Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Thursday, June 12, 2008
When it all seems uphill, it's a blessing when something happens that reminds you that, behind it all, God really is there - and we really are still living out the wild adventure that started in the pages of the New Testament.
Here's a message a friend of mine sent me a few moments ago:
Hi, check dis-out! Yesterday I did my right foot in and I was hobbling...really badly! So last night this new guy from mini-marquee campaign came to our house. We spend the evening talkin, generally getting to know one another etc. Have a small prayer time at the end. He prays for my foot... and this morning, I'm not hobbling any more :O) Praise The Lord! Just before fallin asleep, I could feel something happening with my foot and fell asleep knowing something good was happening.
So there it is. Very encouraging, and not just for my friend. It encouraged me to remember the reality of the God we're living for with everything we've got.
Monday, April 21, 2008
On Sundays it's packed morning and evening with church events including 'Solid Rock Cafe', a relaxed Christian event designed for anybody and everybody to come and experience the difference God makes.
During the week allsorts goes on - everything from 'Mums and Tots' (for - you've guessed it - mums and toddlers) to 'Live at the Well' (a late-night Christian-themed music cafe on some Fridays).
But a very special part of the life of the Jesus Centre is the Bridge, a drop-in centre offering cheap, filling breakfasts and a safe space to 'be' every morning apart from Monday. Lots and lots of people visit the Bridge (up to a hundred or so each session). Many of them are homeless or vulnerably housed.
The stories of many of those who come to the Bridge are often filled with human pathos, emotion and character. There have been some wonderful changed lives through the Jesus Centre - those who've found a new lease of life. But, all too often, there is tragedy, too. More than one of the visitors to the Bridge have died untimely deaths. It's far from easy living on the streets or in one hostel then another...
Recently, CJC held a vigil in the hall at the centre, to remember such lives and deaths and give people a chance to pay their respects - as well as to promote awareness of issues that homeless people face.
The BBC covered it in their Midlands Today news programme.
When I saw this it filled me with a sense of awe. We've carried this Jesus Centre vision as a church for a decade now. To see it in action, changing lives, making a difference - it's amazing.
Jesus is in the centre of the Jesus Centre.
Friday, April 04, 2008
Not that it changes anything I wrote about young men and confidence. It's just that this particular young man may, it turns out, be a better asset to our church's kingdom businesses than to our corporate understanding of the scriptures.
Thursday, April 03, 2008
The next night I got a text from one of them, a wonderfully headstrong (did someone mention the word 'arrogant'?) young man. 'If you're gonna make us read the study sheet' he texted, 'couldn't you write some better questions?'
Somewhere between amused and annoyed I texted back and invited him to write the next one.
I should have known. Back came the reply: 'All right then, send me the template.' So the challenge was on. I emailed him the template yesterday and sure enough this morning a Bible study on Isaiah 9 and 1 Thessalonians 5 arrived in my inbox.
And do you know what? It was really pretty good. How deliciously humbling. So I replied to the email saying, 'I might have known you'd take my challenge, seize it by the horns and tame it'. I intend to use what he's written as the basis for the study when it comes out in a few weeks.
I also said this to my young brother: 'Respect. (Oh, and by the way, I love your 'arrogance', it reminds me of David in 1 Samuel 17. So keep it up - God will sort out the humility side and it doesn't do for a young man to over do humility anyway...)'
I don't know what you think of that last statement; perhaps it seems heretical to you. But it seems to me that in a culture which is fairly feminized and where masculinity has become either a silly stereotype or the object of ridicule, we ought to be encouraging our young men to be more confident. Audacious. To swagger and throw their weight around a little more, and not to apologise too much. Yes - to be a bit 'arrogant' just like young David who protests in the face of his elder brethren 'Now what have I done? Can't I even speak?!' [1 Sam.17:29] and goes on to slay Goliath.
As for my young brother, I love him dearly even despite (in fact because of) his swagger. He has a great, glorious, humbling and therefore exalted future in God.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
I mean it.
As part of our church's Easter Festival Weekend, we're doing a demo about different generations passing on the torch of vision to one another. So we looked into hiring a theatrical flaming torch (all health and safety ok and all that). The company we found to supply one is called Howard Eaton Lighting Limited - or H.E.L.L.
(If you don't believe me, check out the link here.)
Nice chap, Howard. I spoke to him this afternoon to arrange the hire. He didn't sound at all diabolic.
But I can't wait to tell people tonight that we're hiring a flaming torch from Hell for our Easter festival.
Monday, March 17, 2008
As well as praying for the child (and us, his parents) and committing him to God, we have an opportunity for members of the church to speak out things that they sensed God saying about the child's future. (The "gift of prophecy" and inspired words and revelations of various kinds are an important part of our church's way of life. Paul the Apostle speaks of such gifts in the New Testament [see 1 Corinthians 12-14] and charismatic churches of many kinds practise them today.)
Here are some of the words spoken about our new son:
"A promise of God fulfilled; like Isaac, he will be dedicated to God in a special way."
"One like David who was celebrated for being Israel’s deliverer; he was raised up for a purpose by God and I felt that this boy was a bit like that – he is going to play a pivotal role in the church in the future."
"He’s going to have a ministry of reconciliation from a very young age – even as young as two; even amongst children he plays with."
"I saw your son, tall of stature, and he was standing over you and behind you as a family, holding a spear, stretched out in front of you all, pointing to the horizon and there were other people gathered with you. I believe he’s going to be a man who shows the direction, God’s direction, to others..."
"God is calling this boy to be a man who is a champion of justice; but with justice and championing justice come all sorts of temptations to compromise and that he will require the assistance of you, his brothers and sisters, as he grows up, to become that champion and to stand firm in difficult situations."
"He’ll be someone others can rely on like Peter, the rock."
Another custom we have as a church, is that quite often the name of the child will be based on the words spoken at the dedication. We found it quite difficult to come to a decision this time. Considering that the names David, Isaac, Solomon, Moses, Peter, Nathan, Matthew were explicitly mentioned and many others alluded to, our son could have ended up with more names than a Rugby union team. In fact, one brother even referred to this in what he said yesterday morning:
"He’s have 'many names'; he’s going to be one that wears many different hats and some of them are going to be quite zany and outrageous and some of them are going to be quite shocking and some of them are going to be quite offensive in some ways, but they’ll all be of God and they’ll all be good."
In the end, we didn't choose any of the names that had been explicitly mentioned, but rather the name of a biblical leader who embodied qualities many had spoken of: Samuel, the last judge of Israel, prophet, anointer of kings, given to God from birth [see 1 Samuel 1-2]; also Ben (meaning simply "son"): a promised son dedicated in a special way, a particular (though mysteriously painful) bond with his mother, a son of the church, in a particular way ‘given’. And strong: Peter- (Piers)-like, both in terms of the apostle Peter and Piers, a leader in our church who my wife and I love dearly and look up to.
So we named him Samuel Ben Piers.
May God bless you, son.
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
It is partly in response to this withered Church that many Christian leaders are now looking back to a more muscular past to find inspiration. In the face of compromise in their day, heroes like Antony in Africa, Benedict in Europe and Aidan in Britain pursued a way of holiness and sacrifice. Theirs was the way of monasticism, a disciplined and rugged life centred on vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. These monks took the words of Jesus about "forsaking all", "renouncing marriage" and "laying down your life" at face value. As one writer put it, they "swam for their life" against the disastrous tide of worldly culture. The result was a Christianity with the integrity and the tenacity to change the face of their times.
There's a groundswell of interest in monasticism in evangelical circles in the UK. Many are looking into ancient monasticism as a blueprint of effective Christianity. There is a lot of interest in those who first brought the gospel to Britain: Celtic monks, such as Aidan. The Northumbria Community in Chatton, Northumberland, promotes a Celtic-style "new monasticism" which involves "a single-hearted seeking of God". The youth prayer movement "24/7 Prayer", with its "Boiler Rooms", is now using the monastic language of "vows" and "abbots". Even John Stott, the elder statesman of British evangelicalism, has remarked that if he were young and beginning his Christian life again, he would establish a kind of evangelical monastic order for men vowed to celibacy, poverty and peaceableness.
And the big success of the BBC's documentary The Monastery, which followed the experience of five not-very-religious men who tried living as monks for forty days, demonstrates that interest in monastic spirituality is wider than just the Christian sphere.
But is the present attention being given to monasticism really going to turn a feeble UK Church around? A lot will depend on whether its challenges are truly met. For all the talk of vows and the like, it seems horribly possible that many Christians, including leaders, will dodge the real issues and just flirt with monasticism without taking the real - and scary - steps that the early monks actually took.
There is such a danger of flowery religious waffle. One article on new monasticism in a prominent Christian website quoted a leader who had "felt the Lord" say, "I'm not looking for poverty but for a prosperity of contentment, whether someone has a lot or a little… I'm not looking for unswerving obedience to a spiritual director or to a person or to an institution, or even to a way of doing things; rather, I desire a mutuality of submission."
Can anyone really imagine wild Antony or dangerous Aidan (or, for that matter, Jesus of the Gospels) asking for a "prosperity of contentment"? And while "mutuality of submission" may be well and good, it is so vague as to lead almost inevitably back to each person doing as they please.
The article goes on to describe the city of God being planted not "on a hill, but right in the midst of the 'city of man'". Not only does this flatly contradict the words of Jesus, it also reverses the core of monasticism. Without holy, distinctive apartness what is there left of monasticism at all? Monasticism starts with the premise that the only way to save the world is to demonstrate something fundamentally different.
It gets worse. The online "blog" of one fairly prominent British "new abbot" contains reflections on the latest film he's watched and some family photos - and not very much else. You may ask: is there anything wrong with outings to the Showcase and family albums? After all, isn't that what every nice middle-class family does? But if "new monasticism" is going to bring to comfortable UK Christianity anything other than just a shallow makeover then surely its "abbots" must demonstrate something totally different to the cosy norm.
The early monks did. For them, monasticism was not a romantic dream (with the faint sound of a Hollywood film score in the background). It was tough; sometimes agonising. It meant hard decisions and sacrifice. They didn't embrace poverty, chastity and obedience because they liked them: they saw that there was no other way to impact an infected society with the drastic and vital truths of the Kingdom.
So: today in the UK? Will people abandon personal wealth and home, move in together and share their possessions, owning nothing? (The neighbours would be bound to notice, let's face it.) Will people pioneer drastic purity, some of them choosing not to marry in order to be free "for the Kingdom"? Will people commit themselves together in a permanent and binding vow of brotherhood?
The reality is that it will take more than a trendy historical fad to turn the UK to God. Christian consumers, shopping in the mall of history for packaged titbits, are not going to be enough. Only if Christians - lots of them - take some drastic steps will the Church stop being ignored.
Imagine some different headlines: "TEN THOUSAND GIVE UP CAREERS AND MOVE IN TOGETHER"… "TWENTY THOUSAND TWENTY-SOMETHINGS ABANDON MARRIAGE FOR A GREATER CAUSE"… "SEE HOW THEY LOVE ONE ANOTHER"… Now that could turn the tide.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
So I thought I'd dedicate a post to all those celibate lovers of Jesus and His church that I know. They're an awesome bunch and add such power and strength to our church - not just the strength that comes from their freedom and availability, but also that comes from the potency of their testimony: "Jesus is worth it" they say and live and prove. Those who - like me - are called to the way of marriage and family life profit greatly from the sharpening and prophetic clarity they bring. (See here.)
"...they kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes." (Revelation 14:4)
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Wonderful. Let's not encourage young people to find self-worth. Let's not give them something positive to live for. Let's forget about encouraging parents in their parenting. Never mind family cohesion and positive role-modelling. After all young people are the enemy. Scream at them till they go away. Pesky kids. Come to think of it - why stop at mere sonic warfare? Tear gas! That's what they need. That'd be what I call a real creative solution.
Friday, February 08, 2008
Got it from here.
Friday, February 01, 2008
The plot against Jesus takes shape; Jesus is anointed with perfume; Judas agrees to betray Him; Jesus and His disciples eat the Passover meal; Jesus prays in Gethsemane, is arrested, and put on trial; Peter denies Jesus.
Yet behind all the human activity, are many hints of the deeper divine purpose now reaching its climax: Jesus’ death is the new, greater Passover; prophecy is being fulfilled; news of Jesus’ death and burial will spread throughout the world. His resurrection is also implied here. Jesus was anointed before His burial (verses 12 & 13): there would be no chance to anoint Him afterwards, as was customary! (See Mark 16:1).
The commotion of this chapter is followed by the comparative stillness of chapter 27.
Two figures hang from two trees: Judas and Jesus. The question Matthew’s Gospel leads us all to is this: when all our human controversies, concerns, eating, drinking, words, boasts, denials, failures, prayer and prayerlessness are done – which figure will we identify with? Will we be found to place our trust in Jesus who dies for us, or will we go our own way, a way that leads inevitably to our own death?
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
I wrote about Richard Dawkins' book, The God Delusion, in December. Having now finished it, re-read bits and thought about the whole thing, I feel there's a bit more I ought to say about it.
In particular, I must retract some of my earlier comments, now that I've finished the book. I’m referring to the comments about it being “clever”.
You see, it becomes rather less clever in its closing chapters. The first four chapters are, I freely admit, pretty clever. Dawkins presents an atheistic critique of religious “arguments for God”, largely from a scientific viewpoint. He does it with confidence and verve (though I became a little bemused when he attempts to dismiss a philosophical giant like Thomas Aquinas in three pages. There is such a thing as intellectual arrogance).
In chapter 5, Dawkins “boldly goes” into some of his more eccentric theories about where religion comes from (given that it’s all such a ridiculous error). It’s interesting enough, this pseudo-scientific-psychological perusal – but not very convincing when you get behind the rhetoric. For instance, Dawkins’ talk about “memetics”, his own pet theory of cultural evolution, treats “memes” as though they were concrete entities you could look at through a microscope (rather than the – fanciful? – hypothesis of a scientist who just happens to also be a secularist determined to explain human behaviour without getting near reference to spirituality). So, chapter 5. A good read, but a great deal less convincing even than Dawkins wants us believe poor old Thomas Aquinas was.
Chapter 6 continues along broadly the same trajectory, gustily avoiding the truly difficult question of what “morality” can possibly mean in an amoral universe that came to be by amoral chance. He avoids this question whilst addressing it, which, fair enough, is clever – but hardly satisfying.
But I’m afraid silliness really sets in come chapter 7, the chapter on the Bible. His dismissal of the Old Testament (and its God) is so obviously duff that I’d like to make it available in the flyleaf of every Bible sold as an example of how fanatical atheism takes away even the ability to read. Oh, there’s more than enough rhetoric about the bloodbaths in the Old Testament and so on. But Dawkins entirely ignores the many, many examples of God’s heart for justice, mercy, and love which come through not only in the narrative parts, but more especially in the prophets.
Then there is his entirely silly assumption that God endorses the behaviour of every character in the Old Testament simply because they’re in the Old Testament. Yes, Lot’s assumption that rape of females is less offensive than rape of males is reprehensible: and we can be sure God agrees (read the rest of the Bible, like the prophets who speak for God and Jesus who is the speech of God). It seems to me that the Bible’s unflinching honesty about the flaws (nay, the downright moral evil) of some of its characters (even its heroes) is a point in its favour. And we would do well to note a point that Paul makes in the New Testament about the Old Testament: “These things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did”. Moral examples go both ways. The Bible is grimly realistic about human morality.
Then there’s Dawkins’ thin and scanty critique of the New Testament. So brief and scanty that I shall be even more brief and scanty here: Dawkins mocks Jesus as a pale-faced Galilean and then condemns him for His harsher sayings. A proverb about wanting cake and eating cake springs to mind. And here ends Dawkins’ response to the single most influential collection of texts in world history.
Chapters 8 and 9 fall into a similar pit of self-contradiction: Dawkins bangs on about fanatical, unthinking, fundamentalist religion (he seems to know of no other kind, except when he posits that intelligent and sensitive theologians are not worth dealing with since they’re in such a small minority. And that’s an argument?) His solution? He recommends fanatical, unthinking, fundamentalist atheism. “Trust me, it’ll make the world a better place,” he insists.
Perhaps the biggest example of Dawkins’ flagrant inconsistency is in his recommendations for bringing up children. To sum up: “It is immoral to teach children what to believe. Let them make up their own minds. Teach them Darwinist Evolution. It is the Truth. ” I kid you not. Read it yourself – chapter 9.
So I have to retract my comments about it being a clever book. “Smart, pacy, well-written,” yes. “Full of wit and drive,” yes. “Incisive” yes, if you mean making your points in such a focused way as to leave no room for discussion. “Witty, cutting,” certainly. “Very, very clever. And it knows it.” Sorry, no. Here I recant what I wrote previously. It is not clever. It is really rather stupid, beneath the bombast. But, sadly, it doesn’t know it.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
At our church end of year celebration some people made vows of celibacy. (Celibacy is a gift and lifestyle that we honour as a church. See http://www.jesus.org.uk/vault/library_hottopics09.shtml). This year, when the celibates were making their vows, two sisters behind me got into a good-natured but spirited debate about whether celibacy was easier for men or women. One was convinced it was easier for women (‘after all, men have stronger sex drives’). The other was sure it was easier for men (‘they don’t feel the sacrifice of not having children so keenly as women’). After a while of listening to their discussion, I leaned back and said: ‘Surely the whole point is that celibacy is easier for both. If you want a real challenge - get married!’
They laughed and, of course, I meant it humorously – but there’s a serious point there, isn’t there? Paul advocates the single life to spare hassle and ‘secure undivided devotion’. Jesus’ ‘eunuchs’ are able to serve in the kingdom more freely.
That’s not to minimise the real and very wonderful sacrifice that celibates make to serve Jesus. Some of my very best friends are celibate – sometimes through trials and tears – and, truly, I’m in awe of their devotion. It’s just that, to serve the king and live for His kingdom in an all-out way (such as that we try to embrace in a lifestyle of intentional Christian community) as a married person, especially with children presents real challenges which the celibate avoids (and rightly so, since this is the key New Testament raison d’etre of celibacy).
How do you balance the demands of the church and community, and individuals within it, against the need to invest rightly in one’s children and relationship with spouse? How do you ‘live as though you were not’ married (Paul’s tantalising phrase in 1 Corinthians 7) at the same time as ‘loving your wife’ (to quote Paul once more, this time from Ephesians 5)?
It can be done, certainly, but it takes wisdom, grace, forgiveness of and from each other and those around you, willingness to look stupid and have your weaknesses on show a lot (children are experts at displaying their parents’ faults!)
But it’s worth the struggle. A committed, happy marriage breeds security in others. Hurt people find refuge among families with an openness which means they can ‘join in’. Children humanise community with their disarming sincerity (when a small child spontaneously hugs you, it’s because they love you, not because they’re after something – that only comes with teenage guile!) And even the many, many imperfections that families all display – outbursts of irritation, squabbles, taking one another for granted and so on and on – are a sign of hope. God loves and redeems us precisely in all our imperfections: we’re in His family.
So putting your marriage and family at the service of the kingdom is tough, exhausting at times, demanding constantly – but always rewarding. And always worth it.