Friday, March 30, 2007


Apparently a good way to get rid of people we don’t want in our country is to treat them as animals so they don’t want to stay anymore...

Check out the news story. Here’s an extract:

The JCHR highlighted one case of a destitute Rwandan asylum-seeker who suffered bowel cancer and had a colostomy bag, but was refused treatment by a hospital and could not register with a doctor.

Meanwhile, a woman had been forced to live rough for three months - sitting at crowded bus stops all night because she was terrified of being alone - but on winning her asylum appeal had been ruled entitled to immediate support.

The committee also reported how the parents of a three-week-old baby had been housed in a "filthy, bug-infested room" in Leicester.

I hate this kind of display of all that’s worst about the disgusting pride and callous disregard for fellow human beings that “privileged” Western nations such as ours often exhibit.

As the Church of Jesus we love all, welcome all – because we belong to a people drawn from “every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9). “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1) – we all live on God’s Earth because of His grace, none of us deserving, none having more or less “rights” than any other. How dare we turn our backs on the destitute and the refugee – no, worse than that – how dare we treat them as less than us, less than human.

It makes my blood boil and provokes me to live for God’s kingdom of the poor with all my heart.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

But by the grace of God...

So I wrote this poem about sin (see There but for the grace of God).

And a dear friend wrote a poem in response which transforms my parched prayer into an overflowing cup. Here it is:

I will see my dreams come true.
After I am dead and gone- I will make it through.
I will wake in the likeness of Him who
makes a beggar His all, his joy, his pride.
I will be a diamond on the forehead
of an immortal bride.

I will cry these scales from my eyes.
At the end of the tragic tale I will start to laugh;
My inner darkness will be cleansed
and my fractured feet will mend
as I dance among stars.

I will speak in love's language that I don't know
and could not learn.
I will walk barefoot through scorching coals
and never burn.
My heart will be fused with the living sun
as I look through pain towards our perfect union.

My thoughts will join with the deepest ever unknown-
I AM in complete knowledge of all that is I AM.
Participate in the self awareness of the foundation stone
who ever lives, and live increasingly as I become
power and wisdom and love in clear reflection
of power, wisdom and love in full perfection.

At the invitation given to share Your throne
I'll walk where none can ever hope to go.
In utter isolation I will never be alone
for You name me, call me, draw me - take me for Your own.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

I had a dream

The sky's the limitJust before I woke up this morning I had a dream. Like many dreams it was slightly surreal and odd – but it left me with the most powerful feeling. Let me tell you about it.

I was at my Mum’s church up in Liverpool, the church I went along to when I was a kid. (It’s a Methodist Church with some lovely people, but not a great deal of spiritual oomph – the only thing increasing there seems to be the average age of the congregation.) Anyway, on the site of this church, there’s the main church building and also a tumbledown hall (more corrugated iron than bricks and mortar) which the scouts and others use – the “top hall” it’s generally called.

Okay, so much for the background, now for what happened. There I was (don’t we often find ourselves in scenes from the past in our dreams?) and somehow found out that a very rich multi-millionaire had promised to turn the top hall into a purpose-built, state-of-the-art Christian youth centre. No limits – we could plan whatever we wanted and he would pay. I found myself on the committee that were planning what would happen.

As the dream went on, the whole thing grew more and more expansive (and expensive!) It was a multi-storey, huge place with big conference style rooms for worship, music suite, action rooms – even a swimming pool with water chutes! The point was that it became increasingly evident that there really were no limits – this geezer was going to pay for whatever we asked for! We dreamed on and the building started and we were thinking bigger and bigger and bigger.

What’s more, the Methodist Church started to have a new lease of (spiritual) life. An old worthy who I remember from my childhood (in fact, he’s still at that church now) got involved and became passionate for the vision of young people finding faith. The whole thing galvanised the church into action. They started to plan a huge underground car-park for all the people who were going to be coming from miles around. This little church had become a honey pot that young people swarmed to.

I woke up totally excited. Vision! The sky’s the limit! We needn’t stint!

Immediately, I thought, “God’s our benefactor; and He is generous.” I don’t know what this dream might mean for the Methodist Church up north-west, but I found myself filled with a new faith in God’s generosity for us in the Jesus Army - and for the Church as a whole in the UK.

Ask and it will be given” – that was what this dream was all about! And there’s so many things we dream of: Jesus Centres across the country, full-on Christian communities that are vibrant and compellingly attractive, young people being awakened to God in droves...

I suppose I’d got rather into the humdrum daily grind of “living for Christ” (yawn) and “being a leader” (snore). But God has reminded me – the sky’s the limit! He’s generous and wants to give more "than all that we ask or think”. He's calling us to faith.

What do you want? Ask the benefactor. Dream your dreams. See them come to pass.

(I've already shared this dream with a few friends this morning - here's one friend's reflections on it: God's generous expansive heart.)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

God thoughts (part 2)

Impossible?You see, I reckon that if we have a glib, rather silly idea of what God’s omnipotence means – that God can do “any any any anything” even if it’s logical gibberish like making black white (and it still being black), or (a more serious mistake) morally outside God like being tempted by evil – then we are likely to end up in some blind alleys.

For instance, we’re likely to end up blaming God when things aren’t going well. After all, God can do anything, right? So why isn’t he making me happy? Healing me? Sending me telegrams from heaven? (It’s the philosopher’s “problem of evil” made personal and therefore selfish).

But, in this sense, God cannot “do anything”. If there’s sin in your life, for instance, God cannot ignore it. So you’re not going to be happy. Better face it and repent! Not blame God, because He should sort it (because, of course, He “can”!) Get my meaning?

Think about it. If God can “do anything” then don’t you think He’d have come up with a rather more painless way of redeeming the world? Praise our merciful God that He found the way – and who can trace the extent of His wisdom and mercy – but let’s not pretend it was “easy” for God because He can “do anything” (presumably by clicking His fingers or waving a wand).

Even miracles, in which I believe firmly, are within the bounds of what is “possible” in the universe God has made. Sure, walking on water may necessitate a re-arranging of some of the laws of physics. But it doesn’t involve scrapping them altogether. In fact, many miracles involve an acceleration of such laws: take healing, for instance. There’s a natural God-given power of healing in organisms (just as there’s also a power of decay at work in our fallen world). And God can and does speed healing up at times (or slow down the decaying process).

But we damage our faith and set ourselves up for trouble if we want to simplify God and make Him some kind of cosmic wizard who can do anything with the wave of a hand. We’re setting ourselves up for disappointment. The universe is far bigger and far more wonderful than that. And so is God.

Friday, March 16, 2007

God thoughts (part 1): Can God do anything?

At our Agape meals, every Tuesday, we talk God over a meal.

Usually the brothers and sisters sit at separate tables in order to encourage deeper, more frank sharing. As one of those curious gender half-breeds, a married man, I get the privilege of sitting with the sisters and marshalling their discussion. It’s an experience!

The mystic mentor with an unusual line on most things. The new disciple, usually tired out but wanting God. The whimsical leaf-collector who likes curling up on God’s lap. The crossword whiz who cooks the meal and has a deep reservoir of thought. A recent-comer to our table who refreshingly refuses to let anything pass until she’s sure she understands fully. An elderly saint who comes out with some gems. A girl who went to a good school and was well taught (and hasn’t let it spoil her). The young marketing designer who, amusingly, pretends to be confused though she’s the most intelligent person at the table. My good lady wife (who likes the cut and thrust of debate). And me.

What a bunch. I love them all dearly.

Last Tuesday, our debate (as it sometimes does) veered off course and we wound up discussing what it meant to say that God can “do anything”. I mean – can He?

I maintained that God cannot, in fact, do anything. That to say that He can is to make a sweeping, seemingly devout, generalisation that actually gets us into trouble. I’m not denying that God is omnipotent - that is, possessing all power. But that’s not quite the same thing.

Here’s a quote from a Christian author:

Regarding His omnipotence, there are many things He can’t do, sometimes because they are logically incoherent (like drawing a square circle), but usually because they are morally incompatible with His character (like telling a lie). I once made a list of things that He can’t possibly do and quickly reached thirty. I was humbled, not puffed up, when I realised with a shock how many things I could do and had done which were beyond Him!
- David Pawson

We got into discussing what it means, then, that “nothing is impossible for God” (Luke 1:37) or, conversely, that “all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27).

What do you think? Let the debate open! And in a day or three, I’ll post some more thoughts I’ve had on the topic... but first, let’s see what some of you may want to say.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Alexander the Great on his horse, BucephalusI’ve just finished reading a book about Alexander the Great (by Robin Lane Fox, published by Penguin). Many a reflection has sprung from it, not least the realisation that across 2,300 years of history – for all the immense changes in technology, society and culture – human beings, in their essence, have changed very little.

But perhaps the strongest impression has been of a man who knew how to lead other men.

Alexander died in 323 BC aged 32, having conquered an empire of more than two million square miles and founded eighteen cities.

Don’t get me wrong. Alexander was by no means all sweetness and light. He had a murder or two to his name. He had certain qualities in common with Hitler and Stalin; the gap of a couple of millennia can obscure this fact. The ancient past is all too easy to romanticise. But the very significant difference between Hitler in his bunker and Alexander at the front of his army is just that – Alexander led from the front, and inspired his men with his almost foolhardy courage. (Perhaps believing that he was the son of Zeus helped.)

Here’s a quotation from near the end of Fox’s book:

There are two ways to lead men, either to delegate all authority and limit the leader's burden or to share every hardship and decision and be seen to take the toughest labour, prolonging it until every other man has finished. Alexander's method was the second, and only those who have suffered the first can appreciate why his men adored him; they will also remember how lightly men talk of a leader's example, but how much it costs both the will and the body to sustain it.

I reflect. What inspiration can be gained from such a man as a Christian leader? Clearly, as Christians, we seek to serve in secret and should avoid “showy” leadership. That said, clearly example is important; certainly, Christian leaders should lead from the front and assume more hardship than their flock and must not shirk adversity.

I think the tone of today very often emphasises the wisdom of delegation, of pacing yourself, of “remembering it is a marathon not a sprint”. All very wise and good.

But, beyond it all, I believe there is a call, in Christian leadership, to push out beyond such sheltered waters into wild, unpredictable and unreasonable seas; serving with every last ounce of strength.

Here's Paul:

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. (Extracts from 2 Corinthians)

Leadership – it’s no easy ticket; but it's the call Christ issues, no matter "how much it costs both the will and the body to sustain it."

Monday, March 12, 2007

Cos I like it...

R.S. Thomas. I love the poetry this man writes. Much of it is bleak and it has far more questions than answers. But it is shot through with something of the stillness of a man who lived in Wales and fiercely resisted the hustle and bustle that presses most of us from every side (he maintained that refridgerators were evil, let alone mobile phones).

This one's really pretty upbeat for R.S... And it's about God. See what you think.


I praise you because
you are artist and scientist
in one. When I am somewhat
fearful of your power,
your ability to work miracles
with a set-square, I hear
you murmuring to yourself
in a notation Beethoven
dreamed of but never achieved.
You run off your scales of
rain water and sea water, play
the chords of the morning
and evening light, sculpture
with shadow, join together leaf
by leaf, when spring
comes, the stanzas of
an immense poem. You speak
all languages and none,
answering our most complex
prayers with the simplicity
of a flower, confronting
us, when we would domesticate you
to our uses, with the rioting
viruses under our lens.

- R.S. Thomas

Thursday, March 08, 2007

There but for the grace of God...

Sin is insanity.

I wrote a poem about it today.

I will never achieve my dreams.
I will pour away the precious water of life onto arid sands
I will empty the cup of life into death’s drain.
I will exchange a birthright of glory for a lukewarm bowl of slop.
I will scorn a love so freely offered with such cost.
I will spit in the face of the One who matters most
and gaze with longing into the face of devils.
Not gouging out my eye, my eye will be burned.
Not severing my hand, my hand will be withered.
I will caress the leprous hand of Satan.
I will scribble desperately over my name in life’s ledger.
I will give eloquent, compelling testimony against myself.
I will cut off nose, lips and eyelids to spite my face.
I will run with ardent desire into the icy fire of hell.
I will be Esau, I will be Judas.
I will be damned,
but for your grace.
Oh God. I gasp. Give grace.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

"Tough rhetoric and gimmicks"

The government's latest brainwave to tackle the perceived immigration 'problem': send nasty text messages to remind immigrants not to overstay their visas.

But as Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants chief executive Habib Rahman said: "Barring up to half a million irregular migrants in the UK from access to rights and services is not a realistic or humane response.

"Rendering them destitute will not encourage or enable them to return to countries riven by human rights abuses, conflict and poverty.

"It will force many onto the doorsteps of already stressed charities and churches, or into the arms of criminals facilitating forced labour."

And one Lib Deb added a caustic comment: "If tough rhetoric and gimmicks were enough to sort out our immigration system, we would have the best in the world."

Read all about it:

As a church (and hopefully not a "stressed" one!..), we see the plight of asylum-seekers as close to God's own heart and as a golden opportunity to bring the gospel to suffering people. The "get rid of 'em" approach is part of the "Englishman's home is his castle" rubbish which we despise. We want to open our heart's wide to those in need.

Do not mistreat or abuse foreigners who live among you. Remember, you were foreigners in Egypt (Exodus 22:21)

We were all foreigners to God's grace once - indeed, the nature of grace is that we remian foreigners, but are accepted nevertheless into God's commonwealth. How then can we turn away our brother-foreigners?

I hate nationalist racsism dressed up in self-righteousness. I'm so glad to be part of a church for and of the poor.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Faith era

Something our Apostolic Team Leader said last night seemed worthy of note. I paraphrase:

“We have, to some extent over these years, learnt love – but now we are coming into a time when we must learn faith.”

Simple, yet profound. I got the impression, as I listened that this just may be one of those words that defines a whole era in our church’s journey.

We shall see (if we have eyes to see...)