08 August 2011

SOCIETY - Riots in the cities

If you live in Britain you will be aware of the rioting going on in London and Birmingham right now. What are we to make of this, we know what is happening. But why is it happening? And why is it happening now?

Fireman dousing the flames
Last Wednesday a man was shot by police in Tottenham, London. He was travelling in a mini cab at the time of this incident. He died. The details of what happened are unavailable because the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is investigating.

Bizarrely, I know the victim's cousin. This gives me an unusual perspective of the whole affair, I feel more involved personally, I can sense something of the family's pain.

Is there any link between this death and the current riots in various parts of London and in Birmingham? I think the link is extremely tenuous. As I understand it, following the shooting there was a peaceful demonstration in Tottenham. But the peaceful demonstration was overwhelmed and swept aside by other people wanting to cause trouble. Many of these people were not from the local community and had no interest in the shooting or in helping the man's family.

There is a pattern here. Similar disturbances have followed other peaceful events such as the student protests last November.

The people acting violently seem to be either angry or feel they have no future, sometimes both. They are almost entirely young, ranging from late teens to late twenties. They seem to be detached from the rest of British society. They lack empathy towards others and don't appear to care about harming people or property.

I believe most of these young people feel overlooked, discarded by a society that doesn't care about them. There are not enough jobs to go round, there is a squeeze on benefits, they have no chance to create a home or build a family or a career. They're trapped and the reaction of some is to hang out in groups with nothing useful to do and too much time on their hands.

Is it their fault? No, I don't think so.

What can be done? That depends on the rest of us. Are we prepared to spend the time and money and emotional energy to get involved? Are we willing to give up whatever is necessary to make it happen? If we just sit back and say, 'The government should deal with it', things are likely to get a good deal worse. The government will do their best, but it will be an impersonal and not very effective best.

Those of us who follow Jesus should be taking the initiative here. If you are one of his people you can begin by praying for your country with renewed vigour and asking him to reveal the practical things you could be doing in your local area.

Ask him to redeem the young people of Britain, to rescue them and give them hope and fresh opportunities.

Pray for the government, ask him to guide them and give them wisdom.

Pray for the rest of society, that they will realise the need for real change in their attitudes, words and actions towards the young and disenfranchised.

Pray for families, for fathers and mothers who care and love their children.

And pray for yourself, that you will hear and see what the Spirit is doing and saying in our day. Pray for a renewed spiritual life for yourself and others in the church, for a deep recognition that turning up on a Sunday morning and 'being a good person' is nowhere near enough.

And if you don't believe Jesus is the answer to Britain's dissolving society may I suggest you get to know him a little better. Begin by buying a good, modern version of the Bible and take a look at the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts. Ask yourself if the Jesus portrayed there and his followers portrayed there might make a difference in Britain in 2011. Could you use some of those ideas? And while you're digesting those books, consider how you might help the hurting people all around you. Begin with your next door neighbours and also with the kids that hang out around your area. Are there things you could involve them in that are constructive and fun and will meet some real needs?

Think hard and if you believe pray hard. Then act. If significant numbers of us don't do this things could get a lot worse - and nobody wants that.

(Related post, 'SOCIETY - The London Protests')

06 August 2011

SOCIETY: Between a rock and a hard place

The USA's credit rating has dropped from AAA to AA+ and people are upset. Like most economies, our friends in the USA are between a rock and a hard place. Most nations have over-borrowed, financing current expenditure by selling government bonds and securities.

Euro notes and coinsThe only ways out are to cut spending or increase taxation (or some combination of the two). Neither is palatable.

So what will happen next? Nobody knows! The BBC's Mark Mardell writes on the political aspects and Robert Peston covers the financial situation.

Here are some extracts that strike me as particularly interesting.

From Mark Mardell
  • The decision by Standard & Poor's ... puts the USA below the UK, Germany, France, Singapore, Finland and 14 other countries.
  • All America has been saying: Washington doesn't work.
  • America's debt will continue to balloon and [S&P] have little hope of the politicians fixing it.
  • They single out Republicans for ruling out tax rises.
  • Americans are likely to bemoan the failure of politicians to bridge an apparently unbridgeable gap between two different world views. They may put their faith in Washington politicians, in an outburst of patriotism and goodwill, stumbling on a synthesis that suits all sides. But I wonder whether any of them will muse that the system itself may not be fit for purpose.
From Robert Peston
  • Almost everything in the world - loans, goods, services - is priced in or priced off the dollar ... the dollar has a status in the financial system once occupied by gold.
  • Whenever investors believe that the world is becoming a riskier place, their instinct is to buy US Treasury Bonds, to lend to the US government.
  • When the price of US government debt rises and the yield on that debt falls, that typically means investors believe prospects for the global economy have deteriorated.
  • Last week ... global share prices fell on the back of concerns that the eurozone isn't gripping the problem of investors declining confidence in the ability of Spain and Italy to repay their debts.
  • The US losing its AAA rating ... is a very loud statement that there has been an appreciable increase in the risk ... that the US might one day struggle to pay back all it owes.
  • The fiscal and economic challenges are conspicuous: a substantial and intractable gap between public spending and tax revenues in the US at a time of anaemic economic growth.
  • Chinese news agency Xinhua said: "China, the largest creditor of the world's sole superpower, has every right now to demand the United States address its structural debt problems and ensure the safety of China's dollar assets."
  • Probably the only thing to be said with any confidence is that the downgrade could hardly have come at a worse time, in that conditions in global markets are febrile.
In other words the world is at an economic crossroads and we have no idea where we will find ourselves in the future - but none of the options look very promising.

Meanwhile Europe and the USA are both struggling with debt issues while China, the major creditor, is anxious about losing its savings.

The future doesn't look good, does it. Things could easily get much worse.

05 August 2011

THOUGHT: Love and other things

< The fulfilment of the law | The Essay | No later items >

This is the third post in a series on Henry Drummond's essay on love. Clanging cymbalsHere we see how he checks through Paul's list of other great things.

Paul lists eloquence, prophecy, mysteries, faith, charitable giving and sacrifice.

Although Drummond writes that these things are self-evidently inferior, he still finds some useful things to say about them.

Paul begins by comparing love with other things that were treasured in the Graeco-Roman world. I won't cover them in detail; their inferiority is clear.

He draws a contrast with eloquence. It's a wonderful gift – it can influence hearts and minds, rousing people to high purpose and holiness in action. Paul says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” We all know why. We've all sensed the brassiness of words without emotion, the hollow and curiously unconvincing eloquence that lacks underlying love.

Drummond draws our attention to something we all know to be true, the fact that fine words may not reflect what is in the heart. Love is greater than eloquence because words without love have no depth of foundation. We have the ability to notice this and it's important that we pay attention when it happens.

[Paul] also contrasts love with prophecy, mysteries, faith, and charitable giving. Why is Love greater than faith? Because the end is greater than the means. And why is it greater than charitable giving? Because the whole is greater than the part.

What is the use of having faith? It connects the soul with God. And what is the purpose of connecting with him? So that we may become like him. But God is love, so faith (the means) is so that we can love (the end). Love is clearly greater than faith. “If I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

It's greater than giving, once again because the whole is greater than the part. Giving is only a small part of love, one of its many avenues. There's a great deal of loveless giving. It's easy enough to toss a coin to a beggar on the street, in fact it's often easier than not doing it. But love is often in the holding back. A few pennies buys relief from our feelings of sympathy. It's too cheap for us, and it's often too costly for the beggar. If we truly loved him we'd either do more, or we'd do less. “If I give all I possess to the poor, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

Drummond skips right over prophecy and the understanding of mysteries as not requiring any explanation. Love is clearly greater than those things. But he does give some attention to faith and to charitable giving.

He argues that the end is always greater than the means and shows that faith is merely the means for reaching the Almighty One who is love in person. And if we have faith but we still don't have him, our faith is worthless. Faith gets it value from the one it allows us to reach.

And in the case of giving, he points out that it's just a part of love and the whole is always greater than a part. Giving is one way of demonstrating love. We can even give without love, an empty and meaningless act. Drummond's illustration is interesting.

The beggar in the street is still with us. But giving a few coins is a poor substitute for real love. Perhaps it makes us feel better but it won't go very far and it may be spent on something that will make the problem even worse. It would be more loving to bring a cup of tea, a sandwich, a new coat, and a listening ear. Because of the harm mere money can do it might even be more loving to give nothing at all!

Then Paul contrasts it with sacrifice, even death. “If I surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Missionaries can take nothing better to the unsaved than the mark and reflection of God's love on their own characters. That's a universal language! It takes years to learn a foreign language but from the day they arrive, a love that everyone understands will be pouring out unaware but eloquently.

It's not words that are the missionary, it's the person. A person's character is the real message. In deepest Africa near Lake Victoria I've met Negroes who remembered David Livingstone. Their faces light up as they talk about the first white person they ever saw, the kind doctor who passed that way years earlier. They didn't understand what he said, but they felt the love that was in his heart. They knew it was love even though he didn't say so.

Take that simple charm into the workplace where you plan to spend your life, and your life's work will succeed. You can't take anything more, but you need nothing less. Whatever your
accomplishments and your readiness for sacrifice, if you surrender your body to the flames but are without love, it will benefit you and Christ's purpose – nothing!

Here, surely, Henry Drummond has touched on the core of my life as a follower of Jesus - my character (yours too). It's not about what I do, it's about who I am in Christ. If Jesus doesn't shine out in my words and actions I can go to the greatest lengths and remain utterly ineffective. That is why Paul wrote in Colossians 1:27, 'Christ in you, the hope of glory'. There is no other hope, no hope in us as we are. Only as Christ expresses himself through us do we see effective fruit.

< The fulfilment of the law | The Essay | No later items >

04 August 2011

THOUGHT: Planting churches

There is a notable lack of church planting in the West and an abundance of it in parts of Asia. Are we asleep?Are we in the West doing something wrong? Are we simply being disobedient? Are we asleep, or paralysed, or distracted?

Here's a communication I had recently from an Asian country...

Hi Brother, Greetings to you name of the Christ, Thanks a lot for your acceptation my request. I am K from ... I am House Church planter. I have a small registration Organization name is "..." We have 500 house Churches, Pray for us. My email id " ...@..." God bless you. K

K's photo shows his wife and child, but I'm not going to show you the photo, give you his name, or even tell you which country he's in. There are some parts of the world where it's best not to be identifiable. We're not used to persecution here in the UK, but there are places where following Jesus is dangerous - I don't want to prejudice the safety of K or his family.

But look at his message again, he mentions 500 house churches! Wow - we need an explosion in our level of expectation! I can think of only three groups that I have helped to start in the last ten years, all are small, none have planted others as far as I know. I'm aware of other meetings and have been able to help and encourage individuals in a variety of ways.

Will you join me in praying for K and the 500 house churches? Assuming an average size of eight to ten people, that represents perhaps 4000 to 5000 people following Jesus in this Asian, mainly Muslim, society. They are all risking their lives daily so pray for their safety and for Jesus to bless them, guide them and encourage them through his Spirit at work within them. May they be wise and bold in their lives and reveal the grace and joy and peace of Christ to their neighbours every day.

Will you also join me in praying for the church here in Britain? What a lot we can learn from K and his friends. Every person in the three meetings I have helped start was already a believer. In K's case almost everyone (perhaps all of them) were not yet followers of the King of Kings.

Why am I not out there making disciples and rejoicing as Yahshua builds them into new churches? Are you more obedient than me? Are you out there, making disciples? 'Go', said Yahshua, 'and make disciples of all nations.' (Matthew 28:18-20)

One of the problems is that we have been taught for many generations that the responsibility for making disciples and building churches lies with full time evangelists, missionaries and pastors while our role is to turn up once a week, listen and live better lives. We have been misled.

Making disciples is your job and my job, building the church is Jesus' job. We are called to obey him, encourage one another and love everyone he brings us into contact with - friends and enemies alike.

There is plenty of information online about making disciples and multiplying churches. And there's a good deal more about what the church is and what it is not. Here are some starting points...

UK
Worldwide
There are further useful connections on my Links page, and also on the sites I've listed above. You'll also find plenty of good books and other resources just by browsing through some of these websites.

03 August 2011

Peterborough - Faith '11

< 31st March 2011 | Index | 10th August 2011 >

Every year Kingdom Faith runs 'Faith Camp', a week of meetings at an agricultural showground. Most years we go along to one or two of the evening meetings, this is a brief account of a session at Faith '11.

An evening at Faith '11Donna and I went with two friends to Faith Camp's evening session on Wednesday (see also Kingdom Faith's website).

After parking and buying our admission tickets we wandered over to the food and drinks vendors where we chose light snacks and something to drink - in my case a freshly cooked doughnut and a coffee.

Then we headed for the meeting and found somewhere to sit. As usual the music was loud; my coffee was certainly not needed to keep me awake! But I felt more free in praise and worship than in previous years. I think this was simply because only one or two songs were used but the words were simple and were played over and over so I didn't need to keep reading. There was a rhythm and flow culminating in spontaneous singing in tongues, and I felt I had the space and time to dance and shout and be filled with a sense of Father's presence and holiness. It was good, very good!

As the music came to an end Steve Uppal (from All Nations in Wolverhampton) began to speak to us and he had some very helpful things to say. I jotted down the main points that particularly impressed me.
  • We're called to be like Jesus; he's our highest role model.

  • Like a tree, get the root right and the fruit will follow. We absolutely need to plant our roots in Yahshua.

  • We have to want to respond to everything the way Yahshua himself would do. We need to willingly go through whatever he wants us to go through. He doesn't offer an easy or comfortable journey, nor was his own journey an easy one.

  • We need to learn to live in the resting place of the Most High.

  • When we are close to him we grow, when we're distant we shrivel.

Steve told the story of Smith Wigglesworth and the Welshman called Lazarus. It's a story of faith and healing. You can read Wigglesworth's own account of it online if you like (read pages 16 - 20).

And then Steve read Colossians 1:15-20 where Paul writes about Christ's supremacy over all things.

After all this, we were able to spend more time in free praise and worship. It was a great evening, time well spent indeed!

< 31st March 2011 | Index | 10th August 2011 >

01 August 2011

THOUGHT: Bullets and nails

Yesterday I posted a link to Bullets and Nails, a track by Glass Artery, an upcoming British heavy metal rock band. The music is technically good although it's not my cup of tea. But is it spiritually good? What do you think?

(Here's my bookmark in full, sadly the text didn't come through to Facebook.)

Glass Artery's Bullets and NailsPaul's advice is, 'Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.' (Philippians 4:8) And if you read this in context you'll see that he was writing about agreement, rejoicing, gentleness, prayer, peace, and especially peace with the Highest One.

Those who trust and follow Yahshua are priests (we are a royal priesthood, no less) and Leviticus 27:12 tells us that we are the judges of quality and things have whatever value we set on them. This passage is about offering things to Yahweh, setting them apart for his use. This applies to anything we bring to him and it would not be too much of a stretch to say it applies to the music we listen to.

The friend who pointed me to this particular band and music track is following The Way, she is making an effort to go where Jesus goes, forgiving, loving, encouraging, helping, nurturing, believing. She is therefore a priest and has the authority to set a value on whatever she brings as an offering.

But what do you think? Can music of all genres honour the King of Kings? Is Bach better than Glass Artery? Is 'Jesu joy of man's desiring' holier than 'Bullets and Nails'? Does it depend on the words? Is the gentleness or harshness of the sound significant? Or is it all in the heart and mind of the listener? What does it really mean for a believer to be the judge and value-setter of things set apart for the use and glory of the King of Kings?

'Bullets and Nails' is technically good, even excellent. It's an outstanding performance for an up and coming band. Would Paul include it in his list of noble, pure, lovely and admirable things? Are these choices absolute or personal? 'Bullets and Nails' is just an example, what about the underlying principles?

Leave a comment giving your view on this, where do you stand? Can you add other examples and your own experiences? If there are enough good comments I might be persuaded to add my opinion, meanwhile I'm leaving it as an open question.

Over to you...

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