Thursday, 29 May 2014

One Direction, bad boys & true discipleship.

Those One Direction boys Zayn and Louis are in a bit of bother, allegedly caught on camera with spliff in hand whilst in Peru this week. Their behaviour isn't far out of step with their contemporaries. Two of the five boy band members stand accused here, but one in five young people claim to have experimented with casual drug use during the last year. 

In his Guardian newspaper column today, Owen Jones remarks on the pressure on One Direction to conform to the sort of clean living that even disciples of Jesus would find a little stringent. Jones is clearly not attempting a reasoned theological summary of the gospel here. Rather he is pointing to the micro analysis of their every move, and the need for squeaky clean lives to maintain lucrative teen idol status contracts.  
He is however plain wrong, but his words say something significant about our generation's misconceptions and lack of any real understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. It's just another lazy assumption about Christianity and being good that probably comes from never having been in close proximity to true discipleship.

Peter, James, John (disciples, not the other three members of One Direction) lived freely around Jesus and got themselves into the kind of scrapes that would send band Manager Simon Cowell reaching for the contract Lawyers on speed dial! For much of the time they didn't seem to understand what they were supposed to be doing, they flunked their lines at key moments, there were seasons of constant infighting amongst them that went far deeper than artistic differences. Then, when it came to the crunch on the biggest night for this original band of disciples, Peter pulled out a blade and cut someone's ear off!

The truly great thing about being a disciple of Jesus is not the stringent rules. Jesus doesn't seem to order them. Indeed, they join the band through an invitation - 'Come and follow me.' The thing that undermines the 'how to be good' expectations of the 21st century observer when they think about caricature christianity, is the ability to walk and live alongside Jesus whilst being really quite bad.

It's the bad boys and girls that get invited in the bible stories, the fighters, the adulterers, the fraudsters - but with the invitation to follow comes an invitation to be transformed. You may start out in one direction when you walk with Jesus, but it's hard not to be turned around and to fall in step with him. That's the definition of repentance and discipleship - the discovery of a better way to live and learn for all those who struggle in secret or are caught on camera.

True discipleship of this nature is a wonderful thing, a relational thing, free from the restraint of commands or contracts. When we observe popular culture, it's hard to work out who is discipling who - Are One Direction modelling and coaching their teenage fans, or are the band a product of their broken generation? Maybe it's a bit of both - Either way, we've got a valuable message about discipleship with Jesus that is being dismissed before it's heard and yet it's the very thing the lost boys of our generation need to discover.
Our role is not to criticise Owen Jones et al for unfairly rejecting our message. It's our fault that they don't know any better - Rather, our responsibility is to develop compelling, distinctive and attractive Christ followers whose adventurous lives in close proximity to the world simply cannot be ignored.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Re-opening the wells of healing

In our local church community, we've been using the story of Isaac in Genesis 26, re-opening wells which had been dug in a previous generation by his father Abraham.
This narrative is a helpful prompt as we discover again some of the life of God that has been in our history. This is true in a number of areas, but no more so than with healing miracles. Although they have been significant in our past, we want them again in our present, and into our future.

The need for us to dig once more into what we once confidently drew water from is apparent, as is our need to clear away the rubble of wrong thinking and the opposition of a cynical culture. Should either mindset prevail in a local church, the well of healing will remain blocked. Instead of being an oasis of life giving water for the thirsty, we become a cynical Nazareth, the kind of place where even Jesus found it hard to work miracles because of their unbelief.
Our battle is to decide which water source we want to draw from. Our culture, our experience, or the old well which promises living water and life? The answer is easy to give, but the necessary action is harder to take.

None of us are looking for disappointment, we all would rather find quick fixes, and move onto something new when things don't quite pan out the way we'd hoped. Unfortunately, that's not the way through on healing. Drawing from this well invites us into people's lives and painful realities. It pulls us down into deep pastoral questions, doubts, fears and unresolved pain. It's a pursuit that is best not started, certainly not half heartedly, as it is another one of those journeys where God has decided there is much more to learn on the way, than just the mere outcomes of whether someone gets healed or not when we pray.

Terry Virgo summarises wisely when he says this in his 'Spirit Filled Church.'
"Taking such a journey also leads to pain, disappointment, frustration and mystery. You come face to face with the fact that so many people suffer daily, carry huge burdens into their daily life, agonise over sick relatives, and yearn to be made well.
It's probably easier to leave the whole subject alone, and not put oneself in a context of pressure, anguish, embarrassment and vulnerability, but, on the other hand, Jesus said, 'Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes in me, the works that I do, he will do also and greater works than these he will do, because I go to the Father.'"

Whether you are at the start of such a journey, or are growing in confidence, there is nothing quite like swallowing hard, stretching out your hand to pray for healing, making yourself vulnerable and dependent on the God who can suddenly seem far off in that moment. Aware of the huge weight of longing for breakthrough in the person that you are praying for. That is exactly the trepidation I felt as I approached this man, Romulus at a conference last week. After two unsuccessful back surgeries, longing for Jesus to do what the Doctors had been unable to.

Who in their right mind would step up to such a task? Only those who believe that wonderful promise of greater works from Jesus the healer. Such courageous believers will push through the rubble and get to the water source time and again for the sake of a breakthrough in others. Will we be numbered among them, persevering as we dig and draw afresh, learning to walk in  this wonderful gift for God's people?

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Cluj-Napoca perspectives

Orthodox Cathedral

Father and Son


Streetscene 2

Cables, cars and clouds

Catholic Cathedral

Down by the river

Colour code piazza

Straight Street

Stop lights

Bus shelter

Cable chaos

Communist concrete


Concrete highway west