Thursday, 23 December 2010

Reality TV Nativity

The Nativity has been showing on the BBC, 7pm each evening this week - It has been great. Really good in fact, especially for a generation who haven’t been brought up with the story. They didn’t hear it at school, didn’t see it acted out in nativity plays, didn’t hear it read from family bibles or hear it sung in Sunday school carols.

For the post Christian generation, this series is better than we might have thought. Instantly accessible & attractive to the unchurched in a way that our more well known religious programming is not. No, I’m not knocking Songs of praise, but we’re still not sure who they really make that for, & still not certain who really watches it other than the initiated. About the Nativity, there is no doubt – this is the prime time, One Show slot, picking up all kinds of viewers who have never given any real thought to the Christmas narrative.

Their big hook is the romance, but with it some gritty realism thrown in. We’ve all seen the Christmas cards of Mary in blue robes, gentle, tame & clean animals gazing tenderly at the blond, blue eyed baby who wears a halo. This it is not!

Thankfully, the writers have avoided the tradtitions & gone back to the book. They’ve really attempted to understand some of the terrible pressures on the young Mary who had a tall tale about her pregnancy which no one believed.

They have tried to show the wonder of the travelling wise men – pagan astrologers who believed the Prophets more faithfully than the Jewish scholars. They’ve shown the desperate shepherds, living in abject poverty, under harsh Roman rule, simmering with resentment & revolutionary fervour. They’ve shown a weak, jealous, ulcerated Herod, desperate to hold onto his delegated powers, ready to do anything to maintain his grip.

Nothing warm & glowing here. This is a sad & difficult picture. This is grim reality TV where surely there is no room for faith. This is lonely, friendless, hopeless. Tonight I guess we’ll see Joseph’s turn to be rejected by his family, watch Mary deliver a baby with no help, no Mother or sister, no experience.

The Nativity is so powerful because we begin to see a glimpse of our own tortured lives behind the turbans & the dust. We see our own disappointed hopes, our own painful alienation, our own fear of having walked through life & missed our moment. This story resonates for our generation. It connects, it opens a door in the darkness to an outline of wonderful light. It shows lives like ours which are short, bitter sweet & painful, not romanticised in any way, now opening up to redemption. It brings us to our knees in the dirt, before the God who became a man in order to reach us & redefine everything. Dear Points of View…Can we have more of that on the BBC please?

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Happy Birthday Youtube! - Reflections on a shifting culture!

Youtube is 5 years old today! How is it possible that something so young has become so much a part of our normal lives? Do you remember when you used to wait for the news in order to see that clip again, or Match of the Day to see the goals? Do you remember having to watch ‘You’ve been framed’ on a Saturday tea time to see Grandma falling from the trampoline headfirst into the waterbut? Do you remember having to go into record stores to listen to songs that you might want to buy or waiting to see film trailers at the cinema?

The very fact that we can’t really remember life before Youtube proves the point. If you are looking for evidence of the ever increasing pace of technological advance & our reliance upon it, then Youtube is a case in point. Other than mobile phones, the advent of the internet itself & the phenomena of social networking - facebook, twitter et al - it’s hard to believe that any single idea has had a greater impact in shaping popular culture for post moderns around the world.

Slow burn trends in clothes, music & film now race around planet earth in a matter of days. What we affectionately call ‘the 1960’s' could never happen again in the Youtube generation. It just wouldn’t have had time to develop before it was over & we were onto the next thing. We’d have missed the Beatles & leaped straight to Justin Bieber! The flip side of all this speed is that no generation is more quickly bored. We’ve got so hooked on the latest that even the still very new loses its appeal in our thirst for cultural relevance. This faddism has led to a shallower pool of creativity, to imitation rather than true invention.

The You tube generation have to be in control. They have to vote on their TV shows, they rebel against organisation, believing the lie that organic, underground is authentic – even though they are now part of the mainstream. They can’t commit to anything, can’t do long term, can’t save, don’t have pensions, won’t join institutions & rebel against authority. They would rather rage against the machine than join a political party. The Youtube generation can’t even vote a government into power anymore, they get the coalition that reflects their mood swings - though they will express their democratic right to decide who wins the X Factor & gets the Xmas number one.

As the Youtube generation grows up, you wonder what is in store for a demographic who can’t concentrate long enough to enjoy anything twice, to listen to a whole album all the way through, to watch an entire TV programme to the end, to actually read a book – to cope with life in all its mundane, boring moments. How do you handle it when you can’t flick channels, choose something new, go for the next thrill? Have we really become so disposable, so throwaway, the give up when it gets tough generation? – what does that do to a society, to relationships, to communities, to our commitment to God?

The challenge as ever in engaging with such a strong defining culture is to wake up & realise how much it shapes each one of us. Here’s the first step – ‘Hi, my name's Steve, & I’m part of the Youtube generation!’ We’re going to keep laughing with them as they watch, ‘Charlie bit my finger!’ for the 258 millionth time! But then why don’t we lead them gently by the hand, away from the mouse & the TV remote, out into the slow lane, into the real world – the one that reality TV doesn’t really show, where real life in all its boredom & brilliance has yet to become a parody of itself.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Worship words

Think of the best love songs we sing, the crazy, heartfelt promises that we belt out as the chorus soars. The pledges of unending, unfailing, undimming devotion - If the promises whispered in ears during the last dance of the disco were all kept, we all would have married our first a matter of fact I did! Even there, we danced & sang to Whitney Houston 'I will always love you' at the reception.

We are no different in our churches, singing with genuine emotion & hands in the air each Sunday. This is our equivalent of the last dance, the big moment in the meeting when hearts are stirred, hope of changed lives dawns, brighter futures are promised. I wonder, if we really mean what we say in our Sunday celebrations? Doesn't there come a point where our devotion to our first love begins to overflow into an authentic live of worship?

Words are easy of course. We make promises to each other & to God in worship each week which are about as throwaway as a Lib Dem pledge on tuition fees!
Think about it - We stand to sing in tears,‘Lord I give You my heart, every breath I take every moment I’m awake, have Your way in me....’ only to go home & download porn, we gossip over Sunday lunch, we exaggerate our expense claim on Monday morning. Don't mistake this comment for cynicism. 99% of the time our passion in worship is genuine, our intentions true - but there comes a point where our words & our worship have to add up to something if we're going to show the world a better way to live.

How does singing on a Sunday, ‘Here I am to bow down’, affect my life at work on a Monday morning? How does my reverence in a prayer meeting this Wednesday evening impact the way I speak to my wife over breakfast on Thursday, or my attitude of submission to my awkward unbelieving boss at the office?

Having bowed down in worship at church when He seems near, how do I bow out in the boat, in the storm, when I’m not sure that He’s coming to rescue me? How do I continue to submit in reverence to Christ, to recall what I know of His goodness,in the midst of all the crises of life?
Having eaten the bread & drunk the wine in communion, how can I continue to nourish myself on the bread of life, how can I remain aware of His blood which covers all my sin when I'm far from the cup & the crowd?

How do I worship Him, continue to magnify Him when all hope is gone? How do I lift my hands at home in worship when I barely have the strength to lift my head from the bed? How do I learn to fall facedown in a mix of fear & joy at the feet of Jesus who comes to me in my grief, this Christ who has overcome everything, even sin & death, & now draws near to me?

How does my confession of praise, my narrative of God’s story in my life, draw unbelievers towards the Saviour? To paraphrase the writer to the Hebrews: Is their any fruit from my lips as I confess His name?

Maybe as we get the answers to these questions then we’re beginning to get to the heart of what it means to be radical spirit & truth worshippers of Jesus for the 21st Century – We’re starting to see what it truly means to offer our lives as living sacrifices in our generation. These are the worship words we're exploring this Sunday & intending to live in the days ahead.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Let Handel handle it........

An incredible coming together has happened today, the perfect combination. No, I'm not talking about Sherringham & Shearer in Euro 96, nor am I so stirred by Hall & Oates greatest album, Private Eyes. Not even the humble fishfinger & white bread sandwich on a cold winters day reaches such heights of greatness.

Almost 270 years ago, George-Frideric Handel had his head filled with a heavenly melody & his old King James Version of the bible open. Within just 24 days, depressed & in significant debt, Handel's Messiah was conceived. This coming together of music & scripture is the genius that leaves me more breathless & watery eyed than my frozen bike ride to the office this morning!

Preparing for yet another Christmas Celebration, I spent a few minutes looking through the old King James version of Isaiah 9.2-7. It's no exaggeration to say that for a short time I was consumed by the beauty & power of these familiar words set to such music. What I had thought would be a quick administrative exercise became a moment of retreat, an escape into some secret sanctuary - where time slowed & truths sunk in. A moment from which I no longer dared to rush on.

The rich, ponderous baritone of 'The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light', rises with expectation into the swelling anthem that is 'For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.' What had been so familiar, another Christmas build up with a shrug, suddenly reached into my guts & made the whole story matter in a fresh way.

Try it for size - the power of these prophetic words, allied with the majesty of the music. Close your eyes & the entire drama of the human condition is played out. This mega narrative of desperately broken humanity, despair, hope, suffering, death & fulfilment. It all falls into place, we begin to see ourselves immersed in this story again, it's our story, His story. That the full might & drama of human redemption can be packed into mere music & lyrics is nearly as astonishing as the message itself - that God Himself should take on our flawed form, that the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father should also be the one who bears our grief & carries our sorrows.

Kirsty McColl & the Pogues was another pretty good Christmas combination, but I think I'll keep that quiet on the playlist for another couple of weeks whilst I let Handel handle my Christmas prep in his own special way.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Drinking wine through your nose is an antedote to dead religion

In the far north of Germany, a bitterly cold day in those flat, wind swept fields, we were gathered in the upper room of a large wooden house for communion. Seated in groups, cross legged on the floor, large ceramic bowls were filled to the brim with good German wine & handed out.

Being the polite English guests, & not being sure of the custom here, we allowed our German hosts to drink deep first. To our amazement, they lifted the bowl high, their faces disappearing into the rim as they drank straight from the vessel. Smacking their lips, the bowl is passed along - the atmosphere serious, sober, no noise - this was a holy moment, Germans were meditating on truth & nodding serenely to one another as they passed the bowl.

Finally, the bowl came our way, by now, drained almost empty having been passed right around the room. John sits oppposite me, lifts the bowl in accordance with all he has observed, & starts to drink, tipping the bowl & his head back further & further in order to get any liquid from the dimishing supply. Then, pulling away with a grin, he holds the bowl out to me, his long nose dripping red droplets of wine back into the bowl!

Worse still, the remaining slurry of wine is contaminated with more than just the contents of John's nose - it is thick with a slick of German lipstick. Without a thought for our Lord Jesus, & aware that the whole room is looking at me, I knock it back, trying to look as religious as possible - my attempt rendered futile as John throws back his head again & begins to laugh, contageously, the the mirth in this mad moment releasing tension. Those poor German believers, they thought we were getting filled with the Holy Spirit & began thanking the Lord!

Wherever I've been in the world, I've seen communion done in funny ways, strange ways, mystical ways & dead religious ways. I've also taken part in some incredible moments of deep intimacy that have left me hungry & thirsty for more.
As a part of our 21st Century Worshippers series, I'm taking a fresh look at how communion fits in our busy, contempory churches. It is, when you stop & think, a strange religious ceremony that is baffling to post moderns. Even Jesus seemed to frighten people off in John's account, when He speaks of eating His flesh & drinking His blood. What is this stuff? You Christians want to ban Halloween, yet you get up to this behind closed doors!

How do we combine the ancient & modern in modern worship, without being unbiblical or without drifting into unthinking, empty religious practise? How do we avoid those well intended moments when we pass bread & wine along the line, whispering pious words that fail to resonate with faith or meaning - just hoping to get the form of words right, doing what we've always done, surely missing the point in our futility? Devoid of joy, far from celebration, little sense of transendence!

How has it come to this? Or consider that communion has been the breeding ground for all kinds of division, disunity & dodgy theology over the centuries – the very opposite of what Jesus intended when He simply sat around a table & broke bread with his friends.
Isn’t it time we started thinking clearly about this aspect of our worship? Time to rediscover the richness of sharing Christ together in this way, time to let go of anything which is familiar but ultimately unhelpful? Isn't it time to go on an adventure with John the Nose Dipper of Schleswig-Holstein.....who knows, to this day maybe all the Germans now dip their noses in the drink & laugh?

Friday, 5 November 2010

Bonfires, Mary & the power of a laid down life

Fifty years before Fawkes, England was already lit up by bonfires. During the last 4 years of Queen Mary’s reign 288 people were burned at the stake for their biblical faith, including women and some children. Countless others died in prison. Foxe writes with his usual gusto -‘the fagots never ceased to blaze whilst Mary was alive.’
41 perished in the flames from Sussex, including 17 from Lewes alone – Much of the strong bonfire tradition & feeling in these parts goes back here rather than to 1605 & the Gunpowder Plot.

Bloody Mary of course gets the blame. Her zeal in persecuting the new breed of English Protestants now famous. She perhaps deserves our sympathy though- As the disowned daughter of her monster father, Henry VIII, she grew up in terrible fear & conflict. Mary watched the outrageous treatment of her mother & found her own estrangement from the man who should have protected her the most, her father & her King. No wonder the poor girl had issues! Her suppressed rage against the English & their protestant cause came with real fury when she finally got to power. In our modern contexts, Psychologists would surely see these Martyrs as classic serial killer revenge cases at the hands of a Psychotic, passive aggresive maniac.

Leaving aside Mary's complex issues, what of the Martyrs? Bishops Latimer & Ridley said it best as they faced the fires. Upon seeing his friend & fellow Martyr failing to catch light, Latimer was heard to encourage, ‘Play the man Master Ridley! We shall this day light such a candle in England as I trust shall never be put out!’
It hasn’t been. Mary was soon dead. Though there have been dark times since, from the Armada, from Fawkes & his conspiritors, from rationalism, from luke warm unbelieving churches, Darwin, wars & scandals - there has been a candle in every generation of genuine faith and true christian community.

England again is under threat in our generation. In spite of what the press tell us, our fight is no longer against an oppressive regime or bands of conspiring terrorists who seek to murder parliament - it never was. Nor is our fight more about English nationalism or identity, even though both issues remain up for grabs.

No, our fight is for a deeper set of defining values than any of these things. If we value any sense of Englishness, our responsibility to our people is to pick up an historic burden, to live, work, play & even die for the gospel, that many in the darkness of our day may come into the light. This candle lit by the Martyrs is ours to hold high & keep ablaze as we live out a radical & relevant faith today for the sake of God’s glory in our nation.
If you or I will not carry this torch, then who else will? Perhaps when we think of it in these terms, we're not that different from Fawkes & his gang after all? We carry a torch of love rather than their gunpowder barrels of hatred, but a laid down life for a cause, for THE cause is the most powerful weapon.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Monsters V Anglicans

Whatever has happened to Halloween? In 2001 we spent a collective £12m in the UK, by last year, this had grown like a prize winning pumpkin to a big fat £235m!
Shoppers to the nations favourite supermarket, Tesco (where every little helps, apparently) can pick up a 'Devil Witch' costume, age 3-10. If these tough economic times are straining your Halloween budget, you can settle for a 'Devil Alice Band' for £3 - I always thought there was something dark about the Alice band.

Before 2001 it seems we were happy spending our money on just the one big festival at the start of the winter season - Bonfire Night. Invented by our Anglican friends to help fuel anti catholic feeling & necessitated by fears of invasion or terror attack. Substitute Catholic for Islamic, add 500 years, & this festival sounds surprisingly contemporary.
You would think that in our current climate of fear, stoked up by an eager press, Bonfire Night would be the perfect symbol of our struggle for freedom? A celebration of Englishness, of triumph in the face of adversity, of standing firm against threatening & dangerous foreign cultures?

Enter stage left in a Monster mask (available at Morrisons, £3.99). It seems American culture has already invaded, silently, a bloodless coup (fake blood capsules available in all larger Sainsburys stores). Never mind Islam, Hary Potter, Twilight & American Teen culture got there first. We went down without a fight, led beguilingly by our all powerful supermarkets. We have simply given in & bought wholesale what they put in front of us as though it was what we wanted in the first place! Guido Fawkes beats a hasty retreat, monsters beat Anglicans!

All this presents a bit of a pickle for those of us brought up to believe that 'thou shalt not trick or treat' was in the original Ten Commandments. In an age where we tell our kids that it's not safe to walk down the garden path, Halloween actually has quite a lot going for it. News out today confirms that most young people don't feel they belong to any community, they never speak to anyone over the age of 40. In this dislocated climate, Halloween has some redeeming qualities - one of the few nights of the year when families do come out together, when you meet the other folks in your street, when you might actually talk to an older person (albeit from behind a grotesque rubber mask)!

Is Halloween then an opportunity for the Church? Is it a chance to build a bridge into our culture,rather than wave a placard & burn our bridges? Cheryl from Newcastle, interviewed on national radio this morning put it this way, 'Maybe rather than us kids just hanging in our own groups, weekly meetings could be put on where people of different ages & backgrounds could mix?' (I've edited out the 'likes' & 'yeahs?')
It's a wide open door - I hope the churches of Newcastle are tripping over their placards to invite Cheryl & her friends to come along to just such a meeting at 10.30am next Sunday morning! We've got so much to offer our disenfranchised society as the local Church, we happen to do community rather well, it is really rather attractive - But unless we wake up & smell the Corpse Coffee (available in all Asda stores) we allow others to set the agenda.
Now where did I put that Alice band? Happy Halloween everyone!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

'I've got news for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's'

Calvin Harris sang recently,'I've got love for you if you were born in the 80's'. Thanks for that Calvin, I'm a bit old for you on that basis! However, I've got news for you, for Calvin & for anyone else interested in the development of corporate worship in our churches. If you were born in the 80's you would assume singer-songwriter worship leaders with guitars & bands backing them had always been integral to church life. For todays generation, this is worship – therefore, the best kind of worship is the biggest kind, the conference, the Soul Survivor, New day, the Worship Event.This style has become the definition of worship when in fact it is only one model, & one which probably reflects our pop culture more than the scriptures.

Us charismatics, we’re probably to blame. I remember the 80's. Harris is right. His song develops....'I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's'. Was he in some of our early charismatic meetings? As a young boy, fresh out of the Salvation Army, I clearly recall the sheer terror of bulky middle aged women in flowing patterned dresses trying to envelop me in a full frontal hug - that kind of body ministry can lead to years of issues!

More positively, I also recall watching a band play & sing to Jesus rather than the congregation singing about Him to a set piano accompaniment. It was staggering, the intimacy, the freedom, the simple scripture songs, the feeling of loving & being loved......the tambourines, the meetings that went on all day....we didn't get it all right after all!
Maybe it was the culture of the 1970’s JesusPeople that struck a chord with our emerging churches as we left the strait jacket of denominationalism behind & discovered the wonder of New Testament worship & church life. The cultural style of that generation just fitted so well with our own breakaway & it came to define us. Perhaps if we're honest now, these new freedoms were stimulated as much by culture as they were by a return to the scriptures. With the passing of time, it becomes increasingly hard to say which came first. It really doesn't matter, this cultural shift was one which helped the church, a bridge into something richer, deeper, more authentic.

The 40 years which have followed have spawned a worship industry which we could never have conceived in those raw early days. We’ve somehow lost our wonder in Jesus & created pop stars.
This Pop culture worship leader style has brought us full circle & unthinkingly brings shallow unbiblical ideas into the church of Jesus. For many now, it is the main reason for joining or not joining a church, even more important than bible teaching which helps me to grow as a follower of Jesus!
We think we’re just exercising personal choice & style preference in the way we view worship. What we discover to our horror is that we have absorbed strongholds from our sinful culture which prevent us from being released into a truly worshipping people.

Al Mohler in 'He is not Silent' puts it this way -‘The unspoken, but increasingly common assumption of today’s Christian is that worship is primarily for us – to meet our needs. Such worship services are entertainment focussed, the worshippers are uncommitted spectators who are silently grading the performance.........taken to the n’th degree, this philosophy instills a tragic self centredness. That is, everything is judged by how it affects man. This terribly corrupts our theology.’
Mohler is right, we are the X-Factor generation of post-moderns after all. I’m blogging & preaching this because of the danger that our worship of God, our submission to Him, our expression of love & thanks to Him, has somehow become self centred, more about us than Him.

'It was acceptable in the 80's' croons Harris. Our worship style of the 80's would look hopelessly dated now, like your Nan's wallpaper. I'm not arguing that we put on our rose tints & adopt old models - the church has done that long enough over the centuries.I guess I'm suggesting that we are wise about our culture, we take what helps us, we spit out that which chokes. More than this, that we get to know the one we're worshipping afresh through the scriptures - this alone would transform us.
It all comes down to theology in the end, to what we believe. Our worship has corrupted our theology & our weak theology has corrupted our worship - the only way to avoid the need for a new break out from dry churches is to once again believe what we sing, & to sing what we believe. That was as true in the 80's as it is today.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Miner rescue, major questions?

Our culture has been numbed: Emotionally & spiritually stunted: Watching minor celebrities come out of a Big Brother house or the jungle, growing fat & helpless on our DFS interest free sofas, living interest free lives.
This week, for once, we have sat up. Emotionally overwhelmed in a genuine 'world' event, watching miners who are now majors. True celebrities emerging from a hole deep underground.

The whole planet was gripped for a few hours. Whatever your time zone, this scene became the sole focus of our attention, the subject of our water cooler conversations at the office. TV's, the internet, blogs & good old fashioned newsprint had our real attention again at last, & recalled how to hold it, how to keep us there for 'just one more'. People couldn't go to bed. Grown men from Hemel Hempstead wept tears for the first time since they stayed up all night to cheer Rhona Martin onto Curling gold at the Winter Olympics in 2002!
Even the inevitable jokes began making their 'bad comedy world tour' by email......'I switched off after the first couple of Chilean Miners were rescued....You've seen Juan, you've seen them all'......made me smile anyway!

What strange magic took us over? What is being called out in me as I watch this with millions of new friends around the world? What is this I feel awakening that for so much of the time is so dormant?
Surely it's just that we love a happy ending; a good news story, a grand redemptive theme? Isn't it just the flip side response to the pointless death of aid worker Linda Norgrove who was the unlucky one this week - failing to be rescued from her captors in Afghanistan? This is normal news - Don't we deserve a happy pill from time to time, a little opium for the masses?

Or is it perhaps that just for a moment, as we stand together around the world, putting aside our preoccupation with self & the minutiae of D list Celebs, we are awakened to the glimmer of a greater narrative - the hope of a big story in which we ourselves are rescued, where our futile lives find meaning, where our daily, grinding ordinariness is illuminated with purpose?
Maybe, just maybe God really has planted eternity in the human heart? Maybe it needed a long night of the soul in the company of Sky News & the Chilean miners to shine the first rays of light, to stir in us too the question; 'Will someone please rescue me?'

Friday, 1 October 2010

Saved by a walrus - in the footsteps of Archibald Lang Fleming

When we first moved as a family to Oldham, on the slopes of the Pennines, we were told by our neighbours that we wouldn't last one winter. There's nothing like a warm welcome to the North of England for Southern softies! To be fair, they were almost right, though by sheer brute force, ignorance & many layers of clothing, we eventually managed 9 winters & even became accepted & assimilated into this tough northern tribe.

I've been reading this morning of a feat of endurance in the North of Canada which makes our northern sojourn look like a Sandals holiday. Archibald Lang Fleming arrived amongst the Eskimos as a missionary in 1909. Ok, he was a hardy Scot from Clydebank, but nothing can have prepared him for the extremes of this kind of living. Remember,these were the days of Empire, when British explorer types set off up a mountain or into the Amazon armed only with a machette, a tweed jacket & a fine handlebar moustache!

Fleming needed more than a tweed jacket as he joined a people group who had maintained their existence for generations through the most precarious balance of hunting, skill & sheer fortune, in a climate which would finish off Europeans in a week.

Acclimatisation? Well, Fleming got straight on with it. That first winter of 1909 he spent living in a small igloo with 2 other Eskimo families! Stephen Neill in his 'History of Christian Missions' quotes Fleming as follows-
'Life in a crowded hut has many disadvantages. The foetid atmosphere was sickening, & the acrid smoke from the blubber lamps was an aromatic disinfectant, though when it caused us discomfort the hole in the roof was cleared & a better circulation of air was created.......What Commander Peary wrote of Eskimo dwellings was true. 'A night in one of thses igloos, with a family at home, is an offence to every civilised sense.'

Fleming is not famous amongst missionaries or explorers. There is probably a statue to him somewhere, but I don't know where. Even his Wikipedia page is brief! This man was a giant, the kind who counted his own comfort & even his life nothing, for the sake of seeing distant people reached with the gospel. Jim Elliot rightly gained attention decades later, but Fleming also was 'no fool, who gave the things he cannot keep to gain what he would never lose.'

That first, terrible winter of 1909, the whole settlement were days from starvation, their lives hanging in the delicate climatic balance. At the last, the wind changed, & hunters were able to find walrus to eat. Fleming survived, & persevered, discovering a brotherhood with the Eskimos through their shared adversity which drew them together.

By the time of his death in 1953, Fleming was known as 'Archibald the Arctic' & upwards of 80% of the indigenous Eskimo peoples of Canada were faithful Christians.It seems winter approaches again as I look out of my window today. I wonder what glorious opportunities exist for those of us who are ready to follow Fleming's example in our modern context?

Friday, 17 September 2010

Catholic kitsch & lessons in missing the point...

This Sunday we'll be stepping into the shoes of Erasmus, the Dutch Humanist, & going back to the future in seeing how the Reformation remains so important today. Erasmus was merciless in his writings about the Popes & clergy of his day - I wonder what our reforming friend from Rotterdam would make of the circus around the Papal visit this week?

In the 21st Century, Pope on a rope soaps are all very Del Boy Trotter. Today at Twickenham,'I heart Benny' T shirts,caps & Rosary Apps are all on sale to the faithful in a Catholic kitsch sale which we haven't seen the like of since Henry VIII cleared out his garage!

If Tetzel got Martin Luther's knickers in a twist for flogging indulgences, then surely our German Reformation Rebel will be spitting beer out of his nose at todays special offer - Cardinal Newman electronic candles, on sale in time to be held aloft by tens of thousands of Brits in honour of this 'almost' Saint.

Last Autumn I had the privilege of visiting Subiaco, high in the mountains above Rome. This was the home of St Benedict, one of the holiest places of pilgrimage. After viewing the cave in which Benedict lived in abject poverty, I emerged into the sunlight from this place of quiet soul reflection to be faced with a vending machine offering Snickers & Pepsi for a Euro. Adjacent to the cave shrine is a gift shop, stocking all your Saintly needs from Benedict hand towells to home incense kits!

Before we pious Protestants get too incensed ourselves, let's remember that whilst we may not carry a Cardinal Newman medallion or drink Benny Beer, we can be just as guilty of missing the point entirely in our rush for the high moral ground.

We may have chucked out the tat & stripped our churches bare of everything from the frankly ridiculous to the sublime - but aren't we in danger of sending ourselves to sleep, in quiet, plain, unadorned boredom, having lost the mix of joy & awe in our faith which connects us to God & to one another in the first place?
Maybe, maybe not.....gotta go now, I'm bidding on a Rowan Williams mouse mat on ebay!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

A new reformation - Zwingli, the Pope & a mirror!

I'm working through some old notes on the Reformation this morning in preparation for our Lifechange Sunday series - Reformation to Revival - The history of the Missional Church in England from 1500 to the present day.

You may wonder what this ancient history has to do with post modern, 21st Century Britain, but you don't have to go far to see the value in looking back. Any generation which thinks it can't learn from the past needs it's collective head fixing, & the UK certainly needs to sit down with a Shrink. Every reason why the UK has an identity crisis & is in a moral/spiritual pickle today can be traced back to roots which have grown over the last 5 centuries.

More pointedly, the church, & not just society in general, must understand how we have got to where we are in order to have a context for where we are going. Perhaps thats why so many in our ranks neither know where they are or intend to go anywhere to do anything about it?!

The Reformers of the 1500's were no such men. They were men who refused to die in the waiting room, rather they took hold of the smallest opportunity in order to effect the greatest transformation.
Take Ulrich Zwingli, the Zurich reformer. He knew what he believed & understood what radical teaching would do to wider soceity. I read his key reforms again today, whilst listening to radio reports of the Pope's arrival in the UK.
Way back in 1523 Zwingli published his 67 Thesis. His main ideas were that Christ alone is the object of true worship & therefore Christ & the gospel are necessary for salvation. Because of this, the current Church hierarchy is wrong -Christ alone is the High Priest. All of our Saint worship is idolatry,outward show – clothing, images & pomp are entirely unecessary, & there is no need for ordination, confession, absolution, celibacy. Wow!

On the weekend that the Pope has come to restate Catholic Doctrine & to initiate Cardinal Newman towards Sainthood, these Zwinglian ideas are as radical as ever. Now, Zwingli was also a fighter, he died on horseback with an axe in his hand, at war with the Catholics. He would be there today with Iain Paisley to abuse & to attempt to force a change. Let's learn something from this too, lest we turn into angry ranters, more akin to Pastor Jones & his Koran burning brigade than people who look & sound like Jesus.

The truth is sobering. At the end of the great reformation century when Elizabeth died, there were an estimated 8,500 Catholics in England. Today there are 6 million or more. What happened? They didn't need force, invasion or Armadas after all - they simply required a luke warm, compromised, unattractive & faithless Protestant church, who largely has failed to proclaim & live the gospel in order that it might take root in our nation. Zwingli is right in all that he still teaches us today, but we are the ones who must take a look in the mirror.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Livin' for the city!

I'm back in the office after August, looking out over warehouse roofs to the gently rolling Surrey Hills, turning autumnal in the distance. Surrounded by rural splendour, peversely, it's the idea of cities that is captivating me at the moment.

We've seen some truly great cities this summer. Rome again. Then a train ride through the 2 sides of Napoli, shiny modern in the centre with a collapsing urban sprawl to rival any 3rd world conurbation. Last weekend we walked London again, our capital still brings out the wide eyed tourist in me no matter how many times I go.

The truth is, I've not been able to shake off the Ninevah story that we worked through from Jonah last month. Ninevah, 120,000 strong, ancient Eastern City, yet so contemporary in it's arrogant swagger - a city needing to be noticed, a self made, self sustaining kind of place where only the strong survive, the rich get richer whilst the poor stay in the gutter. You see, the same old cliches about giant communities still apply today.

Another enduring truth is that cities matter to God. Not the buildings, the institutions, so much as the people. In fact, if the Ninevah story is to be believed, the animals too!
These crowded hubs of humanity where every square foot of space is accounted for - they break God's heart. The multitudes of workers, the kids heading back to schools, the elderly who no longer know how to find community. Therefore the systems do matter too - the economy, the work place, the education system, the services - it all matters.
A city is the only place on the planet you can be lost & alone in a crowd, & yet God would grace such places with dignity & purpose. He lifts the lonely, the poor & the multitudes in dead end emptiness, up from the mundane, giving them worth & value where they had only known meaninglessness.

The killer question is this - if cities are so much on God's heart, then why have God's people largly ignored them? We know the early pioneer church of the 1st Century took city after city in the Roman world, it was a city to rural movement. In recent years in the west though, we've managed to reverse that trend. Post war migration of the educated middle classes to the suburbs has been reflected in the Church community, believers fleeing the 'hard' urban centres to form holy huddles around the extremeties, safe from dangerous influence.

If we learn anything from the ancient/modern story of Ninevah, then we must look to see this unbiblical trend turned around. It is more informed by fear than by the purpose of God for His followers. God surely wants His prophets in the heart of the city? God surely sends His Jonah communities to live amongst the City dweller in order to reveal His Father's heart of compassion for the lost multitudes? If we don't go & live this way, how will they ever know what He is like?

Such prophetic communities don't live in fear of being swamped, wondering if they can still catch the last train out of town before the flood comes. No, they have seen something of the nature of God. They actually believe they can contaminate the city, that their small, weak churches can boldly influence an apparently stronger clty culture & see it transformed. They have come to town to reverse the curse, to build a city within the city. They don't dream of escaping to Zion, to a New England, they determine to build it here, amongst the lost, by the grace of God.

So, whilst you raise your hand & come down the front for ministry, why don't we let Stevie Wonder sing us out with the last verse of 'Livin' for the city.'-
I hope you hear inside my voice of sorrow
And that it motivates you to make a better tomorrow
This place is cruel no where could be much colder
If we don't change the world will soon be over
Living just enough, just enough for the city

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

From Ninevah to Haiti

Jonah chapter 3 is a remarkable revival story. Jonah judges this god forsaken city only to find that God isn't going to forsake them after all. Their heart change is so strong & rapid, their revelation of the compassionate heart of God so discerning for a pagan people. The King himself declares, 'Who knows, God may yet relent with compassion?'
Even in their brokenness they had some hope. Jonah must have told them the story of his own disobedience & God’s second chance. We're reading between the lines here, but he surely let them in on the heart of the God who refused to write Jonah off for turning away, but instead humbled him & then invited him a second time to follow. Jesus later tells us that Jonah was a sign to them after all of how God deals with people.

So in their brokenness, they hold to some glimmer of hope & confidence in God.
What a bright light of His mercy into their heavy hearts. Like all the revival stories, how they must have hardly dared hope that sinful hearts like theirs could ever come out from under His anger & into the warmth of His smile & favour, yet this is how God works.

People say God can't work this way today, we're still trying to put Him in a box. They still say that modern, unchurched cities would never be broken open like this. We showed this clip on Sunday from 3 Days of National Prayer & Fasting which were called recently in Haiti. This small island nation, broken by the devastating earthquake is humbling itself. This is a modern Ninevah story in the making. An unbelieving President who is beginning to act like the King of Ninevah.

Can you imagine the kind of favour that is opened up over a city which approaches our compassionate God in such humility? We don't have to imagine it, we only need to return to the Ninevah story. It's called revival - 120,000 saved in Ninevah in a short space of time. Brian Edwards in his excellent book,'Revival' defines this phenomena as ‘a community saturated with God’. Nothing sums up what is going on in Ninevah better than this.
Some say it can’t have been genuine as Ninevah was destroyed within 100 years. Maybe it was only skin deep, superficial, more of an outward moral clean up than an internal heart change. Is God moved to act through our displays of outward works? Is He impressed be our religion? I don't think so!

Was the revival in Jerusalem in Acts 2 genuine, even though within 35 years Jerusalem was wiped out? Was Asuza Street genuine in 1903 even though LA is a secular city today? Was the East Anglian revival in 1921 genuine even though a modern visitor to Ipswich wouldn’t see a trace of it?
The truth is, God wants to save our generation. He wants the lost of this community, He wants to teach us to pray, to proclaim & to seek His favour. We may not know what legacy we are leaving, but we do know that this response from one man’s angry preaching in a pagan city is a huge encouragement to those us who proclaim the gospel with our lives today.

Friday, 13 August 2010

A faint whiff of whale vomit

Here's a little taster from Jonah for this coming Sunday. The words 'taster' & 'vomit' should never go together in the same sentance of course, but they do here & they are as hard to swallow as you can imagine!
We're in Jonah 3. This disobedient Prophet has woken up on a beach, covered in whale bile & he's had a change of heart. A change of heart which leads to a change of direction. The sat-nav has been stuck on 'turn around as soon as it's safe to do so' for as long as he can remember, but now he does make a u-turn. This is what the theologians call repentance.

He does as He's told, travelling to pagan Ninevah to deliver the message of destruction from God. Only, they're not destroyed. They're broken, they're humbled, from the King down to the cattle, but they're not burned with fire or bolts from the heavens. They may not have understood the full gospel 800 years BC but they showed a heart change which was genuine – this is evidenced by their profound change of behaviour.

No one eats, they are reduced to wearing sackcloth, everyone of them. It's an outward sign of grief & conviction which signifies an inner heart change in response to Jonah’s preaching. It’s widespread across the city, this is conviction of sin on a huge scale.
Something remarkable is happening. A city which deserved to be crushed is beginning to wake up to the presence of the God whom they didn't even know existed. They'd lived without any reference to Him, yet now they are humbled, hoping that He may forgive them. What conviction, what repentance, what urgency, what unprecidented revival!

I've been reading similar stories again this week from the Revival on the Isle of Lewis. Preacher Duncan Campbell records 'Men have been found walking the roads at night in distress of soul; others have been found during the day praying among the rocks. As the Spirit of God sweeps through the meetings, the cry of the unsaved could be heard as strong men wept their way to the Saviour.'

Jonah of course is angry. He just knew God was going to go all compassionate on them, thats why he had never wanted to go there in the first place. What's the point of being a Prophet & predicting chaos & judgement if God decides to give up smiting & start loving instead. What kind of unjust God is this!

Oh Jonah, have you forgotten that you too were a child of disobedience not so long ago? Don't you recall that you too were given a second chance? Doesn't the faint whiff of whale vomit about your person bring you to your senses? Shouldn't we be rather careful not to judge those around us whose lives don't seem to match up to heaven's standards? Wouldn't we be better living with a smile, knowing that we're under favour that we don't really deserve?

We don't stink of old fish guts anymore, we've been magnificently cleaned up, made brand new since our days of rebellion - but it doesn't do us any harm to remember the smell. The world around us doesn't need judgemental christians telling them how far they've fallen short, they probably already feel guily enough. But your neighbours & mine would change with the urgency of the Ninevites if we could show them the way to the God they didn't know existed & into the favour they didn't think they could find.

Friday, 2 July 2010

What is Revival?

Readers of this blog will be aware I've been working through, 'The Story of Toronto', by John Peters. There are inevitable questions which follow any discussion on the Toronto Blessing - What was all that about? Where is it leading? Was it revival or some kind of renewal?

Peters attempts a response to these questions by asking another - How is revival defined? In doing so, he shares some great definitions which are worth repeating here for our stimulation.

'Revival is God coming down in life stirring power amongst His people. It takes place when the church is spiritually low & ineffective.' Dr Eifon Evans, Fire in the thatch & the Welsh Revival.

'Revival is a visitation from God that restores life to the church & produces lasting moral change.' Richard Booker

'Revival is a movement of the Holy Spirit bringing about a revival of New Testament Christianity in the church of Christ & the related community.' Dr J Edwin Orr

'Revival is always the action of God. It is not man. It is God pouring out His Spirit. It is something quite out of the ordinary, something special, unusual, exceptional.' Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Revival

'Revival is God revealing Himself to men in awesome holiness & irresistable power.' Arthur Wallis, In the Day of Thy Power.

'Revival is a season in the life of the church where God causes the normal ministry of the gospel to surge forward with extraordinary spiritual power.' Dr Raymond Ortlund

'Revival is a community saturated by God.' Brian Edwards.

For those of us who remember the thrill of the early Toronto outbreak & spread, our joyful assumption was that this blessing anticipated a great revival. That we have not seen such a breakthrough is no cause for dismissing Toronto. The reasons why this river did not develop into such a flood are too numerous for a few paragraphs here. However, the overall impact on the church has been to raise the bar across the board in terms of our expectations of intimacy & breakthrough.

By these historical definitions, Toronto has brought revival to isolated places. The impact of the blessing in the lives of Roland & Heidi Baker ticks every box. However high you set the revival bar, the Baker's work in Mozambique jumps it with ease - 6000 churches planted, multitudes saved & healed, the hungry fed.

Ironically, Toronto itself is the more normal example that the rest of us have followed. They have not seen their city saturated with Kingdom power in the way that they might have expected early on as trhe birthplace of the movement. However, their hunger has aroused a response around the world which leaves us healthier & hungrier still.
Sixteen years may have passed but we are learning to cry 'More Lord' again!

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Another Toronto Ten

Yesterday I listed 10 Revival Characteristics from John Peters book, 'The Story of Toronto.' Here is another of his lists which highlights some of the key qualities of the Arnotts. These simple, key factors may go some way to explaining the development of the Toronto Blessing.

1/ They place a high value on the teaching of the scriptures. Peters argues that the Arnotts exhibit a quality of character which exalts Jesus. Essentially, they are the same in private as they are in public.

2/ They have a clear understanding of salvation. Expecting salvation to be worked out in daily life in a practical & demonstrable sense.

3/ Both are products of brokenness, devastated by the experience of divorce from their first partners, stripped of pride & self confidence. Frank Damazio comments, 'Anything that is broken is deemed by man to be unfit, & he ends up throwing it away. But to God, only that which is broken is useful....So the vessels of God are ready for revival only when they are broken. God's vessels, the ones He uses, are broken vessels.'

4/ They have a strong marriage, operating out of a relationship which is devoid of striving or competitiveness, now able to trust one in a way they thought they would never trust a partner again. In their calling, Carol is no adjunct to John's ministry, they serve together.

5/ They are keen to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit, & go after where He leads tenaciously.

6/ They maintain a disciplined lifestyle of reading the scriptures & prayer. Before the outbreak of the Toronto Blessing, they had devoted their mornings for the previous 18 months to worship, prayer & study together.

7/ They take absolutely seriously the question of Forgiveness. Frequently referring to Isaiah 61.1, they believe the Lord has come to set captives free, that prison doors are opened when forgiveness is given a free reign. This too is rootetd in their experience of broken marriages, unforgiveness, bitterness & judgements.

8/ They have cultivated some core values which seep into everything. An understanding of the Father's love, the intimacy we can all enjoy with Him, the restoration of the heart, & the equipping of the Holy Spirit for all of life. The acronym FIRE sums them up well.

9/ They have a high view of accountability, first to God, to one another & to their church, but also holding themselves open to advice, to comment, & to other leaders.

10/ They love people. They love their local church, they love those they travel to serve.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

10 Revival Characteristics

I've been reading 'The Story of Toronto' by John Peters this week. It's essentially a biography of John & Carol Arnott, & the incredible events surrounding their church in Toronto back in 1994.

The book itself is horrible. Horrible cover, horribly written, a horrible series of lists & repeating arguments. However, the Toronto story itself is so compelling, & Peters a sympathetic observer,that it remains a gripping read.

In one section of the book, Peters outlines 10 characteristics of men that God has used in revival or renewal. They are worth noting here. They are a provocation for those of us who continue to thirst for more of the kind of God we first encountered with such joy way back 16 years ago.

1/ Men used by God often have little external attraction. The Apostle Paul, in person unimpressive, but a mighty man of God.

2/ No stereotypical background. Zinzendorf was an aristocrat, Christian David, his fellow worker in Saxony, a carpenter. Wesley & Whitefield, highly educated, Billy Bray, a barely educated Tin Miner.

3/ Often dismissed as nonentities by other men. Evan Roberts was said to be 'too unassuming to claim anything like leadership.'

4/ Took prayer seriously. Lanphier began his prayer meeting for business men in downtown New York with a handful, 6 months later, 10,000 were praying for revival. Within 2 years, 2 million were added to the church.

5/ Maintained a close & intimate walk with God. They were people who were 'saturated with God', to use Brian Edwards memorable phrase.

6/ Had a life transforming experience of God. In 1737 George Whitefield prayed, 'God give me deep humility, a well guided zeal, a burning love & a single eye, then let men or devils do their worst.' In response he entered into a life changing experience with God which radically effected his life & ministry.

7/ Were humble & realistic in their assessment of themselves & their abilities, not at all proud.

8/ Had a passionate desire for God. John Wesley wrote in 1734, 'My one aim in life is to secure personal holiness, for without being holy myself, I cannot promote real holiness in others.' This was even before his conversion which didn't occur until 1738!

9/ Read & studied the bible diligently. It is claimed that Jonathan Goforth, who was used by God in China at the start of the 20th Century, read through his Chinese New Testament 55 times.

10/ They were obedient to the bible. These were not men & women of academic pursuit, they longed to bring their lives into line with the scriptures. Jonathan Edwards, John Wycliffe & Peter Waldo come to mind.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Touching the Father's Heart

I've been deep in one of the greatest stories Jesus told in preparation for our 'Touching the Father's Heart' event this weekend. The story of the Father's love in Luke 15 is so richly layered & never fails to speak meaning into our lives.

Here are some thoughts that will probably feature in the first session regarding the two sons - The one, painfully aware that he has put himself out of his Father’s house, out of his Father’s love, out of his natural & rightful inheritance.
The other, painfully unaware that his years of self righteous hard work,duty & faithfulness, obedience, weren’t enough to bring him near to his Father. His desire to impress & earn approval hardening his own heart, missing the point & keeping him as far away from home as his younger brother even though he never left .

These two sons are types we fall into. Painfully aware or painfully unaware. Either way, missing the knowledge & nearness of the Father’s love & acceptance in the way that He has always intended for us. The Father’s heart for us today sends out the same message.

To those of us who are aware how far we are from Him – He comes out to meet us. He has been searching, waiting. He makes no judgement, He simply accepts, overwhelms us with love we don’t deserve & didn’t expect. There isn’t even a trial period – we are brought all the way back, into His very heart. His robe, His ring, His feast. The message – We belong, we are His, He is thrilled. We aren’t lost after all, He has found us.

To those of us who are unaware how far we are from Him – He comes out to meet us. He comes to find us as we look on disapprovingly. He comes to plead with us that all He has ever wanted is for me to sit & eat with Him. The message - He comes to remind us that all He has is already ours, that we don’t have to work or earn His approval, that we can can simply rest, rejoice, enjoy. We have been lost in a familiar place, but He has still come & found us.

Wherever you find yourself in this story Jesus told, the implication is clear – the Father wants you to be found & known. He gives us an open invitation to the kind of intimacy that we were made for. He has sent Jesus to lead us in to a new & living way, a whole new level of love & acceptance, a whole new way of relating to Father God. Touching the Father’s heart is all about us finding the way in, allowing Him to lead us home.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Mr Genor

Stories are always great, but this one about Mr Genor seemed to really hit home last Sunday at the end of the first 'Just Walk Across the Room' sermon. So many people have asked me about it that I have copied it below. I read the story from the book 'Fire Evangelism' by Che Ahn.

A number of years ago in a Baptist church in Crystal Palace, in south London, the Sunday morning service was closing, and a stranger stood up in the back, raised his hand, and asked the Pastor if he could share a testimony.

He said, “I just moved into this area, I used to live in another part of London, I came from Sydney, in Australia. And just a few months back I was visiting some relatives and I was walking down George Street when a strange little white-haired man stepped out of a shop doorway, put a pamphlet in my hand and said, ‘Excuse me sir, are you saved? If you died tonight, are you going to heaven?’ “

He said, “I was astounded by those words. Nobody had ever told me that. I thanked him courteously, and all the way back to Heathrow this puzzled me. I called a friend who lived in this new area, where I’m living now, and thank God, he was a Christian -He led me to Christ. And now I’m a Christian.

That Baptist Pastor flew to Adelaide, in Australia, the next week. A woman came to him for counseling, and he asked her where she stood with Christ.

And she said, “I used to live in Sydney. And just a couple of months back, I was visiting friends there, doing some last minute shopping down George Street, and a strange little white-haired man, elderly man, stepped out of a shop doorway, offered me a pamphlet and said, ‘Excuse me ma’am, are you saved? If you died tonight, are you going to heaven?’”

She said, “I was disturbed by those words. When I got back to Adalaide, I knew this Baptist church was on the next block from me, and I sought out the Pastor, and he led me to Christ. So sir, I’m telling you that I am a Christian.”

Now this London Pastor was now very puzzled. Twice, within a fortnight, he’d heard the same testimony. He then flew to preach in the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Perth. And when his teaching series was over, the senior elder of that church took him out for a meal. And he asked him how he became a Christian.

He said, “I grew up in this church from the age of fifteen through Boy’s Brigade. Never made a commitment to Jesus, just hopped on the bandwagon like everybody else. And because of my business ability, grew up to a place of influence. I was on a business outing in Sydney just three years ago, and an obnoxious little man stepped out a shop doorway, offered me a religious pamphlet, and accosted me with a question, ‘Excuse me sir, Are you saved? If you died tonight are you going to heaven?’ “ He said, “I tried to tell him I was a Baptist elder. He wouldn’t listen to me.”

“I was seething with anger all the way home to Perth. I told my pastor, thinking he would sympathize with me, but my pastor agreed with the man! He had been disturbed for years, knowing that I didn’t have a relationship with Jesus - and he was right. And my pastor led me to Jesus just three years ago.”

Now this London preacher flew back to the U. K. and was speaking at the Keswick Convention in the Lake District, and he threw in these three testimonies. At the close of his teaching session, four elderly pastors came up and said, “We got saved between 25 and 35 years ago through that little man on George Street giving us a tract and asking us that question.”

He then flew the following week to a similar Convention in the Caribbean for missionaries. And He shared these testimonies. At the close of his teaching session, three missionaries came up and said, “We got saved between 15 and 25 years ago, respectively, through that little man’s testimony and asking us that same question on George Street in Sydney.”

returning via Atlanta, Georgia, to speak at a Naval Chaplain’s convention the Pastor spoke to over a thousand Navy Chaplains. The Chaplain General took him out for a meal and he asked him how he'd become a Christian?

The Chaplain relied, 'I was living a reprobate life on a US Battleship. We were doing exercises in the South Pacific, and we docked in Sydney Harbor for replenishments. We hit King’s Cross with a vengeance. I got blind drunk. I got on the wrong bus - got off in George Street. As I got off the bus, I thought it was a ghost. This elderly white-haired man jumped in front of me, pushed a pamphlet into my hands and said, ‘Sailor, are you saved? If you died tonight, are you going to heaven?’” He said, “The fear of God hit me immediately. I was shocked sober, and ran back to the battleship, sought out the chaplain, the chaplain led me to Christ and I soon began to prepare for the ministry under his guidance. And here I am in charge of over a thousand chaplains and we’re bent on soul-winning today.”

This London Pastor, six months later, flew to do a convention for 5000 missionaries in a remote corner of northeastern India. And at the end, the host took him home for a simple meal. The Pastor asked him, “How did you, as a Hindu, come to Christ?” He said, “I was in a very privileged position, I worked for the Indian diplomatic mission. And I traveled the world. One bout of diplomatic service took me to Sydney. And I was doing some last minute shopping, walking down George Street, when this little white-haired man stepped out in front of me, offered me a pamphlet, and said, ‘Excuse me sir, are you saved? If you died tonight are you going to heaven?’”

He said, “I thanked him very much, but this disturbed me. I got back to my town, I sought out the Hindu priest, and he couldn’t help me. He to go and talk to the missionary to satisfy my curiosity - that was fateful advice. That day the missionary led me to Christ. I quit Hinduism immediately, and then began to study for the ministry. I left the diplomatic service, and here I am, by God’s grace, in charge of all these missionaries, and we’re winning hundreds of thousands of people to Christ.”

Eight months later, this same pastor was ministering in Sydney. He asked the Baptist minister, “Do you know a little manwho witnesses and hands out tracts on George Street?” And he said, “I do. His name is Mr. Genor, but I don’t think he does it anymore, he’s too frail and elderly.”

The man said, “I want to meet him.” Two nights later, they went around to this little apartment, and this tiny, frail, little man opened the door. He sat them down and made them some tea. The London preacher told him all these accounts over the previous three years. This little man sat with tears running down his cheeks.

He said, “My story goes like this.” He said, “I was on an Australian warship and I lived a reprobate life. And in a crisis, I really hit the wall, and one of my colleagues led me to Jesus and the change in my life was so amazing and I was so grateful to God that I promised I would share Jesus in a simple witness with at least ten people a day - as God gave me strength.

'Sometimes, I was ill - I couldn’t do it, but I made up for it at other times. I wasn’t paranoid about it, but I have done this for over forty years, and in my retirement years, the best place was on George Street. There were hundreds of people. In forty years of doing this, I’ve never heard of one single person coming to Jesus until today.”

It has to be deep love for Jesus that enables a man to keep this up over the long haul without knowing any of the results. This is more than could be sustained by simple commitment, this is a love for the lost that flows from a love & gratitude for Jesus. That's over 146,000 people that this simple little man provoked about Jesus. Goodness knows how many more had been impacted for Christ.
Mr. Genor died two weeks later. Nobody except a little group of Baptists in southern Sydney knew about Mr. Genor, but I’ll tell you his name was famous in heaven. Can you imagine the fanfare he went home to?

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Top 5 Favourite Walks

I'm thinking about walks you do on an early summers day, staring out of the office window at the distant Surrey hills shrouded in warm, hazy sunshine.
Actually, it's not my fault - We have a babysitter tonight for Caz's birthday. I had a collection of exciting plans stuffed up my sleeve, but rather than suggest we go to see Russell Crowe in Robin Hood I thought I would leave it to her to come to the same conclusion! She stopped the world spinning though by saying she would like to go for a walk. A walk? No CGI, no surround sound, no credits, no popcorn. A walk, hand in hand, talking, listening, work, the kids, friends lives we ought to sort out, putting the world to rights, you remember how it works, yeah, me too......even feelings, honesty, perhaps some kissing...maybe we're back to my agenda again!

So, in preparation for my evening stepping out with a beautiful older woman, here are my top 5 walks. As with any top 5, there are truely great walks that don't quite make the cut. My choice is entirely arbitary & personal. No room then for Python's Ministry of Silly Walks, nor Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom. Bill Hybels 'Just Walk across the room' gets an honourable mention alongside the lyrical magic of 'Walking in Memphis' or the Bangles 'Walk like an Egyptian'.

1/ Northampton town centre circa August 1990.
Not featuring regularly in beauty spot articles, a late night walk through the empty streets of Northampton was for me a pivotal moment. Having just returned from a couple of months away around the world with a choir, Caz came to meet me at our final concert. This story is set in the days before Sat Nav, & Caz had inexplicably parked her car at least an hours walk away. None of this mattered. This was the classic love walk, I'm almost sure Billy Ocean songs were playing in the air around us. It was one of those long nights where the place didn't matter, nor did the pace. As we caught up to date we both knew that we would spend the rest of our lives together - it was THE night where we knew there was no turning back. Northampton will always be number 1 for that reason.

2/ 9 Paulden Avenune, Waterhead, Oldham, 1997
There is nothing to compare to this kind of walk & it involved 2 people coming in different directions. I was walking up the hill from Oldham Mumps station, arriving home from the office in Manchester. 1 year old Noah was running across the lounge to the front door, only having eyes for one person as my key turned in the door.....'Daddy's home!' was the shout, & I would be knocked off my feet with snot wiped down my suit. Every day that summer, until he discovered Toy Story & forgot all about me. Happy days, when life was simple & the important things mattered!

3/ Pot's & Pans
High up in the Saddleworth hills, up above the town of Oldham, you will find my perfect safe place. These strange shaped rocky outcrops, fashioned unseen by ancient glaciers also bear my footprints. These rocks have hidden me from the harsh winds that blow, the breeze carrying away my prayers & cries at times. These views have stirred my heart, inspired my ideas, raised my spirits. These paths have been my meandering thoughts as I have sometimes trudged, sometimes run,often just sat. Pot's & Pans, I've yet to replace you down south.

4/ Lyme Regis
The prom at Lyme Regis in the August evening Sunshine is just about the perfect English seaside walk. The unspoiled seaside town, the chippy, the slot machines, the pebbles, the salt tang in the air & the threat of a shower. Summer nights don't get better than this.

5/ St Pauls to Victoria
The magical history tour, London at her finest, every era, great buildings, streets packed with people to watch if you slow down & go against the flow. From the cathedral, down Ludgate Hill, the ghost of the old city still evident if you look for it. Across into Fleet Street, no longer home to the press but brooding magnificently, the scent of the river if the wind blows right. Past the Law Courts & on into the Strand. A diversion up into Covent Garden for a drink, or continuing down to Trafalgar Square for the National Portrait Gallery & a salute to Nelson.

For the Royalists....carry on down the Mall for your Daily Mail moment at the Palace. For the rest of us, a left turn down Whitehall, past Downing Street, the place of history in the making only last week. More salutes to Cromwell, Churchill et al outside the Palace of Westminster, then across Parliament Square to Victoria Street. There's still time to marvel at Westminster Abbey, further down to the hidden gem that is Westminster Cathedral, then finally, into Victoria Station for a train home.

Why not slow down & take a walk with your eyes & ears open this week?

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Meet the Good Shepherd

Read John 10.9-16 / Psalm 23
This strong biblical imagery of sheep under the care of the shepherd is key for us in realigning our thinking about who we are, who He is & what we can expect Him to do.
We don’t understand this picture in 21st C west – who after all has ever actually met a real shepherd? The nearest I've got was having to watch 'One man & his dog' on a Sunday evening before Songs of Praise! Regardless of the culture leap, these ideas of shepherding have a radical impact on how we live in the world

There is tremendous pressure on the church. We have an enemy. He is a thief who comes against the sheep. V10. He comes against us to rob, steal & destroy. This is a real threat. His strategy works in the world. There are many who are like sheep without a shepherd & they become scattered.
Jesus however wants to strengthen us with His strategy. V9-10. As we enter through Christ, we enter into safe pasture, pasture where we have abundant life, where we grow in His purposes for us.

One of the ways God enables His sheep to withstand pressure is to release shepherds.
It’s the order God established. He shepherds His people, but He does it by enlisting under shepherds, those who will fulfil the shepherding role on His behalf, under His authority.
Abraham, Moses, David, were all shepherds when God called them. They all looked after sheep in the natural. The scriptures promised a descendent of David who would come as the perfect shepherd-King.
That King came in the person of Jesus, & He trains His disciples, sending them to make disciples from the nations, teaching them to observe everything He has commanded them.
As the Apostles go out in Acts, their strategy in obeying His commands is to plant churches, to establish flocks & to appoint shepherds to care for them. That’s what’s in the foundations of a biblical church. This is God’s pattern, His natural order, a reflection of His heart.

Paul later reminds the Ephesian Elders that the Holy Spirit has made them overseers, to shepherd the church of God (Acts 20.28) The goal was always to invade pagan cultures around them, to establish God’s flock & to live under His rule & care- lives which shine into darkness & attract others.

So we may have never met a real shepherd, but we can all become more familiar with these biblical ideas of shepherding. Here are some headlines-
God isn’t going to leave a flock on their own, at the mercy of the enemy, trying to protect themselves.
Nor does he leave us treading water, frustrated that we can’t quite become all that we want to grow into. ‘Do not be afraid little Flock, your Father has been pleased to give you the Kingdom.’ Luke 12.32.
It is possible for us to be just as we are now in terms of our size, yet healthy, safe, & producing Kingdom fruit. However gifted the Shperherds may be in a local church, it’s not even their responsibility to make us fruitful. It’s their call to be faithful & obedient to the Good Shepherd.
The Lord reminds us – He is the Good shepherd. As He comes alongside & encourages us, know that it all starts & finishes with Him. He is taking the weight,
He is standing in the gap. He has laid down His life for us & that deep commitment to our cause is effective here & now.

Contrast this attitude with the hired hand - V12-13.
If you've been around the blck long enough in church life, you will have seen & experienced examples of bad shepherds. Heavy shepherds, weak shepherds,temporary shepherds, even mercenaries who come for the money, the glory, the power, but run when the going gets tough.
I can think back to times where the pressure to run away was so intense it was almost unbearable. Times when it was all I could do just to stand. It seems even then I was reflecting God’s heart in His commitment to His people,even though my heart was weak, my knees knocking & my mind confused. But even at my best & strongest as a Shepherd, thankfully I am not all that the sheep have. As true under shepherds, we are simply obedient stewards of the one who cares for the sheep with all authority.

We already have a shepherd who is so committed to us, a shepherd whose heart is for us, a shepherd will not let go of us, not forget us, never leave us alone as orphans, no one will snatch us out of His hand.

This incredible commitment comes from His ownership of us – v12. It’s an issue of ownership. As a people, we belong to God. He has bought us, we are a part of His Kingdom purposes – over us He declares –
‘You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God.’ 1 Pet 2.9-10.
So, whatever size we are, we are gathered around Him, sheep in His pasture.
His ownership is all we need right now. Hired hands are great, but the strength of men alone is not sufficient.
A hired hand who cares nothing for the sheep runs when the wolf threatens & exerts pressure. Hopefully God has given us good shepherds who will stay firm, but our ability to rest secure doesn’t come from looking at them – We look behind to the greater one on whose call they are standing. In whose authority they govern - Here is your Good Shepherd.

These are more than just theological ideas about Christian leadership – they actually change the way we behave & do life together.
v14-16 If we see that we really are dependent on Him right now, then what are we to do? Know Him. Know His voice, respond, follow Him. It’s much more about being than doing.
This is not frenetic life, this is life in Christ. Matt 11. Come to me. Learn from me. He has much to teach you about knowing Him, abiding in Him, resting in Him, knowing His voice, living in security not in fear.
He’s not looking for busy sheep or for under shepherds who keep the flock moving. He’s looking for Shepherds who are after His heart, who will follow His pattern & rhythm.
He’s looking for men & women who will simply be with Him, know Him, enjoy Him. These are the people who will bring in other sheep.

Thin sheep follow fat sheep. Sad sheep follow happy sheep. We often think we need superstar shepherds & clever programs to grow a church – no – we need faithful called stewards after His heart, & we need happy sheep. As the Meerkats would say 'Simples!' We don’t actually have to do anything other than live contentedly in His provision & goodness in order to be a provocation for the kingdom to the world around us.

So what are the Kingdom promises the Good Shepherd will lead us into? John 10 & Psalm 23 hold the clues.
He is the gate. V7/9. He leads us into safety. He lays down His life for us.
Ps 23.4 He protects us in the face of the enemy with His rod & staff. It’s about His authority, it’s because we belong to Him.
He shuts out the enemy, he just has no right to touch us & no access. No need for anxiety. No fear – ‘I will fear no evil’ Ps 23 .4 - rather, confidence of a secure Kingdom people who are in Christ, unafraid of the world, the enemy or the size of the task.
Ps 23.5 He prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies. We’re aware of our security in the care of the Shepherd & so we can live confidently in the open rather than hidden away.
We are free to venture into the world under His protection, free to touch, engage, bless, live abundantly. Unafraid of loss, contamination or disease, rather,we are expecting to take our secure space with us, taking the presence of the Shepherd, increasing His spread & influence – we are bold, secure sheep.

2/ Growth.
Not about numbers. We measure success in church on the wrong scales when we use only numbers. It’s about health & nurture.
A healthy church is what matters, & a healthy plant grows naturally without requiring the chemical stimulant of programs & driven leadership.
Rather, the Good Shepherd leads us into pasture, he leads us & we learn to follow His voice. We grow in maturity, strength, vitality as His followers – such people have life & have it to the full v10. Ps 23.3 He restores our souls, revives us, refreshes our spirits by His presence with us.

3/ Rest.
Not striving, not working. Rest in God, all the heavy burdens of expectation are coming off. He has done the work. We are following Him, He has opened the way, He promises to lead & teach us, He relieves us of the burdens of our wrong thinking & relating to Him wrong.
He calls us to be with Him, walk with Him, learn from Him. Matt.11.
Ps 23.2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. I shall not be in want.
I’m content to trust Him for His promise. Ps 62.1 My soul finds rest in God alone.
Busyness, activity, trying hard to do things that are the Good Shepherd’s responsibility (like growth) are all less important than abiding & simply being fruitful in Christ. We don’t have to do it all, we are free just to be who He has made us to be.
Relaxed & able to play to our strengths, trusting Him for fruit. As an under shepherd or a sheep it’s simply not my job to wear myself out trying to add people into the church –
It’s my call to know Him, to live an open attractive life, to open my home, to mix up my world & to be like the Good Shepherd & so to allow Him to do the work. He works – we rest in what He has done!

4/ Water.
He leads us besides streams of water. Ps 23.2 Health again, but also the dynamic of His presence. He promises to refresh us, wash us, overwhelm us, carry us. There’s so much water. V5. He anoints our heads with oil & our cups overflow – same picture, different imagery.
Some of us are so dry, so thirsty, longing for greater intimacy. He offers us water. He wants shepherds who know how to help their sheep to drink.

And this is more than just a healing stream for God’s people – this river brings life outside of our world, it carries the Kingdom promises out of the fold, it has a fast current.John 7.37-38 In Christ we are now free to live with the river 24/7. It’s a now promise for us, streams of living water flowing out from us. A river not a reservoir.
It was never meant just for the sheep in the fold to drink, we must take it out!

5/ Multiplication.
There are new sheep, those who are not yet in the pen. John 10.16. This is the result of healthy church, happy sheep, wet sheep!
It’s not our job, our activity. It’s the shepherd who goes to get the sheep, it’s His voice which calls them, His call they respond to.
We concentrate on being with Him, getting filled with His presence, He brings others alongside us & leads us into growth.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

We happy few......

Warm beer, cricket, stoolball, morris dancing, conkers, maypoles, poll tax, queueing, Brighton rock, Stonehenge, stoney beaches,the Rolling Stones, the rolling south downs, Ugborough Beacon, Hadrians Wall, northern bluntness, Cheddar Cheese, Kendal Mint cake, Eccles Cake, Victoria Sponge, Queen Victoria.

Tea with the Vicar, Harrods, the corner shop, red telephone boxes, 007, Harry Potter, Del Boy Trotter, Whit Friday bands, the Beatles, Benny Hill, the Old Bill, the Robin Reliant, the Mini, the mini skirt, Notting Hill, Robin Hood, Yorkshire Dales, the Daily Mail, Diana Queen of our hearts.

Sunday roast, marmite on toast, open fires, Spitfires, 1066, 1415, 1966, 'We'll fight them on the beaches', annus horibilis, & did those feet in ancient times walk upon Englands green & pleasant land......?

Happy St Georges Day!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Thank you for the music.....

Try as I might, I couldn't remember when I last entered a proper record shop. Amazon now owns me & my entire music collection. I have surrendered to the instant charm of immediacy, the siren voice of the cheap download.

Last weekend I snuck away from the keyboard & wandered into an independent record store in Covent Garden. It was a meandering kind of morning; Lazy, hazy sunshine for slow saturday starters, a long breakfast watching the world wake up around us.
Where people used to wash down a full English with a mug of tea & the daily papers in a rush, they now saunter through sun dappled squares, taking out a skinny latte & muffin, surfing on their iphones.

And so to the record store - We can't even call them records anymore. My kids think a record is something you get from the Police & my explanation that the Police did indeed make some great records only adds to the air of generational confusion.
It's a clash of cultures, a flashback to a simpler, shared world. One where we all went to town on a Saturday morning to buy the same records. Now in 2010, alone behind my laptop, we develop obscure tastes for exotic blends of Peruvian trance-punk that no other human being will ever enjoy with us.

The record store - It wasn't the same of course. The lighting was too good, the carpet clean rather than the expected residue from decades of dirty feet, the fragrance too fresh. But the racks were there, even some vinyl, 1000's of CD's - no cassettes of course.

Despite the unaccustomed plushness of the store, the racks were enough. I stood in front of the A-C's & began flicking through, the dull familiar clacking of plastic cases a portal back to the old world of musical youth. Back to the halcion days of recording the Top 40 on a Sunday afternoon & masterfully pressing pause just in time to keep the voice of the DJ from penetrating your Maxwell C90 mixtape. Only after a song had won my heart on the C90 would I search it out on the shelves & purchase the whole album.

For a few brief moments I stood in harmony with those days. Alongside me, other balding, waist expanding 40 somethings, knowing glances every so often revealing the conspiratorial truth between us: 'We are the music lovers, we are the pioneers, the guardians of taste. We're keeping it alive for an ignorant nation. We alone know how to take it slow, take our time, savour it in our hands before coming home with our prize in a bag.'

For the record, I emerged with the frighteningly modern Plan B - The Defamation of Strickland Banks; some old school George Benson blues from 1969; & from the back of the bargain rack in a cobwebbed corner, Devon's finest, Seth Lakeman, weaving modern folk stories.
So, here's to the independent record store - May you survive until next time I stumble across you with time on my hands!

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Acts of God & clouds of smoke

I was almost prevented from getting to Torino in January because of unprecedented snowfall, now our trip to Roma looks to have been scuppered by everyones favourite Icelandic volcano. I'm already beginning to wonder what we'll have to fight through to get to Calabria in the summer - maybe fire & floods?

Last time we were in Calabria we faced a wild fire, spitting & leaping across tinder dry land & fuelled by an angry wind up the valley from the sea for 24 hours. We fled the house, grabbing what we could & watched as the wall of flames moved to within 20 feet away, consuming everything before it. Then,as we prayed, the wind changed direction & blew itself out up the mountain away from the buildings. Talk about Acts of God!

So to this weekend, & our TV screens are filled with incredible images of huge pillars of cloud. Volcanologists (not to be confused with pointy eared Star Trek fans) are brought out from under rocks to offer pasty faced expert opinion. It's their moment in the sun, they have dreamt of this day. They will die under the bright lights of the TV studio, but it's all been worth it!

In my old insurance company days we used to define an Act of God as a catastrophe which no one could predict or prevent. This rather old fashioned notion that some things are just out of our control & only really God knows the end from the beginning. I'm sure in this post modern age of Dawkins et al we'll have to start calling them acts of nature lest we upset the sceptics.

Anyhow, that is a rant for another day. I had been under the impression that our trip to be with the fledgling church in Rome this weekend was very much in the plan of God. It seems that He has another way of doing things after all. Perhaps instead you will take this opportunity to join me in praying for our friends that we can no longer visit.

Pray that God Himself would encourage them, strengthen them, cause them to flourish. Pray that this little flock would know what it is to be led by a cloud of smoke, by the Good Shepherd Himself, even in days when they are without the kind of leadership we take for granted.Pray for vibrant, healthy New Testament churches to be planted in Rome. Pray for the Riconcilliazione family of Churches across Italy, that they would continue to grow & see breakthrough.
Join with me in calling for an Act of God, an unprecedented, unpredictable, uncontainable growth & spread of His Kingdom that sweeps this nation out of it's complacent brand of secular catholocism & into the promise of God.

That should keep you going whilst I try to sort out the refund on my tickets!

Friday, 26 March 2010

Six Degrees of Separation

Never mind six degrees, today I sat one degree, five feet to be precise, away from the greatest Englishman in modern history!
Just another Friday afternoon, & I sat in Caffe Nero reading John Crowder & sorting out my diary, when in walks the Rt Hon Nicholas Soames MP, grandson of Sir Winston Churchill. Here is a man who immediately draws attention to himself, not in an ego-centric way, he just has presence, & plenty of it.

Taking a seat at the ajoining table, I watched him lower his considerable frame into a chair which was never designed to have such greatness descend upon it. It was like trying to balance a grand piano on the quivering head of a matchstick.

I attempted to mind my own business & get into my book, but every so often I was picked up & dropped into the pages of history. His voice, which travelled rather well across the tables, carries echoes of all those speeches that were first heard across crackling wireless sets. So caught up was I in the moment that even an insipid comment about local building regulations beckoned me to stand & fight them on the beaches.

Then each time I glanced up, there was the profile - The jaw line, those famous bulldog jowls, the hairline, the broad proud shoulders somewhat rounded by the weight of world events.

Mr Soames of course is not his Grandfather. He is not perhaps touched with greatness, or maybe he has not been given the opportunity of a dire hour in which to discover it. He is nonetheless a good constituency MP who, if his comments today are anything to go by, seems genuine in his concern for those he represents.

Surely though, he must be fed up of wide eyed history buffs like me watching him in the manner of a slack jawed stalker. Try though I did, I couldn't stop myself. Here is a man who must have sat on Churchills knee, who heard first hand the stories of one of the last ever cavalry charges in the Boer war. Here was a man who played on holiday beaches with the leader who was ready to fight upon them. Here was a man who just mourned his Grandad whilst the rest of the nation filed passed at a state funeral.
Today I salute Mr Soames & his Grandad, though I will of course vote for neither of them come May!

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Long hot summer of cynicism!

It happens every year around the time the clocks go forward. As the daffodils lift their heads, up step the fantasy forecasters & we desperately want to believe them. Here we go again, this morning I read the first headline of the spring to herald a long hot summer in 2010.

The experts who were so narrowly wrong last summer (oh did you miss it?), the same experts who told us we would save on the heating bills through this mild, warm winter - they have dared to come out to play again! I quote, 'a summer of unbroken sunshine & record breaking temperatures, perfect BBQ weather, the best since 1976....'

I know their predictions are about as reliable as the human rights entry on Google China - But I can't help myself, I already feel hope of a suntan stirring in spite of a Met Office reputation for missing the target that rivals the unused directors cut footage from the new Robin Hood movie.

Our problem is that we are just too cynical. We congratulate ourselves over this national characteristic, we see it as a positive to always find the negative. We've moved beyond the simple, naive acceptance of earlier generations, we're the conspiracy generation, we don't believe the lies they feed us, & we should know, the powers that be have fed us enough rubbish!
I'm all for a robust questioning attitude, but cynicism is a dangerous poison. It hardens in us a natural critical response, it undermines our trust of authority, it produces a weary sideways view of the world which always expects the sky to fall in.

Imagine that we lived in an alternative Trumanesque world of sunday school innocence. A world where you say what you see, to quote Jim Bowen of Bullseye fame. A world where I am now busy cancelling my exotic foreign holiday in order to book a camping trip to mediterranean Cornwall on the strength of the Met Office predictions.
Imagine a world where WMD really did exist & the war on terror made sense after all. A world where the headline 'Peter Mandelson Spin' refers to a jocular radio two show. A world where Princess Di really is still alive, living in a mobile home in Skelmersdale with Elvis & riding Shergar to the corner shop each day to buy her copy of the Daily Mail. A world where Rio leads the triumphant England team up the steps to lift the World Cup in Johannesburg........
.....oh that's really too absurd. I'll be in the pub in July wearing my coat, watching us lose on penalities in the 1/4 final to some lank haired lantino types whilst it belts down with rain outside. Here's to a long hot summer of cynicism!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Does God really want to heal us?

We're learning a lot about healing. In the nitty gritty of ordinary life we are never short of opportunities if we are prepared to step out of our comfort zone & have a go.

Tonight we have a Healing Meeting. The specific naming of this gathering indicates what we hope the fruit will be - yet we remain locked in our experience (or lack of experience) when it comes to seeing the sick healed.

I've seen some incredible breakthroughs over the years, a terminal brain tumour disappearing, a 9lb growth in the womb shrinking to nothing in a week, a deaf ear opening to name a few. However, these high water mark moments of power breakthrough have been punctuated by far longer periods of powerlessness.

Much more frequent have been the times where I've prayed & nothing has happened. Or, if I'm being honest, I've even avoided praying at all. I really have been one of those wavering disciples of whom Jesus despaired, 'You have so little faith, how much longer must I be burdened with you!'

Not turning up tonight is not an option! So what do we do? Here are some thoughts that I may share this evening which help me & may even help you. I'm sure they're not all my own but have accumulated from my shameless devouring of other peoples wisdom on the subject. (And that is no bad thing)

I remain convinced that God wants to heal us. The only time someone doesn't get healed in the gospels is when the disciples are involved (Mark 9). Even here, Jesus comes down the hill to the rescue. If the scriptures show us a Saviour who always heals then we can't afford to lower the standard of the word to our level of inexperience, just because it makes us feel uncomfortable. We can't afford to create doctrines that simply aren't there in the life of Jesus - ideas that He may not want to heal, or that He doesn't really do this stuff today - it's not there in the bible stories I read, whereas the truth that He is ready to heal is staring us in the face!

Obviously, this raises far bigger questions, even if we are convinced that He wants to heal. What happens when it doesn't happen?

Well, it's not God's fault - there is no problem with God, He's not lacking in His power or compassion for the sick. Nor is it necessarily a problem with the sick person. Heaping the blame on them is never going to help, even though there are times when we do need to ask questions about lifestyle, forgiveness, repentance.

I've gone beyond taking it personally too. It's not down to me, dependent only on my great faith if someone is made well. No! We are bringing them to Jesus, He is the one who heals.

So, it looks like I'm saying that it's no-ones fault if no-one gets healed, that's a classic hedge your bets approach that should ensure no harm done & we all go home wishing we hadn't bothered! What I'm trying to say is that there are just bigger issues at stake than my faith, or even the faith of the sick person, this is only one element in the process. Bill Johnson puts it wisely when he says, 'Just learn to do your best, to be faithful to His gospel, & to honour Him for the results.'

We're learning to take some risks & we're taking on occasions like tonight because we want to evolve into the kind of ordinary people who live extraordinary lives at any time. So, we start at least from the firm foundation that God loves us & He does want to heal us. From thereonin, we're into the realms of uncharted territory!