31 March 2012

Conquering the fear of failure

The paralysing fear of failure is the biggest block to action. You belong to the King, don't let fear stop you from doing the King's work!

DARPA HeadquartersHere's a great TED Talk by Regina Dugan. She asks, 'What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?' Her talk draws on her experience at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in the USA.

It's worth posing the question again, in bigger letters.

What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?

Regina Dugan points out that fear of failure is what prevents people from trying what seems impossible. She is right. But as a follower of Jesus I should know that I cannot fail providing I'm obedient to him.

When I am afraid, am I afraid of appearing foolish, of pain, of death, of letting others down, or just of lack of faith? Or am I simply afraid of failure?

John writes, 'Perfect love drives out fear' (1 John 4:15-18). So we can do all things in Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13).

With life in Christ in mind, here are a few more quotes from the TED Talk. In some places I have replaced 'scientists and engineers' with [followers of Jesus].
  • [Followers of Jesus] change the world.
  • [Followers of Jesus] defy the impossible and refuse to fear failure.
  • When you remove the fear of failure, impossible things suddenly become possible.
  • The fear of failure constrains you, it keeps [you] from attempting great things.
  • Testing [is] an appropriate part of achieving something great.
  • To fly faster and further we have to believe in impossible things and refuse to fear failure.
  • You can't learn to fly unless you fly.
  • Failure is part of creating new and amazing things
Are you fearless? Are you a hero? Will you defy the impossible? Are you willing to be unafraid of failure? Are you as fearless as a little child? Do you believe in impossible things? Were you born to change the world? What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail? Will you help others believe?

These are the things Jesus did. These are the things the disciples did. Will you?

29 March 2012

Weeds in my garden

Weeds are unsightly and a nuisance in the garden. How do they get there? And what can we learn about our lives by analogy with garden weeds?

I sent a tweet yesterday, 'Weeds keep growing in my garden. There's a spiritual lesson in that, somewhere...'.

Plants and weeds growing togetherThinking about this later I realised there was an entire blog post just waiting to be written around the topic of gardens and weeds.

It is remarkable how weeds spring up, and looking at the horticultural aspects of this simple fact opens up many parallels with spiritual life. So let's consider where weeds come from and what they can tell us about our personal journeys with Jesus.

Any patch of bare soil tends to be invaded by thousands of baby weeds within a week or two (a day or two in warm weather). Where do weeds come from?
  1. Weeds can grow from small pieces of root or stem left in the ground. For some weeds with creeping roots, rhizomes or bulbs, this is a very common mechanism.
  2. Weeds can spring up from seeds that have been dormant in the soil.
  3. They can also grow from seeds carried in by the wind or by birds or mammals.
If I am following Jesus there should be signs of this in my life, there should be some results, some evidence. This evidence is called the fruit of the Spirit. If there are other, unwanted things in my life (such as anger, or unkindness, or a gloomy attitude, or unfaithfulness) there is a problem. Such things are like weeds. They grow where they are don't belong. The plan for the garden does not include them. They need to be removed. They come from the same sources as weeds in my garden.
  1. Small pieces of root or stem left in the ground. These are pieces of weed that are not visible, left in the ground by mistake. When there is an unhealthy attribute like anger, it's essential to do more than suppress the visible effects. If the cause is not dealt with, the visible effects will break through again and again.
  2. Seeds that lie dormant in the soil. These are too small to see and cannot be removed. The only way to control hidden seeds is to wait until they start to grow. The garden needs to be checked continuously and germinating seeds hoed out while they are still small. If they are left until they are large they will become unsightly problems and removing them may then leave fragments of root leading right back to problem 1.
  3. Seeds carried in. This will happen in our lives from time to time. Fresh sources of trouble will arise and the solution is the same as for problem 2, regular checking.
But there's a more fundamental truth here. It's self-evident that a garden can't weed itself. It's necessary for the gardener to intervene. It is action by the gardener that can dig out roots thoroughly. The plants in the garden will grow if there is sunshine and rain, but weeds will grow too. They need to be thoroughly removed and the garden regularly checked for new weeds.

Unlike a garden, I am capable of resisting the attentions of the gardener. I need to allow him access and accept the disturbance caused in my life by his action in dealing with the weeds.

Father, you are the Gardener in my life. You grafted me in to the true vine of your Son. You are the one who can remove the weeds - wherever they may have come from. Please deal with the weeds in my life, please reveal them and take them away so that I may remain clean and live according to your plan for me.

And guess what? A garden that is regularly weeded over a long period will eventually become completely free of sources 1 and 2. Once in this condition there is much less growth of weeds and the garden becomes far easier to maintain. This is the state of a mature garden. It is also the state of a mature life in Christ. Father, may I become ever more mature as you work in my life.

22 March 2012

Like a big chicken

We often do things in our own strength and then blame ourselves when we fail. But there is a much better way; listen to Jesus and do what he says.

A big chicken?It's easy to make a decision, set off with great intentions, and then beat ourselves up when it doesn't work out. How many times have I resolved to speak to a particular person about Jesus and then chickened out? I can't count them!

But Jesus didn't work like that. Neither did Paul. Why not?

It's because they were tuned in to the continuous flow of the Father's plan, saying what they heard him say and doing what they saw him do - every moment.

Jesus did it perfectly, Paul less so, he made some mistakes. But he learned from them.

When I determine to do something for Jesus and then fail I beat myself up. Yet all the time I should not have been doing something for him, instead I should have been listening and obeying. So simple, but oh so hard!

This is something I must grapple with daily, we all must. No to deciding and doing. Yes to hearing and obeying. When the first method works (and sometimes it does work) some of the glory comes to me. But in the second method he gets all the glory!

So what am I saying? I'm saying that we all have good intentions rapidly followed by great failures, but really we do better when we do what Jesus did.

How can we help and encourage one another to fly with Jesus? Flying is easy for birds but impossible for people. I can run along the ground flapping my arms furiously like a big chicken but I can't get off the ground. Flying with Jesus is like walking on water. Peter could not have done it using any kind of technique. He could only do it by obeying Jesus.

When we listen and obey we can fly and walk on water with him. He enables us and arranges everything for us. He doesn't enable us by giving us a new skill or ability. He enables us by calling us, by commanding us. The doing is all in our obedience, not in our ability.

If we need one thing in order to do the work of the kingdom it's not training, or skill, or experience - it's hearing followed immediately by obedience. If you want to practice anything, practice listening, hearing, and obeying. We need to say what Jesus says and do what he does - no more - no less. Aim high. And always remember that his ways are higher than ours.

But please don't hear what I'm not saying. Training, skill, experience, planning, and intentional activity are all things Father will use in us. If we are listening the Spirit will show us when and how to obediently apply them. Just don't expect them to enable you to fly or walk on water.

Oh - one more thing. Why does the photo show a baby chick rather than a great big mother hen?

It's because Jesus looked at disobedient Jerusalem and said he felt like a mother hen that wanted to gather her chicks under her wings, but they would not (Matthew 23:37). Let's not be like Jerusalem in the time of Jesus, let's willingly gather under his wings. As a lonely little chick I am vulnerable and cold and must work everything out for myself. I need to be willing to be gathered into his presence - for safety, for warmth, but most of all for obedience and effectiveness.

21 March 2012

After the Christchurch earthquake

The Christchurch earthquake in February 2011 seriously damaged the 19th century cathedral as well as causing terrible additional damage and many deaths. It is now certain the building must be demolished. What should replace it?

Christchurch Cathedral after the earthquakeNoah Cremisino has posted an article about the lovely old cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand. The remains of the old building are unsafe and unrepairable. He asks his readers to suggest what should replace it at the centre of the city.

Although I'm an outsider and have never visited New Zealand, I'd still like to offer some suggestions. But first, I believe the city should give itself plenty of time to consider the options.

If the building cannot be saved, perhaps the best thing would be to demolish the remains quickly, perhaps leaving some of the fallen stones where they lie as a memorial to those who lost their lives in the city. Then turn the rest of the site into a temporary garden until a decision can finally be made. There is no hurry and there will be many needs that are far more urgent and pressing, probably for some years to come.

I would like to think that any new building would be a modern, earthquake resistant structure, but echoing some of the cathedral's iconic features - maybe a square tower and spire of the same size in the same place (a steel skeleton or a full building), some patterns similar to the geometric design from the old roof, even some of the original carved ornamentation reused to create landscape features.

Consider using the ground floor of any new structure as a multi-purpose space for concerts, large church gatherings, temporary exhibitions etc. Include rooms of various sizes as well as a place for coffee, an earthquake library, a before and after photo display, etc.

Most importantly, involve the city's population in making suggestions and voting on ideas before any final choices are made.

You might like to review how Coventry Cathedral in the UK was rebuilt after its destruction in a World War II air raid. The old ruins and the new building are full of messages for anyone with eyes to see. It's a different culture and a different era so there's no direct application from Coventry to Christchurch. But you might do something very different yet still draw on some principles from the Coventry experience.

In fact, why not contact the city and cathedral of Coventry and set up a Christchurch/Coventry exchange or twinning arrangement? Compare notes and visit one another's cities.

But that's more than enough from an interfering old Brit. I'm confident that the city and people of Christchurch will come up with a really great way to use this tragically available city space. What better way to end this article than a quote from the Bishop of Christchurch, Victoria Matthews.
The Diocese of Christchurch promises to work with the people of Christchurch-Canterbury as we recover together. We are a resurrection people. No amount of death and destruction will defeat us.
See also: Christchurch Cathedral's website

19 March 2012

Viral Jesus - REVIEW

'Viral Jesus' is an excellent new book by Ross Rohde.  It's well worth reading, be prepared for a challenging and absorbing romp through church history and more - much more.

Viral JesusIf you have no idea what a 'viral Jesus movement' is it will be a voyage of discovery. If you're already familiar with such movements your thinking will be expanded by the many examples from real life and you'll be encouraged as Ross shares his heart.

The book has three major themes
  • Defining and describing the concept of a viral Jesus movement
  • Examining the early church (an example of such a movement) and considering how and why it faltered and eventually withered
  • Advice and encouragement on viral discipleship, church planting and evangelism
Those three themes do not capture everything in the book, but they do give a sense of the framework Ross uses. And it was a good choice, allowing him to lay everything out in a logical way.

Lying deep beneath these themes and the many great stories are two important factors that crop up again and again. One of these is the idea that our thinking in Western culture is based on a Greek philosophy far different than the Eastern view of the world so familiar to Jesus and his disciples.

The second is the important principle that we are called to follow Jesus in practical ways - to do what we see him do and to say what we hear him say, no more, no less.

Here's a short extract as a taster...
[T]he way to live consistently in a deep, obedient, abiding relationship with Christ our Lord has to be learned. For that we need each other in community. We also need the guidance of more mature believers. These believers don't decide for us what we are to learn; they help guide us to the lordship and direction of Jesus himself. They push us toward Jesus; they don't step between Jesus and us. To do so would be to play the role of priest. We are all priests in that we have a direct connection with God. Yet we have only one High Priest, and his name is Jesus. Viral discipleship will lead us into an ever-maturing and obedient relationship with Jesus himself. That will end up having a profound impact on our lives and the world around us.
Read Ross Rohde's blog for more about Ross and some of the ideas behind the book. There's also a link for buying the book online.

17 March 2012

New and old in church life

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We can clearly see old and new in church structure and life. We take a look at how the two relate and how they can benefit one another. Coventry Cathedral illustrates the topic beautifully for us.

The intricacies of the oldIn this fifth part of the series we examine the old and the new in church life. By 'old' I mean traditional forms of church while 'new' implies relational and organic church. I'll explain what I mean by these terms in the next few paragraphs.

Old forms of church - During the last 2000 years church became formalised and adopted many different traditions. People came to think of church as a religious building with the customs and rituals attached to it. It was a place you could go to.

Churches also became organisations - Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Methodist, Baptist and so on. What was intended to be simple has become complex. What was supposed to be one has become many.

New forms of church - When church began in the first century it was very informal. People met in homes and shared their lives together (relational). At first there were no special buildings, nothing was formalised, there were few traditions and no denominations. The 'new' forms of church are a return to this early simplicity. The emphasis is on church as a living organism (organic) rather than an organisation.

Old and new together - These two forms of church life cannot easily be separated in practice. Traditional buildings and formats often include or give rise to newer practices that may be simple in nature. An example of this would be the Alpha movement with its origins in the Anglican tradition. On the other hand even the simplest organic forms of church have some structure, traditions, ritual elements, and some degree of human leadership.

The simplicity of the newThere is a continuum; there is one church but it is expressed in many forms. The newer forms tend to be simpler and are often modelled on church as it was at the beginning based on information in the New Testament.

Dividing new from old is an artificial device that allows us to compare and contrast the two. It's important that we understand this. There is only one body, though it expresses itself in a variety of ways throughout time and space. For example the church in Iran and the church in Britain are very different in their expression. Yet they share one revelation and one truth, one Jesus, one King, one principle. They are parts of the same house.

Coventry Cathedral - The old cathedral is ornate, even in its broken state it retains much ornamental stonework. There are hints from the remaining stained glass of painstaking work by mediaeval craftsmen. The new cathedral is much simpler - deceptively so. Its beauty and power come, not from detailed work by many craftsmen but from the outstanding design of a single architect.

Certainly there is  work of great detail - the huge tapestry and the large feature of stained glass spring to mind. But these are part of the architect's plan.

This spoke to me about church life in its old and new forms. The beauty of the old is in the detail of much human effort, hierarchical authority, rules, customs and ancient traditions. The beauty of the new is in the simple, effective design of the Architect. What stands out is the overall plan, not the human detail. In church life we need to see less human effort, authority and tradition and more of the simple design of the Architect - Jesus - the One who said 'I am the Way, the Truth and the Life'. Our church life must be centred on him and him alone. He said, 'I will build my church'.

Old and new are connected - At Coventry old and new stand side by side, connected by a canopy. The old is hollow and empty, a beautiful shell. The new is complete and full of life and light.

This again spoke to me most powerfully. Although we should live in the new, not in the old, we should never reject or forget the old. Like the canopy in Coventry, the connection between old and new is intentional. The canopy was designed to link the two.

In the same way our Architect covers us in the shelter of his wings, he intentionally touches his people in both places. Where church is concerned there is always some life and newness in the old, but there is always a little death and oldness in the new. Why? Because there is always something of him in the old and there is always something of us in the new.

He is Life and Light and Newness and Fruit and running Water. We are death and darkness and oldness and lack of fruit and dryness. But the joy we have is that he is in us and we are in him so although everything he does is perfect and everything we do is imperfect, yet there is something of the perfect in all.

Each of us should pursue the new life all the time, all our days. But we should also cherish the old for he is present in that too. And if we want to see him smile and laugh we truly need to keep the two connected for then we are doing his will.

The architect for the new cathedral once said, 'The new should grow out of the old.' He was speaking of the flow of the design, but his words were prophetic and remain true. Jesus said, 'Look - I'm making everything new!' (Revelation 21:5)

Old and new co-operating - One of the most wonderful things happening in the church today is the growing evidence of co-operation between large, established churches and small, organic groups. There is a synergy developing. See this post from Felicity Dale, for example.

Let me tell you a story. When I visited the 2009 House2House Conference in Dallas I was told that the sound and video engineer was unable to attend because his wife had been taken to hospital. Their baby was arriving unexpectedly early and he needed to be there. Whatever were the conference organisers to do?

A nearby megachurch heard about the problem and sent their sound and vision team with all the necessary equipment. They were able to do the work and even produce the set of DVDs of the sessions. And they didn't even ask for payment. The new with an admixture of the old was helped by the old with an admixture of the new. It simply doesn't get better than that! This is 'love one another' in action.

So whichever part of the church you think you inhabit, make the effort to get alongside every other part to bless and encourage. Christ will smile upon you. He came to bless us, and he loves to see us bless one another.

So what are you waiting for?

Further reading - The Rabbit and the Elephant

< Oneness and reconciliation | Index | No later items >

UK Fellowship Friday Blog Hop - This blog hop is for Christians who live in the UK to link to a post you have recently written that might encourage other Christians. Started by Rhoda, please visit her original article.

14 March 2012

Mike Morrell on evolution

Can we discuss and debate any topic with grace and love and without fighting with one another? If not, does it matter? Here are some thoughts about that in connection with evolution.

Mike Morrell on evolutionMike Morrell's post 'Evolution & the Two Trees in the Garden' is thought provoking. It's a long post and it covers a range of topics, but I want to draw particular attention to his thoughts on evolution.

There is no doubt (in my mind) that it is important for those of us who follow Yahshua to be honest in our opinions and to allow one another to have different views.

For myself I can say that as a scientist and a biologist I cannot dismiss evolution. It happened and continues to happen today, of that I am absolutely sure. Evolution explains the range of plants and animals and other forms of life in the world today and also in the past.

Yet, along with that certainty, it is essential that I allow others to hold other views. We should not fall out over evolution, neither should we fall out over doctrine, or any of the other thousands of things that may come between us.

Why not? The simple fact that these things 'may come between us' is reason enough. Jesus calls us to be one. It is important to have right knowledge and understanding, but it is far more important that our differences do not divide us. We can talk about them but we should not fight over them. We are not called to think alike, we are called to love one another. You are entitled to hold that evolution is an error, you are free to say so, you are free to say why you think so. I promise not to bite your head off. I promise to accept you even though I may not accept your opinion.

Mike Morrell may have stirred up heated discussion by writing as he did. I may have stirred up more by writing this piece. Discussion is fine but there is danger in the heat. So I have a special plea to make.

If you comment on this article or on Mike's please do so in gentleness and in love. Thank you.

10 March 2012

The Earth at night

Seeing the Earth from a new perspective is always worthwhile. If you are interested in astronomy and spaceflight you may have seen this before, but if not you might be astonished at the beauty and sheer excitement of these moving images. Most of them show the Earth at night.

The Earth by nightI've been unable to find time to blog recently, but I hope to get back to it again soon. Meanwhile here's a treat for the senses, a series of time-lapse videos from the International Space Station (ISS) set to music.

You will see yellow city lights at night, blue-white lightning flashes, beautiful green aurorae and more. It is just glorious and gives a real sense of the Earth's pulse. It seems as though the planet itself is alive! This material comes courtesy of NASA via the APOD website.

Chances are, you have never seen the Earth in this way before. Enjoy it and marvel at the beauty, colour, and sheer dynamism of the planet you live upon.

05 March 2012

Spiritual fruit - INDEX

A chain of posts by a series of authors on a single theme is called a 'chain blog'. This chain blog is on the topic of spiritual fruit; if you're a blogger we'd like to encourage you to join in. It's easy! Just write an article on your own blog and get it linked in.

A selection of fruitThis is a chain blog on the topic 'Spiritual fruit'. (Alan Knox invented the chain blog in 2008, it's a great idea - thanks Alan!)

The 'Spiritual fruit' chain is based on Galatians 5:22-23 where Paul lists nine components of this fruit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. But please feel free to write on any related topic.

Check below for the simple rules.

Contributions so far
  1. Are we joyful enough? - Chris Jefferies
  2. The fruit of the Spirit - Kate Cremisino
  3. Who's next?... your post here...
This list will grow as contributions come in. It may grow rapidly or slowly. We shall see.

Feel free to contribute the next article on your own blog. It might be about fruit in general or about a particular aspect such as patience. It might offer practical advice or investigate some principles. Or it might consider how the presence or absence of fruit affects us and those around us. Or... whatever occurs to you.


Chain blog rules - these are based on the original rules devised by Alan Knox.

1) If you would like to contribute a post on your own blog, please begin by adding a comment to this index page and I will add you to the list above. If there are people ahead of you in the list wait until those people have posted before publishing your own contribution. That way you will have the opportunity to respond to whatever they may write and the chain will remain more cohesive. Think of the posts in the chain as being like chapters in a book.

2) Feel free to leave comments on the individual blog posts without taking part in the actual “chain”. Your comments and discussion are very important in this chain blog.

3) When you write a new link in this chain, please leave another comment here on the index page to let me know that your article is ready.

4) Please include links in your article to this index page and to the previous and next articles in the chain. If possible include these links at both the top and the bottom of your article. This will make it easy for readers to navigate the chain.

Copyright

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