13 December 2014

Every chapter is necessary

The recently published book, Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity, contains twenty-six chapters. Each one discusses a positive aspect of church, something that is an essential part of the whole. Reading from the book last night I was deeply impacted by Chapter 22 from Kathy Escobar; the chapter is entitled A church that restores dignity where it's been lost.

She writes
Jesus calls [Lazarus] out of the tomb, but then he looks to the people around him - his community, friends, and advocates - and says to them 'unbind him'. Unbind him. Unwrap him. Take off his graveclothes.

I think God calls us to participate in this uncovering-unwrapping-unbinding with each other through healing community.
Kathy Escobar's chapter
Kathy Escobar's chapter
And it struck me that although church is much more than the sum of its parts, all of the parts need to be actively present. There is a synergy, a sparking of abundant life that comes from the interdependence of the parts. Church is a person, the Bride of Christ.

Like all people, you and I are much more than the sum of hands, ears, spleen, heart, lungs and all the rest. But if any of these were missing we would either die or be unable to fully function. And it's just the same with the church.

Just consider some of the other chapter themes. The church cherishes Jesus Christ, exhibits personal holiness, counts every member as key, assembles for mutual edification, and knows eternal life is free. Imagine all of those being true in a church that fails to restore dignity where it's been lost. It would be a church without the active compassion necessary to unbind those who so desperately need it.

Or consider a church that clings to scriptural truth, is most notable for its love and is united in Christ but doesn't follow the lead of the Holy Spirit. This would be a church that failed to hear where to go and what to do and did everything in its own strength.

Or what about a church that was composed of peacemakers, viewed itself as a people, restored dignity but failed to proclaim the gospel clearly?

The chapters of this book all stand alone and can be read alone. But they often overlap so that there are echoes and glimpses of them in one another. Yet taken together, with no part missing or inactive, they describe a holistic church, a wholesome church and a church that is alive and active and effective in the world. There are other aspects that are not explicitly covered in the book, prayer for example. But these are implied throughout in a variety of ways.

Church is as complex as any living organism, and just like a living organism it is not only complex but also multi-faceted, and astonishingly well constructed. The church is also alive with the life of Christ. And every part contributes!

01 December 2014

Simple Church is now available

The twenty-four author, collaborative book Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity is now available to buy online and in bookshops. You can buy it direct from the publisher, Redeeming Press, or you can order it online from Amazon in both the USA and the UK. I was given the opportunity to write the third chapter, A Church That Follows the Lead of the Holy Spirit.


Simple Church, the paperback
Simple Church, the paperback
Here's a review I wrote for Amazon.

What has one purpose, but twenty-four authors

This book does!

The editor, Eric Carpenter, has put together contributions from around the globe; and every single chapter describes an aspect of church life seen from the perspective of oneness and harmony. The book succeeds in its stated aim of filling a much-needed gap, expressing what the authors believe church can be, and doing so in a wholly positive way.

I am one of the authors, writing chapter three on following the lead of the Holy Spirit. But I have to tell you that I am blown away by the scope, insight and depth of the other twenty-three chapters that I did not write. The book contains sections on glorifying and enjoying the One we worship, living radically, building the body, impacting the world and proclaiming salvation. The focus throughout is on inclusive, positive and straightforward ways of living out what we believe. If you're looking for an uplifting read that will challenge and encourage you, this could be just the book for you.

It's refreshing to read a book so empty of criticism, yet full of insights and passion. Turn these pages and you will find personal stories, good analysis, and original thoughts. Expect to be changed and encouraged as you read, be prepared to laugh in some places, to cry in others, and to come away with fresh understandings and a determination to live more completely in the unity that is already ours in Christ.

Read this book, I don't think you will regret it.

And here's another review, this time from Jeremy Myers.

Lots of Christians talk about church unity, but usually what they mean is, "If you believe like we do and act like we do, then we can be unified."

This book seeks to look at several things that all people of all (almost all, anyway) forms of church can be unified about. Though most of the 24 authors of this book practice various "simple" or "missional" forms of church, this book is not for those sorts of Christians only, but for everybody who hopes and prays along with Jesus "That they may be one..."

The book is divided into 5 areas in which Christians can be unified: (1) Glorying and Enjoying God, (2) Living Radically as followers of Jesus, (3) Building up the Body of Christ, (4) Impacting the World through missions and service, and (5) Proclaiming the freeness of salvation.

The 24 authors of this book come from a variety of backgrounds and church experiences, with many of them coming from or currently serving on the mission field overseas. Several of the authors have published other books, and almost all of them have blogs about church, theology, missions, and following Jesus. By way of full disclosure, I am one of the contributors to this book, but have been challenged and blessed by every chapter in it.

If you buy the book and review it for us on Amazon, you will receive the unified and most heartfelt gratitude of twenty-four authors. With most books you'd do well to get the gratitude of more than one!

06 November 2014

Simple Church (the book)

There's a new book ready for publication, pre-orders are now being accepted by Redeeming Press and Amazon. It's called Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity.

Front cover
Front cover
Why all the excitement? This is a book with a difference, it aims to show how we can be one even though we are many. Unity doesn't mean uniformity, it means togetherness despite the differences. Indeed, the differences between us should be seen as a great strength. There is balance in diversity; it's a wonderful guard against the propagation of errors.

I'm including a preview of the book cover (click the image for a larger view) and an extract from Chapter Four, A Church that follows the lead of The Holy Spirit in all things. I was delighted to have the opportunity to contribute this chapter to the book and grateful to the editor, Eric Carpenter, for entrusting it to me.

You can also read the blurb from the back cover (again, click the image to enlarge it).
Back cover blurb
Back cover blurb
The Holy Spirit teaches us to be more like Christ. His fruit builds in our lives over time. He equips us by pouring out His gifts as and when they are needed. He builds us in relationship. The Holy Spirit sends us out on mission. He want us to live in the world as a blessing and a challenge. He is always doing new things. When we meet, the Spirit meets with us. After all, Jesus lives in each one of us and the Holy Spirit fills us to overflowing. Usually that overflowing serves to inform our meetings, guide our thoughts, lift our hearts into the presence of the Most High and speak to us moment by moment in our lives.

What would church be like without the Spirit? It’s quite hard to imagine. I wonder if it could even be called ‘church’ at all! Church without the Spirit of Christ? I don’t think so!

01 November 2014

The stamping of the seal

This time I'd like to delve a bit deeper into the seal of Paul's apostolic gift. It's more accurate to say that Paul himself was a gift to the churches he worked amongst. Jesus is the gift-giver here, and he gives people with particular abilities to communities of believers as they have need.

We'll come back later to the idea that people are gifts to the church. For now I'll just make the statement without enlarging on it. But what of the 'seal'? We covered this yesterday, but we can draw more from 1 Corinthians 9:2.


A wax seal
A wax seal
When Paul looks at the Corinthian believers he sees an unmistakeable imprint upon them. They are far from perfect, they have been bickering with one another, living in careless ways that may hurt one another. They are still beginning their spiritual journeys; and they have a lot to learn. If these people are the seal of Paul's apostleship (and he says they are) we might think in terms of the material that a seal would be made of.

It would have to be a material that could be moulded so it could be stamped with a signet ring, and it would need to set hard so that the  pattern would not be lost in transit. Many materials have been used for this purpose. Hot wax can be stamped and sets hard when it cools. Clay can be stamped and sets when it dries. Bitumen was used in Roman times and hardens as it cools; good supplies were available from the Red Sea and elsewhere.

In what way were the believers in Corinth stamped with an image? They were stamped with the image of Christ. Jesus is the one who wears the signet ring. He is the one who marks us as authentic followers and as authentic communities, the ekklesia, the church. He stamps us by pouring his Spirit over us and into us and through us, and we become a little more like him.

Paul could see this growing evidence of their Christlikeness, and it was proof that he had laid the right foundation. It was, therefore, a seal of his apostleship. He had, we might say, 'apostled' well in Corinth and he continues this work in his letter.

Whose stamp do we see among those we have taught and counselled? Do we see our own stamp? Or do we see Jesus' stamp? It had better be the King's stamp, the stamp of King Jesus. If not, we have built in vain and our work will be destroyed in the fire (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

31 October 2014

The seal of apostleship

'Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.' - (Paul, writing from Ephesus to the church in Corinth about 20 to 25 years after the death of Jesus, 1 Corinthians 9:2)

What does Paul have in mind here? What does he mean by a 'seal' of his apostleship? First of all, what does he mean by his 'apostleship'?


Apostleship - An apostle is a gift to the body of Christ; people with an apostolic gift lay foundations, start things off, and keep them on track. Paul is one of the best examples we have. He didn't stay more than a few years in each place, often far less and sometimes only a few days. But in that time he worked to establish something that would prosper after he was gone. Christ is the foundation, and it's Christ that Paul always wanted to establish in the hearts and minds of the believers. Often, he came back later to check on what had been constructed on that foundation. And when he couldn't go in person, he sent others or wrote letters.

Seal - A seal is a mark of authenticity. An important document was sealed with wax pressed into a pattern with the sender's signet ring. It could only be opened by breaking the seal which was therefore a guarantee of both authorship and freedom from tampering. If a document was still sealed it could not have been altered or replaced by a third party.

The Corinthian believers - So when Paul writes that the Corinthian believers are the 'seal' of his apostleship, he means that they are the proof that the work he did among them is the genuine deal and has not been interfered with. How so?

Paul tells them plainly that he doesn't want anything from them, he was pleased to do his work free of charge and without support. He has various issues to raise with them, but he begins his letter with encouragement (1 Corinthians 1:4-9). And it's these gifts and qualities amongst the Corinthians that prove that Paul laid the foundations well. The seal of his apostleship is that he can see in them the grace of Christ, that they have been enriched in their words and their knowledge, they have every spiritual gift, that they are eager and are in fellowship with the Son.

Of course, he finds much to criticise too, but the fundamentals are there, the basis is right even if the acting out has been a bit misguided. And that is why he wrote this letter, to get them back on track. That, too, is part of being apostolic.

And today? - We so badly need to see the apostolic gift active in the church in our own day. We need to see foundation-layers active, rescuing people from the clutches of consumerism, addiction, lack of purpose, despair and confusion. We need to see them placing people on the one foundation who is Jesus, and encouraging them and guiding them to live kingdom lives together. We need to see them gathering the new believers into Jesus-following communities, and challenging them to go out and share the good news that Jesus lives!

And we need to see them walk away to repeat the same work in other places, allowing each new church to explore for themselves the richness that is theirs in Christ, in prayer, reaching the lost, encouraging one another in using every available gift, including the apostolic gift so that the process repeats itself and becomes like seed growing and spreading, growing and spreading to the ends of the earth.

And we need to see them checking back in person, by sending messengers, writing letters (or using today's communication systems) to keep the growing nodes on track, healthy and well networked.

And so it will be again as it was in the beginning. This is no pipedream. It is necessary and it depends on Jesus pouring his Holy Spirit into his people, and on us responding to his bidding.

The time is now! So go and make disciples of all nations.

Simplifying the blog

Journeys of heart and mind has grown in complexity over the years. I think it will be better if I simplify it - better for me because it will be easier to maintain and quicker to post articles - better for you because it will be clearer and less cluttered.

So expect to see some changes here. They won't come all at once, it'll be a tweak here and a streamlining there. Look out for shorter posts, fewer columns, and a fresh appearance.


Let me know what you think; your opinions are always welcome.




Chris Jefferies (Editor)

25 June 2014

Pray in faith, hope and love

How do faith, hope and love work together in prayer? Should our emphasis be on whisking up fervent faith? Or should we just hope for a good outcome? And where does love come in?


Prayer focussed on Jesus
Prayer focussed on Jesus
Paul writes that faith, hope and love remain, and he adds that the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13). And when we think of these three great concepts in their own right we don't have too much trouble agreeing with Paul.

But when we begin to think about faith, hope and love in relation to prayer, we may have a little more difficulty. After all, the New Testament tells us very clearly that we must pray in faith.

James says that the prayer of faith will heal the sick (James 5:15). Jesus himself tells us that if we have faith, we may pray for anything and it will be done for us (Mark 11:24). And Paul tells us that righteousness and justification are through faith in the Messiah (Romans 5:1).

So what place do hope and love have in prayer? We might imagine they have no place whatsoever. But hold on a moment, Paul also tells us that if we have faith that can move mountains but lack love, we are nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2). The presence of love in our hearts is worth much more than the most effective prayer imaginable. It's not that we should pray without faith, but we are to pray with faith and love. And the love is greater than the faith.

Have more faith - We are sometimes told that we should have more faith. People may urge us to pray in full expectation of healing or the receiving of whatever we ask. Yet this cannot always be right. Paul asks, 'Do all have the gift of healing?' (1 Corinthians 12:29-30) In context this question clearly implies that some do, but not all. Paul himself prayed repeatedly for his thorn in the flesh to be taken from him. But in the end he had to accept that it would remain (2 Corinthians 12:7-8).

Does this suggest that Paul somehow lacked faith or was unable to believe for healing? No! We desperately need to free one another from the false expectation laid upon us by this kind of thinking. It's true that amazing healings take place in answer to prayer, but they don't depend on a mindless frenzy whipped up by wild enthusiasm or false expectation.

A gift of healing - We should always pray in faith, and in hope - but especially in love. We should not always pray in expectation of a particular outcome, but in expectancy of an answer rooted in love. If we have (or receive) a special gift of healing we will have complete confidence, knowing that we are asking what is in line with Father's purpose. But it's not always like that.

Without that gift of knowledge and faith we may still bring the prayer of love and the prayer of trusting hope as well. So pray often, pray always when there is need. Pray in love to the King of Love for the needs and cares of those around you. Pray in hope of an amazing outcome. [Tweet it!] Pray in faith when that is granted to you as a gift. Pray in expectancy, and live in expectancy until the answer is seen.

Expectancy - Expectancy knows that the Mighty One will always answer out of his great love. Expectancy always decides in advance that the answer will be good and for the very best. Expectancy will receive every answer in gratitude and great joy.

And if you have a gift of faith, or receive special faith at a specific time for any need, pray with rejoicing that your asking is already fully aligned with the intentions and purposes of the Most High. But however you pray, remember that the focus is not on you, nor is it on the person you're praying for, the focus is always on the Father through Jesus.

Questions:

  • Most of us have experienced what seems to be both success and failure in answered prayer. Do you think success or failure depends on how you asked?
  • Or might it be that our expectations lead us to a distorted view of what is successful and what is not?
  • Do you see the difference between expectation and expectancy?
  • Will you be more expectant in prayer in future?

See also:

30 May 2014

Finding Carol

Sometimes Jesus just surprises us. Sometimes we surprise ourselves. Perhaps both of these things happen more often when we are open, and actively so. Something like this happened recently to a couple of friends and, although I came late to the action, I did get to play a small part.


At the Catalyst event
At the Catalyst event
Last Sunday I had driven from St Neots, where I live, with two friends from the group that meets at Caffé Nero (but that's another story). We were day visitors at the New Frontiers' Catalyst event at Stoneleigh in the Midlands.

It was almost time for the evening meeting when Dave Devenish would be speaking.

I'd agreed to meet Kevin and John in the restaurant area just outside the meeting venue, but found them at a picnic table outside chatting with a lady I didn't know.

Her name is Carol and she had seen them there and decided to speak to them. By the time I arrived they were talking about what it means to be a Christian and she was sounding a little anxious and confused. She is a very new follower of Jesus, just beginning her journey and we talked around that idea for a while.

Hearing the call - Jesus' twelve disciples were not Christians when he called them to follow him, yet they followed [Tweet it!]. Something about him was compelling or attractive or especially fascinating. Perhaps it was his simple, yet very stretching way of teaching, or just the fact that he was a rabbi and had invited them to follow him. As humble and unlearned fishermen, tax collectors and other ordinary folk, this offer was as promising as it was unexpected.

At first they followed in ignorance, but they began to learn right away. Not only did Jesus teach them, he also showed them healing and the throwing out of demons and the need to love above all else. And he sent them out to do this work on his behalf in the surrounding towns and villages.

They probably didn't fully believe until after Jesus' death and resurrection, perhaps when the Spirit fell on them in the upper room at Pentecost. But they followed him in partial understanding, and eventually they believed, and they carried on following him and growing in wisdom and grace and love.

How do I know I'm a Christian? - I wanted to explain this to Carol. I wanted her to know that it was OK for now to be just following Jesus without understanding everything. A time will come in her journey when she realises that she believes in him and that she is eternally safe in his hands. And afterwards she will continue to follow him but with a deep understanding of what that means. But it is a journey, a process, and Jesus is both the way and the destination.

He guides us and prepares the way for us - Our time at Catalyst was a good day on many levels, but the icing on the cake (Kevin's words) was meeting Carol and having that conversation with her. Kudos to Kevin and to John who were ready to seize the moment and help Carol through her uncertainty. And thanks be to Papa, who set the situation up. He's so good at that.

As a result, Kevin and John were in the right place at the right time. They meant to arrive earlier and wait for me inside. But they got lost on the way and had to retrace their steps. Being late brought them to the restaurant at the right time. Deciding at the last moment to sit outside put them in the right place. And Papa did what he had intended to do from the beginning!

Carol, wherever you are we bless you. He will guide your steps in the same way, every day of your life. You will follow and follow, and at the right time you will realise that you believe, and you will follow and follow some more. Enjoy your journey in the company of the King!

Questions:

  • Have you noticed how the Almighty prepares things in advance for us?
  • Why is this significant?
  • Can you think of some examples from your own experience?
  • How ready are you to seize the moment as Kevin and John did?

See also:

23 April 2014

Jesus in trouble

We take a look at hunger, thirst, loneliness, nakedness, bad health and imprisonment. Jesus suffered all these things, helps people with their specific problems, and expects us to do the same. He identifies with us and we really do need to identify with him and with one another.

At last night's Small Group meeting, Donna led from the introduction to Just Lyfe, a great resource from the Bible Society. We read Matthew 25:31-46 and I had a new insight that I'd like to share here on the blog.


Nothing to eat or drink
Nothing to eat or drink
In this section of Matthew, Jesus says, 'I was hungry... I was thirsty... I was a stranger... I was naked... I was sick... I was in prison...'. He strongly identifies with 'the least of these my brothers and sisters' (verses 40 and 45), so what I do for them I do for Jesus himself. Jesus came into the world because of his great love. He came to be with us and live this life as it was originally intended to be lived. And in coming he suffered these six issues himself and he also touched people troubled by these same six issues.

He identifies with us in the deepest possible way. And that should change us very profoundly.

I was hungry - One of the very first things Jesus did as he began his work was to go out into the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-2). And he became hungry. He knows that life is not possible without food, and he explains that spiritual life is the same. Spiritual life demands spiritual food, the Word that comes from the Most High.

Jesus fed people when they were hungry (Matthew 14:15-21), demonstrating his understanding of our need for sustenance. And he himself is the spiritual nourishment we need (John 6:35). Don't starve yourself spiritually, but grow in stature and in energy by feeding on the Bread of Life.

It follows, if we are like Jesus, that we will provide physical and spiritual food to anyone who is hungry.

I was thirsty - Jesus was thirsty while he was dying on the cross (John 19:28-30). And he knows that just as we need spiritual food, so we also need spiritual drink to survive. He doesn't just provide a little, he gives us rivers of living water (John 7:37-39). Just as our food is Jesus (the Word sent by the Father), so our drink is the Holy Spirit (the Spirit sent by the Son).

In Hebrew thinking, the blood of an animal is its life. In the same way, Jesus' blood is our life and the Passover wine is a reminder of that (Luke 22:17-20). Jesus provided wine when it ran out (John 2:1-10). So receive spiritual refreshment every day, let the Holy Spirit flow abundantly from within you, pouring himself out through you into a very thirsty world.

I was a stranger - Jesus visited us here where we live. The Father sent him and he obediently came to live among us and to die among us and to show us that life is more than merely existing. His home is not here in the physical, he is a stranger to sin and wickedness. He came to redeem us and to redeem our world and bring us back into relationship with the Father.

And so often Jesus touched the lives of strangers, think of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-26), Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50), the Roman Centurion (Matthew 8:5-13), or the tax collector Matthew (Matthew 9:9-13). Let him touch you too. If you are not affected by him, do you even belong to him? If he is willing to touch you, how much more should you be willing to touch others? Invite people in, get to know them, don't hold back. How will they meet Jesus if you don't welcome them into his presence?

I was naked - This is a harder one for us to grasp. When was Jesus naked? He was naked on the cross; the soldiers divided his clothes (Matthew 27:35). Crucifixion was not only a painful death, it was intended to degrade and humiliate even as life ebbed away.

Sin also degrades and humiliates. Have you noticed how often Jesus said to people, 'Your sins are forgiven'? Have you ever really thought why? He came to restore us, to remove our shame, and to clothe us in robes of righteousness. His plan is that we, too, will begin to restore and rebuild. He wants us to re-make the world we live in, to restore and mend and redeem.

Learn the value of covering shame and humiliation for the people around you. Sometimes we do the opposite. But we need to learn to be more like the Master in this area too. Let your heart be filled with compassion and forgiveness and grace.

I was sick - When was Jesus ever sick? We don't know if he was affected by bacteria and viruses, and he wasn't in the world long enough for the effects of old age to set in. However, he died. He was fatally wounded by a sick and broken world, just as we are.

Jesus touched the sick and allowed them to touch him (Matthew 8:1-3, Matthew 14:36). Normally, the result of this was healing or wholeness. This is just another way in which Jesus redeems, reclaiming fullness of life from the damage that is everywhere around. We must follow him in this. We can pray for healing, apply medical knowledge, help the ill and the handicapped in practical ways and be generous with our time to comfort and befriend those who struggle with long term physical or mental conditions.

I was in prison - Jesus had a short spell in captivity, first at the hands of the Jewish authorities, and then with the Romans under Pilate. He knows what it's like to be a captive; he's felt harsh oppression and the crack of the barbed Roman lash. He knows what it means to be nailed to a piece of timber.

Jesus released people from all sorts of bondage - demonic possession (Matthew 8:28-32), judgement (John 8:2-11), grave wrappings (John 11:43-44). He came to set us free from the law of sin and death and he says to us, 'If the Son has set you free you are free indeed' (John 8:34-36). And Paul wrote, 'For freedom you have been set free'. In other words, Jesus truly wants us to live free. Like Lazarus, not only must we receive life, we must also respond to the call, 'Come out!'

Jesus did not release us from the shackles of sin without having a plan for our future lives. We are his ambassadors, those who know the difference between captivity and freedom. We are sent out to tell those around us, to share the good news of freedom with those who only know captivity and shame.

What now? - So the question that remains is, 'What now?' Jesus suffered these six severe hardships, he touched people who were struggling with each of them, and released them. He has released us from them too. He has done this with purpose and with authority. He has the right to say, 'Come out!' And he also has the right to say, 'Go in my name'.

Now it's up to you and me. Will we come out from the place of death or will we smile our 'thank you's and settle down comfortably in the grave?  Will we go and redeem the world around us as he leads us day by day, or will we stay sitting at his feet? [Tweet it!] Will we be obedient in our freedom? Like the men in the parable, will we make use of what we have been given so as to make more, or will we be afraid and bury it in the ground for safekeeping? Nothing is safe and nothing can be kept safe. We serve an unsafe Lord who expects something of us. He has given us a precious treasure - his own life. We can do so much with that gift. Dare we do nothing?

Questions:

  • What could you do today to help someone who is hungry or thirsty?
  • Plan to respond positively to every request for help and to every need you notice tomorrow. Jot down some notes on what happens. Did anything surprising happen? If so, what? Tell someone about it.
  • Find someone on their own (perhaps at a bus stop or coffee shop) and start a conversation. How did it go?

See also:

31 March 2014

The Black Swan Effect - A new book

Felicity Dale is a woman and a church leader; in some circles that combination would be a real no-no. As part of her busy life, Felicity is an active author and a blogger at Simply Church. Her latest book, 'The Black Swan Effect', examines the arguments around women and church leadership.

Felicity Dale
Felicity Dale
Here are some questions about the book, with great answers from Felicity.

The Black Swan Effect is an unusual title. Why did you choose it?
The title comes from a story in the introduction to the book. Back in 16th century London, people had never seen a black swan, and so the term came to mean something impossible, a bit like a unicorn. Then in 1696, a Dutch explorer discovered a whole species of black swans in Western Australia. So the meaning of the term changed. It symbolized something that once was thought impossible but is now known to be possible, even commonplace.

All it took was one black swan to change people’s minds forever. Similarly, all it takes is one Phoebe, one Junia, one Deborah, one Esther to prove that God uses women in his Kingdom in all kinds of roles, including leadership.

Who wrote the book?
There are 14 contributing authors, both men and women. They come from many different backgrounds and church traditions. Between us we have written more than 50 books. Each of us writes from his or her own passion and expertise into a specific area. The whole is woven together to form a single narrative.

What do you hope to achieve through the book?
For too long women have been held back because of church tradition and a few challenging Scriptures that stand against the general tenor and trend of the Bible as a whole. We long to see men and women working together, as equals, side by side, for the sake of the Kingdom [Tweet it!]. This will take men being willing to champion women as they boldly break through the barriers that have held them back. And it will take women daring to step out and follow the Holy Spirit as he leads them into roles where they’ve never gone before.

Who might be interested in a book such as this?
We think three different groups of people would have a specific interest in this book:

Many Christians—both men and women—have come to the conclusion that there is no better way to double the size of God’s missions workforce than to fully deploy women to use their spiritual gifts and God-given capacities.

Others are asking theological questions. They are investigating how the Bible portrays women, especially women leaders. Were the New Testament writers—in particular, the Apostle Paul—misogynists? Are there alternative interpretations for some of the really difficult passages of Scripture? 

Still others who enter this discussion are drawn to it because of issues related to justice and human dignity. They want to know why some religions undermine the worth of women, why many churches are not equal opportunity employers, and why Christians are not engaging more with issues such as sex trafficking and global female infanticide. As they study Scripture, they can’t even imagine a God who would discriminate against women.

What kind of questions does the book raise?
We are not afraid to ask the right questions with a right heart at the right time. That’s not the same as saying we come up with answers to all of them!

Here are a few of the questions we air:
  • Does God like men more than women?
  • Has God ever used a woman to change the course of history?
  • What about those troublesome verses?
  • Who leads better—men or women?
  • Are women ever their own worst enemy?
  • Why is gender such a big deal in many cultures?
How can people get hold of the book?
The book is due to be published on 5th April. You should be able to find it on Amazon and elsewhere from that date.


Questions:

  • What are your personal views on women and church leadership?
  • Have you read any of Felicity's earlier books?
  • Which of her answers above do you find most interesting - and why?

See also:

24 February 2014

Museveni and the bill

Today is a very sad day, especially in Uganda.

The Ugandan bill
The Ugandan bill
Monday 24th February 2014 is almost certain to the be the day that President Museveni of Uganda signs his country's new law on homosexuality.

There is already a Ugandan law prohibiting sexual acts between men, but this is now being extended to cover women as well and the penalties are being greatly increased. Read the BBC's article for fuller details.

Originally, the new law would have included the death penalty for some activites, but mercifully (and wisely) this has been dropped. Heavy prison sentences remain (including life) and the law even makes it a legal requirement for all citizens to report people they believe to be gay.

Personally, I am strongly opposed to the new law. More than a year ago I signed one of the online petitions calling for the law to be abolished. But public petitions, religious leaders and foreign governments have all been ignored in their pleas and demands that the law be abandoned. Of course the pressure will not stop now, nor should it.

On the other hand, there are powerful political, public and religious pressures within Uganda backing the signing of the bill.

My personal plea to President Museveni (if he is paying attention to public comment) is to think again. Signing the bill is sure to lead to more difficulties internationally for Uganda. Turn back from the brink. Do not sign the bill. Resist the voices in Uganda demanding the signing of the bill.

15 February 2014

Heart of a strawberry

The strawberry crown is the heart of the plant; all the other parts (such as the leaves and roots) grow from the crown and remain attached to it. In the same way, Jesus is at the heart of the church. In him we grow and through him we are attached to one another.

A strawberry crown
A strawberry crown
What is at the heart of a strawberry? I don't mean a strawberry fruit; I mean the plant that bears the leaves and the flowers and the fruit.

If you examine a strawberry plant carefully you'll notice leaves and roots, flowers and fruit, and the runners with young plants on them. But notice something else.

Unlike many plants the strawberry has no stems and no branches. From the deepest root to the tallest leaves and the longest runners, every part is joined together in the centre.

Does this sound familiar? It should do!

The centre of church life - What is at the centre of the church? Jesus is! The heart of a strawberry plant is called a 'crown'. The leaves, the roots and the rest all spring direct from the crown. The strawberry crown rests at ground level and planting strawberries too high or too low will cause them to grow poorly or even die.

Jesus needs to be at 'ground level' in the life of the church, and everything about the church springs from him [Tweet it!]. We all inherit his nature; we all need to stay in touch with him. And being in touch with him implies that all of us will be in touch with one another also because we will all be where he is. The different parts of a strawberry plant stick out in different directions, but they are all joined to the centre. And that's exactly how we are in Christ.

And that's why, in the context of church, we must always focus on Jesus and recognise that his proper place is at the centre of everything we are and do.

Questions:

  • Is Jesus at the centre of all you think, say and do?
  • If not, who is?
  • Having everything joined to the centre keeps a strawberry plant small. Does this affect your view of church?

See also:

14 February 2014

How does a strawberry grow?

Strawberry plants reproduce vigorously by means of runners. Each year a plant can produce several more which will root themselves in the soil before the connection with the original plant is lost. If strawberry plants didn't die we would soon be inundated.

Strawberry runners
Strawberry runners
The humble strawberry is a powerful example of the explosive growth of movements [Tweet it!].

A strawberry plant is not very large. It is not tall like a tree, and it's not wide like a bush. You will rarely see a strawberry plant wider than about 30 cm or higher than 20 cm.

The plant has a small root system and a central growing point with anything up to about thirty leaves.

It is not protected by spines or thorns or poisonous compounds, it carries small flowers with white or pale pink petals, and it produces the beautiful fruit that most of us love to eat with cream in the summertime. And that's more or less it.

Oh, it also produces runners...

Here's what happens when a strawberry is planted and left alone to grow.

Runners - In late summer, strawberry runners appear as little shoots growing from the centre of the plant. At first they grow upwards, but soon begin to bend under their own weight. At the end of each runner, a small strawberry plant begins to form. Eventually the runners are long enough to touch the ground, looping up and out and down. By this time the little strawberry plants at the end of the runners have started to grow roots. These take hold in the soil and the baby plant grows. Finally the runner shrivels and dies and the new little strawberry is on its own.

And strawberry plants are very good at making runners. It's not unusual to find a runner making another runner, even before the first baby plant has taken root. In fact, this can happen several times so that the mother plant has a daughter, a granddaughter and a great granddaughter all at the same time! Not only that, the original mother plant will probably produce three or four runners, or maybe more.

Twelve months later, all these young plants will have rooted, become independent and will be producing strawberry fruit (and more runners).

Can anyone spot a parallel here with the way the church grows? It might not seem at all obvious, but it's there. Maybe there's little resemblance to church growth in terms of the institutional, denominationl systems that are all around us, but what about the early church as represented in the New Testament? Think about it!

Questions:

  • Assume a strawberry plant makes eight new plants each year. How many plants will there be after two years? (Each of the new plants and the old plant can produce eight more.)
  • How many plants will there be after three years?
  • Why doesn't church grow like a strawberry? Or does it? Can it? Should it?

See also:

09 February 2014

Fail to succeed

The secret of success is to be unafraid of failure. We may fail repeatedly on the journey to success, but if we are afraid to fail and ashamed to fail we will never experiment and so we will never reap the amazing rewards of success.

Success!
Success!
Paul Saffo is a technology forecaster in Silicon Valley.

When the BBC asked him to identify the secret of Silicon Valley's huge success, here is what he said.

The secret to Silicon Valley's success? We know how to fail and we have been doing it for decades. Failure is what fuels and renews this place. Failure is the foundation for innovation.

Failure is essential because even the cleverest of innovations - and businesses - fail a few times before they ultimately succeed.

Consider Google: at least half a dozen other companies tried to turn search into a business, but Google was the first to crack the code and turn search into a huge business.

And even when companies succeed, the only way to survive in the long term is to flee into the future by relentlessly innovating.

Church life fail? - If church in the West is to survive and flourish, we need to change the way we do things and the way we think. Church as we know it in the West has been retreating gradually for as long as I can remember. The same old ways will not do better tomorrow than they did yesterday.

How will failure help us succeed? It won't! So what does Paul Saffo mean by 'knowing how to fail'? What does he know that we don't?

It's not failure that brings success, but the willingness to fail. When the key to success is to do things differently it's essential that we experiment. Sometimes experiment fails. Perhaps it fails often. But sometimes it succeeds.

Trying new things, experimenting wildly, and not being afraid to fail - this is what has made Silicon Valley so successful. To succeed it's essential to have a dream and to run with it. And if it fails, try again with something else.

Church in the West needs to experiment madly without fearing failure. It's like surfing. Keep trying to catch the big wave. Sometimes you will miss and be left behind and will have to try again on the next wave. Sometimes you will catch it just right and be propelled forward at high speed. It will be exhilarating. The successes redeem the failures.

So if  you are involved in church life and there seems to be little or no progress, go and try a load of new ideas [Tweet it!]. When something works, run with it. You will be propelled forward at high speed and it will be exhilarating. Go for it!

Questions:

  • Which of the following strategies is most likely to succeed? Doing again what failed last time, or trying something new and untested.
  • You have never tried surfing. Do you expect to succeed or fail on your first attempt? Where will you go for advice, an experienced and successful surfer like the one in the photo or a novice like yourself?
  • Success is a common goal and driver in Western culture. Does this make it easier or harder to try out new ideas?

See also:

07 February 2014

House2House magazine

House2House magazine has interesting articles for people who follow Jesus. There's a lot of good material here, so visit the site, take a look, and decide for yourself. If you like what you see you can sign up for delivery by email. Prepare to be encouraged and challenged!

House2House Magazine
House2House Magazine
House2House Magazine is a great resource for anyone committed to life in Christ and especially (but not exclusively) for those interested in smaller forms of church gathering.

Meetings at home, in places like pubs and coffee shops, organic expressions of church, missional movements, small groups and cell groups - all of these and more will find much of interest and value in the online magazine.

House2House publishes frequent new articles on a range of church topics [Tweet it!] including hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit, growing in the journey with Jesus, encouraging one another, giving, stories from the lives of real people, spiritual gifts, reaching local people and much, much more.

History - Let me tell you a bit about the origins and history of the magazine. Some years ago, Tony and Felicity Dale launched a printed magazine of the same name. It ran for a while and was distributed world-wide in a variety of ways.

Paper publishing is in decline due to the convenience and efficiency of the internet and the web in particular. House2House eventually decided to cease publication, and a recent effort to relaunch it as a crowd-funded venture failed.

Now, however, it's available once more as an online magazine. It's free for anyone to read, is funded through donation by those who are led to do so, and is regularly updated.

Don't miss out on this great resource. Read the articles, sign up to receive new material by email, and discover what others are thinking and doing.

And if you feel brave, enjoy writing and have something to say, create an article of your own and submit it to the editors.


Questions:
  • Have you come across House2House Magazine before?
  • Do you find stories about church life interesting? Are they helpful? Do they encourage you? 
  • Would you consider writing an article and submitting it?

See also:


30 January 2014

The Railway Man

Good films tell good stories; 'The Railway Man' is a great film. This is the true story of Eric Lomax, a prisoner of war under the Japanese in Thailand, the brutality of building the Burma Railway, his later marriage and subsequent friendship with one of his Japanese captors.

The Railway Man
The Railway Man
Donna and I went to see 'The Railway Man' last night. What a film!

It stars Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman and is a marvellous story of redemption, forgiveness, freedom and life. It's based on real events and real people.

Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) is an ex-soldier. He had served in the British Army in Singapore at the time when the Japanese captured the city. As Japanese prisoners, he and his fellow servicemen suffered most terribly while constructing the railway through Thailand and Burma (the railway made famous by the film 'Bridge over the River Kwai').

Memories and freedom - Lomax was always fascinated by railways but couldn't forget or deal with his secret memories of wartime captivity and torture. He met Patti (Nicole Kidman) on a train journey in northern Britain and they fell in love. Later they married, but Eric's past haunted him until a friend discovered that Takashi Nagase (Hiroyuki Sanada), the Japanese interpreter who had assisted in his interrogation, was alive and working as a museum guide on the railway in Thailand.

Eric travels to Thailand and arrives unannounced; the two men meet and a tense exchange takes place. Through this experience Eric is able to move forward in his life. Later, when a letter arrives from Hiroyuki, Eric decides he must go to Thailand again, this time with Patti.

Some parallels - 'The Railway Man' is a great film and a wonderful story. Like all good stories it contains elements of human life at its most gripping and poignent [Tweet it!]. Wisdom, anguish, love, grace and forgiveness are all clearly portrayed.

Because of this, the story has many parallels with the greatest story of them all - the story of a powerful father who sends his one and only son to bring grace, love and forgiveness to a lost and desperate people so that darkness may be replaced by light and death may be overcome by life. These themes are eternal and significant.

Questions:

  • Have you seen 'The Railway Man'? What did you think?
  • What other films would you recommend? Do any of them provoke thoughts on deep human experiences and eternal truths?
  • All stories are worth hearing, all stories contain truth. Is this statement true or false?

See also:

21 January 2014

More soup and bread

Visiting Huntingdon with soup again, we are astonished at the way Father is leading us. We spent several hours walking and meeting people, but nobody needed or wanted soup. But just as we were about to leave we met a man on a mobility scooter and everything changed.

In Huntingdon
In Huntingdon
Following the first soup run to Huntingdon, we have repeated the exercise twice more.

On 12th January Sean went on his own as Matt and I were at Open Door in St Neots. And on 19th Matt, Kevin and I visited Huntingdon with flasks of Donna's tomato soup.

I'd better backtrack a little. Kevin is a friend from Caffè Nero in St Neots. He's part of a group of local people I've got to know quite well by visiting Nero's between 15:00 and 16:00 several times a week. With a swollen ankle and visitors over the Christmas period it's been quite a while since I was there.

Meeting on the street - I had met a group of the Nero guys in town. They were chatting in the street and I stopped to join the conversation. It crossed my mind to invite Kevin to join us on 19th, and I was amazed by his enthusiasm to come along and help with the soup run. Matt and I loaded the soup, rolls and paper cups into the car and collected Kevin from Nero's. John and Gordon were there as well and they were very supportive of Kevin.

When we arrived in Huntingdon we spent some time walking, chatting with people who were willing to talk (and a few who were not), and offering soup. We visited the river bank, a play area, the bus station, the High Street, and other parts of town. But we failed to give away a single cup of soup.

A special encounter - We sat by the fountain, warmed up our hands with some of our own cups of soup, and chatted. Just as we were considering leaving, we were making our way along the High Street and saw a man sitting on a disability scooter. Kevin was very clear and definite at this point, walking right up to the man and offering him soup [Tweet it!]. After a few moments he said he would like soup and Kevin gave him some from one of our paper cups.

Soon we began chatting about football and other things. Gerald told us a bit about himself and explained that he was waiting for his wife who was in one of the shops nearby. When she returned we chatted briefly with her too, and then I asked Gerald if we could bless him. He agreed, so we prayed a short prayer for him and for his wife before saying goodbye and heading home. Gerald wanted to shake us all by the hand before we left, there was a real connection between us.

All three of us felt we were in Huntingdon that morning specifically to meet Gerald and his wife. It's not that the walking and talking in and around the town centre wasn't good. It was good but it wasn't special. Meeting Gerald was special, and we knew it.

We don't know what will come of this. We don't know if we'll meet Gerald again. We will continue to pray for him and for his wife. And we are excited about what is happening in Huntingdon!

Questions:

  • What makes a meeting special? Is it about us, or about the person we meet, or about the Almighty who arranges our day if we are following him?
  • Matt and I almost passed by the one person we were supposed to meet in Huntingdon. But Kevin's eyes, mind and heart were wide open. What might you miss in your own life if you are not fully awake and open?

See also:


14 January 2014

Come to the mountain

What are the basic rhythms of our lives as followers of Jesus? They involve coming into his presence and going in his Name, and that, really, is all there is to it. Following Jesus is not complex or hard; he says it is easy and that his burden is light and comfortable.

The view towards Coniston
The view towards Coniston
I was at a church meeting recently and The Holy Spirit gave me the words 'Come to the mountain'.

I knew that if I began by speaking these words out, the rest of the prophecy would follow, but I didn't feel it would be acceptable to just speak, and I knew that if I'd gone to the front and asked to share it, the moment would have gone and I'd have lost the flow.

There's an immediacy about prophecy that will not be denied. So I borrowed a pen and jotted the words down as they came. Here they are.

Come to the mountain. Come!

From the mountain comes your salvation.
From the mountain comes your holiness.
From the mountain comes your light.
From the mountain comes purpose, grace, glory, power, peace, love, honour, authority and hope.

Come to the mountain.

I AM that Mountain.
I AM the Rock of your salvation.
I AM dependable.
Now I say to you, go in my Name,
Go in the authority, grace, love and peace that I have poured out upon you.
Go into the world, for I AM with you.

I don't know that these would have been the words I would have spoken; they are almost certainly not. But the gist of the message is probably the same.

Coming and going - And it seems to me that coming to the Mountain and going into the world are at the heart of all that we do. Jesus says, 'Come to me everyone who is tired and struggling, I'm gentle and I'll give you rest. My load is light, the weight I lay on your shoulders is manageable and comfortable' (Matthew 11:28-30).

In coming to him we will also be gathering together. When we are where he is, we will inevitably find his other followers in that same place. We don't gather because we decide to be together, we gather around him. Moths don't gather as a cloud because they want to be together but because they are drawn to the light.

Does he send us out together? Yes he does. Jesus taught his followers to go out in twos (Luke 10:1-2). We are to go, not as a cloud around the Light who is Jesus, but in smaller groups. We do not go alone, we go in company, but we go in the company of a few.

So if we are attracted to him, we will be among many. But if we are obedient to him we will be among a few. And because we need to do both, sometimes we'll gather together and sometimes we'll go out with a few.

Basic rhythms of life - Coming into the Light and going in his Name are the basic rhythms of following Jesus [Tweet it!], they are the pattern of discipleship and missional living. These were the rhythms when he walked the dusty roads and hills of Galilee and Judaea with his followers, they were the same rhythms during the time of the early church, they are the basis of life for his persecuted people in China and Pakistan and Indonesia and many other places, and they are the same rhythms of discipleship and mission that the church in the West is beginning to rediscover.

So the call to all his people is twofold. 'Come to the Mountain' and 'Go into the world'. We are not truly following Jesus unless we are doing both. Come into his presence singing, 'Jesus is Lord'. Go into the world sharing in practical ways the good news that he is the Lord of love and of forgiveness and of freedom.

And rejoice! Again I say, rejoice!

Note: The photo was taken from near the top of Coniston Old Man, a mountain in the English Lake District. The view shows Coniston Water and the lovely little town of Coniston. Click the image for a larger view.

Questions:

  • Are you gathering around the Light? Are you going into the world? Consider if and how you do these things.
  • Is there anything you should change about your gathering and going? Pray about it.
  • When you are on a mountain you can see the country below laid out like a tapestry, you see it as a whole in a way you cannot do when you are in it. Is this significant for discipleship and mission? In what way?

See also:

12 January 2014

Sharing soup with strangers

Here's what happened when we took some tentative first steps in reaching out in Huntingdon. We enjoyed good soup, met interesting people, had some great conversations, and found that Jesus was with us and took us straight to the right places and people.


Huntingdon town centre
Huntingdon town centre
Back in December Sean told me that he wanted to do something positive for people on the streets.

Reading Chris Duffett's blog I'd found a story about Louise Frood, a young Baptist pioneer who had taken soup and bread onto the High Street looking for people who are hungry, lonely or willing to talk.

Sean had taken this very much to heart and wanted to do something similar. We decided there and then to put 5th January into our diaries and make a start.

Giving it a try - On Sunday 5th I drove over to Sean's with two large vacuum flasks and a pile of paper cups. Sean was already making leek and potato soup when I arrived and we filled the flasks, drove to Huntingdon, and set out to walk the streets from about ten o'clock.

It was a fresh morning, the shops were not yet open, and there were only a few people around. We walked down the High Street, looped around the back and returned. Then Sean suggested another street where he thought there would be someone selling the Big Issue and, sure enough, there was. We poured out some soup and sat on the pavement to talk, soon getting to know Richard a little and having some good conversation. We were with Richard for quite some time; when we decided to move on again he suggested we try the bus station.

Sure enough, the bus station is a warm place to go when the streets are cold and there we found Paul and Matt. Sean spent some time chatting with Paul, while I sat next to Matt and quickly discovered we had a lot in common. Matt has recently lost his job and has nowhere to live at the moment. He follows Jesus and has a similar understanding about church to Sean and me. All three of us have a strong sense that we are supposed to meet again; we are waiting to see where the Holy Spirit will lead us.

The results - Now, just a week later, Matt is using the spare room in my house and Sean is out on the soup run again. I can't make it today, but plan to be back in Huntingdon with him again next Sunday. Watch this space!

For me, the take-home message is that on our first day of obedience in taking soup to Huntingdon, Sean and I found three interesting people. A tiny amount of obedience led immediately to a remarkable result [Tweet it!]. Neither of us had the faith to expect such an outcome, both of us know we must continue whether or not amazing things like this happen every time.

In the end the outcome is not in our hands, but in Jesus' hands. He provides, he leads, he sends us but he also accompanies us. Who could want a greater guide and friend than that?

Questions: 
  • Are you willing to take a risk with your time, your money or your reputation?
  • Have you ever tried reaching people you don't already know?
  • What could you do to open up possibilities for conversation? How will you make significant contact?

See also:


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