Tuesday, 17 June 2014

A Promise To All

There is an attitude in the mind of the Christian that needs to be dealt with. It's an 'us' and 'them' that divides the church into two groups - the clergy and the laity/the professionals and the amateurs (or producers and consumers!). 

It isn't a healthy or biblical way to think and not 'killing it' disables us from living an effective Christian life and it robs the church of its power. 

Jesus said 'my sheep hear my voice and they follow me'. All of us in the same camp/category, all of us 'sheep'.

In John 15, speaking to his disciples, he said:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 
Every Christian is a disciple and every disciple is called to 'abide' in Jesus. Abiding (some translations use the word remain) is an ongoing and conscious relating to Jesus, fellowshipping with him and drawing from him as your life source everyday. 

The promise we're given is that as we do this, we will bear much fruit and not only a high quantity of fruit but quality fruit - fruit that will last. Here, from the mouth of Jesus, is a statement affirming that we have all been called ('taken hold of' by Christ) in order that we would all produce good fruit - fruit being Christian character and behaviour that results in the kingdom of God being more fully present on earth.

Every disciple of Jesus is a fruit-bearing disciple. There is no favouritism in God's family, all of us occupy the position of branch in the vine, all of us need to remain attached to the vine if we're to do what we want to do and have been commissioned by Jesus to do.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Signs of Life

                                                                                                                green shoots 

This past week I've had two encouraging moments as a missionary that I wanted to share. 

I love Jesus and I love his church, and I really want to help make it easier for non-churched, non-Jesus loving people to fall in love them as well. For a long time in church we have been committed to the vision of 'every member ministry' (priesthood of all believers) but what I want churchfolk to see and be reminded of is that we also believe just as passionately in 'every member missionary' - as in Jesus' words in Acts 1 '...you will be my witnesses'.

For a while now we've stressed the words that come immediately before that statement of Jesus' 'when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be my witnesses.' but not part about being witnesses. The trouble is that by doing so we have inadvertently created a 'wait until you experience a rushing-of-power-and-boldness-upon-you, and then go and be my witnesses' mentality. That may be a little unfair, but it may not be. A lot of them time it's meant that we remain immobilised believing that there's another experience to be had before we're fully trained to be effective witnesses. 

Here's the two stories I've been encouraged by:

1) Community engagement. 

I moved to Seaford 18 months ago and have slowly been trying to get to know unchurched people. I've attended sports clubs, I run a pub quiz at my local and I've befriended my neighbours, even establishing a regular chess night with one of them (I know, I'm wild). But recently I've leafleted the area I live in (with the help of one of my unchurched neighbours) and invited the area to join us each Sunday afternoon for volleyball and family games on the rec. I did it as a neighbour, not a as a christian, and not as a church leader. 

Last Sunday we had our first gathering and it went really well. Plenty of people came out (around 40) for games. It was great to see the field buzzing with life. All we did was befriend and play sport but it was brilliant - I loved it. I spoke to more non-believers in an afternoon than I had done in a month and several of them thanked me for putting it on, they appreciated the chance to meet people. 

I'm a missionary, so that's what I think I should do. I care about the place I live, the people I live around and I pray - how can I gain a footing into their lives to befriend them, share life with them and where possible share Jesus with them.

A few days after that Amy was with one of our neighbours who came. The lady was very open about church (she brought it up), saying that she'd really like to come along some time... I was encouraged to hear that.

2) Prophetic engagement.

This is fresh. Yesterday on training with some gap year students we walked into town with the express purpose of finding people to pray and share Jesus with. This isn't my natural sphere of mission and I was nervous, I was hanging back as we walked in and I was ever so slightly hoping that no one would notice if I slipped off into a coffee shop. 

Before going in to town I asked God to give me some ideas of who I should be looking for. I wrote down 'man with black baseball cap reversed, limp, hedge and wire fence' along with another more random clue. I walked through the town looking for someone who matched that description but didn't find anyone. Ever so slightly disappointed and if I'm honest, more than a little relieved, we headed home. Walking back we passed a skatepark. Having stopped there the group leader gave the invitation 'why doesn't someone preach a mini sermon to the skaters and then we'll chat to them?' No one volunteered. Some bright spark then announced 'Jez will do it!' to which I promptly replied 'no I won't... but I'll go and speak them.'

I sat down with a group of skaters, told them I was a Christian and offered to pray for any sicknesses. No one was sick so instead we just had a conversation about faith, and their reasons for not having any. After a while I said to the guy I was speaking to 'are you sure you don't have anything I can pray for?' and he told me he had a bad knee, a problem he'd had all his life. It was then that it dawned on me. He had a black baseball cap turned backwards, a bad leg (limp?), and when I looked up saw that he was sitting in front of a hedge with a wire fence behind it. Not a little encouraged I prayed for him and then I told him about the 'clues' I'd written down before coming out. He and the whole group with him reacted with huge surprise and plenty of 'no way!'s. They reacted like something off a magic show on TV, I felt like David Blaine. 'And for my next trick...'

I then told him that 'if nothing else, know this - God loves you and knows your name, he cares about you.'

We left the park with him saying 'if this works (my prayer), I'm going to come find you...' 

Maybe he will, or maybe he'll just give God another chance, or perhaps visit a local church for the first time.

God loves people and is looking for followers who'll love them too. These two stories are green shoots of encouragement for me and I hope they encourage you too. Tom Wright gave some good advice on what being a missionary looks like in a video I saw recently. He told us to: 
"Soak yourself in the scriptures much more than you're doing... soak yourself in prayer and listen hard to the cries of pain that are coming, whether from your neighbours or from people living on the other side of the world."
Love God, love people and live like a missionary whether in your home, your place of work, your school or your sports club. Every member of Jesus' church is a witness to the resurrection and a missionary sent into the world, not just the specialists.

Friday, 6 June 2014

The Material World Vs Elfland

Beware the dehumanising materialism of men like Richard Dawkins. That is all.

Yesterday there was a flurry of activity again as he 'came out' against... fairy tales. Yes Richard is now trying to topple beanstalks and rescue fair maidens from dragons. Articles with tag lines like 'reading fairy stories to children is harmful, says Richard Dawkins' flooded social medias. Well it just happened that this morning I came to the next chapter in a book I'm reading that explores the value of fairy stories. The chapter is entitled 'The Ethics of Elfland' and it appears in 'Orthodoxy' by G K Chesterton, an influential writer and thinker in the early part of the 20th Century.

The reason Dawkins has a problem with fairy stories is ultimately because of a belief on his part about what makes us fundamentally human. For him fairy stories and tales of the supernatural are a throw back to an era in human history when we were less evolved and advanced. For him we need to throw off all and any belief in supernatural activity if we are ever going to fully mature as a species.

Here's a few quotes from the chapter:
On the power of fairy stories to teach us valuable lessons more effectively than anything else can
There is the chivalrous lesson of 'Jack the Giant Killer'; that giants should be killed because they are gigantic. It is a manly mutiny against pride as such. For the rebel is older than all kingdoms, and the Jacobin has more tradition than the Jacobite. There is the lesson of 'Cinderella', which is the same as that of the Magnificat-exaltavit humiles. There is the great lesson of 'Beauty & the Beast'; that a thing must be loved before it is loveable. There is the terrible allegory of the 'Sleeping Beauty', which tells how the human creature was blessed with all birthday gifts, yet cursed with death; and how death also may perhaps be softened to a sleep. But I am not concerned with any of the seperate statues of elfland, but with the whole spirit of its law, which I learnt before I could speak, and shall retain when I cannot write. I am concerned with a certain way of looking at life, which was created in me by the fairy tales, but has since been meekly ratified by the mere facts.
He then goes on to say
As I put my head over the hedge of the elves and began to take notice of the natural world, I observed an extraordinary thing. I observed that learned men in spectacles were talking of the actual things that happened - dawn and death and so on - as if they were rational and inevitable. They talked as if the fact that trees bear fruit were just as necessary as the fact that two and one trees make three. But it is not.
Chesterton's point is that there is no required link between what we see and why we see it. Scientists may call it the 'law' of gravity but used in that sense it is no more a law than the 'law' that 'blowing the horn brings down the ogre's castle'. It is simply that we (just as the witch) has seen the one follow the other so many times we can 'count on it'. But that is exactly his point again. We cannot 'count' on it we can only 'bet' on it.

on laws of science
If there is a law that pick-pockets shall go to prison, it implies that there is an imaginable mental connection between the idea of prison and the idea of picking pockets. And we know what the idea is. We can say why we take liberty from a man who takes liberties. But we cannot say why an egg can turn into a chicken any more than we can say why a bear could turn into a fairy prince. As ideas, the egg and the chicken are further off each other than the bear and the prince; for no egg in itself suggests a chicken, whereas some princes do suggest bears.
...it is not a necessity for though we can count on it happening practically, we have no right to say that it must always happen.... we do not count on it, we bet on it.
For me this next bit is where it starts to really hit home as I think he explains more adequately the human condition than a strict materialist reading of things ever could.
A forlorn lover might be unable to dissociate the moon from lost love; so the materialist is unable to dissociate the moon from the tide. In both cases there is no connection, except that one has seen them together. A sentimentalist might shed tears at the smell of apple-blossom, because, by a dark accoiation of his own, it reminded him of his boyhood. So the materialist professor (though he conceals his tears) is yet a sentimentalist, because, by a dark association of his own, apple-blossoms remind him of apples. But the cool rationalist from fairyland does not see why, in the abstract, the apple tree should not grow crimson tulips; it sometimes does in his country
and this is bang on
Just as we all like love tales because there is an instinct of sex, we all like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment. This is proved by the fact that when we are very young children we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales - because they find them romantic...
...nursery tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to makes us remember, for one wile moment, that they run with water.
So take away fairy stories and you won't kill the imagination and astonishment of children or even the belief in super-nature or transcendence. You will however squash our humanity into something that looks more like a machine than a man. A good friend of mine recently spoke on this and pointed out that were you to reduce a human being down only to his scientific components and elements you could buy him in a shop for a matter of pounds. Yet we know, instinctively we do, that human beings are worth far more than that.

To understand our 'worth' we need something more akin to a fairy story than a science book.

I think that one reply article I saw summed it up with the headline: Reading books by Richard Dawkins is harmful for adults.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The Unreported War

In many parts of the world Christianity is being violently and systematically eradicated, and so few of the stories make it into our headlines. Below are some quotes and statistics about it.

As I come across articles or information about the persecution of Christians I intend to publish it here. If it interests you at all, please pop back from time to time. It is my hope that this acts both as a way of documenting & raising awareness, about what has been described in The Spectator as the greatest war never reported on, that is the war of anti-Christian persecution raging in many parts of the globe.

It was brought to my attention when I read a 99p ebook from Amazon entitled The Silence of Our Friends. I have typed up several stand out quotes and key ideas from the book here in case anyone's interested in a summary. This began a series of 'eye opening' discoveries about something that receives so little media coverage.

To start with, here's a quote from the afore mentioned article:
According to the International Society for Human Rights, a secular observatory based in Frankfurt, Germany, 80 per cent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians. Statistically speaking, that makes Christians by far the most persecuted religious body on the planet. 
It also mentions the statistic that Christians face persecution in 139 (nearly three quarters) of the world's countries.

On Monday 2nd June The Times ran a column (on page 26 in the opinions section) in which it mentioned the following statistic:
Despite Britain's Christian heritage we are now one of the least religious countries on earth. Our secular consciences are pricked when we read about the horror of a woman being shackled during childbirth on death row in Sudan, but we are less alive to the global reality that ours is an age of growing attacks on fundamental religious freedoms.  
The writer is referring to the ongoing story of Meriam Ibrahim. Religious freedom ought to bother us whether we're religious or not. Canada's government recently created an 'office for religious freedom' because, it said 'religious freedom is the canary in the coal mine for other freedoms. When it goes, other freedoms are sure to follow.'

The Open Doors charity provides a map and list of the 27 countries where Christians face 'severe persecution':

The mosts severe being North Korea where an estimated 50,000 Christians have been sent to labour camps for failing to renounce their faith.

The Times column continues:
A century ago a quarter of the Middle East's population was Christian. Now, after the Iraq, Afghanistan and Syrian wars and after extremist Islamic groups gained power during the Arab Spring, only 10 per cent is. 
From Ed West's The Silence of Our Friends:
Since the removal of Saddam life for Christians in Iraq has become considerably worse with one church leader describing it as 'a Calvary'. At least 71 churches have been bombed since the invasion including 44 assaults in Baghdad and 19 in Mosul as well as attacked on two convents a monastery and a Christian orphanage. In Jan. '08 nine churches were bombed. Up to 1000 Christians have been murdered because of their faith, including 17 priests and one bishop.
And a story to conclude this morning's updates with:

Adam Udai 3 Yr old victim of massacre
The worst single atrocity took place on October 31, 2010, when gunmen attacked the Syriac Catholic cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad at the end of Mass, killing 56 worshippers. The five-hour ordeal began when terrorists wearing suicide belts came through a hole they'd blown in the door, chanting 'God is great'. Um Raed, who lost two of her sons, one a priest, told Sunday Times journalists Hala Jaber and Christine Toomey that she saw 27-year-old Fr Wasim Sabieh pleading with the terrorists to stop: 'They shot him through the moutg, then again in the chest, shouting 'we've killed an infidel'.' She then turned around and saw her own son stumbling on the altar, gasping 'God, to theee I commend my soul'. She said: 'I saw his blood spill across the floor. I feel to my knees and started rubbing my hand through his blood. they shot me too. They shot my hand in my son's blood." the terrorists then shot her other son, who was with his wife and child. Among the congregation was three-year-old Adam Udai, who had begged one of the terrorists to 'please stop' and was summarily murdered.
The above incident was reported here on the BBC News website: www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east

To be continued...

Monday, 2 June 2014

Aliens & Strangers

Do you remember the film the Flight of the Navigator? In it a young boy discovers a space craft in the woods, goes for a flight in it and upon returning learns that he's been missing for a long time. Years have gone by and his family have all but given him up as dead. His once family home is now owned by another family and everyone he knew has aged considerably and built their lives without him in it. Imagine returning from a trip to discover that everything you knew and loved had changed, that you no longer belonged to that place. You no longer fit in and are very aware of the fact.

Increasingly I feel like that. 

I don't understand the society I live in and so few people seem alarmed by the same things I am. Now I don't pretend to understand politics, I don't really get how our system of government works - perhaps someone could help me here? - but today I saw a newspaper headline that only confirmed for me all the more that, I don't belong here. 

Two weeks ago we went to the polls to vote for who we want to represent us in Europe. There's been a lot of fuss over the European elections for sometime. From what I can make out, it seems we (the British public) feel strongly because we've (the British leaders) given away power to an unelected president who signs off on laws that we in England have so little say about. Ok, I think I understand why that bit's important. The trouble is that from what I've seen the laws that have been made are largely to do with trading and meat packaging (less worth all the stress?). Actually I think the main reason people feel so strongly about the European elections is because of immigration, right? A lot of people feel very strongly about how many (more accurately 'how few') people from other countries should be allowed into ours. Control our borders, keep Britain British etc. 

A lot of strong feeling and a national vote. 

What I don't understand and what upsets me so much is that I read in the papers today (actually only one ran it/thought it a newsworthy item) that midwives have now been given greater powers when it comes to aborting unwanted pregnancies. The abortion laws have been loosened and only one paper ran it as a story. That upsets me. It upsets me that it's happened and it upsets me that we, the people don't ever get to vote or express our opinion via the polls on something as evocative an issue as abortion. In the States the voters could tell you which party is pro life/choice and they often form their voting mind around issues like that and gun control - matters of life and death. 

Every year in the UK 200 000 babies are never given the chance at life. I know this is a minefield of an issue to raise but I'll raise it all the same. It has been made easier, as of today, because of the new policy, to take the life of an unwanted baby. 

What I am also upset about and perplexed by is how the redefinition of marriage took place so swiftly, again without any chance for us to vote or speak out. There were lobby groups for sure, but by then the government were convinced this was a 'Lincoln Moment' akin to abolishing slavery, that lobbyists stood little chance. Ever since humanity had marriage it was always heterosexual, monogamous and lifelong and it was the centre for family life for procreation and a force for good in society. It got redefined for all subsequent generations (and lost its real definition) without us ever going to the polls. 

As a country we're concerned to make sure we vote to 'keep them out' but we're never given the chance to vote about matters that really matter, and that upsets me. I read recently this article here about a Christian baker in the States who is being forced (legally) to bake a cake in celebration of a same sex wedding and I wonder how long it'll be until we have stories like it of our own. It bothers me because I believe the Canadians are right that 'religious freedom is the canary in the coal-mine of other freedoms' as detailed here

I'm not into gay-bashing, of course I'm not and I'm not into heaping guilt on people who've had abortions, of course I'm not - but I would like a say about the really important issues in society.

I haven't paid too much attention to the goings on in the world and I admit that has been wrong, especially as a Christian. Now that I have, I'm saddened by what I see. A country that resembles less and less of its heritage and history. A country of increasingly independent minded, proud, morally liberal and easily placated by entertainment people (I speak as one with the poison in his own veins). 

It's as though I've returned home only to realise that this really isn't my home. 

By following Jesus and accepting him as the true leader (or Aragon like 'Returned King') I'm aware that I've separated myself from the world around me, become something of an anomaly (or 'religious freak' for the less guarded). I know that this makes me less liked and less understood by the people who write the news and teach our children. I know all this and I know that my Christian forbears and contemporaries have lost their lives because of such a difference (and I'm thankful I'm not threatened with that in this country!). I know. I'm just upset. 

I feel a burden to learn more, to listen more and to try and understand how we got here. 

I'm serious. Articles, links and lessons on how our country is governed and why would be gratefully read and received. 

Rant over :)