Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Ebony black and salmon pink

I had lunch with a brother from Zambia today. I was delighted to find that our hearts easily made the journey over several thousand miles of cultural difference. We shared the same passion: God and His Kingdom.

He's come over, along with fifty or so others, for MILC - the Multiply International Leader's Conference - which takes place this coming Saturday. A lot of delegates have come early and we've been laying on a packed programme for them: visiting some of our community properties and businesses and holding seminars on aspects of our Church's vision such as Christian community and covenant brotherhood. Heady stuff. Many of these brothers and sisters come from countries where it's far from easy to be a Christian at all. And yet, they're clearly fairly awed by what God has done with us.

All of which leaves me with a potent cocktail of emotions swirling around within me. On the one hand, I'm so proud again of the rare wonder of what God has led the Jesus Army into. And on the other hand, I'm hugely humbled as I consider the suffering and patience of some of our overseas brethren.

But most of all, I'm enjoying the brotherhood that can happen when two men from different continents, with different skins, different cultures, different histories and different languages meet and discover they've got one heart.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Bludgeoned we stand

Been feeling a little bludgeoned by life just recently. Oh, there are good things happening and I'm grateful, but all the same...

I've been feeling some pain over a few people who seemed to be doing well, pressing into more commitment: then, in their various ways, seemed to fold - in less than a fortnight - and now one of them has had to be asked to stay away until they can come back in better heart, one's very scarce and slippery, another's got confused and is making noises about backing out... And then there's me - I find myself aware (oh, so aware, but usually after it's too late and I've done or said something stupid) of my own sins and shortcomings.

If it wasn't for the blood - we'd all be dead.

A friend sent me a very heartening word from Jackie Pullinger the other day, from the preface to her book, Chasing the Dragon. It gave me strength to fight on another day. Here it is. Hope others find it strengthening too.

"Over the years we have had hundreds of short-termers who want to get the picture immediately - if possible on video - so they can show it to their home church and have an inspired evening. I have begged them to love the people and stay, just like Sai Di did of me thirty years ago. The disadvantage of short term is a wrong perspective based on this generation's need for instant results. Many have stayed with us and lived in our new houses, now called St Stephen's which currently houses over three hundred men, women, teenagers and children all over HK.. Sometimes everything goes well and there are real conversions, healing and glorious glimpses of changed lives. The visitors leave and wonder why it does not work at home. They wonder why everything seems so easy in Hong Kong. At other times nothing goes right even here. The man who prophesied last night beats up a helper the next morning or the whole house runs away. They visitors leave disillusioned. "It is nothing like she wrote in her book, we had a hard time." The remarkable fact that after so long we still see most addicts who come to us believe in Jesus, pray in tongues and detoxify from drugs painlessly does not obscure the fact that they need a changed mind. So the voyeurs leave. They have their video clips but they never saw. It was either all too good or all too bad and neither was accurate. We love our people whether they turn out well or not and the successes do not vindicate our ministry nor the disappointments nullify it. What is important is whether we have loved in a real way - not preached in an impassioned way from the pulpit."

We press on. And despite the desperate foolishness, stubbornness, and 'swerve to rot' that seems to infect us all, grace will see us through. Maybe, when we arrive at our destination, we'll all sing a heavenly rendition of 'Amazing Grace' with unparalleled gusto (and maybe with some tears amid the joy - before they're wiped away forever...)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Double crossed?

I read this in The Times this morning:

'One Anglican bishop said that he did not believe in the survival of individual "souls" after death. The bishop did admit, however, to the possibility of a non-specific "life-force" energising everyone on earth.'

My boss pointed out that Anglican bishops' signatures have a cross after their name - and Archbishops sign with a double cross...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Communication's what you need

Friendship meal tonight. We usually have a fair number of youngsters around White Stone on such occasions. Before the meal we have a 15 minutish 'grace time' with a worship activity or some 'thought' to focus us. Tonight, I'm 'on' and I want to try and give people a few pointers about how to overcome in the spiritual battle. So I'm going to say a few things about deceit and openness and about the world, the flesh and the devil. Cheerful stuff!

But the main point of it all is that 'they may all know the Lord, from the least to the greatest of them' to quote the prophet Jeremiah. This is the key to overcoming any opposition - and the first tactic of the enemy is to break down, by whatever means, our communication with God.

I'm so thankful we have a God who we can know. Who wants to know us. Who died to know us.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Caption competition

Anyone out there who knows 'Kind' will love thinking of a caption for this pic. I thought of "Jedi 'Kind': moves boxes, he does"...


Tonight is Agape, which is the night of the week when the committed core members of White Stone get together for a meal and some quality time together. And we share the bread and wine.

Often, for us, it's a much-needed recharge for all the giving that goes on the rest of the week. Sometimes people joke that our 'weekend' is Monday and Tuesday...

Anyway, I'm leading tonight (not that 'leading' is really the right word for a meal with your best friends) and I want us to address some of the battles that are going on at the moment. So that will mean prayer. And it will mean encouraging each other, cheering each other on for the next round in the ring with the enemy. And it will mean drawing close to our God and enjoying His strength and peace together.

Can't wait...

Monday, May 15, 2006

Battle stations

We have to face the fact that we're in a battle. And the Enemy does not fight according to Queensbury Rules: he fights dirty, he plays on weaknesses, he picks off the weak. He's clever and he's more committed to winning than we are.

A few of our White Stone people - particularly (but not only) some of the newer ones - are "going through it", facing various trials. Old addictions flare up; relationships swerve to rot; this one disappears down a rabbit hole; that one stomps about like a bear with a sore head...

Now I don't want to get OTT and paranoid (seeing demons behind every item of furniture). But it strikes me that we are called Jesus Army. And we have determined to be a full on church of radical discipleship. And we've been seeing people finding saving faith in Christ and being filled with the Spirit... it's a red rag to a bull. We've got to be wise to the reality of the war.

Or as the Bible puts it:
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

And so we leaders at White Stone face the challenge of teaching our new ones, our young disciples how to fend off an enemy they know barely anything about. But - they have a strong Big Brother and we can pray for them. Then it comes down to their choices and the quality of their hearts, if the parable of the sower is anything to go on...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Turner (gets the) prize

I'm leading an assembly at the school I used to work at on Friday. It's always a bit weird going back to the old stamping ground (not to mention the old ankle biters - most of whom are probably now 6 foot with beards... that's just the girls...)

Anyway, I've decided to recycle some of the stuff I talked about at our 'Solid Rock Cafe' gospel event from Sunday night. The theme was air/breath/Holy Spirit. Getting there involved Elmer the patchwork elephant taking parachute jumps and Ezekiel prophecy to music. But the particular thing I want to recycle is a poem called 'Air' which I believe is by a Christian poet called Steve Turner. I love his poems - crunchy, humourous, understated, profound.

I looked up 'Air' on the net and didn't find it. But I found some great poems by Turner nevertheless. Thought I'd post a couple... If anyone out there likes them, I may post a couple more.

How To Hide Jesus

There are people after Jesus.
They have seen the signs.
Quick, let's hide Him.
Let's think; carpenter,
fishermen's friend,
disturber of religious comfort.
Let's award Him a degree in theology,
a purple cassock
and a position of respect.
They'll never think of looking here.
Let's think;
His dialect may betray Him,
His tongue is of the masses.
Let's teach Him Latin
and seventeenth century English,
they'll never think of listening in.
Let's think;
Man of Sorrows,
nowhere to lay His head.
We'll build a house for Him,
somewhere away from the poor.
We'll fill it with brass and silence.
It's sure to throw them off.

There are people after Jesus.
Quick, let's hide Him.

The cast of Christmas Reassembles for

Take the wise men to the Emperor's palace.
Wash their hands in water.
Get them to say something about truth.
Does anyone know any good Jewish jokes?
The one about a carpenter
who thought he was a King?
The one about the Saviour
who couldn't save himself?
The shepherds should stand with the chorus.
They have a big production number -
'Barabbas, We Love You Baby'.
Mary? She can move to the front.
We have a special section reserved
for family and close friends.
Tell her that we had to cut the manger up.
We needed the wood for something else.
The star I'm afraid I can't use.
There are no stars in this show.
The sky turns black with sorrow.
The earth shakes with terror.
Hold on to the frankincense.
We'll need that for the garden scene.
Angels? He could do with some angels.
Avenging angels.
Merciful angels.
He could really do with some angels.
Baby Jesus.
Step this way please.
My! How you've grown!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Metaphorical pipe smoking

My White Stone housemate and I share a lift into work. In fact, we work in the same office - literally, 5 feet away from each other (I see more of him than my wife...)

Anyway, the point I'm getting to is that this morning we both felt a bit groggy and 'morninged-out'. But after a little while, he brought up a theological point about the nature of the Trinity (as you do). In a moment, we were launched into a deep and fairly complex chewing over of God which went on for the rest of the journey (about 20 minutes). We covered (not exhaustively, needless to say) the Trinity, Judaism, Hinduism, icons, Eastern Orthodoxy, the incarnation and finally wound back to the Trinity again. Then we arrived at work.

Why do I mention this? Just that both of us had been feeling a bit demotivated and tired and then came alive. And it wasn't because we put on some upbeat music or told each other jokes. We didn't even try to 'get spiritual'. We engaged our brains - on God, as it happened.

It reminds me of something C S Lewis once wrote:
"I believe that many who find that 'nothing happens' when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of a devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand." - C. S. Lewis
Now I've never been into pipe smoking myself, but I know what Lewis means: so I offer it as today's reflection. And I intend to try to fill some of those moments that come up when I sag in motivation with a little more tough thinking.

Now, where did I leave my copy of Plato?...

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A river, a knight and ice cream with popping candy

Been feeling a bit under seige the last couple of days. A combination of tiredness, anxiety and murkiness of spirit. Poor old me, eh?

Someone gave me a 'picture' at our Tuesday night Agape meal. (I should explain for the uninitiated - this means that he had a revelation from the Spirit for me in picture form, not that he'd nipped to Woolies and bought me a print). It was about a river with a leaking bank. He had an interpretation which was encouraging and I was grateful, but I found God speaking to me about it along different lines.

It was a warning - combined with a call. I need to protect the banks which contain the life of the Spirit in me. I sensed again God's call to take me far into His purposes - but that this could be hindered or even squandered, Esau-like, if allow my banks to be breached through sin or dullness of spirit.

Right after this another brother spoke about how God was re-calling me (as 'His knight' was the expression he used).

So I'm grateful - and I need to heed the revelation.

Also (much more cheerful) we had ice cream at the Uni' cell last night - with popping candy! What could be better?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

This is community

I was beginning to get mournful about the fact that no-one had left any comments on my blog (wondering if perhaps I had promoted Tschaka's too strenuously). Then a couple of people pointed out that only blog members were allowed to... so I've changed the settings now: comment away.

A truly historic sort of day yesterday as the elders of White Stone met with all other Jesus Army elders at Cornhill (one of our 'flagship' community houses). The thrust of the day was the 'rebirth of New Creation Christian Community': a launch into new enthusiasm and growth potential for our community. We've been growing as a church, but community has been static (stagnant?) - now's the time for a renaissance.

One of my fellow elders (and my dear friend - we sometimes joke that we share a single brain) and I had written a song about community some yearts before, but never finished it. As we heard our main apostolic leader speaking about community rebirth, we turned to each other and agreed that the day had come: the song was to be finished! So we got together that lunchtime, borrowed a guitar (in fact, it was none other than the 'lyre of Zion', a guitar belonging to 'Overcomer', a seasoned bard of the church...) and shut ourselves in a room to finish the song. It's based on New Testament scriptures on the community theme and a prayer that our community should grow to exceed a thousand people - or even three thousand (as happened on the day of Pentecost in a single day!)

Later that evening, we sang the song to the other elders and it was well received. Here's the words:

More than a thousand people in community (x3)
Oh, this is community

Jesus Has said 'Seek ye
first of all the kingdom - this is community
Greater love has no man than he
lay down his life for his brother - this is community
Oh, this is community

More than a thousand people in community (x3)
Oh, this is community

No man can be my disciple unless he
forsake all that he has - this is community
Come out from the world and be
set apart for the Lord - this is community
Oh, this is community

More than a thousand people in community (x3)
Oh, this is community

One in heart and soul, we agree
to share all things in common - this is community
The Lord our God is one in three
blessed holy Trinity - this is community
Oh, this is community

More than three thousand people in community (x3)
Oh, this is community

I'm a community enthusiast: there may be other ways to work out living out the teachings of Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament, but I know none better than living together, sharing everything we own and being 24/7 church for anyone and everyone to come to and find the reality of God in Christ.