Monday, 7 December 2015

Draw me after you and let us run together

At this time of year in church life there are not many quiet moments. At the end of a busy term, Christmas, and all the events and activities associated with it, looms large on the horizon. Add to that tiredness, late nights, too many people, and the need of a break - It doesn't feel always like there is so much peace and goodwill around!

Coming into my office this morning, aware of a long list and a longer day ahead, I grabbed an old paperback from the shelf which I haven't touched for 20 years. It literally fell open on a page which stopped me in my tracks, and pulled me up short from my unthinking tendency to busyness without intimacy. Ever been confronted by a text which shows you up in this way so readily? Well, here it is.
The book, Mike Bickle's Passion for Jesus. The quote, as follows:

Song of Solomon 1.4
"After the maiden in the Song of Solomon awakens to fervency, she prays a twofold prayer. 'Draw me after you and let us run together.' The order of that prayer is very important. First we are drawn to him in intimacy, then we run with him in ministry. If we are to become co-labourers with Christ, running with him, we should first focus on being drawn as worshippers, consecrated in purity with affectionate passions.
It's easy to pray, 'Let me run, increase my sphere of ministry and influence,' without also fervently seeking the Lord to draw us near to him. But as we are drawn to greater intimacy with God, we have a greater spiritual depth and touch other people's spirits more effectively. That is what 'running' or real ministry is all about - bringing deliverance to the hearts of human beings so they can know and worship God intimately too.
On the other hand, some believers say, 'Draw me,' but never go onto run with the Lord as a partner with him in his work on the earth. The Holy Spirit does not draw us so we can hang a 'do not disturb' sign and sit in our little comfort zone singing love songs to Jesus the rest of our lives. As fellow heirs with Christ, we are drawn into intimacy, the empowered in ministry to bring others into intimacy with the Lord."

It's a really good thing to run hard this Christmas before we rest. But it's an even better thing to run hard out of this place of rest. 'Draw me after you and let us run together.' Let me hear a hearty 'Amen' from every flagging runner!

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Bonfires, Mary and the English martyrs!

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

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

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

England again is under threat in our generation. Our fight is not against an oppressive regime or bands of conspiring terrorists who seek to murder parliament. Nor is it a conflict over English nationalism or identity
No, our fight is for a deeper set of defining values than any of these things. In the dark days under Mary, if a believer valued any sense of Englishness, his call would be to courageously live, work, and even die for the gospel. This historic burden of responsibility has not changed for 21st century English believers. It is more acute than ever, and ever more needed, in order that many in the darkness of our day may come into the light. 
This candle lit first by the martyrs is ours to hold high and keep ablaze as we live out a radical and relevant faith today for the sake of God’s glory in our nation. Torches of love, rather than gunpowder barrels packed with explosive hatred - lives laid down for the most powerful cause.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

The fabulous 59 - Climate control for ever changing lives.

'One anothering' is one of those church phrases that the rest of the world rarely registers. However, the fifty nine one another references in the New Testament are all so active and powerful that it's time we gave them a bit of profile and started living them out. As I make some space to study and think about the kind of culture we want to live in, these verses could form the very heart of our lives together.

Eat, sleep, read, repeat as the song goes (almost!) In our lives, churches, homes, workplaces, we seem to be in perpetual transition. In such a climate, our key relationships with one another are what matter most, what demonstrate most readily who we are as disciples, and yet they are the arena where we come under most pressure.
So here is our prescription -  Copy and print. Stick them around the house, meditate on them in the mornings. We will mature as we align with this truth, as we let them become the default setting, the climate control for this season of life together in the local church. When there is so much change going on, we can quickly become consumed by the 'what' and the 'how'. All important, but these one another's show us that 'who' we are together through the process is far more important.

We could summarise them negatively : Refuse factions, refuse gossip, be wise on Facebook, don't email each other when you could talk. Don't hold onto hurts and grudges. Forgive quickly, don't get isolated, keep meeting with God's people that do you good. It's helpful to view them in contrast, but they hold most impact in the positive. 

May these fabulous fifty nine verses of scripture lead the way, set the tone, dictate the culture, and help make the constant change, uncertainty and upheaval of church and life a totally safe, secure, loving and growing environment! 

1. “…Be at peace with each other.” (Mark 9:50)
2. “…Wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)
3. “…Love one another…” (John 13:34)
4. “…Love one another…” (John 13:34)
5. “…Love one another…” (John 13:35)
6. “…Love one another…” (John 15:12)
7. “…Love one another” (John 15:17)
8. “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…” (Romans 12:10)
9. “…Honour one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10)
10. “Live in harmony with one another…” (Romans 12:16)
11. “…Love one another…” (Romans 13:8)
12. “…Stop passing judgment on one another.” (Romans 14:13)
13. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you…” (Romans 15:7)
14. “…Instruct one another.” (Romans 15:14)
15. “Greet one another with a holy kiss…” (Romans 16:16)
16. “…When you come together to eat, wait for each other.” (I Cor. 11:33)
17. “…Have equal concern for each other.” (I Corinthians 12:25)
18. “…Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (I Corinthians 16:20)
19. “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (2 Corinthians 13:12)
20. “…Serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13)
21. “If you keep on biting and devouring each other…you will be destroyed by each other.” 
(Galatians 5:15)
22. “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Galatians 5:26)
23. “Carry each other’s burdens…” (Galatians 6:2)
24. “…Be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)
25. “Be kind and compassionate to one another…” (Ephesians 4:32)
26. “…Forgiving each other…” (Ephesians 4:32)
27. “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” (Ephesians 5:19)
28. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21)
29. “…In humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
30. “Do not lie to each other…” (Colossians 3:9)
31. “Bear with each other…” (Colossians 3:13)
32. “…Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.” (Colossians 3:13)
33. “Teach…[one another]” (Colossians 3:16)
34. “…Admonish one another (Colossians 3:16)
35. “…Make your love increase and overflow for each other.” (I Thessalonians 3:12)
36. “…Love each other.” (I Thessalonians 4:9)
37. “…Encourage each other…”(I Thessalonians 4:18)
38. “…Encourage each other…” I Thessalonians 5:11)
39. “…Build each other up…” (I Thessalonians 5:11)
40. “Encourage one another daily…” Hebrews 3:13)
41. “…Spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)
42. “…Encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:25)
43. “…Do not slander one another.” (James 4:11)
44. “Don’t grumble against each other…” (James 5:9)
45. “Confess your sins to each other…” (James 5:16)
46. “…Pray for each other.” (James 5:16)
47. “…Love one another deeply, from the heart.” (I Peter 3:8)
48. “…Live in harmony with one another…” (I Peter 3:8)
49. “…Love each other deeply…” (I Peter 4:8)
50. “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (I Peter 4:9)
51. “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others…” (I Peter 4:10)
52. “…Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another…”(I Peter 5:5)
53. “Greet one another with a kiss of love.” (I Peter 5:14)
54. “…Love one another.” (I John 3:11)
55. “…Love one another.” (I John 3:23)
56. “…Love one another.” (I John 4:7)
57. “…Love one another.” (I John 4:11)
58. “…Love one another.” (I John 4:12)
59. “…Love one another.” (2 John 5)

Thursday, 30 July 2015

The amazing 2 week legacy of John Livingstone Nevius.

I've just returned from a wonderful two week holiday in a far flung place, but if you write to the locals next week they would not remember me. There is no trace of me having been amongst them, no legacy from my impact, any tracks left in the sand long since washed away.
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.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Founder's Day - Reflections on 150 years of the Salvation Army.

As a young boy growing up in the Salvation Army, it seemed as though every home I would go to had a dark and terrifying print of William Booth, usually on the stairs. It was worse at night, the beaked nose, the stern face, the full white beard - all left a young Junior Soldier like me in awe of The Founder!

As an adult, I'm no longer scared of William Booth, but I remain in awe of his life, the ferocious pace, the crystal clear vision which first impacted the East End of London, then quickly spread around the world.

150 years ago today, Booth began preaching in the filthy poor streets of the East End, true Dickensian England at it's worst. His motto from the start, 'Go for souls and go for the worst!' Night after night in those early days he would return home after midnight, bruised, bleeding, his clothes sometimes torn after being assaulted. It was only after the conversion of former prize fighter Peter Monk that Booth had a bodyguard to stand with him in the more intimidating moments.

Stations opened up quickly across London as Booth discovered the established church didn't want his kind of converts. One radically changed life attracted another, and an army of saved men and   women was born.

In the space of only 20 years, Booth's East End mission had expanded to 80 church plants, 130 Evangelists, 1000's of volunteer preachers - but the onset of fierce persecution against the Salvation Army in the 1880's only caused the pace of growth to increase more rapidly. In 1882 alone, almost 700 Salvation Army leaders were brutally assaulted, and the first martyr for the gospel came at Hastings that year.

Great social change was taking place in late Victorian Britain, and Booth and his Salvation Army were at the forefront here too. More than just a gospel preaching movement, they fought for the rights of the poor and the worker, lobbying parliament, setting up homeless shelters and eating houses way before their time - always with the gospel to the fore - 'You can't preach the gospel to a man with an empty stomach', were Booth's words which led to the slogan, 'Soup, soap and Salvation!'

Nearing the end of his life, Booth was told to slow down. His response: 'While women weep as they do now, I'll fight; While little children go hungry as they do now, I'll fight; While men go in and out of prison as they do now, I'll fight. I'll fight to the very end.'

By the time of his death in 1912, Booth had travelled all over the world. The Salvation Army had already spread into 58 countries and his gospel had touched the lives of 100's of 1000's from amongst the poorest of society.

The General whose face scared me as a child and shaped my upbringing, began a kingdom legacy 150 years ago today which is still not complete. He would not have been one to rest and celebrate. Even when he had the chance to mix with royalty later in life, the gospel was the one focus of his thinking. Writing to King Edward VII these words say it all: 'Sire, some men's ambition is art. Some men's ambition is fame. Some men's ambition is gold. My ambition is the souls of men.'

We salute you today General Booth. May your one ambition continue to be realised through us!

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

A little encouragement for runners everywhere!

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.’

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Genova street scenes

Warm steps

Dead end street

Writing on the wall

Pavement perspective

Pink fountain

Mono crossing

Warm archways

Sunny side of the street

Closing in

Shopfront jazz

Pavement market, crumbling plaster

Spaghetti cocoon

Bright palms

Port light

Evening masts

Metro wall

High and dry

Thursday, 23 April 2015

We happy few....

Warm beer, cricket, stoolball, morris dancing, conkers, maypoles, poll tax, queueing, Brighton rock, Stonehenge, stony beaches,the Rolling Stones, the rolling south downs, Ugborough Beacon, Hadrians Wall, 'all in all we're just another brick in the wall', northern bluntness, Cheddar Cheese, Kendal Mint cake, Eccles Cake, Victoria Sponge, Queen Victoria.

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

Ed, Dave, Nick, Nigel, UKIP, you what, you want fries with that? Nicola Sturgeon? We've got Charles Spurgeon. First past the post, in off the post, lost in the post.

Sunday roast, marmite on toast, open fires, Spitfires, 1066, 1666, 1966, Pooh Sticks, Albert Hall, the dome of St Paul. 'We'll fight them on the beaches', annus horibilis, and did those feet in ancient times walk upon Englands green and pleasant land......?

Happy St Georges Day!

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Don't miss Maundy mysteries!

If you are somewhere in the world which follows the Western church calendar, then today is Maundy Thursday! Maundy : The day before the much more celebrated Good Friday, the last day of the working week, the day we can't wait to get through in order to finally reach the holiday weekend!

Traditionally, Maundy celebrated the last Supper that Jesus enjoyed with his disciples. In some circles it carries other names, my favourite, 'Thursday of Mysteries. 'It sounds like a day spent watching back to back Scooby Doo cartoons!
The word Maundy, an evolved Anglicisation of the old French 'mande' - command. 'A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you' John 13.34

Saying these words, Jesus, the leader and champion, took a towel and began to wash the feet of his friends and his betrayer. What a shocking and uncomfortable way to demonstrate your love as service. Bending, humbling, assuming the position and role of a servant. A lowly servant at that, one who would go unnoticed, unthanked for his practical work.
That the Messiah who was welcomed and heralded into Jerusalem should stoop so low to conquer; That he should act out his commandment to love, not with words alone, but with actions; This is the greatest mystery of Maundy.

The mystery of a whole new kind of love: The servant leadership of footwashing about to be played out on the greatest stage in history within 24 hours. On a bleak hillside above Jerusalem, the one to whom John the Baptist said 'I'm not even worthy to tie your shoes', now not only bends to wash dirty feet, but gives his own dirty, battered and abused body, his very life.

The mystery of Maundy is the mystery of the grand drama at the beating heart of the gospel of love. The incomprehensible passion of a Saviour, giving himself up for the unworthy, the unrepentant, even the unaware.
In the rush to an Easter weekend - Don't miss these Maundy mysteries!

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Bridging the religious gap with a trail of Jif lemon and batter mix.

Happy Jif Lemon Day - the official start of the Creme Egg Season! That climactic weekend of gorging ourselves stupid on our own body weight in chocolate, is now only 40 days away - Let the the countdown begin!

Nobody really understands Pancake Day anymore, apart from a few of our more religious friends who also happen to go to church the following day to have ash crosses painted on their foreheads. There is a huge disconnect today between our ancient festivals which used to mark the pattern of the year and our modern mindset.

Most of them we have happily buried in the past, (I include the idea of having an ash cross daubed on my head) but some we have kept. Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday to the real aficionados, incredibly made the cut. When you consider that we have quietly disposed of maypoles, harvest and most of the real meaning of Advent in our urban culture, it is amazing, downright extraordinary that millions will batter pancakes into submission around Britain tonight!

The pre Christmas survey which told us 1 in 5 children in modern Britain believe that Jesus Christ plays football for Chelsea, sums it all up rather well. We are a post christian generation where even the christians don't understand the meaning behind their rituals. When a third of Anglican priests have doubts about the resurrection, is it any wonder that we've ended up with dead religious festivals and no idea of what they point towards? Who is going to tell the doubters and the unconvinced that this is an opportunity to prepare their hearts whilst they also prepare their batter mix? Who is going to let them know that our forefathers celebrated the life, death and resurrection of a mysterious God-man over the Easter weekend, way before we began importing the addictive cocoa bean?

For my money, we should embrace the festivals, make a song and dance of them again, rather than push them to the sidelines. Wouldn't it be ironic if we could use a bit of old fashioned religion to bridge the gap between the truth and the least religious generation in history? If the boys and girls who believe Jesus to be a Premier League footballer are representative of their lost culture, then they are already so far adrift from the biblical worldview that we used to take for granted - That we might more readily engage such distant thinking through old religious festivals which help them join the dots may be just what they need. Like all emerging generations, they don't want us to tell them, they just need a trail to follow. It's our role to creatively communicate and connect this wonderful story to their lives, to lay an enticing path all the way to Easter.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Jesus stories and the British Library....

I love study days in the British Library! Over 170 million items are stored there from all over the world. Each year, every book published in the UK is added to the library, meaning that they grow their collection by three million books per annum, requiring a staggering six miles of extra shelf space - now that is the kind of library I would like to make room for!

Sitting within the main atrium, dwarfed by the towering central shelving unit which rises up the middle of the building like a glass covered skyscraper, I was reminded of the words at the end of John's gospel. 'Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.' John 21.25
Is this just a bit of apostolic hyperbole at the end of an action packed gospel account? I don't think so, and even on this scale, the greatest collection of published works in the British nation can't keep up with the works of Jesus. That's because of something else that John writes - 'Truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.' John 14.12

Greater things? All over the planet since the day of Pentecost, believers in Jesus have been living out and doing 'greater works than these'. Ever since the original twelve gathered round Jesus to excitedly tell the stories of their exploits, having been sent out with nothing but his delegated authority and no expense accounts, tales of Jesus work have been spreading and growing.

Through the centuries books have been written of heroes of the faith. However, the countless ordinary believers who have lived and even died for the glory of Christ in their generation are not generally remembered in writing. Just today, the Chinese church has grown to over 100 million believers and counting (the number has probably gone up exponentially in the time it takes to read this blog) - Imagine the combined account of the works of Jesus in 21st century China alone? It's a work that simply cannot be documented this side of the opening of all the books and annals in glory.

Psalm 145.4 puts it well. 'One generation commends your works to another, they tell of your mighty acts.' Our job description is to tell as many of the stories as we can, but also to gasp in wonder at the incalculable task of collating the as yet unfinished works of the infinite and all powerful Saviour through his church. The vast collections at the British Library are the merest hint at the story which will one day be told, unravelling over unending eternity, and into which we have all been written!

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

'I grow and I rejoice'. An essay in support of London Gatwick airport expansion

Cities once grew by rivers. Then at the intersection of roads with the Romans. The biggest cities of the last 150 years grew most rapidly when linked with major rail routes. The 21st century city will prosper around the airport. Thats how people, goods and business move these days.
It's not even about nations anymore. City hubs are all important, global south mega cities are close already to dwarfing European nation states.

Global demand and the need for major hub airports.
Put simply, cities which invest in airport growth will see population, jobs, and prosperity grow.
Cities that don't invest are doomed. It's not just that the additional jobs will go elsewhere instead. Ultimately, the existing ones will too.
The reasoning is stark. If we don't invest in a major hub airport, a nearby European neighbour will, and the long term flow of business will get rerouted.
In this world economy, the demand for rapid movement of goods, services and people, airlines will look for and relocate to the next nearest hub airport that can connect them to their customers. Our small UK airports diminish in the face of larger European hubs that simply offer more choice and more global connections.

The argument against increasing capacity of UK regional airports.
The proposal to expand regional airports to Manchester or Birmingham, suggested by some, is enticing. Lower housing costs, the bonus of spreading employment around the country, kick starting economic improvement in less dynamic regions. Sounds good?
I love Manchester having lived there for 10 years, it's a great airport. However, this isn't a debate about the north south divide. Brace yourselves - The world economy and big business don't care for the north, the east or the west of Britain. they want London. It would be the same in France, global demand means they want Paris. 
Such global demand requires major international hub airports, not regional expansion. If expansion doesn't come to Gatwick, Heathrow or a new London airport where goods, services and business want to be, then the major players will defect to Frankfurt or Paris. That's it - whilst we argue amongst ourselves about regionalisation and local class politics, a multi billion dollar per year industry will up sticks and move its significant throughput to Germany or France!

This is the stark choice. It's near London where most business and travellers want to be, so it's near London that we must expand.
Take India as a case study. They are building airports by the dozen as their population multiplies - recognizing the need for 21st century cities to be globally connected. India is projected to have a burgeoning wealthy middle class of over 100 million by 2025 who will all want to travel out of their new airports to see the world. Only a well connected London hub airport could attract and handle the throughput of these kind of passenger numbers, and all the add ons which come with them. Do we really want them to go anywhere else? Talk of increasing capacity at regional airports around the UK and spreading the load is missing the point entirely!

Local Government short term ineptitude, long term demise.
For West Sussex County Council and Crawley Borough Council to vote against supporting the expansion of Gatwick is short term and misinformed. It's like deciding to invest in canal boats just as the first steam trains are being unveiled.
Local government may want to keep things as they are, but we've already established, it's not a neutral decision. I've heard plently of talk that the airport is big enough already. But the global market demands that if we don't grow bigger to accomodate them, then we must inevitably grow smaller. 
Such safety first, backward thinking will leave us one day seeing the current era as the last of the glory days for Gatwick. It ensures that over the next 20 years a trickle, then gradually a flood of airport flights, then services, then jobs, then more ancillary services and then yet more jobs, all move onto the next forward thinking airport hub.
This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a difficult but brave decision that would ensure this town grows and all of the South East benefits. For local government to vote no over infrastructure concerns or to attempt to 'lock' Crawley at it's current size and spread, is a vote to one day destroy the town and relegate Sussex to a backwater county.

Migrant jobs are good.
The view that jobs created with future airport expansion will not be local jobs, but migrant workers is accurate . Of course migrant workers will come to a town with already full employment. Again, that's how cities grow.
An economic hub gains momentum, jobs are created, skills are required, people move into the area. They buy and rent homes, put their kids in local schools, pay their taxes, spend money in local shops, bars and restuarants. More services are created, more people move in to support them, and so on. It's been that way since ancient Rome grew on the seven hills, or the industrial revolution when migrant workers came out of the countryside, leaving behind their agricultural trades to join the newly emerging cities.

To use the migrant worker argument against growth in Crawley of all places is even more counter intuitive. We didn't exist as a town 60 years ago. We are in fact, a test case, a shining authentic model for this kind of growth.
Non local people moved into this northern Sussex new town with the post-war housing boom. More housing was created to meet demand, more migrant workers come. The airport grew, and with it, related jobs, industries and infrastructure -  more migrant workers come, and so in the space of two generations, the town grew from a few villages to 100,000 plus people. People who now consider themselves thoroughly local Crawley residents.
Who is to say this pattern won't be repeated with the next wave of airport growth? Studies of every growing city show this to be the case. Crawley won't be the exception to this rule. Indeed, because of the unique nature of the new town ideal, which has shown an ease at assimilating different tribes alongside one another in a way that other, older and more settled towns and cities have not, Crawley is better placed than any to welcome migrant workers of all backgrounds.
For local councillors who themselves have arrived in Crawley not because of heritage, but because of economic migration - to now contend that such workers are bad for the town is another nonesense argument.

'I grow and I rejoice'.
Of course there are valid concerns surrounding infrastructure, new schools, roads, affordable housing, noise and compulsary purchases. Scaremongering and fear spreading by local interest groups and Councillors are not the answer here though. It's clear that standing still with airport expansion at Gatwick is no longer an option, just a vote for going backwards. Instead of sticking heads in the sand, or alienating business interests,  the local authority could engage in the creative development of infrastructure ideas, recognising that any transition costs will be far outweighted in the long term by the overall increased revenues from a major international hub airport. (Just remember the 100 million Indians, never mind the rest of our travelling planet and global business!)

The ability to expand fast, build quick, welcome strangers, create community, produce jobs, establish an airport - these are the qualities which made Crawley out of nothing, to something, in such a short space of time. The motto of our town is Seneca's 'I grow and I rejoice.'
Therefore Crawley should swallow hard, and continue to make the kind of courageous long term decisions regarding the airport which made her grow and prosper in the first instance. Only in holding to such a course, and accepting that population and infrastructure growth are not the enemy, rather the means to prosperity, will Crawley have the kind of happy civic future which Seneca dreamed of.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Counter culture worship for the selfie stick generation

Against the fast flowing current of our lives and culture, the act of worshipping God is like a river trying to work it's way uphill.
In the week in which I heard the latest phenomenon of 'selfie sticks' (the aid to ensuring your face appears constantly in the centre of your own universe) being renamed 'narcissi-stics', the idea of worshipping another outside of ourselves is a brave new concept.

Worship invites us to leave the safe handholds and hiding places of our own comfort and sufficiency - to step into the one whom we instantly recognise as greater and infinitely more absorbing than self.

David's Psalm 27 rightly orientates us this way. Lifting our heads as we declare our desire to 'gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and seek him in his temple.' The narcissist sings different lyrics to the same tune,' to gaze upon the beauty of myself, to find myself in my own temple!'

From this folly of self pursuit we are utterly rescued by the God who draws us into him and out of lesser forms of defective worship. Our hearts are awakened from their self-affected internalising - jolted to alertness with the cry, 'My heart says of you 'Seek his face'. Your face O Lord I will seek.'

Worship of God is as central today as it's ever been, in any culture, at any time.
'Come to me all you who are self absorbed, consumed with the minutiae of me. 
Come to me you who are insecure in your introspection, proud of your preoccupation, laden with your low worth, breaking under the burden of your own bankrupt idols - I will give you rest!
Jesus invites our generation of consumers and tourists to turn our selfie sticks around, and to flood our gaze with the burning bright face of his greater glory!

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Prayer heroes habits 3.

We are in the middle of 24 hours of continuous prayer to conclude our week of prayer and fasting in the local church. With the crowd which gathered during our Friday evening session, we shared some of these inspirational stories which serve well to complete this short series of the habits of prayer heroes.

In Ulster it all started with four new young converts - James McQuilkin, Jeremiah Meneely, Robert Carlisle and John Wallace. They agreed to meet weekly on a Friday night to pray through the long winter of 1857-1858 in the Old Schoolhouse near Kells.

They took armfuls of peat for the fire in with them and in Paisley's words 'The peats made a fire in the schoolhouse grate and warmed their bodies from the winter chill, but their prayers brought down unquenchable fire from heaven which set all Ulster ablaze for God, and warmed with saving rays at least 100,000.'

Jeremiah Meneely described their meetings as follows: 'The prayer meeting was started in the autumn of 1857 and continued for 3 months before there were any visible results.' Only 2 more men joined them during that time, but on New Years Day 1858 their first conversion took place.
After that, their records show they saw salvation each friday night through the year - at the prayer meeting! By the end of 1858 there were 50 young men taking part.

Meneely continues: 'Women were not allowed in the meeting during the first year and after that they had a prayer meeting of their own. We had so much opposition and persecution to encounter that we did not think it advisable to allow women in. The world would have said that the meetings were held only for the purpose of flirtation.'

There was a remarkable momentum building that was about to overflow. 'Our one great object at the meetings was to pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon ourselves and upon the surrounding country. This was the one great object and burden of our prayers. We held right to the one thing and did not run off to anything else.'
Many people ridiculed their stance, telling them that God poured out His Spirit at Pentecost already. Meneely retorted, 'The Lord knows what we want and we kept right on praying until the power came!'

What about Peggy Smith in Barvas, Hebridies at the start of the 1949 revival? This, the last genuine revival in UK.
Peggy and Christine Smith (aged 84 and 82)  prayed constantly for revival in their cottage near Barvas village on the Isle of Lewis, the largest of the Hebrides Islands in the bleak northwest of Scotland. 
God showed Peggy in a dream that revival was coming. Months later, early one winter’s morning as the sisters were praying, God gave them an unshakable conviction that revival was near.
Peggy asked her minister James Murray Mackay to call the church leaders to prayer.

Three nights a week the leaders prayed together for months. One night, having begun to pray at 10pm, a young deacon from the Free Church read Psalm 24 and challenged everyone to be clean before God. As they waited on God his awesome presence swept over them in the barn at 4 a.m.

Mackay invited Duncan Campbell to come and lead meeting’s. He replied that he could not come until the following year. God intervened and changed Duncan’s plans and commitments. Within 10 days he was on the island of Lewis.
At the close of his first meeting in the Presbyterian church in Barvas the travel weary preacher was invited to join an all night prayer meeting! Thirty people gathered for prayer in a nearby cottage.
Duncan Campbell described it:
'God was beginning to move, the heavens were opening, we were there on our faces before God.
Three o’clock in the morning came, and GOD SWEPT IN. About a dozen men and women lay prostrate on the floor, speechless. Something had happened; we knew that the forces of darkness were going to be driven back, and men were going to be delivered.
We left the cottage at 3 am to discover men and women seeking God. I walked along a country road, and found three men on their faces, crying to God for mercy. There was a light in every home, no one seemed to think of sleep.'

Later in a village opposed to the revival. At midnight in a prayer meeting, Campbell asked the local Blacksmith to pray. 'Oh God, You made a promise to pour water upon him that is thirsty and floods upon the dry ground, and, Lord, it's not happening.' He paused again and then continued: 'Oh God, Your honour is at stake, and I now challenge You to fulfil your covenant engagement and do what you have promised to do.'
Many who were present witnessed that at that moment the house shook. Dishes rattled in the sideboard, as wave after wave of Divine power swept through the building.

A minister standing beside Duncan turned and said:  'Mr. Campbell, an earth tremor!' But Duncan's mind, however, was in the fourth chapter of Acts, where the early Christians were gathered in prayer and, we read: 'When they had prayed the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.'
They came out of the prayer meeting to find every house open and people moving to the church, carrying chairs and needing to get right with God.

The most provocative thing about these 3 blogs on the prayer heroes habits is that none of them are really heroic - just ordinary believers like us who have made a decision to take hold of God until he does that which he has promised. Oh for such ordinary heroes in our generation!

Friday, 16 January 2015

Prayer heroes habits 2.

Continuing this Prayer week study of the prayer habits of heroes of the faith:
David Brainerd, who died whilst a missionary to the Sasquehanna Native Americans in October 1747, did his greatest work by prayer, often alone in the depths of the forests, unable to speak the language of the Native Americans and so spending literally days in fighting prayer.

Brainerd knew that if he wanted to reach the Sasquehanna, he must find someone who could at least vaguely interpret his thoughts. Understanding this, he set aside whole days praying, asking the Holy Spirit to come upon him so powerfully that these people would be moved by his message.

Dr A J Gordon in his biography of Brainerd wrote the following:
'Once he preached through a drunken interpreter, a man so intoxicated that he could hardly stand up. Yet scores were converted through that sermon. We can account for it only that it was the tremendous power of God behind him.'

Brainerd would not have seen himself as a superhero of prayer. Painfully introverted and sin aware. He was simply a called man who prayed alone in the forest, and agonised over those whom God had put on his heart.

His obedience to the compassionate heart of God was so stimulating to others, that when William Carey read about Brainerd's life story, he went to serve God in India.

Later, Jonathan Edwards was so struck by the now sick and dying Brainerd, that he wrote: 'I praise God that it was in His providence that he (Brainerd) should die in my house, that I might hear his prayers, that I might witness his consecration, that I might be inspired by his example.'

Praise God for a man dying in my house? Oh that we might all be infected with a little of Brainerd's sickness and weakness before God in fighting, prevailing prayer!

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Prayer heroes habits 1.

What better time than a week of prayer in the local church to reflect on the prayer habits of some heroes of the faith.

Martin Luther is known for this quote:'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.' 
The content of this daily discipline led Luther through the Lord's Prayer, the 10 commandments and the creeds. Praying morning and evening. Using them as a launch pad to pray for his own heart and for the world around him.

In England soon after, Cranmer's prayer book became established- giving believers prayers every day and teaching from the scriptures. Taking them through the seasons of the year in the hope that this mix of scripture and prayer would create a rhythm of growing maturity in the infant English church.

John Welch, 1568-1622  the wonderful Scottish preacher thought the day ill spent if he did not spend eight or ten hours a day in prayer. He kept a blanket by the bed to 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!'

Archbishop Leighton 1611-1684 was so much alone with God that he seemed to be in a perpetual meditation. A biographer said of Leighton, 'Prayer and praise were his business and his pleasure. He was with God before the clock struck three every morning.'

Joseph Alleine 1634-1668 arose at four 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?'

Famously at the start of the Great Awakening, inspired by the Moravians and their 100 years prayer movement, John Wesley gathered with friends to pray through the night of 1 Jan 1739.
'At about 3 in the morning as we were continuing constant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us in so much that many cried out for exceeding joy and many fell to the ground.' 

Wesley later said, 'Every Christian needs half an hour to pray every day, except when he is busy, then he needs an hour'. This from the man who rose at 4am most mornings to travel on horseback to the next place and preached 40,000 sermons, roughly 15 per week through his adult life - notwithstanding his writing of books, letters and pamphlets!
 '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.' God does nothing, accept in answer to prayer.

Charles Simeon 1739-1836 devoted the hours from four until eight in the morning to God.

Bishop Asbury 1745-1816 said, 'I propose to rise at four as often as I can and spend two hours in prayer and meditation'. 

E M 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?