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Turning the volume down.

There’s so much noise around us, isn’t there? All kinds of hums, pops, clangs and clicks. All kinds of messages, ideas, assumptions and cynical comments. All this noise, and us – as the receptors – have to do “something” with it.

We can listen, or we can ignore.

We can absorb, or we can block.

We can be open, or we can shut up shop and close.

Noise floats around begging for a place to absorb, a place to land and be felt. And here am I, in the early stages of a week of prayer, figuring out what noise is doing what.

What’s God’s whisper, and what’s my mind wandering?

What’s a prophetic call, and what’s a great idea?

What’s an encouragement or conviction of the Spirit, and what’s judgmental and cynical me?

Here’s what I’ve learned so far in our week of prayer: I need to turn the volume down – and turn it down I am trying. How? Simple. By echoing the same question the disciples asked of Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

“Teach us to pray” means I stop and listen first. I set my mind, heart, body and soul on who God is. I become aware. I turn down the volume on the other noises.

Because when I don’t do this, I start asking God to bless my cynical-fueled grand idea. I ask Him to do things I want done. I ask Him to move “those people.”

In turning down the volume I allow God to move in me first – and if I’m not moved, am I really praying at all?

Jesus tells a story of two men praying: One man was awfully religious and pompous about it. The other man stood away from the religious space, beating his chest, and said to God “Have mercy on me, for I am a sinner.”

Something had moved in Him, and I long for that kind of movement to take place in me further as we pray this week.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

“Watch your step when you enter God’s house.

Enter to learn. That’s far better than mindlessly offering a sacrifice,

Doing more harm than good.

Don’t shoot off you mouth, or speak before you think.

Don’t be too quick to tell God what you think he wants to hear.

God’s in charge, not you – the less you speak, the better.”

Ecclesiastes 5:1-2, MSG

Loving the picture, rather than just looking at pixels.

Yesterday I finished my Bible reading goal for January. Simply, it was to read every Epistle (the letters in the New Testament) in the month, and I did it – but not in the normal reading plan kind of way. There was no “read this chapter, to this chapter” happening in my reading times, but instead something bigger and more panoramic.

There was also a good cup of coffee close to hand, but I digress.

Inspired by this N.T. Wright video, I wanted to sit down and read each letter in one big go. Sometimes, with the shorter ones, I read two.

How does it feel now coming out the other side?

It’s like I have “zoomed out” and sat back in my chair to behold the entire composition after intensely working on a piece of design with my nose against the glass of my computer, and suddenly I have realised what the pixels are all making. I’m loving the picture, rather than just looking at pixels.

I would highly recommend you try it. For February I am going to do the Torah and the Gospels – why not try it with me? As the Community Bible Experience posted on their Facebook page:

‎Would you watch only a handful of scenes (in random order, no less) from your favorite movie?

Would you read only one page from your favorite novel?

Would you listen to just one stanza of your favorite song?

So why read the Bible just one verse at a time? Read big. Read whole books.

We are the prayer meeting.

I’m currently preparing a week of prayer to kick off Shore Vineyard’s 2013, and I am having a crisis. How do you prepare a week of prayer meetings, when deep down, it’s not a week of prayer meetings you want?

I’ve spent my life going to prayer meetings, and my word, I have seen some doosies.

Some full of noise, some full of quiet.

Some where people walked around doing the prayer-while-fist-punching-into-their-other-palm, and some where people sat completely still.

Some had two people prayer-hogging, while the others just nodded and murmured.

Some where the Holy Spirit was invited to move, and some where the Holy Spirit was told what to do.

Some where personal wishes where laid out, and some where a cosmic hope was called to earth.

Some that ended late, and some which never really started.

Some where I wish I could leave, and some where I didn’t ever want to.

A prayer meeting is a beautiful and wonderful thing, but it does have one big problem: it ends. And prayer shouldn’t. Paul’s challenge to the various communities of people who were following the Jesus Way is that they should pray without limits and without ceasing.* How is this so? If he’s right, that’s an awfully large time commitment right there – one very long prayer meeting…

Perhaps that’s the problem – I am too quick to default to pining “prayer” to a “time” or “a devotional moment” or “a prayer walk” or “a meeting”. The first century Christian didn’t do this. To them it was all about becoming aware of the Divine. This isn’t so much about attending something – it’s about being opened up to it. And you can do this anywhere, anytime, anyplace and in a lot of ways. It would seem that we don’t just attend prayer meetings. We are the prayer meeting. Without us no prayer meeting ever takes place, it’s just God. Waiting. Stood up.

So in preparing a week of prayer for our church, it’s not a bunch of prayer meetings on a calendar I’m planning – no, it’s so much better than that. It’s a call to gather all of our individual prayer meetings together – people who arrive in a place already aware of the Divine and what He’s up to – and see what God might do with our awareness before Him. I can sense the Divine in those gatherings already.

If you’re a Shore Vineyard-ite, don’t miss Kick Off. It’s going to be a wonderful time of gathering together to see what God is leading us in for 2013, to pray for His Kingdom to come and His will to be done. Nothing could be better!

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*see any of these for a taster: Ephesians 6:18, Colossians 4:2, Philippians 4:6

A petrol station, some Sadducees, and the Story.

“Your name is Daniel? Are you a Christian?” That’s what the petrol station cashier asked me today as she looked at my FlyBuys card. 

“You tell me what a Christian is and I’ll tell you if I’m that…” I teased back.

“A person who believes Jesus died for their sins?” she replied.

“…and?” I queried.

“That’s it isn’t it?” She finalised.

Depressingly, I can see why she said that. That’s the story most people know when it comes to this whole “Christian” thing. Let me explain.

In Mark 12:18-27 we find a terrific discussion to be able to eavesdrop on. Jesus is talking with a group called the Sadducees, and they are talking to him about the resurrection. This is interesting because the Sadducees don’t believe in the resurrection. (If you aren’t seeing how big of a deal this all is, it’s like a chef saying he doesn’t believe in onions.)

Jesus issues them a warning: “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God.” and after explaining a bit further, he issues this stern sign off: “He is the God of the living, not the dead. You have made a serious error.”

One: you don’t know the Story.

Two: you haven’t experienced the power of the God of this Story.

Three: you’re being muppets by not investigating this all further. Seriously.

And so, as I write this I am wondering something: are we modern day Sadducees? Have we really explored the Scriptures well enough to know the real Story – that our God is making all things new, and that the cross is a jaw-droppingly wonderful part of the story but not the climactic ending.

Why do we so often put a full stop at a “personal Saviour who died for me, me, me…” and not continue to the Cosmic Redeemer, busy restoring all of His creation and putting all things back to rights again? His power is such that He takes something that is dead, and raises it to life again.

The first century Church preached a Good News message of “Jesus, who rose from the dead.”* We modern day Westerners preach a message of “Jesus, who will forgive you.” We have let the big, bold Story become a bit smaller than our first-Century pioneers, a story which is quite a bit stingier to the original. 

Rant concluded. My last word to the petrol cashier was this, and may you understand why: “I don’t believe the story ended on Friday, I believe it started on Sunday.”

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*Read all of Acts, cover to cover, and you’ll see.

An end to noisy ego music.

Today I have reconnected with one of the greatest warnings in the Scriptures to today’s worship leaders. This might feel a little “ranty”, so don’t say I haven’t warned you, but it is my honest response to a warning I urge us all to take seriously.

Deep breath. Here we go…

Oh how easy it is for our church worship music to just become, in the words of Eugene Peterson, “noisy ego music”*.

Jesus tells of a situation where two people can’t get along and they have wronged one another. One of these people goes to the Temple to give an offering of worship and sacrifice. Jesus says that this person is to drop the religious offering, turn around and go make amends with the person who they are butting heads with.**

Jesus’ commentary on what God is saying to this person as they stand there about to religiously give is essentially: forget it. I don’t want this, what I want for you to do is go and sort out that relationship with your friend that isn’t in shape right now. Until you do, your sacrifice is useless to me.

This isn’t anything new. The message of the prophets over and over again is that God is after a group of people who live the story of God’s restoration out. He wants a people group who do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him.***

John, in his first letter, echoes this and warns that if a person says he loves God, but can’t love his brother, that person is a murdering liar.****

Ouch.

Which brings us back to our noisy-ego music. Our church music is a wonderful show at times isn’t it? It sounds great, feels great and even looks great. But I fear I have spent many years judging it’s effect by the wrong criteria. (Shout out here to my friend, boss, mentor and pastor, Vic Francis, for his leadership lesson on redefining success…)

“God must be moving, a lot of people’s hands went up in the air for a long time” or “People weren’t really connecting with that free praise today, all I could hear was a few awkward mumbles!” were often my criteria for a good worship time together, or a bad one.

Never once did I ever judge a good worship time by how many people left to go sort out relationships that have gone sour.

I have played with musicians who would stop mid-set to get on their knees in simple admiration of Jesus. For some reason I have never, ever, been a fan of telling that person to get back to their musical post, and perhaps I see why now.

Worship music must never get in the way of authentic connection with the risen Jesus, the kind that causes us to abandon all, even our post of playing it.

Worship music must never be just a veneer of “serving” your community by playing great contemporary music at an acceptable-volume-level, when actually what they really need is to be invited to once again be laid bare in total surrender of their God and His story – one of embracing your cross, and making old things new.

Worship must never come at the cost of relationships, friendships and families. Worship should cause us to have richer relationships, friendships and families.

Worship is not noisy ego music – noisy ego music is just noisy ego music. Worship is your story unashamedly laid within God’s big story, with all your fears and foibles, tricks and temptations. This gets loud sometimes. It’s quiet other times. But it’s always making some kind of internal-noise, some sort of activity connecting you with the Divine.

Worship. Is. Love.

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* Amos 5:21-24 The Message
** Matthew 5:23-24
*** Micah 6:8
**** 1 John 3:14-15

From a waster, to a giver.

On my “walk to Emmaus” recently, I have had a pretty eye opening moment. So eye opening, it has taken me a good couple of days to begin to come to grips with it, to find language for it, but thanks to the guidance of the Holy Spirit I think I am there.

You see, a few days ago while visiting Paris, we got robbed. Pick pocketed by gypsy children to be exact. I know that sounds like a joke, but it’s not. They took a lot of cash, but thankfully returned our passports by hiffing the passport wallet on the ground as they left the train. (To the gypsy kids: thanks for that by the way, seriously, thanks. I know when to count a blessing.)

Here’s what I have noticed though: Immediately I didn’t care, and deep down inside of me a funny thing happened. I felt sorry for them. I connected with them and sympathised for them. I imagined the community they are in that means this is what they need to do to get by. I even found myself blurting to my mother-in-law later that night, “That could have been us. We easily could have been those gypsy kids – but we aren’t – today we are the travellers.”

I’m the traveller. The blessed traveller who has insurance.

On the train home yesterday I felt led to read 1 John. It just kept gnawing at me. Read. 1. John.

So I did. And I found this gem in 3:17, underlined in my Bible, but clearly not underlined in me yet. “If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion – how can God’s love be in that person?”

A good question, and a response dawned in me: I had walked past hundreds of homeless people over the last two weeks, and I hadn’t given them a thing. I had justified it in my mind by saying “They will spend it on drugs or drink…” You know, the usual justification we make for not giving our change. But reading those words made me pull my wallet out and put my change in my pocket ready for the next beggar I come across.

My answer to this question was to put my money where my heart longs to be: in a place of being generous. Here’s why.

Jesus tells us to give to the poor, and John echoes it here too. But he doesn’t say to check in with them an hour later and see if they spent it well, or if they wasted it. No. They just say that the thing we are to do is give. Love gives.

“But they will waste it!” I hear you saying. Yeah, and I bet you – like me – have wasted a lot of things you have been given too.

The Kingdom life beckons us to live with hands open, not closed. Pockets emptied, not tightly shut. Forgiveness plentiful, not stingy. To turn moments of waste into moments of radical generosity. This is my Emmaus moment, and I am glad I have discovered it.

So, to the gypsy kids – what you did isn’t right. But I forgive you and I hope you ate well the last couple of days. I hope you spend it well, and I pray you may find a way out of the hopeless life you are in at the moment, and experience some day the joy of living the radical agenda of faith, hope and love…

…I am glad I have.

Inexcusable forgiveness.

“Yeah, but he always does that when he’s tired…”

“What you need to know is she does that because of her condition…”

“You just need to understand that he has had a hard year…”

Excuses. All asking for me or you to overlook what’s happened. For too long I have mistaken living in forgiveness with this satisfaction of excuses.

There’s a large difference between forgiving someone and being satisfied with their excuse. A large difference being that forgiving isn’t accepting their excuse, it’s overlooking it. It’s overlooking even the inexcusable.

C.S. Lewis writes of this in one of his essays on forgiveness in The Weight of Glory collection, where he also states “We must forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in us.”

Here’s the truth in all of this train-riding rambling: The power to forgive is in our hands, so you can leave the power to make excuses in theirs. Jesus tells us very clearly that forgiveness is in our hands, especially in his teaching on prayer. So live forgiving quickly and in awareness of the smorgasbord of people’s various short-comings – and your own.

A second truth is this: forgiving brings the God-promise of making all things new to earth. It lays it over the inexcusable, and its says, “It doesn’t have to stay this way.” After all, the grand crescendo of the story is that He did that for you and me, and we must do that for others.

So, stop being satisfied with excuses and be on the alert for the next moment of needing to show inexcusable forgiveness. May you forgive, as you have been forgiven.

NOTE:

Today, about an hour after writing this, my family was pick-pocketed leaving the train station in Paris and had over €700 stolen by a small group of gypsy children working the Metro. I had to immediately put into practice the words I had written an hour earlier. Funny that.