Essential Thinking

The challenge- to have a significant thought every day

Happy Bible Sunday, Happy 500th birthday to the Reformation!

So in some churches there’s loads going on about how on 31st October this year it’s 500yrs since the start of the Reformation in Europe which, depending on your point of view, marks a point in history when one group of superstitious fools became very upset with another group of superstitious fools; or the date when an individual’s right to assert their understanding of the Bible was fully asserted against the presumption that an ordained person’s view was above contradiction; or even the date when faith and politics began the journey that has led to the US, the EU and Brexit…

8 Reasons We Don’t Read the Bible - Bible Study

In other churches this same date isn’t really being mentioned- in the Church of England the Reformation didn’t really reach a climax until about 50yrs later when Elizabeth established the Church of England- several decades after her father had declared independence from Rome and the violent times that followed on. Instead, we mark this Sunday each year as Bible Sunday- one of the other gifts that the Reformation brought about was the translation, publication and distribution via mass printing of Bibles in languages other than Hebrew, Greek or Latin- not only could Christians talk to God in their own language and hear worship led in their own language, but they could hear God’s word in their own language… For us, we celebrated by having a display of Bibles in our church- some over 100yrs old, some much newer… and here’s what I said based on Matthew chapter 24 verses 30-35 and Colossians 3.12-17 (or at least most of it- there were extra bits of course, which you can listen to here

‘Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away’… Jesus words, originally spoken in a language that is no longer used, first written in a language that is no longer used, then translated into another language that is gone, before finally being translated into English almost 1500yrs after he spoke them and published in the King James Bible, the first English Bible that many of us would recognise.

This autumn Churches around the world remember that it is 500yrs since the Reformation began in Germany, when Martin Luther made his proclamations that led, among other things, to the Bible becoming available in a reader’s native language- up until the reformation, and the establishment of the Lutheran and Baptist churches in Europe and the separation of England from Rome by Henry VIII, a Bible in German, French, Swedish or English was an academic oddity or heretical.  Before then, only the highly educated and privileged had access to the words of Jesus- which is great, because much of what Jesus said needed to be heard by the rich and privileged… if only they’d listen.

Jesus’ words are to teach us, and also to challenge us… to help us orientate our lives to follow him.

Today is Bible Sunday- you’ll have seen a collection of Bibles on your way in, some of you have brought your own Bible with you today…

Pop quiz- who’s ever opened the Bible outside of church or an RE lesson?

Great- so that’s a whole load of us who’re ‘Bible readers’- and are ahead of all those who, 500yrs ago had no access to the Bible in their own language.

Ok- who’s read any of the Bible this year, or if you’d say you have a favourite verse or passage of the Bible?

Now, a bigger question- have you ever read the whole of a Gospel- not listened to it Sunday by Sunday, but read it yourself?  Have you ever read the whole NT/OT or the whole Bible?

Before you think we’re onto major guilt trip time here- I’m reading the Bible this year, you may recall I said as much in January, and I’ve not managed to keep completely up to date- I’ve probably missed 3weeks over the year… mostly when I’ve been on holiday, if I’m honest… I’ve been a Christian for almost 30yrs, and this is only the second time I’ve read the whole Bible. There’re chunks I’ve read many times, and others not so much…

A bit about how to read the Bible at this point…

What does it mean to read the Bible? What does it mean to not read the Bible?

If I’m a Christian, what does it mean to read the Bible? It’s the first point of reference for my understanding of God, of Jesus, of their actions and character- when someone asks me how or why Christians behave in a certain way, it is the Bible that is my starting point… all Christian tradition- our prayers, hymns, ways of being church, much of our legal system (the expectation of justice), our scientific method (the universe is logical) stems from the Bible… it’s completely possible for me to live my whole life as a Christian without reading a verse from the Bible for myself- millions of Christians have done so… but now that it is available to us, why not read it?

It’s rather like a man who hears that a world famous theatre company are coming to perform in his home town, but chooses not to buy tickets. And then on the night of the show stands outside asking the audience what it was like… he’ll gather something of the experience, he may already know the plot and some of the characters, he may have visited the theatre previously… but he will have missed out.

Reading the Bible is how we understand God, and how we experience God- in the Psalms, Job and Lamentations we sit alongside those who’re suffering, in Deuteronomy, Joshua and Judges we march through the desert and struggle for identity alongside the people of Israel in a harsh. In the Prophets we listen to the voices calling God’s people back to him when they have gone astray… throughout the Old Testament we hear God’s repeated call- if my people will but hear my voice and come back to me, then I will bless them… all the way from Abram in Genesis to Malachi in the last pages of the Hebrew Bible.

And then we encounter Jesus- the word of God that has been present but unseen throughout the Old Testament, and the promise of the blessing is widened out to encompass all people, and the invitation to become holy children of a holy God is offered to each one of us…

In our passage from Colossians Paul wrote ‘Clothe yourselves…’

For his first century listeners, becoming a Christian- a little Christ, involved taking off and putting aside certain things, and putting on new things- and this is true for us today… choosing to be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient- forgiving one another… today we don’t have quite such obvious temples calling for us to worship the idols they contain, but the pursuit of money, of power, the idolisation of possessions and sex, our love of sport or even family- every one of these things has its place in life, but none of them are God… The Bible helps us to enjoy life, by helping us to enjoy life with God…

In life we need guides and role models, instruction books and how-to manuals…

If we look around the world we see a culture of arrogance, selfishness and greed, of ‘me and mine first’ and no one else matters, that denies the existence of God and the value of peace… we’re not called simply to say ‘after you’ and become doormats, but to challenge in our lives the status quo- and to do this we need to use the gifts, the tools that God has given us- the Bible and the Holy Spirit- the word and the helper.

As Paul wrote to the Colossians- ‘let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts’… as we individually and as churches pick up and use the gifts God has given us, we will flourish as his children, and his grace and love will become more apparent to those around us…

The Bible, in our own language, available for us to read and understand, is what makes it easier for us to know God, enjoy God’s presence, and hear from God…

Or would we prefer just knowing a bit about God, being aware that others are in God’s presence, hearing about others who’ve heard from God?


Looking ahead…

Last weekend we were away- not just me slacking off, but a bunch of folk from our churches, having a retreat/holiday/weekend break at a place called Lee Abbey, on the North Devon coast. I think it’s fair to say it was amazing for everyone in some form- whether the walks along the coast, the teaching and input, the company of friends, being catered for and eating with 100 other people (without having to wash up!).

So, as a result, I’ve nothing to share in terms of ‘here’s what I said…’

I could share some of the things I heard at the weekend, all about identity, about knowing we each matter as individuals to God our father, about how being secure in our identity is worked out in what we do (and why we do it!), but at the moment its all floating round and needs to settle down… maybe another time.

Instead, I’m going to advertise, blatantly, something we’re doing this weekend. Obviously I’d love anyone reading this to come and join us, but equally, if you’re in Hungary, Canada or Suffolk then you might not be able to. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do the same-

In both our churches it is traditional for us to remember the birth of John the Baptist, which is celebrated on June 24th each year. This year we want to remember and celebrate our own baptisms as a way of recommitting ourselves to live in hope, working to bring peace and to restore relationships with those around us. Some of us have been baptised as adults, others as children (which we often call Christening- but they are the same thing). In baptism, Christians around the world promise to turn away from evil and to turn towards what is good, and to hold Jesus as our guiding light as we do this. At this time, with so much bad news and uncertainty, we want to hold out something that is good and life-giving to our community. We warmly invite anyone who has been baptised, particularly if it was in either of our churches, to take this opportunity to refresh their baptism, and to come along with Godparents, parents and anyone else. Many of us, over the years have been asked to be godparents, and this is also a chance just to remember what we, as godparents, are part of.  Each church will, as usual, be decorated by our amazing volunteers who turn the windowsills into a riot of colour and celebration, and the services will be followed by serving of Fairtrade refreshments.

A child's baptism at Newport 2015

I’m hoping the churches will be full, with friends visiting and folk saying ‘yes, I’m in’ for the first or the 40th time. I’m hoping that for us this will be a time when we say that we are aligning ourselves with the prince of peace and the kingdom of hope, and standing against the evils of hatred and injustice.

And, wherever you are- whether you happen to be near a church called ‘St John the Baptist’ or aren’t near to a church at all, you can do the same.


Finding comfort when things are uncomfortable

Last Sunday morning our reading was from John 14- a passage that we’re most familiar with, unfortunately, from funerals. It’s very often used, because its so very poignant and appropriate to the question of ‘what is happening here?’ that we often face at those times. Yet the odd thing is, it comes before the death of Jesus- he is helping his friends to come to terms, in advance, with his death…

Image result for lean on someone

Yesterday I went significantly off script, various things came up and had come up- some tough things for us as churches alongside things to celebrate, but it was just one of those wonderful timings- The passage chosen for today, and which I’d put on the list several months ago, was just perfect for many of us in different ways. Just another one of those remarkable coincidences that seem to happen around God.

Anyway, here’s what I based my talk on- I think the audio should be on our website here

Jesus is the way to the Father… but that doesn’t make it comfortable…

Often folk like parts of the Gospel, or the idea of God, or the feeling of the Holy Spirit, but when all three come together it can be more challenging- we might like to have a pick’n’mix, but is that what is on offer?

I once came across the acronym USP- Unique Selling Point… its what makes something unique- its particularly to do with marketing and sales- what makes this product or service stand out…

In terms of faiths and philosophies, this passage expresses one of the really important USPs of the Christian faith- How we can relate to God…

All philosophies/belief structures and religions try to help give life meaning- to find a way to live.

Many have some spiritual aspect beyond the material and measurable

A significant number have an understanding of the universe that embodies spiritual power within a god or gods

Some believe that there is some kind of life after our death

A few believe that their god is interested in individuals- that some kind of relationship is possible

One, and only one to the best of my knowledge, claims that anyone who wishes to can have a parent/child relationship with their god, a relationship that is based on love, hope, and that out of that relationship they can act and represent their god…

Jesus says- no one comes to the Father except through me. Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.

This is one of those ‘did he really say that?’ moments- What Jesus said is either true or blasphemy-the Sanhedrin, the Jewish leaders, made their decision and then acted on it- blasphemy- so they sought his death, and they killed Stephen for what he said…

Whilst the gospel is open to everyone, its not acceptable to everyone- there’s a point at which it can no longer be one of the things that we ‘like’… it is either so true and so important that it shapes our response to everything else, or its complete rubbish.

If Jesus is wrong about himself, if Stephen was wrong about Jesus, then the Christian faith is built upon the mistakes of a deluded man and his lying or hallucinating friends…

But the proof is in the pudding- when we humbly seek God, when we come in prayer for the needs of our community and seek forgiveness for the mess we’re making of our world… then we find that God responds- rarely in the way we might have preferred, or the timing we had in mind, but often in a way we could not have conceived of.

In prayer faith and faithfulness go hand in hand- do we believe in God’s ability and desire to act? And do we have the faithfulness to keep on pressing into that situation, praying for those people etc…

If we want to see people come to faith, we have to pray. If we don’t pray, why are we surprised when people don’t? Like a father, God knows what we need and yet delights in our asking for it…

Start Christmas early- get the best present in town.

Depending on who you are, last Sunday may have been the weekend that the Christmas lights were switched on, the weekend when 2 siblings became world no1’s in the men’s singles and doubles tennis rankings, or stir-up Sunday (also known as the Feast of Christ the King). In many people’s minds its far to early to be thinking about Christmas- remembrance was just the other day, but for others its about time we got the decorations up and the party started. In the traditional church calendar its the end of the year- the equivalent of New Year’s Eve, except that New Year in the church begins with Advent rather than the dark days of January where the only thing worse than your bank balance is your diet…

Our Bible readings for the day talk about the supremacy of Jesus- yes as King, but so much more. One passage, in Colossians 1v9-20 was where I focussed last Sunday, and here’s what I said. As always, the actual version can be listened to on our website here.

Image result for christmas decorations box

This morning as we celebrate the supremacy of Christ on this feast of Christ the King, our reading contains Paul’s prayer for the Christians in Colosse, and it is that they would know God’s will and have spiritual wisdom- in other words they’d know what God wants them to do, and how to do it… in business or sport we might call that strategy and tactics… That combination of knowing the big thing, and working it out in the small things…

Our vision as a church here is to join in with that- knowing God’s will for us and knowing how to live and act in accordance with God’s will… Paul wants the Colossian Christians to live lives worthy of God- that please him in every way. We want the same for ourselves as Christians, for our church, and we recognise that for those around who don’t know God, their lives would be so much better if they knew that for themselves… Paul also goes on to pray that they’d be strengthened with God’s power to endure and have patience… things will not always, immediately, go the way they desire- people ignore God and stand in opposition to him, we’re not immune to making those mistakes ourselves and we have to pray that we’ be willing to listen together as we try to move in the direction God is leading us in… and Paul closes this prayer asking that they’d continue giving thanks to God- because he has given them a share in the inheritance of the saints… (Remember a few weeks back- the saints includes all Christians…) and that inheritance is the kingdom of light. God has rescued us from darkness, given us hope, a place in his people, a family around us and a purpose in life…

It was great to have one of the young people in our church reading that passage earlier- although its quite complex in some ways, and the language is difficult the idea at the heart of it is quite simple… choose your image- Jesus is at the heart of our faith… or he’s the foundation of our faith… or he’s the pinnacle of our faith… or the head of the body that is the church. Earlier this week I was asked who created God… and in this passage Paul goes behind that question to ask ‘who do you think Jesus is?’ Christians believe Jesus is the Son of God, who made and sustains all things- Jesus is before all things… therefore the question of who created him makes no sense if he is who Christians claim, or else he isn’t God, and therefore was created… Paul is writing to Christians surrounded by the worldview of the Roman Empire but also Greek philosophy and the worship of many Gods- into that mix he’s saying just how great God is, just how much higher Jesus is than the god-emperors of Rome- and he’s also saying just how different he is- Many leaders and faiths have promised to bring peace- just over a week ago Donald Trump, in his acceptance speech, talked about healing divisions and working together to bring unity in the US and peace abroad… Jesus does those things, but uniquely not by economic means, not by armed conquest, nor even by negotiation, but by giving himself. Jesus made peace between us and God and made it possible for us to be at peace with one another. And not just the peace that is an absence of conflict, but real peace. That is the big thing. Peace with God, through receiving forgiveness from one who loves us. Jesus brings that. He is the king of peace.

And that is why we celebrate. That is the reason that Christians over the years have listened to the celebrations of their communities and cultures and said ‘we understand your hopes and celebrations… in Jesus all those hopes are made greater’… and so Christmas and Easter, which folks in our communities can point to and say rightly that people have in some way celebrated since before Jesus’ birth and resurrection as celebrations of hope in the darkness and the new life in nature, those things have over the last 2000yrs become ways that we tell the story of Jesus… When someone tells you they’ve bought all the presents so that they can start getting excited, or have put up the tree already, its easy to mock them, it may be that they’re being drawn in by the consumer and retail craziness, but surely if we can celebrate with them, and point them towards the real hope that lasts beyond the tinsel and crackers- the big thing that is so much better than the most beautifully wrapped present… so lets practice our carols, deck the halls, go to the parties, and make sure that in the celebrations of Christmas this year we don’t just remember Jesus with a nod, but make him the heart of this season.

Have a good week, huge blessings as you start advent and everything it leads towards.

The Holocaust and other genocides… remembering without repeating

This was posted on Faithworks yesterday, its worth a read, and whether you feel that there should be more done/said to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day, or that there should be more done/said to make the genocides against other peoples during the last century, put that to one side and read it down to the end. Its the final sentence that challenges and speaks most to me…

JANUARY 27  is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the date the United Nations has chosen to commemorate victims of the Holocaust during World War II. Six million Jews were murdered by Germany’s Nazi regime, along with 5 million non-Jews who were killed.

The anniversary, marked each year since 2005, falls on the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland by the Russian army in 1945. One million people died there.

The president of the European Parliament has warned of rising anti-Semitism as Holocaust Memorial Day is marked around the world.

The Parliament held its annual Holocaust Remembrance Day with the European Jewish Congress on the 71st anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.

It came as Auschwitz survivors travelled to the camp in modern day Poland to lay flowers and remember those who were murdered by the Nazis.

Speaking at the memorial day event in Brussels, Mr Schulz warned that many Jews across Europe still do not feel safe.

He said: ‘Jewish life is part of our culture and our identity. Without the Jews, Europe would not be Europe. Therefore it hurts that in today’s Europe, Jews again live in fear.

He added: ‘Our collective memory of the Holocaust is fading fast, but if we allow the horrors of the past to fade into history, we are doomed to make the same mistakes again.

‘We need more that just ceremony and commemoration. When anti-Semitism is on the rise, when Jews are once again fleeing Europe.

‘When a murderous Islamic extremist ideology is threatening our existence, we need action as well as words.

‘It is time for our leaders to commit to a robust, unified and coordinated approach to tackling anti-Semitism and Islamic extremism.

‘We must all stand against hate refuse to allow history to repeat itself, making ‘never again’ a reality.’

How to actually do that? Standing against hate without allowing hate to rule us? How do we ‘tackle’ something without force or violence? And if we do go down the path of violence, what steps can we take as we go to ensure that this is the last time?

There’s an Iain M Banks novel, ‘Look to Windward’ that explores the whole idea of redemptive vengeance in parallel with soulless compassion… whether its worse or better to do the wrong things for strongly held beliefs or to do the right things because they are right, whether we feel passionately about them or not… His conclusion is along the lines of the maxim that ‘the best politicians are the ones who don’t want the job’… giving responsibility for making decisions about conflict to those who’ve suffered and survived, who’ve come to a place of personal peace and forgiveness… those are the ones who won’t glibly launch bombs for the sake of votes… or is that just another naive dream?

Oh, and what would Jesus do? What did he ask his followers to do? I don’t mean what did Thomas Aquinas theorise which became developed into the ‘Just war theory’ that the UN bases its decision-making process on, but what did Jesus do and say about hate and conflict? Answers on a postcard please.

The team just got bigger- if they want in, they’re in…

In chapter 9 of Mark’s Gospel, we get some of the most misquoted words of Jesus that we’ll find anywhere… the whole ‘if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out’ bit has been used and abused by all sorts of people, particularly grisly monsters in the horror genre (of these, Judge Dredd’s encounter with the Sisters of Death in the 2000AD saga Dead Man/Necropolis has to rank highest for me, but then I’m British and was growing up in the 1980’s, and that has nothing to do with today, so I’m not going to post a link here to the wikipedia article on them).

Alongside this passage, we had the final part of James’ letter to consider in our morning worship… James is a blunt, challenging piece of writing, so what would he have to say about prayer?

Anyway, if you read these two passages, Mark 9.38-50 and James 5.13-20 you’ll probably have many questions that aren’t addressed in the text below, but here goes:

In this passage from Mark’s Gospel Jesus is giving some clear commands to his disciples, in response to John’s genuine question about someone outside their group who seems to be using Jesus’ authority… He’s not one of us, should that be allowed?

Do not stop him- be united with those outside your immediate group

Do not tell him what to do- be supportive of those who do things differently

Jesus then goes on to warn the disciples about the risks they face- this is spiritual warfare and there will be casualties… in your teaching of little ones- whether young in age or faith… be careful to teach them all they need and not shirk from the task… in your personal holiness- don’t lie to yourself, don’t let your left hand undo all the good that your right hand does… most of us would agree that Jesus is, in this point, speaking figuratively rather than literally… but we actually find it hard enough to even listen at that level- what behaviour do we willingly change because we know it damages our relationship with God? Answer- not much

And then this section closes with a reminder of where this started- Be at peace with one another- harking back both to the question that started this off, and also the preceding passage where the disciples argue about who is the greatest…

But why? What is the point of all these things?

James (who may have been one of the 12 and if so was the one who had serious issues with jockeying for position) reminds us in the closing verse of his letter- whoever turns a sinner back to God saves him from death… We need to be getting our priorities straight…

We’re not in disagreement for the sake of arguing- church isn’t a debating society

We’re not in unity for the sake of a quiet life- church isn’t about uniformity or ticking the boxes

We’re in the business of making a difference- miracles, healings, transformed lives all those happen, not every day but prayers in faith have power… relationships amongst us and with others… prayer for others, with others…

The purpose of the church is to make known in the world the glory and power of God, that the world might hear, understand and be saved…

We can be in unity doing that; we can be in disagreement about how to do that; but we are to do that… if we, in this village, want to make God’s love known to the members of the community, we need to accept that we will disagree, but to know that whoever is not against us is for us- the Methodist church is for us, the Gospel Hall is for us, residents in the village who worship in Umberleigh, Barnstaple, Torrington or wherever else… if they are part of God’s church, then they are for us. And our disagreements come secondary to our unity.

So how to be in unity- Prayer is the first and greatest way. If I ask you to pray for me, then I trust you. If you ask me to pray for you, likewise. If we pray together for our neighbours and the village, then we trust each other… and so on. The first and greatest thing we can do, is to pray together for our community. The second Saturday of each month we gather to pray here at 9.30. If that’s no use to you, the church is open every day, all day- gather at a time that suits you. If you’d rather pray elsewhere, do so, if you like to pray during the week in the context of worship, come to the joint prayer and communion service each Thursday morning… there is no right time of the day, no special location… just pray. When we pray for things that we’re excited about, when we pray for things we’re not so sure about, that intentional bringing a situation and the people before God… it brings us closer together.

Secondly- to remember our calling. We exist for the sake of the world. Not for the sake of the church. This building was not built for us to rest in, but for the world to be rescued by- over the years many churches have become more like clubs, museums and ? but we should rather think of ourselves as lifeboat stations, fuelling stops and hospitals…

Hospitals- to care for the vulnerable, those who need healing…

Fuelling stations- to prepare for the journey, a top up or a refill…

Lifeboat stations- if we had to pick just one… the purpose of the church is to rescue those who are in peril… everything else flows from that, everything serves that purpose… our discussions about worship styles, preferred seating options- the disciples talking about who was the greatest or whether anyone else could heal in Jesus’ name… we have to keep our priorities as our priorities.

The whole lifeboats thing has been significant for me over the last few years- since spending some time with the folks at St Andrew’s church in Chorleywood I’ve found it a recurring and powerful image. If your situation is far from the sea, then it may not resonate with you, but I wonder what would?

Some borrowed thoughts on Ferguson one year later- how does race awareness look in your context?

So, I live in a mono-cultural part of the UK, not because of any ethnic segregation but because of distance and work availability. Or at least, it used to be monoculture, and monochrome (I do remember meeting, quite literally, the first black African who lived in the village, and the first Thai family who moved into the next village…). Now, 15yrs on, the culture is predominantly white british, but with a lot of diversity at the fringe- there are families from all over Europe, Africa and Asia who’ve moved here with work (schools and the hospital plus the beach lifestyle/tourism mostly); but very much in the minority.

The question I have is whether race is an issue here- is someone’s colour and ethnic background a marker or just an identifying feature?  Does it cause someone offence to describe them by their background/hair style/skin colour/employment? I know folks who’d answer both ways to that question…

But the question of race isn’t just colour- its status: refugee, migrant worker, incomer (that’s me, by the way), ex-colonial and so on. Here the question is as much about the camps in Calais, the welcome we give EU nationals working here for a summer, how we treat the families of those who’ve been recruited from overseas to run our healthcare…

Anyway, with all that in mind, I read the post below on Gospelrelevance and thought I’d share it:

One Year Later: 7 Ways To Respond To The Ferguson Aftermath

This past week marks one year since the death of Mike Brown. How should you respond to Ferguson aftermath?

Photo Credit: RAA Network
Photo Credit: RAA Network

I grew up in St. Louis, in a placed called “North County,” about 15 minutes away from Ferguson. I lived in North County most of my adult life until moving away for college. Having spent most of my life in NoCo, as they call it, these are familiar grounds. And I know about the hardships of this area: my uncle was innocently murdered when I was in 4th Grade by a stranger over some chump change.

I’m not saying I’m the most qualified to write this post. But I’m certainly not ignorant. I’m not on the outside looking in, I’m on the inside crying out.

So what should you do?

Last year I wrote a response post right after Michael Brown’s death. My aim was to challenge Christians to respond in a proper, godly way. But now that it’s been over one year, I think we should revisit the question: How should Christians respond to Ferguson?

Here’s at least 6 ways:

1) Continue to pray. 

As soon as you mention prayer, some Christians reply, “I know, I know. But what else can I do.” If this is your attitude, you don’t understand the importance (or power) of prayer. Sure, activity is crucial. You can’t just sit around and do nothing. But to think lowly of prayer is to think lightly of the Savior — the one who is ready to grant requests according to his will for those who ask, seek, and knock. Pray for humility, for reconciliation, for wisdom, for love, for help. Prayer is the first step.

2) Perform a self-examination (again). 

It’s easy to criticize the media, but this is of no value to you if you don’t examine your own heart. Do you struggle with racism? Do you racial-profile others? Do you show favoritism to your race? Others might not know, but God does. Confession and repentance is the fist step for healing.

3) Start a racial dialogue.

I think a “Win” in the past year has been the increased emphasis of CNN and Fox News and other media outlets on having more conversations about race, social justice, and the like. Sure, the info is sometimes incorrect and biased. But at least a discussion is happening, and the emphasis being made more prominent. The media — and Social Media — are talking.

What about you?

You probably won’t be on CNN this week. But you can have a dialogue with your neighbor.

One week after the shooting, I went to a gym in North County. Eager to learn, I pursued a dialogue with an African-American about the situation. I was hesitant and timid and didn’t know if he would reply in an adverse way. But he didn’t. I asked a ton of questions about his upbringing and negative experiences. I wanted to know what it was like to walk in his shoes. And I learned a lot.

Chaz and I

That one conversation taught me more about race and injustice than all the articles I read combined.

The good news is that you can do the same.

Can you have someone of a different race over for dinner this month? I promise you won’t regret it.

4) Build multi-ethnic churches.

I’ve been in the church since 7th grade, visiting dozens and dozens of churches in my lifetime. The number of times I’ve been the only minority in the room is staggering. This is a problem. Pastors in St. Louis — and all around the world — should be committed to building multi-ethnic churches.


There have been books, blogs, conferences, and movements dedicated to this point. All of which can be helpful. But something John MacArthur one said stuck with me that I think can help.

During a Q&A session, a pastor asked MacArthur for advice because his church was struggling with evangelism, seeing very few people converted. “The first thing I would do to help is hire someone with the gift of evangelism on my staff,” replied MacArthur. He explained how this can ignite a fire within the church staff, and the church itself.

This is won’t always be available. But if he or she fits the biblical qualifications, I can see how hiring a minority on staff can help promote the cause of the pursuit of multi-ethnic churches.

5) Start gospel-centered racial justice movements. 

Many movement promoting racial justice have sprung since Mike Brown’s death, with Black Lives Matter rising to prominence. This is good. It’s a healthy sign that people are being shaken out of apathy, and are moving towards activity. But here’s the deal: apart from a gospel-centered moment, the impact of various movements will be limited. What people need is not just behavior modification, but heart transformation. And that power is only available through the gospel.

6) Preach the gospel. 

Racism exists because of sin, and Jesus is the solution. Even John Piper admitted to growing up racist, and I have had my battles, being picked on from multiple ethnicities. The solution? Preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Good News preached and taught through the power of the Holy Spirit is what will change our racist tendencies, and provoke a love for one another. Not gonna lie: a part from Jesus changing my heart, I would be a racist, prideful jerk. Jesus is — and will always be — the solution.

7) Continue to press forward and look to eternity. 

Call me pessimistic, but I’m not sure we’ll ever see a remedy this side of things. Even without violent or prejudicial actions, racism exists because of sin, because of you and I. It’s easy to point the finger. But we should be looking in the mirror. And this sin is not going away, not until Jesus returns.

And he is. His perfect life, death, and resurrection has made a way for God’s people to live forever with him. One day, in a way that I don’t understand, all this wrong will be made right.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall their be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

All the tears shed from injustice and racism will one day be wiped forever. Until then, press on.

The power of language- when is a thug not a lunatic?

We’ve all read or heard about attacks and violence against others in the news- whether its been the shooting in a church in Charleston in the US, or a stabbing in a house in the next town, a report of terror attacks in the middle east or civil war in Ukraine… there is violence and the rumours of violence in the air.

I was recently challenged by something I read to think about the language we use- the terms we use to describe a situation and those involved have so much power to evoke emotions-

is someone a thug, a lunatic, a terrorist, a rebel fighter or a soldier?

White supremacist or religious fundamentalist, enemy of the state or vigilante?

Was it a slaughter, an attack or a mission?

The use of violence to express power and to take away freedom from others is one of the oldest forms of communication that exist- we see it in the animal kingdom and our history books and with varying levels of sophistication throughout our society. Often it is the implied threat and fear of violence that creates the seemingly stable society that we see (or choose to see) around us…

I suppose my answer to the question in the title of this post is ‘never’. I could go down the root of exploring what the words ‘thug’ (derived I think from a sect of Hinduism) and ‘lunatic’ (one who’s behaviour is affected by the lunar cycle) mean, but thats not really the point I’m trying to make. Any time someone chooses to impose their views on another by violence or the threat of violence they are stepping outside of the behaviour and morals that I believe are the right ones for us to live by. When I say that, I know I’m speaking subjectively- I believe this, but that doesn’t mean I’m right. So why do I believe it? Partly from a position of practicality- the best outcome for the most people… fear and violence do not create peace or wellbeing… Partly because I see those things in the teachings of Jesus. Yes, I am aware of the Old Testament and the history of Europe in the last 2000 yrs, and the crusades, the colonisation of the Americas and Africa… Yes, I know all these things, just as much as I know of the many good things that Christians over the centuries have done- leading the fight for the end to slavery and promoting healthcare and education throughout the world, standing shoulder to shoulder with those who are suffering and being ridiculed and murdered themselves for their faith- its not a balancing act or a competition between two sets of facts. I didn’t say it was an easy answer to put into practice or to hold onto. But that doesn’t stop it from being the answer I believe is true. There are very few situations where I can accept violence as being the best option. Disagreement I’m ok with, confrontation and conflict occur, but its how we deal with them that is crucial.

So how do I live this out- In the same way as the relatives of those killed in Charleston- by trying to forgive those around me, and seeking forgiveness myself. By encouraging myself and others to try and work towards the ideal- sometimes by saying things they become true in our hearts, and by acting on our good intentions we discover we actually can live that way. Its costly and makes us vulnerable, but that doesn’t mean its wrong. Today, I will do my best to live in peace with others, and to encourage them to do the same. I will almost certainly mess up, but I won’t accept that as the status quo- failure may happen as we go along, but its not the destination.

Reblog- life is terribly timeconsuming…

Really interesting post here from a friend, reminds me of how one of my old teachers used to talk about two kinds of time- the Chronos that is measured by the watch and the Kairos that is measured by the experience.

Life is terribly time consuming

WHEN we are obsessed by time, clocks and watches can be dictators.
Hurry destroys souls. As Carl Jung wrote: “Hurry is not of the devil; hurry is the devil.’’
We hardly ever take time to wonder. And without wonder, life is merely existence.
In his book The Discovery of the Amazon, explorer John Adams told of forcing his indigenous porters to double their walking pace to reach the source of a river before the coming rains made progress impossible.
One morning he found that the porters squatting outside his tent, unwilling to continue the journey that day.
“We have been moving too fast,” they explained. “We must now wait for our souls to catch up with our bodies.’’
Novelist Ivan Turgenev said time “sometimes flies like a bird, sometimes crawls like a snail.
“But a man is happiest when he does not even notice whether it passes swiftly or slowly.’’
British Field Marshal Harold Alexander had a curious way of dealing with unfinished business.
At the end of each working day, he would empty the contents of his “In’’ tray into his “Out’’ tray.
Asked about this strange habit, Alexander said: “It saves time’’.
In his book The Freedom of Simplicity, Richard Foster told he was working at a boring job when a friend visited him one day.
“He loitered about for nearly an hour, perched on the edge of the table, smoking a cigarette and talking occasionally of nothing in particular.
“When he had gone I was filled with a special joy because I realised that he had deliberately wasted an hour with me. It was not that we were discussing something of importance or that I needed consoling: it was a pure and unsolicited gift of time.
“We only deliberately waste time with those we love – it is the purest sign that we love someone if we choose to spend time idly in their presence when we could be doing something more `constructive’.
Everywhere is within walking distance, if we have the time.
So relax today and count your blessings – one at a time and slowly.

“Some arrived in their pyjamas” – practically demonstrating God’s love to Iraq’s refugees

Father Jens Christian Aid

Today’s guest post is by Joe Ware, Christian Aid’s Church & Campaigns Journalist. This piece is taken from his recent interview with Father Jens. Joe tweets at@wareisjoe. I came across this on the God and politics blog which you can find here.

I’ve been challenged about what we’re doing to help this situation, so we’re organising a fund raising music night in November for the Christian Aid appeal, and we’ll be meeting this Sunday evening to pray for peace in Syria and Iraq. If you’re minded to do either or both of those things, that’d be great.


A Swiss monk working with Christian Aid in Northern Iraq has spoken of people fleeing the forces of Islamic State with nothing but their pyjamas.

Father Jens’ Church of the Virgin Mary in the city of Sulayminiyah in Kurdistan, is now home to 160 internally displaced people who have fled for their lives. The church, which normally is the home of just 15 people has had to refurbish three neighbouring homes to shelter the extra numbers.

Father Jens, who himself fled to Iraq from Syria two years ago, said people had been given no time to collect their possessions before being told they had to flee their homes. “Many were informed they had to leave late at night. They had 30 minutes to pack what they could and go. People came with just the clothes on their back, some arrived in their pyjamas. Many people didn’t have a change of clothes so we’ve had to provide basic clothing.”

Despite the hardships facing Christians Father Jens’ thoughts were also with those of other communities. He said: “I have to say that situation of the Yazidi and some of the Muslim refugees is much worse than for the Christians.

“We had three old houses around the monastery, from Christians who are not living there anymore. These houses have not been used for at least two years so you can imagine how they looked. In every house we have nearly 30 people and in one nearly 50 people.”

The church has been supplied with blankets, tents and mattresses from Christian Aid partner REACH. Christian Aid’s Emergency Iraq Appeal has received donations from all over the UK and abroad.

Father Jens said of the support provided by REACH: “You have been the first who have brought necessary food and you helped our people with their health problems. We immediately got tents. We gave some to the Yazidi.”

While new refugees are still entering Sulayminiyah the church is trying to plan for the future. Some Christians are keen to return to their villages to retrieve what belongings they can but it is dangerous as much of the area has been mined. For those that stay, work and more permanent support will need to be found.

Father Jens said: “If they stay there will be a need of apartments and of work. Even assuming they get apartments, many don’t have anything. They will need help to get the basic equipment for the houses and so on.

“The next big thing is probably the problem of education. The school year will start in October. It is very important that education is allowed to carry on. It is a big problem for young students because they have been in the middle of their exams and because of the conflict they couldn’t finish them.

“We have a young medical student here, she was getting ready for her final exams and two of the exams she couldn’t do [because the family had to leave] and now she can’t work because she hasn’t done the final exam. So the question of education will be a big practical problem.”

He added: “But again, the situation of the Christians is better than the Yazidis. Where we have families coming here together, for the Yazidis sometimes there are just kids or individuals on their own and they don’t know if relatives or parents survived.”

The church is doing what it can to create a sense of community and keep families together. Father Jens said: “Sulayminiyah is very safe and the church is protected by guards from the government. At least the children can play here in the alley.”

For more information about Christian Aid’s Emergency Iraq Appeal


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