began to meet my need for fathering.

But, as I reflect on those early years as a Christian, I realise that I saw God as a mother. Oh, I sang songs about ‘Father God’ – but He was warm, He put His arms around me... He rocked me to sleep and called me diddums – well, not quite, but it was certainly in primarily maternal terms that I saw God.

And not surprising. I always had a secure, loving relationship with Mum. She was a great mum – I owe her more than can be expressed. But she wasn’t a dad. And because Dad was never quite able to call me away from the maternal into the male, I’d got stuck.

What changed things? God led me to other men in His church. Men like my spiritual dad in Coventry. And, later, my Christian father-in-law. I joined a church with a strong emphasis on brotherhood. God started to show me what a man of God looked like.

It was terrifying at times. I remember one particularly vivid experience. I’d been thinking about John the Baptist and I suddenly realised I was scared witless by him. This wild, shouting, unpredictable, hairy man. Nothing maternal about him. I got beyond the cardboard-cut-out Bible character and suddenly realised the kind of men God hung out with! And the Spirit showed me that it is through John the Baptist, through the ‘wild man’, that I ‘behold the Lamb of God’ – Jesus.

I started to make friends with masculinity and not to be afraid of it. I’m still very much on that journey. And God, and my fathers – and my brothers and my son – are helping me get there.

(Daughters need their dads too – and dads their daughters... but I’ll save that for another post...)

Friday, September 15, 2006

In the - right? - job

I went to the doc this morning. He said it's a good job I'm not a trapeze artist. I thought it was a good job he wasn't a comedian.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Good servants, poor masters

A dear friend and spiritual mentor once described emotions to me as ‘good servants but poor masters’.

I’ve often reflected on this. Without emotions life would be monochrome, inhuman – dead. Yet, if we’re ruled entirely by our emotions then the result is instability, unfaithfulness and ultimately chaos.

I shared this nugget of truth last night at my ‘Elisha band’ (an occasional get-together between pastors and their flock which happen every eight or nine weeks in our church calendar). The band went well, on the whole, and I was left afterwards with a warm fuzzy feeling of something like success.

But it was a warm, fuzzy feeling that sat on top of a cold, sharp feeling. Why? Well... not every pastoral relationship brings unqualified joy. Sometimes (often?) it’s more about heartache, conflict, uncertainty and desperate longing.

So I was left last night – and this morning – with this strange hot-and-cold inner cocktail. I want my human feelings to make me tenderer, more passionate, more open to Jesus, more humble and able to listen. I don’t want them to bully me into extremes and insanity.

I know I need others to keep me on track.

As a Christian leader, every moment of delight is bordered with sadness; every moment of despair is lit softly by joy.

Till we see Him – face to face.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Sneak preview

I write half of the Church's weekly bible study sheet. But I'm not blowing my own trumpet when I say that there's a great quote on next week's sheet - it's on the half that my brother writes!

Anyway, here it is (hope you like it):

‘The bible without the Spirit is like a sundial by moonlight’ - D.L. Moody

Good, eh? Let's ensure we know the author. Then we'll understand His book.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Bridge over trouble

Someone asked me this morning if worked as an evangelist. I think they had a rather fixed idea of what that meant (for him it was preaching on the streets of the capital if it was anything at all). But my reply was that I was an evangelist - in more ways than one.

First there's the fact that I bring the gospel to those who come to White Stone. Then there's the fact that I'm often involved in taking the gospel out into Coventry and other places... But the particular kind of evangelism that I was thinking of was my editing and writing for the Streetpaper - the evangelistic newspaper of the Jesus Army.

I wrote this for Streetpaper today. Hope you like it.


We can't reach God, however hard we try - and some religions and philosophies have tried very hard over the years.

No, the journey's going to have to be the other way round. He's going to have to come to us.

So He did. He came down. God became a man - and the name of that man is Jesus. "In the beginning was the one who is called the Word. The Word was with God and was truly God... The Word became a human being and lived here with us" (John 1:1, 14, The Bible).

And that is the enormous difference between faith in Jesus and "religion" (whatever the brand). Religions start by telling us what to do. The Christian message starts with what God has already done.

Why did Jesus live and die and rise again? In dying for us and rising again, He bridged the gap over death into life that never ends.

This means we have been given an incredible offer. This is how Jesus described it: "Everyone who has faith in me will live, even if they die. And everyone who lives because of faith in me will never really die." (John 11:25-26, The Bible)

Are you going to take Him up on it?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Happy Agape

Agape last night, our covenant meal with bread and wine. It was a special one for us, as one brother made a covenant commitment. This is a special moment in our church life where a person commits themselves to belonging to the core of the church household. It’s a serious commitment and we were humbled (and overjoyed) to receive him.

And yet...

...Last night finished with most of us doubled up helpless with laughter. The brother who was leading had decided that we would share the cup a little differently: approaching and sharing the cup as many times as you want with different people (usually we just pass the cup round the circle).

This necessitated a bigger cup. Ever resourceful, our brother had fetched just the thing – a cut glass vase.

We had a very lovely time of reconciliation and mutual expression of covenant, but steadily the absurdity of drinking from what was patently a vase got the better of some of the less self-controlled of us (I confess, I was one – well, I was tired...) The giggles ensued. Followed by the chuckles. Hands were clasped over lips, fists stuffed in mouths.

But by the time our brother was reading to us (a very un-comical scripture from 2 Peter), we were helpless. And so was he. So we laughed, hooted and guffawed till we ached.

I don’t think Peter minded. I think the Spirit was in it. By the end of Agape we were relaxed, restored and ready to fight on together another day.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Dizzy, my head is spinning

...Well, slowly turning anyway, but it’s enough to make me feel pretty sick at times. For those who don’t know, I was diagnosed a couple of years ago with Menieres disease in my right ear – an inner ear condition causing progressive deafness, tinnitus and bouts of dizziness and nausea.


Not pleasant and just recently it seems to have got a lot worse. I feel unsteady most of the time, to a lesser or greater degree.

But I fight on – and there are victories.

This weekend was Winning Weekend – an annual August Bank Holiday knees up for all the Jesus Army and others who may come along. There was a lot of power about – healings, deliverance and the like: it was great. And I made it to every meeting (including contributing to some of them) and wasn’t pole-axed by any vertigo episodes. Hallelujah. I also got some prayer and although I can’t say there’s been any discernable physical difference, I’ve got faith that Jesus will heal me in His time and a determination to get on with life in as much of a ‘normal’ way as possible in the mean time.

One of my closest friends was healed recently of a glandular condition that the medics said would necessitate lifelong medication. Another friend anointed him with oil every day for several months – and he was healed (blood tests et cetera to prove it!) But I note well that it wasn’t a case of a quick incantation and hands waved over his head and – bang – instant healing. We’re into faith, not magic. And faith is something we gain through relationship with God and perseverance.

So I’m trusting God and asking Him for grace for today (and preferably no dizzy spells!) You can pray for me if you like. I’ll let you know when I’m healed.

Friday, August 18, 2006

A time to plant...

Tomorrow evening will be the second time we divide our Saturday evening meeting into two. We’ve been aiming towards this all year, with a regular campaign to have twenty-four or more people come along (this means twelve or so – a decent number for a household meeting –in each half, should we spilt).

The aim is that early next year, we will officially make two households out of the present one and they’ll develop increasingly distinct identities as time goes on. (We call this a 'div plant': by dividing, a new church unit is begun. It's the biological cell principle.) In the longer term, one of the two will become the basis for a church planting into a new area – we’ve begun to set our sights on Worcester.

Before these long range visions though, we have the closer-to-home challenge of being in a meeting of twelve or thirteen rather than twenty-four or twenty-five. Result? Everyone has to give more, less room to ‘hide’, more chance to get closer to other people, more chance for our newer disciples to grow into active contribution.

So roll on tomorrow evening and roll on the future. ‘The world is our parish....’

Monday, August 14, 2006

No flowery beds

Must we be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease
While others fought to gain the prize
And sailed through stormy seas?
- Isaac Watts

So ran the hymn we sang in our congregation yesterday morning. One of those rabble-rousing-stir-the-blood kind of hymns. Certainly did the trick for me. It’s been quite a week with evangelism in Worcester (two days) Coventry (two days) an open air event in Coventry and the Goldsmiths gospel-music-drama-media event that evening.

We’ve dished out near 5000 Streetpapers (our ‘good news papers’), careered up and down streets singing and chanting, talked to people, sang to people, listened to people, loved people. It’s been great, but astonishingly tiring. The last of many conversations I had with complete strangers this weekend was with Fraser and Megan in Cov. We talked about why God doesn’t make His existence blatantly obvious (mountains with ‘I am God’ carved on them and such like heavenly graffiti); we talked about Jesus (fictional? mad? bad? God?); we talked about relationships and brotherhood. They were nice. They got me thinking. I got them thinking. I was glad to finish on such a note.

Except, I’m not really finishing. This manic week may have finished and I’ve gone back to work for a rest – but the mission rolls on. We want to plant radical church in Worcester. We want a thousand people in Christian community. We want hundreds of thousands to hear the message of God’s love.

We’re the Jesus Army – come and join us!

Friday, August 04, 2006

The way

'You thought, as a boy, that a mage is one who can do anything. So I thought once. So did we all. And the truth is that that as a man’s real power grows and his knowledge widens, ever the way he can follow grows narrower until at last he chooses nothing, but does only and wholly what he must do.'

- Master Summoner, in A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


We’ve got our ‘Goldsmiths’ event coming up next week, in which we use drama and music and so on to present the gospel. As a result, I was flicking through a book of Christian dramatic ‘sketches’ this morning on the way to work.

I work in our church’s ‘Creative Department’. Sounds exciting, wouldn’t you say?

In fact, it’s only really just getting going and no-one seems to be quite sure exactly what the shape of its future will be. What we are sure of is that we want to be able to harness Spirit-inspired creativity and use it to communicate the message of the gospel of the kingdom.

That will involve writing, graphics, ICT and internet, video, music, photography... and as time goes on could well embrace new ventures in more expressive arts – the dramatic and the like.

These days much of my creativity at work goes into writing and editing. But drama is close to my heart (teaching it to teenagers for seven years gets it into your bloodstream...) It’s a funny thing about drama though. It can be regarded with a certain suspicion in Christian circles – and not without reason. Jesus reserved His most searing criticism for hypocrites (which literally means mask-wearers – actors!) And there are ever-present dangers of ‘art’ that vaunts the ego and leads to unreality. Such concerns shouldn’t be lightly dismissed...

And yet, and yet... when you’ve experienced the spine-tingling, breath-holding, tear-jerking, imagination-capturing power of live performance... and when you consider the inherent drama of some of Jesus’ stories and the prophets' demos... I can’t get away from the conviction that, used rightly, performance art has its place in communicating God. But we can't be glib - because of their power arts - drama, music, even graphic or fine arts - need to be used with care, in the fear of God.

And the Creative Department? Watch this space.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Mop blog

A new month and a new name for my blog!

It was pointed out to me – and I take the point entirely – that ‘Captain’s Blog’ implied a kind of leadership which isn’t actually very Christian.

‘You've observed how godless rulers throw their weight around and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It's not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served...’ – Jesus, Mark 10, The Message

Years ago someone in our church described true Christlike leadership as ‘the man with the mop’. Someone who serves humbly, often unnoticed.

And, as it happens, God’s been teaching me about this very thing: what it means to be like the ‘good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep’.

So it’s about time for the change.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Running from safety

Cool (true) story from last night’s gospel meeting:

Recently a man reported his car as stolen.

Nothing wildly unusual about that and usually police would do little with it apart from register the details and other formalities.

Nevertheless, on this occasion, police mounted an acute and widespread search for the vehicle and its thief, alerting other stations, posting details, deploying officers to join the search from several different forces. Of course, the car thief did everything possible to avoid detection!

Why such unusual effort to find this stolen car and its robber? The car was not unusual – just an ordinary VW; the car contained nothing of any great value and it didn’t belong to anyone famous or unusually influential – just an ordinary man.

However, this ordinary man had left something in the car: a packet of biscuits. The biscuits were laced with poison, specially prepared by the man to kill some rats that had infested his house.

He was very concerned that the thief may eat the biscuits and die. The police shared his concern – and that was why such an unusual search was mounted. Unknown to the guilty party who was trying so hard to avoid detection, his pursuers were actually trying to save him.

Sound familiar?

(Thanks to ‘Killer’...)

Friday, July 28, 2006

That's just silly!

Shhh. Don’t tell anyone. It’s a secret.

Tonight I’m doing something silly. But it’s worthwhile. My brother, who lives in Liverpool, graduated with a master’s degree in Social Work this week and my Mum mentioned that they were going out for a family celebratory meal tonight.

Of course, I’m not expected. I mean – they’re in Liverpool and I’m in Coventry. And tomorrow is our Annual Church Convocation (big busy meeting in Northampton all day). Liverpool and back in one evening is 3½ hours driving. It would be silly.

But I’m going to do it. As one of my closest friends put it, ‘It may be silly; but that doesn’t necessarily make it stupid’.

It’s all planned with my fellow-conspirator mother: I turn up outside the restaurant, phone my brother, congratulate him, ask him what he’s doing to celebrate. As he answers, I say ‘What a coincidence, I’m there too’, as I arrive at the table in the restaurant! Poetry!

It’s done me good to have an opportunity to demonstrate my love for my brother. Being a busy Christian leader means I rarely get a chance, at least in such a demonstrative way. And that’s fine – Jesus said plenty about how true commitment to Him would cut across natural ties.

But I’m relishing this opportunity just to say (in the actions that speak louder than words), ‘I’m really proud of you – and I love you’.

(As for tomorrow: I’ve made a mental note not to be tired and irritable and certainly not to let my wife pay for my northward jaunt! God’s grace is sufficient...)

Thursday, July 27, 2006


Friendship meal at White Stone tonight. So, in honour of the event, here's a poem by a very dear friend of mine called - Friendship.

Give me your friendship.
Not an over the newspaper
Back in a minute
what was that you said
nod of the headship.

Not a see you later
alligator, maybe tomorrow
hang on a mo
just wait a tickship.

Not a sure, but
just for a short while
polite as you like,
love you and leave you
shake of the handship.
Wish you were deadship.
Do in your headship.

I want straight as a die
don't like you but love you
right between the eyes
tell me no lies
you look a real stateship.

I want sharing a room
here when you need me
are you coming back soon
over the moon!
You're making us lateship!

Give me sworn to be
true. Devoted to you.
Truly, madly, deeply:
Over the topship.
In a tight spotship.
Tying the knotship.
Until we both dropship.
I love you a lotship.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

New generation

We were praying last night. Two things stood out for me.

Firstly, encouragement: we have a church. Many of our disciples are in a mess of one kind or another, but most of them are travelling towards God in their journey, rather than away from Him.

(Someone pointed out to me recently that the direction is really the most important thing. You can be a core member of the church and a mature Christian and be moving away from God; you can be a newborn disciple without much of a clue about your faith and be moving towards Him.)

The second thing was sobering: we desperately need a new generation of leaders. Peers of the younger disciples, but truly embracing the kingdom and, well, leading.

Tonight I’m meeting a nineteen year old lad who I’ve got a lot of time for, a lot of respect for. He’s a Christian. He’s wondering what to do with his life.

Could he be one of these leaders? And how, oh how, oh how do I meet him and listen to him and be with him without bringing an agenda to it all? (Falling on my knees and sobbing ‘Oh pleeease join us, we neeed young leaders’ may be rather unseemly in public – and then there’s the more subtle dangers of manipulation or understated coercion.)

So maybe I’ll just chill out and enjoy his company.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Bottled water - while stocks last

In London for a couple of days and struck again by the enormity of the place. It's like fifty cities in one. A million people in Westminster alone. Just about every ethnic group I can imagine. Vertiginous wealth and profound poverty within spitting distance of each other...

Yesterday, in the baking sun, Oxford Street was a mass of hot humanity scurrying from shrine to shrine in the devotions and oblations of the religion of the West, Materialism (which could be said to be the fastest growing religion in the world - neck and neck with its Middle Eastern chief rival, Islam).

But what satisfaction is there in this frantic faith? Beyond the golden arches, there are only dying rainforests and CocaCola is certainly not the real thing.

‘People, people everywhere and not a drop to drink’ (Adulterated Coleridge…)

‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ (Unadulterated Jesus)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Gender defender

One of the things about this life in community is that we’re freed up from some of the mundane everyday activities which necessarily loom large in most people’s lives.

Take shopping for instance. Yesterday evening, my wife and I went shopping. Which, for us, is unheard of and kinda, well, weird.

(For the uninformed, let me explain. Almost all of our weekly necessities are ordered and supplied by our community ‘FDC’ – Food Distribution Centre – which supplies not only food but household goods, toiletries and so on. Even clothes can be bought from the FDC though sometimes they will advise that something ought to be ‘bought out’ if they haven’t got it. So, the hassle of the weekly shop; dangers of endless consumer ‘choice’, dragging us out of simplicity; the likelihood of inequality – all are overturned by the genius of the FDC.)

But last night we needed a couple of clothing items that the FDC couldn’t supply, so after dinner we headed off to a local cluster of stores for some late night garment hunting.

Now, it may be a cliché that women love shopping and men hate it, but I have to say that my wife was curiously excited about the whole idea (‘wow, we’re going shopping together’ – I was appreciating the ‘together’ bit, but ambivalent about the ‘shopping’...) Anyway, my wife got herself a pair of bright summery trousers (in which, I’m bound to say, she looked lovely) and I failed to get anything. The sandals I’d seen in the shop a couple of days ago had gone and there were no others like them, and the pair of trousers I looked at were too thick and... oh, FDC where art thou?

The funny thing was (as I reflect on the difference between the sexes) on the way home there was a programme on Radio 4 in which a panel were debating gender roles. Apparently, breakthroughs in genetic science mean that it may well be possible fairly soon for women to have babies without men being part of the process at all! The ensuing debate turned on whether men serve any useful purpose (now that the provision of sperm appears to be unnecessary) particularly in the family, but, by implication, in any sphere at all.

One strident feminist appeared to take the line that the huwoman race would be better off without men altogether (after all, all they ever do is have wars, oppress the weak and beat women). She reluctantly conceded that some women may chose to have a man in their life (like a pet Chiwawa, it seems) though she quite obviously found such a preference baffling. Pressed on the point, she allowed men to continue to exist as long as they became more like women.

They had a Christian bloke on (unfortunately he was male so unlikely to get anywhere with our feminist friend) who tried to point out that fathers bring certain essential things to their children (sons and daughters) beyond their mere existence and that there were reasons why God had designed the human race male and female and families to include a father and mother. But his piercing common sense and insight were largely ignored.

So what d’ya think? Any point to men? Or are we – or should I say you, female readers – better off without them – er, us?.. oh, you get the point!

Now, I need to ring the FDC about a pair of trousers...

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


At last night’s Agape meal, we were invited to spend half an hour ‘together in solitude’ listening to what we sensed God was saying to us as a household. We shared our inklings over our meal and what emerged was a rich cord of truths which bound us together.

God is purifying us, making us foundational, cutting us with the exquisite sharpness of Zion’s jewels, calling us to call a wild variety of people to quality and to see beauty in others even when their flesh obscures it; calling us not to administer death but to know Him, to rise on eagle’s wings and be free.

It’s a privilege to be part of White Stone.

I found not one in all that company whom I did not love and by whom I was not confident that I was loved. I was filled with a joy so great that it surpassed all the delights of this world. For I felt as though my spirit was transfused into all of them and that the affection of all had passed over into me, so that I said with the prophet: ‘Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity'.

- Aelred of Rievaulx, eleventh-century Cistercian

And now to live the life...

Friday, July 14, 2006

Land meets sea

Look: we’re going here tomorrow. Ah, the coast, the sea, the hills, the cliffs, the sun, the breeze, the cry of gulls, salt on the air, green, white, grey, brown, golden.

Can’t wait.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Face the music and dance

Okay, confession time. I’ve been in a bit of a state over the last few days and it seemed to be getting worse. By the end of Agape last night, I was ready to quit my job and resign as household leader.

I was rescued somewhat from this grim state of mind by a timely word from my ‘Supernatural’ brother, a passing comment from a sister that sometimes the best thing to do is ‘go to bed’ (I did, shortly afterwards) and a short conversation with the same brother about one of my favourite stories, which he’s reading at present (A Wizard of Earthsea: it’s a corker – like a lot of wonderful, wonderful tales it’s ostensibly for children...)

Why am I like this? And should I be going public? (What will it do to morale? Shouldn’t a leader always be on tippity-top?)

Well, on the basis that honesty is a good thing, I’m being honest. And as for the reasons for my low ebb? Well, a combination of things, each one not worthy of too much angst, but put together... uncertainty as to my role in the congregation and church (prophet? pastor? liability?), a tricky relationship that’s trickily enough been a bit tricky recently, a fairly long fast with no discernable result apart from hunger and feeling depressed, no time for things that are important at home, too much time for things that seem relatively unimportant at work, words that were said to me that have made me lose my confidence, and sins of the heart and of the mind.

Any advice, dear reader? Pull myself together? Beat myself until morale improves? Get out in the wild outdoors? (As luck would have it, we are going to the Welsh coast on Saturday for a household jaunt, which I think will be a tonic).

Or I could just dance – that usually does the trick: makes others laugh too...

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Angels and dragon fruits

Last night the ‘house family’ – those who live at White Stone – had the evening in, to spend deliberate time together and ‘be’ – and to bless each other in a purposeful way.

After a long drawn-out meal (table bedecked with candles, flowers and all) and a celebratory fifteenth birthday sing-song for one young sister who is staying with us this week, we got together in our lounge and exchanged presents: one for each person. (Every one had drawn names of others in the house family out of a hat a few days before.) The rules: no-one must spend more than £2 and the gift should be accompanied with a prayerful encouragement, word or wisdom for the person (which may or may not be connected in some way with the present itself).

A marvellously eccentric, thoughtful and imaginative collection of gifts were unwrapped over the next hour – chocolate-covered bananas, a flowers photo-cube, a box of beautiful pebbles, a key-ring wrapped in a parchment message, dragon fruits (what fruits? I’d never heard of these fascinating red, exotic-looking things) and so on…

‘It’s just like Christmas,’ piped one excited sister, gleefully – a somewhat politically incorrect remark since, as a church, we take a pretty dim view of that particular festive frenzy of materialism (with its dubious claims to have something to do with Jesus). But we knew what she meant and she was right. Somehow, yesterday evening managed to capture everything that a celebration of family should: intimacy, generosity, humour, good grace, peace, tenderness, eccentricity and love.

Later this week, the doors will fly open and our wild and wonderful crew will return to fill the house with noise and life. We’ll be glad to see them all. But it’s because of times like last night that we have the strength and the inner substance to make White Stone a worthwhile place for them to come at all…

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Post Script blues

I spent today editing Together. (For anyone who doesn't know Together is our national church news bulletin, a six page jobby...) I don't usually do it, but the normal editor was away today. It's usually fun(ish) doing Together: a bit creative, a bit technical, and you get to hear all the news from around the church - first!

But today, come 5 o'clock, I find myself suffering from numb bum and brain inertia. Why? - ask the computer. Go on, ask the pesky thing! Yes, it's all the blithering machine's fault. When I came towards the end of the editing process and wanted to export a page of the bulletin to a PDF file, the computer decided it didn't want to let me do that. So it spat up a helpful window onto my screen with some computernese gibberish about the PostScript output having failed (the post what? Does that have anything to do with the Royal Mail?) Anyway, after having got the ICT chap in (he had no idea), I then got my boss (who has a brain a bit like a computer, so I thought he might be able to help...)

So, what was the problem, I hear you ask? Are you ready?


I'd put commas in the filename of the document.

And the computer, poor, sensitive thing didn't like them. So it refused to do anything with the document.

Now, I have to admit, I'm not keen on the overuse of commas myself (I was an English teacher for seven years, so I know what 'comma-itus' is - that strange disease in writing which kills all other punctuation marks replacing them with an outbreak of commas so virulant that the piece of writing ends up being one extraordinarily long sentence...)

But, to refuse to do anything, just because of some - perfectly reasonable, I thought - comma usage in the filename? That's just the sulks, pure and simple.

Anyway, incredulous with disbelief, I changed the filename, used some full stop instead and - as if by magic - little diddums poor old abused computer worked a treat.

I have a friend - an expert in computers as it happens - who tells me that computers are female. I'll leave you with that thought.

I'm off to eat some coffee...

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Celtic knot work and cotton wool beards

Last night at White Stone, we broke all records for packing people into our main lounge - there were about sixty people there (well, my wife counted fifty-five at one point, but a few people arrived after that). What's more, we did it on the hottest day of the year so far! Windows open, fans on...

The reason for the crowd was that last night we held a 'Community Vision' evening. We put on such events two or three times a year with the aim of exploring and promoting Christian community as an excellent way of following Jesus in the 21st century. Last night, we took a lightening tour through the history of Christian communities (well, I say 'lightening' - the whole thing took about an hour and a quarter: there was a lot to cover!) Then, after a break, we watched a video extract about New Creation Christian Community (i.e. our own!), a brother told his fairly remarkable story of how God called him to belong to our community, and we had some Q & A with a specially chosen ‘panel’.

Highlights for me: seeing two dear brothers ludicrously dressed up in dressing gowns and wigs (plus cotton wool beards) acting out an ancient and quirky story of two Desert Fathers who decide to have a quarrel and find they can’t; watching a slideshow about the Bruderhof (including two Bruderhof women playing hide and seek in their large kitchen pots!); everyone singing a song in harmony; and perhaps most memorably of all, everyone colouring in a small piece of Celtic ‘knot work’ design which was then displayed in full splendour on our dining room wall in a display of the words ‘Community, Unity, Eternity’.

For me, that last one really spoke louder than words about what community is truly about: everyone contributing their small but unique part to something that – when it’s all put together – is far more striking and beautiful than isolated individuals could ever achieve.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Flower power

Last night, we got into yet another discussion about whether it's okay for men to like flowers. Seems to be a perennial issue in our household. It all started several months ago when I made a passing comment that I thought it was unfair that flowers are given to women and not to men. Why shouldn’t men appreciate exquisite beauty that God has made? (In fact, it’s just occurred to me that since men are generally built to appreciate women’s beauty, perhaps it is more suitable for them to like flowers?!)

Anyway, it got me into trouble, particularly with one young White Stone disciple: she insists that it is totally unthinkable for men to like flowers… in fact she gets almost hysterical about the subject. (‘Plants, yes, but flowers?!..’)

What do you think then? Cast your vote! Is it acceptable for men to like flowers – even enough to want to be given them?

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Celibate Life Unveiled!

One of my closest friends has just entered the blogosphere and I'm quite excited about it. Not least, because of the rather dramatic title of his new blog - The Celibate Life Unveiled! (See the link on this blog).

Yes, my friend (along with a few hundred others in our church) has committed himself to lifelong voluntary singleness in order to be freer to serve God and give himself to people. Which is impressive wouldn't you say? And inspiring. And contraversial. (I guess there may be a few outraged comments on his blog over the coming months - I hope he publishes them...)

As it happens I got involved in the singleness controversy just yesterday (which is one of the reasons I didn't post on my blog that day). I read a book review on the Christianity Today website. The book was called Getting Serious About Getting Married. The author makes a case against adult singleness, going so far as to call it unbiblical — and marriage a "biblical mandate" for all but the few who have been called to full-time kingdom work that makes family life impossible or who have a medical condition that makes them unable to perform marital "duties".

What rubbish! I'm pleased to say that the reviewer of the book took issue with what this author was saying - but I didn't think her criticism was strong enough (so I wrote an email to Christianity Today - goodness knows if anyone will ever read it, but I needed to vent my outrage). Anyway, if you want to read the email I sent, I've entered it as the first comment on this post. (I thought I'd enter it as a comment to stop this post becoming enormous!)

In the mean time - thank God for The Celibate Life Unveiled and thank God for courageous, noble, wonderful saints like my friend and his fellow followers of the Lamb - wherever He goes.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Love is...

Quite late last night, I got a text from a young disciple. 'I just want to be loved'. I'd noticed earlier that she was a bit down and my heart goes out to her.

Because the thing is, she really is loved. But it's one thing to say that and another for her to feel it.

I was thinking about her this morning on the way to work. And it made me think about love and Jesus and why we love Him and a scripture came to mind:

We love because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

He 'just wants to be loved' too. But He got on with loving us and dying for us while we couldn't care a damn (literally). So I suppose there's a lesson for my young disciple in that: get on with loving others and love will be your reward.

And as it happens, I have real trust in this young disciple. She may know her need and feel some pain and loneliness at times - but she's taking hold of Jesus and His Church and she's got a shining future - full of love.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Vintage White Stone

Last night was choc-full of classic White Stone vintage life - of every kind.

Agape meal with the committed; visiting celibate sister; guitars and harmony; new song about knowing Jesus written by a household bard; wonderful quote ('Recently, I feel like I've been running along and I've suddenly realised my legs aren't working'); deep theology ('Why is it important that Jesus is God?'); shared hearts with some heart-aching honesty; talk about fruitfulness; inspiration about fruitfulness; high worship; being told by a much-loved brother to kneel down and 'smile at God'; watching the rest of the household trying to do this; an invitation to fast; washing up; a sharp word with a sister; sympathising with a wife who trapped her finger under the duff microwave that we're throwing out; chucking out the duff microwave; wondering if the new microwave is big enough; tense moment over who's going to take the gazebo down (left up after a recent garden party); deciding to be one of the said gazebo-deconstuctors; taking the gazebo down in rising wind and pegging it to the line; worrying about the sister who I had a sharp word with;leaving it with God; bed, to sleep, perchance to dream...

There's no life like community life.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Wilde at heart

Last night, at dinner, someone asked one of the brothers what the difference is between faith and chance.

He thought for a moment and then said:

'Faith is what you would call a woman. Chance is what you would call a dog'.

What an answer: worthy of Oscar Wilde, I thought.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for... niceness?

Last night I interrupted our supper scene to read a verse from the New Testament to everyone.

Nothing surprising about that, you may think. After all, it is a Christian community and I am the leader.

It’s just that the verse I read out was one of the less ‘polite’ verses that crop up from time to time in the New Testament. The kind that seldom end up on plastic badges or fridge magnets.

You can check this one out: 1 Corinthians 16:22

So why did I read it out?

Well, it’s just that alongside our (absolutely right and necessary) emphasis on loving all people and bearing with them in patience as they work out their response to Jesus, and go through ups and downs, we have to recognise that there is also an equally clear line of division in the New Testament between those who are for, and those who are against, Jesus.

And at times we need reminding of this, or we can get tangled up in sentiment and lose our clarity: we must retain loyalty to Jesus Christ, even if, in the end, it means loyalty to Him alone (and absolute disloyalty to absolutely everyone else).

I trust God that there will be those (many, I pray) who will come to us and join our love for an incomparable Christ. But not all will and sometimes God takes us into times of ‘shaking down’ where he tests our loyalties and divides the wheat from the chaff. And at such times, it isn’t wrong to ‘hate’, even if it might be difficult: as Jesus Himself taught.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Carpenter from Nazareth seeks joiners

I'm 30 today. The age that Jesus left carpentry and got mixed up with John the Baptist... three years later, he was dead.

And raised from death, never to die having purchased the salvation of the world! But it all started at 30.

So you could say, I'm just at the beginning - the rest was just practice, just carpentry. And now?

I really want to live for God. I want to be like my hero, Jesus. That's my gameplan for the rest of my life - be it three years or ninety-three years...

Thursday, June 15, 2006

This is God in community...stop

Last night, at our cell group at Warwick University, we were talking about how God had led or 'called' us in our lives. The thing that struck me was that, yes, there were some really radical decisions that had been made (you don't make lifelong commitments or live in community because it seems like a nice idea), and yet - there were no 'telegrams from heaven'.

Sure, there were particular moments were God spoke fairly clearly to some of us, but mainly it was through unfolding circumstances, growing understanding and - this was probably the main one - relationships.

We often say (a bit parrot-fashion, if I'm honest) that people need to know that God is calling them before they commit to things like community. I wouldn't deny this... and yet...

Is it really valid to say, 'I'm waiting for God to call me to give up my personal possessions and my own life'? Hasn't He done that already? (Luke 14:33)

But, sure, people need to see it and to hear from God and to be sure, if they're gonna last the course. Jesus taught this kind of carefulness too, if you read the rest of Luke 14...

So what am I saying? I guess that we need to respond to the clear commands of Jesus in the gospels with honesty and with a process of weighing up how we can best live them out. For this we need to hear God and we need each other. Even Paul, who signed most of his epistles with 'Paul, called to be an apostle', discerned this call with the help of others (Acts 13:1-3).

My own journey into 'all things in common' community was a big mix: being filled with the Spirit, hunger for more of God, reading the Bible, some straight challenges from people, having my wallet nicked by a homeless lad, finding a spiritual 'Dad', revelation - and some 'holy coincidences' like asking God 'What should I do with my life?' then pressing play on my CD player to have the words 'The call is to community' sung out at me (a Michael Card song I seem to remember)! The whole process took about three years. Actually, what am saying: the process is still going on. God still calls.

And I still want to follow.