Archive for January, 2010

// action and reaction

Fantastic blog from Pastor Jamie Mundon over at Mars Hill church, Seattle today. Mars Hill’s response to what happened in Haiti has been truly inspiring, not least because of how shaken they’ve let themselves be by it. It’s a huge church – 9000 people attended its services this Sunday gone – and yet its main teaching pastor jettisoned his commitments this past fortnight and flew out to Haiti to observe, pray and support; they’ve altered their programme and their giving schedules specifically to accommodate what happened and proven that they’re not afraid to tackle weighty (and complex) issues head-on…

In contrast, it feels a little bit like the reaction of some of us over in Britain has been more akin to keeping a “stiff upper lip”; not that we’re not horrified by the scenes of destruction, but, you know, life has to go on, and we have to suck up the pain and get on with doing things the way that they have to be done.

Is this the way it’s supposed to be?

By the way, i get that it might seem callous to be talking about our reactions to what is indisputably a tragedy; after all, if you’re reading this, then in all likelihood your conditions of life are a world apart from post-earthquake Haiti, and they clearly have it worse than us. But honestly, our reactions to these things are important; those are the things that shape our culture, like it or not.

If we are struck by what happened overseas but we do nothing, then our concern amounts to little more than emotion. We accept that ‘these things happen’, and we get on with life; it’s pretty easy to feel cushioned from what goes on elsewhere in the world over here.

If Haiti doesn’t cause us to remember that life is fragile, that our health and security are an incredible gift (and something to be truly thankful for) then we have missed something. If Haiti doesn’t drive us to gratitude for all that we have been given and a desire to live in a way that makes the most of it, then something is wrong. And if Haiti, two weeks on, when it’s vanished from the media, hasn’t changed something about our church – even if it’s just the appreciation of how amazing our life here is – then that is a cause for great sorrow.

I read a haunting passage this morning. Isaiah 5:25 describes God’s anger against His people:

Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against His people,

And He stretched out His hand against them and struck them,

And the mountains quaked;

And their corpses were as refuse

In the midst of the streets…

It sounds like Haiti on a first reading, doesn’t it? And the first time you read it, it seems to confirm that whole “divine punishment” thesis, too.

They lived in rich houses, they partied all night, they rejected God… didn’t they?

That’s why the earth swallowed them up, right – that’s why “Sheol has enlarged its appetite and opened its mouth beyond measure”?

Well… uh, not so much, actually.

But us? What if this sort of situation were to expose just how apathetic God’s people were when it came to addressing these situations – or even being aware of them?

Because the rest of Isaiah 5 talks about how God “looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” It declares “woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight… their root will be rottenness, and their blossom go up like dust.” Among other things.

What would the people who look like they have all the answers look like? What would a world look like where “[God’s] people go into exile for lack of knowledge”, where “their honoured men go hungry, and their multitude is parched with thirst”? Could it not – just possibly – look like we do?

Isaiah 5 ends with the words, “if one looks to the land, behold, darkness and distress; and the light is darkened by its clouds.”

For all the light of our church – and there is light, make no mistake –  if we are untouched by situations like Haiti, not shaken by the economic conditions that made it possible, not disturbed by the chaos that is reigning in the streets, then it’s all too possible that our light will be dimmed.

I don’t say any of this as someone who’s any good at it; and it’s certainly not intended as condemnation. It is hard, and painful, to address something as awful as 150,000 people dying in a couple of minutes, and it’s easier to move on. A friend of mine just walked into the room and remarked “you can’t cry for two solid weeks – you just can’t,” and he’s right, of course he is. Life does have to go on – so we declare “we will not be shaken”, and we’re not. Fantastic. God is still good. But that is no call to put the blinkers on or hide behind a cushion of wealth or security. God is good in the midst of a world that is a mess, but we have to acknowledge the mess too, because it’s in that we learn to appreciate just how good He truly is.

Haiti is already a tragedy. But if nothing changes in us as a result of what we have seen and heard – well then that, too, will be a tragedy.

Advertisements

// sabbath is a state of mind

Today is Sunday, and if you don’t work for a church, for most people today is a day off. For me, it was an extremely busy day off – but then days off frequently are. There’s always things to be done, from the routines (coffee and the paper in Caffe Nero) to the DVD boxsets that you have to watch your way through, to all the people who you want to hang out with – or should hang out with, maybe – not to mention planning, and cooking, and sleeping, and reading your bible, and getting a haircut…

Do you ever catch yourself thinking, where did all my rest time go?

All of those things are good things – restful things, even, when done in isolation. When you’ve had an insular week, say, settling down with a paper and with no music in your ears can remind you that the real world still exists, that it doesn’t all revolve around you. But it’s much easier, I find, to make the day that you have off the day that is all yours – the day where you indulge, where you ignore the God-stuff, and you just end up feeling kind of… bloated.

Yes, we were created as creatures that need rest, but all true rest comes, ultimately, in God. And don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean just spending time in prayer meetings or spending an entire day reading the Bible. But you know that bit where Jesus tells his disciples, “peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your heart be troubled, and do be afraid”? (it’s John 14:27, incidentally) Well, that’s a reminder that our peace doesn’t simply come from the world’s ways of finding rest – that true rest is found, in contrast, in learning to truly appreciate the rest time that you do have.

Stilling the voices that tell you that you’re valuable only if you’re productive, or that there are a million other things to be doing, or that you still have two more series of The Wire to watch.

‘Being still, and knowing that He is God’; learning the peace of Christ, what has already been done, and knowing what that says about you as a result.

Rob Bell, writing on Sabbath, the idea of a day of rest, talks about the moment when he realised that his life was “all about keeping the adrenaline buzz going… that I was only really happy when I was going all the time.” And his conclusion?

When I stopped to spend a day to remember that I am loved just because I exist, I found out how much of my efforts were about earning something I already have.

Sabbath is taking a day a week to remind myself that I did not make the world and that it will continue to exist without my efforts.

Sabbath is a day when my work is done, even if it isn’t…

Sabbath is a day when I am fully available to myself and those I love the most…

Sabbath is a day when at the end I say, “I didn’t do anything today,” and I don’t add, “and I feel so guilty”.

I would go further still than that, though. So, this morning in our 12-14s group we were talking about the presence of God; Deuteronomy 31 and Joshua 1 remind us that “God will never leave us nor forsake us”, while John 14: 16-18 talk about the Holy Spirit who has already been given, and 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 asks bluntly, brilliantly, “do you not know that body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you received from Christ?” All of those are verses that tell us that God’s presence is always with us, and yet for most of us our awareness of that presence is a rare and fleeting thing…

But what if we’re just not stopping enough to hear it?

Maybe Sabbath is a state of mind.

You know what it’s like to sit in a worship service, absent-mindedly singing of God’s greatness, whilst all the time thinking about what you’re going to have for lunch or the essay you have to write when you get home. You know what it’s like to ‘give God the time to speak’ in the morning without giving God any headspace at all. I know you do, because we all do.

Something remarkable happened this morning, though. Our normally rowdy 12-14s stopped. They sat and stared at a candle in total silence for five minutes and then, inwardly, they asked God to reveal His presence to them. The silence was deafening, and the moment holy; because it was a moment of remembering that this life is not, and has never, ever been, all about us.

It’s easy to do that in what looks like the most “spiritual” way possible. To make our prayers all about us and our achievement, all for the glory of God – as though the glory of God depended on us.

But that’s just not the way it works. In most cases, God’s glory doesn’t come from our striving. It comes from the peace that He has given us; in who we are in Him, or in what He wants to do by His spirit, or in the situation that He has called us to.

Maybe you disagree, but I find that liberating. A day off that’s not all about me? I’m all for that.

So here’s to Sabbath as a state of mind.

True rest, grounded in a knowledge of God and an awareness of His presence.

Now that sounds like a day off.

// Haiti (2)

Some Haiti resources that it’s worth taking a look at:

*

Tall Skinny Kiwi (www.twitter.com/tallskinnykiwi) on “what to say, sing or show in church”: http://bit.ly/7gykwy

*

Mark Driscoll (www.twitter.com/PastorMark): http://blog.marshillchurch.org/ (blog)

http://ow.ly/YE1h (USA Today Article)

http://bit.ly/52VjvS (video)

http://bit.ly/5H8VmB. (fundraising video)

*

And, although controversial, William J. Broad‘s article on how earthquakes are necessary for Earth to be habitable provides some perspective on the fact that this isn’t just “the punishment of God” on Haiti, as some people have asserted (and no doubt will continue to): http://www.mathaba.net/0_index.shtml?x=100741

More to follow in a bit.

// Movements

Check out the Rend Collective Experiment’s new tune “Movements”, out soon on Survivor Records:

The Rend Collective Experiment are an Irish collective, demonstrating a huge range of talent and creativity from all over the place. Their new album reportedly features a contribution from David Crowder, and can be found on Itunes – with particular props given to the awesome “Exalt”; their older stuff is on Spotify too.

If there’s any justice in the world, they’re going to be huge, and it’s always great to be able to champion a Christian band with real creativity and talent, so click on that YouTube link and tell your mates, and here’s hoping we see more of them!

// self-righteous service?

A few thoughts on service, courtesy of Richard Foster:

  1. Self-righteous service comes by human effort… True service comes from a relationship with the ‘deep other’ inside.
  2. Self-righteous service is excited by the ‘big deal’. True service welcomes all opportunities to serve.
  3. Self-righteous service requires external rewards… True service is content in hiddenness, for it to be enough that God alone sees.
  4. Self-righteous service is highly concerned about results. True service sees no need to calculate the results; it is happy just in the service.
  5. Self-righteous service picks and chooses who to serve. True service is indiscriminate in its ministry.
  6. Self-righteous service is affected by mood and whims; health or sleep levels control the desire to serve… True service ministers simply and faithfully, simply because there is a need.
  7. Self-righteous service is temporary. True service is a lifestyle.
  8. Self-righteous service is insensitive. It demands an opportunity to help. True service can wait when appropriate…
  9. Self-righteous service fractures community. It puts others in its debt; as one of the very subtle methods of manipulation. True service builds community.

Thoughts?

At least from where I’m sitting, a lot of those resonate with me. And I don’t like that.

I don’t know that I agree with all of Foster’s statements, but I do think they’re useful food for thought, no matter who you are. How about you?

// The Road

Three days on and I still can’t decide whether John Hillcoat’s astonishing adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel “The Road” is relentlessly bleak or totally uplifting. All that said, though, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s essential watching. The story of a father and his son hiking through a post-apocalyptic wasteland on a quest to reach the coast is not easy watching – there are a couple of scenes that are hair-raisingly unpleasant, in fact, not to mention the metaphysical questions that it poses – but what struck me most of all is the relationship between father and son. It’s impossible not to be struck by it. It’s so real, so desperate and so raw as to be breathtaking.

One critic I read described the “fierce love” that the father has for his son in the film, and it’s a brilliant phrase, that. At one point, after the two have been attacked, there’s a shot of the father holding his son in his arms and whispering into his ear, “I am your father, and you are my son… and it is my job to kill anyone who touches you”. It will surprise nobody that I was thinking about God at that point; that, and the model for fatherhood that the Bible gives us – that kind of “fierce love” that will fight with all its power to protect the beloved from evil, even to the point of risk, pain and sacrifice…

It’s not a perfect parable, of course – and by the time the film ends, you may well be more sceptical about the father’s love than at its start (although that’s a matter of opinion). But it did strike me that, as far as I can remember, I’ve never seen such a powerful example of what God’s love looks like. “See what great love that the Father has lavished upon us, that we should be called children of God,” the apostle John writes in his first letter, “and so we are!”

Is that what being a ‘child of God’ means? If so then there’s more power in that then I think I’d ever comprehended; it’s like I’d never really understood it at all. But I think i’d just missed it – missed experiencing it and missed looking for it. The final chapter of the Song of Songs sees the lover plead with her beloved:

set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm,
for love is strong as death,
jealousy is fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
the very flame of the LORD…

Are you aware of that? In your own life or in the lives of others? Because if nothing else, that’s what “The Road” reflects – that “love [that] is as strong as death” that God has for us. It’s so easy to devalue or downgrade love, but in all its ferocity, as seen in Hillcoat’s film, it is seen to be formidable, a force to be reckoned with; and the original template for that love is the love of the Father, God Himself. It won’t compromise, it won’t stop and it just won’t quit. The moments that really did it for me have probably been picked over in other reviews – the father’s cry of “it’s okay for you; you’re not the one that has to worry about everything after I’m gone!” to which his son replies “I am! Don’t you see? I am!”, for example, or the father’s whispered words to his son towards the film’s climax, “my son, my son, you have all of my heart…” But they are powerful examples of what love looks like and of the reasons for love full stop.

I’m not ashamed to say that I came home from “The Road” and I wept; wept like I have not wept at a film in years and years. There’s a part of me that want to see it again and another part of me that can’t quite bear to do so. But you should go immediately. It’s a film that you really should see, and see in the cinema, where you can’t escape what’s in front of you. Watch it on a TV and the temptation may be to turn away or disengage. Faced with the frank reality of this love, it’s kind of understandable.

But we need to be confronted by this, I think. You know that devastating impact that John Mark McMillan’s “How He Loves” had when you first heard it? Well, we need a continual awareness of that “love like a hurricane”, and what it looks like when it’s directed towards us. “See what great love the Father has lavished upon us, that we should be called children of God!” John wrote all those years ago. We need to learn to appreciate what that means now, in a culture that downgrades love to little more than sentiment and in doing so strips it of its power…

There’s one more scene in “The Road” that stuck in my mind.

In a voiceover at one point, the father murmurs to his son, “if I were God, I would make the world just as it is. And so I have you. And so I have you.”

In spite of the desolation and the chaos of the world that the two figures walk through, it is that presence of the other – and that relationship between them – which makes it worthwhile, redeemable even. The film ultimately provides no answers for the catastrophe that has befallen the earth and no real sense that things will change – but why should it? It is, at heart, a story about the relationship between father and son.

There’s something in that, you know.

// more on Haiti

Further to my last post, thank God for the practical advice of 24-7 Prayer (http://www.24-7prayer.com/blog/1155) and Tall Skinny Kiwi (http://tallskinnykiwi.typepad.com/tallskinnykiwi/2010/01/about-that-pact-with-the-debil-in-haiti-we-were-duped.html, via @TallSkinnyKiwi) both of whom have posted brilliant articles on Haiti, well worth reading. The 24-7 Prayer post details the practical ways in which we can pray for Haiti, and Tall Skinny Kiwi debunks that whole “pact with the devil” thing. Give them a look.

Good work, guys.