I love the European Union

Mark Rice-Oxley writes a wonderful piece in the Guardian today, ‘The EU is Sixty‘, in which he enthuses about the wine, the food, the freedom from border checks and visas, and so much more. In particular he writes ‘[The EU] helped my generation fall in love with
Europe’.

Paris1964Not just your generation, Mark. I’ll be 69 next birthday, and I well remember a school trip to Paris in 1964. A passport was necessary and there were about 13 Francs to the Pound. The photo is taken from a street photographer’s post card of our party magically created while we toured the palace and gardens of Versailles.

We had a wonderful week, the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, the Louvre, the book and picture sellers along the banks of the Seine, getting lost on my own and having to ask the way in French, ‘Ou se trouve la Place de la Republique, s’il vous plait?’ Until I visited Paris on that school trip, Europe was a mysterious place that was far away and not very real. For me, Europe became a real place where trees grew, people lived – it was just like home but different in so many interesting ways.

For me, the EU is a glorious and precious thing. Far from perfect, of course, yet worth preserving. I heartily wish that the UK would remain in the EU and influence it for good. I wish we could see it as a partnership. We Brits are split in our views on this, more or less 50-50. Oh, OK, nearly 52-48 if we have to be pedantic about it, but certainly not the ‘overwhelming majority’ for leave that we hear about sometimes.

I hope we can remain well integrated and on good terms with our neighbours. Half of us wanted that nine months ago. Half of us still do.

Season’s Greetings

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Brrrr.. It’s cold outside, so it’s good to be inside with friends and family. Warmth from a heated home is one thing, but the heart warmth from people who love us goes deeper and lasts longer. Spare a thought for those without home or friends or family this winter if you know someone like that, find a way to make them feel loved.

Spread a little happiness, spread a little warmth.

With love to friends and family everywhere.

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PS – See a full size version of the photo

 

Forgotten ways renewed

Whatever your views on faith, discipleship, mission, community or the nature of church, this book will encourage you to fresh thinking.

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Ten years ago a significant book was written by a guy called Alan Hirsch. He titled it ‘The Forgotten Ways’ and in it he laid out his thinking about a new paradigm to explain the rapid flourishing of movements such as the early church.

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A few days ago a new edition appeared with significant changes following ten further years of thinking about explosive missional movements. Alan has refined the book by adding new examples, making some changes to the terms he uses, and making even more persuasive arguments.

The new version is a great book; read it! Whatever your views on faith, discipleship, mission, community or the nature of church, this book will encourage you to fresh thinking. It will take you down some rarely travelled roads, through unexplored countryside, and it will open new vistas and opportunities.

There are a few links below, you might explore these if you are new to Alan’s thinking. And if you’re familiar with the first edition you’ll certainly want to read the new one.

In the book, Alan writes

The twenty-first century is turning out to be a highly complex phenomenon where terrorism, disruptive technological innovation, environmental crisis, rampant consumerism, discontinuous change, and perilous ideologies confront us at every point. In the face of this upheaval, even the most confident among us would have to admit, in our more honest moments, that the church as we know it faces a very significant adaptive challenge.

He’s absolutely right! But what can we do about it? A very plausible answer will unfold as you read this book.

Faith Camp

‘If you love me you will do what I say’. It doesn’t come a whole lot clearer than that!

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Donna and I drove to Peterborough last night to visit Faith Camp 2016 and listen to Colin Urquhart’s opening message for the week. Donna likes to get along to some of these large meetings from time to time, and Colin always has good things to say – often about discipleship in one way or another.

This time he spoke about whether we truly love Jesus. We say that we do, but are we willing to obey him? Jesus told his disciples, ‘If you love me you will do what I say’. It doesn’t come a whole lot clearer than that!

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Personally, I don’t favour using structure and hierarchy alongside the fundamental family nature of church. But that doesn’t mean I don’t value the good teaching that can be found wherever and however Jesus’ people gather. And Colin’s teaching was certainly good. Here are a few highlights.

  • Jesus didn’t talk about love, he just did it. Love breeds love over time. All his disciples loved him.
  • We’re not called to examine our own sinful hearts (we can’t see very clearly and are likely to miss a great deal). We are to ask him to search our hearts and show us what we cannot see.
  • If we don’t know ourselves, we can’t do what he wants us to do. We have to deny ourselves daily or we cannot be his disciples.

If you’d like to hear Colin for yourself there’s a selection of recordings on line.

Lechlade

Breakfast is served a couple of steps away across a stone-paved courtyard.

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Lechlade is a delightful Cotswold town on the River Thames; in fact, it sits close to the highest navigable point and the Thames and Severn Canal joins the Thames at Inglesham Lock, just slightly further upstream.

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We stayed in a tiny apartment called ‘The Hayloft‘. Downstairs contains a double bed and an easy chair, upstairs has a loo, hand basin and a shower. Simple and very, very tiny, but really all you need if you’re planning to be out all day as we were. Breakfast is included in the price (we had two nights) and is served in ‘Vera’s Kitchen‘ a couple of steps away across a stone-paved courtyard. The food was lovely; I chose their ‘Cotswold Full English’ which was delicious and kept me going all day. They offer plenty of lighter alternatives.

The photo above is a typical scene, the living green of trees and gardens contrasting with the honey and brick of the buildings and also with the modern traffic in the old streets. We enjoyed our stay in this hospitable little corner of the Cotswolds. There are pleasant walks, pub lawns running down to the river, and some nice places to eat.

Keeping up the momentum

There’s a real need to put what you are learning into practice. It needs to move from being head knowledge to being something you do.

JDMC

This post is the latest in a series of extracts from Jesus, Disiple, Mission, Church (JDMC).

Don’t lose what you have discovered [about discipeship] in this part of the guide. Spend time praying about how you should respond (Matthew 6:6-8); listen to the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). Write down what you hear from him and record any significant thoughts, ideas or plans you have. And spread the benefits; if you found this session useful, encourage others to try it too.

As with every section of this guide, there’s a real need to put what you are learning into practice. It needs to move from being head knowledge to being something you do. In fact, it will work much better the other way round; begin with some doing and the head knowledge will gradually crystallise.

So don’t spend too much time theorising and planning. Make some simple choices and get started. There are some ideas in the notes [in JDMC], but often, the most relevant ideas may be those you think up for yourselves.

Discuss – Is anything holding you back? If so identify it and deal with it. If not, go and make a start on the activities you decided on!

(Extract from JDMC, Two – Becoming disciples)

Further thoughts – Overthinking can be a real sticking point. I know because I do this myself all the time. If you do something simple but practical to go deeper as a disciple and to start others on the discipleship journey, you will feel encouraged and empowered to do more. If you just think about it today, you’ll just think about it again tomorrow, and the day after; you’ll become discouraged and less likely to make a start.

The essence of discipleship is to become, little by little, more like Jesus. A disciple is a person in the process of being conformed into the image of Christ. This is a challenge, but it’s an exciting challenge. It’s a journey towards a goal and it’s a journey with a purpose. If I am becoming more Christlike, I am helping the people I interact with every day grasp something of his nature. And engaging people in that way opens many opportunities for conversation and mission. Isn’t that exactly how Jesus reached and touched people?

Bad Shepherds

We have been lost sheep, our shepherds have led us astray, our shepherds caused us to … wander, to forget our own resting place

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What do you think of when you read the words ‘bad shepherds’? Perhaps you imagine a man with a crook lying asleep in the shade while the sheep wander off. Or you might think of a man with a dog, hitting the sheep with a long stick to make them go in the right direction.

Bad shepherds are mentioned in Jeremiah 50 beginning at verse 6. Yahweh, the mighty Lord of Israel is speaking to the prophet Jeremiah and he says,

My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray and caused them to roam on the mountains. They wandered over mountain and hill and forgot their own resting place. Whoever found them devoured them; their enemies said, ‘We are not guilty, for they sinned against Yahweh, their verdant pasture, Yahweh, the hope of their ancestors’.

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The people had been in captivity in Babylon when Jeremiah heard this message, and out of that terrible situation they would cry tearfully to Yahweh; and these verses were part of his response. Israel had begun very much in Yahweh’s presence, they were his chosen people. But they had done so much wrong that he had expelled them from the land and sent them into captivity. When Paul wrote in Colossians 1:27, ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’ (and it’s a plural ‘you’), he was repurposing a Jewish prayer. The Jews of his day were praying for the Shekinah glory of the Presence of Yahweh to return to the Holy place in the Jerusalem Temple. This was ‘the hope of glory’ that Paul refers to. But the glory would no longer rest in the Holy place in the Temple, from now on it would rest in the ekklesia, the church.

The church began really well and will end well, she is the wife, the Bride of the Lamb (Revelation 21:1-4). She is chosen, not just as individuals but as a body, all of us together. Do you think the church has also been sent into captivity? What is our ‘Babylon’? Just think, what began as a joyful, exuberant, free, living expression of new life in Christ has so often become solemn, restrained, enslaved to ritual and tradition and seemingly dry and dead. We have become fractured into many denominations so are no longer ‘one body’.

The solution for the church today is the same as the solution for Israel in Jeremiah’s day. We must ‘go in tears to seek’ Jesus our Lord and King (Jeremiah 50:4). We must ask the way back and turn our faces towards it; we must come and  renew the bond we have to him and not forget (verse 5).

We have been lost sheep, our shepherds have led us astray, our shepherds caused us to roam on the mountains, to wander, to forget our own resting place (verse 6). It’s time to turn back to Jesus alone, to follow him, to hear his voice and do his bidding. There is a reason that he said, ‘I am the good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. I know my sheep and my sheep know me’ (John 10:11, 14).

But please don’t hear what I am not saying. I am not saying there is no place in church for leaders, just that there is no place for bad shepherds. And I’m not saying that that we should fill in the structural cracks of denominationalism in our own strength, instead we should all make sure we’re connected with the Head so that through him we will all be part of one network. He has a plan for the church that will work, I don’t and neither do you. He said, ‘I will build my church’; and he will!