09 May 2016

That can't be right!

The truth is not always intuitive or obvious. Claims and counterclaims abound in our day, many of them helped along by the rapid spread of ideas on the internet. But false ideas are often very dangerous.

I'm thinking of ideas like creationism, a young Earth, vaccines causing autism, the denial of climate change, and many others like them.

It's been a while since I posted regularly on this blog, but I'm going to try to get back to it. Some of the  posts might examine one or other of these ideas. But at the root of all them lies a common issue - are we going to begin with the evidence? The alternative is to begin with a position and seek to justify it by finding evidence to support it. But to see the universe as it truly is we must begin with the evidence and argue from that. Often, this will lead us to ask more questions. This is the scientific way.

What we must not do is begin with a preferred view of the way things are and sift the evidence, gathering anything that supports our starting position and ignoring whatever seems to go against it.

I can assure you of one thing. If, as a society, we ignore the evidence, eventually our decisions will come back to bite us. It's happened before; here's one cautionary tale.

Lysenkoism - Jean Baptiste Lamarck was a distinguished French scientist working in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He developed an early theory of evolution and thought that organisms could inherit acquired features from their parents. This was a reasonable conclusion based on the evidence available in his day. But later evidence showed it was incorrect.

In the 1930s a form of Lamarckism was adopted in the Soviet Union. It was called Lysenkoism (after the Soviet scientist Trofim Lysenko). Based on his work to improve crop yields, his theories were approved by Stalin and laws were made to outlaw opposing theories. But the opposing theories were correct (inheritance and evolution as we understand them today).

How did this mistake come back to bite the Soviet Union? To put it as simply as possible, crops failed and people went hungry, biology and agriculture in western capitalist nations forged ahead, while Soviet biology and agriculture stagnated. Eventually Lysenko's ideas were discredited.

The moral of the story is this. Let's not ignore evidence and let's not pick and choose evidence to support our pre-existing ideas. If we do, the consequences may be very severe.

23 March 2016

Supporting Belgium

Come and stand quietly in support of Belgium in their pain. 15:00 on Sunday 27th March near the Ambiance Cafe in St Neots. If you live far from St Neots, consider doing something similar in your own area.

Click through for  details on Facebook

09 March 2016

Ben chooses love

Ben Scott and donations
Ben Scott and donations
Ben Scott has discovered first hand what it means to love. He's volunteered to help the people living in the mess and squalour of the Calais 'Jungle'.

The French authorities are closing it down, demolishing  the flimsy structures that so many have called 'home' for so long. The problem is being moved on, but not resolved.

Read Ben's account of his experiences. It's powerful, gut wrenching, heart changing stuff. Don't miss it.

16 February 2016

Shoals and flocks, church works like this

Jesus often used biological systems to illustrate the kingdom of heaven - yeast, seeds, fruit, trees, weeds. He didn't say so much about church, only in Matthew's gospel is the Greek word 'ekklesia' used, and in Matthew 16:18 he tells us that he will build his church. What can we learn about church from living systems?

Swarming robots
Swarming robots
Everything else about the church is found, not in the gospels, but in the remainder of the New Testament. It's worth noting though, that Jesus did teach his disciples to love, respect and serve one another. He pointed out that if he, their master and teacher, served them, so should they serve one another (John 13:12-17). And he made it very clear that they were not to rule over one another like the Gentiles did (Matthew 20:25-28, Mark 10:42-45).

So then, how are leading and following supposed to work in the church? Peter Farmer posted recently and pointed out that new forms of organisation might be like the flocking of birds or the shoaling of fish. If he is right (and I believe he is) then the normal ideas of leader and follower don't make much sense. Tell me, where in a flock of birds or a shoal of fish will you find the leader? One possible answer might be 'the one at the front', but this doesn't work. You don't have to watch a flock or a shoal for very long to see constant changing of position. There is not one identifiable leader. There is a great deal of coming and going, twisting and turning, and the flock or shoal as a whole seems to move purposefully - but how?

Studies of flocks, shoals and herds, swarms of bees and gnats, and foraging ants all show the same thing. Each individual is making its own choices of speed and direction independently of the flock. The individuals respond to certain cues, tending to keep the same distance from their neighbours and heading in more or less the same direction. There may be other cues; bees communicate direction and distance by special movements, ants leave trails of pheromones.

Simple robots (virtual or physical) can be programmed to do much the same. Give them just a few very simple rules and they will form swarms and move together.

In church life, we too follow some very simple rules. Here are some examples, perhaps you can think of more. (Leave a comment below if you can.)

  • We focus on Jesus and do our best to follow him
  • We pay attention to the promptings of the Holy Spirit
  • We meet one another often
  • We encourage one another
  • We love one another
  • We pay attention the gifts we see in one another
  • We ask one another for help when we need it
  • We pray
  • We share food together
  • We show the world that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Taking these together and integrating them, I suggest we can see Jesus at the centre, discipleship, outreach, APEST leadership, an organic and living church, and an exciting journey together. If this sounds familiar - it should! For more, check out Jesus, Disciple, Mission, Church (JDMC). Notice the light touch of the APEST form of leading one another. We are all gifted and there are times for each one to contribute something that the others need to hear, see, understand or do.

I have a strong sense that as we keep these simple rules we will find we are living and moving in unison. Like the birds, fish and other animals mentioned above, we make constant adjustments to our course, but nobody commands us (other than the Spirit of Christ).

Not only do we not need leaders in the normal sense of that word, they will rather quickly take us way off track. If you think that is not the case just look at church history. If you like, look also at the history of Israel in the Old Testament. Open your eyes, see what human leadership has done over and over again. Church is a shoal in many ways and the right course is a course of togetherness, guided by those very simple rules.

Peter Farmer uses some interesting words as he considers a murmuration (flock) of starlings. These are trust, humility, unity and diversity. Do you recognise these in the list of simple rules above? He adds that the murmuration is highly adaptive, flexible, intuitive, constantly changing, everyone plays an important part and it's characterised by flow. All of these are attributes we would like to see in church life. Do you see them in the traditional denominations? Do you see them fully anywhere? Is there a sense of direction here.

How can we rethink human leadership to set the church free to flow and turn as it is intended to do? Christ's body should surely be nimble, athletic, fit and healthy. She should be adaptive, flexible, intuitive, constantly changing, everyone playing a part, and flowing.

I believe we face an important choice. Will we continue to control ourselves to a standstill? Or will we let go of all that holds us back and go with the flow of the Holy Spirit, living moment by moment by the simplest of rules? In the end, they really distill down to love.

Swimming in harmony

Make no mistake - Jesus will have his way with his people. A time is coming when we will live as one body and we will experience the rule of the head - one Lord over all and in all. Jesus himself is at work. If we are to experience this we must understand the principle that all of us be willing to follow and all of us be willing to lead.

Swimming as one
Swimming as one
I began to follow Jesus in a serious way in my early twenties, beginning by reading through the Bible several times and realising that nobody I knew was taking the implications seriously.

Indeed, it seemed to me that almost all Christian scholars and leaders were blind to the deepest and simplest truths while picking over many tiny yet barely relevant details. As an example, there were entire books on the finer points of Hebrew and Koine Greek grammar, yet there were many denominations that at best ignored one another or at worst argued bitterly or had even fought wars over doctrine - yet Jesus clearly calls us to be one 'as I and the Father are one'. Not only that, he points out that the Pharisees swallow camels while taking issue with gnats, or attempt to remove specks from other's eyes while having planks in their own.

I was deeply troubled, especially by divisions in the church. I could do nothing to bring together Catholic and Brethren, or Baptist and Anglican. Neither could any conceivable ecumenical movement. In the end I realised that mending what was so broken could only come through direct intervention by the Almighty himself. It would have to be Father's move, not merely a human movement. And I would have to be patient.

When I discovered the Charismatic Movement my hopes rose as I met with believers from widely differing backgrounds. We found unity and wholeness in simple praise and community around Jesus; he confirmed it all by the abundant pouring out of his Holy Spirit. Mind you, it all fell apart soon enough, though I've never forgotten the flavour and the sheer excitement of those times!

Thinking back there are two aspects of this that have remained very strong in my heart and in my aspirations. There is a powerful sense that there was no leader at work other than Jesus himself through his Holy Spirit. All of us were followers together. And the other aspect was the opposite, that every one of us had the responsibility of leading and guiding the others. There was no tension between these 'opposites' of following and leading. We all entered into the practicalities of this, we were always eager to see and hear what the others would bring, and we had a sense of responsibility to share whatever was revealed to us because we knew the others needed it. Sometimes we got it wrong, but we forgave one another quickly and knew that Jesus, too, forgave us. And he always put us back on track. The sense of one people and one Lord was palpable; we all knew it in our hearts.

How did this work in practice? What were the unspoken rules of engagement? There were just the two already mentioned, lead and follow, follow and lead. We trusted one another, we encouraged one another, we were not afraid to correct one another when necessary, we sensed the responsibility of leading when we were called to do that, and we also understood the value of following. This was never a matter of authority and obedience. There were no individuals 'in authority' over others. But we recognised wisdom, grace, gifting and truth in one another and we knew in our hearts that we were truly one body and there was only one head. We loved one another. Think of a shoal of fish. How do they stay together? Which is the lead fish?

Today, I sense a return of this kind of oneness. It's happening in many places and in many ways. It's another move at grass roots level. But this time there is a deeper understanding developing too. Where will Jesus take us next? What are the mechanisms at work here? I plan to return to this topic in another post. Meanwhile, read Peter Farmer's post New forms of organisation, if you haven't already done so.

09 February 2016

Here be giants

A few days ago I watched a Louie Giglio presentation at a friend's home. He was talking about 'giants' in people's lives, issues that they struggle with but have not been able to completely subdue. Louie Giglio used Goliath to teach that 'giants must fall', but I think there's a much deeper meaning in the David and Goliath story.

Dwarfs and giants are real, by the way. Not so often today because of hormonal treatments that can control a person's growth. The photo shows Robert Wadlow (right) and his father (left). Robert reached almost nine feet in height; he was immensely strong and was still growing until his death in 1940.

Robert Wadlow
Robert Wadlow
Personal or corporate? - At first sight it seems that Goliath, slain by David, is a great illustration of the personal battles we face as individuals. And we heard that David represents Jesus so, like the Israelite army, I am not the one who defeats my giant - Jesus is. I'm sure Giglio is right to point this out, but I am equally sure that Goliath represents a giant that threatens, not just individuals, but the entire church.

Goliath (and several other giants in the same period) did not come to defeat individual Israelite soldiers. Goliath came to defeat the entire army and, indeed, the whole nation. He shouted defiance against Yahweh (the god of Israel) and he threatened the gathered people of Israel. I suggest that there are giants defying the Most High in our day, and threatening the church. And just as David won the entire war by defeating Goliath (1 Samuel 17:9), so will Jesus have a mighty victory when he brings down the defiant, threatening giants of our day. Let's unwrap this a bit more.

The giants - Let's think about these giants. They are very big issues that the church has developed during her long history, they mislead us and are strong and powerful, difficult to identify and shake off. The people are afraid to tackle them; these giants defy the Almighty and they cause confusion and doubt. Can we identify any of these giants? I have some preliminary ideas that I will share, but there are likely to be others I haven't identified.

The leadership giant - I believe one such giant is our great misunderstanding of church leadership. I am not referring to people here, but to an idea. The giant is not a bad church leader, he is a wrong view of what it means to lead in church. Jesus clearly said that he is the only teacher and master we need, and that we are to be absolutely humble and loving (Matthew 23:8-12, John 13:1-17, John 17:21). Yet the church is full of many leaders - bishops, elders, pastors, vicars, priests, deacons, apostles, evangelists and so forth. The problem is that we have forgotten that we have one head, Christ himself, and we are not to rule over one another. To look to others to lead us is to defy the will of the Father expressed in and through the Son. There are leaders in church life, but they don't look like the leaders I'm referring to here. For more on leaders, see Jesus, Disciple, Mission, Church (JDMC), especially the sections on The APEST gifts and Other leaders.

The denominational giant - Another giant opposing the will of the Most High regarding church is the dreadfully divided state we are in. Paul criticised the Corinthians for being divided (1 Corinthians 3), and as the centuries have passed things have just gone from bad to worse. Denominations sometimes cooperate with one another, and that's great as far as it goes, but it's not the same as being one. Jesus calls us to be one 'as I and the Father are one' (John 17:20-23), Think about that for a moment. Can it be said to be true for the church today? If not, surely we're guilty of disobedience? Paul writes about one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism (Ephesians 4:1-6). Some denominations even regard themselves as the one true church. If this is so, what do they think about all the others?

Wrong thinking about mission - Mostly, the church focuses on evangelism. When we think about outreach we think about sharing the gospel. But read Jesus' words in Matthew 28:18-20. Where does he mention the gospel or evangelism? He does, however, say that he has all power and authority, that we should make disciples everywhere and that he will be with us as we do it. The evangelism giant prevents us from doing what we have been clearly told. Let's try being and making disciples as Jesus commands, evangelism will happen along the way. (See the JDMC section on Becoming Disciples.)

Other giants - Are there more giants than these three? Undoubtedly, though three is probably more than enough to consider right now. The great difficulty with these giants is that we are so used to them that we no longer really see them. These giants are almost invisible, or we are so nearly blind and deaf that we neither see Goliath nor hear his daily challenge to us.

We need to ask our 'David', who is the same Jesus who said, 'Go in my name, make disciples, and I'll be with you', to demolish these giants for us.

Perhaps it's significant that David felled Goliath with a smooth river pebble. Jesus is more than a pebble, he is the very bedrock on which his church is built. And it's worth mentioning that he doesn't call us to build it. He did tell us that he would build it.

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