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.