Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Cry of Christmas


As God made flesh is born he sucks in His first breath and releases a cry into the darkness.

The cry of this newborn Jesus is the cry of God into the darkness and brokenness of our world.  It is a cry that screams at the injustice, oppression and suffering of our wounded world.  It is a cry that longs for the weak, vulnerable and downtrodden to know that God has not forgotten them.  It is a cry that shares in the suffering of humanity.  It is a cry that exposes how weak and vulnerable we are. And the Creator of the heavens and the earth, the One in and through whom all things find their being, shares in that weakness and vulnerability crying out into the darkness and cold of that first Christmas night.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Atheism and Magical Thinking

'I do not regard true philosophical atheism as an intellectually valid or even cogent position; in fact, I see it as a fundamentally irrational view of reality, which can be sustained only by a tragic absence of curiosity or a fervently resolute will to believe the absurd. More simply, I am convinced that the case for belief in God is inductively so much stronger than the case for unbelief that true philosophical atheism must be regarded as a superstition, often nurtured by an infantile wish to live in a world proportionate to one's hopes or conceptual limitations...

When I say atheism is a kind of obliviousness to the obvious, I mean that if one understands what the actual philosophical definition of "God" is...and if consequently one understands what is logically entailed in denying that there is any God so defined, then one cannot reject the reality of God...without embracing an ultimate absurdity...

The only fully

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The Wrong Table

Jesus sat, ate and drank at all the wrong tables with all the wrong kind of people.

Liars. Thieves. Prostitutes. Drunks. The greedy. The unbelievers. The proud and the prostitutes.

What was he thinking?

But then that was the point.

The Table is a place where the lines are blurred, where rich and poor, oppressed and oppressor, powerful and powerless become equals. Where the first become last and the last become first.

All of us eating the same food, drinking together, looking one another in the eyes.

Equals over bread and wine.

Jesus allowed a whore

Monday, 2 December 2013

The Bible UK

So on Saturday night Channel 5 premiered 'The Bible', a dramatised retelling of some of the more 'famous' stories from Scripture.

'Aiming to stay true the spirit of the original stories' the series will take us from Genesis to Revelation.




So I watched it.

With every film or production based on Scripture we are dealing with

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

God is not MAN

'God is not MAN said in a loud voice.' Karl Barth

'The divine word at the beginning forbids that the Divine be likened to any of the things known by men, since every concept which comes from some comprehensible image by approximate understanding and by guessing at the divine nature constitutes an idol of God and does not proclaim God.' Gregory of Nyssa

The danger with so much of our theology (trying to put into words who God is) is that it simply becomes an expression of anthropology (putting into words who we are).

So all we end up doing is projecting an image of ourselves onto our understanding and expression of God. We are narcissists after all, so it is a natural habit of a post-modern society like ours to do. We like to look 'inwards' - much like a Jedi who has to 'search yourself for the truth' - and then from there frame our theology.

One of the big problems of this, aside from the obvious idolatry, is that we become obsessed with right belief and

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

'Get Up, Don't Be Afraid'

We live in an age of fear where daily we are bombarded with stories and scenarios designed to make us afraid and fearful.

We lose trust for each other and become cautious of the stranger so that find ourselves detached and distant from those around us.

We fear what might happen so we have life insurance, car insurance, home insurance, pet insurance.

We become afraid of losing our security which is summed up in our possessions; we become possessed by fear produced by our possessions.

Government, media and advertisers prey on us out of this fear and slowly, like a poison, fear numbs us and paralyses us.

Yet Jesus comes to us, touches us by His Spirit and tells us, 'Get up, don't be afraid.'

At Jesus' transfiguration the disciples glimpse His glory. The glimpse the day when the sun and moon will no longer be needed as he glory of Jesus will be our light. They witness and glimpse a time coming when Jesus, in His glory, will embrace us in His magnificent love and compassion, leading us into the beauty of the Promised Land, dwelling in the presence and glory of God.

Until that day Jesus comes to us and says,

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Compassion and the Spread of Christian Atheism

“True power is service. The pope must serve all people, especially the poor, the weak, the vulnerable.”



Pope Francis seems to be blazing a trail of compassion, humility and love, something that he is doing simply because he is a follower of Jesus.

These virtues should be a natural outworking of a people who follow the Risen Christ, who are filled with His Spirit and who worship the Living God.

The challenge that each of us are presented with is to be a people of mercy, humility, justice, compassion and unconditional love, especially towards the weakest and most vulnerable. 

The revolution of Christianity transformed the world to embrace and practice these things to such an extent that we do not even realise that we are holders of such a legacy, whatever our faith or belief system.

The pagan world into which Christianity was born had no real concept of love for neighbour until the Church introduced the very concept of care and love for the weakest and most vulnerable.  'Love your neighbour' was revolutionised and effected by Jesus followers across the pagan world to such a degree that Julian, a Roman emperor who hated 'Christian atheists' declared,

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Kairos Ensemble

My good friend Dan is the saxophinist in a group called Kairos Ensemble, a jazz group who have just released their new album Rejoicing Blues;

'The members of Kairos Ensemble met in the early 90's whilst studying music at the Royal Academy of Music and City University in London, forming the quartet in 2001. Their live work includes jazz concerts, workshops and tours. They have released four albums: Rejoicing Blues (2013), Passion Suite (2010) - described by Julian Joseph on Radio 3's Jazz Line-Up simply as “beautiful music”, Psalms (2006) and The River (2002). Their music reflects the breadth of the individual players' experience and captures a vibrant chemistry between the musicians. Through their strongly melodic and inventive compositions and arrangements, they produce music that

Monday, 4 November 2013

You 'thing' You


One of the issues and challenges I believe the Church faces is its understanding and approach to the person. 

Year in and year out we are fed statistic after statistic about how many people are going to church compared with previous years. Sometimes the statistics are good, sometimes they are bad, but whatever the statistics are the general voice is that we need to seek ways in which church can grow numerically. 

Now I have no problem at all with a desire for the Church to grow and to see more and more people hearing and responding to the call of Jesus on their lives; I am a evangelist after all! But what I have noticed is the subtle changes in the way we speak about church growth and in particular the way we speak about people when we are talking about mission and evangelism. And this change in speech is not particular to the church, it is a cultural phenomenon. And I believe this is having a adverse affect upon the way churches are able to engage with the communities they are a part of because our language is often a reflection of what we actually believe.

Church decline in the West over the last 20 years has caused the church to sit up and take notice of why people are leaving and what we can do to reverse the decline. Programmes of evangelism and mission, books, seminars, seeker sensitive, emerging, fresh expressions, cafe church etc etc are all a reaction to this decline and a genuine desire to do something positive in order that the church would be relevant and contextual and true to the message that God has called us to proclaim. Some things have worked while some have fallen by the wayside, but they have mostly come from a heartfelt response to the situation.

The problem is that we have subconsciously turned the people we are seeking to engage with the message of Jesus into 'targets' of mission.

People become a 'thing' that we are trying to target

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Our True Selves

The most significant and life-changing events in our lives usually occur in the times when we are at our most vulnerable, uncomfortable and far from our place of safety.

It is when we are in those situations that are most shocking and dramatic, that shake us out of our comfort zones and cut into the routine and pattern of our lives, that usher in a life changing way of being and change the possibilities around us forever.

It is in the company of strangers and the encounters with new people that can often be the times when we discover most about ourselves.

It is when we are in a strange new world, listening to foreign tongues, that we are most likely to hear the whisper of God's Spirit calling us to imagine once again, to be filled

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Why We Need Sabbath

'We need to get the economy moving' are the endless words spoken to us by the politicians and media.  It is the idea of 'keeping things going' and ensuring that business as usual is maintained.  There is no time to rest or wait, no opportunity to stop or be still, our purpose is to keep going, to keep moving and to keep spending our money.

It is drilled into us that spending our money is a seven-day-a-week necessity, not only for our good, but for the good of the whole nation.  And what's more, the instant satisfaction and happiness you get from this is what makes life great - well that's what we're told anyway.

This constant 'doing' and continual movement is a sign that we think we don't have enough time.  We think there is a lack of time, so we need to make the most of it, doing whatever we want.  Yet the reality is that we don't do whatever we want, we do whatever we are told by those who influence us and manipulate us; we can be puppets to the rich, the advertisers and the products we own.
'Life is short', 'time is of the essence', and

Machine of Wonder


Read on ReadWave.com

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Nonviolence and the Mission of God - With Michael Hardin


On Saturday 16th November Michael Hardin from Preaching Peace and writer of ‘The Jesus Driven Life’ will be running a days seminar on ‘Nonviolence and the Mission of God’ at Barton Baptist Church, Barton, TQ2 8EU.
What does it mean for the Church to be a people of peace? How can we preach peace to those who are far off? How do we walk faithfully in the footsteps of the One who was crucified and raised to life? The day will consist of exploring questions such as these and how nonviolence and this path of discipleship can impact the mission of the church in the communities that we live and serve.

The day will run from 9am-3pm and

Monday, 14 October 2013

Faith and Violence

'We know, for instance, that Adolf Eichmann and others like him felt no guilt for their share in the extermination of the Jews. This feeling of justification was due partly to their absolute obedience to higher authority and partly to the care and efficiency which went into the details of their work. This was done almost entirely on paper. Since they dealt with numbers, not with people, and since their job was one of abstract bureaucratic organization, apparently they could easily forget the reality of what they were doing.
The same is true to an even greater extent in modern warfare in which the real moral problems are not to be located in rare instances of hand-to-hand combat, but in the remote planning and organization of technological destruction. The real crimes of modern war

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Homosexuality - Part Two

Yesterday I blogged about a recent gathering where we discussed the biblical and theological understandings regarding homosexuality.

Reflecting further I think that some of the ways this discussion can lose its way is the focus on how individuals use their genitals.

I once read how a Jewish Rabbi said that a God who is not interested in how we use our pots, pans and body isn't really worth worshipping.

If we belong to this mysterious thing called Church, then our sexual

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Homosexuality

Yesterday Baptist ministers in the area gathered together to study biblically and theologically where we stand on homosexuality.

Within the room there were a variety of beliefs and understandings, yet the whole time together was one of listening and desire to be faithful to God.

John Colwell lead our time and sought to take us through four understandings and interpretations of homosexuality from a biblical and theological position.  In doing this we were able to see that a part of this issue is the way we hear and read the Bible; it is an issue of hermeneutics and how we understand the manner of Scriptures authority.

Around 15 years ago Nigel Wright, the former Principle of Spurgeon's College, presented to the Baptist Union four views on homosexuality that, by in large, represented the views of the people in our Baptist Churches.  The four views are:

1. unqualified rejection
2. qualified rejection
3. qualified acceptance
4. unqualified acceptance

John then argued for each position

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Crossing Over to Love




'We live in a world where stuff happens. It's really not stuff; we live in a world where shit happens...and the one thing I had to do was to understand that in spite of shit happening, God is still God. That was a tough one though...

...crossing in front of my truck was the guy who had touched my kid...in those seconds I was thinking, "I would really love to run over this cat"...The test was still loving God in the midst of disappointment. And still loving an expression of neighbour even if the person is someone I really wouldn't want to live next door to.'

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

God? You Don't Know What You're Talking About

'...having the proper notions about the divine nature...transcends all cognitive thought and representation and cannot be likened to anything which is known...heed none of those things comprehended by the notions with regard to the Divine, nor...liken the transcendent nature to any of the things known by comprehension. Rather...believe that the Divine exists, and...not examine it with respect to quality, quantity, origin, and mode of being, since it is unattainable.'  Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses

'God' is such a slippery word isn't it?

I mean, what do you mean when you say 'God'?

OMG?

Light?

Love?

Person on a cloud?

Power?

Holiness?

Anger?

Force?

Nature?

And on and on and on I could go.

This is the problem we face when talking about the word 'God'.  It is actually a really unhelpful word. I could be talking to you

Monday, 30 September 2013

Hellbound? - A Discussion and Reflection



In July Kevin Miller came to Newton Abbot for a screening of Hellbound? the Movie.  As you'd expect the reaction and response to the documentary was mixed with the issues raised highly contentious to some.  A few of us gathered together last week to discuss the themes and statements made in the film.

For those who are unaware, Hellbound? is a film that explores the Christian doctrine and understanding of hell and challenges the traditional belief that hell is a place of eternal conscious torment.  The film interviews various pastors, theologians and writers to present a variety of views and beliefs from across the theological spectrum.

As I watched it I was aware that what Kevin was seeking to do through the film was argue that universal reconciliation (UR) is a belief that can be held by Christians and still be deemed as sitting within orthodox Christianity.

Kevin and I were able to chat a fair amount while he was here in the UK and what he found useful about doing a screening here was to gain an understanding on this issue from a UK perspective. I hope this article will help that understanding a little more.

I think Kevin is a great guy who I've got a lot of time for. In the making of Hellbound? it seems that people are quick to judge him, condemn him and dismiss him, and that is unfair. Sarah and I were struck by his humility, gentleness and warmth. This is simply a side-note, but one that I think is needed to be heard.

So a few people gathered at my place to reflect further on Hellbound? and the issues it raised and to

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Psalm 23...


One Saturday in September 2013 we all had a go at writing our own versions of Psalm 23.  Below are some of the ways people expressed Psalm 23 in their own images and language.  Enjoy...

'The Lord is my librarian, He supplies all that I can read.
He helps me be quiet and to rest.
He leads me to the best books.
Even when I go through bad books I don't need

Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Spirit of Life

'So who is this God of Jesus?  He is the healing power which Jesus brought to the poor and sick, sinners and dying.  He is the God of the crucified Jesus, who was the victim of power.  He is the liberating energy that raised Jesus from the dead and led him into eternal life. God is the one 'who raised Jesus from the dead': that is the New Testaments definition of God...God is the liberator - there from the power of one of history's tyrants, the Pharaoh, here

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Facebook Page

If you're on Facebook then you can find my page for this blog at:

https://www.facebook.com/evangelistchanging

Like the page and you can get updates to this blog as well as other links and reflections that pass through my muddled brain...

An Essay on Violence


‘Peace, Peace, to those far and near’[1]
An Essay on Violence

In Dostoyevsky’s The Grand Inquisitor,[2] the character Ivan recalls a poem written in a convent called ‘The Travels of the Mother of God among the Damned’.  The poem describes how the ‘Mother of God’ travels with the archangel Michael to guide her through the various levels of hell, a picture similar to Dante’s nine circles of Hell.  She witnesses the variety of torment that the different categories of sinners endure before finally witnessing those who are damned to ‘gradually sink in a burning lake of brimstone and fire…whose sins cause them to sink so low that they no longer can rise to the surface.’ The Virgin is utterly shocked and pleads with God through tears to have mercy on all in hell, forgiving and releasing them all from their torment.  God, ‘pointing to the pierced hands and feet of her Son’[3] responds by crying out ‘How can I forgive His executioners?’[4]  At this the Virgin calls all of heaven to prostrate themselves before God and implore Him to change His wrath into mercy and pour out forgiveness on them all.  A compromise is obtained whereby there is a yearly respite of tortures and the damned are heard singing,
‘Thou are right, O Lord, very right,
Thou hast condemned us justly.’[5]

It is a fascinating scene within Dostoevsky’s classic that highlights an understanding of violence and forgiveness that we can do well to listen to and

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Russell Brand and the Numbness of Compliance

Russell Brand reportedly was kicked out of the GQ Awards after party because of remarks he made during his acceptance speech of an award he was given.

*Warning* swearing




I like Russell Brand, I like what he has to say.

I watched his programme on drug addiction.  He speaks with clarity and sanity.  He was arguing that the best way to deal with our drug culture and addiction is through abstinence.  He argued that by putting people who are addicted to heroin on Methadone simply exasperates the problem, continues to hold people in poverty and addiction and further compounds the issues of health, parenting, crime and self-worth.  I recently was having a coffee with someone I know who has been in and out of prison who said that the biggest drug dealer in prison is the NHS because of their supply of Methadone. He said that people dry it out to make it into a more potent drug and then sell it inside.

Russell Brands comments at the GQ Awards are sharp and insightful. Our memories are short,

Thursday, 22 August 2013

War, Violence and Imagination

I once heard Stanley Hauerwas say, 'The reason I'm a pacifist is because I'm a violent son of a bitch.'

We rarely recognise within ourselves how filled with hate, resentment and violence we are.  Yet when we try and imagine alternatives to violence we struggle to move with the Wind of the Spirit in His creativity in bringing beauty out of chaos.

So as we look at the media reports of Syria, Egypt or at home we do not see any other alternative than violent ways of dealing with the oppression, injustice and murder of innocents.

The UK and USA have deep messianic complex whereby they often believe that they can ride in on their white rockets, slay the oppressor and release the prisoners leaving a trail of bloodied corpses, bullet shells and 'democracy' of freedom.

And many of us consign ourselves to

Thursday, 1 August 2013

The Most Violent Century in History

'At the meridian of the 'Enlightenment', the hope of many was that a world freed from the burden of 'superstition' and 'priestcraft' would evolve into a rational society, capable of ordering itself peacefully, harmoniously and wisely.  Even in the 19th century, when unbelief was often prompted by a somewhat darker view of human nature, the 'progressive' view was still that a secular society, purged of the pernicious influences of religion by the cleansing gales of scientific reason, would by its nature prove to be more just, peaceful and humane that the 'Age of Faith' had been.

And yet, by the end of the 20th century, wars had been waged on a scale never before imagined, and a number of Utopian, strictly secularist ideologies - each in its own way

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Forgiveness? Love of enemies? Non-violence?


'Many things that Christians feel are “non-negotiables” today are at major variance with what Jesus actually taught and emphasized. How can you read the Eight Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount, for example, and not know that Jesus clearly taught nonviolence and simplicity of life?
Wouldn’t you think the clear non-negotiable in Jesus is forgiveness and love of enemies? But we didn’t emphasize that at all. That could’ve changed history. But we weren’t interested in changing this world. We were more interested in the next world, and we ended up acting pretty much like everybody else in this world. None of the Christian nations have

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Hellbound? The Movie - Screening in Newton Abbot with Director Kevin Miller


On Saturday (20th July) we have our screening of Hellbound? in Newton Abbot.  This is the first and, so far, only screening of Hellbound where Kevin will be on hand for a Q&A session in the UK.

Be great to see you if you're in the area as it will be a fascinating time of conversation and discussion.

Hope you can join us.

----------------------------
'Does hell exist?  If so, who ends up there and why? "Hellbound?" is a provocative, feature-length documentary that will ensure you never look at hell the same way again!'

Kevin Miller, creator and director of Hellbound? is coming over from Canada to The Bushell Theatre, Coombeshead Academy, Newton Abbot on Saturday July 20th to do a Q&A screening of the film.  After watching the film there will time to reflect,

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Kingdom Matters


Oscar Romero spoke beautifully about building the Kingdom: “We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete… No statement says all that should be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith…
We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.”The Kingdom of God is at hand even if it is not complete.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Mormon Missionaries

Over recent weeks I've been having in depth discussions with Mormon missionaries who keep coming round my house.

The missionaries tend to change after a few weeks and it is fascinating how when I ask what their name is they always reply 'Elder...'.  I then ask them what their name is again and again they reply 'Elder...'.  So I then ask them what their first name is and we finally get on first name terms.

This is important, and I tell them so, because it is very easy to caricature people, but when we are on first name terms we are getting to know each other as people created in God's image.

Week by week we have been engaged in debate and discussion with laughter and seriousness all thrown in for good measure.

One of the most interesting times was about a month ago when I asked them what their doctrine and theology of God was.  They looked at me with blank expressions, shuffled in their seats (there was three people round), looked at each other and then said

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Hear and Obey

'When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,” be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite.

The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.

When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.' Deuteronomy 17

This is a spectacular passage of Scripture.

 It is a passage for the church today.

 God instructs the people of Israel that if they want to set a king over them like the nations around them here is what the king should look like. He is to be one of them to keep them as a distinct and peculiar people that they may continue to show the nations what it looks like to worship YHWH.

The king is not to build a great army and seek revenge.

The king is not to be full of lust for many woman.

The king is not to desire great wealth. 

In other words the king is not to be full of violence and greed. Most peculiar for a king.

This is a foretaste of what the One True King looks like, YHWH made flesh, Jesus Christ.

So what is the king called to do then? Meditate on God's law.

That is his calling. Read it. Hear it. Obey it. Worship God.

The same is true for the church.

In the midst of endless conferences, entertainment, 'relevant'services, God calls the church to meditate on His word that we might hear and obey the Word made flesh. Too many of our churches neglect the public reading of Scripture. We might read out a couple of verses for the sermon, but that is often it. We need to read great chunks of Scripture out in our worship together so that God would shape us through it, by His Spirit rather than us trying to shape Scripture according to our favourite topics and trying to be 'relevant'.

The Gospel quite simply is relevant and God will do what God does. By allowing Scripture to be heard we can then hear what the Spirit is saying to the church. When we ask 'what do you want us to do God?' We can reply, with Israel, 'Do whatever you see YHWH doing.' Or as Jesus said, 'I only do what I see my Father doing.' Scripture enables this to happen for the church.

May the King of Kings, YHWH made flesh, Jesus the Word of God, speak to us by His Spirit as we hear and meditate on Scripture. And may we obey His voice. Amen.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

A Prayer by William Barclay

'O God, our Father, we know that by ourselves we can do nothing.

If we try to face our work by ourselves
          we collapse beneath our burdens and responsibilities. Our bodies become exhausted; our minds grow weary; our nerves are tensed beneath the strain.

If we try to face our temptations by ourselves,
          the fascination of the wrong things is too strong. Our resistance is defeated, and we do the things we know we should never do, because we cannot help it.

If we try to face our sorrows by ourselves,
          there is nothing to heal the wound upon our hearts, nothing to dry the fountain of our tears, nothing to comfort the loneliness which is more than we can bear.

If we try to face our problems by ourselves,
          we cannot see the right way; and, even when we se it, we cannot take it; and even when we take it, we cannot follow it to the end.

We know our need.  Life has taught us that we cannot walk alone.  So be with us to help, to guide, to comfort, to sustain, that in all the changes and the chances of life, whatever light may shine or shadow fall, we may meet life with steady eyes, walk in wisdom and strength, in purity and in joy everlasting.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.'

William Barclay

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Sentimentality

'Nothing pi***s me off more than the kind of sentimental s**t that currently pervades Christianity...if only we could produce interesting atheists today, but since we're not interesting believers we have a hell of a lot of trouble producing interesting people that deny God...the deepest enemy to Christianity is not atheism, it's sentimentality.'


Stanley Hauerwas




Monday, 17 June 2013

He Welcomes Us

'When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer." Luke 22:15

He welcomes us,
The broken and bereaved, the hopeless and the weak.
Young and old, tempted and tired, tested and despised,
He welcomes us all.

The rich and the beggar, the thief and the pedlar.

He gathers mums and dads, daughters and sons,
Married, divorced and single,
Eager to eat with with everyone
All are welcome, especially widow and orphan.

The table is for the stubborn and proud to be bought low at His feet
They discover a King who is humble and gives you His seat.
The burnout and weary will find rest as they eat
And discover a God whose love is complete.

Tax collector, prostitute, madman and sinner
All are welcomed to find hope at this dinner.

Worker or retired, at school or at home
Adult or child
Come eat and be known.

This meal of the King whose crown is of thorns
Whose throne is a Cross
Whose heart will be torn.

He welcomes us all to encounter anew His grace and forgiveness for his death is for you.

His death for the world and the whole cosmos is stark
Brutality and blood split
Wounds that will forever mark.

This God who has died
Is raised and now lives
Welcomes you to the table and beckons you in.

So come to the table, be transformed and be sent
And eat with this King, this God and this Friend.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The Terror of Drones

'Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves. These fears have affected behavior. The US practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims. Some community members shy away from gathering in groups, including important tribal dispute-resolution bodies, out of fear that they may attract the attention of drone operators. Some parents choose to keep their children home, and children injured or traumatized by strikes have dropped out of school. Waziris told our researchers that the strikes have undermined cultural and religious practices related to burial, and made family members afraid to attend funerals. In addition, families who lost loved ones or their homes in drone strikes now struggle to support themselves.' Taken from livingunderdrones.org


'In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling “targeted killing” of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts.
This narrative is false.
Following nine months of intensive research—including two investigations in Pakistan, more than 130 interviews with victims, witnesses, and experts, and review of thousands of pages of documentation and media reporting—this report presents evidence of the damaging and counterproductive effects of current US drone strike policies. Based on extensive interviews with Pakistanis living in the regions directly affected, as well as humanitarian and medical workers, this report provides new and firsthand testimony about the negative impacts US policies are having on the civilians living under drones.' p 9

'From June 2004 through mid-
September 2012, available data
indicate that drone strikes
killed 2,562-3,325 people in
Pakistan, of whom 474-881
were civilians, including 176
children.' p 10

'We are always thinking that it is either going to attack our homes or whatever we do. It’s going to strike us; it’s going to attack us . . . . No matter what we are doing, that fear is always inculcated in us. Because whether we are driving a car, or we are working on a farm, or we are sitting home playing . . . cards–no matter what we are doing, we are always thinking the drone will strike us. So we are scared to do anything, no matter what.' p 96


'I can’t sleep at night because when the drones are there . . . I hear them making that sound, that noise. The drones are all over my brain, I can’t sleep. When I hear the drones making that drone sound, I just turn on the light and sit there looking at the light. Whenever the drones are hovering over us, it just  makes me so scared.' p 98

Read the full report here.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Rob Bell, 'Bullshit' and what really matters


'So we have a wide ranging discussion about resurrection all the way across. We come down to one issue and it's not nuclear weapons, it's not immigration, it's not the addiction to technology and email and all the ways in which people are fed and overwhelmed with stress and worry, where Jesus did say don't worry.  You know what I mean?'

Rob Bell was interviewed on Premier Christian Radio a few weeks ago in discussion with Andrew Wilson from New Frontiers. During the interview the issue of homosexuality was discussed, and in particular Rob's stance on the issue.  Rob is pressed a lot to say what he really thinks on the whole issue.

Andrew Wilson asks a few times if Rob thinks that two men having sex is sinful or not as way of trying to make the issue black or white, yes or no, and that is not helpful theologically, and I think shows a naivety to the whole issue of monogamous committed relationships, which in part is what this issue is about.  What we do with our genitals of course matters to God, Scripture is clear on that, but the theological depth and debate on homosexuality is far more than simply what we do with our genitals.

Around 16 minutes in on the video Rob says, 'This is part of, like, the bullshit that really, really, really pushes people away...'

Rob's quote about what we're talking about hits it on the head for me.

So children and adults are being killed by US drone attacks on a regular basis.

Nuclear weapons are being developed.

We spend billions on war and violence every year, killing and being killed for the lie and myth that war brings peace.

There are refugees and immigrants scattered across our planet, forced out of their homes by war and violence.

We gorge ourselves on greed everyday.

And we come to the Scriptures, we hear what the Old Testament and Prophets, Jesus and the apostles have to say about violence, war, greed and how we treat children and each other and the thing that people like me and the evangelical church wants to talk about is...a famous Christian guy saying something about homosexuality and saying the word 'bullshit'...

More than that, we are obsessed with the issue of homosexuality - and I know that what we think about this issue matters - yet we are theologically, philosophically and ethically brain dead when it comes to these other issues above.

And God has a lot to say about these issues above which means that the Church should have a lot to say and be doing a lot about these things in response to being faithful to God and His heart over these things.

We need to sort our priorities out.




Thursday, 6 June 2013

Greed


In The City of God, Augustine believed that the Roman elites indulged in all kinds of questionable practices to blunt the fear of death that hung over them.  Augustine argued that 'the essential context for ambition is a people corrupted by greed and sensuality.'[1] The fear of death, argued Augustine, accompanied by fear of loss of status and power, caused the Roman elite to seek ways to make the memory of themselves last forever; war.  So a continued desire for power, status and wealth consumed the Roman Empire, and such desire seems to be replicated in our modern societies epitomised by our avarice. What we are left with is a society where we 'turn everything into a commodity, including the self.'[2] We then struggle to name greed now viewing it as 'being talented, smart and a careful steward.'[3] Greed however produces a desire for more and a resistance to giving. This may have had a disastrous effect upon the mission of the church in the West.

If we are possessed by our possessions then we will find it incredibly hard to give what we have away.  This holding onto what we have will be translated not simply into our material 'stuff', but also upon the 'stuff' of ourselves, namely, our knowledge of Christ and the call of discipleship he places on our lives.  Yet if we see that all that we have is but a gift from the Creator in the first place (Gen. 1:31), that nothing belongs to me, but that we belong to Christ (Phil. 4:7), then out of such a recognition should be the desire to make 'available to others what was God's before we had a use for it.'[4]

A common struggle that those within the life of the church in the West speak about is how they can share Christ in their day to day lives.  Save for church 'events' most people within our churches do not know a way forward in sharing their faith.  Yet if we are a people filled with greed then it is no wonder we struggle as we do not know how to give and share in grace and generosity the good news of Jesus to those who do not have the Gospel as their defining story; if we struggle to give away the things that we own, then we will struggle to give away our knowledge of Christ.  Not only that, but if our understanding of the Gospel is shaped through the lens of greed then the Gospel is reduced to 'a personal relationship with Jesus' because our greed tells us that we should have a personal relationship with everything that we own.[5] Jesus thus becomes another self-help commodity.  And if Jesus is just another commodity in a whole market of 'life improving' products, then we and the world can take him or leave him.  The desire to share the truth of the Gospel is lost because such a Jesus is nothing different to what the global capitalist market offers us.


[1] Augustine, City of God, 42, 1.31
[2] Dumm, Loneliness as a Way of Life, p 52-53
[3] Hauerwas, 'More, or, A Taxonomy of Greed' in Learning to Speak Christian, p 135
[4] Hauerwas, 'More, or, A Taxonomy of Greed' in Learning to Speak Christian, p 137
[5] Notice that advertising companies always direct their product at the individual and that their product will make you into the kind of person you have always desired to be.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Meditations on the Psalms


The life and theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer continues to have a deep significance upon the life and theology of many within the Church of Christ.  For Bonhoeffer, like Luther before him[1], the psalms are the great prayer book of the Church, 'From ancient times in the church a special significance has been placed on the praying of the psalms together...we now must recover the meaning of praying the psalms.'[2] It was the praying of the psalms that sustained him throughout his time in prison at the hands of the Nazi regime. In a letter to his parents he writes, 'I read the Psalms every day, as I have done for years; I know them and love them more than any other book.'[3]

This short book takes us through some of Bonhoeffer's favourite Psalms whereby he shares his theological understanding, insight, poetry and lament.  As with the honesty of the Psalms, Bonhoeffer shares the reality of his own struggles both before his capture and then leading up to his execution by the Nazi's in 1945. 

Bonhoeffer reflects on, to name a few, themes of rest and Sabbath drawing from Psalm 62, God's righteous anger from Psalm 58, the joy of the Lord in the midst of suffering from Psalm 100 and the God who helps and sustains us from Psalm 54. 

For Bonhoeffer the Psalms were not only something to be prayed individually as a means through which we were drawn closer to God, but they were also the prayer book of the Church that the church were called to pray together.  This book of meditations highlights Bonhoeffer's desire that the church needs the Psalms to understand its life and worship together, 'The only way to understand the Psalms is on your knees, the whole congregation praying the words of the Psalms with all it's strength.'[4]

Without doubt the Psalms have been of enormous benefit to me over the last three years of ministry.  Church planting from scratch is a lonely and tiring calling.  Added to that is the lack of a church community surrounding you in prayer and support.  Such a time as this calls you to a deeper life with God, yet such a life can be difficult if you do not have the disciplines in place that will sustain you.  The calling to ministry requires first that you are a person of prayer, sustained by your life with and love of God (Deut. 6:4-6).  Throughout my time church planting I have seen that my primary calling is to be a person of prayer.  When this area of my life is threatened or eroded into then I stop being faithful to the call that God has given me. The Psalms are those prayers that will sustain the minister to be faithful.

Bonhoeffer understood well the significance and need of the Psalms to the life and health of those called to ministry having experienced first hand the desert of trial and temptation.  Some people earn the right to demand greater holiness, more faithful discipleship and passion for prayer from those called into ministry, and Bonhoeffer is one such person.  Reading Bonhoeffer's meditations challenge me as a minister to do this helping me recognise who I am called to be.  The honesty and challenge of the Psalms enable the minister and consequently the church to resist notions of sentimentality and go deeper into truthful worship of the living God.  André Chouraqui declares that when we read the Psalms we become

'identified with the one...who groans and who suffers, who undergoes the assault of iniquity, and who bleeds and who is put to death, and yet never stops singing the utterly fantastic certitude which inundates him.  The soul is carried away by the incantations of the Hebraic rhythms; and slowly, very slowly, the soul of the psalmist becomes our soul; his combat becomes our combat; his pain our pain; his agony our agony-the agony of all who, throughout age after age, have committed their life to this living flame.  Slowly, very slowly, the soul becomes penetrated by, and nourished by the eternal soul of the sweet singer of Israel.  The burst of light which overwhelms him transpierces us; the light he seeks dazzles us, and transforms our darkness into ineffable joy.'[5]


[1] 'The Christian can learn to pray in the psalter, for here he can hear how the saints talk with God. The number of moods which are expressed here, joy and suffering, hope and care, make it possible for every Christian to find himself in it, and to pray with the psalms.' Luther's Works, ed. Pelikan, vol. 35, Word and Sacrament, 'Preface to the Psalter', p 254
[2] Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p 53
[3] Bonhoeffer, Meditations on the Psalms pp 113-114
[4] Bonhoeffer, Meditations on the Psalms p 11
[5] André Choraqui, 'The Psalms' in Cistercians of Strict Observance, pp 30-31

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Confessions - A Reflection


Augustine's Confessions is perhaps one of the most widely read works of medieval theology and philosophy that continues to be read and endure today among theologians, philosophers, those within and without the Church.  Noted for its uniqueness at the time for its autobiographical style, Confessions is a remarkable work that has both challenged and inspired its readers for over 1600 years.

Augustine was born in 354 A.D at Thasgate to Patricius, an official of the local government, and Monica his devout Christian mother.  Initially schooled at Madura, Augustine moves to Carthage to continue his studies and it's here that he finds himself 'in the midst of a hissing cauldron of lust.'[1]  The starkness and truthfulness of Confessions enables the reader to understand Augustine's theology in an incarnational way; to commit our lives to God is to love him with all that we are and to find all that we do done for the praise and glory of his name.[2] Confessions forms a narrative of his life that take us on a story through his own perceived transformation that is ushered in through his conversion to Christianity.  Writing in such a way challenges the reader to see that transformation is required for all people and that the narrative of Augustine's own story actually causes the reader to reflect on their own story.  Augustine is a skilled rhetorician and so this autobiographical account, fused with philosophy and theology, written as a extended prayer to God, is masterful and captivating to read.  From Carthage we are taken on a journey through his teaching of rhetoric at Thasgate, his disillusionment with the Manichees, his move to Rome and then Milan, his final conversion to Christianity and baptism and then the death of his mother Monica. Although autobiographical Confessions ultimately is not about Augustine but about the God who makes his life and this life and love possible.

Augustine had devoted nine years of his life to the Manichees believing they had the key to understanding the way of the cosmos and had the answers to 'the problems which perplexed me.'[3] However it became clear to Augustine that this was simply not the case.  His attraction to Christianity was in part that he could not exhaust the theological and intellectual depth of Christian doctrine and the Bible as he had done with the Manichean books.  This continued amazement and theological questioning is a key theme throughout Confessions and has attributed to serious reflection on my part in regard to our theological discipline within the life of the Western church. 

Augustine writes about his meeting with Faustus, a bishop of the Manichees,and his disappointment with how uninformed Faustus was 'about the subjects in which I expected him to be an expert'.[4] However, Augustine respected him for his honesty in admitting that 'he did not know the answers to my questions and was not ashamed to admit it, for unlike many other talkative people whom I have had to endure, he would not try to teach me a lesson when he had nothing to say.'[5] This, however, I have begun to see as a problem within the Western evangelical tradition in that we have plenty to say even though the reality is that what we are saying may not have much to say into our communities that we are seeking to minister into.  This having plenty to say but actually having nothing to say, added to the lack of mystery, lack of theological questioning, lack of lament and a intellectual shallowness has led me to increasingly become concerned that much of what we are saying is 'tedious fictions'[6] that are less to do with the Gospel and Kingdom of God and more to do with sentimentality and self-help idolatry.[7] Too often the Church can fall into the trap of appealing to some universal or general notion of 'love' as a way of engaging more broadly and widely with the communities that we are a part of and ministering in.  So we use the language of 'cross', 'forgiveness' and 'God' but make an appeal out a sentimental abstraction and notion of 'love' rather than love so defined by the Trinitarian life. An example of this is the appeal to 'invite Jesus into your heart/life' as the most common way of understanding conversion.  A natural outworking of this is that, for many, the feelings and understanding of our hearts is how we define our relationship with God and our understanding of God.  Furthermore, discipleship then becomes a series of thoughts and habits that are designed to make me feel a little bit better about my life.  All of this stands in stark contrast to discipleship so defined by the Gospel whereby we are baptised into the death of Christ in order that we might be raised with him (Romans 6:3-4).  This baptism calls us to share in the sufferings of Christ, deny ourselves and be ready to die.[8]  Again and again in Confessions Augustine challenges the reader, through his own prayers to God, to surrender all to God and be faithful to the discipleship he demands.

The defection in our theology and discipleship and the cause of it is, as Augustine says, 'like trying to see darkness or hear silence.  Yet we are familiar with darkness and silence, and we can only be aware of them by means of ears and eyes, but this is not by perception but by absence of perception.'[9] 

This absence of proper discipleship sharpens the focus as to a Gospel orientated life and the call of God upon the Church to such a life. Confessions serves as a reminder that the call of the minister is to see and understand the world according to the Light of Christ rather than through the self-deceptive lens of a culture of people who believe they are independent, self-made and self-confident.


[1] Augustine, Confessions, 55, 3.1
[2] See Deuteronomy 6:1-19, Matthew 22:34-40, John 17
[3] Augustine, Confessions, 98, 5.7
[4] Augustine, Confessions, 98, 5.7
[5] Augustine, Confessions, 98, 5.7
[6] Augustine, Confessions, 98, 5.7
[7] 'The principle crime of the human race, the highest guilt charged upon the world, the whole procuring cause of judgement, is idolatry.' Tertullian, On Idolatry, 2.1
[8] See Mark 10:35-40, Romans 6, 1 Peter 4:12-17
[9] Augustine, City of God, p 480

Monday, 13 May 2013

A letter to Michael Gove and the Response


'Dear Mr Gove 

 Firstly I would like to say that I imagine the work that you do day in day out must be filled with pressure and demands, so I appreciate you taking the time to read this email. 

 I was made aware of your proposals to extend the length of our children's school days and to also reduce the amount of holiday time that they have during the summer. I'd like to share with why this whole idea would be painful and damaging, not only to our children, but also to our society. 

 Grace is six years old and she loves reading. Actually reading is her favourite thing to do. She recently read Roald Dahl's 'Matilda', 'The Twits' and 'Fantastic Mr Fox' and spoke with real joy about how much she enjoyed reading them. They made her laugh and filled her with curiosity. Grace read these books when she woke up in the morning, when she got home from school, on the way to her ballet lessons and after her gymnastics lesson. She enjoyed the books so much that she told her mum and dad's friends all about them.  

 Grace was delighted when the film of 'Maltilda' came through the post. One afternoon after school Grace, her little sister Lizzie, her mum and dad, all cuddled up on the sofa and watched the film. They laughed together and all fell in love with the little girl who stood up against those adults who saw children as 'adults in waiting '. Mrs Trunchball hated children. She thought that by being stricter, meaner and a bully the children would lose their childish ways and become useful in the world. Mrs Truchball and Matilda's father saw productivity and making money as the most important things in life. 

Yet Matilda, the other children and Miss Honey knew different. 

They knew that creativity, imagination, love for others, compassion, kindness, standing against injustice and sharing our lives were much more powerful. 

These things change the world you see. 

These things leave a powerful legacy. 

The greatest movements, moments and nation changing events in human history have come from these virtues. 

When we look back and paint a picture of our common humanity, the bright colours that remain in our mind and on our hearts are from those who have displayed these characteristics and fought for these goals. 

Families and communities do not need robotic children who can become robotic adults who produce lots more 'stuff' for us all to consume. Our society does not need our children to work longer and harder.

Our society needs our children to be children.

And children are not adults in waiting.

Children are not future producers of stuff.

Children are creative, curious, beautiful and imaginative. And we need to protect and encourage this. 

Grace is like this you see. And so is her little sister Lizzie. So on the beach or at the park or when they are all gathered at church, they are asking questions and laughing and enjoying time spent with mum, dad, friends and family. 

Grace loves school, just like Matilda. But Grace also loves being with her mum and dad and sister. She loves playing at friends houses. She loves being with the church. She loves dancing. And through all the different people and experiences she is having Grace is learning how to enjoy being a child. Her laugh makes the world a better place. Every child's laugh makes the world a better place. 

Yet people like Mrs Trunchball want to silence their laughter and simply make them work harder. But by doing that our children might lose all their creativity, imagination and compassion.

If our children lose this then we are all in trouble. 

You see Mr Gove, they are all 'our' children. We all have a responsibility to them to ensure they have the best possible childhood. You and I have a responsibility to help Grace flourish. 

Grace and Lizzie are my daughters. I love them dearly. Any time I spend with them is a joy and precious. I don't want to work longer, I want to work at spending longer with my beautiful wife and daughters. 

My daughters are not pieces of capitalist meat that need to work harder. Longer school days and shorter holidays means less time for families, children under more pressure, increased tiredness, pressure to 'perform' and so a loss of human identity. We don't need this.

What our society needs is that we all spend more time together, eating together, sharing our lives and stories together, listening and learning from each other. 

Everything you are suggesting will erode and destroy further this possibility.

Please don't be Mrs Trunchball. 

If you persist in this I and many others will stand against you. Parents, teachers and communities will stand against you for the sake of our children and our future.

Please listen to our voices. Please preserve the laughter of our children. 

Yours faithfully 

Revd Joe Haward'




And the response I received:




'Dear Rev'd Haward 
Thank you for your email of 22 April, addressed to the Secretary of State, about media reports on the Secretary of State’s views on the length of the school day and year in England. As you can appreciate the Secretary of State receives a large amount of correspondence and is unable to respond to each one personally. On this occasion I have been asked to reply.
In his 18 April speech to the Spectator conference, the Secretary of State encouraged all schools to seriously consider making changes to the length, structure and content of the school day. He also pointed out that the structure of the current school year has not changed significantly since agricultural times and may not reflect the needs of today’s pupils and working parents. We have a responsibility to make sure our children get the best education possible to equip them to compete in the global market. 
We understand your concern about the length of the school day and year. Some of the best schools in the country recognise the benefits of a longer school day and of changes to the structure of school year as well. Such changes can really assist to children, particularly the most disadvantaged who are more likely to lose out over the long summer holidays. Academies and free schools, such as the David Young Community Academy in Leeds and the Free School Norwich, are already making changes in the best interests of their pupils.
Academies and free schools have the freedom to set the duration of the school day, and to set the length and dates of school terms as they see fit. In September 2011, the Government removed the prescriptive process that maintained schools had to go through when changing their school day. All maintained schools now have the freedom to set the duration of their school day as they see fit.
Maintained schools are bound by the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD), which sets out that teachers should work for 195 days (including 190 for teaching and 5 for training). The Secretary of State wrote to the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) on 17 April asking it, among other things, to make recommendations on how the non-pay conditions of service in the STPCD could be reformed, including provisions relating to teachers’ working time. The STRB will consider a range of evidence before reporting in January next year. Teachers’ conditions are one of the factors that restrict schools’ ability to make use of their freedoms to vary the length of the school day and year. 
I hope this is helpful to you.
Your correspondence has been allocated reference number 2013/0026463. If you need to respond to us, please visit:www.education.gov.uk/contactus, and quote your reference number.
As part of our commitment to improving the service we provide to our customers, we are interested in hearing your views and would welcome your comments via our website at: www.education.gov.uk/pcusurvey.
Yours sincerely
Annabelle Mulholland 
Ministerial and Public Communications Division 
www.education.gov.uk