Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Mine and Jude's top 10 Christmas jokes!

I’ve been searching for the best Christmas joke and I can’t decide. The best ones are either so bad that they belong in a Christmas Cracker, or so old that we all mouth the words together and recite the punchline before it’s delivered.

So here, in no particular order of preference are my current favourite Christmas one liners (apart from No5 which is a three liner, but I like the shuddering literalism of it!)

1/Q: What do you call Frosty the Snowman in May?
A: A puddle!

2/Q: Who hides in the bakery at Christmas?
A: A mince spy!

3/What do you call people who are afraid of Santa Claus?

4/It just wouldn’t be Christmas without M&S.
It would just be Chrita.

5/It was Christmas Eve in a supermarket and a woman was anxiously picking over the last few remaining turkeys in the hope of finding a large one. In desperation she called over a shop assistant and said "Excuse me. Do these turkeys get any bigger?"

"No" he replied, "They're all dead".

6/ Why is Christmas just like another day at the office?
You end up doing all the work and the fat guy in the suit gets all the credit

7/ What do you call a bunch of Chess Grandmasters, bragging about their victories in a hotel lobby?
Chess nuts boasting in an open foyer!

8/ Who sings ‘White Christmas’ then explodes?
Bang Crosby.

9/ What's the slogan for the Eskimo lottery?
'You've got to be Inuit to win you it!'

10/ How do you make Lady Gaga cry at Christmas?
Poker face.

Finally, as a Christmas bonus – Here is my Jude telling his own jokes in preparation for a school stand up this week!

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Angel Choirs, Shepherds & Belinda Carlisle!

The extraordinary angel choir ambushed the Shepherds, singing of a new kind of peace on earth. It was quite possibly the first choir those Shepherds had ever heard, and maybe even a premiere performance of angel singing anywhere on planet earth!

A description of the first century Palestine of these Shepherds sounds depressingly familiar to those of us who have seen the 21st century version on the news broadcasts - Split into deep historic rivalries, vying for power and favour with the Romans (or present day America). Even on a good day, tension never far from the surface, always ready to boil over into violence, which in turn can quickly escalate from a minor incident to sweep up the whole region in blood and revolution.

Not exactly 'peace on earth' now or then,unless you are prepared to fundamentally water down the definition of the word peace. From whichever century you look at it we seem as far away as ever from the tantalising hope of real peace.
Maybe the Angel choir just sings stuff they don't mean, more sentiment, myth and hope, than words fuelled with true substance? After all, Belinda Carlisle also sang about heaven on earth in 1987 and nobody took her too seriously and wrote all the words down as though they might have meaning....actually I did write them out on the back of a bedroom poster.....Either way, 2000 years later, we seem to be as far away as a Belinda Carlisle comeback tour from the authentic kind of heaven on earth proclaimed by the Angels!

As I read the Angel story again this morning,the same story we tell in the nativity year after year, this new peace still hasn’t appeared. We continue to live in the tension of the unfulfilled promise, choosing to believe in spite of harsh realities, of a greater promise for the planet.
The Angel choir reminds us that something so significant for the human race really was opened up that winter night. We find the end of the story in Revelation, where more magnificent Angel choirs sing, and a loud voice declares that God himself has finally come to live amongst his people, removing for ever their pain, sorrow, death and crying! Finally the kind of peace that was promised, finally a new heaven on earth!

That cold night with the Shepherds on a hillside in a divided Palestine, God’s promise of hope was born in the person of Jesus. True peace is personified in him, he is the Prince of peace, the completion of every prophetic longing for a better world. The rest of the world may have missed the announcement, but there will be no missing the unveiling of the promise in Jesus when the Revelation choir clear their throats and start to sing!

This promise to bring in a kingdom where wars, injustice, and even death
will be a thing of the past began with an Angel choir to a select few that had ears to hear, perhaps giving us all a glimpse of something we can live for even though we don't yet fully see it. Maybe Belinda Carlisle was right after all?

Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Cultural pendulum of purity

It's easy to adopt a revisionist view of missions history, believing our missionary forefathers stumbled through foreign lands with British blinkers on, blind to cultural sensitivities which have only been discovered by us in this global generation.

This assumption is arrogant and wrong. From the very beginning of the spread of the early church we find Paul relating the gospel first to Jews in the synagogue with a narrative they understood, then to to the Gentiles, adapting his story to point to the same Jesus. His Athenian preaching is well noted as a masterpiece of bridge building cultural awareness.

Later, some of the early church Fathers used the philosophical worldview of their day as a launch pad to communicate the gospel. Origen's strategy was simple. In his own words, he used philosophy 'in the same way the Egyptians were plundered by the people of Israel.' Their wilderness tabernacle was built by instructions given by God to Moses, but it was constructed with materials and treasures taken from a pagan society, redeemed to enable worship of God.

The danger was the same in Origen's day of carelessly swallowing all other aspects of culture, unthinkingly incorporating them into the thought and practise of the Christian life. 'There are those who from their Greek studies produce heretical ideas and set them up like the Golden Calf in Bethel.' In other words, these golden riches and ideas also came out of Egypt with God's people. Some things were right to assimilate into worship - other things most certainly were not!

Perhaps because of this danger with discernment, contemporaries of Origen like Tertullian advocated the opposite view. It was surely better as a Christian to withdraw from Greco-Roman life than to try to mix but become tainted by paganism?

All this is ancient history, but it is startlingly relevant in our generation. It is also helpful for us to recognise that we are in no way the first to face these cultural thought dilemmas. Each successive generation has swung like a pendulum, reacting to the excesses of the age before - over engagement with culture leading to unthinking excess and compromise - then reactive withdrawal, culminating in purity but also stagnation.

In 'Post Christian' Europe, the pendulum is rightly swinging away from rhe withdrawal and isolation of a pious but dead religious church, to an engagement phase that seeks to reach the unchurched and the un-boundaried with the same old message of the gospel. Only time will tell whether our rush for relevance and connectivity is fruitful missionally without compromising purity.

(This post is the 2nd on culture, following a post on 25 Oct 2012)

Friday, 23 November 2012

The ghost of Christians past and the modern Romanian

One amazing conversation in Romania last week highlights more than anything the huge shift that has taken place in 20 years or so since the fall of the Communist regime.
Aurel, a 26 year old teacher was a small child when Communism fell. Whilst things can still be incredibly tough for young Romanians, Aurel is a part of the generation that have grown up with relative freedom and without the oppression of the old order.

As a Christian, Aurel told me that he had got hooked on buying bibles! So many bibles, in so many shapes, sizes, versions and covers are now available: From red letter words of Jesus, to two tone leather pocket paraphrases - Aurel was hooked and buying them all!
One night recently in a dream, he had a conversation with William Tyndale! Tyndale is the father of bible translations, martyred for his English bible under Henry VIII's own brand of controlled regime.

Aurel says that Tyndale approached him in the dream holding a big black leather bible. Speaking in a stern voice, he scolded him saying, 'Will you just start to read this book!'
The next day, convicted of a sinful attitude regarding his growing bible collection, Aurel began to give his bibles away, keeping just the one, which he is now devouring every day - scared into change by a vision of a bearded Englishman!

Whilst this is great news for Aurel, it struck me as symptomatic of the new threat to Romanian christianity. A creeping familiarity and complacency, dulled by consumerism and materialism which could be more insidious than the more overt challenge of an athiestic Communist regime.
Remember, only 25 years ago, Brother Andrew was smuggling bibles into the city where Aurel now buys them by the shelf full. These smuggled, scarce scriptures were read, shared, copied by hand, even torn into portions and distributed in some rural areas. Young men and women gave themselves to memorising the portions that they had been privileged to receive.
Ioan Ianchis, who leads the group of churches we are serving had no bible until he was 25 and when he finally received one on the black market ,it cost him half his salary. 'How precious to me are your thoughts O God', is a sentiment that Ioan and his generation took literally - so precious that I will risk prison to own a bible and give away half of my salary!

In reflecting on this change, I'm thrilled that Aurel no longer has to face the pressure or hardships of those who have gone before. I'm thrilled that he has free access to bibles and books that will help him to grow. But I'm concerned about the challenge of complacency, and wonder whether the awful darkness of the Communist era actually produced stronger believers, who loved the word of God more as a result?
The answer is certainly not to long for the nostalgic days of persecution - there was nothing to be nostalgic about. But we must pray for Aurel and his peers to take hold of God in these days of openness, not to be distracted by western values that we have exported to them. Failing this, perhaps we can pray that Mr Tyndale will be engaged in more nocturnal visits to scare and stir this present generation into a true hunger and thirst for the word of God!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Women Bishops and the wife who wouldn't stay in the box

The General Synod of the Church of England will decide today whether to appoint women as Bishops. Many say this is the biggest breakthrough for women in the church, but history would contend with that idea.
The true architect of the Anglican church, Thomas Cranmer had woman trouble himself. The idea of appointing women to the clergy or to hold the office of Bishop would have been laughable to him. Cranmer’s women's issue was about his ability to even take a wife!

The tradition of clerical celibacy, approved of by Henry VIII in both his Catholic and Anglican phases, meant that Priests like Cranmer were unable to marry. In fact, it was simply easier to take a mistress, this was generally accepted as necessary, fulfilling the letter of the law if not the spirit of it.

Upon his first marriage, Cranmer had to resign his post at Jesus College and was almost reduced to poverty. Sadly the first Mrs Cranmer died in childbirth.
Cranmer’s rise to power was sudden and unexpected, as were his increasingly Lutheran views. After his appointment to Archbishop of Canterbury, Cranmer came home to England with a second wife. She was kept so secretly that no one is even sure of her name. Certainly, Cranmer’s many enemies were not even sure of her existence. There are some wonderful stories of the new Mrs Cranmer being smuggled into England in a large box with ventilation holes. Not quite the honeymoon she had dreamed of!

The problem may not have been the actual act of marriage, but rather that the wife in question was from German Lutheran stock. Either way, when the tide turned again with the Six Articles, tipping the balance back towards catholic doctrines and celibacy, Cranmer was forced to move his wife and children out of England for safety.

The big challenge for Anglicans from the beginning has been the pressure to compromise doctrines in order to hold differing factions together within a broad church. From rules about wives, to constant alterations of the prayer book - This gentle approach has meant the survival of the church, but is it a church of biblical faithfulness, or one which turns with the tide of current opinion?

Both sides in today’s important debate will undoubtedly feel the weight of history, doctrine and righteousness behind them, both cannot be right. What began with Cranmer’s hidden wife has opened a box which now cannot be closed. For 21st Century Western Anglicans shaped by cultural sensitivities, the inevitable end point will come today with Women Bishops out in the open.

I wonder whether Cranmer himself would rather it remained all hidden away, but we no longer have that option. No longer is it easier to use the analogy of taking a mistress - allowing women to officiate on the quiet in all but name, fulfilling the rules on a surface level. At least the situation will be clear, and perhaps with this new openness will come the breaking apart of the church that Cranmer started?

Thursday, 15 November 2012

From Hobbit holes to the ends of the earth!

I've been enjoying the Hobbit again, this time with my youngest son for the first time. Maybe it is stage of life, or coincidental to what I'm currently teaching through from the bible, but I'm seeing so many connections between the life of Bilbo Baggins and the call on ordinary people like us to wake up to the big promise of the kingdom.
The Bilbo we meet early in the story may have hairy feet and three breakfasts, but in every other respect he mirrors our lives - a love of comfort; a fear of strangers and of the outside world. The word "adventure” is not one he would use, that kind of thing is for others. For the Hobbit there is the satisfied pattern of a familiar, easy life.

Bilbo doesn't even know that he has a hidden longing for adventure built deep inside of him, it's in his Tookish side, in his blood, it's what he was really made for. Listening to the Dwarves sing their deep, mysterious songs of far off places, “Something Tookish woke up inside him and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine trees and the waterfalls, explore the caves and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick” Tolkien describes it as a fierce magic moving through him, awakening him to his true destiny.

I'm Bilbo Baggins, you are too. He is the epitome of our longed for simple, domesticated lives. One mundane day can follow another with quiet efficiency, whilst inside our spirits die. Risk, adventure, exploration become so high stakes that we stifle the desire under the heavy grey blanket of bland living, choosing instead to get our kicks in a fantasy world, through the TV, books or movies. Why else do we still send aging Attenborough to explore on our behalf, or enlist D list celebs to take our vicarious thrills and terrors and swallow them whole for us? Why else do we waste night after night playing Call of Duty with the lights out just to create some tension in our lives?

Most of us live out our days, feeling we ought to stir ourselves, leave our warm, cosy indent in the sofa and head off into the sunset, but the desire is so deeply hidden that the impetus only emerges through necessity or a realisation of calling. Bilbo breaks free into his destiny only because his calling literally comes knocking at his door, awakening the magic and leading him out, still against his better judgement

Gandalf's prophetic description of the nervous Hobbit is true of us, "There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself”
We were made for more than this. The big story of the bible speaks of a Saviour who knocks on the door of our settled lives and calls us out to join a new reality, an adventure far beyond the scope of our narrow confines.
The realisation that awakens is one which propels us to engage in a mission to the ends of the earth, starting in our own street. It will cost us everything we have, if we go after it, we will never be the same again, it will draw on the ordinariness of our lives and redeem all that we are into the process.
Even this week in Romania, I have seen this reality dawning in the lives of my travelling companions. Not professional explorers, missionaries or adventurers, but a Market Research guy and a Town Planner, stepping forward with all their life skills and experiences and leading others into freedom! Imagine what God can do with the life of an IT guy, a plumber or a stay at home mum, if we will hear the call and walk with him in adventure?

There is a lot more in you than you guess, you will only find out how much on the journey. There is only really one way to discover what you were made for, who you were made for, the mission you are called to serve on. Can you hear the sharp knock at the door? Will you leave the sofa, lay down your walking stick and all the comfort it represents, pick up a sword and head out of the door?

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Mainstream Mitt? What do Mormons believe?

Mitt Romney has not only brought slick hair back into American politics, but his Mormon faith has stirred up questions on both sides of the Atlantic.In the last few days I've been asked a number of times about what Mormons believe and whether they are mainstream or a cult. Assumptions range from Mormons being dangerous cultists, across the spectrum to believing that they are essentially Christians. Where do they stand?

This isn't a political blog posting, nor is it anti Mormon. Indeed, whilst the Mormon theology may be off track, Christians might find themselves closer to a Mormon politician on values than we realise. As Luther put it rather crudely 450 years ago, it's better to be ruled by a wise Turk than by a foolish Christian. I'm not calling Romney a Turk any more than I'm labling Obama a fool - but I am against knee jerk dismissals of potential leaders simply because they don't tick all of our boxes. Some Christian commentary has been so angrily obsessed with Romney's Mormonism but never raised an eyebrow at Al Gore's liberal secularism a few years ago.

Acknowledging that Mormons may share similar values whilst not believing the same things as Christians is healthy, and may even help us to see that this is possible with other faith groups too.
However, the purpose of this blog is to consider what beliefs are behind the values.

Here is where the conciliatory tone ends. Mormons, or the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints are in no way a true Christian church.
On the question of authority, Mormons will assert that the teachings of their founder, Joseph Smith, the prophet, supersede the earlier revelation of Jesus Christ. The latter day revelation given to Smith by the angel he calls Moroni, is the basis for the full name of the church, and the first reason why they are considered a cult. Indeed, a comparison of the life of Joseph Smith against the life and teachings of Jesus is enough to settle any argument about who you would want to follow.

The second measure of a cult is their use of scripture. It goes without saying that a faith which asserts the authority of a self proclaimed 19th century prophet, goes against the clear teachings of the bible. Mormons do use the King James Version of the bible, but with hundreds of additions and omissions. However, they hold up the Book of Mormon as essential in addition to other works by Smith.

The Mormon view on Jesus is most damaging. The belief that God the Father engaged in some kind of spiritual sexual union to give birth to twin sons Jesus and Lucifer robs Jesus of His eternal place in the Godhead and elevates Satan to an authority he has never had. The odd idea that Jesus visited North America after his resurrection to form the one true church with the Israelites or Indians becomes their warped basis for historic succession.

Lastly, Mormons deviate from Christianity with their view on salvation.
Jesus spoke to Nicodemus in John's gospel and told him, 'You must be born again.' The Mormon plan of salvation is literally a dead end.
For Mormons to enter eternal life they not only need to demonstrate faith in the God of Mormonism, but also in the authority of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; in reality this means a Mormon form of repentance and getting baptised in an official Mormon temple.
Then there are the rules to keep, what Mormons call the 'Word of Wisdom'. These are not bad things in themselves, but as a means to salvation they are more dead works. - abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine, tithing to the church; attending weekly sacrament meetings, supporting the current Mormon prophet, doing temple works, and actively supporting the church. Don't do the works - don't get to heaven.

Let me reiterate: Being clear that Mormonism is a cult does not mean we need to wave placards in front of our Mormon neighbours or that we treat them as dangerous. Remember, we may share more values than we realise, and it could be better to live with kindness around Mormons. Better to share the truth in a patient and loving way, leading them to the true prophet, priest and king, Jesus Christ who promises to take all their onerous burdens, lead them out of dead ends and give them true rest.

To Mitt and Obama today - May the man with the best values win!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

All Saints Day discipleship with Thomas Cranmer

Regular readers of this blog will have heard me wax lyrical about one of my heroes, Thomas Cranmer on numerous occasions. His 1549 and then 1552 revision of the Prayer Book would have changed English social history for ever had Edward VI only lived a few more years. As it was, Edward's untimely death meant the end of a reformed Prayer book, and soon after, an end for Cranmer, burned alive at the stake under Queen Mary.

We reformed modernists have turned our back on the old church calender with it's connection to the land, the seasons and the peoples of another age. However, the nuances of Cranmer's measured language, and his systematic teaching of theology to those who knew nothing of the gospel or the grand narrative of God's dealings with men, has yet to be surpassed in any generation. Quite simply, Cranmer discipled the entire English tribe with his simple daily prayers and scripture readings. His biblical ideas gradually becoming established and embedded in a nation that lay under the darkness of catholicism.

Here are his words for today, All Saints Day, which have been spoken and prayed in this way for over 450 years.

The Collect:
O Almighty God, who has knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord: Grant us grace so as to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys, which thou hast prepared for them that unfeignedly love thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Cranmer's Epistle reading is taken from Rev 7.2-12. The great multitude that no man can number, of all nations, and kindreds and peoples and tongues.
His Gospel reading is from Matt 5.1-12. Jesus on the mountain with the multitudes, teaching the Beatitudes.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Monsters v Anglicans 2

This is a re-post of a blog from a couple of years ago which begins to explain a little why we are hoping to redeem something from Halloween tonight, rather than just reject it wholesale and hide behind our front door.

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!

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Culture:Queues, Queens and other opportunities.

There is lots of talk in the worlds of politics, the arts and religion about culture. Shifting culture, niche culture, world culture, youth culture. For some around the globe, culture is morphing so rapidly that new trends and ideas emerge and disperse before they can be caught. Others though continue to live and think as they have always done, and as their parents generation before them did. It can be a bewildering, dizzying experience trying to pin down what our culture is and how it really affects us and those we do life with.

Simply put, culture is the way we organise our lives. The millions of daily, unconscious agreements we make that have been shaped by our society into rules and patterns that we unthinkingly conform to as normal. Normal to us anyway, perhaps not to those from across a cultural divide.
Culture is woven together like a complex tapestry that is passed down through generations, giving a society a way of expressing it’s corporate identity - Culture enables us to say to the world, ‘This is who we are!’
This tapestry is made up of multi layered shared beliefs, customs and assumptions about behaviour and attitudes that are inherited from our past and hold us together in conformity.
Culture is learned so early, so sub conconsciously, through so many absorbed assumptions from those around us, that it almost appears more genetic than learned - but every child is surely born culture free, before the layers of how to think and behave become quickly imprinted on this blank sheet.

If culture and our need to be rooted in a shared identity has so strong a pull on us as human beings, then it is no wonder that those of us who are experiencing the cultural disintegration of modern western life feel displaced?
Is it any wonder that politicians spend millions on ideas to unify a people who have long since fragmented around differing norms? Is it any wonder that we can feel displaced, unsure of our place in a changing world? Is it any wonder that no single voice of authority has the right to speak to a nation who declare ‘not in my name’?

But our fracturing leaves a hole that settled culture used to fill. Why are the cynics surprised then every time that we come back together like long lost family members at a reunion to enjoy rare shared moments like the Queen's Jubilee or Olympics? These precious few events, regathering the dislocated tribes of people who now call themselves British around some vague set of undefined values such as fair play and the need to queue up without complaining! However vague, we are so hungry for community and the inward pull of culture into family, that we bury our diversity to embrace a unity of sorts.

Such a longing presents a wonderful opportunity to those who have a message of belonging that speaks into changing culture, for those of us who live by a bigger, more defining story that unites people from every tribe, language group and nation. Into such a climate the family of Jesus followers have something distinctive to live out with the unifying story of the gospel, and something attractive to model to a nation who no longer know where or how they fit.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Temple tantrums and new truths!

I love to visit some of the grand church buildings that have been preserved for us. St Paul's, almost hidden under all the new glass and chrome in the best part of London, the turreted Orthodox cathedral in Cluj Napoca, Romania. My favourite of all is still the Pantheon in Rome, with it's odd mix of Roman pagan, catholicism and Italian nationalism rolled into one breathtaking whole!

2000 years ago Jesus outraged the legalists by standing next to Herod's massive temple building project in Jerusalem and claiming that he was going to tear it down, then rebuild it in three days. He was either crazy, or he had a different way of understanding the way we think about temples and church buildings.
Jesus took all the prophetic promises about Jerusalem's temple and pointed to himself. This centrepoint building in the nation, where broken, penitent people would come to find forgiveness of their sins, to get right with God, for physical healing even – Jesus put all of this on Himself. Sanding by the impressive temple building, he had the nerve to say 'Come to me!' This physical temple is good, but He's far more impressive!

John gives us a little commentary on this story in his gospel account. Letting us in on the incredible secret that Jesus wasn't really talking about the physical temple, but about his body. The disciples of course didn't realise this truth until after the events that followed. We shake our heads at their slowness, but would certainly have jumped to all the same half baked conclusions if we had been standing in the shadow of that enormous temple with Jesus.

The scriptures tell us that Jesus died, rose again after three days, ascended into glory, from where He has sent the promised Holy Spirit upon his followers.
He was absolutely right! In those three days, the role and purpose of the physical temple was totally undermined. It stood in Jerusalem a few years longer, but was already an unnecessary monument to a lesser covenant by the time that the Romans pulled it down in AD70.
In and through the body of Jesus, a new, greater temple now lives and breathes. The temple has come out onto the streets and lived amongst us. The ongoing presence of God by His Spirit now fills and lights up the lives of millions of believers. Every day for them is a temple moment as God comes down and inhabits ordinary lives, in ordinary homes, doing ordinary jobs - gracing our insignificance with His magnificence. No wonder Peter later calls us living stones - the old static temple has come alive and is slowly but surely filling the earth!

I'll be back in Cluj, near the beautiful Orthodox cathedral in a few weeks, but getting near the presence of God is no longer about going to the right building, or entering a special city, a sacred place.
All those images are shadows of the greater reality which has been fulfilled in the man Jesus who tore it all down! Whatever our culture or tradition, as Anglicans, Catholics, Orthodox. Whatever we may think about pilgrimage to Lourdes, or even Mecca, there is a new and greater truth to grasp which trumps all our old understandings and ways of seeing the world.
There is a greater revelation that in the person of Jesus Christ we find the presence of a prefect God has come to live on planet earth. Even more unlikely, we discover that his ordinary followers are built up into some kind of living temple, greater than any ever built by human hands and shining with glory into eternity.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Strangled for scripture. A tribute to William Tyndale

476 years ago today, one of the greatest Englishmen to have ever lived was first strangled, then burned at the stake in Flanders.
William Tyndale's terrible crime was to have translated the New Testament, and large parts of the old into The English language. His mission, for ordinary Englishmen to be able to hear the scriptures, and therefore the gospel for themselves.

Tyndale's work was a terrible threat to the Catholic monopoly, their need for control meaning that most of the population never understood a word that was being said by Priests. More significantly than just understanding the words spoken, the gospel itself was shrouded in medieval mystery and superstition.

That psychotic monster Henry VIII was the worst player in all of this. Remembered now for his reforming zeal, his earlier years were defined by defence of the Pope and violence against reformers. The royal title,'Defender of the faith' which remains to this day, arose from Henry's own flawed theological ramblings as the head of a steadfastly Catholic English nation.

The irony for Henry is that within a year of murdering Tyndale, he was publishing the Great Bible in English anyway. This effort watered down a little for the preference of weak Bishops, but made up almost entirely of Tyndale's earlier banned work. No one has shaped our English bibles, and perhaps the English language more than William Tyndale, who died a traitor's death in exile, away from the country who should have lauded him.
Today, Mr Tyndale, we salute you!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

A view of Naples : Not so innocent abroad?

144 years ago when the idea of the grand tour through undiscovered southern Europe was at its height, Mark Twain published his ' Innocents Abroad.' About Naples he remarked: 'I will observe here, in passing, that the contrasts between opulence and poverty, and magnificence and misery, are more frequent and more striking in Naples than in Paris even. One must go to the Bois de Boulogne to see fashionable dressing, splendid equipages and stunning liveries, and to the Faubourg St. Antoine to see vice, misery, hunger, rags, dirt--but in the thoroughfares of Naples these things are all mixed together. Naked boys of nine years and the fancy-dressed children of luxury; shreds and tatters, and brilliant uniforms; jackass-carts and state-carriages; beggars, Princes and Bishops, jostle each other in every street.'

Naples remains a wonderful, terrible city rolled into one. Driving through the heart of the city earlier this week I wondered that whilst Naples has modernised in part, the basic character of the place remains unaltered through the generations.

Shantytown shacks with plastic sheeting for walls and corrugated roofs, lean up against modern banks and factories. Factories built right up against the road that make things you would never want to buy. Angry graffiti on every surface, even the moving ones of train and bus. Billboards so numerous they stand one in front of the other, blocking, vying for your attention. Beautiful, sculpted gods smiling down on the poor, offering unobtainable dreams or transport to exotic, unreachable places. Raise your eyes and TV ariels gather en masse,  pointing skyward, standing tall like skeletal meercats crowded on the apartment roofs.

Piles of rubbish on every corner, and lining every street. In fact, rubbish everywhere, up against every wall and verge like filthy snowdrifts of litter.
The traffic choking. Mopeds weaving between buses and cars on the cobbled streets. Chaos reigns, although there seems to be some unseen order for the initiated, the constant sound of the horn and obscenities shouted from car windows providing the background music.

Immigrants are walking, carrying goods, down narrow alleys to the markets that spread across the central piazzas. Standing out against the early morning rush are the beautiful young. Texting, preening, self assured and self obsessed, clothed in designer labels. Their  hair, both men and women so unbelievably smooth and glossy they must have risen before dawn to arrange it. The old already sitting,watching, smoking, another day in the same spot as the world passes by their front row seat. 

In the tiniest corner between road and train track, with room just for a mat, a man runs his business, selling whatever he has been able to buy at dawn. Who can brave the traffic to cross to his makeshift store? He claims his pitch early, eking out a bare living in the shadow of the glass and chrome financial centre.
Shabby high blocks of once grand housing look down on a city  rotting, wasting. The modern facades and men in sharp suits unable to mask the decline, like decaying teeth in a once beautiful face, that still somehow retains a shadow of her youthful glory.
And whilst the city comes to life at the start of another day of heat and bustle, just like all the others that have gone before; That lethal half mountain Vesuvius looms darkly behind. Overdue, watching, waiting, forgotten by the millions who build their lives like ants on the volcanic slopes.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Prayer is......Part 2

I'm concluding yesterday's blog post with part 2 of 'Prayer is....'These headings have been taken from Jason Mandryk's outstanding latest edition of 'Operation World.'

Prayer is.......

4/ An act of warfare:
We are pictured in the scriptures as soldiers in a battle when it comes to prayer. Somehow, in the plan of God, we have been given the task of engaging on behalf of the millions around the world in our generation who do not yet know Jesus Christ. Mandryk says, ‘The gates of hell will not prevail against the church, but they must be stormed!’ Ephesians 6 instructs us to train ourselves to pray in the Spirit on all occasions, armoured up and ready for action.

5/ An act of sacrifice:
Daniel’s prayers resulted in him being thrown to lions. Many around the world today take great risk, even for their lives, in meeting to pray together. My overriding concern is often whether I will miss all or part of a Champions league football game on the TV if I go to the midweek prayer meeting – this attitude couldn’t possibly be further from the kind of attitude of sacrifice that is expected from true followers of Jesus. A people who pray will learn to turn aside from the insignificant, from busyness, even at times from legitimate concerns, in order to seek God’s face in prayer.

6/ An act of labour:
Prayer is hard work. It’s not unlike preparing to go out on a hard run, where we invent any excuse not to get started. There are sometimes moments in prayer where we may have to battle on, to keep going.
It’s no mistake that the word ‘labour’ takes us to the birthing room. This is the arena which best displays for us the work involved in prayer. The sheer effort of will, the pain and the groaning, yet the rewards which follow.
Jesus is our supreme example, sweating blood in the garden as He agonised for us. Later we read that ‘for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross.’ Any mother who has endured the terror of labour pains later remembers only the joy of a new slippery wet bundle in her arms. There are rewards for those who will persist in prayer, those who will give to God not just a prayer meeting, but their nights or their early mornings.

7/ An act of love :
Mandryk says again, ‘It’s impossible to be passionate about prayer if you are not already passionate about Him.’ Our intercession for friends and neighbours in our towns, to the unreached peoples around the globe is ultimately an act motivated by deep love for Jesus. Love for Jesus, and overflowing compassion for those He has made for relationship with Him. Against this backdrop of the love of Christ in our prayers, every empty agenda of mere church growth or increased numbers which sometimes underpins our praying, falls away.

Recommended Reading : Operation World - Jason Mandryk. The future of the global church - Patrick Johnstone

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Prayer is...... (Part 1)

I’ve been reading the introductory notes in the latest edition of the magnificent prayer guide, ‘Operation World’ this week. Normally, I dive straight into the information sections on the nations and their stats in order to feed our praying, but the notes by Jason Mandryk are well worth reproducing for some additional stimulation in our prayer week.
It’s so good, I will simply use Mandryk’s own headings below, and some of his quotes in places.

Prayer is :
1/An act of faith:
Prayer is light years away from the normal management or administration of our lives. When we pray we are recognising that we cannot operate in our own strength. We realise that we are asking for impossible things from an invisible God – this requires a genuine act of faith. F B Meyer said, ‘You do not test the resources of God until you attempt the impossible.’

2/ An act of obedience:
The Apostle Paul instructs the early believers to ‘pray without ceasing.’ The Psalmist prophesied, ‘Ask of me and I will give the nations as your inheritance.’ The clear invitation of the scriptures is for us to be active, frequent and attentive prayers. Primarily, prayer is motivated by obedience as much as by our need in any given situation.

3/ An act of worship:
Our prayer meeting last night was characterised by an extended session of praise. This IS prayer. In offering praise and worship we are recognising again who God is, reminded of our own inadequacy, flooded with confidence in His desire and ability to act in our world. We begin to place the King back on his throne and realign ourselves with His purpose and plan for our lives.
The old Prophet Isaiah, goes further, strengthening the connection between worship, prayer and mission. Jesus quotes Isaiah when He declares :’My house will be a house of prayer for the nations.’ In other words, the house of God, the place where God is worshipped and adored at the centre, is also the very place where petitions are made on a grand scale. This all flows naturally out of praise and worship!

Part 2 tomorrow.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

For runners everywhere : From Kenya to Kent.

I am an averagely slow, heavy, heel first runner, who has been trying to get fit by getting out early in the mornings over the last year since I had to give up my promising football career!

Next week, with a team of 15 or so local runners, including one of my sons, I will run a local 10k race to raise money for our Jubilee Initiative, a group of charities which we are personally involved with. Some of these charities are run by my friends, Jospeh and Lillian serving street children in Zambia, or Rod and Diana working for justice amongst girls sold into sex slavery in India for example.

I’ve recently read a great little book called, ‘Running with the Kenyans’, By Adharanand Finn. At a time when my training has suddenly got a little more serious, his personal story of transformation through running has made all the effort seem inspirational, almost spiritual. There are some great quotes from his book here which runners everywhere will find themselves identifying with. Enjoy, then get your trainers out!

‘Every day in Africa a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows that it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you better be running.’ Abe Gubegna, Ethiopian author.

‘No race begins at the start line.’ Haile Gebreselassie

‘If you want to win something, run 100m. If you want to experience something, run a marathon.’ Emil Zatopek

‘When the missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land and the missionaries had the bible. They taught us how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the bible.’ Jomo Kenyatta, first President of Kenya

‘Ask yourself, ‘Can I give more?’ The answer is usually, ‘Yes’.’ Paul Tergat, Kenyan Athlete

‘Right before you head out running it can be hard to remember exactly why you are doing it. You often have to override a nagging sense of futility, lacing up your shoes, telling yourself that no matter how unlikely it seems, after you finish you will be glad you went. It’s only afterwards that it makes sense, although even then it’s hard to rationalise why. You just feel right. After a run, you feel at one with the world, as though some unspecified, innate need has been fulfilled.’

‘Running is a brutal and emotional sport. It’s also a simple, primal sport. As humans, on a most basic level we get hungry, we sleep, we yearn for love, we run. Just watch small children left to play unsupervised. They can’t stop running. It’s part of what makes us human. Perhaps it is to fulfil this primal urge that runners and joggers get up every morning and pound the streets in cities all over the world. To feel the stirring of something primeval deep down in our bellies. To feel a little bit wild.’

‘We may obsess about our PB’s and mileage count, but these things alone are not enough to get us out running. We could find easier ways to chart and measure things. We could become trainspotters or accountants. No, the times and charts are merely carrots we dangle in front of our rational mind, our over analytical brain, to give it a reason to come along for the ride. What really drives us on is something else, this need to feel human, to reach below the multitude of layers of roles and responsibilities society has placed on us, down below the company name tags, even the father, husband, son labels, to the pure, raw human being underneath. At such moments our rational mind becomes redundant. We move from thought to feeling.’

If you want to find out more about our Jubilee Initiative, click here :

If you would like to sponsor me or Noah for our 10k run next week, follow this link :

Friday, 17 August 2012

Apostolic foundations and the nations part 3

This is the third video blog of the summer, attempting to outline some of the vision and values that underpin how we are working into the nations from our local church base in East Grinstead.

For those of us brought up in church on the genuinely inspiring missionary stories of the past, it's hard to imagine a different way of operating. However, this global generation requires new thinking on missions that will be effective into the 21st century. The rapidly changing, ever more connected planet offers new opportunities for mission that are rooted in the strategies of the original church planting Apostles.

This third video emphasises a focus on development over aid, and gives some scenarios where this shft is beginning to make a difference. Your comments and feedback are welcome, and if you want to know more about how we are working or get involved, please contact me.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Apostolic Foundations and the nations part 2

This is the second short video of the summer, designed to give you a taste of some of the vision and values that are shaping our developing work into the nations from our local church base. If you want a recap, part one can be found in the July archive of this blog.

So many of the old missionary models which have been unquestioned for generations, are being challenged in this new global, fast moving 21st century. We are discovering that we need new thinking about how to engage with the world and establish simple, effective new testament partnerships. Such partnerships are effectively the same new testament foundations that the first Apostles laid in the early church, albeit, reimagined for our generation.

This clip looks at some of the downsides to the old missionary model, and describes the thinking behind the kind of apostolic partnerships that we are now actively engaged in.

Let us know what you think, comments always welcome!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

5 Cultural Observations from the Olympics!

1/ High Five whenever you can.
I’ve been trying to contextualize this for those of us who are not Olympians. Maybe when you’ve successfully sent an email, put the bins out in the nick of time - just spread the love and success by high fiving a friend or colleague.

Even if you’ve lost the point it seems a high five remains appropriate. In moments of extreme tension such as set point, or perhaps dealing with a difficult customer at work, a full chest slam or group hug is now de rigueur. Good to see too that the reassuring bottom pat has made an unexpected return. Reassuring yes, office!

2/ London is a truly great international city.
With the rise of fast expanding mega cities in the east and the global south, big European cities will no longer be able to compete on size alone over the next 25 years. London has proved that size isn’t everything. The public transport was good, the doomsday reports of gridlock were wrong, the signs and stewarding were excellent. In fact happy stewards in the midst of the early morning commute deserve a special high five all of their own! (see above, point 1)

I felt genuinely proud to see our capital looking at its best. Already home to the nations, modeling multi cultural hospitality to the whole world - and still managing to sell them a bit of overpriced tat too!

3/ Brits are too polite and only benignly patriotic.
We don’t really understand patriotism like the Poles who surrounded me at Earls Court for the Volleyball. The best we can do is Henman Hill and a bit of face painting, perhaps the occasional dig at the French/Germans/Argentinians from time to time.(Delete as appropriate).

Other nations do cross border hatred so much better than us. Listening to the Poles boo the Bulgarians as they served was a strangely uncomfortable experience for us Brits in the cheap seats - it’s just not cricket. The woman next to me from Wimbledon was more upset than a Daily Mail reader who had caught someone putting a cat in a wheelie bin! Of course – being thoroughly British, she did nothing about it other than tut!

4/ Danny Boyle is a genius.
Five days later and everyone is still talking about the Opening Ceremony that has restored our national pride more than 50 gold medals would. (With the undoubted help of Mr Bean and the Queen). Group hug and High Fives all round for Sir Danny Boyle!

It was mentioned non stop in the food queues/toilet queues/tube queues/stadium queues. Nothing shows our Britishness like our ability to queue well. Put that in the next Olympics with mixed distances – Mens 50m queue, Mens 100m queue etc – we will win loads of golds!

5. The Sound of Music.
What’s with the need to fill every gap in play with a loud tune? I know all of life is lived to a soundtrack now, and anyone under the age of 30 has their ears filled with phones permanently. The swimmers in their overcoats and oversized headphones are showing that, bizarrely shutting out the encouragement of the biggest crowd of their lives.

Sport doesn’t need diluting with a tune when it already comes with a roar! Truly great sporting moments are reduced by the addition of music. A moving song can be added later for the youtube clips and super slow mos on HD.
It’s an unnecessary import from American indoor sport, built on the need to stimulate people with short attention spans. Don’t the Americans realise, us Brits were brought up on a diet of five day Test Matches and football games that can end 0.0. We have learned how to concentrate on sport. We don’t need Katy Perry blaring out on the terraces during the game – some music over half time Bovril will be fine. We don’t need Cheerleaders – being told to be cheerful only induces misery.

A uniquely London Olympics could take a helpful cultural lead here. Listen - the only appropriate soundtrack to a point won or lost in a sporting arena is the gasping and cheering of the crowd. That’s all.

Friday, 27 July 2012

A small Olympic stage in a vast cosmic arena.

The eyes of the world will be on a stadium in East London tonight. A global audience of billions will be watching one city on the planet to see who is the biggest, strongest, fastest and best over the next two weeks. What has been built in the Olympic park is staggering. The sheer hard work and brilliance of the thousands of athletes from around the world just to get there is incredible.

As we celebrate pinnacles of human achievement in sport, architecture and a regenerative city legacy, we are in danger of our own Babel moment of hubris though. This old Greek word is ideal for our over confident, self sufficient generation. Hubris, tips us over the edge, over hyping, strutting, swimming in a pool of self congratulation at our own human effort, courage and skill.

I’ll enjoy the Olympic spectacle and fireworks tonight, but I’ve been reminded this week to get a better perspective. Reading Louie Giglio’s ‘Indescribable’, he references a photo of planet earth taken by the Voyager space craft some 3.7 billion miles from home. This famous image of the ‘pale blue dot’ pulls the rug from under all our hubris and installs a quiet humility. The fact that we are so hard to see, and that our planet barely registers in the near galaxy, even with all the fireworks tonight, reminds us where we stand in the big picture.

In his book, Giglio quotes astronomer Carl Sagan.
‘That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilisation, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar’, every ‘supreme leader’, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena….our posturing, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.’

The Psalms take the pale blue dot in the sunbeam and give us the inside track. In the Message version of the bible it goes like this: ‘I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous, your handmade sky-jewelry, Moon and stars mounted in their settings. Then I look at my micro-self and wonder, Why do you bother with us? Why take a second look our way?’

Leaving the vast cosmic arena and google earthing back to London - We can applaud like crazy tonight and over the next fortnight at the breathtaking displays of human energy. But we can also rest with the ancient Psalmist in true hubris free, God centred perspective, a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam, smiled on by God himself.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Flags, Olympic Chaos & other doomsday scenarios!

Let's hope the North  Korean's geography isn't as bad as ours. I would like to point out that if they are planning to fire their shiny communist era missiles our way, it was Scotland that snubbed you, not London!

If the chattering liberal doomsday media hadn't made such a fuss about the wrong flag on the PowerPoint then no one would have known - in the words of Scooby Doo : We might have just got away with it if it wasn't for you meddling kids. 
This was a women's football match between well supported Columbia and North Korea, traditional footballing powerhouses. It was being played two days before the London Olympics officially begin, in the capital city of a neighbouring country! There was no one in the stadium other than the few hundred school children they could give tickets way to, no one was watching on the red button on BBC3 and nobody has a tv set in North Korea, other than Kim Jung Ill Junior,  the new Dear Leader who has a big room where he has gathered all the tv sets and Betamax video players in the land where he watches re runs of Jim'll Fix It for 23 hours a day.

There is probably a serious point somewhere in all of this. We don't teach geography like we used to. My son spent two years working towards his GCSE by counting and sorting pebbles which they had collected on a beach field trip. The only way we could teach our children to learn the names of capital cities and recognise flags was to link it into bonus questions when the weekly pocket money was handed out. There was never any danger of them learning the difference between the circle of South Korea and the star of North Korea at school.

Having said all that, it was a great comedy moment in what should be a fantastic school sports day of an Olympics. I'm fully expecting the Daily Mail scaremongers to be right when we find that the 100m is run in 8.6 seconds because the track was inaccurately measured with an old school trundle wheel. Or perhaps the plugs don't fit in the diving pool and the water has to be topped up with a hose in between competitors? Maybe it will be the chaos caused by the National Anthem regulation committee who have reduced all anthems to a standard 37 seconds, meaning that countries like Uruguay don't even get to draw breath and sing the first line!

So here's to Scotland, and their fine school PowerPoint flag presentation which has got us off to the best possible start. Are these guys still available for the opening ceremony?

Monday, 23 July 2012

Wiggins v Eddie the Eagle - the changing face of the British Anti hero

Oi Bradley, read the script! You were supposed to get a puncture on the Chans de Élysées, or do the gentlemanly thing and let that nice Italian pass you on the last lap, or even get your sideburns caught in your chain and come in second, bloodied but heroic. But what is this kind of relentless victory?

This was a Sunday when the sporting psyche was turned on its head. A confident Australian bottled the Open when he practically had his name on the trophy, and a plucky Brit closed out a victory without even a hunt of a wobble. What kind of summer is this where the weather and even the national sporting stereotypes are upside down? We just don't have a paradigm for understanding this!

Bradley Wiggins is a total failure of a British hero. Doesn't he realise, his role is to raise our hopes, try really hard, then fail spectacularly at the last to a technically superior foreign opponent? We can then satisfy ourselves by saying its not really a proper sport, or the way that these Europeans win is boring anyway.
For years we have had willing contenders to this anti hero underdog role. Tiger Tim Henman, nearly man Andy Murray, any England penalty taker of recent tournaments.  But Wiggins, he is not our kind of hero at all. We actually prefer the under funded amateur, the self made man who battles against the odds with pluck and courage. Pluck and courage are not to be dismissed, no one is going to win anything without them, but they are not enough in the hands of a jolly amateur who is having a go in the spirit of Eddie the Eagle. 

Wiggins diversion from the British cultural script is wonderful. 20 years ago he would have made his own bike out of spares, done sponsored rides to pay for the tour and finished after dark every night because he had a carrier bag of bike spanners and a halfords puncture repair kit swinging from his handlebars. 20 years ago us Brits were still suspicious of exotic European men in Lycra. We preferred our endurance athletes in tweed suits and handlebar moustaches. At least Bradley is part way there with the sideburns!

But now, this utter professionalism, where nothing is left to chance. We've never lacked courage, but now it is allied with relentless preparation and planning. Bradley even has someone pass him a ready peeled banana after the race. He has to do nothing other than cycle brilliantly. Poor, brave Eddie the Eagle never got near a banana or an isotonic sports drink, he was too busy making his own skis out of his neighbours garden fence!

So we salute you Bradley wiggins, Chris Froome,  Mark Cavendish! You British cyclists are slowly but surely breaking the contented cycle of plucky defeat in the British psyche. We don't want to be happy losers anymore, last ditch bottlers, we want to celebrate world domination - who knows, maybe a pile of gold medals in the next few weeks in the warm English sun will sweep away this failure complex forever - let the Aussies or the Germans catch it for a while - We are British and we are here to win!

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Living with margins and dodging camels!

Who says we have to own a bigger home or drive a newer car, or that our kids have to be involved in 5 competitive sports a year? I know some parents who keep a spreadsheet on their computer in order to keep up with the activities of their kids - Never mind a spreadsheet, we've made life so frantic we need a therapist!

Maybe it's driven by the usual tiredness that hits us the week before the schools break up, but we don't have to buy into the lie that the world determines how fast a pace of life we live. We don't have to let our children buy into it either.

It's that time of year again where the allure of slower summer days begin to nibble at our subconscious and leave us dreaming of a different life. If like me, you find you have got caught up again in busyness and find yourself living for the next break, wake up - like the English summer, those days of ease are never going to come!

Our western consumer culture defines how we live more than we like to admit. It shapes and drives the use of our time and money. We have got used to spending what we don't have, and treating our time the same way as our money. We are living in the red, overdrawing month after month, damaging relationships, working without energy or initiative, robbing our bodies and minds of rest and energy. More than this, we think it's ok, and that someday we will catch up.

This entire strategy for life is flawed. We live with no margins, no room to breath, to stop, think, reflect. No room to respond to what is going on around us in the world. So often living for the weekend or next holiday.

This kind of frantic living is entirely dictated by a world view which says we have to push ourselves in this way - But it is bad news for us, and even worse news for those who should be able to see Gods people living counter culturally and distinctively. Something's got to give and the solution is radical. We were designed for hard work, but with patterns of restorative rest built into our lives.

This summer I'm endeavouring to reintroduce some margins. Some life space in which to deliberately slow. The only thing diaried is the space itself. The kind of rest which does us good, restores our energy, stirs our creativity. Usually that involves being around the right people - those that are good for you, and you for them, children, family, husbands wives, real friends.

I've been reflecting on the way that I'm wired for this process and I'm using the formula FUNF. You can laugh all you like, but it works for me! FUNF stands for : Family. Us (me and Cazzy). Nature (if I don't go walking, reading, thinking, people watching in a city, running in the streets, watching great movies....I'll dry up!) Friends(People we can be ourselves around). Your acronym may be a little different depending on your own make up, but most of the same things will do most of us good.

Author Floyd McClung says it well in his book, 'You see Bones, I see an army' : 'If there are no margins in your life, you will not have time to hear God. If there is no space, no free time for you to read and reflect, how can you be refuelled emotionally and spiritually? Passion for Jesus and his purposes in life are chosen, then nurtured by those who refuse to let the world shape them in its mould. You are free to say no. If you don't, the camel of frantic living will hunt you down, run you over then dance on your grave!'

We all know what we did last summer! Are we going to build in some lasting margins and habits this year which keep that crazy camel of frantic living off our case?

Monday, 9 July 2012

Prayer of faith for the gift days

A number of you have been asking about the prayer that I read out at the second of our gift days at New Life in East Grinstead yesterday. For those who want to read it, use it, or share it - here it is.

Lord we remember the stories of how you have provided for your people. How your children in the wilderness saw you give them food for 40 years and shoes and clothes which never wore out. We remember Elisha and the widows pots of oil,  she kept pouring as you kept giving. We recall Ezekial and the army you called out of dry bones. We remember the Acts community giving generously, living with devotion to Christ and one another, having no poor among them. You've called  us to shine with your glory in the same way to our generation, You're going to bless us so that all the ends of the earth will be blessed

We're going to keep trusting and walking forward. You will put in our hands what we need every step of the way. Every time we pour out, you are going to give us what we need.

Teach us to trust you. Break us out of comfort and ease, teach us radical trust and faith. You're going to put it in our hands

We face the curve of financial predictions like a mountain. We are walking into the promise trusting you, you will either move the mountain or give us provision and strength to scale it.

We trust you like Elijah waiting for the abundance of rain, like Abraham waiting for a son. We don't see it yet, we don't see a way it can happen in the natural. Our resources are finite, we're giving sacrificially already,  but you have promised and we believe you.

Like the boy with his lunch we offer it all up to you and you multiply it. Here comes the promise, you are coming through for us, your glory is going to be seen and heard. You are going to astonish people with your provision. 

 You are going to wake up the town with your exploits. Your going to bless the ends of the earth. You have promised greater glory, that you are building a house of glory here that will surpass what previous generations have seen.

 We trust you for it today though we don't yet see it. We gird ourselves, we receive faith and encouragement. We are not going to allow fear, disappointment or anxiety into our spirits. We refuse to worry about the naughts, we remind ourselves that naughts mean nothing to you. We lift our heads to you and stir ourselves to believe an impossible promise.

You are our good shepherd, surely leading us to safety, to green pastures, to a secure place, to victory over every enemy. You will not lead us astray or let us down, you are committed to working out your purposes amongst us your people. Your a good father who promises to provide. You are not going to abandon us like orphans who go without.

We're not going to flinch or turn around, we're going to press on and see what you do. We're hanging onto you and your promise, we've got nothing else, no other way,  we're going into this fire whether you lead us out or not, were not turning back now, not giving in, where else would we go, you have the words of eternal life!

Come upon us again this morning as we pray and worship, liberate us to give with joy, release a confidence in you and your plan that sits deep in our foundations. A confidence that you build on in the weeks and months ahead as we walk into all that you have prepared for us. 

Friday, 6 July 2012

Apostolic foundations in the nations

In response to some questions about how we are working into the nations, I'm going to post a few short videos over the summer. These should give you a taste of the vision and values that are behind what we are doing, and that directly shape our church planting work into a number of countries.

A lot of the old ways or 'missionary models' are being discarded. There is much we can learn from, but we are also needing a new way of engaging with the world in the 21st Century, ways of working in simple New Testament pioneering partnerships. These are essentially the same apostolic foundations that the first century church planters laid, albeit, contextualised for our generation.

This first clip details some of the structure behind the vision to see churches planted and leaders released - the need for financial support. Do we follow the old missionary handout model, or is there a more dignified, mutually beneficial way of generating wealth to support church planters?

Let me know what you think, and indeed, if you want to partner with us in this developing process.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Bankers, handshakes and the heart of forgiveness

Whether it's HSBC or Barclays money traders, the Queen and Martin McGuinness, John Terry and Patrice Evra.....
Payday delay chaos, immoral work ethics, empty gesture handshakes, or no handshake at all - it seems the whole world has someone to forgive!

Everyone has all kinds of issues in life. Forgiveness, or the lack of it, is one of the universals we all face. To qualify for forgiveness issues, we simply have to live for long enough - it won't be long before someone hurts you, inadvertently or deliberately.

Like it or not, we will also hurt others in the same way. Mostly we seem to stumble through life oblivious to the trail of damage we leave in our wake - like the old boy who drives the wrong way up the one way street, shaking his fist at all those who seem to be against him, unaware of the carnage that a glance in his rear view mirror would reveal!

What are we to do with the accumulated pile up in our rear view mirror - that done to us and by us? Whatever sweet pill of self actualisation Psychologists would help us swallow, we can't change our past. We're all living with the accumulated consequences of other peoples sin in our lives. The only real choices we have, are to endure it all under the bondage of bitterness, or cut it off through the freedom of forgiveness.

Forgiveness really is that powerful an action, and it is a stark choice for all of us that have been the wrong way up the one way street of life. I deliberately call it a choice, rather than a decision that we make to forgive once we feel like it. Fact : We will never feel ready to forgive, but we can all choose to forgive.

This deep and liberating choice for forgiveness is found ultimately by humbling ourselves before the God who took the forgiving initiative with us. Whilst our backs were turned and we stumbled through life without reference to Him, He offered Himself to cover completely all our wrongs and debts. Before we even knew we needed it, He wrote a cheque to cover a fine greater than even Barclays can pay!

This Christ like attitude can be ours towards others if we will first lay ourselves down at His feet. In His pattern and likeness, a new people emerge on an unforgiving planet - Those who forgive much because they themselves have been forgiven even more!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Two weeks with John Livingstone Nevius

I've had plenty of wonderful two week holidays in far flung places over the years, but if you wrote to the locals today they would not remember me. There is no trace of me having been amongst them, no legacy from my impact.

John Livingstone Nevius spent only two weeks in Korea in 1890, yet the simple advice he gave to missionary leaders on that visit continues to shape the ongoing growth of the Korean church to this day!

Travelling into Korea from his base in China, Nevius was at odds with the normal, colonial missionary approach. He understood that both the gospel and church plants failed to penetrate national culture when they remained in the hands of western missionary leadership. Nevius believed that local leaders could and should be trained. Leaders who could establish their own churches and reach their own people far more effectively.

Thankfully the Korean missionary group who heard Nevius in 1890 were open to his remarks. He left them four principles which continue to underpin the growing work there. These principles were staggering at the time, and even now have a ring of mutuality and pragmatism which we would do well to take note of in the UK, nevermind in our work into other cultures.

1/ Nevius said that Christians should remain in the situation in which they lived, learning to witness to their friends and family within their circle. He stressed the importance of the new church not becoming dependent on ministers or missionaries to do the work - rather, they should release ordinary believers who are equipped through study and prayer.

2/ Structures should only be developed if the local church can take full responsibility for them. No more schools or clinics which are funded by missionaries originally, which later become a huge financial liability for local believers.

3/ The Korean church should select it's own leaders, appoint them, and take responsibility for supporting them. Again, local leaders should not be imposed from outside of the culture, especially those funded by foreigners!

4/ Church buildings should reflect the Korean style, and built from the resources of the local believers rather than being funded from a missionary pot. There was no place in Nevius's thinking for replica Anglican gothic buildings complete with clock towers and gargoyles in downtown Seoul!

In Western Europe today, as the church struggles to connect it's message to rapidly changing culture, Nevius has things to teach us. If he spent two weeks amongst us, would he remark in similar fashion?
What we can't argue with is the stats -in 1900 Korea had a Christian population of 0.1% Today it is nearer to 35% with perhaps as many as half the people in the capital, Seoul now following Christ.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Unreached people groups next door

For those of us who grew up with an old 'missionary' mindset, unreached people groups were exotic tribes in far flung places. Our basic understanding was that these people were totally different from us in every aspect of language, culture, education, and lifestyle. They didn't know the gospel and someone would have to go to them.

In more recent years we became aware of phrases like 'the 10/40 window'; That helpful description of the geographical area of longitude and latitude which covers the least evangelised people on the planet.Stretching across the Arab world, North Africa, through the Middle East, eastwards towards it's extreme end point, Japan.

This truly is unreached territory, and rightly has the focus of mission groups and churches. The most unreached nation on the planet, Tunisia, has a Christian population of 0.21%, of which a sum total of 0% are evangelical believers! Indeed, of the top twenty most unreached nations, 19 of them are Islamic, and one, Israel is not!

However, there is a growing population of unreached peoples on our doorstep. People who are not far from us culturally, people who share the same tribal roots and even aspects of language with us.

In mission terms, populations with less than 2% evangelical believers are rightly classed as unreached with the gospel. In many cases they have a relatively high nominal christian population, and even a state church, but they are unevangelised. These are nations where there is so little dynamic New Testament church life, where the gospel is no longer deeply embedded into culture and national life.

It may surprise you to know that from this unreached list, 15 of the top 20 nations are in Europe - the home of reformed Christianity. Indeed, of the top 40 most unreached, 27 are European. On the list are our French cousins, Italy, Belgium, Spain. Many nations which are nominally Catholic, and some Orthodox as you move into Eastern Europe. Britain is not too far behind. All now, effectively unreached with the gospel. All now with less than 2% of the population that have any meaningful roots in biblical Christianity. All similar to us in culture, with all our shared history.

Our missionary understanding and methodology may be changing, but whilst we continue to send and train cross culturally to the 10/40 window, who will come alongside and work with those small groups of believers in post-Christian Europe, in order to reverse this decline and see authentic Christian community established and spreading again?

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Barking up the wrong worship tree

I've been doing some thinking about worship, creativity and post moderns. For those of us who have grown up in this generation, it is possible for us to be breathtakingly introspective. Our characteristic consumer culture and 'meet my needs' worldview, turning our worship of God into an exercise of naval gazing narcissism.

Whilst we sing,'It's all about You', we actually think,'It's all about me'. This is a dangerous perspective if left unchallenged, which robs God of His rightful place, and leaves us thinking that His role is to serve our needs. The old dog and cat theology lesson says it best:

A dog sees his master return at the end of the working day and thinks: 'This guy looks after me, he plays with me, he feeds me, he gives me somewhere to sleep, he's always there and he cares for me. He keeps me safe and I want for nothing. He must be God!'

A cat sees his master return at the end of the working day and thinks: 'This guy looks after me, he plays with me, he feeds me, he gives me somewhere to sleep, he's always there and he cares for me. He keeps me safe and I want for nothing. I must be God!'

Can you see the problem here? So much of what we may think is worship is misdirected. So many of the songs of our times reflecting our needy self obsession. We may be just barking up the wrong tree altogether. Cats wake up - its a dogs world and we have a master to serve!

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Heathen Europe and the greater Carey legacy

William Carey, the Cobbler from Kettering who became the 'Father of modern missions', was famously rebuked 230 years ago. At a Ministers meeting, agitating about the possibility of foreign missions, Carey was put in his place by this patronising reply, 'Young man, sit down! When God chooses to save the heathen, He will do it without your help or ours!'

Could there ever have been a more monumental misunderstanding of how God chooses to work in the world to fulfill His great plan? Undaunted, Carey wrote his 'Enquiry' pamphlet - An attempt to show that the Great Commission remained valid, and probably the first missionary survey of the nations in the English language, showing regions, languages, main religious groups.

Carey was both disdainful and pragmatic in dealing with some of the main objections to missions amongst the nations. 'First, as to their distance from us....' He puts this down by saying modern boats have a compass and that sailing is now more certain and safe! He acknowledges that European food may be hard to obtain, but masterfully goes on to say that because the 'natives' eat something, so can the missionaries. As to learning their languages, Carey has no time for excuses ; 'It is well known to require no very extraordinary talents to learn, in the space of a year or two at most, the language of any people upon the earth.' This comment of course from a man who taught himself Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Dutch and French whilst he was still working as a Cobbler and Pastor in Kettering!

The truth is, God chose to save the heathen by using the 'help' of ordinary men just like Carey. His conviction about the Great Commission, transformed not just his own life, but the pattern of missions that followed. Almost 70 years after Carey's death, in 1900, India and China received more missionaries than any other nation on the planet, mostly sent from the UK and America. Over 7000 men and women took Carey's model as their own, convinced in the upside down way of the Kingdom, that God was indeed wanting to work with them to reach the nations. Could there be a greater legacy than this for Carey?

In a word, Yes! What William Carey could never have anticipated, was the reversal of missionary culture which is now taking place in the 21st Century. Patrick Johnstone's excellent 'The Future of the Global Church' confirms that in 2010, over 82,000 Indians were sent out as missionaries by the resurgent Indian church. Yes you read that right, 82,000 men and women coming out from the nation that William Carey arrived in alone. Indeed, you can add to that over 20,000 Koreans and a similar number from China.

The rise of the church in the Global South and the Far East is shifting the missionary power base in our generation. This change is accelerated by the increasing secularisation of 'Post Christian' Europe, where it is possible to now call nations such as France and Italy 'unreached people groups'. The United Kingdom is a case in point. The home base of pioneers like Carey, and the top nation for sending missionaries abroad in 1900, is today the fifth highest receiver of missionaries on the planet - most of whom have come from the Far East, Nigeria and South America.

So it remains true. To paraphrase the famous Carey put down - 'God does want to save the heathen in Europe, and he will do so with the help of the Indian believers!'

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Bankrupt worldviews and the developing world

Materialism and consumerism are probably the two defining worldviews which operate within our Western culture in the 21st Century. More than 'operate', they have us in their vice like grip - worse than this, we are blind to it, stumbling unaware through our lives filled with plenty of stuff but devoid of any real meaning.

One of the best ways to spot whether you are being lied to by a defective worldview is to get outside of your own culture and enter someone else's paradigm. There is no bigger jolt to our system than landing amongst people who don't see the world in the same way as us, who don't value the stuff that we thought was of primary importance. For many of us, we get the occasional hit in this area through watching Comic Relief. Seeing through our TV's the lives of the have nots, only to be astounded that those who go without are actually happier than we are - happier than us, with all our stuff? And suddenly a bankrupt worldview is exposed.

One of my most recent 'exposure' moments came when visiting a Gypsy community in a desperately poor village in the north of Romania. Startled by their want, confronted by my plenty, I was shocked again at how hard I find it to connect with the developing world. Travelling home, thinking these issues through, I read these compelling words from Calvin Miller in his excellent little book, 'The Disciplined Life.'

'The editors of Leadership magazine suggested nine rather drastic steps wealthy Westerners would have to take to truly identify with the developing world:

First, take out the furniture. Leave a few old blankets, a kitchen table, maybe a wooden chair. You've never had a bed, remember?

Second, throw out your clothes. Each person in the family may keep the oldest suit or dress, a shirt or blouse. The head of the family has the only pair of shoes.

Third, all kitchen appliances have vanished. Keep a box of matches, a small bag of flour, some sugar and salt, a handful of onions, a dish of dried beans. Rescue the mouldy potatoes from the garbage can: Those are tonight's meal.
Fourth, dismantle the bathroom, shut off the running water, take out the wiring and the lights and everything that runs by electricity.

Fifth, take away the house and move the family into the tool shed.

Sixth, no more Postmen, Firemen, Government services. The two classroom school is three miles away, but only two of your seven children attend, and they walk anyway.

Seventh, throw out your bank books, stock certificates, pension plans, insurance policies. You now have a cash horde of $5.

Eighth, get out and start cultivating your three acres. Try hard to raise $300 in cash crops because your landlord wants one third, and your money lender, ten percent.

Ninth, find some way for your children to bring in a little extra money so you have something to eat most days. But it won't be enough to keep bodies healthy - so lop off 25 to 30 years of life.'

Friday, 18 May 2012

Mad Priests, Angry Mobs and Biblical Plagues!

Operation World, the fine prayer catalogue for every nation on planet earth, is right when it asserts that there is more opposition to the churches in Romania from the Orthodox Church than there is from the state.

Last Sunday I was taken to preach in a small town in the north of Romania called Solona. There is now a church plant there, an established, growing work in this rural community. I had the privilege of appointing a new leader whilst I was with them, and afterwards, heard the amazing true story of their inception.

A group of believers from a nearby town had been making regular evangelistic forays into Solona, they had seen some early converts and were looking to step up their mission. One Sunday, they travelled together in a convoy of 3 or 4 cars to visit the town after their own Sunday meeting was over. About half a mile outside of Solona a man could be seen in the road walking towards them.

Pulling over as the stranger waved them down, this group of believers were not surprised to hear that the local Orthodox Priest was stirring up trouble. Knowing that they were coming to the town, and aware that a number of converts had already left the dead Orthodox faith, the Priest decided to take matters into his own hands.

Using church funds he purchased a large amount of the local moonshine and offered it in copious amounts to a group of 40 or so of the bored young men of the town. As the alcohol took effect, the Priest was able to provoke them into an angry mob about these outsiders who were coming in to disturb the peace. They were waiting on the main road into the town, armed with clubs and farm tools, ready to stop the cars and attack the believers as they entered.

Fortunately, one man was brave enough to walk on ahead of them and warn the believers. Having heard this report, they prayed briefly, and decided not to risk confrontation or damage. They agreed that God was well able to defend His honour, and turned back praying that If He wanted them in Solona, He would open the door.

As they turned to go, a terrific hail storm began to buffet then. Leaving the fringes of the town, they left the storm behind and thought no more of it. The following week, they began to hear the most amazing report from Solona.

The hail had been so strong and heavy in the town that it had damaged homes and gardens. Remember, in this community, each home is almost self sustaining, growing much of their own food. Gardens and crops were ruined. The town was in turmoil. However, it soon became apparent that the homes of the new believers had not been touched by the hail storm - somehow, it had simply missed them. In this small town, they were the only ones to have escaped the deluge.

Quickly making the link between their hostility to the Christians, and the subsequent storm, those who had been worst affected went immediately to the Orthodox Church and ran the angry Priest out of town. There was no doubt in their minds that this Old Testament style judgement had been a direct response to their allegiance to the Priest and his jealous, territorial spirit. Totally humbled, they approached the small group of believers in the town, asked their forgiveness, and requested that they invite the team of evangelists back again!
The errant Priest has now been replaced, and whilst his successor is against the believers, he will not do anything to directly oppose them - he doesn't dare! Now, three years on, a fine church has been planted, and the town of Solona is wide open to the gospel.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

The Scream of expensive religion

Norwegian expressionist Edvard Munch's 'The Scream' painting sold at auction yesterday for £74m, making it the most expensive art work sold to date.

Surely there are few paintings which give a window into the soul of a man than this one? For me, The Scream is as much inspired by the claustrophobic effects of dead religion more than any other hidden angst in the life of this troubled artist.

Munch was raised by his father in small town, reformed Norway, his mother died of TB when he was still only five. Here is where the seeds were sown which produced the kind of work that now sells to billionaires.

Writing about his troubled and strange home life, Munch said, 'My father was temperamentally nervous and obsessively religious - to the point of psychoneurosis. From him I inherited the seeds of madness. The angels of fear, sorrow and death stood by my side since the day I was born.' Not the warmest family tribute you could read.
Later, Munch spoke about how his father would tell them that their dead mother was looking down from heaven and grieving over their behaviour.

Munch's father was himself the son of a Priest, and this manic religious angst seems to have infected the family. Today we would see this madness worked out in stress, symptoms of OCD, manic depression. For the young Edvard Munch it was distilled and emerged as striking, breathtaking, yet disturbing art.

What distortion of the loving relationship between man and God leads to such religious fear and uncertainty? What brand of christianity is fostered in the minds of children who are brought up to be very afraid of God and all that He stands for? It is not the religion of the bible. This is reformation gone mad. This is the kind of religion that kills, it has no life, it is devoid of all hope. This is religious slavery to fear, judgement and despair.

The end point of this religion drives you towards a suicidal mania. A silent scream of anguish is the inevitable response to living every day with the unbearable burden of trying to please a God who is always angry with you. This painting is so powerful because it resonates in all of us who have looked inside ourselves and found that yet again we have fallen short.

The Scream is the perfect picture to represent the foolishness of dead religion over the wonder and release of grace and acceptance in Christ. The Scream is the face of all those who have wasted themselves, their lives, their money, their best years, chasing after all the wrong ways of getting to God.

From today this priceless picture of a brand of killer religion that eats your soul is now hanging on the wall of some wealthy Saudi, haunting their view, or leading them into truth?

Thursday, 26 April 2012

These days of hurry & bustle or the normal Christian prayer life?

As we come to the end of another great week of prayer, I have been challenged again by these old words from E M Bounds on prayer. You may have already come across these stories, but don't allow their familiarity to rob you of the provocation that they provide. I will let Bounds speak in his own words.

'The men who have most fully illustrated Christ in their character, and have most powerfully affected the world for Him, have been men who spent so much time with God as to make it a notable feature of their lives. Charles Simeon devoted the hours from four until eight in the morning to God. Mr Wesley spent two hours daily in prayer. He began at four in the morning. Of him, one who knew him well wrote, 'He thought prayer to be more his business than anything else, and I have seen him come out of his (prayer) closet with a serenity of face next to shining.'

Luther said:'If I fail to spend two hours in prayer each morning, the devil gets the victory through the day. I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer.'

Archbishop Leighton was so much alone with God that he seemed to be in a perpetual meditation. 'Prayer and praise were his business and his pleasure.' said his biographer. He was with God before the clock struck three every morning.

Bishop Asbury said, 'I propose to rise at four as often as I can and spend two hours in prayer and meditation'. Joseph Alleine arose at four o clock for his business of praying until eight. If he heard other tradesmen plying their business before he was up, he would exclaim, 'O how this shames me! Does not my master deserve more than theirs?'

John Welch, the holy and wonderful Scottish preacher thought the day ill spent if he did not spend eight or ten hours a day in prayer. He kept a plaid that he might wrap himself up when he arose to pray at night. His wife would complain when she found him lying on the ground weeping. He would reply, 'O Woman, I have the souls of three thousand to answer for, and I know not how it is with many of them!'

Bounds wrote these words over one hundred years ago to another generation, but he speaks with prophetic insight to our day when he concludes: 'This however, is not a day of prayer. Few men there are who these days of hurry and bustle, of electricity and steam, men will not take time to pray.'
The days of steam seem slow in comparison to the acceleration of the pace of life in our generation. Our hurry and bustle continue unabated. Will we be those who heed Bounds call to prayer? Can we afford not to?

Friday, 6 April 2012

What's so good about Good Friday?

If you had asked the disciples, the friends of Jesus who had shared their lives with him and lived through all the highs and lows, they would never have called it a good Friday. They would have called it 'Very Bad Friday', or 'Friday the Worst!'

They still didn't understand, immersed in the story as they were, unable to see the end from the beginning. It's not like that for us, we are not in the dark. We know the end of the story. Can you imagine anyone going to see the relaunched Titanic movie in 3D this weekend and wondering whether the boat sinks or not?! This is our position, we know that the man who died on the Friday, came through death and out the other side into indestructable life!

We know Good Friday is good news because with his death on the cross, Jesus broke the curse that we were under. The curse of separation which has been marked over our lives since the beginning, in the Garden, when Adam and Eve first made a decision to live their lives independently from the God who made them for relationship. Since that time, the curse has been like a thread, entangling all of our lives. However hard we try to overcome it with the extremes of our religion, or our ignorance of God, the curse looms large like the Titanic iceberg, no way past, a certain tragedy.

The scriptures tell us that Christ takes that curse on himself, on the cross - our shame, our separation, our punishment. This is good news on Good Friday.

He is an effective curse-breaker. The gospel accounts confirm that as soon as Jesus breathed his last breath, the giant curtain in the temple tore in two, from top to bottom. This barrier between the holy place in the temple, and the ordinary - if ever there was a symbol of the curse of separation, the curtain in the temple was it.

In one moment, this no entry sign is removed. So complete and final is this work of demolishing the curse, the later scripture writers are able to say that we can now confidently enter into the presence of God, by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, through his body which is the curtain.

So Good Friday is good news. In our sorrow, he is more than just a comforter : The torn curtain means we can follow him right through into the joy of restored friendship and acceptance with the Father. In our darkness, we can follow Christ through the torn curtain, the blazing light of the world.
In our fears, our anxieties, our depression, we can walk through the torn curtain into the perfect love of the Father which chases fear away - even the ultimate fear of death no longer has a sting in it's tail. In our sickness, we step through the torn curtain with a glimmer of hope that we might just experience a foretaste now of the irresistible resurrection life of Christ in our bodies.

So Good Friday is good news. When you draw your curtains at home tonight, you can thank God that the way to Him will never be closed for you. When you open your curtains tomorrow and the bright light of a new day dawns in your home, you can thank Jesus that he has flooded your life with hope in his resurrection life forever.