Sunday, 12 October 2008
What a weekend!
Ten of our team headed off to Cefn Lea in Mid-Wales for the annual gathering of NEO teams.
I think this was the fifth annual retreat and was the best by far. The whole weekend was based around the hebrew concept of 'Shalom'.
There are a number of definitions for this word- completeness, wholeness, well-being. None fully suffice. We were told it's kind of like our English word 'peace' but so much richer and broader than that.
When we talk about having peace in our country, town, community etc. it's often about the fact that there is no violence, no fighting etc. Shalom is not just about the absence of something, which is quite passive, but about being active in creating just relationships and living in a way that brings about justice to those around us. We were challenged to consider the way we interact with each other as a church and within our community; we were challenged to consider how we spend our money and time and how we use our possessions. Do we, as a church, live in such a way that others see beauty, generosity, justice, integrity, grace, selflessness? Is my home a place of hospitality? Does my bank statement speak of wise spending, simplicity and generosity? Does it show my concern for the poor? Are my relationships marked with grace, kindness and goodness?
Our team had space this morning to spend a few hours in a lovely wee static caravan to be open and honest with each other about many things. We looked at what it would mean for us to become more of a 'shalom' community. There was honesty, brokenness, laughter and repentance as we shared about the ups and downs of following Christ together. I guess that's a good start right there!
It's such an honour to be part of an amazing church community- not because of the services, the programs, the building- but the people. They shape me in so many ways for the better.
We're a small bunch. We don't make a big fanfare and don't have a huge impact on the world however each day I see my church community adding beauty to grey places, bringing light to the darkness and hope where there's despair.
I see so many churches that seem to constantly rush about doing this, that and the other but never really have much of an impact on anything or anyone.
I'm reading a book called 're-imagining church' at the moment. I found this quote which lays out some of the differences between 'organic' churches and 'institutional' ones.
'Institutional churches are a lot like trains. They are going in a certain direction, and they will continue in that direction for a good long time even if all hands try to make them stop. As with trains, the options for turning the direction of institutional churches are limited at best. If a switch or siding is available, the train could turn. So everyone aboard had best hope that he is on the right train headed in the right direction.
Organic churches, like those in the New Testament, are different. They are not trains, but groups of people out for a walk. These groups move much more slowly than trains- only several miles per hour at the fastest. But they can turn at a moment's notice. More importantly, they can be genuinely attentive to their world, to their Lord, and to each other.
'Like trains, institutional churches are easy to find. The smoke and noise are unmistakeable. Organic churches are a bit more subtle. Because they do not announce their presence with flashing lights at every intersection, some believe that churches like those in the New Testament died out long ago. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Organic churches are everywhere. Once you learn how to spot an organic church, you will soon discover groups of people everywhere meeting just like the New Testament church- as bodies, families, and brides, rather than institutions. Organic churches are groups of people walking with God. The trains pass them by all the time. Sometimes the people on board wave. Sometimes they cannot because the train is moving so fast that people going a few miles per hour just look like a blur.' Hal Miller.
I'm coming across so many people in my own denomination who are struggling to stay on the train. Some are finding it too fast, others are concerned that in spite of its speed and power and noise, it could be headed in the wrong direction. I'm not sure if you can be an organic church as described above when you are working within a very powerful train-like institution.
Time will tell!
Thursday, 9 October 2008
My mate Andrew who's part of our church in Gibby sadly told me last night that his buddy Dave was found dead in his mother's house. Dave had come to church with Andrew a few times and we got to know him at different social gatherings.
He was a lovely guy. Always had a smile for you. I always thought that there was a lot of hurt inside him though. He had been struggling with alcohol for many years and the probability is that alcohol may have had something to do with his death.
I'm once again soberly reminded of the darkness and despair that can be found in so many homes in our community. He was only in his late 30s. The line that's been going into my head is 'There but for the grace of God'.
Andrew is one of my heroes here. He became a Christian about three years ago and has come out of addiction and depression himself. He's a legend and a dear friend. When Dave has been homeless, Andrew and Silke took him in, no question. Even a few weeks ago they let Dave crash at theirs in spite of just having had a baby girl a few months ago. That was the last time they saw him.
Andrew and Silke witnessed to Dave of Christ's unconditional love through their words and actions.
Please pray for Dave's family but also for Andrew. This is his fourth mate who has died this year, all of them substance abuse related.
Monday, 6 October 2008
For me, the most exciting date this year, slightly behind my 1st wedding anniversary of course, is November 4th.
The day of the U.S. Presidential Election.
You may think I'm sad but I can't wait. I'm staying up ALL night to watch the coverage. I've been a fan of The West Wing ever since my wife and her then flatmate, Mrs Carrie Knuckey, introduced me to the addictive substance. I finished Series 7 last year and was rather depressed for a while when it ended. It was like my closest friends weren't around anymore.
You see, I'm sure those who loved the show agree that you found yourself becoming the unseen character in the West Wing battling it out with Josh, agreeing with Leo, flirting with C.J (you know it's true!) and revering the mighty President Bartlett.
Thankfully, just as I finished the series, the real deal began to heat up.
You have had all the great characters- Mormon Mitt, P.O.W. McCain, Billary Clinton (two for one!), Iraq Bahama....Hussein Pyjama....Hijack Banana...who cares if you can't say his name- He's awesome (I....think?)....Good ole american pie Joey Biden....and just when you thought these characters were satisfying enough....enter the gun shooting, polar bear throat slitting, oil guzzling, God's will discerning, ready to wrestle with Russia, folksy, cutsy, hockey mum, pitbull with lipstick... Sarah Palin!!!
As soon as she entered the stage in her wee glasses and beehive, I knew that Tina Fey from SNL fame would not be able to resist impersonating her.
I was right.
The next 28 days are going to be immense.
And guess what? One thing we can know for certain....the next President of the United States will NOT be called George W. Bush!
Thursday, 2 October 2008
Well, I'm back to blogging but who knows for how long!
There are two reasons I'm back.
Firstly, I went back home to Northern Ireland last weekend. I love Wales and am very settled here but there really is nowhere like the place you grew up in.
It's quite a powerful thing to visit your old church, your family and friends when you don't see them very often. I miss them. The hardest thing for Andrea and I living in Wales continues to be being far from family and friends. Just to have your dad scoot over to help you put a shelf up or your relatives calling in to say hi or heading over to your parent's house for Sunday lunch.
The normal stuff.
God's blessed us with surrogate family here and we're so grateful for that but it can still be a bit difficult at times.
We stayed with my lovely sis and bro-in-law, Mel and Dave, in Lurgan and had a great time with them (town and county!). They just celebrated their 1st wedding anniversary and are a real inspiration.
Yesterday we went out for lunch.....Oh yeah, and I really miss the food!! We were joined by Dave's mum Iris. Iris is one of those great godly women who's love for Jesus is infectious. Her and her husband Andrew run a charity called HOPE which helps people all over the globe and supports poorer churches in Eastern Europe.
She is a great storyteller as well. We were listening to some great insights and stories over homemade soup and wheaten bread (I REALLY miss the food!) when we got to talking about people's blogs. Iris is also a typical 'norn irish' mum who loves finding out what the young 'uns are getting up to on their blogs! She was able to tell me that I hadn't blogged since April 10th precisely!!!
So Iris, this blog is for you! :-)
Secondly, I've been reading a book recently called Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola. Great, great book. It's a very simple read but quite a big revelation. It takes you through the various practices and traditions of mainline Christendom and challenges their position, their relevance and even their biblical basis in churches today.
A lot of my own musings were confirmed. That is, that much of the practices and traditions we THINK are 'by the book' actually originate from Roman pagan culture and have NO biblical basis.
Why is the Church often perceived as irrelevant, boring, out of touch, hierarchal, even un-spiritual?
Firstly, because in so many places IT JUST IS! Fact!
Secondly, I think it has to do with many practices and traditions which are seen as non-negotiable but, as the author of this book points out, actually have little biblical weight and stifle the very life of the church.
Have you ever asked any of the following questions?
1) Why are clergy often elevated as holier than the laity?
2) Why is everyone so solomn and depressed looking when they CELEBRATE the Lord's supper?
3) Why do people in many churches wear their best clothes (or even military uniforms!) to church?
4) What's with all the singing?
5) What's with one person leading a service and the other hundred sitting like sardines listening then leaving?
6) Why do we sit in rows at all?
7) Why does it feel that you need a degree to go to most churches and be able to comprehend what's going on and being said?
This book delves into these and many more questions about why we do what we do.
It's got me thinking a lot about my own denomination, The Salvation Army. There are some real heroes of the faith in this movement doing some fantastic things. However it seems of late, (or maybe it's just me) that there is a different vibe in the movement these days than a few years ago.
Like it's settling down again.
This concerns me. There are few forums in our denomination for healthy debate and discussion about the relevance of practices and traditions that we hold dear.
Other than a few advisory councils and officer-led committees at the top, who's asking the tough questions about why we do what we do? Is renewal taking place? It just seems like it's a 'keep your head down, get on with it and don't ask questions' period.
In fact institutional denominations like the Church of England and the Methodists seem much more open and secure about challenging each other and having healthy debate about their own sacred cows at every level than we do at the moment.
I can think of nothing worse if we are to engage with a deeply complex world than to keep our head down and just go with the flow. Perhaps I'm just not hearing this stuff or moving in the right circles.
I'm concerned that we are going into self-preservation mode in many places, shying away from the hard questions and difficult challenges that any mainline denomination has to face in 2008. Many corps (churches) up and down the country are closing down or are very close to sutting their doors for good.
Where are the leaders with vision, creativity, and inspiration?
Where are those who are taking risks and not just doing business as usual? And I don't just mean the leaders.
Where are the prophets who are challenging the status quo?
Where is our 'first love' for the last, the lost and the least. The ones that The Shepherd came to save.
Are we really ready for a 21st Century world?
I love this movement and its rich history. I love it TOO much to not speak out when I feel it isn't very well health-wise.
I've decided to have a go at writing some of my own thoughts on my blog in the weeks to come. It would be great if it stirs a little bit of healthy debate amongst a few bloggers. I don't care if people disagree with my views.
It would just be good to see some passion out there!
Thursday, 10 April 2008
I don't know about you but I so often find it hard to remain in awe at some of the basics truths of my faith. Why did Jesus die? This life-changing event sometimes doesn't move me. I believe it, I'm thankful for the knowledge of it and what it means. I don't need to always feel what it means but now and again it helps. It's hard for it to reach the heart when you've heard it for so long, so many times.
Words. Words. Words.
Then along comes a video....pictures, sounds, movement.
The video below dramatically reminded me afresh of why we ALL need a Saviour, what it really cost Christ on the cross and just how amazing it is to be delivered, set free and given a new life 'in Christ' because of what He's done for us.
It may look a bit cheesy at first, and kind of is, but this is VERY powerful.
Tuesday, 1 April 2008
Two wee boys, three big questions
Even the youngest kids have deep questions about life and the afterlife. Today, I popped into the office and two boys from the estate called in to say hi (which in reality actually means they were dying for a drink of juice and a biscuit!).
They sat down and completely out of nowhere said, 'You believe in God don't you?'. 'Yes' I said. 'Why did God let himself die?'. Wow. Before I could try to respond to that question, the second lad said 'And how can there be a heaven when all there is in the sky are stars and planets......And why did God make Jesus live again after 3 days? Why not 1...or 5?'
So what does a highly educated, theologically trained, well experienced minister of religion say....'Um, well, what a great question...have you googled it?'!!
I think God used two ten year-olds with searching questions to convict me about how unprepared I am to share my faith and beliefs. We are told that we should always be prepared to give a reason for the HOPE that is within us.
I wasn't prepared.
Daily Bread and the Daily News
I remember reading about the great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon. He gave some nuggets of wisdom about how to share your faith effectively.
He said something simple like, 'Each morning I have the Bible in one hand and the Daily Newspaper in the other.' In other words, he knew God's story and knew what was happening in the world around him.
We always need to know God's unchanging Word and understand how it applies to the changing world we live in.
Jesus calls us to be in the world and not of it. To be an effective witness for Christ I need to know both exactly what the Kingdom of God is like, what's happening in the world that I live in today- and live in such a way as to see the Kingdom can come, on earth, as it is in heaven.
I love culture. I love the news, current affairs, what's happening in the entertainment world and politics. I take time to check out articles in papers about these things, watch tv programmes and documentaries, browse the net. I ALWAYS make sure I'm informed about culture.
But I don't know my Bible very well.
Here I am, with a degree in theology and masters in Evangelism Studies, a Salvation Army 'Envoy' (new title whoohoo!) - yet I have to confess that I don't really know God's story as told in the Holy Scriptures all that well. I don't take enough time to read it, to study it; to learn from great teachers and to apply what I've learnt to the culture we are immersed in. I'd rather watch TV.
It's more difficult in my denomination to put the study of scriptures as a priority as this doesn't seem to be top of the list. Each week my headquarters sends out information on courses about manual handling, running a parent and toddler group, health and safety training or how to do a risk assessment. It appears that doing something 'practical' is more important than us knowing the word of God deeply.
Rarely is there help or information on how to understand the scriptures better, how to go deeper in the word and discover how it applies to our lives and the lives of others.
I plan services, I lead worship, I visit people, I preach, I run acitivies- but I don't know the Word of God as I should. Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormans know what they believe inside out, Muslims as young as 6 can memorize large portions of the Koran. I can just about get through Jeremiah 29:11 (which is so often used inappropriately by the way), Psalm 23 and John 3:16.
30 years of Churchianity and that's where I'm at.
This has been a real revelation. It's quite embarrassing really. What we believe to be the truth is SO important. Not just what we feel to be the truth. In Romans we are told to 'BE TRANSFORMED by the renewing of your mind'. What we study and learn affects what we choose to believe which affects how we live our lives.
Are ya still with me? :-)
People are crying out for answers. I'm not sure that the Church is fully prepared at large to season the world with good responses to their questions.
We need new apologetics for a new generation.
We need new stories to tell the old story. But first we need to know the old story!
I don't believe I have to have all the answers for every question but my response today with those lads was a dribbling mess. People of other faiths take their sacred texts so seriously, do we?
Do we know more about what Britney, Brangelina, the Beckhams or Ashley Cole are up to than what Jesus and the people of God got up to?
In recent years the Church has done better at having the Daily News in our hand; at knowing what's happening in the world around us.
But what about the Daily Bread?
Is the pendulum going to far the other way? Are we in danger as Christians of becoming cultural clones, looking no different to the world around us having nothing to season our culture with?
A Simple Faith
I had a good chat with my bro-in-law last night. We were talking about the longing by many for a simpler (but deeper) kind of church and a simpler (but deeper!) kind of faith. I think many people are longing for this. They're sick of the slickness; the entertainment and business culture in the Church.
So it's back to basics for me- goodbye for a while to the 'how to' Christian manuals, the 'ten easy steps to growing your church', the 'come and have a life-changing, instant experience' conferences, the 'WWJD' bracelets (not that I ever had one!) and the latest re-packaged greatest hits CD from Delirous? or Matt Redman.
For a while, I'm gonna go a bit mad and do something very 'un-postmoderny Christian-like (and yes, that is good grammar!).
I'm going to pray.
I'm going to read my Bible (with a few books to help me!).
I'm going to meet with other followers of Jesus regularly.
I'm going to try to understand the world I live and breathe in.
I'm going to try to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide me each day in whatever I'm doing.
Back to basics- the newspaper in one hand and The Bible in the other.
It's worked well for the generations before us. Let's see how it goes!
Saturday, 29 March 2008
No you're not imagining things...I've actually returned to my blog after a long winter hibernation!!
I was fast joining the statistic of those people who stop blogging after the first six months. It really does get harder the longer you stay away.
So a quick update....
2008 has been a bit mental to be honest. I think if Andrea and I could re-plan our first six months of marriage it would have been a lot more chilled. Probably one out of two weekends has been spent with either travelling, church stuff or having family and friends visit. All of it has been good but it's left us a bit zonked and quite drained by it all at times.
Thankfully, things are slowing down at last and Andrea and I are looking forward to some weekends home and away together over the next few weeks.
We had an awesome Easter week this year. 15 students from Bangor S.A. in N.Ireland joined us for a week and helped us run a kids club in our local leisure centre. It was amazing watching 30 kids and a fantastic team have so much fun and also learn about what a life following Jesus Christ looks like.
Here are some highlights....
- Hearing 30 kids from our estate sing with conviction the simple but profound words to each other -'God loves you and nothing you can do will ever change that.'
- Hear one kid tell us that he'd love to be a Salvation Army officer when he grows up and another of our youth say he wants to be a youth worker after volunteering with us this week.
- Watch with immense pride as five of our local teenagers from our youth club volunteered all week with our kids work. They were AMAZING!
- Holding our Easter Sunday service in our local pub and see 85 people turn up and pack the place!
- Witness 15 young people from N. Ireland come and make our community their community for the past week and serve it so selflessly.
In the midst of the craziness of the week I had to lead a funeral in the estate. I've only led one before and tragically that was of a 14 year old girl who was part of our youth work in Gibby.
I have to be honest and say that it's not my favourite thing to do but it's always a huge honour and privilege.
On Wednesday, over 120 people from the community packed into our church to remember Betty, a lady that lived round the corner from us. What a privilege to share with my neighbours at such a difficult time in their lives. What an honour to speak words of hope and life into their lives as they gathered to grieve, remember and celebrate.
Life here can be so surreal at times. One minute you're doing silly actions with kids at a club and the next you're literally in your black suit standing by a graveside saying 'ashes to ashes, dust to dust'.
It's only God's grace that carries me in this work. He's so faithful.
Anyway, that's my little update. For all you doubters who took me off your list...Oh ye of little faith!
See ya in three months!