Skip to content

welcome home

May 4, 2016

No one can have missed the huge number of migrants who are leaving everything and risking all to enter Europe. There is a campaign currently to pressure our prime minister to allow children to settle in the UK, (presumably because children can’t be terrorists!)

As ever Britain is divided as to whether we should allow them in, many people – fuelled by the rhetoric of Brexit – tell us that the country is already full, that charity should begin at home, and indeed push these arguments to the extent of campaigning against giving any aid overseas.

Others point to a rich history of immigration to the UK, pointing out that we absorbed some 200,000 Jews from Europe prior to WW1, and a further 50,000 refugees during WWII, accepted 21,000 Hungarians in the 50’s. We opened our doors, (against some political pressure) to 28,000 Ugandan Asians expelled by Idi Amin, and again (against political pressure – this time by our then Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher) 24,000 Vietnamese “Boat people”.

None of these people groups have swamped our cities, put us into economic decline, or caused civil war. On the contrary, these people have settled, integrated, added value to our communities and brought out the very best in us.

We would do well to remember that all of us (except arguably the Welsh) are descended from immigrants, Viking or Norman if not more recent. Our stupid arguments to try and keep foreigners out diminish us.

We need to urgently pressure our government – despite the protestations of the red top press – to accept many thousands  of the desperate people currently living in inhumane conditions in contential Europe.

We need to demonstrate the welcome and hospitality that we rightly claim to be a mark of our Britishness, and roll out the red carpet for these mothers, fathers, and children who want nothing more than to have a chance to start their lives again. If we cannot even show common  humanity then we should feel shame!

 

 

Six weeks to change the world?

April 28, 2016

A further blog post from December that didn’t get posted at the time… Enjoy

six  weeks ago I started a new job, for those who have known me over the years – there really isn’t anything unusual about that, BUT this job was one that could be a whole lot more that just another job – it really could be a world changer…

let me explain, my new job is on one level – just another job. Business Manager of a charity – something I’ve done before. Fairly straightforward as long as you make sure all the systems and processes are in place. One another level it is about the formation (or the recognition and development) of a Christian Community. At the beginning of November Signpost International took the decision that we would develop a residential community alongside all the really important stuff of serving the poor and helping communities in India, Africa and the Phillipines.

Of course all that continues – and our job continues to be complicated by floods in the villages we work in and in the offices of our partner organisation in India…

Six weeks into that job, trying to listen to the stories of the people who work here in Dundee, the voices of those we serve in Scotland and across the world, and trying to discern the “still small voice” of God. What have I heard?

  1. I have recognised that here I am already part of a community, it may not all be `christian`, it may not yet be residential – but there are relationships here that simply leave me gobsmacked! There is a degree of openness and honesty here that is way beyond what I was expecting, and for some of us in this `community` I recognise that that level of openess and sharing is really hard – yet it happens anyway! I have come to a network of relationships that are moving and genuine. For a number of years I have been trying to make community happen, mostly through doing events, meetings, meals, talking; here all that happens but the relationships seem deeper that those I have managed to manufacture though church and community doing.
  2. I have discovered an understated generosity as people who have very little share what they have with those who have even less. There is a generosity of understanding as people are prepared to stop and listen to ideas, there is a generosity of time as people stop their bust schedules to make space for someone to talk, there is a generosity of giving as people contribute what they have to help others. In fact I have been on the recieving end of meals, lifts, conversations, and reflecting back over the past weeks I am shocked to discover that I have not felt under the obligation of having to return the favour, or the invitation. These things have been genuinely gifted to me.
  3. I have begun to experience a much deeper rhythm of prayer. I have to be honest and tell you that I have never found prayer easy (shocking thing for a pastor to say!), but plugging into a rountine of traveling between Lancashire and Dundee each week, I have stumbled across a rytham of refelecting on the place I am coming from – and the place I am going to, and holding those things before God in a way that has impacted me more than I thought was possible. Each morning we gather and say our prayers (using a liturgy), but framing the day by doing this has made me more aware of what God is saying in each day.

On moving to Scotland

April 28, 2016

These are thoughts from back in November last year that didn’t get posted, on the basis of “waste not, Want not” here they are…

So this week my world has changed! I travelled up to Dundee on Tuesday and started a new job. It has been a bit of a whirlwind so far, but I had planned to walk the city a bit this evening. However as I began to set out I was introduced to a characteristic feature of Scotlands weather, it was ‘blowing a hoolie’.

So heading back into the house I sat down to write this blog.

So just to explain why am I moving up North? (No really North!) after 9 years of living in Earby and serving the church in Barnoldswick I made the announcement that I am moving on. To some people this was not just a surprise, but perhaps some people just couldn’t understand why I would want to leave a wonderful placelike Barlick?

First off I am moving because I believe that God has been stirring me to move on. If our Christian faith is about anything it must surely include putting God first and allow him to direct us! One of the things we have been learning together is that we need to be following the whispers of God’s guidance and be prepared to change and step out in faith rather than simply stick to what we know and the way we have always done things! As a leader I have to be open to doing what Iamasking others to do, so when I began to hear whispers from God (who oftenspeaks invery ordinary ways) I knew I needed to be willing to act on what I felt God is saying.

Secondly I am moving because the time is right. I felt very strongly when I became leader at Majestic Church that I was to be here for a short season, (I had in my mind a couple of years) so that we could move to being a more outward focused church, and so that people in the congregation could grow into their gifts. Two years ago at North Camp, there was a prophetic word that “in two years, senior elders would move out to different nations to help grow other churches” It was a word that impacted me at the time. just two years later I found myself with an opportunity to do that (although some would argue that Scotland is pushing it in terms of other nations)

I also realised that the things that God had asked me to put in place in Barnoldswick were beginning to happen. As a church we are much more focused on our community, serving it through job club, reaching through football on the park, interest groups and of course Pais. As people who belong to our particular church I have seen people grow in gifting,in confidence, and in their faith. All this will I am sure continue as I hand over to someone else, but I know that just as God called me to lead a few years ago, so God will call someone else to lead into the next chapter!

Thirdly I am moving to do something new. Over the last few months God has been pointing me in the direction of building a place:

that is a safe space for people to explore their faith. Many years ago when I first grew in my faith I was passionate to help people meet and follow Jesus. I did street outreach, coffee bar stuff, door to door; later I ran Alpha courses almost continuniously. I believe that I will be reconnecting with those `mission` roots.

where we care for those in need. One of the downsides of working with Majestic is that it isn’t located in a particularly deprived area. Of couse there are people in need whereever we go, but I have been feeling a pull (particularly after India) to be working with the poor and showing the practical care and love of Jesus to people.

 

today – an adventure

April 26, 2016

I don’t always find it easy to get up in the morning, no surprise there! But I am beginning to discover something really important that makes getting up a lot easier.

As I said in yesterdays blog, I am living in Dundee and beginning to plan and dream to be part of a new christian community. The plan is that a group of us will just live out what we believe in such a way that it will influence, and in time, lead to a transformation of the city. This is of course an outrageous claim! for at least two reasons.

One: who says we, as Christians, have any right to impose our solutions (which is what is implied in using the word “transformation”, and two: who says we can ever have enough influence to change anything, after all we live in a post christian society and while what we believe is important to us, it is irrelevant to everyone else, right?

So unless I can have a good answer to both of those questions, living as part of an intentional community in Dundee is just hard work – and makes it no easier to get out of bed in the morning. But if I do have a great answer…

so, why do I think it is OK to impose my solution on everyone else? Well actually I don’t. the influence we have and the reshaping our our city that happens because we are here is not something that we impose. In fact it is the opposite way round, we are here to serve, to help people in the community to find their own dreams, shape their own future, solve their own problems. Our task is to pose the questions, to live a provocative alternative to the everyday around us, to help people see outside the box and imagine their own future. For some that will be enough, for others there is enough overlap between our values and theirs to work together to tackle injustice for example, or to offer practical help to those who live with poverty, still others may want to explore our faith basis and in so doing may discover that they too are on a journey in faith.

and why do I think that we have any influence? Again I am absolutely sure that we don’t. We are just a group of people on the edge of the city. and yet if what we believe about Jesus is true then he is at work in his world through insignificant people like us! Being small is no problem to reaching big goals if you have the power of God with you. The bible tells us that we have exactly that, the same power that raised Jesus to life, from death, lives in us!

back to getting up in the morning then, – it is easier to get up if I know that today is going to be an adventure, and not just the same old same old! Knowing that God has called me to live here, that my task is to help people get to where they want to get to, and that God’s power is involved helps each day to be an adventure. Each morning I am beginning to look to see where God is working, and where I can be involved in that! As the prayer based on the words of St Patrick says

“Be in the heart of each to whom I speak and in the mouth of each who speaks to me”

 

musings on the kingdom…

February 18, 2016

Jesus tells us stories about the Kingdom of God in Matthew 13, and normally we look at them individually – that is how our culture works, we tend to take things apart, strip them down to find each individual part, and that works really well for seeing each bit, unfortunately the downside is that we have a tendency to miss the big picture, we fail to understand the system.
In this blog I am going to look at these stories together to see what they tell us, not so much one by one, but what they show us altogether, I am not claiming to be the first person to use this approach, in fact I was prompted to look at this chapter by PJ Smyth who summarises the kingdom stories in Luke 13 as the Kingdom is small; hidden; costly – but unstoppable!
Six… things you need to know about the kingdom of God
First thing to know about the Kingdom is that it is completely alien –there is nothing human about it at all. Human life is described as a field, the Kingdom like a seed. Soil no matter how wonderful will never spontaneously begin to sprout! It absolutely needs the seed to arrive before anything can happen at all! The truth of this is demonstrated by the explanation Jesus gives to his followers – “you can’t even begin to understand this – unless “the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you” (11)”, all soil can do is to accept or reject the seed. All the power of growing, fruiting and growing all over again is in the seed, not in the soil.
So truth number one about the kingdom is this – you can’t do anything about it! This is a typical Jesus broadside as he talks to a crowd which would have included many who thought the way to the Kingdom was to `do`, to obey the law, to do good deeds. It isn’t! the way to the kingdom is to receive the seed (word) and allow it to come alive inside you. Nothing more, nothing less.
The implication of this for those of us who busy ourselves in living `good Christian lives`, of doing the business of church is profound. As we can’t make anything grow anyway we should be focusing on listening to God and receiving the word by our response. This is the counter to distraction `the birds came…`, burnout `the root was too shallow…`, and worry (and wealth) `thorns… choked the seed…`. This is why a routine of regular reading and prayer is essential to us.

18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
Second thing we need to know about the Kingdom of God is that it is normal. I need to be careful here not to create the impression that it is natural, it isn’t! In fact, by definition it is supernatural, because it is about what God is doing in lives (soil) where he is received. What I do mean is that it happens slap bang in the middle of all the rest of life, in a field full of other stuff, which the story calls weeds, but which could be pretty – but distracting – meadow flowers, harmless enough but not the alien/supernatural stuff of the Kingdom. The owner lets the weeds and wheat grow together. We have tended for most of the history of Christianity to separate the “sacred” from the “secular”, to have special buildings for prayer, special priests to lead us, and so on. We have kept faith out of the workplace, and the marketplace, and often -by default out of the community that we live in.
The implication of this is that we should be kingdom right in the middle of the messy, stressy, jumbled up business of living. For sure, in all that living we have to be distinctive – but we need to be right in the middle of life.
The Third thing about the Kingdom is that tiny things make huge differences. Think back to the first story and you meet a tiny seed that is sown in a monster of a field, but it still ends up making an amazing difference. In the story of the mustard seed it grows much bigger than my mustard and cress seed ever grew! [there may be an echo of supernatural supersizing here!] -but the tree that it grows into becomes a perch for the birds. Again is there a whisper that these are the same birds snatching the seed in the first story?
In this crazy world of the Kingdom it is no longer true that big is beautiful, the normal rules that might is right are overturned and the punch line of the story (the twist in the tale) is that hospitality and welcome are right at the centre of the purpose of the phenomenal growth.
So the implication for us is that the Kingdom is open to the outsider, cares for the dirty and nasty – even making room for them to find a home.
Fourth thing about the Kingdom is that it is hidden. Not for its’ own sake – like hiding something in the back of a cupboard or under the bed, but hidden in something so that the whole thing is changed. You may have made bread, if you have you will know that the sticky flour and water goo is changed into a smooth, silky, springy dough. It may still be made of flour and water but the yeast has reacted with the gluten in the flour to stretch it and make it a completely different form of flour. This is what happens in us (the picture has changed from the soil, but the receiving of the yeast (seed) is the same), and in receiving we are changed.
The important thing about this change is that not only is it not self-help; flour cannot stretch and change itself, any more than soil can produce green shoots, but that the change is not self-conscious, we are changed, and we only recognise it as we realise where we have come from. We now longer control the outcome; it is no longer our choice about where we are heading! We need to very deliberately allow ourselves to be open to the changes that the Kingdom wants to bring in us.
What that means for us is that we can relax, we have to live lives that are expectant for the hidden growth to come in unusual ways, in unusual places. It will mean we take a longer view and simply allow God to do his work in us. We no longer have the responsibility for turning out perfect people, but instead we can accept that for now it will be messy, but that somewhere in the journey we become the person that God intended us to be.

The fifth thing we learn about the Kingdom of God from this group of stories in Matthew 13 is that the Kingdom is costly. Two stories make the same point, the merchant and the man are `looking`, and both stumble across something of exquisite beauty and great value. Both make great sacrifices to get the prize.
What is interesting is that both have to pay exactly the same to win the prize – everything! The contrasts between the stories let us into the secret. The wealthy pearl merchant and the nameless, possibly jobless `man` pay the same. The value is not about so many other pearls, or a specific number of carrots, it is simply about everything! The Kingdom of God cannot be bought and traded as a commodity, it will cost you everything because to find the kingdom you need to abandon the world where everything is reduced to an economic value and discover the depth of simplicity, generosity and connectedness.
This is perhaps the hardest of all the things we need to learn about the Kingdom is that it simply doesn’t calibrate to a world that is reduced to consumers and customers. It cannot be bought and the things that are of so much value in the kingdom defy having an economic value.
So the implication is that we begin to live much more simply as we live in the kingdom – and indeed the story of the church through the centuries is that those who have caught the kingdom are prone to abandon material possessions and live life to a different drumbeat

The sixth thing we learn about the kingdom is that it is unstoppable. We have already seen it hinted at in the story of the weeds, but in our last story we see that all the upside down kingdom living comes in the end to be the one standing at the end. Jesus is telling us that accepting the kingdom may be as alien as a little green man, it may be small and hidden – even amongst the midst of life, it may cost everything you have and mean you swim against the flow of culture for the rest of your life, but in the end it is worth it all and more. By opening yourself up to receive the kingdom you simply cannot lose.

Antioch Principles – Power of 2

July 13, 2015

The last of the Antioch principles that I want to talk about is that of the power of 2. So far we have looked at the Antioch church as a body (or movement) of people. Together they formed a new (and inclusive) community and adopted a new identity, together they responded to the need in Jerusalem by putting together a gift, together they shared their values and worked out their practice, without much top down leadership, together they gathered for times of active involvement and quiet listening to ensure that it was God who controlled the whole movement and showed them the next steps.

However we now find that it is individuals who are centre stage. Paul and Barnabas, although desperately needed in the church to continue to teach and lead, are sent off to spread the movement internationally. Actually there are three people to leave together, but Luke very specifically tells us that it is the 2 who set off.

This is very different from the way we do things now, we tend to gather teams who establish a group in a new city – which over time meets in a home, a rented space (often a school), and then gets their own building. In one sense there is nothing wrong with this – it is effective, it underlines the value of being a community of people, it helps to share the burden of finding the resources for the way we do church today. But it is very different from how Barnabas and Paul do it!

Two is something of a theme in the gospel story – from Jesus sending his disciples out in twos – and then 72 of the wider group of followers two by two. Paul and Barnabas make a great team, planting some five churches in the space of a few months, possibly up to two years. Later Paul and Silas were to be a great team.

Two people can be much more effective than a lone voice, they can listen and speak, they can work and volunteer (There is nothing in the story to make us believe they were not working as tent-makers on their journey, while they were preaching). Above all two can stay focused as one or other helps to encourage them to stay positive, keep going, persuade the one who is struggling with the particular opposition or persecution that it is worthwhile.

Two can be honest and open in their conversation with each other, it is hard to hide frustration or anger if there are just two of you.

Of course none of this is easy! It is probably a reflection on the intensity of this relationship that leads to Paul telling the churches he has planted “we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22)

It doesn’t take any great leap of deduction to see that Paul and Barnabas modeled something in their relationship, that was the formation of the churches they founded. In a very short time these new Christians had grown enough in knowledge and maturity to be appointed as Elders (leadership teams of new and fluid churches). How does this happen?

I suggest that Paul and Barnabas encourage people to form groups of 2 or 3 (No more, as a group of 4 becomes 2 groups of 2) where they can work together to learn how to live out their new found faith. They will certainly have been encouraged to read scripture (as the believers in Berea are commended for doing (Acts 17:11), and remember they didn’t have daily readings to explain this for them, they hardly had any new testament, but they simply read what they had, allowed God to speak through it and shared and discussed this with each other – holding one another accountable for putting it into practice, rather than looking and forgetting what God had said!

Antioch principles – Rhythms

July 12, 2015

The church at Antioch is described for us by Luke in his story of the early church (Acts in the Bible). We have seen it was a community that had broken out of it’s Jewish traditions, spoken to Greeks (people who were `not like us`) and formed it’s own identity as neither Jew nor Gentile, neither insider nor outsider – but as Christian.

We have seen how the core value that first emerged was one of radical and extravagant generosity, as they respond to a need that would emerge in Jerusalem.

We have seen that this community was a peoples movement with little formal leadership and practically no structures or programmes, without this they may have lacked `focus`, but there was an incredible flexibility to respond to what was happening.

This is seen at it’s clearest in the in the time that we are told about in Acts 13:1. The church gathers together for worship – we are not told what this looked like, but I strongly suspect that it wasn’t singing led from the front by a musician! – and fasting. Today we associate prayer and fasting, and usually gatherings for prayer and fasting are less well supported than gatherings for worship and preaching. This is probably because we like to be part of an audience/congregation rather than being comfortable with the fluidity and uncertainty of having no agenda!

Nonetheless this was an essential part of what the Antioch church seemed to do, they had a Rhythm of life that included being a community that shared their journey of faith with those around them, living generously, (I wonder if they would have set up distribution to the widows [their equivalent of food banks and job clubs – by the time they get to chapter 13?) setting aside times to learn (being taught by Barnabas and Paul), and extended times of listening to God in worship and prayer with fasting.

This mix and match rhythm allows them to be responsive to what God asks them to do – (Send Paul and Barnabas off) in a way that we would find difficult in today’s structures and expectations of church. The blend of activity and listening is refreshing for those of us who live busy lives rushing from one meeting to the next, with little time to sit and think, let alone fast and listen as an active part of our worship.

The church at Antioch were able to blend being active with being still, while in our modern times we tend to choose one or the other. Although the big challenge for them was what they would do about what God said, and we explore the principle of 2 in the next blog.