Friday, 16 November 2012


I  was thinking about this recently, God calls us to honour our mothers and fathers, our leaders, and ultimately to honour God.  In our society, it’s easier to see  what dishonour is. A dictionary definition says that dishonour means to treat with disrespect, to not esteem rightly, to shame, to discredit, corrupt, degrade, blacken, sully, debase, debauch, defame, abase.  It is an action to put down, to not treat rightly.   We see this in many different spheres of life.

Sex in our culture has become debased. Instead of being an expression of honour, care and love, it has become the one night stand, the casual affair, the inescapable end to a date. Increasingly it seems that the process of building relationship, of finding out about the real person – a process that implicitly honours them, has been discarded. It’s about ‘pulling’ someone for sex rather than honouring them. Love and honour have been reduced to mere pleasure seeking sex – or worse.  The removal of someone’s choice, or making choices that they are unable to contradict is the ultimate dishonour. Rape is about degrading and dishonouring, it imposes one persons choice on another or takes advantage of their inability to make their own choice.

The same with media, it is all about dishonouring, finding the best gossip, the media taking pictures of people in compromising positions – such as with Kate and William.  Blaring all mistakes out to the world too.  It often does it in subtle ways, getting us to see entire people groups as dishonourable and worthless – blackening their names (Muslims, asylum seekers, travellers, Christians, different races, teenagers etc..).  Putting others down so we appear better.  We live in a ‘mock the week’ environment where it is easier to pull down than build up. We’ve seen recently how easy it is to defame people almost on a whim.

In the political arena we see just the same. Parliament and PMQ’s is now often more reminiscent of the school playground than a chamber for honest debate. Point scoring, making the other side appear crass has become the modus operandi. Even when people try to engage, they are held up as ‘holier than thou’ or their words are taken out of context and twisted into parody.

In the bible it says about Jesus that we esteemed him not.  The son of God was on earth yet we did not honour him.  He was despised, rejected, his name blackened, betrayed.  The prostitute who wiped his feet with her tears and poured huge amounts of expensive perfume knew about honour – and Jesus honoured her in front of her enemies. ‘What this woman has done will be remembered in all generations’.

So to honour is to treat with respect, to esteem, to raise up.....   not to ignore problems, not to elevate for the wrong reasons, but to look for what is good and honour that. This verse sums it up:

Philippians 4v8

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

So to honour God means to acknowledge who he is, and what he has done.  It’s more than just has action too.  If you are to honour someone you don't do stuff that may dishonour them.  You put them in a deserved place.  To honour our forefathers is to build on what they have started, and the same with God, we build on what he has begun, but it is more than the building it is also about rightly attributing stuff to people/God – rightfully assigning value to what they have done

So why don’t we honour like this? Is it because of our own insecurity? Do we seek power and status over others in order to feel better?

We dishonour, lower others in order to feel higher. But Jesus says he has lifted us up to the height of his throne. We don’t need to be any higher than we actually, already are. To attempt to lift ourselves is to deny what God has already done and in our minds we lower him. In reality, we debase ourselves from where God has placed us.

Prejudice gives us a convenient set of people that we (and others) find it acceptable to dishonour. Who are we lifting up? Who are we putting down? Are their groups of people that we instinctively despise? Who are we in reality dishonouring.

Jesus said ‘if I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to me’. Our world desperately needs to get honour.  It needs to get what it means to honour each other. We, I need to learn the art of honouring.

So with all that in mind I would like to honour David my fellow blogger (hopefully without sounding soppy and gushy cos he wouldn't like that, and he hasn't read this bit!)  I would like to honour him for bearing with me through writers block and not just looking for another blogger to replace as in a consumer society.  I would like to honour him for seeking Gods way in things, and for courage in jumping off the cliff.  I would like to honour him for the God given wisdom he has imparted to me and many,  many others.  I would like to honour him for the trust he places in people around and the way he empowers so many people to live out of Gods purposes.  I would like to honour him for sharing words of knowledge and prophetic insights.  I would like to honour him for his humility and ability to listen to honest feedback from others.  I would like to honour him for the way in which he sacrifices things – often with difficult consequences (job/money/position) to head in the direction God has shown him.  I would like to honour him for trusting in God to provide.

Honour in a consumer world

I was thinking about this recently, God calls us to honour our mothers and fathers, our leaders, and ultimately to honour God.  In our society, it’s easier to see  what dishonour is. A dictionary definition says that dishonour means to treat with disrespect, to not esteem rightly, to shame, to discredit, corrupt, degrade, blacken, sully, debase, debauch, defame, abase.  It is an action to put down, to not treat rightly.   We see this in many different spheres of life.

Sex in our culture has become debased. Instead of being an expression of honour, care and love, it has become the one night stand, the casual affair, the inescapable end to a date. Increasingly it seems that the process of building relationship, of finding out about the real person – a process that implicitly honours them, has been discarded. It’s about ‘pulling’ someone for sex rather than honouring them. Love and honour have been reduced to mere pleasure seeking sex – or worse.  The removal of someone’s choice, or making choices that they are unable to contradict is the ultimate dishonour. Rape is about degrading and dishonouring, it imposes one persons choice on another or takes advantage of their inability to make their own choice.

The same with media, it is all about dishonouring, finding the best gossip, media taking pictures of people in compromising positions – such as with Kate and William.  Blaring all mistakes out to the world too.  It often does it in subtle ways, getting us to see entire people groups as dishonourable and worthless – blackening their names (Muslims, asylum seekers, travellers, Christians, different races, teenagers etc..).  Putting others down so we appear better.


In the bible it says about Jesus that we esteemed him not.  The son of God was on earth yet we did not honour him.  He was despised, rejected, his name blackened, betrayed.  The prostitute who wiped his feet with her tears and poured huge amounts of expensive perfume knew about honour – and Jesus honoured her...

So to honour is to treat with respect, to esteem, to raise up.....   Now obviously this doesn't mean raising someone up who has acted dishonourably and then honouring them, but this verse sums stuff up well when we honour

Philippians 4v8

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

So to honour God means to acknowledge who he is, and what he has done.  It’s got to be more than just has action too.  If you are to honour someone you don't do stuff that may dishonour them.  You put them in a deserved place.  To honour our forefathers is to build on what they have started, and the same with God, we build on what he has begun, but it is more than the building it is also about rightly attributing stuff to people/God – rightfully assigning value to what they have done

Why don’t we honour – because of our own insecurity... so we seek power and status over others in order to feel better... we dishonour, lower others in order to feel higher.

But Jesus says he has lifted us up to the height of his throne. We don’t need to be any higher than we actually, already are. To attempt to lift ourselves is to deny what God has done, in our minds we lower him, in reality, we debase ourselves from where God has placed us.

Jesus said ‘if I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to me’. Our world desperately needs to get honour.  It needs to get what it means to honour each other.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Give them hell

So, there’s a book that was given out free at New Wine recently – ‘Revolutions in World Missions’. In the midst of some good insights, it’s a classic ‘American’s  are greedy, evangelicals are self-centred’ guilt-inducing polemic in the guise of a hard-hitting cry for the poor. A central theme is that every second someone in the two thirds world dies without having heard the good news and as a result, goes to a lost eternity of torment. And we are to blame.

Thinking Allowed has a number of problems with this. Firstly, if the fact that people are starving to death in a world of plenty isn’t of itself enough to shake you out of your complacency, it’s unlikely that their eternal destiny is going to make much difference to the response. But more importantly it’s the theology that has us worried.

In this bizarre worldview, people who have done nothing other than be born are deemed as deserving a punishment of such unspeakable magnitude as to make any earthly torture seem inconsequential. Even when these individuals have lived long enough to make their own moral choices, they have done so unwittingly, unknowingly because nobody has told them. Yet still, they are deemed guilty of such a heinous offence against a loving God that the right and just response is to torture them forever.

On the other side of this coin are those who have been saved from this unimaginable horror. Their job is to warn those who are unwittingly hell-bound of their impending doom. Now, what happens to those who fail to perform this critically important task? Surely, if the unknowing are consigned to hell, those who could tell but don’t must certainly face even worse? But no, ‘once saved, always saved’, they get to go to heaven...

Ah, but you can’t go on your feelings, the fact that it might seem outrageous to our flawed human view of justice doesn’t mean that it is actually unjust. ‘God’s ways are not our ways’. Our calling is to be obedient... ‘ours not to reason why, ours but to do or die’.

And yet... and yet, we were made for relationship with God. Jesus took on human form. If God is so other than us in such a basic concept as justice, how can we ever have a meaningful relationship? Shouldn’t we at least explore what other worldview scripture might support?

Might we not look past the fact (as quoted in the book) that Jesus spoke more of hell than heaven and acknowledge that his audience on those occasions was not the unsaved but the disciples or the religious leaders. It was often a warning to those who should know better rather than to the poor, oppressed or unknowing. Secondly, whilst not speaking about ‘heaven’ Jesus talked a lot about the Kingdom of God and the concept of bringing heaven to earth. He had both a temporal and eternal view when it came to the meaning of life. His calling was not to bring guilt and the fear of punishment, but claimed anointing to bring good news... healing, liberty, transformation – here and now as well as into the future. ‘I have come that you might have life in all its fullness...’ Why do we think, as ‘Christ’s body’, that we should do anything different?

When we look across scripture we see that in about half the instances where hell is discussed, it is described as an eternal punishment. In the other half, as a place of temporary suffering. We note that these comments were predominantly warning to believers. We read in Psalm 139 that even if we go to hell (sheol) that God is even there. When evangelicals suppose Jesus to be in hell after the crucifixion we note that Jesus told the thief ‘today’ (ie when he was in hell) ‘you will be with me in paradise’. We read Peter talking obscurely of Jesus ‘preaching to the saints in hell’. What does all this mean? There are some good learned books on this – David Pawson and Greg Boyd are particularly scholarly aurthors. The truth is there is genuine debate  over the nature and  extent  of hell, let alone its inhabitants.

Thinking Allowed suggests that a biblical worldview is that we get to make moral choices in this life. It’s the basis of a love that ‘does not insist on its own way’.  If in the face of death we are still making faith based choices, God seals those choices - for all eternity we get what we have persistently chosen in this life. With great sadness, though, a God of love who gives choice must also honour those choices even when they break his heart. For those who knowingly and persistently choose to be their own god or to make the enemy their god, the real and one God honours their choice. If we choose in this life to live outside the love of God, the God who is love must honour those choices.

But making choices for God doesn’t just affect our destination, it profoundly alters the journey. Poverty, sickness, death even – all can be transformed by the love of God, here in this life as well as for eternity. It is our responsibility to fully receive the transformation that is offered, because it is out of the drama of that that we genuinely become motivated to share the good news. It is out of our experience of good news that we have testimony and witness. Our lives have been changed, we personally know the love and grace of God. We yearn for others to know it, long for others to experience the freedom and joy that we share. That’s the spur, the imperative to evangelism, not some guilt induced story of a wrathful dictator with a warped sense of justice.

The scripture says ‘Will not the judge of all the earth do right’. Thinking Allowed is confident that He will.

Thursday, 23 August 2012


So, did we all enjoy watching the Olympics?  Were we inspired?

Personally, I was cheated. I wanted a Gold Medal, but I didn’t get one. I’d pictured it in my head; the tense moments before the event. The press speculation, the in-depth analysis, the hopes of a nation.  The drama of the event itself, the underdog somehow hanging in there until at the last, through a supreme effort of will, the crowning accomplishment of my glittering career. The crowd go wild, Steve Cram is off his seat in commentary, the Union Flag is thrown to me for the lap of honour...

But sadly it turns out that Pool isn’t an Olympic event and bowls aren’t even in the Commonwealth Games any more....

Still, the unfairness of me not getting a medal got me thinking... what is fairness in sport and what is it that  we are actually celebrating when someone wins? The Olympic motto of ‘higher, faster, further’ is all very well, but excellence surely needs to be underpinned by character rather than mere physical advantage. The increasing efforts to establish a fair competition seem to validate this view:

Drugs and the use of steroids clearly give an unfair advantage and so more and more money and effort is being expended ensuring athletes are ‘clean’.

In weightlifting, the amount you lift is subtracted from your body weight to give a fairer view of the ability of the athlete – and even then there are different categories for additional fairness.

Women are clearly considered disadvantaged when compared to men – they have separate races. We’d probably all agree that it would be unfair to insist that the best women 100m runners had to compete against Bolt et al.

The sad arguments that surrounded Caster Semenya hinged on this. At some point the natural advantage testosterone gives in terms of speed and strength is defined as unfair and you have to race against others with similar levels - men. At some point the credit for running fast moves away from you and onto biology.

The Paralympics confirms this principle, seeking to recognise that some people are disadvantaged over others and tries to create a more level playing field. It seeks to remove the inherent differences so that what you see in the games is the performance of the athlete themselves. Inevitably, you  will always have those at the edges and make a nonsense of it. Should Caster compete against men or women? Should Oscar run in the Paralympics or the Olympics? (I mean, I know he is a double amputee, but the fact that he can and does compete in the Olympics, surely means that in terms of 400m running, he is not disabled - so how come he gets to race in the Paralympics? In fairness, if there was an ‘able bodied’ athlete who trained hard and had enormous upper-body strength, would they be allowed in a Paralympic wheelchair race?) Anyhow,  the principle is clear – you do what you can to ensure that it is the underlying quality of the individuals you are cheering, not just their natural advantage.

No-one gets a gold medal just for being tall.

So, in looking at this issue of a flat, fair playing field, we’ve covered drugs, weight, gender and disability. There’s really only one area of political uncorrectness left to hit now...

Over 200 independent studies show that Black people have a biological advantage in running over non-blacks. Conversely they have a biological disadvantage when it comes to swimming events. In other words a black runner who puts in the same amount of effort and commitment into training as their white counterpart will likely do better because of biology... And vice-versa for swimming... Now, who is going to be the brave (or insane) person who suggests separate races for black and white athletes or swimmers?

So here’s my point. When we cheer the winner, what are we cheering? If a significant part of victory is due to biology, to circumstance, to chance, what are we celebrating? We don’t give a gold medal for the person who had the richest most privileged upbringing. Or just for being male or female, black or white, disabled or not.... Stronger, Higher, Further. But what if strength comes from more testosterone than your opponent? What if higher is because you are taller? What if further is because you happen to be from the Kalenjins tribe (half a million people who have won three times as many distance medals as athletes from any other nation in the world)....

Isn’t the thing we really want to cheer about more to do with character than attributes? The one who overcomes adversity, the one who takes the limits of what they have and through perseverance overcomes the natural barriers to defeat the more naturally talented?

Ultimately, don’t we want to be impressed by faithfulness more than ability? Isn’t Blake a more impressive person – performing at the limits of his natural ability and coming second than Bolt who could break records at will but who chooses not to? Aren’t we more impressed with Pistorius qualifying for the Olympic final than we will be seeing him win the paralympic race by 20m?

But all this is quickly drowned out by the cheer for the winner. The one who came first. We are so easily conned into being impressed with the obvious, the immediate, the outward. Easier to be impressed by the powerful preacher, the man with the Spirit filled ministry. But as Kenny Borthwick says ‘we shouldn’t be impressed when someone exercises their gifts to the best of their ability. That’s just them acting responsibly’.

Ok, if you’re still with me let’s get personal. Truth is, I can’t run as fast as Bolt. Two reasons come to mind, firstly, I’m in my 50’s, secondly I’m not that fit. I mean, I’m still pretty nifty over 60m, but Usain would have finished the 200m by then. Now I can see an obvious solution to the first issue – age is obviously a disability when it comes to sprinting, so we could have the vetlympics for those over 50. But most people would argue that my lack of fitness is really not a disability but more the result of a series of poor choices...  But wait. The choices I make are surely impacted by my upbringing, the character that was developed during childhood and shaped through my formative years. ... maybe my social background contributed.. Not only that, when I was very young I had my legs in plaster for the best part of a year – I didn’t walk till after two... that’s got to have been a disadvantage... And when I got to school we certainly didn’t have any coaches. Barely had a school bus...

So, if we’re looking for fairness and winners and have women’s events separate from men because of their disabling femininity (Bulgarian shot-putters notwithstanding), veterans tennis and golf tournaments, I think it is my human right to have a male, over-50’s, 60m sprint event for those who had early childhood problems, social challenges and poor school facilities. And whose birthday is in late February (well, you never know how that might have impacted me..)

Or maybe I need to give up on those dreams and face a better reality. God knows all the advantages and disadvantages. All the mitigating circumstances. He says there is already a stadium full of those cheering me on to the finishing line. That I get a gold medal, that I win an overwhelming victory. That against all the odds, I win. Not by virtue of being the fastest. But in his strength, taking every bit of what I have and giving everything I’ve got.

Thursday, 19 July 2012


So, on my way to the airport... train to Gatwick, standing on Luton Station waiting for train. Every 2 minutes the announcement comes 'If you are travelling with luggage, please use the lifts provided. If you are using the stairs, please hold the handrail'. Repeated three times followed by a two minute break. Then 'If you are travelling with luggage, please use the lifts provided. If you are using the stairs, please hold the handrail'. Over and over again... just about to find a way of disconnecting the speaker when behold, a new message! 'Staff on this station are here to help. Verbal or physical abuse of staff will not be tolerated'. Great, they only stop assuming I'm stupid or incompetent in order to assume I'm angry or violent. Which by this point is closer to the truth than I'd like!!

Still, made it to the airport. 'No photography, no liquids, no passengers....', 'If you are not at the gate in the next 2 minutes your bags will be removed and you will not be allowed to fly.', 'Very last and final call for passenger Smith. You are now holding up the on-time departure of your flight, you will be shot'

I may have misheard the detail of the last two announcements....


Finally, on the plane. 'Listen to the safety demonstration' (it's a BA flight and they haven't invented TV screens yet, so it's a live performance). 'Fasten your seatbelt', 'SIT down sir...'.  After usual Gatslow delays, flight finally in air where this is being typed... food flung at us... 'Quality snack' may contain traces of nuts. It is nuts. In every sense of the words.

We are inundated in everyday life with these kind of messages. Words that imply our stupidity, our tendency towards rage, our inability to think for ourselves. Add to that the snide remarks, the less than encouraging comments, the implied criticism, the guilt trips and emotional blackmail from Facebook posts or advertising campaigns.. We are swimming in a sea of negativity and if we are not careful it permeates our soul and becomes reality.

We need to be listening carefully to the great announcer – the one who declares truth. We are valued, precious, loved, protected. Significant children of the most high God. We are eternal, competent, empowered, delightful, co-heirs with Jesus. This is the truth we need to use to filter out the other voices. From railway announcers to the enemy of our souls, we need to take every thought they plant and hold it to the light of the truth. We need to allow the Spirit to take that which is subliminal – the incessant nagging of detractors; spouses, children, colleagues maybe, and bring the curses that have been unwittingly spoken into the light. We need to take them to Christ, we need to pray cleansing from them and a breaking of their power. And we need to replace them with God's holy, life giving truth.

In the meantime I have been instructed to sit back and enjoy the flight. It seems unlikely.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Gooseberry Fool

I have two gooseberry bushes on my allotment.  In the Spring, I managed to cover one with left over netting, but ran out for the second one. They are both the same variety of gooseberry, planted in the same soil, next to one another.  The one with the netting has a bit of support, some wire and a couple of sticks. But those are the only differences.

Today we went to see whether there was any fruit worth picking. As we approached we could see the uncovered one. Didn’t look hopeful. Not much fruit and what there was, was very small.

Then we lifted the netting from the covered one. We couldn’t believe our eyes. Huge fruit and laden branches sagging under the weight of the fruit. Yay! Gooseberry crumble for the next year!

What an extraordinary difference a bit of support and protection had made.  Made us think... how much more fruitful would we be if we had a bit of support and some good protection?

Support to stop us dragging in the wet ground, to stop us rotting in the mud. Support to hold our heads up to the sun rather than staring at the floor. Protection from the birds that nibble incessantly at the forming fruit, from the flies and ants chomping through the leaves. Protection from the vicious nettles... (I managed to sit on a clump whilst picking the fruit. Ouch – didn’t think it appropriate to rub it with a dock leaf...)

But amazing how often we wander through life, independently oblivious to how much of life and faith is getting sapped, choked or eaten. We’re so busy, sometimes with ‘ministry’ that we never stop to be accountable, to be supported. We rarely pray for our protection as a daily necessity.

One of the things we’ve found in c2b (our ‘beacon’ group) is the joy of mutual support and the transformation praying for protection makes. We've spent time looking at the armour of God, discovering the reality of 'living under the shadow of his wing'. Like Ruth, we're learning to ask the one who loves us 'extend the border of your garment. Cover me.'

Final thought, gooseberry bushes can’t pick themselves up and move, but we can. Maybe we used to be sheltered under God’s wing, under the netting of his protection. Maybe some of us have walked out of the centre of his calling, out of the netting.  Quick, get back under before the ants or birds get to you.

And watch where you sit down.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Church, Macaroni & Mustard

Here’s a salutary tale.

Some years ago, when Janet and I had two small children, we decided to have lunch in town one Saturday. With buggy, children and shopping we exploded out of the tiny lift into the cafe area of the shop. It was manic. Everybody it seemed, had also chosen this cafe at this time to have lunch. Eventually we carried our trays to the smallest table in the world and after much juggling of plates, trays, shopping and children, we were ready to eat. By this time there were lots of tears and a bit of frustrated screaming. And the kids weren’t happy either.

Into this mayhem walks a man from another table. He asks ‘can I borrow the mustard?’ and without really waiting for a reply, leans over and takes the jar. At which point, Janet, who hates mustard, shouts across the crowded room ‘NNNOOOO’. I assumed the situation had got to her – as far as I was concerned he could borrow the mustard, the children, my food, the shopping... But it turned out it wasn’t the mustard he had taken. It was one of the kids jars of cold macaroni cheese. Now, at that point, I wished that Janet had quietly nudged me and said ‘watch this’. In my head I could picture the man taking a bite of his gammon steak, anticipating the tang of mustard against the sweetness of the meat... only to have the cloying sensation of cold macaroni cheese instead....

As I savoured this picture, God spoke – ‘that’s just like you.’ It took me a minute to understand. Revelation 3 summed it up. ‘You are neither hot nor cold – you make me sick’.

I, we, are supposed to be the body of Christ, bringing flavour to a tasteless world. The world has the right to see in church the very image of God in Christ. We are called to be the mustard. But too often I, maybe we,  present cold macaroni cheese.

We’ve got this juggernaut of an institution; it eats our money, our time, our gifts, our expertise. We need people to preach, teach, be in the band(s) run the children’s work, the youth programme, look after the buildings, man the sound-desk. We need people to run the coffee bar, do the admin, maintain the web-site, write the magazine. We need money for the staff salaries, the mortgage, the infrastructure, the legal fees, insurance, the minibus.

We run Sunday School and youth programmes to educate and entertain our kids, we have men’s meetings, women’s meetings, senior’s meetings, parent’s meetings, singles holidays. We have marriage courses, parenting courses, alpha courses, beta courses and courses to train leaders to start new versions of the same.

In a typical 'large' church more than 75% of the finances go on the maintaining the organisation and fabric. Less than 25% on anything external to the church itself. Fewer than 10% of the people are actively engaged in any form of connection outside the church – they have no time or energy for it after their service to the church itself. Tragically fewer than 10% of the people who could reasonably be expected to be reached, are actually reached. That’s 90% of those who could be seeing the light, continuing to walk in darkness.

Church is supposed to be the visible expression of Jesus. Instead it has become invisible to most, hidden like a black hole, sucking all life into it and giving little out.

Macaroni cheese instead of mustard.

How have we let this happen? How have we allowed that life transforming moment we experienced at conversion and in those early days to be eroded into what now satisfies? Maybe the problem is that we have experienced too little of the mustard ourselves. We’ve been feasting on the cold macaroni cheese for so long that we’ve mistaken it for the mustard.

Isn’t this at the heart of the problem? We have experienced so little of the transforming love of God in our lives that it is impossible – or seems hypocritical – to talk to others about it – let alone to demonstrate it. We are full of head knowledge, we’ve read of it happening elsewhere or have heard about it at conferences. But we haven’t personally experienced it, or at least not recently... We know the Bible stories, we enjoy the songs, the sense of camaraderie and purpose. Church as it has become presses a number of our buttons, but as for root and branch transformation, as for that gut-wrenching “I once was dead but now I am alive” moment, the tank is empty. So week in, week out we keep going back for a top-up of the slightly less than ordinary, fuelling us for another week of serving the church...

How do we get back to that first love, to that authentic expression of church?  Jesus said that 'he who is forgiven much, loves much'. Maybe a starting place would be to fast from the macaroni cheese for a while, to spend less time at church or serving church and to use the time we save before God, reminding ourselves of the depth of our sinful nature, the extent of our forgiveness... Lets be honest, when was the last time we wept over our deceitfulness, our selfish motives, the depravity which is only a heartbeat away? When did we last understand from the depth of our being that Jesus died for us, that without that we are truly and deservedly dead? When did we last experience the overwhelming love that God has for us, his yearning for our presence, his longing for our briefest response? The broken-heartedness of  a father who has lost his son because he would not turn around into his embrace?

That’s what changes us. Nothing else. It’s what keeps the change from being eroded. It’s what impels us to speak of his love, to give it, to share it. That’s true freedom, abandon into the Father’s arms. Either he catches us or we die. That’s real liberty!

It’s communities of people changed in that way that is church – and against it, the very powers of  hell will not prevail.

Mustard, not cold macaroni cheese. Church, not institution. Life, not death.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

New Home, Same Great Blog!

For any Thinking Allowed readers who may have thought we had disappeared, we haven't! We just moved where the blog is hosted (on the web site of David & Janet Painting, You can go directly to our new home by clicking here.

Keep following!


Catherine and David

Friday, 15 June 2012

Nursery Rhymes

You know that you are getting older when you start to think or say things like "Ah, back in my day, it was different..."

Things were different back in the day.... we went out to play in the morning and came back for tea. Nobody knew where we were or what we were up to. And nobody worried about it. Today, with better street lights, cctv on every corner and universal mobile phone access, no-one seems to dare go out at all. Fear seems to be prevalent.

It made us think - is it the immediacy of communication that has caused the problem? Surely people were just as wicked 'back in the day' as they are now, but a crime then would be reported locally, but even national news would not infiltrate lives as fast as a viral You Tube video. Now everyone sees the distressed parents within minutes of the event and it gets played over and over. Comments fly around Facebook and within minutes the whole nation seems to be personally affected and feel a part of the pain.

In some ways it's great - a whole nation can be drawn together and share common and significant experiences. It helps to bond, to give a sense of belonging... Yet the downside is that fear spreads like a pernicious virus for which there seems to be no vaccine.

Which is where nursery rhymes come in. Back in the day (way back, even before my day) the world for many was a far more dangerous place than it is today. Corruption, criminality, injustice, political and religious bigotry, rampant disease and poverty combined to create a fearful cocktail of disaster for pretty much everyone. Without chat shows, celebrity interviews, counsellors or Facebook, how did people process the fear, how did children especially, cope with such a world? How did anything get done against a backdrop of imepnding doom that should have disempowered even the most adventurous?
Mary, Mary quite contrary

How does your garden grow?

With cockleshells and silver bells

And pretty maids, all in a row

It's not a medieval version of Gardener's World. It's a satirical condemnation of 'Bloody Mary'. Her religious views were contrary to the reformation that her Father had begun. The garden refers to the ever increasing graveyards needed to accomodate the martyrs, tortured by the 'cockleshells and silver bells' (thumbscrews and worse) and executed by the 'maiden beheader' (a primitive version of the guillotine).

But it's also a way of mocking the horror of it all. Children could laugh and make light of what was too traumatic to deal with fully.
Ring, a ring of roses

A pocket full of posies

Atishoo, atishoo

We all fall down

A dance and a rhyme to take away the horror and loss of the plague. A means of diminishing the pain, of rising above the terror.

"London's burning", "Old Mother Hubbard", "Pop goes the weasel" and scores of others - all with the same underlying message: "We ridicule death and hopelessness. Despite the circumstances, we will not submit to fear, we will be children, we will play.

Nowadays we attempt to sterilise the world of danger. We kill 99.9% of all known germs - dead. We spray, we vaccinate, we insulate, we isolate. And all that's left is the cloud of fear, drizzling down from anxious parents to their increasingly fearful and risk-averse children. And they now have no means of processing it, leading, one supposes, to a rise in OCD, IBS and other anxiety related illness.

Oh the irony! We live in a safer world, yet worry more. We live in a global village, yet imprison ourselves in smaller and smaller cells of fear. We live in  the immediacy of communication, where the message of hope could blaze through the fog of fear. But instead what we communicate is the fear itself.

Instead of the nursery rhyme we retreat to the x-box. We make death and destruction our plaything, but it doesn't reduce the fear of reality. We outgrew the nursery rhyme, the fairy-story, the moral tale. We gained our independence, our right to sue, our extended life-expectancy.

But somewhere we lost hope, somewhere we lost God.


Wednesday, 16 May 2012


Had a lovely weekend break a while back, visiting parents ahead of a birthday and Mother's Day. We stayed in Harrogate, significantly reducing the average age... The change of routine gives you an opportunity to read and to watch things late in the evening that you wouldn't normally get to see. 'The Bank Job' for example. It prompted this blog.

The 'grand finale' involved two people who collectively had won £100,000. This is divided equally between them and placed in two attache cases, one each. Each of the finalists is also given a second attache case full of newspaper cut into the form of bank notes. An attache case of 'cash' and an attache case of 'trash'. Each finalist then has a minute or so to persuade the other to hand over th attache case of cash. Of course, if both follow through on an agreement to give the other the case of cash, both win - they each go home with £50,000. But what if one reneges? What if one, in good faith, hands over their case of cash, but the other dishonestly gives their case full of trash? Then the cheat has both their case of cash plus their fellow finalist's case of cash. In the last 'grand final' both finalists cheated on the other and neither went away with any of the money...

Anyway, the one we saw featured a guy called Scott who one the way to this grand-final had won £198,000. As far as it's possible to tell on such shows, he seemed a pleasant bloke. He was generous in victory, modest and honest about his luck. His co-finalist was Stacey, who really was lucky to be in the 'grand final'. As the best runner-up in the series, she had never won any of the qualifying events. In the first two rounds of the final, she scraped through. It was classic, British under-dog fare and everyone it seemed was very happy that they both made it to the final showdown in the grand final.

How would they behave? Scott made the case simply. 'Let's both do what's right, I'm going to give you my cash, you do the same, then in two minutes time we can both be celebrating and leave with the money and our integrity'. Stacey agreed, Scott said 'look me in the eyes and promise that you're going to do this'. Stacey said 'I'm going to do it'. Drum roll, countdown, the two finalists point to the case they are going to hand over. The cases are placed in front of them and in a synchronised burst of opening, the contents of each is revealed. Scott has given Stacey his £50,000. Stacey has given Scott a case full of newspaper. The crowd cheer. As the noise dies down Stacey says 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I had to do it, you had already won all that money'. Scott replies 'I'm glad you won some money, but you should have kept your word'. Stacey left £100,000 richer, but with a bankrupt character.  Scott it seemed left richer than if he had won a million....


A game show predicated on greed to increase viewing figures, ensuring higher profits for the production company. Advertisers willing to pay a premium to have their products associated with it so more people will buy their goods increasing their profits.


But let's not be totally anti-Stacey... Scott had already won £198,000. He could have said 'Stacey, I've heard a bit of your background. I've already won a life-changing amount of money. I'll give you my cash - give me your trash. I'll spare you from that temptation, go ahead and do it with my permission and blessing'


We took Janet's mum to lunch at a carvery for an early Mother's Day treat... I got stuck behind someone who kept trying to balance the extra roast potato on top of the pyramid of food that he could barely carry... when he'd finally done that, he drowned the food in every type of gravy there was. Didn't want to miss out on anything. He'd paid for it, he was going to take it - even if he then left half of it on his plate at the end....


Made me think. This blog was written in the season of Lent. A time when traditionally we like to prove that we are in control of our animal instincts. We can give up that chocolate, that TV programme, the internet. In doing so we demonstrate that we are more than an evolved collection of uncontrollable urges. Yet on this simple weekend, the evidence suggests that we are not. Dawkins and Darwin were right after all.

As Stacey screwed Scott the crowd cheered. As greed kicked integrity into touch, the crowd cheered. As Pilate condemned Jesus, the crowd cheered.

When we exercise self-control, when we refuse to be animals, heaven cheers. Which crowd's applause are you listening to?

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Couch Grass

Been down to the allotment this week.  I have to say it’s amazing how quickly weeds grow!  I had a break from doing it for a couple of years whilst some friends gave growing a go.  It kind of went a bit downhill, and the weeds have returned!

In particular, Couch Grass is annoying me, it’s a bit like golden syrup in the hands of one of my children.... it gets everywhere, and spreads via roots underground, working its way under the surface and then popping up somewhere as a clump of grass.  Even found a potato (very old) with couch grass roots growing through it - they have nice points on them so that the grass can get through almost anything!!!

I reckon it is taking over an hour to dig 2 square metres of soil, getting as many roots out as I can see. It is very tempting when it takes so long to clear to either dig it over, covering up the roots,  or just break the roots up a bit, but leaving them in the soil.....

The problem comes in a few months time, if you just cover the roots up, the couch grass reappears, bursting through the surface alongside all the plants. But chopping them up is an even worse option – each chopped up bit becomes another clump of Couch Grass to get out!

Either way, you’re left with a load of grass growing up alongside the plants you are lovingly looking after! At that stage, even if you carefully try to pull out all the roots without disturbing your plants, little bits of brittle root break off and even more couch grass springs up! One way or another you’re left with Couch Grass above the surface, choking the life out of your lovely plants whilst  under the surface, its roots are taking nutrients away from the plants you are trying to grow.

If you want plants, if you want the fruit, you have to prepare the ground and dig out every last bit of root.

Jesus knows what I mean! He told the story of the ‘wheat and the tares’ and seed sown in ground that wasn’t prepared properly. So it seems to me that God’s refining is a bit like this weeding process. Getting rid of stuff which drains the life out of us, preventing goodness getting in, or breaking strongholds that strangle and constrict us from doing or being who we should be....

If we are going to be fertile and fruitful ground, we can’t just turn over a few new leaves, try harder, change a bit. We’ve got to dig out the roots. To mix metaphors, it requires all out battle not just a bit of dabbling then stepping back from the frontline.

My experience is that there are times when things are going well, we have got most of the weeds out of a patch in our lives..... then we leave it a bit, get on with doing stuff...... forget to do the weeding, fail to dig down far enough to ensure the whole root is gone... and slowly the weeds grow back and if we’re not careful they overrun the whole plot again.

We forget we are in a spiritual battle zone....passivity in the weeding process is not an option....Passivity = losing ground to the enemy, we need to take up forks again and root out what has grown. Of course the enemy will say it’s much too difficult, that the patch will never be clear, that you’re too old, too busy, too young, too anything... to give it the time it needs. But the truth is that the weeds cannot stay in the soil against the power of the fork! Likewise with Gods power at work in us anything the enemy has sown can be uprooted, and the ground transformed.

God’s gardening is not something to be dismissed to later but an ongoing process.....and greater fruit comes as our hearts and minds are prepared. So even though it’s painful sometimes, don’t just cover over the roots, but rather dig them out with God. It is lots of work, but whilst you’re gardening, you can chat with God about stuff, you can listen to the birds, feel the sun, get some exercise and look up and see the smile of your Father as he watches the fruit grow. Just recently we discovered a big weed in the allotment. We started to dig down and tried to pull it up. One of those silent-movie moments where the inevitable happens - the root snaps and the person pulling falls over backwards. We decided then that this was a prophetic root. Absurd as it seemed to other allotment holders - and to some of our friends, we decided this root was coming out. Five hours of work later, including a team of people and the use of specialist tools, not to mention a two foot six deep hole, we finally got the last, smallest piece of the root out.

God is persistent like that if we let him. He doesn't want any root of bitterness in our life, not even the faintest tendril of the enemy left to press on old wounds, to control or poison our life. He wants us free. Of course the digging, the dislodiging might seem uncomfortable. We might think we are free so why is God poking around that area of our life... Truth is, he doesn't want it growing back. He doesn't just want you a little free, he wants you 'free indeed'.

In the end, the weeds and all their roots get thrown on the compost heap and strangely, the very thing that was sent to damage or destroy ends up making the ground more fruitful than it was before.

We are in a battle with the enemy, just like the weeds, he comes to kill, steal and destroy. God on the other hand comes to give life in all its fullness - not just an ok life but a fandabbydozy brilliant life

What are the roots and weeds in your life?

Thursday, 8 March 2012

The Divine Mandate

Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will signal your return and the end of the world?

Jesus told them, “Don’t let anyone mislead you,  for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many.  And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately.  Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world.  But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come. Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers. And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people.  Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.....”

“... Now learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branches bud and its leaves begin to sprout, you know that summer is near.  In the same way, when you see all these things, you can know his return is very near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear. However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.”

In these key extracts from Matthew 24 Jesus says some profound things. Perhaps this paraphrase summarises it:

“Not even I know the precise date of my return, it is dependent on many factors and only the Father will know when all those are in place. But I do know this – they can be fulfilled within the lifetime of some you here now. Of course, the enemy will do all he can to delay it, he wants to maximise the horror of his reign – wars, the fear of war, ‘natural’ disasters and the like – and he wants to postpone his own defeat and judgment. In fact the symptoms of this battle are amongst the signs that the preconditions are being fulfilled. And you will recognise these signs just as surely as you recognise the signs of the changing seasons. Above all, when everyone has had the opportunity to choose between the kingdom of the enemy and the kingdom of God, then I will be free to return to judge how men have chosen. So be wholehearted in the battle and be empowered by the Spirit I will send; this generation can see the gospel preached to all nations and set the scene for my return.”

The gospels, the book of Acts, the earliest letters of the New Testament resound with this theme, with this urgency. As Paul puts it in Romans: there is a task to be done and we are the generation to accomplish it. The battle is fierce, we are being imprisoned, killed even, but nothing can separate us from God’s love, nothing can chain the gospel, let’s press on and claim the prize...

Yet here we are, two millennia later with the task still incomplete. Was Jesus unrealistic, over-optimistic, or has something gone badly wrong with the church that was commissioned to accomplish the task? Do we in fact, need to take responsibility?

Well, it turns out that far from being unrealistic, the task was extremely achievable. Let’s say that each of the 500 to whom Jesus gave his 'go' command led one other person to a place of faith every three years – and they subsequently ‘went’ and did the same, then the whole world would have been reached inside 60 years. Within the lifetime of some in his audience, exactly as he predicted. Of course there were special challenges, not all the world was discovered for example. But then our one person every three years was not the norm at the start; 3,000 on the day of Pentecost alone...

Pause for a minute to meditate this reality. Yes, 2000 additional years for people to hear, billions now rather than the millions then. But consider too how many of those billions live in despair, pain, horror and suffering. The enemy of our souls feeds on anguish, desolation, hurt, decay and death. He perpetuates it, stirs it, initiates it, fosters it. And through the inadequacy of the church he has had 2000 more years to do that with ever more people. Yes, there are purportedly more believers now than at any time previously, but there are six thousand million people who are not. Every one of them vulnerable to the ravages of the enemy. Yes, for the fleeting minority there is more comfort and material ‘good’ in their lives than ever before. But amongst even this elite, there is no more happiness than in previous ages. And for those outside that clique there is what there has always been. Oppression, suffering and death. Only now, multiplied by billions of individuals.

How must this add to the suffering of Christ on the cross? How must this break the heart of the Father, how must it grieve the Spirit? And who will be held responsible for this? Satan and his cohort of course. But who else? Who else has the light, who else tasted the Kingdom? Who has been redeemed from this hell, who has been empowered and gifted with everything that is needed to preach good news and be good news to all nations?

So often in the biblical narrative, unbelief, orthodoxy and insititutionalisation has strangled the life and urgency out of the movement of the Kingdom, turning it into an organisation with structures and a life of its own, sapping energy, momentum and effectiveness. Abraham called to go in haste, takes the whole entourage,resulting in civil war, battles with enemy cities, lies, the death of his relatives and above all, delay. By the time they reached the land, it was too late – it had been settled. When famine came, the people should have stayed in Egypt three years, instead comfort trapped them and they were there for 400. Once they were released they should have entered the land after an 11 day march. Unbelief and dysfunction led them to submit to their fears and they lost a further 40 years and a whole generation suffered.

No surprise then that what could have been accomplished inside 60 years has taken over 2000. Two millennia of sin, pain, death and destruction, fuelled and sustained by the enemy. This should appal us. Billions of people unnecessarily subject to the wrath and destructive power of Satan. Millennia of unnecessary freedom for him to cause death, disease, poverty, hatred, war, rape and every evil imaginable.

God graciously gave us the opportunity to co-create a kingdom of peace, love and joy from the wreckage of the fall. At immeasurable cost he won a victory over the enemy, placing him as it were on bail pending his full imprisonment. Christ gave us the unspeakable privilege of sharing the victory through the battle winning movement called church.

It may take a further 20 years before we have a cure for cancer, 50 before we tame fusion power. It may be 40 years before we put a man on Mars. Using the same assumptions as before, given today’s population and the number of Christians, it should take less than a decade to complete the task. How much longer will God stay his hand - not just against the ravages of the enemy, but against the inadequacies of his people?

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Not being frightened of him, but in awe of his great mercy and grace to respond wholeheartedly to him. Not in a 20 minute time of worship, but with our whole life, for our whole life. Nothing else comes close to an adequate response.

Lord have mercy on me. Lord have mercy on your people. Lord have mercy on a suffering world. Lord, graciously we plead, start with us.

Monday, 27 February 2012

The Tragedy of Jim & Ginny

Jim's Story

Hi. My name is Jim. I am 25 years old. I have a lot of friends, some from my uni days, others that I've made at work and the football club I play for.

One of my friends, Ginny,  is a Christian. She keeps inviting me to an Alpha course. I'm interested in her, but not the course. In general, Christians seem judgmental and church seems like a dinosaur that somehow escaped extinction.

I agreed to go to the Alpha course, it's on a Wednesday evening which clashes with football practice, but heh, it's only for a few weeks and at least I get to go out with Ginny.

Week four of the Alpha course was kind of pivotal for me. Not only did it make sense, but I also had this deep conviction somewhere inside me that it was true. I'm very confused now. Not about Ginny though, I really like her, even though she won't sleep with me yet.

That sense of conviction just wouldn't go away. Eventually I got some time by myself and poured out my heart to God. As I did I had the strangest feeling of calm and love... weird. I've agreed to go with Ginny to her church on Sunday. I might as well, I haven't been able to play in the league since I started the Alpha course. The club has a rule that if you don't come to practice, you can't be picked for the team.

Ginny's Story

Hi. I'm Virginia - Ginny to my friends, who are mostly from the church I go to, although there is one guy I know from Uni (Jim) who isn't a Christian.

I quite like Jim, my friends tease me about him. They also warn me not to get involved because I can't have a relationship with someone outside the faith.

I think Jim fancies me! He agreed to come along to the Alpha course. I'm really not sure what to do, I don't want him to go just because he thinks I might go out with him. I wouldn't have asked him at all, except I didn't really know anyone else to invite.

Jim's become a Christian! It's so wonderful, God has been so faithful, he's even agreed to come to church with me on Sunday - even though it's his football day!

Jim's Story

Church was weird. A kind of poor-man's rock concert with a lecture in the middle. People doing really odd things, gabbling, falling over, dancing. I'd have run a mile if I wasn't having dinner with Ginny after. By the end I'd kind of got used to the weirdness, there was certainly something of God there and the people seemed really nice. I did feel I was a bit on display mind.

Now the Alpha course has finished, I could go back to football training, but there's some sort of housegroup thing that Ginny goes to and I feel like I should go along to that.

One of the guys on the sounddesk at church must have heard that I'm a DJ in my spare time, or was when I had any! He asked if I'd help now and again. They really don't have much of a clue so I said I'd be glad to help. Turns out though that you have to come to a rehearsal on a thursday evening. Bit of a pain, I normally meet my Uni mates for a drink, but I guess it's only once a month.

I must admit, the Christian thing is really making a difference to me, the way I think, the things I value. Life does seem so much more real now - I just want to shout about it all the time!

Ginny's Story

I am so thrilled for Jim. He is so different, so committed - he's even given up meeting with his old Uni friends to help out on the sound desk. With that and housegroup, he's really in a place where he can be discipled, away from the pretty dodgy influences of his old friends!

He is really kind to me too - I think I'm falling in love with him. There's a Marriage Preparation Course starting in the Autumn, I'm praying...

Jim's Story

Not the most romatic venue, the church weekend away, but it seemed right anyway. She said 'yes'! We're going to be married next Spring, apparently there's a Marriage Preparation course in the Autumn. I'm so happy!

We had been thinking of joining one of the short-term missions trips - I'm so keen to share with others what God has done for me, but that will have to wait till next year, we've a wedding to plan. God is so good!

Ginny's Story

I'm married! I can't quite believe it! God is so faithful, I prayed for a husband and even though Jim wasn't a believer, he has brought me one! We had a wonderful wedding - the guest list was a bit fraught, Jim wanted to invite lots of his old friends, but in the end it was ok, because not that many of them could make it. All our joint friends from church were there though, it was such a godly celebration, a great a start to our married life.

Jim's Story

We're really enjoying being a married couple, it feels very grown up having our own home and being able to invite friends round for meals. We're hosting a housegroup for young couples now that we have our own place.

It's all changed on the work front too. By coincidence (or should I say God's providence!) my father-in-law runs a sound equipment business and he had a vacancy in his technical department. I'll miss my old colleagues, but what a privilege to be working for a Christian company.

Ginny's Story

I'm pregnant! We didn't plan on it quite this soon, but well, I won't go into the detail! The baby is due the week before we were planning on being a part of the mission's trip so obviously God has a different type of mission for us!

I've not been too good for the last few weeks, having to rest lots. Jim has been fantastic, what with work being so busy and his commitments at church and housegroup, somehow he's still had time to be a real help to me. He's going to make such a great dad!

Jim's Story

Twins! How can they not know till they are born these days! We haven't slept for what seems like years, but finally life seems to be smoothing out again. I keep telling everyone I know how good God is - of course they all agree!

I'm very keen to share what I've discovered of God and there's a new outreach programme for guys who like football. I'm so unfit it will probably kill me, but I'll give it a go!

Bumped into Freddie, one of my old friends from the football club. I was really sad, turns out he went through a really difficult time shortly after I left, seemed like he didn't have anyone to talk to about it, almost killed himself, taken till now to get out again. Promised to meet up with him again soon. Must text him later when I can find some space - diary is pretty full these days now I've taken on the leadership of the AV team - on top of work and homelife!

Ginny's Story

Our 10th anniversary! Who could believe it! We're going on our first missions trip to celebrate! Can't believe it's taken this long, but with four kids and our church committments, it's just not been possible!

I've never been so moved in my life. The things we saw, the poverty, the desperateness... and yet the vibrancy of peoplle's faith. What a challenge to our way of life. It has really shaken me up.

There's a weekend conference coming up on how to start and run effetcive prayer groups for missions and Jim has said he'll look after the kids so that I can go.

The conference was amazing, some fantastic stories and great ideas. It will mean another evening out but we're committed to making it happen. Small beginnings, but a few friends praying can grow and make a huge difference I know.

Freddie's Story

I knew Jim pretty well once - lots of us did. He was always a kind-hearted bloke - one of the lads, but you could trust him. I know a lot of us felt a real loss when he started with that church thing - we lost a good friend.

He did invite us to his wedding, but to be honest we'd pretty much lost touch by then, he'd stopped coming to training, couldn't play on Sundays and didn't seem that interested in us anymore. Of course, when you get married you get a new circle of friends and when family comes along, your priorities change - that happened to Mike and Tony and some of our other good mates. But Jim just disappeared, seemed to get so busy with church and church people that he didn't have time for us. Real shame. Could have done with Jim through some of my difficult times. I bumped into him once, we agreed to catch up over a pint, but I knew it wouldn't happen. Never mind, good luck to him.

Jim's Story

Sad, sad day. Just been to Freddie's funeral. Never did get that drink with him, one thing or another kept getting in the way. Amazing to see so many people from the past of course. They were all happy to see me and Ginny and the kids. But we had so little in common, didn't seem much point of contact. All a bit embarassing really.

Ginny's Story

Jim's a bit down after the death of one of his old mates. Still, we've been asked to lead a course on friendship evangelism so that should take his mind off it. It will lead into our next Alpha course. Wouldn't it be amazing if one of his old friends came to Alpha, just like Jim did all those years ago!

The Pastor's Story

Ginny & Jim have been wonderful servants of the church. I remember when Jim first came to Alpha, I had the privilege of baptising him and leading their wedding. A great couple - a great family, so committed to the church. The prayer group Ginny runs has doubled in size this year, the AV team has become so much more professional under Jim's leadership. And of course they have such a heart for the lost. They're stalwarts of our short-term missions trips and they run our Alpha course. And that's besides hosting one of our home-groups. They're wonderful people, generous with their time and money. If only the church had more people like them.


Saturday, 18 February 2012

The Christian State

There's been lots of chat on Facebook and other media about the issue of prayers in Council meetings here in the UK. Eric Pickles, the larger than life MP responsible for local government, has promised swift action to change the law - in order to uphold the righ,t in a 'Christian Nation', for prayers to be part of the formal business of council meetings. Thinking Allowed thinks we have gone mad.

The US has a legal separation of state and church, but a higher proportion of 'christians'. The Britain we allude to as having a 'christian' identity is not the Britain of today. We have become, are becoming multi-cultural. In the 'golden age' of Britain being a 'Christian' nation, we executed those not of our faith, ruthlessly exported our brand of Christianity and held people in the grip of a legalistic piety that simply covered over the same old sins. (As well as doing some pretty amazing stuff...)

The truth is that in those halcyon days, from the outside we probably looked as frighteningly draconian as some extremist Muslim states do to us today.... Over time of course, all regimes tend towards a broader, softer approach before being subsumed into the next thing. It's the history of society.

Jesus said that his kingdom was not 'of this world'. He avoided the political power that was offered to him - in the end Judas betrayed him as a means of provoking him to take it up. Peter wanted to start the revolution but Jesus told him 'put away your sword'. Now that's not to say that Christians should avoid politics - far from it, we need Christians in every walk of life, every sphere of influence. But it is to say that Biblically, the means of furthering the gospel, building the kingdom is not rooted in state or political endeavour.

And so to the vexed question of prayers in council meetings (or 'acts of Christian worship' in school assemblies for that matter). I'm all for groups of Christians, who feel called to be in politics or teaching (and for those of us who benefit from these professions), to be praying regularly and fervently for those directly involved. But given the nature of Britain now, how can we possibly impose these practices on a society that is at best bemused and at worst antagonised by them? Are we really saying 'you are welcome here and you are free to practice your religion, but actually, we are a Christian nation and as a society we practice Christian norms which you must respect and to which you must adhere'? In short you are welcome provided you become like us or if you won't, then hide-away so you don't interfere with our 'Britishness'.

In practice this means that we welcome your presence, want you to integrate rather than form a ghetto. But by integrate we mean become aligned to our definition of Britishness, which includes our Christian heritage. So even though the majority of councillors are not practicing Christians, as part of the formal business of politics, we will pray to a God we barely understand and in whom we mostly disbelieve. You Muslims (for example) who have a very clear view of your god and practice your religion 'religiously' must take part in this strange ritual or absent yourself from it.

The truth is most British people aren't 'British' by these definitions. Most Brits wouldn't pass the citizenship test that we require aspiring Brits to take. So why, as Christians, do we put our trust in these archaic descriptions of who we are? Why do we think that losing the legal right to pray in a poitical forum is putting the furtherance of the gospel at risk? The battle to establish the kingdom is not synonymous with keeping Britain  'British' - the latter was lost decades ago (if it was ever a battle) and the former remains ours to win.

The reason, after 2,000 years that Britain is not a 'Christian' nation has nothing to do with the vagaries of politics. It has everything to do with the fact that we don't love God. We love self, we love our friends, our family, our church. We love our jobs, our homes, our holidays, our possessions. We love our lives. We love our ministries. we love the little successes when one or two come to Christ through an alpha course or outreach programme. But we don't love God.

We don't love God enough to give up our lives, our homes, our security, our jobs. We don't love God enough to give up our rights, our insularity, our freedom. We don't love God enough to overcome the embarassment of talking about him or the fear of rejection if we offer to pray for someone. We don't love God.

And we don't love God because we don't understand forgiveness. 'He who is forgiven much, loves much'. As we approach Lent, why don't we spend less time worrying about the impact external decisions have on the gospel and more time before God? Time inviting His Spirit to convince us of sin, that we might know afresh the depth of our need for him and the wonder of his love for us.

Let's take a fast from being British, from insularity, from fear. Let's feast on telling others, demonstrating to everyone, the love of God. That's what church is about.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Church Isn't Working - Part 2

Most churches in the UK are quite small – less than 50 adults. Increasingly they comprise an elderly and ageing population meeting in old and costly premises. Their focus has narrowed to paying the bills and maintaining a programme of services and meetings. There is little energy for anything new, and less appetite for it anyway. There is a fear of change and almost no direct contact with the world, unless it chooses to come into the confines of the church. They fear the world, fear the inevitable; the loss of their own minister, the dwindling congregation, “shutting the doors”. Often they are characterised by a sense of impending defeat.

At the other end of the spectrum we have the newer churches; meeting in school halls, converted warehouses or refurbished older buildings. Full of enthusiasm and excitement, the numbers give a sense of success, of victory against the odds, which translates into upbeat worship led by gifted musicians in rock-concert style performances. There are enough people to staff multiple programmes and plenty of entrepreneurial leaders to initiate them. There’s generally enough confidence to risk occasional forays into the world; special events, ‘missions’, outreach programmes, Alpha. It all generates a self-sustaining stream of income, newcomers and vision in a broadly optimistic context.

At one end fear and age deter genuine engagement. At the other end self-sufficiency, comfort and busyness mitigate against it.  Looked at in the light of its God-given purpose – to be the mechanism by which the gospel is communicated and the nations discipled, it has to be said. Church isn’t working.

There will be those who dispute that assertion. They will point to Africa and parts of Asia which have seen explosive conversion rates. Over half a million new churches in 11,000 new denominations in Africa in recent years. But two things mute the enthusiasm. It was in just such an African nation, with over 90% of the population Christian that saw the genocide in Rwanda. Secondly, I don’t live in Africa. I live in Europe, in Britain, where Christianity is in retreat. Let me repeat. As a vehicle for communicating the gospel or discipling nations, church isn’t working,

Meanwhile, the perception of the church by those outside it is that  it is an irrelevant relic of a long-past age. Worse, it is characterised by bigotry and hypocrisy;  self-righteously pronouncing judgments against a sinful world. Even those parts of the Church that retain some respect for their social compassion (The Salvation Army for example) are seen as anachronistic and twee.

At a time when people are more open to spiritual concepts than for many years and where the government is flinging the doors wide open to the involvement of religious groups, this is tragic. With more emphasis being placed on care in the community – the bread and butter of the Gospel - the opportunities for demonstrating the love of God abound, at the very point that energy is being diverted into self-serving maintenance.

Again, I hear about the hard work, I know the long hours, the commitment, the years of faithful service. I know the challenges, the difficulties, the setbacks.  I know the stories; the one's and two's who came to faith, the occasional healing, the marriage saved. These are genuinely good and worth rejoicing over.  But it can’t possibly be enough. There are too many in our street, our work-place, our school who are dying inside and who have no clue as to why or how that can change. There are too many for whom Christ died in vain for this level of effectiveness to be acceptable. The truth is that church as an institution isn’t working.

How did this happen? How did the dynamic, life changing, society transforming, Spirit energised community that is church change into something overwhelmingly designed to serve itself? True, it might be an environment in which we can worship together. It might be a place in which we can receive. There may be times when the big gathering, the inspiration of the many coming together is important. But when did the notion that church is designed to be a hospital for the Christian sick or a place to go for training, equipping and evangelism become so accepted?  In the Gospels and Acts, healing happened in the home, the workplace, the street whilst teaching and training happened on the job. Jesus modelled it, explained the bare minimum and sent them out, empowered to do it.  If our faith has become dependent on input from experts and our strength for the work based on a weekly pit-stop, then, literally, God help us – a church built like that cannot ever accomplish its mandate.

Church is supposed to be dynamic, visible, living communities of people passionately loved by God, radically loving one another and their world. No more, no less. It leads to transformation, to explosive growth and in the process to non-conformity, to diversity and inevitably to the possibility of heresy - either actual or  perceived. In order to minimise this risk, church has become an institution, an organisation, codified, bound by tradition and paralysed by orthodoxy. We are so concerned with preventing anything ‘going off the rails’ that the rails have become prisons.

Of course, if we take the risk of non-orthodoxy, of new things in new ways,  the enemy of our souls will breed discord, competition and drive groups towards the margins and beyond. But at the same time the Holy Spirit will be leading into all truth, revealing Jesus and saving many.

Often it will mean new leaders, young, untested leaders who aren't so entrenched in the existing ways. This is also unsafe, but in truth, the leaders in the early church weren’t trained, often they weren’t even long-time believers. They weren’t from the right background, they certainly weren’t ‘safe’.  The believers didn’t  meet once a week for a quick fix of God before going into all the world and they didn’t meet in insular and exclusive groups to study and pray for a world with which they never engaged. They didn’t know all the theory, have all the books or go to all the conferences. They did have the Holy Spirit and a passion for Jesus. And they did change their world.

Church isn’t working when it excludes or restrains those with non-conformist vision and passion. How would those first believers or apostles have fitted into our church?

Let's 'think allowed'. Is the above a fair reflection? If not, defend! If it is, why and what do we do?

Friday, 27 January 2012

Church isn't working - Part 1

A friend doing research pointed out that evidence suggests that people who have non-controlling & supportive input, recovered faster physical and mental illness. Now, some research by the BBC has shown that people who have ‘social support’ are more likely to experience ‘well-being’ and reduced stress than those without it. (see the diagram)

Given that The Beatles knew “Can’t buy me love”,  is it really a surprise that low income has less of an impact than lack of friends?

Of course those who encourage and value each other feel better - irrespective of their circumstances.  It's what we used to call family and friendships!

The community that could have provided the support so many people desperately need has largely gone along with the funding that was suposed to support it. Yet the response is so often to invent new sytems or programmes to provide the necessary support...

....whereas it is exactly the territory that church should inhabit:

Low Income: ‘Consider the lilies of the field, they neither toil nor sow, yet Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like these.... seek first the Kingdom of God... and all this will be yours as well’

Life events: ‘Shall anything in all creation seperate us from the love of God?’

Family History: ‘The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

Self Blame: ‘There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ’

Rumination: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.’

We have answers to the underlying stressors and the love to be the friends that can make such a profound difference.

So my question is simply this. Where is the church?

Monday, 9 January 2012

Faith, Hope & Love

"Now I see through a mirror, dimly"

We know it breaks God's heart when we make ungodly choices.  It makes him rightly angry that in the light of his extraordinary love, we persist in squandering those choices. Nonetheless, a God who is love gives choice; Love and therefore the God who is love, does not insist on his own way.

The problem with a God who gives such choices is that his character and nature gets obscured:

He is generous, but our selfish choices leave most of the world hungry and understandably doubting his generosity.  He is holy, but our sinful choices pervert the very nature of purity; 'wicked' has become good.  He is just, but our corrupt choices mean that bad people prosper. The sun shines on those who make right choices and those who do not.

Love means that we live in a confused world!

Which means that there is no unambiguous evidence that God is like he says he is. We have to exercise faith, we must hope, without seeing it, that God is as he says he is. We have to hope that there is a God who is for us, who ultimately protects, who will in the end bring justice. In a world of pain, we have to hope that there is a God of love.

Not hope in the common usage of 'hope'. Not hope as opposed to certainty. Not hope as in there isn't really much chance. Not hope as in all we have left is some 'vain hope'

But hope as in, 'this is what we have chosen to have confidence in, even though we haven't seen it yet'. Hope as in, 'this is my hope in whom I put my trust.'

We might not see it yet, but we hope it. The evidence of our senses, the pattern from history, our current circumstances, the way we feel all -  might deny it. But inspite of all that, we cling to this hope. That God is as he says he is.

But what use is that hope? It might change our attitude, stop us from despair, but it doesn't put food on the table of the hungry, doesn't bring freedom to the oppressed, healing to the sick, sight to the blind...

That's where faith comes in.

Faith, is the way we turn the theory of hope into practical, tangible reality. Faith wrestles the substance of what is hoped for into the reality of this world. It takes the high ideals of the kingdom and writes them as laws on our hearts. It takes the lofty principles and earths them in everyday reality.

Faith says I hope in a God of justice and as a result of that hope, pleads, intercedes, advocates and acts until justice is done.

Faith says I hope there is a God who loves my colleagues and as a result prays and serves and speaks until that love is made visible to them.

Faith sees the mountainous obstacle and placing hope in a God of the miraculous, begins to shovel away the stones one at a time.

Hope is abstract, it paints a picture of what we believe is real, often despite the evidence. Faith, by relying on the abstract as if it were true, makes it real.

Hope says I believe in resurrection, faith allows itself to be nailed to a cross.

When we die, when the world ends, when this age is over, that which is built on these three remain.

Faith, hope and love.