[un]conscious-stream[ing]

Psalm 144:4 Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow.

Category Archives: challenge

Worship

I have heard so many times, increasingly more recently “letʼs worship together” or “weʼre going to have a time of worship”, before a congregation sings together and the term ʻworship setʼ used to refer to the songs that are going to be sung.
It seems there is a narrowing of the scope of ʻworshipʼ, there seems to be an idea creeping in to Christian consciousness that worship = singing; and only that.
It may just be lazy use of words or sloppy terminology, but if we arenʼt careful, we will start forgetting the importance of ʻworshipʼ being a way of living, not just the songs we sing together.

The first use of the word ʻworshipʼ in the bible is in Genesis 22, verse 5, when Abraham “said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
This is before the ʻsacrificeʼ of Isaac, I donʼt imagine Abraham was referring to him and Isaac going off and singing a hymn together, there is more evidence that Abraham was referring to the act of sacrifice he was about to undertake.

The second use of the word is in Genesis 24, it is used in response to generosity from Rebekah to Isaacʼs servant. It says in verse 26 & 27: “Then the man bowed down and worshiped the LORD, saying, “Praise be to the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the LORD has led me on the journey to the house of my masterʼs relatives.”

This is very clearly a prayer, a prayer of spoken worship.

Through the Exodus story, Moses constantly asks Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go (out of Egypt) so they could ‘worship God’. Clearly this is more than just singing, they could easily do that in Egypt. The worship was going to be a complete separation of the people from their oppressors and the toxic culture of Egypt, a time to truly worship God. The worship was to include sacrifice and burnt offerings to God (Exodus 10:25) and maybe other things, even Moses says to Pharaoh in v 26 “until we get there we will not know what we are to use to worship the LORD”.

Many of the references to worship in Genesis and Exodus include ʻbowing downʼ, a symbol consistently used to show reverence and deference to someone of higher authority or to indicate humility.

It is very rare in the scriptures that the word ʻworshipʼ is coupled with singing, not that I am saying that singing isnʼt worship, only Iʼm advocating a much wider use of the word than the narrow term that it seems to be becoming.

Worship breaks down to ʻworthʼ ʻshipʼ – the act of giving something ʻworthʼ, holding something in high esteem or honour and most of the references in the Old Testament refer to one Hebrew word ʻshachahʼ – meaning to bow / fall down / reverence / stoop. It has a wide range of possible meanings but all seem to point to putting yourself in a humble position and lifting up someone or something else. Incidentally, the other word that only occurs in Daniel, translated as worship (KJV) is ʻcgidʼ and has a very specific meaning – to ʻfall down / prostrate yourselfʼ.

The Old Testament definition of worship seems to be completely tied up in, putting something or somebody else above yourself and sometimes above anything else.

Obviously this is relevant and appropriate when thinking about our relationship with God but not always with other things.
The most common Greek word in the New Testament for worship is ʻproskuneoʼ, meaning reverance, to adore, to fall prostrate before, followed by less frequent but still very common ʻsebomaiʼ – to be devout and ʻdoxaʼ, meaning glory, honour or praise.
Again, no mention of singing in any of these uses. Donʼt get me wrong, Iʼm all in favour of singing, I think itʼs an important part of worship, but it doesnʼt seem sensible to refer to worship exclusively as singing when biblically, worship seems to be about a whole way of living and an attitude or posture toward God (when spoken of positively) or other things (when warned against).

Someone once said: “everything is an act of worship, you just choose what you are worshipping”.

I think thatʼs broadly true, we make choices daily what we are holding up as most important. It changes throughout the day and in different seasons of life, for some of us, most of the time itʼs God, and for some others, God gets worshipped very infrequently, perhaps only one day a week when we join others to worship.

Of course, Iʼm no better than anyone else, I need to point the finger at myself more than anyone else. I often worship myself above God – looking after my own needs, desires, vanity before I look to God. I often put technology in a position higher than God, preferring to answer emails or do other things on the computer / phone than focus on my Father in heaven. Some of us put our health or appearance up as an object of worship, some of us houses or cars, holidays, other humans… the list could go on and on.

I think that it is really significant that an act of sacrifice was the first event referred to as worship in the Bible.
Abraham was asked to worship God by sacrificing the thing most precious to him, the thing he had invested everything in, his son Isaac. What is more, it is crucial that we see how Abraham was absolutely prepared to go through with it. God said to him “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore… …and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me”. For believing God, and that being credited to him as righteousness, Abraham was known as a friend of God.

Could I, in the same way, be classed as Godʼs friend? I know I would have failed Abrahamʼs test, I canʼt imagine ever being able to get even close to agreeing to deliberately harm my son or daughter. However, we are called to make sacrifices, we are called to put nothing above God in the things we give worth to, the things we worship. More than that, worship really needs to be a whole approach to life, not just the singing we do together when we meet.

Romans 12:1-2 says it all, more succinctly than I could.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of Godʼs mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what Godʼs will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Live life in a way that puts God at the top in every thought, word and action, thatʼs a life where your whole body is a ʻliving sacrificeʼ, thatʼs a life dedicated to loving God with ʻall your heart, soul, mind and strengthʼ.

Colossians 3:23-24 puts the idea of ʻlife as an act of worshipʼ into context for us: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

For me, too much of the time it is purely aspirational, but through Godʼs grace and the power of His spirit working in us, we can slowly move towards that idea for it to become more of a reality.

Life is an act of worship, not just singing. It might include a fair bit of singing, but please, lets not allow it to stop there and lets not make the mistake of subconsciously accepting that by using lazy language.

This first appeared as an article in the Endeavour Magazine December 2012 Edition (though the language was ancientified by the editor)

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For Christians Only

For over 2000 years, the Jesus story has inspired people, spilling over into art, culture, music and many of our institutions, but today’s culture sees it only as part of our history, something to be escaped from, not part of our present to be embraced.

Our job as contemporary Jesus followers is to re-imagine, re-paint, re-compose, re-inspire the next generation by not only describing but displaying the complete and concrete relevance that this story still holds.

It’s time to re-tell the Jesus story in language that today’s ‘post-Christian’, ‘developed west’ can understand as original and vibrant, without allowing it to slip into just another self-help or health & wealth corporate branding message.

The question is how?

The future of our churches is held not just in the hands of the current generation of believers, but also those of the young people who grow up in contact with those believers, be that in our homes, in our youth programmes or just in our neighbourhoods – young people who are exposed to the goodness of Jesus by the things that we do.

One of the problems is that the young people of today are very different to the young people of 30 years ago and vastly different from the young people of 60 years ago.
Not only can this lead to differences of opinion and conflict but, more fundamentally, it gives rise to a completely different perspective and worldview.

Today’s young people are brought up on (sometimes even by) technology. We think nothing of seeing a 2-year-old successfully navigating their way round an iPad, iPhone, ‘cbeebies’ or ‘milkshake’!
The young people of 30 years ago are the ones that watched the workstation become a personal computer and begin its inexorable march into our homes and take its vice-like grip on our lives.
The young people of 60 years ago are mostly still trying to understand which button to press to answer the mobile phone or why the page on the computer screen they were looking at has suddenly disappeared, seemingly for no reason.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many iPad grannies around and plenty of tech-savvy over 70s along with innovative and progressive over 40s, but the mindset of today’s young people, broadly speaking, differs immensely.

I thoroughly recommend Shane Hipps‘ books “The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture” and “Flickering Pixels” if you want to understand the changing face of media, just how much media has shaped our lives and how electronic media is shaping the lives of our young people. I would also recommend Gerard Kelly‘s book “Get a Grip on the Future without Losing Your Hold on the Past” as a really good rounded view of changing cultures.

My point is that if, as followers of Jesus, we don’t adapt and change and constantly re-imagine the way we share the incredible, impactful message of God’s love, our churches will wither and die, not because the underlying message is changing but because the ‘same-old, same-old’ approach that today’s young people view as archaic and irrelevant is inaccessible and uninspiring.

That isn’t to say that today’s young people are not passionate about things, it would be wrong to say that today’s young people are not engaged in or concerned with social justice, poverty relief, overcoming injustice and freeing the oppressed (incidentally all the things that Jesus was passionate about and got killed for, see Luke 4:18-19). These problems are close to many young people’s hearts, only, over many years, they haven’t seen enough of the people in the church(es) going about acting this out significantly.

Today’s young people are less interested in what the people in the church say they believe and more interested in observing how the people in the church behave.

They are interested in seeing people who say they are ‘followers’ of Jesus actually following Jesus, i.e. living in a way that honours him and displays him to others.

“Indeed, a quick glance around this broken world makes it painfully obvious that we don’t need more arguments on behalf of God; we need more people who live as if they are in covenant with Unconditional Love, which is our best definition of God.”
Robin R. Meyers, from ‘Saving Jesus from the Church’

There’s always been a lot of talk in the church (take that to encompass any denomination, sect and community) but there hasn’t always been a lot of action, reaffirming people’s underlying view that the church is often no different from the world – just a place for empty rhetoric and endless flavours of ‘church’ to sample to see if it suits me. It ends up catering for consumer Christians, but we don’t need more consumers:

“This is a world long on options, short on substance, offering an unprecedented array of goods & experiences but little that is rooted in the permanent or meaningful”
(Gerard Kelly – ‘Get a grip on the future without losing hold of your past’)

Unfortunately, churches have, in the past, and probably to some extent now, constantly talked about “God’s coming Kingdom”, “Heaven”, “the Kingdom of God”, “the Kingdom of Heaven” or “eternal life”, however you understand it, whatever you want to call it, unfortunately, there’s not been enough practical demonstration of that concept it has generally all been intellectual exploration.

“Eternal life is not just what we’re waiting for – it is not simply a description of the age to come. It is what we live now, when faith and the resurrection power of Christ are at work in us.”
(Gerard Kelly)

So what are we to do?

Firstly, ground our response in scripture:

Galatians 5:6
“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

Start with Loving people, in the way Jesus did, then introduce people to him.

If your devotion to God makes the needs of the world seem more distant, you are in danger that you are expressing escapism, not faith.
(Gerard Kelly – ‘Get a grip on the future without losing hold of your past’)

Taking up the challenge of expressing your faith through love and fulfilling God’s purpose for your life means pursuing your neighbour’s wellbeing in the same way you are pursuing your own wellbeing.

Feeding the poor, playing football, leading worship events, putting on plays, creating art, shopping for old folk, campaigning for justice, creating and using wealth, skateboarding, dancing, writing, recording, singing, clubbing… All these can and do have their legitimate place in God’s purposes. They are transformed into a valid re-imagined way of spreading the Jesus story and taking part in God’s mission when they are done in response to God’s word and in obedience to the guidance of his spirit.

There are and will be many expressions and nuances of this new re-painting of Jesus incredible story for our current generation and we must hold them with open hands as we pass on the baton to the next generation.
I encourage you to share your ideas and expressions of new ways to share the living Jesus in the comments section, here are a couple to go along with.

Showing how we’re saved.

Max Lucado writes daily ‘blessings’ or ‘devotionals’ – little short, spiritually uplifting thoughts, one a day, and I find them very useful.

Here’s one from 28th March 2012

A person is made right with God through faith.

If you’re trying to save yourself—you never know for sure about anything.

If you’ve hurt enough. Wept enough. Learned enough. Those who’re trying to save themselves promote themselves.

Those saved by works display works.

Those saved by suffering unveil scars.

And those saved by doctrine—well—you got it. They wear their doctrines on their sleeves.

Dare you stand before God and ask him to save you because of your suffering or your sacrifice or your tears or your study?

Neither do I. Nor did Paul.

Good works, suffering, or study may be the result of salvation, they’re not the cause of it!

How will you escape God’s judgment? One way: through faith in God’s sacrifice.

It’s not what you do—it’s what He did!
(Max Lucado)

Those lines 1/3 of the way through really struck a chord.

Those saved by works display works.

Those saved by suffering unveil scars.

And those saved by doctrine—well—you got it. They wear their doctrines on their sleeves.
(Max Lucado)

These words got me thinking. They are so true, and you can see so obviously how each individual Christian responds to the good news by the way they behave.

So I just wanted to add to Max’s words as an encouragement to myself to be a little more like Jesus and a little less like me.

Those saved by faith display faith.

Those saved by grace show grace.

Those saved by Jesus begin to look like him a little bit more every day.

It’s a gradual, natural progressive change that we undergo as God works in us by His spirit.

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
(2 Corinthians 3:18)

The TV Remote

eugene-polley-remote(Credit: AP Photo/LG Electronics)

On 22 May 2012, Eugene Polley, the inventor of the TV remote control died.

Eugene Polley(Photo: http://www.gizmodo.com.au/)

I imagine, like myself, not many people knew this man’s name and yet, for all those people who own a television (99% of the US population and Probably a similar amount in th UK, bearing in mind that 84% of britons receive digital TV) the remote control has profoundly and quietly moulded your life and habits.

Back in 1955, we had far less channels to watch, yet now, the constant channel flipping in any household is pretty much taken as normal.

How has it changed us? Well, if you want more, deeper detail on the mechanics, have a look at a previous series on this blog about ‘Message and Media’, however, to put it succinctly; the ability to change TV channel without needing to get up from our comfortable armchair or sofa has, in the words of Zoe Williams, Guardian Columnist, on the today programme on BBC Radio 4 Wednesday 23 May 2012 (feature from 1:41.58), has turned us into ‘attention deficit, sensation seeking watchers’.

Zoe went on to state that the TV remote has changed our behaviour and attitude to television and in response to the new way we view television, the medium itself had altered, programming now panders to impatient people wanting immediate gratification and simple points. We can’t settle on anything any more especially if we don’t like / can’t cope with what we are watching, if it is too challenging, we can flip channels until we can rest on something more comfortable.

Has that affected our spirituality? I imagine so. Not only has the medium of TV become a shaper and non-neutral purveyor of the messages it transmits, but the way we use TV with a remote control has shaped the way TV is delivered and our approach to endlessly seeking something new and fresh, whilst often only being truly content with old and comfortable programmes.

Are we, in our spiritual journeys constantly in search of new and fresh, yet having great difficulty letting go of the old and ‘comfortable’?

Are we having great difficulty in settling on the truths that God has laid out for us and the experiences of that truth which he invites us into? Do we constantly search for something different when we are not entirely comfortable with or are overly challenged with the things that God is laying in front of us?
Do we seek to twist and wrench scripture to our own ideas, asking God to make it a bit more palatable to us, rather than saying “This [the bible] is what is true and if there’s a difference between this and me, I’m the one who has to move”? {Quote From Gerard Kelly}

What influence does TV, the TV remote, and the adaptation of both media to each other and so to us have on your life, your spiritual journey, your relationship with God?

You can answer the question, or hop channels, flip over to another blog! ;P

Jubilee Economics

Jesus walks into a Synagogue and starts reading from Isaiah. (Sounds like the beginning of a joke doesn’t it!)

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
Isaiah 61

And then he rolls up the scroll and sits down again!

This section in Luke 4:16-20 ends with the sentence:

The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him…

To which I would add “I bet they were!”

The Jesus story is well known, maybe not this bit, but much of it, yet the audacity of Jesus’ action here – coming in and reading only a few sentences from Isaiah’s prophecy, never ceases to have an impact on me.

The people in the synagogue would have wondered what in the world was going on.

The hindsight that we can view this passage from gives us a lot of perspective and the rest of the story, because most people (Christians especially) already know the ‘ending’, ends up detracting from the cultural, historical power that Jesus’ next words carried.

“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Picture it: Israel as a whole was occupied by a suppressive Roman presence. Perhaps the most potent section of the ‘great prophet’ – Isaiah – the most venerated among the ancient voices, was being firmly pushed in their faces by a comparatively young upstart Rabbi. He was claiming to be the one who was bringing “good news to the poor freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind and freedom for the oppressed.” That he was “proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour” possibly passed them by in their surprise.

But in many ways, that’s the really important bit! The ‘Year of the Lord’s favor’ is another way of saying ‘Jubilee’ as described in Leviticus 25.
Jesus was claiming that in his coming, true Jubilee was being declared.
The picture of Jubilee in Leviticus is one that encompassed some of the other things Isaiah spoke of, namely; freedom from slavery, cancelling debts, returning land to it’s historical family’s ownership. A vision of a utopian paradise where justice and equality were maintained, where the next generation of people were given another chance to get it right if their parents had messed up or a chance to make their own living rather than have it left to them by their well-to-do ancestors. Debts and bad decisions never lasted more than a generation – 50 years, and everyone got a huge party and a clean slate at least once in their lifetime.

Who wouldn’t want a part of that?

I was recently pointed towards this talk by Walter Bruggeman at Mars Hill and found it compelling, encouraging and challenging in equal measure. I say “found” but really I mean “find” because the clarity and freshness of his words loose nothing in the third, fourth or even fifth hearing.

Brueggeman encourages the Mars Hill community to re-vision what a ‘new Jerusalem’ might look like in the contemporary picture of failed economics and a society that has ruined itself on greed and corruption. The talk was given just after the ‘sub-prime‘ fallout and collapse of Freddy Mac & Fannie May in 2008, but I think it’s just as pertinent now as we watch the possible failure or even complete disintegration of the European Economic Community. In Brueggeman’s words, the message of Isaiah is teased out for the present, reminding us that God’s Kingdom is designed, not as an exclusive gentleman’s club where only the ‘pure and true Israelites’ (see Ezra Ch4:3, Ch7:10 and Ch9) were allowed in, but where even the people with “messed up sexuality”, those eunuchs that had ‘sold out to babylon’, compromised themselves to work in the King’s harem, the ‘foreigners’ (Isaiah 56:3-7) were also welcome. The only caveats that Isaiah includes are those of keeping Sabbath and of ‘neighbourliness’. That is, not being people that are preoccupied with production and consumption, of being stuck in the 24/7 world of consumerism, but in being people that are practicing the principals of jubilee. I love that one of Brueggeman’s key points was that our neighbourliness needs to impact our “private economic wellbeing”. If we don’t really feel any impact on our own quality of life when we give, are we giving enough? That’s not a rhetorical question, but it’s one I feel is worth (me at least) grappling with.

I would strenuously encourage you to listen to Brueggeman’s talk, it’s excellent.

Jesus’ arrival in the world, though he speaks out the words of Isaiah and embodied the prophesy, did not herald the completing of the fullness of God’s plan. We still live in a world where all the things Jesus said were ending in this proclamation are still going on, perhaps even more so.
Jesus’ proclamation of ‘Jubilee’ was as much a declaration of his own presence to begin the process of restoration as it was a promise of a future free from injustice, inequality or exclusivity.

No wonder the people at the time had some difficulty accepting the message, the same difficulty that people today still struggle with. We are too used to things being finished and all wrapped up in our time. We are impatient for the promise to be a current reality, but, much like the last episode of spooks, no matter what the fallout, no matter what struggles we face, life goes on. Our Job is to find ways to bring foretastes of the Kingdom of God into this world while we await it’s triumphant arrival. Can we do a better job than Israel who never managed to act out Jubilee?

Let’s live Jubilee lives, the world can’t afford to live ‘The Dream’ (especially not ‘The American Dream’), but we can all do with getting to grips with some individual redistribution here and now.

Jesus began the work of jubilee living by pouring himself out for the world – John says as Jesus approaches “behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”.

Can we continue the jubilee principals in our lives – giving generously and unselfishly to spread out the excess we have to those that need it?

Isaiah’s vision of Jubilee, pointed at the Israelite’s returning to their land, it pointed at Jesus, it pointed at us and it is still pointing beyond to the return of our King.

See, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.
“Never again will there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not live out his years;
the one who dies at a hundred
will be thought a mere child;
the one who fails to reach a hundred
will be considered accursed.
They will build houses and dwell in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
the work of their hands.
They will not labour in vain,
nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the LORD,
they and their descendants with them.
Before they call I will answer;
while they are still speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,”
says the LORD.
Isaiah 65:17-25

Move over Tycho Brahe, Shaun Groves is my new hero

He may not be a world renowned astronomer, he may not wear a false copper-alloy nose, he probably doesn’t own an alcoholic elk, and I’m darn sure he doesn’t have a clairvoyant dwarf to entertain his dinner guests, but Shaun Groves is alive now and he has just released what I personally would describe as one of the most important albums of all time!!

If that sounds pretty extravagant in praise, you haven’t hear the album yet, nor do you know all the background behind it.
If you want to get the low-down on why and how this album was ‘squeezed out’ of Shaun, you really should trawl through the last few years of his blog. Not only is his music fantastic, but the thought processes behind it, the stories that have shaped it, the heart he pours into it are admirable, laudable and inspirational!

If you are a Christian, you need to hear this album because it will remind you of the kind of bible-based life you promised to lead when you said you would follow Christ.

If you are a non-Christian, you need to hear this album because it speaks the very heart of the Christian message in a way that cuts through all the rubbish that we Christians have piled up against it for centuries.

This album is beautiful, compelling, challenging, convicting and frankly AWESOME.

It’s easily worth several times more than it costs, which incidentally is another reason why I chose discretion over business acumen and avoided putting an affiliate link to it on my blog!

I’m going to review it in full over the next few days / weeks and post my praise of this piece of musical genius that I have not been able to get out of my head nor stop listening to for over a week now since it arrived on my door mat.

Oh, did I mention… I really like Shaun Groves’ new album!??! You really should go and buy yourself a copy.

You can find Shaun Groves on twitter @shaungroves or facebook/shaungroves too.

p.s. No, I didn’t get paid to write this, I just really love the album.

Inspire

Having been disappointed and depressed by the rioting, I’m sure that you would appreciate something inspiring and uplifting.

Not all the world is bad, mad or sad and it was incredible to see the community spirit of Manchester as hundreds of people, all ages, shapes, sizes, religions, races, colours, political views etc. got involved in the clean-up operation. Of course, it happened in all the other major cities as well, but I’m generally most concerned about my local news so I’m not going to link them all!

In the big clean-up, we have seen that there are plenty of young people that are willing to live sensibly and honestly, be good citizens and work as volunteers for the good of the whole.
Interestingly, the word volunteer comes from the Latin ‘voluntarius’, which has the root concept of ‘willingness’ or ‘of one’s free will’. In France, the word ‘volonté’ means willingness, which describes to me a level or joyful participation in an activity as opposed to having your arm twisted behind your back and even more apt is the French word for ‘gladly’ – which is ‘volontiers’.

Lastly, not wanting to be smug or blow our own trumpet, but I was really impressed by my Kids over the last few weeks of their school term.
Kate had a letter from UNICEF asking for support for their mosquito net programme to prevent malaria in Mozambique.
Jacob asked her what it was about and since finding out, he and Lily have been feverishly making Hama bead mats and selling them at school, at church, to grandma and anyone else they can find, to raise money for mosquito nets.
So far they have raised over £90 which I think is really great and as you can probably tell, I’m pretty proud of them for it.
It has also led to the most amusing quote of the year from one of Lily’s school friends.

Child: “Mum, can I have £500”
Mum: “What? Why do you want £500”
Child: “Well, Jacob has made these mats that kill flies in Africa and I want to buy some to help out!”
Mum: “What? I don’t understand.”
Child: “or £1?”

The innocence of children!

That inspired me to run my ‘Birthday for a cause‘ again and plenty of people have been really generous. I’ll be closing the ’cause’ on the 20th August so there’s still some time to give if you missed me mentioning it elsewhere.

Let’s be inspired by these young people and children to leave the world a better place than when we got here.

Riot

I had sincerely hoped I would never need to write this post. On Monday and Tuesday, I was (prematurely and inaccurately) heartened that Manchester had not fallen into the same disorder and desperate, woeful state that parts London, Birmingham and Liverpool had.

It doesn’t even make me angry any more, it makes me desperately sad.

I’ve read a lot already on this and some very insightful people have posted some apposite and informed views. (see The competing arguments used to explain the riots, Rosamicula and Kester Brewin.

It seems to me that we are all to blame in some respect. And in all the different areas of trouble, the variety of those people rioting and looting is astonishing, see the Guardian’s article on who took part.

Yesterday, listening to a BBC correspondent who had spent the day in a magistrate’s court hearing those arrested and charged from some of the London rioting, I was somewhat surprised to hear there were a lot of young professionals involved in the looting. A graphic designer, a care worker, someone who had just joined up for the army. Not all of them were from the local area, many had driven in, taken part and then, to quote the correspondent: ‘driven off to the next location to cause trouble in their Golf GTIs’.

Last night’s trouble in Manchester is also not all from some kind of ‘underclass’ there seemed to be plenty kids from ‘middle class’ families looting for all they were worth. Kids as young as 9 (estimated) were seen in gangs, separating in two, one group to divert the police while another group smashed in and looted a shop.

I think there are many, many different and complex reasons for this upheaval but it is endemic of a society that has lost it’s way.

Maybe we all need to take a step back and have a long look at ourselves.

Why are we all so interested in the news about the riots? Is it perhaps because somewhere within us there is a deep need to acknowledge that this kind of behaviour is the kind of behaviour that we are capable of? Is it that by reading and watching about it, in a voyeuristic way, we can somehow, exorcise it from ourselves? Are we somehow connecting with it for cathartic reasons, in that were it not for other people committing these acts now, we indeed could or maybe would?

At a push, maybe I could loot somewhere to provide for my family if things got really bad. And scenes like we saw last night are just a couple of rungs down the moral ladder.

In an interview with Jane Clayson of the CBS Early Show on September 13, 2001, Billy Graham’s daughter Anne Graham Lotz commented on the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 and I think that much of what she said is relevant here in the UK at this time. (I have yet to find a full transcript of the interview but you might be familiar with the paraphrasing.)

“I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we’ve been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has
calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?”

What we see may be the result of many things building up to a flashpoint, but the one single common factor is the fact that by and large our country has turned it’s back on the values of true Christianity. The church is as guilty as the rest and I’m surely just as culpable.

We have turned our backs on God, we have not been careful about what we have let into our hearts and we have reaped the consequences.

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
Luke 6:45

For ‘mouth speaks’ read also ‘hands do’ or ‘feet follow’.

“You are what you eat” is the other phrase that comes to mind, and the diet that we feed our hearts and minds on surely impacts the actions we end up taking.

I am reminded of a story by Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek:

A man thinks he is a grain of seed. He is promptly taken to the mental institution where the doctors eventually convince him that he is not a grain of seed but a man. But, just when he’s apparently cured – convinced that he is not a grain of seed but a man—and permitted to leave the hospital, he comes back instantly, trembling with fear: his next door neighbour has just started keeping chickens and he is afraid the chickens are going to eat him. “Come now,” says the doctor, “you know full well that you are not a grain of seed but a man.” “You and I know that,” the patient says, “but do the chickens know?”

The point is, that most of us don’t need convincing that a new car or bigger house, pair of fancy trainers, plasma tv or a diamond ring will not make us happier or more fulfilled, it’s the structure around us, the magazines and tv programmes, the society we live in and participate in that needs convincing of these things.
For me that’s what church is about, creating an alternative structure that then convinces the chickens because of the way it operates.

Churches need to be alternative communities, places that poke holes in the lies of the world and say “that’s not true, and you know it’s not true” and through our relationships, through our living together in this alternative way, we can encourage each other to live a different way to the way the world pushes us.
We need to be careful we aren’t laughing at the materialistic consumerist society, condemning those chasing it, whilst at the same time fully participating in it, because people won’t listen to us if our lives don’t match up to what we say we believe. (I preached on this earlier in the year)

Now is the time for Christians in Manchester (and London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Bristol, etc. etc.) to kneel in prayer, for forgiveness that we haven’t yet enabled God to use us powerfully enough to prevent these dreadful things happening, for the wisdom to know what is right and the courage to do it.

We must pray that we can be seen to be instruments of God’s love. Conduits of God’s grace. Bringers of God’s restoration, renewal, and revival.

And lets, wherever we can get involved in the clean-up, not just of the cities, but also the minds and lives of the people who are so misguided and misled that they rampage through the shops looting things that perish and spoil.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.
Matthew 6:19-20

Murder

At 21:40 on Tuesday, Half a mile away from my front door, in a florist shop, on Shrewsbury Street, Old Trafford, a robber was stabbed and died shortly after.

You may find it shocking, scary, paralysing…

You might find it more shocking that I don’t feel any of those things.

When something like this happens, I’m not scared, I’m not petrified or shocked, I’m not paralysed by fear or worried to go out of my front door, but I am saddened.

This is my community and I love it.

I am saddened for two reasons:

  1. That there are people that want to steal from others
  2. That people still believe the myth of redemptive violence

Now, I’m not getting all ‘holy’ on you, I have no idea how I would react if someone came in to my clinic waving a gun around and trying to get my hard-earned cash from me, (I don’t have a knife in the place to stab them but who knows what else I might end up doing?) but if your first reaction to someone threatening you is to attack them, surely, somewhere down the line, something has gone wrong.

So what can we do about it?

Firstly, will you all pray for Old Trafford. As the Rector of St Brides said, “this place is really resilient”, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see consequences and repercussions in the coming weeks and months.

I can’t predict what will happen, but I can ask you to pray that all the churches, the mosques, the Hindu temples and other places of worship will find ways to connect with the local population to bring the peace and intimacy of God into their lives.

Moreover, I will ask that you petition our magnificent creator and loving, compassionate God to find ways to powerfully act through the Christian congregations and the individual Jesus followers in our neighbourhood to discover new and compelling ways to open people’s hearts to Christ.

There’s no way that we can alter the saddening and tragic loss of life that we have experienced this week, but there is a way that we can work to attempt to prevent this happening again.

Pray with me that we, as a community of believers at the bethel and as a wider community of believers in all the churches of Old Trafford, will be able to connect with and genuinely speak the words of Paul:

I have become [the Church’s] servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness – the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.
To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.
Colossians 1:25-29

Let us be Christ-centred, Bible based and Active-in-love, open to the movement of the spirit of God among us, filled with the nature and person of Christ as he lives in us as believers (Romans 8:9), so that we can improve people’s lives by introducing them to Jesus, the way, the truth and the life.

May Jesus work in us and through us, may people see his face in ours as we see Him in their faces and love them the same way we would love Him.

“In another’s eyes I see my plea for forgiveness, and in a hardened frown I see my refusal. When someone murders, I know that I too could have done that, and when someone gives birth, I know that I am capable of that as well. In the depths of my being, I meet my fellow humans with whom I share love and have life and death.”

– Henri Nouwen, from With Open Hands

Humility

Generally not something I’m good at.

Being humble is an art.

I’m far too quick to speak, too quick to respond, too quick to criticise and be cynical. I’m far too self-important to not share my opinion in any given situation.

Some of my problem is that I am generally pretty good at anything I turn my hand to: I am fairly practical, I was given a good education, I am a great Osteopath (see http://review.alexgreen.co.uk/), I seem to be able to string coherent sentences together and people have been very encouraging about things I have written, I am a confident public speaker and people rarely fall asleep or walk out.

As you can see, humility is an area I need to work on drastically.

I find it easy to forget that these things I can do competently or even expertly are not because of me or anything I have done. Everything I am , everything I excel in is a gift from God. If you see any good in me, you are seeing Christ living in me.

And yet, still, I often get confused between my opinion and God’s message, and think that my interpretation is what people need to hear.

I often forget that it’s not all about me.

I’m also quite hard on myself, so when I see a flaw, I worry it and work at it and try to iron it flat, again regularly relying on my own strength and determination rather than allowing the spirit of Christ to gently mould me from within.

I am also confused by Numbers 12:3

“Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.”

Moses wrote Numbers, (or so most scholars believe). So it seems he is not being humble about his humility!

The word used in the King James version is ‘meek’ and the original Hebrew is ‘`anav‘ and it refers to someone who is of a lowly and modest mind, someone who is pious (in the good sense of the word) and preferring to bear injuries rather than return them.

I’m still not sure how to take Moses seeming to boast about his own humility, of course, context is everything so go and read the whole chapter, but it’s definitely something I need to work on, and then not brag about!

How about you?

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