Young People don’t need Elisha – A plea from all youth workers.

Have you got what we are looking for?

There is this great story in the OT about Elisha really early on in his ministry. Elisha is on a journey up to Bethel and on route a bunch of rowdy young people highlighting his distinct lack of hair suggests that he should, for lack of a better phrasing “disappear”. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ they keep shouting no doubt with a lot of laughing and pointing at the reflective surface.

But Elisha’s response is, well a little bit harsh to be fair. I imagine him looking up at the lads (who I presume have high ground to be able to see the shiny surface so clearly) and with a grumpy face shouting something like ‘you think you’re funny do you? Huh? Well lets see who has the last laugh…’ and then as the Bears start chasing down the youth I imagine him saying ‘I may not have any hair left, but those Bears I’m commanding look pretty hairy…’

As we all know this story ends badly for the young people and what does Elisha do? He just keeps on walking. Cue the bad boy music and a slow motion gangster walk.

Clearly I have an active mind! But as someone with a similar fate seemingly coming their way, I often find myself wondering how I will respond to young people when that dreaded day finally arrives and I begin to wear hats in the summer. Let’s be honest, the hairs already migrating and the hats are being brought so the question is:

How do you respond to young people being cheeky, or challenging or just fairly random at times?

I ask this because there are many young people needing good role models and we need people who have got what it takes to work with them.

We need those who can commit time to our young people, to encourage, support, work with, invest in and champion them and we need those people now!

This is not a request for everybody, I would not have Elisha in my youth team, no matter how many axe heads he could float. This is an opportunity for those, not of a certain age, or stage in life but who love the Lord, love young people and want to work hard to provide them with the best opportunities to grow in faith, in self and in life!

If that is you, go talk to the Youth Pastor and get involved.

Persecution should not be ignored

Jean-Léon_Gérôme_-_The_Christian_Martyrs'_Last_Prayer_-_Walters_37113Picture the scene. The first Roman church gathers to read a letter from Pastor Paul. This church, a people who once called the Emperor their ruler, now live under the rule of another, a crucified Jewish prophet who claimed to have defeated death. The way they do life has changed: friends begin to see them as enemies; their discreet gatherings gradually become secret; their hope for a new tomorrow seems somewhat futile under the cruel Emperor Nero, who used Christians as human torches to light his garden parties. It’s into this reality Paul writes these words:

‘…we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.’Romans 5: 1-4

As Paul’s words were uttered into the ears of the first persecuted church I wonder how they felt hearing ‘glory in our sufferings.’ I honestly cannot begin to imagine.

I wonder sometimes if I, a Christian brought up in a Britain where my right to religious freedom is mostly protected, will ever read the words of Paul and truly understand how the first church received this promise of hope. For them suffering was real and persecution a tangible reality that went hand in hand with choosing to follow Jesus. The concept of a persecution-free life doesn’t seem to be present in their story. Yet the truth is, for those of us who chose to follow Jesus today the story hasn’t changed.

I’ve been sitting on this fact for a while now. Uncomfortable with the noise of persecution and yet the silence of the church. Unable to ignore the insanely unjust realities people have been living, most recently in Syria and Iraq; and the incredibly comfortable place I’ve been reading about it from. It makes sense that in this place of conflicting feelings and aparent powerlessness about whether I am doing enough, that I would be asked to write about how to respond and draw the young people into the discussion and make use of the events and resources of projects like International Day of Prayer (IDOP) to do so.

My response is covered in the article written for ‘Threads’  and I invite you to read it. (You can read the article here)

But if you’ve had enough of reading my brain on paper let me leave you with this thought.

You are powerful, you have a voice, it may be quiet but it’s not alone. You are (most likely) safe and free to follow Jesus if you are reading this blog, so take advantage of that freedom and speak up for our Brothers and Sisters. Don’t feel guilty about how much you do, just do something.

Here are some quality charities and resources to get you started…

IDOP (International Day of Prayer)

Open Doors Youth

Barnabas Fund

The Voice of the Martyrs 

 

 

‘A story about two gardens’

Gethsemane-Jesus-PrayingI recently spoke at my church on Mark 14:32-42 ‘Gethsemane’ and I was asked to share it. So I thought I’d resurrect the old blogging days and make it available for any interested.

So here we go:

This is a story that’s really about two gardens.

This garden story is a response to the first ever garden story.
The first garden is where sin came in,
because man gave in.

The second, this garden story,
is the restoration story.
Where the human response to temptation and sin
is ‘not my will but yours come in’.

The first thing we can learn from this passage is that Jesus, like us, understands pain and suffering,
He is not on a cloud of ignorance, but literally sweating out of fear.

‘IF THERE IS ANOTHER WAY, TAKE THIS CUP FROM ME!’

Who has ever said something like that before?

But here is the second lesson and an incredible thing,
Jesus says, ‘not my will, but yours come in’.
In the place of great pain, Jesus submits to the will of the father,
even though he knows what that means,
he is fixed on the path laid before him.

Jesus shows us that we must lean on God,
because without his grace and guidance we are lost.
But to lean on him we must break down our own wall of will and let his in.

See in the first garden, the first people put their will above God’s,
they decided they knew best and there was no cost,
They believed the lie that they could actually do life like God.
Yet the cost didn’t only effect them, it cost us, it cost God.

Choosing their will above the creators, left a crater in nature,
but that’s exactly what sin does, it tricks you into taking something that was never yours at someone else’s cost.
Be it love, be it value, be it ambition
We take the beautiful things of God, and make them grimy and lost

But in the second garden, this garden,
when faced with the same choice,
Jesus chose to submit instead of walk his own way.
This, the second garden is where our salvation was truly sealed,
where a suffering Jesus decided to trust the fathers will.

And in that single act, broke the power of the first gardens crap and showed us that for all our selfishness, God has got our back.

So what can we take away from this?

That Jesus understands suffering, yes.
That we can trust him to understand how we feel when we suffer, yes.

But also that from the first garden to this day,
the biggest problem humanities faced, is our wills fighting to take first place.

The ancient yet ever present battle of
mine verses thine.
Of my way or his way
When deep down we already know who’s way, Yahweh’s

We make this choice everyday, but which will you choose?

The fathers will or yours be done?
Because when we say your kingdom come,
In the small things and in the large,
We must follow it through with his will be done.

A story about two gardens – Audio

Dangerous memes and the attitudes they produce…

Dangerous memes and the attitudes they produce.

I watched a TED talk recently by Dan Dennett on the subject of ‘Dangerous Memes’ – a phrase developed to describe ideas transferred through words, rituals, gestures etc by Richard Dawkins. In the video the lecturer talks of the memes as toxic ideas that are not entirely bad but sometimes can become dangerous ideologies. He even argues that fighting for ‘freedom’ is the result of a meme. I felt his reflections where honest and I would be ignorant to say he didn’t have a good point…

I also recently red an article by Aussie Rugby player David Pocock who speaks of his faith in Jesus and desire to support the oppressed, including those who are ‘sexually oppressed’, as his expression of following Jesus. I felt his article was very honest and after reading it I did the usual ‘check the comments below’. For the record, checking the comments is never a good idea if you are passionate about integrity. People always seem to use the comments box to ‘get one over’ or rant at the writer and the other readers views. It seems that the comment box is helping bring to light what ‘dangerous memes’ are really out there.

I think the comment box has shown that sometimes we just don’t get it. We focus our fight on the wrong things, on making things kosher on paper (or blog), but we do not worry so much about whether it brings life and hope. We are NOT the judge, we are NOT above reproach, we are NOT better then anybody else. Yet it seems we get these ideas in our head, we hear them from other people and they resonate with our fears or stereotypes, and so we call them truth. Loosely link them to verses, abstracted from their contexts and because this idea is fully formed in our minds, to question them, well thats to question scripture, or God.

Did Jesus come to give us a set of ideas that we would retain as information, a sort of knowledge based STD? Or did Jesus show us a way of life that takes away the role of judge from a broken people and gives us all freedom to be like him, Loving God and Loving people, unconditionally? I think it’s the second and I think many would agree, but to be honest, the first is our default position in church. In the video a key example used of a dangerous meme is Islam but I wonder if he only uses Islam to give Christianity a break from being the obvious example of a dangerous meme.

Please don’t  misunderstand here. I still do not know where I stand on any of the issues raised in the video and the article and I am not advocating their opinions as ‘right’ over any others. What I am arguing is that anything good can be hijacked by our fears and become dangerous. If you are passionate about marriage today and struggle with the idea of homosexual marriage how are you going to react to it? Are you going to reject people, take a moral high ground and claim your idea is better, or are you going to love people unconditionally, be honest about your thoughts, but acknowledge them as thoughts and journey together to better understand the thoughts of everyone and their reasons?

This is a little harsh, but would those who have homophobic tendencies be racist in the time of slavery? No you say, but I’m not so sure, if society rejects something, it is easy to reject it, if society accepts something it is easy to live within the the social norm. As followers of Jesus we are called to be the light in the world. The light is not a fire that burns the darkness it is a gentle warmth that eradicates it.

I wonder what you think? Watch the video and read the article and then ask yourself this question: Do I stand for what is right when I fight things or do I have some dangerous memes in my closet?

I know I have some.

Links

Memes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meme

Dan Dennet Video: http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_dennett_on_dangerous_memes.html

David Pocock article: http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2011/12/02/3382170.htm

Spontaneously Professional

The End is Nigh As I come to the end of 5 years in my current role It is only right that I get all philosophical, sit outside somewhere, put on a white toga (A greek mans excuse to where a dress, lets not pretend its anything else) and question everything I have done up until now. “Very Socratic of you” I hear you say…. …To be honest I didn’t get very far, it was a little cold and unlike Eddy Izzard, I just can’t pull off a dress.

In my short time of reflection however I did think about something a friend brought up and that is ‘Professionalism’ and ‘Spontaneity’ in the Church. I personally have had a tendency for the spontaneous and definitely started my ministry with the view that the church is not a business and there is no room for 5 year plans in the kingdom; especially as the main plan for me has always been about seeing Revelation 21 in the here and now. However as time has passed I have become much more methodical and have landed in what I would see as the middle ground. Its sad really, when I think back, so many of my disagreements with people in church have been about organisation and whether or not I am being professional or spontaneous enough. Some would say that: ‘Without organisation the Church will fail’ and others would say: ‘Organisation stifles the Spirit and is the work of the people, not God’. What is really going here, I think, is a subconscious ‘Professionalism’ VS ‘Spontaneity’ battle, the two are not being seen as partners but rivals and become polar opposites. People then tend to choose which side of the fence they feel more comfortable sitting on. But when we do this, I think we are doing the Church a disservice. The Church needs both Spontaneity and professionalism.

Partners

The Church is getting it, I think, when the Spirit of God is breathing through the people who, are the Church. The spirit inspires, develops and shapes us whilst developing our gifts, such as, for some, is the gift of organisation (praise God for these people in my life!); and the spirit must be free to flow through us and through our traditional and funky church models. If we set out rigorous guidelines and detailed 5 year plans, we can easily squeeze the spirit out of the Church, after all we do have the free will to reject God  and do things our own way (thats a scary thought…). Likewise if we stick up our V’s to the structures and organisers in our church, we can just as easily make things ‘spontaneous’ and actually end up making a structure of spiritual blagging which looks good to those who feel comfortable in it, but ultimately is just as bad for the church as its counterpart.

Final thoughts

I think we need to pick up our bibles and read Gods story, there is plenty of spirit and organisation and they come under the same banner and work together to see the Kingdom of Heaven come, If anyone says otherwise, I would probably hazard a guess their not reading it the good book the right way up. We also need to make sure that our view on how we do church does not become more important than the reason we are called to be church. If we stand on one side of the fence and critique the other we will only cause division, but if we learn to work with the spirit whilst aiming to be professional in what we do, surely the only result is an impressive kindgom focused body that people are drawn to…what a thought…

What the papers have missed – Yousef Nadarkhani

Hi,

I can blog, speak, sing and live my life as a follower of Jesus with literally no worries of being arrested, threatened or even made fun of most of the time (apathy can be handy)…but on this planet of ours there are brothers and sisters, who know what it means to really ‘carry a cross’. Brothers and Sisters, who because of societal laws are unable to simply follow what they feel is right.

One such man is Yousef Nadarkhani. Who I think is an amazing man. He is a Pastor in Iran and is currently on his way to the noose unless he rebukes his conversion to Christianity. I have so much respect for Yousef, the religious authorities accused him of Apostasy (for which the sentence is death) and the way he replied was so integral and gutsy.

The most frustrating thing about this case is it is not just a religious issue, IRAN has signed the ‘International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’ which clearly states in article 18:

‘Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.’

What is crazy is that this news is not in mainstream media. It should be, but it’s not. So I wonder if this man will get enough external support to be free to live as he feels is right.

Some helpful ways to engage

I hope that like me you want to do something to force this situation towards good, so here are a few emails you send your concerns to and politely remind certain people of their commitments:

Iran at UN
iran@un.int

UK Iranian Embassy
info@iran-embassy.org.uk

Ayatollah Ali Khameini, Supreme Leader of Iran
http://www.leader.ir/langs/en/index.php?p=letter
Some other links:

http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/ccpr.htm

http://www.inspiremagazine.org.uk/news.aspx?action=view&id=5495

http://www.mohabatnews.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2286:iran-annuls-death-term-for-yousef-nadarkhani&catid=36:iranian-christians&Itemid=279

Heaven, Hell and the fate of everyones earthly life if you miss the point.

Hi.

So Rob Bell writes a book, loads of people attack him, another load of people attack the people attacking him, then another load of people choose to join in on the side of which they are most comfortable; and then a smaller group of people sit in the middle of the two camps and try to draw on the different points being made by the different camps of thought, whilst trying to remind the people in the camps that whether you agree or not with the different thoughts, disagree in love (I love these people so much, because of them we are avoiding some pointless divisions based of theological preference).

On ‘Love Wins’ and the ‘responses’
I’ve read the book, I don’t agree with everything written. I’ve read the arguments for and against, I don’t agree with everything written. However I must admit I am drawn to support team ‘Bell’ more then team ‘Hell’ (see what I did there?). Not on the basis of what is being said by that camp, but on the way in which it is being said. It would seem that the biggest issue of the people against Bell, is based around the fact that without Medieval interpretation on Hell there is nothing to fear. I may be wrong here, but the responses to Bell seem to be so focused around the need to keep an image of Hell that is fire filled and full of suffering in a human understanding of the word, for the ‘naughty people’ who don’t say ‘I accept Jesus into my heart’, come to church and tithe etc. What would we do if we couldn’t scare people to love God?!

I joke. sort of. The problem is both camps use the bible, both think the bible has all the answers (to varying degrees) yet they don’t agree. I wonder if this is what happens when we forget the Bible is a book of God’s interaction with HUMAN people, whom are trying to interpret the ‘unfathomable creator’ to the creation. Here I would like to point to revelation where John is basically struggling to describe what he sees… Maybe the answers we are looking for on Hell, are not as important as the mission that God, in my opinion, is calling us into.

Whats really important?
So Hell, eternal (literal medieval, dante stuff) or not (literal Gehenna), there is a choice. To step into the story of God in which we were created for, which is about the way we live and the way we speak and most importantly the way we love, or to reject it which is to live in Hell, now and until who knows (because we don’t fully know, sort of like a cloudy picture in a mirror…hmm I’ve heard that before). And as Bell says:

‘We are free to resist, reject, and rebel against God’s ways for us. We can have all the hell we want’

So what should we really focus on?
Good question. How about following Jesus. Living a life in which all our ways reflect Jesus to the best of our abilities. Speaking truth over people. That God is Love, that God wants to spend this life and forever with us, bringing out of us the potential He put in us, and that we can reject it, but we will regret it, because this God made us and our very being is from him, to reject it is to reject life.

Does that sound ok? I think that if we (regardless of what camp we sit in) would just focus on the above, maybe the world wouldn’t see such an ‘ugly bride’, but the Church of Jesus. I often think we like to talk about this stuff more then do it and it often feels like people talk about it instead of doing it. The Church is Gods best plan for the world. 2 Billion people claim to follow Jesus in this world. Thats 1/3 of the world. 1/3 of the world believes Jesus is the answer to all that is wrong in the world; like poverty, like injustice, like rape, like cheating, like unethical banking, like debt, like abuse, like living for money, like consumerism, like dodgy politics, like selfish gain….thats just a rant list, you know all the rest. There is 1/3 of the world’s population, who if they really practiced what they preached, we would see more then a few charities doing good, we would see every person get the chance to have the best life God wants to give us all, BECAUSE the CHURCH would not spend so much time huddled in the changing rooms chatting about it.

I know this isn’t easy and I fail at this because I am selfish, I am lazy, I like the easy way, but thats not what we are called to, we are called to carry our cross, which I would argue isn’t just our failures, its the failures we see and can change. I want to take this challenge seriously and although it is hard, it is our role on earth. Not to scare people away from Hell but invite them into the life of Heaven, through our actions and then words, through seeking where the spirit is at work and stepping into it.

THE NOW REALLY IS ABOUT THE NOW AND THE NOT YET, THE NOT YET IS NOT YET, THE NOW IS NOW, SO LETS FOCUS ON THE NOW….AND THE NOT YET.

So if you disagree, bless you and I want to say I love you anyway and I will encourage you to use whatever understanding you have of Heaven and Hell etc, to love this world into the new one, the revelation 21 stuff!

Shalom.