Adventure ahoy (pt. 1)

It hasn’t quite hit me yet, but in 3 days time I’ll be on a plane to California to visit my friend Mr. Beatton, and my other friend Ms Vogt. A few days at the end of my fortnight away will be spent mooching around in San Francisco, but the main point of my visit is to fulfil a long-term dream of mine to go visit Bethel church in Redding. I’m expecting great things, lots of God and some perspective on my life – I think in general different cities carry different vibes, and in order to get a bit of headspace you need to get out of your regular environment, but there’s something extra special about going to an environment that is so infamously glory-ridden as Bethel. I will surely be bringing loads of stories back with me. Bill Johnson has been quite possibly THE most influential teacher in my spiritual journey thus far, and here’s why:

 

The pitfalls of Kingdom potential

Okay, so I’m getting really excited by this season of MORE. God seems to be galvanising and bringing into reality things which had been bandied about by our community in theory-land for quite some time (I’ll perhaps share some stories with you next blog post or so). I can see the hand of God cranking up not only our worship life as a family, but also his influence in our daily lives. I’m having more God-conversations with friends and colleagues (don’t you just love those?), enjoying greater intimacy with God, hearing cool God stories from others and seeing a whole slew of answered prayers. The dam is bursting!

With this in mind, I want to discuss two potential pitfalls that go hand-in-hand with this sort of Kingdom amplification; pride and despair.
PRIDE
To paraphrase Bill Johnson, your weakest point is not at the moment of your greatest failure, but of your greatest victory. At times when things are clicking into place and we begin to live more and more radically for God, we are especially prone to the sin of pride – arguably the greatest sin in the Kingdom of God (it is, technically, what got Satan kicked out of heaven, as it were). Pride blinds us to our need for God and especially to our need for his grace.
One particular manifestation of pride that I have observed in myself and among followers of Jesus is the sort that creeps in when you are ‘getting it right’. We are called to live lives that are radically sold out for God, wherein we tap into all of heavens resources and pick up our cross daily. At Canterbury Vineyard, we believe unashamedly in not settling for anything less than the fullness and abundance of life promised to us by the scriptures – this means love, miracles, salvation, gifts of the spirit, fruit of the spirit, healing, deliverance, holiness, intimacy, passion and more. As we press into this lifestyle, frustration with the mediocrity of much of what passes for the Christian life today will arise; this is natural. However, we must never allow this to turn into pride or self-satisfaction. Don’t be deceived about your immunity from this; pride is like sand – it gets into every nook and cranny (even nooks and crannies you didn’t know you had). Have you ever looked at other Christians who are less on fire than you and gotten frustrated with them? Have you met Christians who don’t believe in miracles, who are hypocritical, who are too middle class, who aren’t as free as you think they should be, who don’t pray enough, who are not seeking God in every area of their life – and thought, “thank God I’m not like that”? Because I have.
Don’t ever forget that it is only by God’s grace that we get anything right. It is only by God’s grace that we found Jesus in the first place, and it is only by his grace that we find ourselves in a community that is going hard after God, and it is only by his grace that we actually take any of it on board ourselves.
DESPAIR
Another risk of not settling for mediocrity in Christian life is despair, or despondency. I see it rear its ugly head time and time again in my own life and in that of others. You pray for something and it doesn’t happen. You hear about the MORE that is promised to us by Jesus and wonder why you aren’t experiencing it. You see other people get set ablaze or experience victory and wonder what is wrong with you. You desire more of God, you desire miracles, you desire mountaintop experiences or a more tangible sense of his presence, you desire the salvation of your friends and enemies, you desire the influence of God over situations in your life, you desire spiritual gifts, you desire the Kingdom; these things don’t come as quickly as you’d like them to and you begin to wonder if they ever will.
‘Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”‘ – John 20:27-29
If we aren’t seeing all of the Kingdom that we want to, but keep pressing in anyway, we are blessed. It may be a cliche by now, but it’s vital to be intentional about which well to drink from – what God is doing – and his promises and potential – versus what he isn’t.
A couple of nights ago some friends and I wrote down some insanely outlandish prayers, just to put our money where our mouth is and mark out our territory as people who genuinely are seeking more. Among the stuff we listed came such gems as “I want to have frequent visions of heaven”, “I want to be sick with love for Jesus”, “I want people to be healed by just my walking into the room”, “I want every single one of my friends to know God”, “I want to see Jesus breakdance”, “I want to glow like Moses”, “I want to raise the dead” and so on. We did it because we know it’s possible, we did it because we know there’s more, and we did it because we know it’s ours. Does raising the dead and having frequent visions of heaven seem a long way off? Yes – so all the more reason to go ahead and make those huge requests! It’s all too easy to limit your imagination and faith in order to avoid disappointment, but we must at all costs resist the urge to shrink our vision to match our experience.

I challenge you to give your despondency to God and go ahead and make some ludicrously humongous demands on his generosity. Ask God to make you persistent and able to keep knocking until he opens that door. Do it now!

Hungry for more…

I’m at an interesting place in my relationship with God at the moment. We’re working through a season as a church family at the moment on laying hold of the fullness of the Christian life that is promised in the scriptures, and particularly on encountering more of God. Actually, technically we’re calling it the “More” series, but I’m really not into the whole “sermon series” shizzle. I prefer to use the language of “seasons”. But I digress…

There is so much of God at hand and we’ve settled for so little. Why do you think so many people are walking away from church? Because they’re bored! And the answer isn’t snappier sermons or making church “more entertaining” – the answer is, let them encounter God. Give them the real thing! Once you’ve got the taste for proper coffee you never want to go back to instant.

On Sunday we focussed on Ephesians 3:14-19:

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Can I make a confession? I usually read that bit and skip onwards, thinking, “well, it’s a nice idea, but I’m never going to get anywhere near that – that sort of relationship with God is only for the super-spiritual.” Well, why not me? It does say, “together with all the Lord’s holy people”, doesn’t it? As we went through it on Sunday, though, my response shifted and I had a sudden urge to go get that verse tattooed on my body (I didn’t, obviously – no idea where to put it). That’s my muthalickin’ inheritance!

On Monday night my new and very interesting acquaintance Nigel prayed for me, and got a few downloads from the Lord about my intimacy with him. He had a picture of me as a sunflower (sunflowers turn towards the sun), but there was a cloud blocking the sun. Jesus, with his mighty hand, swept the cloud away. He felt as though the Lord wanted the sort of relationship with me where I just spent hours in his presence and it felt like minutes (my immediate response: where am I going to find time to spend hours with God?), where he spoke to me about anything and everything. That closeness…it’s something I’ve tasted (when you get into the presence of God and can’t move), but not with any sort of regularity. But I’m spurred on to lay hold of everything I can.

 

 

Process and breakthrough

So, as quick a catch-up as is humanly possible: over the summer I finished my MA (I got a distinction, by the way!), moved into a beautiful new house with two awesome girls, acquired a whole bunch of new jobs (currently at four) and had the prospect of doing a fully-funded PhD waved tantalisingly before me. So, I’m at a rather interesting stage in my life at the moment. And by interesting, I mean actually rather tough. I thought finishing my masters would equal lots of free time – definitely not. I have to work every hour God sends to keep my head above water financially, having racked up five years’ worth of student overdraft and debt, one of my jobs in particular is stress-a-licious, then when I get home from work I feel like all I do is clean or sort more stuff out. I have a whole list of people I need to catch up with, and no time to get around to actually doing so.  Yet, I have a funny feeling God is doing something very significant with me – something to do with refining, strengthening and character-building. For a start, I’m doing some repentance for the way I treated my parents’ house like a hotel – I feel like I suddenly understand mum and dad when they say it feels like all they ever do is housework, and on the odd occasion when I have to pick up after one of my housemates I am reminded of how my parents had to pick up after me constantly throughout the day, every day I lived in their house!

Anyway I had to share this video from Kris Vallotton as it pretty much sums up what God’s doing with me at the moment. I’m chipping away at my workplace – kingdom-wise – and chipping away at lots of other things God’s having me pray into, and I’m in limbo at the moment waiting for breakthrough. Meanwhile I’m learning a lot and getting stronger every day. I feel like a completely different person than I was a mere few months ago, and I’m going deeper with God…watch this space…

Love too much…

A while back I asked Khad Young (one of my favourite bloggers) about a dilemma that I had been pondering (and still do from time to time) as I grow into certain leadership-type roles; namely, how do you present grace to people without mixing it up with permissiveness? I wrote:

I know they’re poles apart, but in reality I’m worried because I’m rubbish at confronting people and usually let my principles slide in order to people-please, for instance if I had someone who…called themselves a Christian but was having an affair or had issues with consumerism or something, I wouldn’t know how to handle the whole ‘should I confront them? should I leave it?’ thing. How have you dealt with this sorta thing?

He wrote a really great reply and then turned it into a blog post, which I’ll reprint here:

How does one show grace without antinomianism? My secret? I would rather show too much grace than not enough. That usually takes me pretty far.

If God calls you into ministry, it will be hard to escape the call. Part of any ministry is going to be doubt and temptation. In my opinion, the biggest temptation you will face if you have not already is to become legalistic. Fight this unto your death. Grace is all we have.

Metamorphosis is not a place for people to come and be “better people” in the sense of obeying the Law and subscribing to a certain morality. I want to have conversations with people, building relationships. That is the entire goal of Metamorphosis: loving and serving God by loving and serving those he has placed around us.

It’s the Father’s job to judge, it’s the Son’s job to save, it’s the Spirit’s job to convict.

It’s not my job to convert, convince, or otherwise cajole anyone into believing anything. I’m just called to love them. As soon as I start judging, the Father wants me to back off. When I think I am saving souls, Christ reminds me He has already done that. If I begin to convict someone’s conscience, I find the Holy Spirit already there doing what He does best.

We are by nature legalistic enough that even when we strive to focus exclusively on grace, the Law comes through on its own. If there ever is a moral dilemma in the group, my friends come and speak with me privately about it. We search the scriptures and pray about it. Did you catch that? They come to me. I don’t preach morality at them. Ever. Maybe that means I am a bad Christian, but it sure means I have a lot of friends who know that I love them and don’t ever doubt it because of my moralizing. I like what C. S. Lewis said:

“A cold self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.”

Live by grace and God will give you the wisdom to know when to confront. I find that most often people already know when they are sinning and merely need to know that God still loves them. There isn’t really any confronting to do if confronting is defined as “pointing out their shortcomings.” They know.

Love them.

“I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.” (Galatians 2:21)

Be accused of loving too much today.

Organic Leadership quote-a-thon (2): Neil Cole on Sound Doctrine

Paul writes in Titus 2 what he sees as sound doctrine. I would imagine any theologian would be interested in what the great apostle Paul views as sounds doctrine. The list is as provocative for what it doesn’t include as the things it does have in it. There is no mention of eschatology or the trinitarian doctrine. Instead, the passage on sound doctrine is all about relational character lived out in real life…

I am a firm believer that everyone will be surprised in the end, for better or worse. I will say this: if you are uncomfortable with mystery, the New Testament is hostile territory for you. The plain truth is that our God has not given us all the facts about everything. He leaves much room for our God-given imaginations and the joy of discovery.

It is not bad or wrong to explore or even speculate about things. It is a good exercise to try and piece it all together. Jesus affirms that we should be able to discern the signs of the times (Matt. 16:2-3). That is not the issue. The problem is that we isolate parts of Christ’s body over the ways we construct the recipe, without ever having baked the cake. I am in favour of theorizing and investigating these ideas, just not of judging others based on whether or not theyr share our viewpoint.

Organic Leadership quote-a-thon

Looking over the last page of blog posts, I’ve noticed that only 30% of them are God-related (as opposed to 40% Lady Freaking Gaga), so by way of breaking the theology dry-spell I’ve decided to blog a few of my favourite quotes from the book Organic Leadership by Neil Cole. I borrowed the book off my friend Tom a while back and should probably give it back soon, so I want to drink its blogging potential dry before I do! The following is an anecdote he uses to back up the idea that the two most important skills for leaders are listening and asking good questions:

An organic-church planter in the Denver area decided to test these princples…Tim Pynes went to a popular coffeehouse in the Boulder area with a sign that read: “I will buy you a free cup of coffee if you will listen to my story about God.”

Tim sat at a table for hours with this sign, and never did anyone stop to listen to his story and receive a free cup of joe. Occasionally someone, who was sure he was just another obnoxious evangelist wanting an audience, jeered at him.

The next day Tim went to another coffee shop, very much like the previous one, but this time he brought a difference sign. It read: “I will buy you a cup of coffee if you will tell me your story about God.”

That day Tim’s time was consumed with people who were glad to just sit and share their story of God. Tim listened to people. He listened carefully. He never intentionally interrupted or shared his own point of view. He was there only to listen and would only share if asked. And he was asked, repeatedly. As people told him their stories, they were struck by his rapt attention and became curious about this man. Each asked him to tell his story, which he promptly did. Some left and told their friends that they needed to go to the coffeehouse and hear that guy’s story.

Tim remarks that he rarely had to buy anyone coffee; many times others would insist on buying him coffee.

This experiment reveals something that Jesus already knew at a young age, but most of us go through life never learning: people respond better to those who will listen to them first…Asking questions is not an admission that you are ignorant or lacking in knowledge. On the contrary, it can often mean that you are more advanced in learning.

Battle cry

From a text by William Booth:

You must do it.

You cannot hold back.

You have enjoyed yourself in pleasant Christianity long enough.

You’ve had your pleasant feelings, pleasant songs, pleasant meetings and pleasant prospects.

There has been much human happiness, much clapping of hands and shouting of praises; very much heaven on earth.

But now, then, go to God and tell him you are prepared as much as necessary to turn your back upon it all, and that you are willing to spend the rest of your days struggling in the midst of the perishing multitudes whatever it may cost you.

You must do it.

With the light that is now broken in upon your mind, and the call now sounding in your ears, and the beckoning hands that are now before your eyes, you have no alternative.

To go down among the perishing crowds is your duty. Your happiness from now on will consist of sharing in their misery, your ease in sharing their pain, your crown in helping them to bear their cross, and your heaven in going into the very jaws of hell to rescue them.

Now what will you do?

Thoughts on “Flickering Pixels”

I spent yesterday afternoon relearning the implications of the G.K Chesterton quote that this blog takes its name from:

Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion…The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.

Oh to be able to let an unformed thought remain unformed without regret! I had many of those yesterday afternoon as I worked my way through Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith by Shane Hipps on my way home from London. Every page blew my mind in a different way, and the book’s intimations have huge implications for my dissertation, my personal projects, my creativity and even my very theology. It threw up some thoughts I’d already been chewing on for a while but mixed them in with other insights I would NEVER have come up with on my own, and cohered them in fascinating ways. As a result, I had random thoughts popping up all over the place at random, the majority of which I was unable to capture.

Here is one particular gem, talking about the repercussions that the invention of the printing press had on Christianity:

The impact of the print medium is nearly endless…It even reshaped the gospel. The values of efficiency and linear sequence, which became more entrenched in the Western world with each passing decade, changed the way the gospel was conceived. Under the force of the printed word, the gospel message was efficiently compressed into a linear sequential formula:

APOLOGIZE FOR YOUR SINS + BELIEVE JESUS = GO TO HEAVEN

Such a stunning compression of the gospel would not have been possible prior to the age of the printed word. Medieval cathedrals told the stories of the Bible in elaborate stained-glass windows. They presented the seeker with a vast array of vague impressions representing the grand sweep of the biblical narrative – the message was far from distilled. But this new, abstract, linear formulations gained ascendancy in a culture that increasingly communicated via the abstract, linear nature of the printed word…

The printing press not only resuscitated the letters of Paul, it also helped cultivate the reasoning skills necessary in culture to comprehend his message…Problems arose, however, when linear reasoning was pushed to the extreme. The medium reversed, as all media eventually do when overextended. Linear reasoning became the primary means of understanding and propagating faith. This led to a belief that the gospel could be established and received only through reason and fact. Printing makes us prefer cognitive modes of processing while at the same time atrophying out appreciation for mysticism, intuition and emotion.

[P]erhaps the most damaging effect of suppressing the heart is that it deadens desire. That deep longing for life, love and God fades. Insteadm we come to expect less from life. We acquire the bland taste of a domesticated god who resides somewhere in our head.

The book goes on to make all sorts of different connections about various technologies and their impact on our faith, such as how the invention of the telegraph and the resultant overabundance of information dislocated from context led to relativism’s denial of absolute truth, or how image culture has, amidst other more negative consequences, restored the importance of the right brain and “serving as a helpful corrective to the tyranny of fixed categories”.

This all raises interesting questions about the nature of belief in Jesus – at what point does a person become “saved”?* When did the disciples become “saved”? I think the notion of a continuum is more helpful than that of an on/off switch – is your trajectory pointed towards Jesus or away? I’m a big believer that you can’t lose your salvation because you didn’t earn it in the first place, but at what point do you receive it? A lot of Kingdom theology (about prayer, healing, supernatural things etc) depends on the concept of someone being “in Christ”, and rightly so. Simply put, if someone is a disciple of Christ, they have authority (like when Jesus says to his disciples that he has given them the keys to the kingdom). But surely that means there must be a point at which you are given this authority which you did not have before? Plus, Pauls letters seem to echo this “one minute you’re an unbeliever/next minute you’re a new creation” thinking. But, Hipps rightly questions the way this mode of thinking has been pumped up on steroids since the print age:

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if Thomas had died just seconds before his finger touched the wound. his man followed Jesus faithfully for three years as a friend and a disciple, but in that last moment before touching Jesus’ wounds he didn’t truly believe. Thomas was a follower of Jesus who wasn’t a believer. What do we do with this category with people? What does that mean for his eternal destiny?

I’m definitely not against linear categories. I think that sometimes you have to understand principles rationally before you understand them in your heart through God’s revelation. That’s how it’s often been for me – I understood the concept of grace by reading the last few chapters of Tim Keller’s The Reason for God in my head before I really got it in my head. Likewise, when my church were doing our “healing on the streets” training, where we learned about praying for the sick, it was vital that we understood our authority as children of God in a concrete way. Emotions and right-brain experience wouldn’t have taught us this on the same level, I don’t think. This is the approach employed by Jesus himself in this case – while he often spoke in cryptic parable form, thus inviting people into a deeper way of being rather than simply transmitting information, when he was teaching his disciples about practical things like performing miracles or mission, he always spoke with clear instructions.That said, understanding is not enough. I understand the principles of my status in the Kingdom of God as a believer (I have the authority to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers and cast out demons”), but am in need of ever-greater revelation from God of the depth of this authority so I can actually walk in this reality. Sometimes you need to understand things on a head level before your heart kicks in.

The way Shane wraps the book up is the best bit. He goes on to relate the whole “medium is the message” thing to Jesus (message+medium inseparable) and the church (we are the medium, therefore God’s message is transmitted through us as we try to be Jesus’ hands and feet in the world. If we, the medium, suck, the world doesn’t get the message, it’s as simple as that). Aaand that totally doesn’t do justice to how well he wraps up the book.

Anyway, I was going to list a few of the unformed thoughts that my brain spewed up while reading Flickering Pixels, but those last few paragraphs were actually several of the aforementioned nebulous thoughts and I can’t remember any of the rest of them. But maybe I should start collecting and celebrating my unfinished pensées, a bit like Mr Oizo:

*I actually really hate this word…

Something’s in the air.

This afternoon me and my small group (who are interested starting a boiler room Canterbury) met the lovely Phil Togwell from 24-7 Prayer, who came down from Romford to discuss what a prayer-based community would look like in our city. We have all been very much energised by his visit and input, and I’m still processing the stuff we talked about.

This weekend we take our first little foray into 24-7 prayer – inspired by Phil’s community’s 24-1 prayer event, and too wimpy and resource-less to pray for a full week or month, we decided to try praying for 24 hours as a community from Saturday morning until Sunday morning. We have gotten our hands on just about the coolest prayer space available – a caravan called ‘Grace’ – courtesy of the mum of one of the newer Vineyarders, Joe. Vicki suggested this afternoon that we rename Grace ‘The Prayeravan’; we looked at her with a mixture of disgust and amusement. Still, maybe it would bode well for the event? I am sure Sunday will bring lots to write about, plus photos and possibly a short film if I can book me a HD camera from uni…

If this weekend goes well we will surely do more of this in the future, especially once Vineyard actually moves into its brand new warehouse. If you are the praying sort, please keep this event in your prayers this weekend.

(Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!)