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'
East
East
East
'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

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.