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

Tag Archives: love

Averting the Apocalypse

Image used without permission but Attributes to http://www.silverpetticoatreview.com/I am a staunch Dr Who fan.

Episode 13 in season 1 of the ‘re-boot’ with Christopher Ecclestone and Billie Piper contains a scene in which, Rose Tyler (Piper) breaks open the heart of the TARDIS in an attempt to save The Doctor (Ecclestone). Rose looks into the heart of the TARDIS and it changes her. There’s a pretty low-resolution 4 minute version of it here.

When she arrives and saves The Doctor, he asks: “What did you do?” and Rose replies: (watch it here)

“I looked into the TARDIS and the TARDIS looked into me”.

It transpires after that point that Rose has special abilities, she destroys the daleks, she is able to bring back to life Captain Jack Harkness who has just been exterminated.

Once Rose looked into the heart of the TARDIS, she was completely changed by what she saw. She could not un-see, she couldn’t let go of what she had seen and could not be unchanged from how it had changed her.

I would argue that this works as a lovely illustration of when we truly see the heart of God. When we look into God’s heart and see the depths of his love and the extent he has gone to display that love to us, we can’t help but be changed. And if we truly connect and really see the heart of God, we cannot unsee, we cannot be changed back, we can’t ever return to what we were before.

In an address to students at Harvard university in 2008, JK Rowling said:

“we do not need magic to transform our world; we carry all the power we need inside of ourselves.”

And in many ways, she is right because of the promise of Jesus in John 14:11-21

Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

The root of this concept is stated in 1 John 4:9

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

This is the message of God through Jesus: Just as Rose was changed by viewing the heart of the TARDIS, we are changed when we see the heart of God and it changes us to be more like Him. He promises to live in us.

We can’t sit around inert, expecting God to step in and save us all from either our current situation or the problems we find ourselves surrounded by in this world.

Make no mistake: He Will.

One day, God Will complete the process of redeeming and restoring this planet, creating a place where everything is, once again, returned to a condition where all the earth continually sings His praises.

But while we wait for that inevitability, it is the job of believers to be the hands and the feet of God in this world.

It starts within our homes and our church family.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:35

It’s not radical, it’s not new, its not easy but it is vital and mandatory.

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

1 John 4:12

When we look ‘into the heart of the TARDIS’, when we gaze into the heart of God and God gazes into our hearts, we become changed, we become the agents of Gods’ love, the vehicles of his power at work in the world and that love is good news to the people around us. It is a life that displays “the gospel”.

Think of the tangible benefit to us personally and our communities if we were to take on Jesus’ example and embrace the counter-cultural world of Matthew 25 – a life lived as if God is not coming to mend all our brokenness and it is our job to put in the leg-work.

I am a great fan of Mother Teresa of Calcutta who’s words speak into this approach to faith and life.

“You can do no great things in this life, only small things with great love”

Mother Teresa of Calcutta

I believe that when God works in the world, he works through people. You and I are the people of God and we are the ones to push through the expectation of some supernatural intervention and demonstrate the ‘love beyond magic‘ that Kester Brewin talks about in his book.

It is only through love that we can achieve godliness. It is only through love that we can slowly, carefully redeem and restore this world. It is that same sacrificial love that we see demonstrated on the cross that gives us the example to do likewise.

Whoever loves God is known by God.

1 Corinthians 8:3

1 John 4:8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1 John 4:8

If anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever says that he lives in God must live as Jesus lived.

1 John 2:5-6

This is our call to arms as believers. We can revert the apocalypse, we provide the hope to the hopeless, we demonstrate the love of God and provide the care of God’s hands, we can be the support for others in the way we have been taught by God.

I realise that I am suggesting we live with the paradox of living as if God will not fully and finally step in whilst knowing full well that he will because that’s what he has promised us he will do. Sometimes we have to hold this tension.

Are you, like me, feeling sand, angry, disgusted, enraged, compassionate about the situation in Syria?

Now is your chance to step in. And don’t leave it at that, live your ability to demonstrate God’s love into every single apocalyptic moment or situation that you see.

But what hope is there if you are feeling hopeless? Are you someone who’s life is fractured and broken? Do you wake up and see an endless black hole of depression? Are you at the bottom of the pit without a ladder, struggling to make ends meet, desperate to find some way to put food on the table or clothes on the children.

Are you feeling like you are unable to pick up the weight of the responsibility that comes with being a follower of Jesus?

Firstly, rely on your church family. That’s really kind of the point: We connect to each other and to God through our shared brokenness, not through our personal victories, strengths and accomplishments or some supernatural magic. Our church family will be the arms that God will wrap around you. They will make sure that God’s promise to provide is not an empty one. They will be the people that will carry you close to their hearts until you can soar like an eagle again.

If you aren’t a believer, but feel like you want the world to stop so you can get off or facing any or all of the hopelessness and pain that I outlined above; go and search for a community of people that will provide the love and support that I’ve just suggested should be present in a church family.

Hopefully you will find it in a group of Jesus followers. You may find that it is displayed better in a smaller group / church, a house group or you may find that one of these new fangled ‘worship centres’ or ‘life churches’ can provide the love, care and support that shows the life of Jesus and the love of God.

Secondly, I have seen what happens after Revelation 20. After the metaphor that describes every struggle, every challenge, every war, conflict, oppression, famine and disaster, man-made or natural that has torn at our hearts and bodies in recorded history…

There is still hope.

God does step in to make all things new. So hold on to that hope, the hope for the hopeless, the salvation for the un-saveable, the great love for the unloved.

I heard a great voice, coming from the throne.

See, the home of God is with His people.
    He will live among them;
    They will be His people,
    And God Himself will be with them.

    He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
    Death will be no more;
    Mourning no more, crying no more, pain no more,
    For the first things have gone away.

Revelation 21 v 3-4

Read the rest of Revelation 21

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.

My Sister

Abi Emmens-Green is my sister.

That is a good thing.

If you don’t have a sister, I recommend you implore your parents to give you one. If they are too old to acquiesce to your request, adopt one, find one, maybe even catch one, you won’t regret it.
If you have fallen out with yours, pull your finger out and make-up, you owe it to yourself and to her to patch things up because sisters are really a mighty blessing.

Sisters are incredible beings, speaking from >33 yrs of experience, I can honestly say that sisters rank among the top 5 things in the world (other contenders include God, parents, spouses, children).

So let me eulogise for a moment about the one blood sister I have. I do have one sister-in-law and a number of other females that I would class as sisters by marriage(s) in the family, all of which I have great affection and respect for, but, no criticism intended at all, none of them can hold a candle to Abi.

Abi & I are wired the same, in respect to humour, protestant work ethic, creativity, taste, (I could go on) and that definitely helps a great deal with us getting on, but most of all, I think the primary reason(s) that we get on so well is because Abi is older, wiser, more mature, more lovely and more humble than me.

Abi makes me laugh, she’s never made me cry (that I can remember, except tears of joy or laughter) but I’ve cried with her and for her and on her and have been a shoulder to cry on for her.

Abi builds me up. She is unselfish and kind and always has a sensible word to say, an apposite bit of advice to give, some astute guidance to offer. Whether we are together or apart, Abi always looks to uplift and encourage me and doesn’t try to pull the rug from under my feet or cut me down. Even when I need my feet putting back on the ground or bringing down a peg or two, Abi finds a way to bring out the positive and gently point me in the right direction.

A rare quality Abi has is in finding ways to be encouraging in any ‘criticism’. It is an incredible gift that she can inspire and be positive in the way she critiques or disagrees with things and that’s something that disarms me, stops me being defensive and then makes me a better person.

Abi is creative and wonderful to work with, I wish we could live closer together so we could work together on stuff more often because just being with Abi gives me lots of ideas.
In fact many of my ideas turn out to be crazy and one of the best things ever about Abi is that she can see / hear one of my crazy ideas and twist it slightly and turn it to deep, helpful, spiritual ends. It’s another gift she has and I remember it from way back when we had a small bible study group in London, when I was a student; I’d say something crazy / mad / funny, just for laughs, and Abi would turn it into some profound spiritual point within 20 seconds.

“This woman must be a saint” I hear you say! And you are right, and I’ll fight bare-fisted anybody who dares to contradict.

She may have flaws, but doesn’t everyone!? She is probably too dedicated / conscientious and probably a bit too generous and definitely has problems with saying ‘no’ when asked to do some things she probably ought not.

I’m not sure what prompted me particularly to write this but maybe I just thought Abi needed reminding how much she is loved and how much she is needed and she probably didn’t want it broadcasting publicly, but if I can’t embarrass my own sister by shouting about how wonderful she is then the internet shouldn’t exist!

Proverbs 7:4 says: “Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,” and to insight, “You are my relative.”

I’m going to do something very naughty by hacking scripture.

“Say to my sister, “You are wisdom,” and to my relative, “You are insight.”

Abi… You Rock.

Vengeance and Retribution

Say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”
(Isaiah 35:4 NIV)

I read this the other day with some degree of confusion.

Partly because in my experience of God and in my reading of the bible, I understand a loving God who is less vengeful and retributive, and more compassionate and gracious. Mostly informed by passages likeExodus 34:6, Psalm 145:8, Nehemiah 9:7, Lamentations 3:33 and 2 Peter 3:9 (among others).

The other part was the slight paradox of God ‘saving’ people with ‘divine retribution’. I’m not sure how that works. Some of the other translations have references to ‘destroying enemies’, but again, I’m faced with the dilemma of trying to reconcile a forgiving God with one that wants to crush and mash, not easy concepts to hold together.

The word translated here as “retribution” in the NIV is the Hebrew ‘gmuwl’ (ghem-ool’) and comes from the root concept of service or requital and seems semantically to fall closer to the meanings ‘benefit’, ‘desert’ (i.e. just deserts – given what was due), ‘deserving’, ‘recompense’, or ‘reward’.

Reading on the surface, there is a surprising paradox from “vengeance” to “divine reward”.

This is where digging below the surface a bit more reveals something almost as surprising again. The word “vengeance” in Hebrew is ‘naqam’ (naw-kawm’), it is rooted in concepts of revenge, avenging, and quarrel. This word is most commonly translated as ‘avenge’ which, as a concept of ‘bringing justice’ or ‘righting wrongs’ does seem to be falling more into line with the way God describes himself in the passages previously mentioned above.

Where does that leave this scripture in Isaiah? I suppose it could now read like this:

Say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come bringing justice;
with divine reward
he will come to save you.”
(Isaiah 35:4)

And so we see once again, God is not a vengeful, furious, angry monster in need of placation that wants to smash and crush and squish us all because we are all disgusting sinners, he is something entirely different. When we start to understand who God really is and what he is really like, perhaps we see that some of the ideas we have been fed over the years skew the true consistent picture into something man-made.

The ‘vengeance’ of God is in bringing freedom – God’s avenging – his ‘justice bringing’ comes in rewarding those with “feeble hands”, “fearful hearts” and unsteady knees by “opening the eyes of the blind, unstopping the ears of the deaf” etc.

Here’s the whole chapter from Isaiah (with my bold alterations based on the above exploration)

The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the LORD,
the splendor of our God.
Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come bringing justice;
with divine reward
he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness;
it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there,
nor any ravenous beast;
they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
and those the LORD has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Isn’t that the true picture of ‘Shalom’ – true peace, harmony of all things, joy, release of suffering and pain!?

That’s the picture painted by the God that I know and love and partner with in his rebuilding and restoring of this world.

Third World Symphony

Shaun-Groves-Third-World-Symphony-iTunes-banner-728x90

Before 16th September 2011, I had never heard any music by Shaun Groves!
However, I have been a regular reader of his blog for several years.
In the process of releasing his latest album, Shaun had released various pre-mastered, development versions of his song “All is Grace“, none of which I listened to, yet I still bought the album. In fact, I pre-ordered the album and then I bought it on iTunes too.

Before you think I’m completely mad doing this, there are two reasons why I chose to do this.

  1. I wanted to listen to the album in its entirety without any previous Shaun Groves music experience so I could write as objective a review as possible.
  2. I bought into the reasons Shaun was writing the music, I resonate completely with the way he lives and the principals he subscribes to and the background to why he wrote the album.

The reason I went “crazy” not only contributing to the ‘Kickstarter’ project to raise money for Shaun to record in the first place and pre-ordering the CD, but also buying the digital version was that I believe in what Shaun was doing / trying to do / is doing.

So Here goes.

Since I bought it, I’ve listened to almost nothing else on my iPod (save for a couple of Mars Hill / Gerard Kelly podcasts). Because the album is that good.

The album as a whole is ‘bite-sized’, it takes just over 37 minutes to listen to which is, I think comparatively short in album terms. That’s no criticism, I like how you can listen to the whole thing fairly quickly and have a really nice overview of the music and lyrics.

The things that most struck me about the album as a whole are the clarity of Shaun’s voice and the excellent instrumental balance throughout. I really love the mandolin and banjo in there and the rhythm section discreetly sets the whole thing off very well.
Somehow, though it’s all new music, new songs, new words, none of which I’d heard before, the album immediately had a familiarity which I can only attribute to the fantastic ability of the profoundly gifted songwriter and musically mature creative spirit that Shaun shows himself to be in this album.

The only drawback for me, which is purely a personal preference is the flute on some of the tracks. Possibly because it seems from the credits that it must have been a synthesized flute not a real one (I might need to be corrected by Shaun on that?) but possibly because I have an incomprehensible, inexplicable dislike of the flute.

Initially I thought that there were too many ‘2 bars intro then add the vocals’ type of tracks, but the more I listen to it, the less that strikes me and I think the balance of differing styles of the songs fit really neatly together.

On to the individual tracks. All lyrics can be found at the Third World Symphony lyrics page.

  1. All Is Grace
    What an opener! (aside of my mild annoyance at the flute bit) Every time I listen to this track, I get shivers down my spine. The clear tone of Shaun’s voice, coupled with the lovely jangle of the mandolin makes a beautiful rolling, building song that naturally climaxes through the choruses and the unresolved ending is so completely fitting. Leaving the end of the song on an unresolved chord immediately gives me images of this ongoing journey, echoing the sentiments of the lyrics that “You have loved us all so We love all”, It’s not a process that is finished, It’s something that continues daily, hourly, remembering the Love God has for us, evoking our response to love others as part of our expression of love for God.
    My lovely wife was slightly confused by the breathy way that Shaun sings “All” for “All is grace”, making it sound a bit like “Hall is grace”. For me, I quite like it but then I knew the title and the lyrics and she didn’t when she first heard it.
  2. Come By Here
    Another ripsnorter of a song, it’s catchy it sticks in your head, the words again are delicately sung and right ‘on the button’: a plea for God to bring his Kingdom here on earth sooner, not for selfish reasons or personal gain, but for the good of the world, especially the downtrodden and rejected.
    I particularly love the tinglefactor that I get from the combination of the musical pause and Shaun’s impassioned “come and meet us here” at the beginning of the final chorus.
  3. Kingdom Coming
    With similar sentiments to the previous song, I might have put this song much later in the album, maybe even at the end, not just because of that, but also because of the cascading, more fully orchestral-style climax of the song, which lends it to be a bit of a ‘showstopper’ or finale piece. Once again, I like the open, unresolved chord that it ends on, musically creating the expectation, the anticipation and eagerness for God’s Kingdom to come fully as well as the ongoing call for it to come through us in the way we live.
  4. Sing
    Another solid, catchy melody. I like the song, I don’t have a lot else to say about it!
  5. Awake My Soul
    Shaun has infused this song with ‘essence of good quality indy-brit-pop’ and reminded me of all the bits of Radiohead that I really enjoyed. The feeling of the chord sequences took me back to (weirdly enough) “Karma Police” from “OK Computer” though quite different in content! The other song it brought back to me was “True Love” by “Phil Wickham” which is probably a more flattering comparison.
    Similarities to other songs to one side, I love this song, the haunting tune and guitar with plenty of reverb on it give it the feeling of a passionate appeal to the apathetic heart of middle-class, wealthy, comfortable Christianity to really respond to the longing love call of our intimate God.
  6. I’ve Got You
    I think this song is lovely. Shaun wrote a blog post about what inspired him to write that track and reading it, combined with the simple beauty of this song, both musically and lyrically, never ceases to soften my hard, cold, cynical heart.
    As soon as I get a link to the original post (because it has disappeared!) I’ll stick it in here, it’s worth reading.
  7. Enough
    This song is fantastic in every way even though the upbeat, bouncy tune seems to be slightly out of keeping with the subject material in my mind. First time I heard it, it made me think of Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago” (also a fabulous track).
    The theology behind the song is so right and yet so far from the experience of so many western Christians and more to the point non-Christian observers. Which is a shame but also the very reason EVERYBODY needs to listen to this album. Shaun Writes here and here about ‘Enough’ (and in plenty of other places in his blog). Shaun is a man that lives what he believes and it’s a fantastic way to show the Gospel – your life displays the Gospel of Jesus when it looks like good news for other people, not just yourself.
  8. No Better
    This might be my least favourite song on the album, (despite the great mandolin work) though I do still like it. Partly because I’ve never really got into country or bluegrass and partly because I guess it speaks most revealingly to my own vulnerabilities, sins and shortcomings. When a song like this shines it’s spotlight on your life, it gets pretty uncomfortable. For me, it’s a timely reminder not to judge others, because as Shaun says “I’m no better”.
    That said, the chorus is pretty catchy and sticks in the head. One other thing… it seems to end a bit abruptly.
  9. Down Here
    Listening to ‘Down Here’ always brings a lump to my throat and I’ve been pretty close to tears a few times. It’ beautiful and compelling, music fits the words like a glove and the symphonic nature of the climactic second chorus is something of a musical masterpiece.
    The epilogue section of the song really rounds it off to be filled with truth and hope, the kind of hope that speaks to the heart of all people that ‘death does not have the last word’ because we believe in resurrection and in the words of Rob Bell, “resurrection announces that God has not given up on the world”.
  10. Just as I am
    Shaun added this traditional song at the end of the album for some very good reasons. And I won’t steal his words so you can read them for yourselves here and here.
    I really love this version of the song with Shaun’s extra words.

I mentioned my lovely wife earlier, and she’s generally not a massive fan of music that isn’t classical in genre, being a very talented lady with an honours degree in music, but she really liked the album too. A definite sign it’s really, really, really good.

You really should buy this album, from iTunes, or Amazon or Direct.
I Promise, Promise Promise I’m not getting any commission. Shaun doesn’t even know me, but You Have to hear it, buy it, support it. And if you like, Go sponsor a child too, it’s a really good and fun thing to do.

Listen to the album below.
Third World Symphony by shaungroves

Prayer of Love

Oh God.
Some sought from you this world and you gave it to them.
Others sought from you the next world and you satisfied them.
But I ask of you, neither for this world nor for the next but only for the increase of love for you in my heart.
(Islamic Prayer)

I think we can learn a lot from other traditions, this prayer speaks to the heart of my faith. My desire is for God, not what He can or may give to me.

I think often we forget that the reward for developing a relationship with God, is a relationship with God – an intimate, passionate love relationship shared with our creator.

When we focus only on what God has ‘blessed’ us with materially or what He promises to us in His future kingdom on earth, we are entirely missing the blessing of God.

Being with God, encountering and experiencing God in whatever situation we find ourselves in is more of a blessing than anything materially, and in this, sharing life with God, we are preparing for what will come in the future. If we aren’t getting to know God now and falling in love with Him now, then how are we aver going to be in tune with Him when His kingdom comes in its completeness, when the world is completely redeemed and restored, refreshed and renewed?

Partnering with God now in his restoration and redemption of this planet, falling in love with Him, is the kind of aim that is worth living with and for.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
Mark 12:30

Re: The things my Grandma taught me (5)

Abi

Re: The things my Grandma taught me (4)

Yeah, I wonder how many people are going to receive birthday cards or letters from Grandma weeks or months after she has died, she was very organised!

I guess she was always our favourite grandparent, not that the others weren’t lovely, but it was always really clear that she really, genuinely wanted to be with us and really, really loved us.

We’ll miss her a lot won’t we?!

Lots of love

Alex

Re: The things my Grandma taught me (3)

Abi

Re: The things my Grandma taught me (2)

There’s too much!!

One memory that will always stick with me is that she was always most happy when entertaining people and generally being with people, especially her great grandchildren who she really engaged with. Very much like she really engaged with us when we were little.

Love

Alex

next reply

Re: The things my Grandma taught me

Abi

Re: The things my Grandma taught me

These are the quotes that immediately spring to mind.

“No time like the present”
“Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today”
“If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well”

Other memories include the fantastic array of cakes and ‘chocolate
grandma’ that always accompanied them when they came to stay,
Grandma’s delicious and wholesome food, home made orangeade, the Twin-
Tub and her active, hands-on participation in bath-time when she used
to swish us up and down (or maybe it was just me) as the water drained
away. Lastly, the way she always remembered people, names and faces
and the incredible amount of letters she wrote to people, I imagine
for their encouragement.

Not sure what else you want to add or how to squeeze those into
something coherent.

Lots of love

Alex

next reply

Church (part 9) – Outreach – A natural response

‘Outreach’ or ‘Preaching’ can mean many things to many people, from the ‘manic street preacher’ that you might see on a Saturday on Market Street M1, to a discussion with a friend over a coffee, from a ‘public address’ to meeting a private need.

Preaching or outreach is not ever, never, never is it about telling someone / some people “This is what I believe and you should believe it too”.  
It should always be a case of “I can hear music, it makes me want to dance, can I share this music with you, maybe you will hear it and want to join in the dance.  Maybe your dance will look different to mine and that’s ok, but I really want to dance with you and learn with you and learn from you and hope that you also will learn from me and together we can discover more about the source of the music.”

Preaching or outreach isn’t always going to be easy, in fact it’s rarely going to be easy to ‘preach’, be it in our churches or individually.  The encouragement we are aiming to give people at the fellowship weekend 2011 is hopefully going to ignite some passion, but it’s likely that it will fade over time, and that’s completely normal.  

Preaching cannot always be an easy, joyful, reflex response to the love God has shown us, and in the same way that there are times when we have to choose to praise, there will be times we will have to choose to preach and it won’t feel like the natural thing to do or what we particularly want to do at the time.  

Hopefully there will be more times when it’s a natural response to God rather than a conscious choice, but we can’t ignore that at times it will be hard.  

Last year, we ran the Bethel Festival and are planning to run it again this year.

After the Bethel Festival last year, someone commented to Kate (my wife) that they went away over-faced – thinking “I’ll never be able to do anything that big with the person-power we don’t have at our church”. They were paralysed by the bigness of it and were disheartened that their church wouldn’t be able to match up to something like that.
When people go home from the weekend, it is entrirely possible that they might feel they don’t have the manpower, impetus, momentum or possibly even desire to do big things like that and there will probably be some times when it’s a plain old slog and you meet a large amount of resistance from within the church as well as possibly from without.

Lets be honest, if it wasn’t for all the people at the fellowship weekend last year, The Bethel wouldn’t have been able to run the festival at all! On any normal day, week, month, that’s way bigger than anything we’d ever even conceive of doing as a church.

None of our ‘outreach’ at The Bethel is motivated by “doing something big to be seen” In fact, no ‘outreach’ should be about focussing on doing ‘big’ or ‘great’ things.  Everything is about building relationships, bringing God into the small things, showing the love of God in the way we act & interact. If God is living in us, that should be evident and his love will be spilling out.

“We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love.
It is not how much you do, but how much Love you put into the doing that matters”
(Mother Teresa of Calcutta)

The practical application of that is probably going to look pretty different, depending on the people in the congregation, the surrounding community, how much the church is a commuter church as opposed to a community church and how much it is a consumer church as opposed to a contributory church, how much the church has managed to engage and embrace as opposed to exclude and entertain.

However, doing ‘small things with great love’ must be the motivator and aim. Without love, it’s all meaningless.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
(1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Shane Claiborne (founder of “the simple way“) has a notice above the inside of their door. It reads:

“Small things with great love or don’t answer the door.”

The foundation understanding for the statement is that ‘if you aren’t prepared to see the face of Christ in the person that is knocking on your door and therefore be prepared to act like Christ would towards them, then you are better off giving yourself a break and letting someone else open the door.’

The most important {commandment},” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
(Mark 12:28-34)

Love God
Love People
Small things with great Love

Do everything in love. (1 Corinthians 16:14)

What is the background to our outreach?
Hopefully, the kind of church that we are inviting people into is:  Strong at the centre, Open at the edges.  Diverse and yet still united, unity is not the same as uniformity. A Church that is contributory, embracing, engaging and community focussed, community rooted.

‘Preaching’ and ‘Outreach’ is more about how we live than what we say. It’s about ‘living the Resurrection’.

“resurrection says that what we do with our lives matters
in this body
the one that we inhabit right now
every act of compassion matters
every work of art that celebrates the good and the true matters
every fair and honest act of business and trade
every kind word
they all belong and they will all go on in God’s good world
nothing will be forgotten
nothing will be wasted
it all has it’s place”
(Rob Bell)

God is preparing a banquet, everybody is invited. How can we not want to spread that invitation to everybody we meet? An ‘all-nighter’ party, well, more of an ‘all-eternity-er’ of joy, peace, fulfilment and intimacy with the creator who is so deeply in love with His creation that He showed us Himself through His Son, and underlined it by allowing people like us to kill him, so that he could win a great victory over our flawed and hopeless selfishness.

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
(1 Corinthians 15:57)

And when it feels hard or you think you can’t do it or you think it’s too big or too much, remember to take one small step at a time, that small things with great love is the way to go, and take some comfort from One of my favourite poems from one of my favourite poets: “I see a new city” by Gerard Kelly.


Here’s the last verse

“And though I wait
And though I long
And though the sacred city may seem slow,
Still I will hope,
Still I will pray,
Still I will, today,
Rise up and build.”

It may seem like we are having to choose against the odds to live a life that reaches out, and we might feel like nothing we are doing is making any difference and it might be that we don’t ever see the harvest from the seeds we sow, but because of God’s great love for us, we continue to work with Him, let him work through us to build His new city.

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