Tuesday, 19 November 2013


Last week when the Storm hit (although after what's gone down in the Philippines can we call it a storm? a draft, maybe) I had the misfortune of losing a fence post. I am not DIY, so I invited a friend over to help with the repair. I put on my old jeans and practised my standing-around-examining-it-noises with sufficient 'hmmm's and 'interesting's. Truth be told, neither me or my friend knew what we were doing and it was only a matter of time until our incompetence was exposed.

In walks Clifford.

My elderly neighbour's son happened to be visiting that morning and he joined us in the garden where we were attempting this repair. He's a practical man is Clifford. It must have been clear that we had very little idea. He started by sharing his opinion with us, which turned into using our tools to give it a go himself, which turned into giving us the right tools we needed, which turned into doing the job himself while we watched on. He demonstrated, we watched, he then gave us a turn at digging and fixing and hammering, and then he took over again. He explained what he thought we needed to do, some of the things we needed to bear in mind and, to finish it all off he gave us the cement and sand we needed to do the work. After all this he left us to finish the job by ourselves.

We hammered, chiselled, dug and mixed cement. Today - three weeks on - the fence post is still standing, I'm as shocked as anyone.

While Clifford was helping us, I remember thinking to myself 'he's discipling me,' this is what true discipleship is meant to be. Discipleship as a word isn't in common usage. It comes from the word 'student' and so to disciple someone is to teach them, to lead them and to 'be discipled' is to learn from, to follow. Jesus had twelve disciples. Twelve men who followed his every move and listened to his every word and then tried to put them both into practise.

In our day Discipling and being discipled has come to mean something other than practically doing and following. In practise it is more like counselling than it is genuine discipling; providing someone with a shoulder to cry on, sitting at the feet of a great bible study partner/guru. Discipling someone has come, in some circles, to mean only listening to someone pour their heart out and then offering your wisdom at the end. These are all valuable parts of discipleship for sure and necessary for us as we live the Christian life but it doesn't look much like how Jesus discipled his friends and how the church discipled one another. For them it involved watching, listening, learning and DOING. They did live together and learnt lessons on the road. We have removed the Doing from Discipleship and it's concerning. It's concerning but it's also damaging. By shifting the emphasis almost completely away from doing and placing it squarely in the realm of counselling we have made it something that fewer and fewer people feel able to do. Discipling someone has become the realm of the long-in-the-tooth Christian, the wise and the faithful only whereas Jesus expected that all of us would be disciples who make disciples (Matthew 28). 

Clifford's discipling of me that morning taught me a lot and every time I look at the fence post we put up I'm reminded of the lessons I learnt.

In small groups/life groups and friendships in the church, in accountability and authenticity questions and ministry apprenticing ensure that you keep an emphasis on action. Model something and let others learn from you, correct you and join in with you.

One model I've been taught to help train leaders seems also a good model for all of us interested in making more disciples:

I do - you watch - we talk
I do - you help - we talk
you do - I help - we talk
you do - I watch - we talk
you do - someone else watches - you talk

Making disciples is the call on every Christian. We can't all be counsellors, but we can all be part of a disciple making community. We can all play our part, use our gifts and look to shape and serve others for the gospel.


Monday, 4 November 2013

Wrong. 3 Years On

Every year on this day (the day of his funeral) I like to post some tribute to my dad who died of prostate cancer, not to be morbid or to make you sad but to celebrate his life and give thanks for the joy and love of life he gave me. 

So much has gone on in three years, so many things have changed and new experiences been had. It seems so strange (though this isn't the right word) to think that my dad is no longer a living part of these changes and experiences. It all feels so, well... wrong. I can't find a better word to describe the feeling other than plain old wrong. 'Wrong' when said with some force, through gritted teeth (spoken from the gut with some gusto) goes some way to convey the feeling I mean. My mum and I were discussing only yesterday how this 'wrongness' really only produces unresolvable anger if we're not careful.

We all live, rather foolishly, not ever giving any thought to the eventuality (and inevitability) of our death and for many of us when it does interrupt our lives (through the death of a loved one or some bad medical report report) it leaves us spinning and confused, angry and bitter. The truth is, and this thought has given me much comfort, that whenever my dad would have died whether now or in 40 years time I still would have felt some level of 'wrongness' and anger toward the event. Death, we feel, ought not to be part of life, it is an impostor a crasher of life's party.  

It's wrong that he's gone, because I'm still here and I always expected that while I lived and learnt he would be there to guide and teach. I never thought that the one who taught me to ride a bike wouldn't be there to go riding with. I never really thought that life would tick by just fine without him. The sun still rises and sets each day and he's not here to enjoy it and that all feels so, well... wrong.

It's wrong that he's gone, because I wanted him to watch me win the cup final. I find it strange that given our own mortality we often live our lives stacking up experience after experience and achievement after achievement without giving too much thought to where it all leads, what all our achievements achieve. It leads, of course, to an enlightened and accomplished fully rounded version of ourselves; but then what's the point of 'rounding' if there's no one there to behold the spectacle? Dad not being here to witness the 'flowering' (or perhaps 'coming of age' is a more masculine phrase) of all of my and our achievements and developments feels so, well... wrong. Who will I send the photos of my shoddy DIY to now?

It's wrong that he's gone because he loved life and worked hard in order to enjoy the 'vintage' years. He had sowed into many things and people over many years and he doesn't now get to reap the fruit of it all: The lowering of a golf handicap, the arrival of a grandchild or two or three, going on that world cruise, enjoying being debt free post mortgage, taking up that hobby, discovering that hidden trail through the woods. That a man would work for 35 years and not reap the fruit of his labours feels so, well... wrong

There are many other things about his passing that seem 'wrong' to me but those three are the key ones for me at least. Three weeks ago my sister gave birth to a beautiful baby girl that he'll never meet, ten months ago Amy gave birth to our second son that he'll never meet, Stuart's looking to buy a house that he'll never help to decorate and mum has become an amazingly accomplished and resourceful woman who doesn't burn the dinner any more... a list like this will grow and grow as long as life goes on. Going over and over it all and marking down every event and moment that he'll never be part of is it seems a meaningless thing to do. It doesn't change things it doesn't bring him back, and so why do I do it? Why do we do it? Because it's wrong and recording it all ensures that complaints against the universe get recorded down. I/we feel not only the 'loss' of dad but the injustice of his dying as well. Blogging like this and making lists like that is my way of yelling at Death 'we will have justice! You have robbed of us of life and we will not let it go!'

'But then why do I feel like this?' I ask myself. Why do I make it about more than plain 'loss', why does it feel unjust when people die or don't get from life what I feel they deserve? How is it that we can use words like 'deserve' and 'unfair' at all when talking about a randomly assigned (and undeserved) lot in life? It feels as though feelings like this betray us slightly. They are all a bizarre throw back to a belief system I thought we'd thrown off years ago as a society. Unjust, unfair words that are 'just an expression' people might say, 'it is only sentiment and feeling, it doesn't point to anything larger at all' others might protest. Perhaps. Perhaps it is just the fused thinking of an overdeveloped brain caught between evolved ape and moral creature. 

As a Christian however I would argue differently - but then we've come to expect that. I'd argue that our surprise over the wetness of water is an indication that we were destined for something other than life in a fish tank. That we were destined to a life on land. I would suggest that our disdain of death and our anger over the 'injustice' of it all is a signpost toward the truth that we were never meant to be 'ok' with it in the first place. This isn't how it was meant to be, there is hope; but then I'm not one to preach...

For this year's blog to commemorate the passing of my father I thought I'd post a list of things that remind us of him originally printed on the reverse of the order of service from his funeral. I hope in doing so it helps make vivid in our minds again the wonderful man that he was. Gone but not forgotten. Gone but not really gone. For me he's seen everyday in the mirror whenever I catch my reflection and recognised in the development of my boys, cricketers and explorers the both of them! 

Miss you dad:  
Cricket, the watching and the playing
Makeshift games and competitions (with a fully devised rule system)
Walks that include 'adventures off the beaten track'
Dining out and having to move table several times before being sufficiently satisifed that the table didn't wobble
Holidays in Italy
The Times Newspaper
Midweek football on TV and the oft quoted 'the best view in the stadium isn't in the stadium at all it's here on the sofa from my tele'
Paddington Bear for Becs
The Lord Mayor's show and other special events on TV we just 'had' to watch
Helping us with our homework
Planning school lessons with mum
Running junior squash teams
War films
Sea Kayaking
Chess and my much loved Skype games with him - he always won!
Watching us play sport
Easter hockey in Lowestof
Making Bird Boxes
The Archers
Classical music
Conn Iggulden books
A love of history
Nelson and Wellington
Films: Zulu & Waterloo
Cat Stevens
Blockbuster Epics on TV with the sub turned up so loud things fell over and broke
Telling us to 'sssh' during TV programmes
Always being ready on time
Bike rides
Golf spreadsheets
His brown leather jacket
Cricket on the radio
Family meals
Taking Becky in 'small doses'
Calling rush hour congestion 'tea-time traffic'
An enquiring mind
A hunger for knowledge
Telling us 'time will heal' (I'm not sure he was right on that one though)
An amusing fact that Dad would have enjoyed was that he died on the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar - he always did love his history!
Owch. That hurt to write.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Transformation by separation

Christian inscriptions from underground Rome

Reading recently about early Christianity and the development of the Jesus' movement into what we now know as Christianity I was provoked and challenged by the devotion of the early Christians. They were faithful to Jesus to the point of not only being misunderstood and slandered but also rejected and executed.

The early Christians, it seems, understood in a way we don't that they were a holy people a 'called out' people. A people, as 1 Peter 2 puts it, 'for the Lord's own possession'. It was clear to all in the church that their primary calling was to Christ and if that meant isolation from the culture, so be it. Devotion to their Lord against all the odds (and against all the laws) was what they were called to and as a result a chasm opened up between Christians and the populous. They met in secret, worshipped an invisible god (hence were hated as 'atheists'), held 'love feasts' attended by their brothers and sisters (some of whom were also husband & wife) and they ate the body and drank the blood of their founder (in the communion meal). They abstained from popular sport, refused to attend the games, wouldn't sacrifice to the emperor and they avoided national festivals/celebrations that involved worship/sacrifice to pagan gods. For a society saturated in gods the apparent 'aloof-ness' and distinction of the Christian god (a weak carpenter's son who was executed as a criminal) made no sense to almost everyone.
Arrogant Christians? More like divergent rebels threatening to upset the peace.

In the centuries after Jesus' resurrection Christians experienced persecution at the hands of the state and their fellow countryman. The stories from 64AD of Nero's persecution of Christians are infamous; Christians thrown to lions, burnt as torches to light up the streets and stitched into the skins of dead animals before being thrown to a pack of dogs. One writer from the time revealed the attitude toward Christians when he wrote: 'if the Tiber floods the city or if the Nile refuses to rise, or if the sky withholds its rain, if there is an earthquake, a famine, a pestilence, at once the cry is raised: 'Christians to the lions.''

Christians after the pattern of the apostle Paul set about 'infiltrating' culture with the gospel. They didn't want to live separated from society. They sought to engage the culture and inform people that despite appearances and propaganda Caesar wasn't in fact 'Lord' - Jesus was. In pluralist pagan Roman society submitting to Christ as Lord rather than Caesar, or worshipping Christ as God rather than Aesculapius or Artemis meant that you had to look and live very differently. Christians refused to offer even a pinch of incense once a year to the emperor and they suffered the reproach of all peoples for it.

They were faithful to Christ as God above all gods and Lord above all Lords. Out of commitment to Jesus as Lord they worked differently, married differently, behaved as singles differently, raised children differently. They employed differently, used their money differently, cared for others differently and they approached death differently. They embraced chastity or fidelity as the only options in sexuality in a day that was even more promiscuous than ours and they spoke out against the killing of babies at a time when it was even more socially acceptable than it is in ours. They refused to celebrate pagan festivals even if all the supermarkets were selling their goods but in so doing they peppered the world of the common people with a living example of what devotion to Christ looked like.

By and large, in an age where very few people had free access to education and the chance to exert influence this was the lot of the average Christian. It was a life of faithfulness to Christ in the face of hostility from the world around them. It was a life of influencing society at the 'grass roots' level and since society couldn't stop them or mould them into its image, over time the separation of the Christians had a transforming effect on the world of its day.

There were Christians who had the opportunity for influence in the upper echelons of society but they were the exceptions. Men like Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement of Rome, Igantius of Antioch and Origen of Alexandria petitioned emperors, argued the Christian case and defined orthodox truth. They gained a foothold on the intellectual life of the society that paved the way for change at an empire-wide level, but they were the exceptions.

I'm provoked by the example of the early Christians. As a believer I feel the temptation to try at all costs to make Christianity palatable and understood and reasonable to the world around me. I believe that trusting Jesus with every area of my life from my sex life to my financial dealings to my parenting and work ethic makes the most sense of all the facts. It is reasonable and wonderful to follow Jesus but if I'm not careful I can over emphasise the 'reasonableness' of Christian ethics, to the point that Jesus' distinctiveness and 'apart-ness' can be missed or forgotten all together. I want people to know that I'm not an unthinking superstitious 'religious person' and I want people to know as well that I'm not a pre-judging, narrow minded fundamentalist. These aren't misguided aims given the current state of things and popular attitudes to Christian faith but... I want people to know and to see that I am sold out to Christ above everything else. He comes first, his way comes first. You see, at times my heart aches with a painful longing and excitement to know him more and I want to celebrate and embrace the distinctiveness of the Christian call. I want to do it in a way that makes it clear I'm not called to 'better' living or even 'higher' living as though Christian virtue and morality was a superior way of life. I don't pursue Jesus' way in my life out of some moralistic 'my way is better than your way'. I want to embrace the radical call to separation because Jesus is alive and deserves my highest devotion, because he's won my heart, because I've become his student.

Christians - let's look like followers of Christ. Often we look and taste like everyone else (although if we're honest a little less balanced and considerate of others than our non-Christian counterparts). Does Christ command our highest devotion? Are we willing to trust him and go his way even when it stands in direct contrast to the beliefs and practises of our society? Will we uphold a biblical view of marriage, of sex, of the unborn? Will we pursue Jesus' attitude toward our finances and our desire for justice and retaliation? Will we embrace integrity and love and willingly subject ourselves to every human institution? In short, if we were to go on trial in a court of law for being a Christian, could they find enough evidence to convict us?

Let's learn from the faithfulness to Christ of our forefathers/brothers/sisters. Let's learn from them and emulate them in our day. Jesus not the media/politicians/supermarkets gets to set our priorities.