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...

30 July 2011

RESPONSE - Are you listening?

Listening is a skill that can be intentionally developed. Julian Treasure gives a fascinating TED presentation on this, but are there parallels between listening with our physical ears and listening with our spiritual 'ears'?

Julian Treasure on 'listening'Yahshua told his followers about the importance of spiritual hearing and seeing. He spoke about people listening and listening but not hearing, looking and looking but not seeing. We are all prone to this.

Julian Treasure presents a compelling TED Talk on listening. I suggest you hear what he has to say and then come back here to continue reading.

---

Did you enjoy his presentation? I certainly did!

According to Julian, hearing is something that our ears do pretty much autonomously, but listening requires intent, focus, and deliberate attention. But Jesus says that even though we listen (pay attention) we still may not hear (understand in depth). He says there are those who pay attention and hear the words but the spiritual meaning eludes them.


The process, I believe, is
  1. Physical hearing
  2. Listening (paying attention)
  3. Spiritual hearing (spiritual understanding)
To make this clearer, suppose you are in the crowd and Yahshua is speaking. Unless you are profoundly deaf, the words he speaks will enter your ears and the brain will receive the information. This is item 1 in the list above. If you are distracted by your child, someone else talking, or thinking about that job you need to do when you get home, the process may stop at that point. You have heard but you have not listened.

But perhaps you were paying attention to Yahshua's words. You not only heard with your ears, but you noticed what he was saying. Perhaps you were puzzled, or offended, or confused by what he said. Although you heard the words clearly and they entered the attentive, thinking part of your mind, they made little or no sense. This is item 2 in the list.

But item 3 demands an additional awareness that has nothing to do with the physical world of ears and brains. It requires, but goes far beyond, simply understanding the words that were spoken. Spiritual understanding is given and received, not merely earned by paying attention to words. If you lack spiritual understanding, ask Yahshua to provide it.

The process is physical hearing > listening > spiritual hearing. That's why Yahsua said they listen but don't hear. He sometimes healed the physically deaf, he also heals the spiritually deaf. He is willing! So ask.

Julian Treasure hints at step 3 but doesn't explore it. Yahshua took step 1 as a given and focussed on step 3.

Physical reality always points to a spiritual reality; that's why Yahshua spoke so often in parables. Understanding the physical truth can help us grasp the parallel spiritual truth. The need to pay attention to physical sounds points to the notion that we also need to pay attention to spiritual 'sounds'.  We need to listen intentionally to the Spirit of Christ in the same way we listen to the words of the people we meet. The Spirit is a still, small voice. We have to pay close attention to him.

In the physical we are exposed to sound, listen to the sound, and understand the meaning in our minds. In the spiritual we are exposed to truth, pay attention to the truth, and comprehend the truth in our hearts.

So let's explore how Julian Treasure's thoughts on listening might apply to spiritual listening (paying attention to the truth).

We are losing our listening - The church has substantially lost the ability to listen spiritually. Many believers are not even aware that listening is possible, others have no idea how to go about it.

Making meaning from sound - A process of extraction, recognising the Holy Spirit's voice among all the other spiritual noise around us. What is 'spiritual noise'? Where does it come from? What will happen if you listen to the wrong sources? How can you distinguish the Holy Spirit's voice?

Filters - These define what we pay attention to. How, for example, might our craving for authority, security, or independence affect our spiritual attention and listening? Can you think of more filters?

Awareness - Are you tuned in? Are you aware of Father's presence, of his nearness, of his love, of his sorrow and grief, of his purity and holiness, of his exuberant joy and laughter?

Sense of eternity - If listening with your mind provides your main source for a sense of time, might spiritual listening be the main source for your sense of eternity? I think so!

Recording - Writing, sound recording, and video recording reduce our need to pay attention (we can always go back to check). Do you depend too much on books, speakers and musicians to provide your spiritual questions and answers? Do these sources reduce the effectiveness of your own, personal, spiritual listening?

Conversation - Do you wear spiritual headphones? Are you regularly having good spiritual conversations with Father and with one another, or are you isolated in your hearing?

Soundbites - Are you conversing spiritually or are you substituting this with 'personal broadcasting'. Do you speak and listen or just speak? We are supposed to ask in prayer, but are we supposed to only ask? Is your spiritual communication two way? Is it a conversation or just an expression of need?

The quiet, the subtle, the understated - Do you hear the still, small voice? Do you pay attention to him?

Listening creates understanding - We cannot understand without paying close attention. Do you want to grow in spiritual understanding? Are you prepared to pay the price of proper listening? There are serious and frightening dangers attached to not listening. What are they? Hint - lack of physical listening may lead to anger, even war. What might lack of spiritual listening lead to?

Techniques to improve listening - Silence or quiet, channels of sound, savouring the mundane (hidden choir), appropriate listening positions, RASA, teach listening (encourage others to listen). Can these or related methods help us improve our spiritual listening?

You might like to listen to Julian again with a view to spiritual listening. If you like, follow through the headings above as you do so. We need to listen to the Spirit of Christ in everything, every sight and sound and smell and touch - in pain, in comfort; in turmoil, in peace; in activity, and in stillness. If we are a hearing people, if we are not spiritually deaf, spiritual life will be rich and fulfilling and new every single day.

Go for it!

(Related post, 'RESPONSE - The need to listen')

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