Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A remarkable healing

Our church is one big hallelujah at the moment.

Tom, a young man who lives in one of our communities went blind six months ago, due to a rare, genetically-inherited condition called Lebers Hereditary Optic Neuropathy. It was very hard for his friends to see him suffering - and, of course, desperately difficult for Tom himself.

On Sunday night, Tom reached a breakthrough moment and re-committed himself to Jesus. This, in itself, was cause for joy as Tom found he was able to reach beyond the pain and literal darkness of the past six months and place his trust in Jesus again. But who would have predicted what followed?

Waking very early in the morning, Tom found to his astonishment - and excitement - that he could see! It wasn't long before the whole house was awake. It was true! Tom can see! Celebrations erupted. Yesterday the news was spreading round our churches.

This was the account given by Ian Clifford, the pastor of Tom's community:

"Tom came to faith in Jesus beginning of last year. Soon after he lost his sight in one eye and then a couple of weeks after lost sight in the other. The doctors diagnosed it as Lebers Hereditary Optic Neuropathy. He could see literally a few inches in front of him but that was very blurred and could only recognise some slight colour. His eyes couldn't cope with any form of light and had to keep his eyes covered with sunglasses.

"The doctors said he'd be permanently like this. Many people have been praying ever since.

"In the midst of all this he continued to live for Jesus although at times his faith was shaken. Last night he re-dedicated his life to Jesus afresh and then woke up at 5:15 to go to the toilet. Suddenly realised he could see and woke the whole house, we've been celebrating ever since."

I had the privilege of seeing Tom later that day, just briefly, through the window of my workplace. But - get this! - Tom saw me! He waved at me. My eyes welled with tears, I don't mind saying.

Should we be surprised? After all, we believe in miracles. We're supposed to expect them. We sing about them. We pray for them. But, flog the dogs, when a blind man sees - a blind man we know and love and have prayed for many times - that's cause for celebration.

Read the accounts of Tom's close friends: Aidan's is here (with some fascinating details from Tom's journey to healing as well); Jane's is here. Nathan's is here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


One of the reasons I love our church is that we know how to make sharing the gospel fun. Check out this video of a recent Jesus flash mob in Northampton:

On the theme of the gospel, check out this interesting blog post from Kurt Willems' Pangea Blog in which he makes the intriguing point that the important thing about the good news is that it is good - and that how we frame the content is secondary. (I'm not sure I fully agree, but he got me thinking before 10 o'clock in the morning, for which - hat off!)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Love, key to joy

Tonight we sang 'This is my commandment that you love one another, that your joy may be full.' It struck me that Jesus didn't say 'that your stress may be full' or 'that your misery may be full' (of course; but stay with me...)

True love moves from the place I want to be to the place my brother or my sister needs me to be. And if it's truly love that moves me the result will be joy. Not resentment. Not strain. Joy.

Feeling stressed, miserable, down in the mouth? Love somebody.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Seasons in community

My friends made this (I think rather wonderful) little video about seasons in Christian community:

Friday, January 06, 2012

One in a taxi, one in a car

Three wise menForget greetings card images of three oriental kings offering gifts to a baby in a stable; the Epiphany story found in Matthew's Gospel is politically explosive – and politically incorrect!

We lose its impact because of storybook images that have grown up around it (Matthew doesn’t mention a stable; Mary and Joseph were simply living in a house in Bethlehem by then; the visitors were not kings, but astrologers; there were not three of them, just three gifts).

Why politically explosive? Because these men stride straight into the court of mafioso-style King Herod asking "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?" – and they didn’t mean Herod! Result: Jesus’ family flee as asylum-seekers, the stargazers slip Herod's noose, while the megalomaniac massacres every infant in Bethlehem.

From the very beginning Matthew’s Gospel is subversive – right to its end with Jesus dying on Caesar's Roman cross, but rising with "all authority on...earth". Jesus is a fundamental challenge to the political powers of the world, a danger to the powerful status quo.

For make no mistake: the true "king of the Jews", the Messiah, is also the true king of the whole world ( just read Psalm 2 and you'll get the idea).

And this leads us to why Matthew’s account would have been politically incorrect. Because these wise men are not Jewish scribes – they're foreigners (Persians) and followers of another religion (Zoroastrians)! Many of Matthew’s Jewish readers wanted a Messiah – but they wanted him for themselves. He was going to be king of the Jews for the Jews – and all those scummy pagans better watch their assess 'cos they were about to get whipped.

Matthew explodes all that – this king has come for all people, all races, all religions.

I have to ask (if I'm to avoid the cultural and religious complacency Matthew seems so determined to upset in his readers): what challenges might this explosive story bring to me? Is Jesus just for the Jesus Army? (Well, no, of course not.) Just for evangelicals? (Well, no. Sure?... Yeah, I'm sure.) Just for Christians? (Well, er...) Just for – people like me?

Maybe, Jesus is less for people like me, and more for, well – people like Him: asylum-seekers, abused children, displaced foreigners, people of 'the wrong' religion?

If Epiphany demolishes some of my small-minded assumptions and makes me uncomfortable, maybe it's because that's what Matthew intended.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Prophetic change

Courageous: Shadrach, Meshach and AbednegoThe prophetic word engenders change.

At our New Year celebration on December 31st, our main Jesus Army leader told us that the coming year would be a year of 'courageous faith and action'. He proceeded to unpack this with reference to courageous biblical heroes like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, thrown into a furnace for refusing to bow to a mad king's statue, or Eleazar, who fought on when all his fellows fled. As we trust God and act on that trust, we will advance as a church.

Yes, 'courageous faith and action' could be a mere slogan. Yet I do believe it's prophetic for us - mainly because I trust the integrity of the man who brought it to us. (We're blessed with a main leader who is both spiritual and humble - good qualifications for being a conduit of God's 'now' word.)

Another leader, a mentor of mine, commented that 'Courageous faith and action' is certainly better than 'Action and hope for the best', which he confessed has sometimes been his approach.

The fact is that genuine prophetic words bring real change. Last night, at our little local Agape meal, I spoke a little about what 'courageous faith and action' may mean for us - in particular, being true to our radical call. So we explored Acts 2 again, and what it means to be 'devoted' - to word, fellowship, sacrament and worship (Acts 2:42). It produced some truly hearty discussion and a sense of change in the air for the coming year.

I think if I'd just chosen my own topic it wouldn't have been quite the same. As a pastor I've learnt that something's released when I support and unpack the word of the prophets.

So I'm looking forward to 2012. God, grant us courageous faith - and the courage to put it into action.