Thursday, 16 December 2010

Song Challenge

Using only song names from ONE ARTIST, answer these questions. Be as clever as you can. You can't use the band I used. Try not to repeat a song title. It's a lot harder than you think...

Pick your Artist: Queen

Describe yourself: Soul Brother

How do you feel: Tear it up

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: In the space capsule

Your favourite form of transportation: I'm in love with my car

Your best friend is a: Bijou

You and your best friends are: All God's people

If your life was a TV show, what would it be called: My life has been saved

What is life to you: Jesus

Your current relationship: Love of my life

Your fear: I'm going slightly mad

What is the best advice you have to give: These are the days of our lives

I would like to die: Lazing on a Sunday afternoon

Time of day: The night comes down

My motto: Heaven for everyone

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

A Christmas Message

'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.'
'So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.'
'God saw all that he had made and it was very good.'
'When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.'
'The the Lord God said...'What is this you have done?''
'So the LORD God banished them from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken...he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.'
'Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.'
'So Cain went out from the Lord's presence, and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.'
'...people moved eastward...and settled there'
'After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." Matthew 2'
These astrologers, these pagan astrologers, travelled from the East to come and find this new-born King, Jesus. They saw something unique and special in the stars that they were studying, within their own religion and tradition, and set out to discover who this unique sign in the sky was pointing towards.
These Magi were not good Jewish people, they were not good Christians(!), but astrologers from a far off land who would not have understood and worshipped YHWH, yet they were open enough to God to take a journey of discovery and find this unique child, God made flesh. They travelled from the East and discovered Jesus.
In the book of Genesis we read of how when people turned away from God, when they relied on their own strength and their own desires, they moved east; moving east was moving away from God.
In Genesis 11 we read of how people travelled eastward and built a tower trying to get to the heavens in their own strength. When their plan failed they were scattered to all the ends of the earth.
The birth of Jesus, this unique and mysterious event where the fullness of God dwells in the fragility and vulnerability of a baby, brings all people from all nations, from all backgrounds, back to God.
Humanity has travelled eastward and Jesus draws us all from the east back to himself to discover who He is and the beauty and truth of being in relationship with him.
And God is using the most unusual ways and the most unique signs to draw the most unlikely people to come and worship his Son, not only this Christmas, but throughout time.
God is drawing people from the East, calling them from the East, just as he called those Magi, to come and be in relationship with him through his Son Jesus.
On resurrection morning Jesus stood in the cool of the garden outside the empty tomb and called Mary by name and God continues to call humanity by name back from the east to walk with him once again in the garden in the cool of the day.
And he calls us just as we are. And because he calls us just as we are, we will be surprised and delighted by who is coming to be with Jesus. It is exciting. It is amazing.
So this year may we all see the special signs that God has displayed before us to draw each one of us from the East into relationship with him. May we all discover this Jesus, this amazing, unique, full of grace and truth Jesus, for ourselves. And in discovering him this Christmas, may we all encounter how beautiful, mysterious, fragile and radical that first Christmas was because of this beautiful, fragile, mysterious and radical God.

Monday, 13 December 2010

To Follow Jesus...

What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus?

A disciple walks the journey that has been laid before them by Jesus. They do not wish to carve and create their own destiny, but rather seeks their destiny to be the one that has been created and carved by Jesus. It is a journey they walk, not seeking to find the way on their own, but rather seeking the Way of their Master, walking in His footsteps, the path of discipleship that He has already taken.

And this path of discipleship is not one that is taken lightly or carelessly. It is a tough road, a road of suffering and sacrifice. It is a road of promise, yes; a road of hope, yes; a road of peace and joy, yes; but it is not an easy journey. Followers of Jesus are called to love God above all and everything else, to put God first in their lives that they would be willing to literally lay down their life for Him. Disciples of Jesus are called to love others ahead of themselves, to put away selfish desire and to desire to serve others.

To follow Jesus is to recognise ambition for what it really is, an excuse to covet what others have, and to put down their ambitions and take up their Cross and follow Jesus.

Therefore, disciples of Jesus must never expect life to be easy and prosperous. The path of the Cross is difficult and painful, tough and treacherous. It is a journey that Jesus has walked, a path that was brutal, yet out of such suffering came glory and victory as Jesus boldly stepped out of the darkness of the grave and into the light of that first resurrection morning. So His disciples can be assured that while they may experience the pain, darkness and the bitterness of the path of the Cross, one day they too will step into the Light of Jesus and joy of His victory.

To follow Jesus is to recognise that we are sinners. It is to see that, as we follow Him and see who He is and how he lived, we are not yet who God wants us to be, that we are not yet living the way that God wants us to live. It is to humbly acknowledge where we sin and fail, and then to seek God's love, grace and forgiveness that our lives may ever more reflect the life of Jesus.

To follow Jesus is to name the powers that enslave people and to stand against those powers and seek to strip them of this power. It is to stand firm with those who are oppressed and abused, that the oppressors and abusers would be exposed and made powerless.

To be a disciple of Jesus is to love God and see that this truly is the greatest commandment and that Jesus models to us what it means to love God with all that we are and then called us to go and do likewise. We are called to live like Jesus.

To go and be like Jesus does not mean we simply should sit and discuss what that might mean to be like Jesus. It does not mean that we should just practice to be like Jesus with lots of other people who are also practising to be like Jesus, but rather that we should go to the places Jesus would go, be with people who have never heard of Jesus, and then live and love like Jesus, learning on the spot in difficult and challenging situations what it means to to be like Jesus. But it does also mean that disciples of Jesus need each other, should be accountable to one other and should truly love each other so that others may recognise that they are disciples together.

A disciple of Jesus is called to pray. They are called to pray without ceasing, seeking to know the mind of God. They are called to pray and listen to the Spirit and see that prayer is the most essential part of their walk with Jesus. Above all else, pray.

Being a disciple of Jesus is not easy, and it's not meant to be. Some would ask 'why bother then?' Because to follow Jesus is to discover your true self, to become the person you were always intended to be. It is to discover the beauty of the life and love of God. It is to discover the beauty of giving life and love to others. It is to be assured of a hope yet to be realised.

This journey you are on is leading Somewhere and Jesus is the Way that you will get there. As you continue on this journey you are called to bring something of this future Land of promises to be experienced today. You are called to share with others the beauty of the Promised Land in the midst of the ugliness and pain of today. The path of discipleship will lead you beyond the Cross and into the Promised Land. One day Jesus will lead you into this Land, a place of peace where all tears will be wiped away and pain will cease once and for all.

Perhaps in my ramblings, this is a glimpse and is something of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus...

Thursday, 9 December 2010

A World of Dreams

'We create the world of the dream. We bring the subject into that dream, and they fill it with their secrets.'
'Then you break in and steal it.'

I'm hoping that Inception will be in my stocking on Christmas morning. I think it is a great film and in time will prove to be one of the all time great films.

Creating the world of the dream is such an intriguing idea and intriguing perception of our culture. A world that is created by others yet we believe is our own world. A world that loses touch with reality, yet because we are so submersed into it, we do not realise there is anything wrong.

'Dreams feel real while we are in them. It is only when we wake up that we realise something was actually strange.'

I wonder how awake we all are? How much are we living in a world created by others, a product of what society wants us to be? And do we give away our secrets too much, exposing ourselves to readily so that others can break in and steal our identity and make us who they want us to be rather than who we were created to be.

Are we going to wake up soon and realise something is drastically wrong, that we have been manipulated and controlled, no longer thinking for ourselves.

'I don't want to be a product of my environment. Rather, I want my environment to be a product of me.'

Jesus says we are blessed when we are poor in spirit, not rich in power. We're blessed when we are meek, not when we are proud. We're blessed when we seek peace and mercy, not when we seek war and revenge. And we will be blessed when we seek righteousness and are persecuted because of it because better to seek what is right for others than to seek our own agenda's.

Maybe we need waking up to this way, the Jesus way, and escape the dreams, reclaim what has been stolen and live as the people we were made to be.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Church Plant Update

I thought it would be good to update how things are going with the church plant now we have been here just over 3 months.

We have many different people from many different walks in life and these people we have met who are interested and exploring the Christian faith will meet in January for the first time. We continue to be surprised and amazed by God in the way that He builds His church. As yet we are unsure how many people will be there on that first meeting because those who come have said they will invite people they know who are interested, so we will see. But whether there are 2 or 3 or 23, we are so grateful that this first group is forming. We will look for this group to explore the Christian faith through discussion, meals, films and that we would journey together as Jesus' story and our stories merge together.

Newton Abbot council and local government are setting up a core group of people who will look at the regeneration of the community. I have been asked to be on this group and I believe it is a real privilege and opportunity, not only for this new church, but a real privilege and opportunity to serve the wider community.

I have also been invited to serve another part of the community with spiritual care and it will be interesting to see how this develops. I am meeting them this week to confirm how this will look and then I will be able to share in greater depth what this will be.

I continue to prayer walk and will continue to prayer walk for as long as we are here in Newton Abbot. God has been so gracious and lavished His love upon us throughout our time here and He has led us to so many people and provided us with so many opportunities to share the love of Jesus with the community.

I feel like I am muddling along and in the midst of my muddling God does what only God can do, and build His church.

Since the birth of our beautiful Lizzie we are beginning to get into a routine and adapt to this new dynamic of family life. We are looking forward to spending time with family and friends over Christmas, relax and enjoy one another. In the New Year we will begin to pull together all the different people and things that have begun and see how things develop and grow with this church plant. We feel really excited by what God is doing here, yet also feel incredibly inadequate and we are amazed day by day with how good God is to us.

Friday, 3 December 2010


Jesus is not a brand that the church sells to attract clients. He is not a marketing strategy that powerful men dream up in order to grow their business. He is not an event that is held once a year, with flashing lights and mood music, that people go to for an adrenaline rush. He is not a stock market that measures its success on how well the share price is doing. He is not a clever idea that is used to dismantle other ideas. He is not an advertisement that lures people in with feel good suggestions. He is not something to manipulate people with in order to gain a response and reach a target. He is not resource that is used to further ourselves and our careers. Jesus is not a product that we use to grow church.

I write this as I reflect on this post that Sam has highlighted on his blog (I agree with bits of it and disagree with other bits).

I think one of the issues that the church in the West needs to think through is how it can be genuine. The church is not a building, it is all those who are disciples of Jesus Christ, and these disciples are called to be people of integrity, people of love, people who are genuine.

The problem is that we have become an event based, strategy based, plan based group of people who sees evangelism and mission as a thing we do once we have worked out clear, measurable and attainable goals. Churches have targets and plans for the communities they live in, usually centred around what they do on a Sunday, and then roll out these strategies with the hope that they will attract people to church, and that the real sign of success will be how many people are coming on a Sunday morning.

We've turned love into a commodity and Jesus into a brand that we sell.

I don't think the church needs anymore strategies or plans or events. I think disciples of Jesus need to learn from their Master how to love their community unconditionally. The church needs to release people to BE in their community as a collective group, living and loving like Jesus. Stop your events, tear up your targets and get out into your community and get to know them. Don't think about anything other than how you can love and serve the people you meet day in day out. You're not there to win prizes, be famous, get bums on seats or anything else, you're there to love like Jesus loves, live like Jesus lives, sacrifice yourself and be real.

Don't let your faith get sidelined to a Sunday morning, but rather allow your faith to be seen and heard by the way you love God, love each other and love your neighbour. And love needs to be seen.

Are you a church leader? Are you involved with a church? How about you take a massive risk and stop all the events, stop the Christmas services, and call your church to go into the community and serve them where they are. Take a risk.

And don't try and 'sell' Jesus.

Jesus is the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world. He is the One who sacrificed his life, who died so that we might live. He is radical. He is a rebel. He is love and grace, truth and life. He is beautiful. He was despised and rejected, a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering. He was beaten and cursed, forsaken and rejected. He is alive and victorious, the One who seeks to heal and transform. He is unpredictable and more loving and gracious than we dare to imagine. He heals the sick, gives new life to 'sinners', rejects power and embraces the role of a servant.

Jesus walks the Way of the cross, carrying the weight of sin and death on His shoulders, in order that love and life will be given to all who will accept it. And He calls His followers to walk in His footsteps, freely sharing His love and life with all who we meet.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

The X-Factor and Bitch Goddess

'The moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS. That—with the squalid cash interpretation put on the word success—is our national disease.' William James

I watch X-Factor. Don't stop reading though! In fact, watching things like X-Factor help get a grip on where society is at.

The X-Factor is a UK phenomenon generating millions of pounds of Mr Cowell and accelerating the desire within society to be a superstar. X-Factor seemingly enables the average, everyday person to become a global pop-star overnight and fulfil the dreams you have always had but have never before been able to achieve. Thousands of people audition in front of the 'expert' judges for a chance to progress in the competition and these judges decide your fate with a vote; a yes or a no; you were good enough or you didn't cut it. And people go hoping that their dreams of stardom and fame, of money and success, will be realised through this thing called the X-Factor.

We live in a society where fame is the goal and dream for many people. The desire to earn lots of money by being famous is the root of shows like the X-Factor. The spiel is that it is creating a chance for talented singers and musicians to get their break and fulfil their dreams, but the reality is that people want to be famous for fame's sake, for money's sake, and the X-Factor is a means through which that can happen.

Fame and money are obviously something that society places high priority upon, something that society worships; this is societies bitch-goddess. And show's like X-Factor feed this goddess and give it power and strength, drawing people in to it's lure and false promises of contentment, joy and peace.

The X-Factor, aside from the fame and money issue, draws on two key elements; 'being a victim' and 'a new image'.

'Being a Victim'

Everyone who goes on X-Factor has a sob story. They are a victim. Life has been unfair, things haven't gone their way. X-Factor builds this up and makes these stories a defining part of the show, playing to the audiences emotions and encouraging the contestants to see themselves as a victim. And here is a massive problem in our culture. So many people see themselves as a victim. The student protests are an example of this. Society wants us to put the focus on ourselves and think as ourselves as victims, as people who haven't been dealt the right hand in life and that we should take what is rightfully ours. So everyone is looking for a way to be a victim, a sob story they can tell so that they can get what they want. So on the X-Factor if you work in a supermarket, you're a victim; if you've had difficulties in your life, you're a victim; if you're hamster died last week, you're a victim. The reality is, we have all had good times and bad times. We have done jobs we love and hate. Life sucks sometimes. But that doesn't mean you're a victim.I want to recognise that there are some people who really have had terrible lives and experienced horrendous events, and that these people have been victims. But more often that not, those who have had terrible lives never see themselves as victims, but are thankful for the good things they do have.

Most people are not victims because we have got it so good.

The fact that you an turn a tap on a drink clean water means you are in a privileged position.
If you are reading this, then you have access to a computer...
If you have clothes to wear, food to eat and a bed to sleep in, then be grateful.

We are called not to see ourselves as victims but to GO and relieve the suffering of others, to GO to the oppressed and abused, to GO to the poor and homeless, those who suffer and have no voice.

Quite frankly, we need to grow some balls and be justice seekers and life givers, going to those who really are victims in our communities and around the world.

'A New Image'

So X-Factor turns you into a victim which in turn begins a process of you becoming something other than who you are. As a show it is seeking to turn people into pop-stars and so encourages people to change, to become something other than who they truly are. Each week they are moulded and shaped into the image of celebrity and it is hoped that they become a commodity that will make a lot of money for other people. It is more than a mask being worn, it is a changing of character and personality. You are changed to become a person who represents fame and money, who feeds the bitch goddess with your very soul. You will do your trip to Africa and film it so people can see how compassionate you are and that money hasn't changed you. Success therefore, is seen by your status, by what you own, how much money is in the bank and how many twitter followers you have. The X-Factor is a symbol of false images, creating people in its own image distorting what is really important in life.

Success is not what you own, how famous you are or how much money you have, success is whether you have loved your neighbour and loved your God.
Success is whether you have sacrificed your own needs for the needs of others.
Success is whether you have loved in extravagant ways by giving your time and energy to others.

Success is seen most powerfully as we gaze upon the Crucified God. Here is where we see the reality of all human 'power', all human 'wisdom', all human 'success'; crucified with Jesus. What is most important, most life changing, most relevant and most transforming, for today and all our tomorrows, is this Crucified God.

It is in this Jesus where we discover who we really are and who we are really being called to be.

He is the only Victim who can heal the wounds of others.
You are created in His image, and He is the only One who can make you feel beautiful.

Friday, 26 November 2010


I had the joy of seeing a friend of mine from India yesterday. He works among the slums of Kolkata, seeking to take the good news of Jesus to the people who live there in very holistic ways. They strive for justice and advocacy. They provide education, training, medical help and are a voice for those in the slums who very often have no voice. He is inspiring and it was great to spend some time with him. We wandered around Newton Abbot and shared with each other.

We were talking about how those living in the slums in Kolkata are ignored and rejected by society, especially the rich and powerful. My friend seeks to change that and make the community aware of the plight of those in the slums and share the love of Jesus with them.

I was reminded of the Gospel's where Jesus declares 'sinners' to be forgiven. Now Jesus was certainly declaring that God had indeed forgiven them, but he was also transforming their status in society. The rich and powerful were the ones who had labelled certain groups as 'sinners' thereby stripping them of any voice or status within the community. The rich and powerful made the decisions and oppressed, rejected and abused the poor and powerless. Calling them sinners kept them as powerless and oppressed.

Jesus' action of forgiveness released them from these labels and redeemed them within society. Jesus declared that they were equals in the sight of God, that their voice was heard by God and that they were loved by God. Jesus came and brought freedom and love. Jesus transformed the way they saw themselves and the way that society should see them.

The Church is called to continue in this calling. The Church is not there to be a source of power and wealth. The Church must never put people in boxes or label people. The Church must never silence or oppress, but be a means through which those who suffer injustice find justice, those who are silenced and oppressed are given a voice and freedom. We are called to be Jesus followers in words and actions.

We need to enable people to be released out of the boxes and labels that the rich and powerful have put them in. We need to go to where the poor and oppressed are and give away life and love, grace and truth. And we must NEVER, EVER be the oppressors.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Faith, Works and Salvation

I've got a few random thoughts about faith, belief and salvation. Haven't properly thought them through yet so apologies if it all seems bit disjointed!

Faith is not about what we believe but about what we do. Indeed, not simply about what we do, but about who we are. Secularism seeks faith to be in private sphere, for what you believe to be a personal thing that doesn't infringe on society at large; you shouldn't force what you believe onto others. Some Christians fight against that and seek for faith to stay in the public sphere and for Christians to be able to say what they believe openly. But in the very act of doing this they fall into the secularist mind-frame that understands faith to be about what you believe. But if the Gospels and Christian history teach us anything, it's that faith is about what we do and who we are, not about what we believe. Or in other words, what you believe can only be true by who you are and what you do.

Jesus actually went to the Cross. He didn't simply theorise about it and talk about it, He actually walked that torturous road to the Cross and died there.

If I claim to be a follower of Jesus then that can only be seen as true by the way I live my life. My actions will show what is true about what I believe. Which is why secularism will always be wrong about faith. It is impossible, or should be impossible, for Jesus followers to keep their faith in the private sphere. I cannot live my life without my faith impacting all that I am and all that I do. The early Christians died because they refused to bow their knee to Caesar. Their faith was proved by their life and death, it was not a private thing. Today, in the same way, Christians should only bow their knee to Jesus and their lives should imitate the One they bow their knee to. So whether it is at work, or down the pub or playing football, or whatever, our devotion to God will impact all these areas of our life and can never be a private thing.

Jesus said that people would know that we were His disciples by the way we loved one another, not by the way we thought about things. Faith without works is dead.

Faith is not about what I believe.

Which leads me onto salvation.

Salvation is not about what I believe, otherwise it would be down to me and God says that none of us are able to rescue ourselves. Salvation is entirely and utterly down to God and His grace.

If I'm in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and I can't swim, it does not matter if I believe a boat will come and rescue me. My belief in that boat coming will do nothing to bring that boat to me. What I believe cannot save me. If a boat comes to rescue me I am entirely dependent on them rescuing me; it is because they took the initiative and came to me that I am rescued. Now the boat may turn up and I can refuse to be rescued and insist that I can rescue myself, even though I can't swim. I can refuse to be rescued, but there is nothing I can do to rescue myself.

Jesus alone can rescue us from drowning in death because of sin. Doesn't matter what I believe, only He can rescue us. We can refuse to be rescued, but there is nothing we can do to be rescued, it is all down to God pulling us out of the sea, as it were.

So faith and salvation comes through the action of God to us and our action and response to that action of God. And if we are truly committed to this Jesus then our faith will not be hidden away because our whole lives will demonstrate that we bow our knee to Jesus. And because we only bow our knee to Jesus the likelihood is that persecution will follow because we are not willing to conform to what culture or society want from us. Does make me ask the question then, why is the church in the UK not experiencing persecution?

Monday, 22 November 2010

Must The Show Go On?

These two songs have really stirred something within me about the Church in the West...

Haven't entirely figured out what it is yet, but there is something about a loss of power and a clinging onto what used to be. Something about trying to keep things going, a continuing of the show, a never giving in. Something about a continued inner desire to be what it used to be, as if what it used to be was the best it could have been. Something about ruling the world, as if ruling the world was ever a good thing.

I think we are in some potentially incredibly exciting times. The UK church has an opportunity to shake off the shackles of the mistakes of the past, embrace the beauty of the joys of the past, learn from the wisdom and traditions of the past and revolutionise today to bring hope for tomorrow. But we have to be willing to take risks, to attempt the seemingly impossible and to go out of our comfort zones. We have to be open to change and listen to God's Spirit in the unexpected places. We have to be honest. Look around. How much of what we do is like watering a dead seed? But where are there signs of hope and life?

We have been called to follow the One who turned the world upside down. This Jesus who came to give away life, not hand out token gestures; who came to revolutionise, not trivialise; to pour our justice, not bottle up platitudes; who calls us to love extravagantly, not patronise forgetfully. He called us to have faith that will topple the insurmountable, not to have fear that will bury us. He commanded us to feed the poor, not indulge till we have room for no more.

He called us to follow Him and carry our cross, to sacrifice ourselves to Him and His cause, to not turn back and bathe in lukewarmness.

As we follow this One He calls us to topple the idols and smash them on Him who is the Rock. He calls us to cease in that which does nothing for His Kingdom or His Glory and to live lives that seek to bring life to others. And He calls us to be faithful and obedient, watching in wonder as His Spirit brings transformation, breathing life and love into our communities.

What are we willing to sacrifice and change in the church in order that we truly might be that force for good and vessel of love that God has called us to be?

Friday, 19 November 2010

Describe God in One Word

I keep hearing and reading different articles about the characteristics of God. I often hear people describing what they believe to be the defining or most important aspects of God's nature, those characteristics that define who God is most accurately.

Do you think there is one word that best describes who God is, a word that you think describes God's nature that all other of God's characteristics are defined by?

If you want to, leave a comment saying what you think it is and why you think this best describes who God is and what God is like. Be interested to hear your thoughts, whatever your belief system or tradition. Equally, you might not think there is one word that can be used, and if not, why not.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

New Life

I have had a couple of weeks away from blogging because I've been enjoying my new baby daughter! Elizabeth Ava or Lizzie was born on 2nd November weighing 7 pounds. Family are all doing well and we are settling nicely into life together. New life is a beautiful thing and we have been so blessed with the gift of another daughter. If you pray, please pray for us all as we continue this adventure together. Moving house to a new county, changing job and becoming new parents is quite a bit of change in 3 months! So we value your prayers.

So I'm back blogging and looking forward to the conversations.

Monday, 1 November 2010

My Story

I'd like to tell you a story, well actually, I'd like to tell you my story. Forgive me for the indulgence, but as I reflected on elsewhere, I think people like hearing each others stories, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to tell you mine. This may take some time, so grab a cuppa.

I was born on the 13th July 1981, the youngest of identical twins by 12 minutes. My birth mother had Indian parents who had moved to the UK before she was born. My birth grandfather was from the Punjab region of North West India while my birth grandmother was from Assam in the Seven Sister states of North East India. They met in Kolkata (then Calcutta) when my birth grandfather was tying to get into films as an actor, a desire that caused them to move to the UK.

My birth mother and father were no longer together when we were born so we were adopted at 6 months old onto a small island off the coast of Essex called Mersea. My parents had already adopted a boy and then two years later, a girl, so the six of us grew together in the countryside of the idyllic Essex island. My mum stayed at home and looked after us as being a mother had always been her strongest desire in life.

My Dad was a fish merchant and built up a considerable business through my early childhood. We never saw him much because of work but this never felt like an issue to me, it was just the way life was. Family life always seemed pretty happy with its usual ups and downs, but in the late 80's early 1990's things got quite tough.

Dad's business went under and the house and everything else was tied into the business. As a result we moved into my nanna's one bedroom bungalow and began to figure out a new life together. I had known things had been difficult for sometime because, as a child, I could pick up on feelings and the general atmosphere of home life. That with the house being where the business was it was apparent something wasn't right. I know my mum and dad went to hell and back and it's not right to go into details, but I believe it is a testament to them that they are together today having fought with blood, sweat and tears to stay together. In a society that gives up so easily on marriage they are a walking example of what can be achieved if you are willing to sacrifice and wrestle.

Having lost everything my mum decided to sell prawns and cockles out of the front window of an old oyster packing shed that was situated at the water front. My Dad had brought this shed a few years before and my mum knew that we needed to find some cash from somewhere. From the late eighties I knew things were tough financially even though my mum tried to hide it. Looking back life was very strained, but everyone sucked it up and got on with it because that is what you do. So mum doing this provided us with money and slowly it grew into a business in its own right. People came and ate their prawns and cockles inside the shed. Mum started selling wet fish landed by the local fisherman. It grew and grew to today be something quite unique and special. Read here to see what the Guardian made of it.

The very first time I got drunk was when I was ten years old. I found a bottle of cider and I don't know how much I drank but I do know I was very sick! When I was 13 I began to drink on a regular basis and I was 14 when I first drank a large bottle of vodka to myself. Smoking and doing cannabis was a regular part of my teenage life, but it was the drink that really gripped me. By the time I was 15 drinking was a normal part of my lifestyle. I always seemed to be the one who drank more heavily than anyone else. I didn't know when to stop and time and time again I would pass out somewhere to be found by mates who would take me home. One time when I was 14 I passed out on the beach near the waters edge. The tide was coming in and it was only because my mate tripped over me in the dark that I was dragged further up the beach away from the water to sleep it off. Passing out because of drink was a regular weekend experience for me even though I still at school.

Despite all of this I left school with pretty good GCSE's and decided to go to college and do an art A level. Art is something I am naturally able to do and thought this might be something worthwhile. However, after two months of being stoned and drunk and not turning up to class I decided to leave and get a job. I got a full time job working in a convenience store on the Island.

I would drink everyday by this point and there were times I would fall asleep walking to work because I was so tired from the drinking and late nights. Sometimes I would wake up in the morning after a heavy night with no idea where I was. People would come into the shop and ask if I was ok because they had seen me collapsed in the street outside the pub. These were weekly occurrences and I remember nothing or very little about them.

When I was eighteen I was invited to Spain to do some labouring work for 6 weeks. My time there was a pretty much a replica of my life in the UK. We would start work at 8am and then have a break at 10am with a drink and a joint. We would then work till lunch and have another couple of drinks before working through till about 6pm. A quick shower and change and then we would go out all night, sometimes without sleep to start work again the next day.

After getting back from Spain I spent about 3 weeks in a ski resort before quitting and then went back to my job at the convenience store. I remember one time drinking solidly until 6am and going to work at 8am, still very drunk. My boss sat me down in his office and told me to straighten my life out because he believed in me and could see real potential. I will always remember that because there was a man who saw something in me that I didn't see. However, I was now at a point in my life where everything revolved around drink. I distinctly remember thinking to myself that I could not even think about not having a drink just for one day. I honestly didn't know how I would cope if I didn't have a drink. I enjoyed escaping into a fantasy world thinking I could do anything and be anyone. The problem is that when I woke up the reality would sink in. I reached a point when I was drinking in the mornings too. I'm not sure anyone to this day realises the extent to which I drank.

I left the shop and went to work for a photography company which actually helped curb my drinking a little because I had to drive to all over the place. The hours were pretty long too so I wasn't able to go out as much as before. That only lasted 6 months before I'd had enough and went to work for my father as an oyster fisherman.

Oyster fishing has been in my family for eight generations. My father came into it when his dad died. My dad was at uni when his dad died of a brain tumour, so my dad left uni and took the family business over. His dad had never wanted him to do it because it was too much hard work, but fate often deals its own hand. The oyster industry suffered badly though because of disease and so my dad left it to become a fish merchant. He continued to have a hand in the oyster industry and when his business went under he took his family trade up again and, with a couple of others, worked the ground until oysters were once again spawning naturally in the Blackwater Estuary. He now has a thriving oyster trade and oysters are strong once again.

I began working for my dad with a view to one day take the business over. The problem was that I wasn't very good at it! I could run the business from land and pack and ship the oysters. I was organised and able to sort the stock and deal with customers, but when it came to working on the water, I wasn't great at it. Don't get me wrong, I could do it but, compared to my Dad and others in the trade, I wasn't very good!

By the time I was 21 I was drinking one litre of vodka a day along with wine and beer. I was a womaniser and a drinker. I hurt a lot of people. I'm sorry for that.

As I reflect on all this while I'm writing, memory after memory are flooding back of people I hurt, places I collapsed in, stealing, moments of shame and regret. I have a thousand stories I could tell, and a thousand reasons not to tell any of them.

Through various circumstances I came in contact with the local Baptist Church on Mersea. This was in about the year 2000 when I was 19 and I sporadically went along to different meetings they had there and became good mates with the assistant minister of the church who was training at Spurgeon's College. We would talk and discuss many issues. Looking back I was probably agnostic. I believed there was perhaps something when you died, but what that was I wasn't sure. I remember mocking much of the theology I heard about this belief in the Christian God. I remember being utterly bemused by the church and how it viewed life.

Shortly after my 21st birthday I was invited to Soul Survivor, a big youth Christian event. I went, not really wanting to go, but intrigued by it. I spent 4 days watching and living among thousands of people who seemed to see the world so differently to me. I saw great naivety and innocence. Yet there was something about it, something I had not encountered before in such a strong way; everyone seemed to be so full of love. It was an incredible experience. To these people God was more than a philosophy or abstract idea. I saw people generally believing they were experiencing God’s presence. Now I know this was true of Christians I knew already, but to be surrounded and to live among a community in this way seemed to drill it home. Yet I also saw a lot of hype. I questioned some of the way in which an atmosphere was created to get a response out of people. Yet despite this, I was intrigued about all that I had experienced.

I went away from there wondering if I needed to, for the first time, consider who this Jesus was. I got back to Mersea and went to my local pub. I sat in there and, for some unknown reason felt really out of place. I didn't know what to do. I thought about leaving and going to see my minister mate and talk to him about how I was feeling. I thought about it, and then had a drink, and then another, and then another. I spent a month drinking more than I ever had. Life seemed to spiral out of control and I felt completely out of control. I had no regard for others and, more than ever before, woman were nothing but an object to me.

About a month later Carl asked if I would share at church one Sunday morning about what I thought of Soul Survivor. I agreed. On Sunday 22nd September 2002 I went to church at 10.30am with a massive hangover and a desire to run away. Yet I had made a promise and something compelled me to keep it.
I stood up the front about an hour into the service and, with nothing written down, began to talk. I spoke about Soul Survivor and what I thought of it as a someone who wasn’t a Christian. I spoke about how God seemed more real because of the love I had witnessed. I spoke of shame. I began to expose my soul. I then looked at the large empty wooden cross that was hanging on the church wall. As I looked at it, I had what I can only describe as a vision and it was as if I could see Jesus himself hanging on this cross. In a second I realised that he had died for me, that he was calling me to follow him and become a new person. As I spoke I gave my life to Jesus and everything began to change.
I walked to the back of the church at the end of the service and saw a girl. I tapped her on the shoulder and she turned around and hugged me. I remember falling in love with her on the spot and believing I would marry her. Her name was Sarah and we began going out in December 2002.

On Sunday 3rd November 2002 I was baptised by full immersion. As I stood in the baptism pool a verse of Scripture was read out to me:

‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation. The old has gone, the new is here!’ 2 Corinthians 5:17

As that was read I felt a wave of joy come over me. I knew that God was transforming me. I knew that the shame and guilt would be washed away in the waters of baptism. I knew that Jesus had made me into a new person. As I went under the water it felt like slow motion and like I could see magnificent light all around me. I was raised out of the water and joy and peace swept over me and I began to laugh and laugh out loud. I knew God had filled me with His Spirit and that nothing would be the same again. From that day Jesus became everything to me. Now that’s not saying I have always put Him first, I wish I had, but unfortunately I haven’t. But I knew from that day that my life was now God’s and devoted to Him.

In February 2003 Sarah found out that her mum had breast cancer and that it was pretty aggressive. Understandably this rocked Sarah's world. Sarah had already been suffering from depression, and this obviously did not help. I remember one evening when Sarah and I were praying together shortly after we'd found out about her mum. I remember us reading the Bible together and God's peace resting on us in an incredible way. Sarah fell asleep in my arms as we sat on the sofa together and rested. It was the first time in a long time that I saw peace on her face and somehow I knew that everything would be ok.
Sarah's mum fought off the cancer with prayer and chemotherapy and has now fully recovered.

Early in 2003 I felt a strong sense that I wanted to do more for the church than simply be a part of it; I wanted to tell people about Jesus. I spoke to Carl and some others and they seemed to think that I might be an evangelist. I asked what one of those was, and Sarah and I began to explore what this might look like and I very quickly took on a fair bit of responsibility within the Free Church on Mersea. In late 2003 Carl and his wife Sarah decided that at the end of his training they would move to a new church, so the Free Church began to look for someone to replace him. Only this time they felt God leading them to appoint an evangelist. The leadership felt strongly that God was looking for them to appoint a trained evangelist who had been working for some time in this kind of ministry. A few people had asked me whether I had considered applying for this position and I told them that I did not feel it was the right time for me. I wanted to get married, have children and then pursue a calling into ministry.
About a week before the closing date, April 2004, various events took place whereby I felt compelled to apply for the post. I knew in my heart that I needed to and 'random' people and events took place whereby I knew that it was the right thing to do. So after refusing and resisting, I applied for it.

The in May 2004 Sarah and I got engaged.

Apparently at a church meeting someone who did not know I was applying for the post said that they felt God saying to them that when Israel were looking for a King, God gave them a shepherd boy...
I was interviewed and subsequently called by the church to be their evangelist, which I started in September 2004.

Not a shepherd boy, but an oyster boy.

I began working for the church 'part-time' whilst also working for my Dad part-time. Working for the church and working in the community proved to be something very valuable. I was able to balance what I was hearing and seeing in church with what I was hearing and seeing in the community. I was able to stay relatively grounded and not get caught up in the church bubble, detached from reality. And God in His grace did amazing things in people's lives. But it was tough, really tough at times.

About a month into my new ministry Sarah and I were sitting in the lounge of the church manse watching tv one evening. The manse was on the church site and our kitchen window looked out onto the church car-park. I heard a knock on the kitchen window and went to have a look. A man I knew was standing by the window covered in blood. I told Sarah to go to my study and I let the man in. He had cut his wrists and the back of his legs and was clearly in a very bad state. I got him in the house and tied up his wrists and legs and then called the ambulance. They came and took him to hospital. He was a troubled soul who I had been trying to help. I learnt a lot.

About 3 days later Sarah and I were baby-sitting for a friend who lived a few miles away. They lived in a terraced house in a busy part of town. Their front door opened directly into the lounge and Sarah and I were watching tv again on this evening in the lounge. We were both still very shaken up by what had happened and were wondering whether we were cut out for ministry. There was a knock at the door so I got up and answered it. Three men were standing there all in balaclava's. They barged at me to get into the house. Sarah screamed and ran upstairs to the baby. I grabbed the front door and, as I did, it slammed shut keeping the men outside. I believe God closed that door for us. We found out that an armed robbery had taken place that same night and that we had been randomly selected by the robbers as a distraction to the police. While the police where with us the armed robbery took place.

These two events rattled us a lot, but by the grace of God we continued and through God’s love saw many people become followers of Jesus.

In August 2005 Sarah and I got married, one of the happiest days of my life. I still remember seeing Sarah walking down the aisle. I looked at her and began to cry because I was so so happy. She looked so beautiful and continues to grow in beauty everyday and I knew that day that God had blessed me beyond words. I hold on to the vows we made so closely. I have promised to love her unconditionally, for better or worse. I have promised to honour her with all that I am. And I pray that I will always be the husband that God has called me to be. Sarah is an amazing woman with an inner strength that has sustained me in my dark days.

I saw Sarah grow from a girl to a woman over this time. She is incredible. She has a prophetic gift and is always able to see and have insight to things and situations that reveal God’s will and plan. She has a sensitivity to situations that seems to be from the very heart of God. She has a pure heart, and it is the pure in heart who shall see God.

In September 2005 I started Spurgeon's College one day a week as an independent student. The church released me for a day to do this while I continued to work for them and my dad. During this time I was heading up something called Causeway and had an amazing group of people who worked with me and supported me, encouraging and correcting me. Causeway saw some great things happen with many many people getting baptised, exploring faith for the first time or discovering a freshness to their faith that had been lost. It was a really exciting time.

In March 2006 Sarah discovered she was pregnant and we welcomed our beautiful daughter Grace into the world in December 2006. She is a delight and joy to us. Becoming parents has been an amazing blessing and Sarah and I are eternally grateful to God for the gift of Grace to us. I muddle through as a husband and a father and hope that I can always be a source of love and grace to my beautiful family.

In early 2007 I began to have quite a dark time with God whereby I felt utterly alone. I could not pray or find any peace. I felt anxious and alone and it was only when Sarah held me or when I held Grace that I had any sense of peace or comfort. Looking back now I think college, working for Dad and working for the church, plus being a new father, was pretty tiring. Not only that but I was really struggling with drink in that, while I wasn't getting drunk or anything I felt the Beast raging.
From the time I was baptised in late 2003 I still struggled with drink. At my baptism my addiction to cigarettes was taken away so that I went from smoking about 200 a week to nothing, overnight. Yet as always, drink was the tough one.

I battled daily with a desire to get drunk and would constantly be fighting within myself. If I had one drink I would always want more. Sarah would keep me in check and make sure I was not being stupid, but I just could not completely let go of drinking. I felt like it was something I needed. Then in 2007 while I was reading the Bible I came across a verse in the book of Judges where God tells Samson's mum that no wine is to pass his lips. I felt God speak into my life and tell me that this is what he wanted for me. So I took myself off to a field and spent the day praying and wrestling with God and came away with a strong resolve and peace to never drink alcohol again. And over 3 years later, by the grace of God, I still haven't. Read here for more on this.

In mid 2007 I went through ministerial recognition to be accredited as an evangelist within the Baptist Union of Great Britain. I was accepted and in September 2007 I began as a Baptist Union student at Spurgeon's to be accredited and ordained as an evangelist.

As a result I had to stop working of my dad because of time pressures. This was a tough thing to do. I felt as though I was letting him down because I was the eighth generation oyster fisherman in our family. Yet my dad was so supportive and I know that to this day he has been proud of me as I went through my training as a minister.

In 2008 Sarah and I both were sensing that perhaps God was calling us to explore new ways of church. We knew loads of people for whom church was not something they wanted to be a part of, or even explore. We began to wonder how church might respond. College continued to go well and I met more and more people from college who were feeling the same as me. So began many conversations, voicing frustrations, hopes and dreams. More and more I knew I was not a 'traditional' Baptist minister and that God was calling me to something different, yet at the time I was unsure of what that might be.
The college then offered an opportunity to go to India and work with BMS for 3 weeks in Kolkata. Sarah and I spoke about it and we both felt it was a great opportunity and that I should go for it.
In the summer of 2009 my profile began to be sent out to churches looking for a new minister. Looking at the list of churches and the kind of ministers they were hoping for I wondered if I would ever be called anywhere. At this point Sarah and I knew that God was calling us to move off Mersea and begin a new ministry elsewhere.

In September 2009 I travelled to India for 3 weeks with a group from Spurgeons and we travelled around West Bengal visiting churches and Christian organisations in and around that area. My time there was life-changing. It was amazing to be in the country where my birth

family had come from. To stay in Kolkata where my birth grandparents had met. To be among such a beautiful people was overwhelming. At times it felt almost transcendent as I considered where generations of my birth family had grown and lived. I felt a deep connection to the people and the country. In 2003 Tom and I met our birth mother for the first time and over the years we have discovered more and more about our birth family.

The church in India is quite amazing. It is growing at a tremendous rate and by watching, experiencing and listening I began to reflect on what lessons the Western church could learn. I saw so much poverty and injustice. I saw villages that had been wiped out by floods with people who had very little losing everything. I saw compassion and justice, extravagant love and amazing grace. A significant time for me was when I witnessed eleven people getting baptised who had become Christians. They lived in a Hindu village having been practising Hindu's their whole lives. They got baptised in a pool in the middle of this Hindu village, a pool where people bathed and washed their clothes. They were not hiding in a building. They were not leaving their village. They were dwelling among their community, living as authentic Jesus followers in the heart of their community. It was truly incarnational.

I began to wonder what incarnational church might look like in the UK.

While I was in India Sarah, Grace and a friend of ours went for a holiday together in Tenerife. About 5 days into the holiday one evening while they were getting Grace ready for bed, they heard a noise in Grace's bedroom. Two men walked into the lounge having broken into the apartment through Grace's bedroom window. The men ran away and the girls were all ok, but as you imagine it left a sour taste in the mouth and a tear in the eyes for quite sometime. The police never showed up and Sarah, Grace and Cas were really rocked by what happened. However, what the devil meant for harm, God used for good. Sarah found a deeper and ever closer relationship with God through what happened. She found in her weakness that He was her strength and what happened began to give her the strength and reliance on God that she needed for the big changes that were coming around the corner.

While I was in India a friend rang me to tell me that they had heard about a possible church planting opportunity in Newton Abbot, Devon...

When I returned from India I realised that there were things in my life that needed to change. One of those was my debt that I had built up, initially through my heavy drinking before I was a Christian, and then through buying an expensive car that I didn't need. I felt God tell me to sell my car and clear my debts. The poverty in India was shocking. Children washing in puddles and sifting through waste for food gives you a wake up call I tell you to how obscenely rich we are in the West. I spent more money on a pair of jeans than some of these brothers and sisters of mine earned in a year. So I sold my car and managed to clear my debts.

In December 2009 I saw the church planting opportunity in Newton Abbot was now being advertised so I submitted an application form. In January 2010 Sarah and I were interviewed and were subsequently called by SWBA to plant a church from scratch.

We believed God was calling us to plant an incarnational community. In other words, reflecting on God becoming flesh in the person of Jesus, church would 'incarnate' itself within Newton Abbot. Read here and here for my theology on all of this.

I completed my studies in June 2010 and graduated from Spurgeons College and was then ordained as a Baptist Minister in July the same year.

We moved to Newton Abbot at the beginning of August after living in Essex our whole lives. While we still have many family and friends on Mersea, we feel very settled here in Devon and are enjoying the adventure that we are on here. The strength God gave Sarah and from the India experience enabled us to come to Devon and start a new life. His continuing grace enables us to be here. We moved here not knowing anyone, yet God has provided us with so much love and support from so many different sources.

In November 2010 our second daughter was born. Lizzie is a delight and a joy to us and is so very different from her sister. Grace is sensitive and thinks with her heart first. Lizzie is a force of nature with a spirit of the pioneer. Both of them reveal to us the love and heart of God. And I am still muddling through as a father.

We are here in Devon to plant a church from scratch, to explore what church might look like to those who never go. To see what it might mean to live authentically and love extravagantly just as Jesus did. To see how church might grow from within the places where people dwell day in and day out.
My story will continue, this is not the end of it. My blog is a place where I can continue to tell my story, even if no-one is listening! I like stories and I'd like to hear your story sometime. I hope mine hasn't bored you too much, but that you find something of my story that will inspire you in yours.

I believe this story I have told finds its purpose, goal and significance in the Person of Jesus. I believe He alone has been the One who has transformed my life. I could not have done it. He, in His love and grace, rescued me from the pit and is redeeming me day by day. He is amazing and it really is all about Him. And in some mysterious way He has allowed my story to get caught up in His story, His story of love, grace and redemption. I believe Jesus is significant for all our today's and that He gives us hope for every tomorrow.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Justice and Mercy

I've heard a few times a particular way of understanding God's justice and God's mercy. It goes something like this:

'If there are two people and one goes to hell and one goes to heaven, then we see God's justice and God's mercy. The one in hell receives God's justice because all people are sinners and deserve hell, whilst the other receives God's mercy because, although deserving hell, has been saved to heaven.'

You may not be surprised that I completely disagree with this whole concept and understanding of justice and mercy. I would want to say that this is not how the Bible speaks of justice and mercy and also gives people and distorted and wrong picture of who God is and what he is like.

Aside from the way it makes God really weird and random (what kind of God? and so what?) in the way He chooses some for heaven and some for hell (also known as limited atonement; Jesus only died for some people, so only some people can ever be saved), but that this understanding of justice is, in my opinion, completely unbiblical.

In the Scriptures, God's justice is about redeeming and healing the hopeless and helpless. It is about God bringing hope and redemption to the powerless and those unable to save themselves. Justice is not about God punishing people according to some apparent higher law that people have supposedly broken. Justice is always about redemption to the powerless. Jeremiah prays, 'Correct me, Lord, but only with justice - not in your anger, lest you reduce me to nothing.' (Jeremiah 10:24). In the book of Micah it is the powerful who 'despise justice and distort all that is right' (Micah 3:9) causing pain to the powerless. God will govern the people with justice (Psalm 9:8); God will judge the afflicted ones with justice (Psalm 72:2); God upholds justice to the poor and needy (Psalm 140:12). God will shepherd the people with justice, binding up the weak and injured Ezekiel 34:16). God calls us to not deny justice to the poor and the oppressed (Amos 2:7). Jesus is the one who will 'proclaim justice to the nations' and lead 'justice to victory.' (Matthew 12:18-20). Jesus is the one who condemns the Pharisees from withholding justice and the love of God to the poor (Luke 11:42).
In Acts 8 the eunuch is reading Isaiah 53 and Philip, beginning with that very piece of Scripture, explains the good news of Jesus. Acts 8:33 says that this Messiah, this Jesus, 'in his humiliation was deprived of justice.' And in Romans 3 Paul speaks of the Cross as a means of justice by God's grace and mercy. So justice is not punishment, it is about defending the cause of the poor and powerless, of those unable to save themselves.

Those who withhold justice however will receive punishment. Does not matter how much we offer sacrifices and burnt offerings to God if we are withholding justice to the poor and oppressed. God will not accept them. He wants us to act with justice, mercy and humility (Micah 6:6-8).

Justice is not punishment.

Punishment in the Scriptures is not some kind of retributive penalty but about restoration and cleaning. It is a purging of sin in order that the land and the people might be cleansed and renewed (see Joshua 7).

I'm not sure where from in the Scriptures people can justify that beginning anecdote I used of what justice and mercy is.

Justice and mercy is something I am keen for this new church plant to be engaged with right from the start. My heart is that those who are oppressed and powerless would find hope and redemption, and that as a church we can be a people of justice who are a voice to the voiceless and a source of strength to the weak. My hope and prayer is that we can be a people of justice, pointing to this God of justice who is passionate about us and loves us with an everlasting love. My heart is that people will encounter the love of the living Jesus and recognise this God who is for us. And if God is for us, who can ever be against us?

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Truth More Shocking Than Fiction

'Men hurtling planes against skyscrapers in the name of God, while someone sitting comfortably in an office knew how to exploit their derangement on the stock market. Other men earned their living by selling land mines, and at Christmas they brought their children presents with the money earned by killing and maiming someone else's children. Conscience was an accessory whose value was tied to fluctuations in the price of oil.' Giorgio Faletti, I Kill, p 68

This is an excerpt from a novel I am reading.

Interesting isn't it how fiction is more real and honest than apparent non-fiction.

I read this novel and experience so much reality and truth. I pick up a newspaper and read fantasy and absurdity.

Disgraceful isn't it that the oil used for the petrol to fill my car to drive to a polling station to vote might have come from a oil company that drills in a dictatorship country that uses slaves to build their pipelines.

Our actions have a deep impact around the world and whatever our faith we are each called to help shape a better future for all. We are called to move away from exploitation and greed. We are called to stand up for justice and destroy manipulation. It is a calling to stop seeing ourselves as victims and to open our eyes to the real victims of this world.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Books I'm Reading

I've finished Flickering Pixels by Shane Hipps and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's good to read a book that is seeking to properly grapple with the culture we live in and then seek to respond accordingly with the Gospel. I'm still thinking through his idea of 'new wine and new wineskins'; the message and the method needs to change... I'm not sure he even knows what that means. But overall I would recommend it.

Just started reading this and am finding it to make me feel very different with every paragraph. One minute I am agreeing and finding it challenging and refreshing, and the next paragraph I am disagreeing and struggling to see where they are coming from. They clearly have an axe to grind and are always overstating their case, yet there are things in here which I am keen to reflect further on.

Have now finished reading John's book and found it utterly inspiring and challenging. I think it is a timely book that needs to be read and grappled with and will be of encouragement to many I'm sure. It will also help people reflect again on the place of suffering with the human existence and the ways in which we respond to that suffering, in light of Jesus and His suffering.

I am also reading Tom Wright's new book and am enjoying it a lot. I always enjoy reading his work. Too early in to make any real comments, but thus far find it well worth reading.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

How Do You Respond To The Man On The Cross?

Mark 15:33-39
At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"—which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" When some of those standing near heard this, they said, "Listen, he's calling Elijah." One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. "Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to take him down," he said. With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, "Surely this man was the Son of God!"
Stand with me at the scene of the cross. Here there is no Easter Sunday, no glorious resurrection. No, here we are faced with the cross. Right here right now is our reality. Right here at the cross, right now at the cross is all we know. We have walked with Jesus as he taught with authority and wisdom. We have marvelled with the crowds as he healed the sick and raised the dead. We have celebrated with singing as this young Galilean rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey, seemingly the Messiah we had all been waiting for. Yet now we stand in the darkness of this scene of crucifixion, and all that has gone before seems distant, irrelevant and worthless. For before our eyes hangs this man, this same man. How do you respond to the man on the cross?
Darkness envelops the land and now as our eyes squint and strain through the darkness we feel relieved because we cannot see as clearly the fullness of the horror of the scene. The darkness now seems to hide it. But then what our eyes miss our ears do not, and a gut wrenching sound echoes out in the midst of the darkness.
‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
Here at this sound the darkness of the land cannot hide the reality of the scene before us. Here at this sound our ears do not need to strain to know what is happening, for here at this sound we glimpse the truth of the horror of the event. This God-Man is god-forsaken.
His cry comes from the depths of his heart, for here he is alone, here he is abandoned. He is not singing a Psalm to prove his messiahship (Psalm 22). He is in torment, a place of unimaginable pain. Surely for Jesus, here the darkness is accompanied by silence. Here no longer can he hear his Father’s voice calling him the delight of his life (Mark 1:11).
As Jesus hangs in darkness and despair are we not confronted with the reality of our situation? For should it be us who hang there in darkness and despair because of the enormity of our sin? Because we have not loved God with all our heart soul, mind and strength, the One that has, hangs in our place. As he is suspended in our place, the horror of our sin and its consequences are heard.
As Jesus hangs on the cross the power of sin, death and darkness unleash its worst upon him. Powers that we were meant to feel the weight of. Yet in darkness and despair, Jesus experiences the weight of sin so we do not have to. Jesus hangs there so that we can be reconciled to God, so that we do not have to cry out ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ for how could we ask such a question when we face the actuality of our sin? To be god-forsaken should have been our only certainty.
As we hear the depths of despair in the voice of the Son of God, how do we respond to the man on the cross?
Do we stand and discuss together what his cry might mean; cold to the reality of the suffering he endures?
Or do we leave the group for a second and present Jesus a token offering on the end of a stick, as though it might soften the weight of cross that hangs on his back?
How do you respond to the man on the cross?
As Jesus hangs in darkness, do we concede that it has overcome him (John 1:5)? Has the Light of the World been extinguished for good? Yet because of such pain and suffering, because of this journey, by Jesus, through the valley of the shadow of death, we can be sure that nothing we go through has not already been known by the Son of God. No pain or hurt, tear and mourning, crying or shame has not already been known by Jesus himself. Therefore, when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me (Psalm 23:4)! As sin, evil and death unleash their worst onto Jesus, as the horror of separation and abandonment confront him at the cross, we can stare humbly, reverently and with tears in our eyes, at the cross, peering through the darkness, and see that Jesus hangs there, representing us, bearing the full weight of all our sin, so that we can know that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:39). Because Jesus was abandoned, we can know reconciliation. Because Jesus was in despair, we can know joy. Because Jesus cried out in dereliction, we can cry out in joyful reunion!
When glimpsing the horror of the scene, hearing the depth of the despair, and as we hear Jesus cry out and see the way he died, do we, with the centurion, say surely this man was the Son of God?
But do not merely gaze at the scene as if staring at the scene itself is enough. No, be sure that here God has done something, God has taken the first step, God, in his grace has made it possible for us to respond. A mystery has occurred here at the cross, a mystery that we are invited to share in. Here in such starkness and brutality, God reveals himself to us that we might respond to him.
How then will you respond to the man on the cross?