Monday, 17 November 2014

Renewal, Revival and Europe!

Something extraordinary happened at the end of an ordinary day's teaching on church history with 40 or so Impact students.
We'd spent the day following the spread of christianity into the UK, through the English Reformation, revivals and radical movements through the centuries to the present.
To conclude, we found ourselves in the charismatic renewal of the 1960's and 70s: This rediscovery of the life of the Spirit within the denominational churches that refused to remain a personal issue of renewal, and led to restoration church streams emerging all over the UK. These are our roots in the New Frontiers family of churches, and we now find ourselves tipping over into the second generation of our movement, along with others.

If church history teaches us one thing, it's that most radical, pioneer movements, slow and settle as they move into their second generation. Indeed some stagnate or even turn right off course. Our challenge is to remain not just a pure restoration stream, but one which has significant impact with the gospel in our towns and cities across the UK and into post-Christian Europe. For us, this would be far from slowing or maturing, but a pioneering gear change and increase of impact.

So, to the extraordinary events of the opening paragraph - We ended the day with this double edged warning and provocation in mind, by reading together the remarkable prophecy from Smith Wigglesworth dating back to 1947. Reflecting on the last 40 years of our history, our development as a part of the 'Word and Spirit' movement, this prophecy speaks clearly of two eras which have now passed with incredible insight.

Knowing this, the final third predicted by Wigglewsorth is even more stirring - a revival outpouring the like of which has never before been seen, from the UK out into Europe. No wonder our response in the room last week was one of groaning and expectant prayer - what about you? May our second generation be marked by such radical and zealous discipleship that the map of Europe is once again transformed by renewal and revival!

Here is the prophetic word in full:
During the next few decades there will be two distinct moves of the Holy Spirit across the church in Great Britain. The first move will affect every church that is open to receive it and will be characterized by a restoration of the baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit. The second move of the Holy Spirit will result in people leaving historic churches and planting new churches. In the duration of each of these moves, the people who are involved will say ‘This is the great revival’. But the Lord says ‘No, neither is this the great revival but both are steps towards it.
When the new church phase is on the wane, there will be evidenced in the churches something that has not been seen before: a coming together of those with an emphasis on the Word and those with an emphasis on the Spirit.
When the Word and the Spirit come together, there will be the biggest movement of the Holy Spirit that the nation, and indeed the world, has ever seen. It will mark the beginning of a revival that will eclipse anything that has been witnessed within these shores, even the Wesleyan and the Welsh revivals of former years. The outpouring of God’s Spirit will flow over from the UK to the mainland of Europe, and from there will begin a missionary move to the ends of the earth.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Milan perspectives

Duomo distance

Tram cables

Duomo drama

Bags of swagger

Fast food, slow lunch

Flags

Go Milan

Red saddle

No way

Easy rider

Tale of two cities

Streetscene

Monday, 3 November 2014

Living for the city?

I've been in two truly great cities just this weekend. Milan again. Then 24 hours and a train ride through the two sides of Turin. The modern shiny centre with an urban sprawl full of ordinary families from all over the world living simply on the breadline.

Cities matter, big cities will matter even more as the 21st century progresses. Estimates suggest that by 2100, over 90% of the world's population will be crammed into urban mega cities, mostly in the global south. Even our major European cities will swell, not just in population, but as economic and cultural centres that transcend the old notions of national identity. Giant, multi tribal, multi cultural, constantly regenerating hubs of tens of millions of people.

The old stories of the bible show us that God has always been interested whenever people gather into cities. Ninevah, 120,000 strong, ancient Eastern City, yet so contemporary in it's arrogant swagger - a city needing to be noticed, a self made, self sustaining kind of place where only the strong survive, the rich get richer whilst the poor stay in the gutter. You see, the same old cliches about giant communities still apply today.

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

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

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

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