Thursday, 30 June 2011

A Servant

'If you've gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favour: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don't push your way to the front; don't sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.



Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.


Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honoured him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honour of God the Father.'


Paul the Apostle writing to the church in Philippi


Wednesday, 29 June 2011

I'm Tired

'Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.' Jesus in Matthew's Gospel


I feel really tired today.  I've felt really tired for a few weeks now.  


You know when you're tired in your whole being.  The physical tiredness is linked to being mentally and spiritually tired.  


I'm not unhappy.  I feel a bit frustrated, namely with myself for not being able to do and be all I want to do and be.  Frustrated, yes, unhappy, no.


I knew that church planting would be hard work.  I knew that it would be liberating, exciting and amazing.  But I also knew it would be hard work.  And that's ok.  It is meant to be hard work.  That is the nature of Christian ministry.  Whether the church is growing by 100 a week or 1 a year, it is hard work. 


So I'm not unhappy.  I am encouraged and excited by all that is happening.  I have a beautiful family who fill me with love and joy every day. I can see a church beginning to grow.


But I am tired.  So time to rest.  Time to have a holiday.  Time to recharge.  Looking forward to my holiday next week.


Time to learn once again the unforced rhythms of grace that Jesus seeks to teach us. Time to rest with Him and learn from Him about what it means to live and love in relationship with God. Time to remove anything from my life that is ill-fitting and wearing me out and allow God to put upon me that which is right and freeing.  Time to keep company with Jesus and remember my first love.


Time to enjoy time resting with God.    

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Free of Charge

I am currently reading 'Free of Charge - Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace' by Miroslav Volf.



What a great book and what a great thinker and writer.

He begins by writing about adoption and how he had always struggled with parents who gave their children up for adoption.  He felt like they were abandoning their children and failing in the most proper duty of a parent, namely to love no matter what.

Then everything changed.

He and his wife tried for 9 years to have a baby.  They tried everything and nothing worked.  They cried out to God for a baby, yet their prayers were not answered.  He decided that God was disappointing, puzzling and simply an observer.

But then they were given the opportunity to adopt.

He recounts of when he and his wife are picking up their son.  He is three months old and the boy's birth mother and sister are in the room holding this little baby one last time. They are crying. Crying because they love him and will miss him.  Crying because they have joy knowing that this little boy is being given a new life that will enable him to flourish.

And in this very act of adoption, Miroslav realises that the love this birth mother has for this child is deep, selfless and remarkable.  She loved him for his own sake, not seeking any selfish reward from her baby, but loved him so that she would rather suffer his absence yet know he is flourishing, rather than enjoy his presence and see him suffer.

Miroslav and his wife encounter God's answer to prayer.

The act of giving, without a desire to receive, is how we live truly fulfilled lives.

If we continue to trade, take and demand off others, then we will find ourselves bound in chains that will strangle us and rob us of any peace or joy, life or community.

To give in complete unconditional love is to enter into the very life and heartbeat of God.  We become most who God desires us to be, most who he created us to be when we give in this way.  We reflect the very nature of Jesus when we give like a river that flows into the sea.

Ambition, greed, fame, selfish desire can all be washed away in the beautiful act of giving.  And just imagine what the world would be like if we gave and gave and gave...

Monday, 27 June 2011

A Conversation

I met a couple of guys the other day and we got chatting about various different things.

Both very interesting and unique.  Both with fascinating thoughts about life, faith and spirituality.

One of them believed in God.  He believed in who Jesus was.  He was passionate about Israel.  He believed in a literal 6 day creation.  He struggled with being a follower of Jesus.  He believed in unconditional love.  He believed that our actions today matter.  He found faith to be hard work and believed he was far from God.  He spoke about salvation.  He spoke about running away from the army in South Africa and going to live in Israel.  He shared about his love for chess and being beaten all the time.  He spoke about fear.  He spoke about how things can be much simpler if we would allow ourselves to be open to simplicity.  He spoke about his struggle with life.  He spoke about his journey.

The other guy believed Jesus was a spiritual master.  He had explored loads of different spirituality's.  He had dabbled in Roman Catholicism, astral projection, Buddhism, Mormonism, and many forms of meditation.  He believed Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha and others were people who were 100% in touch with their spiritual selves and were models of how we should live.  He pondered whether planets and galaxies were created for our spirits to roam when we die.  He struggled with believing that Jesus is God and that salvation could be about what one particular group of people believed.  He wondered what life was all about.  He spoke about evil people and what is right and fair.  He spoke about being open to other people's point of view.  He spoke about challenging those points of view.  He questioned religion's love of power.  He questioned the motives of others.  He spoke about his journey.

I shared that I believe in the Creator God who made all things out of nothing.  I shared that I struggled as a follower of Jesus and that there were many times I felt far from God and faith a challenge.  I shared how I believe unconditional love is the goal.  I shared how today matters and our actions have eternal consequences.  I shared how I believe that Jesus will make all things new and will heal all the brokenness and pain in the world.  I shared how I believe we are more than simply spirits but that our bodies matter today and into eternity.  I shared how I believe everything will find its goal and purpose in Jesus.  I shared how if you want to know who God is and what God is like you need to look at Jesus.  I shared how we can have hope for this day and our every tomorrow because of Jesus.  I shared how little I know and how little we all know.  I shared how there is so much mystery and we are only scratching the surface in terms of what we know and the amazing vastness of the universe.  I shared about grace.  I spoke about my journey.  

We laughed and chatted, shock our heads at each other and spoke loudly as we agreed together.  We shared life for a brief moment in time and found joy in sharing.

We shared our journeys with each other and in doing so, became a part of each others journey.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Charity Mate

I keep hearing and reading in the news about foreign aid and the amount that the UK government give to overseas aid.

The government are coming under attack for the amount they give in foreign aid whilst deep cuts are happening here in the UK.

Journalists and the public are chanting that charity begins at home and asking why should people abroad get our money when we are suffering here?

What a load of rubbish.

We do not recognise the extent of our wealth.

Our wealth here in the UK is beyond our understanding.  The luxury's we can afford is better than some kings had in history.  The ability to go to the cinema and buy a bag of sweets and large drink (which I did last night) is a money luxury that many people could only dream of.

There are many around the world that spend 70% of their income of food.  And that is not to live as kings, but simply to survive.  There are many that do not have enough money to buy food to live.

The fact that most of us can afford to go on holiday somewhere, drive a car and watch a tv is an example of how rich we are.

So let us not talk with greed and selfishness and stupidity when we moan about giving to the poor in other countries.  Let us also not be naive in recognising that so much foreign aid comes with strings attached from government to government and very often does nothing to help the plight of the poorest.  Better to look for ways to give directly to those who are suffering if you can find a way to do that.

Please, let us stop this talk of charity beginning at home and recognise our responsibility to our fellow humanity living in utter poverty and pain all around the world.  So much of the way we live and the things we buy out of our wealth harms and damages people, communities and environments in the poorest parts of the world.  We need to be aware and to look to make changes and to give joyfully and generously.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Life and Death

I haven't blogged as regular as usual because of various things in life happening.

On of those things was attending the funeral and thanksgiving service of a friend who died recently.  It was the first funeral I have attended that was for a Christian.  It was amazing.

He was an amazing man.  I remember he gave me honest and Godly advise on a number of occasions, never pandering to my ego but telling me straight what I needed to hear.  It was advise I will take with me to my own journey home to Jesus.

1 Corinthians 15 was read out and everyone applauded at the end of it being read out such was its power and relevance for this occasion.

Stories were told and memories shared that inspired, challenged and changed me.

Sarah and I were inspired and amazed at the strength, authenticity and love for God that his family showed throughout.

Sarah and I took our two daughters with us.  We believe it is right for them to witness and experience the reality of life and death.  I was sitting next to a man who was talking to a lady in front of him who said that it wasn't the occasion to bring children.  We are all entitled to our opinion.

But I do believe we hide away from death and its reality.  We sanitise and seek to put behind closed doors the truth and reality that people die.  When in India our car pulled up next to truck that had a glass coffin on the back with a dead woman inside.  Death is a real and seen as part of life in other countries.  Does not make it any less painful, raw or stinging, but it does make it a reality.

We are not immortal.

Grace knows that our friend is with Jesus now.  She knows he has died to be raised to a new life.  She knows Jesus will return and death will no longer have ay power over us.

Where O death is your sting?
Where O death is your victory?

Thanks be to God because he gives us victory in Jesus!

We need to embrace the truth and reality of life and death, face up to the importance of today and how today matters.  We must not hide ourselves from death but recognise that yes, it is painful, yes we do grieve and hurt at the loss of loved ones, and yes, Jesus can transform this day with hope for tomorrow.

'Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.' 1 Thessalonians 4

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Vagabond and Tourist

Are you a vagabond? Maybe you are a tourist?

Zygmunt Bauman uses these two expressions to describe modern day attitudes towards the world and cultures in which we live.

Both these metaphors describe and express a lifestyle of non-attachment and non-commitment.

The vagabond does not have goals, projects, plans or any idea where they might be going.  When they arrive they are not sure how long they will stay, and once they set off on their journey again, they figure out their destination while they are on the journey.
The vagabond keeps moving because life is a disillusionment.  All that they hope for and dream about never becomes a reality, and so they continue to travel, continue to move in the hope that the next place might fulfil their dreams of a better tomorrow and new day.  Te reality is however they will never settle because they never really will ever commit.

The tourist is also a traveller.  But whereas the vagabond has dreams that one day this may be the place in life for their dreams to become a reality, the tourist has no intention of staying.
The tourist enjoys the detachment from the place they have stopped.  They have paid to be a tourist.
The tourist enjoys the freedom of being able to ignore local and native problems, of not getting their hands dirty.  They are able to ignore the plight and the problems of the people around them.  The tourist simply moves through other people's homes and places with no commitment to that place or those people.  The tourist has paid to be apathetic and indifferent to what happens around them.  They can always get the next plane home.

Both the vagabond and the tourist can keep a distance.

The call to follow Jesus is different.  The option of being removed, unmoved and distant from the places they dwell is not an option.  The places and communities in which they dwell may be tough, difficult, evil and painful, yet God has a heart and desire to transform and give these people and places a hope and a future.

The call to follow Jesus is not one of a tourist or vagabond.  It is not a call to ignore the realities of the world around them.  It is not a call to move when our own dreams do not become a reality.  It is not a call to escape when things are too tough.
The call of Jesus is to commit oneself to the people and places in which you live.  It is a call to live in such a way that people around us glimpse at the future that God has in store for us.
It is a call to fight evil in all its forms and to declare freedom for those living in darkness.

God is refashioning a new creation and a new day from within the shadows of this day.  The agonies of today are the birth-pangs of a new creation.  And we are called to be signs of hope, declarers of love and sharers of those birth-pangs within the communities we dwell as we wait expectedly for the realisation of God's new world.

Don't be a vagabond or a tourist.  Be a follower of Jesus and let Him lead you deep into the reality of the communities you live in and into the lives of the people around you.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Divine Sorrow

Tom Wright speaks about death and reflects on the recent death of his father.

Death is something that is being spoken about a lot in the media at the moment.

'Jesus wasn't just a glorified spiritual social worker.'  In other words, Jesus came to do far more than simply heal some people, say loving and wise things and condemn the injustice in the world.  Rather he came to confront the evil, sin, death and tyranny in the world head on and defeat it through his life, death and resurrection, in order that a new morning would one day come.

Death is painful, sad and so difficult.  But Jesus has ushered in a new creation whereby death will not have the final word.  So as followers of Jesus, when we grieve we can grieve as people with hope that death has not won.  We grieve as people that believe that there is a new morning on its way.  We grieve knowing that God grieves with us.

Divine sorrow and divine hope because of the Divine Life, Death and Resurrection.


Friday, 10 June 2011

My Brother's Novel

My twin bro is writing a novel. Below is the first chapter. Go to his blog to read the next three. I hope someone notices it and he is able to get published. It is very good.



I'm writing a book. This is the first chapter. Let me know what you think. Peace. x

'It’s a weird sensation when you cut yourself. You know it’s a silly thing to do. You know people would freak out if they saw you doing it. The thing is, it feels so right. It physically manifests so much of what you emotionally cannot connect with. My brain is emotionally bleeding. I’m broken and bruised. I am worn down and weary. I am shattered like a mirror on the floor. I see myself as fractured and incoherent. Only able to catch a glimpse of myself in all the pieces. The darkness seeps in like ink in water. It slowly clouds over, taking away all the light.

My Intruder laughs at my despair.

So when I am cutting myself I can see the result of the mental anguish I feel. I deserve this pain. I deserve the scars and the blood to leave my body. I don’t want your pity. I don’t want your sympathy. I do this because I wish myself harm. I don’t wish for attention. If I did then I would call someone, I would announce on Facebook what I was doing. No, you won’t know I’m doing it. I will wear long sleeves and when will you see the cuts on my stomach? If you do see the marks, I can make excuses. I have a cat, he scratched me. Simple.

What, you think the darkness is just ‘in my mind’? Fuck you. Let me give you my Intruder for a day and then we’ll see how cynical you are. Let me give my Intruder the keys to your mind and we’ll see how long it takes before you want to wipe your life from this place we call Earth. My Intruder is a nasty beast. He delights in my despair. Televangelists would love to try and exorcise me.

The Intruder.

He points out the obviously true, but manages to put a little twist on it. Very subtle and very effective. The Intruder would be a brilliant spin doctor. I am small framed and thin. The Intruder would say, “Skinny.” He would also point out my past nickname of “Mowgli.” Subtle but effective you see. Suddenly I’m not simply thin, I am a skinny caricature who looks like that kid from The Jungle Book. Now my self-esteem is plummeting faster than a shooting star.

He reminds me each day of my failures. The jobs I didn’t get. The girls who rejected me. The friendships that failed. The loneliness it feels to be me. The life I wish for but never seem to achieve.

The Intruder.

Hi, my name’s Red and welcome to my seemingly eternal battle with The Intruder. He will tell you things, but please don’t believe him. He lies about lies. Yes he tells the truth too, but it’s a version of the truth. He’ll turn you against me, but please come back to me.

Walk this journey with me.'
© Tom Haward 2011

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Darkness and Light



As I continue to listen to this series of lectures by Stanley Hauerwas, I am continuing to be deeply challenged by what is being said and implied.

I believe the Christian community should be challenged in its understanding and approach to those with mental illness.

Humanity should be on a journey of discovery whereby we learn from each other and so enrich each others lives and be changed when we need to be.

What can those who are suffering from depression, anxiety and darkness teach us about what it means to be Christian?  When darkness is your only companion, how does that shape us in our walk with God and what does that tell us about who God is?  What can those with the darkness learn from those without it?  And what can those without the darkness learn about God from those who are with it?

How limited is Christian discipleship?

Are there those who, because the darkness is indeed so very dark, will choose to never enter the Christian story, refusing to become a part of it and therefore reminding us the limits of any account of Christian discipleship, including our own.

Are there those for whom, because of the darkness, Jesus can never be the Light of the world, and therefore challenges us in how we understand church, community, salvation and following Jesus?

What are we willing to learn together in this journey of darkness and light?

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Mental Illness - Hannah's Child


I'm in the middle of listening to a series of story telling/lectures by Stanley Hauerwas about his life and being married to Anne who has bi-polar disorder.  

It is moving, challenging, heart breaking, wonderful, painful and inspiring.

The lectures come from his new book 'Hannah's Child', so I have requested the book as a Father's Day present.  

Mental illness continues to be something of great mystery and great pain.  



I sometimes wonder if those of us who have not experienced this kind of pain and darkness need to listen and learn from those who have.  I wonder if I need to sometimes listen to the way the world looks through their eyes and learn from those whom I love.

Equally it is important to be a source of love and strength, and to help share the way you see the world through your own eyes.

Maybe that is so much of what this about, listening to one another.  Correcting each other when we have become blind and unaware of what is really happening around us.


What I love about him is his honesty.  He says that when you are a Christian you can be completely honest, because what have you got to lose.  I like that.  I believe in dialogue and listening and learning from each other from all walks of life and all backgrounds and beliefs.  But I also believe that it is good to be honest about where you are at and what you believe.  And sometimes the Jesus Way will mean that what you say in honesty and what you honestly believe will run completely counter to the way many others see it.  But that's ok.

To all those whom I love, my prayer today is that if you are suffering with darkness today that it may be lifted.  To those whom I don't know, my prayer is the same.

Shalom.


Tuesday, 7 June 2011

A Prayer

A prayer:

I pray for the man I spoke to yesterday who was struggling with some kind of addiction.  Help him Jesus to find hope and joy in You, in life and may he, through his struggles, find that you join him in his struggles.

I pray for the other man I spoke to a couple of weeks ago who was in a similar struggle.  Help him Lord.

I thank you for the dad and his son I saw laughing together.  Thank you Father God for the joy of being a parent and for the laughter and relationship that these two were sharing together.

Thank you for the little girl who came and stood next to me in the coffee, staring at my face.  Thank you Lord that she reminded me that humanity shares a common bond and that you call us to stand together in love and peace.  Thank you Lord for our children who remind us daily what it means to love you and love each other.

I pray for the woman who was talking about losing her licence because of drink driving.

I pray for the man who was speaking with such hatred in his heart for another.  Heal and reconcile Lord.

Thank you God for the father and daughter who stopped and looked at a caterpillar crossing the pavement and who they smiled at each other as they shared this moment.  Thank you God for your creation and how through it we can know joy and encounter your love.

I pray in Jesus name,

Amen.

Arrogant 'Messiah's'

Tom Wright talks about what makes him angry and the arrogance that some display in their world-view and understanding of 'evil'.



Monday, 6 June 2011

Palestine

I confess to be very uneducated and unaware of the pain and the problems that Palestinians face on a daily basis.  My friend has just returned from a time in Palestine meeting with Palestinians and Palestinian Christians.  His passion, pain and compassion has made me ever more determined to find out more and more about the reality of what is happening over there.  I want to be challenged and jolted out of apathy.

People are being denied safety, justice, homes, medical help and freedom.  When is that ever right or acceptable?

He shared this video on Facebook and I thought it was simply brilliant.



Ctrl.Alt.Shift Film Competition Winner: No Way Through from Ctrl.Alt.Shift on Vimeo.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Family Celebrations

On Monday evening family and friends celebrated my mum and dad's 40th wedding anniversary.

It was a great evening with lots of laughter, happy memories and reminiscing, good food and drink and a great time with well over 100 family and friends.  Everyone had a really good night and I could tell that my mum and dad enjoyed the evening, were relaxed and appreciated the love and support many people have for them.
My Beautiful Girls on Monday evening

Tom has recently written about my mum and dad and how their history is etched on their skin. He printed this off and put it on a display board for people to read.  Made my mum cry.  And I know my dad found it moving.  There were also photo's of their wedding day, photo's of us kids as we grew up, and other memories that were captured in photo or print.

As well as this celebration, my older brother and his wife wanted a blessing for their 3 children.  So before we all ate,  I led everyone through a service of blessing for the children.  After the blessing I shared a short talk before I then got mum and dad to come to the front and I prayed for them both and then spoke a blessing over them both.  It is times like these that I feel very privileged to do what I do.

Below is my talk.  Before I spoke I was so aware that all the people who were there came from such varied walks of life, holding such diverse beliefs and understandings of life and faith.  Some went to church, but many didn't.
I don't use notes when I speak, so below is roughly what I said on the evening.


'There is a verse in the bible where Jesus says,'I am the bright Morning Star'. 

 Now the Morning Star appears in the sky when the night has reached its darkest point. When it appears you know that the dawn is on its way, that the night is at its darkest and the light is coming. 

 There are times in our lives where we feel that the darkness of pain and suffering, fear and difficulty are surrounding us and closing in all around. This darkness can be self afflicted, given by us or given to us, but whatever the reason, it's tough. We can look at the world around us and wonder if the darkness has overcome.
Yet Jesus speaks into this darkness by declaring that He is the bright Morning Star and that the Dawn is on its way. 

 As we celebrate here together, we reflect and remember lives lived together as well as look hopefully and expectedly on lives to be lived.

Mum and Dad are celebrating 40 years of marriage. We look back with them on the journey they have taken together and we join with them in the memories and the joys. 
It is a past that reflects the kaleidoscope of colours that our lives can be. Joy and sorrow, hope and despair, pain and healing. The true beauty of celebration finds itself fully aware and honest of all that has gone on before. Our past has shaped who we are today and we celebrate because we are able to embrace today, because we are still in this together, because God has not left us. 
We celebrate because your story is one of perseverance and endurance, of togetherness today, of love enduring; your story reflects the very nature of God. 
And it is in the reality of the past 40 years that bring meaning and significance to today, as well as hope and joy into tomorrow. For the journey continues with a path laid out for them and for us all, a path that calls us to embrace yesterday, to make today significant and live with hope for tomorrow. 

 We join with Bram and Tracy in celebrating with them the gift of children. Parenthood is a deep responsibility given to us by God. It is a calling to be faithful, hopeful and full of love for our children that they may be given the best start to their lives.

As we look at these young lives we are excited by the possibilities and mystery that lay before them. 

When we consider that Paige is just 13 years old we reflect that 13 years is a mere heartbeat in all of human history. But our prayer is that her heart would be filled with love from others and for others so that in your life you may bring love to the people you meet. 

5 years is but a blink of an eye in the course of humanity, but our prayer is that Cameron may see the world with wisdom and compassion and bring tears of joy to the people he meets and the communities he is a part of. 

8 months is but a whisper in the history of the human race, but our prayer is that Nate will speak words of life and love enabling others to shout for joy and sing in celebration as he lives and grows in this world. 

 Our hopes and dreams for Mum and Dad, for Bram, Tracy and the children, for each other, can be held deep in our hearts because Jesus is the bright Morning Star. His life, death and resurrection has ushered in a new day for all of creation and a promise that one day God will wipe every tear from our eyes and where everything will be made new. God will bring in a new creation where light, love and peace will cover the earth. This is the the new dawn that is on its way. We live in this tension where we see darkness and light, yet today has meaning and hope, where there is real love and light shining through.  

 Our past shapes who we are today. Our today is significant and to be embraced. Our every tomorrow can be filled with hope.
The night is darkest just before the dawn, but Jesus declares that the dawn is on its way.'